Monday, February 22, 2010

Little Treasures Out on View April 1

Great things, so they say, sometimes come in small packages. This is especially true for folk art miniatures, which are often exquisite examples of the skillful handling of brush or pen. These works are difficult to exhibit for a variety of reasons: they can be impossible to light well; and being small, they need to be secure. We are very fortunate this year to have received a generous gift of a first-rate exhibition case designed especially for miniatures from one of our trustees, Katharine Booth, and her husband Robert. The case is upright, allowing the viewer to get close to the artwork, and it features its own interior lighting. It was my pleasant job to fill the case with appropriate miniatures for public display beginning on April 1st.

Two of the gems slated for inclusion in this case are small works in sepia wash on paper by a little known artist named Juliet Miles. I included these works in a 1999 exhibition on New York State Folk Art that we had here at the Fenimore Art Museum, but was unable to uncover much information about them. One (measuring about 4 ½” square) depicts two women on horseback and is titled “Ladies Riding.” The other (9” x 7”) is a likeness of an unknown woman next to a floral arrangement and titled simply “The Portrait.”

We do know that Miss Miles lived in Schoharie, New York, and began painting and drawing miniatures in about 1830. It is apparent that she painted for her own amusement, executing fruit and flower pieces as well as occasional portraits, such as can be seen here. We do not know any more than that.

Still, Miles’ virtuosity is apparent in the confident and precise brush and pen work in both pictures. She was obviously skilled in calligraphy too, judging by the titling of the portrait below the picture. Works such as these were often done for friends and family rather than for sale. Women in particular traded artworks for inclusion in friendship albums or as tokens of affection.

Someday, I think, we will find more of Juliet Miles’ work out there. In the meantime, you will be able to see these pieces better than ever before in our new exhibition case, and your close inspection will be rewarded with unprecedented access to some of our best works in miniature.

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