Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Edgar Miller was invited to work on a wide range of projects, mainly in Chicago, but also around the United States, from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles, to New York City. Miller, like many artists of his day, embellished countless buildings with decorative art that brought humanism and naturalism to the walls of the giant skyscraper canyons that were proliferating during that period. Beyond the countless pieces he produced within America’s urban centers, Miller was able to stretch his legs by producing large-scale, commissioned pieces for schools, religious institutions, and private businesses. Much of his work can still be found in Chicago buildings, such as his stained glass at the Hotel Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue; his etched linoleum murals of the Great Chicago Fire at the Standard Club in the South Loop; and cut lead and glass work at 182 W. Lake St.
Miller’s creative genius culminated in a series of architectural projects known as the “handmade homes” which he led to completion on Chicago’s near north side neighborhood of Old Town. In Old Town, Miller helmed a collaborative effort to design and construct four artistic studio buildings throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Miller worked closely on the projects of the artist studios with his partner artist and developer, Sol Kogen. Kogen brought the idea of a rehab aesthetic back from spending a year in Parisian artist enclaves in 1925. With Miller’s raw skill and talent coupled with Kogen’s support and financial backing, the duo eventually built and rehabilitated over two dozen individual apartments across multiple complexes over a decade or more (1927 – c. 1940).
This endeavor reached its apex in 1928 with the commission of a Miller-designed home for the patron and industrial magnate Rudolph Glasner. This home was built as the coach house attached to the artist studio complex at 1734 N. Wells Street, now known as the Kogen-Miller Studios. Miller boldly articulated his personal aesthetic in almost every inch of the property. The studio embodied his imaginative architectural design, telling a complete story from the mosaic tiled floors to the wood-carved ceilings. The Glasner Studio, as well as the other studio complexes that Miller worked on, benefited from Miller’s ingenuity and resourcefulness. He often used reclaimed material from other construction jobs and local glass and metal warehouses, transforming bits and pieces of scrap into vibrant, kaleidoscopic living edifices. Miller’s touch can be seen in all of the buildings’ rich details; from the minute etchings scratched onto the surface of the stained glass and metalwork, to the intricate carvings that give the wood supports a semblance of woven tapestry. The handmade homes revel in a truly organic and lush feel that is expressed in every impeccable stroke of the artist’s hand.
Over the years, Miller continued to work within the Old Town neighborhood, fabricating a whole series of artist studios, each with his signature, painstakingly handcrafted elements and flourishes. These studios were maintained within their surrounding residential apartment complexes and became the home to a burgeoning artist community that was essential to transforming the historic neighborhood into the humming cultural center it still is today.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a 3-part series on the American architect and artist Edgar Miller. Check out Part 1 here.
Zac Bleicher founded Edgar Miller Legacy in 2014 with the mission to preserve the late 20th century artist Edgar Miller’s artistic and architectural works; to advance the historical research of the artist’s accomplishments; and to build programs for the public to access and learn from Miller’s inspirational aesthetic. Bleicher’s interest in Miller and his art began through his late uncle, Mark Mamolen, a preservationist who helped rehabilitate Miller’s architectural masterpieces in Chicago. As part of his role within Edgar Miller Legacy, Bleicher continues to manage the growing archive of Miller’s work and history and to find new ways to tell Miller’s story. Bleicher has a BA in American History, Art History, and Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Edgar Miller Legacy
Edgar Miller Legacy is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Miller’s art and the “handmade homes” he created in Chicago. We work to promote Miller as an overlooked artistic genius; to encourage study and research of his life and body of work; to act as a resource for educational institutions and organizations; and to provide inspirational experiences within Miller-designed spaces. Our programs, events, and tours allow visitors to experience Miller’s works as they were designed to be shown. Visit our site at edgarmiller.org to donate and help support our ongoing efforts and to view upcoming programs available to the public.
For more on Edgar Miller, check out the website.