Stacy Milrany probably runs the only art gallery in the country where visitors are encouraged to walk away with the art.
And as far as she knows, her Little Free Art Gallery in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood is likely the only museum where all of the works will fit neatly in a pocket.
Milrany’s miniature gallery, which opened for public view on Dec. 13, sits five feet off the ground inside a white wooden box in front of her house.
The head curator and painter said she based her idea 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.
This woman turned her tree stump into a Little Free Library fit for magical elves.
“I suppose my larger intention was to add some light, levity and beauty to an otherwise dismal year,” she said.
Artist Stacy Milrany with the Little Free Art Gallery she put up in front of her Seattle home (Winnie Westergard)
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.
The Little Free Art Gallery showing the piece “Exuberance” by A. McLean
“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 came up with the idea for 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:
“Welcome to the smallest free-est art gallery in the world. 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.
“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.
The art, though, comes and goes quickly.
The piece of art “Not Damien Hirst” by Burton Holt displayed in the Little Free Art Gallery. (Stacy Milrany)
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.
Art pieces “Queen Anne Snowy Owl” and “Skier” by Lauren Clisham displayed in the Little Free Art Gallery. (Stacy Milrany)
Artist A. McLean Emenegger created a piece that features his 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 his contribution.
“Quite literally, I sprinted over to the LFAG when I found out about it,” he said. “There’s something charming and reassuring about the Little Free Library concept. And translating that into an art exchange is genius.”
He 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.
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