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Retiree builds famous cathedral with matchsticks

By RICK OLIVO
The Daily Press of Ashland

MASON, Wis. (AP) — In the year 1163, Maurice De Sully, the Bishop of Paris, decreed the construction of a new cathedral for France’s capitol city.

Mason resident Joe Cutich shows off a replica he built of the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which he displays at his home. (AP Photo/The Ashland Daily Press, Rick Olivo)

Mason resident Joe Cutich shows off a replica he built of the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which he displays at his home. (AP Photo/The Ashland Daily Press, Rick Olivo)

Named Notre Dame De Paris — Our Lady of Paris in English — Sully planned the construction as a magnificent seat for the French Church knowing full well that it would not be completed in his lifetime.

In fact, it took 182 years for the soaring structure to be completed.

For almost 950 years, Notre Dame Cathedral has been regarded as one of the crowning achievements of architectural grace and beauty not just of France, but the world.

It has been painted, photographed and even sculpted. In fact, for a select few, blessed with endless patience, and sure, steady hands, it has become one of the ultimate challenges for a most unusual hobby: matchstick construction.

On July 24 of last year, Joe Cutich, a retired railroad man, began his own construction of a replica of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Using a kit containing blueprints and thousands of matchsticks, over a period of five months, working steadily every day, he chopped the thin sticks to size and gluing them in small sections on a layer of plastic. When the sections dried, he glued the pieces together and went on to the next section. He went along that way until February 17, when the work was finally completed.

The result may not have taken nearly two centuries to complete, but in its own way it’s still a stunning work of craftsmanship.

“Sometimes I would sit up until one in the morning, Cutich said. “But it’s something I love doing, it makes me happy, it keeps me occupied.”

Cutich lost his wife, Rita, three years ago, but he still remains in the house they once shared in the Bayfield County community of Mason. He said he took up the hobby as a way of keeping his mind and hands occupied.

“My daughter bought me puzzles, but I got tired of them; they drove me crazy,” he said.

Then his daughter sent him a matchstick kit, and it was a revelation.

“I just liked putting them together,” he said. “I enjoyed it, that’s the main thing.”

Cutich has completed everything from an 18-wheeler semi-tractor rig to a paddle-wheel steamboat, from a pirate ship to a steam locomotive. He made and gave away a steamroller to a buddy in Arizona, and gave the 18-wheeler to his grandson.

But the cathedral is far and away the most ambitious project he’s ever undertaken.

“Everybody who has seen it says it’s beautiful,” said Cutich with evident pride.

The first thing that comes to mind upon gazing at the matchstick marvel is to wonder how anyone could have the saint-like patience to precisely cut and glue thousands upon thousands of twig-thin sticks together and then precisely align them together to form the structure.

Cutich said it probably comes from the years he spent as a tile layer.

“I laid tile in hospitals and colleges and jails, all over. When you lay tile, you learn patience,” he said.

Nevertheless, Cutich said the actual work of cutting, gluing and putting the sections together to make a whole project was actually pretty straightforward, if exceedingly labor intensive.

“It’s like building a house,” he said. “You gotta follow the blueprints.”

The completed project now rests on a large plank. Cutich said he wants to put the model on a suitable backdrop, but isn’t sure what kind of background the real cathedral sits on.

He’s also not sure what to do with the completed project.

“I’m almost 80 now and I don’t really know what to do with it,” he said. “I’d like to donate it somewhere.

Cutich said he couldn’t put a dollar value on it.

“I put a lot of hours on it,” he said. “But I had a lot of fun with it and I’m proud of it.”

Cutich said he plans on building another matchstick project, as soon as his daughters mail him one.

Cutich, who is approaching his 80th birthday, still has an unmistakable zest for life and a sense of wonder that belies his years.

“I love what I’m doing, I do what I want. It’s a beautiful world and I love it,” he said with an impish smile of childlike delight.

Information from: The Daily Press, http://www.ashlandwi.com

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