Art guild member Glenda Flanagan uses a magnifying glass to explore details.

Jewels of the art world: Miniature Paintings & Sculptures Show brings in talent from around the country

“The caliber of the work is mostly just phenomenal. It’s a good way to get art from some famous people at a more reasonable cost.”

By Jill Draper

Described as little jewels of the art world, miniature paintings and sculptures are found around the world. Some of the oldest Western examples were created for illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages. A free, modern-day exhibit is on display in Paola, Kansas, where the Heartland Art Guild is holding its 16th Annual Miniature Paintings & Sculptures Show through July 30.

An artist from Dunkirk, Mo., created tiny painted pots.

The artwork is small, but exquisitely detailed. The paintings range from the size of a paperback book to as tiny as a postage stamp, and represent nearly all mediums—oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, pen and ink, scratchboard and hand-colored etchings. 

This year 66 artists entered a total of more than 200 pieces, including three sculptures and two collections of tiny porcelain pots. The numbers are down slightly from the most recent pre-COVID exhibit, but according to Jean Cook, “It’s every bit as good a show.” Many entries are local, while others come from throughout the United States. Three international artists are from Wales, South Africa and Australia. 

Cook, president of the Heartland Art Guild, said the miniature art show began in 2005 as a way to raise money for an annual art scholarship awarded to a Miami County high school student. The first year the guild exhibited works from 22 artists. This number zoomed up to nearly 100 in 2019.

Each show makes its own rules. In Paola the artwork must be no larger than 25 square inches or 50 square inches after framing. All work is for sale, with the minimum price set at $75, although some paintings are being offered for $1,800.

“The caliber of the work is mostly just phenomenal,” said guild member Glenda Flanagan, who enters her own paintings and collects others. “It’s a good way to get art from some famous people at a more reasonable cost.”

One of the show’s founders, Jean Cook, sold her painting and won an Award of Merit.

One year a sculptor priced his pieces at $1 million. “They were really exquisite, but they weren’t worth $1 million, and he knew it,” said Flanagan. “He just didn’t want to sell them.”

The guild hires a well-known artist each year to judge the entries. This year the judge is Donna Yeager, an Overland Park artist known for her pastels and plein air work. Cash prizes are given for best of show, award of merit, honorable mention and people’s choice.

Some artists use a head-mounted magnifier or jewelry visor to create miniature works, and the exhibit provides a hand-held magnifying glass for closeup viewing. Cook uses a magnifier only when she wants a better look at a photo she’s using as a resource.

The Heartland Art Guild’s show is one of a dozen or so miniature competitions in the U.S. Each year in early May people begin mailing their entries to Cook’s country home west of Paola. “I know the postman real well,” she said. Some artists circulate their work through one show after another until it sells.

Kansas City is known for its National Museum of Toys and Miniatures near UMKC, and museum officials have visited the guild’s show in past years. Likewise, guild members have toured the museum, but no relationship has been established.

Priced at $1,800, this oil painting is one of the most expensive.

Instead, the miniature art show boosts attendance where it’s held at a much smaller venue, the Miami County Historical Museum at 12 E. Peoria Street near Paola’s town square. “It brings in a lot of people during the whole month of July,” said Cook. 

Hours for the miniature art show are 10-4 Monday-Friday and 10-2 Saturday. For more information call 913-294-4940.

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