Wichita-area couple cultivate creativity on their art farm

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For artists Mike and Meghan Miller, the house is an “art farm”. The couple live near Towanda on 43 acres dotted with around 30 sculptures.

Mike Miller installed the first sculpture in the early 2000s. Made from lawn mower crates, it looks like “a spinning roller coaster,” he says.

But creating an artistic outdoor environment was not planned when he moved to the property in 1992.

“It was mostly so I could get my channel up as much as I wanted,” he jokes. “But I also have to be in the countryside where there are trees, insects and birds.”

The Millers met in an undergraduate art class at Wichita State in 2008 and recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. This stage coincides with exhibitions for each artist: “The Midnight Garden Coffee Shop” by Meghan Miller is presented at the Fisch Haus, and “Grains of Sand” by Mike Miller is at the Salina Art Center.

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For “The Midnight Garden Coffee Shop” at Fisch Haus, Meghan Miller invites visitors to relax over a cup of coffee in a fantastical environment filled with paper flowers and foliage that mimic common Kansas flora. Courtesy picture

For ‘The Midnight Garden Coffee Shop’, her Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibition, Meghan Miller transformed the main gallery of the Fisch Haus into a fantastical coffee bar filled with paper flowers and foliage that mimic common flora of Kansas, like the pokeweed that grows around his mailbox and the trumpet vines that cling to local fences and telephone poles. Trees and vines almost glow against a starry background.

“I thought I was discovering the magic that surrounds us,” she says. “I think overlooked things are full of possibilities, and that’s pretty magical to me.”

“Grains of Sand” includes many of Mike Miller’s “machine-nature interfaces”, some of which were last seen in Wichita at his 2018 exhibition at CityArts. Each sculpture includes a piece of the natural world, such as a rock or a tail feather, that Miller finds during his daily walks around his property.

Most of the “interfaces” include mechanical elements, such as the series of suspended rocks that rotate like a solar system.

Mike Miller also has public works to see in downtown Wichita: his swing-powered kinetic chicken and egg sculpture is installed at ChainLink Gallery Place, and he’s working on a second spider for Gallery Alley.

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Mike Miller’s sculpture of a giant spider is the defining element of Gallery Alley. Matt Riedl The Wichita Eagle

They both pitch in and help each other with work, but the Millers’ main creative collaboration is their annual outdoor party in January, when they invite dozens of friends to gather around a campfire at some distance from their 19th century farmhouse. Partygoers bring food to share and eat bacon on a “flying grill”. Occasionally, weather permitting, Mike Miller leads a late evening sculpture tour.

Many of the attendees are other artists who have known the Millers from their undergraduate days at WSU. They were both non-traditional students, but Mike Miller, who notes that it took him 34 years to graduate, was more non-traditional than most. He returned to school after nearly three decades running a family business.

“I was in the real world for a very, very long time. All of a sudden I fell into Henrion Hall,” he says. “It was an amazing time to be there.”

The school had recently opened ShiftSpace, a gallery that hosted the annual Project Run-a-Way wearable fashion show. The Millers were lucky enough to visit the Havana Biennale on a school trip. And they became members of a cohort of art students that included artists Brady Scott and Hallie Linnebur.

A few years after they met, the Millers held a wedding ceremony at Henrion, home of the sculpture and ceramics programs and where they spent most of their time as students. To prepare, they painted the floor of the vast western section of the building, which once housed the university’s original gymnasium.

Ten years later, the couple are still exchanging ideas.

“Rather than having ideas spinning and spinning and spinning and spinning in my head, I need someone to listen to me.” said Mike Miller. “Sometimes Meghan will have absolutely fantastic suggestions for what I do.”

These informal critiques have helped keep his practice going, he says.

The couple also helps each other with technique and production. From an early age, Mike Miller learned to use power tools and started building treehouses in the hedge behind his house. He often helps his wife build her facilities.

“I learned to use a cutting torch when I was 8 or 9 years old,” he says. “But building things is easy. Art is difficult.

IF YOU ARE GOING TO

“The Midnight Garden Cafe”

To be seen at the Fisch Haus by appointment. Email info@fischhaus.com to schedule a visit.

“Grains of sand”

Through September 24 at the Salina Art Center, 242 S. Santa Fe Ave. in Salina

Free entry

https://www.salinaartcenter.org/mike-miller

https://www.kansas.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/keeper-of-the-plans/article215520280.html

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