We love a good follow-up story…especially when it comes with miniature gnomes, thimble-sized treats, and a pink unicorn onesie.
Back in April, 2021, we told you about Wilshire Park resident Felice Pappas and the miniature gnome village she set up around the “Giving Tree” in her front yard, on 5th Ave. between 8th and 9th Streets. The display is complete with a miniature art gallery that works like a Little Free Library, where people can donate itsy bitsy artworks or take tiny pieces they’d like to borrow or keep for themselves.
Today, we’re happy to report that the Giving Tree, gnome village, and little free art gallery are still going strong almost two years later. And even better, the gallery just hosted its first-ever art opening – “Go Big or Go Gnome” – featuring custom-made miniature paintings by artist Charlotte Tarantola. It was a small idea, but turned into a huge hit…with a full house (yard?) of friends and art patrons toasting art and artist with miniature champagne glasses, and snapping up almost the entire catalogue of available artworks for sale.
So how did such a tiny venue spark such a big idea…and an even bigger success?
According to Pappas, who originally created the gnome village and mini art gallery for her then-six-year-old son, two things came together at just the right time. First, although she has kept the gnome village going, she admits that finding a steady stream of paintings and other art for the gnome-sized lending gallery has been more challenging. “I’ve struggled at times to get the community to create and donate little works to the gallery,” Pappas told us.
But Pappas kept after her friends, including Tarantola, whom she’s known since their days together in the 1990s fashion industry. (“We go waaaay back!” says Pappas.) For a long time, though, while Pappas tried to convince Tarantola to paint for the gallery, her pleas went unanswered because Tarantola – a longtime artist who loves whimsy and fantasy – just wasn’t specifically interested in gnomes or their world.
But then, Tarantola told us, she fell off a horse on Father’s Day last year and injured her back. During her long recovery, while she couldn’t sit or lie down without pain, she could stand comfortably at her easel and paint. And with so much time on her hands, she found herself suddenly more intrigued by the idea of painting for Pappas’ little gallery. Once she got started, she said, she just couldn’t stop.
At first, Tarantola said, she was just going to do three tiny paintings. But three turned into nine, and then she made some slightly larger gnome-themed works like gnome portraits, mushrooms, and “forest friends” including deer and rabbits. “I was just obsessed,” she said…and the paintings kept coming.
By fall, the two friends had a new abundance of gnome-themed art, so they decided to put on “a proper art opening,” with Tarantola’s recent paintings and some additional works created specifically for the event. They picked a date near the end of January, and Tarantola sent out formal invitations with her Christmas cards.
Then on Sunday, January 29, it all came together with a catalogue of more than 20 of Tarantola’s gnome-world paintings and a huge spread of appropriately-themed refreshments provided by Pappas. (The repast included, among other offerings, custom-baked gnome-shaped sourdough loaves courtesy of local bread artist Zissy Rosen, gnome-sized thimbles filled with pine nuts, and teeny weeny glasses of champagne.)
The effect was magical…as was the turnout. To Tarantola’s surprise, more than 300 guests showed up, including people she hadn’t seen in years, and some who came from out of state just for the occasion.
And, yes, the guests bought art. Tarantola sold 18 of the 21 items in the show catalogue at the event, as well as some additional pieces, and a few prints of the original paintings. She also gained some new commissions. It was, she said, a veritable “frenzy,” and she couldn’t believe how popular the paintings were: “Who loves gnomes this much?” But then she answered her own question, noting that gnomes are small and happy, so the appeal is actually rather understandable during our current trying times.
Also, it was pretty obvious that a big part of the draw was Tarantola herself. A self-described “light-hearted person” who has “a thing for fun and fantasy,” she said she’s known for weird clothes and costumes, and nobody even commented on the fact that she attended “Go Big or Go Gnome” in a pink unicorn onesie and glitter-covered boots…because it was so in character.
And to enhance the mood even further, Tarantola brought along her 1956 vintage pink Pleasurecraft travel-trailer studio, which is usually parked at her home near Calabasas, but added to the festive air at the opening.
“We wanted it to be a party, and it was,” Tarantola said…but at the same time, she stresses that she also took the paintings very seriously. Each one took 15-20 hours to complete, she said, and she put a lot of additional time into framing many of the odd-sized miniatures. “What I was trying to do was take a very light-hearted theme and do very serious paintings.”
The audience clearly took them seriously, too…and Pappas also got what she wanted for her Giving Tree. Tarantola reports that 19 tiny prints of the paintings have been placed in small gold frames and will rotate in the Gnome Gallery between now and June. So if you’d like to take a look, please visit.
And who knows, said Pappas, “maybe it’s the start of featuring other artists for mini shows!” Though now that she knows how big a tiny art event can get, she says, “Next time I need to hire a helper!”