MILLER, DOROTHY CANNING

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Dorothy Canning Miller (1904-2003) worked in New York City as a highly influential curator of contemporary art and was the first curator of the Museum of Modern Art. Later, she worked as as an art advisor and consultant to Nelson A. Rockefeller, the Rockefeller family, Rockefeller University, Chase Manhattan Bank, and the Port Authority of and New Jersey. Dorothy Miller was also married to Holger Cahill, director of the WPA Federal Art Project.

Dorothy C. Miller was born in Hopedale, Massachusetts in 1904 and received her Bachelor of Arts from Smith College in 1925. She was first introduced to modern art through classes at the Newark Museum taught by John Cotton Dana and Holger Cahill. Miller joined the curatorial staff of the Newark Museum in 1926. The museum was one of the first to organize exhibitions of American folk art, American Primitives (1930-1931) and American Folk Sculpture (1931-1932). Miller worked with Cahill and others on the exhibition and developed a life-long interest in folk art.

After four years at the Newark Museum, Miller moved to New York city, hoping to get involved with the newly opened Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and, likely, to be with Holger Cahill, with whom she lived with on 8th Street prior to their marriage in 1938. Between 1930 and 1932 she took odd jobs and worked with Mrs. Henry Lang cataloging, researching and installing Lang's collection of Native American art Lang donated to the Montclair Art Museum. At the same time, Holger Cahill was serving as Acting Director of the Museum of Modern Art during an absence of Director Alfred H. Barr. In 1932, Cahill asked Miller to assist him with curating the American Painting and Sculpture, 1862-1932 exhibition at MOMA, and together they also curated the First Municipal Art Exhibition, 1934 at the Rockefeller Center.

In 1934, Barr hired Miller as his assistant and one year later appointed her as MOMA's first curator. Miller spent the next 35 years organizing many of this country's most important exhibitions of contemporary art and building personal relationships with new artists and photographers, as well as the collections of MOMA. Some of her more important shows included New Horizons in American Art, 1936; Calder: 19 Gifts from the Artists, 1967; and Twentieth Century Art from the Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller Collection, 1969. As a curator, Miller enjoyed close friendships with contemporary artists of all ages, such as AlCopley, Alexander Calder, Chryssa, Arshile Gorky, Will Horwitt, Loren MacIver, and Louise Nevelson, among many others. Miller retired from MOMA in 1969 but continued to have an influential career as art consultant and advisor.

Dorothy Miller assisted and advised Nelson A. Rockefeller in building his vast personal collection of modern art, much of which ended up in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Just prior to her retirement, Miller organized a large exhibition of Rockefeller's collection. The exhibition catalog written by Miller was the basis for the book she worked on following Rockefeller's death in 1979, ultimately published as The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection: Masterpieces of Modern Art . In the preface, Rockefeller credited Miller with being one of the four people to whom he was indebted "for the understanding and endless joy I have found in the collecting of modern art in all forms."

Miller also served as the primary art consultant for projects to furnish federal spaces, including Henry Kissinger's State Department office suite, and the official Vice-Presidential residence at the Admiral's House in Washington D.C.

In 1959 Miller was invited to join the art collection committee of the Chase Manhattan Bank and served on the committee until the mid-1980s, contributing her expertise to the development of one of this country's oldest and largest corporate collections of modern and contemporary art. She was also hired as an art advisor to First National City Bank, now Citibank.

Miller was also an advisor to other members of the Rockefeller family, including David Rockefeller, and assisted with developing the art collections of Rockefeller Institute/University. From 1960 through the late 1980s Miller was a member of the art committee for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANJY) and was responsible for selecting much of the artwork for the World Trade Center in the 1970s. She served on numerous boards, committees, and commissions, including the Hancock Shaker Village, the Smithsonian Institution's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Empire State Plaza in Albany, and the Smith College Museum of Art. She also became a member of the Mark Rothko Foundation Board of Directors after the litigation following Rothko's death between Rothko's executors and his daughter.

In the mid-1970s Miller assisted the Whitney Museum of American with planning an exhibition and supporting catalog of the work of folk artist Edward Hicks. Although the exhibition and catalog were only partially realized in 1980, Miller and Eleanore Price Mather compiled and published a book on Hicks, Edward Hicks: His Peaceable Kingdoms and Other Paintings, published in 1983.

In 1982-1983 Miller received the Art Dealers Association Special Award, an honorary degree from Williams College, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture governor's award. In 1984 she was named honorary trustee of the Museum of Modern Art. In 1985 the Smith College Museum of Art honored her important contributions to museum connoisseurship with the exhibition Dorothy C. Miller: With An Eye to American Art .

Dorothy Miller died in 2003 at the age of 99 at her home in Greenwich Village in New York City.

From the guide to the Dorothy C. Miller papers, circa 1912-1992, bulk 1959-1984, (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Relation Name
associatedWith Asher, Elise, 1914- person
associatedWith Barr, Alfred Hamilton, 1902- person
associatedWith Betty Parsons Gallery corporateBody
associatedWith Bontecou, Lee, 1931- person
associatedWith Byars, James Lee person
associatedWith Cahill, Holger, 1887-1960 person
associatedWith Calder, Alexander, 1898-1976 person
associatedWith Canady, John person
associatedWith Charlton, Maryette person
associatedWith Chase Manhattan Bank corporateBody
associatedWith Christo, 1935- person
associatedWith Chryssa, 1933- person
associatedWith Coggeshall, Calvert, 1907-1990 person
associatedWith Copley, Alfred L. person
associatedWith Davis, Stuart, 1892-1964 person
associatedWith DeFeo, Jay, 1929-1989 person
associatedWith Federal Art Project corporateBody
associatedWith Feininger, Lyonel, 1871-1956 person
associatedWith Feitelson, Lorser, 1898-1978 person
associatedWith Gorky, Arshile, 1904-1948 person
associatedWith Guggenheim, Peggy, 1898- person
associatedWith Hartigan, Grace person
associatedWith Hicks, Edward, 1780-1849 person
associatedWith Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden corporateBody
associatedWith Horwitt, Will person
associatedWith Johns, Jasper, 1930- person
associatedWith Karpel, Bernard, 1911- person
associatedWith Levy, Julien person
associatedWith Mark Rothko Foundation corporateBody
associatedWith Mather, Eleanore Price, 1910- person
associatedWith Matisse, Pierre, 1900-1989 person
associatedWith McCreedy, Murray L., Dr. person
associatedWith Miller, Irving, 1911-1991. person
associatedWith Monterey Public Library. California History Room. corporateBody
associatedWith Municipal Art Exhibition (1st, 1934, New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Nevelson, Louise, 1899-1988 person
associatedWith Newman, Barnett, 1905-1970 person
associatedWith Noguchi, Isamu, 1904-1988 person
associatedWith O'Keeffe, Georgia, 1887-1986 person
associatedWith PepsiCo, inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Pereira, I. Rice (Irene Rice), 1902-1971 person
associatedWith Picasso, Pablo, 1881-1973 person
associatedWith Port Authority of New York and New Jersey corporateBody
associatedWith Rauschenberg, Robert, 1925-2008 person
associatedWith Reinhardt, Ad, 1913-1967 person
associatedWith Rockefeller, Nelson A. (Nelson Aldrich), 1908-1979 person
associatedWith Rockefeller University corporateBody
associatedWith Rothko, Mark, 1903-1970 person
associatedWith Sage, Kay person
associatedWith Scharf, William, 1927- person
associatedWith Sheeler, Charles, 1883-1965 person
associatedWith Smith College corporateBody
associatedWith Smith College. Museum of Art corporateBody
associatedWith Sterne, Hedda, 1910- person
associatedWith Still, Clyfford, 1904- person
associatedWith White, Fred J. person
associatedWith Whitney Museum of American Art. corporateBody
associatedWith World Trade Center (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Washington County (Iowa)
Brighton (Iowa)
Subject
Artists--United States
Art, Modern--20th century
Traditional medicine
Art--Private collections
Art, Modern--20th century--Exhibitions
Art historians--New York (State)--New York
Folk art
Corporations--Private collections
Medicine--History
Art museum curators--New York (State)--New York
Occupation
Function

Person

Active 1945

Active 1972

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