Nevada, big and small

Minis and Maxis reveals the beauty of the West

“Lupine at Lamoille Canyon” by Harriet Uhalde.

“Lupine at Lamoille Canyon” by Harriet Uhalde.

I must confess that when I told my friends I was going to see an exhibit titled Minis and Maxis, every one of them raised a questioning eyebrow and smirked. One co-worker, who shall remain nameless, went so far as to ask if the art has “wings.”

Those who are less than thrilled at the prospect of feminine hygiene art can rest assured: The title merely describes the size of the artworks, now on display at the Artists Co-Op Gallery.

The pairing of Mary Chadwell’s miniature paintings and Harriet Uhalde’s larger works seems natural. Although their styles are different—Uhalde’s works tend toward impressionism, while Chadwell sticks to an almost photographic realism—the artists, who are both native Nevadans, reveal a fascination with the rugged landscapes of the West, from the barren high desert hills of central Nevada to the mountainous beauty of Tahoe.

According the Artists Co-Op Gallery newsletter, Uhalde’s philosophy is contained in the phrase, “You don’t make art happen—you let it happen.” This philosophy becomes immediately clear when observing Uhalde’s paintings. Uhalde lets her subjects—mostly the Sierra Nevada—speak for themselves, revealing a nature that is both vibrant and serene. In her art, Tahoe brims with the pastels of spring, the greens of summer and the yellows of fall.

Uhalde emphasizes only one or two colors in each painting, and because she paints with a knife instead of a brush, the colors emerge sharp and clear. For instance, “Lupine at Lamoille Canyon” (18 feet by 24 feet) depicts a canyon blanketed by lavender and yellow lupine at the height of bloom. Everything else—the path winding through the flowers, the foreground hills, the background mountains and the sky—are pallid in comparison, making the purples and yellows look all the more vibrant.

The work I found most pleasing steered clear of Tahoe in favor of the Nevada desert. In “Buffalo in Nevada” (15 feet by 30 feet), Uhalde depicts a dozen buffalo roaming on distant hills. The gently rolling hills are plain and brown, and the buffalo, shown at a distance, are little more than chocolate-colored dots, but the scene has a poignant loveliness to it. Tahoe looks magnificent in the hands of almost any artist, but it takes a special flair to reveal the singular beauty of the desert.

OK, so we can all appreciate a nice maxi painting. But what about the minis? Why would anyone want to make incredibly detailed, 6-inch by 7-inch paintings in a country—and, for that matter, in a state like Nevada—that loves big things?

Chadwell says she has always liked small things, and she enjoys the discipline of painting miniatures. She has to work slowly and use tiny brushes, but in the end, her patience and perseverance produce something special.

Like Uhalde, Chadwell’s miniatures pay homage to the beauty of the Silver State. Chadwell’s scenes, however, are generally less grand than Uhalde’s. Because of their small size and their more modest subjects, Chadwell’s paintings feel like snapshots of ordinary, rugged Nevada, of everyday people and everyday life. One shows the humble beauty of Pyramid Lake, another the soft greens and yellows of spring in the Black Rock Desert. Several are portraits of Native American women, all of whom have expressions of wisdom and pride.

One portrait, “The Guru of Dooby Ave., Gerlach” (6 1/2 inches by 8 inches), depicts a cynical yet kind-looking older gentleman. Behind him is a tree stump with cattle skulls hanging from its remaining branches. Next to him is a sign that reads, “Tree planted by Dooby. Please don’t pick the fruit.” The humor here seems uniquely Nevadan: Where else can you find dead trees and dead animals celebrated, given the status of lush, fruit-bearing trees? One can’t help but smile at Dooby and his irony—and applaud Chadwell for having her ear to the pulse of rural Nevada.

So much better than feminine hygiene art.