Michelangelo’s sculpture of David from 1504 is truly breathtaking for its creator’s undeniable skill and its historical iconography. That said, Willard Wigan from Wolverhampton creates something arguably more breathtaking, despite perhaps losing out to Michelangelo in the battle of historical significance.
Wigan began sculpting aged just five to escape the derision of his primary school teachers and classmates. Growing up with dyslexia and autism meant that Wigan was treated differently. Using his introversion and advanced mental focus to his advantage, he began to create miniature sculptures of staggering detail.
In hindsight, Wigan has observed that his initial motive for creating such minute sculptures was likely to avoid criticism. If people can’t see the art he’s producing, then he can’t be hurt by their derision or critique.
As the years passed, Wigan’s sculptures got smaller and smaller, and what they lacked in size, they made up for in artistic grandeur. By the early 2000s, when Wigan was in his mid-30s, he had begun to make a name for himself across esteemed exhibitions and in 2009, he was invited as a guest on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien to display his work.
His sculptures are often bonded to the eye of a needle or to the head of a pin. One of his most popular works was a three-dimensional rework of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ contained within the eye of a needle. For scale, each one of the disciples is around the width of a human hair.
Wigan sculpts most of his pieces using small grains of sand or microfibres and a tiny, needle-like chisel held under a microscope. He explained that when working at such a micro scale, even the heartbeat becomes a factor. It can ruin a sculpture if he becomes complacent; conversely, the heartbeat can be used as a jackhammer of sorts to aid the chiselling process.
Wigan has achieved two official world records for the smallest handmade sculptures. His first record, back in 2013, was for a minuscule 24-carat gold motorbike. He later went on to break his own record in 2017 by sculpting a human embryo from a carpet fibre. According to Guinness World Records, the sculpture measured 0.05388 mm (53.88 microns) wide and was placed inside a hollowed-out strand of Wigan’s own beard hair.
“Sometimes I find myself in unpleasant situations where a fly may have flown under the microscope and the breeze from the fly’s wings may blow one of my sculptures away,” says Wigan. “My artwork drives me crazy,” he admitted. “But the glory is when I finish it, when other people see it.”
To achieve such microscopic art, Wigan has spent years meticulously fine-tuning his technique. “I work in between my heartbeat,” explains Wigan. “I can feel the heart going and I’ll just wait for it to stop and then I work in between it … it’s just breathing techniques.”
While his craft clearly provides him immense satisfaction, it’s not a stress-free vocation. Sometimes Wigan can spend up to 17 hours a day over the space of a few weeks working on his sculptures. “Because of my autism, which allows me to have an extremity of intensive behaviour, I’ll use that behaviour as a fuel. If I never had this condition, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” Wigan says.
Wigan’s incredible skills have gained him global recognition, including that from Queen Elizabeth II, who awarded him with an MBE. In thanks, Wigan offered the Queen a minuscule model of her own crown, perched on the head of a 2mm pin.
“The world hasn’t seen the best of me yet,” Wigan said following his 2017 Guinness World Record. “I’m still coming. I’m 64, but I’m getting better.”