Tucked away in the basement of an inconspicuous book store in Yerevan is Armenia’s coolest little secret and one of its biggest claims to fame — second only to becoming the first Christian country in the world back in 301 AD. They do like to bring that one up. Not much has happened here in the meantime. (Except for a genocide that the whole world mourns but Turkey still denies ever happened.)
Introducing Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan and the Micro Art Museum.
During his 73 years as an active artist, Ter-Ghazaryan hand-crafted over 1,000 pieces of unique micro artwork placed inside the eye of needles, on half grains of rice and even human hairs split in half. Think of him as Faberge with a microscope. His beautiful jeweled artworks are likewise made of gold, precious and semi-precious stones, take months to complete, and no two are alike — yet they are so small you need a microscope to see them.
The Master of Microscopic Art
Born in Armenia 1923, Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan began creating unique miniature artwork as a teenager in 1939. He had his first public exhibition in Yerevan in 1947, and his first public exhibition in the USA in Los Angeles in 1977.
Ter-Ghazaryan’s micro art also has been exhibited in many other countries around the world, including France, Spain, Japan, Argentina, Australia, Russia, Egypt, UAE, Iran and many others. There are also single pieces permanently on display in museums in dozens of countries around the world.
One of his most well-known works of art is the world’s smallest statuette of Charlie Chaplin. Made of gold and mounted inside the eye of a needle, it is so tiny that you could fit a second statue in the needle eye. (Or even thread it and use it as a real needle, but why would you want to do that?)
The Evolution of Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan’s Micro Art
Eduard’s early works were limited to single-material pieces, however as his skills grew he began crafting pieces from increasingly more minerals and gemstones. Although single-material pieces later in life were rare, they were always exquisite — most notably the marble Statue of Liberty (1998) measuring only 0.4mm tall.
Some of the single-material pieces currently on display at the Micro Art Museum:
- Yerevan Opera House (1965) — one of his oldest surviving works — is made of steel and mounted on the head of a pin.
- The Khachjar — an Armenian Stone Cross — is engraved on an amber plate and encircled by the Armenian alphabet. The entire piece is 8x6mm, although Ter-Ghazaryan’s grandson would later create a much smaller version.
- Statue Of Rhodes — a micro statue made of gold with a height of only 2mm.
- Venus de Milo — a gold replica of the iconic sculpture that is thinner than a human hair and only 1.2mm tall.
- Napoleon — the world’s smallest bust depicting the French Emperor is made of gold and measures a mere 0.5mm!
- Christ And His Disciples features micro portraits of Christ and His Disciples are engraved on a crystal sheet and placed in the eye of a needle.
- 12 Cross Stones carved on a human hair split in length. The decorative ornaments of Armenian historical monuments date back to the 12th and 13th centuries.
Over the years Eduard continually improved his skill and technique. Each piece of artwork he crafted was better than the one that proceeded it, and no two designs were ever repeated. As the number of individual microscopic pieces used to create each piece increased, so too did their complexity. Eventually the designs became so extravagant that they required several months to produce.
This continual quest of improvement and increasing detail led Eduard to patent several inventions that are also used in various medical fields, the most well-known of which is a micro needle that is used in eye surgery. Without tools like that he would never have been able to create Caravan Of Camels (1998) pictured above or any of the following artworks also on display at the Micro Art Museum:
- Caravels Of Christopher Columbus (1998) is made from semi-precious stones and placed in the eye of a needle.
- Deer (1998) is a 1mm deer standing on top of a giant cliff near the Armenian resort town Jermuk.
- Statue Of Liberty (1998) is a marble replica of the iconic original in New York measuring only 0.4mm tall.
- French National Football Team (1998) contains over 150 microscopic pieces and is one of Ter-Ghazaryan’s single most complex creations. To commemorate the champions of the 1998 World Cup, he immortalized the team by carving them on a half grain of rice. Each player micro-figure is made from 15 parts and thinner than a human hair!
Moving Micro Art
Even these complex creations proved not to be enough for the Master of Micro Art, so he undertook a new endeavor unlike any previously attempted — to create a moving microscopic work of art.
Guess what? He accomplished this too!
TV Set was Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan’s first piece of moving micro art. It features a television set installed inside the eye of a needle. The wrestlers on the TV are made of ivory and perform asynchronous movements.
As the movements do not repeat in any sort of pattern, no one has been able to explain the mechanics of this artwork. it remains a secret known only to the late Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan and his grandson, Junior, who now also produces his own micro art — and currently working on his first piece moving micro artwork, according to the staff at Ter Ghazaryans’ Micro Art Museum (and their pamphlet) 😉
You can view the moving micro artwork in action at the Micro Art Museum. Despite its relative simplicity it is absolutely captivating! You just cannot take any photos or videos of it.
Although other pieces of moving micro art were reportedly created, TV Set is the only one on display at the museum. Even all my extensive research only uncovered one other documented moving piece of micro art by Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan is Gulliver And Lilliputians:
The Secret To Creating Micro Art
Always happy to share his creations with the world, the only thing Eduard would not share is the secret techniques he uses to create his micro art. For 70 years the master kept these to himself, until 2009 when he began training his grandson, Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan Junior.
After three years of revealing his unique knowledge and techniques to his grandson, Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan passed away in April 2012. Now his grandson continues on in his microscopic footsteps.
Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan Junior
Since then Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan Junior has already created nearly 200 works of micro art! Most of them are in the hands of private owners, a list which features numerous celebrities including Pope Francis and famed French-Armenian tenor Charles Aznavour, among others.
Micro Art Works By Junior
Below is a list of artwork by Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan Junior on display at the Micro Art Museum in Yerevan:
- The Khachjar (2013) — Although Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan never created the same design twice, Junior did recreate one of his grandfather’s early works to celebrate the Armenian khachkar being added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Carved on an amber sheet just like the original but measuring only a fraction of the size, just 1.5mm. (Note: The museum plaque states that this artwork was completed in 2013, however the web site says 2016.)
- Carriage And Cabman (2014) — pictured above — the carriage and cabman are made of marble placed on a half grain of rice. The crown, door handles, lanterns and wheel axles are made of powdered gold. It took 4 months to complete and guess what? It’s for sale now on Amazon, only $9,000 😉
- The Saxophonist In The Eye Of A Needle (2014) — features a saxophonist made of semi-precious stones playing a saxophone made of gold.
- Tatev (2014) — The Tatev Monastery and wall are made of jasper; the ropeway stretching between the two is made of a processed cobweb. The height of the Monastery is 0.4mm.
- Tigran The Great (2014) — Engraved on a crystal sheet of 1.7mm, this portrait is made with a special sharp-edged diamond tool that is 100 times thinner than a human hair.
- David Of Sassoun (2014) — The statue of David of Sassoun placed on the top of a cliff is only 0.5mm in height. On the left an excerpt of the epic poem Daredevils of Sassoun is engraved using a sharpened hair with black oil.
- Field Flowers (2015) — Flowers made of semi-precious stones placed in a glass vase. Not to be confused with the newer Roses (2017) pictured below next to a matchstick.
- The Little Prince (2017) — At only 0.8mm tall, this is the smallest sculpture of the Little Prince in the world. The whole composition is made of more than 50 separate pieces and semi-precious stones. This single sculpture took 4 months to complete! It was based upon a 1943 French novella that follows a young prince who visits various planets in space, including Earth, and addresses themes of loneliness, friendship, love, and loss. You can find photos of The Little Prince on Amazon.
- Violin (2018) — Made with 16 pieces of wood yet only 0.8mm in height, each of the parts was made in the exact proportions of a real violin. Surprisingly it only took three months to complete. (Photo located further up in the article.)
- The Little Prince (2019) — Larger than the Junior’s other artwork with the same title, this Little Prince is made of semi-precious stones; his hair, belt and sword are made of gold. The height of the statue is 1.5mm and the composition is placed on a half grain of rice. This piece of artwork took 3 months to make. (Someone is a big fan of The Little Prince.)
- William Saroyan (2019) — The smallest portrait of William Saroyan in the world is carved on amber plate. This 1.5mm portrait is painted with a sharpened hair using black oil. The piece is dedicated to the 110th anniversary of the Armenian-American novelist and playwright.
Ten of Ghazaryan’s micro miniatures are now listed in The Guinness Book of Records for a variety of different achievements.
The World’s Smallest Backgammon Board is constructed on a grain of rice, that has been split in half. Counters are made of obsidian and gold.
Additional Accomplishments & Accolades
The elder Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan was an avid violinist and for many years one of the leading musicians of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Armenia. He often incorporated violins or other musical instruments into his artwork. After a 1953 excavation in the ancient Armenian capital of Dvin unearthed a 9th-12th century vase painted with a musician playing the violin — an instrument generally considered not to have appeared in its modern form until the 15th century — Ter-Ghazaryan used it to create a real life Dvin Violin.
Sadly the normal-sized Dvin Violin must have been a giant tease to Ter-Ghazaryan for next he created the world’s smallest playable violin. It measures just 1.2cm but each individual piece is crafted to the proportions of a standard violin.
Ter-Ghazaryans’ Micro Art Museum
Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan’s micro art works have scattered all over the world in various museums and private collections, many of which are still on display to the public — but only as individual pieces. The events and exhibitions which showcase a larger selection of the Ter-Ghazaryans’ work are only temporary. The first permanent public collection is the new Ter-Ghazaryans’ Micro Art Museum in Yerevan, Armenia, which just opened last year.
How To Get To The Micro Art Museum
It is easy to find on the map but getting there can be a little….interesting. The Ter-Ghazaryans’ Micro Art Museum / gallery is located in the basement of a bookstore. There is no sign for it on the building, so if the museum is closed you would never even know it was there. (For three days I thought the museum either didn’t exist or was so miniature that I was not even seeing it. On the fourth day it was open.)
8 Abovyan Street, Yerevan 0010, Armenia
When the museum is open there is a large sign on the sidewalk. Simply walk into the bookstore and follow the red footprints on the floor to the stairs. You must stop and pay there before descending into the
basement art museum.
The entrance fee is 2,000 Dram (around $4 USD) and free for children under 5 since they are too young to appreciate it anyway.
The two ladies working there are super friendly and knowledgeable. My mind was blown within 90 seconds of starting the tour. I ended up viewing the entire collection piece by piece three full times and asked a lot of questions in between. During that entire time only one other group of three tourists arrived. The bookstore up above was 10x busier than the museum!
Not sure if it is always so quiet, all I know is that Ter-Ghazaryans’ Micro Art Museum is the most impressive museum in Armenia.
Historically his name has been spelled a few different ways in the past, however these spellings are no longer used: Edward Kazarian, Eduard Ter-Gazarian, and others.