Written by Museum Services Manager, Emily Wolverton
Miniature artists are often specialists of a particular skill, whether it be creating landscapes or lamps, and thus nearly every dollhouse and roombox in our collection is an artistic compilation. There is real delight in discovering the many artists behind the details. The late Ken Manning was a specialist in miniature stringed instruments, and his gorgeous works found homes in both private collections and museums. In the Music Room of Forget-Us-Not Fairy Castle (Ron and April Gill, 1998), you will find five pieces by Manning: a violin, a cello, a Dreadnought Country Western guitar, a ukulele, and an F-type Bluegrass mandolin. They are examples of the 25 different types of stringed instruments in Ken Manning’s line, each tenderly handcrafted from the same woods as their full-scale counterparts (the ukulele is made of Hawaiian koa wood, for example). Upon close inspection, his signature can be seen meticulously marked on the interior of their hollow bodies – and more obviously penned in gold ink on the violin’s case, which Manning also made by hand. His attention to detail is exquisite: most of the tuning pegs, frets, and bridges are made of real bone, and each instrument was coated in 15 layers of lacquer before being polished to a brilliant luster.1
Interestingly, Manning did not start his miniature career until the age of 61. His lifelong love of woodworking and playing guitar gave the retired WWII veteran the foundation for an unexpected new calling, one which brought him acclaim and recognition not just across his homeland of Canada, but throughout the world, receiving numerous awards including IGMA2 Fellow status in 1987. He passed away at the age of 88 in 2009, leaving behind a legacy of beautiful works and devoted fans.
Visitors will find his instruments placed alongside a redheaded fairy which our Museum Founder, Patricia Arnell, named Glitter. According to Pat, she’s the cousin of the Royal Twins and niece of King Oberon, who can be found seated in the adjacent Throne Room. Glitter was created by Todd Krueger, the same artist who created our museum muse, Fairy Caitlin (and all of her disguised forms). Manning’s work is in magical company, indeed.
1 Mesbah, Mariam. “Ken Manning: Retirement Made Him a Lilliputian Luthier.” Dollhouse Miniatures. May 2001. Vol 31, No 5. P 27.
2 International Guild of Miniature Artisans