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I am fascinated with miniature models. My sister and I would visit our uncle and we would go to the local museum. There was a magnificent model of a paddle wheel steamship, the type that plowed the Mississippi in the 19th century. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be fun to be able to build a model like that as a job! Little did I know. In the late 1980's my position as a photographer and illustrator at the U of A was closed because of funding. A friend recommended me to the the model shop supervisor at the Larson, Co. The Larson Co. was an exhibit driven business that designed, built and installed interiors and exteriors for zoos, museums, aquariums, and theme parks. The first architectural model I worked on was for Walt Disney World's Song of the South theme park in Florida. I also would sculpt and carve life size fake trees for the theme park. In a year and a half I became the model shop supervisor.
Shortly after I began my tenure at the Larson Co. my supervisor asked if I could sculpt. I had never sculpted in my life, but an artist I admired had told me, "If you can draw, you can sculpt." So of course I said, "Yes, I can sculpt.” I was handed a color photo of an Asian deer, block of sculpting material and told, "Do itfast, we are under deadline." This was a revelation to me, I had talents I hadn't realized. Here is my little Asian deer, sculpted in scale for an architectural model.
The temple ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia were receiving international attention and publicity. An international environmental movement was gaining momentum to save the dwindling population of Asian tigers. Many zoos wanted Angkor Wat backgrounds as they renovated or built new asian exhibits to replicate the natural surrounding that an animal would actually live in, a far cry from concrete floors and steel bars. Mr. Larson had worked at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum which used native surroundings as exhibits. He was inspired to invent the fake fiberglass rock to hide and camouflage the mechanical machinery needed to operate a zoo or museum, but was in plain view of the public. This architectural model was in a large scale 1:48, 48 scale feet to one actual foot equaling 1/4" as one scale foot.
An architectural model for a Houston Butterfly Pavillon I designed as the Larson Co. model shop supervisor in Tucson, AZ. The architecture presented a major issue as the building was designed as an angled truncated cone superstructure to be built using steel columns with large glass panels suspended between cross beams. Only the interior was the company's responsibility, not the superstructure, but it had to be included. The interior had to be visible while maintaining the basic exterior shape. I decided on a minimalist approach foregoing all horizontal beams except for the circular support at the top. The major columns were made out of cut and polished plexiglass, pegged at both ends. It was difficult, but it worked out splendidly.
Detail photo of the main second story walk way in the Houston Butterfly Pavillon Model I designed as supervisor of the Larson Co. model shop in Tucson. Peering through the plexiglass columns we see a Mayan inspired back wall along the walk way since numerous colorful Central American butterfly species were going to be the butterfly stars of the enclosure. The large opening would be viewing windows with live cocoons where visitors could watch butterfly metamorphosis as the pupa hatched.
I left my position as model shop supervisor when I was awarded a contract to design, sculpt and manufacture a series of surgical demonstration jaw models for the W.L. Gore Co., inventors of Gore Tex. The company found out that Gore Tex was useful in surgery. It helped in healing bone because bone cells matriculated to it stimulating bone cell growth. Gore was interested in a model that could be used in teaching purposes for certification courses. Old clients of mine, Drs. Becker and Becker DDS were periodontists and consultants who had done many of the US clinical trials using Branemark titanium implants and Gore Tex. The catch was there had to be a material that could be sutured up like gingiva. I used a squeegee to create an elastic sheet of a two part soft polymer with a low shore value that could be stitched with surgical sutures. I used custom made dies cut the material to shape.
This contract led to other medical models from Ace Surgical Supply, European, South American and Japanese firms.
I then built architectural models of zoo exhibits through Schibley Design and Exhibits. The Kookaburra Station Australian exhibit was designed for the Cleveland Metro Park Zoo. This model was a 30 x 40" model in 240:1 scale that I but alone.
Dave Fischer made the tourist train and track for me. Dave was doing a model for the University of Arizona and liked the palm trees I had made using fly fishing hackle feathers and jute. We traded, he made the train and track, I made dozens of palm trees. The dime in the lower right shows how small the scale is and the incredible detail. Later I saw the zoo when we did an african installation at another zoo, my model was quite accurate.
Once and awhile something stunning and surprising has to be conceived of and built to secure a contract. Tony Schibley was a heck of a designer and showman. He wanted to secure a contract with the Erie Zoo for a new wolf enclosure exhibit. Tony decided to attend the next meeting with a surprise. He contracted me to build an exquisite briefcase model of the wolf enclosure. I grabbed Ric LaBan and we went to work.
The quarter shows the scale, again 240:1. Tony walked into the meeting with what looked like an average briefcase. When it came to his presentation, he calmly opened the briefcase, showing it off around the room. He then removed the model for closer inspection using the soft black nylon pulls on the side. He stunned everyone and received the contract. To this day I have never forgotten that even in this new digital world of 360o panoramas and CGI, a miniature model impresses.
On a lark I answered an ad in Model Railroader 'Want to see your model railroad idea in print'? I was a professional model maker ,photographer and writer. I proposed several ideas, all were turned down (but later showed up in print). The editors had an idea to pattern the book after one that had been published earlier in a different scale. Again I enlisted Ric LaBan and we agreed to do the book as we thought there would be long term royalties. The book and layout's downfall was what it was built out of, foam core. Foam core was hot in the model industry then and the working editor wanted the base to be built out of it instead of lumber. I argued against it knowing it would not be stable or permanent. He won and eventually the book went out of print because of the instability of foam core. Still it is nice to have authored a book that was actually published with a Library of Congress number.
One of the last architectural models I did for Schibley Exhibition and Design was for the South Carolina Zoo. It was to be a small model and I had free time around Christmas, or so I thought. An unexpected large jaw model order came in and used up most of the month. I finished that model up in 36 straight hours of work on 4 hours of sleep. Ah, the best laid plans . . .
Here is a detailed close up of my South Carolina Zoo architectural model.
Moving to Albuquerque I went to work with Trimnell Models. Ralph Trimnell is a highly creative and skilled artisan. Not only his he competent in all the art crafts; drawing, painting, sculpting, he is a whiz with mechanical and electric devices and is superbly gifted. Our first project together was making 3 identical models of a USAF satellite for the US Air Force.
An architectural model of residence in Santa Fe that Trimnell Models was contracted to build by the architectural firm involved. Note the stepped terrace-like landscape. This stylized conception of elevation is often used to indicate the slope of a property.
On occasion a client will ask to have an existing model repaired and restored. It is a cost effective alternative to having a new model built. This was the job with this anatomical model of the major organs. It came to us in pieces requiring reassembly, sculpting and matching the paint using an airbrush.
Not all models are miniature. When working with Los Alamos National Laboratory requirements differ. Los Alamos is the birthplace of the atomic age where the first atom bomb was made under the Manhattan project during WWII. This was a model of portable radiation detector, its requirement was it had to be made life-size using materials that would simulate actual production.
In the wake of 9/11 security was tightened considerably at the National Laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia. Roads that I used to travel from White Rock to Los Alamos were closed and the sites took on a wartime footing that made it feel like the Manhattan Project all over again. Sandia National Laboratory and Homeland Security contracted Trimnell Model Works to create a model for inspection and review of security features surrounding a site. Photo 1 is an overview of our model.
Photo 2 is an aerial photograph of the Sandia National Laboratory site that was used as a plan view to scale our model.
Photo 3 is a detail of the Sandia National Laboratory site with a quarter inserted to show scale. When our liaison came to review the model he studied it quite intently. I pointed out the weak spot or entry point on the perimeter defense. He was rather taken aback that a civilian could find the weak spot so easily and asked me how I knew that. I told him I studied military tactics by the likes of the great strategist B.H. Liddell Hart and played a board war-games since high school. I imagine he thought if an average joe could find a chink in the armor it the same conclusion would be reached by others which was the point of the model
Our book on model railroading and a posting led a client to me. He sponsored an east coast model railroad club and was looking for narrow gauge locomotives in a very small scale 160:1, N Gauge. Original narrow gauge railroads like the DRGW ran on 3 foot wide track instead of the standard 4'8" track. Nn3 locomotives require even smaller Z-scale track, 1/4" wide! Minute german motors like swiss watches are used. I built a half dozen for him over a several years. Here is a T-12 passenger 4-6-0 locomotive used for passenger service on the famous DRGW "Chili Line" that ran from Antonito Colorado to Santa Fe. It actually runs quite well.
In the early 2000's the Albuquerque Water Utility Authority upgrade their entire facilities to a state of the art water system because of dwindling resources, increased demand and drought. The AWUA contracted Trimnell Model shop to build an engaging lobby installation to describe the process to the public from obtaining Rio Grande water originating in the Colorado Rocky Mountains to recharging the ground water in Albuquerque while preserving the endangered Silvery Minnow. A comprehensive multi station installation was designed incorporating many different static and mechanical models tied together with LED rope lights in two colors to designate flow.
Stage one of a long backlit graphic panel of the AWUA process. I maxed out the allowable GB file size of Photoshop at the time to create the backlit panel.
A photograph of the grand opening of the Albuquerque Water Utility Authority installation in the lobby of their new operations facility. The finished backlit panel is in the background. We incorporated different polarized screens to create water movement. We were the last company to purchase these cool polarized sheets as the company then went out of business. A pity because there was nothing like them then or now.
Native American run casinos are way for tribes and pueblos to generate revenue. Often a model is used to help secure initial funding or to review the project visually in its earliest stages. Trimnell Models was contracted to build an overview model of a proposed Oklahoma Comanche Casino Complex including a hotel, resort, casino, golf course, and recreation lake in relation to the nearby interstate,
Sometimes it requires two models to tell the story. Here is the other model of the hotel, casino and venue amphitheater with the grounds and parking lots.
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