Divine Acts of Creation

Edgar Miller's Reverence for Nature & the Creative Act

Edgar Miller is best known for the Victorian buildings in Chicago's Old Town that he renovated into immersive and imaginative home/studios—"total works of art" rooted in the Arts & Crafts tradition, with a progressive artistic spirit. The present lot resembles motifs Miller was working with at the time, which endured to become emblems in his diverse body of work.

Miller in his Chicago apartment (1920)
Madonna at Immaculata High School in Chicago (c. 1925)
Bay window in Studio 2 at Carl Street Studios (1927)

While many artists and designers of the early modernist era moved toward non-representational and secular imagery, Miller celebrated the riches of the natural world, as he grew up in the rugged early Idaho frontier and spent part of his youth in Australia as a beekeeper. He was particularly fond of horses, tracing his love for them back to Winnie, a pony he received from his father when he was nine-years-old. Miller also was inspired by a wide-range of visual history, including religious and world art and crafts, rather than devoting himself to an austere modernist treatise. 

Carved Staircase at Wells Studio (1929)
Terracotta Horse, Sol Kogen Studio at Carl Street Studios (1930)

The present lot was likely executed around 1930, when Miller created the plaster frieze pictured below in the Glasner Studio, located at the back of the Carl Street Studio complex that Miller and Sol Kogen had been working on since 1927. The frieze depicts figures representing music, dance, architecture, drama and art—an all-encompassing arc of the creative act. The decorative depiction of lightning in the frieze is echoed in the frame of the present lot, as is the classic style with which the figures and horses are rendered. Miller projected his singular vision onto every available surface, producing ecstatic works in reverence of nature and the divine act of creating, that held both "the violence of inspiration as well as the quietude of inspiration."

East wall of Glasner Studio at Carl Street Studios, Chicago (1930)
All images reproduced from Edgar Miller and the Handmade Home by Cahan and Williams, 2009. Photographs by Alexander Vertikoff.

There is a kind of decent comeliness that suffices very well for many homes…If you feel that a home should be only this, and a springboard to leap lightly toward movie or baseball game, stay away from the Edgar Miller studios on Carl Street and Wells Street. For they will fill you with the haunting surety that you are missing something remarkable and lovely in this world.

Alice Mckinstry, “Chicago Art Colony Modern,” Woman Athletic, August 1930

From the Collection of Susan Jackson Keig


Susan Jackson Keig was one of the most celebrated graphic designers in Chicago, but a career in art was not always her first choice. Kicked out of an all-male engineering class at the University of Kentucky when her professor declared “this is no place for a woman,” Keig pursued a degree in art and design, tapping into a passion that she held since a young age. Raised on her family farm in Kentucky, Keig began keeping a scrapbook about architecture at the age of twelve. She excelled in school and enrolled in post-graduate studies at the Corcoran Art Gallery School until 1940, when she was recruited to join the cryptanalyst division of the US Army Signal Corps in Washington, D.C. During the war, she and fellow code-breakers successfully cracked the Japanese code—a major contribution to securing victory. 

I feel that as designer, we are a rather privileged group. The world is our office—literally no confines to what we might do.

Susan Jackson Keig

Notable Designs by Susan Jackson Keig

Edgar Miller 1899–1993

Edgar Miller was a designer and craftsman, working in a diverse range of mediums and creating expressive “total works of art” in a time when stark modernism prevailed. He blended a traditional Arts and Crafts sensibility with a highly decorative aesthetic, and a progressive spirit. He was involved in the arts community in Chicago for over five decades.

Miller was born in Idaho Falls, which was then still a rugged frontier town. Here, Miller was exposed to pristine nature, an enduring motif in all of his work. He showed an early interest in drawing and art, especially of animals, of which horses were his favorite (Miller received a pony from his father when he was seven-years-old). At nine, Miller created illustrations of his favorite poems by Alfred Tennyson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; a few years later, he began working as a watercolorist at an architectural firm.

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Auction Results Edgar Miller