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Art & Museums

'Big Little Show' at Irma Freeman Center makes big deal out of miniature art

| Thursday, April 2, 2015, 9:19 p.m.
“The Big Little Show: Art in Miniature,” which opens this week at the Irma Freeman Center in Garfield, will feature local and international exhibiting artists. One piece is shown in the gallery on Monday March 30, 2015.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
“The Big Little Show: Art in Miniature,” which opens this week at the Irma Freeman Center in Garfield, will feature local and international exhibiting artists. One piece is shown in the gallery on Monday March 30, 2015.
“The Big Little Show: Art in Miniature,” which opens this week at the Irma Freeman Center in Garfield, will feature local and international exhibiting artists. One piece is shown in the gallery on Monday March 30, 2015.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
“The Big Little Show: Art in Miniature,” which opens this week at the Irma Freeman Center in Garfield, will feature local and international exhibiting artists. One piece is shown in the gallery on Monday March 30, 2015.
“The Big Little Show: Art in Miniature,” which opens this week, will feature local and international exhibiting artists. One piece is shown in the gallery on Monday March 30, 2015.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
“The Big Little Show: Art in Miniature,” which opens this week, will feature local and international exhibiting artists. One piece is shown in the gallery on Monday March 30, 2015.
Works by Ryder Henry in “The Big Little Show: Art in Miniature,” which opens this week at the Irma Freeman Center in Garfield.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
Works by Ryder Henry in “The Big Little Show: Art in Miniature,” which opens this week at the Irma Freeman Center in Garfield.
'The Miniature Library' by Etta Cetera of Polish Hill at “The Big Little Show: Art in Miniature,” which opens this week at the Irma Freeman Center in Garfield.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
'The Miniature Library' by Etta Cetera of Polish Hill at “The Big Little Show: Art in Miniature,” which opens this week at the Irma Freeman Center in Garfield.
Artist Sandy Streiff of Highland Park has entered  photographs of many of the models she made during her years with 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' for 'The Big Little Show' at the Irma Freeman Center.
Sandy Streiff
Artist Sandy Streiff of Highland Park has entered photographs of many of the models she made during her years with 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' for 'The Big Little Show' at the Irma Freeman Center.
Miniature kitchen created by Sheila Ali of Shadyside, curator of the exhibit 'The Big Little Show.'
Sheila Ali
Miniature kitchen created by Sheila Ali of Shadyside, curator of the exhibit 'The Big Little Show.'
Alberto Almarza’s 'The Insect Maker' is in the Irma Freeman Center exhibit 'The Big Little Show.'
Alberto Almarza
Alberto Almarza’s 'The Insect Maker' is in the Irma Freeman Center exhibit 'The Big Little Show.'
Sheila Ali, curator of the show and director of the Irma Freeman Center, at the Garfield gallery
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
Sheila Ali, curator of the show and director of the Irma Freeman Center, at the Garfield gallery

There is a world that we can control, one that can take us back in time, propel us deep into the future or keep us right here in wildly creative ways.

It is the world of “Art in Miniature,” and it is being celebrated in “The Big Little Show” opening April 3 at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination in Pittsburgh's Garfield/Friendship neighborhood.

Educational programming is a collaboration between the Freeman Center, the Carnegie Museum of Art of Pittsburgh and the Wisdom Arts Laboratory of Los Angeles.

“People are attracted to miniatures in the same way that we are attracted to fantasy. Anytime you change the scale of things, you begin to see the world in a different light,” says artist-filmmaker and teacher Sheila Ali of Shadyside, co-founder and director of the Freeman Center and curator of the show, which features 16 local and international artists.

“Creativity is born and thrives when you begin to see things from a unique perspective, like when a button becomes a tiny clock,” Ali says.

She sees a miniature house, for example, as a metaphor for something otherwise intangible, allowing us to open the door to our imagination.

“What better way to express our aspirations, hopes and dreams than through the art of miniature and the imagery of tiny worlds?” she asks. “Miniatures remove the barriers of everyday life, the chains of normalcy that we impose on ourselves.”

Those walking through the door of the Freeman Center will see an exceedingly diverse representation of artistic expression in miniature, including models, photographs of models, dioramas, stop-motion animation, weaving, paintings, glass chandeliers and chairs set in small rooms, a miniature library that can be explored and Ali's own interactive settings, which include three short films, a kitchen with running water and working lights and a fan.

Ali credits much of her inspiration to the Carnegie's Hall of Miniatures, where she found solace as a child.

“In my family, when we were small and lived in poverty, we always had the museum,” Ali says. “They are truly fantastic miniature rooms, forever frozen in one infinite moment of time. Many of us who grew up in Pittsburgh remember it as a magical place.”

The cases with miniature furniture in tiny room settings are a beloved part of the museum, says Ashley Andrykovitch, the Carnegie's assistant curator of education, children's and family programs. “Very often things that are miniaturized seem sweet or precious and can have a special kind of appeal,” she says.

For children, Andrykovitch finds, the art sparks the imagination and storytelling and creative adventures.

“Anything can happen in a make-believe world, and that is fun to think about and to talk about,” she says.

The museum's miniatures will be the focus of its ARTventures activities April 11 in the Hall of Sculpture. There will be a lot to explore at the Freeman Center and its own workshops, too.

“A lot of the artists are also teachers, so the possibilities of having a variety of ‘Make & Take' workshops is pretty much off the charts,” Ali says.

Art in miniature offers “very small worlds with larger-than-life stories,” says artist Katy DeMent of Highland Park, who entered tiny matchbook dioramas in the “Big Little Show.”

“I have always enjoyed the fantasy and imagination that can be created in small spaces. As a child, I created worlds, towns and villages,” she says. “Small items can make a large impact.”

LaVern Kemp of Highland Park, represented with three small framed weavings in the exhibit, says that because most of her artwork is so large, she finds it refreshing when she has the opportunity to work in miniature. “I almost feel like I'm cheating,” she says.

Self-taught artist and photographer Douglas “Dougie” Duerring of Wilkinsburg, whose credits include work with Cirque Du Soleil and the National Opera of Paris, says being able to create the world he wants to see is much easier when working in miniature.

“I am trying to convey to people that no matter how big or small, everything has its beauty,” he says. He has six photographs of a miniature world from his “Microcosm” series in the show.

Alberto Almarza of Observatory Hill, a conceptual artist with an interest in miniatures, is returning his 5-inch by 5-inch “The Insect Maker” to the spotlight for the show. He showcased the conceptual tribute to the natural world at the Warhol in 2009, and it won best of show at the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh annual that year.

He also will be showing a recently finished series of optical illusion drawings, as well as his “Miniature Museum of Modern Art.”

His drawings tell a story about creative play, mystery and imagination, but, he says, “I leave the details of such a story up to the viewer's imagination and sensitivities.”

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or rrutkoski@tribweb.com.

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