3-Minute Interview: Steve Backman

For more than 20 years, the San Francisco native has been crafting visual works of art using the unlikely medium of toothpicks. His collection, which frequently features San Francisco landmarks, includes a 13-foot version of the Golden Gate Bridge made from 30,000 toothpicks and a cable car meticulously crafted from 4,000 toothpicks. His latest creation is another rendition of the Golden Gate Bridge — this time derived from a single toothpick. Examples of his work can be found on www.toothpickart.com.

What prompted the career in toothpick art? My first experience was in grammar school, when I was supposed to make a DNA helix with toothpicks and beans. I got unbelievably frustrated with it and actually got a toothpick stuck in the palm of my hand. Some years later, when I was in college, I made a cable car out of toothpicks for an art project, and I realized then that I had a gift for this kind of work.

You’re known for making sculptures with a vast array of toothpicks. Why the decision to make the Golden Gate Bridge out of a single one? My father always had an interest in me getting into the Guinness Book of World Records, so I began this project with him in mind, and the idea of constructing the world’s smallest bridge sculpture.

How long did it take to create the single-toothpick Golden Gate Bridge? How did you go about making it? It took about eight hours, with me working from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. I cut the toothpick up into about 50 to 60 pieces and used needle-nose pliers and tweezers to shape it. The slivers were very tiny, so they were pliable and easy to bend. I grew up in San Francisco, so I know the Golden Gate Bridge inside and out, and have a very good feel for the dimensions. I created this bridge with a goal of making it identical to the real one.

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