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All hands on deck!

Artist aims to craft a salute to Old Ironsides

Rex Stewart carefully takes the glass case off his partial model of the USS Constitution, which took him about four months to build. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
January 05, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — Step into Rex Stewart's Elm Street apartment and you'll quickly notice there's a small fleet of ships decorating the walls and tables. All of them bear his signature, since Stewart has been fascinated by modeling sea craft since he was a child.

For about 30 years, though, he has been particularly focused on one very famous ship, one he hopes to turn into a huge model in time for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. If objects have memory, that ship remembers that war — the USS Constitution, which was launched in 1797 and was in active service until 1855.

"John F. Kennedy's famous 'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country' really hit home with me," Stewart said. "I thought what could I do for my country, and that's this."

His dining room table already hosts a smaller-scale cut-away "prototype" of what he hopes to accomplish, in which dozens of carefully sculpted figures battle on deck while others carry out various tasks below decks. It has loads of little details — a sailor carrying a soldier over his shoulder; a Colonial tricorn hat standing on its tip, as if caught in the act of falling; a musket falling overboard; men pulling hard on a cannon; a red-haired guy throwing a punch at a black man.

"Everybody's doing something different. It's almost like a motion picture if you think about it," he said. "… My intent was to focus on the life, if you will — what transpired in the heat of battle."

Stewart said he plans to expand this model into something that's five or six feet long with masts, sails, and other such details the current version lacks space for. Doing that will take about a year, wrapped around the various commissioned projects (models and landscape paintings) and antique shows he does to make a living. He also eventually hopes to create a new series focusing on Jesus at Calvary plus models of Britain's 1588 war with the Spanish Armada.

See Wednesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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