A Miniature World with Binnie Klein
When I was a child, and saw the first film adaptation of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, I was immediately smitten with lonely Laura and her collection of small glass animals. The gentleman caller’s accidental breakage of her prized glass unicorn while they danced in the sitting room seemed the perfect metaphor for the fragility of pleasure. I think miniatures remind us of that.
What was your first miniature?
So, it actually was a tiny glass unicorn! Over the years it has broken at the neck (not at the horn) more times than I can count. It’s broken right now. I just rest the pieces together on a shelf.
In addition to collecting miniatures, what do you do?
I’ve been in a psychotherapist in private practice for over 30 years. I’ve been a Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale. I wrote a memoir, Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind (SUNY Press, 2010). I continue to do writing, a weekly radio show on WPKN 89.5FM, and audio production.
Can you tell us a bit about your radio show?
“A Miniature World” is a two-hour show that airs on Thursdays from 10AM-12PM EST, in which I present a curated selection of music I love that haunts, soothes, inspires, and provokes. I conduct interviews with authors, musicians, thinkers, miniaturists, and talk about what I’m reading, watching, and thinking. I think we all have these curated collections, these small worlds that we carry with us, and I have the thrill of assembling mine each week, and sharing it.
Describe a few miniatures from your collection.
I have chairs made of various materials – wood, metal, porcelain, etc. I have three tiny Venus of Willendorf statues. The photos within this interview are all of miniatures I adore:
- The tiny leather shoes
- A tiny edition of Snow White, with real text
- A tiny monk
- Two people reading a newspaper that seems to be called Holland
- A very tiny naked mermaid, lounging
The juxtaposition of miniatures is as important to me as the miniatures themselves; I have always been drawn to scenes or tableaus. I love the assemblages of Joseph Cornell. A surprising placement of objects draws out surprising emotions. In addition, when miniatures themselves are functional (electric lights, stoves, scissors, etc.), I am both charmed and delighted. For a time, there were a series of videos going around social media of miniature foods being prepared and cooked. Watching them is a meditative experience, and a source of endless delight.
Just as I am struck by certain miniatures, I am always seeking insightful descriptions of their power, and of the psychological pull miniatures seem to have on us. Susan Stewart writes,
“The miniature, linked to nostalgic versions of childhood and history, presents a diminutive, and thereby manipulatable, version of experience, a version which is domesticated and protected from contamination. It marks the pure body.”
When we approach the miniature, time seems to slow down, and our most important sense is the visual. In a transcendent state, we gaze, and our eyes devour. We want to touch, but often cannot. When I visited the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, I was overwhelmed by how much there was to see in each glass-enclosed room. I felt flooded by the detail, and frustrated that I could not get closer to the objects. I once broke open the glass dome over a metal soldier in my collection because I needed to get closer. It felt like a terrible violation.
You mentioned a few primates in your miniature collection; what else do you collect?
I am mesmerized by the work of Slinkachu.
He is a master at the placement of tiny people in unusual settings, often making use of our detritus (skateboarders riding the sloping rinds of an orange peel, a tiny boat in spilled milk, the sorrow of a car smashed by a lollipop); so many unusual uses for cigarette butts! I’d always been drawn to the small figures in elaborate model train sets. Slinkachu makes the figures that you might see in one of those sets evoke a more complex range of emotions… like melancholy, joy, and confusion. They are not just standing and waving. I relate to their industriousness, and their indulgences.
Utilizing miniatures, Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz create snow globes with unexpected, unusual scenes inside. I became aware of their work at a 2010 exhibition, Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities, at the Museum of Arts and Design, NYC. In an exhibition catalog, the artists wrote:
“We make parts and push them around like pieces of a puzzle… a disconcerting process that creeps and jumps and often contradicts or buries its original premise.”
It’s always a frigid zone, a frozen scene….” This struck me because miniatures do an amazing job of “capturing” a sentiment, or an idea, and the longer you gaze, the more you see.
The late Frances Glessner Lee’s murder miniatures contributed to the field of forensics and are very haunting.
What advice would you share with those just starting out in your field?
For psychotherapy: Keep a soft front and a hard back. Make sure you re-fuel with other passions; it can be draining to tromp through peoples’ psyches with them every day.
For writing: Keep trying to figure out what it is you need or want to say.
For radio: If you want ultimate creative freedom, don’t worry about the money, and just follow your bliss. If you want to sustain an income through it, start young, intern at NPR, work, work, work.
I have a tiny pair of handmade leather shoes with shoelaces. The care that went into their creation blows my mind. The heels are well-articulated.
What is the most memorable miniature you have ever seen?
The first time I saw Street of Crocodiles by the stop-motion animators Brothers Quay, I knew I was witnessing something incredible. A small puppet explores his world, where even screws unwinding from the floor appear melancholy and full of feeling, A figure with a lightbulb head, dust and string, and partially obscured mechanical bits create an atmosphere of poignancy, and sometimes despair. These are not your mother’s miniatures.
What appeals to you most about what you do?
Some of the answers can be found in my new essay, You’re On the Air, which appears in the anthology How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch (Seal Press, 2016).
What’s to come from Binnie Klein?
I am working on an audio project, “Ten Days in Newark,” a short memoir in episodic form about first love, first heartbreak, and the radical politics of the 1960s.
I’ve been working on a poem, “The Miniature World,” for several years – I can’t quite get it perfect!
SUNY Press tells me they are almost out of stock for the print edition of my 2010 memoir Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind (the story of my mid-life excursion into boxing!). And so, there will likely be a paperback edition created. I’m thrilled about this. I will have the opportunity to write a new preface.
A wonderful fan of my show, a very talented artist named Robert Reynolds, once wrote that my show evoked “world weariness but with hope for the future.”
Other activities you enjoy?
I enjoy cuddling with my 15-year-old Havanese, Griffin. He is just the right size.
What do you want miniature fans to know about you?
It seems, that when it comes to the lure of the small, people either feel it or don’t. I’m grateful to find dailymini, and all my fellow miniature lovers, for the validation and the company.
I am very grateful for the writers who have tried to discuss and convey the psychological effect and meaning of miniatures, and our fascination with them. Among them: Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (John Hopkins UP, 1984), John Mack, The Art of Small Things, and Edmund deWaal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance.
What’s something that (most) people don’t know about you?
I don’t think this will be a gigantic (!) revelation to many, but yes, “Binnie” is my real name. And my last name means “small.”
Miniature enthusiast/collector Binnie Klein is a psychotherapist and writer who hails from Hamden, Connecticut. Tune in to WPKN 89.5 on Thursdays from 10:00AM to 12:00PM EST to enjoy the latest episodes of “A Miniature World with Binnie Klein.” To learn more about what Binnie’s been up to, visit binnieklein.com, check out recent episodes of “A Miniature World,” check out her blog, or connect on Facebook and Twitter.