Military miniature shows more art than artillery

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Founded in 1952 by five men who collected toy soldiers, the Military Miniature Society of Illinois has grown into an international club that goes far beyond military miniatures. Its 46th annual exhibition this weekend in Schaumburg features 400 renowned artists and sculptors.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Napoleon or Gandalf, it’s all about good work,” says award-winning artist Joe Berton, who grew up in St. Charles and is president of the group.

Spectators could see hobbits, wizards, elves, dragons, Terminators and basilisks sharing the exhibit space with WWII tank commanders, Civil War generals, Roman gladiators, medieval knights, Mohawk warriors and 1799 Egyptian Mamluk soldiers.

“A lot of young kids are into fantasy characters,” said show president Pat Vess, 60, a retired army veteran from Naperville.

Berton, 68, remembers taking the train to Chicago when he was 13 and buying his first toy soldiers at Marshall Field’s. Berton majored in art at Northern Illinois University, retired from a career teaching art at an Oak Park college, and is married to Gloria Groom, chair of painting and sculpture Europeans at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Berton’s miniatures include a piece featuring author Ernest Hemingway with famed photographer Robert Capa during World War II. Berton, who majored in history in college, did some research to find out that Capa wore paratrooper boots and Hemingway stuck to general U.S. Army boots. This attention to detail is also why Capa is holding a flask and a cigarette.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

Artist Joe Berton, who grew up in Saint-Charles, made a miniature diorama of Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom, featuring a figure of the artist.
-Paul Valade | Personal photographer

Berton drew inspiration from his wife’s career for his stunning shadow box based on Vincent van Gogh’s painting ‘The Bedroom’, which will be on display at this year’s fair and features the artist seated in his bedroom. Berton used wire and an epoxy-based putty to form van Gogh, and he sculpted the details of the artist’s face for the job, which took him 150 hours to complete.

Captivated by the 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia”, Berton carved Middle Eastern scenes with camels and sheikhs. One of these pieces was purchased by actor Peter O’Toole, who played the title character. A Berton sculpture of a chief holding a sacred falcon sold to the crown prince of Bahrain, who became the king.

“The subject you want to do is open to whatever you want to do. It’s only really limited by your imagination,” Berton says.



Joe Berton, a native of St. Charles, left, and Pat Vess, of Naperville, show off their artwork before the Military Miniature Society of Illinois show this weekend.

Joe Berton, a native of St. Charles, left, and Pat Vess, of Naperville, show off their artwork before the Military Miniature Society of Illinois show this weekend.
-Paul Valade | Personal photographer

Vess says most members of the club are “interested in history”.

The club’s online magazine, The Scabbard, is edited by Jim DeRogatis, the former Chicago Sun-Times music critic who also designs box dioramas. Another member is John Rosengrant, who won an Emmy for his role in creating Baby Yoda for “The Mandalorian.” Miniature collectors include painter Andrew Wyeth, actor Robin Williams and publisher Malcolm Forbes, who opened a miniature soldier museum in Tangier, Morocco.

The show is not a competition, but artists are judged to see if their work deserves a gold, silver or bronze medal.

“It’s more about the camaraderie of the hobby,” says Berton, who has won multiple awards.

Vess said he joined the club “thinking I was an outstanding figure painter”.

“Oh, I had a lot to learn,” recalls Vess, who got into the hobby as a teenager in Colorado. “I started building a plastic tank.”

He then graduated from West Point, participated in the Desert Storm invasion that drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, and served as a tank commander in charge of 14 tanks during his tour of Iraq, before retiring in 1993 as captain.

He and his wife, Kathy, dedicate a room in their home to his hobby, where he spent 20 hours making and painting a bust of Robert de Vere, the 14th-century Earl of Oxford, and made a full figure of a Bavarian staff officer. from 1692. He also made sheet metal dishes, fine metal figurines that were popular in Germany towards the end of the 19th century.



Gathered for the first time since the pandemic, the Miniature Military Society of Illinois awaits a crowd at its 46th annual show this weekend in Schaumburg.

Gathered for the first time since the pandemic, the Miniature Military Society of Illinois awaits a crowd at its 46th annual show this weekend in Schaumburg.
– Courtesy of MMSI

This is the band’s first face-to-face meeting since a show in Atlanta in February 2020 and is the biggest national show of its kind. The group is holding monthly meetings online, but hopes to return to in-person meetings soon at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.

Anyone who comes to the salon can purchase kits for as little as $5 and get advice from the best in the business.

“A lot of modelers are really good at sharing their techniques,” says Vess. “It’s not like chefs saying, ‘You can’t have my recipe. “”

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