This artist has devoted his life to turning matchsticks into masterpieces

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Patrick Acton turned his hobby of making matchstick models into a successful business. (PHOTO: Facebook/Patrick Acton)
Patrick Acton turned his hobby of making matchstick models into a successful business. (PHOTO: Facebook/Patrick Acton)

Hour by hour, stick by stick. Many would regard it as a tedious job to glue matchsticks together, wait for them to dry then repeat this process over and over again, but not this model-maker. 

Over the past 40 years Patrick Acton has used millions of matchsticks to make his incredible creations.

In fact, the American has such a passion for model building that he even has his own museum called the Matchstick Marvels Tourist Center, which he opened 20 years ago in his hometown in Iowa.

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Around 17 of his models are showcased there, including his favourite  a model replica of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, which he built using 298 000 matchsticks, 55 litres of wood glue and 2 000 toothpicks.

Patrick Acton, Matchstick Marvel
In 2003 he completed his magnificent recreation of Chartres Cathedral in France. (PHOTO: Facebook/Patrick Acton)

The impressive model is about 2,3m long and 1,5m tall. The artist spent over 2 000 hours on the piece and before even starting, devoted eight years to collecting research material so he could ensure his creation was as accurate as possible. 

Some of his creations are too big to keep in his gallery so Patrick sold them to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums. One of these is his steampunk train which is 3,3m long, large enough that kids can sit in the cab and play with the controls.

“I made a model of the New World Trade Center. Ripley’s says that it’s the tallest matchstick structure in the world measuring over 17 feet high [5,1m] and the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars has nearly a million matchsticks in it – moving parts, landing gear that comes down, loading ramps, lights,” the artist says. 

Patrick (69) builds everything on his own.

“It’s a one-man operation and you’re looking at the president, CEO and labourer,” he says.

But he admits it's sometimes hard explaining his craft to strangers.

“You don’t tell people that you make things out of matchsticks because if they haven’t seen what you’ve done they look at you pretty funny.” 

Patrick Acton, Matchstick Marvel
Patrick's recreation of Hogwarts Castle from Harry Potter required 602 000 matches. (PHOTO: Facebook/Patrick Acton)

“But once they see what I’ve created and they’re no longer picturing little wooden stick figures out of matchsticks, they come alive – and that’s what feeds my spirit,” he says. 

Patrick is a father of three and is married to April, who supports him through it all.

He started matchstick-model building as a hobby in 1977 and when he eventually retired after 30 years as a professional career counsellor at a community college, he turned his pastime into a business.

Since he was a young boy, he's always loved working with wood. At the age of 10 he built a fully enclosed treehouse with glass windows and painted sides which boasted its own heater stove.

He says he learnt everything he knows about woodwork through trial and error.

Patrick was inspired to start creating his matchstick models after watching a TV news report about a man who made a farmstead from ordinary wooden matchsticks. He never forgot this story and after graduating from college in 1977, he built his first small model from matchsticks – a country church.

Matchstick models
Patrick at work, creating a sheet of matches to use in one of his future creations. (PHOTO: Facebook/ Matchstick Marvels)

For the first 10 years, he bought regular matchsticks and would spend hours laboriously cutting off the sulphur tips. Later he was happy to discover that he could save himself lots of time by buying matchsticks without tips. 

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Initially Patrick only built straight structures but as the years went by, he started experimenting with curves and different shapes. He does this all by hand and does not use any steam or water to bend the matchsticks. 

Patrick also developed a new technique which he calls "sheet-building" where he glues thousands of matchsticks together on a Plexiglas base. Once dried, he peels the sheet of matchsticks off from the Plexiglas. 

In a video on YouTube, he shows the sheets.

“This would be about a half a million sticks that I pre-glue for my next project. Each one of these sheets contains about 12 000 matchsticks. Roughly 16 hours per sheet. So, you’re looking at hours here. There’re 50 sheets of sticks here,” he explains.

Patrick Acton, Matchstick Marvel
In 2010 he completed the Minas Tirith Tower from The Lord of the Rings. (PHOTO: Facebook/Patrick Acton)

This year Patrick is taking on the challenge of taking fans Back to the Future to see Hill Valley, California, in matchstick form.

He plans on creating an elaborate scene from the movie which features Dr Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who helps Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) return to 1985 with the help of the DeLorean time machine.

Patrick can't see himself ever getting tired of creating his time-consuming models.

“I think I’ll probably draw my last breath and still be gluing matchsticks together,” he says. 

Sources: Matchstick Marvels, DailyMail, YouTube 

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