NORWICH IN MINIATURE

Armies march through Roger Winslow’s ’60 living room. There are soldiers, sailors, and marines hailing from many countries and many different time periods. In perfect formation, and in their best uniforms, you may see British Fusiliers, Colonial Minutemen, Scottish Bagpipers, Civil War Cannoneers, Canadian Mounties, American Doughboys—even the Marine Corps bulldog. And there are bands, so many bands! Fortunately for Roger, these legions of marchers have caused no damage to his living room, because they are only three inches high.

Roger’s interest in miniatures began in childhood, while playing with soldiers as most boys did. He did not have plastic figurines like the children of today; rather, his toys were made of lead. Manufactured in Great Britain, they were a little larger and cost a few cents more. But like most boys, he did not necessarily take good care of his toys.

“We would shoot them down with pennies shot from a rubber band,” he says. As a result, some of his soldiers were damaged, missing limbs, or even decapitated. Once he was grown, Roger put the toys away and went on to high school, then Norwich, then into the military. After 16 years flying helicopters for the Army, he retired, and along with his wife, Margaret, set up a cattle ranch in Illinois.

At about that time, Roger recalled the beauty and craftsmanship of those old toys. He retrieved his toy soldier collection from his family and began tinkering with them—repainting and repairing what he could—but was unsure how might replace some of the missing parts, such as arms, legs, and heads.

“I started calling around to vendors and I went to shows, like the Chicago Toy Soldier Show,” he says. Although it is common for miniature-makers to share molds with each other, he found the group to be exclusive and highly protective of their craft. When asking for molds for parts, “I was shunned, because I wasn’t an artist,” he says.

In true Norwich fashion, Roger persevered.

“An artist from St. Louis named Ron Wall eventually took me under his wing,” Roger says. Ron taught him some of the skills of the craft and introduced him to the hobby circuit. In exchange, Roger acted as a salesman for Ron at some of the shows. Roger learned which artists specialized in what genres, and eventually came to know—and be accepted by—more artists. Ultimately, he met Ed Burley, a mold-maker from Florida and a former sergeant first class who served with the 11th Airborne. The two bonded over their military experience and formed a lasting friendship.

“He told me, ‘Come on down and spend a week with me. I’ll teach you all I know,’” Roger recalls.

By the late 1980s, Roger was making some of his own molds, casting soldiers, painting them, and selling them at hobby shows. He started making and selling everything from Civil War soldiers to Scottish bagpipers. Once he became known on the circuit, people began approaching him with special requests. A group of Civil War re-enactors of the Massachusetts 54th—an all-black regiment which fought with valor at Battery Wagner—admired Roger’s work at a trade show and asked if he could make soldiers to depict the 54th. Since Wall, his soldier-making friend from St. Louis, already had statues from that era, he cast figures from those molds, custom-painted them to depict the soldiers of the 54th, and sold them at re-enactments and encampments. They proved very popular, and Roger liked them so much he kept a company for his own collection.

Not long after that, Roger’s daughter enrolled at West Point. Somehow, her classmates’ parents got wind of Roger’s skill and started asking for miniatures of West Point cadets.

“So there was another venue,” Roger says.

And from there it just kept snowballing.

On the eve of Norwich’s 175th anniversary, Roger realized, “Nobody does miniatures of Norwich cadets.” As a proud alumnus, he felt it was imperative to remedy the situation.

“I went up there for Homecoming and took pictures of everything I could—individual cadets, the color guard, even the glockenspiel player in the band.” Roger plastered the walls of his workshop with the photos. “It became my studio,” he says.

Roger first concentrated his efforts on making sets of the Norwich color guard, starting with the four- and five-man versions. He made 175 boxed sets (one for each year of Norwich’s existance), and brought them up to sell at Homecoming and Family Weekends. Soon, he became a fixture in Plumley Armory, setting up his table under a basketball hoop. The color guard sets were a big hit, and he ended up making another 30 sets of the 10-man color guard on a commission basis.

Before long, Norwich parents began approaching him with special orders. “My son is a corporal; can you make a cadet in a corporal’s uniform?” he mimicks. So he would paint a figure as a corporal.

Next year the parent would return and say, “Now he’s a captain… or, ‘I have a blond, female cadet who plays the fife in the band—can you make that for me?’” The demand became such that some point he decided to concentrate his mold-making efforts exclusively on Norwich cadets.

Then, a few years ago, a hurricane brought a tree down on top of his workshop, causing a great deal of damage. That disaster, combined with hip and knee surgery, forced Roger to semi-retire from the miniature-making business. There was still one big project, however, that he was determined to complete: the NU Band.

His goal was to have it done by his 50th reunion, and he did not disappoint. At Homecoming 2010, at the Class of 1960 reunion dinner, Roger presented the 54-piece Norwich University Regimental band to President Richard W. Schneider. The president was awestruck. “I cannot imagine the hundreds of hours it must have taken him to complete that masterpiece!” he says.

So that as many people as possible can view it, the band has found a home in the Sullivan Museum and History Center. “It is an awesome addition to our museum and will be a lasting reminder of Roger’s love for Norwich,” says President Schneider.

Roger’s close friend and classmate from St. Thomas, Jerry Runyon, visited Roger in Jacksonville last fall and expressed an interest in the miniatures. So, “between skydiving and belly-busting on hot dogs,” Roger spent some time showing Jerry the process of turning lead, tin, copper, and antimony into miniature soldiers. Jerry loved it. “He told me to ship it all down to him in St. Thomas,” Roger says, so now Jerry has the business, with Roger serving as his technical consultant.

Roger still has those armies marching through his living room, with two glass cases displaying some of the best of his collection. Ultimately, he intends to donate the entire collection to Norwich, but it seems that the Norwich cadets, and the especially the band, are the most special to him.

“I wore the uniform, experienced just what these kids did; that’s why I dedicated myself to the Norwich figures,” he says. “I love the institution, I love the traditions, what it stood for, what it did for me—this was a payback.”

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