NEW MUSEUM OPENS IN HARLEM, GEORGIA
By: Gino Dercola
Any Old Port Tent, Oasis 212 ,Baltimore, Maryland
There is a new museum that opened in Harlem, Georgia, birthplace of the great comedian and actor, Oliver Hardy. The museum, named The Ollie Also & Stanie Too Fine Mess Old Car Museum, joins the wonderful Laurel and Hardy Museum, as great sites to visit in Harlem. The "Fine Mess Museum" (as I refer to it) opened its doors in early October, 2006. It is owned and operated by Gary Russeth and his wife, Jean-both are Sons who belong to the Berth Marks Tent of Harlem and also the Block Heads Tent in Minnesota, their original home. I had the opportunity to tour the Fine Mess Museum in October and enjoyed it very much-it is very impressive. The museum is in a separate building specifically designed and built behind the Russeth's home, comprising 40 x 50 feet, of which 25 x 25 feet is for Gary's work studio. The museum is a mix of old cars (many built by Gary) and models of Laurel and Hardy figures and displays made by Gary. There also are various L&H collectibles throughout, such as figures, posters, photos, and other L&H objects, including a working pinball machine, Flicker, which features L&H. There is a sign, "Fine Mess Museum," in front of the Russeth's home; and their driveway that leads to the museum has a sign, "Oliver Lane". For now, the museum is private, but open (gladly) by appointment.
Gary and Jean, married for 36 years, were long-time members of the Block Heads Tent in Minnesota, having joined about 1978. From visits to Harlem, they fell in love with the city. So, when Gary retired, they bought property in Harlem and had the house and museum built, moving to their new home in September, 2005. They live about one block from the Laurel and Hardy Museum. They both do volunteer work for the city, including working at the Laurel and Hardy Museum and helping to restore the old Columbia Theatre in downtown Harlem. They both are known for dressing as L&H look-a-likes, and in fact, won the contest for the best look-a-likes at two Oliver Hardy Festivals in Harlem. Gary remembers enjoying L&H films as a youngster-his father loved L&H. And, how about this: Gary's father, he, his son and his grandson ALL have the middle name, Oliver.
You might say that Gary began his craft at about age 11, doing drawings of Ford Model-T cars that he saw in L&H films. This led to his getting into model building and design as he got older. Just as Ford Model-A's were built one piece at a time, Gary learned to handcraft machine parts, as a machinist/assembler for most of his work career. Amazingly, Gary builds his cars out of wood!-a sawdust and fiberglass combination. They are simply amazing to see-all of the parts in the cars are built to exact specifications, down to the smallest detail: This includes the wheels, engine, body, seats, spark plugs, etc.-all made of wood, but you would almost swear that the parts were original rubber, metal, cloth, etc., but they are not. The cars in the museum are a mix of scale-sizes (1/3, ½, full, etc.)-it is a "world on wheels". He starts with a metal frame to hold the model's weight, then builds an entire old model car made of wood. The museum is a "work in progress", with Gary currently working on new model cars, and plans to do back-drops/store fronts/theater flats to go in the museum behind the cars on display. Here are some of the wonderful cars he has on display:
- 1903 Ford Model-A - full scale, wood
- 1910 Studebaker Electric - full scale, wood
- 1919 Ford Model-T - full scale, wood
- 1919/1920 buggy - original
- 1915 Ford Model-T - original (this car is prominently featured in the movie, "Sweet Land", just now appearing in movie theaters; Gary worked behind the scenes with the cast)
- 1950's vintage Tin Lizzy - one-half scale cars: one is a fire engine; one is a roadster
He is in the process of making the following full-scale cars out of wood: 1902 Curve Dash Oldsmobile; 1904 Buick; 1908 Maxwell; 1911 Stanley Steamer. It takes Gary approximately two years to complete each car.
Four years ago, Gary lent to the Laurel and Hardy Museum two items he built: a "theater flat" of L&H-it is used by visitors to have their pictures taken with L&H. It is a full-scale, 3-D, wooden Ford Model-T, with canvas covering, and L&H soft sculptures. He also lent them a 30-inch wooden marionette set he made of L&H. Those of you who have visited the L&H Museum surely would remember these wonderful pieces of work. For those of you who attended the SOD International Convention in Augusta this past July, you may recall the beautiful display piece built by Gary-3-D car sculpture, featuring L&H as models in the car, 1/3rd scale, in a lighted 4'x6' box frame.
Gary has embarked on a wonderful project to build a full-body, wooden sculpture of L&H (phase 1) that he hopes to have cast in bronze (phase 2) and have it prominently displayed in Harlem. It is a long-term and costly undertaking, and he will need financial assistance to complete this endeavor. In the near future, I hope to write a more detailed article about this.
You can learn more about this new Fine Mess Museum and see some of Gary's masterpieces on his website: www.geocities.com/grusseth He says he would love to hear from any Sons-you can email him on: OllieAlso@bellsouth.net
So, the next time you get a chance to visit the nice city of Harlem, Gary says to contact him on 706-556-1419 to arrange for a personal tour of The Ollie Also & Stanie Too Fine Mess Old Car Museum.