Small Works, Great Wonders Artist Profile: Merlin Little Thunder

Posted on November 15, 2016 by Blaine Smith in

Artist Merlin Little Thunder (second from left) with artist James Black (l.), Angie Sherman, and Casey Joe at the 2015 Small Works, Great Wonders art sale. Photography by Carolyn Seelen.

The Small Works, Great Wonders art sale at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is one of the institution’s most beloved annual events. This is due in no small part to the size of the artwork. As smaller works of art are featured, prices are invariably lower, allowing seasoned and first-time art collectors the chance to purchase reasonably-priced art from both up-and-coming and established artists, including several who participate in the Museum’s annual Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition & Sale.

The size of the art also lends itself to a high-energy atmosphere: buyers are able to take their purchases home with them the night of the sale. Therefore, once a piece is purchased via the fixed-price drawing, workers pull the art from the wall, whisking it away to be wrapped and the transaction completed so the purchaser can leave with the piece in-hand.

For the 11th annual Small Works, Great Wonders art sale, held the evening of November 11, 2016, 23 of the 117 artists participating were new to the event. With each artist allowed to exhibit two pieces, the number of works available for sale that evening was substantial. Among those exhibiting was Merlin Little Thunder, a Tulsa artist who has been a part of Small Works, Great Wonders since its inception in 2006.

The Gift Tree by Merlin Little Thunder
The Gift Tree by Merlin Little Thunder. 9 1/4″ x 13 1/4″ (Click to enlarge).

“The whole environment of the show lends itself to a festive atmosphere that also beacons and challenges the artist to put your best foot forward, shine up the brass, polish your spurs, and put your best coat on,” Little Thunder said of the Small Works, Great Wonders experience. “[A] very exciting evening for all.”

According to Susan Patterson, Curator of Special Exhibits at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and coordinator of the Small Works, Great Wonders show, “Western art with winter, wildlife, and landscape themes are preferred, but not mandatory.” While the size of the artwork is strictly limited – two-dimensional artwork should be no larger than 16” x 20” (unframed) and three-dimensional artwork should be no larger than 20” x 20” x 20” – the subject matter is much more open to each artist’s discretion. “The artists are never really considered Western,” she said. “They are artists who paint Western themes, but many paint outside the Western genre when not painting for a Western show.”

While Little Thunder, a Southern Cheyenne raised in western Oklahoma, is known for painting Native subject matter, he is also renowned for painting miniatures. This made him an obvious fit for the first Small Works, Great Wonders 11 years ago.

“I have absolutely no constrictions whatsoever [on art size] since my smallest miniature painting is 1 3/8” x 2 3/8” sharp and clear,” Little Thunder said. When first asked to participate in Small Works, Great Wonders, however, he admits he wasn’t sure the show was for him.

“I actually didn’t think [Small Works, Great Wonders] was going to pan out simply because there weren’t enough true miniature painters,” Little Thunder said. But after being urged by then-Museum curator Steven L. Grafe and show co-founder and former Museum Development officer Cynthia Post, along with his gallery owner, Doris Littrell, to enter the first Small Works, Great Wonders, Little Thunder’s opinion changed.

“We sold out immediately,” he said. “After my head quit spinning, I realized that this was the perfect timeframe for a fully realized miniature art show. I was hooked, I

GPS Locator by Merlin Little Thunder. 1 5/8" x 2 5/8"
GPS Locator by Merlin Little Thunder. 1 5/8″ x 2 5/8″ (Click to enlarge).

really believed in it.”

According to Little Thunder, he has seen a number of miniature shows come and go throughout the region, and finds it extraordinary that Small Works, Great Wonders continues to thrive more than a decade later. This is largely due, he said, “to the high-quality, top-notch art available to the knowledgeable art collectors that have an eye for the best, as the patrons of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum are very savvy and can recognize the best of the best.

“Miniatures let you relax and let your hair down and paint with the truest expression of creativity,” Little Thunder said. “It is with these expressions that patrons get to see another side of the best artists in America, when some of the Prix de West artists come on board. It makes for a very exciting mixture.”

All Small Works, Great Wonders artwork unsold at the November 11 sale remains on display in the Museum’s West Corridor and available for purchase through December 31, 2016. Click here to see available works through the online catalog.

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About Blaine

Blaine Smith works in the Traffic & Graphics Department at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. His love of history and museums was spawned by his grandfather, who owns his own museum in southeast Colorado.