Small Talk Tag: Miniature

Design for Eternity

Design for Eternity

The phrase “you can’t take it with you” certainly hasn’t been around forever. As The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit Design for Eternity: Architectural Models from the Ancient Americas shows, ancient Mesoamerican and Andean cultures may have believed quite the opposite. From 100 B.C. until European contact in the sixteenth century, artists in the ancient Americas created small-scale models to be placed in the tombs of important individuals.

Although there is very little documentation on how these objects were used, Maya hieroglyphs refer to the miniature structures as “god houses” or “sleeping places for the gods.” The exhibit includes examples of these models in a variety of materials including ceramic, wood, stone, and metal that replicate historic palaces, temples, and everyday living spaces. Even though their original intentions may be lost, it’s fascinating to see evidence of humankind’s long-standing interest in miniature art.
Photo: House Model, 100 B.C.-A.D. 200, Nayarit, Mexico. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org.

Making Mathematical Miniatures

Emily Good

According to Newton’s First Law of Motion… OK, we’ll admit we don’t exactly remember everything from physics class! Physicist-turned-miniaturist Emily Good, however, was on top of her game when she created the grouping seen here, which includes a daybed, bureau, bowl, candlestick, and an urn. It’s incredible to see Good’s mastery of a wide variety of materials, especially since she received no artistic training until discovering miniature making.

Just how did she manage to do it? T/m is fortunate to have a seven-volume catalog of Good’s work along with her personal notes and correspondences. Included in her records is a description outlining her very mathematical approach to making miniatures. For example, with the precision of, well, a mathematician, she was able to calculate the shrinkage rate for casting ceramics.

Good’s lifelong love of antiques is also evident in her notes. She meticulously documented the full-scale decorative arts objects that served as inspiration for her works, even citing what issue of Antiques magazine she found them. Perhaps most importantly, Good championed a trial and error methodology. She described in a letter that her method of wax modeling was not the sanctioned way of doing it, and a response from a jeweler who told her, “There is no right or wrong way. There are only different ways.”

Small Cities in a Big World

Miniature Cities

This falls into the category of “don’t breathe” or “we thought houses of cards were difficult;” these artists have taken it to the next level. In 2010, artist Peter Root spent 40 hours standing 100,000 staples on end to build a miniature city inspired by New York City that he called Ephemicropolis.

Stan Munro builds famous landmarks out of toothpicks. What started as a 5th grade art project turned into Toothpick City. The City features more than 50 famous structures from around the world (the Space Needle, Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge) made out of six million toothpicks and 170 liters of glue. Now on permanent exhibit in a Spanish museum, Munro has continued crafting, including Toothpick City 2 at the Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse, New York.

Artist Meschac Gaba made a large-scale model of a fantasy city featuring landmark buildings from around the world (Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera House, Empire State Building). Seems simple enough, right? What if I told you it was all made out of sugar? Meschac Gaba: Sweetness includes 600 buildings, measures 30 feet by 20 feet, and took two years to build. Talk about sweet!
Photo: Toothpick City 2, MOST.org.

Mathematical Miniatures

Emily Good

Many of the artists represented in T/m’s miniature collection had some formal artistic training in their medium, although maybe not on a fine-scale. For example, Allison Ashby and Steve Jedd worked on theatrical stage design and construction before taking up building fine-scale room settings and structures. One of the most prolific miniature makers, Emily Good, however, had a quite different training when she found the art form in the early 1970s.

Good earned an advanced degree in physics and worked as a physicist and mathematician for most of her adult life. In 1971, she discovered the art of miniatures after making a small Christmas room scene to decorate her home. With her creativity sparked, she applied her mathematical know-how and passion for creating into everything she made and eventually opened a miniatures business. Considered one of the earlier contemporary fine-scale miniature makers, Emily Good was a jack of all trades and worked in a variety of media including ceramic, metal, wood, and fibers.

Visit Beautiful Elgin Park

Elgin Park

Part of the allure of miniatures is that they give us the opportunity to create entire worlds in a small amount of space. For Michael Paul Smith, that corner of the world is Elgin Park, a fictional city based on mid-twentieth-century small-town America. Inspired by painful childhood experiences, Elgin Park is a utopian place that allows Smith’s creativity to flourish. At first glance, Elgin Park may seem a bit like Mayberry, but a closer look will reveal some of its mysterious secrets.

Using skills he learned by being an architectural model maker (and other numerous jobs), Smith constructs 1:24 scale buildings, houses, and streetscapes that appear realistically worn and weathered. These miniature scenes are outfitted with appropriately scaled die cast vintage cars. In order to achieve the realistic background in the photos of Elgin Park, the miniature scenes are photographed outside against the (full-scale) horizon, a technique called forced perspective photography. Over the last few years, Smith unexpectedly gained international attention after his Flickr page began receiving millions of hits, which eventually prompted him to publish a book of his photography.
Photo: Studio Back Lot, Michael Paul Smith.

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