Mystic Seaport, CT: Scale Model Version
He hung on for a while, doing this and that around the museum, but then left. “His heart was broken,” Anny says. He shuttled back and forth between Canada and the United States, and then settled in as an engineer at Electric Boat in Groton, where he stayed. In 1986, the museum asked whether he’d like to freshen up the model. Would he ever — for years it had nagged at him that before he could fix it, Fort Rachel was 100 feet out of place to scale, and that so many other things could be done better. He filled his nights and weekends; then in 1991 he retired from Electric Boat, and finally, his real life’s work began in earnest.
As a “volunteer” he worked on the model 30 to 40 hours a week, then would come home and spend the night reading and researching. He needed about 30 hours to finish a simple house, maybe six months of daily work for a ship. “His dream was that when you turned your back it still came to life — the people came to life,” Anny says. He wasn’t satisfied with simply re-creating St. Mark’s Church; he needed to replicate each stained glass window, too. “He always asked, ‘What’s missing?’” Anny says. He lived in two worlds. He’d be so intent on the tiny ships, the tiny people, the tiny moments of life, that when his day ended and he stepped outside, he’d be disoriented, like a time traveler. “When I’m in the diorama, that’s the size I’m living,” he once said. It was that way for years.
Anny shows me a folder of photographs of her father. I see him first bending close to his model as a young man; I see him bending still when he’s old. “My dad would say, ‘Hunch down,’” Anny recalls. “He always wanted people to look down Main Street, with your eye right there with horse-drawn carriages and people walking,” she says. “He was really telling a story. My dad wanted to do this forever.”
It’s possible that if Arthur Payne had lived longer, the model would be done. But I doubt it. When you look as closely as he looked at the intimate moments of life, details become infinite. There’s always more to do. And yes, when you turn your back, old Mystic still lives.
For a slide show of the Mystic River Scale Model and 2 “Yankee Classic” stories of other miniature worlds, go to: Mystic Seaport and More Models.