Lewis Miller

 

Miller was a watercolor artist, the son of German immigrants who settled in York, Pennsylvania, where Miller was born. A lifelong bachelor, he worked as a house carpenter for more than thirty years after apprenticing to one of his brothers. His father, a schoolmaster, probably instilled in his tenth son the love of learning and curiosity aboutthe world that Miller expressed in his watercolor drawings, done between about 1813 and the year he died.Miller’s subjects included everyday life in York, historical events, sights in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Europe, landscapes, botanical studies,and likenesses of friends and acquaintances. Coupled with his informative descriptions and engaging poetry, Miller’s drawings comprise a lively and informative portraitof his life and times. He also carved an architectural pediment featuring relief-carved animals, human faces, and flowers, which he placed over the door of his house, aswell as other works that await identification.Miller’s lively sense of composition matched his facility with the brush. A sheet of paper in his hands might contain a single subject, or multiple scenes interspersedwith appealing vignettes and annotated commentary. His style is consistently spontaneous and unlabored, which is notable given that his earliest works may date towhen he was sixteen. The wealth of detail in his drawings rewards careful scrutiny. Miller was also capable of creating more finished works: a half-length, watercolor self-portrait shares stylistic similarities with portraits by Jacob Maentel (1763–1863), for example, who worked in York County. Miller probably knew Maentel, andhe made a drawing of him. Miller’s self-portrait additionally suggests that Maentel exerted some influence on the younger artist.Beginning in 1831, Miller made numerous trips to the Christiansburg, Virginia, home of his brother Joseph, a physician. Among his most significant documents of pre-American Civil War Virginia are several drawings depicting the life of slaves, including one showing a group of slaves being led from Staunton to easternTennessee, with written commentary expressing Miller’s distress at the sight. Miller assembled four travel diaries documenting his 1840–1841 European trip. Showing cities, public monuments, notable buildings, and landscapes, primarily inEngland, Scotland, Switzerland, and Germany, some of the drawings were made during the trip while others were probably drawn from memory upon his return.By 1880, impoverished and in failing health, Miller increasingly relied on friends and relatives for support. Among Miller’s last works are more than two hundred portraits of York citizens, drawn from memory, for a friend who gave him fifty dollars.