The Equine Carvings of Calvin Roy Kinstler

From a solid block of wood, he could create a graceful, gorgeous horse, coaxing it into being with a learned eye and skill honed from his childhood days.

In the first half of this century, Calvin Roy Kinstler carved more than 2,500 horses. They were purchased by upscale stores for displays, and found their ways into offices, homes and, eventually, museums.

The development of plastics made it possible for factories to far outproduce him, and in the latter half of this century, the world has been filled with horse figures made of plastic and china and pottery and resin.

But Calvin Roy Kinstler's wood carvings also survive--testaments to the care and quality he lavished on each horse, one at a time, in a creation process that lasted days, all through a lifetime about which we know little today.

With this page, we hope to make more people aware of Mr. Kinstler's work, and learn more about him and his creations ourselves.

CLICK HERE to see some of Calvin Roy Kinstler's carvings of Belgian draft horses.
CLICK HERE to see some of Calvin Roy Kinstler's carvings of Clydesdale draft horses.
CLICK HERE to see some of Calvin Roy Kinstler's carvings of Percheron draft horses.
CLICK HERE to see some of Calvin Roy Kinstler's carvings of other horse breeds.

Not much is known about Mr. Kinstler. One of the few surviving pieces of information is an article that was published in the Feb. 2, 1947, Sunday edition of the Baltimore (Maryland) Sun newpaper, kindly provided by the International Museum of the Horse:

House Of Wooden Horses and Home-made Rugs

by Flora Murray

A visit with Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Roy Kinstler is meeting two people who take time to live, who express their talents and interests in concrete forms and whose personalities reflect their many activities. A visit to the Kinstlers' home on Campfield Road is finding a quaint little place of colonial atmosphere, overflowing with knicknacks and collections which vary from novelties and souvenirs to art treasures.

In the latter category are Mr. Kinstler's horses. Mr. Kinstler, a genial person who is partially invalided, makes his living from horses, though in a rather different way than most people who derive income (or outgo) from the nags.

"I've never lost a dollar on a horse yet," he brags, his face crinkling up into a smile.

Mr. Kinstler carves horses from blocks of Idaho pine, paints them according to their natural colors, varnishes them, then fixes them to bases of walnut. Such a rough outline of the procedure he follows in making a horse, though, only tells a part of the story.

From start to finish it takes Mr. Kinstler three or four days to make a horse. His tools are simple--knives, razor blades and sandpaper, but the work is intricate and painstaking. Because of this, he takes little breaks throughout his working day, which often goes from 6 in the morning to 11 or 12 at night.

He makes the draft horse 9 inches in height and other horses in proportion. It would be necessary to cast larger horses in metal, he says.

Before starting to carve, Mr. Kinstler makes a drawing of the animal he is to reproduce. After the model is finished, he files the drawing so that, 10 years later, if a leg should be broken, he can make the proper repairs with the minimum of trouble.

His work requires a thorough knowledge of the anatomy of all breeds of horses, and especially a study of muscles and bones. Making accurate and artistic reproductions of the animals calls for careful craftsmanship.

With the Arabian horse, for example, he is careful to allow for one less vertebra than most horses have, and to make the hoofs a grayish blue. With the three-gaited horse he pays particular attention to the arched tail, which is artificially set and shaved three-quarters of its length.

"You can't fool breeders and other men who know horses," Mr. Kinstler says, referring to his customers.

Most of his work is sold through a New York firm, but he also receives many orders direct from horsemen the world over. He has sent models to Australia, England, South Africa, France--almost every part of the world. Frequently he is asked to reproduce a favorite riding horse, a prize hunter or stallion. The request may be accompanied only by a blurred snapshot.

"Often I wonder if I can make anything from some of these pictures, when the camera is in one end of a field, the horse in the other."

The most unusual request Mr. Kinstler thinks he has ever received came from a large brewery shortly after the repeal of prohibition. To celebrate the occasion properly, the brewery wanted four draft horses of the type used to pull beer-delivery wagons.

Mr. Kinstler has been interested in horses all his life. When a child in Walbrook, he spent many hours admiring and grooming the horses that were part of his father's dairy business. He made models of them, a useless occupation for a young boy, his friends and family told him. But he was doing the groundwork for his career.

Not until the depression did Mr. Kinstler turn this hobby into a source of income. By now, he thinks, he has made between 2,500 and 3,000 horses. Orders for many, many more are stacked up in his studio. As far as he knows, there are only two or three other persons in the country who do this type of work, and he is the only one who paints his models. Recently a firm in Copenhagen has started to copy his horses in porcelain.

Mr. Kinstler also fulfills a number of requests from cattle breeders to make their prize-winning Guernsey cows, their bulls or their champion milkers. And, just for fun, he has made a few metal horses for doorstops and a black metal horse bank, which holds nine dollars in dimes.

Roy Webb Kinstler, a merchant marine veteran, is his father's assistant, taking care of many of the business details. Extremely interested in art, he does some of the painting and carving of the animals, and has his own fields, ivory-carving and portrait painting.

With both her husband and son, Mrs. Kinstler is like the proud hen, at times crowing over their achievements, at times silently enjoying reflected glory. But Mrs. Kinstler has her own talents. She is an excellent seamstress, and makes all of her own clothes and those of Ruth Schoenijahn, a young secretary who lives with the Kinstlers. [The rest of the story is on Mrs. Kinstler's hooked rugs and collection of fans, and on the decoration style of the family's house.]

Today many of Mr. Kinstler's horse carvings reside at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. The huge collection had been owned by Sears & Roebuck, and passed to the Kentucky Horse Park to make sure the carvings would always have a safe, appreciative home.

Dozens of the Kinstler horses are on display throughout the exhibits in the park's International Museum of the Horse. Many, many more are out of the public's view, decorating park employees' offices or packed safely away in storage, all awaiting their turn at being rotated into the museum's displays.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kinstler's other horse carvings are out there in the world--perhaps in people's homes, in barns, in offices, or still standing watch as store displays.

In mid-June of 1999, four Kinstler horses from the estate of the late actress Elizabeth Montgomery, of Bewitched fame, were sold on the Internet auction site eBay:

Also, the Web site of Virginia Metalcrafters has this intriguing information:
Although World War II halted the casting of Brass products, immediately after the war, [then-company head Richard] Clemmer continued developing the gift line. In 1946 he met and retained the services of artist Calvin Roy Kinstler and commissioned him to do a carving of the great horse Citation. Kinstler completed his work in 1949, shortly after Citation had won the Triple Crown. That carving, along with other pieces carved by Kinstler are still actively sold by the company.

If you have any comments, any information on the life and career of Calvin Roy Kinstler, or any photos of his work you'd like to share here, feel to e-mail us anytime at!


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This page is for Irene, with love!

This page was created June 26, 1999. Last updated July 8, 1999.

All photos on this page--except the Baltimore Sun photo--are copyright the photographer, Ardith Carlton. Do not use any photos on this page without permission.