The Fine and Folk Art of Edgar Miller

Event Date: February 25
Time: 2:00pm

In early January, I had the pleasure of visiting the Glasner Studio, one unit in a larger compound of Old Town studios developed in the late 1920s by artist/designer/craftsman/architect Edgar Miller and collaborator Sol Kogen. Despite my best attempts to focus on the fact that I was there for a meeting, I spent the majority of my time gazing, mouth agape, at literally everything: the chair I was sitting in, the banisters on the stairs, the panes of glass in the windows. In 2014, I had a similar struggle visiting the Carl Street Studios. Those who’ve been lucky enough to visit an Edgar Miller space can attest to the overwhelming nature of the experience. The level of detail, from the hand-painted tiles on the floor to the meticulously-crafted chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, engages the eye at every turn. But not everyone gets to see it. Miller’s work is largely hidden from the outside world. I can’t say I’ve ever seen his name in a gallery, nor have I seen much scholarship around the subject of Miller. I’ve only interacted with his work as a visitor behind a collection of closed, albeit very ornate, doors. That’s why I was so intrigued by Zac Bleicher’s work with the Edgar Miller Legacy, an organization with the goal of making this very special, somewhat unknown creative’s philosophy and art more available to a wider audience.

Photo by Alexander Vertikoff, courtesy of Edgar Miller Legacy

On Saturday, February 25, we’ll be joined by Rolf Achilles (SAIC), Lisa Stone (SAIC, Roger Brown Study Collection), and Wendy Greenhouse, PhD (Art Historian) for a conversation about Edgar Miller. From painting to sculpture, woodwork to stained glass, Miller was a self-taught artist and master craftsman—a true “Renaissance Man” of the modern era. This presentation is a collaboration of The Arts Club, the Terra Foundation for American and Art, and the Edgar Miller Legacy.  Free of charge.

In anticipation of Saturday’s program, I asked Zac a few questions.

-Jenna Lyle, Programs Manager

Edgar Miller has been hailed as Chicago’s last Renaissance Artist. What does the diversity of interest in his body of work reveal about him as an artist and person?

Born in Idaho in 1899, Miller grew up on the dwindling American frontier, and he learned from his parents an iconoclastic regard towards authority, and simultaneously a high esteem for those who make their own way and do things themselves. So it is no surprise Miller came to embody a rugged individualism often seen in American folklore. His story would seem like something out of a fairy tale, except it was real life. Born with a natural gift to master artistic expression by his teens, and with a self-awareness that pushed him to reach for the stars, Miller came to the American Metropolis—Chicago—and fully integrated himself into several concurrent art and cultural scenes, from the bohemian to the professional, all while maintaining his creative independence. The diversity of interest in his work reflects both the extremely wide range of materials Miller masterfully employed—painting, sculpture, metalwork, woodwork, stained glass, mosaic, and more—to the expansive list of projects he completed—figure and landscape painting, freestanding and relief sculpture, illustration and graphic design work, decorative arts, and of course, his architectural projects. Additionally, Miller incorporated so many diverse styles of art into his own aesthetic, from the classical to the primitive, without ever making a mockery of either (if he ever mocked a style of art, it was mid-century abstract expressionism, which he found naive). Furthermore, his life story appeals to so many artists and art lovers because it is the story nearly all artists wish to pursue: to create on one’s own terms, to pursue art for art’s sake, to be recognized and become successful, to work within a robust community of esteemed peers, and to inspire others during one’s lifetime as well as after one’s own death.

What has been your most surprising discovery about the work of Edgar Miller?

What is most surprising about the work of Edgar Miller is always how deep the well goes. We have spent years compiling digital and tangible archives of all the projects Miller completed, knowing there could always be more out there that he produced, and sure enough, eventually another discovery is made. A mural in Kansas City, a painting he gave a friend as a wedding gift in the 1930s, a stash of collected works in a university archive—it always amazes us how much work Miller accomplished and how casually and often he tossed them into the ether. But for Miller, making art, rather than seeing his art displayed on museum walls, was the end goal. It was what he lived and breathed, and so it makes sense that in 93 years of life, he made a lot of stuff, and much of it traveled as far and wide as those to whom it was given.

Where and how does Miller make the distinction between fine and folk art?

Miller was very cognizant of the role fine and folk art played in his development, and he fought against categorization. He often stated that art critics needed to categorize everything so that they could better understand the work of the artist, and so that a market could be established, but that to the artists, there should be no distinction between what kind of artist you were. You either are an artist or you aren’t one. He took this so far as to even describe someone like Frank Lloyd Wright as an artist, because of his unique vision and desire to force the viewer of his art—in this case the home dweller—to see the world the way Wright saw it. But Miller did understand that many saw art at least drawn into two categories, that of the fine arts and the folk arts, from the fine paintings of Rembrandt to the beautifully painted earthenware bowls of nameless Hopis. He also sometimes referred to the “big arts” and the “little arts.” Miller believed that art culture was only strengthened when both fine arts and folk arts flourished, and in the Chicago of his era, he felt too much attention was placed on developing the big arts while not much was done to cultivate the little arts. This is one reason why he gravitated towards the Hull House Kilns in the 1910s and ‘20s, why he was drawn to learning about and practicing his craft in all the various forms of material and media known to humankind, including his handmade architectural projects, and why he continuously pursued art-making in any way he found compelling, regardless of whether it paid or resulted in personal fame.

If you’re still curious, listen to Zac’s interview with architecture writer Ben Schulman and Zach Mortice on Newcity’s podcast series A Lot You Got to Holler.

Posted February 24, 2017
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Platforms | with Parsons & Charlesworth

Event Date: April 29
Time: 12:15 p.m.


Join the John Cage-inspired music ensemble and object designers Jessica Charlesworth and Tim Parsons for the merging of their two practices in Time With People. Using absurdity, humor, and non-narrativity, Time With People is an hour-long music and theatre work by British composer Tim Parkinson (b. 1973) which “redefines fundamentals of opera from its 16th century origins.” Without characters, costumes, or even orchestral instruments, the soloists and chorus speak, dance, chant, and drum in a production that is alternately funny, playful, sad, and perplexing. The set, comprised of collected detritus, will be assembled as an installation by Parsons & Charlesworth, whose work was recently exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Free and open to the public.

Posted February 21, 2017
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Gallery Talk | Edra Soto

Event Date: March 16
Time: 6:00 p.m.


Edra Soto is a Chicago-based artist, educator, curator, and co-director of the artist-run outdoor project space THE FRANKLIN. Commissioned to build a piece for The Arts Club’s Winter Garden Project, Soto will be in conversation with art historian Daniel R. Quiles about her work. Expanding on her interest in architectural interventions (members may recall her work Manual Graft on the Mies staircase windows during last Fall’s open house), Soto brings us Screenhouse, a freestanding social structure influenced by traditional garden gazebo models and decorative patterns. Come toast the unveiling of Screenhouse and learn about the inspiration behind it.

Reception at 6:00, Gallery talk at 6:30pm.

Free and open to the public.


Posted February 21, 2017
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Turntable Happy Hour and Gallery Talk with Sonnenzimmer

Event Date: November 16
Time: 6:00 p.m.



This Wednesday, The Arts Club welcomes Nadine Nakanishi and Nick Butcher, whose collective art practice comprises Sonnenzimmer. Walking through the galleries at The Arts Club this season, one can experience the Centennial exhibition in two primary areas. In the West gallery, the club’s permanent collection has been installed. Usually at home in the salon on the second floor, surrounded by furniture, the highlights of a century’s worth of acquisitions are currently mounted to white walls in a gallery setting, where they have new life and context. In the East gallery, viewers will see The Arts Club Chicago at 100: A graphic timeline by Sonnenzimmer. On this exhibition, Executive Director Janine Mileaf had the following to say:

“Sonnenzimmer found an ingenious way to make the past into something new. We asked them to illustrate our history through a graphic timeline, and they ran with that idea, taking it to another level drawing on found imagery from our annual scrapbooks and their own inventive visual and aural vocabulary in a room-scale installation.”

Facing each other on opposite walls of opposite galleries, for example, are the original version and the grayscale printed version of Picasso’s 1922 Head of a Woman: one in the permanent collection, and one in Sonnenzimmer’s timeline as source material for an 8-color screenprint entitled Founding. In addition to Sonnenzimmer’s prints synthesizing the historical into new work, they made hand-printed graphic guides to the exhibition as well as a piece of sonic art titled “Enactment” on a take-away flexi-disc EP (with hand-printed packaging, of course) to complement their visual material.

On Wednesday, November 16th at 6pm, Nick and Nadine will perform one more act of synthesis in a public program at The Arts Club. They’ve described a speaker on a skateboard and simultaneous, interactive performances in two rooms.


Programs Manager Jenna Lyle interviewed Sonnenzimmer about the exhibition and their upcoming public performance.


JL: What exactly do you do, as Sonnenzimmer?


N&N: Sonnenzimmer began as a shared painting studio that morphed into a printshop that morphed into something in between a band, a graphic design studio, and philosophy club.


JL: You’re both invested in sonic as well as visual art. How do the two meet in your overall art practice?


N&N: Initially, we were being hired by musicians to design and print music packaging and posters. Over the course of our 10 years of collaboration, our personal interest in music slowly made its way into our artwork. We still balance commissioned projects like book design and murals with self-initiated projects such as performance, recordings, and exhibitions. But the longer we engage in art together, the closer our interests form a solidified intelligible shape and sound.


JL: How did the two converge in your exhibition at The Arts Club?


N&N: Our contribution to the The Arts Club of Chicago at 100, was initiated as a commissioned “graphic timeline” with lots of room for experimentation, thanks to Executive Director Janine Mileaf. Using the club’s extensive archive of historical ephemera, we collapsed images and conceptual overtones into a series of six prints, each representing a specific era of the club’s history. The exhibition culminates in a takeaway flexi record that pairs snippets of influential lectures form Gertrude Stein and Jean Dubuffet, set over a downtempo house beat, of course. For us, the sound is an aural continuation of the explorations in the visual component of the exhibit, with the added benefit of time and rhythm.


JL: What other convergences happen in that exhibition?


N&N: Past and present converge. Built from source material and our own idiosyncratic take on the Arts Club’s history, we hoped to shed new light on the dense past. We also ask just as many questions as we might have answered. So viewers’ own takes [on the art] converge with our expressive information graphics.


JL: How does your work for this season’s exhibition, The Arts Club at 100, deal with the passage of time?


N&N: We look at time as non-linear. Not circular, but maybe pear shaped. Things move far away from one another only to get closer again.


JL: For your upcoming performance at The Arts Club, how are you addressing the concept of time?


N&N: The performance will address both our exhibition and the permanent collection in the adjacent gallery through sound and locomotion moving between the two spaces.


Please join us on November 16th at the Arts Club of Chicago for the public presentation of “Enactment,” a performative audio intervention of our current exhibit, The Arts Club Chicago at 100: A graphic timeline by Sonnenzimmer. Pulling from the original music we created for the gallery takeaway, “Enactment” will evoke and challenge the Arts Club of Chicago’s 100 year history through adhoc sculpture and music.

Posted November 14, 2016
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The Arts Club of Chicago at 100: Centennial Open House

Event Date: October 22
Time: Noon - 5 pm



The Arts Club of Chicago

Centennial Open House

October 22, 2016

Noon to 5:00 pm


A Celebration of World-Class Music and Art
The Arts Club of Chicago is proud to celebrate 100 years of contributions to modern arts and culture, and welcomes the public to join us in our special Centennial presentation. An afternoon of music and art features Grammy award-winning sextet Eighth Blackbird performing a special commissioned piece, Composition as Explanation, by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang. Artists from Chicago and around the world will be engaged in discussions and performances. The entire building, including the usually private upstairs salon and dining room, will be open to the public. The permanent collection will be on view in the downstairs gallery. Visitors will be able to view special loans in the salon from artists who have previously exhibited at the Club.
Please see the list of all artists and performers below.


Centennial composition performance:

composed by David Lang

performed by Eighth Blackbird

David Lang premieres Composition as Explanation, a work based on Gertrude Stein’s 1925 text, which explores the notion of the artist’s talk in tribute to The Arts Club’s legacy of cultural conversations. The piece will be manifested in performances scattered throughout the day and throughout the building by Eighth Blackbird and will be complemented by live presentations that similarly consider what it means for artists to discuss their work in person.


Artist performances, talks, and installations by:

Derrick Adams Passing Time. Within the Arts Club exhibition space, multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams constructs a lounge environment, equipped with the essential components of a domestic living room environment.  Visitors are invited to sit casually and flip through Arts Club archives of artist and exhibition catalogs, mapping the history of the organization.  Visitors are further encouraged to participate in informal conversations taking place within the installation, while Adams spins vinyl records of music from the past and present from turntables stationed on the coffee table, or just relax for a moment and pass time.

Suzanne Bocanegra with Paul Lazar, When a Priest Marries a Witch, an Artist Lecture by Suzanne Bocanegra Starring Paul Lazar In 2010, Bocanegra was asked by the Museum of Modern Art to give a lecture about her work.  For that lecture, she made a theater piece in which Paul Lazar, actor and co-founder and director of Big Dance Theater, performs as Bocanegra, telling the story of how she became an artist, growing up in Pasadena, Texas. Part personal narrative, part cultural history, the piece focuses on a scandal that happened in her Catholic church.  Spectators hear both Lazar and Bocanegra’s voice, as together they tell a tale about identity, artistic expression, the Pope, and obviously, a witch.

Mark Dion In a lecture, compellingly illustrated by film strip, the earth’s 4.5 billion years is recounted. The presentation illuminates the geological and biological history of our planet leading up to birth, work and death of eminent Earth Works artist, Robert Smithson.

Irena Haiduk presents Bon Ton Mais Non, the first step in surrounding yourself with things in the right way. 

Pablo Helguera, 10 New Kindergarten Chats (after Mr. Sullivan) In about 1918, Louis Sullivan published a book entitled Kindergarten Chats, which outlined his philosophy of design and architecture. Helguera presents a reprise of these short texts for the 21st century that depart from the ideas originally discussed by Sullivan.

Geof Oppenheimer Using images and texts, Oppenheimer delves into the Arts Club’s archive to present a social and psychic bricolage that explores and reimagines the Club’s history of creative liberty, class construction, and desire for social change.

Walid Raad contributes stories and documents.  Some are included in the catalog.  Others are on display in The Art Club’s restrooms.

Edra Soto Manual GRAFT Iron rejas became ubiquitous in the architecture of post-war Puerto Rico due to the security they provided and their ability to allow for cross ventilation. Today, these iron rejas are viewed not so much as a protection device, but as a language that pertains to the island’s visual culture. As part of an ongoing exploration of these design elements, Edra Soto presents Manual GRAFT, an architectural intervention that arrives via performative gestures and a process-based experience that unfolds in front of the viewers, unveiling the artistic process. Soto will install a related pattern on the glass walls that enclose The Arts Club’s famous Mies van der Rohe staircase.


The Arts Club of Chicago

201 E Ontario St.

Chicago, IL 60611

(312) 787-3997


Posted August 15, 2016
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