Peter Miller: Coming Home Again

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Peter Miller: Coming Home Again July 1 - August 2, 2022

The artist Peter Miller (1913-1996) was born Henrietta Myers. She changed her name to Peter shortly after concluding her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1934, believing that she would be treated more fairly if the public thought her work was created by a man rather than a woman. Miller is today classified as an American Surrealist, a reputation that she earned for having shown in the early 1940s at the prestigious gallery of Julien Levy in New York, then considered the premiere showcase for Surrealist painting in the United States. Despite this affiliation, her worked shared little in common with the dream and fantasy world of European Surrealists, although reviewers of her exhibitions at the Julien Levy Gallery noted the unmistakable influence of the artists Joan Miró and Paul Klee. These same reviewers observed that she was also influenced by sources in Native American art and culture, which today we know came from the fact that she divided her time between homes in Pennsylvania and New Mexico. She first came to Santa Fe as a child, but after her marriage in 1935 to Earle C. Miller, a fellow student at the Academy, she and her husband built a ranch in Española, about 25 miles north of Santa Fe (they purchased 85 acres, which allowed them to lease an additional five thousand acres from the Bureau of Land Management). From that point onward, they considered New Mexico their spiritual home. They were neighbors of the indigenous people of the Tewa Pueblo, whose crafts and religious beliefs fascinated her. The reliance of Native Americans upon the land and the animals who occupied it permeated her work for the remaining years of her career. Just as they believed that the creatures who surrounded them—birds, turtles, lizards, snakes—could serve as intermediaries in their communication with the gods of the underworld, Miller appropriated these same symbols in her paintings, along with abstract signs that she extrapolated from their pottery and petroglyphs. Miller painted at her studio near San Ildefonso, New Mexico, as well as completing works on her farm in Pennsylvania. This exhibit invites the viewer’s attention to paintings from her true “spiritual home” in New Mexico. Stylistically, reviewers of Miller’s exhibition at the Julien Levy gallery in the 1940s noted a reference to the works of Miró, Klee and Picasso, further recognizing her themes/subjects were drawn from sources in Native American art and culture. This rapport existed because of Miller’s intimate familiarity with the customs, rituals and ceremonies of the Tewa, to which she was given unique access through of her friendship with Tilano Montoya, a Native American from the San Ildefonso Pueblo who was the companion of the writer Mary Warner, one of Peter Miller’s closest friends living in New Mexico at the time. Until recently, Peter Miller had been yet another undiscovered figure within the history of American modernism; a lacuna the 2021 exhibition “Coming Home” rectified with wide critical acclaim and numerous acquisitions by collectors and curators alike. This continued exposure will draw her paintings to the attention of a whole new generation of critics, curators, historians, and collectors, finally giving her the recognition and critical acclaim she and her work rightly deserve. Cover: Ceremony, 1930s Oil on canvas 22 x 30 inches estate of the Artist

Inner Space 1938 Oil on canvas 16 x 20 inches


1930s Oil on canvas 25 x 30 inches


1930s Oil on canvas 20 x 24 inches

The Magical Orb 1950s Oil on canvas 20 x 24 inches


1930s Oil on canvas 16-3/4 x 25-5/8 inches

The Alchemist Flask 1975 Oil on canvas 50 x 24-1/4 inches

Yellow Flower 1950s Oil on canvas 20 x 16 inches

Two Figures 1940s Oil on canvas 8 x 10 inches


1940s Oil on canvas 30 x 46 inches

Pink Figures

1930s Oil on canvas 36 x 28-1/2 inches

Magic Stones 1930s Oil on canvas 22 x 30 inches

Peter Miller at her home in Espanola, ca 1940. Courtesy Christa McInturff

CHRONOLOGY 1913 Born Henrietta Myers in Hanover, Pennsylvania. She was the only daughter of Ethel and Clinton and Meyers but had an older brother named Robert who was born in 1904. Her father co-owned the Hanover Shoe Company, was vice president of the town newspaper The Evening Sun, and was part owner of a large Standardbred horse farm. He eventually became chairman of the First National Bank and Trust Company of Hanover. Henrietta and her brother were brought up in privilege living in what was known locally as the Myers Mansion, a large Greek revival-style home on Baltimore Street in the center of town. 1928 to 1931 attends Hanover High School. She was graduated at the head of her class academically. Shows her first interest in becoming an artist. 1931 to 1933 attends Arlington Hall Junior College for Women located outside of Washington DC. 1933 studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Philadelphia Pennsylvania with Daniel Garber. Takes classes with Arthur B Carles, a former teacher at the Academy who gave private lessons in his Studio. 1934 travels to Europe for the first time, where she spent the winter months in Italy. 1935 changed her first name to Peter. Showed pastels under the name Peter Meyers in an exhibition at the state Arts Museum in Santa Fe. In July she marries Earle C. Miller, a fellow student at the Academy, in a private ceremony held on the property of Edith Warner near the tower bridge in New Mexico, followed by a Christian ceremony at a church in Santa Fe on July 31st. The Millers were adopted as “godchildren” by Warner and her companion Tilano Montoya, a Native American from the San Ildefonso Pueblo. 1935 to 1936 the Millers purchased 85 acres of land in Espanola, which allowed them to lease an additional five thousand acres from the Bureau of Land Management. There they built a ranch with Corrals and stables for horses. Around the same time they also purchased Rock Raymond Farm in East Brandywine Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, property to which they added additional Parcels of land whenever it became available until they ended up with approximately 250 acres. For the next half-century the Millers would divide their time between their homes and studios in Pennsylvania and New Mexico. 1935 to 1945 she and her husband make frequent trips to Europe. Through letters of introduction from Carles, they meet many well-known artists (it is reported that they met Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Juan Miró). 1944 May 9th to May 31st Miller’s first show at the Julien Levy, Gallery New York. The show is accompanied by a catalog listing the titles of the 22 work shown and including an introduction by Robert Goldwater. Reviews were generally favorable, nearly all of the critics noting her reliance upon Miró and Paul Klee as well as sources in Native American art. On May 6th The Evening Sun in Hanover publishes an article on its front page to report upon Miller’s show at the gallery saying that “she has spent considerable time in the southwest and her painting reflect that region in subject and atmosphere.” 1945 June 12th through July 7th works are included in the women art of the century and gallery owned and operated by Peggy Guggenheim in New York. October 9th through October 31st Miller’s second show at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York. She showed 19 works whose titles are given in a small catalog published by the gallery. Reviews were again favorable especially one in the New York Sun from the notable critic Henry McBride who would remain a lifelong friend of the Millers.

Peter Miller and Tilano Montoya ca. 1930s. Courtesy Los Alamos History Museum Archive, Patrick Burn collection

The Miller ranchhouse in Espanola. Courtesy Christa McInturff

1948 Peter Miller’s paintings is showing at 4:8 Modern Art Gallery Santa Fe from February 25th to March 20th. Miller shows 14 paintings. A reviewer for the Santa Fe New Mexican reports “the artist has been moved by the beauty of the rock drawings to the Primitive Indians of this area the pictographs and petroglyphs and she is use this material to express moods and Designs which speak a personal language.” 1951 Edith Warner dies of cancer at age 58. 1953 Tilano Montoya dies. 1954 March 16th to April 4th Peter Miller and Earle Miller show together in their alma mater, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was represented by 35 works , she by 22. 1969 January 30th to March 9th one person exhibition at the Peale house, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Miller shows 33 works, mostly paintings from the 1950s and 1960s. The show is held concurrently with an exhibition of work by Mark Tobey. From the exhibition, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts purchases her Dragonfly, Snake and Turtle, a painting priced at $900 – the first painting by Miller to enter into the collection of an American Museum. 1970 the Millers meet Charlene and Bill Richards was an artist teaching at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. They meet at Perakis, a gallery and custom frame shop or Charlene is the director. 1975 Peter Miller shows a painting called Castle Wall at the 150th National Academy of Design exhibition in New York. She was then represented by the Lacarda Gallery which is located at 23 East 67th Street in Manhattan. She also has a one-person show at the Olympia Gallery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Peter Miller Paintings. 1986 in the fall the Millers loan their large Miró painting Horse Pipe and Red Flower (Still Life With Horse) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for safekeeping while they travel for the winter to their home in New Mexico. The very day of their departure their home catches fire and the contents are destroyed. In the fire they lost a number of Calder mobiles, several sculptures by Elie Nadelman, a Joseph Cornell box, an exceptionally large library of first edition books, and select examples of their own work. 1991 January Earle C. Miller dies at age 84. Peter Miller gets into a car accident that leaves her badly scarred on one side of her face and severely debilitated. 1992 September 26th through October 3rd Earle Miller /Peter Miller shown together again at The Schoolhouse, Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Earle Miller was represented by 11 works of art (lithographs and sculptures in wood and bronze) and Peter showed four paintings and one boxed construction. 1996 October 19th Peter Miller dies at her home in Pennsylvania at the age of 83. She leaves her farm in Downingtown to the Brandywine River Museum and Conservancy and her ranch and land in New Mexico to the Tewa Pueblo.

Magic Woman 1930s Oil on canvas 20 x 29-1/4 inches


1937/1938 Oil on canvas 25 x 30 inches

Peter Miller at her studio, ca. 1945 (Julian Levy Gallery records, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives)

"To say that I want to study art simply because I love it seems both sentimental and inadequate, but I can give no other reason. To be constantly aware of loveliness of line and color and at the same time to know that awareness is not enough and that expression must follow, leads inevitably toward art. I am not studying art with any view of making a living by it, but only because I want to do it so much that I would rather fail at painting than succeed at anything else." Peter Miller, excerpt from her September 15, 1933 application to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia


1930s Oil on canvas 22 x 30 inches

Winter Turtles 1940s Oil on canvas 25 x 30 inches


1970s Oil on canvas 28-1/8 x 22 inches

Soul Speak

1930s Oil on canvas 18 x 24-1/8 inches

Medallions 1940s Oil on canvas 25 x 30 inches


1960s Oil on canvas 20 x 24 inches

The Whisperers 1940s Oil on canvas 12 x 16 inches


1930s Oil on canvas 30 x 10 inches

Feathers and Vessels 1950s Oil on canvas 25 x 30 inches


1940s Oil on canvas 24 x 28 inches


1950s Oil on canvas 12 x 14 inches

Moonlight Wisdom 1960s Oil on canvas 22-1/8 x 22-1/8 inches

Life Force

1930s Oil on canvas 20 x 30 inches

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