The Virginia Miller Memorial

The Virginia Miller Memorial Project

Approximately 20” high by 30” wide. This is a guess. Mixed media: watercolor, gouache, ink, colored pencil, The gold is gold colored pencil. Completion date shown on left bottom as July 16, 1976

This large work was a commission I did around 1976. It was commissioned by Mr. Arthur Miller—not the famous playwright of the same name--the husband and widower of Virginia Miller, whose memorial service the work commemorates. All I know of her was that she was a woman of faith, a devout Christian, who had a long battle with cancer and had finally succumbed to the disease and passed into the presence of the Lord. I never met Mr. Miller. A friend of mine who had worked for Mr. Miller, was the one I dealt with. I was paid for the work, an adequate, but not a princely sum. I won’t say how much. It took me nine months, as I distinctly remember, and I kept a log of the time I spent on it.

It was a  very big project, probably the most intensive and ambitious art project I have ever undertaken. I worked out the proportions and much of the design on a separate piece of paper, if I remember correctly. There certainly was much improvisation, especially with the very complicated geometric patterns. Although the general proportions of the piece were worked out along with the amount of space required for all the text, I remember that I worked out many of the patterns as I worked, not something I would do these days, when I plan my work in advance much more carefully. All this invention and improvisation was a bit of a leap in the dark, but somehow everything worked. Artistically, I think my recent work is much more polished and refined, but there is a quality of youthful bravado in this work. I simply invented as I went along, trying to fit all the elements of the design in after I had completed the work on the text, which was itself no small undertaking. I believe, if I remember, that I had to depart from my original scheme to some extent in order to fit in all the text. Originally the two center panels were to extend all the way to the bottom, but space considerations with the text forced me to make the bottom text (the purple text) spill over a bit into adjacent areas that I had planned to use for designs.

The texts, all quotations from the Bible, were the exact texts that were read at Mrs. Miller’s memorial service. The service, of course, happened some time before I began work on the memorial piece.

It was hard but pleasant work, occupying long hours during evenings and on weekends over nine months, as I have mentioned, the better part of a year. At the time I was living in an apartment in Arlington Heights, Massachusetts. It was in the first floor of a house at the bottom of Belmont Hill, not far from Massachusetts Avenue. I liked living there. I had a room-mate who was away most of the time, so I was usually alone. My landlord was a kindly man who enjoyed my company and allowed me to visit the extensive greenhouse he had in the back yard. He had a number of tropical plants there, including some passion flowers that I enjoyed looking at. He knew that I appreciated his horticultural interests and found artistic inspiration from his plants. Once he took me with him to a large local greenhouse with an extensive collection of orchids, which I enjoyed viewing. I remember that I took a number of pictures of the orchids. I have never had the time or the patience to do much with tending and growing plants, but I do enjoy looking at plants of every description, especially some of the exotic and tropical ones.

I didn’t live very long at the apartment in Arlington Heights. I think I was there less than two years. Eventually, my room-mate moved out. I think it was because he got married. Although I loved the apartment, I didn’t wish to continue living there alone, so I moved about two miles away to an apartment in Arlington Center with three other single men.  Whenever I think of that apartment in Arlington Heights, two things come to mind: the greenhouse with the large passion flowers and the memorial project that occupied most of the period I lived there.

In my younger days I studied wild flowers and trees, learning to identify many of the ones that grew around Billerica, Massachusetts, where I lived. This interest in flowers is evidenced by the insets in the memorial with various flowers, most of them flowers that may be found in New England. Some, like the Calypso (or Fairy Slipper), are very rare and hard to find, and others are fairly common. I think that these flowers and the geometric interlaced band work patterns are the best things about the Memorial. The text is, by my present standards, a bit crude. Some of the text along the bottom is done in purple, which I am not certain was a good idea, as colored inks are not always very light fast. The letters may have faded by now, but I have no way of knowing this, because I haven’t seen the work in years and do not know where it is at present. If someone reading this knows, I would be interested in learning about the Memorial’s present whereabouts. On my part, this is merely curiosity. This work is a kind of long lost child to me, and I have always wondered what has become of it.

When I had finished work on the piece I took it outside, still mounted on the drawing board I had used. The masking tape is visible on some of the pictures. I then photographed it, using up an entire roll of slide film (36 frames per roll). I made two general views and a large number of detail views. Many of the detail views in this collection are edited versions of the earlier detail views. The quality of these images is not as good as I could wish. The resolution is not very high. Occasionally some pictures are a little out of focus, but it is all I have of this work. Looking at these images, one can get some notion of the appearance of this work.