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World's Fair
by E.L. Doctorow


This novel tells the story of Edgar Altshuler, a 9-year-old boy from the Bronx, and his adventures at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. On his first visit to the fair, Edgar is enthralled by industry's vision of the futuresafe, secure and prosperous cities, speedy and cheap transportation and modern invention to make life easier. On his second visit, he sees that the exhibits are constructed of gypsum whose paint is peeling and that the displays are really toys.
                                   
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Collectibles of the Future
by Bob Brooke


 

The whole world is filled with collectibles. Some were useful items used not so long ago—kitchen utensils, souvenirs, toys, advertising items. Others have been produced for the collectibles market, such as decorative plates, scale models of vehicles and airplanes, dolls, bells, and steins. And then there are the new collectibles—the collectibles of the future—created with modern technology and materials.

And if enough people want to collect them, their value will skyrocket to the top of the collectible charts in no time, just as Beanie Babies did, and perhaps fall as quickly back down to the trash heap. For collectors of future collectibles, it’s all a matter of risk.

One of the materials used by future collectibles creators is polyurethane resin. Referred to as garage kits, these objects are often model figures portraying humans or other living creatures. In Japan, kits often depict anime characters, and in the United States depictions of movie monsters are common. However, makers produce kits depicting a wide range of subjects, from characters from horror, science fiction, fantasy films, television and comic books to nudes and pin-up girls to dinosaurs.

Unable to find model kits of subjects they wanted on the market, the original makers of garage kits were amateurs who made kits in their garages because the toxic fumes from paints and chemicals were dangerous to their families. As the market expanded professional companies began making similar kits. Sometimes a distinction is made between true garage kits, made by amateurs, and resin kits, manufactured professionally by companies.

Because of the labor-intensive casting process, garage kits are usually more expensive than injection-molded plastic kits. Some figures are sold completed, but most commonly they’re sold in parts for the buyer to assemble and finish. Artists use Super Glue or an epoxy cement to glue the parts together, then paints the completed figure.

Originally, kit makers sold and traded their products between hobbyists at conventions. As the market grew, a number of companies began producing resin kits professionally, such as Federation Models, Volks, WAVE/Be-J, Kaiyodo, Kotobukiya and B-Club, a subsidiary of Bandai producing Gundam kits (Gunpla).

The scale of figure kits varies, but now most are 1/8 inch. Prior to 1990 the dominant scale was 1/6 inch. This scale downsizing coincided with a rise in material, labor, and licensing costs. Larger kits, of 1/3 and 1/4 inch scale, command higher prices due to the greater amounts of material required to produce them.

The key to making these kits into collectible works of art lies in their customization. Dedicated artists such as Richard Strohmeyer and Heath Duntz are just two who have turned garage kits into spectacular pieces.

Most professionally manufactured garage kits come unpainted in a box while amateur-produced kits sold at conventions come in a plastic bags, blank boxes or even boxes with copied sheet information glued onto them. Artists customize these by adding their own cast-resin parts or by cutting into them and crafting visible working insides. They use airbrushes as well as traditional artist brushes to achieve their effects.

Garage Kit History
In the 1950s and 60s Aurora and other companies produced cheap plastic models of movie monsters, comic book heroes, and movie and television characters. This market disappeared largely because hobbyists got bored or frustrated with the model building kits on the market. There were only so many cars, planes, or boats for them to build. They grew tired of working with models that were more non-fiction based, leaving nothing to their creative imaginations, so they started to create and build their own models.

However, throughout the 1980s an underground market grew through which enthusiasts could acquire the old plastic model kits.

In the early to mid-1980s, hobbyists began creating their own garage kits of movie monsters. There was a small but enthusiastic market for these new model kits. Makers poured resin into flexible molds which could produce rigid reproductions of new figures. The new kits sculpted these figures more accurately and with more detail than the old plastic model kits. They were usually produced in limited numbers and sold primarily by mail order and at toy and hobby conventions.

In the mid- to late 1980s monster model kits went mainstream. By the 1990s, an unprecedented variety of licensed models figure kits began appearing in hobby and comic stores throughout the US and UK as well as Japan.

Garage Kit Production
Garage kits are generally produced in small quantities, from as few as 10 to several hundred, compared to injection-molded plastic kits which manufacturers produce by the thousands. This is due to the labor-intensive nature of the manufacturing process and the relatively low market demand. Resin casting garage kit production is the most labor-intensive.

Vinyl garage kits are produced by using liquid vinyl Plastisol in a spin casting process known as slush molding. It’s more complex than resin casting, but less expensive and less sophisticated than the injection molding used for most plastic products and isn’t commonly done in a garage.

Creating Resin Figures
Most garage kits are made with synthetic resin. This material is sticky and liquid when heated to high temperatures. Unlike PVC, resin is strong, solid and reliable after hardening in its mold.

Resin casting is a method of plastic casting where the maker fills a mold with a liquid synthetic resin, which then hardens. Primarily used for small-scale production, it can be done by amateur hobbyists with little initial investment and is used in the production of collectible toys, models and figures.

Most commonly the creator of a figure uses a heat-setting resin that polymerizes by mixing with a curing agent or catalyst at room temperature and normal pressure.

Alternately, resin casting may be accomplished with a resin plus a nearly equal amount of a "hardener" liquid, such as that used in epoxy, which contains a second polymer, for use in forming a final product plastic which is a copolymer. The synthetic resins used include polystyrene resin, polyurethane resin, epoxy resin, unsaturated polyester resin, acrylic resin and silicone resin.

The creator first sculpts the figure in clay, then makes a flexible mold of it in latex rubber. To cast the figure, the maker pours the resin into the mold and lets it seek its lowest level by gravity, insuring that the resin gets into all the details of the mold. Mixing the two liquid parts causes an exothermic reaction which generates heat and within minutes causes the material to harden, yielding castings or copies in the shape of the mold into which it has been poured. With the addition of the catalyst, bubbles form. These must be removed by vibrating the mold.

The molds are commonly half-divided like hollowed chocolate Easter eggs. The maker removes the hardened resin casting from the flexible mold using a releasing agent and allows it to cool.

The end product is expensive because the rubber mold deteriorates quickly, enabling the maker to produce only a small number of castings, typically 25 to 100. And while the initial cost of creating a an injection mold is higher, the mold can produce a higher number of castings.

After the castings have cooled, they can be cut or sanded to remove any casting artefacts like sprues and seams. Some makers assemble and paint their products, while some models and kits, intended for consumers to assemble, are left unfinished.

Superior Examples of Customization
This garage kit sculpture, called the “Sisters of Orion” by Richard Strohmeyer transforms art through synthetic resin casted form, originally created by Abner Marin and painted in great detail by contemporary artist Strohmeyer. Marin originally named his piece “Angelique.” With it, he captured the likeness of model Angela Bassett with attention to the finest detail and with incredible precision in its sharp, crisp metal work.

But the story behind this fantastic and futuristic work of art goes back to antiquity in ancient Greece. Once upon a time there lived seven sisters—Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygete, Asterope, Calaeno and Merope---the seven daughters of Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione. They were the hunting companions of the goddess Artemis. One day all seven were playing in a secluded glade in the forest. Their laughter rang merrily through the trees for they thought they were alone. They didn’t know that close by the valiant hunter Orion was hunting for a deer that had been eluding him for quite a while. He was wandering through the woods when he heard laughter coming from the seven hidden sisters. He startled them and they ran into the trees. From then on, Orion interrupted every hunt that the sisters went on. He chased them relentlessly for seven years. with the seven sisters always on the run from Orion and as each year passed.

The next time Orion cut the sisters’ hunt short, Zeus turned the seven sisters into pigeons, and they soared into the sky. When the seven birds had flown too far away, Zeus changed them into stars, in a cluster known as cluster known as the Pleiades.

Richard Strohmeyer, of St. Paul, Minnesota, mostly customizes his resin forms and kits by creativiely painting them. “ It was a challenge to highlight the details without desaturating everything,” he said. “I tackled my color choices by laying them out with a color wheel. The main objective was to run with secondary colors—green, purple and orange. While looking at the mechanical details under the armor I couldn’t help but think of old anatomy diagrams and gave the bigger cables an anatomical feel. I also love to incorporate patterns. The flat planes this piece contained allowed for some spare use of very busy elements.”

But Strohmeyer doesn’t stop there. Instead of regular paints, he uses neon colors, which he says creates a bold statement. “With ‘Sisters of Orion” I really wanted movement.” And he used fluorescent green and pink in places, he placed the orange on the front, side and back. It really shows the nooks and crannies in the design.



Another artist, Heath Duntz, of Saint John, Kansas, customizes his work by physically altering it, often by adding his own resin parts, old watch and clock parts, and bits of antique paraphernalia. He begins with a manufactured resin or vinyl form and then proceeds to customize it on a theme and giving it a title, much like any other work of art.

Duntz said his process is completely visual. “I see everything as what it could be.” He starts by simply surrounding himself with things he finds visually interesting, then he visualizes what he imagines it becoming. “Sometimes it takes awhile, with a lot of staring and pacing,” he added. “I never force it. Then when I have a image in my head, I simply make it real.” Whether it be just painting, sculptural elements, assemblage of parts, resin work, or a bit of everything, Duntz creates pieces that go beyond what hey were originally intended.

The amount of time each of these artists spends on each piece varies, but needless to say, it’s labor intensive, which drives up the price of their final pieces. But each creates something unique, not necessarily one of a series.


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