(Subtitle: the devil is in the details.)
Men have hobbies: fishing, running, collecting stamps, burning things (my brother’s hobby).
Mike makes tiny people. Tiny soldiers, mostly. I was going to say he paints them but that hardly shows the complete picture. His hobby is usually referred to as military miniatures but I’ve always called them little guys. Most are between two to four inches tall.
Mike has been doing this since his childhood. He spends countless hours hunched over a small crowded table wearing over-sized magnifying glasses while scraping, sawing, gluing, painting, and swearing. He chooses his subjects from paintings and not infrequently, our travels. His attention span and dedication to this is simply remarkable. The finished products are also pretty remarkable. He’s begun entering his figures in little guy shows and I’m probably more excited than he is when his work receives recognition.
The talent associated with this hobby is quite amazing, and I suspect, mostly unknown to the general public. (Admit it — did you know anything about punkin chunkin before I pointed it out? I’m broadening your horizons again. You’re welcome.) This is a mostly male-dominated undertaking, probably due to its military focus, but a “fantasy” category is nipping around military’s heels, and there are a few very talented women participants. There is even an award-winning husband and wife team (not Mike and I: my metier lies in making things from junk such as bottle caps or corks or soda cans). There are many military miniature and plastic modeling clubs throughout the U.S. where members meet to share techniques and work on their latest projects together. Some of these are also involved in historic or art preservation.
We recently attended a little guy show at the Valley Forge, PA casino that seems to be one of the premiere United States events, bringing sculptors and painters from Italy, Spain and Greece. In the U.S. at least, there are no cash prizes at these shows; only medals and certificates are awarded. For viewing, all figures are set on tables raised to be nearly at eye level — remember how small these figures are. Advil for acute backache would have to be issued at the door if the tables were left at their normal height. It’s fascinating to me to see these men revolving around the tables, leaning in carefully, peering and admiring and photographing, even using a magnifying glass. The shows are a circuit for many of them, and a goodly number are former military and well acquainted with each other.
Usually there is a separate vendor area (vendors are also on a show circuit) of detritus required for a well-rounded appreciation of this pastime, and this show’s room was full up with books, model kits, memorabilia, antique toys, (not always tasteful) clothing, DVDs, and other essentials and nice-to-haves. Need a head? They come in a package of six, each one about the size of a fingernail. Accoutrements? Buy a bag of canteens, eyeglasses or rifles. Horses come in galloping and standing poses. If the horse has to be otherwise positioned, such as in a fall or turning its head, the customization is up to the artist, who will either scratch-build (mold or sculpt) or cut and paste an existing piece. These methods apply to any of the figures, not just the horses. Each figure or prop (rocks, boxes, signposts, flags) is prepared individually and frequently assembled onto a base as a group piece, referred to as a diorama or vignette. Single figures are also mounted on bases for individual display. The effort, skill, and time involved here is simply astonishing. It is no small feat (pun unintentional) to achieve a correct skin tone or fabric draping or facial grimace.
I’ve said this is not a photography blog but words are not going to come close to conveying what I’ve seen at these shows. Below are photos we took at the Valley Forge show and photos I snagged from other sources. There are also links for some clubs and upcoming shows, as well as a favorite place or two we’ve frequented over the years. Have a look. (Please.) Go ahead. Be amazed.
Mike’s figure for the Valley Forge show:
Military miniatures, aka little guys, little guy enthusiasts and the vendor area at Valley Forge. Some photos were taken by Penny Meyer:
And some links for you to check out. Maybe you’d like to have a closer look at little guys coming to an area near you!