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Saying “Goodbye” — Louis Dausse of Paper Models International

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For almost four decades a familiar, beloved, figure in the world of paper model enthusiasts, PMI's Lou Dausse, holding one of the paper models he loves: a P-47 Thunderbolt American fighter plane. (Photo courtesy PMI.) 
 
The rarified ether Carolyn Hobbes is breathing in the Rockies must be giving her clairvoyant powers. How else could she have read my mind? I was just about to blog this page as she was posting the following message to the Crèche Guild:

I am so sorry to learn that Paper Models International is going out of business. They did have several very nice paper creche models. Thought you'd like to know, in case you were waiting to order.
— Carolyn


Paper Models International, or PMI to paper model enthusiasts, is the company that Lou Dausse and his wife, Barbara, built. A familiar presence in the paper model universe for over 35 years, Lou is preparing to say goodbye.

"It's time," Lou says. "The problem is that Barbara and I can't handle it any more. We are both retired, our health has had its ups and downs, and Barbara wants to do something else other than sit here and fill orders and send out packages…"

I was the recipient of one of those packages a few years ago, and I remember it as though it were yesterday: a Schreiber-Bogen Modellbau's Theater-Krippe, one of my favorite crèches (see photo, below), delivered to my hotel in Miami Beach where I was doing a shoot.

I had discovered paper nativities and models decades after they filled my childhood in Greece, and there I was, tearing apart the plastic wrapping of the Theater-Krippe that had arrived from PMI. I don't think I went out at all that evening, but stayed in my room looking over the nativity sheets that so thrilled me when I was young.

Now, some might not understand locking myself in my hotel room when I could have been enjoying the sun and surf —after all, it was winter back home — but I know Lou, and you, would.

"I know exactly what you're talking about," Lou says. "When I was a hobby store traveling salesman, I used to take along paper models to build in hotel rooms. I'd sit on the bed, snip my models — and somebody else got to clean up the mess!

"That was another of the joys of paper models: when I was a traveling salesman they kept me out of the bars! No kidding: I could hardly wait to get to the motel every night, so I could make my models."

 
The Paper Models International package that was sent to my hotel in Miami Beach, so many years ago. 
  
A European discovery

Lou discovered paper models in Germany, while attending college. "I saw all these paper models in Europe," he says, "and when I got back to the States, it wasn't something you found here. I thought they would do well, so I started to import paper models and sell them to hobby shops in the Pacific Northwest. I traveled a lot.

"I realized that a finished model would help sell a kit. So I would build up an airplane, say, and give it to the shop. That's when I got hooked.

Then I got into mail order, and the business grew, and grew, and grew. About fifteen years ago I quit my job as a salesman to devote all my time to our paper model business. But now it's getting to be too much; gotten beyond me; I can't keep up with it — Barbara and I can't do it justice.

Ten years ago, for example, I knew almost every paper model there was. The computer has changed all that: now, anybody who can run a cad program can design a paper model. And Eastern Europe has opened up, and there's a flood of quality models coming in from there as well.

The paper model market is growing. I don't think many young people build models anymore, they've got other electronic distractions. Our market is men who built models as children, got away from it, and have come back to it."

Lou could be talking about me. I remember looking at a poster of the Globe in Miss Chesebro's 9th-Grade English class, and while everyone else in the class was talking about Romeo and Juliet, I was dreaming about making a Globe paper model. But my English was poor and communication difficult, and my adoptive parents, unfortunately, were more interested that I get an education instead of pursuing a childhood hobby. If only I knew about Lou Dausse then!

It wasn't until many years later, while I was in the in the army, that the Globe — courtesy of Lou and PMI — at last came to life in my BOQ (Bachelor Officers Quarters) at Fort Riley, Kansas. Fellow 2nd Lieutenants may have knocked on my door with an invitation for a night on the town, but, was I about to give up The Globe?

"Which version did you make?" Lou asks. "The round-donut one that's a model of the reconstructed Globe; the larger version that you have to hand-color; or the original theater, the one with the cupola on top of the roof?"

 
PMI's second most-popular model — until the advent of free Internet downloads, that is — Shakespeare's Globe Theater by Heritage Models.
  
Spoken like a true modeler. My English teacher, Miss Chesebro, I explained, would have insisted on the real thing (see photo, below) and that's the model I spent many happy hours assembling in Kansas.

Speaking about the Globe made me think of a question I wanted to ask Lou: what are his most popular paper models?

"Famous buildings," he says. "Castles and cathedrals, by J. F. Schreiber, have been our best-selling models. Our second best-selling kit has been the Globe Theater, because of English classes and teachers assigning extra-credit for a model. Demand for the Globe has decreased, though, because nowadays, Web sites sell, or give away, The Globe as a download.

"Other paper hobbyists love making ships and airplanes. But, over the years, I also have done a nice business with nativities and other Christmas-related models. Some modelers,still, have more eclectic tastes: for a while, there was a run on the face-plate model of Hal, the computer from 2001, A Space Odyssey. Then there was the craze for the SS Minnow, the little ship from Gilligan's Island.

"Our most popular model that we send to prisons is a build-it-yourself clock. These guys, I suppose, are obsessed with time. This model has a pendulum, and paper tube "weights" you fill with sand. That paper clock lasts forever, they tell me, because nobody runs it more than ten seconds at a time!

"But the paper model market is shifting. Even shows aren't what they used to be anymore. It's all about the Internet, now. And kids are into their electronic games, not paper models. There are companies that only sell downloads, or models on CD's or DVD's. That is probably the future of this business. At the moment, there are enough people who are model builders and don't want to fiddle with computers and printers — they want printed sheets, and that's what we provide.

"We're also the publishers for a number of designers, because we can print an item one-at-a-time, as needed. No longer do you need a press-run of 5,000 impressions.

A love of paper modeling

"The beauty of paper model is you can make an airplane, then you can turn around and make a bird, built a ship, erect a cathedral — create a beautiful nativity. I'm always amazed, because there's something new all the time. In thirty-five years I thought I had seen every possible way you can put paper together. But there are so many clever new designers, creating wonderful new models.

"I still build models all the time. Right now, I'm making an old German battleship, the Grosse Deutchland, and I can hardly wait to get it finished — so I can start on the next thing I want to build — a Danish castle.

"For years, we needed assembled models to go to shows, and now I've got storage rooms full of them: I was always building the latest thing and taking it along. Barbara and I have spent twenty years going to hobby shows all over the country. We'd rent a booth, and hang our airplanes, set up our castles, display our dragons and our other models. That's how we promoted our business — when people saw all these models assembled, they went wild about them.

"We don't do shows any more, but I still enjoy modeling so much. You don't need fancy tools — an X-acto knife, a pair of scissors, a pair of twizzers, a felt pen for coloring edges — that's the joy of this hobby. I will probably go on and on, until I finally fall over putting paper models together."

 
We'll miss PMI's great selection and wonderful service.
  
Same here, Lou. There's something so relaxing, so enjoyable, so much fun working with paper models, creating with your hands.

"There's a theory that in hard times hobbies are good," Lou says, "because they're such cheap entertainment. If that's the case, paper models are the cheapest entertainment of all — you get more fun time per-dollar than any other form of hobby I know."

But, along with a possible increase in hobbyists, hard times have certainly also brought along economic uncertainty.

"What PMI needs is for someone to take it over and make a big business out of it," Lou says. "We've shared our business plan, but banks aren't parting with their money easily these days."

It almost makes me want to rent a large U-haul, head out for Beaverton, Oregon, and load up all that inventory — so Lou's legacy can continue.

Maybe it's not just Carolyn who's receiving messages. Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something. As legends like Lou say goodbye, it makes me wonder if Crèchemania.com might have a different role in the paper model universe. After all, for years, Crèchemania.com fans have been asking for more.

So, maybe, I tell Lou, I'll check U-haul rentals tomorrow, and Google maps tonight.

"Go the Southern route," Lou says, with a laugh. "The Northern route is full of snow."

—Alexis

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