Small Talk / Miniature

Keep an Even Tempera-ment

Lee Ann Chellis-Wessel egg tempera

Topping the list of frequently asked questions about our miniature collection is, “how did they make that?!” In the summer of 2012, miniature painter Lee Ann Chellis-Wessel came to Kansas City as the museum’s first artist in residence. During her time with us, she revealed some of the secrets of painting with egg tempera in miniature (after all, like magicians, miniaturists never reveal all of their secrets.)

Surprisingly, many of the techniques involved in miniature egg tempera painting are the same as they are in full-scale. Pigments are mixed with an egg solution and are then dabbed onto a ceramic painter’s palette. Water is added to the tempera to give a range of values to the paint. The real magic happens when Chellis-Wessel uses a very fine paint brush and a steady hand to apply the paint to the board. Cross-hatching and overlaying of different paint colors give the miniature work the rich tones found in the Renaissance originals. The paintings depicted here illustrate Chellis-Wessel’s steps in reaching painted perfection.

Our Skeleton Can Dance

lloyd mccaffery

Miniature artist Lloyd McCaffery began building ship models as a twelve-year-old. And he never stopped! Trained as an artist and sculptor, he uses jeweler’s tweezers, and numerous miniature versions of planes, chisels, and custom made knives to craft his fine-scale ship models.

Like many fine-scale miniature artists, McCaffery found inspiration in a museum, though not a history or art museum but the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. While looking at the suspended skeleton of a dinosaur, McCaffery realized the similarities between the spine and ribs of a skeleton and the keel and frames of a ship. Articulation was one of the first skeletons, human or animal, which McCaffery carved. And this skeleton can dance! Each bone, or set of bones, is crafted separately out of boxwood and joined with bamboo tenons or pegs. The 1:12 scale Articulation is joined in the T/m collection by another McCaffery skeleton, a velociraptor.

Artwork for the Floor

petit point miniature rugs

Every stately New England home needs its share of sumptuous floor coverings. The Boston Beacon Hill House is no exception, even if it does measure 13 x 12 x 9 inches. Seattle needlecraft artist Ethel Forbes Harding designed and stitched the 40 count petit point rugs found gracing the floors of the minuscule mansion. Some of the carpets were even reproduced from designs found in the home of Claire Bagley Hammons, the art patron who owned the quarter scale house.

Like carpets in full-size homes, these creations add warmth and depth to each room. We wonder how long it took Mrs. Harding to complete each of the miniature floorings. That’s a lot of square feet, er, inches to cover!

Sailing the Miniature Seas

lloyd mccaffery ship

In 1750, HMY Royal Caroline set sail for the first time. As one of the most extravagant English royal yachts adorned with gleaming sails and an impressive figurehead, she spent her days transporting the royal family. She was so well-built that she wasn’t retired until 1820. Nearly two centuries later in 2002, the Royal Caroline was brought to life again by miniature artist Lloyd McCaffery.

McCaffery was only 12 years old when he stumbled across a picture of a model ship in a book and found his passion. His decades-long career has produced miniature wooden masterpieces like the Royal Caroline. Due to this ship’s tiny scale, one inch in the miniature equals 31 feet on the full-scale vessel, it just barely measures 4.5 inches. It is carved from holly wood, boxwood, and lemonwood. The five figures and crown of the figurehead are less than a quarter inch wide. Seven crew members and three passengers are sailing on this miniature voyage. While 18th century sailors did not have pleasant lives, we’d be happy to brush up on our sailing lingo and hop aboard McCaffery’s Royal Caroline for a day!

A Magnificent Miniature Microscope

william r robertson miniatures

If you had tiny little eyes, you could use this microscope to see even tinier little objects! Barely over two inches tall, the microscope is fully functional. The microscope was made by artist William. R. Robertson, who crafted it after a full-scale microscope in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The full-scale piece was made by Claude-Simeon Passemant in 1760, likely for the science-loving King Louis XV; it’s obvious this is a microscope fit for a king!

To make the miniature microscope, Robertson visited the Met, where he was able to measure and photograph the full-scale piece. Next, Robertson had to match the golden hue of the microscope’s gilt bronze. He tested several different types of gold before discovering that melted Canadian maple leaf gold coins produced the correct shade! The gold is normally burnished with wolf teeth; luckily, Robertson had saved his dog’s puppy teeth after she lost them—a  fine substitute! Another challenge was the microscope’s barrel. The full-scale barrel is covered in a unique material: shagreen, the skin of sharks or stingrays. Often dyed green, shagreen was popular in 18th century France. Robertson had to find a material that would replicate the pattern of shagreen in miniature. While shopping in France, he stumbled upon a decades-old piece of shagreen from a baby shark—the perfect find! In total, the finished microscope contains 125 parts. Now that’s what we call magnificent! See the microscope and other T/m miniatures on view now until February 22 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

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