Behind the Scenes
An interview with Joe Monti
Every modeler’s dilemma is what to do with a project when it’s finished. It’s easy to find a place to display a model or two, but what if you have a dozen? Thomas F. Monti’s problem was even bigger: he had over 4,000 completed models. His sons came up with a solution – – Build dad a museum.
T.F. Monti’s “War & Peace” model museum sits just off Highway 90 in Waveland Mississippi, just west of the Bay St. Louis Bridge. Models of airplanes, armor, ships, cars, and an assortment of oddities are displayed by category, each in a different room. I talked with Joe Monti, TF’s son, about his dad and the museum.
Hub: How and when did your dad get started in the hobby?
Joe Monti: Dad began building models in the 1930’s using balsa wood and paper. He built a few hundred model planes, some of them with wingspans of 3 feet or more. He also whittled small model planes from solid pieces of balsa. He gave most of those models away. The remaining models ended up in the attic where the extreme heat caused the paper to disintegrate. None of those models exist today.
In the early 1950’s, my oldest brother won a plastic model of the USS Arizona. He asked my dad to help him build it and that was the beginning of his present collection. That model sits on a shelf in the entry room of his collection.
Hub: Did he have any favorites?
Joe: This is the question most asked of him by visitors. His answer was always the same, “They are all my favorite.”
Hub: You’re right on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. How did the collection fare during Hurricane Katrina?
Joe: Dad lived on deMontluzin Avenue in the Old Town section of Bay St. Louis. It is one of the highest elevations in town and the water rose to almost three feet inside the home. The models were contained on the shelves with clear, plastic sheeting that he tacked to the face of the shelving to keep the dust off the models. Some of the models still show signs of the mud that accompanied the flood waters.
The shelving that held the models were cut into sections and moved outside into the carport so that the house could be renovated. The carport was enclosed to store the models for about three years until they were moved to their present home. To our knowledge, none of the models were lost.
Hub: Why a museum?
Joe: Years before Hurricane Katrina, Dad would lie in bed at night and talk to Mom about how one day he would like to have a place where he could show people his models. Years later, opening his collection to the public was our gift to him.
Hub: What was your dad’s reaction when he saw the museum?
Joe: He cried.
Hub: How did the name of the museum come about?
Joe: War and Peace: That was the name he wanted. Many of his models depict the weapons of war. But others reflect the signs of more peaceful times. We hope Tolstoy doesn’t mind.
Hub: Do you have a way knowing which model is where?
Joe: Dad kept a ledger of every model he collected. After placing the models on the shelves (three months), we assigned numbers for each shelf and numbers to each location on that shelf. Each model has a designated shelf and position on that shelf.
Hub: You’ve also got a website with over 4,000 models on it. What was involved and how long did it take?
Joe: We took pictures of each model (three more months) and began the task of matching his ledger to the pictures and creating his website (another twelve months).
Hub: Where have the visitors come from?
Joe: Scotland, London, Ireland, Japan, Columbia, Canada, New Zealand, many of the states of the U.S. and sometimes even a local resident who had never heard of the collection.
Hub: Anything else we should know about your dad’s work?
Joe: Like so many sons who are so proud of their fathers, we appreciate the fact that he was just a good man, a good father. His collection was just one part of his life and being able to keep it and share it with others continually keeps him alive in our lives. We do not charge admission. We do not take donations. We keep it open because we enjoy sharing it as much as he enjoyed sharing it. He died at age 94. The last model he finished just a few days before he died sits on his desk at the museum where he built it. On June 29th 2015, he would have been 100.
The War and Peace museum is located at 117B Highway 90 – Waveland, MS. (2.8 miles west of the Bay St. Louis Bridge; 0.5 miles east of the Hwy 90/603 Junction) By appointment: (228) 216-7409. . . . email: firstname.lastname@example.org . . . . Website: http://www.tfmonti.com – – – –
Photos by Joe Monti and Jeff Junker