Peter's War
January 7, 2014 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Peter's War is the story of an outdoor war game that artist Peter Shulman has been playing for more than sixty years. It has some very unusual aspects to it that make it totally unique. It is in fact a huge installation type work of art. At the present time the war contains over 60,000 hand sculpted soldiers and more than 4,800 scale models, vehicles in 1/35 and 1/32 scale aircraft in 1/48 scale that cover over 30 acres. The Story. The War in Pictures.

Some highlights from The Story link:

I started spending my summers on Nantucket and had apartments in New York City. I played war in the sand on the island. I built up the equipment to a large extent. It filled a large walk in closet in my apartment. An incident in my apartment in New York City had a dramatic effect on my playing army. Richard Pryor, a comedienne, was in my apartment and saw some tanks. He asked about them and for the first time, I told someone about the game. He got excited and wanted to play. We played army together one evening.

The wars on the farm in Salem, New York were wonderful. I built airfields and towns, had wide-ranging armor and infantry battles and flew aircraft over the hills and through the woods. I also began to build up the Gray Army (bad guys). I named no one in the Gray Army. It was just the enemy. Many friends visited the farm in Salem and I began to openly show them what I was doing. It was a major step for me. I was no longer ashamed of my war gaming. What I discovered was that not only didn't I have to be ashamed, but almost all the people that visited the farm were fascinated.

There are over twelve hundred (1400) jet aircraft in 1/48 scale and more than three thousand five hundred (3,700) vehicles in 1/35 and 1/32 scale. Every year about one hundred new pieces of equipment are added. At this time, in January, 2012, there are seven hundred and fifty two (752) named friends and acquaintances in my army and approximately sixty thousand (60,000) sculpted clay figures.

I have no idea where many of my companions in the game are now, but I wish them all well. It's been great playing the war with them over the years. So, on goes my war in which "nobody dies". I suppose it will not end until I do.

posted by marxchivist (19 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
What an absolutely fascinating and heartbreaking story. Part of me wonders what would happen if he and Mark Hogancamp were to become friends.
posted by jbickers at 10:39 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

for some reason i just assumed he is British. this is eccentric* in the extreme and that sort of thing still seems to be tolerate over there.

*it's a strange wonderful beautiful-mind kind of eccentric.
posted by chasles at 10:41 AM on January 7, 2014

jeez. i missed and just spotted the part where he lists out every combatant and their missions, kills, medals etc. it's just that... I.... i have nothing to say. i feel like weeping and cheering and moving next door.
posted by chasles at 10:43 AM on January 7, 2014

posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:49 AM on January 7, 2014

Yeah - such a mix of sorrow-laden heartbroken compassion for him and delight that he's got his army and was able to make his friends and fill that space in his heart when he needed it.

And also great nerd respect because that's a hell of a project right there.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:51 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Richard Pryor, a comedienne, was in my apartment and saw some tanks.

I love this sentence so much
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:57 AM on January 7, 2014 [8 favorites]

scale models, vehicles in 1/35 and 1/32 scale aircraft in 1/48 scale

Can I just point out how fucked up the english speaking world's scales are?
posted by signal at 11:00 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Say more? In what way is that fucked up?
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 11:14 AM on January 7, 2014

jbickers, I had a sort of similar thought. I fleetingly wondered if this was a double but it was Mark Hogancamp I was thinking of.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:22 AM on January 7, 2014

My stupid work filter won't let me go to any of Peter's pages, so I don't know if this has already been noted, but it reminds me very much of Tristram Shandy's Uncle Toby.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:28 AM on January 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's almost literary how the class element of this story slowly creeps into the telling. Salingeresque.
posted by Oxydude at 11:38 AM on January 7, 2014

This is absolutely amazing. What an incredible project, a resilient heart.

And the free sculpture classes for kids, just... wow.

His art
posted by louche mustachio at 11:45 AM on January 7, 2014

ok THIS will stay with me a long long time
posted by runincircles at 11:45 AM on January 7, 2014

Absolutely fascinating. That poor child ... and then free sculpting classes for children! I think I would not have wanted to be one of his wives though.
posted by headnsouth at 12:00 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

That is tens of thousands of dollars in model kits, maybe even low six figures.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:42 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

The diversity of expression in the human experience thrills and invigorates me. If I had my way we would organize our societies to give everyone the opportunity for such imagination, individually or together.

But then maybe such a world wouldn't be so lonely as to produce Peter Shulman.

I'm glad to know this story. I'm so happy he's no longer ashamed of something so awesome.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 1:29 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the record, 1/35 was a Tamiya thing.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 4:40 PM on January 7, 2014

This rings a familiar bell. I was a socially awkward smart kid myself. My parents were pretty normal though, and I was allowed to have toys, and I did have a few friends. But a lot of the time I played alone.

We moved to Virginia when I was 9. I didn't know any of the other kids, so that's how it all got started. The subdivision we moved to was only half finished. Thanks to the recession of the early 1980's, it was going to stay that way for another 3 or 4 years.

I created my own little world out there in the empty housing lots, fields, and woods. My own backyard became the great Republic of Phillington, a model democracy that rose in power over the scope of 500 years to become the most powerful nation in the entire region.

Four great wars were fought over those woods, empty streets, and streams.

The one I remember most was the civil war fought in the southern territories of the Republic. This was a vast arid area known as the Great Red Desert. The residents of the desert colonies, chafing at the control the Phillingtonians held over them from their capital city far to the north, raised their own militia and declared their own independent nation. They managed to fight off the mighty Phillingtonian army for four years.

My original idea was to create a parallel to the American Civil War, but instead of being fought in the South, fought in the deserts of the West. That was where I started but after building lots of little forts out of rocks and mud to simulate all the terrible battles fought there, the Desert War came out in a very different way. I was probably 10-11 years old when I created it, but many years later when reading history books I discovered that it was less like the American Civil War but instead very closely resembled the Boer Wars of South Africa, which of course I had never heard of when I was a kid.

So yeah, to this day I still think about this stuff from time to time. Oh, the recession ended, and the Great Red Desert - in reality a small lake that had been drained to build the subdivision, was plowed up, had houses built on it, and turned into other people's yards. But the stories went on in my head. As I got older, they got more intricate and nuanced.

Even the Republic of Phillington became somewhat boring after a while. The Phillingtonians always won in the end. They were very skilled at running their democratic state and made few mistakes. Hogartha, their neighbor to the southwest, went through a series of military dictatorships and started all kinds of trouble, including invading most of their neighbors in a desperate power grab, 75 years after the war I previously mentioned came to an end. Hogartha was a seriously messed up place. It was also fascinating.

I still have all these stories running in my head but I don't think I have put anything on paper about them since I was in middle school and I have never spoken about it to anyone else in my adult life. Tonight is the first time I've written anything about it in many years.
posted by smoothvirus at 7:49 PM on January 7, 2014 [10 favorites]

« Older Folded Sheets feat. Small Dog   |   Hands up who wants to see the thriumphant return... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments