Small Talk Tag: Miniature

Artwork for the Floor

Boston Beacon Hill House 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

Royal Caroline

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

Microscope with Ruler

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.

Hickory Dickory Dock

Clock from Boston Beacon Hill House

One of the more amazing pieces (okay, let’s be honest, we think they’re all amazing) in the Boston Beacon Hill House is a case clock by Frank Matter, modeled after a piece by Eli Terry. The case clock contains the world’s smallest watch movement, which was taken from a diamond bracelet watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Boston Beacon Hill House is created on one of the smallest miniature scales, 1:48, which means that 1 inch in miniature equals 4 feet in the full-size world. It also means that artists such as Matter had to create on a super-small scale without going blind. Matter’s solution to this issue was that he made most of his pieces using tools he created himself. And while today’s miniature artists work under multiple levels of magnification, Matter created all of his works using little to no magnification!

Toy or Miniature?

ToolChests

So, what is the difference between a toy and a fine-scale miniature? This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions we hear at the museum. Let’s take a quick look at a few pieces from the collection to illustrate the answer!

William Robertson’s miniature Hewitt “gentleman’s” chest and the American Manufacturing Concern’s (AMC) Elite Tool Chest for Boys are similar tool chests featuring dovetail joints. The most apparent difference is probably their size; the Elite Tool Chest measures a child-size 17 5/8” long, while Robertson’s 1-inch scale miniature measures a just a wee 2” long. Both chests are “real” tool chests in that they feature a full set of functioning tools which could be used to complete any number of carpentry projects. In fact, Robertson’s miniature includes all the same tools as the full-size Hewitt chest currently located at Colonial Williamsburg—the saw even has 160 teeth to the inch!

It probably goes without saying that these two tool chests are meant for two very different audiences. AMC mass produced the Elite Tool Chest to offer children— well, apparently only boys— size-appropriate tools for practicing their carpentry skills. Robertson’s Hewitt chest was created with no intention to actually use the tools, but rather to understand and study the skills traditional craftsmen used to handcraft everyday objects. You could probably say that both pieces were created to educate, but as very different teaching tools—pun intended!

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