Sunday 30 August 2015

The appeal of miniature models

Not much military-related content in this post, but hopefully I still have something interesting to say. A visit to the marvellous miniature railway museum at Clécy set me thinking about the attraction of miniature models per se.

About Clécy first: this is the work of a father-and-son team, over 40 years, a 310 sq m model railway layout with 250 locomotives chugging around 450m of track in a diorama that ranges from harbour to mountains, with dozens of different milieux such as a city downtown district, factories, football pitches, an airstrip, etc, with all kinds of little working elements moving or lighting up or belching smoke. It's a fascinating display that you could pore over for hours finding new things. For instance, there is a train in a siding, the front half of which is carrying tanks and APCs - and the rest of the train is almost entirely made up of wagons carrying assorted brands of beer. A nice little joke by a modeller who obviously knows a bit about soldiers. I've been to Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg as well - the largest model railway exhibition in the world, I believe - which was great, of course, but  Clécy has the advantage that because there aren't a million other visitors, you can actually look at it properly.

There are a couple of cabinets with model trains at Clécy too. This one caught my eye. With my Franco-Prussian War interest, I like to think of Mad King Ludwig using his train to visit a parade of his victorious troops or to pay homage to his new Kaiser:

King Ludwig II of Bavaria's train. The original train is in a museum in Nuremberg.
This 4-vehicle train set comes as a kit of 1129 parts. $795 to you, sir.

I am no train modeller myself. Yes, as a kid I had a train set. But watching trains go round and round and occasionally changing the points never really excited me. Plus, being army barmy, I was always more interested in tanks and soldiers.

But I certainly was a modeller. Airfix planes hung from my ceiling. Tamiya 1/35 scale tanks and soldiers covered my bedroom window ledges. Endless hours were spent painting up armies of 20mm WWII and 25mm Napoleonics - far more time than I ever actually spent using them. (These days it is the other way round - I get a wargame in about once a week, but almost never paint anything any more.)

So I have a strong appreciation of the modeller's skill and art. Model trains, model villages, model aircraft, model anything. To the extent that when I visited the Boston Museum of Fine Arts one time, one of my favourite exhibits was - the architect's model of the museum. And at Le Mans, yes, the cars and other 'real' exhibits are very impressive and remarkable - but I also loved the dioramas of the grandstand down the decades, and the cases full of models of the cars. Same at Waterford Medieval Museum, or the ethnographic museum in Seoul, and so on and so forth.

What is it about miniature models that is so appealing? It's not just the craftsmanship. There are plenty of other crafts whose artifacts don't excite me at all. I have a suspicion that it is something to do with having a mind that has always been constantly struggling to make sense of the world by constructing abstract models in my head of how it operates. Seeing physical manifestations of such mental models is therefore necessarily fascinating.

Well, that's my best theory so far, anyway. Alternative suggestions welcome.