I was enamored the moment I laid eyes on Victoria Morozova’s 1/12 scale interpretation of the H.O. Studley workbench. The Russian artisan presented it at the Miniature Masterworks show in September and I was the lucky one to take the extraordinary piece home. It was her first time in the States and this is the first item of hers to be displayed in the collection. I’m proud to introduce you to her and to this wonderful fine art piece in her own words.
How did you get started in miniatures, Victoria?
I was introduced to miniatures in 2007 and started making them in 2008. I began by making room boxes. At the time, it was almost impossible to buy any readymade dollhouse accessories in Moscow, so I had to do everything from scratch. And it was a wonderful opportunity to try a lot of techniques—polymer clay sculpting, woodworking, some very basic metalworking, wicker furniture and such. I didn’t know anything about furniture construction back then, so I had to go through a lot of woodworking books trying to understand the basics.
Tell us about H.O. Studley.
H.O. Studley was a Massachusetts piano maker who is most known for building a beautiful tool chest to house his collection of tools amassed over his 30-year career. The famous 19th century chest is 9 inches deep, 39 inches high, and slightly more than 18 inches wide, but it contains 300 tools. It is a remarkable work of art which includes many materials Studley may have used in making pianos—ebony, mother-of-pearl, rosewood and mahogany. The tool box, which has been displayed in the Smithsonian, sat on the wall over the workbench, which, as far as I know, was built at the same time as his tool cabinet. Today, only the top and vises of the bench are original, the rest was built by the present owner. The configuration of it was determined by recollections of Peter Hardwick, whose family members were Studley’s neighbors in Quincy, Massachusetts. They also became the owners of the cabinet and bench after Studley’s death in 1925. I was amazed by the design of the bench and I loved the combination of mahogany and ebony together with the vises. I haven’t seen anything like this before.
Bill Robertson suggested it as my next project after I made a Roubo workbench. I had just discovered Lost Art Press books about the design and construction of workbenches and was blown away as it offered a whole world of possibilities and designs to try. At first glance, Studley’s bench seemed perfect, even too perfect. I felt intimidated by the possible amount of work—starting from the extensive 3D modeling to the careful choice of materials. But at the same time I thought it was a very honest piece of furniture. You can work on many complicated projects, French rococo, Louis XIV etc, but everything starts from this—the workbench. The bench is every woodworker’s sacred place. And, of course, it tells a lot about its owner. Henry O. Studley was an artisanal genius, if I may say so. His tool cabinet became an iconic piece of art, so I’d expect nothing less from his workbench. From the first look of it, I realized it was an amazing object, every detail, panel, vise … everything was perfectly planned and executed. I was intrigued and scared to start working on it, but I took baby steps. After 3D modeling, research, modeling again, and planning every stage, everything finally seemed possible.
What was your creative process?
I didn’t have access to blue prints, but I found almost all the information I needed from Donald C. Williams’ book Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley. General dimensions were found on woodworking forums. I wish there would have been information on how the drawers’ contents were organized but, on the other hand, it made me change the project so that it could reflect my own ideas on how one’s workplace should be organized. Besides, it was a good chance to make the process really creative. I made the bench as if it were a marquetry maker’s bench with all the tools and inspirational drawings and materials. It took about six months to make, which included starting over twice because I found I needed to make changes in design and materials, so two versions of the bench base are still in my workshop.
Please describe the 1/12-scale bench, its materials and parts.
The bench is made of mahogany (makore) and hornbeam wood, brass, ebony, etched aluminum and steel rods. The dimensions of the bench top are 6.3 inches long by 2.6 inches wide. The overall height of the workbench is 2.9 inches. There are 11 drawers and two vises on the front and side. There are also ten ebony dogs fitted in the bench top. All the accessories and tools were made by me and, surprisingly, I enjoyed the process very much. Some tools were not easy to make, but I learned a lot.
Most challenging part of the project?
Front and side vises! I’m self-taught at woodworking and my husband gave me a few tips on metalworking processes several years ago, but mainly I learn everything the hard way by making my own mistakes and fixing them. It was my first project when I started using my very first Sherline lathe. The vises were modeled in 3D software, Autodesk Fusion 360. The base was milled, and it was not that hard, but the wheels were a real challenge. I had to make quite a lot of them before I was happy with the result. Basically, it was all about shaping the wheel correctly, and with my hobby grade files it wasn’t easy. I finally had a good reason to buy some decent Swiss made files. At the same time, it was very satisfying to see the result.
Favorite part of the project?
I think it was all the accessories and tools. It was a relief to finish the main part of the project and to start thinking what should be inside of it. I was inspired by Studley’s cabinet, and I also thought that it would be nice to add something from myself, something that I’d love to keep in my workbench if I were lucky enough to have a big workshop and such a beautiful bench. I love marquetry. It brings lots of childhood memories of watching my father work on a table top ( it was a beautiful bouquet of flowers made from several types of veneer he cut by hand with a knife) and of watching him being excited and inspired by it. After many years, I felt the same way by building my first piece of dollhouse furniture with marquetry panels on it. Also, my dream accessories list is reflected in this project. I loved making the tiny scalpels and hand planes.
Describe your workshop.
My workshop is very small but carefully planned. It’s 6.5 foot by 6.5 foot. I had to order furniture made specifically for my purposes. Some of my equipment won’t fit, so it is kept in the cabinets when I don’t need it. Most tools are Proxxon, but my favorites are the Sherline lathe, a Jim Byrnes table saw and a thickness planer.
What was the response to your work at the Masterworks show? What item were you in awe of at the event?
In addition to this piece, lots of people loved my Roubo bench, Gaspar Homar’s musical cabinet with two marquetry panels and my Art Nouveau marquetry screen. I’m a big admirer of Nell Corkin’s work, so it was an honor to meet her and to see her fantastic dollhouses in person.
What items do you particularly like to create? What are you working on now?
I’m still trying to figure it out, to be honest. I love woodworking. I am just discovering metalworking and am trying embroidery in my projects. I love so many techniques that I cannot decide which one is my favorite so far. I’m trying all the styles and all the items, so my table at shows looks like a flea market in miniature. Someday I’ll find something I love most of all, but it’s hard for me at the moment.
What’s on your dream list to create in the future?
My dream list includes many objects. Some are Emile Galle’s cabinets and tables and I’m a huge fan of Art Nouveau style. I also would love to try making items with lots of carving and complex construction, like Renaissance Revival pieces made in the States during the 19th century.
I can’t wait to see what she does next! In addition to being a miniaturist, Victoria is also the mother of a four-year-old and cites photography as a hobby. She took the images of the bench you are seeing here. It was a pleasure to meet her at the Masterworks show and to see her dedication and love of the art form in person. I look forward to many more years of featuring her work online and in the collection. Visit her website here.