REVIEW Willard Wigan MBE: In The Eye Of The Needle, Museum Of The Jewellery Quarter

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Willard Wigan MBE

Micro-sculptor Willard Wigan fits whole worlds on the head of a pin in his awe-inspiring new collection at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter.

Figures as diverse as Pinocchio, the Virgin Mary and Ant-Man are all present in the new exhibition, captured in infinitesimal detail in the eye of a needle and placed under a microscope (the only way these pieces can be viewed by the naked eye). Every piece is carved by hand; Wigan achieves this incredible result through a deep meditative technique which helps him to slow his heart rate… he then works with meticulous dexterity in between heart beats. The minute scale of his work has drawn the attention of surgeons and nano-technologists.

‘The Four Seasons.’ Credit: Willard Wigan

Wigan is proud to be exhibiting in Birmingham, and specifically in the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, with its tradition of celebrating a history of local craftsmanship. At the opening of the exhibition, Wigan told the story of how he first discovered his gift for crafting miniature works of art. Growing up on the autistic spectrum, he recalls being written off by his teachers, and he would often play truant in the afternoons, choosing to spend his time making tiny houses for the ants in his family’s back garden. When his mother came home and saw what he had created, she challenged him to make his next project even smaller. “The smaller your work,” she said, “the bigger your name will be.”

‘Skyline’. Credit: Willard Wigan

The overall experience of the show is a playful one, as viewers sidestep from one microscope to another and peer in, but it is also thought-provoking. Using a medium no bigger than a speck of dust, Wigan is able to tell epic stories. The tiny tableaus in the exhibition range from Biblical imagery, like the Last Supper, to scenes from beloved fairy tales, like Little Red Riding Hood approaching her grandmother’s bed.

‘Gorilla’. Credit: Willard Wigan.

Wigan wants viewers to look beyond the obvious, and hopes that his work will provide inspiration to people of all ages who have autism or other learning differences, and encourage them to explore their own interests and gifts. “My work is a message,” he says. “Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there…Never underestimate the small things. I honestly believe there are a lot of people who have hidden talents.”

Also on display in the exhibition is the first ever ‘house for ants’ that he made, at the age of five, which his mother saved through the years; a reminder of where it all began. “We all come from a single molecular cell,” he says, “and grow from there.”