Miniature Wash High gym showcases ‘underground hobby’ of paper stadiums

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020 | 3:51 PM


Trey Ashby never set foot inside Wash High’s basketball gym, but the Nebraska resident can describe the banners on the wall, the paint colors on the floor and the wooden seats that give the place its character.

In fact, Ashby built himself a replica.

“In Nebraska, all of our gyms are just boxes that have pull-out bleachers,” Ashby said. “There’s nothing unique about any of them. They’re basically all the same. So it’s cool seeing a horseshoe. It’s cool seeing fixed bleachers.”

Some artists work with paint. Others shape stone or metal.

Ashby builds stadiums with paper.

A 31-year-old physical education teacher by day, Ashby spent hours this spring constructing a miniature version of the Prexies’ gym as a commissioned art piece for an unnamed buyer in Western Pennsylvania. It earned attention around the WPIAL when he posted pictures on his Twitter account @PaperStadiums.

“I do like high school gyms,” Ashby said. “Obviously, I’d never even heard of (Wash High’s) until he reached out to me. But it was a really cool one.”

His specialty is stadiums — only college and pro venues, at first — but he’s expanded his repertoire to include other structures. His latest project involved a replica of Radio City Music Hall, a New York City landmark.

Next on his to-do list were the Mets’ Shea Stadium, Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.

His art pieces start at around $400, with the larger stadiums priced in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. He jokes that his wife would never let him spend that much for a paper stadium but the demand is real.

He said a professional rugby team in Texas recently ordered its stadium.

When a buyer requests a project, Ashby turns to the internet.

“It starts with studying pictures,” he said. “With major league stadiums it’s a lot easier because you can find blueprints and stuff like that. With (the Wash High gym), it’s studying countless pictures, trying to figure out some of the angles and the scale of how big everything is.

“Once I figure out a lot of the measurements, I scale it down to inches and centimeters. I build it up and try to color it as close to the actual.”

Go back a couple of years and Ashby never would’ve imagined his unusual hobby could become a business. As a kid, he was “obsessed” with drawing stadiums and decided two years ago to rekindle that passion.

“I found out through my social media that there are thousands of others who were obsessed with stadiums when they were kids too,” he said. “I came back to that (hobby) but wanted to step it up a little and do a 3D model. I started with cardboard and used trial and error. I figured out what works and doesn’t work. What’s faster. What looks better.

“The more I do them, the better they look.”

The Wash High gym took him three days to complete. The larger projects sometimes take weeks. They’re built mostly with card stock but sometimes he incorporates construction paper or printer paper. For Radio City Music Hall, he added paper with gold foil.

He called his first attempts from two years ago “rudimentary,” but six months ago his builds became more refined. A friend convinced him to start a Twitter account to share updates on his work and Ashby was stunned by the feedback — and the followers.

“I was making Memorial Stadium — I’m in Nebraska — and I thought a couple of dozen people will enjoy this,” said Ashby, a Cornhuskers fan. “It built up to maybe 300 followers. I was shocked by that. Three hundred people actually think this is cool? And then here we are six months later, I just went over 8,000. It’s been shocking.

“I was just doing this an hour a night just for fun. It’s really, really surprising.”

The stadiums have kept him busy during a time when there’s not much workload for phys ed teachers.

Ashby’s tweets brought to light what he calls an underground hobby. The pandemic had people stuck at home nationwide and left sports fans searching for an outlet.

“I didn’t realize how many people were obsessed with stadiums,” he said. “People are obsessed with drawing stadiums or building models of their own. I’ve kind of unknowingly tapped into this market of people who had this underground hobby that they didn’t tell each other about.”

He’s now seeing tweets almost daily from folks eager to share their creations.

“It’s been fun watching other people do their own and ask me for advice,” Ashby said. “I’m more than willing to give advice and help people. If I’m inspiring a new category of hobby, that would be pretty cool.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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