Small Talk Tag: William R. Robertson

Miniature Masterworks: William R. Robertson

A childhood spent visiting the Smithsonian Institution gave William R. Robertson a lifelong love of history and art that he has applied to the world of miniatures. His furniture, tool boxes, and mechanical instruments reflect his interest in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American, English, Dutch, and French decorative arts. Robertson enjoys the challenge of making complex, functioning pieces that require hours of historical research and specially made tools.

Robertson is one of more than sixty artists participating in Miniature Masterworks, September 15-17, 2017.

Through the Looking Glass

Rococo Mirror

With its gilded C-shaped curves intertwined with floral vines, this miniature mirror is unmistakably Rococo style. Popular in Europe in the eighteenth century, Rococo style came to America via imported furniture, immigrant craftsmen, and pattern books. The full-scale inspiration for this work came from a Rococo mirror in the collection of the Winterthur Museum, attributed to Philadelphia furniture maker James Reynolds.

In creating the tiny looking glass, artist William R. Robertson researched the original mirror to determine scaled measurements. Using precision tools, he then carved the mirror’s frame in wood. Lastly, the frame was coated in gold leaf and fitted with a small mirror. The result is a Rococo miniature masterpiece worthy of taking a selfie in!

To Build a Better Mousetrap

Mousetrap

One of the earlier works of miniature artist William R. Robertson in T/m’s collection is his simple and beautiful Hepplewhite Mousetrap, created in 1979. Fashioned after a Georgian-era design, the work is comprised of wood and brass. Although it is on display in a separate case in our miniature gallery, it would fit right in to Robertson’s stately miniature Twin Manors.

The mousetrap is slightly smaller than an inch long and consists of 77 individual pieces. Of course, like many of Robertson’s other works, the mousetrap is fully functional. If an extra-tiny mouse (or maybe a small cricket!) were to crawl inside, the arm would unlatch to lower the front gate, trapping an unlucky critter. Since time began, inventers have always sought a way to “invent a better mousetrap.” We think this one really takes the cake, or the cheese as it were.

A Classroom of Design: Sun and Sprinklers

William R. Robertson

While we’ve examined some of the furnishings in William R. Robertson’s Architecture Classroom, we have yet to focus in on the architectural elements… imagine that!

Chain-operated shades allow students to control the amount of sunlight coming through the skylight. And the amount of light is super important for the blueprint maker. The blueprint maker, copied from Oscar Perrigo’s 1906 Modern Machine Shop Construction, Equipment, and Management, is equipped with photo-sensitive paper mounted in glass frames. The paper can be easily exposed to sunlight by rolling it out in front of the windows. Voila blueprint!

Last but not least, in case of an emergency, Robertson researched Grinnell sprinkler head patents to ensure that the ones installed in the classroom were just right; those above the students’ heads are from an 1892 patent. Now that’s some starchitect-level attention to detail!

A Classroom of Design

Miniature architecture

While many students are excited to be out of school for the summer, we’re going to head back inside to take a closer look at our favorite classrooms: William R. Robertson’s Architect’s Classroom. Crafted over 2,000 hours between 1988 and 1993, the circa 1900 1:12 scale classroom is only 24” x 33” x 19”. Similar to Robertson’s Twin Manors, the Architect’s Classroom is not a copy of one particular room, but a composite of many early classrooms discovered through meticulous research. And much like all of Robertson’s work, everything—and we mean everything—in the classroom works!

All students need a desk, and these desks are top of the line! Fashioned after a model in the Keuffer and Esser Co. catalog, the bases are cast in iron with Robertson’s initials and the date they were made. The large desktops tilt with a gear and rack system, while the smaller ones utilize knurled knobs. Like the matching stools, the desks raise, lower, turn, and roll of steel-wheeled castors. And every supply they would need is fully stocked: T-squares, rulers, protractors, parallels, compasses, watercolors, sloping tiles, glass and pewter bottles, pallets, blotters, erasers, crayons, pens, pencils, brushes, pencil sharpeners, and thumb tack lifters. And after all that, we’re not even close to being done. Stay tuned to learn a lot more!

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