Marvin Jones, a longtime District artist who began painting as a small child, created 12- by 8-foot murals, life-size portraits and landscapes.
But four years ago, an accident with a table saw nearly amputated three fingers of his right hand and the surgeon who repaired them predicted he would never paint again.
Instead of losing his ability to paint, however, Jones, after a long and difficult period of healing, has recaptured his talent in miniature.
Today, he is a successful painter of miniatures, paintings of half-inch to two-inch dimensions.
His works--depictions of clipper ships, copies of the masters, landscapes and portraits--are on display in the National Doll's House Museum and in galleries in Washington, Bethesda and Fairfax. They also are sold nationally by an agent.
Jones said the tiny creations are mainly for dollhouse collectors who want "real quality paintings, not prints or photographs. . . . Some people exhibit my work on small easels. Or my miniatures can be jewelry. Wear an original oil painting around your neck."
Recalling the accident, he said it "was so bad a rescue worker, a firefighter, went back to the equipment to see if my fingers were on the floor," Jones, 41, recalled.
"We had 100 people praying for him," said his wife Lynn, 36, a public health worker.
"The hand reconstruction surgeon said he wouldn't be able to save the fingers because they were too badly damaged."
"Mine was one of the worst accidents the plastic surgeon had ever seen," Jones said. "I went into the three-hour surgery thinking he'd amputate. After the surgery, he said my fingers would die, that there was no hope and the next week he'd have to amputate."
"The fact that he can use his hand is very good. He's done something marvelous if he can do anything with his hand," Dr. Bahaman Teimourian, now a staff doctor at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, said recently after reviewing his report on Jones.
Teimourian, president of the D.C. Society of Plastic Surgeons, said he performed two operations on Jones.
After the first, "a traumatic partial amputation of the thumb and removal of a digit from the second, third and ring fingers," he wrote at the time, "there is little hope the thumb, index and third finger will survive."
After the second operation three months later, he prescribed two hours a day of physical therapy.
It was not an easy recovery, Jones said. "You can't imagine the pain I suffered because of nerve regeneration. . . . The pain felt like my hand was in a red-hot vise, tight as it could go."
During a month when he wore bandages, the artist said his doctor told him he would "never be able to touch my three injured fingers to my thumb."
But after three operations, "I can," he said, adding, "I don't have much pressure in them, though. I can't turn a key or turn on a light switch or make a fist."
A chance meeting with a miniaturist, a doll maker, several months after the accident inspired him, however, to begin painting again. Soon after he decided to try small paintings.
Jones, who grew up in Richmond, said he first began drawing in his mother's kitchen. He studied art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts during the summer after sixth grade. He later studied at the Corcoran School of Art and at American University. For three years, he operated a co-op art studio in Georgetown.
Jones moved with his wife and three children to Manassas last month and gave up two part-time jobs. He now works nine to 10 hours a day delivering cars for a rental company.
The miniatures are "the most enjoyable things I've done," he said.
"It's challenging to get as much detail in the paintings as possible. It's like looking at things from a distance."
Using the smallest paintbrushes available and a magnifying glass to check the results, he completes the delicate paintings in two to five hours.
"The clipper ships take the longest," Jones said. "The fine detail in the rigging takes a long time."
His small works sell for $15 to $60.
Although he said he prefers to paint miniatures, he continues to produce full-size paintings that sell for $100 to $500.
Although he paints still lifes and copies and variations on Rembrandt, Winslow Homer and others, Jones said he "would rather create my own ideas. I prefer portraits."
He said his "paintings are better now than before my injury."