06 October 2022
In a country that gave birth to Halloween, Magdalena Ladwik serves up the perfect treats! Find out more about her spooky miniature makes in this interview with Deb Weissler
Above: Coffin filled with treasured delights
For a miniature artist who has always loved the unknown, the unexplored, haunted, and mysterious, Polish-born Magdalena Ladwik couldn’t have settled in a better country. Known for its folklore and legends, Magdalena and her partner Greg live in Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland. It is a region rich in history, myths and Halloween.
Magdalena emigrated to Ireland straight from university. “I realised after many years spent here in this rainy country, for much of the year there is such an autumnal, Halloween atmosphere,” she points out. For Ireland is truly the birthplace of Halloween and to find the origin of this delightfully spooky celebration, you must look back into Ireland’s Celtic past and the festival of Samhain.
Samhain, or as later Christians would refer to it as All Hallows Eve or Hallowe’en, included huge bonfires, ugly masks and disguises, feasts with treats, and the lighting of jack o’ lanterns. “I grew up in a country where Halloween was not celebrated,” Magdalena explains. “Then in adult life, when I was able to make choices for myself, I re-framed my belief system. I had been looking for my spiritual path; some framework to help me lead a healthy positive life. Halloween is very appealing when it comes to thinking about it in the context of colours, shapes, patterns,” she says. “It is rich with the beautiful colours of autumn, the round shapes of pumpkins and fruits, which open up concepts about symbolism.”
Harvest goodness and a hint of Halloween to come
Growing up close to a city park that had housed a cemetery where she once played, living in Ireland where the origin of Halloween was born is totally unexpected. Eventually the land around the cemetery was transformed into a housing tract and the cemetery became a park with a plaque commemorating the collective grave sites. Dozens of weeping willows grew there and the park became a playground.
Magdalena now has a fondness for weeping willows and the trees in the cemetery planted a seed that would foretell her future as a miniature artist, steeped in Halloween and autumnal themes, it would be years before she discovered dolls house miniatures.
Inspiration and serendipity
“I discovered the world of doll house miniatures in adulthood,” Magdalena recalls fondly. “I think all of us during childhood have had small figurines, dolls and various kinds of miniature objects. Back then I was not aware how dolls houses can be so beautiful, unique, and true to life, which in fact I discovered many years later. I remember one beautiful, warm, sunny day, (which is a rarity in Ireland). I was sitting in my garden looking at various websites and I don’t know how it happened but I spotted a picture of a beautiful miniature book bound in leather, with gilding and turnable pages. It must have been destiny since. I couldn’t stop staring at this beautiful treasure and I had only one thought in my head: this was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I couldn’t stop thinking about that small book and then I realised that I wanted to start learning how to make them. That was eight years ago and since then making miniatures has become my passion.”
Two black cats in the stacks
Magdalena is a self-taught artist, having graduated from university as a computer science engineer. She has always loved drawing and painting so miniatures allowed her to explore other art mediums such as inks, glues, leather and paints. She learned by trial and error, experimenting and conducting tests until she found just the right combinations. It took her three years of exploration to feel confident enough to display her work to the public.
My miniatures might remind you of the passing of time. Magdalena.
“At first making miniature books and occasionally other miniatures was just a hobby and some of my books were given to friends as gifts. But after a short time I made the decision to try and sell my books, having no idea what was going to happen, but I had that feeling deep down inside saying why not?
I had spent a great amount of time creating each item, I used quality components, so what was the worst that could happen? To my joy, it worked! Once my miniatures started to sell, I created more, got other ideas, sometimes my customers’ suggestions, or custom orders.”
A murder of crows
Magdalena’s walks through the Irish countryside provides a wealth of inspirations for her Halloween treats. “Most of these moments occur outdoors when I am in the forest among trees covered with ivy. Yes, we have a plenty of Ivy in Ireland! Reading books can trigger my imagination and not just Edgar A. Poe! I love David Lynch’s films, which takes my consciousness to a different level. Also paintings, illustrations, and photographs of antique books. There are so many wonderful artists out there and some of them do really outstanding artwork. When I look at their creations, I become tuned in to my own creativity.”
Magdalena creates a variety of books, some that are closed shut and others that open with either blank pages or legible text and illustrations. Her book stacks are extremely popular and with her partner’s technical knowledge, they have incorporated a laser engraving machine and 3D printer into her designs. These she then embellishes, often adding hand-sculpted features to each one-off item.
Handmade leather books
Eventually Magdalena moved beyond creating just 1/12th scale books to crafting complementary items for her books such as scrolls, manuscripts, magic wands, chest-boxes, candles, leather embossed or plain journals, gargoyles, pumpkins, crows, and bookends. At the request of her customers, she began creating detailed vignettes for display in dolls houses or as stand-alone scenes.
“I make miniatures which might remind you of the passing of time, such as dusty books in a library. I love the look of mystery, from this world or perhaps other realms. There is something very sentimental when I look at old books, attics where we store old stuff, or cast off objects. Some of my components are picked up while on a walk or from my garden. I love to recycle whatever I can, to give a second life to things which may seem meaningless or forgotten. I love animals and nature and these motifs often crop up in my creations.”
Her books are crafted from all leather and faux leather. She loves wandering through second hand shops and finding a nice leather handbag. “When I look at handbags, I don’t think about it as a purse so much as I imagine what kind of leather-bound books could been created!” Magdalena laughs. “I remember one day I asked my friend if she had any plans for her handbag as I wanted to buy it from her. Ever since that day, whenever I admire her new handbags, she says ‘Don’t you even think about cutting up my new handbag!’”
What Magdalena can’t find in nature or at her local shops, she buys online. “I shop for embellishments. Inks, paints, gilding, waxes, pigments, glues, clay, fabrics, ribbons, leather cord, metal charms, gemstones, rhinestones, varnishes, sealants, embossers, and so on. I need high quality paper for my books so I buy parchment paper, bees wax, needles, and linen threads.”
Although Magdalena has one room in her house dedicated to just miniatures, they are on display all over their house. “When someone comes to visit, it’s obvious that Greg and I have dedicated most of our lives and space to creating. At the first glance my craft room seems a bit chaotic, as most of the time there are several projects in various finishing stages but believe me, there is a method to this chaos when it comes to the placement of all these items.”
Dreams past and present
Working part time, Magdalena’s dream is to become a full time artist. Grabbing snatches of time whenever she can, Magdalena sits at her work table overlooking the garden and her own beloved weeping willow, thinking back to that early cemetery and all that it has inspired. With the soundtracks of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Alice in Wonderland” streaming on a special playlist, Magdalena packs up miniatures for her growing list of customers. Some are single books; others quite complex commissions.
She remembers the day she was contacted by Chicago miniaturist Aaron Cullars. His project was a 3 foot by 5½ foot model representing the seven cardinal sins he calls “The Seven Deadly Sins”. He had searched the world over for the perfect accessories and had discovered Magdalena’s work.
“He provided me with a comprehensive description of his vision. He needed not only lots of books, but books with “atmosphere”. I have spent many hours on this commission and I enjoyed every single second. I created books in stacks, candles, and an elaborate book, which he included in his private collection. Sometime later Aaron came back and asked me to create some paper stacks. He did an amazing diorama and we were very happy with the final results, but I was sad when it was over.”
Besides her growing volume of work, in the future Magdalena would like to sell Giclee (fine art digital printing process). With Halloween just around the corner, there’s no telling what she will be inspired to make next. Trick or treat!
To see more of Magdalena’s work visit www.sandwomancraft.com
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