Shep Paine with a miniature bust in his likeness, a gift from one of his many friends and admirers. (Photo by Marty Perez, 2008)

Shep Paine with a miniature bust in his likeness, a gift from one of his many friends and admirers. (Photo by Marty Perez, 2008)

THE SHEP PAINE EDUCATION FUND

Established by the Military Miniature Society of Illinois and administered by Joe Berton, the Shep Paine Education Fund has been set up to continue his invaluable work as an educator and proselytizer for the art of miniatures via classes, seminars, and other projects. Tax-deductible contributions can be made via PayPal at MMSIChicagoShow@gmail.com or by mail to The Shep Paine Education Fund care of MMSI Treasurer Tom Surlak, 3136 Secretariat Dr., Aurora, IL 60502.

 

The world of miniatures loses a towering giant

Howard Sheperd Paine, who for six decades tirelessly worked to spread the popularity of the art of miniatures worldwide, died on Saturday, August 1. An extraordinary artist, prolific author, widely respected military historian, and renowned collector of military artifacts, he was 69 years old.

Universally known to his many friends simply as “Shep,” the artist suffered a stroke at his home on Chicago’s Northwest Side on July 27. Though he never regained consciousness, he spent his final days in the company of loved ones—a small group representing the countless others who came to consider him a friend and mentor through his four books for hobbyists, how-to tip sheets, classes and seminars, co-founding of the tri-annual World Model Expo, and championing of the Open System of Judging for his beloved Military Miniature Society of Illinois and other organizations devoted to the art of miniatures around the world.

In addition to the MMSI, Shep was a driving force in the Company of Military Historians and several Napoleonic historical organizations. He served as president of all of those groups at different times, and was a dedicated recruiter to their ranks.

Immediate services will be private, but the MMSI is planning a “Celebration of Shep Paine’s Life” where all will be welcome following the group’s annual Chicago Show on Sunday, October 25. Details will be announced soon.

The son of Dr. Richmond and Mary Paine, Shep was the first child born to American parents in free Berlin after the end of World War II. His family, which was completed by younger sisters Emily, Martha, and Diana, all of whom survive their brother, settled near Boston after their father’s service in the Army Medical Corps.

After a year spent in London, where he attended Eaton House, Shep completed his early schooling at Saint Paul’s Boarding School in Concord, New Hampshire. He then bucked his father’s wishes to follow in his footsteps as a doctor by delaying college to enlist in the Army himself. He served with the 3rd Armored Division in Germany from 1965 to 1967, rising to the rank of sergeant and for a time overseeing the company arsenal. “That cured me of any desire to ever have a gun collection,” he said.

Following his military service, Shep benefited from the G.I. Bill to enroll at the University of Chicago. There he earned a B.A. in General Studies in the Humanities—“a classic liberal arts degree,” as he said, reflecting interests in art, history, and culture that were many, varied, and wide-ranging. That plus his encyclopedic reading—in English as well as French, which he could speak fluently—fueled his abilities as a great raconteur and orator.

Shep’s interest in scale modeling began as a pre-teen, shifting from a fondness for model railroading to converting and painting Marx and other plastic toy soldiers and building miniature tanks. He continued to pursue the hobby throughout his time at boarding school, in the Army, and into his college years, when the friends he made in the MMSI introduced him to a community of like-minded historical enthusiasts and scale modelers, and convinced him to stay in Chicago.

“I had no idea of what I wanted to do in life, so I started painting figures in my spare time between classes,” Shep said of his time at the University of Chicago. “When I graduated in 1971, with nothing of greater interest on the horizon, I thought I’d try doing that for a living, at least for a while.”

 “Shep and I have a thirteen-year age difference, and I don’t think I really got hip to what he was doing until I was in college,” said his sister, Diana. “I was like, ‘Oh, Shep does this weird miniature thing, isn’t it cute?’ I had no idea about the level of artistry until he sent me a copy of one of his books, and then I went, ‘Whoa, there’s a lot more going on here than I thought!’ But, frankly, I think Shep’s greatest achievement was avoiding a nine-to-five job; that’s where he really escalated in my eyes. Yes, he had to work for a living, but he was doing something he loved.”

Indeed, Shep proudly boasted that he never held a “real” job. From his earliest finished plastic figures through the end of his active period as a scale modeler in the mid-1990s, Shep sold every piece he completed: expertly painted stock metal castings; ambitious conversions of plastic figures; original sculptures of his own scale historical or fantasy subjects; impressive armor, aircraft, and ship dioramas built on commission for the Monogram and Tamiya model companies and various museums, and the 100-percent scratchbuilt box dioramas that he considered the pinnacle of his artwork.

Though he spent several years sculpting 1/32nd scale soldiers for Valiant Miniatures, Shep said he disliked being part of the hobby industry, preferring to follow his muse by working on one-of-a-kind pieces that sprung from his unique imagination and vision. Among his best-known collectors were painter Andrew Wyeth; financier Malcolm Forbes, and industrialist Ralph Koebbeman. The Wyeth pieces remain on display at the Brandywine River Museum dedicated to that painter in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, while other works can be seen at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and the Pamplin Historical Park and National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Petersburg, Virginia.

Shep at the height of his modeling career, at age 32 in 1977. (Photo by Lane Stewart)

Shep at the height of his modeling career, at age 32 in 1977. (Photo by Lane Stewart)

While his attentions eventually shifted toward researching and collecting military artifacts, from medals to Napoleonic and Victorian uniforms, Shep remained active in the global community of miniaturists long after he stopped producing work of his own. He often presided as head judge at the most respected modeling shows around the world, and the honor for any artist claiming a gold medal was all the more significant for hearing Shep Paine read his or her name.

Since Shep set the bar for the realism and artistic ambition of sculpted and painted figures through the ’90s, other artists have raised the standards for excellence ever higher, as he was proud to note. But his ability to tell dramatic and imaginative stories with miniature figures was a skill few others have matched. “Dioramas are so interesting because they combine so many elements in different forms,” he said. “You are basically telling a story without words. It’s like silent movies, except you don’t have anybody moving.”

Never hesitant to share his techniques or inspire others with his ideas for stories to tell in miniature, Shep wrote dozens of articles for scale-modeling publications and published four invaluable how-to books with Wisconsin-based Kalmbach Publishing: How to Build Dioramas (first published in 1980 and released in an updated and expanded edition in 2000); Modeling Tanks and Military Vehicles (1983); How to Photograph Scale Models (written with former Sports Illustrated photographer and hobbyist Lane Stewart in 1984), and Building and Painting Scale Figures (1993). The most successful of these titles, How to Build Dioramas, has sold more than a hundred thousand copies worldwide, and it has been translated into Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Chinese.

Shep believed that teaching others forced him to focus even more on what he was doing in his own work—and why. “He said that if you have to teach something, it forces you to learn what it really is,” said his friend, MMSI President Mike Cobb. “Shep always had his own ways about things, and he was going to do it his way. But the annoying thing was, he was almost always right!”

“Shep and I used to drive out to the Miniature Figures Collectors of America show near Philadelphia every year, and Shep would have his latest masterpiece,” said his friend, retired Oak Park art teacher Joe Berton. “He’d be uncrating it out of the box, and there would just be a buzz in the crowd, waiting to see what Shep put out there. People were just so enthused, waiting to see whatever the latest creation of his would be, and they would be standing in line. There was that excitement, because he was always on the edge, always the most innovative, always the most creative—I mean, he was the best. But I think Shep’s real strength for the rest of us has been his complete willingness to share his knowledge, his techniques, and his skills. He’s always willing to share what he knows: There are no secrets. So many of us took painting classes with Shep, and he’d always encourage us: ‘This is how I do it, but eventually, you’ll find your own style.’”

As a painter, Shep worked in oils over a base coat of acrylics, bringing a much greater level of artistry to painting figures than the previous method of using enamel hobby paints. His books and the classes he taught around the world prompted many to call this technique “the Chicago school,” though as several MMSI members have said, “The Shep school really would be more accurate.”

In the late 2000s, Shep spent dozens of hours in interviews with music critic and hobbyist Jim DeRogatis, working with him to document in photographs and words all of his miniature creations and the stories of his life’s work. Their extensive hardcover book Sheperd Paine: The Life and Work of a Master Modeler and Military Historian was issued by Schiffer Publishing in 2008.

Having survived several health scares in recent years, Shep was as always deep into several new projects, including a revised armor modeling book with contributions from several of the best scale modelers in that field and new editions of some of his other older titles. He also was cheerfully contributing to the planning for the next World Model Expo, to be held in Chicago in July 2017, just as he’d pitched in for previous events in in Scotland, France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.

In the final days, Berton, Cobb, and DeRogatis joined Shep’s sister Diana in placing two items at his bedside to represent his extensive and treasured collection of art and historical artifacts: a replica Napoleonic marshal’s baton, the symbol of having achieved the highest rank in the French Army, awarded by the Emperor to “the bravest of the brave,” and a small stuffed cow.

Shep’s fondness for what he called “bovine beauties” was a running joke and a celebration of his eccentricities among friends throughout his life. But there was a serious side to the dozens of cow collectibles that filled his kitchen and spilled over into the rest of his house, as he told DeRogatis in their book.

“I never buy cows for myself; these are all things that my friends have given me over the years,” Shep said. “When I’m feeling low and want to go out in the garden and eat worms, I come into the kitchen, look around at all of these things, and realize that I’ve been a very lucky man to have had so many friends and people who care about me.”

In the end, those many friends and his ability to forge countless other lifelong bonds among people he brought together from far-flung corners of the globe via a shared passion for an esoteric hobby and myriad historical obsessions was the legacy of which he was most proud, and which will live forever in the hearts of those whose lives he touched.

In that spirit and per his wishes, the MMSI has established the Shep Paine Education Fund, which is accepting tax-deductible donations in his honor to continue his invaluable work as an educator and proselytizer for the art of miniatures via classes, seminars, and other projects. Contributions to this dedicated fund can be made via PayPal at MMSIChicagoShow@gmail.com or by mail to The Shep Paine Education Fund care of MMSI Treasurer Tom Surlak, 3136 Secretariat Dr., Aurora, IL 60502.

Shep relaxing before yet another MMSI Show Committee meeting on the back deck at his friend Mike Cobb's house. (Photo by Felix Gonzalez)

Shep relaxing before yet another MMSI Show Committee meeting on the back deck at his friend Mike Cobb's house. (Photo by Felix Gonzalez)