March 9, 2005


Collinsville Herald Journal

Collinsville's big bottle hits the smalltime

Miniatures artist Erika Nelson displays the tiny version of the Brooks Catsup Bottle that she takes on tour with her in The World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things Traveling Roadside Attraction and Museum. In the background is the original, and world's largest, catsup bottle.
(John Swistak Jr. photo/Suburban Journals)


Rebecca B. Gedda Of the Suburban Journals Collinsville Herald

For some Collinsville residents, the Brooks Catsup Bottle water tower is simply a great landmark.

For others, it's a familiar old piece of history that garners a smile when they're driving along Illinois Route 159.

But for artist Erika Nelson, the Catsup Bottle is a goal, a destination, and a part of a larger piece of Americana.

Nelson, an artist /educator/museum curator based out of Lucas, Kan., is the one-woman show behind The World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things Traveling Roadside Attraction and Museum.

On Monday, she arrived in Collinsville for the second time in her life. This time, it was to introduce her version of this city's famous condiment container to the real McCoy.

Nelson creates miniature versions of the nation's largest things, and in her collection has tiny renditions of badgers, balls of twine, doughnuts and, of course, catsup bottles billed as World's Largest.

"This started for me mostly because when I would visit the 'world's largest' attractions; I could never find any good souvenirs," Nelson said Monday before revisiting the Brooks bottle. bottle.

"I'd be standing in a gift shop looking at the souvenirs and I'd think, 'I could make something better than this.'"

At last count, she said, she had 57 tiny versions of the 'world's largest' things, which are on permanent display in the windows of her traveling museum.

"I partner this with teaching and working in arts education," she said. "Everything is all piggybacked with arts education."

Nelson spends three seasons of the year taking tours of the United States in her revamped minibus, which was originally used as a public transportation vehicle for the elderly of Anderson County, Kan.

"In the winter, I work on the Web site, or columns, or just do general maintenance," she said. "I also spend the winters planning the next season's tours. It's a lot of legwork planning a 17-day tour."

This tour, which kicked off on March 1, started in Missouri, where Nelson visited the world's largest ball of videotape and world's largest pecan. From there, she came to Collinsville, then will move on to Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

After the catsup bottle, Nelson is scheduled to visit such 'world's largests' as a ball of paint, a washboard, a teapot, an Amish man and an elephant.

Nelson creates her miniatures from whatever medium best suits the project, and keeps just one of each re-creation.

"I'm satiated with just one - the bonus now is getting the metaphotos (pictures of the small versions and the original world's largest versions together)," she said. "The big things on their own are fun and absurd, the smaller ones take the absurdity to one more level, and to get them together is just magic."

The artist said she doesn't sell her miniatures.

"Then someone else could assemble the world's largest collection of the world's smallest versions of the world's largest things!" she laughed. "But I do have other souvenirs - T-shirts and other things from the actual world's largest things."

Mike Gassman, the self-proclaimed "Big Tomato" for the World's Largest Catsup Bottle Central Command, said that to have Nelson and her collection in Collinsville was "very, very cool."

"This is a confirmation of just how cool our Catsup Bottle is," Gassman said. "It's really great to be noticed and approached by someone who's basically an expert in the field."

Though Nelson's visit is special to Gassman, he said that the water tower gets attention on a national level at least once a month.

"We get e-mails and calls from people - tourists, mostly - three or four times a week," he said. "People here have a tendency to take it for granted because it's in our own backyard, but it really is something to be proud of."

In fact, Nelson said that the Catsup Bottle is one of the most popular miniatures she has.

"The Catsup Bottle is usually kids' favorite," she said. "After all, what kid doesn't love catsup?"

For more information about Nelson's World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things Traveling Roadside Attraction and Museum, visit


World's Largest Things
PO Box 101
Lucas KS 67648


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