Click the link at right to listen to a narrated slideshow detailing the work of William R. Robertson.
When he was about 15 William R. Robertson was asked by a neighbor if he could repair some wooden puzzles for the Montessori school she ran. That sounded easy to Robertson, who had been building things in his basement shop since elementary school. And the woman was offering a king’s ransom: $100. Then she arrived with a station wagon stacked full of puzzles, many of them missing parts. Robertson worked day and night for a week to finish the job, cutting out hundreds of parts with a jeweler’s saw. By the end of the week he may have had his fill of puzzles, but he’d begun a lifelong love affair with precise hand work. To this day, after more than 30 years building miniatures that have been exhibited and written about around the world, a jeweler’s saw remains the central tool in his well-equipped Kansas City shop, and he still finds it “very relaxing” to spend a few hours cutting out miniscule dovetails with one.
Robertson, who is astonishingly adept working small in metal as well as in wood, focuses on 1/12th scale versions of period furniture, architecture and tools. His shop contains a variety of machines, including an Inca jointer-planer with which he mills stock and routers with home-ground bits for cutting scale moldings, but the majority of his work is accomplished with hand tools. Aside from the omnipresent jeweler’s saw, there is a collection of tiny hand planes that he’s made and which, he says, “work absolutely perfectly—a scale plane takes off a scale shaving.”
A native of Washington, D.C., Robertson spent hours as a boy in The Smithsonian Museum transfixed by the displays of model boats, planes, buildings and street scenes. These days he is often called upon to consult with museums as they design galleries to display miniatures. He has lived for many years in Kansas City, Missouri, and has a 25-year association with the Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City, whose holdings include the largest collection of Robertson miniatures on public view.
Photo: Bruce Dale