Small Talk Tag: Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel

Renaissance Woman

lee ann chellis wessel ceramics

A large portion of Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel’s work focuses on re-creating Renaissance masterpieces in miniature. Like a modern day Renaissance woman, Chellis Wessel not only excels at painting miniature renditions of egg tempera masterworks like this version of Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni, but also Renaissance period maiolica (or majolica or mayólica, depending on where it’s from) ceramics.

Much like her egg tempera work, Chellis Wessel’s miniature maiolica is made using the same process as full-scale pottery. First created in the ancient Middle East, maiolica  is made by covering a clay vessel with a white glaze that has been made opaque by the addition of tin. The white glaze provides a blank canvas for the metallic oxide designs that are layered on top and become fused to the background during the firing process. The results are the same whether in full-scale or fine-scale miniature: a beautiful multicolored piece of pottery.

Keep an Even Tempera-ment

Lee Ann Chellis-Wessel egg tempera

Topping the list of frequently asked questions about our miniature collection is, “how did they make that?!” In the summer of 2012, miniature painter Lee Ann Chellis-Wessel came to Kansas City as the museum’s first artist in residence. During her time with us, she revealed some of the secrets of painting with egg tempera in miniature (after all, like magicians, miniaturists never reveal all of their secrets.)

Surprisingly, many of the techniques involved in miniature egg tempera painting are the same as they are in full-scale. Pigments are mixed with an egg solution and are then dabbed onto a ceramic painter’s palette. Water is added to the tempera to give a range of values to the paint. The real magic happens when Chellis-Wessel uses a very fine paint brush and a steady hand to apply the paint to the board. Cross-hatching and overlaying of different paint colors give the miniature work the rich tones found in the Renaissance originals. The paintings depicted here illustrate Chellis-Wessel’s steps in reaching painted perfection.

Seeing Double

lee ann chellis wessel miniature painting

In Kansas City, you can see the same painting in two different museums located only blocks apart. But, how could that be?! That’s because one is a miniature at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures! Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel, an IGMA Fellow since 1989, added egg tempera painting to her repertoire after traveling and studying in Italy. She reproduces works of “The Old Masters,” such as Gherardo di Jacopo Starna, on tiny wooden panels. Adoration of the Magi can be seen in full-scale at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Art museums across the world feature masterpieces depicting the Adoration of the Magi, the name traditionally given to images of three kings, or wise men, visiting Jesus in the nativity after following a star to find him. The three magi, commonly considered to be Melchior (a Persian scholar), Caspar (an Indian scholar), and Balthazar (an Arabian scholar), bring Jesus gifts. They’re not at the top of our wish list, but they were ordinary offerings for a king: gold (a valuable metal), frankincense (used as a perfume), and myrrh (used as an anointing oil).