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Wood Carvings by Alec Miller

Alec Miller was born in Glasgow in 1879, one of seven children; his father

was a cabinet maker and as a ‘dissenter’ held strictly to the Sabbath day

observances.

He left school aged 12 and was apprenticed for seven years to a Miss

Anstruther (later Mrs.Mackay) who had a studio for teaching woodcarving.

He was a good student. By the age of 14 he was ‘becoming useful at very

elementary bench work’. Around this time he and older brother Will joined

an evening drawing class, followed by wood carving classes conducted by

the Kyrle Society. In 1896 he became a student in evening art classes in Glasgow High School under a Mr William Paddock and ‘it was here that the

young apprentice became the young artist’.

In 1898 Alec was promoted to journeyman status and was taken on a visit to

London for the first time and was introduced to the writings of Ruskin and

Morris and both he and Mrs Mackay shared an interest in the writing of C.R

Ashbee and in 1902 he was introduced to Mr Ashbee and the Guild of

Handicrafts. The introduction led to an offer of work which he took up

shortly after the Guild left London and set up in Chipping Campden. It was

to be his home for 37 years, although the Guild ceased to exist after 1909.

The combination of Ashbee as designer in woodwork and Miller as carver

proved very successful and much sought after.

In 1910-11 on the recommendation of Ashbee Alec and his wife Eleanor

went to Pennsylvania, USA, where Alec fulfilled an important commission

for the cloister at Bryn Mawr College (40 carved stone gargoyles in all).

‘In the years of the first World War Alec did a lot of work for the church

and Town Hall at Ulverston’ (records his daughter) but this is in fact

inaccurate since most of the work undertook was at the Church of St. Mary

and St. Michael, Great Urswick, a few miles from Ulverston, some dated

from 1911 or 1912 onwards. During the 1920's Alec Miller made several successful visits to America,

encouraged by Wendell Herbruck from Ohio and his works gained much

media attention. In the 1930’s he was back in America, carving, writing and

lecturing, this time on the West Coast and found California both attractive

and conducive to his work; many offers of work and commissions were

made to Alec and the final move overseas was made in the late 30’s.

He published books in 1948 (Stone and Marble Carving) and in 1949

(Tradition in Sculpture) and was still working out of his Santa Barbara

studio in his 80’s.

Alec Miller died in 1961 having returned home to visit Janet Ashbee but she

died before he could see her; he died in May and was buried at St. Nicholas’

Church, Wade.

As you see and experience the wonderful and varied carvings of Alec Miller

in the church of St. Mary and St.Michael at Urswick, perhaps pause to reflect on the words of Lewis Mumford who wrote of him: ‘he has always

remained in the position of the student and the disciple.’

A master craftsman, indeed.

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