The little things mean a lot to Petaluma Carpenter Christian Wall.
No, we’re not talking about the day-to-day stresses of pandemic life (although those can escalate at times, of course). We’re talking models that depict pieces of Petaluma’s past: intricate replicas of carts, trucks, wagons, and display cases of yesteryear.
Wall, 68, is a master of miniatures and for the past 13 years has applied the woodworking techniques he learned in a family shipbuilding business to create tiny models for the enjoyment of all. Some of his works were recently exhibited in an exhibit at the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum. There will probably be more this year.
According to Wall, role models are a way to impress people while educating them about the past. It’s also a way to celebrate the history of interesting places, and Petaluma fits that bill.
“In a sense, these models bring history to life,” he said. “I like the fact that I can do that for people.”
Inspiration for a hobby
The mustachioed wall has always been a carpenter. The Guam native learned the trade from his grandfather in the family shipbuilding business while growing up in Southern California.
Modeling, however, is a new hobby – he picked it up after moving to Petaluma in the late 1990s.
He built his first kit – a horse-drawn carriage he collected on a trip to Spain – in 2009 and fell in love with the process of creating smaller versions of real-world objects. Over time, friends and colleagues gave him wood. The wall just kept building.
Over the next 13 years, Wall estimates that he created more than 25 different designs of varying size and detail.
Some of these pieces – including a beer wagon, covered wagon, and egg cart – were on display at a recent exhibit at the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum. The exhibit, titled “The Imaginative World of William Caldwell”, juxtaposed some of William Caldwell’s 1950s folk art woodcarvings with models from Wall to show visitors a range of woodworking styles.
Another of Wall’s pieces, a replica of an old Petaluma cart called the Windsplitter, was in a separate case. This piece was incredibly detailed with individual seats, wheels, luggage and railings. Wall estimates it took about 80 hours to complete the model. He created it from a photograph.
A third piece, a replica of the first truck to make the transcontinental trip from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, was purchased for possible display at the Sonoma County Library.
According to collection manager Solange Russek, the detail in the pieces is breathtaking.
“The painstaking detail he puts into his works is amazing and shows his level of compassion,” she said.
Clint Gilbert, one of the museum’s directors, agreed. In a recent social media video interview with Wall for the museum’s website, Gilbert noted that Wall’s work is an “asset” to the installation in the way it brings history to life.
“I find these models interesting and a concrete way to visualize history,” Gilbert said. “It brings the story right into the moment.”
Fittingly, Wall donated the carriage and other models to the museum in hopes that the museum would sell his work and raise funds. When last checked, Russek said she and her colleagues had in fact sold some of his pieces, raising “several hundred dollars” which would be added to the museum’s general fund.
Wall woodworking process
The 80 hours it took Wall to build this cart was no exception; even for the smallest piece, there is a whole process.
First comes research – usually from photos, but also from books, magazines and websites.
Next comes the building.
Wall does most of his work in part of his garage which he has turned into a makeshift workshop. In winter, however, when temperatures drop below 50, he moves his operation indoors and works on a hobby table that he rolls around his living room.
When creating a new model, Wall’s first steps are to do some rough sketches and decide what type of wood to use. It still has some of the wood that was given to it at the start of the last decade. Friends and colleagues always give him pieces of new wood as well – on New Year’s Day he would spring from the walnut wood he had just received.
One of the biggest challenges is finding materials. When Wall first moved to Petaluma, there were six hobby stores in the area; now, unfortunately, there are no more. Sometimes that means recycling old washers and springs as add-on parts. Other times it means he has to fabricate details out of whatever he can find.
As he works, he climbs the classic rock and incorporates other tools such as pliers, glue, a low-speed drill, sanders, a portable bandsaw, and fasteners.