‘The more you look, the more you see’ 

By on May 7, 2023

"Little Jonah" by Wanda Torres, acrylic and wood. (Photo by Mary Ellen Riddle)
"Summertime Favorite" by Melinda Fabian, mixed media paper sculpture. (Photo by Mary Ellen Riddle)
Melanie Smith. (Photo by Mary Ellen Riddle)
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32nd International Miniature Art Show at Nags Head Seaside Gallery

Imagine a work of art that can fit in the palm of your hand. That’s one way of describing what’s traditionally called miniature art. More than 400 such works await visitors at the now showing Seaside Art Gallery’s 32nd International Miniature Art Show in Nags Head. No art in the exhibit measures more than 3.5 inches deep from front to back or has outside dimensions of a frame exceeding 42 square inches.

The popular and long running show displays work by local artists and those from Canada, the United Kingdom, Scotland, France, Belgium, Israel, South Africa and Australia.

The miniature art exhibition can be viewed online, but if you want a closer look, the exhibit is up through May 27.  Seaside Galllery owner Melanie Smith also supplies multiple magnifying glasses as needed. Visitors are invited to vote for their favorite work for a People’s Choice award with winners of all awards announced at the show’s reception on the evening of May 27, 6-8 p.m.

For Smith, 65, who “grew up” in the gallery that opened in 1961, the show gives visitors a chance to “get up close and personal.” “And the more you look, the more you see,” says Smith. She points out a landscape featuring tiny deer in the background smaller than a fingernail clipping yet lifelike even upon close examination. Many miniature artists employ a lighted magnifying glass to create their art.

Variety reigns in this exhibit. Viewers can feast their eyes on a cornucopia of paintings, drawings, etchings, metal, wood and felted wool sculptures, and cut paper works.

Artists use an array of genres to present images from colorful abstract expressions to realistic and impressionistic animals, people, still-life, architecture, land and seascapes and everything in between. Mediums are as diverse as subject matter and include art created using oils, watercolors, acrylics, gouache, pencil and colored pencil plus bronze, carved wood, enamel and paper.

It’s a popular show according to Smith. “Collectors have favorite artists that they look for every year to add to their collection,” she says. “I like how each one takes the same medium and uses it so differently.” For example, a detailed photo-real cat created with watercolor contrasts with a looser more flowing watercolor seascape.

For Kitty Hawk painter Joe Johnson, who has entered the show almost every year since its start in 1991, painting in miniature is about simplicity. “It might lose some of that in a larger piece,” he says. Johnson submitted land and waterscapes in oil where he captures the intimacy that he appreciates. The nature lover lays low on details that he would be more apt to include in a large painting and has created peaceful moods through color and brevity.

This year’s judge, Debra Keirce, lends her perspective on what she looks for when choosing works to win any of the 16 awards. She first makes sure that the size objective in the prospectus is met then moves on to consider the work’s impact on the viewer and its message. She looks for creativity and how the work is presented and considers whether the work is transformative and highlights technical ability.

While her work is not being judged, Keirce is exhibiting three paintings in oil lending visitors the chance to view the master artist’s work. Hailing from Virginia, Keirce is a member of the Miniature Artists of America Society. “It’s the highest acclaim you can achieve as an artist who sells miniature works in America today,” wrote Keirce in a recent e-mail.

Smith adds that many of the artists contributing to the show are members of miniature art societies. “They are some of the major miniature artists in the world,” she says. According to the gallery owner, who studied art history and is an accredited fine arts appraiser with the International Society of Appraisers, the societies help promote the genre and set and maintain standards associated with miniature art. All artists have supplied biographies that are available to visitors upon request.

Today’s miniature art looks very different from ancient miniature works, according to Keirce who has visited the medieval manuscripts and the portraits in drawers in museums in Washington, DC, New York City, Charleston, Los Angeles and more. She points to the changes in technology and tools available to modern artists. “This adds an exciting element of creativity to what artists are able to create today.”

The earliest known miniatures were crafted more than five thousand years ago. They were created to be included in Egyptian tombs. These images were thought to come to life to join the departed in the afterlife. The genre spread to other countries, and subjects included royal court scenes, hunting, social life and battle.

At Seaside, visitors will view delicate cut paper flowers, mythical, wild, and domestic animals including a horse painted on a price tag, and figurative work from the flamboyant to the meditative. Enjoy simple, ethereal clouds to a more complex geometric work made from miniscule pieces of eggshells.

Despite the modest size of miniature art, it is time consuming to create, according to Keirce. “I can paint a face on a 12” panel about four times faster than on a 1” one”, she shared.

And it is eye straining. “In my first-year painting in miniature, I lost three lines of my vision,” she wrote. “The eye doctor explained that the eyes get strained when you don’t stop and focus on the horizon every twenty minutes or so.”

Like Johnson, Keirce is drawn to the intimacy of miniature art. “To me, miniature art invites a much more intimate viewing experience and because humans have an area of focus that is palm-sized” with everything else being in your peripheral vision. “There is a cerebral aspect to composing miniatures that differs from larger paintings,” she shared. “You see and process everything in a miniature painting all at once, and it’s my belief that this results in a more thorough look when viewing.”

The Seaside Art Gallery, 2716 Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seasideart.com, 252 -441-5418, info@seasideart.com.


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