Willard Wigan: Through the Eye of a Needle

Superlatives are used very easily these days – everything seems to be the biggest, the quickest, the best. But I can say without any doubt that these sculptures are definitely the smallest I have ever seen.

Evolution by Willard Wigan, Photo credit Richard Badderley
‘Evolution’ Photo credit: Richard Badderley

And yet they had a massive impact on me and the boys, leaving us struggling to find the words we felt did them justice.

The sculptures are the work of Willard Wigan, who creates the smallest sculptures in the world. You’ve probably seen photos of them, tiny little works of art which fit in the eye of a needle or on the head of a pin.

Willard has to slow down his heart rate and make the tiny incisions and paintstrokes in between the beats of his heart. Even the throb of the traffic outside could be enough to ruin his work, and each piece takes weeks to complete.

I heard that there was going to be an exhibition of Willard Wigan’s work at the Library of Birmingham, and the boys were keen to go as well, so I duly bought tickets. So after collecting Ollie from school, we battled through the winter weather and rush hour on the M6, making it into town in the nick of time for our slot.

The Library itself deserves a mention here – the building is beautiful from the outside, and a work of art inside. It is light and airy with floors of books that I could easily lose myself in, I could very happily spend a whole day in the Library.

We made our way up to the 3rd floor Gallery, and found that we were the only people there for the 5.30 slot. This was incredibly good luck, because Willard Wigan himself was at the exhibition and it meant that we essentially got a private viewing in the company of the artist.

He showed us his very first miniature work, an ant house that he built when he was 5, and then we moved around the exhibit cases, each with an integrated microscope for us to peer through.

At the risk of using more superlatives, we were blown away by what we saw. You can hardly see anything when you squint with the naked eye, some of the pieces are as small as 0.005mm. But the microscopes’ lenses revealed minute works of art, incredibly detailed, beautifully coloured.

The seesaw on ‘Normalcy’ actually moves, ‘The Hummingbird’ somehow hovers over a tiny rose, and the 13 figures in ‘The Last Supper’ all have distinct facial featuresfeatures and tiny cups. The word ‘amazing’ was used over and over again as we struggled to find words to describe what we were seeing.

The boys both liked the figurine of Usain Bolt and the skateboarder balancing on an eyelash, while my particular favourites were the Hummingbird and the beautiful golden Taj Mahal.

And we were all taken by the reference to Willard’s mother, who encouraged him to keep pushing himself to make ever-smaller works of art. We talked quite a lot afterwards about how it is good to push yourself, rather than settling for just OK.

And of course, meeting Willard himself was an extra treat. He was incredibly friendly, talked to us as we went around the exhibits, fetched a step for Lyle to stand on, and afterwards posed for photos with us. In fact, I guess I have my own personal work of Willard Wigan art, as he took the selfie that you see below!

Photo of Willard Wigan and Sally Akins

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