Small Talk Tag: Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel

Miniature Masterworks: Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel

Here at Small Talk we have featured several of Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel’s egg tempera paintings, but not what she might be most well known for: ceramics. Wessel has a BFA from Moore College of Art and a MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in ceramics and has been creating fine-sale works of art in pottery and porcelain for more than 35 years.

Wessel says her work is about presenting beautiful, old objects in a new way to revitalize interest in their history, beauty, and style. She not only researches the objects themselves before starting a new project, but also the original creator of the piece, the methods and materials used to make it, where it was made, who owned and displayed it, and the historical context in which it existed. With all of this information in hand, she sets out to capture the essence of the piece in 1:12 scale.

Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel is one of over sixty artists participating in Miniature Masterworks, September 15-17, 2017. She will be giving a gallery talk about her work in the T/m collection and the inspiration behind it on Sunday, September 17 at 3:15 pm.

How Do They Do It?

how miniatures are made

We get this question at T/m a LOT when people visit the fine-scale miniature galleries. We stay awake at night contemplating it ourselves. So, when we started talking about what we wanted to add to the miniature galleries, a look into fine-scale miniature artists’ studios was at the top of our list.

In T/m’s new exhibit, In The Artist’s Studio, visitors can watch four videos that take them into the studios of William R. Robertson and Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel. Not only did the artists let us invade their studios for multiple days of filming, which included shoving cameras inches from their faces (everything is really small!), but they also donated all of the tools they used and created multiple pieces that illustrate the steps in the process towards the final product. Robertson turned a metal candlestick on a lathe and carved a dovetail drawer. Chellis Wessel painted an egg tempera canvas and turned a ceramic plate on a wheel. While the exhibit provides some answers, it will still leave you in awe of their work!

An Artful Tradition

lee ann chellis wessel egg tempera

Like last year, we’re going to take a look at a work by Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel that commemorates the holiday season. Although her miniature version of The Virgin and Child by Italian painter Lippo Memmi was created nearly 700 years after his, Chellis Wessel has stayed true to the original media: egg tempera with gold leaf on a panel. Memmi’s trademark lacy halos and flattened gold patterns and trim within Mary’s robe all carry an intricate amount of tiny detail. We wonder how Chellis Wessel must have felt replicating those details in fine-scale miniature!

As a special treat this year, Chellis Wessel’s version is on display at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art next to the original work that served as her inspiration. Visitors can view it as well as others scattered throughout the Nelson-Atkins’ galleries as part of the exhibit, Highlights from the Collection of The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures on view now through February 22, 2015.

Renaissance Woman

lee ann chellis wessel ceramics

A large portion of Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel’s work focuses on re-creating Renaissance masterpieces in miniature. Like a modern day Renaissance woman, Chellis Wessel not only excels at painting miniature renditions of egg tempera masterworks like this version of Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni, but also Renaissance period maiolica (or majolica or mayólica, depending on where it’s from) ceramics.

Much like her egg tempera work, Chellis Wessel’s miniature maiolica is made using the same process as full-scale pottery. First created in the ancient Middle East, maiolica  is made by covering a clay vessel with a white glaze that has been made opaque by the addition of tin. The white glaze provides a blank canvas for the metallic oxide designs that are layered on top and become fused to the background during the firing process. The results are the same whether in full-scale or fine-scale miniature: a beautiful multicolored piece of pottery.

Keep an Even Tempera-ment

Lee Ann Chellis-Wessel egg tempera

Topping the list of frequently asked questions about our miniature collection is, “how did they make that?!” In the summer of 2012, miniature painter Lee Ann Chellis-Wessel came to Kansas City as the museum’s first artist in residence. During her time with us, she revealed some of the secrets of painting with egg tempera in miniature (after all, like magicians, miniaturists never reveal all of their secrets.)

Surprisingly, many of the techniques involved in miniature egg tempera painting are the same as they are in full-scale. Pigments are mixed with an egg solution and are then dabbed onto a ceramic painter’s palette. Water is added to the tempera to give a range of values to the paint. The real magic happens when Chellis-Wessel uses a very fine paint brush and a steady hand to apply the paint to the board. Cross-hatching and overlaying of different paint colors give the miniature work the rich tones found in the Renaissance originals. The paintings depicted here illustrate Chellis-Wessel’s steps in reaching painted perfection.

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