Small Talk Tag: Miniature

Randy Hage’s New York Storefronts

Randy Hage

For decades, artists have been inspired by the bright lights and bustling streets of New York City. Visual artist Randy Hage is no exception. Hage spent 25 years creating sets, models, and props for television and film before a trip to New York in the late 1990s led him to his next project.

Originally photographing cast iron facades for future art projects, he became entranced by storefronts and the stories that they told. On subsequent trips, he found these ‘mom and pop’ stores disappearing, pushed out by big box stores and rising rents. So, he decided to recreate them in 1:12 scale as a permanent reminder of the establishments and the people who lived in them and served their community.

The results have blown us away, and we challenge you to determine which is the original and which is the miniature.
Photo: NYC Bodega in Miniature, courtesy of Randy Hage.

American Folk Art in Miniature

american folk art

A visit to the fine-scale miniature galleries at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is a trip around the world and through time. Today, our trip takes us to 1830s central New York. Therese Bahl and Jim Ison’s “A Tribute to the Classic Period of American Folk Art” is based on the parlor and hall of the Ezra Carroll House. Formerly in East Springfield, New York, the home was demolished in 1957, but not before the murals were salvaged and preserved at the Winterthur Museum and The Farmers’ Museum (a sigh of relief!). The murals are their own story; we’ll cover them in an upcoming post!

In addition to making miniatures, Bahl teaches early American decorative art and is a professed admirer of American folk artists Peter Ompir and Rufus Porter. Ison specializes in Shaker and Windsor furniture dating from 1650 to 1850. Their 1989 partnership was picture perfect, producing this parlor with a fireplace and two windows alongside an entryway with a staircase and two doors.

Filigree Finery

filigree box

You just never know where or when inspiration will hit you. Unless, of course, you’re artist William R. Robertson, who seeks out his inspiration in the rare and refined decorative arts collections of some of the world’s best museums. This 1:12 scale chest was inspired by a trip to the Musée le Secq des Tournelles (The Wrought Iron Museum) in Rouen, France.

While noble houses of 17th century Europe would use boxes like these to store valuables like jewelry, although this miniature version might only hold a couple of gemstones. Robertson constructed the chest with ebony and 18 karat gold filigree panels, each with a crisp beaded edge. The box lid is hinged and features a functional lock and key. As a special touch, the artist microscopically signed his name beneath the handle, but don’t strain your eyes trying to read it!

How Do They Do It?

how miniatures are made

We get this question at T/m a LOT when people visit the fine-scale miniature galleries. We stay awake at night contemplating it ourselves. So, when we started talking about what we wanted to add to the miniature galleries, a look into fine-scale miniature artists’ studios was at the top of our list.

In T/m’s new exhibit, In The Artist’s Studio, visitors can watch four videos that take them into the studios of William R. Robertson and Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel. Not only did the artists let us invade their studios for multiple days of filming, which included shoving cameras inches from their faces (everything is really small!), but they also donated all of the tools they used and created multiple pieces that illustrate the steps in the process towards the final product. Robertson turned a metal candlestick on a lathe and carved a dovetail drawer. Chellis Wessel painted an egg tempera canvas and turned a ceramic plate on a wheel. While the exhibit provides some answers, it will still leave you in awe of their work!

Bitty Belter Furniture

belter furniture

Thomas Warner once explained his attraction to the Belter style: “I have to be able to capture the ‘feel’ that the original had. I think that’s why I enjoy the Belter designs so much. Its quality is massive—yet the intricate carvings make it ‘feel’ so delicate. It’s capturing the delicateness in such a heavy piece that is the true art—and the source of my genuine feeling of accomplishment.”

The center table in the Belter Parlor took about 40 hours to complete! Warner mainly used rosewood for the elaborate pierced carvings of the Belter style. John Belter himself favored rosewood and its ability to be bent and shaped without splitting or cracking like a more solid wood. In 1856, Belter patented a lamination process that allowed layers of wood to be more easily steamed into curves and carved.

Warner pieces’ replicate the intricate carvings of Belter furniture: multitude of grapes, vines, scrolls, and not a straight line in sight! If you are lucky enough to find a piece of Warner’s fine-scale miniature furniture (he produced limited quantities), it’ll be easy to tell it’s his: Warner signed all of his pieces.

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