You could say Rebecca Koop broke the mold. Shifting away from her elegant coffee mugs and pottery, she agreed to recreate 50 “Mickey Mouse” insulators for the 43rd Annual National Insulator Association Convention in Kansas City.
“It was kind of an interesting object,” said Koop, Historic Northeast resident and owner of POTS pottery shop on St. John Avenue. “It’s history and unusual. I’m going through my head, ‘Okay, how do I engineer this?'”
Darryl Wagner, president of the Missouri Valley Insulator Club, commissioned Koop to create the plaster of paris insulators as a commemorative item for the convention. Another company, Mosser Glass Inc., is creating electric blue glass insulators. The original electric blue insulators were exclusively used in Kansas City for the trolley system.
“I knew I wanted to have a ceramic commemorative for our porcelain collectors, so I started researching who did ceramics locally and came across Rebecca’s number,” Wagner said. “It’s worked out very well.”
Koop created a mold by copying an antique Mickey Mouse insulator, but it wasn’t without challenges, she said. Each side of the mold took about an hour and fifteen minutes to create, she said.
“You don’t just push it (antique insulator) into something and there’s your mold,” she said. “There are different faces and sides. When you make a mold, it has to pull straight away and not destroy it.
“There’s a whole art form in just making molds of objects. There are people who specialize in doing that alone.”
While Koop has formed casts and molds of other objects, this is her most complex mold yet, she said. While some molds have one or two pieces, this one has four, she said.
Each plaster of paris insulator must dry for about two and a half hours before Koop applies a light blue glaze. Then, she fires the object for eight hours.
“It’s making something unique. Nobody else is going to do one like this,” she said.
The allure of insulators
Wagner, who helped bring the national convention to Kansas City, said the allure of insulators varies with each collector.
“It’s different for everybody,” he said. “Some people collect them because they used to work for the telephone company and dealt with insulators. Some people collect them because they worked for the railroad or a power company.”
Wagner’s interest in insulators began in fifth grade when he saw his neighbor’s collection. The neighbor gifted Wagner with a handful of insulators and Wagner’s been collecting ever since.
For Wagner and the Missouri Valley Insulator Club, hosting the convention in Kansas City is an honor.
“It’s been 40 years since there’s been a national show here,” he said. “I’m thrilled.”
During the June 22-24 convention at the KCI Expo Center, more than 200 dealer and display tables will be set up and more than 500 people are expected to attend.
Both Koop’s and the Mosser Glass Inc.’s commemorative insulators will be for sale.
“Some hobbyists don’t like a lot of commemoratives because some look at it like they’re fakes, but a lot of us look at them like they’re artwork,” Wagner said. “This insulator, whether it’s the ceramic one or the glass, will be a big hit for a couple of reasons. One, people love the Mickey Mouse insulator. They love that design and two, they like the color. The electric blue Mickey insulator was only used in Kansas City and the light blue porcelain, there’s just not a lot of those out there period.”