May 17, 2017

TRENCH RUNNER EVENT: Mat Johnson checks in with his "The Future of the Hobby" Family Day event

Mat Johnson checks in with a report on his second successful figure painting event for youngstesr designed to expose  kids into the hobby. 

The future of our hobby was on display again recently in Southampton, Ontario.  To mark the holiday known as Family Day in Ontario the Bruce County Museum hosted an open house involving vendors and groups offering free family friendly activities.  Following the success of last years Family Day 'military figure painting' booth I again returned armed with paint, brushes, paper towels and lots of soap, to help introduce kids to the world of military models.

It was a warm sunny day and the people turned out in record numbers.  Starting right at 10 am I had a constant stream of little artists through my booth working on projects right until 4 pm when it was time to pack up.  In all over 130 kids took home a painted figure.  As with last year the range in ages was roughly 5 - 12 years, and boys to girls about half and half.  I was happy to see the number of girls that took to painting army men, something perhaps more traditionally thought of as a 'boys hobby'.  Though all the kids were excellent and respectful, a select handful really went above and beyond in the efforts they put into mixing the proper colours and checking to make sure their uniform was accurate compared to the full size ones on display in the museum gallery.  Of course accuracy was far from what we were aiming for at this event, it was more about opening up imaginations and encouraging kids to create something that is not on a screen.

As with any time I do this type of thing with kids I really enjoy the spectrum of uniform designs.  Most of the older kids were familiar with the 'red coats' as many historic sites in Ontario feature renactors dressed as British soldiers, so the scarlet jacket found its way on to many of the models.  This year there was quite a theme with white jackets and pants.  Maybe it's a natural survival instinct bred right into us Canadians to blend into the snow, however some of the white on white uniforms were quite impressive.  One little girls looked shockingly close to a WW2 Panzergrenadier  reversible smock - except I'm not sure how the pink boots would blend into the Ardennes landscape.  Another thing quite noticeable this year was the care the kids put into painting the wooden display bases the figures were mounted on.  Again, snow was a popular theme, however more kids painted mud than grass which shows me that even young kids do pay attention and grasp that war is muddy and dirty.

When I was a young kid I was fortunate enough to be encouraged in the hobby not only by my Dad, but by some friendly model builders and figure painters.  It's nice to pass this forward and again this year I was able to do that with a few of the older kids who asked me how to get into the hobby.  Most of the figures I provided were generic ( I thought looked like early war Soviets to be honest ) however the Michigan Toy Soldier Co provided me with a kind donation of 2 sets - 40 figures- of Armies in plastic WW1 Canadian infantry.  I sent a handful of these more historically accurate figures as well as brushes home with several kids who showed interest in continuing with the hobby.  The highlight of my day was a Mom who told me that following last years figure painting event her son really took to painting the figures I sent home with him.  This led to purchasing and building a few snap together car models, and they were currently working on a model of the Titanic.  That is what this type of thing is all about.

Sometimes the best inspiration comes from unexpected sources.  I had one kid tell me quite matter-of-factually that he liked coming to this museum because he could touch stuff and do things.  He quite clearly stated that he didn't enjoy bigger museums like the Royal Ontario Museum because everything was behind glass and not fun.  Bingo!  The Bruce County Museum is a very forward thinking institution that has a excellent grasp on keeping people involved and interacting.  Kids don't care about a 3000 year old Egyptian pot in a display case, they care about making something, pushing buttons, touching stuff and being allowed to interpret history at their own pace.  There are many excellent museums out there that understand this, and ultimately they will be the ones with people consistently returning to view exhibits and attend special events.

In conclusion, I feel the hobby has a bright future, however it is up to us who enjoy it now to pass on and encourage future generations.  Maybe some of the folks who spend thousands of hours sanding rivets and re-scribing panel lines should consider donating a few of those hours to a local museum or model building group that is encouraging kids.  At the end of the day it is a hobby, and helping people who are new to it keeps it all in perspective.  I am looking forward to doing more figure painting activities, and hopefully if the success of this years event is any indication will be doing so for a long time into the future.

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