Looking at his house from the outside, it’s nondescript. Shrubs line the entrance to the house and a gate puts a small barrier between the sidewalk and the front yard. The house is older and the entryway leads into a spacious living room typical of houses of this age. Nothing about this house reveals the talents of the man who lives inside.
Shelby Rhodes, a man of many talents, works at Havar during the day as the Executive Director. Havar assists people with developmental disabilities in making sure that they receive the assistance they need to function and live on their own.
“I’m thinking about this job when I wake up in the morning and when I go to bed. Running a non-profit is the scariest and best job you can do,” Shelby said.
He’s worked in the field for over 25 years and he often doesn’t get home until after 5 p.m., and then finds himself doing paperwork at night. Additionally, Shelby also has a 14-year-old daughter, whom he is very proud of, who is the youngest student in the Marietta City Schools system attending college course. Needless to say, Shelby is a busy man – which makes his extracurricular activities outside of his position at Havar all the more interesting.
In speaking with Shelby, it’s easy to derive that he is a man of passion. He passionately pursues his job while also passionately pursuing two other aspects of his life. The first of which is his writing.
After his daughter participated in a production by Missoula Children’s Theatre (a travelling theatre company which focuses on bringing theatre to rural communities), Shelby was inspired to expand on the production and wrote The Wiz of the West. The book focuses on the possibility that Dorothy landed in the Old West rather than in Oz.
“Your mind starts wondering and you have ideas. The script was 25 pages, so I added a whole bunch of scenes. I submitted it to the owner of the play and he liked it. So the kids take it like a souvenir now at the end of the show,” he said.
Children’s books aren’t where Shelby’s writing skills end though. He’s been published in several anthologies for short stories – often with a dark or science fiction feel. Being greatly influenced by Stephen King, Shelby likes to write books that keep the reader on the edge of their seat and constantly guessing.
“I write scarier stuff, but I do it a little differently. I like to set something up, make you feel like you’ve read it before, and then take a left turn,” he said.
As Shelby says, all of his passions tie together. His second passion is also born from his love of science fiction and story telling. As a child, Shelby loved movies. He remembers learning when he realized that actors weren’t making it up on the fly – there was a set, makeup, scripts. It was all part of something bigger.
“I loved the early 70s when a movie called Star Wars came along. I remember not really knowing what was going on, but I loved it,” he said. “The idea the in creating something that didn’t exist, creating something on your own – it can go anywhere.”
As Shelby grew up, he started to acquire more and more of the costumes he loved seeing in the movies. However, he wasn’t just satisfied with costumes as he moved deeper into the understanding of special effects in movies.
“I remember being a kid and collecting toys and thinking, ‘It would be cool if I could put this Boba Fett figure into an enlarging ray,’” he said.
Stepping into the den of the house, Shelby’s creations become much more evident. Books, pieces, replicas and more line the walls – all featuring sci-fi culture and more.
He began working with paper mache replicas in high school and then moved to screen accurate representations to include full costumes on casted mannequins. Shelby sources his mannequins from various places and reworks the fiberglass to create a more accurate pose for each mannequin so they look more like a Storm Trooper or Boba Fett.
These costumes are not off-the-shelf Halloween costumes. Shelby works tirelessly to curate and tweak each piece so it looks like it walked off of a movie set. He usually finishes a completed piece per year due to his busy schedule. Sometimes, he will take months looking for the perfect piece to complete to entire project – including the perfect shoes on a Storm Trooper replica (he eventually found those at Voshel’s and was able to paint them).
He pieces each section together from various places online including eBay where he actually met his best friend. He bought a resin lightsaber from him, and they were able to connect over their shared, but uncommon hobby.
Shelby uses multiple costume reference books to create the perfect piece. He hand-paints each piece including the detail work on each costume. Sometimes, he even creates a second model of the same character after finishing the first. He created a second Darth Vader after finishing his first because he felt that he could make him even better.
Although his back room looks like a sci-fi lover’s dream, Shelby’s neighbors have no idea what his hobby entails. He doesn’t advertise his hobby or sell his work publicly, although it’s wildly impressive.
Looking forward, Shelby plans to continue has day job, writing and working on his projects. A true renaissance man, he continues to learn and improve on his ideas and others. Currently, he’s working on a larger-than-life Predator inside of his sci-fi world of a den, inside of his nondescript house surrounded by shrubs – just the was he likes it.