OWENSBORO, Ky. — By day, Rick Phelps is a mild-mannered art teacher at Apollo High School.
After hours, he transforms into “The Toyminator,” a name he coined for himself nearly 30 years ago.
Phelps buys and sells toys on the side. And, as an artist, he sculpts — in and out of his classroom — popular superheroes, such as Iron Man, Superman and Captain America.
Many of his handmade statues are three-quarter size, but his collection also includes a 12-foot Batman and a bigger-than-life Hulk.
Phelps uses some of his sculptures as eye candy to attract attention to his many booths at TraderBaker’s Flea Market, where part of his toy collection is for sale.
Besides filling up a sizable portion of TraderBaker’s floor space, he owns a 30-foot-by-40-foot building that’s stuffed to the gills.
And Phelps admits: “My house has a sufficient amount of toys.”
His toymania started innocently enough nearly 28 years ago, when he started teaching art. Phelps needed items for students to draw and paint, so he frequented yard sales.
Toys proved to be cheap, plentiful and fun to draw. It was the making of “a perfect storm,” Phelps said.
He’s not a collector, he argues, because all his toys are for sale, and he doesn’t conduct exhaustive searches for rare finds.
“It’s a business to me,” Phelps said.
Two fave toys in his stash right now are a 1961 King Zor and a Blue Snaggletooth Star Wars action figure. Both are for sale. A true collector probably wouldn’t part with a hard-to-find piece.
Much of his business takes place online. Thanks to eBay, Phelps ships toys all over the world.
Kids aren’t the big buyers. “It’s very much an adult market,” he said.
Box office hits tend to drive sales, but Star Wars toys and collectibles have been consistent sellers during his years in business.
Phelps will retire from teaching in December; however, he plans to continue selling toys until he kicks the bucket.
“When I was a kid, I was out in the dirt playing with Army figures and cowboy figures,” he said. “I chose toys (to buy and sell) because I like toys.”
Information from: Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, http://www.messenger-inquirer.com