Library displays model ships rigged by legally blind enthusiast
BISMARCK — Joel Brostrom has not allowed a limitation to keep him from succeeding at a hobby he thoroughly enjoys.
The 54-year-old Bismarck resident, who was born legally blind, rigs model sailing ships, and a portion of his collection is on display at the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library.
"We all have limitations, but sometimes our limitations don't get in the way," said Brostrom, who has limited field vision due to congenital glaucoma. "I've been legally blind all my life, so I'm not sure what it's like to have normal vision. I didn't even think of my eyesight getting in the way (of shipbuilding).
"I can see well up close. Details fade at a distance," he said.
Brostrom, a Wilton native, began working with replicas while enrolled at the school for the blind, where he attended his first six years of school. His mother, Lorraine, would visit him on a regular basis, always bringing a model kit, such as a dinosaur, to assemble.
The first ship he ever rigged was an 8-inch model of the Flying Cloud clipper, at the age of 12.
Next was a replica of Captain Hook's pirate ship, the Jolly Roger, from the movie "Peter Pan." The model kit arrived in the mail via the Revell Model Kit Club, of which Brostrom was a member.
At about the age of 20, he was introduced to a local shop, Meredith's Hobby and Craft, which sold model kits of historic sailing ships with intricate details.
"Then I was hooked. I've been building ever since," said Brostrom, noting his admiration for historic sailing ships began when he was a child, gazing in awe at the Mayflower replica his mother set out to evoke Thanksgiving cheer.
To date, he's rigged more than 40 ships — 18 of which are on display at the library. The remaining vessels are scattered throughout Brostrom's apartment, as centerpieces on his dining room table, coffee table and numerous stands.
"If they're done right — and not all of mine are — they're a showpiece," he said, noting a bookshelf is an ideal location to display a model sailing ship.
Brostrom enjoys listening to the radio or an educational video — borrowed from the library — while shipbuilding. Without any distractions, he says he can build a replica in less than a week's time.
Each kit comes with instructions, and sails are usually optional. Some kits have pre-formed rope ladders.
"Always follow the instructions because, otherwise, the result will be unconstitutional," Brostrom said, chuckling. "And always paint before assembling."
Ships can be rigged simplified or detailed.
"The detailed models always look better than the simplified ones. Always choose detailed," he said. "Take your time and exercise some patience. Rigging requires patience."
Brostrom said the most challenging ship he's ever built is the 1:100 scale model replica of the Soleil Royal. The finished product measures about one yard in length. In addition to the ship's many details, what made it the most difficult was the kit's instructions were written in French.
He said his favorite, thus far, is the USS Constitution, because of its history.
"No sane person likes war," said Brostrom, who holds a bachelor's degree in history from Minot State University. "But I do like the story of the USS Constitution, 'Old Ironsides.' And I like the durability of the ship."
He said he's saving up for his first wood kit, which has a several-hundred-dollar price tag.
Brostrom, who says he's flattered to have his ships on display, wants to encourage people of all ages, especially children, to rig models of historic sailing ships, starting with less-intricate models.
"Be patient, take your time and get it right. Don't be afraid of the detail involved," he said.
And when it comes to life's setbacks, he encourages everyone to see beyond them.
"See setbacks as temporary," Brostrom said. "Be humble and follow your dreams."
The collection will be on display through April in the lobby of the library, 515 N. Fifth St.
"We are grateful for the many talented citizens in the area who are willing to share their personal passions with the library and the community," said Sarah Mathews, adult programming coordinator of the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library. "It is fun to uncover the many unique and interesting collections patrons have, and we love showcasing them for public display."
The library is looking for collections for the lobby display. For more information, call 701-355-1485 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.