Showcasing the Arts

Milner Award

Kaye Savage Browning

Mason County

Kaye Browning is the founder, curator and creative energy behind the Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collections at the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center in Maysville. Having grown up in downtown Maysville, her love of history and exploration set the scene for her desire to recreate those memories in 1/12 scale miniatures (1 inch equals 1 foot) as an adult.

Browning graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Arts in English with further studies in linguistics. In her former life as a military wife, she had the opportunity to live in Malta and Naples, Italy, where her eyes were opened to the historical decorative arts. She has served on several boards over the years, including the Limestone Youth Orchestra, the International Guild of Miniature Artisans, her Anglican church vestry and the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center.

Her fascination with miniatures started 50 years ago, while reading a Tasha Tudor book, “A is for Annabelle,” to her little girls, where the “Q” page had particular meaning. On that page was an illustration of a four-poster spool bed and a nine-patchwork pink and white quilt exactly like one Ms. Browning had as a young girl. “It sparked a feeling of nostalgia in me so strongly that I had it replicated in 1/12th scale,” she said. “That was the beginning of my passion for miniatures.”

Today, the collection is considered one of the most renowned collections worldwide, featuring working miniature instruments and tools, replicas of Kentucky decorative arts, fully furnished houses, roomboxes and vignettes representing historic structures and settings from around Kentucky and the globe.

While Browning’s world travels have inspired many exhibits, perhaps her most beloved are the three fine-scale buildings representing her hometown of Maysville: the Russell Theatre, Bethel Baptist Church and the Cox Building. In 2018 she received the Buffalo Trace Community Leadership Award for contributing to substantial tourism growth in the region.

Browning is author of “Collectively Speaking: My Passionate Pursuit of Miniatures,” Volumes 1 and 2 and has been published in three languages. She is working on a third book and continues to be a popular subject of miniatures magazine articles, podcasts, and television broadcasts. Browning is married to her greatest supporter, Louis Browning.

What does this distinction mean to you?

Joy, pure joy! My passion for collecting highly detailed 1/12 scale artistry has brought much joy to me over the years, and watching the joy that this collection brings to our museum visitors from 50 states and 37 countries is truly thrilling. I am overwhelmed to know that I stand with other recipients such as Jesse Stuart, my favorite poet, and Robert Penn Warren. I was introduced to Mr. Warren in 1959 by his sister, who was also my high school French teacher Mary Barber. She was so proud of his accomplishments as an author, so this has double meaning for me. Receiving the Milner Award is also a milestone for artisans in the miniatures world who have sought to have their creations recognized as an art form. The Kentucky Arts Council has made that happen. My thanks to you on behalf of all Kentucky artisans and those across the globe.

What do you see as your role in promoting Kentucky art and creativity?

As lecturer for and curator of the Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection, my goal is to expose students to the educational opportunities that miniatures provide. Our Kentucky artisans have captured the essence of life here, and miniatures teach us profoundly and visually what life was like in the past. It also allows the viewer to connect in a deeper way as they respond emotionally to what they are seeing. We provide classes by miniature artisans who replicate in 1/12 scale, Kentucky historical items found in the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center collections, such as a rare Paul Sawyier oil painting. Our Museum Scouts program teaches genealogy as students create their own miniature photo albums of their family and friends. The state of Kentucky, the city of Maysville, and the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center are drawing in global tourists, and miniatures artisans excitedly come here to teach miniatures as an art form.

Why do you believe the arts are important?

To me, the arts, in whatever form, are all about communication and connectivity. When we view any piece of art, it creates a response in a way that can lead us to understand the emotions and feelings of the creator. I find that miniatures artisans love to create their specialties, and I love what they make. In that way I feel very connected to them, heart to heart. Visitors always ask me about my favorite exhibit. I respond by saying the one at which I happen to be looking. Each hand-crafted item is a work of art and altogether they create a painting. Another way in which the miniature arts helped our community stemmed from a disastrous fire in the Cox Building, our community cornerstone. With no roof plans, the state architects came and measured roof angles of the miniature recreation, using those measurements to restore the damaged building’s slate roof.