Miniature of the Month
Wildlife Refuge Animals by Kerri Pajutee
Partial view of the Tanzanian Wildlife Refuge. Animals by Kerri Pajutee with the exception of lioness and Thomson's gazelle by Liz McInnis. Birds by Beth Freeman-Kane. Scene and habitat by Carey Seven.
Kerri Pajutee is known worldwide for her incredible 1/12-scale interpretations of animals. Her miniature menagerie most often represents pets, small wildlife and farm animals, but she found herself in new territory when she was asked to create species from Africa for the Tanzanian Wildlife Refuge. Her hand sculpted creations included giraffes, elephants, hippos, zebras, chimpanzees, a lion cub and wildebeest for the 68" wide by 24" deep by 32" high wall display that was a collaboration with Elizabeth McInnis, Beth Freeman-Kane and Carey Seven.
Kerri began her first wildebeest sculpture by studying reference photos of the live animal, as well as life-sized wildebeest taxidermy mannequins for the underlying muscles. She sketched a 1/12th template for the pose to use for constructing the armature and used firm BeeSPuttY clay to build out the sculpture before applying it to the framework and curing the figure. Next, the sculpture was painted in acrylics and a realistic fiber coat was applied using glue. Subtle details and shading on the wildebeest’s flocked coat were then hand painted.
The zebra coats were a little trickier. After covering the cured and painted sculpture in a layer of powder fine white alpaca flock, she hand painted the black stripes using permanent artist inks. The striping process, says Kerri, can be maddening with no room for error. “If the ink bled, the entire flocked coat would have to be removed and I would have to start over.”
Many of Kerri’s animals in the display illustrate a familial relationship. In addition to depicting ages, the Oregon artisan portrayed a sense of bonding through poses, such as the elephants showing adults protectively watching over the children. The elephants were the largest of the animals with the tallest standing approximately 9 inches at the shoulder. She first made a sketch to scale, then began constructing an armature of wire, cardboard, aluminum foil and masking tape. She used quarter inch thick slabs of clay “skin” and smoothed it over the frame. After the form was completely covered, it was cured in the oven. Additional clay was then added and detailed using tools Kerri had made of tubing and wire to cut the wrinkling details into the clay skin. The eyes were made using UV resin and inset into the cured sculpture. Each piece was given a coat of Genesis heat set paints, and finished in dry-brush layers of acrylics. The only hair on the elephants were the small tufts of mohair at the end of each tail.
Kerri especially likes the hippos submerged in murky water with only their heads above the surface. This placement decision was actually made due to space issues after it was discovered that full-sized hippos submerged in resin would have required more depth than the base could provide. Therefore, only the animals’ necks and heads are seen popping out of water.
Kerri, who has been sculpting for more than 45 years, was inspired to try working in 1/12th scale after attending a miniature show in 1987. After becoming familiar with polymer clays, she then began adding fiber coats to the sculptures to make them look more realistic. “Back then, no one was sharing their techniques for making the furry miniature animals,” says Kerri, “so I came up with my own methods using alpaca and wool yarns, scissors, tweezers and craft glue.” All the practice and experimenting has paid off for the self-taught artisan whose work can be seen in museums and collections worldwide. In her words, “Sculpting has afforded me a means of expression and provided over four decades of never-ending trial and fascination. My art is motivated by a desire to capture and express that ‘spark’ of personality within each miniature replica, while reflecting a personal encounter or endearing memory that will delight the heart and bring a smile to the face of the observer."
The Tanzanian Wildlife Refuge can be seen in the latest exhibition, Scaled to Perfection: Encore! running until December 31st, 2021.