The following is a profile of Anne Ryan Miller from my forthcoming book on English Arts and Crafts furniture, scheduled for publication in June 2018 by Popular Woodworking.
Considering the depth and vitality of Anne Ryan Miller’s work, it comes as something of a shock to hear her say that in her younger days she “never really liked stained glass.”
“I grew up in the Detroit area. Stained glass was ‘old.’”
That view of stained glass as a relic of historic architecture changed in the early 1970s when she visited a friend during a trip to Bloomington, Indiana. Her friend, Mary Ott, had just learned to work in stained glass. Miller helped her with some projects, then did some experimenting on her own, with Mary’s encouragement. She fell in love with the material’s beauty.
Miller moved to Bloomington in 1976 and went to work with Ott. At first they ran their studio, Graphic Glass, from a garage. As the business grew, they moved to a storefront on the downtown square, where they worked for several years.
“Glass work became a way to communicate about nature,” says Miller, whose educational background is in environmental science; she has a bachelor’s degree from the School of Natural Resources and environmental education at the University of Michigan and a master’s in alternative education from Indiana University. “Artistically expressing our respect for nature has been a kind of calling for many of us.”
Miller developed a distinctive technique that has become her signature: She layers glass with metal. Using an X-acto knife, she cuts a design out of 1.5 mil copper foil which is applied to the glass in a process she compares to drawing. She typically begins with a sheet of opalescent glass. By applying metal to the front and back of the opalescent glass, she can create a sense of depth. Added dimension comes from one or more layers of clear glass with metal on top; the layers allow her to build near-, fore-, and background. She works other imagery into the space between the layers using copper foil, adding solder to the metal’s surface for texture and body. Looking at her scenes of lakes and mountains, you have to remind yourself that the far distant peaks and shores are a mere ½” or so away.
For more than 30 years Miller has lived and worked in the Brown County seat of Nashville, best known for its connection with a group of early-twentieth-century painters. One of those painters was Dale Bessire, who came to Nashville in 1914 and made it his home. Miller’s studio, next to the house she shares with her husband, architect Steve Miller, originally belonged to Bessire, her husband’s grandfather – this time, a happy coincidence of stained glass and old buildings.