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Model Citizen

Stan Munro, Marketing: Fashion and Related Industries ’92, finds a higher purpose for six and a half million toothpicks
By Alex Joseph

Visitors to the Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse, NY, are witnessing the construction of something weirdly wonderful. With Elmer’s glue and ordinary toothpicks, Stan Munro is creating Toothpick City II, an assemblage of more than 40 scale reproductions of iconic towers and sacred buildings from around the world. Standing on a 24-by-28-foot platform, the “city” includes Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, London Bridge, and the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The work will be completed in December. Munro says the four million picks he’s using (nearly twice that used in Toothpick City I) will make it the largest toothpick structure in the world. “Hopefully, I’ll beat the record by a cool million.”

“I feel like I have to be toothpicking all the time. It’s probably a disease,” the Rochester native explains. He was doing it before he came to FIT in 1988, but the avocation turned vocation in 2003, when his wife, a podiatrist, asked him to make the Chrysler Building. “At first I thought, ‘I can’t do it; it’s too big.’ But then I thought, ‘No, I have to do it because it’s so big.’” It took half a year.

Every few months, Munro orders a quarter of a million toothpicks from a wholesaler. He gets the buildings’ dimensions off the internet. Construction times vary. The Washington Monument was built in a day, but not Rome— or at any rate, Vatican City, which took two months. Toothpick City I, a collection of skyscrapers including the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower, was a two-year endeavor. The sequel, whose crowning achievement is a 19-foot version of the Dubai Tower, will take four. “It’s slow,” Munro says, “but that’s part of the allure.”

Munro’s career has always been unconventional. He spent a year driving around the country, researching and writing stories about murder for True Detective magazine. He also wrote about athletes with disabilities for
Sports and Spokes. Later, he got a job at a TV station as a Chyron operator, typing in identifying names and titles of talking heads on newscasts. He worked his way up to a slot in the morning news lineup of 13WHAM-TV in Rochester, as their go-to guy for unusual features. In one, he rode a bull; in another he burned rubber with a gang of women motorcyclists who were raising money for breast cancer research. Though his wife contributes the more reliable paycheck, Munro says that when Toothpick City I sold to the House of Katmandu museum in Mallorca, Spain (where it remains on display), he made four times his annual salary at WHAM.

When Munro talks about his current project, he focuses on his effort to be precise: “I don’t want it to be artistic, I want it to be right.” He’s not sure what’s to become of Toothpick City II—yes, it’s for sale—but there’s a possibility that he’ll open a museum of his own and keep on toothpicking. Or maybe he’ll move on to something else. Given his career so far, it’s hard to imagine what that might be.


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