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Our story about The World's Smallest Sculptures prompted a Californian reader to send us this interesting email: "At our Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles everything is in miniature, including whole tableaus made on grains of rice, prayers on pinheads, etc.

"Then there's the story of competition to make the tiniest electronic switch, with MIT sending one to Caltech that said on it 'How's this?' The words could only be read with a microscope. Caltech sent it back, and the MIT fellows thought it unchanged... until they used an electron microscope, and found the words 'not bad'."

We searched the Museum's website, and found a story about an amazing microminiaturist, Hagop Sandaldjian (1931-1990), a little-known professor of violin ergonomics, who created tiny painted sculptures inside needle-eyes.

Born in Egypt, he developed a love of music, and began playing the violin as a teenager. He made a name for himself as a musician in Moscow, before settling in Yerevan, Armenia with his wife and their two children.

He became interested in microminiature sculpture, taking as long as 14 months to complete a single project.

"An unexpected sneeze or misdirected breath could blow away a microminiature with hurricane force, while a casual movement could sabotage the work of months," says the author of The Eye of the Needle, a slim book issued by California's Museum of Jurassic Technology, which exhibits many of his works.

"Since even a pulse in his fingers could cause an accident, Sandaldjian ultimately learned to apply his decisive strokes only between heartbeats.

"Hagop and his family emmigrated to the United States in 1980... During the next decade, he produced a new collection of 33 miniatures... Inhabiting the margins between dream and reality, these figures of impossible dimensions appear at once banal and elusive, meticulously crafted and dreamily insubstantial.

"Each nearly weightless sculpture seems to hover between its slim hold on the material plane and the lucid and immeasurable reality of a mental image. Straddling the line between science, craft, art, and novelty, Sandaldjian's work befuddles our ability to make such distinctions, and in so doing, opens a space for wonder."

On the other hand, Californian critic Stephen Fowler is politely skeptical. "Sandaldjian's creations - colorful figures poised on or inside the eyes of needles, or painted directly onto split grains of rice or individual hairs - are at the very least amusing, and at their best, profound," he wrote in a book review.

"Certainly Rugoff's superbly worded rumination on the microminiatures adds to their impact - an impact which in person can only be perceived through a 25x microscope.

"One odd aspect of the book, and I suppose of microminiature generally, is that its truthfulness must be accepted on faith. (Art too small to be viewed by the naked eye doesn't play well to skeptics.)

"Indeed, the possibility that the entire project is an elaborate hoax cannot be ruled out. Sandaldjian's biography (complete with family photos), his ergonomics monograph, and of course his astonishing microminiatures - all are presented with such solemn formality as to seem vaguely suspect; how can things so unlikely be so flatly and earnestly real?"


Almond stone(?); the front is carved with a Flemish landscape in which is seated a bearded man wearing a biretta, a long tunic of classical character, and thick-soled shoes; he is seated with a viol held between his knees while he tunes one of the strings.

In the distance are representations of animals, including a lion, a bear, an elephant ridden by a monkey, a boar, a dog, a donkey, a stag, a camel, a horse, a bull, a bird, a goat a lynx, and a group of rabbits: the latter under a branch on which sit an owl, another bird and a squirrel.

On the back is shown an unusually grim Crucifixion, with a soldier on horseback, Longinus piercing Christ's side with a lance, the cross is surmounted by a titulus inscribed INRI. Imbricated ground.

Dimensions: Length 13 mm Width 11 mm. --Museum of Jurassic Technology website.



Copyright 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted July 2003

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