Lilian May Miller

Theme/Style – Oriental motifs, landscapes, figurative art

Media – Graphic arts, printmaking, oils, watercolors, book illustration, photography

Artistic Focus – Lilian Miller painted delicate, beautiful Asian imagery. While most other artists in her genre trained in Western art schools and only later explored Japanese techniques, Miller saw Japanese painting and printmaking as her first mode of artistic expression; and while many artists turned their work over to publishers, Miller did all of her own carving and printing as part of her devotion to the Japanese art tradition.

Career Highlights –

• Born in Tokyo in 1895, the daughter of a U.S. Consul General, Lilian May Miller was educated at the American School there. At age nine she began her training in Japanese painting methods under the court painter to the Emperor, and at age 12 was exhibited at the Imperial Salon at the Ueno Academy of Fine Arts.
• When her family came back to the U.S. in 1913, Miller attended Vassar College, earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree.
• Returning to Japan, Miller studied with the progressive artist Shimada Bokusen, receiving numerous awards and, inspired by her friend Helen Hyde, after 1920 she specialized in making woodblock prints in the Japanese manner. Many of her finished prints as well as paintings were destroyed in the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923.
• Miller authored and illustrated a book of poetry entitled Grass Blades from a Cinnamon Garden, published in 1927, and by the 1930s she was in the Los Angeles area, where she lectured on and demonstrated block printing at the California Art club.
• One of the ways Miller distributed her prints was through a network of primarily female friends and, indeed, her collectors and dealers comprised a group of key women art patrons of the time, including Empress Nagako of Japan; Lou Henry Hoover, wife of President Herbert Hoover; Anne Morrow Lindbergh; and Pasadena art dealer Grace Nicholson. It was Nicholson's Pasadena residence, now the Pacific Asia Museum, where Miller perhaps felt most at home outside Japan.
• Arriving in San Francisco in 1938, Lilian Miller lived there for only five years when cancer ended her life at the age of 47. Many of her prints were donated to Scripps College.