Miniatures in bottles no small feat

This weekend, Rod James will be opening his backyard for folks to come and have a little look at some little things that he’s a little pleased with.

James, an artist and Head of Art at Pulteney Grammar School, has been showing his paintings during SALA Festival for around 15 years, but this year he’s decided to do something a little different.

Having first constructed a boat in a bottle nearly 30 years ago to replicate a ketch he worked on between Port Adelaide and Kangaroo Island, the 57 year old has recently been inspired to make miniatures again.

“Last year the Art Faculty all went down to MONA in Tasmania and I said we should all make a piece of artwork that was based on our trip. I did a boat in a bottle with all of us on the deck.”

“It represented us all on a boat going in the same direction together. Then I thought I could take the bottle idea and make lots of little scenes of things my family and I are interested in, like bike riding or bush walking and all the things we love; like encapsulating a moment in time,” he said.

Capturing a moment in time is the theme for Rod James’ exhibition, Message In A Bottle, held in his Hyde Park Garden.

Rod James with one of his miniatures, and the children's playhouse in the background.
Rod James with one of his miniatures, and the children’s playhouse in the background.

Message In A Bottle will be exhibited in the old Victorian guinea pig house (or the children’s Playhouse) from the Adelaide Zoo, which in itself is a moment in time in Adelaide’s history.

“The Playhouse was built in the 1880s and I rescued it from the Adelaide Zoo when I was landscaping there. They wanted to burn and get rid of it but I loved it so I took it home. It’s a little two storey cubby house.”

“I cut it in pieces, took it home and put it back together in the backyard. Then when our kids came along, I made miniature furniture for them. So for this exhibition, it’ll be miniatures inside a miniature building. It’s like moments in time in a moment in time,” James said.

Rod James is passionate about landscaping, so his garden, which he tends with his wife Keryn, is something to behold, and exhibition goers can enjoy the work of art when they come.

“Our back garden will be interesting for the exhibition because it is kind of a folly in itself,” he said. “I’ve got stone castles that I’ve built and dovecots and aviaries too. In the studio, I have a model railway I’ve built with snow-capped mountains, mining areas, beach areas and all sorts.”

Rod and Keryn James will open their studio and garden for one weekend during SALA Festival to give people an opportunity to see the miniatures, the garden and the old Playhouse.

“We’re only open over a weekend so we’re having a miniature open,” James laughed. “We’ll be open on Saturday and Sunday, the 9th and 10th of August and we’re having a pancake breakfast of miniature pikelets with maple syrup. Then the maple syrup bottles can be used to put more miniatures in!”

But despite all of the inspiration Rod James has collected from and for his miniatures, his chance finding on a Kangaroo Island foreshore is possibly the most poignant and fascinating.

“A couple of years ago, my wife and I were walking at Chapman River and I picked up a bottle which had a little message in it. The message was from a boy, working as a merchant sailor, to his mother, saying sorry. There was no address so I couldn’t send it on,” he said.

“The boy was from Europe; and I thought it was quite powerful that this boy was saying sorry to his mother and throwing it overboard. We found it on a very lonely beach on Kangaroo Island.”

Rod James’ Message In A Bottle promises to be an inspiring collections of work from an incredibly inspiring artist. Pop in for a little look!

 Rod James

Message in a Bottle
9th and 10th of August
Official opening 10:30am 9th August
10 Walter Street Hyde Park


Story by Libby Parker

Photos supplied by Rod and Keryn James