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Thomas Miller

Visual artist Thomas Miller was born in Bristol, Virginia, on December 24, 1920. Miller graduated from Douglas High School in Bristol in 1937 and went on to earn a B.S. from Virginia State College in 1947. Shortly thereafter, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in World War II.

Miller expressed interest in art when he was very young. He began drawing when he was just nine years old. However, it was not until he returned from the war and moved to Chicago that Miller formally studied art for the first time. He was the only black student enrolled at the Ray Vogue School of Art, where he received his degree in design in 1950. That same year, he was one of two African Americans accepted into the Society of Typographic Art. He worked briefly as a commercial artist for Gerstel/Loeff before joining Morton Goldsholl Associates, the internationally renowned design firm where he worked as a graphic designer for thirty-five years on projects like his 1970s redesign of the 7-Up packaging and identity.

In addition to commercial design work, Miller has enjoyed a successful career as an independent visual artist. While stationed abroad during World War II, he sold oil paintings in England, France and Belgium. He is particularly known for employing a technique known as monotype, a subtractive process in which pigment is removed from paint-coated glass.

More recently, Miller has focused his efforts on creating mosaic portraits. In 1995, as the honoree for the 21st Annual Arts & Crafts Promenade in Chicago, Miller's mosaic portraits of the DuSable Museum's eight founders were permanently installed in the museum's lobby. Miller's portrait of Chicago's late mayor Harold Washington is also in the DuSable Museum's permanent collection.

Though he no longer conducts gallery shows, Miller continues to paint, draw and create in various media. Miller has received numerous industry awards and much recognition for his achievements in the field of graphic design. He and his wife, Anita, have three children and reside in Chicago's Beverly community.

Miller passed away on July 19, 2012.

Accession Number

A2003.059

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/31/2003

Last Name

Miller

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Douglas High School

Virginia State University

The Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Thomas

Birth City, State, Country

Bristol

HM ID

MIL01

Favorite Season

Christmas

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Florida

Favorite Quote

Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

12/24/1920

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Turkey, Dressing

Death Date

7/19/2012

Short Description

Graphic designer and painter Thomas Miller (1920 - 2012 ) has enjoyed a successful career as an independent artist and is known for portraits and mosaic portraits.

Employment

Gerstel/Loeff

Morton Goldsholl Associates

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Thomas Miller's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Thomas Miller lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Thomas Miller talks about his family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Thomas Miller describes his father, Edward Miller

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Thomas Miller describes his mother, Rosa Miller

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Thomas Miller continues to talk about his mother, who drove a Flint

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Thomas Miller describes Bristol, Virginia, where he was raised

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Thomas Miller talks about his four siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Thomas Miller describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood in Bristol, Virginia, pt.1

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Thomas Miller describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood in Bristol, Virginia, pt.2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Thomas Miller talks about learning to draw

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Thomas Miller talks about his experience at Douglas High School in Bristol, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Thomas Miller describes his reaction to the DAR's refusal to let Marian Anderson sing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Thomas Miller talks about his academic performance and influential figures during his high school years

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Thomas Miller talks about the role of church in his upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Thomas Miller talks about his high school activities

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Thomas Miller talks about John Borigan and his studies at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Thomas Miller talks about playing football and basketball

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Thomas Miller talks about his service in the U.S. Army during World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Thomas Miller talks about his service in the 3437 Quartermaster Trucking Company during World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Thomas Miller recalls standing up to a racist officer while serving in the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Thomas Miller describes how he met his wife, Anita Miller, and their three children

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Thomas Miller talks about operating a service station after World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Thomas Miller talks about his experience at Ray Vogue School of Art in Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Thomas Miller describes his struggle to find a job as well as working at Morton Goldsholl Associates

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Thomas Miller talks about the early years of his career, the Society of Typographic Artists, and HistoryMaker Leroy Winbush

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Thomas Miller talks about designing logos for clients like 7-Up, Motorola, and IMC

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Thomas Miller recalls experiences of racial discrimination throughout his career as a graphic designer

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Thomas Miller talks about racist advertisements

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Thomas Miller continues to talk about racism in the advertising industry

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Thomas Miller talks about civil rights activism and the impact of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Thomas Miller reflects upon his career as a graphic designer

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Thomas Miller talks about his work after retirement including mosaics for The DuSable Museum commissioned by HistoryMaker Margaret Burroughs

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Thomas Miller talks about his mosaic art at the DuSable Museum

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Thomas Miller talks about experimenting with different art mediums and honing his creativity

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Thomas Miller explains his disdain for the label "black" art

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Thomas Miller describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Thomas Miller talks about his favorite artists including Leonardo da Vinci

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Thomas Miller talks about his favorite works

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Thomas Miller reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Thomas Miller talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Thomas Miller narrates his photographs, pt.1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Thomas Miller narrates his photographs, pt.2

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

6$5

DATitle
Thomas Miller describes his struggle to find a job as well as working at Morton Goldsholl Associates
Thomas Miller talks about his mosaic art at the DuSable Museum
Transcript
I couldn't get a job. I opened a little office of my own, a temporary office. I rented a little space up on Cottage Grove. I was gonna do things like letterheads and, and collateral material, but I cou--I couldn't do it because I couldn't--I didn't have the backing. Nobody would patronize me as a commercial artist. So I went and did the job that you see me in there now, all--no, no blacks. They, they even told me things when I went to get--I was walking the streets with my portfolio, trying to get a job. I was told that I couldn't work there, of course, and this was in, in Chicago, as I said, in the '40s [1940s], late '40s. But I, I stuck with it, and this gentleman, Mr. [Morton] Goldsholl, wonderful man--he's a wonderful man if he hadn't hired me--but he hired me, and I worked with Goldsholl Associates. It was not--I won different awards at this job, Larry, but I was always--and the men that you see, there's about six of us, we were always Goldsholl's associates, not a person working for Goldsholl. And that made us all recipients of many awards and rewards, didn't all just go to the man who hired us. He had the collective bunch of about 10, 8 or 10 people, and they were all designers, graphic designers. And that's what I wanted to be, and that's what I did end up being. But Mr. Goldsholl was (unclear)--he's dead now, but he was such a wonderful guy to work for. And he would do what other, other people in Chicago wouldn't do, he took a chance. And that picture you see, my best friends, one was a Japanese, and one was a German, and one was Italian, and they were all people, who were just good and earned a living. So that kind of broke, broke down a barrier of prejudice.$There's one of [Jean Baptiste Point] DuSable too, discovering the city of Chicago [Illinois] that's not up yet, but it's gonna be installed soon, right?$$Now that's the one I was telling you about that I was commissioned to do, took me a long time to do it. It's a very large--I mean it may be 30 or 40,000 chips in each one of those. I did 'em for the west wall and for the east wall, and due to some electrical fixture problem they had that ComEd was supposed to--this was to supposed to have been unveiled last year, and Margaret has been trying to get that done. And I don't know when they're gonna install it, but they will I'm sure, because it's a lot of work. I went from, as I say, from the Chicago River where, where DuSable first came and had the trading post, from that, the Indians, the everything in the history was done in mosaic form. And she commissioned me, and that was--they paid quite a bit for that. That was, that was quite a job. It was good, a good, a good experience for me [clearing throat], for me, and I enjoyed that. I, I wish they'd put it up though.$$Yes, I do too. How long does it take to do, say, one of those panels in the DuSable Museum?$$Well, I'd say it'd take me a month.$$How large are, are they and, and how--$$Well, the one of [Mayor] Harold [Washington] is probably about four feet or five feet. The ones in the oval shape, I, I would estimate they're about maybe four feet. And you know, into an oval shape, I don't, I don't know the specific oval amount it is, but I do know that if you could take it from top to bottom, bottom in the oval, it'd be about four or five feet in size. In that book I, I show size relationship of 'em, and if--I'd say they'd be about this high from the floor, and how I'm going through--I can't express it in numbers right now 'cause you're looking at the world's worse mathematic, mathematical guy. I, I ducked mathematics all in school too. I can just give you an estimate to what I thought they were size-wise. But I do know the, the ones on the wall they're from ceiling to floor. That's, that's, that's pretty high. They're about over six feet wide, and then they go up to heights to the ceiling. I did know at one time. I had the measurements. But I'm trying to think of how they--you know, off the top of my head I can't think of what the exact measurements were. They're still up I think, or half of 'em are. And one day, they got--they, they are cov--they're covered now. Did you go over there? You didn't see nothing underneath those veils 'cause they had a, they had a cover over the half that's up of, of that same one that you're talking about. They never have. They were gonna put the other half up later on, but they haven't gotten to doing that yet. So I guess they will one day. I hope they will.