Lord of the Miniatures

It was the first time I’d spent more than one afternoon in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I never imagined Alexander Girard would make it unforgettable.

Gone thirty years now, Girard was a well-known architect, interior, textile, and furniture designer after World War II. He grew up in Florence Italy before moving to New York and becoming director of design for Herman Miller’s textile division. He was also obsessed with collecting folk art miniatures from around the globe, and starting in 1939 and continuing through the 1980s and early 90s, Girard and his wife Susan amassed more than 106,000 of these pieces. 

In Santa Fe, where he spent his final years, an entire wing of their International Museum of Folk Art is filled with over 10,000 of Girard’s marvelous miniatures, and the painstakingly detailed worlds and layouts he created for them literally take your breath away, The hangar-sized wing, called Multiple Visions: A Common Bond is more entrancing and engaging than any exhibit I’ve ever seen. Blend a model railroader with a mad scientist and you get Alexander Girard. 

Each display in the room is given a number and a corresponding description in a guidebook you pick up at the entrance. Girard wanted no words on the walls so that the visitor could wander through the exhibit and relish in pure discovery. 

And there is so much to discover! From a baptism in a Mexican church with smaller villagers in the background cleverly placed behind larger ones in the foreground to create depth. To a 19th century American town with a dinner served to odd guests glimpsed through a window. To a Mexican religious carnival. To a farmer’s market and merchants on a river that seems to go for half a block. Girard’s fanciful craftsmanship is boundless; as wonderful as the rest of the Folk Art Museum is, with its exhibits of Alaskan Native coats and Japanese ghost and monster art, the “Miniatures Room” easily blows everything else away.

I have yet to see all seven other wonders of the world, but Number Eight is sure impressive, and is a must-immersion if you ever visit Santa Fe.


One thought on “Lord of the Miniatures

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s