By Kristin Hoerth
“Good things come in small packages.” It’s trite but true: The western art world clearly has a fascination with miniature artworks—pieces that measure no more than about 12 inches in any dimension. Just a few weeks ago I attended the opening reception for the American Art Invitational’s Small Gems show at Saks Galleries here in Denver. It was one of countless miniatures shows scheduled during the holiday season. And this month, Settlers West Galleries in Tucson hosts its annual American Miniatures show, one of the West’s oldest and most highly regarded small-works extravaganzas.
What makes these small pieces so desirable? There seem to be almost as many answers to that question as there are miniatures shows in December. For starters, there are two practical considerations: Miniatures fit into small display spaces, and that’s all the room that seasoned collectors may have left in their homes. And, of course, smaller works come with smaller price tags, which means that they are equally appealing to beginning collectors. Miniatures also can be painted more quickly than large works, so they tend to have a wonderful sense of immediacy and freshness.
But I think one of the most attractive things about small works is their brevity. Like well-crafted poems, they say a lot in a small space. Artists will tell you that the confines of a small canvas force them to tightly edit their brush strokes, to include only the information that is essential to the idea they most want to convey. There literally isn’t room for extraneous distractions.
And so, if it was the profusion of soft, creamy blooms that impelled Stephanie Birdsall to paint PERSIAN BOWL WITH HYDRANGEAS, then they become the singular focus of this 11-by-14-inch canvas; other objects on the table, or a patterned fabric draped across it, would have been impossible. And if Ray Roberts was mesmerized by the hazy light that diffused the features of the landscape when he painted BACK BAY LIGHT, then that is the sole theme of the piece. We, as viewers, don’t need the details of foliage or water delineated in order to marvel at that quality of light.
If you already have miniatures in your art collection, I hope you will take a moment to appreciate the concise way they express beauty. In a world of distractions, they offer a place to pause and ponder something simple and profound. And if you haven’t yet found a small work that speaks to you, there’s sure to be a miniatures show near you in the near future! —February 2012