Magnificent Miniatures

The art of Lloyd McCaffery

Standing in front of a massive ships Figurehead one is in awe of the skill, effort and time that went in to the creation of such icons of the sea, size and weight held little fear for the eighteenth and nineteenth century carvers, the original Figurehead of HMS Victory when she was built in 1765 stood a staggering 24 feet high and over 18 feet broad, the shear weight of wood needed to create this monster of a carving is difficult to imagine, if we turn the time clock forward over 200 years, we find a modern day craftsman  keeping the skill of figurehead carving alive, only this time the amount of materials need in wood and the  size of workshop is staggeringly small, the American Lloyd McCaffery has a skill equally as astounding as that given to our ancestors, only this time in reverse, his creations are figureheads in miniature, breathtaking  gems of the carvers art, that take weeks and months to create Lloyd offers an insight in to creations. 


“ I have been creating ship models and carving in miniature for almost 50 years. Recently I have begun to focus on a unique collection of figureheads relating t o the sailing ships of the US navy, from earliest times to about 1850.
These pieces are all made to the constant scale of 1/4"=1', or 1:48th life size. In some cases the originals survive, and I take photos and measurements to serve me as I carve. some others are long gone, yet we have various paintings and prints of what they looked like, along with written descriptions by those involved, such as William Rush.
For materials, I use that most excellent of woods, boxwood (Buxus simperverins). Seen everywhere as that clipped green hedge plant, it has a secret life as the best wood for carving in miniature. This is not what is known as Castelli, which is not boxwood at all, but rather Calycophylum multiforum. The bases are made of apple wood or pear wood, which makes a pleasing dark contrast to the light yellow boxwood.
I use a variety of tools for the actual carving. Hand saws, jeweler’s saws, and chisels are used for roughing out. I have many graduated sizes of miniature carving tools for finer work. Carbide and diamond burs in a dental engine are excellent for precise detail, but there are certain applications, such as stop cuts, which can only be made with hand tools.
The figures are mounted on a piece of wood representing the profile and tapering thickness of the stem. I choose not to get involved in the actual constructional joinery of the stem, just as I do not add cheek rails, head rails, or other elements of the head of the ship. This would entail much more work, and where does one stop? Soon I would be making the whole bow of the ship!, this slowly growing collection is being created as an educational display, and I hope to place it with a museum. I am also creating many other miniature replicas of beautiful old figureheads, along with miniatures of ships.
This collection has a certain presence when displayed together, and I hope it will be a statement of what I am able to accomplish in this field, and a tribute to all those who created the originals so long ago.”

Looking at the detailed photographs of Lloyds work one can appreciate the vast amount of dexterity and patience that has gone into their creation, as we stand and marvel at the great surviving Figureheads in our Museums and collections, credit must be given to the skills of this modern day craftsman.

The work of Lloyd McCaffery has been published in a number of books and magazines around the World, those wishing to find out more or make a commission can contact him at his e-mail address.

Lloyd McCaffery
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