Have you heard of Edgar Miller? I have been hard-pressed, even amongst Chicago (art) history aficionados, to find many people who answer in the affirmative. Born in 1899 in Idaho and spending a part of his childhood in Australia, Miller moved in Chicago in 1917 to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. Over the next fifty years, he produced an extraordinary body of work that spanned architecture, painting, sculpture, metalwork, stained glass, graphic design, interior design, and printmaking, and left an indelible, if perhaps now somewhat obscured, mark on the city. Fortunately, awareness of Miller and his artistic output is increasing, largely due to the efforts the Edgar Miller Legacy (EML), a Chicago-based non-profit, and helped along by recent features like “The Brilliant Artist That Chicago, and the World, Nearly Forgot,” by Zach Mortice.
My own interest in Miller has been spurred by a program developed by the EML in conjunction with the Terra Foundation’s 2018 citywide initiative Art Design Chicago. “A Lost Chapter Read Anew: The Visionary Art & Design of Edgar Miller,” is a lecture series taking place at the DePaul Art Museum in October and November that will present new scholarly research on various aspects of Miller’s career. On Thursday, October 4th, Lauren Drapala will discuss Miller’s involvement in the “Streets of Paris” exhibition at the 1933 World’s Fair, and on Thursday, November 29th Barbara Jaffee will discuss Miller’s artistic and educational ideologies.
On Thursday, October 25th, I will talking about the role of sculpture in Miller’s creative output, focusing primarily on sculptural reliefs he made for various architectural projects in Chicago during the midcentury including the Frank Fisher Apartments (1936), the Technological Institute at Northwestern University (1942), and the U.S. Gypsum Building (1963).
Working on this project has meant site visits all around the city of Chicago to view work by Miller still in situ, including the carved limestone reliefs that adorn the exterior and interior of Northwestern University’s Technological Institute building; visits to the Kogen-Miller studio complex in Old Town; and examining Miller’s papers and related Hedrich Blessing architectural photographs at the Chicago History Museum. Along the way, I have gained a deep appreciation for Miller’s work and remain in complete awe over the tremendous breadth of what he created.
For more information on Miller and upcoming events related to his work, please visit www.edgarmiller.org and join us for the Fall lectures at DPAM!