Small Talk Tag: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

chellis wessel's miniature artistry

Have you ever gone into an art museum and wished you could take one of the pieces home? While we may take a picture, artist Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel decided to take it one step further! With advanced art degrees, Chellis Wessel knew the technical aspects of creating pottery. But it wasn’t until she began creating period appropriate ceramics as gifts to furnish her mother’s miniature Colonial Revival house that she developed a passion for replicating the old masters in one-inch scale.

Chellis Wessel’s miniature artistry thrives from an interest in comparing and contrasting the style, period, form, function, and even geographic origin of the artworks, such as this charger that she reproduced from the collection at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She enjoys musing about the work’s original home, “I’ve always been really interested in… the historical aspect of what kinds of pieces were appropriate for this type of house, style, and period.”

While The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is closed for renovation, see this charger and more, along with some of their full-scale counterparts, on view now through February 22, 2015 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

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).

Pocket Portraiture: The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures

portrait miniatures

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine not being able to text a photo to a friend, flip through the family scrapbook, or do a Google image search. Before the invention of photography, paintings were the best way (outside of taking a mental picture) to record a person’s image. But, paintings weren’t super portable. What if you wanted to lovingly gaze upon an image of your fiancée while sailing the high seas? Behold, miniature portraits!

The art form combining painting and jewelry making took off in the late 16th century. In fact, some of the earliest miniature portrait artists were trained as goldsmiths. The tiny portraits were painted on vellum until the early 18th century when artists began using ivory for a richer, more luminous look. The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is lucky to be just blocks away from the Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The collection contains over 250 paintings, with more than 50 by notable miniaturist John Smart. The miniatures are frequently rotated so you never know what tiny faces you’re going to see!

Photo: John Smart, English (1741/1742-1811). Portrait of General Keith MacAlister, 1810. Watercolor on ivory in copper mount, 3 3/8 x 2 ¾ inches (8.6 x 7 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Starr Foundation, Inc., F65-41/51. Photo: Robert Newcombe