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Leslie W. Miller

Principal of the
Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, 1880-1920

Thomas Eakins Portrait of Leslie W. Miller

Leslie William Miller (1848-1931) served as the first principal of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (PMSIA, now The University of the Arts College of Art and Design) from 1880 to 1920. He took PMSIA from a school that had opened in 1877 with just a few drawing classes and developed a curriculum that would come to include art education, illustration, architectural drafting, interior design, sculpture, painting, pottery, stage and costume design, metal and iron work, furniture, stained glass, bookbinding, and museum curatorship.

Born in Brattleboro, Vermont, on August 5, 1848, Miller studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and graduated from the Massachusetts Normal Art School (now Massachusetts College of Art) in 1880. According to archival records at Massachusetts College of Art, he was the 113th student admitted and received Diploma A in 1874 (which allowed him to teach drawing in the public school system) and Diploma B in 1880.2 He worked for a time as a portrait painter.

While studying at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, it is very likely that Miller became personally acquainted with Walter Smith (1836-1886), the British drawing master who had been invited to Boston to be Director of Drawing for the public schools and State Director of Art Education for Massachusetts. The South Kensington Museum and School, today's Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art, served as the model for numerous "museum schools" founded in the late 19th century. Smith was an alumnus of South Kensington (he held five "Art Master" certificates) and had served as headmaster in several South Kensington-affiliated schools in Britain. In addition to his public education positions in Boston, Smith was also the first principal of the Massachusetts Normal Art School.

As principal of PMSIA, Miller seems to have known everyone and been involved in most of the Philadelphia art world at that time. He was a founder and officer of the Art Club of Philadelphia, an honorary member of the T-Square Club (which was housed in the PMSIA school building for a time) and of the American Institute of Architects' Philadelphia chapter, secretary of the Fairmount Park Art Association from 1900-1920, a member of the American Philosophical Society, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the Pennsylvania Association of Master Painters and Decorators, and the Boston Art Club.

An influential figure in the development of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Miller was very interested in the "city beautiful" movement. He lectured around the country as well as internationally: "Mr. Miller is a fluent speaker and has delighted many audiences with his graphic descriptions covering a wide range of topics. His pen has been freely used to encourage art in his adopted city and his advocacy of improved municipal conditions, especially the physical regeneration of the banks of the Schuylkill, will have an enduring influence upon the community. His work published by Scribner's entitled Essentials of Perspective is widely recognized as an authority in architectural circles."3

When he retired in 1920, Miller was named principal emeritus of PMSIA. Other honors from the Philadelphia community included an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania (believed to be the first time that honorary degree was awarded) and an honorary doctor of laws from Temple University. The Art Club of Philadelphia had awarded a gold medal to Miller in 1919. 4

Miller died of heart disease on March 7, 1931, in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, where he had retired.5

Eakins, Thomas. Portrait of Leslie W. Miller, 1901. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of Martha Page Laughlin Seeler in memory of Edgar Viguers Seeler, 1932. 1932-13-1. Oil on burlap, 88 x 44 in.
Eakins painted this portrait of Miller at the school, in the Broad and Pine streets building now called Hamilton Hall. In Lloyd Goodrich's 2-volume work on Eakins, PMSIA student Charles Sheeler is quoted describing Eakins' visits to the school.1

Sources

1. Goodrich, Lloyd. Thomas Eakins. Cambridge, MA: Published for the National Gallery of Art [by] Harvard University Press, 1982. Sheeler is quoted in volume 2, pp. 182-185.

2. Dobbs, Paul, Massachusetts College of Art archivist. Letter to the author, May 9, 1995.

3. "Leslie W. Miller, Trustee and Secretary of the Association." Fairmount Park Art Association: An Account of Its Origin and Activities from Its Foundation in 1871. Issued on the Occasion of Its Fiftieth Anniversary, 1921. Philadelphia: The Association, 1922. pp. 122-125.

4. "Leslie W. Miller Given Reception and Gold Medal." Evening Bulletin [Philadelphia], April 27, 1919.

5. "Dr. Leslie W. Miller Dies in Massachusetts." Philadelphia Inquirer, March 8, 1931.

Additional sources:

Chalmers, F. Graeme. A 19th Century Government Drawing Master: The Walter Smith Reader. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association, 2000.

"Resignation of Dr. Leslie W. Miller." Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin, v. 17, number 66 (October 1920), p. 3.

Sewell, Darrel. "A Legacy of Crafts: Contemporary Crafts in the Philadelphia Museum of Art." Introduction to Crafting a Legacy: Contemporary American Crafts in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia : Philadelphia Museum of Art ; New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, c2002.
Although this essay does not concern itself with Miller or specifically with the school, it is a very interesting essay about the industrial beginnings of the institution, its relationship to craft, and the genesis of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.


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Last updated 23 January 2006 sjm

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