The Little World – The Measure Of A Diorama

You all know what a diorama is – a miniature set with scale plastic models. But did you know it was a historical thing too? Apparently one of the original definitions was of a scene  that was meant to be viewed through one peephole and that had lighting effects that changed as you looked.

Well, you could do that today with the plastic models, of course, but it would require a good deal more design skill than most people possess. I include myself in the most people. I can manage pictures of a scale set when I make it for one purpose, but I never restrict the viewer to just one angle . People are free to see the thing from all sides.

This may be a mistake – the older artists may have had the right idea about it all. I believe Vermeer made dioramas to help him with some of his most famous paintings…or maybe the paintings helped with the dioramas.

Most of the works that I see at the model exhibitions are model-centric. The builders do a splendid job of a central figure or a plane, ship or vehicle, and the surrounds are merely to shore up or show up that model. They may be very well done, with superb weathering and accessories, but they are a stage set or enlarged plinth for the model.

The other approach is one that is seen sometimes in museums. If they need to depict a famous scene or battle , there may be anywhere from dozens to thousands of models employed, but they are subservient to the overall impression or story that the diorama tells. It’s rare that you see it from all sides – the only one I remember was a Waterloo set depicted in one of the castles somewhere in England that was on such a scale and in such a large room that you could walk all around the thing. I’d been a re-enactor in one of the Waterloo years and was able to make more sense of it than a casual visitor.

I often recall this, and other Imperial War Museum dioramas, and think that it forms a good basis for judging our own efforts. LIke the railway layouts that are very well done, a good diorama can stand on its own with no models visible – or at least none that dominate the viewer’s attention. Then it really becomes a Little World.

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The Little World – The World Turned Upside Down

dscf3289That is not a reference to the famous 18th century marching song nor yet to Australia being Down Under. We have looked outside and we are not down under anything, though the federal government has been doing its best to produce that effect…

It is a reference to the model diorama seen at this year’s Dollhouse And Miniatures Show at Bogan Central. I am an aficionado of dioramas, and particularly the ones of garages, so this scene immediately caught my eye.

I suspect it is 1:12 scale – so much of the dollhouse work is this size. I think it a good choice for many house and room miniatures but it is somewhat of a rarity amongst the scale modellers and diecast collectors. But more on that later*.

dscf3291This garage is a simple open cutaway with a workbench, fridge and accessories, a vehicle and three figures. It is notable for me in the choice of materials for the truck and the detail of the tools.

I don’t think I have ever seen this sort of model vehicle – patterned after a Model A Ford pickup – made in polished wood. I am used to seeing it in 1:24 or 1:16 as a plastic kit or in 1:18 as a diecast. Indeed I have several in my collection. But a wood kit seems very strange indeed. Not bad, and certainly not badly-made, but somewhat of a leap from the reality of the rest of the diorama.

The figures are suitably dressed, but readers of this column will have learned previously what I think about including human maquettes in scale scenes.

dscf3290The score for me is to look at the turning lathe on the workbench. This shows real observational powers as well as imagination on the part of the builder. It is this sort of detail that really makes a small world come alive. I am wondering if the builder will decide to make it a working workshop in the future by leaving tools on the bench and dirtying up the environment,. I know what I would do, but then it is not my little world.

* Sun Star diecast models are available in 1:12 scale and are absolutely perfect. You can get several Morris and Volkswagen types in this scale. I aspire to one… one day, but am always distracted by 1:18 offerings…