Meet the artist who produces very detailed and historically accurate dioramas of Route 66

https://agents.farmers.com/ok/sapulpa/steve-grogan

Aside from all the beautiful cars and bikes at the Route 66 Blowout a couple of weeks ago, a nice assortment of vendors made their way in and set up shop along the western end of Dewey Avenue, including a very unique shop dedicated to brightly-colored replications of your favorite mid-century-modern icons.

The booth, called Retro Designs USA, is owned by Missourian Victoria Darswell, who makes uniquely crafted dioramas and art in acrylic and wood. The Route 66 Blowout was the first show her products had ever appeared in.

Darswell is not from Sapulpa, or even from Oklahoma. But with as much knowledge as she has about Route 66—the largest portion of which is in the Sooner State—you might never catch on that she’s from Branson, Missouri, although she grew up in Southern California.

She’s currently working on a series of pieces that represent each of the eight states that Route 66 reaches into. Each piece is 15″ long, and they can be purchased individually, but are designed (by Darswell) to be connected as well. Lining each of the pieces up will take you on a state-by-state tour of The Mother Road that stretches for all of ten feet.

In a phone call with Sapulpa Times on Tuesday, Darswell said she’d just returned from a show in Branson where she made out “very well,” and was able to connect with a few local retailers that will hopefully began selling her products in their stores. “I’m very excited,” she said.

The pieces might be small, but the use of a laser cutter allows her to fit the smallest amount of detail into each piece. In the set representing Oklahoma includes an old store in Erick, Oklahoma called the “City Meat Market.” The inscription in the acrylic awning reads just like you were standing in front of the building: “Welcome to Erick, Oklahoma, ‘The Redneck Capital of the world.’…”

Another fascinating detail is the amount of research that Darswell puts into each piece she creates; the milk bottle icon that sits in Oklahoma City doesn’t read “Braum’s” like it does today—it reads “Townley’s.” There’s also a popular Route 66 icon missing: Catoosa’s Blue Whale.

Darswell says it was intentional. “If you’re driving the Route in one of the cars that you see here, in the 50s or 60s, you’re not going to see the Blue Whale of Catoosa because it wasn’t built until 1974.”

Darswell says she didn’t intend to be on this path—”I have a psychology degree,” she says, laughing—but she admits it must be a family thing. “My dad does woodworking is very creative with that, my mom paints, so I guess we’re all creative in our own ways,” she says.

The idea came from her boyfriend, who Darswell says encouraged her to give it a try. It wasn’t long before she was running away with it. “It went from paper and pencil to paper and color pencil, to paper and markers, to actually buying the acrylic and doing it with my own jigsaw in my home and spray painting it. I knew eventually I’d have to get a laser cutter.”

“I love the creative process,” Darswell says. “Taking my drawings to the computer and then watching it be made right here in my own home—not having to send it out to get printed—it’s amazing.” She said she has a deep love for mid-century modern advertising, art, and fonts, which shines through in the pieces she’s made available on her Etsy page. But she says that it’s the warmth of watching the effect her art has on others that gives her the most satisfaction. “At this show in Branson, a lady came into my booth and she looked around and said, ‘I like the colors and the designs…this makes me happy.'” It doesn’t get much better for an artist than that.

Retro Designs USA can be found on her Etsy Shop, and you can keep up with her on Facebook. Victoria says the finished 10-piece Route 66 set should be completed before the summer of 2021.

Posted in
Micah Choquette

Micah Choquette

Micah is the owner/Editor-In-Chief of Sapulpa Times and passionate about telling the everyday stories in the town that we love. You can find him on Twitter at @meetmicah or email him at news@sapulpatimes.com.