Two Santa Claus figurines mounted on the tip of a pencil 2mm in diameter are Taiwanese micro-sculptor Chen Forng-shean’s (陳逢顯) attempt to create the world’s smallest.
Each Santa Claus is 0.5mm long, 0.5mm wide and 0.8mm high.
After dozens of failed attempts to make the micro-Santas, they were unveiled last Christmas, according to Chen, who retired in mid-2011 from the government’s engraving and printing plant.
The hardest part of creating the Santa Clauses was their expressions, coloring their clothes and giving their toy sacks a 3D feel, the 57-year-old sculptor said.
The owner of the Chen Forng-shean Miniature Art Museum in New Taipei’s (新北市) Xindian District (新店), Chen has been devoted to micro-art for more than three decades and regularly makes new pieces.
His museum houses a myriad of tiny sculptures or inscriptions that are updated every three months. Visitors to the museum can not only appreciate the exhibits, but create their own works using tools available on site. The sculptures can take the form of works set inside the eye of a sewing needle, or inscriptions on objects as small as a grain of sand or as thin as the membrane of an eggshell.
They can also be fashioned from various materials. For example, Chen has carved two goldfish that have been attached to the bottom of a teacup. From tiny pieces of emerald, he has created a tea pot 0.5mm long, 0.3mm wide and 0.4mm high.
Chen unveiled a sculpture of a golden python swallowing an elephant to mark the Year of the Snake. The seventh in Chen’s collection of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, he says it is the smallest of its kind in the world.
He says the sculpture carries a message urging the government to take the lead in getting Taiwan through the current economic downturn.
Chen said his foray into micro-art was inspired by his desire to create his own niche in the highly developed realm of Chinese landscape painting and traditional sculpture, but the road has not been easy.
He had to learn the craft himself in the absence of teachers in Taiwan and also had to create the special tools required for his work.
In addition to micro-sculptures, Chen has also made a name for himself by engraving, writing and painting tiny objects.
Two of his signature works are miniature books — one written in Mandarin and the other in English — that Chen made in 2011 by copying from Le Petit Prince by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
Each book, 0.2cm in length and 0.25cm in width, contains 2,400 words written over 16 pages with a brush in ink on draft paper.
On the cover, Chen painted colored illustrations of the book’s main character, the little Prince, with his red scarf, sitting on a rock and watering flowers.
These and other works are among more than 120 created that Chen has created.
They include writing on a bee’s wing, which was unveiled at the 2010 International Exhibition of Calligraphy in Russia, where Chen was the only Taiwanese exhibitor.
Chen has also succeeded in inscribing images of Taipei 101 and the Great Wall of China onto grains of rice. He has also managed to squeeze all 35 characters from a poem by a famous Chinese poet onto a sesame seed. All three pieces were displayed at the 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition.
Despite all the publicity he has gained, Chen wants to preserve his independence as an artist and remains unmoved in the face of collectors who offer big money for his creations.
The art of inscribing small objects dates back to the oracle bone writings of the Western Zhou period (1046-771 BC) in ancient China. Later applications of the craft include fine writing in bookkeeping and cheat sheets seen in traditional Chinese civil service examinations, Chen said.
As an artistic expression, the craft of carving small objects, such as fruit pits, peaked during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Aristocrats played with them and collected them in curio boxes, Chen said.