Dale Says

December 31, 2010

Paul Meuse: A Charter Member of the Warmonger’s Book Club

Filed under: Colorful Characters, Profile — Dale @ 2:50 pm

We all have hobbies. Some are more mainstream than others, and there are those (like belly dancing and noodling) that are less conventional. I read somewhere that hobbies can be divided into four classes: doing things, making things, collecting things, and learning things. Recently, I met a man with a hobby that combines all four.

I suppose if you asked Paul Meuse about his hobbies he would start with baseball and golf. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a loyal fan of the San Francisco Giants. He loves baseball and says he would have been a professional baseball player if he had more talent. Instead he became a stone mason in New Hampshire and operated his own business for more than 20 years. Today his shoulders are worn-out from decades of carrying heavy stones.

He’s on a hiatus from golf, too. He is battling health issues including Parkinson’s, an arthritic knee, and an infection in his big toe that won’t heal, but he shrugs those off and says he hopes to get back on the golf course someday.

But the hobby I wanted to talk to Paul about is creating military miniatures, or replicas of soldiers in battle. He’s been crafting life-like reproductions of soldiers for years, and for Paul it’s more of an obsession than a hobby. He’s knowledgeable and passionate about wars and the men who fought in them.

A friend once accused Paul of being a charter member of the warmonger’s book club, and standing in the middle of his study it’s easy to see why. Shelves surround the room crammed with books about wars. The Civil War is his favorite, and he has hundreds of books about it and is familiar with every major campaign. Name a Civil War battle and Paul has probably created a miniature of a soldier who fought in it.

He’s also familiar with the major battles of World War I and II, and is conversant about the Korean and Vietnam wars. He served in the Vietnam War, and nearly died in a foxhole the day after Christmas in 1966 when his unit was overrun by three battalions of North Vietnamese soldiers. He remembers the sounds of the incoming mortar rounds, the rat-tat-tat of machine guns, and the shouts of the Vietnamese soldiers. When the battle grew silent, he crept out of his hole with a feeling of apprehension; and then heard the welcome sound of helicopters – U.S. troops coming to the rescue. His relief was quickly followed by anguish as he realized that eight of his unit had died.

After Vietnam, Paul met Ellen, a single mom with three sons, and he fell in love with her. They married and he helped Ellen raise the boys, which at times wasn’t easy, but together they worked hard at it and got it done.  Now, the boys are grown and Paul and Ellen enjoy their lives on the California coast with their golden retriever, Sophie.

But back to Paul’s hobby. Creating miniature replicas of military soldiers is a three-step process that often takes months.

A project begins when Paul receives a request to do a miniature, often from a museum or a descendent of the subject.

Next, Paul researches the soldier’s history, finding out as much as possible from his own books, libraries, and the extensive network he has built over the years. He finds photographs or engravings of the soldier, and determines how the soldier looked and dressed, the weapons he carried, and the landscape of the battles in which he fought.

Finally, Paul creates the model, in either four- or eight- inch versions, of the soldier as he appeared in battle. Each replica begins as strands of electrical wire (the “bones” of the arms and legs) that are plugged into a triangular piece of resin casting (which becomes the torso). Paul then pinches dabs of epoxy putty onto the electrical wires and uses his fingers, a little spit, and small hand tools to carefully add layers of putty and gradually shape arms, legs, and the head. Other details are painstakingly created from putty or bits of plastic, metal, or wood to develop the uniform, weapon, and surrounding landscape.

After the figure is formed, Paul applies several layers of paint to match the face, hair, and clothing of the soldier’s battle appearance. The detail is amazing — the colors are vivid, and the facial expressions are life-like.

When completed, the miniature is turned over to the requestor.

Paul once created a replica of Teddy Roosevelt for actor Tom Berenger, and he put together a scene of Custer saying goodbye to his wife before riding off to Little Bighorn. A few years ago, Paul surprised a friend for Christmas with a miniature of the friend’s father fighting in World War II. These, he says, were labors of love, and I got the feeling that all of Paul’s miniatures are labors of love.

Today, Paul continues to pursue his hobby of creating military miniatures. It’s something he loves and something his health allows him to do. His neurologist was amazed to see what he does and told Paul if he showed his other patients what Paul is doing they wouldn’t believe it.
Paul is a warrior; strong in a way that heroes are strong. He has fought for his country, struggled to support a family, and scrapped to make a living. Now, he fights to preserve his way of life – and his favorite moments in time.

About the author:
Dale Fehringer is a freelance writer who lives in San Francisco. He is a regular columnist for Competitive Intelligence Magazine and a frequent contributor to InTravel Magazine, Writer’s Showcase, and other publications. He can be reached at 415.602.6116 or by email at dalefehringer@hotmail.com.

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