THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE
The Unique World of Microminiatures of Hagop Sandaldjian
Essay by Ralph Rugoff
Published in the USA by The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Information
Copyright 1996 The Museum of Jurassic Technology
Microminiatures are barely visible sculptures made from dust motes, hair, and the tiniest drops of paint. The tools of the trade are often handmade from ground diamonds and rubies, sewing needles filed even thinner. The artist must use a microscope to create the sculptures, which can take months to years of patient, perfectly timed applications, literally between heartbeats and breaths.
This guide was available for sale in the museum gift shop after I had seen the exhibit, which at first glance just looked like a room full of microsopes within plexiglass cases. Ordinarily, I like large art, but once I looked through the first microscope, I was fascinated. It happened to be Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, positioned on a needle horizontally, the eye of the needle below them.
The book is a mere 95 pages that documents the life, talents, and passions of Hagop Sandaldjian, who was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1931 of Armenian heritage. From a very early age he loved math and theater. At age six, he was given his first violin. As a teen, he convinced his family to move back to Yerevan, Armenia in 1948.
Some things never change. Against his parents' plans for his future, and after his father deliberately broke Hagop's first violin, he enrolled at Romanos Melikian Music College, went on to Ippolitov Ivan Music College in Moscow, and ended with an eight year Master's degree from Komitas State Conservatory.
He married, had two children, became a music teacher and had composers write music specifically for him to play on Armenian National Radio. As if this was not enough, he kept bees, fished, and became a practioner of yoga.
It was a chance encounter with a viola student, Edward Kazarian, which led to an exchange of teaching music for teaching microminiature art. In Hagop's spare time, he became somewhat of an expert on ergonomics with his 1973 thesis "The Perfected Position of Viola and Its Significance for Musical Performances" (included in the book, translated into English). His teaching methods became part of official socialist curriculum.
At a conference of viola players in Moscow, a highlight of his already eclectic and industrious career, he performed several works by Johann Sebastion Bach on a viola pomposa, an unweildy five-stringed, twenty inch long instrument that had been silent for almost 200 years.
In 1980, he decided to emigrate to the USA, leaving 18 of his microminiatures behind. What could have become a downward spiral was a new way of life. He could not find work in Hollywood as a violinist nor a music teacher, so he turned to his microscopic world of art, believing..."in a country where everything was for sale, he felt certain he could earn a decent income"...by selling his unique artwork.
His wife, Verena, herself a conductor and music teacher back in the USSR, became a seamstress at home to make ends meet while her husband painstakingly crafted his almost invisible Disney characters, Pope John Paul II, a self portrait, Jesus on a cross, and the one that evoked a painful memory for him, a broken violin. All in or atop or along the eye of an actual sewing needle. He never sold any of his microminiatures, but did gain some recognition through shows in different museums. He died ten days before the show at The Museum of Jurassic Technology, an unusual legacy which included a total of thirty three sculptures.
sources: besides the book, Wikipedia, and a conversation with a lovely young lady at the museum
note: photographs do not do these justice; they must be seen in person