Tinkertown Museum, in Sandia Park, New Mexico, was the vision and life’s work of self-taught tinker, circus painter and artistic genius Ross Ward. Along with his wife, Carla, they created a mind-boggling miniature world of folk art, animated dioramas and whimsy.
The seeds of Tinkertown were planted in 1962 when Ross began carving while in the Army. His first major project was an 1880’s Western town with 26 buildings including a blacksmith, hotel and general store. More than 300 animated people occupied the miniature settlement.
The Wild West town was first a traveling exhibit. “We had it in a trailer and would take it around to different fairs we were working,” said Carla in an interview on New Mexico True Television. “We traveled all over the country when Ross’ day job was a carnival and circus painter.”
While on the road in the ’60s and ’70s, they stopped at every roadside attraction they stumbled on. “They were disappearing so quickly,” recalled Carla. “We thought we should build one. A place that we would want to go to ourselves.” In 1983 they opened Tinkertown in one room of their two-room house in tiny Sandia Park, NM. Today there are 22 rooms and more than 20,000 hand-carved miniatures. Ross often said his inspiration was House on the Rock in Wisconsin.
Recycling glass bottles
“We started collecting bottles from along the sides of roads in the early ’80s,” recalled Carla. “We became the neighborhood recycling center for almost 20 years.”
Today more than 55,000 glass bottles are cemented into meandering walls that surround the rooms jammed with curiosities, wagon wheels and wacky memorabilia. “Ross was always searching out anything interesting to build into the physical layout of Tinkertown,” said Carla. “We spent nearly 40 years collecting.” Painted on the bottom of one bottle is: “We did all this while you were watching T.V.”
In Feb. 1998, at age 57, Ross was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and he passed on Nov. 13, 2002. It is said that an on-display Art Car was the final project he worked on. Although he died 20 years ago, Carla and their family keep the doors open in his wild and wacky memory.
If you go
121 Sandia Crest Rd.
Sandia Park, New Mexico 87047
April 1-Nov. 1, Friday-Monday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission: $6 adults, $3 kids 4-16.
About 20 minutes northeast of Albuquerque on NM Hwy 536, at 7,000-feet elevation.
Turquoise Trail Campground
22 Calvary Rd.
Cedar Crest, NM 87008
On the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, 5-1/2 miles south of Tinkertown.