He has built a mini-Taj Mahal, a fleet of small cars and a bay's worth of miniature lighthouses — even a dollhouse-size version of the balloon-lofted home from the animated movie "Up."
But Ed Witles' creations aren't models. They're mailboxes.
Many of the wooden works go to a single nonprofit organization, typically after they've completed a two-week stint receiving mail in front of the Glen Burnie home of their builder.
Witles, 88, a retired steamfitter, said his joy is in the construction. For the mailboxes he has sold — the highest price he's received was $100 — he guessed his labor comes in at about 25 cents an hour, after material costs. But he relishes the challenge, is tickled by the grins his creations put on the faces of passers-by, laughs when letter carriers ask where to put the mail in his latest one, and is happy to supply the Anne Arundel County Food Bank with fundraising items.
"I make stuff not because I use it to sell, but I make it up for the people," he said. "They like it. They've never seen anything like it."
Store shelves aren't exactly lined with mailboxes that resemble the airship Hindenburg, Maryland's signature Thomas Point Lighthouse, a stagecoach, the State House, the Batmobile or Elmo.
This has been his pastime for more than six years, taken up after he retired from Crownsville Hospital Center. He had gotten to know Bruce Michalec, director of the nonprofit organization that gives food and furniture to needy people, when working on the building the food bank was about to occupy on the grounds of the closed state mental hospital.
"It's the only thing we sell here," said Michalec, who has items made by Witles, including a shrunken version of Baltimore's Shot Tower and 2-foot-long muscle cars — always with a hatch for mail — perched near stacks of canned veggies.
They go for at least $100, sometimes more. One went for $145 at a recent silent auction, Michalec said.
A 5-foot-tall replica of the Patterson Park pagoda by Witles' workshop shed — he burned a larger version because he couldn't get it out of his winter workshop in the basement — and a cabin with water wheel that currently serves as his mailbox probably will soon go to the food bank.
Witles estimated that he has made 200 or so mailboxes. More than half have gone to the food bank.
A fraction are gifts or requests from family and friends. A mail truck replica was a gift to his retiring mailman. A World War I-era tank, complete with a flashing cannon, will be a freebie for the lumber yard where he gets most of the wood. A neighbor paid him to build a mini-pagoda for his wife.
That he sometimes spends from sunrise to sunset designing, measuring and painting in his workshop is fine with his wife, Nancy.
"It's keeping him busy — it's keeping him alive," she said.
"It's keeping me out of her hair," he said.
His workshop is filled with drills, saws, sanders, hinges, wheels, wood, pots and works in progress. A piece of his left pinkie was accidentally sacrificed during mailbox construction.
Witles' best shopping is at the weekend flea market in Pasadena. That's where he picked up a 6-foot-tall stuffed banana, as well as the pot and lid that he's turning into its mail bin and hatch. A stuffed Garfield sits nearby, and Witles acknowledges it was tough to remove the right amount of tummy stuffing and replace it with a pot. A $1 green dragon has yet to undergo surgery. Kids love those, he said.
Won't they get rained on and ruined if they're mailboxes?
"So? They dry out," he said.
Only a few of his creations aren't mailboxes. A couple of knee-high pagodas are planters. And others are meant as larger containers.
"Someone asked me to make a coffin. So I made several of them," he said.
He has kept one with an upscale mahogany-and-brass look. It reveals a fist-sized ghost when the lid is raised.Copyright © 2015, CT Now