Willard Wigan tells David Johns how he left behind years of bullying and torment to become the world’s greatest micro-sculptor, creating astounding works of art that can only be seen through a microscope
Small is a word that has played a big part in Willard Wigan’s life. As a boy growing up around Wolverhampton he was made to feel small and worthless by classmates and teachers who made fun of what today we know and understand as dyslexia. To escape the constant taunts and humiliation, he’d run away from school and retreat into his own fantasy world – one which saw him hide in the garden and make miniature houses and furniture for the ants using part of a razor blade and splinters of wood. When his mum eventually caught up with Willard instead of shouting at him for skipping class she was stunned into silence. “She hugged me and told me: ‘If you keep making them little things, you’ll get bigger’.”
EYE OF THE NEEDLE
With growing confidence, Willard did exactly as mum said – and over the years as his works of art got smaller and smaller his reputation grew. Today, he is the world’s greatest micro-sculptor, producing incredible pieces that are so small they can only be seen through a high-powered microscope. They often sit within the eye of a needle or on the head of a pin, and most recently inside a human hair! Yet despite their size they are perfect in every detail, and sell for anything between £50,000 and £120,000 each. Fans include the Queen who requested a micro sculpture of the Coronation Crown to mark her diamond jubilee, Prince Charles and celebrities such as Sir Elton John and Simon Cowell. His sculptures also feature in some of the world’s most exclusive items of jewellery, such rings made by Theo Fennel – a favourite of the likes of Lady Gaga and Madonna – and watches by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, selling for £1million-plus. “In one of the rings, I was asked to come up with something for Coca-Cola, so I produced a Coke bottle with the Coke girl sitting on the top, and then another bottle and girl sitting on top of her, and then another and another…” And the value of the finished ring? “Over £2million,” said Willard.
GRAIN OF SAND
His ‘more conventional’ works include stunningly detailed and beautiful sculptures of the Last Supper, President Obama and his family, Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon and the ascent of man featuring Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones – all inside the eye of a needle – and a miniature version of Michelangelo’s David, carved out of a single grain of sand. “The length of time to do each piece varies, but on average I guess it’s about eight weeks,” said Willard. When he’s not working in the studio at his city centre home in Brindleyplace, the 57-year-old is travelling the world, staging exhibitions or giving talks and presentations. As we spoke, he’d just returned from exhibiting in a world-leading arts show in London. Within the next few weeks he was due to fly to another equally exclusive showing in New York. (He’d already been to Japan, Barcelona and Hamburg so far this year.) Such a busy schedule makes time spent creating his pieces very precious and pressured – which is one of the reasons why he works through the night when there is less noise and disruption. “I go into a meditative state. I am able to slow my heartbeat which reduces any tremors in my body. I then sculpt between the heartbeats. I can’t say that I enjoy working on my sculptures. It’s actual a bit of a nightmare and can almost drive you insane. Everything is so incredibly small it’s crazy! But once I have finished a piece of work, it’s all worthwhile.” Willard sculpts using a microscope – and that’s exactly how collectors view his work. “When people commission me, they get a special presentation case with a microscope built inside a globe. It’s state-of-the art – a bit like Bang and Olufsen.”
So, what’s next for this micro-genius, whose contributions to the arts have been recognised with an MBE from the Queen? “I’m going to make my sculptures even smaller. I want to create microscopic statues of celebrities and famous people and have a microscopic version of Madame Tussauds. And most of all I want to get even more detail in my finished work.” For the man who’s just succeeded in making a motorbike measuring only three microns – smaller than a human blood cell – from a flake or gold and then inserted it into a single strand of hair, that’s some mission…