In 1999, a friend of the carpenter, Roy Armstrong, gave him a figurine of a man in a chair with his dog beside him.
“I looked at it for awhile and thought, ‘This guy needs a porch to sit on,’ and that’s how it all started,” said Armstrong. “I thought, that porch has to be attached to something.”
Armstrong is retired now and lives in Norman. He makes miniature replicas of old Southern buildings like houses, mill houses, cabins, general stores and old gas stations. He began making them as gifts for family and friends, and sold a few at local flea markets for around $35.
The buildings have added touches that make them realistic. A screen door may be left open. Fall leaves lie scattered on roofs. Armstrong gathered sand from his driveway, sifted out pebbles and glued them to the replica. He made a gas pump hose out of electrical wiring, and made trees and shrubbery to match.
“As time went on, people couldn’t believe the price, so it became supply and demand,” said Armstrong.
He began making more and more replicas.
One day he met with Rockingham attorney Jason T. Deane, who had pictures on his office walls of old Southern buildings. Deane recommended Armstrong try to make replicas from pictures, and Deane introduced Armstrong to Richmond County Arts Council Executive Director Laura Daskal.
“She’s a very nice lady,” said Armstrong. “She introduced me to the Fayetteville Arts Council.”
Armstrong said he had been trying to secure a grant for years. He filed an application on Sept. 11, the same day as the Twin Tower attacks in New York City.
“They were freezing all the money at the time, so I didn’t think I would get it but I did. The grant is what allowed me to continue at that time. The houses just flew off the shelf.
“What I like about it most is that I’m a people person, and everyone has got a story,” he said. “The house is a conversational piece. It allows people to reminisce, and when they do, I get ideas. The house is all about memories. When someone comes into my booth (at a show or fair) and they look at a house, the first thing they talk about is what they remember from that time. What impressed me was that, when someone looked at a replica, no matter how hard the life was, they always have good memories.”
Armstrong said some of the houses he makes remind him of his childhood.
“The tin roof and the unpainted clapboard makes me think of families eating together,” he said. “Families were closer together then. And anytime I make a replica, it’s always in a fall or winter setting because that time of the year brings the families closer together.”
Armstrong said he will always make replicas, and he will keep it fun. He has worked hard to not make a job out of creating replicas.
“It’s like I’m in a trance when I’m working on a replica. When I put the details on the house I’m imagining the kids that are coming in and out of the house,” said Armstrong. “My favorite ones are the old gas stations.”
“The little houses relax me. In the fall I can go into my shop and just sit there and ideas just come to me. Shows got to be too costly. I still get occasional people contacting me from previous shows. I feel like it was what I was supposed to do … you can’t teach creativity — you either have it or you don’t.”
Some of Armstrong’s replicas are displayed at the Arts Council, located on East Washington Street in downtown Rockingham.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.