- Published: June 25, 2009
Richard (Dick) Miller died at Community Hospital in Springfield on Thursday, June 18. He had turned 94 on March 31 and celebrated the event with a gathering of friends. He was born in Spencerville, Ohio, to the late Elizabeth and John Miller.
He was predeceased by his brothers Nolan, John and Gaylord.
At 15 months old, Dick became deaf due to an illness. Dick’s mother was determined that he would not be held back by his disability. To this end she worked with him very diligently, helping him to learn lip reading as well as the written word. His elder brother, Nolan, spent long hours, as Dick told it, insisting that he learn words by reading and memorizing from the dictionary. Dick used to say, “Most people think of a word as a sound, but I had to memorize their image.” Sometimes, when talking with Dick, he would stop and spell out a word in the air with a finger, before going on with the conversation on paper.
Dick was home-schooled by his mother, then the family moved to Detroit so that he could attend Mackenzie High School, graduating in 1936. Concerned for his safety on the busy streets of Detroit, since he couldn’t hear car horns or traffic and had been hit several times, the family spent time in the country whenever possible.
Dick was an accomplished painter and artist. He attended the Art Student League of New York for two years (1940–1942) and again in 1965, where he studied under George Bridgman and Harry Sternberg. He also attended Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, developing an expressionistic style to his work and artistic curiosity and skills that would be the focus of his life. He loved the natural world and his work expressed his emotional experience of it. His favorite artist was Egon Schiele.
“Being deaf is very lonely,” he often said, “but I’d rather have my eyes and see all the beauty than be blind.”
Dick moved to Yellow Springs 55 years ago to live with Nolan in a now-gone house adjacent to the Antioch College science building and later they were joined by their mother. Dick and Nolan bought property on Glen Road (Grinnell Circle), southeast of Yellow Springs, where Dick built a small home and studio for himself. After their mother died, Nolan built a small home adjacent to Dick’s, joined by a breezeway.
Dick was an avid gardener of both vegetables and flowers, making the Glen Road home visually beautiful inside and out. Both excellent cooks, Dick and Nolan lived there together until shortly before Nolan’s death at age 99. At the age of 93 Dick moved to Yellow Springs, where he could walk to the library on his own. He made a lovely home for himself again, surrounding himself with beautiful objects he had made and collected over the years.
Dick was a self-employed artist for most of his life, which was a wonderful outlet for his love of beauty and his sense of humor. Besides being a gifted draftsman and painter, he experimented with a wide range of materials, including woodcuts (printmaking), oils, pen and ink, stone sculpture and pottery. In the late 60s and early 70s he taught ceramics for the Yellow Springs Arts Council (at Carr Greenhouses on South High Street), teaching with deft demonstrations the techniques of wheel-thrown pottery and glazing. He loved to try new glaze combinations, testing new recipes on small tiles or tiny thrown test bowls and coming up with exciting combinations he would then spray carefully onto his pottery.
During this time he also taught painting classes to any Yellow Springs youth who were interested. He, along with Dottie Moore, hand-painted all the posters for the Little Art Theatre for 35 years (when there were three movies a week) until Antioch bought the Little Art in 1987.
Dick was a very gregarious person who enjoyed getting out and meeting people. He traveled the world, including Asia, Europe and South America, which all influenced his art. When Nolan went to Europe on sabbatical, Dick went with him and then traveled to many different countries on his own. When asked how he got by, not speaking or knowing any language but English, he would mime, showing that there was a universal language of friendship. He liked to make friends, and did so as he traveled. He often talked about Kai-san, a Japanese Zen monk who lived for several years near Yellow Springs. They became friends and Dick traveled to Japan to visit him and developed an interest in oriental art and philosophy.
Dick and Nolan had a remarkable relationship. Dick often said how important Nolan was to him throughout his life. When Dick didn’t understand something he read, Nolan would patiently explain it, giving Dick an ongoing education. Dick was devoted to his brother, helping him live at home as long as possible as Nolan gradually lost his sight and hearing. Throughout his life, Dick used his wonderful sense of humor to lighten both his solitude and time spent with friends, and he didn’t need words to get his humor across to whomever he was talking to.
A memorial service will be held the last weekend in August, the date and time to be announced. In memory of Dick, donations may be made to the Yellow Springs Senior Center, as the center was central to helping Dick live on his own to the end. During the last year of his life, he expressed gratitude for the center’s help and had wished to do something in return. For questions on the memorial, contact Faith Morgan, 937-767-2551.