It is two years since I was writing about Miniatura.
Just in case you are a new reader, please allow me to enlighten you. Miniatura is the miniature art show that has been in existence since the eighties, of the last century. I visited it then and have attended as an exhibitor for about thirty years. There have been a couple of years that I missed recently with broken arms, cancer and the disastrous aftermath of surgery. The disaster coincided with the pandemic that caused the show to be cancelled at the last minute two years ago. I wrote about it up until the cancellation and showed you the dolls I was making for the show. Miniatura began again last autumn but I still wasn’t really well enough to do the show.
There have been shows of numerous kinds for the dolls’ house hobby, in its current flowering since the 1970s. This hobby has flourished like a weed for several thousand years. The first inklings of it that have survived can be glimpsed in museums across the world which house ancient Egyptian tomb artefacts. The Pharaohs of long ago liked to face the afterlife well provided with everything they had enjoyed in life. Where the items they would require were too big to be accommodated in a tomb, modellers provided all that was necessary in miniature. Buildings, boats, people, animals, everything in scale and as detailed as was required to ensure the artefacts would be correct on the other side of life. They were a wish list. Whilst you will undoubtedly find samples in a big museum near you, I have found the Ashmolean museum to have a good a collection for our purposes. the many models of buildings, livestock and people are made with such love and care, you only have to look at them to see the work of an undoubted miniaturist. The care with the modelling, painting and details is not just paid work, it is obviously work in which the delight in the construction has eliminated all drudgery. I write as someone who has made in miniature for thirty years and interviewed artisans for a long time; there is always a point at which the art takes over and there you are, lost in a little world of your own making, making it as perfect as you can because only that will do.
Ancient Roman households had small altars with figures of gods, offerings and oil lamps. These miniature models of heaven were found wherever the Roman Empire flexed its claws. Not dolls’ houses as such but sufficiently widespread miniature modelling to ensure that you could consider going into production as a job.
The weed then sprang to life in various famous examples of villages and individual houses. Five hundred years ago the miniature house was a teaching aid for any aristocratic little girl whose future was to be running an important household.
Between the first and second world wars Queen Mary sought to lift the spirits of the nation by commissioning a dolls’ house, which still resides at Windsor Castle. She ensnared the famous in various disciplines, who produced in miniature whatever they were notorious for in large. Writers wrote miniature books, painters painted miniature paintings, furniture makers made furniture and so on. This high profile interest has nourished the weed for a hundred years to date, and took what had become a Victorian children’s toy into the realms of legitimate adult interest miniature art. Which is where the hobby was when I found it, or it found me.
What makes Miniatura so very good, in my frequently banged on about opinion, is that it was founded by Muriel Hopwood for the purpose of giving miniaturists a place to exhibit in the Midlands of Great Britain that was easy to get to and didn’t cost a lot to exhibit in or visit. Wonderfully, the show, now run by Muriel’s son, Andy, has never lost sight of the original intention that it was a show by miniaturists for miniaturists. At one point, about twenty years ago, the show itself became very famous, at which point the organisers were besieged by tradesmen wanting to make money and urging the organisers to expand the show or wedge another few stands in by the toilets or on the way in. The organisers stuck to their guns, exhibition was by qualification by committee examination. No mass cheap imports, no stands that have nothing to do with miniatures. Nothing that’s not good enough. The entire show is about miniatures and miniaturists and always has been. It’s a great day out because every single stand is relevant to the hobby. Aware of the variety of miniaturists, the aisles have always been wide enough for wheel chair users’ comfort. There is always a place to sit and eat your sandwiches. The focus is on the miniatures and seeing the miniatures.
At one point I became quite famous too, writing the funny column, and anything else for a variety of magazines. I was then begged by other show organisers to do their shows elsewhere. I have not done so, except for a couple of small charity shows, for a friend. Part of the problem is that everything on my table is hand made by me. I usually have close to a thousand items, certainly many hundreds, mostly porcelain. If you are visiting my stand I like to have a lot for you to look at and to know you cannot get it anywhere else. And I think that’s the point of a hobby day out. I keep my prices very modest because when I started the only money I had to spend on miniatures was gathered by missing meals. I once worked out that I was working for 43p an hour. It’s just as well I’m not employed, I’d have to sack myself. But you know if you like my style of miniatures, which have always been naïve and doll-like (because I like dolls and it is the dolls’ house, you know – when they’re made of porcelain, you’re just temporary), you’ll be buying something you cannot get anywhere else in the world for a pocket money price.
Because it is about the hobby. It is about the collecting, the making, the absorption into a smaller, better world of your own designing.
Only occasionally does reality intrude. Such as, for example, a global pandemic.
I will keep writing about the show and hope to be there and see you there. It is the weekend of the 19th and 20th of March 2022 at the NEC, if the pandemic does not do another surge, if the government does not change the rules.
If you are a miniaturist exhibiting at the show and would like to be featured here, please get in touch. For details about the show which is still an astoundingly original, modestly priced day out with a hall full of world class original artists working in many disciplines (it’s good, it’s really good) please click on the link below.