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Model makers re-create nature for Smithsonian

January 21, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - About six years ago, when the Smithsonian Institution set out to document 3,000-year-old carved slabs in northern Mongolia known as "deer stones," the country offered the institution one of the monuments.

Instead, the Smithsonian sent model makers Carolyn Thome and Paul Rhymer to Mongolia to create a mold and gave them two weeks to create a life-size replica.

"Most people think they need to stay where they belong," Rhymer said Sunday at a lecture at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts titled "Manatees, Mountains, Mines and Monuments: Model Making for Museum Displays."

Rhymer and Thome, who live in Point of Rocks, Md., used slides of their work to walk an audience of about 35 people step by step through the creation of the deer stone replica, a model of a mother manatee and her calf, a crystal cave display and a giant mountain used to showcase orchids at a Natural History Museum exhibit.

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"We have a wide variety of subject matter, so it never gets boring," said Thome, who started her career in Hollywood making models for movies.

To re-create the deer stone, the model makers first scrubbed the 8 1/2-foot-tall monument clean and coated it with a thin layer of blue silicone, Rhymer said. Next came a layer of thicker rubber, cheese cloth and an expanding foam sealant for stability.

Because the stone was about 600 miles from the nearest town with any materials whatsoever, the team brought all the necessary supplies from home.

"You can imagine, in a post-911 world, what it's like to try to get all that on a plane," Rhymer said.

Once home, the challenge was finding a fast way to reproduce the speckled granite material of the stones. The artists ended up tinting fiberglass resin to match the various shades from their samples and passing it through a meat grinder to create sand, Rhymer said.

For the crystal cave, a 6-foot-tall by 4-foot-square diorama of a copper mine for the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum in Arizona, Thome worked actual mineral specimens worth thousands of dollars into a display made of painted foam.

"It's like a little jewel inside the exhibit," she said. "My goal is to not even let people question what's real and what's fake."

Jay Hoffman, a sculpture major from Shepherd University, said the lecture inspired him as he considers career opportunities.

Jim Stanicek, a volunteer with Discovery Station in Hagerstown, also was inspired by the presentation.

"I would love to see Discovery Station have the ability to do things like that," he said, adding that smaller-scale models might be more realistic for the local museum.

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts curatorial coordinator Jennifer Smith said the lecture attracted a good turnout and the museum might consider adding more lectures not connected to current exhibits.

Paul Rhymer is scheduled to return April 6 for a lecture titled "Sculpting: Going from Clay to Bronze," and the museum is considering bringing him in for a third presentation on taxidermy, Smith said.

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