Miniatures by Sharon Harbison
My first memory of miniatures is when my family visited relatives in Chicago. We went to the Museum of Science and Industry which has Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle. Needless to say, I was quite delighted, but I think any ten-year-old girl would have been, so I can’t say I was motivated to make miniatures when I grew up.
How did you first get started making miniatures?
I got involved originally with miniatures when I got a job in 1978 with my local recreation commission. They were running a small local miniature show and I was assigned to contact dealers, make the arrangements, etc. My boss commended me on a good job, and suggested I should go to the show to see the fruits of my labors, so to speak. I was quite awed by the excellence of some of the craftsmanship, but I couldn’t help but think, “I can do this, and I think I can do it better.”
Do you remember the very first miniature you made? How has your work evolved?
For some reason I can’t remember, I decided to make plants and flowers. Ironically, my debut was at the same show a year later… I had remembered Nutshell News from organizing the show, and I found other shows to attend. From there I was invited to other shows, and I was even featured in Nutshell News in 1989. Around 1998, I was burned out, and phased out the business.
Not until about 5 years ago, after I had retired, I decided to try again. But I didn’t want to do plants and flowers again. I decided on food, because I love working with polymer clay. I was gratified that considerable advances had been made in the quality and colors of the clay, but also for the many tutorials available online. I felt there was much more scope for miniature foods than for flowers.
Favorite miniature you’ve made?
I don’t think I have a favorite miniature… usually my current favorite is whatever I’m working on at the moment, if it’s going well.
As far as tools and techniques, I have by now accumulated my own molds, and I look for new things to use everywhere I go. I would like to try my hand at making my own clay.
I sent pictures of my work to the Guild and they offered me a contract. This is the second year I have attended. I especially enjoy the opportunity to speak to artisans I don’t usually see, and find interesting things to buy (I don’t collect miniatures but I buy things for my own work).
I would give the same advice to people wanting to get into making miniatures that I give to people I see at shows: get started, watch tutorials, just mess around making things. The most important thing is, if something isn’t working for you, PUT IT ASIDE! If you persist, you’ll get discouraged. If you put it aside, maybe a few weeks or months later, you can pick it up and try again. The advice to “sleep on it” is actually true.
What is the most memorable miniature you have ever seen?
The most unusual mini I have ever seen was a tin can, complete with worms, for a miniature fisherman. A toilet that actually flushed stands out too.
As to what’s new, who knows? I never know what I might be doing next. I do welcome suggestions from customers—after all, I can’t think of everything!
Why miniatures? What appeals to you most about what you do?
What appeals to me most about miniatures is that I love doing it. There are new things to learn, new problems to be solved, and it’s never, ever boring. A lot of people aspire to things, but in the end you have to do what you’re good at. I never visualized when I was in art school that I would be doing this, but I truly feel this is what I was meant to do.