The Colgate Scene
September 2000
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This so-called hobby
by John D. Hubbard
 


Ken Schade '61 peered into the window of the tobacco shop. It was after business hours, but something had caught his eye as he strolled the streets of Toronto -- a display of toy soldiers.

     That was five years ago, and Schade's intrigue has quickly led him to collect, research, produce and now market figures. And not just any figures, but miniature Colgate athletes with expressive faces, action poses and every detail painstakingly rendered by Russian craftsmen.


Ken Schade '61 has Team Spirit, a full line of exquisitely rendered miniatures in Colgate uniforms.
     Schade, whose education includ-ed devouring specialty magazines, contacting dealers and haunting auctions, also became the owner of regimental bands, the Queen's guard and, eventually, exquisite medieval knights produced in St. Petersburg. After 25 years he was getting tired of the stock market business and more and more was asking himself what he wanted to do when he grew up.

     "Maybe I could be making figures," Schade answered himself and went so far as to sign up for a sculpting course. He quickly concluded his skills lay elsewhere, but his fascination with figures only grew.

     The next giant step occurred during a ski trip gone bad (speeding ticket, no pipe smoking at the hotel and a Steelers loss in the Super Bowl). Schade happened upon a chess set in Hanover, NH, with the Dartmouth football team facing off against Princeton.

     "It was like 900 bucks and the figures weren't that good," said Schade, who had been keeping a list of subjects not available as miniatures.

     "The world doesn't need another producer of toy soldiers," reasoned Schade, who turned his considerable energies to sports figures.

     "It turns out I started with the most complicated figures possible," groaned Schade at the very thought of collegiate licensing, ever-changing uniforms and perfect poses. He did find a receptive audience at Colgate, however. That's when things got, well, involved, and Signature Figures was born.

Tiny populations
The Schades' home provides multiple spaces for tiny populations on window sills and corner tables. A band marches across a mantlepiece in the front room and a cabinet in an upstairs den houses a chaotic battlefield with mounted knights in all their splendid heraldry.

     "My wife isn't too crazy about it," admitted Schade, "but she likes these" -- a farm scene complete with hard-working family and barnyard animals. She was also well aware of the number of packages coming into the house with increasing frequency and recognized the opportunity to ask for a new kitchen.

     "What was I going to say, no?"

     Schade's pursuit of figures he could call his own continued. Having scrapped the idea of doing his own sculpting, he turned to painting castings. A series of Remington bronzes became test patterns and Dickens's figures are under the brush.

     "I'm doing a lot of testing," said Schade in his basement shop. "I've tested every paint made and all kinds of epoxies."

     Schade has also hit the road to visit athletic departments and campus bookstores. "The idea is for Ken to have some fun. If I break even on this it will be a big deal."

     Colgate's interest spurred Schade on. The process begins with his idea of a pose -- he keeps albums full of action shots clipped from newspapers and magazines and gleaned from sports information departments -- and leads to discussions with his Russian sculptor Oleg Bijato. Schade's explanation of lacrosse, a sport the artist had never seen, was abetted by a videotape of an NCAA championship game.

     The Colgate collection includes 10 poses, all with "a victorious attitude," and expressions that give the figures a lifelike quality.

     Among the figures are football, hockey and lacrosse players and representatives of both men's and women's soccer and basketball and among the poses they strike are "Court Marshall," "Fourth and Inches" and "Striking Distance." All the handcast Old English pewter, presentation-quality sculptures are mounted on walnut bases. The Colgate figures are available through the bookstore.

     Of course, the Team Spirit collection can be customized for a variety of schools by simply changing the color of paint. Each is hand- painted in Russia (Schade is still practicing) in the detailed connoisseur style.

     "If you don't have a good face, you don't have anything," said Schade, who calls the Russian painters' artistry and ability to detail "mind boggling."

     Ken Schade is on the road these days, visiting campuses to show his wares. "I'm always worried about something, but I got most of the things solved, more or less. Now I have to get orders." With such fine miniatures, that shouldn't be a big problem.

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