Small Talk / Miniature

Secondary Spaces

By Laura S. Taylor, Curator of Interpretation

One of the most intriguing aspects of fine-scale miniatures is the secondary spaces that can be glimpsed through those tiny windows and doors. Tantalizing hints of what lies beyond the primary room setting engage our sense of mystery and imagination.

One can gain a deeper understanding of the artists’ interpretive decisions by examining the secondary spaces in their work. From the perspective of the room, to the lighting, to the dimensionality, each artist handles these details with their own special twist. I’ve highlighted three room settings with secondary spaces that are especially intricate.

Art Deco Jewelry Store
Viewers are often so dazzled by the stunning interior of the Art Deco Jewelry Store that they don’t consciously notice the details beyond the silvered-plated doors. Based on the SS Normandie, Niemen Marcus in Chicago, and the Cincinnati Netherland Hotel, the elegant, two-story room is a multilayered masterpiece. The walls are clad in rosewood paneling, and the floor, columns, and baseboards feature six different types of faux-painted marble. The work was commissioned from English fine-scale architectural artists Susie Rogers and Kevin Mulvany. Lori Ann Potts of Canada created the glittering Art Deco jewelry, and María José Santos of Spain made the stylish trio of 1920s figures.

The building façade “across the street” from the Art Deco Jewelry Store is visible in this photo.

When Barbara Marshall commissioned the room setting, she identified a specific location for its display in the Miniature Maze. The narrow dimensions challenged Mulvany and Rogers to communicate grandeur in a very compact space. They designed a circular sales floor that is mirrored by a gilded, elliptical ceiling. A screened-off lobby and balcony provide a feast for the eyes with bejeweled niches, hand-engraved elevator doors, and elevator car interiors based on the Empire State Building.

Mulvany and Rogers chose dusk for the lighting because it is “a magical time of day representing the change from light to dark. It is the time when the interior becomes more important than the exterior; a time for rooms to glitter and glow.” They created a building façade to sit “across the street” from the store in faux gray stone with multiple windows. Once all the parts of the work of art arrived in Kansas City, artist William R. Robertson designed the lighting system and added the glowing street lamps and blue Packard Sedan model for additional depth and detail.

Building façade, street lamps, and Packard behind the Art Deco Jewelry Store.


Tudor Bedroom
T/m’s collection includes three room settings by Kansas City artist Thomas Warner (1924-1992). All three works have secondary spaces, but Warner chose to handle them each differently. The first, the paneled Colonial Dining Room, has a pair of doors that lead to an entrance hall with an exterior door, a niche bookcase, and a newel post that hints at a second floor. The second, the Belter Parlor, was created with his wife Gloria, and has a simple pictorial treatment of farm fields and trees that can be seen beyond the open front door and the lacy-curtained windows on the back wall.

The third, and most fascinating, is the Tudor Bedroom, circa 1580. Like the Art Deco Jewelry Store, the interior of the chamber is impressive with complexly-carved paneling, a heavily-curtained bed, a prie-dieu for private devotions, elaborate textiles, and an embroidery frame that is placed near the recessed window to catch the light.

Tudor Bedroom, 1987-1996, Thomas Warner, American

The arched windows are set with wavy panes of glass that distort the view of the outdoors. Nonetheless, Warner designed the detailed façade of a medieval stone building which sits diagonally in the wall next to the room box.  Despite the fact that the viewer must stand to the far left in order to peer through the window, the artist went to great lengths to extend the illusion of reality.

The stone building façade is only visible beyond the window in the alcove of the room.

This behind-the-scenes shot reveals the relationship between the room setting and the façade.

Tom Warner started the room setting in 1987, but sadly, he passed away before its completion. His friend and fellow artist, William R. Robertson, finished the Tudor Bedroom to Warner’s specifications in 1996.

Charles Larsson Studio
One of the most detailed secondary spaces is part of the Charles Larsson Studio, circa 1894-1897 in the Miniature Maze. Miniaturist Noral Olson (1921-2015) first mentioned the idea of doing a room from the artist’s home in Sundborg, Sweden, to Barbara Marshall in a letter dated December 1991. The home, called Lilla Hyttnäs, was well-documented in Larsson’s iconic paintings. Marshall, a fan of Larsson, liked the idea, and Olson eventually submitted a proposal to create the home’s drawing room in 1993.

However, Marshall felt that this would not be the best representation of Larsson as an artist. She pressed Olson to consider the studio/workshop next to the drawing room. Olson confessed that he had originally wanted to do this room but was stymied by some of the logistics of the space. Marshall responded by commissioning the studio AND the drawing room, challenging him to find a way to display both rooms.

Carl Larsson’s Studio, 1996, Noral Olson, American

Olson’s solution did not disappoint! The primary room—the studio/workshop—is presented to the viewer as a “slice” with a floor plan that is wider at one end than the other.  Additionally, the work sits in an angled wall in the Miniature Maze. This allows the viewer a better perspective on the secondary space which can only be viewed through a window on the far wall. It is a fully-furnished room despite the fact that it can only be seen through the tiny opening.

The Drawing Room is visible through the interior window in Carl Larsson’s Studio.

Most ingenious is the utilization of a mirror on the back wall of the drawing room. Looking across the studio, through the window, and into the mirror, the viewer can see the furniture on the opposite wall!

Through the interior window, the beautifully-tiled fireplace and the gold-framed mirror is visible.

Overhead view of the drawing room behind Carl Larsson’s Studio. The window on the right is the viewing point for the room. The gold mirror on the left allows the viewer to see the clock, desk, chair, and wall decoration on the opposite wall.

Interior view of the drawing room behind Carl Larsson’s Studio. This wall would not be visible without the use of a mirror.

An additional bonus is another secondary space—on the wide end of the studio, the door is open to reveal the hallway and staircase to the second floor.

Through the double doors, viewers catch a glimpse of the hall and stairs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at these special secondary spaces, and you will take the time to search for them (and others!) when next you visit T/m.

We continue to collect information about artists for our digital files on the fine-scale miniature art movement. If you have any biographical information, photos, or anecdotes you would like to share about Noral Olson or Thomas Warner, please e-mail info@toyandminiaturemuseum.org.

Sources

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, December 15, 1991, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Barbara Marshall, Draft Letter to Noral Olson, undated, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, December 12, 1993, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, January 17, 1994, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, January 7, 1994, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, September 22, 1994, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, June 3, 1995, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, February 13, 1996, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, November 14, 1996, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Susie Rogers, E-mail to Laura S. Taylor, August 22, 2012, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Research Files, Kansas City, MO.

Wm. R. Robertson, conversation with the author, Kansas City, MO, May 5, 2020.

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.

 

New Acquisitions of Fine-Scale Miniatures

Did you ever wonder how T/m has built such an amazing collection of fine-scale miniatures? Barbara Marshall, the museum’s co-founder started collecting miniatures in the 1950s with a 1:12 scale rocking chair made by Eric Pearson. In the 1970s, Mrs. Marshall got involved with the contemporary fine-scale miniature movement and developed a reputation for being a generous patron with an eye for great art. Many miniature artists talk about how Mrs. Marshall would ask them what they had always dreamed of making, then commission them to do just that.

Barbara Marshall continued to develop the collection by attending the largest and most well-regarded miniature show in the country, Chicago International. Museum staff members remember Mrs. Marshall returning from her annual trips to Chicago with a couple of shopping bags full of exquisite miniatures.

Mrs. Marshall retired from the museum in 2010, and the museum staff took a hiatus from collecting miniatures to focus on a major renovation.  That changed in 2017 when T/m hosted Miniature Masterworks, a juried showcase and sale. Sixty-seven artists came to Kansas City from around the world to participate, and many of them entered the competition for the Barbara Marshall Award for Artistic Achievement. With its incredible success in bringing artists and collectors together, T/m recently announced the next Miniature Masterworks, scheduled for September 17-19, 2021.

T/m curators Amy McKune and Laura Taylor selected a small number of artworks to purchase during Miniature Masterworks 2017, then scheduled a trip to the Chicago International Show in April 2018. Laura had attended the show twice before, most recently in 2011, but the 2018 show was the first for Amy. We knew many of the exhibiting artists from their participation in Miniature Masterworks.

Before leaving for Chicago, we identified some collecting goals. We wanted to acquire new work by artists already represented in the collection to exemplify how their work has evolved since 2010. We also wanted to discover new artists whose work meets Mrs. Marshall’s exacting standards. While we did not have the resources to return with two shopping bags full of objects, we did have the funds to make a few strategic purchases, some of which are featured in this post. There is also a new case in the miniature gallery to highlight new acquisitions, including some of those purchased in 2017 and 2018.

Next month, we’ll once again be attending Chicago International. Stay tuned for a post later this year that will highlight our 2019 purchases.

lowboard

This 6-3/4” x 2-1/4” lowboard by Spanish artist Fernando Setien is based on a 1959 Paola Lowboard by Belgian furniture designer Oswald Vermaercke. The lowboard is named for Paola who married the Prince of Liege in 1959. She became the queen of Belgium when her husband, King Albert II, ascended to the throne in 1993. Setien has been creating fine-scale miniatures for only a few years, but his work displays a great deal of sophistication and artistry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

aquarium

With the financial support of our dedicated volunteers, T/m purchased this 3-15/16″ x 11-15/16″ aquarium made by Miyuki Kobayashi (Japanese). Kobayashi molds the aquatic life out of clay, then positions them in poured resin. The colorful fish appear to be swimming in water, just as they do in a full-scale aquarium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

candlestick

Barbara Marshall has been purchasing exquisite silver and gold pieces from Jens Torp (Danish, working in England) since 1995. This 1-13/16” high candlestick features the artist’s own design, which he created during a master class he was teaching at Miniature I Tune (www.miniatureintune.com), an international summer school in Greve, Denmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since 1981, Jane Graber (American) has worked full-time creating fine-scale miniatures, and Mrs. Marshall has been her patron almost from the start. Many of the artworks by Graber in T/m’s collection are redware and stoneware. She only recently began working in the Arts and Crafts style of these three 3/4” tall daffodil vases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miniature Masterworks: Johannes Landman

Johannes Landman specializes in miniature paintings inspired by the Dutch Golden Age. His 1:12 oil paintings are created on wooden panels that are covered in gesso. When finished, his work is mounted in hand-carved frames.

Landman is one of more than 60 artists participating in Miniature Masterworks, September 15-17, 2017. He will be giving a gallery talk about his work in the T/m collection and the inspiration behind it on September 17 at 1:30pm.

Miniature Masterworks: Miyuki Kobayashi

Miyuki Kobayashi began making miniature food and flowers 25 years ago. Now, she creates miniature aquariums complete with tropical and seawater fish, plants, and coral. Kobayashi pays special attention to expressing the vivid movement of her subjects, portraying them as naturally as possible.

Kobayashi is one of more than sixty artists participating in Miniature Masterworks, September 15-17, 2017.