DePaul Art Museum > Exhibitions > Edgar Miller

Edgar Miller: Anti-Modern, 1917–1967

​​​​​September 12, 2024–February 23, 2025

Edgar Miller (1899–1993) arrived in Chicago in 1917, and over the next fifty years, established a successful career as a multi-hyphenate creative practitioner. He worked as an architect, artist, craftsperson, curator, designer, and illustrator during a particularly rich period that saw the ascendancy of modernism across the visual culture of the city. Though aware of contemporary developments and debates, Miller’s tremendous body of work, which spanned multiple mediums, materials, and disciplines, speaks to an individual unconcerned with trends, labels, or what became the established tenets of modern art. While developing a signature style, he never embraced the aesthetics of geometric abstraction, “art for art’s sake,” subjective expressionism, or the machine age. He instead remained committed to figurative storytelling and representing the natural world, creating work that was intended to be experienced across the built environment. Miller’s work reflects a bricolage approach to making, often utilizing found or repurposed materials and drawing on a diverse range of cultural, contemporary, and often seemingly anachronistic influences. He also notably embraced a mode of making that was collaborative and collective rather than driven by the vision of a sole artistic “genius.” 

Miller and his collaborators left an indelible mark on Chicago, and a significant number of his projects, including the so-called handmade homes and artist colonies in the Old Town and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, remain in situ across the city and its environs. Over the past century, however, these contributions have become hidden in plain sight, their significance largely forgotten. There is no centralized archive or reposit​​ory for this history of Chicago, and the copious amount of work that Miller did not create for specific architectural projects has been dispersed. As a result, a comprehensive retrospective of Miller’s work and the role played by his collaborators is impossible. Too much is lost and uncertain—or still embedded in the urban fabric of the city and thus unable to be shown in the galleries of a museum. Edgar Miller: Anti-Modern, 1917–1967 offers instead a selection of what remains, of what is known: architectural fragments, parts of murals, proofs of book pages; sketches and photographs of projects realized and unrealized; intimate treasures of moments past; vestiges of printed matter; and bits of ephemera. Together these pieces present a story of an innovative, resourceful polymath but, perhaps more importantly, a fragmented yet richly textured counter cultural history of Chicago—one not defined by the less is more philosophy of modernism but still grounded in ingenuity and imagination.

Guest curated by Dr. Marin R. Sullivan, Edgar Miller: Anti-Modern, 1917–1967 is the most extensive solo presentation of Miller’s work to date and will feature approximately 85 fragments, artworks, graphics, and pieces of ephemera reflecting all facets of Miller’s career, including representative examples of his drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, illustration and graphic design, textiles, ceramics, jewelry, woodcarving, stained glass, interior design, and architectural projects. Because so much of Miller’s career was spent working collaboratively, the exhibition will also include pieces created by some of Miller’s colleagues and influential contemporaries, including Hester Miller Murray, Andrew Rebori, and Jesús Torres. 

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Major support for Edgar Miller: Anti-Modern, 1917–1967 is provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art as part of Art Design Chicago 2024 and by Gary Metzner and Scott Johnson.​

1. Entry to Glasner Studio. Courtesy of Edgar Miller Legacy. Photo: ©2008 Alexander Vertikoff | Vertikoff Archive.

2. Edgar Miller, Fabric from Normandy House, c. 1937. Block print on cotton fabric. Collection of DePaul Art Museum, gift of Paul and Janis Miller, 2013.71.2.

3. Edgar Miller, Octagon Apartment, n.d. Offset print on paper. Collection of DePaul Art Museum, gift of Paul and Janis Miller, 2013.71.78.

4. Edgar Miller, Celotex Building Products, 1938. Collection of DePaul Art Museum, gift of Paul and Janis Miller, 2013.71.107a.