Alfred University to receive Miller Art Collection; Helen Drutt English awarded honorary degree
Over the last half century, Marlin Miller – with his first wife Marcianne (Mapel) Miller, and second wife, Ginger – has collected works by some of the most renowned ceramic artists in the world. On Friday evening, Miller, a 1954 Alfred University alumnus and member of the Board of Trustees, announced he and Ginger would be donating the majority of the Miller Ceramic Art Collection to Alfred University’s Ceramic Art Museum.
ALFRED, NY – Over the last half century, Marlin Miller – with his late first wife Marcianne (Mapel) Miller, and second wife, Ginger – has collected works by some of the most renowned ceramic artists in the world. Since Marlin Miller’s first acquisition, a lidded ceramic bowl created by famed artist, Alfred University alumnus and ceramic art professor Val Cushing, the Millers' collection has grown to exceed 200 pieces.
On Friday evening, Miller, a 1954 Alfred University alumnus and member of the Board of Trustees, announced he and Ginger would be donating the majority of the Miller Ceramic Art Collection to Alfred University’s Ceramic Art Museum. Marlin Miller, who earned a bachelor’s degree in ceramic engineering from Alfred University and received honorary degrees from his alma mater in 1989 and 2019, made the announcement at a dinner following Friday afternoon’s Perkins Ceramic Art History Lecture.
The University Friday evening awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree to Helen Drutt English, a pioneering educator, collector and curator in the craft art industry, who has long been a supporter and advocate for ceramic artists affiliated with Alfred University.
Miller enrolled at Alfred University in 1950 as an engineering major, but soon became interested in the arts. His roommate was an art student, who introduced him to another art student, Marcianne Maple ’55 (B.F.A.). “That’s when I became acquainted with the world of art. I didn’t understand art until I came here,” Miller said.
After Marlin and Marcianne married, Marlin’s appreciation for art continued to grow. On a trip to Cape Cod in 1970, the Millers acquired the first piece of their collection, a lidded bowl by Val Cushing for which they paid $50.
Today, the Millers’ collection contains some of the most renowned names in ceramic art, including the late Cushing, a ceramic art professor who earned a B.F.A. degree from Alfred University in 1952, and several others affiliated with the University: Wayne Higby, director of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum; John Gill ’75 (M.F.A.), professor of ceramic art, and his wife, Andrea ’74 (B.F.A.), professor of ceramic art emerita; Anne Currier, professor of ceramic art emerita; and late professor of ceramic art Robert Turner ’49 (M.F.A.). The exhibition also contains work by noted Japanese and Chinese ceramic artists.
An exhibition, “Materiality: Masterworks from the Miller Ceramic Art Collection,” opened at the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum Thursday and will remain on view through Dec. 30. The Val Cushing piece is one of approximately 60 pieces in the exhibition, and one of more than 200 pieces in the Miller private collection.
“We’re going to give the bulk of our collection to Alfred University,” Miller said Friday. “It’s like déjà vu, coming all the way back around.”
Miller, a member of the Board of Trustees since 1972, is a successful businessman and noted philanthropist who has been on of Alfred University’s most generous supporters. His gifts have funded construction of the Ceramic Art Museum, as well as the Miller Performing Arts Center and Miller Theater.
He credited Drutt English for the influence she has had on him as a collector of ceramic art. Drutt English’s involvement in the field of Modern and Contemporary Craft began in the mid-1950s, first as a collector. She was a founding member of the Philadelphia Council of Professional Craftsmen in 1967, serving as its Executive Director until 1974. In 1973, she founded the Helen Drutt Gallery, one of the first galleries in the United States committed to modern and contemporary crafts.
Drutt English for years has been an advocate to Alfred University’s art community, including graduates of the ceramic art program. In presenting her for her honorary degree, Higby said, “None of the pioneers of the contemporary cultural marketplace has been more important to Alfred University and to the advancement of ceramic art than Helen Drutt English.”
Higby related how, during a visit to Alfred University in 1997, Drutt English arranged to see a Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibition of Sun Koo Yuh, a Korean American student. A month later at the Helen Drutt Gallery in Philadelphia, she mounted the Sun Koo Yuh’s first solo exhibition.
“During the exhibition, his work was acquired by eight private collections as well as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art,” Higby said. “Today, Sun Koo Yuh is one of the world’s renowned ceramic artists. This is but a single example of Helen Drutt English’s commitment to young artists.”
Over the years Drutt English has exhibited and promoted the work of numerous ceramic artists affiliated with Alfred University. They include Higby, whose work has been shown at more than 20 exhibitions at Drutt English’s galleries in Philadelphia and New York City. In 2018 she began work with the National Museum of Art in Sweden on an exhibition that includes the work of several ceramic artists connected to Alfred, including Higby, John and Andrea Gill, Linda Sikora, and Turner and Cushing.
Over her career, Drutt English has organized a number of major exhibitions in the United States and abroad. In 2014, she facilitated the gift of a collection of 74 works, including ceramics, furniture and jewelry, worth approximately $2 million, to Russia’s Hermitage Museum. The work of several Alfred University-affiliated artists, including Higby, is included in the collection.
“Alfred has been part of my life for many decades,” Drutt English said after receiving her honorary degree. “I’m very grateful and very proud.”