A Collector Finds His Way Into Different Communities

By Nick Blumberg
Published: Friday, September 12, 2014 - 5:43pm
Updated: Monday, July 6, 2015 - 12:10pm
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Photo by Nick Blumberg - KJZZ
Artist and scenic designer Paul Wilson in the authentic mid-century living room of his Phoenix home.

Whether it's baseball cards or Impressionist masterpieces, a shared interest in collecting can bring people together. The KJZZ community series We Are the Valley introduces us to a man who lives in one of his collections and dips his toe in many different communities.Paul Wilson is a professional scenic designer and scenic painter.

"But on my own I sort of take my work home with me and I live in the 1950s," Wilson said.

Wilson isn't kidding. His living room could be in a museum.

"This would have been like the high fashion of the, say, the late 50s, but it's all from Sears. It represents trying to be the utmost in 'moderne,'" Wilson said.

Wilson started collecting at thrift stores in the 1980s, when nobody else really cared about mid-century. Now, scores of people would love his free-form tables, funky abstract wall art, low fabric couches, mostly in turquoise, red and gold.

The shelves in his kitchen are full of vintage food products, like Chedobit: "pasteurized processed cheese food ... you were supposed to make grilled cheese sandwiches and such with it."

There's also a can of chicken soup that Wilson shakes to demonstrate that it's still got its original contents.

Over the years, Wilson's made friends with other people who have authentic period homes and share his passion for a lifestyle that's a half-century old. "They might go more the 60s Danish Modern route, but we all appreciate each other's stuff," Wilson said. "It's like, 'Where did you get ice bucket?!' Or I'll say, 'Where did you get that turquoise range?'"

But finding people who share some of Wilson's other interests is less common.

"I'd like to think that I'm probably the only person in Arizona, or maybe the United States, that has a collection of tasteful Lee Harvey Oswald dolls," Wilson said.

He got interested in Oswald not for shock value but for artistic value. Wilson created dozens of alternative lives for Oswald and created the Wee Lees to match.

Many of the mini-Oswalds are modified Ken dolls, so driven by his art, Wilson's dipped his toe into the incredibly detail-oriented world of Barbie and Ken collecting.

"Some of my friends were like, 'Seriously, you're paying $25 for a little tiny razor for a Ken doll from 1962? And I'd say, 'Yep, Lee needs a razor!'"

So whether it's a razor for Lee or a plastic Melmac plate to fill his china cabinet, Wilson finds his way into all sorts of oddball collector communities, with varied interests but a similar passion.

"A lot of it is community in that we're sharing information, and that's what I like, because you make friends, you learn things, and you just have fun with it," Wilson said. "It's fun kind of living in a fantasy world."

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