There is a reason it is called “the language barrier.” It is never so evident as when you are trying to communicate with someone who does not speak a word of English and you do not speak a word of the other person’s language.

I desperately wanted to talk to Wolfgang Freiderich at the show in Kulmbach this year—but could not because he speaks German exclusively and I speak English exclusively. It was very frustrating until someone else at his table spoke up who knows German and English. He kindly spoke up and said, “I can help.” He then spoke in German what I said in English and we were able to make our transaction.

I thanked the gentleman who did the translating, he reached into his pocket and extracted a business card. His name is Rick Sanders. I also found out that he works for the American Embassy in Germany, which helps to explain why he spoke German.

That afternoon, I told Greg DiFranco that I met someone who works for the American Embassy in Germany who also paints flats. His fascination with the connection helped me to see that this would make for a fascinating story.

I contacted Rick. He was willing to answer a few questions for the interview and send me some photos of some of the flats he has painted.

What follows is the interview:

How did you get involved in painting flats?

I started acquiring and painting flats in 1965, at age 13, as part of a “wargaming” group in the Washington DC area.  Odd as it may seem, somehow a group of men in the DC area had learned about flats and started acquiring them for war gaming. One of them befriended me, and suggested that he and I stand up a Napoleonic Russian army to oppose the French Army which the de facto leader of the war-gaming group had created. It was that flat figure French war-gaming army that inspired me, not because it was French, but because the guy was an outstanding painter and his painted figures were beautiful. So I started the Napoleonic Russian Army, I got hooked, and have been collecting and painting them ever since. My Napoleonic Russian Army has about 1,400 painted 30mm “members” and another 1,000 plus still to be painted. I doubt I’ll complete them in my lifetime.

Do you paint with acrylics, oil, or enamel, or a combination of mediums?

I paint exclusively with oil paints because I find that acrylics dry too quickly for my style of shading and highlighting. I have experimented with different methods of painting armor, including just using a blue-black wash on the unprimed figure. I have still to find a method that achieves what I would like.

On a personal note, what can you tell us about your work with the embassy?

Sorry, but it’s not something I think I can discuss, other than to say I work for the Department of Defense.

It seems to me that a post in Germany perfectly suits your interest in flat tin figures. What can you tell us about that?

Being in Germany – this is the sixth time I’ve lived here – is a great advantage for a flat collector.  Since 1981 I’ve belonged to the “Federal” KLIO association and various KLIO regional clubs, depending on where I’ve been working in Germany. I lived in Karlsruhe for two years when I was in high school and had the good fortune of meeting and getting mentored by two flat producers who lived there at that time – Wolfgang Hodapp and Johannes Trips. Herr Hodapp was the unofficial military historian for the State/Duchy of Baden (associated with the Military History Museum in Raststatt) and also “published” a series of Napoleonic Baden figures which are still part of my collection. Herr Trips was also interested in the Napoleonic wars and drew and engraved both 20mm and 30mm figures, including ones for Aloys Ochel’s Kieler Zinnfiguren. Both helped me along with the hobby. After leaving Germany, I continued collecting and painting flats, but had to work through the challenges of ordering them from Germany, which was rather complicated with international money orders. Luckily, by then my German language skills were adequate to read the German catalogues and do the ordering in German. Of course, when one orders by mail, one does not get to see the figures in advance and see the quality of the drawings or ensure the castings are good, i.e., free of flaws and not missing parts.

In 1981, my bride and I returned to work in Germany, in Heidelberg, and joined the KLIO group, which still meets at a small private museum in Phillipsburg, a former fortress town on the Rhein. It was not the most welcoming regional group to which I have belonged, but I made some friends with whom I am still in contact, among them Dr. Wolfgang Weiss who later became the President of KLIO at the federal or national level. After another stay in Washington, we were back in Germany for another assignment, this time in Augsburg, in Bavaria. This, like the Heidelberg assignment, allowed me to interact with other flat collectors and producers. It was followed a few years later with a five-year tour in Stuttgart, which has a very active figure club. Of course over those assignments, I did my best to get to the Kulmbach fairs and even took the approach of going to a camping ground when hotel rooms were scarce. Since arriving in Berlin, I’ve been an active member of the Berlin regional KLIO group and been able to make it to Kulmbach in both 2013 and this year, 2015.

As to my collection itself, I got the idea years ago to represent the Russian army, or let’s say Russian military from antiquity to the 1917 revolution. So while perhaps half of my collection is Napoleonic Russians, there are Scythians, medieval “Kievan Russ,” 16-17th century Strelzi (some of which I designed for the Tappert Offizin), 7 Years War, etc., up through the First World War and beyond. I also collect medieval German and other European figures, especially those engraved by Ludwig Franke for Mueller/Menz, as well as ancient Greeks and Napoleonic Bavarians and Saxons. Many of my figures have been built into small dioramas. Most are in small shadow boxes since my wife’s and my nomadic lifestyle makes transporting and shipping large dioramas very difficult.

To the potential question of what to do with them all when I die, I cannot say for sure. I know that my three children and their spouses may want a few of them, but that will leave a couple thousand to dispose of. Perhaps I’ll try to auction them off or find an interested museum to which to donate them.

All figures below were painted by Rick Sanders:

6th Century ScythiansAmbush, Russo-Turkish WarAustria-Hungary 1812Hoplites at Old MycenaeKing of BohemiaPolish Revolt 1794Russia, 1904 InfantryRussian Generals, 1812Russian Grenadier, 1700

Russian Grenadier, 1700

Russian Grenadier, 1700, 30mm, produced by Krista Wohlmann

Russian Generals, 1812

Russian Generals, 1812, 30mm, by produced by Vladimir Yankovsi, Ukraine

Russia, 1904 Infantry

Russia, 1904, infantry, 30mm figures by Mars, Sweden

Polish Revolt 1794

Russia: Polish Revolt 1794, 30mm diorama, figures produced by Harald Kebbel

King of Bohemia

King of Bohemia, 30mm figure by Mueller/Menz, engraved by Ludrig Franke

Hoplites at Old Mycenae

“Hoplites at Old Mycenae, 400 BC,” a 30mm shadow box diorama with figures by Alfred Retter and Wolfgang Hafer

Austria-Hungary 1812

Austria-Hungary 1812, 20mm Austrian Line Infantry, figures produced by Johannes Trips
Ambush, Russo-Turkish War“Ambush: Russo-Turkish War 1877-78” 30mm figures by Wolfgang Hafer, converted to Russian Infantry for the diorama

6th Century Scythians

6th Century .C. Scythians, 30mm, by produced by Hubert Hartinger

Thank you, Rick!