The World in a Jar
When I was a kid, Mom always had a creative project in the works to keep us busy. One of my favorites, second only to "splatter painting", was the terrarium. We'd take those gallon-size glass mayonnaise jars, and create miniature gardens with moss and tiny plants from the woods around our home. To me, they were more than just little gardens in a jar--they were tiny worlds where the wee folk surely walked and held conversations with the tiny ceramic animals we always placed in the scene.
Trains, Planes and Automobiles
Dad's no creative slouch either. I still marvel at the realism in the pictures of the grand model railroad layouts he had in his younger years. The "smoke" marks on the little tunnels...the "dirtiness" of the buildings and cars...the ripples in the plastic "water" of the river under the "weathered" old trestle...gnarly little trees along the tracks...all the special finishing touches that made it look like the "real thing." He also built model airplanes, ships and still collects Hess Trucks, among other things.
Fish in the Wall
Dad also had a 10-gallon aquarium built into the wall of our livingroom. It often freaks people out at first glance because it looks like a framed picture on the wall--but it moves! Always stocked with fancy guppies and live plants, it was yet another glimpse into a mystical, tiny world.
Bonsai. The art of growing miniature trees. Pronounced bone-sigh, not banzai (that's what your cousin Bob yells just before doing a belly flop into the pool). Cantankerous little trees, who really resent being twisted and shaped and crammed into those artsy little pots. They let you know it at every opportunity by dropping all their leaves and/or flowers right before a show, or just up and dying on you for no apparent reason at all. But I have a few who keep hanging in there. I've been growing (and killing) them for several years. But even the dead ones often achieve immortality, like my dead "Serissa Japonica" that was transformed into a miniature dogwood in this award-winning miniature scene by friend and cohort Nancy Grube. Click here for photo
In more recent years, I spent a lot of time and frustration designing, building and painting stage sets and scenery for various local theatrical groups. We often built a scale model in advance for the director's approval. While they were rough 3-d sketches, they were often all that was left when the show ended. I always wished I'd spent more time detailing the models for posterity, while I watched the set get torn down, the backdrop repainted, and all that hard work disappear in preparation for the next production.
The Magic of Crud and Humor
One of the things that sets a true scenic artist apart from the rest, is the ability to create a scene that, when photographed, can almost pass for the real thing. Unless the intent of the scene is meant to be "perfect and pristine," (such as an architectural model) I find that crudding things up and adding some humor is what makes it look "real." Perfectly clean, brand new stuff always looks kind of fake and boring to me. Re-create a pristine, perfect kitchen scene, and audiences will say, "oh that's nice." Take the same scene, put dirty dishes in the sink, cracks in the floor tile, grease stains on the wallpaper and a cat in the windowsill chewing the potted plant, and audiences will say "wow, would you look at that! And hey, look at this! Amazing! What detail!" Whether it's a theatrical set, or a miniature room box, I find that the magic of "crud and humor" is what takes it over the top.
In February of 2002, Nancy, my aforementioned friend and cohort in crime, brought me to a First State Miniature Club meeting. I'd always admired her 1-inch scale miniatures in the past, but never really thought about doing one myself. The club project that evening was painting a set of miniature Chrysnbon dishes. I got hooked. I started work on "Wild Spirit," and had an absolute ball. Here was essentially a set design, in 1" equals 1' scale. A scene designed, built and painted, without the use of ladders and scaffolding. And the best part? It didn't have to be torn down at the end of the show!
The Olympics of Gardening
Nancy and I went to the 2002 Philadelphia Flower show just to see the miniature garden settings, looked at each other and said "we can do that!" While the "Wild Spirit" outhouse scene above was created with dried, dyed and fake plants, the Philly Flower Show requires a miniature scene with all LIVE plants, listed by their latin names, and checked for accuracy by a Horticultural Society expert. This requirement alone is often enough to make most miniature artists cringe with fear. Not I! What better way to combine all those interests into one work of art? My entries have come in first or second place every year since.
Remember those miniature club project dishes? They ended up "dirty" and in the sink in "Chester's Wake," my 2003 Flower Show Exhibit.
Philadelphia Flower Show
The First State Miniature Club
International Guild of Miniature Artisans