September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"I started making little cows scaled to the Breyer horses," Herden said. "I always loved cows. I played in the barn, rather than the house."
In high school, Herden created her first bronze piece, an elk, then worked at a bronze foundry while attending school at Northwest Community College in Powell, Wyoming.
Though that hobby has turned into a business, Herden still has some of the early figures she created. "Mom was good about keeping the things I made," she said.
From her farm site in southern Blue Earth County, near Amboy, Herden now supplies animal figurines worldwide, creating all kinds of animals-dairy and beef cattle, sheep, pigs, horses, and even mules.
"I'm a U.S. company, but I'm also a world company. I'm the world's largest producer of cattle figurines," she said. "About 80 percent of my business is cattle."
Herden has created horses since she was a kid and still does some but noted that the horse model business is flooded with Chinese produced toys and figurines. Draft horses, especially Percherons, are her most popular horses. Sheep people found her products about five years ago, and pig people just last year.
Herden will create any number of pieces, from single items to 500-plus pieces made for companies as corporate gifts.
Over the years, Herden evolved through the use of low-fire clay, bronze, and ceramics before settling on cold cast porcelain for most of the figures she now produces through her business, Carol's Original WorkS or COWS. She does bronze on request.
Herden's nearly 25-year-old business has grown by request of her customers. While showing her work at a farm toy show, people asked her for a breed specific Angus bull. After creating that, Herden's next beef model was a Hereford...only natural as she came from a Hereford background.
Remember those Breyer models that got Herden into sculpting in the first place? The story came full circle when, between 1996 and 2002, Carol created nine pieces for Breyer's Western Series, including a bucking bull, PBR bulls, a cutting horse, and a barrel racer.
In 1999, Herden was commissioned to do a large cheese service cart for a bed and breakfast in Little Washington, Virginia. The owners first requested that it include a life-size Holstein cow, but scaled back when Herden explained how large that was. When plans changed to a Jersey, Herden-who was living in northern Iowa at the time-introduced herself to her neighbor, so she could study his Registered Jerseys before making a small model to show the customer.
When that small model was completed, it came to the attention of a representative of NASCO. He asked Herden to create ideal cow models for the dairy breeds. Each breed association was involved in that process, with a committee supplying input.
Herden's dairy line grew rapidly. She said, "The dairy industry had old ideal models from the 1950s so people collected them. I introduced calves, heifers, cows, and bulls. They're still my biggest line."
Holsteins are Herden's best sellers, simply due to the popularity of the breed, with Jerseys and Brown Swiss next. She's even done a Lineback and a Fleckvieh.
The biggest part of Herden's Holstein line is now portrait color painted, using photos supplied by the customer.
"Everyone has an original," Herden said.
Every cold cast piece is handmade, starting with an original clay sculpture meticulously created by Herden. Using an armature to support the clay, Herden applies clay, carefully shaping the form and tooling it. It may take days, weeks, or months for a commissioned piece as she consults with the customer. Once the clay sculpture is finished, Herden makes a rubber mold, then individually hand casts cold cast medium in the mold. All pieces are hand done, not machine made. Once cast and removed from the mold, Herden cleans the seams, inspects for flaws, then hand paints each piece. She uses automotive paint for the base coat, then oil or acrylic for the finish coats. Each completed piece gets a wooden presentation base, made by Herden's husband, Brian, then they're boxed and shipped to the customer.
Many pieces are limited editions, with the molds destroyed after the required number of pieces have been made.
As her business has grown, Herden has shifted from doing one-on-one retail sales to selling more to breed associations.
"I like dealing with the associations and the groups. They use my pieces for awards for junior shows-the young people are the future," she said.
As her pieces became more popular, Herden has reduced the number of shows that she does, but exhibits at World Dairy Expo each year and has added the World Pork Congress.
In addition to animal models, Herden also creates unique awards and laser-engraved wood, leather, metal, ceramic tile, and even suede items. She can personalize pretty much anything for birthdays, weddings, special occasions, and awards. Engraved items include photo frames and albums, boxes of all shapes, travel mugs, glassware, cutting boards, leather briefcases, and much more.
"It's a country version of things remembered," Herden said. "We do tractors, trucks, farm logos. We can do all that stuff."
Herden recently purchased the last available storefront in downtown Amboy and will open a store there sometime in 2013.
"We'll focus primarily on laser-engraved personalized gifts. It will have a strong rural country feel...I'm a country girl."
The COWS outlet will be called Time Flies. It will also include a museum with all the pieces Herden does. Showcases showing those items are now in Herden's workshop, but the store will provide a better display area.
Herden took a roundabout route from Montana and Wyoming to Minnesota. After meeting Brian, an aircraft mechanic, the couple ended up in Milwaukee. When her business grew faster than they could handle there, they looked for a place to grow the business. Not wanting to go completely west, east, or south, they ended up in Sibley, Iowa for 11 years. Brian went back to school, then hired on as manager of the nitrogen facility in Garden City. Needing to live within 30 miles of the tank farm, they moved to rural Amboy. Herden's parents moved to northern Minnesota from Montana about 15 years ago and are still farming. Her brother and three of his sons also farm in Minnesota.
To learn more about Herden's work, go to www.cmherden.com.[[In-content Ad]]