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Margaret Hicks, 83; Major Painter of Miniature Art

Margaret Hicks with some of her small paintings. She began painting standard-size works but became drawn to ones that would fit in her palm.
Margaret Hicks with some of her small paintings. She began painting standard-size works but became drawn to ones that would fit in her palm. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 18, 2006

Margaret Hicks, 83, a painter who specialized in miniature works of art and who promoted her small creations to the world at large, died Aug. 3 of cancer at Washington Home hospice in the District. She lived in Washington until moving last year to Silver Spring.

A former schoolteacher, Mrs. Hicks had harbored artistic aspirations since childhood and began her career as an artist by painting works of standard size. Over time, though, she was increasingly drawn to works that would fit in the palm of her hand.

Her art was exhibited around the world, and in 1993 she wrote a book about small-scale painting, sculpture and engraving called "Art in Miniature." The book -- believed to be the first of its kind on the subject -- was itself an example of artistry in miniature, measuring just 2 7/8 by 2 5/8 inches.

"I collect miniature books, and felt no one had done a miniature book on art in miniature," Mrs. Hicks told The Washington Post in 1993. "Both have a long history, and I felt it would make a lot of sense."

Miniature art has been made for more than 1,000 years and has long been prized by collectors. The White House owns a large collection of miniature art, as does the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Traditionally, miniature paintings and watercolors have been executed on ivory, but modern artists often use an imitation material called ivorine. According to the bylaws of miniature art organizations, a painting cannot exceed 25 square inches, or 5-by-5 inches.

Mrs. Hicks often painted on finely woven canvases or wooden panels measuring just 2 to 4 inches wide. She favored representational art, such as landscapes, still lifes and the occasional portrait, and painted mostly from life, using small watercolor brushes and a magnifying glass. It could take months for her to complete a painting.

"There is something fascinating about the exquisite art of miniature painting," Mrs. Hicks wrote in an artist's statement. "The skill of the artist, reflected in the detail and delicate quality of the painting, reveals a world view often overlooked, except by those who take the time to see."

Margaret Talbert Hicks was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Temple University. She taught in Philadelphia elementary schools, then followed her Army officer husband to overseas assignments. She studied art in Germany, taught at American schools abroad and tutored soldiers to improve their chances for reenlistment and promotion.

After settling in Washington in 1967, she taught at Burroughs Elementary School in the District for a year before becoming a full-time artist. Her paintings and other artwork were shown in exhibitions and galleries in Washington and Baltimore, as well as in London, Japan and at the U.S. Embassy in Gambia. She also made jewelry and elaborate sweaters with silk ribbons and thread. She had such a flair for style, a daughter said, that she would decorate as many as five Christmas trees in their home.

Once she developed her interest in miniature art, Mrs. Hicks often lectured on the topic. From 1983 to 1988, she was president of the Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers Society of Washington, an invitation-only group that was founded in 1932 and is the second-oldest organization of its kind in the world. Two years ago, she helped organize an international exhibition of miniature art at the Smithsonian Institution's S. Dillon Ripley Center. Several of Mrs. Hicks's paintings were among the more than 500 works on view at the exhibition.

She was also president of the American Art League in Washington and was a member of Arts for Aging, a group that provides art training for the elderly, the Miniature Art Society of Washington, the Arts Club of Washington and other arts and civic groups.

All the proceeds from her book, "Art in Miniature," went to a scholarship program funded by the Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers Society of Washington for local high school students planning to study art (though not necessarily art in miniature).

Survivors include her husband of 60 years, retired Army Col. Stanford R. Hicks of Silver Spring; two daughters, Marjorie Scandrett of Washington and Susan Spurlock of Cambridge, Mass.; and two grandchildren.

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