Dartmouth resident turns matches into works of art

Mar 15, 2017

In the corner of Joe Gaspar’s basement is a bar made of 27,227 matches. He made it himself.

Gaspar carefully burned, scraped, and glued together matches to complete his five-year project, the largest he’s undertaken in his 40-year hobby.

“My wife [Soledade Gaspar] and I are the same in that we don’t like to have the same things that others have. I decided I’m pretty sure no one’s going to build this,” Gaspar said as he pointed to a carving bearing his name on the edge of the bar.

Adding to the bar’s uniqueness, its surface is covered in antique pennies sealed by five gallons of liquid varnish. Nearby is Gaspar’s coin book, which hosts a penny for every year, from 1878 to 2017.

Gaspar — who does not share any relation to the sausage men on Faunce Corner Road — picked up his affinity for match-model building during his 40-year career as an engineer on small fishing boats and massive oil tankers.

“When you make these trips for six months, what are you going to do? You need to kill as much time as you can,” he explained.

Gaspar started out building model boats, but was inspired by the Portuguese-style windmills in his homeland. He’d recreate the structures, along with other scenes from Portuguese villages. He’s since grown from there.

Gaspar finished his latest project — a scale model of the Titanic — a few weeks ago. It took him three winters and 11,600 matches to complete.

“I have to keep going like this to live longer,” he said. “Now, it’s about killing time.”

Gaspar doesn’t identify with other model builders because he carefully designs interiors as well. His models can be taken apart to expose the inner workings.

“I don’t want mine to look like this,” Gaspar said, holding up a model windmill devoid of an interior. “It looks nice, but if you look inside it looks empty. I want everything to look like it’s supposed to.”

Gaspar’s Titanic model an engine room, boilers, elevators, kitchen, and bridge. His windmill includes gears and mechanical components — of course, all made from matches — that move the windmill.

Currently, he’s working on a model of the Eiffel Tower. Despite several months of work, it’s still in the early stages. He’s also in the midst of redesigning his windmills. He frequently revisits his old projects to make changes — such as building a new bridge for a train set he built 40 years ago — and gain new inspiration.

Gaspar also dabbles in woodworking. He builds toys for his grandchildren out of repurposed two-by-fours, and fashioned a canoe out of a tree he removed from his backyard several years ago.