Artist carving unique miniatures of iconic Columbus buildings
Ben Sostrom has been carving things for a long time. Recently, he has been carving miniature versions of iconic Columbus buildings into wine corks, suitable for ornaments and for display.
“I remember loving to carve walking sticks in Scouts when I was young,” says Sostrom. “Often impractically small ones, so my love for small art must’ve started a long time ago, too.”
During his teens, he experimented with using razor blades to carve reclaimed materials -stale, unusable rubber erasers- into patterned tile mosaic.
While at Columbus Alternative High School, he did prop designs, and later ended up working for the props department at the University of Michigan, where he began his college career.
“I was trying to do a dual degree in Aerospace Engineering and Astrophysics,” he says. “In those two years, I think I spent more time making movies and building props than I did studying. I finally realized I had no desire to be an engineer and I transferred back to OSU, initially just for astronomy. After about six months, I realized I needed to be doing film and theatre too, or I was going to go crazy. Another four-and-a-half years later, I (finally) finished my degrees: a B.A. in Theatre and a B.S. in Astronomy.”
These days, he balances his time between working with CATCO (currently as Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol), Available Light Theatre, and the Actors’ Theater of Columbus.
“Periodically, I’d do art direction for a film or work on props for a show,” he says, “or make some elaborate-yet-bizarre sort-of-useful piece for a friend’s birthday present, and I’d be reminded how much I love doing that. Last year, I finally decided to do something about it and opened my Etsy store, Every Day Props.”
When he was in the early stages of opening his Etsy shop, he and his boyfriend Jeff wandered into Glean one Gallery Hop Saturday to check out bow ties.
“Dawn McCombs, the owner of Glean, was having a conversation with someone about wine bottle cutting,” remembers Sostrom. “I’d recently been experimenting with bottle cutting (and found it to be very difficult and messy), and so I joined in. Eventually, the conversation drifted and she asked me about my work.”
At the time, Sostrom had been carving wine cork costume horns. McCombs was interested in carrying those, as the focus of Glean is “celebrating all things creatively repurposed” and she sold them during Halloween. Sostrom also has a line of reclaimed denim products for sale at Glean.
“Last month, Dawn told me she wanted to do a holiday ornament line-up for the store,” says Sostrom. “I thought “Great, wine corks are the perfect size!” but then I also thought “What is an ornament really supposed to look like?”
Images of reindeer and Santas, non-Christmas related ornaments -fish, orchids, trains- came to mind, but none really clicked for him.
“I was considering doing just buildings that I liked, but in talking to my roommate Ed, a genealogist and fellow local history buff, we realized that I should be creating all the buildings I see around me every day, all the buildings I grew up with.”
Each building ornament is about 7/8″ in diameter and about 1-3/4″ tall. Ornaments are painted with acrylic paints, which are both bright and quick-drying.
“The form factor of a cork is so perfectly sized for that, just small enough to fit in a palm,” he says. “I also love the material; both natural and synthetic wine corks cut extremely well.”
Almost every ornament is done on a single cork. “There are a few, though, where the particular landmark I want to carve requires a little more space or scale, and those may involve parts of another cork attached,” says Sostrom. “I’m actually working on a Santa Maria right now where the ship is one cork and the masts are another.”
Sostrom researches each building, getting photos of each landmark from several sides.
“With the existing buildings, that can be relatively easy, but with lost landmarks it can get pretty complicated,” he says. “Then, the carving can vary from about two hours of carving for the simpler ones to three to four hours for the really challenging ones.”
“My favorite landmark to carve was probably the LeVeque,” says Sostrom. “It was the first building I did, and it was my first time really giving synthetic corks a chance. Previously I’d only used natural cork, which is very durable and wonderful to work in but only takes detail down to a certain scale. So, the surprise in discovering how good synthetic corks are as a carving medium, how much detail they can take, was a lot of fun.”
Growing up, he had been a frequent visitor of the LeVeque. “My grandparents were ushers for CAPA when I was a kid, so I spent a lot of time there seeing shows,” he says.
He is also enjoying carving the Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad Station, which he is sculpting now. The bonsai courtyard at the Franklin Park Conservatory, and the Jerry’s Drive-In sign are also favorites.
“I remember when it was the Sisters’ Chicken sign, and now the Tee-Jay’s sign,” he says. “It was great to go back and find archival photos of it from when it was still Jerry’s. I even found a photo from the week it closed. I’ve definitely gotten more interested in Columbus history over the past few years, ever since I moved back,” he says. “The city is changing so fast, but there’s so much history around us every day.”
Sostrom and McCombs have decided to continue the series of miniature cork Columbus landmarks year-round, and they are only available at Glean.
“She pointed out to me that while ornaments are a Christmas thing, our city is something we experience all around us, all the time — and I’m also really enjoying creating them,” says Sostrom.
“I’ve already done a couple of buildings multiple times as special requests from friends, such as the Kahiki and the Union Station Arch,” he says. “So some multiples will definitely appear over the course of the year, particularly of landmarks that intrigue me, the research is a big part of the fun.”
Each landmark ornament is $38, and is available in store at Glean, located at 815 N High Street, Columbus, Ohio 43214.
For the spring, Sostrom is working on a line of mini-planters, and a longer-term project involving glowing, mushroom-like cork accent lamps. In his shop, he also has a few other non-landmark ornaments.
Photos courtesy Ben Sostrom.