By Catherine Bialkowski
How many uses are there for a toothpick? For the average person, not many. For Stan Munro, however, the possibilities are endless. Throughout his life, the New York state native has created miniature versions of the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Taj Mahal, to name a few — all using only toothpicks.
Munro, who has travelled extensively because of his astonishingly accurate representations of famous structures — which have come to be known as “Toothpick World” – recently opened an exhibit at the Morris Museum in Morristown. Open from July 1 to Aug. 31, this exhibition will showcase some of Munro’s most popular works, including the Empire State Building, the White House, and the Freedom Tower.
Surprisingly, Munro did not initially anticipate creating such an extensive “world” of toothpick buildings.
“Somewhere over the years, I just got carried away — but I’m not sure I want it under control,” he explained. Munro has been using toothpicks as an art form since the age of 10, but it was on a random Tuesday afternoon 13 years ago that he started his official career as a toothpick sculptor.
Initially, Munro began gluing toothpicks together to relax and lose track of time. It was something he truly loved to do – a hobby. However, when he became an unemployed television reporter in 2003, he began to view this activity as more than just something to do in his free time. To keep himself busy, he came up with the idea of a toothpick city, which quickly turned into something much bigger, and much more serious. It became a career.
“Some say ‘it’s not a job if you love it,’” Munro said. “Others say it’s a calling. I’m not sure how it happened, and I don’t know how long it will last, but, for now, it’s fun, and God willing, I will continue. Right now, I’m the luckiest guy on the planet.”
As for his inspirations, Munro says his ideas come from everywhere. He builds replicas of structures from all over the world – everything from an Indian temple to a church in the mountains of Norway.
“If it exists, it’s on my list,” he says.
One of the most anticipated pieces at the Morris exhibit is Munro’s rendering of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a structure that has been, in the past, a basilica, then a mosque and now a museum.
“For at least ten years, true fans of architecture have asked me to build Hagia Sophia, but I never had enough information,” said Munro. However, after discovering some drone videos of the structure, along with satellite photos and 3D renderings, he was able to complete in time for this exhibition.
“I feel like I’m not doing something right if I’m not challenged enough,” he says. “My favorite piece is always whatever is up next.”
If he wasn’t the creator of the incredibly fascinating Toothpick World, Munro says he would still be working in television. “Either that, or selling sock puppets and puzzle boxes from my grocery cart,” he jokes.
However, it doesn’t seem that his career in toothpicks will be ending anytime soon. His recent showing at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Mass., this past winter turned out to be one of the biggest they’d ever had, according to ticket sales.
“Most art museums scoff at what I do,” Munro confesses. “But some find it whimsical and unpretentious. As for me, I just think it’s fun.”
“Fun” is certainly an understatement. Munro’s creations are intricate and beautifully designed, and the attention he so obviously pays to detail is stunning.
“I’m a crazy guy gluing toothpicks and renting them to museums – who does that?” he remarks. “I keep thinking someone is going to barge in on me one day and say, ‘You have to stop. This isn’t a real thing.’”
But it is as real as any form of art, and just as wonderful to look at. Toothpick World is definitely something worth seeing.