Model maker Jim Hood turned a childhood hobby into a lifelong career

Jim holding the head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex

Jim holding the head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex

They say if you find a job you love, you need never work a day in your life.

That's what happened to professional model maker and sculptor Jim Hood, who will be running a workshop on January 16 and 17 as part of Bellingen Shire's Arts Week.

Twenty years after retiring from the Australian Museum, where he created everything from octopus to Tyrannosaurus Rex, Jim is still delighting in the process of making things that look real.

Photos of the marine invertebrate models Jim Hood made for a special exhibition at the Australian Museum in the 1970s

Photos of the marine invertebrate models Jim Hood made for a special exhibition at the Australian Museum in the 1970s

Even as a young boy growing up in the UK, he was up for the intricate challenge of constructing model boats, planes and buildings.

As an eight-year-old, he spent a week creating a miniature version of Westminster Abbey.

"It taught me patience and accuracy. You get this selection of cards, which you cut out with a sharp knife, and you fold and glue and assemble. I still make paper models for fun."

More recent models Jim has made include Prague's clock tower and Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork, from the fantasy world of Terry Pratchett.

The childhood hobby morphed into a job making scale models of architectural designs in London, a skill that proved in demand when he moved to Australia in 1967.

Snapped up by a firm in Crows Nest, he made dozens of models of different designs for the glass walls of the Sydney Opera House in the wake of Jorn Utzon's departure.

"There was a committee trying to decide what they should look like. I wish I'd kept some, they were beautiful looking things."

He also made models for iconic architect Harry Seidler. "He was quite a demanding man, but it was very satisfying when you got a compliment from him."

However, a few years later, he heard about a six-month contract at the Australian Museum, making models for a special exhibition on marine invertebrates.

"I hadn't actually made any models of animals up to that time. As a test, they got me to make a model of an octopus. They seemed to like it and they gave me the job."

As a test, they got me to make a model of an octopus.

Jim Hood
Jim Hood with one of his octopus models

Jim Hood with one of his octopus models

The exhibition involved deep sea creatures, so he worked from photographs and descriptions from the scientists.

"It was a challenge but I realised I loved the work. It was very satisfying and so was seeing the public looking at it."

Jim faced a steep learning curve because the previous sculptor and model maker had left the museum just before he arrived.

"I learned some very interesting techniques, mainly by trial and error. I had to look at the models he'd made and figure out what technique he'd used.

"But they liked what I did and I was still there 20 years later."

Jim's workshop at Fernmount is a cross between exhibition and work space.

On walls and shelves are mementos from his career, including part of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

"People liked to put their head inside its mouth," he said. "Thousands of them have done just that."

Other items on display include replicas of Greek coins from 450BC, a gigantic Argentine spider from 320 million years ago, and French muskets used in a production of Les Misérables.

"If I hadn't worked at the museum, I think I would have enjoyed working at a film studio, making props."

Thousands of people have put their heads inside the mouth of the T.Rex that Jim Hood made for the Australian Museum

Thousands of people have put their heads inside the mouth of the T.Rex that Jim Hood made for the Australian Museum

Jim and his partner moved to Fernmount 18 years ago, after becoming familiar with the area by spending holidays here.

In retirement, he still does "pretty much the same thing I did when I was working".

"I do enjoy making stuff. If I haven't got something tangible at the end of the day, it hasn't been a very satisfying day."

Numbers for Jim Hood's two-day mould making and casting workshop are strictly limited to four people.

Participants will be shown basic techniques of mould making in plaster and silicone rubber as well as methods of casting in non-toxic materials.

Jim suggests they bring along small sculptures, jewellery and other interesting objects, and take home perfect replicas.

For more information about booking this workshop, or one of the many others on offer, go to www.bellingenshireartsweek.com