David Beck Builds Elaborate Fantasy Worlds in Miniature Scale

Walking into David Beck’s San Francisco studio, one feels a bit like Gulliver encountering a Lilliputian world. Dozens of tiny carved figures—ranging in size from mere centimeters to several inches—cover the tables. His largest structures measure just a few feet, including MVSEVM, a sculpture on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which opens to reveal miniscule paintings and artifact-filled drawers.

However, Beck resists being defined as a miniatures artist. “When someone works in miniatures, they’re replicating something large on a smaller scale,” he explains. “I’m not replicating anything, just working on a small, intimate level. I like the fact that only one person can interact with the piece at a time.”

Remarkably, Beck was never trained in woodworking, despite the meticulous carving and lifelike detail of his pieces. He started in painting and sculpture while studying fine art at Carnegie Mellon University, but eventually switched to wood, learning through trial and error how to master his new medium. Today, each sculpture is a stunning testament to his success.

Beck’s works are full of hidden surprises: drawers that reveal minute contents; hand-painted books nested within artfully decorated boxes; and creatures that wiggle their legs, flap their wings and bob their heads with a turn of handcrafted gears. The resulting works are often humorous and whimsical to the point of absurdity, but Beck feels firmly grounded in reality. “I don’t consider myself to be constructing fantasies,” he says. “It all makes sense to me.”