Exploring Edgar Miller’s Archive

 “Miller’s Ephemera & Collectibles”

As we have all come to know, while Edgar Miller may be most well-known today for his epic architectural masterpieces like the Glasner Studio, Miller also took on everyday design commissions, amassing a vast oeuvre of rarely seen ephemera and collectibles. Miller took on numerous day projects from as early as his middle school years, with a preternatural knack for adding eye-catching flair and spontaneously designed details to hand-crafted media. Everything from flyers, matchbooks, stamps, business cards, stationery, and special invitations -- Miller would be able to create something that was sure to draw in the eye, regardless of what you were promoting.

Assorted Edgar Miller Ephemera including (clockwise from left): "Normandy House matchbook", "Shirley Welch - business card", "Janet Courtney - business card", "Christmas Wrapping Paper Design for Marshall Fields & Co.", "Ursula Courtney - business card", "Genie - bookplate", “Lady in Her Garden - Wood print stamp" (c. 1920s-30s)

Assorted Edgar Miller Ephemera including (clockwise from left): "Normandy House matchbook", "Shirley Welch - business card", "Janet Courtney - business card", "Christmas Wrapping Paper Design for Marshall Fields & Co.", "Ursula Courtney - business card", "Genie - bookplate", “Lady in Her Garden - Wood print stamp" (c. 1920s-30s)

It may come as little surprise that Miller was a precociously creative designer, even as a young child. Design work, in fact, was Miller's first serious foray into the creative life. At age 11, Edgar had his first job as a draftsman, and by 14 he was working outside of his town of Eagle Rock, Idaho, designing posters for a somewhat reputable local establishment advertising horse races. His young career progressed rapidly to include illustration, map making, and flyer design. Miller also designed and illustrated his high school year book, and by then he was known famously not just amongst his classmates but all around town as a keen and eager artistic talent.

Illustrations from Edgar Miller's youth (c. 1907), including a page for his Eagle Rock High School year book. (1918)

Illustrations from Edgar Miller's youth (c. 1907), including a page for his Eagle Rock High School year book. (1918)

After first coming to Chicago in 1917, Miller worked as a freelance graphic designer, producing thousands of everyday paper items from his own home. By the early 1920s, he had his own gallery and studio called The House at the End of the Street. While receiving major commissions such as for the covers of Marshall Field's catalogues and advertisements, Miller also produced ads, cards and posters for local and boutique art supply companies, printers, and fellow bohemian artists and designers.

"Handcrafted Media - Wood print personal flyer" (c. 1923)

"Handcrafted Media - Wood print personal flyer" (c. 1923)

Carl Street Studios exhibition invitation, including hand-designed "Map of Old Town". (1927) Photo © Alexander Vertikoff.

Carl Street Studios exhibition invitation, including hand-designed "Map of Old Town". (1927) Photo © Alexander Vertikoff.

Many of these items have been painstakingly sought after and amassed by private collectors over the decades, many years after they have been made. These ephemeral pieces of design, unlike much of Miller’s fine art and architectural work, are items that were not always signed by the artist. The items that we do see today are often in collections expertly compiled by professional art historians or collectors who can attest to the history and provenance of the pieces. Even so, to the casual eye these pieces of ephemera are very often undeniably identifiable as the work of Edgar Miller.

"Red Birds" Card Design. (c. 1920s)

"Red Birds" Card Design. (c. 1920s)

Throughout his graphic design work, Miller maintained his trademark style and motifs even on works of small scale. While some of these smaller designs appear deceptively simple, it's important to remember that what Miller was actually creating in these cases were often mass produced marketing collateral created to entice potential clients and customers within the first few moments, before being discarded forever. For many of these one-off or short-run pieces, he was able to layer an immense amount of detail, texture, energy, and symbolism that was at once both passingly pleasing to the viewer and also indelible from their memory.

Join us for our special Edgar Miller Pop-up Exhibition event at this year's Moment in Time Community Art Celebration on Saturday, June 1st, 2019 (12pm-6pm) to see some of the work discussed in this article, including examples of Miller's amazing ephemera, collectibles, art work and more at Marshall Field Garden Community Center.

We're always interested in hearing about Miller's pieces that are out in the world, so if you have a piece of Edgar Miller's art that you would like to see featured in our newsletter, please write us at info@edgarmiller.org for consideration. For more information visit our home page at edgarmiller.org.