A Small But Mighty Miniature Show

An Edmonton exhibit showcases everyday objects shrunk to dollhouse proportions
By Alex Cyr
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April 29, 2024

Canada is mad for all things micro. Carefully designed homes as small as shoeboxes are selling for thousands of dollars, and you can fill them with inch-wide kitchen pots and loonie-size charcuterie boards. Variations of the hashtag #miniature have amassed more than 830,000 videos on TikTok. The tiny-everything craze has even received the Great British Bake-Off treatment: the third season of CBC Gem’s Best in Miniature premiered in December of 2023.

Minutiae, a new exhibit on display at the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton, plays on our newfound miniature mania. The gallery of 54 tiny objects forces onlookers to stare—and squint—at everyday items reduced to a fraction of their size and to relish the meticulous handiwork of artists from across the country.

The idea of featuring tiny art came to Alberta Craft Council’s exhibitions coordinator Jill Allan and her colleagues last spring, as they admired a co-worker’s necklace, decorated with a tiny silver chair. “Miniatures lure you in,” says Allan. “They bring a lot of joy that hearkens back to childhood.” In the fall of 2023, the Council put out a call for miniature art projects and received 120 submissions. Among them: a two-inch-high lookout beach tower, a teen’s bedroom reduced to nine cubic inches and minuscule plastic planters hanging in macrame holders. Allan and her team spent much of February and March unwrapping projects in delight.

The exhibit, which runs until June 15, occupies the first floor of a century-old warehouse. Some pieces on display are whimsical: Stacy Burnett’s Party Ham Mold is a tiny take on the aesthetically pleasing but gustatorily questionable aspic salad. Others point to harsher realities, like Jenna Gal’s depiction of rodents finding shelter in a plastic bag. Some creations are even fully functional: Allan received a ready-to-assemble miniature pottery studio with a tiny wheel and clay chunks for throwing.

Artists from all disciplines were excited to work on a small scale. Tradespeople like potters and woodworkers minified their daily craft. Milt Fischbein, a metalsmith, made tiny candlesticks with silver wires typically used to create jewelry. Seasoned miniature makers also answered the call, like Indigenous artist Lance Cardinal, who built a stately, nine-by-five-foot residential school. Projects took up to 200 hours to complete, and some artists even created their own mark-making tools because versions as small as they needed did not exist. The exhibit doubles as a sale for miniature collectors: nearly every craft is up for grabs, priced between $30 and $3,700; several have already sold. Here, Allan tells us stories behind some tiny masterpieces that are making huge waves.

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Footnotes (Portrait of the Artist as a Wooden Box) by Caitlin Burrell
"Miniatures are typically made to sit on bookshelves—but this one is built right inside a book. Caitlin constructed a little workshop that displays drafts and works in progress. She wanted to evoke the spirit of creation: trying things, having moving parts that you can adjust—a little stage for life. If you look closer, you can see there is print on thumb-size pages.”

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Catalog of Miniature in Hong Kong Homemade Meals Design by Bonnie Lai
“Bonnie pulled from her childhood memories in creating three tiny food menus, which have all become crowd-pleasers. She used clay and watercolour to create three-dimensional detail in every dish, making these eggs, fish and meat look as tasty as they are in real life.”

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Mini Moccasin by Amber Weasel-Head
“Amber does a lot of beadwork. Her craftsmanship is precise here: she made these moccasins by shaping a tiny bed of melton and elk hide into a shoe, and then laying tiny beads on top for decoration.”

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Big Horn by Glenda Rowley
“Inspired by Gulliver’s Travels, Glenda wanted to work on a Lilliputian scale and for viewers to lean into her work. This two-by-two-inch piece is meticulous. It’s very difficult to wrangle fuzzy felt at that scale and make a large animal look so tiny, but she worked carefully and simply using just wool and needle. She even makes it look three-dimensional.”

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Basket 1 by Anna Burger-Martindale
“This copper-wire basket carries a real raspberry, giving us a clear idea of scale. Anna was actually an inspiration for this exhibit; last year, we had a regular-sized furniture show, and she sent a tiny silver bench and a chair.”

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Refugee by Jenna Gal
“Jenna was thinking of the massive wildfires that destroyed so much forest in Western Canada. They led to all these little creatures having no homes and being forced to urbanize and adapt to human structures and garbage. This piece depicts little mice taking shelter in a discarded plastic grocery bag. It’s just a few centimetres from tip to tip, but it resonates with people. It was the first piece in the exhibit to sell.”

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Party Ham Mold by Stacy Burnett
“Aspic salads—a family dinner staple back in the ’60s and ’70s—are gorgeous on one level but disgusting at the same time. It took Stacy almost 100 hours to model all these teeny-tiny vegetables and eggs using polymer clay.”

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Toolbox Jewellery Set by Stephanie Elderfield
“This piece features little tools, like a tiny lock and screwdrivers that double as earrings. Stephanie is a miniaturist who downsizes ordinary objects but keeps them functional. She’s made tiny gardening tools such as cans, pitchforks and hatchets, and even fishhook earrings.”

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St. Martin’s Mission School by Lance Cardinal
“Lance’s grandparents attended the real-life St. Martin’s Catholic Mission School in Alberta. At nine feet by five feet, this one is a giant miniature­—one of the largest artworks we’re featuring. It’s also moving: you think of a dollhouse at first, then you look closer and consider the kids who went to residential schools. Details elevate its eeriness: the building is weathered, and the trees in front and leaf litter show that it’s autumn, which is when Indigenous children were forced to come back to school.”