The great little world of miniatures, a microcosm of talent and creativity beyond dollhouses
Few people get to make their childhood hobby a way of life. David Iriarte has not only achieved it, but has managed to be one of the best in the world in his field: miniatures. “It all started in my childhood, when he made all kinds of models and wooden items in the family carpentry,” he explains about his first steps. At just 38 years old, he has become one of the great references in miniaturism inside and outside Spain thanks to his meticulous scale reproductions of all types of furniture, with special emphasis on “English and French furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries”. , points Iriarte. The process behind each piece —created on a 1/12 scale, the most common standard measure— is laborious and is not limited to manufacturing as such, but there is a whole prior stage of research and preparation. According to him, he details, all the works begin by creating his plans and an extensive photographic report. “Sometimes, the museums themselves (where some of the original pieces are found) collaborate,” he says. The time depends on the difficulty of the cabinetmaking techniques applied, with pieces that involve more than seven months of work.
Just as creative calligraphy, sewing or ceramics have become booming hobbies in an age where manual labor serves as an antidote to stress, miniaturism also has something therapeutic and romantic about it. Laborious techniques are put into practice that can disappear sooner or later. That was one of the great concerns of Cristina Noriega, a miniaturist for 47 years: “I have always been self-taught and, although I have taught a course, I was very sorry that all the knowledge and techniques that I have acquired based on trial and error get lost, but my daughter has started working with me two years ago,” says Noriega, a nurse by profession. She started making ship models before turning to dollhouses and she ensures that all her furniture, appliances and rooms are faithful replicas of others that are in palaces or museums. In many cases, she makes pieces to order, but, in general, she chooses the works she does and every year presents them at international fairs, such as the one in Chicago (USA), one of the most important in the sector along with the one in London. .
At the Chicago fair, Fernando Setién is also usually seen to show his pieces to the public. He left behind 26 years dedicated to carpentry to turn completely to furniture miniatures five years ago. But, unlike Iriarte’s work, in his case he prefers to create contemporary pieces, something unusual that shows how miniaturism begins to move towards new horizons. Setién works solid wood with techniques typical of conventional manufacturing. “I try to apply the procedure of making a piece of furniture on a real scale to the miniature. The final result allows the miniature to be as realistic as possible”, points out this micro carpenter of Uruguayan origin and settled in Barcelona. His furniture could well be part of a modern home, if it weren’t for the fact that the chairs are seven centimeters high and the tables are about six centimeters in size. Prices for the pieces, sold mainly online to customers in England and the United States, range from €400 for a wardrobe to €135 for a leather-upholstered walnut chair.
From vintage furniture to tiny food
The miniatures are part of an ancient practice, but in transformation, as evidenced by the new currents that circulate on the internet around this form of crafts. Classic Victorian-style dollhouses and model trains cross our minds when we think of miniaturism, but anything can be recreated in a tiny version. On social networks there are specialized profiles that demonstrate the possibilities of this microcosm beyond the traditional and, incidentally, discover this particular universe to an audience with an average age much younger than that of the usual collectors. From technological gadgets to food or plants, a lack of skill and imagination are the only limits when it comes to shrinking reality.
In the spring of 2022, Stephanie Nguyen, along with her husband and daughter, began sharing videos of cooking miniature food on TikTok and Instagram. A slice of pizza the size of a fingernail, a hamburger that you can hold with your fingertip, some salmon rolls that would fit in a thimble… simple recipes and other more complex ones that are often finished off with a can of beer, Also in small size. The preparation of the dishes does not differ from the usual procedures, but adapted utensils are needed. “We find things on the internet, in local craft stores, in our children’s toy box… If we don’t find something, we make it ourselves,” says the creator of the account. All the food is real, so sometimes the tricky part is “finding miniature ingredients,” Nguyen says. The hardest part? Getting the cooking point of the mini-food right — “it goes without saying that we have burned many dishes” — since its heat source does not have a temperature adjustment. The easiest? “Washing the dishes when we’re done recording,” she jokes. The success of this curious trend is not limited to the digital sphere and there are already television programs focused on the theme of tiny food, such as Tiny Food Fightera kind of masterchef with miniature plates aired in the United States on Discovery+.
Nor is Susana López del Toro, the journalist behind the Lilliput Library project, intimidated by technical difficulties. His fascination with models and dioramas also began in childhood. Affected by photosensitivity since she was a child, the long afternoons at home awakened her imagination and her ability for the plastic arts: “I have always been attracted to miniatures, small objects and tiny books. As a child, my favorite toys were the Hogarín and the Barriguitas dolls, which fit in the palm of the hand, and my first readings were the stories from the collection Microbewhich were some die-cut volumes only five centimeters high ”, he remembers those childhood years of discovery.
After several decades dedicated to journalism, for some years the manual work of the dioramas has taken up all her time. It all began in 2009, when the Library of Castilla-La Mancha offered him to exhibit his personal collection of little books in a room in the Alcázar de Toledo. The exhibition was a success and, 14 years later, López del Toro can boast of having participated in more than 50 exhibitions in cultural and commercial spaces. The constructions that she makes are like the garden of delights of Hieronymus Bosch, works dotted with tiny hidden details, trompe l’oeil, elements that should be looked at twice and recycled objects that enjoy a second life thanks to the creative eye of the miniaturist. “I am the one who insists on making things difficult because I always want to go one step further. when i performed Gutenberg’s workshop I insisted on covering the lower third of the walls with a natural reddish slate stone similar to the one from the quarry that was in Mainz, the ancient city where the first printer founded his workshop”, he says. Faced with the impossibility of traveling to the German city, he looked for “something similar in Spain” and went to the Cíjara reservoir in Cáceres “to select little stones”, which he later had to carve by hand to make them fit. Tradition, artisan techniques and new trends that discover the most playful character of the miniatures define the near horizon of a job where expertise and talent will always be essential requirements.