Chisel & Mouse: model architecture enthusiasts

MrChiselandMrMouseCourtesy of Alun Callender

Robert and his brother Gavin Paisley both used to work for the same computer company. When the company folded, Robert embarked with his family on an enchanted parenthesis of seven months in south west France while his brother continued his hobby of making miniature models from wood and matchsticks. Back in England, Robert sat down with his brother to brainstorm ideas and to figure out their next move. Having been told for 11 years what to do, they were both ready to take charge.

In the 1980’s, it was not unusual for people to have an aerial photograph of their house. The computer skilled duo, having a common interest in “the built-in environment” and all things architectural, thought they could exploit that idea and develop it further by making 3D models of people’s houses. They were hoping that it would ultimately lead to making 3D models of, for example, people’s favourite dog! But  in 2011, 3D printing was in its infancy and the end result was cheap and limited.

Chisel & Mouse American IconsThey met Timothy Richards whose lilliputian models of iconic architectural buildings are a reference the world over. The English artisan, generous with his time and knowledge, opened his studio in Bath to them and shared the nuts and bolts of his craft. Timothy’s talent is so unique that it has been compared to that of Jean-Pierre and Francois Fouquet. The Fouquet family, a father and son team, were Master Model Makers and geniuses at it. They produced classical and antique buildings in the 1800’s. At the time, neo-classical art and architecture (models of antique Greek and Roman buildings) were all the rage. Sir John Soane, an insatiable collector whose museum is a must-see curiosity cabinet, had managed in his time to collect some twenty Fouquet models. However, since very little was known of the actual process of making them, when the time came to restore them, Timothy Richards was called to the rescue by the Sir John Soane Museum.

glasgow-school-of-art-frontThe encounter with Timothy Richards confirmed the idea that they were heading in the right direction. There was definitely a market for miniature models as art objects. They reasoned that, if only they could be less expensive then surely more people would ornate their houses with them and offer them as memories of places to cherish.Timothy’s skill lies in his amazing craftsmanship at recreating a building inside out, with all details finely reproduced, just with his own two hands. The Paisleys, on the other hand, are whizzes at anything computer-CAD related. They can make a 3D prototype before resorting to traditional modelling and casting to make the finished piece. Timothy’s reproductions are objects of beauty to cherish and revere for years to come. They are often presented as standalone pieces under a glass dome. The Paisleys decided to go the less expensive route and make smaller scale models. Their focus is on front facades rather than buildings in their entirety, sometimes even favouring one specific side of the building as is the case with the Glasgow School of Art model. Finally, Timothy works exclusively on classical buildings. The Paisleys are particularly fond of Art Deco and there is certainly no shortage of that in or around London.

Thus, Chisel & Mouse was founded in 2011. The technical, computer side of things was easily picked up on. But when it came to making the actual models, the brothers went on a moulding and casting course and then learnt by trial and error to obtain the right balance of plaster and achieve the smooth, cool feel they were looking for. They launched their business online but soon realised that it was very difficult for people to evaluate the scale of their models without holding them in their hands and to appreciate the quality of the design. So they split the work in two. Gavin would be the creative mastermind while Robert would endorse the sale and marketing aspect of the business.

Gavin PaisleyAt first, Robert would walk up to the door of high-end concept stores, his models under his arm, with no formal introduction or presentation whatsoever. As Liberty’s, Paul Smith, Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road and others started representing Chisel & Mouse, things got a bit less tricky. As part of the London Festival of Architecture 2013, Vitra Showroom hosted a display of some of Chisel & Mouse’s iconic pieces and following TENT 2013, the majestic homeware store, Thomas Goode & Co has just put together a wonderful display of their most loved and recognisable buildings. Battersea Power Station, The Hoover building, Postcard Row and The Greyhound Terminal are amongst their favourites. But as more people expressed an interest in what they were doing, they expanded their range of models. In the last year, they have had mounting interest from the US market. After having produced miniature models of the most revered American buildings such as the Flatiron building in New York or the Empire State Building, they have been approached by museums all over the US to make bespoke reproductions of their buildings as they have done for the Guggenheim Museum and the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery. In some instances, they have even been asked to make small scale memorabilia of museums whose construction has not yet been completed!  Such as in the case of the PAMM, The Pérez Art Museum Miami. They have more projects in the pipeline such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier in France.

gavin_studio1Chisel & Mouse’s dainty handcrafted architectural sculptures are showcased in five major cities (Tokyo, London, Paris, New York and San Francisco). In New York, it is The Future Perfect, a concept store showcasing avant-garde and cutting edge design from around the world. In Japan, it is the luxurious department store Axis. The BEDG, the British European Design Group, helped them get into Maison & Objet, the major French trade fair for interior design and the best way to get your brand out there. That in turn gave them the proper introduction to be represented by Arteum who now stocks their sculptures in a variety of locations in Paris. Another pet project that they are slowly building on the side is to make a model of every major European city’s town houses. They are hopeful that one day their collection will be complete.

battersea-power-station-frontWhat comes through from the passionate conversation I had with Robert about Frank Lloyd Wright‘s early years, and his personal fondness for the Peabody Estate, is Chisel & Mouse’s genuine love of the buildings they pay homage to. Although the pair did not set out to be altruistic, it wouldn’t surprise me, that in the process, they may well have revived people’s interest for beautiful objects of architecture and design. And, in some instance, perhaps, even have helped people realise what great architectural heritage lies on their doorstep as is the case with Charles Rennie Mackintosh from the Glasgow School of Art who was very influential in his own time and yet died in complete obscurity.

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