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Renaissance man

July 16, 2013

Local artist Robert Miller spent about 500 hours on this stained glass lamp shade, which is a complex challenge but “it’s prohibitive” commercially. Pencil and charcoal pieces, like the ones on his workshop walls above, are the bulk of his art show and sale at East Side Books. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

Some might call him a jack of all trades, other might say he is a Renaissance man but whatever the case, Bishop local Robert Miller never stops learning, creating and growing.
Since Miller’s May 31 art show and sale at East Side Books, the self-taught artist/architect/inventor/photographer/machinist and soon-to-be nonagenarian said he is deeply involved in experimenting with various ways to use charcoal. ”That’s where I live, in the journey of art.”
Miller’s current East Side Books show is a collection of pencil and charcoal pieces along with an oil, a pastel and a bronze pony, that stands pondering atop a book shelf. “Pencil and charcoal are mediums I’m most comfortable with,” he explained, giving some background on various pieces. “All of these are old friends of mine, the subjects and the drawings. These are people I love and places I love to be. If I could still do it, I’d spend all my time in the Little Lakes Basin,” indicating a pencil rendering. “I’ve spent thousands of hours up there.”
Miller’s downtown workshop of 19 years – “the best shop I ever had because it has a toilet,” he said with a laugh – reveals the scope of his interests. It is packed with sketches, paintings, alabaster carvings, stained glass pieces and much, much more. Miller has been designing and creating cabinetry for a long time and machinery since the 80s. He invented a wooden golf club head manufacturing machine and built racing engines for about six years in the ’60s and ’70s. Miller got his first camera in his teens and up until 10 years ago, he was a photographer and dark room developer.
Sculptures of horses, in various stages of creation, abound in the workshop. “The horse is a beautiful animal, so graceful,” said Miller, who is currently creating lost wax bronze sculpture of them. “It’s a long, tedious process. It takes several months” and he loves it.
An Iowa farm boy, Miller grew up “where the tall corn grows” and his life-long love affair with horses began. The Great Depression ended farm life when Miller was 6 or 7 years old but it didn’t slow his learning curve.
East Side Books bookseller Kim Busby described Miller as a life-long learner interested in a plethora of subjects, a man who “needs to experiment, to expand.” Self-avowed avid reader, Miller said, “It’s been my saving grace; it’s how I’ve built my life.” He left college in his sophomore year, not too fond of student life, to become a self-taught architect in the 1950s. During the same time period, he founded a Florida school to help young architects get licensed. “I made the drafting tables and other furniture and got practicing architects and engineers to come in and teach.”
As a young architect, Miller himself advanced quickly in part due to “a type of photographic memory with a 75-hour retention span,” he said with a chuckle, “That’s how I got my first notable promotion. They sent me out on a lot of important, assignments.” Miller came to Bishop in the 70’s, established an office and was out of business within five years when drought and the Mono County water moratorium dried up construction projects so he left for Dana Point.
Retiring from architecture in 1989, Miller left behind still-standing designs like a 30-floor Miami, Fla. office building. It was time to follow his passion, inspired by Michael Angelo and other greats. “I always wanted to sculpt. Sculpture is the classical hero of the arts.”
Headed for Prescot, Ariz. in 1994, Miller “stopped by Bishop on the way and never left.”
Miller “walks Bishop end to end every single day, in all weather and draws every single day,” said Diane Doonan, owner of East Side Books and Miller’s friend. “He has a lifetime full of projects still to do. He is an incredible role model for keeping active and project-oriented throughout a life span.” Miller said he attributes this to having had a fantastic architectural career, that was also a hobby. “I credit my blessing; I have an unearned, God-given talent with art and that occupies me totally. I still enjoy every day of my work; it keeps me completely occupied and that’s what’s important, to always have goals.”
Miller’s show at East Side Books, 177-A Short St. is still up and his originals and Giclee prints are for sale there.

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