Small Wonders

New gallery Miniatura has a simple goal: Make original art affordable

In a tiny space within a downtown building that most locals have walked by a thousand times yet likely never entered, artist and gallerist Mary Luttrell is quietly at work in her gallery space, Miniatura (102 E Water St., (505) 203-5321). This is the El Centro building, where Austin, Texas, transplant Lutrell (who, don’t fret, has lived in Santa Fe for decades now) opened her business four months ago, and through which she hopes to demystify the labyrinthian world of buying original art. And while not every piece in Luttrell’s collection is a winner, her average price point of roughly $200 makes getting into the art game—at least insofar as purchasing original pieces goes—a lot more doable than the blue chip gallery system would have you believe. Yes, the pieces you’ll find at Miniatura are small-scale, but that’s kind of the entire point. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You can buy art, you just need to know where to look.

“My dad was a kind of famous artist named Oleg Stavrowsky,” Luttrell says. “He came here for the art market, and I loved it. The family stayed. There’s really no place like New Mexico.”

Stavrowsky most famously leaned into romantic cowboy themes, though that’s hardly the breadth of his body of work. Lutrell, too, is more of a painter these days, but she’s got years of graphic design under her belt. She’s a new hand at paint and canvas, having only practiced in earnest for five years, yet a new-ish series implementing sharks feels promising, and with art history and writing degrees from the University of New Mexico, she’s also well-aligned to know what works, what sells, what doesn’t—and there’s a lot of gut feeling in the mix, too.

“It’s in my DNA as the daughter of an artist, and I’ve been exposed to art my whole life,” she explains. “I’ve worked selling art in some pretty high-end Santa Fe galleries, and what I saw I didn’t like: Young people fall in love with art but can’t afford to become collectors, and most of the people who can afford the art are the pretty well-off older people. Art should be for everybody.”

But what of prints, limited editions, giclee and high-quality photo printers and so on? Surely framing up a nice print is a fine enough start. Luttrell thinks so, and says these are all perfectly valid ways to enter the art game. Hell, starting with prints is how most people get into art ownership at this point. But even limited runs aren’t original pieces, even small batches don’t come with the same feeling of picking up that first original piece, obsessing over where it will live in your own space, knowing the artist actually interfaced with the work. That right there is the core Miniatura ethos—accessibly priced original work that is admittedly small, but still powerful.

“A real painting has the blood, sweat, tears and spit of the artist, the little pieces of brush, the textures,” she says. “It’s a living thing, or it is for me. My dad told me one time, ‘No matter if it comes out bad, there’s never been anything like this in the world, and there never will be again.’ I almost cry saying that.”

Here’s how it works: Luttrell scans Instagram and other photo sharing apps for pieces she likes. She then contacts the artists about showing their work. In most cases, she says, they’re happy to oblige, and this is how pieces by Catie Powe, Tom Voyce, Abbey Roemer, Thomas Fluharty and so many others make their way to Santa Fe. Luttrell also has relationships with artists she shows, and she’s open to just about anyone sending portfolio links her way. She also shows works by Ukranian artists Alex Movchun and Neyha Sofat—no small feat given the ongoing war with Russia and the challenges in shipping overseas, even in times of peace. Also in the mix are small one-off bronze sculptural pieces, wearable items like jewelry and, on some days, Lutrell herself at the easel, working on her own pieces. You’ll find nature scenes in acrylic and complicated pen and ink landscapes; you’ll see representational snapshots of Santa Fe streets, caricature versions of the classics and even a few abstracts, too, though Luttrell says they haven’t sold as well as some other items.

“This would be the kind of gallery I’d want to find,” she says. “But I do have the challenge of having to sell a lot to make it.”

Of course, the city’s refusal to allow her to display sandwich board signs outside the El Centro doesn’t make it any easier, but that’s a whole other ball of wax. Is it disappointing to see mostly white artists hanging on the walls and occupying the Miniatura website? At this point in human history, it rather is. Giving Luttrell the benefit of the doubt, however, it’s important to know Miniatura is still new and still an experiment. The collection will surely grow over time if given the chance, and Luttrell’s heart is absolutely in the right place. All you have to do is pick up some affordable art for yourself—Miniatura even offers an installment plan.

“I’ve had many jobs that earned me much better money, but I was miserable and it wasn’t worth it to me,” Luttrell says. “I’m hoping to be successful in this, because if I make enough here, I’m still going to be here and I want to give everybody a chance. A lot of people open galleries to make more money, but being around good art and talking to people about art, teaching people about art, how it can be a part of their lives...that’s what’s important.”

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