Through the eye of a needle
The pinnacle of handmade miniatures would have to be sculptures that are smaller than the eye of a needle. The hands down master currently is Willard Wigan MBE. An artist who started his career at only 5 years old when he decided to start building homes for ants, he has continued to impress the world with his micro creations, the artist is often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Wigan works primarily through the night, as even traffic noise from outside can destroy a piece he is working on. Using micro tools on a microscopic work field, he must control not only his pulse rate, but his breathing, as he has inhaled a few of his masterpieces, due to a poorly timed inhale.
Long considered a symbol of throughout the Asian world, rice has always held a position of high esteem and respect, not to mention being a daily staple food source around the world. It’s only natural that respect for this most humble of grains would evolve into it’s own field of art. Rice writing originated in ancient Turkey and India, and one of the oldest known examples of this art is housed to this day in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. To have a grain of rice with your name written on it is still thought to be quite a lucky charm, so many companies have made a small fortune by providing such services. Most of these tiny art pieces are suspended in small glass vials filled with mineral oil, to help magnify the writing on the minuscule grain.
Guinness World Record for the smallest handmade chess set was awarded in 2006, and goes to M. Manikandan of Srivilliputtur, Tamil Nadu, India. His incredible creation has a chess board only 24 mm square. As for the playing pieces themselves, the largest piece is 10 mm high and the smallest is half that at 5 mm. A further search for mini chess sets revealed a beautiful solid gold set for sale on E-bay that also measured 24 x 24 mm. The owner has used slightly over 6 grams of 22 carat gold for which he is seeking 100,000 rupees. Though that may sound like a king’s ransom, converted into US dollars, the amount comes down to a less staggering $2,175, or 1560 Euros.
That’s the pits
What to do with those pesky pits that we find in our everyday foods. For centuries those pits from peaches, plums, cherries and olives have been thrown away with the garbage. But for quite of few folks with the ache to create, and with an extremely steady hand, those very pits are the “core” of their calling. The inspiration for this list, Mott’s Miniature’s had quite a “large” collection of pit carvings that can be viewed at their website. The American artist Bob Shamey has been featured by Ripley’s Believe It or Not not just once, but twice, for his carvings. At the National Palace Museum in Taiwan there is an olive pit carving of a tiny boat, with working shutters and facial expressions on all eight passengers.
One of the many “humble” art mediums, matchsticks have been used to create a cavalcade of various structures and masterpieces. Commonly referred to as folkart, matchstick miniatures have also been classed as another form of “prisonart”, although the creators of such hardly need to have served time behind bars. The amount of art developed in this medium is immense, with artists each having their own vision of what they would like to produce, whether it be stick carvings, match head sculptures, or homages to the engineering feats of mankind from every culture and civilization, created from minute lumber, one stick at a time.
Interesting trivia: The origin of matchsticks can well be dated back to 3500 BC. The Egyptians developed a small pinewood stick with a coating of a combustible sulfur mixture.
Called Quasihesma, these minutely small bees come from Cape York in Queensland. Known as the smallest species of bee, these little guys are only 2mm long. That’s approximately the size of the head of a pin. They come from the family Colletidae, and are often referred to collectively as plasterer bees, due to the method of smoothing the walls of their nest cells with secretions applied with their mouthparts; these secretions dry into a cellophane-like lining. Another distinction of this group of bees is that they are solitary bees. Although they have been known to build nest in groups, they do not manufacture hives.
Insect powered aircraft
There are ancients stone tablets from the city of Ur that observe the natural flying power of the common housefly. The ancient Egyptians mused about how the housefly’s powers may provide insight to the Pharaoh’s journey into the Afterlife. Even the great Nikola Tesla had a curiosity about insect power, as excerpted here.
“His sixteen-bug-power motor was, likewise, not an unqualified success. This was a light contrivance made of splinters forming a windmill, with a spindle and pulley attached to live June bugs. When the glued insects beat their wings, as they did desperately, the bug-power engine prepared to take off. This line of research was forever abandoned however when a young friend dropped by who fancied the taste of June bugs. Noticing a jarful standing near, he began cramming them into his mouth. The youthful inventor threw up.” Adopted from “Tesla: Man out of time”, by Margaret Cheney, 1981.
Dr. Richard Brewer is given credit with manufacturing the first prototype fly powered airplane in 1949, constructed of balsa wood and the cellophane from a pack of . Reportedly Dr. Brewers prototype plane was delivered to the Smithsonian Institute’s National during the 1960’s. Insect powered aircraft have become quite a well followed hobby with many websites devoted to blueprints and instructions to construct miniature planes that utilize houseflies or flying beetles as their motors.
In 2007 nanotechnology was pushed to another extreme when Technion inscribed the entire Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible onto a space less than half the size of a grain of sugar. The team etched the 300,000 words of the Bible onto a tiny silicone surface less than .5 mm square by blasting the silicone with gallium ions.
The previous smallest, known, copy of the Bible measured 2.8 x 3.4 x 1 centimeters (1.1 x 1.3 x 0.4 inches), weighing 11.75 grams (0.4 ounces) and containing 1,514 pages, according to spokeswoman Amarilis Espinoza. The tiny text, obtained by an Indian professor in November, 2001, is believed to have originated in Australia.
Nanotechnology, nanorobotics, nanomachines. An ever expanding field of expected to revolutionize . The simplest, (though hardly simple), of nano machines are being constructed for biological study to better understand the mechanics of the cell, and all it’s natural capabilities. The hope is that humans may be able to replicate some of these functions, towards the better health of mankind in the future. Science envisions great strides in the fields of molecular biology, medicine, chemistry, physics, and nanocomputers through the development of these microscopic motors. Many of these machines are as small as 1/2 the width of a human hair and others are so small several hundred would fit in the space of the period at the end of this sentence.
Seashells in the sand
Not to be confused with microscopic plankton and diatoms, these are indeed fully formed seashells on a minuscule scale. A great many societies world-wide have divisions devoted to the study and worship of these tiny homes that can be found in sand samples from around the world. And remember that impossibly tiny as these shells are, inhabitants were even smaller, as they had to fit within. There is no evidence, so far, of any species of hermit crab that may have used these microshells as a borrowed home.