World’s greatest monuments rebuilt one toothpick at a time

Farah Montasser, Wednesday 12 Jan 2011

Toothpicks have made their way not into mouths or finger-food presentations, but into Stan Munro's hands, as building blocks for much bigger items. Ahram Online had the pleasure to go one-on-one with the 'toothpick engineer'

World’s greatest monuments rebuilt one toothpick at a time
Toothpick City I

“My main enjoyment is really to make historically accurate replicas of famous buildings from around the world, especially religious ones,” says 'toothpick engineer' Stan Munro.

With no artistic experience, (other than being dragged along with his parents on occasional museum visits, which he describes as “cold and stuffy”) Munro has innovated sculpture art with the use of millions of toothpicks. “I have no artistic background. I cannot sing, paint, or play any musical instrument,” Munro says.

However, when he was ten-years-old his art teacher asked him and his classmates to make something out of a box of toothpicks and glue. He managed to “wow the classroom with a 10-inch tall building,” he recalls.

Toothpick sculptures have since been a hobby of his, but that had changed seven years ago; toothpicks and glue altered his life, transforming him from a TV presenter in Rochester, New York to one of the most sought after, innovative artists in the world.

In 2003, Stan Munro surprised the world with his ‘Toothpick City I,’ which featured many of the world’s greatest historical landmarks. “My first exhibit Toothpick City I was featured at the New York State Fair and was eventually sold to a museum in Mallorca, Spain,” he says. In 2009, Munro completed his even bigger ‘Toothpick City II,’ featuring the world’s greatest religious monuments and towers, and is currently at the Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse, New York. A four-years-long project, Toothpick City II, consumed four million toothpicks and 45 gallons of glue. Furthermore, Munro also has smaller exhibits in Phelps, New York, and White Plains, New York.

Working comfortably at the basement of his house, Munro spends between two weeks to three months on completing a single project. “Every building is different and I work on two projects at a time,” he says. Although he has not yet been to the Middle East, Munro dedicated ample time to building replicas of famous Middle Eastern structures, including Aspire Tower in Doha (Qatar), the Great Pyramids of Giza (Egypt), the World Trade Centre in Bahrain, Burj Khalifa and Burj El Arab Hotel in Dubai (UAE), Al Faisaliyah Centre in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), King Hassan II Mosque in Morocco, and the Grand Mosque of Mecca (Saudi Arabia).

But it is the Grand Mosque of Mecca where he pauses to explain the significant affect it had on him. Once completed, it brought tears to his eyes. “How many people in this world can build something that makes them cry?!” he proudly comments.

“Although I had never been to the Middle East, partially because I felt that I had been travelling when I got to build these great structures,” he explains, “the Grand Mosque of Mecca had always been a dream of mine.” He had pictures of the Grand Mosque for several years before he began to building it. “I thought it was impossible to build at the beginning, but the idea kept nagging me,” he elaborates. The Grand Mosque took over three months to build. “When I sat down to do the math, I realised how massive and beautiful it was. I just had to build it.” Focusing on detail, Munro even portrayed visitors and people praying around the rooftop of the Mosque, just as actually happens at prayer time.

Munro had not traveled a lot to capture the monuments of his famous replicas; for accuracy he relies more on satellite photos, computer models, and schematics. According to him, it is a mathematical thing. “I have been to a couple of buildings in New York City, Spain, and a few others, but those visits never help,” he says. “You cannot climb up outside of the Empire State Building to look at the spire, for example.”

Besides building things with toothpicks for a living, Munro designed special workshops for children on his website, “Sometimes all it takes is an encouraging word,” he says. It is indeed an unusual craft, with which he tries to help children following his footsteps. “I have had a classroom in Texas reproducing my toothpick windmill template; and in Lebanon I helped an engineering class with their boat-building project,” he continues, “I was even featured in a school textbook in Brazil.” Munro aims to stand as an inspirational figure for children all over the world.

Among his latest projects is the replica of the La Sagrada Familia, a church in Barcelonan (Spain), which he describes as very complicated since he has been working on it for more than three months now and still cannot see the end in sight. Asked about his favourite project, Munro says “it is always the one I am working on at the time and that’s what keeps me going.”

Throughout the last seven years, Stan Munro has been well-received among some audiences and ridiculed by others. According to him, some say "Wow, that’s incredible,” while others say “Wow, what an incredible waste of time!” But it is the Wow Factor that keeps him unstoppable.

In search for his next project, Stan Munro asks Ahram Online readers to suggest which Egyptian temples he should build.

Please use the comment icon below or email him directly at ([email protected]) with your suggestions.

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