As we continue the work of reinstalling our permanent exhibitions, we have recently reopened our Early Intuitives gallery, as the first gallery of the modern Jamaican art exhibition to be completed. This gallery features the work of three artists, John Dunkley, David Miller Snr. and David Miller Jnr. We have already presented a post on John Dunkley and now present one on two the Millers who were, like Dunkley, based in downtown Kingston, where they lived and worked at 8 Bray Street.
David Miller Snr. began his career in the early years of the twentieth century as a carver of curios for the tourist trade. His earliest known works are fully within the late nineteenth century tradition of “coconut shell carving” where decorative floral motifs were etched into the hard shell of the coconut which had been fashioned into a lidded container. During the early twenties he was carving curios in wood; these were principally “negro heads” and a variety of animals.
By 1920 his son David Miller Jnr. was fully integrated into the workshop and excelled at detailed work. David Jnr. honed his skills by repeating endless variations on a few basic forms (principal among them, the “heads” where he explored the negro physiognomy through a constant studying of people he knew and photographs from the daily newspapers). The library of the Institute of Jamaica yielded up images of a variety of exotic animals and illustrations of extinct dinosaurs which fueled the imaginations of both father and son.
The two worked closely together and deliberately merged their identities. Having the same name, which they proudly carved on the base of each piece, they simply became known as “The Millers.” Since the death of David Miller Jnr. in 1976 attempts have been made to distinguish between the two oeuvres. It appears that the majority of the famous heads were produced by David Miller Jnr. while the more imaginative works like Talisman are the masterworks of the father.
This post was produced by the NGJ’s Curatorial Department.