The Magic of Miniatures
This is just the briefest of looks at an artistic approach going back millennia, straight back to the oldest surviving works by early man.
Defined in umbrella terms, this is art that is made captivatingly small, capturing the essence of the subject in a tiny painting, a small statue, or a daily behavior made fascinating when performed in a teeny tiny form.
I haven’t had the chance to look as deeply into this as I’d like, but included here are links to various expressions of this mini magic, all united in the glory of shrinking things down to increase our interest in them. I also haven’t included pictures of these works, since working out permissions would take longer than I have. Instead, I’ve linked to the official sites or ones already with legal clearance.
Going back a few centuries, if you went to an artist and requested a miniature, this would mean you wanted a tiny painting. Fancy ones were no larger than your palm, and these were equivalent to getting a wallet-sized print of your kid’s school picture. They just cost more and took longer to get. Of course, any work that was smaller than life size can qualify as a miniature painting.
The Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers is alive and well, and you can visit their site and browse the members’ gallery to see works by contemporary artists.
Most of us were raised with a fascination for miniature things. Action figures, dolls, models, and play sets are small versions of people, places, and objects. In fact, one of the most popular toys of the last few decades is a favorite medium for miniature artists: Lego.
My personal favorite place to view this creativity in action is with The Brothers Brick. Members submit photos of their Lego creations to be featured on the site. The creativity of some of these artists is just mind-blowing. Not only that, the projects often represent hundreds of hours’ work, especially the replicas of buildings and movie scenes.
Some miniature artists go for hyper realism and work their projects to a strict life scale, creating everything from the furniture of the room to the rims on the car wheels by hand.
One of the more famous characters in the history of miniature artists was Frances Glessner Lee. She was a well-to-do heiress and brilliant woman who, like many women of her era and status, created dollhouse scenes (the precursor of high art miniatures) as a creative outlet. She had an interest in real crime and used this talent to create “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”. These tiny murder scenes were used to help train detectives studying early forensics.
I’ve been very brief with her story. For anyone interested in learning more about her and seeing her work without having to go all the way to the State of Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office, there are several collections of photographs available online as well as in The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Corinne May Botz.
Death in Diorama, a website detailing Lee’s work, is the project of Erin N. Bush, as part of her PhD program with George Mason University.
The world of miniature art has seen a resurgence in popularity, especially with the use of video rather than still pictures. Miniature scenes are now shown with moving parts, operating in realistic (albeit tiny) ways. This takes things up a notch in difficulty, but artists clearly rise to the occasion.
There is also miniature performance art, especially when it comes to the cute factor. Two particular artists always catch my attention: Tiny Hamster and Tiny Kitchen. Similar as they sound, they are produced by different companies, which, these days, can be considered the equivalent of a renaissance artist landing a wealthy patron. Doing stuff takes money.
So there’s wonderful stuff being done on a small scale. Why this captivates people, I don’t know yet. I’d like to dig a little deeper on this, but for now sharing the fascination is plenty!
Please visit some of these artists’ sites and enjoy what they have. Leave comments, show them some love, and I hope you like this as much as I do.
If you want more miniature in your life, check out the links below and subscribe to these great makers, as well as any of those mentioned in the links throughout.
Enjoy the art!