A Model-Maker’s Approach To The Enlightenment – Or Herder May Be Right


I have been making models of things ever since I was 7 years old – that means I am coming up to 60 years of it. The amazing thing in retrospect is that there are so few of the results of my work in my hands. I’ve made plastic kits, radio-controlled ships, railway layouts, and innumerable diecast collector’s items …and they are all gone.

Perhaps not gone altogether. Gone into other’s hands; sometimes for money, sometimes for love, sometimes just for more shelf space. I could probably be morose about this but the opposite is the case. I am delighted – it means I can go on to my next enthusiasm with a clear deck. What I have gotten from each of the divisions of model-making has been valuable knowledge and new skills – this builds on itself.

But this post is not about this progression – though the progressive improvement of mankind was one of the ideas of the enlightenment. It concerns Herder’s statement of the basic idea that we are only satisfyingly complete when conforming to the norms of our Volk. Don’t wince at that one – he wasn’t as bad as all that with his concept of it and when you consider he tied it in to a language and a common shared experience, it does serve to explain to me some of my own experience with modelling and re-enacting.

You see, I found that in the last 60 years there were wonderful models to be had and wondeerful activities to pursue but the barrier of language and experience served to bar me from true interest and success. I could have built a OO British railway layout…but never having experience of Great Britain’s railways in any depth would have meant that it would just be a bookish copy of another’s life. Ditto German or French layouts. Victorian dollhouses? I would have been lost. American Civil War re-enacting? Pointless in Australia – I tagged along but found that I couldn’t even convince myself…Add the naval wargames, toy soldiers, and R/C tugboats and it all sounds very sad. Yet each of these hobbies gave me more than I put in it.

Now it is the turn of the die cast cars, trucks, and elephants and at last I have an oeuvre that I can understand – I can use my skills as a studio photographer to invent a small world for myself. Unlike battleships, I have experienced cars. Unlike aircraft, my models do not need public open space, council permission, or vast club structure. And they don’t get hauled home in a sack after one flight. I deliberately do not go outside an envelope of experience and have found that within it is a treasure trove of 60 years of observation.

One point – the minaturist’s interest in buildings and interiors is a wonderful thing for studio work – but I wish there were more makers of the little furniture and accessories who concentrated upon the decor of the 1950’s and 1960’s. It would make reconstruction my believable past much easier.


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