A towering figure in micro-sculpting
‘Microangelo’ encourages students to make no little plans
By Anna Tarkov, Special to the Tribune
April 23, 2010
Willard Wigan is arguably the world’s most renowned creator of micro-sculptures, art that fits on the head of a pin. He’s championed by royalty and celebrities.
Yet his childhood, as he told a group of students in Northbrook last week, “was quite miserable. … I believed that everything I did was negative.”
Eventually diagnosed with dyslexia, Wigan said his teachers thought he was illiterate and incapable of success. One paraded him in front of his classmates as an example of failure.
The microscopic pieces Wigan creates — one depicts Barack and Michelle Obama and their daughters, hand in hand, all inside the eye of a needle — have been displayed all over his native Britain and the U.S. and have earned him the nickname “Microangelo.” He’s touted to have sold pieces to Prince Charles, Elton John and Simon Cowell — sometimes commanding six figures for one sculpture — but he has also attracted the attention of micro-surgeons and nano-technologists hoping to learn from his dexterity and steadiness.
Wigan’s recent appearance at The Cove School seemed to have particular significance, both to him and the students, because the school is tailored to children with learning disabilities.
He shared how his early creations were a means of expression and escape from his difficulties at school in the 1960s. At 5, he got interested in insects and began building tiny houses for ants using his father’s razor and other household items. His mother encouraged him to delve deeper into miniature art. The smaller you make it, she told him prophetically, the bigger your name will become.
Along with a slideshow of works depicting the likes of Nelson Mandela, Mahalia Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Siegfried and Roy, and Oprah Winfrey, Wigan explained to students, staff and parents at Cove how he painstakingly creates a micro-sculpture. Relying on his heartbeat as a steady rhythm, he works with an eyelash or fly hair in place of a paintbrush, a toothpick or pin head his canvas. Often working through the night, he spends an average of three months on a single piece and often has to start over when he makes a mistake. He spoke of these as lessons for life about pressing on, about trusting one’s talent.
“It’s the small things that make the big things happen,” he said. “There are geniuses in this room.”
Those lessons were also in Meg Barnhart’s mind when she set up the visit. Barnhart, the mother of a Cove student, fell in love with Wigan’s work at an exhibit at Nicole Gallery in Chicago, and wanted to show her 14-year-old son, Doug, and his schoolmates that much is possible even by those with learning disabilities.
Doug, who named a Bart and Homer Simpson sculpture as his favorite, said he liked how Wigan “can do amazing things with his mind.”
Wigan’s work is on display through May 22 at Nicole Gallery, 230 W. Huron St., Chicago. Admission is $5. 312-787-7716.
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