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Sheperd Paine

Sheperd Paine: The Life and Work of a Master Modeler and Military Historian Book Review

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review April 2009 Title Sheperd Paine: The Life and Work of a Master Modeler and Military Historian
Author Jim DeRogatis Publisher Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
Published 2009 ISBN 978-0-7643-2929-6
Format 272 pages, Hardbound MSRP (USD) $79.95


Back in 1985 I joined the fledging Lone Star Military Miniatures Society in Austin, Texas, as I was assigned to nearby (by Texas standards) Fort Hood. We had some great guys in the society – Bob Bethea, Chris Mrosko, Steve Hardin, and Dieter Mattingly, just to mention a few. Dieter wanted to have a show in Austin similar to the MFCA and Chicago shows, using their judging system and a much more distinguished approach to modeling and figure painting in particular than most of us were used to.

Dieter called an old friend of his – Shep Paine – who came down to be our guest of honor and guest speaker. I had a great time at the show and wound up spending a good portion of the late hours of the evening having a couple of beers with Shep. He and I had a lot of views in common, and he also gave me the best criteria I have ever had to judge a model in a competition: what’s right with the model, what’s wrong with it, and what did the modeler have to do to get to the end result. We later used that same philosophy when we created the AMPS judging system in 1994 for judging our shows.

I have had the privilege to judge with Shep at the 1993 World Expo Show in Tysons Corner, Virginia (an international show of the first rank and another of Shep’s creations) and we had an easy time of a very difficult task for just those reasons. But many people wonder, who exactly is Shep Paine, and why do so many very good modelers and figure painters hold him in such high regard?

Author Jim DeRogatis, whose “day job” is the pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, has now answered the question in spades in this magnificent volume which presents a full panorama of Shep’s work and covers his life from its beginnings. He worked with Shep for several years on this book, using interviews with Shep and later with a number of prominent modelers and figures in the modeling community, to create a very thorough picture of the man and his art. Shep himself had authored a couple of books for Kalmbach Publications, but this would be a different type of work entirely.

One of the few people truly qualified to introduce such a work, legendary miniaturist Bill Horan, has written the foreword to set the stage. He too cites the fact that Shep changed judging model competitions as we know them by focusing on achievement and not triage. One-two-three judging systems have to work that way; the “open” system can therefore award each for his own achievement and not being in the right place at the right time with a good work.

Jim opens with a biography of Shep, the son of a military doctor who brought his son toy soldiers from every country he visited. Shep was actually born in West Berlin and spent his first three years there, coming back to the US in 1949. He grew up in Boston but did get to spend a year in England in 1957-1958, getting a thorough dose of history from the museums as well as other countries in Europe. A British model soldier shop called the Sentry Box was what got him permanently hooked on figure modeling. Once back in the US, like many of us he also got into model railroading, first O and then HO Gauge, which then brought in ROCO Mini-Tanks and Airfix “HO/OO” figures.

After he failed to get into an Ivy League school, Shep joined the Army and served with the 3rd Armored Division from 1965-1967. It was during his life in Chicago that Shep finally got into serious modeling and miniatures, joining the Military Miniature Society of Illinois. By 1969 he was a sculptor for Valiant Miniatures doing figures. Here he found his favorite medium, A+B Epoxy Putty, which he has used since for sculpting.

From that point on it was eclectic. Shep met Phillip Stearns at the 1977 MFCA Show, and between him and Stan Malinowski he learned the art of model photography. Roy Andersen became one of his major influences. Shep also did such things as sculpt the medals used at the prestigious Chicago show in 1975, and they are still in use to this day.

There are a lot of tips and hints on successful modeling in the book, accompanied by illustrations and photos of finished works to show what the final effect of the techniques will be. The book covers subjects by generic type, such as stock or “kit” figures. These even include the old Aurora (later Monogram and Polar Lights) Movie Monster figures – don’t look much like the ones I did as a teenager! Flats - to me the ultimate figure challenge, getting three dimensions out of two – are covered as well.

Historex figures are next, and in point of fact Shep’s 1971 figure of General Colbert in the 2nd “Red Lancers” uniform is the cover figure for the book. The amount of animation, and how it was obtained, in these popular if generally stiff figures is really worth a second look just to see the amount of detail and expression in each one.

Next up are armor dioramas, which are the reason many of us got into large-scale (e.g. 1/35) armor modeling if just to see what we could do. It is recommended that readers pay attention to the dates the works were completed before deciding to “sharpshoot” them, as most are before any of us had more than early Tamiya “Military Miniatures” series kits to work with and not a whiff of resin, etched brass, or turned aluminum after-market items. In 1972 Shep carried out a number of contract works for Monogram which began with their recent 1/32 scale German armor releases, and then moved into their 1/48 aircraft kits. These small four-page fliers told many of us there was something more to slapping a bunch of plastic together, spraying it from a can, applying silvery decals and calling it a “work of art.” Even dogs like the Nitto Sd.Kfz. 251/1 Ausf. B halftrack somehow look great, even by today’s standards!

Next as a point of fact are the aircraft dioramas, starting with the Monogram B-17G kit. As many of us learned years ago, the science of detailing which Shep dubbed “creative gizmology” has its roots in a lot of model railroad detailing parts (widgets tend to look like widgets, and as long as they are not installed in a recognizable assembly they fill the bill).

The book then moves into one of Shep’s fortes, namely scratchbuilt or sculpted figures. This one covers a wide variety of subjects, including a lot of the Valiant subjects Shep either worked on or did up for illustrations. He did up several of their 1/2000 scale line of sailing ships, and Shep even did up the fight between HMS Lydia and Natividad from “Captain Horatio Hornblower”. He was also responsible for a 1980 MMSI staging of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1/2000 scale, which still requires modeling more than 70 sailing ships and getting them in the right places on a seascape. This chapter also highlights how much of Shep’s work now resides in museums around the US, and where to see some of the more well known works.

The next section covers one of Shep’s real advances, Boxed Dioramas. My personal favorite is “Son of the Morning Star” in which three figures of the 7th Cavalry appear ghostly over plains Indians on a dark night (alas, it wasn’t in the book, but is listed as work number 374 as a 1985 achievement.) ADDENDUM: Shep was kind enough to point out that I missed “Son of the Morning Star” which is on pp. 246-247 of the book and also has three photos: one of the figures, one of the box diorama without its case, and one of the final effect with the ghosts in the sky. Still my favorite!

The book is saturated with tone boxes from a veritable “Who’s Who” of modelers, model makers, and model publications editors with their personal views of Shep and how he has affected their lives and modeling; I was fortunate enough to be one of the contributors so as I “have a dog in the fight” will leave the reader to make his own judgments of this book.

There are a few minor kibbles over some typos or mistakes – Steve Zaloga and I both live in Maryland, not Massachusetts! – but nothing major to spoil the great job that has been rendered. I believe everyone who builds models or paints figures should have a copy on their bookshelves – if nothing more than just for the inspiration.

Thanks to Schiffer Military History books for the review sample.