The little things mean a lot to Christian Wall, carpenter at Petaluma.
No, we’re not talking about the day-to-day stresses of life during a pandemic (although these can appear sometimes, of course). We’re talking about models that represent pieces of Petaluma’s past: intricate replicas of carts, trucks, carts and storefronts of yesteryear.
Wall, 68, is a master of miniature and over the past 13 years has applied the woodworking techniques he learned in a family shipbuilding business to create tiny models for everyone to enjoy. . Some of his work was recently on display in an exhibit at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum. There will probably be more this year.
According to Wall, models are a way to impress people while also educating them about the past. They are also a way to celebrate the history of interesting places, and Petaluma fits that bill.
“In a sense, these models bring history to life,” he said. “I love that I can do this for people.”
Inspiration for a hobby
The Mustached Wall has always been a carpenter. The Guam native learned the trade from his grandfather in the family shipbuilding business when he grew up in Southern California.
Model making, however, is a new hobby – he chose it after moving to Petaluma in the late 1990s.
He built his first kit – a carriage he picked up on a trip to Spain – in 2009, and fell in love with the process of creating smaller versions of real-world things. Over time, friends and colleagues gave him wood. Wall just kept construction.
Over the next 13 years, Wall estimates that he has created over 25 different designs of varying sizes and details.
Some of these pieces, including a beer wagon, boxcar, and egg cart, were on display at a recent exhibit at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum. The exhibit, titled “The Imaginative World of William Caldwell,” juxtaposed some of William Caldwell’s folk art woodcarvings from the 1950s with models by Wall to show visitors a range of woodworking styles.
Another of Wall’s pieces, a replica of an old Petaluma cart named Windsplitter, was in a separate case. This piece was incredibly detailed with individual seats, wheels, luggage, and railings. Wall estimates that the model took around 80 hours. He created it from a photograph.
A third piece, a replica of the first truck to make the transcontinental journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, was purchased for possible display at the Sonoma County Library.
According to collection director Solange Russek, the detail of the pieces is breathtaking.
“The painstaking detail he puts into his artwork is amazing and shows his level of compassion,” she said.
Clint Gilbert, one of the museum’s directors, agreed. In a recent video social media interview with Wall for the museum’s website, Gilbert noted that Wall’s work was an “asset” to the institution in the way it brings history to life.
“I find these models interesting and a concrete way to visualize the story,” Gilbert said. “It brings history back to the present moment. “
Rightly, Wall donated the cart and other models to the museum in the hope that the museum would sell its work and raise funds. At the final check, Russek said she and her colleagues had actually sold some of her pieces, raising “several hundred dollars” which would be added to the museum’s general fund.
Wall woodworking process
The 80 hours it took Wall to build this cart was no exception; even for the smallest piece, there is quite a process.
First comes research, usually from photos, but also from books, magazines, and websites.
Next is the building.
Wall does most of his work in a section of his garage that he has converted into a makeshift studio. In the winter, however, when temperatures drop below 50, he moves his operation indoors and works on a hobby table that he rolls into his living room.
When creating a new model, Wall’s first steps are to do some sketches and decide what type of wood to use. It still has some of the wood it was given at the start of the last decade. Friends and colleagues also always give him new pieces of wood – on New Year’s Day he throws himself on some walnut wood he has just received.
One of the biggest challenges is finding materials. When Wall first moved to Petaluma, there were six hobby stores in the area; now, unfortunately, there are no more. Sometimes that means he recycles old washers and springs as decorative pieces. Other times it means he has to fabricate details out of whatever he can find.
As he works, he turns up classic rock and incorporates other tools such as pliers, glue, a low-speed drill, sanders, portable bandsaw, and fasteners.