Miniature Art Gallery of Hamilton partners with high school students for first solo exhibitions

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A small free art gallery in Hamilton that launched two months ago on Mapleside Avenue is hosting its first solo exhibition this week, featuring art by 17-year-old Burlington resident Frank Chen.

His exhibition at the Mapleside Museum of Miniature Art (MMOMA) is part of the city’s Winterfest and is the first of three weekly installations that will feature the works of local high school students.

“It’s actually my very first exhibit,” Chen told CBC of his exhibit, which he calls ARTCEPTION.

Chen says he was recommended by his art teacher, Jennifer Smallwood, to Dr. Frank J Hayden High School in Burlington, where he is a senior.

“I chose a lot of pieces that had variations, because I wanted to show the range I could draw,” Chen said.

The original designs created by Chen are much larger at 17 by 14 inches, but in order to fit in the small MMOMA space, they were photographed and shrunk.

Frank Chen is used to drawing on a much larger canvas and has reduced his work to fit in the gallery. (Submitted by Frank Chen)

MMOMA was created by founder Matt Coleman after hearing about similar community projects through an online article shared by a friend.

The outdoor walk-in gallery is usually populated with works by community members who are free to visit and take or leave an artwork in the museum.

“This gallery is a space for young artists and established artists,” Coleman said. “There were contributions from school-age artists to established professional artists, like E. Robert Ross.”

Coleman modeled MMOMA’s physical construction after the small free libraries created by and for community members, often seen at the end of front yards or beside the sidewalk. Closed libraries, sometimes shaped like small houses, are found in Hamilton and other cities around the world. (The original MoMA – the Museum of Modern Art in New York – is world famous.)

“It took me a long time to figure out how to build the gallery,” Coleman said. “I asked friends and neighbors who knew how to build, looked at plans on free small library websites to find out how to build one and it was slowly going for several months.”

After the project launched in late December, Coleman said he was approached a few days later by a Winterfest organizer to see if MMOMA would be interested in featuring artists at the local festival.

“It’s been a great way to explore the new possibilities of an arts scene in Hamilton,” Coleman said.

Chen’s exhibition will be followed by works by high school students Jasmine Huber, starting February 26, and Delaney Browne, starting March 6.

Chen said drawing provides a cathartic emotional release that he says he fell in love with and that made him consider art more than just a hobby. “After a numbingly beautiful 12th grade physique, there’s something nice about being able to relax [doing art],” he said.

Chen is most proud of his piece which depicts him balancing on a scale. This represents the inner conflict he faces as he nears the end of high school over choosing a career path. (Submitted by Frank Chen)

He told CBC that his favorite piece on display is the one that depicts him holding a scale.

“It means a lot to me because it exemplifies how I feel in 12th grade, because you know, in 12th grade, you have to choose a career path,” Chen said. “And I’m a little torn between doing something with STEM [Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] or do something with the arts. I like both and I see both as really valid options, so it’s a decision I’m having a hard time even now,” he said.

Chen said he hopes to study animation at Sheridan College after graduating, but even if it doesn’t lead to a career, he will always incorporate art into his life because of his passion for it.

“Art serves as an emotional outlet for me,” Chen said.

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