He’s like that athlete who keeps announcing his retirement over and over again but just can’t bring himself to completely step away from the game.
He’s quit once.
Maybe even four.
But then as he’s sitting around doing something else – or, more to the point, sitting around doing nothing else – he’s drawn back.
He’s just not willing to put away his knife for good – even if did only come from a dollar store.
And so, Nelson Blinn shuffles his way down to his basement, a.k.a. his workspace, inside his Plympton, Digby County home.
It’s impeccably neat. Every screwdriver, chisel, clamp, hammer, ruler, tube of paint and other tools have their place.
There’s virtually no guessing game here. What isn’t neatly displayed is properly labelled, negating the game of chance by sliding open the wrong drawer.
And yet Blinn cautions his visitors over and over again about the mess.
“You’re gonna get dirty,” he says, apologetically. He doesn’t see the tidiness. He sees the layer of dust – particularly sawdust – on the floor and tables.
But here’s the thing about sawdust. If you get it on your clothes, it brushes off.
So while his concern is appreciated, it’s also misplaced.
Over the years Blinn has spent a lot of time here – albeit more so in the summer than in the winter since there’s no heat in his basement. Somedays it’s not unusual for him to be working six or seven hours.
On tables and shelves, he’s surrounded by them – the little replicas of Digby County buildings and landmarks he’s made.
If you thought Maud and Everett Lewis’s original house was small, it’s even smaller in Blinn’s basement. The tiny replica of the house comes in a variety of sizes. Small. Smaller. And smaller than that.
Carved out of pine, the shingles on the roof feel real as you pass your fingers over them. The tiny painted details – the flowers and birds – he paints onto the windows and doors using a toothpick.
His replicas come in a variety of prices, $40, $50, $70. But the pleasure he gets from making them is priceless.
“It’s just something to do,” says Blinn, who is 79.
In his workshop you’ll also find tiny replicas of the Gilbert’s Cove Lighthouse and a few of the Holy Cross Church in Plympton. The real Gilbert’s Cove Lighthouse, a short drive from his house, and dating back to 1906, was restored and is cared for by volunteers of the Gilbert’s Cove and District Historical Society.
The Holy Cross Church, on the flipside, is disappearing beam by beam from the community. The first church, a chapel, was built in 1838. It was replaced in 1890 by a new church that was destroyed by fire in 1938. Following that, the current church was constructed, but now it is being dismantled – much of it by hand. The church closed in 2013. A final service was held in July 2014.
Blinn is interested in seeing the church live on in some form. What in real life is a massive structure he can now hold with his two hands.
Blinn was neither a professional carpenter, nor a carver, in his working life.
“I used to work at the Cornwallis base as a cleaner. When they closed it, I always had tools and frigged around,” he says.
The first thing he built was a set of kitchen cabinets. And he kept going from there.
He’s since built jewelry boxes, a deacon’s bench, side tables and solid oak cremation box urns. The latter he sells to a funeral home in Bridgetown, although he has some at his home that people can purchase too.
He started making the lighthouse replicas about 12 years ago. The Maud Lewis houses about three years ago. The Holy Cross Church is more recent. He leaves many of the replicas hollow in case someone wants to put a light inside.
The replicas all start out as parts. One wall, one roof at a time. As you glance around his workspace. you can see some unpainted walls stacked in a pile.
“Everything is cut out on the table saw, so it does take quite a while, and it’s dangerous with the fingers,” he said.
He’s asked if he ever had a serious accident.
No, he says, but he once came pretty close, motioning to one of his fingers.
Asked how long he intends to keep making little replica buildings, Blinn sees no end in sight.
“I love doing it. I get up in the morning and I have my breakfast, then I work all day on this. It’s enjoyable,” he says.
“I try to stop doing it and I can’t,” he says. “I’m sitting upstairs for a month and I think to myself, I can’t take it anymore. I need to keep doing something.”
He says it’s not an addiction. Even with the amount of time he puts into this he can still pull himself away to do other things and go to other places with his wife Judy.
But would he call it an obsession? A passion?
“Well, it’s something” he says, laughing. “I can’t quit, let’s put it that way.”
Nelson Blinn says if people are interested in purchasing one of his replicas they can contact him through his personal Facebook page.
He says he’s not really a phone guy.