Miller on Miller

R. Craig Miller came to the Denver Art Museum in 1990 to establish the Architecture, Design and Graphics Department, and he hit the ground running by putting together a world-class collection of thousands of artifacts, including significant architectural models, important pieces of furniture and notable works on paper. Then in 2007, Miller shocked everyone by leaving the DAM for the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where was named senior curator of design arts, a gig that’s similar to the one he had at the DAM; he’s also director of design initiatives, which means that he advises or consults on all issues related to design and architecture. Miller’s move was a gain for Indianapolis, but a decided loss for Denver. Happily, he’s back in the Mile High City — at least for one night — to get us caught up on his latest project, the unbelievably ambitious acquisition of a large house and garden in Columbus, Indiana, by the IMA; Miller will discuss this project in a talk titled The Miller House: Saarinen, Girard, Kiley.

J. Irwin Miller — no relation to R. Craig — was a wealthy industrialist who headed up the Cummins Engine Company. But more important for the fans of modern architecture, he also spearheaded an effort to bring the big names in architecture to the small town of Columbus. In the 1950s, J. Irwin Miller created the Architectural Program of the Cummins Engine Foundation. The goal was to get important architects interested in designing buildings in Columbus by providing the funds to pay their hefty fees.

Today there are scores of significant buildings in Columbus by the likes of I. M. Pei, Cesar Pelli, Robert Venturi, Richard Meier and, most notable in the context of this lecture, Eero Saarinen. J. Irwin Miller and his wife, Xenia, commissioned Saarinen to design the house where they lived until their deaths a few years ago. For that, Saarinen conjured up a large minimalist residence and had Alexander Girard do the interior while Dan Kiley oversaw the landscape plan. It was a collaboration of three of the greatest talents associated with mid-century modern. In acknowledgement of that, the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. It has been maintained in pristine condition since its completion in 1957 by the Millers and, later, their heirs. In 2007, at the time that R. Craig Miller joined the IMA, its director, Maxwell Anderson, had started to negotiate with the Miller family to acquire the house, and that’s what happened earlier this year. The Millers have not only donated the house and its furnishings to IMA — save the art collection that was sold off for $140 million — but they’re also providing funds to establish an endowment to preserve the property.

R. Craig Miller will talk about all of this and more tonight in the MBA suite of the University of Colorado Denver building at 1250 14th Street. The reception is set for 5:30 p.m., with the lecture getting under way at 6. His presentation promises to be a revelation about this once very private and thus little known masterpiece of modern architecture and design. Get details at or call 303-556-2400.
Mon., Oct. 19, 5:30 p.m., 2009

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia

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