He's a member of the International Guild of Miniature Artisans (IGMA) but, at 82, he's not in it for the recognition. Al Chandronnait does it for fun. And he always has.
Collectors and miniatures hobbists all over the country have appreciated his work for quite a while now - he figures he started in the business about 40 years ago - but, although he may be best known for his unique splint-style baskets, he began with signs and small items suitable for a country store.
A career as a technical illustrator used Al's creative talent in a two-dimensional way, so making signs was a natural choice for those first minis. But illustrators also know about paper, and when the crafter in Al came across an article about using paper in basket weaving, he recognized that narrow strips of quality artists paper could closely replicate the look of split wood used in country baskets. After trials with various stain techniques, he developed a way to prepare the woven material in larger sheets so he could produce the baskets in a cost-effective way.
And cost is an important factor in his work. In his catalog of close to 200 items, very few retail for more than $20. It's a deliberate effort on his part to provide quality miniatures at affordable prices. He wants everybody to enjoy miniatures as much as he does.
His introduction to the world of miniatures happened in a roundabout way. Another of Al's great passions is tennis. He's self-taught, and shared the bug with his son Alan, now a nationally ranked player and coach. When Alan was a teenager, the pair played doubles and traveled to regional tournaments, which meant they were away from home with time to kill in the evenings. Al happened upon a miniatures shop, which looked interesting, and picked up some House of Miniatures furniture kits to pass the time. Nice, but "too easy," he said, and moved on to build and fill a country store with his own items. After showing his work to a local shop owner, he was introduced to miniatures shows, where his "signs and such" were well received, and then to CIMTA, through which his ever-growing catalog of work found its way into shops across the country.
Developing new items keeps his interest sharp and, though he no longer does shows, he still plays tennis and keeps an eye out for what isn't there in the miniatures world. That's what his next product will be, something that's missing in the mini world; something Al will have to figure out how to make, precisely to scale, exactly replicating its prototype. Copy somebody else? Where's the fun in that!
See our full collection from Al Chandronnait HERE!