Lucian Ploias keeps the miniature craft alive on Bowen

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Miniature builder Lucian Ploias develops an ambitious project in his workshop in Bowen

Besides the incredible nature of Bowen, our large artistic community will surely come second as a feature that sets us apart from many communities in British Columbia.

I wrote an article a while ago about model building and the loss of this art as different generations embrace new art forms. I visited a number of model train builders but couldn’t find any on the island. In our community, there happened to be a highly skilled model maker, I just had to look past the trains, to the ships.

Lucian Ploias is a long time resident of Bowen who has a profession unique to Canada, he builds model ships, not as a hobby but as a profession. On a recent visit to her boutique on the island, you will appreciate the uniqueness and skills that emerge from her modest workspace.

It’s a bit tight, which is largely due to Lucian’s latest project, one of his greatest designs, a stunning battleship. The hull made of riveted miniaturized aluminum siding, wooden plank decks and 16 feet in length is a truly impressive sight. The model will take him three to four years to complete.

The attention to detail, scale and materials certainly put my early attempts at model building into perspective. Glue on the hands, paint splattered everywhere, it’s not pretty to see. I certainly wouldn’t want to depend financially on my modeling skills to make a living.

Lucian’s clients range from art collectors to museums and shipping companies; he works in the space between artist and engineer/architect. Few people can navigate this space, it’s exciting to see what could happen in this shop.

Scratch art is the basis of all models built, each piece is one of a kind. The models are built from materials as diverse as exotic woods, brass, copper… all formed to miniaturized dimensions according to international standards. Often, as is the case with this battleship, the original plans are used in the construction phase.

From miniaturized rivets, chains and anchors to wooden planks, masts and bridges, the skill in working with all of these materials has to be seen to be believed. The skills to work at this level have been a 40 year journey and from the looks of his shop there will be more projects in the wing… Or should I say the sea.

The future of modeling remains to be seen

Modeling was very popular when I was young. Whether trains, ships or planes, receiving this model for a birthday was a gift that few children would not like. Times have changed and part of the reason I write about modeling is that it is sad to see the loss and decline of interest in modeling.

I spoke with Bob Downey and Bryon Calverley of the former Nanaimo Boat Modellers Association who lament the current state of modeling. Some of these works will end up in the trash, says Bryon.

I was one of the youngest members, says Bob at the age of 80. Both speak to the need for instant gratification in younger generations, so you can see why a younger generation wouldn’t be too eager to start a modeling project that might last one to four years.

Technology has also changed, 3D printing being a good example. Artists like Lucian use these modern tools, but this precision handwork simply does not exist. Lucian speaks of art as an encounter between Grace, Precision and Miniature.

The Nanaimo club has pretty much folded, the future of modeling beyond a niche art form doesn’t look good. But it’s hard to predict with changes in technology and perhaps a need for future youngsters to become more physically connected if that could change.

Who would have predicted the return of vinyl records, my son has a whole collection of them. Lucian is just another example of our diverse artistic community producing unique works of art.

Whether the art bounces back or stimulates a new art form, only time will tell.

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