Small is beautiful Marie Friddle builds magical worlds inside Altoids candy tins

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Tacoma artist Marie Friddle states that she has always had a fascination with small containers. That fascination began to work on her imagination as she decided what to do with Altoids candy tins, those wonderful, small metal boxes with a hinged lid that are too good to simply toss in the trash. For the past seven years, Friddle has been putting her fertile imagination to work on making gem-like works of art out of repurposed candy tins.

The fruits of Friddle’s labors can be viewed at a visit to an exhibition of her work that is on display at the Tacoma Art Bank. Called “Little Lodgings,” the show consists of a series of little vignettes centered around Altoids tins, which are made into miniature rooms, houses, travel trailers and buildings. They are colorful and fantastic. The eye is drawn towards them. And then one is drawn into them, through the imagination. You can peek into these tiny interior spaces and examine their elaborately decorated rooms. They are so small that they could be a dollhouse within a dollhouse. The tiny houses and buildings often exhibit features of Victorian architecture – like turrets – that Friddle finds evocative of happiness.

One of my favorites is “Fortune Teller’s Caravan,” a gypsy wagon with an elaborate interior that captures the sumptuous charm and occultic paraphernalia of a traveling practitioner of the divinatory arts. Outside the wagon is a tree with a tiny porcelain owl perched in a crux. 

“Garden Shed” is a tiny greenhouse with pots and hanging plants. There is a shelf stocked with birdhouses and packets of seeds complete with minuscule botanical illustrations. 

For the diorama called “Life’s a Beach,” a travel trailer in a beach setting, Friddle explained that she acquired a miniature lawn flamingo and designed the piece around it. The Altoids tin was made into a tiny travel trailer. Outside there is a little table and chairs, strings of paper lanterns and tiny surf boards.

Much of the work is done with paper. Each and every shingle on the steep, Victorian roof tops was clipped out by hand. A multitude of other objects find their way into the diminutive interiors. There is a shoe from a Monopoly game and beads become little vases and toothpicks are made into fishing poles, for example. There are more than a dozen of these tiny constructions to become engrossed in. Most are set on rotating surfaces so that viewers can turn them and examine them from all sides.

The gem-like, intimate quality of Friddle’s creations – the way that they light up and are often mounted on ornate pedestals – makes them ironically reminiscent of the eggs made by Peter Carl Fabergé’ imperial jeweler to the Tsars of the Russian Empire. Whereas Fabergé’ made his surprising eggs out of the most precious materials imaginable, however, Friddle makes hers out of paper and tin.

Miniature interiors are endlessly fascinating. They allow for the creation of wonderfully imaginary places, making them apprehensible to our visual sense while still engaging the imagination. We can behold the exquisite architecture and furnishings of some rich and lavish place, but we can enter only by an act of imagination. Miniatures are both real and unreal. With a miniature, you can own your dream house, but you can only live there in your mind. This intriguing mashup of sensory perception combined with imagination strikes something deep in the human psyche. Miniature building with furnished interiors have been found in Egyptian tombs. The first dollhouses were made not for children but for wealthy, adult women. Dollhouses and miniatures are now big business for both children and adult hobbyists.

Model train enthusiasts create entire towns in miniature, while makers of ships-in-a-bottle construct romantic tall ships so small that they can fit in the palm of the hand. All of these testify to the power of tiny objects to grab our attention in a big way.

In addition to her delight in woodland cottages, Victorian houses and ornate wagons, Friddle draws inspiration from the intricate scenes in vintage Japanese woodcut prints and in the detailed scientific illustrations of Ernst Haeckel.

“Little Lodgings” runs through July. The Tacoma Art Bank is located off the main track, at 2716 S. 11th St., a block north of well-traveled South 12th Street. It is in the basement of a well-kept older house. It is open on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m., or you can make a viewing appointment with the very accommodating proprietor, Sharika Roland. To view a video of Friddle’s work, visit mariefriddle.com/my-process. To learn more about the artist, visit mariefriddle.com/2018-show. For more information on the Tacoma Art Bank, go to www.tacomaartbank.com.

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