It all started as a 5th grade school art project. The object was to create art from house hold utensils, such as dried macaroni, house hold thread, pop cicle sticks, then lastly, toothpicks. Though my toothpick teepee project wasn't as good as my classmates, it gave me ideas of other things I could do with them. At that time I loved to build from legos, tinker toys, building blocks, anything where you could make something bigger. I was also getting very fastenated by history especially if it had anything to do with ships. The first book I from cover to cover was A Night To Remember by Walter Lord. I was hooked on the Titanic at an early age.
While my 5th grade colleages all threw their toothpick projects out at the end of the school year, I kept working on mine throughout the summer. It went from a teepee to a small box shaped house. No more legos for me! I had discoveredd something better. As the new 6th grade school year started, I set my goals high to build a clipper ship.
The HMS Quebec, pictured at top left, was my very first toothpick ship built from my imagination based on the Cutty Sark and USS Constitution. I got the idea from sugar packets my mother put in her coffee at a restaurant. They had clipper ships printed on them. They were wooden vessels and it make sense to use toothpicks to build one of them. For the next school year I balanced homework and ship building, and by the end of 6th grade, I had built my first toothpick ship completely rigged. The hull wasn't curved, kind of squarish. That was for my next ship in 7th grade!
By the end of 8th grade, I had built a total of 3 clipper ships. With every new ship, I found ways to perfect the construction process, making them look smoother and with the hull curvature of real ships. I built the ships like the real boats they were modeled after. They were built with a skeletal framework, then it was cladded with toothpicks. The skeleton also maintained the structural integrity of the ship as well as its form. I would then shellac the whole ship with glue to seal up cracks and crevices.
During high school, I set aside my hobby, thinking it was kid stuff, and pursued music. It wasn't too long afterward that the search for the Titanic inspired me to return to the toothpicks and glue for another try. My next toothpick endeavor was a Titanic of a project to say the least. At 10 feet long, the RMS Titanic would set a new standard in my artwork. This was the first ship built from an actual liner, and where I used actual deck plans, blue prints, and mechanical drawings to formulate the curvature of the hull. It took a year and a half and I thought I would never get the thing done at 75,000 toothpicks, 100 boxes exactly.
The Titanic set a standard in attention to detail. Ocean liners were not just big boats, but palaces on water. As the ships got bigger, it allowed me to build out the small fine details of the upper works such as lifeboats, smokestacks, rigging, etc. It made the ships look real. As they got bigger, I also had to develop a way to build thicker skeletal infrastructure. I have no degree in engineering or architecture, so this became a scientific art.
Suddenly, my strange hobby became known as folk art. Before I knew it, I was exhibiting my ships all over the country. I got into people magazine and other international publications. I met Dr. Robert Ballard, the man who found the Titanic. My RMS Lusitania is now exhibited at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore MD.
The biggest thrill is meeting the people who actually traveled or immigrated on these ships. They come to the exhibits and show me photos, and in some cases give me personal photos. It made me realize that these ships were more about immigration, escaping famine or tyranny. At one point, someone in your family came over in these ships.
I do special requests as long as they are boats, and around 2-3 feet in length. This way, they will not take too long to build. They can be carriers, schooners, yachts, racing boats, clippers, as long as you have deck plans or some sort of drawings to guide me.
It is easier for me to build small stuff, but be aware that you will not have the details as seen in my larger vessels. But, I will pay just as much attention to constructing it, and document it's progress with my trusty iPhone for your approval!
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