Last weekend, my family piled in the car on one of those gorgeous clear blue-sky days when New Mexico is the only place in the world I could ever want to be. Within ten minutes, we were out of town. Deep green pines and cracked rose-brown boulders flanked us on the winding mountain highway. Our destination was Tinkertown, a place I’d heard of for years but had never visited. Actually, let me be honest. With a name like “Tinkertown,” I thought it would be a dud. After all, “tinker” doesn’t exactly conjure grand images of fascinating locales. It’s a cozy word. Quaint. Cute.
And I’m rarely in the mood for cute.
Prepared, in a condescending way, to be amused, I ended up being floored. Crammed with scenes of miniatures Ross Ward crafted during the too-short five decades of his life, the multi-room and meandering building is an overwhelming visual experience. A cacophony of sights. Crusty musicians greet you. Stick a quarter in the slot and they sing, strum the guitar. Here is a model of a town in the Old West complete with the Chinese laundry, brothel, saloon and so much more. Push this button and a miniature chef with raised cleaver chases an unfortunate chicken, bar doors open and close, the blacksmith bangs on a horseshoe. Go to the circus scene with its hundreds upon hundreds of characters. Push this button and a dog jumps endlessly through a hoop, tigers rear and raise their paws, a trapeze performer swings.
Oh, there is so much to see! The walls made of glass bottles – more than 55,000 – and spotted with inspiring sayings that can’t help but uplift. There’s the yacht (yes, you read that correctly) that circled the world and ended at its final port in the New Mexico mountains . . .
What does any of this have to do with writing?
More than you’d think.
Tinkertown’s emotional and visual richness moved and inspired me incredibly. The small “museum” stands as a testament to one man’s fierce independence, creativity and mad – wonderful – vision. Ross Ward’s compulsion to create, and the cumulative effect of his work, just blew me away. He and his family made this insanely marvelous gem simply to make it.
Tinkertown is unexpected, untraditional, unlike anything I’ve seen before. Every step I took there revealed the museum creator’s spirit though he died in 2002. By the time I wound my way back to the gift shop, I felt I knew him and that he was a friend.
In my own life, I’ve been told that I don’t write “big books,” that my works tend to be too quirky, too out of the norm, not the stuff of blockbusters. But seeing Tinkertown gave me hope that even if my books or stories don’t end up on national bestseller lists, there’s a place for the small – the different – in this life. After all, someone will always be there to enjoy seeing the world’s smallest fleas dressed in wedding attire . . .
For all of his life, Ross Ward marched to his own drummer. He made something fantastic in the process, something we can all enjoy and appreciate. What a wonderful legacy.
If I’m able to do the same with my writing, what a success I will be.
Do you know – or have you known – anyone who was a true original?
Please tell us about that person today and share his/her link if there is one.
(Also, for those attending LCC 2011, Ross Ward’s wife Carla said she’d be glad to open up the museum a few days early — by Sunday, March 27 — if we have a group that would like to go there.)