A series where I revisit the fascinating stories of interesting people I’ve had the opportunity to meet while writing for a living.
Have you met a Renaissance Man? Also known as someone whose skills and interests lie in a number of subject areas?
I have. I met Ron Zorn back in June while writing about him for the Suburban News. The editor had heard through the grapevine about a retired teacher “with an intense avocation of creating scenes of war battles in miniature. His work is very detailed,” she wrote in an email. There was never more understatement in five words.
I arrived at his and wife Alice’s home on a gorgeous late spring morning. Pulling into the driveway alone was a feast for the eyes. The lushly landscaped front yard draped before a log cabin house and huge detached garage.
Ron designed it all himself and built the cabin over the summer of 1995. This was not a kit log cabin — the logs were shipped from the Ozarks in Missouri and he cut each one himself, according to his design. As you can imagine, everything is perfect. By the end of that summer, Ron’s son-in-law, who had barely picked up a hammer before that, was skilled enough to go on to build his own house, as did Ron’s son.
A soft-spoken, unassuming Ron sums it up as, “It was great. We had a good time.”
Inside the log cabin was like a picture out of a lifestyle magazine. A downstairs great room is full of museum-quality antiques and furnishings, the ultimate kitchen for cooking and entertaining, cozy nooks for sitting and reading, a fireplace, and even an access loft for the attic that doubles as raised “exhibit space.” An enormous oak beam runs across the ceiling holding up the second floor.
Antique swords, rifles, Winslow Homer prints, rustic tools, and books, oh, the books! The volumes are stacked two deep on some bookshelves. These people are collectors. I mean the Zorns collect like nobody’s business. The guest room is also known as the Snoopy Room. You can imagine what that means.
Most of the books, though, are history related. The reason why I was there to interview Ron was because he re-creates battle scenes from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. He does this by casting and painting little lead soldiers (1:32 scale for model nerds). Thousands of little lead soldiers. As in, probably TEN THOUSAND or more little lead soldiers over the last fifteen years! Like Leonardo Da Vinci, Ron’s interests are not merely casual.
The battle scenes and the soldier creation (a 12 step process that involves molten lead) are the tip of the iceberg, perhaps just a symptom of having so many interests. Ron taught high school Physics for nearly four decades, and all branches of science to his children and grandchildren over the years.
He is an athlete – a champion college soccer player (Google told me that, not Modest Ron) – and an artistic talent, inherited from his mother. Each little lead figure is accurately painted with some of his brushes just a few bristles fine.
Ron’s basement is a wonderland. In addition to the lead figure workshop and the thousands of soldier’s lined up awaiting orders, there is a Christmas village, lighthouse village and model airplanes hanging over a model train set. On the wall behind the train village are glow-in-the-dark stickers accurately portraying the constellations.
Ron creates, with first his mind and then his hands. The lead figures are not limited to soldiers of the Revolution, War of 1812, and the Civil War. He also casts and paints Santa Clauses, Mrs. Claus, Snowmen, fine Antebellum ladies, nutcrackers, and sporting figures, including little dribbling soccer players that he hands out to the team he coaches. He does this to share with friends and family the art and science, and also the wonder, attached to what these figures represent.
What I most loved about meeting Ron was his spirit of wonder about everything in the world and his resourceful approach to life. He likes to say that he always has one eye on a microscope and the other on a telescope. “Look at the little things and the big things, and you wind up looking at yourself.”
To read the article I wrote about Ron for Suburban News, click here.