Models of Fine Art

No liberties: Each piece on every limited edition work can be referenced in Royal Oak.
Photography Courtesy of

The design process for highest caliber scale models worthy of historic exhibits and prized in private collections starts in an unassuming warehouse in Royal Oak — and finishes with details so exact it leaves people amazed.

Case in point: Fine Art Models’ most well-known project, a 1:48 scale builder’s model of the Titanic, includes more than 3,376,000 rivets to replicate the original.

“Everybody thinks they know what they are going to see, until they see it,” said Gary Kohs, company president. “They walk out shaking their heads. It’s fun to see people impressed.”

Relatively unknown in America, Fine Art Models has won a bounty of awards in Europe “because they’re quality conscious,” Kohs said. While many of the Michigan company’s craftsmen live abroad — Kohs found Fine Art Models craftsmen “literally in the street” of Korea, Latvia, Serbia and Ukraine after getting on a plane and traveling the world — design work and tooling happens in the Royal Oak headquarters.

The artisan company builds limited-edition ships, trains, airplanes and military vehicles for decorative purposes and museum exhibits, but each model develops from historical research and original drawings. Every piece on every model can be referenced.

Kohs considers model making a real craft due to the accuracy, attention to detail and objectivity involved. “Our models are in virtually every major museum in the world today,” he said. “There are no liberties in a world-class model. A model is not subjective.”

A native of Northville, Kohs graduated from the University of Notre Dame and started Fine Art Models in 1989. He grew up making models and still enjoys building, collecting and trading models and other rare artifacts.

Kohs saw a market for this vanishing art form and wanted to perfect the art and science behind model recreations. Progressive lasers, complex photo etching and cutting-edge aerospace materials distinguish Fine Art Models’ work, Kohs said.

Customers include the Titanic’s builders — Northern Ireland’s Harland & Wolff — the National Geographic Museum and Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

This summer, Kohs offered the only public viewing of the RMS Titanic model in America in 2013 in St. Clair. This Titanic model, the world’s only exact scale replica, finds safe harbor in the company’s headquarters when it isn’t traveling the world.

Crafted to the Rivet: Titanic

In 1995, the builders of Titanic, Harland & Wolff of Belfast, Northern Ireland, approached Fine Art Models to build the builder’s model of the fated ship. Fine Art Models was given access to original plans, drawings and every photograph of Titanic known to exist. Additional needed reference came from museums around the world. The 1:48 scale builder’s model, completed in 2002, took the Royal Oak company a total of seven years to build — longer than it took to build Titanic herself. In brief:

  • The model is over 18 feet long.
  • The hull is a fiberglass form plated and riveted with brass per the original plans, using more than 3,376,000 rivets, composed of three different styles.
  • Every bulkhead is in its proper location.
  • The entire superstructure is constructed of brass.ipl
  • The model weighs 1,500 pounds.
  • The decking is real wood, as is the deck furniture, which is crafted to exact proportions.
  • All exterior windowed rooms are to scale, including the furniture and décor inside each room.
  • The telegraph in the Bridge is internally lit.
  • Its lighting is so complex that it required the installation of more than eight
    miles of fiber optic cable.

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