Art

Miniatures exhibition to open on Barrington Street

Set up continues to showcase little artworks

Caitlin McGuire, a gallery assistant, holds up her favourite tiny piece.   Caitrin Pilkington

Miniature art has flourished for hundreds of years — and it’s about to flourish again on Barrington Street.

Argyle Fine Art’s yearly “Pre-Shrunk” collection is opening Friday, Jan. 20. The exhibit features over 300 pieces of paintings, sculpture, textile and collages, and they all fit in a single room.

Adriana Afford, the gallery’s owner, is looking forward to the opening.

“Every time we run this exhibit there’s usually a line up, which is exciting because that doesn’t often happen for art shows in Halifax,” she says.

“Pre-Shrunk” is part of a grand, but diminutive tradition: miniature artworks have existed since medieval times, in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. They originated in religious manuscripts and expanded to include tiny portraiture and portable sculptures. Ancient Egyptians included small versions of objects in tombs to accompany the dead: boats, weapon and entire miniature scenes. 

Later, ‘Lilliputian’ portrait could also be quite useful to royalty, as noblemen would pay for pocket portraits of their daughters to send to potential suitors. Soldiers and sailors used them as a kind of precursor to the wallet photo.

The tradition continued into the 20th century with Marcel Duchamp, a prominent figure in the Dadaist movement: he was famous for his miniatures.

Afford says people have a unique enthusiasm for tiny things.

“Both men and women really respond to miniatures,” she says. “I think it makes you feel like a kid, somehow. The pieces we have here are just special little gems.”

The exhibit also includes a room box, a three-dimensional reproduction of a living room. These boxes, which peaked in popularity in the 1930s, were often commissioned to depict scenes from history in exquisite detail. Bernadette Kernaghan, the artist, contributed several Victorian hearth scenes.

People on the street have been peering in the windows at the developing show all week.

“It reminds me of my doll’s house when I was a kid,” said Britney Wilcox, a passer-by. Several children bent to look into Kenaghan’s little room, as it faces into the street.

“Some of [the pieces] are very imaginative, and quite very well-executed,” said Carolyn Poel, who stopped at the neighbouring art store to pick up her own tiny canvas.

For the artists, the show presents a unique opportunity. Gord MacDonald is showcasing a pint-sized version of his work.

“You can produce a series of small-scale artworks and see what people respond to,” he says.

Artists can then scale-up crowd favourites.

Afford has also curated a diverse group of contributors, from established artists to newcomers, that “range in age from 17 to their late ’70s.”

Miniature artworks invite the viewer to peer a little more closely — to be drawn in rather than overwhelmed by a piece. They are also a little lighter on the wallet. 

“Anything small, people just adore it,” says Afford.

“Pre-Shrunk” runs from Jan. 20 to Feb. 11.