Small Talk / Miniature

A Natural Talent: Inspiration Takes Flight

miniature birds

Visitors to T/m’s miniature masterpiece gallery will find a case filled with several of Beth Freeman-Kane’s miniature birds and other animals. While the display is still a few penguins short of a zoo, the wildlife represented hails from all over the world, including near Freeman-Kane’s South African Home.

Although her works differ from that of famed ornithologist and painter John James Audubon, her process begins the same way as his: thorough and intense research. Freeman-Kane then sculpts each tiny creature in clay using her hands, pins, scalpels, and sandpaper. A mold is made of the clay sculpture, which is used to cast the final product in resin. Freeman-Kane cleans up the resin sculpture using a dentist’s drill. The final (and most labor-intensive) step is painstakingly painting the feathers, fur, and other details using acrylic gouache. The bee eaters pictured here are perched on a black locust tree branch for added realness.

The Write Stuff

john davenport miniature

Several things might come to mind when you think of the word “secretary:” Dolly Parton’s character in the movie 9 to 5, current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, or maybe even the 1973 Triple Crown winner… oh wait, that’s Secretariat. In furniture, a secretary refers to a large cabinet with drawers, compartments, and a flat writing surface. Historically, secretaries vary in size, style, and functionality from very ornate to compact and sleek. Long before Siri sent emails for us, secretaries were all the rage.

Miniature artist John Davenport created the German Secretary pictured here based on designs from eighteenth-century schreibschränke (or writing cabinets). The secretary has 23 drawers fitted with brass hardware; three of which have a working lock and key. Most notably, a pair of one-point perspective marquetry landscapes adorn the outside, the larger of which is on the hinged panel that becomes the writing surface when opened. If you were about five inches tall, this secretary would be the perfect piece of furniture to pen your memoir, write a letter, or work on your blog!

Seeing Double: The Devil’s in the Details

william r. robertson

And details there are! We’ve never tried it ourselves, but given a steady hand and a pair of tweezers, each microscopic door latch in Twin Manors can be locked with a sliver of a key. Every window glides open in its frame except for two fake windows on each side of the façade. These provide symmetry to the home, which was a very important aspect of Georgian-era design. And artist William R. Robertson even painted the brickwork with pigment made from the dust of 18th century brick!

Next time you visit T/m look closely and you can see a sampler in the back hallway by Robertson’s mom Esther Robertson. The sampler commemorates the completion of the two houses; the one in T/m’s home is dated 1989 for the first year the manor was on display. Come see it for yourself August 1, 2015 when the museum reopens!

Seeing Double: Furnishings Fit for a Georgian Colonial

Bill Robertson miniature woodworking

William R. Robertson furnished Twin Manors with historically accurate, 1:12 scale period furniture, accessories, and textiles produced by over 100 craftspeople, including some of his miniature artist friends and even his mother! At less than a foot tall, the master bedroom contains every eighteenth-century luxury (or at least what they considered luxury) imaginable: an embroidered bed canopy and spread, a brass bed warmer, and hand-worked rugs. All the textiles are either original designs by contemporary American artists inspired by historical pieces, or copies of objects in museum collections.

The center hallway combines elements from Tulip Hill (c. 1756 in Maryland) and The Lindens (c. 1754 in Danvers, Massachusetts). The stairway is composed of more than 1,000 pieces and the railing cap alone took 50 hours to make. The hand-painted wallpaper depicts 18th century houses. Heather Stewart Diaz spent more than a year on the watercolor scenes. The landing holds a tall case clock and the corner cupboard in the entryway holds a matched set of Imari bowls made especially for the house. No corner was left untouched!

Seeing Double: Two Georgian Colonial Manors

William R. Robertson Miniatures

Self-described as a fanatic for function, authenticity, and detail, it comes as no surprise that William R. Robertson spent five years of full-time work building Twin Manors, two identical houses based on his research of 18th century historical homes from Virginia to Maine. Robertson envisioned the Georgian Colonial structure in 1979 and built a 1:87 scale mock-up to help him design the two, identical 1:12 scale versions. One manor is in the T/m collection and one is in Robertson’s private collection.

Robertson incorporated “the best features” into each of the thirteen rooms in the circa-1760 mansion. For example, the master bedroom’s fireplace mantel was adapted from the library of Gunston Hall (c. 1750, Lorton, Virginia). The Newburyport Room (first floor on the left) was named for its back wall stylized after a wall in the mid-eighteenth-century Dalton Club (Newburyport, Massachusetts). The drawing room combines the designs of Pennsylvania’s Graeme Park (c. 1722 in Horsham) and Woodford Mansion (c. 1756 in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia). And the front doors, with more than 216 pieces each, are replicas of those adorning the Wentworth-Gardner House (Portsmouth, New Hampshire).

As you can imagine, there is a lot more to discover in this miniature manor. Stay tuned!

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