The head curator and painter said the idea is based on the popular Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods coast to coast.
“The idea is pretty simple — anyone is welcome to leave a piece, take a piece or just have a look around and enjoy what’s inside,” said Milrany, a painter who runs a small, appointment-only gallery featuring her works.
“I suppose my larger intention was to add some light, levity and beauty to an otherwise dismal year,” she said.
Milrany gave her wee museum a contemporary design, with clean lines, white walls, a natural wood floor and a glass door. She also installed a tiny bench and small plastic people who, she said, appear to be reflecting on the art. The bench and people are part of the permanent collection and not for the taking.
Nearly 100 pieces have come and gone since the gallery opened last month, she said, with most small enough to be displayed on tiny shelves or seven-inch easels.
“On a sunny day, when more people are out, the artwork might change six or eight times,” said Milrany. “Just the surprise of seeing what people put in there has made this super fun for me.”
So far, she has seen works featuring bulldogs, masked heroes and a chicken farmer, as well as intricate collages and painted seashells.
It was March 2019 when she first started creating miniature art pieces, but for a different reason, she said.
Milrany’s mother had just been diagnosed with cancer and was about to begin chemotherapy treatment in Portland, Ore., about 2½ hours away from her home.
“I decided if I couldn’t be with her every day she was going through treatment, I could offer a little piece of something via UPS every single day — something made by a human hand to add some brightness to those dark days,” she said.
Friends and gallery visitors offered to help when they learned what Milrany was doing for her mother, and together they created 140 pieces of mixed-media pieces of art measuring 4-by-6 inches each.
Her mother, who is now healthy, said the daily deliveries helped her to get through the most difficult time of her life, Milrany said.
When the pandemic took hold in Seattle last year, she decided to expand her idea and paint 500 more small artworks and send them to people who were isolated because of the virus. She called her project “Dose of Art.”
“I put a notice on Instagram and people started asking me to mail them to people who were in nursing homes or their moms or dads who were home alone,” Milrany said. “With everyone cut off from each other, it brought me great joy to give them a little piece of art during the pandemic.”
Then last month, Milrany decided to use them to create her Little Free Art Gallery.
“I had all these extra little pieces of art, and I thought it would be a perfect way to showcase them and give people something to look at during the pandemic because we were all cut off from going to museums and galleries,” she said.
A carpenter friend helped her build an 18-by-15-inch cedar display case, paint it white and install it on a post out front, along with a sign:
“Have a look around! If you’d like to take a piece, please leave another piece in its place for the next art-lover who comes around.”
For the Opening Day of her gallery show, Milrany hung a small piece she’d titled “Cat Hair,” showing a cat resting on top of a woman’s head.
From there, her small art works became a big hit.
“I was delighted — in three days, 10 pieces had come and gone,” Milrany said.
She was a bit saddened, however, to discover that one of her plastic miniature gallery figures — a character she named Chef — had gone missing.
Milrany posted a sign asking for the return of her “4.7 inch chef and arts patron” — and a week later, an anonymous donor mailed her an entire new set of whimsical plastic people to place inside the museum.
“These five-inch patrons and spectators make it look more like an actual gallery, and the scenes help add even more whimsy, interest and surprise for passersby,” she said.
While Chef has yet to return, Milrany isn’t worried. Nobody has taken off with any more of her miniature clientele.
The art, though, comes and goes quickly.
She requests that people leave a piece of art if they’re taking one, but she’s happy to make exceptions.
“If someone loves a piece, it’s theirs, regardless of whether they’ve brought a piece to leave in its place,” she said.
Many of the people who tuck artwork inside her gallery are Seattle-area artists, delighted to find a new venue for their work.
Artist A. McLean Emenegger created a piece that features her grandfather as a young man, enjoying some time with a friend.
“It’s a nod to joyful abandon,” said Emenegger, 53, who added beeswax, sewing thread and bits of turquoise and coral to an old family photo for her contribution.
“Quite literally, I sprinted over to the LFAG when I found out about it,” she said. “There’s something charming and reassuring about the Little Free Library concept. And translating that into an art exchange is genius.”
She added that Milrany is “the ideal gallerist and caretaker.”
Burton Holt, an artist who primarily creates works with found objects, donated a piece he’d made from colorful rubber bands.
“The gallery is a real shot in the arm for the neighborhood in these difficult times,” said Holt, 80, a retired ship captain. “Stacy deserves our admiration for the work she has put into this project.”
Milrany was so taken with Holt’s piece that she decided to leave it in the Little Free Art Gallery for less than two minutes before grabbing it for herself, she said.
“The talent and creativity that people have is incredible,” she said. “Yesterday, somebody left a leaf inside with beautiful embroidery sewn down the side of it.”
From abstract ceramic pieces and watercolors to collages, charcoal drawings and paintings of favorite pets, all small works are welcome, Milrany said.
But perhaps the best show of all can be seen from her own front window, she said.
“Watching people come by and be surprised — that’s what I like,” she said.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Stacy Milran’s Little Free Art Gallery is not the first of its kind. Also, artist A. McLean Emenegger was initially referred to with the incorrect gender in this story. Her gender has been corrected.
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