Edgar Miller’s Chicago Art and Design Legacy
Milo Shapey, formerly a member of Toomey & Co.’s Client Services, sat down with Zac Bleicher, Executive Director of Edgar Miller Legacy, to talk about Miller and the Legacy’s past, present, and future. Milo met Zac when he interned with Edgar Miller Legacy in 2017.
Edgar Miller is one of Chicago’s greatest yet most forgotten artists. A designer, painter, woodcarver, and glass worker, Miller was both talented and unique in his artistic endeavors. In the 1920s and 1930s, he designed and built four studio complexes in Chicago, each with paintings, murals, mosaics, stained glass, and carvings made from recycled materials. Inspired heavily by nature and the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement, Miller’s work is slowly becoming more recognized by art collectors and historians.
Edgar Miller was born in 1899 in Eagle Rock, Idaho (now Idaho Falls). As a young man, Miller moved to Chicago where he lived in Jane Addams’ Hull House and briefly went to school at the Art Institute of Chicago. Unsatisfied by the education he received there, he sought the expertise of a master, who he hoped would help him better understand the purpose of art. For several years, Miller worked in the studio of Alfonso and Margaret Iannelli, where he most famously helped create a set of stained glass windows for a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Throughout the 1920s, Miller spent much of his time working on commercial illustrations and woodcuts for advertisements.
By the late 1920s, he had remodeled several homes and was approached by Sol Kogen, a friend from the School of the Art Institute, to remodel an old mansion into the Carl Street Studios. Together they transformed the edifice from a generic Victorian building into a lush playground of mosaic, fresco, and glass.
Miller put his best work into the Kogen-Miller studios, which he worked on over a span of 50 years beginning in 1928. He turned the large apartment into nine studios, the biggest of which is the R.W. Glasner Studio, now the home of Edgar Miller Legacy.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Miller continued to build on his legacy doing work for prestigious architecture firms, restaurants, clubs, and universities. He did illustrations for books, work for the WPA, sculpture for the Jane Addams Homes, and, perhaps most notably, a mural for Chicago’s Tavern Club, Love Through the Ages.
Toward the end of his life, as Miller lived in obscurity in San Francisco, a group of admirers moved into what became known as the ‘Handmade Homes’ in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, taking on the massive project of rehabilitation. These amateur preservationists soon realized that Miller was still alive and, in 1986, they convinced him to move back to Chicago. Miller’s return served as a kind of personal renaissance during which he started making art, glass, and wood carvings again while also giving talks and helping with the restoration of his homes. After Miller’s death in 1993, the rehabilitation project continued and a book, Edgar Miller and the Handmade Home: Chicago’s Forgotten Renaissance Man, was published in 2009 by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams with photography by Alexander Vertikoff.
“Our mission is to facilitate educational, innovative, and transformative experiences by illuminating the dynamic legacy of Chicago artist Edgar Miller,” says Edgar Miller Legacy’s Executive Director Zac Bleicher.
Founded in 2014, Edgar Miller Legacy carries out various objectives: gives tours of the Glasner Studio and other sites featuring Miller’s work; offers lecture programs; holds events and gatherings in the Glasner Studio; does archival research of a large collection of Miller’s work currently housed in the Glasner Studio; and facilitates an artist-in-residence program.
In the fall of 2018, the Legacy will be putting on a lecture series co-sponsored by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Driehaus Foundation as part of a joint initiative, Art Design Chicago. Earlier this year, the Legacy started a student tour program that works with local schools to bring middle-school art classes into the Glasner Studio to learn more about Miller and do art projects inspired by him.
In Toomey & Co.’s Art & Design auction on Sunday, June 24, 2018, we offered a beautiful stained glass window in the style of Edgar Miller (Lot 305). We also auctioned “The Front of the Barge of King Tut’s Father” panel from Miller’s Love Through the Ages mural created for the Tavern Club in our 20th Century Art & Design sale on December 2, 2017. Looking forward, we would welcome the opportunity to handle more of Miller’s work and items inspired by him to help preserve and promote his belatedly recognized contributions to Chicago art and design.
Bleicher, Zac. Personal interview conducted by Milo Shapey. 22 May 2018.
Cahan, Richard, and Michael Williams, with photographs by Alexander Vertikoff. Edgar Miller and the Handmade Home: Chicago’s Forgotten Renaissance Man. Chicago: CityFiles Press, 2009.