Author: Suse Coon

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Thursday, November 22nd, 2007 at 12:31 am
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It’s a Small, but Perfectly Formed World

“There are a number of similarities between the work of a professional musician and that of a miniaturist,” claims David Edwards. As a cellist turned craftsman, whose 1/12th scale dollshouse furniture and accessories are in demand all over the world, David is a perfect example and the concentration and stamina which which could once see him through a 5 hour opera, now stands him in good stead for the intensity of making perfect replicas of combs, cotton reels and kitchen implements.

David Edwards“Musicians have to be pretty tough and fit,” says the 71 year old, who exercises by performing stretches, press ups and running most days, “otherwise you get stiff and sore,” he explains. “You need a steady hand. And getting a good line on the wood is like phrasing for the cello.”

David first began making models when he made a doll’s house for his daughters, Kirsty and Rebecca, and then couldn’t find furniture that he liked. He made a replica of the Edinburgh kitchen chair, making all the jigs and templates himself. And the rest, is a huge success story.

First selling chairs through a number of shops, he then saw a gap in the market for other items, like rolling pins. These sold even better and David’s hobby began to threaten his day time job.

The turning point came when the Save the Children Fund held a competition for miniaturists in the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh. David was invited to be a judge and one of the other judges, Robert Clark, the then Chief Executive of the Design Council, suggested David take his work to the Design Council and apply for accreditation.

Career Move

Having been a professional musician since 1958, with Covent Garden Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Edinburgh Quartet and the Scottish National Orchestra, it was a considerable step to giving up a career which had taken great dedication to achieve. But David could see an opportunity to learn a new skill which would give him great satisfaction.

There is nothing sentimental about David’s attitude to his work. He simply looked for a gap in the market and filled it. But not necessarily straight away. David’s models are so painstakingly accurate that their method of production often requires years of development, his crochet threads being a case in point. “It took me 10 years to crack a ball of crochet thread,” he says. “The reflections have to be right. If they are too glossy, it looks like a toy. You want them to have a sheen, not a gloss. I dye a lot of my own threads and produce over 100 colours.

Violin“I pick the difficult things where there are holes in the market and make them look simple,” he says. “I know a good violin, for example, as I’ve been in many violin makers’ workshops and seen violins being made and played.” He knows, for example, that a violin will wear where it rests on the players’ shoulder and his models reflect this intimate detail.

David is an exceptional miniaturist in that he works in a number of different media. He uses recycled ivory, silver, gold and wood. He is such a perfectionist that he seasons his own wood, for up to 20 years. He has a piece of boxwood which is around four hundred years old and some kaurie which is believed to be three thousand years old.

Practise Makes Perfect

David will also practise making some items for at least 2 years before going into production – another attribute common to musicians.

With around 150 items in his repertoire, he never gets bored. “At the moment I’m making violin bows for 4-5 hours a day and I break it up by making cotton reels. The concentration that I trained for helps. You’ve got to be relaxed but focused.

“The most concentrated thing I make is the straight comb. It is 16.5mm long has 44 teeth, each of different size and thickness. This was one of the things that put me on the miniaturists’ map.” The comb is made from offcuts of bassoon rings and is made using just a saw.

“I like to make things with an air of mystery, leaving people wondering how I did it. For instance, how do you turn a pipe?” (The question remains unanswered!)

For doll’s house enthusiasts, making replicas that are as realistic as possible is an art form. It’s fun and can lead to learning about history as well as construction techniques. Most collectors are fascinated by the potential and start out just enjoying it. But, inevitably, they learn to be more discerning and to appreciate the difference between David’s work and something they might manage to produce themselves. While the musical instruments are accurate enough to be played (not that you would be able to hear them) things like the cotton reels and the hour glass are not working models.

Cotton reels“You wouldn’t want to be able to undo a cotton reel,” David says, “as you would never be able to rewind it. And while the sand in the hour glass is heaped as though it had just fallen through, you couldn’t make anything with the weight to actually fall through again and again. The cranked peppermill doesn’t turn but it is a robust item.”

David is particularly proud of his books. It is possible to buy books from other miniaturists. Depending on quality, these will be real leather and folded paper which doesn’t lie flat. David has invented a material which looks like real leather correctly scaled down and his books stay closed. This is just an example of the perfection which is important to David and which sets him apart in the miniature world. His secret is having the patience to keep experimenting until it is just right and then practising.

David at workBy his side in the third floor workshop of his Edinburgh home are his notes with detailed instructions for each item.

“If you don’t make something for a while, it helps to be able to remind yourself of all the little tips you’ve learnt,” he explains. “If you’re an amateur and just making one of something for your own collection, then you can take as long as you like, but when you are mass producing items, you need to work efficiently.”

Great Demand

David’s miniatures are in great demand throughout the world. He exhibits at the Miniatura Shows in Edinburgh and the Birmingham NEC as well as at the Kensington Dollshouse Festival, where he will have a few items for sale. But his most specialised items are simply no longer available as David has closed his order books with a seven year waiting list.

If you have had the foresight to have purchased one of these works of art, you are very fortunate. As are David’s daughters, and granddaughter Zoe, who is due to inherit that historical doll’s house, which began David’s journey into this fascinating world.

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