Artist: Edgar Miller

Wright holds the top auction records for the sale of works by Edgar Miller, a renowned artist and designer known for his "handmade homes" in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. Miller created "total works of art" in the Arts and Crafts tradition, with a progressive, pioneering and modern spirit.
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I have tried to be creative in every act, for without the surrounding small art, there can never be a development of great art.

Edgar Miller

5 Things to Know About Edgar Miller

Miller became an artist at the age of four, after seeing Edgar S. Paxson's Battle of Little Bighorn painting.

A formative experience for Miller was receiving a pony, Winnie, when he was nine-years-old: "The affection for her became a definite part of me...Animals are representations of life and vitality.”

Upon moving to Chicago in 1917 to attend the Art Institute, he stayed at Jane Addams' Hull House. He became part of what poet Kenneth Roxworth referred to as "the lunatic fringe of radical Chicago."

Most of his celebrated Carl Street and Wells Street Studios were built from re-purposed and scrapped materials.

Miller moved away from Chicago for a time in the 1970s and the wealthy civil rights activist and philanthropist Lucy Montgomery lived in his home, making it a safe house for the Black Panthers and other activist groups.

The Home as Art

Edgar Miller's most celebrated works are the "total works of art" he created at the Carl Street and Wells Street Studios in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood. Beginning in 1927, he and Sol Kogen renovated old Victorian homes, turning them into complete expressions of art, craft and creativity. Miller filled these spaces with exquisite mosaics, murals, plaster reliefs, stained glass and woodwork.

Auction Results Edgar Miller

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.

Another major inspiration in developing Miller’s love for landscape and nature, as well as his highly individualistic spirit, was living in Australia from 1913 to 1915, where his father and brother set up a failed bee farm; Miller returned to The United States with stops in San Francisco and Tahiti, expanding his visual vocabulary.

Upon his return to Idaho Falls, Miller decided to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. When he arrived in early 1917, Chicago was the world’s fastest growing city and one of the most forward-thinking. Despite this, Miller spent only a short time at the Art Institute, feeling stymied by what he thought to be a conservative and unimaginative curriculum. In 1919, he joined the studio of Alfonso Iannelli, one of the most respected and well-known designers in Chicago at the time, who worked in advertising, product design, interiors, murals, stained glass and sculpture. Miller worked for Iannelli for five years, learning a great deal about a wide range of mediums and also met clients he would work with once he left the studio to work independently.

Throughout the 1920s, Miller was deeply involved in the milieu of the fringe Chicago arts scene, having his own short-lived gallery, “The House at the End of the Street” in his home, and another small gallery above the Dil Pickle Club in the bohemian neighborhood of Tower Town. During this time he was also creating ads for Marshall Field's and was focusing on stained glass, for which he won the Frank G. Logan Medal from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1923 (he was also awarded this honor in 1919 for his batiks).

In 1927, Miller began his most important work when he and his friend Sol Kogen bought an old Victorian house in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago and began renovating it into “total works of art.” Kogen would salvage discarded building materials and Miller created effusive, complete expressions of art, nature, community and curiosity from these materials; floor tile mosaics, hand-carved banisters, stained glass windows, plaster sculptures inlaid into walls, and murals ecstatically filled the spaces, creating a singular vision of Miller’s artistic talents and proclivities.

Miller’s career rose to wider prominence in the 1930s and 1940s and his major works included collaborating with architect Andrew Rebori, murals at the Tavern Club in Chicago and the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee, decorative works for Northwestern University and the state capitol building in Bismarck, North Dakota, as well as numerous private commissions. Miller remained working in Chicago until the late 1960s, when he and his wife retired to Florida and he bought and operated a hotel. When she died, he moved to San Francisco to live near his children; he eventually returned to Chicago in 1987, at the behest of several artists, old friends and admirers that urged him to come back to Chicago. He began working again, including restoring some of his old buildings (and living in one) and was creating new works up until two years before his death in 1993.

In 2014, the Edgar Miller Foundation was created to preserve Miller’s artistic legacy and his extant buildings and public works. The Glasner Studio at the Carl Street complex, regarded as his most important and complete work, is open for tours and hosts educational events and an artist-in-residence, furthering Miller’s unique and persisting vision of melding art with life.

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

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