FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA —
Next year marks the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo, when French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by an international force led by England and Prussia. Just in time for the observance, a retired U.S. military officer is recreating the battlefield - in miniature, with a quarter-million tiny hand-painted soldiers.
“Each soldier is approximately six millimeters high or one quarter of an inch,” said Steve St. Clair, who has been painstakingly painting those tiny figures for 20 years.
So far he has 250,000 of them.
”Actually it is one of the most decisive battles in military history. It ended the Napoleonic era, number one. Number two, it had units from so many different countries in so many different uniforms. I thought that will be very interesting to paint,” he said.
St. Clair grew up in a military family and served in the Army for 25 years. He says painting figures is a way to balance his life.
“One of my specialties was anti-terrorism, which was a very stressful job. And when I come home, this was a way to relax because you can literally turn your mind off and just paint the figures,” he said.
The soldiers are recreated in precise historical detail, down to the colors of ornaments on their uniforms.
”I am painting the plumes on the top of the helmets of the soldiers from grenadier companies. They would have red plumes,” St. Clair said.
“Painting the figures actually is one step of rather long process. First of all, quite a bit of time is spent on research knowing what the units wore. The most complicated figures are Scottish highlanders with their plaid kilts.”
The Waterloo pieces are stored in a chest of drawers in his basement. St. Clair said, so far, he has put 20,000 man hours of work in the collection.
“Compulsive maybe but not obsessive. There is a bit of difference," he said. "Obsessive means I have to paint every day and do this exclusion of other things. I have a lot of different hobbies.”
An estimated 200,000 soldiers fought at the Battle of Waterloo. St. Clair painted the extras so he could stage multiple battle poses.
The figures laid out on this model terrain represent about four percent of his entire collection. St. Clair says he would need an area about 190 square meters to put everything on display.
“There are no other collections in the world of a quarter-million figures. By the end of this year all of the extra should be done,” he said.
St. Clair wants to donate his creation to a museum but so far has no takers. But he hopes his tiny troops will find a home and can be on display for the bicentennial celebration of the Battle of Waterloo next year.