Scott Weaver is already well known throughout the North Bay through his “Weaver’s Winter Wonderland” creation – a huge Christmas display in Rohnert Park that has been delighting children and adults alike for 22 years until he retired the display this past Christmas in 2016. It even gained national recognition when he won the $50,000 prize in “The Great Christmas Light Fight” show on national TV in 2014. However, Weaver’s talents reach beyond Christmas lights and creating whimsical wooden cutouts of Disney characters and Christmas decorations. 43 years in the making, Weaver’s other masterpiece is a huge toothpick sculpture called Rolling Through the Bay – the largest toothpick sculpture in the world that has a kinetic element. It is made entirely from toothpicks and Elmer’s glue and has ping pong balls that can roll through the sculpture at 15 different entry points. With his sculpture now residing at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Weaver continues to delight and inspire children and adults.
“I felt it was complete only a couple years ago,” says Weaver, who still continually works on the sculpture, adding new elements and fixing old ones. “Before that I never felt it was presentable to be in a museum or art show.”
Weaver first became interested in using toothpicks as an art medium at nine years old, when his 4th-grade teacher, Sue Rathbun, introduced the idea as an art project. He immediately enjoyed the creative aspect of building structures with toothpicks and continued the work at home. It wasn’t long after, given Weaver’s propensity to continually be in motion, (he’s gained a national reputation in competitive Frisbee, juggles axes, and enjoys riding skateboards via handstands) that he thought of having a ball run through the structures he was building, and decided to start adding guardrails.
Weaver was about 14 years old when he first started on the Rolling Through the Bay sculpture, named as such because it depicts many buildings, iconic structures, and other aspects unique to San Francisco and the Bay Area. With a long family history of San Franciscans (his great grandfather first emigrated to San Francisco from Italy in the mid 1800’s), it was only natural that Weaver felt inclined to incorporate aspects of his family and childhood into the sculpture. It started with the main highlights of San Francisco, namely Alcatraz, Coit Tower, cable cars, the Transamerica Pyramid, Lombard Street, Chinatown, the Golden Gate Bridge, Ghirardelli Square, the Ferry building, and Fisherman’s Wharf. But over the years, the sculpture has continually been added to, with some of the latest additions consisting of Sutro Tower and the Warriors emblem and trophy, commemorating their NBA championship title.
“It was the cheapest form of psycho-therapy I could find,” says Weaver, noting that focusing on the creativity of his sculptures helped him get through various troubles in childhood including his alcoholic father leaving the family and some learning disabilities.
“I’m so grateful that my Mom let me express with art,” says Weaver. “She let me make messes and she supported all my crazy hobbies with cardboard and drawing or toothpicks and gave me an area to make them.”
For many years, Weaver’s toothpick sculpture resided in his and his wife Rochelle’s home in Rohnert Park, where it often became damaged by one of the couple’s Great Dane’s tails or a rogue Frisbee when Weaver was practicing his Frisbee tricks and stunts. Hesitatingly, he finally decided to show it at the Sonoma County Fair in 2008. It won Best of Show and was then transported to the California State Fair in Sacramento the following year. After that, offers quickly arrived to exhibit the piece all over the world, from Hong Kong to London, or even buy it, most notably by Ripley’s Believe it or Not! who offered him $40,000 for it. Weaver declined, stating that “It’s not for sale. I would never consider selling it – it’s part of my life.”
It was, however, on display for three months at the Exploratorium’s old location and for one year at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Weaver himself transported it there by truck over the course of five days.
Eventually, Rolling Through the Bay came back to the Exploratorium in April 2012, with the grand opening of their new location on Pier 15. Today, the sculpture boasts over 111,000 toothpicks and Weaver estimates he has spent over 6,000 hours working on it. It is now nine feet wide, nine feet tall, and 34 inches deep.
There are many personal touches in the work, from a heart made of toothpicks thrown at his wedding, a clock tower depicting the birth times of his mother, himself, his wife and his son, and a profile of his face at the base of the Transamerica Pyramid.
Weaver is on hand at the museum twice a month to show museum patrons the interactive nature of the sculpture, answer questions, and inspire children to work on art themselves. This has led him to be invited to make presentations in numerous classrooms in San Francisco, Marin, and Sonoma County, which he does for free. Most recently, he worked with a 5th grade class at Penngrove Elementary School.
“I make it fun,” says Weaver. “Every single student is going to do something completely different. It doesn’t matter – there are no rules. I tell them that anything you can draw, you can draw with toothpicks.”
Weaver’s enthusiasm and passion has been so successful in inspiring young people to create that Penngrove Elementary has asked him to come back every year. He is excited to do so, stating that if he can plant a seed of creativity and imagination in even just one student, he has done his job.
While he did not necessarily envision the sculpture to reside in a museum one day while he was building it, he did nevertheless hope to create something grand that would inspire others.
“My life’s dream as a little boy is coming true now,” says Weaver. “The kind words that I hear at the museum makes it all worthwhile.”