Once upon a time, as all good stories begin, Wilshire Park resident Felice Pappas used to take her then-toddler son for walks in the neighborhood, and they would search for interesting things to look at. Inspired to make her own yard more fun for their explorations, she started gluing little gnomes to a tree in their front yard, and soon created a small gnome village. Over time, she told the Buzz, she would replace the pieces as they inevitably broke or fell, but after a while, as the years passed and her son got older, she didn’t pay as much attention to the installation as she once had.
Recently, however, Pappas decided it would be fun to fix up the tiny world, and she installed a fresh new version of her gnome village…but with a new twist. Inspired by several influences – a friend in northern California who has created a “giving tree” (named after author Shel Silvertein’s famous book) where she hangs small items (mostly jewelry) for passersby to take, the currently popular “Little Free Libraries” for book trading, and a Seattle artist Pappas read about who started a little free art gallery – she combined the ideas and added a tiny free art gallery to her gnome community.
The result is a wood box, about 15″ x 9″ x 11″ (about the size of a wine box, Pappas said), set up as an itsy bitsy gnome-sized gallery, which can hold a small collection of miniature artworks (from the size of a postage stamp up to a maximum size of about 5″ x 7″). And it works like a “Little Free Library” for tiny art instead of books — visitors can view the art, take a piece home if they like something, and/or leave pieces for others to enjoy.
Pappas, an artist herself, says she’s one of only a handful of people in the area who fully decorates her house for Halloween every year (“I’m that house,” she said), and explained she wanted to bring something fun to the neighborhood that wasn’t just seasonal. “There’s not much “school spirit” on the street,” she said, so “I think it’s a great way to share joy to the neighborhood.”
To get started, Pappas reached out to other members of her local “Buy Nothing” group for materials and art donations, and got a great response. She also offered small panels of wood or cardboard to group members, so they could help make art for the gallery. She said some people who used to make art but haven’t in a long time said they would be thrilled to contribute, and others who don’t necessarily think of themselves as artists said they, too, would love to make things. Friends and neighbors – both kids and adults – are helping, too, and even one professional photographer offered a piece.
Pappas welcomes contributions from others, too. “It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Pappas said, explaining that pieces can be anything from computer-generated work to photos to tiny paintings. One neighbor even made some small clay cats for the gallery. And “artists should feel free to sign, date, and title their work.”
If you would like to contribute an original item (see dimensions above, or just think “gnome-sized”), bring it over, and leave it at the gallery, which you can find near the intersection of 5th Avenue and W. 9th Street.
Pappas will collect the works people leave, and curate the gallery so items are nicely displayed and it doesn’t get too crowded. (The gallery box has both tiny easels and small shelves on the gallery walls.) Also, if you would like to visit the gallery and perhaps claim a piece of art, please note that only the art is available to take home; the gnomes in the yard and on the tree are glued in place and are NOT meant to travel.
“It will be an interesting experiment in commuity and participation,” Pappas said, noting that some people have also left gnomes for the village, and her son (now 7), has added his own personal touch by contributing a few dinosaurs. She welcomes people to bring their kids by to see the installation, and “I hope people let it live for other people to enjoy.”
If you and/or your kids, like many of us, have been missing museums during the pandemic, or if you’re just looking for interesting things to explore on your next neighborhood walk, this little ray of sunshine might help to brighten your day. (You can even visit on Instagram – #gnome_gallery – and share your own photos of it with the hashtag.)