- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

FORT MADISON, Iowa (AP) - If Leroy Knoch keeps putting together puzzles and hanging them up, he is going to need a bigger house.

Tucked in a back corner of the basement, too big to come upstairs, is a reproduction of a 16th-century painting that depicts construction of the Tower of Babel.

A replica of Michelangelo’s fresco, the Creation of Adam, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, hangs above the bed in one room. And dominating the entire wall of another is the most recent addition: An 18,240-piece puzzle featuring maps from the Age of Exploration that weighed 40 pounds in the box and took about 1,500 hours across more than six years to complete.

Space for more is at a premium, and just one more large wall remains in Knoch’s Avenue L home. But Susie Knoch, his wife of 49 years, has drawn a line at taking down family pictures to make way for the hanging of another of her husband’s large-format puzzles.

“I can’t have that one,” Leroy Knoch told The Hawk Eye (https://bit.ly/Q3UJa5 ).

So the 9,000-piece puzzle depicting the wedding feast at Cana, where the Bible says Jesus turned water into wine, is going to have to find a home someplace else.

“She wants me to donate it to a church,” Leroy Knoch said.

For now, though, the new puzzle remains in the box and probably will till the fall. Knoch, who at 69 is retired from 50 years at a local scrap metal yard, is taking a well-earned break from puzzling.

Knoch’s interest in building puzzles grew out of a forced slow-down that followed a 1991 bout with congestive heart failure. Needing something to keep himself occupied, he first got into woodworking, using a scroll saw to cut intricate patterns in wood for clocks, toys and other things.

The work was good therapy and a way to make some money on weekends.

It was during that time when Knoch’s son, Fred, bought him a 1,000-piece puzzle. A year later, for Christmas in 1997, the 9,000-piece Tower of Babel puzzle was presented as a gift.

“I put it together in less than a year,” Knoch said.

While he was working on that one, Susie Knoch found out where the German-made Ravensburger puzzles were sold and bought the 12,000-piece Creation of Adam. That one took four years to complete, and after learning the hard way with the Babel puzzle not to mount it before moving it upstairs from the basement workshop, it was framed in three pieces and hung above Susie’s bed.

“I don’t try to speed. It’s therapy,” Knoch said of the slow pace of his puzzle building. “You get a lot of thinking done that way.”

Working on the map puzzle one quadrant at a time, Knoch built it an hour or two at a time, separating pieces by color and shape. To his experienced eye, the shape of the piece is as much indication of where it belongs as pattern or color.

The radio was his only company. TV was too distracting.

“It takes a lot of concentration,” Knoch said. “You’ve got to be able to enjoy it.”

One of the nice things about Ravensburger puzzles, Knoch said, is if a piece gets lost, a replacement can be ordered by figuring out what amounts to the piece’s coordinates, starting with the identifier on the bag it came out of (the maps puzzle had four bags at about 4,500 pieces), then counting down rows and across columns.

That came in handy with the maps puzzle, except by the time the discovery of a missing piece was made, the puzzle was discontinued, and a replacement was not available.

With his scroll saw skills, Knoch cut out a piece to match the opening, and Susie Knoch painted it to blend in. Finding it without having it pointed out would take a keen eye.

“A person that’s looking for it will never find it,” Leroy Knoch said.

Once the quarters were done, the entire puzzle was finished on the dining room table in a process of piecing together and mounting and gluing that took five weeks. When complete, it measured 9-feet-2-inches by 6-feet-5-inches, and, with the glue and frame, weighs in at more than 100 pounds.

“It was really a pretty good feeling,” he said of finishing in March what he started in November 2007.

As for that missing piece?

Knoch found it in a jar in his workshop after all the gluing and mounting was done. He kept the piece, but has no plans to try and put it in.

___

Information from: The Hawk Eye, https://www.thehawkeye.com


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