RALPH AT LARGE
I am fascinated by the phenomenon of miniaturisation, and what it means to human beings. It has existed since prehistoric times, yet is present in almost everyone's lives today. It is pan-cultural, and has been present in the history of every corner of the globe, from the icy world of the Inuit to the equator and on every continent (apart from Australia?).
In the modern world, miniatures as so common as to be seen as mundane, unremarkable elements of everyday life. Almost every home has at least one miniature on a shelf somewhere. Yet miniatures are special in that they very rarely serve a utilitarian purpose — we don't acquire them to do anything else but to be displayed and looked at (or played with). They therefore possess two sets of meanings: the meanings given them by their manufacturers/makers and those given them by those who possess them.
I am especially interested in mass-produced miniatures. Mass production that began in the nineteenth century meant that miniatures became available to all, and subsequently started to appear even on the "humblest" mantelpiece. People have always bought them because they "like" them...they are objects of desire. But they are not just colourful, emptily-decorative gew-gaws.
As symbols on display, miniatures can convey to others messages about their owners; taste, status, humour, sexuality, faith, political leanings, resistance etc. To their owners they can communicate nostalgia, eroticism, memory, fun, fantasy, sentimentality etc.As a historical archaeologist I am trying to learn what miniatures can tell me about what people were thinking in the recent past, and therefore I'm interested in what miniatures mean to people today.
My interest in miniaturisation led to the research that resulted in my PhD, Objects of Delight. An investigation of miniaturisation focusing on nineteenth century mass-produced miniature objects in working class contexts.
I've also included links to some material that was left out of the final thesis.
The subject of my 2010 MA dissertation was The historical archaeology of miniatures. Toys, trifles and trinkets re-examined.
A mantelpiece find
Behind the main actors in James Collinson's 1850 painting Answering the emigrant's letter is a large hearth with a mantelpiece.
I've always been fascinated by the detail in this painting
After much searching I managed to find an example of the figurine of a boy and girl that stands on that mantelpiece!
Last updated March 2022
...and other small things!