Sunday, July 27, 2008

Final Words

R.C. Miller

Thankfully, funerals have played a very small role in my long life.

Everyone has died when they should,
i.e., when they were real old and feeble,
so the last rites have been about as pleasant
and informal as a solemn occasion could be.

Below is the text that I prepared for reading at the R.J. memorial yesterday.

I mostly stuck to it,

but following an acapella rendition of
"Green Green Grass of Home"

by Dexter, a boxer, and former model, who also told the story

of how RJ encouraged a shy, young female student
to go ahead and model his capacious male anatomy,
how could I stick to my script, any script?

(plus -- I've noticed
that good speakers never read from a prepared text -
unless they have a teleprompter)


My original plan for our little memorial -- was to have everyone write a 200 word essay on "my most unforgettable character" -- with Dick Miller as the subject, whether he really was such a person or not - and then i would read the essay I wrote on that theme - from about 50 years ago.To summarize: : he had lots of cool pets , he didn't worry about money, and he liked to shock his neighbors and annoy door-to-door salesmen. I concluded that he was "second to none"

Well...nobody wants to write a 200 word essay - so that idea went out the window. Then I thought I'd address a more serious topic - the place of Richard J. Miller in the history of art - since I have compiled a catalog of about a thousand 20th Century figure sculptors in what I'd call the Modern Classical tradition - beginning with Aristide Maillol and Adolph Von Hildebrand.

But Mom begged me not to be longwinded, so I better leave that discussion to the first academic symposium on that topic - if I ever live long enough to attend it.

So instead -- I'd like to pay tribute to the three great influences in Dick's life: his father, R.C. Miller , his teacher, Milton Horn, and finally, his drinking buddy, Leo Underhill.

Dick's father, R.C., was a professor of agricultural engineering - and I think that's where Dick picked up his love for applied science -- as exemplified by his mastery of the Norden bombsite when he was 19 (which I think is what got him the Distinguished Flying Cross ) and his adoption of Computer aided design when he was 79-- which is quite an accomplishment for an old guy. And Dick picked up something else from his father, too --- a stubborn enthusiasm for being right while the rest of the world was dallying down the primrose path -- with a strong conservative bent for championing old-fashioned techniques and values in the face of modern foolishness. For those of you who never heard about RC -- he professed agriculture as a family value rather than a big business - so he taught his students to stay out of debt by using simpler technologies that would allow a farm to flourish from one generation to the next. The wise farmer would use horses instead of tractors -- and grow his own seeds rather than buy hybrids. And sticking to his guns, in face of strong opposition -- -- he was fired from Ohio State University -- only to be re-hired after his students organized a protest. A true family hero -- and a true "professor" - which as RJ would quickly tell you, is defined as "one who professes"

Milton Horn (self portrait)

Dick's next great influence was another "true professor", Milton Horn, who connected him to the great sculptural traditions of the world -- which was the trendy thing in the first half of the 20th C. -- as expressed by writers like Elie Faure and Andre Malraux - both of whom are still in Dick's library. It's very difficult for me, in just a few words, to describe just how extraordinary this "true professor" was. - he resembled Max Von Sydlow in Bergman's film, "The Magician". Born in Russia in 1906 , brought to America when he was 7, he never graduated high school, but managed to get an education from the some of the leading sculptors and architects of his day -- and along the way, amassed one of the greatest collections of medieval sculpture outside of a public art museum. He was among the founders of the New York Sculptor's Guild back in the thirties - that was dedicated to the modern revival of figure sculpture --and especially direct carving - not as public entertainment - but as a vehicle for the human spirit -- as the great sculpture of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian eras had been. When Dick first met him, Milton was only 34 -- still a young man -- and the important part of his career was yet to come - where he would attempt to create a Jewish liturgical figurative sculpture - in direct defiance of the second commandment. And for a few decades - he succeeded! Not far from our house in Forest Park, is the first, and only, depiction of the Shekinah -- the mystical female aspect of the Creator - on the facade of a Jewish house of worship.

To quote a line from one of his early catalogs: "The function of sculpture is not to decorate but to integrate, not to entertain but to orientate man within the context of his universe."

And Dick meeting Milton was something of a coincidence (just like Tom Tsuchiya later meeting Dick) -- because Milton was not a career academic, he only taught at one school -- Olivet College (where the faculty did not need to have degrees) - and he was there for the ten years from 1939 to 1949. Meanwhile, Dick went off to college in 1940, without any special intention of becoming an artist - and he graduated in 1946 (with 2 two years off, spent in the army) . Dick would be Milton's only real student -- the only one whom he let work on his own pieces -- and only one who would spend his life making sculpture. But they didn't really have a lot else in common. Milton was a Jew and a communist, romantically if not devotedly, and he had strong ideas about the proper life of an artist -- which included avoiding the terrible burden of having children. (and thank goodness my parents ignored him!) So it was a relationship that gradually withered away -- even though neither of them personally knew any other sculptor whom they admired more.

A highlight in both of their careers was the 1951 exhibit of 101 pieces of contemporary American sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- as curated by Robert Beverly Hale, well-known to everyone with an interest in artistic anatomy -- and both of their pieces were among the 45 selected for the catalog.

Milton's piece was his life size bronze of "Job" -- which would begin his career in religious public art,

... and Dick's piece was a bull (more sacred than naturalistic) that he had carved from stone. (which was then bought by his father-in-law, my grandfather) Unfortunately that was the last such exhibit the Met would ever have -- and the last time that both of them would receive that kind of national recognition. And it was kind of a last hurrah for idealistic but not cartoonish figure sculpture in America -- at least for the next 50 years.

Finally - the last great influence on RJ Miller was that colorful radio personality - the morning disc jockey from WNOP --Radio Free Newport -- Leo Underhill -- who served as something of a Falstaff to my father's Prince Hal -- except, of course, that Falstall was an indiscetion of Prince Hal's youth, not his maturity. When you remember some of RJ's distinctive speach patterns -- the drawing out of vowels in impressive, multi-syllable words - to mock them with a cynical, world weary attitude -- that was Leo speaking. And when RJ would blithely declare "I'm a born liar" -- that was Leo speaking (though unlike RJ, Leo really was a liar) And even RJ's most memorable aesthetic principle "it don't mean a thing, if it ain't go that swing" - that was also Leo -- the world weary hipster -- where nothing really means anything - so, Bartender, fill the glasses, and let's just keep on swingin' .

Other than hearing his voice every morning in the sixties -- I don't really know much more about Leo. What did he do before he went on WNOP in 1962 ? I just don't know. There's a 1974 interview with him on the internet -- where he talks about breaking his leg while trying to climb up the statue in Fountain Square at 1 in the morning -- and for $10 you can buy a 1962 program of him bickering with some other DJ's -- and that's about it. But clearly he was a talented raconteur (a word he would have loved to pronouce) - an early pioneer of shock jock radio.

And that's it. I know I've talked much longer than Mom wanted -- but I do think this is the last time this entire collection of family, friends, and students will ever be getting together - and I wanted to stretch this moment out -- as long as I could-- while, if at all possible - avoiding the dread of sentimentality.


And here is the text
of the song my cousin Greg
had written sometime in the nineties,
and recited that afternoon.


No Sin In Cincinnati

There's a chiseler down Cincy way who chisels stone and models clay
His graven images portray both man and beast of pray and prey
The motley hues he wears around add color to his shaven crown
Those monk's bad habits on his back betray a somewhat holey cat

He'll "no" your "yes" or "yes" your "no" to further a debate
He'll even take both sides for you if you should hesitate
[should you equivocate]
He's lured Jehovah's Witnesses into his learned lair
And neutralized their catechism quoting their own fare

He's scrutinized the scriptures, dissected every stricture
Transformed them into pictures for his monastery walls
He quotes the Bible virgins and he quotes the Bible studs
He's neutralized the first string, now they're bringin' in the scruds

There's no sin in Cincinnati - he's neutralized it all
There's no sin in Cincinnati - I read it on the wall
There's no sin in Cincinnati - there's nowhere left to fall
With no sin in Cincinnati

Now Chris and Eric, Mary Joan, they've tallied up the score
Combined they've known this Richard cat a hundred years and more
They know this cat's approach - they recognize this cat's technique
They've seen him dodge both poles to keep a fracas at its peak

He'll bounce that Adam's Apple when he's ready to anoint
Another soul who'll listen while he chisels out a point
Don't need no Dan'l Webster with his art for compromise
'Cause we got Richard Miller - he prefers to neutralize

There's no sin in Cincinnati - he's neutralized it all
There's no sin in Cincinnati - I read it on the wall
There's no sin in Cincinnati - there's nowhere left to fall
With no sin in Cincinnati

("You're wrong, my friend, I disagree
Now what was it you said to me?
I hate to be so contrary
But I can't hush and let it be

"I might not preach a point of view
But take a stand - I'll counter you
Don't quibble over 'false' or 'true'
Those words mean nothing once I'm through...")
[Those words dissolve in Richard's stew]

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Leo Underhill

Alright, I admit I'm on something of
a nostalgia trip right now,
during this official period of mourning.

WNOP was our family's favorite radio station in the 60's.

Along with 15 or 20 other people,
my father turned it on every morning at sunrise
(when it began its daily broadcast - with Leo Underhill)

And here's his voice from 1974, live at the Playboy Club. How cool was that!

Especially memorable for me, the reference to local shrink, Ms. Mimi Pendery
(Maria Pinho), who was my parents' long time family friend.

(oops -- the above link may be permanently disabled - but here's a television interview conducted eight years later)

Wherein Leo is asked "Do you have a philosophy?"

"Yes, I do", Leo says, "Get all you can, but don't hurt anybody"

As you can tell from the above portrait that my father made,
Leo and RJ became good friends,
and you can imagine how excited I was
to come downstairs and discover
a real live disc jockey in our living room.

Leo was something of a Falstaff.

If he wasn't in a bar or nightclub,
he was at the racetrack,
but he had a way with words,
teasing out each vowel
and "talking dirty"
even if he wasn't.

(and eventually, you could hear his speech patterns
every time my father opened his mouth)

This was the station where I learned to love Nancy Wilson,
Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Jackie & Roy,
and where I first heard Paul Gonsalves'
extended solo at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival.

How I longed to be a grown up,
go to all the fancy night clubs,
dress in Italian silk suits,
and be a swinger !

To me, it seemed to exemplify
successful adult life,
though now,
as I read its history,
the station never even broke even.

and best wishes, too
is happy for you"

(We Never Offend Porcupines)

Rest in Peace.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

My Most Unforgettable Character

Here it is -
from Christopher J. Miller - Homeroom 142
(was I in 5th grade ? I'm not sure)

And yes -
it does seem that
young Christopher had already realized
that his father was an art bum.

(and obviously he
thought that would be a good
way to live !)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

R.J.'s Last Piece

So, here it is,
my father's last, unfinished piece,
"Lady and the Tiger"

He designed it on his computer,
and Danny Leonard did most of the carving.

(one of the last alterations he made was
to have Danny cut off the tiger's head
and replace it with one slightly smaller)

We might as well walk all the way around it,
I think that's what he was most proud of:
360 degrees of design.

(which he continuously told
anyone who would listen
was greatly facilitated by using a computer)

I don't really understand his fascination
over the last decade
with women mating with large animals.

Though I realize it's a somewhat Classical theme
(Ovid's Metamorphoses)

But Ovid is something you read, then put away.

Why would anyone,
other than himself,
want to include these images in their life
on a daily basis?

What possible life could these pieces have
outside of an art museum ?

But if they ever do make it into a museum,
it will have to be one in the distant future.

More, perhaps, they are a monument
to himself,
and his own
magnificent isolation

What a long way
he's come from here:

Perhaps that contrast,
between pieces made 50 years apart,
tells the story
of the American experiment
in the last half of the 20th C.