Willard Wigan: Microscopic Art Writ Large

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/30/2012, 3:20 p.m.

Willard Wigan spends inordinate amounts of time in a small closet, hunched over, peering into a powerful microscope.

A month, six weeks later or longer, the end-result of his labor are incredible works of art so minute that they cannot be seen with the naked eye.

"It may take up to two months to finish one piece," said Wigan during a recent interview at the Parish Gallery in Georgetown. "I work at nighttime for the solitude and because there are no vibrations from vehicles. Like a Buddhist monk, I work between my heart beat."

The 54-year-old Wigan is regarded as "the eighth wonder of the world" for micro-sculptures that usually sit in the eye of a needle, on the hair of a fly or on the smallest eyelash he can find in his eye. He said he uses microscopic tools that include crushed pieces of diamonds, a polished down pearl drill and a chip needle.

Wigan, a Birmingham, England native of Jamaican parents, said he enters a meditative state that allows him to reduce hand tremors and sculpt his masterpieces between pulse beats.

"I do not enjoy creating this world but I enjoy finishing it," he said.

He regaled an appreciative crowd at the gallery during opening night at an event entitled, "Willard Wigan: The Half Century Collection - 50 years of Creating Microscopic Artwork."

"I think the exciting thing about the show is the sheer size and detail and energy, and the many obstacles," said Dianne Whitfield-Locke, a noted collector of African-American art. "It's exciting to know that he overcame obstacles to become a master artist and to be knighted by the queen."

Any success he enjoys, Wigan said, came from his mother Zeta who pushed him to excel while being his strongest supporter.

"Mom said, 'you've got to make small things. The smaller you make it, the bigger you'll become,'" the micro-sculptor recalled. "So I concentrated on carving small things. But whatever I made, mom said it was too big ... years passed on and it [the creations] got smaller and I got bigger."

"I also believe that the bigger the carving, the smaller the challenge."

"It's amazing, absolutely amazing," gushed Forestville, Md., resident Cindy Brewer. "I saw his other collection which was way more fabulous. These are some newer ones. This is the first time I've heard the whole story."

That story began when Wigan was five, that's when he said he became fascinated by ants. After a dog destroyed an anthill, he used broken shards of glass and razor blades to construct houses, furniture and carousels for the ants. Wigan admits to stealing a microscope from school and used that in his artistic quest. He received no formal training but his innate gifts led him to this career.

Cruel, racist teachers fueled his drive to excel. He said they humiliated him because he could not read or write. So he took to skipping school and focusing more on his art. He would learn later that he was dyslexic.