Booton, who could make canning vegetables sound fascinating, was approached in the mid-'90s by a former Ad Club board member who knew of his pewter work. What started as a simple project soon became an odyssey. After finding that real cannonballs could cost as much as $500 each to produce, Booton did some research.
"I found that during the Civil War the troops would bowl with these things and use beer bottles empty ones, of course and that's the way duck pin bowling evolved. A duck-pin bowling ball is precisely the same size as a 20-pound cannonball. So I said, 'Ah-ha! I don't have to make a master [cast]!'"
Booton soon found that the last few decades have not been kind to duck-pin bowling alleys; most in the area have closed. Then he found a collector.
"I found a guy over on the South Side, off of Hull Street, who collects duck-pin bowling balls. He lives in an old '50s-style trailer and has all of these sheds around his trailer filled with balls. I mean there were thousands!" Booten used one of the balls as a model to make a cast.
After he made a first sample that "looked like it had just come off the assembly line at Tredegar Iron Works," Booton says, the Ad Club told him they wanted a cannonball that looked like it had been buried for years.
"So, I went home, got my mallet and I just beat the hell out of that thing for about an hour in my driveway. All my neighbors thought I had lost my mind," Booton says, laughing.
Cavalier or not, the process of making the cannonballs requires both intense labor and master craftsmanship each one takes about half a day from start to finish. The barn that Booton uses as his workshop is equipped with heavy machinery and puts "This Old House" to shame.
As Booton recently explained the process step by step to Ad Club members, their keen interest was some combination of cooking-show audience and grade-schoolers visiting a historical landmark. The gaggle of board members followed Booton around his shop like baby ducks, asking questions and snapping photos hardly the cliché of the aloof advertising professional.
"It's nice to actually learn about Richmond history and the tie between the artistic world and the business world," Ad Club board member Aaron May says.
The entire process, from casting the balls to sandblasting, from grinding them down to giving them an aged appearance with a tool the size of a pen, no less from oxidizing to adding the "butt plate"(an engraved image of the Booton home soldered on to the bottom), results in the often overlooked, but much anticipated, focus of the Richmond Show: the cannonball. SThe 2005 Richmond Show takes place at the Tredegar Iron Works Friday, April 1. Cocktails are from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m, the show starts at 8 p.m., and Moossa Band plays 9-10:30 p.m. Tickets ar $85 for members, $75 for social members and $35 for students. www.richmondadclub.com.
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