By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Joseph Miller grew up on a farm east of Rice. But rather than expressing his creativity through farming, he has spent much of his adult life working with granite, bronze, acrylics and oil paints.
After earning an art degree from St. Cloud State University, he spent time as a carpenter for a San Diego museum.
He returned to college for a master’s degree in painting and drawing. After working for a short time in liturgical publications in Edina, he began a 23-year career working with granite at Cold Spring Granite.
“I learned a lot and met a lot of people,” Miller said.
In 1984, Miller married his wife, Audrey, a widow with three sons. They added three daughters to the family.
A chance encounter with a high school art instructor led to a renewed interest in painting.
“I hadn’t been painting much and that experience opened my eyes,” Miller said. “I was primed and ready to pay attention.”
He used to use acrylic paints more, but now concentrates more on oils.
“I have more respect for oil — the way the light penetrates the media’s warmth, the way it spreads, the way it reacts with my brush,” he said. “It blends better, it’s more jewel-like in the light, even the smell — it appeals to my senses more.”
At the same time, Miller, a resident of Richmond, expanded his experiences with granite.
“I had been intimidated by stone. It’s hard and doesn’t yield easily,” he said.
At Cold Spring Granite he had been making models for stone carvers, but then got his own used tools and started carving.
His first granite piece was done in 1996 for Mary, Queen of Peace Church in Edina. Miller has sculpted a granite angel for a St. Cloud mausoleum and a granite firefighter for a cemetery in Apple Valley.
He left Cold Spring Granite in 2005, at the same time that two opportunities for large commissions opened up for him.
Ventura County, Calif. officials contacted Miller to make a bronze sculpture of a fireman.
“I had never done a life-size bronze casting,” he said. “The statue was cast at a foundry in Loveland, Colo. I took my wife and daughters on a trip through Colorado and New Mexico on our way to California.”
The statue of a fireman holding a child stands at the Fallen Firefighters’ Memorial.
Miller was also asked if he would do a bronze sculpture for Orange County, Calif. That statue is also a firefighter carrying a child.
The first step is to draw the proposed monument. Then Miller makes a clay model. Each step must be approved by the customer. The model is transferred to granite, or a bronze casting is done.
“I keep the customer involved all during the process,” he said. “One-third of the payment is due when the drawing is done, one-third when the model is finished and the rest upon completion of the project.”
“I try to enrich the lives of others by producing granite or bronze features that evoke reflection and contemplation on the lives of historical figures,” Miller said. “I admire and strive to create recognizable beauty in images well done. I specialize in monuments of landmark quality that give a sense of place and history.”
In addition to producing works of art, Miller lets his creativity flow through an orchard full of a variety of fruit trees. He grows apples, cherries, pears, apricots and plums. Some of his trees are 20 years old.
In a second orchard he owns near Jacob’s Prairie, he is nurturing three-year-old pear, apple and cherry trees.
“I grow enough for pies and juices,” he said. “My favorite apple variety is Keepsake.”
For more information, call (320) 292-6182.