Friday, May 28, 2010

While You Were Watching TV

Just north of Albuquerque and a bit south of our lunch stop near Santa Fe is the world of Ross Ward.

Tinkertown Museum, located in Sandia Park, houses the result of 40 years of carving, collecting, and constructing. We entered Ross Ward's world of miniature wood-carved figures.

Before learning about the contents of the Museum, however, we were struck by the construction of the Museum itself.

After seeing Grandma Prisby's Bottle Village in Simi Valley, California in 1980, Ward began his use of bottles in the construction of what to become his collection's home.

Within a year, Tinkertown became a neighborhood recycling center accepting bottles from all his friends, neighbors, and the local tavern. The construction process continued for over 15 years, and today over 55,000 glass bottles form rambling walls that surround a 22-room museum.

His interest in carving the figures that appear in the Old West Village began on a trip to Knott's Berry Farm in 1949, at age 8.

When he returned to his home in Aberdeen, SD, he began creating scenes from the Old West by using cardboard boxes, molded clay people, and read almost all the books in his local library about the West.

We found that the best way to view the collection was in small scenes. In small doses, the life-like characters in the scenes tell a story from the strategy employed in a simple game of checkers (above) to the pending battle (right) between the nurse and the pharmacist who seems to be practicing beyond his pharma-ceutical training.

The detail in the expressions and gestures of his characters show the years of practice that began at age 11.

After barely graduating from high school, Ward held jobs with roadside attractions from the Black Hills to antique car museums to Knott's Berry Farm.

At these businesses, he learned how to "sell a look." "They'll pay everyday to see the same old bear, and you won't need to buy a new bear every day either," was the message from Ray Bivens of the Black Hills Animal Farm.

He certainly has "sold the look," creating a display that both requires more than one trip through the maze of corridors to fully appreciate and produces a strong word-of-mouth advertising from its visitors.

As his collection grew, his display "platform" grew from store windows to a sixteen-foot trailer to the permanent building of today.

When we viewed the displays as "the big picture," Ward's whimsy appeared promi-nently.

Here, for example, is Mary Poppins floating over the Western town's ice cream parlor. I'm not sure I get the association, but that may be because I don't know the story of Mary Poppins.

But it is at Jason's of London Toys, Ltd. that the lighter side of his Western town shown through most clearly.

Perched atop the building is Humpty Dumpty and

waiting patiently at the side of the street are Mickey Mouse, Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

We wondered how many of the 1500 hand-carved and painted miniature figures we saw; we knew we had studied only a small portion of this total.

Near the end of the corridors through the collection, we found these items displayed on the ceiling. There was virtually no open space in the Museum.

As we neared the end of the Museum's displays, one of Ward's favorite sayings came to mind: "I did all this while you were watching TV."

At age 61, Ross passed away on November 13, 2002.

"Live Life As the Pursuit of Happiness" is the message below this sculpture and seemed to be Ross Ward's guide to his life.

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