Bat­tle scenes from a base­ment

Rich dio­ra­mas draw on mil­i­tary his­tory

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Erin Kay­ata

STAM­FORD — Walk­ing through Charles Trudeau’s base­ment is like step­ping into a Me­mo­rial Day time ma­chine, of sorts.

Upon en­try one sees a sprawl­ing minia­ture dis­play of the Bat­tle of Mon­mouth from 1778, com­plete with tiny Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War sol­diers and British Red­coats hold­ing pa­per flags. Nearby is a scene from fur­ther back in his­tory — the Cru­sades — with 10 mm tall fig­ures rep­re­sent­ing a Mid­dle Eastern army in the shadow of the Krak des Che­va­liers medieval cas­tle in Syria. Shelves and cab­i­nets are dec­o­rated with Civil War

im­agery and the like. Trudeau has 33 mil­i­tary dio­ra­mas on dis­play at the Stam­ford home he shares with his wife, Lee. The col­lec­tion, which spans from wars fought by the Spartans to scenes from the two World wars uses over 10,000 fig­ures.

“It’s a per­sonal plea­sure,” he said. “It’s self sat­is­fac­tion. I cre­ated some­thing and I have the power of God in chang­ing it.”

The 74-year-old’s in­ter­est in cre­at­ing mil­i­tary dio­ra­mas be­gan at age 9, when his mother bought him a box set of knight fig­urines from FAO Schwartz on Fifth Av­enue in Man­hat­tan.

An only child, Trudeau split his child­hood be­tween New York and Latin America. The top floor of his Peek­skill, N.Y., home be­came the “bat­tle­ground” for his col­lec­tion, which grew when­ever his grand­fa­ther took him to the five-and-dime store. But when Trudeau went to board­ing school as a teen and then on to the Univer­sity of Ari­zona, his in­ter­est faded and the fig­ures were lost.

“When you go to school and all that, it be­comes a mem­ory,” Trudeau said.

That is un­til 1971, when his job at Continental In­sur­ance brought him to Lon­don. Trudeau re­newed his in­ter­est in fig­urines af­ter find­ing a shop that sold minia­ture Egyp­tian fig­ure kits by Rose Minia­tures. Trudeau painted lit­tle sol­diers to pass the time un­til his fam­ily joined him in Lon­don.

Fig­urine work went on the back burner for Trudeau again for the next decade while he trav­eled for work. In 1981, he re­turned to the United States, where he went to a toy sol­dier show on Long Is­land and got back into col­lect­ing.

“I got en­am­ored,” he said. Trudeau re­tired from a ca­reer in in­sur­ance in 2009, and that was when his hobby be­gan to pick up. Now he spends hours in his base­ment studio, which was ren­o­vated af­ter Trudeau’s three chil­dren moved out for sound­proof­ing and the in­stal­la­tion of shelv­ing for ad­di­tional fig­urines.

Trudeau spends hours re­search­ing mil­i­tary uni­forms, painting sol­diers, set­ting up land­scape and ar­rang­ing bat­tle scenes based on ac­tual mil­i­tary tac­tics, which he looks up in one of his 400-plus books on con­flict, strat­egy and uni­form. He will spend months set­ting up a sin­gle dis­play, of­ten us­ing the same back­drops for dif­fer­ent bat­tles with some creative re­paint­ing. A muddy field in one bat­tle­field be­comes a pond in an­other.

“One thing I al­ways be­lieve in was the ac­cu­racy of the uni­form,” Trudeau said. “You buy the fig­ures, you have to paint it cor­rectly. For me, as a his­to­rian, that’s very im­por­tant. I like to re­search and know ev­ery­thing about what hap­pened.”

Awards, relics

Trudeau or­ders the fig­ures from ei­ther the “toys and hobby” sec­tion of eBay or from deal­ers in the United States and United King­dom. An un­painted packet of sol­diers can go for about $20, but some in­di­vid­ual fig­ures can sell for $75 and up. On av­er­age, they are about 54 mm or about twoand-a-half inches tall. Most of Trudeau’s fig­ures are made of pewter, while some are plas­tic. Some­times, he buys two-di­men­sional groups of sol­diers when he needs larger groups for bat­tle scenes.

“You have to look at num­bers,” he said. “If you want a big crowd, you have to do that.”

Trudeau’s largest dio­rama was of the Bat­tle of Get­tys­burg, but it was his re-cre­ation of the Bat­tle of Fred­er­icks­burg from the Civil War that won third place in an in­ter­na­tional dio­rama con­test. A dio­rama of a World War I first aid sta­tion took an hon­or­able men­tion.

Trudeau’s base­ment is filled with mil­i­tary relics ac­cu­mu­lated on­line and from fam­ily such as his father-in-law’s medals from his mil­i­tary ser­vice and a ri­fle from World War I, which is mounted over his fire­place.

“When you make a dis­play, you bring it to life by bring­ing in a relic from it,” he said.

Trudeau, a Viet­nam veteran and a mem­ber of the Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars Post 9617, has long nursed an in­ter­est in mil­i­tary his­tory. His father served dur­ing World War II as a cap­tain on Gen. Dwight Eisen­hower’s staff and his great un­cle was an in­ter­preter in Cuba for Pres­i­dent Ben­jamin Har­ri­son dur­ing the Span­ishAmer­i­can War. His wife, Lee, has fam­ily who served in the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary and Civil wars.

“I love read­ing his­tory,” Trudeau said. “When I read about a cer­tain bat­tle, I try to mimic it. It’s al­most like tak­ing a snap­shot of a lit­tle cor­ner of the bat­tle.”

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Charles Trudeau dis­cusses the in­tri­ca­cies of his historical dio­ra­mas in­side his home in Stam­ford on May 15. Trudeau’s col­lec­tion be­gan when he moved to Stam­ford in 1981. He has more than 10,000 toy sol­diers and nearly 150 ref­er­ence books in his...

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

A Civil War scene from one of Charles Trudeau’s many historical dio­ra­mas in his home in Stam­ford on May 15. Trudeau’s col­lec­tion be­gan when he moved to Stam­ford in 1981 and he now has more than 10,000 toy sol­diers and nearly 150 ref­er­ence books.

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