It's a Small, Small World

Willard Wigan's amazing artwork is so small it can fit on a pinhead.


Aug. 6, 2007 — -- Willard Wigan's artwork is so tiny a microscope is needed to view it.

The Birmingham, England, native is known as the creator of the world's smallest sculptures. He makes small worlds of their own that are almost invisible to the naked eye -- such as a $300,000 sculpture that sits on a pinhead. Under a microscope, you see an elephant carved from a fragment of a single grain of sand.

"The tail is made from a floating particle of dust out of the air that you see floating," Wigan explained.

How does he do it? Wigan uses tiny, homemade tools to carve his sculptures out of grains of rice or sugar, and paints them with a hair plucked from a housefly's back. He said he's able to slow his heart down to work between the beats to avoid hand tremors.

"Underneath a microscope, those tremors become an earthquake," he said.

Making his sculptures, all smaller than the head of a pin or the eye of a needle, is painstaking work indeed. According to Wigan, his obsession with tiny objects began when he was a lonely 5-year-old.

"I have learning difficulties. You know, I can't read or write. But I had to find a way of expressing myself. The teachers at school made me feel small, so they made me feel like nothing. So I had to show them something."

He started by making houses for ants as a child, and now he creates entire, tiny worlds.

Wigan said he does not enjoy the creative process. "I enjoy finishing it, not working on it, no. It's misery. It's painstaking."

But Wigan has something to prove, which makes the misery worthwhile. "I'm trying to prove to the world that nothing doesn't exist. It doesn't matter how big a building is, it's made up of molecules. We ignore the world that we can't see."

Wigan's work is certainly not being ignored. He spent 3½ months re-creating the iconic Lloyds of London building in white gold, the size of a grain of sugar.

The minute replica that took so long to create took four minutes to auction -- for the price of $190,000. But Wigan claims the big auction payoffs have nothing to do with his work. "I've never done the work for the money. I've done it because I could do it."

Working with the tiny art is precarious; he described working on a second Alice in Wonderland, because he lost the first one. "I was carrying her toward the needle, and then I looked again through the microscope and she'd gone. I think I inhaled her."

The key to Wigan's success is patience. "The pain is so much after maybe a month and a half of doing something most people would just cry or fall over or go into shock … or smash things up. So I think I'm the most patient man on earth right now," he said.

With the patience to build a doll the size of a human blood cell, Wigan said the ultimate satisfaction is in the reaction of admirers. "The job satisfaction is people like yourself admiring it and being surprised and being shocked and being amazed. You know, people's mouths drop open in disbelief."

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