Life in Miniature: Jane Freeman '71
In the light, airy kitchen of artist Jane Freeman's Tribeca apartment, a large diorama of the Brooklyn Bridge subway station is hung next to the stove. Freeman made it in homage to the now-defunct television program "Beauty and the Beast." "I just loved the sets and the look of that show," she confesses. Disposable lighters form subway turnstiles; the token booth, an electrical box; the clock, a wristwatch. Tiny posters for "Beauty and the Beast" adorn the tiled walls. Everything is in miniature—but this is no child's toy.
"I'm not interested in dollhouses," Freeman says. "I'm interested in miniatures as an art form equal to paint and sculpture. The genre can accommodate any style, from photo-realism to Impressionism to Expressionism. It's a very fertile and unexplored area for working artists to try."
Freeman herself tends toward the fanciful. Originally a painter, fifteen years ago she became obsessed with Jane Eyre, but could not find a way to express the work artistically until she built a miniature Victorian drawing room from scratch. She prefers to work with found objects and make her own furniture, rather than buying ready-made. A major project was Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute." She did dioramas of all twelve sets, many of which are featured in her studio. The work took two years, and each set represents somewhere in Manhattan. Papageno's cottage in the first scene is based on a drawing of the first synagogue in New York, and the "gate" is an actual set of Panpipes. Each set has a proscenium made out of a rococo picture frame. All twelve sets were displayed in the lobby of the Florida Grand Opera, which later purchased one for permanent display.
"For me, it's not about a cute little chair that looks just like a real chair; it's a subliminal connection between the microcosm and the macrocosm," she says. "I want it to work on a poetic, philosophic, esoteric, spiritual level. It's not meant to fool the eye at all—viewers don't always know what they're looking at, so they have the opportunity to engage themselves in it. I don't use human figures because then it's occupied, and you don't go in."
Why does looking at these miniature worlds fascinate people? "I think that they're safe; in real life you wouldn't want to go into a dark subway station or a gloomy forest, but here you can. Here it is, and you're invited in. We become children again, we forget ourselves and enter. Whether it's based on fantasy, story, nonfiction, it doesn't matter."
Freeman has also recreated the studios of such artists as Van Gogh and Chagall, and has done much work on commission. Her miniatures can be seen in The Art of The Miniature: Small Worlds and How to Make Them (Watson-Guptil, 2002). Freeman's work is the focus, but she invited twelve other artists to submit their work, from the playful to the amazingly realistic. "The book was a wonderful kind of closure for me," she says, "for fifteen years of truly gratifying work."