Willard Wigan: Microscopic Art Writ Large

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

"They told me I would empty bins and wouldn't amount to anything," said Wigan. "But my mom and my neighbor told me I was good. I cut out figures into little shapes and put people onto the top of a toothpick."

"My mother said I'd do something good by being small. I wanted to be great, the micro-sculptor of the world, the Usain Bolt of micro-sculpture," said Wigan who Queen Elizabeth bestowed the Member of the British Empire title on in 2007 for services in art. "As the child of a minority, I knew I had to work just a little harder."

"I had to work a little harder because of my circumstances. My work had to defend me. Muhammad Ali said the punch you don't see is the one that knocks you out."

Wigan said many of the themes of his work are based on nursery rhymes and are manifested in Cinderella, Little Miss Muffett, as well as little boats, a pair of dancers doing the tango, a Harley- Davidson motorcycle, two children on a seesaw and President Barack Obama and his family. He said he is proud of the Coronation Crown he created in response to a request by Queen Elizabeth as a tribute to her Diamond Jubilee celebration.

Awestruck gallery patrons viewed the collection of Wigan's work through powerful Nikon microscopes that magnified each piece 400 times. Prices ranged from $22,000 to $40,000. Wigan's work is in great demand and collectors include Prince Charles, Sir Elton John, Mike Tyson and Simon Cowell.

Wigan said he continues to experiment and recently completed a church carved in a grain of sand. He has a number of projects on the horizon and he said he relishes the challenge to go smaller.

"You look at it without a microscope and there's nothing there," said Neil Hartbarger, who along with his wife Juanita has a growing African-American art collection. "I was here for his show three years ago. Words really fail me because he is beyond any superlative. No one else can do what he does."

Willard Wigan: The Half Century Collection will be on display at the Parish Gallery through January 2013. For further information, visit www.parishgallery.com or call 202-944-2310. The gallery is located at Canal Square 1054 31st Street in Northwest.