by S. J. Gooding
There is something fascinating to children, and to most adults too, about the world of Lilliput. Some of this writer's fondest memories are of days more than a half century ago when, as a member and helper in the Summer Museum Club and the Saturday Morning Club sponsored by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, I was allowed to look at, and to help arrange exhibits of the McCrae Models. These miniatures of pioneer life in Ontario exuded an atmosphere that carried romance and excitement. In fact, about 1945, one of the summer projects was a member-produced magazine called "The Annual Chirp" which went through only one chirp. It was guided by Ms. Vera Clark and "edited" by the writer. My "feature" article was a scale drawing of one of Mr. McCrea's models of a miniature blacksmith's hand powered grindstone.
Miniatures are an expression of the soul and affect different people differently - model ships, lead soldiers and small cars stir the imagination of boys; small dolls affect girls; and doll houses, complete in every detail, are fascinating to girls and boys and big people too. Miniatures have given pleasure for many millenia and the history of miniature firearms can be traced for close to 500 years. Some were made for young children and some for old children who could afford whatever their hearts desired.
In the Royal Ontario Museum there are two miniature wheellock petronels about four inches long found in England which were probably made about 1590; they are of bronze and have lost their moving parts but originally they were simple toys. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) there is a small collection of miniatures that contains a wheellock dag made about the same time which is complete in every detail. It measures less than five inches overall, but 19 individual parts and 10 screws have gone into its manufacture.
Making miniatures as complex as the wheellock dag is what David Kucer of Montreal does for relaxation although he usually works on arms of a somewhat later period. It is a form of art which he has been learning for more than a fifty years.
In 1930, at the age of seven, David Kucer departed the town of Vilna in Poland and arrived with his parents at the port of Montreal where he has made his home ever since. His father and grandfather practised the metal worker's art so it was natural that he continue in the trade. He took his formal education at Montreal Tech-nical School as an Apprentice Toolmaker and has never stopped his learning process. In 1935 he visited New York City and saw "Dr. Sibbald's Smallest Show on Earth". That exhibit at the Radio City Music Hall with everything in min-iature, was to leave a life-long impression on him.
At the outbreak of World War Two he took work in a Montreal armament plant and in 1942 he joined the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. As he tells it, â€œin a month he was wearing three stripes and a crown as an armaments officer. After the armistice he served as a military interpreter in French and German.
On his return from overseas he joined Artmetwork Inc., the family firm which soon employed 65 people and produced almost anything in metal, in small quantities. One product which will be familiar to many is the turnstiles used in the Boston and Montreal underground systems.
In 1969, a fire destroyed the building in which Artmetwork was housed and his company effectively ceased to exist. The financial loss was too great to overcome. Nevertheless, it was that tragedy which generated the opportunity for him to develop his artistic talents and that is the subject of this website. He opened a small shop on Mackay St. in Mon-treal, to produce signet rings - carved and engraved with small coats of arms - which are used to leave a unique impression in sealing wax. In his present shop he still has the little steel punches and dies which he had to make for this job. The designs are too small to see with the naked eye, but they are in the shapes of the heraldic signs - shields, crown, coronets, stars, helms, and the like. All the while, he worked in his spare time on miniatures. This was a poject that he had wanted to do since he saw his first miniature exhibit in 1935.
In 1946 there were very few miniature makers in the world and each worked in isolation. Now, The Miniature Arms Society has produced a circle of craftsmen and collectors of miniatures, the membership of which is world-wide. The Society produces a regular Journal, provides a means of communication between miniaturists and has developed a vocabulary which describes the field.
The late Joseph J. Macewicz, secretary and founding member of the Miniature Arms Collec-tors/Makers Society, outlined the criteria for miniatures:
David Kucer's techniques have evolved over time. His first miniature, a Colt Model 1911 semi-au-tomatic pistol, was made in one-third scale but he found that the tools he could purchase were too large and inadequate so he then worked for a while in 2.5:1. As he says, he gained experience and real-ized that he had to make a number of his tools. Soon he returned to the 1/3-scale which he is still using.
Miniatures have been somewhat of a crusade with him. He is always willing to share his knowl-edge and help to develop the interests of others. His arms have been displayed at many major institu-tions:
At the time of this writing, they are scheduled for a return to the David M. Stewart Museum, Mon-treal. This list does not include the fact that he has displayed at the National Rifle Association Annual Meetings each year since 1989 and in the past five years has won four silver medals for best in his class at those shows.
Mr. Kucer's interest in sculpting miniatures has driven him to the ultimate challenge in the carving field - the making of Netsuke, an area of traditional Japanese art in which he has become so proficient that he was accepted a member of the Japanese Carvers Association, one of only 12 non-orientals with such an honor. He finds this especially relaxing as it gives him the opportunity to design his own project, rather than to use the designs and construction tech-niques used by the early arms manufacturers.
His special interests and a search for knowledge have taken him to the communities where some of his models originated. He spent two weeks in the Brescia/Gardone val Trompia area of Northern Italy where fine guns have been made since the 15th cen-tury; in the bronze foundries of Pietro Santi in Flor-ence; and recently, he spent six weeks in Japan in search of knowledge on his most recently acquired interest, netsuke. His skill is such that His Imperial Highness, Prince Takamado of Japan acquired two Kucer silver netsuke for his personal collection in 1992.