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.


When we started the Gallery O in the fall of 2008 and the track lights came on the lights in our heads came on as well. We realized that such a small space could contain, perhaps, some really big ideas. Shows were planned for the year with an unrealistic schedule of one show a month with openings, refreshments and crowds of people attending. It would certainly keep us busy on top of our already packed schedule.

With that said, the ‘Bird House’ show is the first gallery show since last summer. It is an installation of birds inside the gallery from our collections. Bird mobiles circle in the space and fly on pedestals, wooden crows line the shelves, mechanical birds chirp and tweet when someone enters the room setting off light sensors, and miniature wood houses are arranged along the shelves between the birds.

It may be a reference to the Alfred Hitchcock film, ‘The Birds’ that still haunts or merely a light hearted romp in avian pleasures. As the bird mobiles turn sunlight is caught and throws bird shaped reflections and shadows across the walls. Occasionally a shaft of light hits the sensors on the birds and they start a small private conversation about it.

Another newsworthy development and addition to the Gallery O happened last fall with an extension to the gallery space. How soon we outgrow the meager 8’ by 10’ gallery! The patio gathering space proved too difficult during the cold winter months here to have wine and refreshments for the openings. We have now enclosed the area and made it into a solarium and greenhouse more than doubling the Gallery O space. Now the walls are lined with plants and will soon be fitted with exhibition panels to extend the available wall space for future shows.

Stand by for the next phases of Galley O's future growth. Hmmm... The exclusive Cafe O with very limited seating and maybe even a conference space and convention hall.