DUNEDIN — This month, 800 artists from around the world will bear witness to the existence of beauty on a tiny scale. On Sunday, the Miniature Art Society of Florida will open its 37th annual exhibit and sale at the Dunedin Fine Art Center. Visitors to the center will find a world in miniature affixed to panels around the room, with magnifying glasses conveniently placed for up-close viewing.
The paintings, most no larger than 3 by 3 inches, beckon the eye with their bright colors and attractive frames. They present a seemingly endless variety of landscapes, wildlife, still lifes, boating scenes and floral arrangements, among other subjects.
While some miniaturists also paint on large canvases, others remain true to the world writ small. Elaine Thomas of Palm Harbor, a member of the society for more than 25 years, said she has never enjoyed painting on larger canvases the way she does on minute pieces of ivorine, a commonly used synthetic form of ivory.
"Painting is still painting," Thomas said, "but would you rather live in a mansion or a cozy condo?" Artistically, she said, she much prefers to live in the smallest places. This year, for the first time, Thomas is painting in oils on ivorine-covered postage stamps measuring 1 by 1 1/2 inches. These are her smallest paintings yet.
Clearwater artist Kay Petryszak, vice president of the Miniature Art Society of Florida, said challenges abound for the artists of miniature paintings and for those staging the show.
The artist, who uses oils, pencils or watercolor to paint the delicate work while looking through a magnifying glass, requires focus and patience.
"The miniaturist has to create a complete composition in a tiny space," said Petryszak. "Judges look at the composition, the lighting, mood, colors and use of detail."
A clear example of excellence in this art form is a 3-by-3-inch watercolor by Arkansas artist Lynn Ponto-Peterson called The Nutmeg Lantern, which won best of show this year. The painting features an earth-tone jar atop a lace doily draped across a thick book. Several cobalt blue glass bottles and a single lantern stand near the jar. The light shining through the glass seems to bounce off the jar, giving the viewer a sense of peering through a window at the real objects.
Petryszak said it takes the exhibit organizers an entire year after a show to prepare for the next one. The process of receiving the art, unwrapping it, categorizing and numbering each piece and preparing a catalog are only some of the many tasks handled largely by volunteers.
"The most difficult part of the show is making sure nothing is lost or damaged after it arrives," she said. "Then everything has to be carefully numbered and arranged by category."
Some pieces end up in more than one category. Pieces by artists submitting work for the first time are placed in a separate category.
Each year a select panel of five artists, all of whom have won awards in past miniature shows, give out 60 awards in areas including best of show, overall excellence, best first-time entry, and separate awards in each media category. Petryszak said the money for the awards, totaling about $15,000, is primarily donated by local art collectors and art lovers.
As with art on larger canvases, prices vary. The asking price for the prize-winning Nutmeg Lantern is $950.
"I would say the typical price range is about $250 to $1,000," said Thomas, "but some of the pieces go for upward of $10,000."