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10 Amazing Artists Working With Miniature Models

We’ve seen how artists can take life-sized landscapes and make them appear to be tiny models through the use of tilt-shift photography, so now let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum: the world of miniature art.

Balsa Wood Manhattan

Michael Chesko was a software engineer at Motorola when he started building skyscraper models in his free time with X-ACTO knives, fingernail files and balsa wood. Eventually, he became so obsessed with his miniatures that he realized they could no longer be just a hobby.

His Manhattan model was based on the pre-9/11 skyline and he relied on blueprints, photos and satellite images to guide him. He didn’t even have any first-hand knowledge of the city because he didn’t visit until his project was completed –a task that took over 2000 hours of work.

When the dust settled, his model was 36” by 30” and used a 1:3200 scale. For those interested in viewing Chesko’s work of art, it’s now on display at the Skyscraper Museum in midtown New York.

Sweetness

Meshac Gaba’s contribution to “Port City” is even sweeter than Chesko’s model and that’s not a subjective claim –Gaba’s work is made entirely of sugar. His work, included in a larger model show in Liverpool that was dedicated to the imaginary Port City, features some of the most famous buildings on earth, including the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House and more. No word on if it survived after the show ended in 2008, but if it did get destroyed, let’s hope it was by an army of giant (looking) ants.

Image courtesy of Chrys Omori’s Flickr stream.

Urban Sculptures

New York native Alan Wolfson is a big fan of his home town, such a big fan that he bases his main body of work on creating miniature street scenes that look like they’ve been sliced right out of the Big Apple. Interestingly, Wolfson almost never depicts buildings and businesses the way they actually looked. Instead, he combines real buildings and company signs he sees in photos with imaginary ones to help tell a story about the street scene he has created.

For example, “Follies Burlesk” was based on the real Follies Burlesk on 46th and Broadway, but that real business stood on top of a Howard Johnson’s restaurant, and both companies looked decidedly 50’s. Wolfson decided to make the scene look like it existed much later in time and added a classic New York hot dog place, an adult book store and a movie theater screening The Terminator.

What’s truly amazing about his work though is the level of detail he puts into his scenes. For example, in “Canal St. Cross-Section,” you can not only view the subway underground, but explore the buildings and the subway through windows in the side of the creation.

Miniature Manhattan

New York certainly has a lot of fans in the model-making community. What makes Randy Hage’s creations stand apart though is just how amazingly accurate his vintage building faces actually are.

While Wolfson likes to create imaginary scenes from the big city, Hage uses photos of real New York businesses and then sculpts them at 1/12 their size, in an effort to preserve these landmark structures that are becoming increasingly replaced by national chains. His works are so accurate that without a caption, sometimes it can be difficult to tell which photo shows a real building and which shows his model.

Elgin Park

While most model city artists focus on the buildings, Michael Paul Smith seems to be fascinated with the vehicles. In fact, his intricate city scenes, set inside his imaginary town of Elgin Park, serve more as a background to his fantastic die cast car collection. His lovely retro scenes portray an idealized small-town America that is based on the Pennsylvania town Smith grew up in and the backgrounds and vehicles even range throughout the decades.

The Elgin Park series became so popular on Flickr that Smith has since published an entire book of photos showing the beauty of the non-existent town.

The City

From Mad Max to the Fall Out game series to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, humans are obsessed with the idea of life after the apocalypse. Contributing to the many visions of this disastrous world is photographer Lori Nix.

In her quest to show what a world without humans might look like, Nix has taken up the art of model-making. The resulting creations could easily be used as source material for any number of post-apocalyptic movies, games or TV shows.

Distillation

Thomas Doyle’s Distillation series features a variety of sweet family scenes that have been twisted into something darker: a family’s home is destroyed with a huge crater; beautiful parks are enclosed in glass domes revealing destroyed houses below; a family stares in wonder as their home is now upside down and mostly under ground. The result is a series of beautiful, sad and surreal stories that the viewer must create for themself.

Little People

Street artist Slinkachu has made quite a name for himself over the years by creating striking and fascinating scenes right on the city streets with nothing more than tiny figurines placed in strategic locations.

The art installations have become so popular that Slinkachu has even been able to publish four books of his work and maintain a widely-read blog on the creations.

Pothole Gardens

Steve Wheen’s work is similar to that of Slinkachu in that they both place tiny details outside in the huge real world, but Wheen’s focus is on tiny pothole gardens complete with props for tiny, invisible people.

Like many of the others on this list, Wheen has since published a book of his many projects, titled The Little Book of Little Gardens.

Mini Models

While most model artists either focus on the buildings or the people, Joe Fig is unique in that he constructs entire buildings for his tiny artists to live and work in. Here you can see his interpretation of Jackson Pollock’s massive barn-turned-studio and if you look inside the doorways and windows, you’ll see a tiny version of the master flinging paint across canvas. Interestingly, Fig has even done a self-portrait in the same style, showing him inside his home, working on a tiny version of his own house.

For a deeper look into Fig’s world, you can always take a look at his book, Inside the Painter’s Studio.

Have any of you ever worked on your own models? If so, can you give us some insight on just how much time and effort goes into creating these works of art?

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.
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History
Mütter Museum Showcases the Victorian Custom of Making Crafts From Human Hair
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

During the Victorian era, hair wasn’t simply for heads. People wove clipped locks into elaborate accessories, encased them in frames and lockets, and used them to make wreaths, paintings, and other items. "Woven Strands," a new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, explores this historical practice by featuring dozens of intricate works culled from five private collections.

According to Emily Snedden Yates, special projects manager at the Mütter Museum, hair work—as it’s called today—was common in England and America between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The popularity of the practice peaked in the 19th century, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s prolonged public mourning after her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861. People in both the UK and U.S. responded to her grief, with the latter country also facing staggering death tolls from the Civil War.

With loss of life at the forefront of public consciousness, elaborate mourning customs developed in both nations, and hair work became part of the culture of bereavement. "[The 19th century was] such a sentimental age, and hair is about sentiment," exhibition co-curator Evan Michelson tells Mental Floss. That sentimental quality made hair work fit for both mourning practices as well as for romantic or familiar displays of fondness.

Palette work culled from the collection of Evan Michelson and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Palette work from the collection of Evan Michelson
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Most hair artworks were made by women, and created solely for the domestic sphere or as wearable trinkets. Women relied on multiple techniques to create these objects, fashioning wreaths with hair-wrapped bendable wires—a process called gimp work—and dissolving ground hair into pigments used to paint images of weeping willows, urns, and grave sites. Watch fobs, necklaces, and bracelets were woven using an approach called table work, which involved anchoring hair filaments with lead weights onto a table and using tools to twist them into intricate patterns through a hole in the furniture’s surface. Yet another technique, palette work, involved stenciled sheets of hair that were cut into various shapes and patterns.

Hair work remained popular until World War I, according to Michelson, who co-owns New York City's quirky Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop and organized "Woven Strands" along with 19th century decorative arts expert John Whitenight.

“Women hit the workforce, and death occurred on such a huge scale that it really swept away the old way of mourning and the old way of doing things,” Michelson says. By the early 20th century, tastes and aesthetics had also changed, with hair work beginning to be viewed “as something grandma had,” she explains.

The Mütter’s exhibition aside, people typically won’t see hair work in major museums. Being a craft primarily performed by women at home, hair works were usually passed down in families and often viewed as worthless from a financial and artistic perspective.

“A lot of hair work was discarded,” Michelson says. Many owners repurposed the shadowbox frames often used to display hair work by removing and tossing the artworks within. Works stored in basements and attics also frequently succumbed to water damage and insects. Antique dealers today typically only see hair jewelry, which often featured semi-precious materials or was encased in a protective layer.

Sepia dissolved hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Sepia dissolved hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Yet examples of hair wreaths, palette work, and other delicate heirlooms do occasionally surface. They’re prized by a small group of avid collectors, even though other connoisseurs can be grossed out by them.

“People have this visceral reaction to it,” Michelson says. “They either gasp and adore it—like ‘I can’t get over how amazing it is’—or they just back away. There are very few other things where people are repulsed like this … In the 19th century no one batted an eyelash.”

“It’s a personal textile,” Snedden Yates explains. “It’s kind of like bone in that it doesn’t really decompose at the same rate as the rest of our bodies do. It’s not made of tissue, so if you keep it in the right environment it can be maintained indefinitely.”

Table work culled from the collection of Eden Daniels and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Table work from the collection of Eden Daniels
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

“Woven Strands” features examples of gimp work, palette work, table work, and dissolved hair work. It’s often hard to trace these types of artworks back to their original creators—they typically don’t bear signatures—but the curators “really wanted to find hair that you could connect to an actual human being,” Michelson says. “We chose pieces that have provenance. We know where they came from or when it was made, or who actually donated the hair in some cases, or what the family name was. We also picked out things that are unusual, that you don’t see often—oddities, if you will.”

Woven hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Woven hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Displayed in the Mütter Museum’s Thomson Gallery, “Woven Strands” opens on January 19, 2018, and runs through July 12, 2018. On April 7, 2018, master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will lead a 19th century hair art workshop, followed by a day-long historical symposium on the art on Sunday, April 8.

Michelson hopes that “Woven Strands” will teach future generations about hair art, and open their minds to a craft they might have otherwise dismissed as parochial or, well, weird. “We hope that people see it and fall in love with it,” she says.

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