Tuesday, February 9, 2010


In every occupation there are the extremists. There are extreme sports that put one as close to death as possible. There are religious extremists who push the letters of the holy law to stretch the principles of common sense. I’ve run into extreme kite makers who battle for the largest kite in the world award and get carried away by their creations. There are extreme makeovers, extreme pumpkins and extremely rude people.

In the miniature world, there are, of course, extreme miniaturists. These are people who make very, very small objects by hand usually using microscopes and very steady hands. When I was working in Hawaii at a tourist marketplace as a sidewalk portrait artist, at the stand next to me was a man who painted miniature artworks on women’s fingernails. One day he showed me his other passion …making incredibly small sculptures out of a grain of rice. I was amazed. He showed me tiny little figures that could fit into the eye of a needle and even a miniature replica of the Taj Mahal smaller than a pinky fingernail clipping.

I recently stumbled upon the works of two extreme miniaturists. They both work microscopically, that is, aided by the strong vision of microscopes. The works are incredibly small. Most fit easily into an eye of a needle and can be accidentally blown away by a careless sneeze or inhaled. The sculptures are carved using hand made tools of even smaller proportions. They are painted, in some cases with a brush made from a hair off of a fly’s back. In order to carve them, particles are scraped a micron at a time with a deft precision that baffles imagination. The carving is done between heartbeats so the fingers don’t topple the sculptures off of their perch and loosing them forever.

Willard Wigan is a micro-miniaturist. His works began when he was a child who had learning disabilities and undiagnosed dyslexia. To avoid the difficulties and harassments in the English school system he would escape to a small shed in the backyard of his home and watch a line of ants working. Feeling like he was also as insignificant as these humble creatures, he started making things for the ants, like tiny little houses and then little shoes and hats for them. His mother discovered his secret hideaway one day and he was punished but it didn’t stop his fascination with these miniature worlds he could create.

Hagop Sandaldjian excelled in mathematics and music in Egypt and mastering in the miniature fingering required to play a viola poprosa, a 20 inch violin. Later on in life he used his skills of obsessive controlled movement in carving incredibly small sculptures. Sandalldjian employed self-made tools made from sharpened needles tipped with diamond or ruby dust, constructing his sculptures out of miniscule materials such as dust, lint and hair.

Are they art, craft or extreme novelty? In an age of the micro-miniature when even the most mundane of everyday objects, the ubiquitous cell phone rings in most pockets and purses, we have accustomed ourselves to small wonders filled with nano-scale circuitry and incomprehensible electronics. We have lost the wonder of the hand made. Its hard to compete against the research that’s going on to create molecular mechanical gears and circuits so small they are invisible to all but an electron microscope's gaze. But for the efforts of the extreme miniaturists they have inspired wonder at all things handmade to the beat of a heart.

1 comment:

  1. Their exhibitions certainly wouldn't take up much room...but there would be "NO SNEEZING" signs around...