The dioramas feature dozens of small objects cut from old magazines or handmade by an unknown artist, and originally came from the estate of a Victorian art collector.
There were countless works of art inspired by the Beatles and psychedelia in the 1960s and 1970s.
But few are as breathtaking as a pair of miniature dioramas that Reid Shier, director of the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, recently found in an antique store in Nanaimo.
A diorama is a model of a real scene, executed with three-dimensional objects. In this case, the overall pieces are about a foot tall and wide and filled with items about as big as your fingernail – that of your little finger.
One is a girl’s bedroom during Beatlemania in the mid-60s. The second appears to be a “crash pad” circa 1970, after the success of psychedelia.
For a Beatles fan or anyone who lived during that era, the small pieces offer a throwback.
“Things you don’t even remember you remember,” Shier notes with a laugh.
But, given the continued popularity of The Beatles and the current vogue for dioramas, both dioramas also have appeal for all generations. They are quite amazing and incredibly charming.
You can guess when they were created by the tiny pictures inside. The girl’s bedroom is filled with tiny photos of the early Beatles in costume on the walls and door, including a miniature poster of their appearance at the London Palladium in 1963. But some of the stuff is from as late as 1966.
There appear to be 35 photos and posters, but there could be more hidden behind furniture, which includes a miniature bed with a hand-stitched “Beatles 4 Ever” miniature blanket and a “Paul I Luv U Ya!” Yeah ! Yeah!” pillow. The pillow and blanket also feature a hand-stitched red heart, for love.
One guess is that the photos were all taken from Beatles magazines. But they’re so small they must have come from the content listing page, where they would have been scaled down to entice readers to venture into the actual story (and larger photos) inside. Cutting them would have taken a lot of care and time.
But the photos are just the beginning.
There’s also a bunch of tiny clippings leaning against the wall that depict the girl’s record and magazine collection, featuring the 1966 Beatles album Revolver before. This is not the album cover, but rather an advertisement for a single from the album, Yellow Submarine and Eleanor Rigby.
That means the image was probably cut from one of those old record club commercials, where you got a bunch of cheap records to entice you to order LPs at a regular price for a year. The magazine covers – there seem to be 16 of them – are probably from subscription ads. One is a cover from the summer of 1964, which was a Beatles magazine.
The fan has written “Beatlemaniacs of the world unite” and “Paul Forever” on her window, and has a Beatles toy guitar by her bed, next to her transistor radio. Across the room is a portable record player with two speakers. Looks like they are all hand made, maybe out of plasticine.
Her miniature dresser (drawers labeled Paul, John, Ringo and George) also contains handmade cosmetics – one is labeled “skin cream”. There are also pink slippers and pink shoes, possibly from a doll. But not the little doll on the bed, she’s too small.
The show-stopper is a cozy filled with the world’s smallest letters, which features the world’s smallest handwriting.
“One is addressed to Paul McCartney, London, England, Great Britain, Europe, The World, The Universe,” marvels Shier.
The psychedelic room may represent a male Beatles fan – there is a miniature Playboy Reader magazine. There’s still a bit of a Beatles theme – including a small version of a famous picture of Richard Avedon of the Beatles on one wall – but the rest of the room is a period piece about late counterculture. 60s and early 70s.
It ranges from a psychedelic 1967 poster of San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom featuring Big Brother and the Holding Company to a blue-purple stained glass window with a pink peace symbol painted on top and macrame hanging from the sides. .
The top of the piece is painted in waves of Day-Glo pink and orange, separated by rings of black. The message “Make Love Not War” is written on the wall, along with replica buttons with 60s slogans like “Flower Power”, “Sock It To Me” and “Sex Is a Commie Plot”.
There are pot buttons (“God Grows His Own”), drug buttons (“Drop Acid Not Bombs”), and pop culture buttons that have a sly reference to drugs (“Snoopy Sniffs Airplane Glue”) . Being a crash pad, there is no bed, just some giant offerings of puffy pillow covers.
It’s so complex, it’s dazzling. It comes with a small sink with plumbing fixtures, a fireplace mantle decorated with a psychedelic floral pattern, and tiny replicas of Heinz ketchup, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and Tide detergent on a shelf.
When you first look at the dioramas, you’ll guess they were made by a teenage Beatles fan. But, when you look closer, you realize that they must have been made by an artist, because they are far too complex and nuanced.
Unfortunately, Shier has no idea who made them.
“The legend is that someone knew someone who made these things in Victoria,” he said. “So someone in Victoria knows the story.”
The dioramas were purchased from Old City Panache in Nanaimo.
“The only thing we have on these is that they’re from an estate just up from the Legislative Building in Victoria,” said Mary-Lynn Kellogg of Old City Panache.
“The woman who owned the estate had a very extensive collection of art, very eccentric and eclectic art.”
Shier thinks the pair would be great in a diorama show, which has become very popular lately. The dioramas are not currently on display.
He would like to know the name of the artist in case he does a show – and find out what other gems they have created.
Anyone with information about the diorama artist can write to [email protected]