Becoming a resident of Trillium Woods hasn’t stopped Bob Paulson’s lifelong passion for woodworking. In fact, since he moved into Plymouth, MN’s premier lifeplan community with his wife, Mary Ellen, he’s discovered new ways to deepen his craft, focusing more on creating intricate and artistic pieces rather than the Stickley-style furniture that was his signature for many years.
“My children have all the furniture they need,” he laughs.
The Paulsons have converted their new home’s den into an art studio for Bob to work on his projects, and as a member of the Trillium Wood Chippers, he enjoys access to the community’s very well-equipped workshop. In addition, Bob also keeps some larger equipment at his son’s house, which is conveniently just five minutes from Trillium Woods.
“This community was a perfect fit for us,” he explains. “We watched as Trillium Woods was being built, and I helped a friend move in, so we knew all about the benefits of the lifestyle here.”
In early 2023, Paulson began work on one of his most ambitious creations yet, a detailed wooden model of the steamship Minnehaha, a streetcar-style vessel built in 1906 to help commuters travel from communities on Lake Minnetonka to downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
Paulson was inspired by the challenge the ship presented, as well as its intriguing history. After the rise of automobiles, it was scuttled in 1926. Then, in 1980, the wreck was raised from the bottom of the lake. Eventually, it was restored and returned to service from 1996 until 2019, when it lost access to its launch site on Lake Minnetonka. Its size and build make finding another permanent launch site challenging, though the ship’s supporters hope to return it to the water once again.
Paulson began planning his model using The Museum of Lake Minnetonka website (https://steamboatminnehaha.org) and other online resources, but then Bruce Warner, a 12-year captain on the real Minnehaha was able to arrange a visit to see the boat in dry dock. “Examining the boat in person and taking close-up pictures helped me decide where to be faithful to the original and where to exercise my artistic license,” he says.
While Paulson’s Minnehaha is wood, its 28 passengers are made from polymer clay. “Mary Ellen and I went on a Caribbean cruise in January. Instead of reading a book on the deck, I was working on the passengers,” he says.
The resulting combination of the authentic wooden ship and its stylized group of clay passengers is spectacular and joins the list of Paulson’s favorite pieces, which include a glass-topped coffee table, several uniquely designed floor lamps, an intricate lighthouse, a replica of the Minneapolis Mill City Museum, and a side table that features a duck pond, complete with cattails and butterflies.
Paulson has also used his skill and talents to delight his neighbors at Trillium Woods. For the Fourth of July, he sneaked little red, white, and blue polymer butterflies onto the shelves that can be found outside every apartment door. During the holidays, every resident was surprised with a little sculpture of a wrapped present on their shelf.
Paulson’s surprise polymer clay holiday present and a pair of his 4th of July butterflies as seen on a neighbor’s shelf.
“Trillium Woods is a special community,” Paulson says. “When my wife and I moved in, complete strangers would call to invite us to dinner. It was easy to make friends. Plus, the food is exceptional — as good as any first-class restaurant.”
Paulson’s mini Minnehaha was briefly part of that top-notch dining experience, having recently enjoyed pride of place on the mantel of Trillium Woods’ pub of the same name. Since then, it has enjoyed a homecoming of sorts, having been sold to Tom McCarthy, one of the leaders of the original ship’s restoration efforts.