Member Profile: Chris Stanley

From a model built during high school to a model resting in the Smithsonian,
Chris Stanley has had a long and interesting career.

Written by Chris Stanley

While I was a senior in high school my crafts teacher, Henri Rianda, had a friend who needed a model. The friend was a landscape architect preparing for a Home and Garden Show. His booth would be in living materials and a Japanese style model house was to be the focal point. He showed me the size of the house with the distance between his hands and told me the era and style. I set off to the local library to do research. I found a book about such a house with a nearly complete set of drawings. 

I drew up an estimate of my time and materials. I approached my teacher's friend with my offer and we agreed that I had the job. Needless to say it took longer than I thought it would. The most complicated part of the job was the curved roof. It worked well on my small sample, and was a complete disaster on the full roof. I redid the roof using a better technique and finally completed the model a few days after the due date but in time to deliver to the client before the Garden Show opened. In the end, the model took three times my original estimate. After trying to reach the client by phone for two weeks, I finally just sent him a bill for twice the agreed-upon amount. He phoned me the next day and we decided he would pay me more than my original bid and less than my bill. So in the spring of 1973 I finished my first model for money, and I vowed never again to make a model for money. 

At that point I didn't know that model making was a profession. One day while I was working on the model during free time, my art teacher came into the crafts room and marveled at what I was building. "Chris, this is a fine model; did you know that there are people who are professional model makers and do this kind of thing for a living?” Mr. Crawford said to me. At the time I was not interested in taking up such a career.

About a year later while I was attending community college I decided to look for employment. I opened up the Yellow Pages, found the largest ad for model making and called Scale Models Unlimited. I talked to Chuck Briggs, Don Nussbaum’s business partner at the time. He counseled me not to drop out of school but to come see them in the summer as they typically had summertime jobs. That summer I started working for them. I am dyslexic and was usually slower doing things than my contemporaries except in art. That experience showed me that I could excel at something . After a few more years of struggling through college I dropped out to become a model maker full time. I would eventually finish my bachelors degree 20 years after graduating from high school. 

Scale Models Unlimited was a great place to cut my teeth in model making. I started by doing architectural models, but ended up doing all sorts of models for them. The smallest model airplanes I ever made were a Mig 25 and Soviet Backfire Bombers (about the size of house flies) for a flight simulator. The largest airplane model was a Grumman Hawkeye model with a 16 foot wing span, used for checking radar reflectance off its fuselage. We did display models for NASA, trade show models and 6 foot long model boats for the Coast Guard to show safety systems. The model I am most proud of was a Cyclotron, measuring 8 feet tall and 12 feet long that rested in the Smithsonian Institution for many years. 

Next, I went to work for GVO, an industrial design firm in Palo Alto. We did a lot of models of computers. Got married and moved to North Carolina. Did industrial design and trade show models there. Moved back to the West Coast, this time Seattle, Washington, and spent four years raising my daughter (time well spent). Spent time as a handy man, hydronic heating tech, and wax carver for a jeweler. Eventually I found my way into education, teaching model making, design, and industrial processes at the Art Institute of Seattle. I have managed to make a few models in the process as well. Mostly for inventors who could fit into my schedule. Left the Art Institute two years ago. Currently I am filling my time with set design and construction, teaching classes at local maker spaces, volunteering as one of the makers in residence in the tinker tank at Pacific Science Center. 

I have been a member of the APMM for about 20 years. The last Seattle conference was my first. When I was coming back into the work force after raising my daughter I contacted a model maker I had worked with in the Bay Area. He advised me to contact the APMM. It was through APMM contacts I ended up teaching at the Art Institute of Seattle

A number of years ago I went to visit Kelly Hand who was the first president of the APMM. His studio in Belmont, California is across the street from the landscape architect I did the work for in high school; the business is now run by his son. Life is one big circle.

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Spring 2019 Newsletter