Small Talk / Inspiration

The Obadiah Collection

18k gold water kettle and warmer, 1989

By Laura Taylor, Curator of Interpretation

In one of the largest cities in the world, Obadiah Fisher (1941-2005) made a name for himself by creating tiny art. Working in his studio loft in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, the transplanted Brooklynite produced the Obadiah Collection, a catalog of historic silver and gold pieces in fine-scale, paying homage to the great silversmiths of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Obadiah Fisher came to the Big Apple as an accomplished sculptor and jewelry maker in 1966. He found work in the city’s commercial jewelry industry in both manufacturing and design but eventually left to pursue freelance opportunities. The Metropolitan Museum of Art commissioned him to produce models of Egyptian jewelry for the blockbuster exhibition Treasures of Tutankhamun (King Tut), and he worked with both the Brooklyn Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art on reproducing Egyptian and Peruvian jewelry.

In the late 1970s, a studio visit from Elisabett Andrews would change the course of Fisher’s career. Andrews, a fine-scale porcelain artist, was there to view his custom-designed jewelry and suggested that he try making fine-scale silver miniatures. Intrigued, Fisher selected some full-scale works to reproduce in 1:12 scale. His first works were sold by famed dollhouse expert Flora Gill Jacobs in the gift shop of her Washington Toy and Dollhouse Museum (in the District of Columbia).

Sterling silver oval scalloped Tray after Paul Revere, circa 1797, Date Unknown

Fisher became hooked and amassed a library of books and magazines featuring historic designs for research. He always started by making a pencil sketch and determining what details made up the essence of the piece. Employing the lost wax casting process, he carved a wax model of the piece and then created a rubber mold, allowing for 10% shrinkage. A commercial company cast the miniatures, and Fisher polished them himself.  He began teaching wax model making at his own private school where he was known as “Obie” to his students.

T/m’s collection contains 65 works in silver and gold by Fisher, including one of his masterpieces, a William III Monteith Bowl after Benjamin Pyne, circa 1699. Measuring just three quarters of an inch in height and 1 3/16 inches in width, the bowl features eight ornate scallops on the rim from which punch cups were hung. The bowl contained water so the cups could be rinsed between wine courses or chilled for cold wine.

Sterling silver William III Monteith Bowl after Benjamin Pyne, circa 1699, Date Unknown

Fisher described his work in 1992 to writer Lillian Wachtel: “With my visors on, I go off into a world of tiny detail that can’t be seen by the naked eye. My vision is narrowed down to just those diminutive areas. It feels like a bit of pleasant escapism, like being in a whole other world.”

T/m continues to compile digital archives for fine-scale artists and welcomes contributions from the public. If you knew Obadiah Fisher and have any biographical information, stories, or photographs you would like to share, please contact us at: info@toyandminiaturemuseum.org.

Obadiah Fisher lights up the room at the opening of the exhibit Small Wonders: The Delightful World of Miniatures at the National Geographic Society’s Explorer Hall, 1987. Photograph courtesy of William R. Robertson

Sources:

Cook, Jan Leslie. “Marvels in Miniature.” Historic Preservation (August 1985): 28.

Frank, Alice and Lee Frank. A Reference Guide to Miniature Makers Mark. Minneapolis, MN: Thomas-Shore, Inc., 1996.

Wachtel, Lillian. “A Silversmith on the Waterfront.” Miniature Collector (August 1992): 44-46.

Winter, Marguerite. “Silver in Miniature.” Miniature Collector (September/October 1995): 17.

 

Decision 2016: The Nominees

Toy Hall of Fame

Another election year is upon us, and the stakes are especially high this time! Yes, that’s right, it’s time once again for Americans to fulfill their civic duty and vote for the next inductees into the National Toy Hall of Fame. While we wouldn’t dare make a political endorsement here, we will introduce you to the candidates.

The polls are in and the race has been narrowed down to twelve. This year, a rainbow of toys including coloring books, Care Bears, Transformers, and Uno make for some colorful options. Also in the running are classic board games Clue and Dungeons and Dragons. Of course, who can deny the contributions that perennial favorites Nerf, pinball, and Fisher-Price Little People have made? We’re not sure which states they’re from, but the red versus blue Rock’em Sock’em Robots are also duking it out for the prize. Some unconventional candidates have emerged this year as well. The tactile fun of bubble wrap appeals to all generations of constituents. And it goes without saying that “swing voters” will undoubtedly cast their votes for, well, the swing. Stay tuned for election results this November!
Photo: Courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York.

To the Batcave!

Toy and Action Figure Museum

This unique attraction was born from a citywide effort to revitalize the downtown district of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. With a little “BAM!” and a bit of “POW!” The Toy and Action Figure Museum opened in 2005 as the first museum devoted to the art and sculpting of action figures. The museum’s diorama showcases their collection of over 13,000 action figures, with an entire room—appropriately called the Batcave—devoted to the evolution of Batman action figures. One visitor described the experience as a “Where’s Waldo?” of action figures.

The museum’s mascot, Rivet, overlooks the museum, which invites the young and young at heart to find their inner action figure in the museum’s playroom, complete with capes and costumes. The museum also houses The Oklahoma Cartoonist Collection, highlighting the work of artists inducted into the Oklahoma Cartoonist Hall of Fame. The museum’s newest exhibit juxtaposes action figures with America’s favorite fashion doll. Lucky, Barbie!
Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

The Giving Brick Gives Back

The Giving Brick

The wonderful thing about T/m’s collection is that it reaches beyond socioeconomic barriers; everyone played in some way, whether it was with the latest, flashiest toy or a hand-me-down stuffed animal. A new Kansas City nonprofit is working to make sure that every kid has the chance to explore the limitless possibilities for imaginative play, cooperation, problem-solving, and creativity found in LEGOs. The Giving Brick takes boxes of long-forgotten LEGOs out of closets, basements, and attics and into the hands of kids in the foster system.

The Giving Brick accepts donations of used LEGOs, and not only cleans and organizes them, but rebuilds complete LEGO sets based on retail LEGO sets and packages them in a nice red box complete with reprinted instructions for building the set. Have extra LEGOs lying around? Don’t step on them, drop them off at one of the organization’s many partner drop-off sites or mail them in today!
Photo: The Giving Brick.

At the Crossroads of Big and Small

Lucas, Kansas

A little museum of big things made little? It may sound like a riddle, but that’s exactly what visitors to the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things will see. The Jeep-turned-museum showcases America’s roadside wonders like the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, World’s Largest Yo-Yo (one of our favorites), and many, many more cleverly replicated in miniature for a one-stop viewing experience.

The mobile museum was created by artist Erika Nelson, who travels the country both exhibiting her small landmarks, while also scoping out large ones for miniaturization. Even while it’s on the road, a portion of the quirky museum (which, by the way, has its own theme song) is permanently stationed in even quirkier Lucas, Kansas, the “Grassroots Art Capital” of the state. It is probably not a coincidence that Lucas is also home to the world’s largest souvenir travel plate!
Photo: Erika Nelson, The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things.