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Newton sculptor Rose Miller has spent a lifetime experimenting in art

Posted by Leslie Anderson  February 8, 2011 09:00 AM

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Photos by Perry Norton

Boston area native Rose Miller began her search for a life through art even when she was still in grade school.

She remembers being fortunate enough to be among the selected public school students invited to study the treasured collection of art work in metal at the Museum of Fine Arts, which went back all the way to early Greek art.

For her, both then and now, art was always a repository for meaningful life experiences and her own way of expressing how they affect her. In addition, there were the challenges she put upon herself to explore new techniques and new ways of achieving such a goal.

Many people, she says, carry around a camera to capture those things that engage their interest. She, however, carries with her a 5-by-7 sketch pad which turns into who knows what manner of art form.

At Lasell Village, the on-campus retirement community at Lasell College in Newton where she lives, one of Rose’s works, an 8-foot-long wall plaque, dominates one of the major corridors.

She laughingly says, “who would think this would happen from a 5 x 7 sketch?” The piece is so real that a viewer can hardly resist examining the details of the bas relief sections.

This is how it is with all of Rose’s art work. It is inevitably a reflection of what draws her interest and how it makes her feel.

Among pieces in her living room/studio right now, for instance, she has:

Bereaved 5.jpg— A bust of Eleanor Roosevelt equivalent to and beyond anything seen in museums throughout the country and even at the Roosevelt memorial in Washington.

— An awesome sculpture of conductor Erich Leinsdorf literally in the act of conducting (one can almost hear the first sound of the violins).

— A heart-wrenching statue she calls “Bereaved” but there is no doubt about what it is portraying.

— A spiral nebula in stained glass that moves even as the constellations do.

Eleanor (4).jpg The extraordinary sculptured bronze of Eleanor Roosevelt came about because of the grief she felt at Eleanor Roosevelt’s death. As with many others of her generation, Eleanor Roosevelt was a particular “hero.”

As Rose described her: “She was always there helping other people, making sure everyone was taken care of. She was a part of my life for all of my life. It was like losing a member of my family.”

It is of particular interest too that Rose’s bust shows a smiling Eleanor, something almost never seen in other statuary or even in photographs. Rose says she spent a great deal of time searching for photos from which she developed her bust that would reflect the progressive and uplifting things Eleanor did with her life and that gave her pleasure.

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In the Erich Leinsdorf work, Rose was again responding to the aspect of the concert experience that particularly intrigued her — the importance of the conductor’s hands and their relevance to the sound he drew from the players.

She went home, she says, and experimented over and over again with capturing in clay, and later in bronze, the essence (as well as the beauty) of his hands and the messages they were conveying to the players. While Rose’s fascination was very much taken, in this work, with the “language” of the hands, viewers of the piece are equally astounded at the almost photographic portrayal, in brass, of Leinsdorf himself.

In all of her work, one is always aware of Rose’s inclination to test and experiment and to search for new challenges. Even though she was well prepared for working in metal by her early studies at the Museum of Fine Arts and throughout her graduate art school training, she was intrigued by the possibility of bringing something “soft” even to a rigid metal surface.

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Among the works on display in her studio is a charming statue of a branch from a dogwood tree in bloom, carved in steel. “I asked myself,” she says, ”What could be more soft than a flower in bloom.”

The Census Bureau records might say that Rose Miller, aged 90 plus, is “retired.” However, a talent like hers never retires. She admitted that even today she has adventures in art still to be explored.

Myril Axelrod has been a writer for newspapers, magazine and professional journals for many years. She was a reporter for the New York newspaper PM and a vice president of Young and Rubicam advertising agency. She was a pioneer in adapting focus groups and in-depth interviewing for the marketing community. For the past four years she has lived at Lasell Village in Newton.

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