Forest Park artist Elaine Luther creates tiny art galleries. The walls of the space are 12 inches by 12 inches on all sides, and the gallery itself has a back wall and two side walls, plus a floor. There’s no ceiling or front wall so “visitors” can see inside.
The paintings on the walls are on real canvases of 4 inches by 4 inches or smaller. Sculptures are on display too, all to scale of what would fit inside a doll’s house.
On opening nights of the gallery, when a new artist’s work is presented, miniature wine bottles and glasses and a wedge of cheese are “served.” (They’re not actually edible or drinkable.)
Luther puts out open calls to artists to submit work to display in the tiny studio, officially termed a “micro gallery,” and recently, she and her online micro gallery called The Angelica Kauffman Gallery, featured on Instagram (@angelicakauffmangallery), were invited to be part of the international Guild of Micro Galleries.
The Angelica Kauffman Gallery, which features only micro art, is named after a Swiss painter, considered to be a child prodigy, who lived from 1741 to 1807. The gallery is currently on display in Calypso Moon Studio in Oak Park at 331B Harrison St.
Luther has been an artist for years. She started sewing at the age of eight, and “was always crafting and making stuff,” she said. A communications major in college, she took a metalsmithing class, which made her decide she wanted to be a geologist, but the field of bench jewelry is hard to break into, she said.
Luther studied with the Gemological Institute of America and she attended jewelry trade school, working in the jewelry industry for a while. After having kids, she participated in craft fairs, and then shifted to different media.
“Most recently, I make all assemblage art,” said Luther. “Basically using found objects and putting them together. Sometimes it’s random, and sometimes it’s more intentional, like my ‘ladies of perpetual housework’.” In fact, Luther said that for the past two decades her focus has been on large sculpture, “complaining about housework or, you know, talking about women’s lives and being a mom in more or less abstract ways.”
A subset of her art focused on women’s lives features the phrase, “Pockets for women,” in response to women’s clothing for so many years not having pockets.
The micro galleries grew out of a love she already was developing for art on the small scale. And the pandemic was an influential factor as well.
Due to COVID-19, said Luther, her kids had lost a lot of their activities and she had more free time previously spent driving to choir, Girl Scouts, and the home school coop they were a part of.
“And all of a sudden, I didn’t have to drive at all,” Luther said. “So I’ve had more time to do art. And then also I found that I have more headspace to entertain my crazy ideas. Also, other people are more willing to go along with me.” One of these “crazy” ideas was to start a micro gallery. So she started posting about it on Facebook, asking for tiny canvases for her birthday. When she received the canvases, she gave them to her artist friends, asking them to paint something for her gallery.
Luther got a lot of responses to her request. “People have just been really generous and up for it,” she said. “And they think it’s so fun. And then I’ve had the first solo show, and I’ve got three more solo shows lined up. And the solo show artists, especially, are like, thank you for the challenge.”
Luther said it allows an artist to try out an idea for an entire show, but quickly and easily because you’re working on such a small scale.
Being accepted into the international Guild of Micro Galleries is an impressive feat, because it is by invitation only. The guild was started by an artist named Lisa Cole, whose tiny gallery, displayed on Instagram at @tiny.cat.gallery, shows “art from the perspective of small plastic cats.”
The Guild of Micro Galleries has one main rule: “We use our galleries for good not evil by showing work that does not actively spread hate or discrimination, unless the artist is highlighting an unheard voice and states so in that work.”
Luther is accepting art for her micro galleries on a rolling basis. Information on how to submit and the requirements is on her blog at elainelutherart.com/call-for-art-very-small-art/.
Luther encourages everyone to try it, either producing tiny art or your own micro gallery.
“It doesn’t need to be fancy. You know, take a cereal box and cut it down and paint on it … It’s just really fun. Or make a sculpture for your fairy garden.”
It’s also a way, Luther said, for artists and those interested in trying art to connect in a small, simple way.
“We can’t meet in person, but we can meet in this fantasy world and have pretend wine and cheese together,” Luther said.