Alec Miller: Carver, guildsman, sculptor
Graham Peel £14 plus £3 p&p*
THE Arts and Crafts Movement is famous - and fashionable. William
Morris prints and William De Morgan tiles are still sought after.
Rush-woven chairs and oak refectory tables grace the homes of
discerning middle-class consumers. The ideals of the movement -
simplicity, honesty, a delight in the skill of handcraftsmanship -
continue to be appreciated.
Yet the history of the arts and crafts is unbalanced. There has
been an almost exclusive emphasis on the founders and first
generation. Not a month goes by without more work on Morris or his
collaborators. Their successors, by contrast, remain remarkably
One such figure is Alec Miller: a stonemason and leading figure
in the 20th-century Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a notable
speaker and writer, a friend and biographer of the influential
Victorian designer C. R. Ashbee, and - above all - a gifted
sculptor and carver. He does not rate a place in The Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography or so much as a mention in
Wikipedia. But his work can be found in churches throughout the
country, reflecting the continued importance of the arts crafts
well after the first generation had passed on.
Graham Peel's biography is an attempt to revive the memory of
Miller. It draws on a remarkable range of research, and was clearly
a labour of love. It explores his life, his faith, and - above all
- his work, which was mixed, but never less than sincere. Some
pieces are exquisite - and the portrait of his dead son is simply
heart-breaking in its honesty.
Miller was unlucky in becoming unfashionable before his career
had ended. He remained unlucky, as the revival of interest in the
early arts and crafts passed him and his contemporaries by.
Fortune, however, has smiled on him now with a biography as sincere
and appealing as his very best work.
The Revd Dr William Whyte is Senior Dean, Fellow, and Tutor
of St John's College, Oxford, and Professor of Social and
Architectural History in the University of Oxford.
*Copies can be obtained from the author: firstname.lastname@example.org or
Glenville, Berrington Road, Tenbury Wells, Worcs.WR15 8EL.