b. Chicago, 1907–d. Woodstock, NY, 1964
Edward Millman was born in Chicago and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) under Leon Kroll and John Warner Norton in the early 1930s. He completed numerous murals including one for the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago in 1933. The following year, he traveled to Mexico to study with muralist Diego Rivera, returning to Chicago to become one of the most productive WPA artists in Illinois. He received commissions from both the Illinois Art Project and the more competitive Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture for murals in post offices in Moline (1935) and Decatur, Illinois (1936). He also served as state director of mural projects for the Federal Art Project in Illinois in 1935 and 1936, and completed murals within Chicago public schools and the Chicago Bureau of Water. (His mural for the Lucy Flower Academy High School, Women’s Contribution to American Progress, 1940, was restored in 1996.) He taught fresco painting at Hull House in Chicago from 1939–42 and also worked in lithography.
Millman was committed to social justice and identified himself as a worker—as did many left-leaning artists of the day. His work often conveyed sympathy for the middle and working classes. For the portfolio, A Gift to Birobidjan, 1937, he portrayed a Shoemaker as a skilled worker of the “old country.” The symbolism of shoes conjures the eternal wanderer (harkening back to Van Gogh’s depictions of worn-out shoes) and reinforces the overall intent of the Birobidjan project, which represented Jews’ continuous striving to find a peaceful homeland. His etching, Flop House, 1938, which he based on a 1937 painting of the same subject, is a sensitive portrait of out-of-work laborers. Millman depicted two impoverished men, their eyes averted, emphasizing their large rough hands and feet. One man lies on a thin mattress on the bare wooden floor—he is dressed as if ready for work, but sleeps with a hat over one eye and his jacket rolled up for a pillow. The sitting figure holds his head in his hands, his face hidden by his despair.
In 1939 Millman and Mitchell Siporin were commissioned to create murals for the post office in St. Louis, Missouri, for which they received $29,000—the largest WPA award made by the federal government. Upon winning this commission, Millman and Siporon went to Mexico to study the work of Orozco. The mural Detail belongs to Millman’s panel about the runaway slave Dred Scott in the section devoted to Missouri’s history. This larger composition conveys Orozco’s substantial influence, with its in triptych form, bulky figures, and characteristic distortions. In the Detail, Millman’s two figures bear the hallmarks of the working class: they wear plain clothes and expressive hats, and their gnarled hands convey a life of physical toil.
Millman was a Navy combat artist during World War II, from 1944–45. Embedded with the fighting men to record their personal impressions, he and the other artists produced more than 1,300 drawings, watercolors, and paintings of war. Their artwork was reproduced nationwide in books, magazines, and newspapers. In 1945, Millman received a special citation from the Navy for his part in this program, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship in recognition of his wartime depictions.
Following the war, Millman was the chief illustrator for the Chicago Evening American newspaper and worked for The Chicagoan magazine. He also taught at Indiana University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Arkansas, Cornell University, and Layton School of Art. He was artist-in-residence for one year at the Art Institute of Chicago, and professor of art at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1956 until his death in Woodstock, New York, in 1964.
Albany Institute of History and Art. World War II Navy Art: A Vision of History, http://www.albanyinstitute.org/exhibits/wwII.combat.htm.
Becker, Heather. Art for the People: The Rediscovery and Preservation of Progressive- and WPA-Era Murals in the Chicago Public Schools, 1904–1943. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002.
Edward Millman 1907–1964. Troy, NY: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1964.
Millman, Edward. Pamphlet file P16557. Ryerson Library. Art Institute of Chicago. [15 items]
Oakton Community College. A Gift to Biro-Bidjan: Chicago, 1937: From Despair to New Hope. Exhibition website, http://www.oakton.edu/museum/Millman.html
Galpin, Amy, and Susan Weininger. “Edward Millman.” In Elizabeth Kennedy, ed., Chicago Modern, 1893–1945: Pursuit of the New, 130–31. Chicago: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2004.
“Renowned Abstract Artist, Edward Millman Succumbs.” (Obituary) New York Times, February 13, 1964.
Artist Image: Edward Millman / photographer unidentified. Subject to copyright.