John Paul Miller

(Huntington, VA, April 23, 1918 - March 1, 2013)


John Paul Miller was born in Pennsylvania but soon moved to Cleveland at the age of two after the death of his mother. Alongside formal education at Hough Elementary School and Shaker Heights High School, weekend classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland School of Art (known as the Cleveland Institute of Art after 1949) instilled in him an early interest in painting and design. He began studies in CSA’s industrial design program in 1936, and there it was mandatory alphabetical seating that prompted him to bond with his fellow first-year student (and an Akronite) Frederick A. Miller, whose work inspired John Paul to begin creating rings, brooches, and other jewelry with silver. Jewelry making would eventually become his primary focus, but as a student he was also deeply influenced by a range of teachers including Kenneth Bates, Kay Dorn Cass, Paul Travis, Walter Sinz, Carl Gaertner and Viktor Schreckengost. He excelled across the entire CSA curriculum, with watercolors as his first true passion in art. After graduating in 1940, Miller taught at CSA for a year before enlisting in the army during World War II. While serving at Fort Knox (famously the repository of the U.S. government’s gold reserves; fitting given Miller’s increasing interest in goldsmithing), he painted twelve murals for the recreation hall on the military base and made illustrations and maps for the tactical use of tanks.

During his service, Miller had become obsessed with rediscovering the lost Roman technique of gold granulation, and shortly after returning to CSA in 1946 he came across a treatise written by an archeologist at the American Academy in Rome that enabled a breakthrough—by causing copper to oxidize on the surface of gold granules, then heating the gold, Miller could join pieces of gold with no visible joints, facilitating the creation of intricate and inventive works. These brought him significant recognition. He first gained a place in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s annual May Show in 1949, and was an award winner several times over the course of the following 25 years. He received the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1961, as well as other awards in Chicago, New York, Brussels, Zurich, the Vatican, and London over the years. Miller continued teaching at CSA until 1983. He spent his evenings making jewelry with his former classmate Fred, and used his summers to travel to the Rocky Mountains, where he found inspiration for his pieces through his deep appreciation of music and nature, resulting in works that can be described at once as lyrical and biomorphic.

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