The morning light filtering in from the front window at Jeff Miller’s hand-crafted furniture gallery is soft—soft as the gentle curves that beckon from the designer craftsman’s elegant chairs.
Each was born of a constellation of inspirations that Miller has drawn from for 35 years, creating furnishings that are works of art. The best in the collection are being readied for transport to Miller’s first time showing at the American Craft Exposition (ACE), celebrating its 35th year September 20 through 22 at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
“Why did I wait so long to be in a show?” muses Miller. “I’ve been so focused on the creation, I guess. But it was time. ACE is a wonderful showcase.”
And the health care causes ACE supports make participation in the show even more meaningful to Miller.
Educated at Yale University, and the Eastman School of Music, classical trumpeter Miller performed internationally with groups such as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and the Chicago Chamber Brass. But he was tragically sidelined from his musical career at 27, when he was diagnosed with kidney disease.
It was Miller’s memories of the pleasure that early adventures in wood- working brought that sent him back to the tool bench, helping him segue to the new form of artistic expression that would become his life’s work.
“With music, you’ve got a bunch of notes on a page that tell you what you are supposed to play, but that’s the merest beginning of what makes a beautiful composition. It’s very much the same with furniture,” he says.
“Anyone can find plans for something and build it, but there is so much more that can be expressed than mere dimensions. Small details that you turn this way and that. One curve that works large scale may repeat in small scale. It all relates. There are themes and variations. Every line is significant. Each chair is a separate exploration of how to juggle the elements to make something structurally sound, comfortable and visually exciting.”
Miller is one of 25 equally passionate artists new to the ACE this year, joining 125 more who will introduce more than 8,000 expected attendees to new works of art and craft at the event.
Presented by the Auxiliary of NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore), the highly competitive juried show includes works in 12 media categories: Baskets, ceramics, fiber decorative, fiber wearable, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, and wood.
The 2019 event is co-chaired by Buggie O’Grady of Northfield and Nancy Semerdjian of Wilmette. “It just gets better, and better each year,” says O’Grady. “The quality of the work has just continued to climb.”
Semerdjian agrees, thinking back to the first ever exposition: “At that time, for some people in the general public, the word ‘craft’ connoted things like woven potholders and macramé,” she says. “So it was just stunning to see the museum quality artwork that our juried artists and craftspeople were making and showing. And the quality of work has just continued to climb.”
Also revolutionary—then, as now—is that all of the proceeds from ACE tickets, raffles, and donations go to support the work at NorthShore. This year will be the second in a two year push to help fund NorthShore’s Psychiatric Urgent Care Program and Collaborative Care Model. Last year, ACE raised more than $560,000 in support of the cause.
“This year, we hope to exceed that,” says Semerdjian.
Programs supported by ACE are designed to do two things.The first is to cut wait times for patients in need of urgent psychiatric care down from what can be an appalling six-month lag to as little as 48 hours. The second is to assist physicians with management of patients with low to medium risk factors.
Beyond aiding in this cause, for the artists included in the exposition, benefits are many. In addition to selling to and meeting thousands of patrons, artists will be considered for cash awards made for outstanding work in various categories. More than $17,000 in award money was presented to winners in the 2018 show, with $23,000 to be awarded in 2019.
As in previous years, patrons interested in earliest opportunities to peruse and purchase artworks from the exposition, are invited to attend the Benefit Preview Party, on Thursday, September 19, the night before ACE opens to the public.
Featuring hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in a festive atmosphere, the Preview Party also gives guests the chance to chat with artists about their work in more intimate setting. Preview Party tickets include parking on Thursday evening as well as admission to (and discounted parking for) each day of the show.