Matchstick Architecture: From Tiny Sticks, Buildings of His Dreams

Thanks to The Denver Post, we came across this incredible story of Paul Marti, matchstick mastermind:

Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post

The first thing Paul Marti wants you to understand about his odd and wondrous matchstick creations — his delicate cathedrals, soaring castles, luxe mansions — is that they are art, not craft.

He didn’t hone his solitary skill by replicating actual buildings the way other matchstickers do. Those copycats. He designed them in his head, dreamed up their rounded towers and elaborate arches, painted their stained glass, placed their columns and capitals and tiny crosses just so. He solved their construction problems the way an artist would, by conjuring a vision of something beautiful first, then doing whatever it took to make it real.

He’s not a snob about it — in fact, he’s out of work right now. A commission would be swell, he reminds you — but these objects are his life’s work, and he wants you togetthat they are originals. “I would like to see them in a museum,” he says, “That’s where they belong.”

He has contacted several, he says, but it has been a tough sell. He’s not famous, he doesn’t have an agent. And how to even describe his work? Each is a combination of things. Architecture, sculpture, carpentry, masonry. They are fantastical, but real. They are engineered to stand strong, but they have the quaint charm of dollhouses, too.

This is the how he makes them: He bundles together six matchsticks to form a log, then with a scroll saw, he slices the logs into sections about an eighth of an inch thick to make bricks, then he lays the bricks into a wall, using single matchsticks as mortar. The walls come together into buildings, and details — cornices, steeples, domes, parquet floors, flying buttresses — are connected to complete the vision.

And this is how long it takes: 10,000 hours for his giant Swiss cathedral, about 3 feet long and 2 feet high. Maybe seven years of his life on one project. He has been making matchstick buildings since he was about 7 years old, and has completed maybe a dozen, cutting, gluing, rounding corners with a belt sander, whenever he was not working. “This was my life,” he said. “This was all I did.”

What drives him to this kind of perfection? He answers that awkwardly, as if he doesn’t know himself, as if he’s not even sure that all this work was worth it. But he believes he can do something no one can. People make matchstick buildings, but they don’t have his technique, his construction details. “I can create something exactly the way it was built 1,000 years ago. I can say I can do that.”

Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post
Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post
Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post
Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post
Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post

4 thoughts on “Matchstick Architecture: From Tiny Sticks, Buildings of His Dreams

  1. Reblogged this on Bundle me up. and commented:
    Recall those memories of using ice-cream sticks to build houses, farms and windmills? The art using UHU glue and mastering the dexterity of our stubby (for me) fingers. It was all fun till you realized that there was no ice-cream on the stick.
    Here is a guy named Paul Marti. He uses matchsticks to build his Swiss cathedral. The details are all well thought through. He maintains the same brick-layering pattern of the medieval times, using slightly varying tones to accentuate the design. His arcs are breathtaking elegant and his stained glass windows are brought to live by an inbuilt lighting, bringing the entire piece to life.

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