It might seem a contradiction that someone who has mastery of a large stringed instrument is also an expert in creating miniature objects. Playing a larger instrument can be associated with a larger physique and ample hands. Not so in the case of Anna Martin-Scrase, a member of Acacia Quartet who combines her life as a professional cellist with her hobby of making miniature models, often at 1/12th or 1/24th size of the real thing. There are however, certain parallels between being a musician and a miniaturist, including copious patience, laser-like sustained focus and meticulous attention to detail. It is also true that individuals who are gifted in one field are also possessed of gifts in other fields.
Speaking to SoundsLikeSydney from her home on the South Coast of NSW, Anna recounts how her interest in miniatures was ignited by her father, himself a woodturner, in Vermont, USA. “He used to take me down into the workshop and teach me basic techniques. He made me a doll’s house when I was five, which I played with as a kid. Then I forgot all about it, went to Europe to study and moved to Australia. When he came to visit, he didn’t bring the house, but all the furniture. We had a great time unpacking it and re-discovering the pieces. Coincidentally, my daughter was also five at that time and I decided to make her exactly the same house and that’s how I got back into it.”
Anna admits she has not considered the contrasts between her profession and her hobby. “I love small things” she adds. “What really interests me now is creating historic rooms and getting the architecture and the style of the period right, whether it’s a country cottage with plaster and clay, a mansion or a French castle. I joined a few online groups and am well aware that I am nowhere near where some people are. I don’t make miniatures to sell – I get excited by things that I see and it is s simply what I do to relax.”
Born in Vermont, USA, Anna moved to Salzburg, Austria at the age of 16, where she lived for the next 10 years, studying cello at the Mozarteum University, Salzburg and later working as a performer. She moved to Sydney in 2008 and has worked extensively on stage, in the teaching studio and in the recording booth, with numerous ensembles as well as with Acacia Quartet. In Bega, where she lives, she has established the Bega Valley Youth Orchestra and the Wolumla School of Music with her husband Dean Gray.
Anna makes most of her miniature pieces, though some, like her miniature harp are acquired. With a project in mind, she will look for materials from her collection. “I make the furniture with either mat board which I get for free as off-cuts from a framing shop, or buy basswood, which is good crafting wood that is cut into 1 or 2mm sheets. Sometimes I use found materials.”
“Wood is still my favourite material. I’d like to get a lot a better at it so I can start working with apple and cherry woods and try some wood turning because at the moment, I’m cutting straight lines. I’d love to do more woodworking in miniature.”
It wasn’t only her father who inspired Anna. Her mother owned a knitting shop and in a tribute to her maternal heritage, Anna has made her mother a miniature of that shop. “I took leftover wool and made them into miniature balls. Then what I really enjoyed was making the miniature labels by taking the wool labels in her shop, scanning them and making them small so that they looked exactly like what she had, except that they were tiny.”
The shop contained some of the smallest things Anna has made. “Doing my Mum’s knitting shop and knitting the really tiny display items – that was tricky along with some tiny crochets. I’ve got miniature knitting needles that are size 0000 so they’re almost like pins but not quite as sharp on your hands.”
Ironically, miniature musical instruments are on Anna’s list of things that she has yet to master. “My Victorian doll’s house does have a music room but I’ve ordered the instruments online. Often you can order the raw wooden item and paint and decorate it yourself – I made the piano that way, but the ‘cello I ordered arrived with its bridge broken which was very disappointing. Dolls are very difficult to make but I prefer the houses without the figures in them so that you can imagine yourself in the scene.”
The biggest project of Anna’s has been the Victorian doll’s house she made for her daughter, a three-story mansion with kitchen, living and dining rooms, a spiral staircase, 4 bedrooms and an attic for the servants, which is “a pain to move” because it doesn’t fit in the car.
The weekend after I spoke to Anna, the miniatures were being set aside as she travelled to Sydney to record with her colleagues in Acacia Quartet, part of a collection of works by Moya Henderson. After that, there’s the Bowral Autumn Music Festival in late March and the Orange Chamber Music Festival in April.
Does she worry that she might potentially compromise her career and injure her hands whilst crafting? “No – I am very careful – fingers crossed, “she says, laughing at the unintended pun.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
Images courtesy Anna Martin-Scrase©