|What is a miniature? One dictionary
meaning is "representation on a small scale," which assumes that the works in
question normally exist on a larger scale. On the Internet, for example, we find people
selling sculptures of miniature schnauzers "true to scale," as well as
reproductions of well-known works of art, such as "The Bath - by Mary Cassatt (2.1 x
3.25 inches)." We also have "The Little Gallery of Icons," eggers and their
egg art, and the entire subculture of dollhouse collectors. Publications featuring
miniature works include Miniature Collector, Miniature Showcase, and Nutshell News--yes,
there is also the miniature world of art in a nutshell.
Beyond the enthusiasts with their kits, contests, and general fun with the world in miniature, fine art can also be created in miniature format. For example, through August 23rd the imaginative portrait miniatures painted by Eulabee Dix (1878-1961) are on exhibition at The National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, DC). In New York City, the Textile Study Group is currently assembling material for an exhibition of miniature art in boxes, entitled "9 x 9 x 3," which will open this fall at the American Craft Museum.
In the quilt world, workshop teachers often instruct beginners by helping them create miniature quilts. These are not doll quilts (another format entirely), but rather quilted assemblages--from "Persian miniatures" to appliquéd landscapes--usually 8 to 14 inches square. Instead of building a quilt block, students regard a single unit as the finished piece. New techniques and processes can be applied on a smaller scale--a much less daunting task than having to attempt larger quilts in the workshop environment.
We do not, however, often find art quilts in miniature format. Critics who have published extensively on art quilts have mentioned that art quilts, in general, require a grandeur of scale. Robert Shaw, in The Art Quilt, 1997, p. 82, states: "Even though smaller quilts reward the artist with quicker results, not all of them are successful. Scale is a critical part of the impact and meaning of a quilt.... For art quiltmakers, reduction of scale runs the risk of a loss of physical presence and visual complexity.... Too many small quilts look like studies, unfinished attempts at expressing something that deserved more time and attention than the reduced format required."
His words of caution certainly may apply to many artists (myself included). Others artists, however, are able to work with such concentration of vision and innovative approaches that their art quilts in miniature create their own satisfying sense of scale. Moreover, in the reduced format of Internet visual presentation, miniature art quilts can be viewed much closer to their true size than can wall quilts. We actually can see all those knots, beads, brush strokes, and stitches.
I hope that everyone learns as much from this show as I have learned from these quiltmakers.