Model Donors

The famous and/or freakish have long been rendered in wax at the likes of Madame Tussaud’s. Now, for those of the lesser renown who crave immortality, there is the Petersen Automotive Museum.

For a mere $20,000 donation, something close to your likeness can be sculpted, costumed and posed in one of the museum’s autos-through-Southern California-history dioramas, there to be ogled by gawking tourists in perpetuity.

“It’s a different type of program for raising money,” acknowledges Jim Olson, the acting director of the museum.

It’s not easy to miss the Petersen, at Wilshire and Fairfax across from the County Museum of Art on Miracle Mile. The 300,000-square-foot shrine to the automobile, with its radiator-grill facade and monster truck protruding from one side, is administered by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and named for benefactors Margie and Robert E. Petersen, founder of Petersen Publishing Co., which lists Hot Rod among its titles. (A mannequin of Margie will soon repose in the backseat of a 1911 American Underslung Model 50 Traveler.)


The museum’s mannequin fund-raising has gotten off to a slow start--no donor has yet come up with the full $20,000 enshrinement fee, so most of the mannequins on display are modeled after museum employees. Only two non-museum individuals are represented--one is Lynne Stalmaster, a Beverly Hills fashion designer who paid considerably less for the privilege at a silent auction. Still, the dioramas have succeeded aesthetically. “Most people think the Petersen is going to be a bunch of cars,” says David Robert Cellitti, the Natural History Museum’s 44-year-old in-house sculptor, who creates the mannequins.

Cellitti apprenticed with Katherine Stubergh, a sculptor and minor Los Angeles celebrity who built wax figures for Sid Grauman and other clients. In Cellitti’s workshop in Exposition Park, a completed version of the Three Stooges--a Petersen project--stands next to a shelf of body part molds. It can take several months for Cellitti to complete a Petersen-quality figure; the cost runs from $5,000 to $10,000--though the museum tries to keep the expense down.

“David did a wonderful job,” says mannequin-model Stalmaster. “He took great pains to make the representation accurate.”

Stalmaster’s mannequin, resplendent in a sequined lavender gown of her own creation, stands before an exquisite midnight-blue 1937 Delahaye Type 135M with wheel wells the size of motorcycle sidecars. “I think it’s wonderful from the standpoint that you never get older,” Stalmaster says of her immortalization. “I won’t get any wrinkles and my hair will always be perfect.