Much like any retiree, Shakopee resident Jerry Hackett needed to find a new pastime when he left High Five Erectors, a steel erection company where he worked as an accountant.
When he lived up north in Bemidji, he had his gardens. Now in Shakopee, he has toothpick architecture.
Hackett has been making toothpick replicas of famous landmarks for about two years, and so far has built an Eiffel Tower, Canada’s Lethbridge and Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge, to name a few. While living in northern Minnesota a few years ago, he would spend hours transforming his neighbor’s swamp cedar scraps into intricate mini cabins and houses. With no room for a workshop and gardens not allowed at his Shakopee townhome, he’s turned to a different method of woodworking.
“When the kids were in school, one of them had to do a project, so I helped them with it,” he said. “I can’t have gardens here, and I had to do something. So I got to making stuff out of toothpicks.”
All it takes is a small power saw, a dremel tool, toenail clippers, some clothespins, clamps and Elmer’s glue to hold it all together. And, of course, toothpicks. Lots and lots of toothpicks.
When Hackett decides he wants to tackle a project, he first scours the internet for dimensions so the replica is as accurate as possible. Sometimes, like with the Duluth bridge, this requires a few phone calls.
“I called MnDOT and I could tell the guy was leery about giving me measurements, probably thinking I’m a terrorist looking for an area to bomb,” he chuckled.
After being redirected twice, Hackett ended up reaching a woman in Duluth who was able to send him three drawings that helped him finish the bridge.
“If I ever go to Duluth, I’m going to take it with me and give it to her,” he said with a smile.
With the dimensions, Hackett makes several drawings for each piece of the structure and puts them under wax paper. Finally, he glues each toothpick together. And then he glues them again.
“I double glue just about everything to make it stronger,” he said. “Since I started, I think this may be my fourth bottle of glue. I’d have to be in the first grade for years to use that much,” he joked.
His most recent creation is a replica of the Seattle Space Needle, which boasts three elevators and stretches skyward in a sea of boxed craft sticks and toothpicks in his indoor porch.
Hackett works at his own pace. Some days, he won’t work at all. He says it took him about a month on and off to complete the Space Needle.
Soon, his house could no longer accommodate so many toothpick sculptures. Looking to save space, Hackett’s wife Patti repurposed a toothpick basket into a unique lampshade and uses another to hold Christmas bulbs. Others sculptures have been donated — an Eiffel Tower is on display at the Shakopee Library.
“When you go down the hall and look at all the stuff, you go, ‘You need more room!’” Patti said. “The library has got the bookcases and the shelving, so it was nice to display a few of the things we donated.”
Hackett traces his interest in woodworking to his younger years, recalling his love for drawing and several tables and a bookcase he made in high school.
“It’s like one of the episodes of ‘Seinfeld’ when somebody asks George what he does and he’ll always say ‘architect’ and Seinfeld will say, ‘You’re not an architect!’” he laughs. “‘Well, I’ve just always wanted to be one.’”
Hackett doesn’t yet know what his next project will be. He has contemplated attempting the Golden Gate Bridge, but he’s not sure if he wants to tackle the project, which would be so long it would need to be split into two parts.
“When you think of the time and just the ability to put it together... ,” Patti said. “He’s got quite the talent.”