In an age of 3D printing and computer-generated graphics, you might think no one builds custom architectural models any longer. And you would be wrong. Because on a quiet block in Kingston, NY, model maker Michael DelPriori still works the old-fashioned way, tirelessly hand-crafting (albeit with the aid of a trusted assistant named Bong and a raft of high-tech tools) impeccably detailed architectural models of homes, golf courses, resorts, race tracks and much more.
On a cold morning in February, Michael greeted me at the door of his Kingston home and welcomed me with a hot cup of coffee and a warm smile into his world: a place of tiny pieces of plastic, huge buckets of pens and pencils, and infinite imagination. This is Ryerson Studio – his workspace and dream factory. Named for the street in Brooklyn where he lived as a student at Pratt, Ryerson Studio is the place to come when you want to make a big impression with a miniature version of almost anything. Michael tells me his clients come to him for a variety of reasons: fundraising, public relations, sales support, or just to have a cherished memento of an important place. His clients are typically architects and builders, but he also works with many private clients who want models of their homes, estates and mansions and are willing to spend $15,000 or more for the privilege of owning a Ryerson Studio original.
Michael contacted Abandoned Hudson Valley because he thought we might be interested in seeing the architectural model he had created of the abandoned Belgian mansion at the heart of the bestselling book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. And interested we were. Created in collaboration with Tahereh Mafi, the wife of Miss Peregrine author Ransom Riggs, the three-dimensional structure Michael created was nothing short of breathtaking. Here were all the things you’d expect to see in an abandoned mansion: beams and arches collapsed under their own weight, blown out windows and rickety stairs, grand trees barely clinging to life and tiny, infinitely detailed vestiges of a time of grace and grandeur. Michael described the hours, weeks and months spent working on the model, and how delighted the author was to receive it. I was not surprised at all, since delight is what Michael does best. By looking beyond the bricks and beams, Michael sees what others miss – something unique and magical in every structure.
When we talked about the abandoned places in the Hudson Valley, Michael’s eyes opened wide. After creating Miss Peregrines home, Michael saw an entirely new area to explore with his art. After many years of creating scale models of new places, Michael wondered if he couldn’t use his craft to create models of old places like Bennett College, Bannerman Castle and Wyndcliffe Mansion, in the hopes of drawing attention to these imperiled, irreplaceable places, and possibly raising both awareness and funds to either stabilize them or return them to their former glory. We agreed that his models can do something photographs can’t. Where photographs can capture what is, Michael can take it a step further by showing in three dimensions what could be. It was exciting indeed to image a scale model of a restored Hudson River State Hospital Administration Building, which would allow developers and investors to envision how the site could be renovated and repurposed for future generations.
We plan to go out with Michael soon and give him the grand tour of the abandoned gems of the Hudson Valley. And if we are very lucky, he may make a model that helps change the fortunes of one of these forgotten places.