We recently enjoyed an afternoon at the Toy and Miniature Museum on the UMKC campus in Kansas City, Missouri, during which they hosted the International Guild of Miniature Artisans. There were about 60 artisans present from around the world. The show was juried which pretty much guaranteed that it was comprised of at least some of the best in the world at making miniatures.
The standard for miniatures is that everything is at 1/12 scale – one inch equals one foot. While I was certain before attending this show that I was going to see a lot of miniature furniture, I was surprised to learn that they also miniaturize virtually everything that you can imagine including, tapestries, people, animals, clothing, flowers, trees, pottery, paintings and even the tools to do all these things.
My favorite was a couple from India who made fine furniture replicas. As a forester and woodworker, I was especially interested in the species of wood they were using because with fine furniture, you have to also miniaturize the grain characteristics or the piece may look fake or plastic. In other words, you have to use very tight-grain wood from trees that grow terribly slowly to allow the miniature furniture to look real.
One of my favorite furniture pieces by the man from India was a round table that can be cranked open so that additional leaves can be added to increase the diameter. In fact, he made two sets of leaves so that he could increase the size even larger. I actually have seen videos of such a full-scale table. One of our Kansas City Woodworkers’ Guild members made and demonstrated one of these tables at our meeting.
Another fine piece of woodworking style that I saw exhibited by several artisans, including a young woman from Moscow, Russia, was the use of marquetry inlay in the tops of furniture. Even the grain of the edge inlays was done in herringbone and all of the wood was natural color. They used holly for white, ebony for black, and cherry, walnut and maple for shades of brown.
Probably the most common wood for these miniature pieces of fine furniture was pear. The girl from Moscow told me that she uses it in its natural brown but also showed me pieces that she steamed to create a pinkish hue and some that she smoked to darken the hues.
I was totally amazed to see not only miniature pottery, but also the miniature pottery wheels they used to turn the bowls, vases, plates, etc. They also painted most of the pottery in miniature patterns fashioned after the real stuff.
Another artisan specialized in Shaker furniture, hand-woven baskets and cheese boxes. Even the reed used in the baskets was thinned to the 1/12 scale to be accurate so that the finished baskets looked right.
One artisan from London made clothing to represent 18th century London fashions. She used the fine shavings of leather called skivings to make the jackets. Even the stitching in the clothing by the various artisans was done to scale.
You could expect to pay nearly as much for one of these miniatures as you would for full scale, at least when it comes to the fine furniture.
If you are interested in this subject, check out the International Guild of Miniature Artisans and consider attending their annual workshops in Maine to learn how to become a miniature artisan.
Matt Nowak is a retired natural resources specialist and lives in Lansing.