Small Talk / Miniature

Renaissance Woman

lee ann chellis wessel ceramics

A large portion of Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel’s work focuses on re-creating Renaissance masterpieces in miniature. Like a modern day Renaissance woman, Chellis Wessel not only excels at painting miniature renditions of egg tempera masterworks like this version of Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni, but also Renaissance period maiolica (or majolica or mayólica, depending on where it’s from) ceramics.

Much like her egg tempera work, Chellis Wessel’s miniature maiolica is made using the same process as full-scale pottery. First created in the ancient Middle East, maiolica  is made by covering a clay vessel with a white glaze that has been made opaque by the addition of tin. The white glaze provides a blank canvas for the metallic oxide designs that are layered on top and become fused to the background during the firing process. The results are the same whether in full-scale or fine-scale miniature: a beautiful multicolored piece of pottery.

A spot of tea, literally!

anchor jensen seattle

Here at T/m we’re continually amazed by the ‘little’ details found in every nook and corner of the Boston Beacon Hill House. This picture of the Paul Revere oval fluted teapot really demonstrates the scale of this ¼” miniature.

Designed and crafted by Seattle jeweler Anchor Jenson, the teapot features engravings, a hollow spout, and hinged lid. Smaller than a pencil eraser, the teapot is accompanied by a sugar and creamer which are comparable in size to grains of rice. Now that’s small! And lest you forget, like other miniatures, this functions exactly like it’s full size counterpart. However, silver is too small to polish, so this one is made out of white gold. A spot of tea anyone?

A Game of Perfection

miniature chippendale furniture

In 18th century America, games and gambling were all the rage. This miniature game table, based off a c. 1770s Philadelphia Chippendale table, would have been perfect for tiny card games! Less than four inches tall, the table’s base was hand-carved by Wm. R. Robertson. The base, shaped from Swiss pear wood, features delicately curving ball-and-claw legs that support the functioning tilt-top surface.

Robertson’s mother, Esther Robertson, created the petit point stitched surface. Based on an Italian tapestry design, the tabletop consists of 33,000 stitches in 41 colors of silk thread. It took her three months to complete the design; when it was finished, she gave it to her son, who painstakingly attached it to the table. Esther Robertson was so nervous something would go wrong during the attachment process that she had to leave the house! Of course, the finished piece turned out beautifully, and the miniature game table is a testament to the amazing design and craftsmanship that goes into making a 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.

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