Its unusual to speak about David Miller, the father without also mentioning his son of the same name. As carpenters and curio craftsmen they worked together, initially with David the son being an apprentice too his father. Regularly exhibited together, their works are conceptually similar, but stylistically very different.
Initially, the Millers created carvings for Jamaica’s growing tourist industry. They operated a workshop on Bray Street off Windwards Rd where in addition to making their furniture and when house-building was slow, they also made curious that bore their signatures and a typical reference to Jamaica W.I.
It is easy to see how the Millers were the predecessors the craftsmen of today’s flourishing souvenir trade that caters to tourists on the north coast. Once their carvings were discovered by the art world and very quickly elevated to the status of sculpture, even though they themselves continued to refer to them as carvings. Examined closely however, there is nothing kitch or commercialized about David Miller Snr’s carvings and even though his titles of works such as Talisman or Fetish or Demon have been read as an attempt to exoticise his images for the sake of sales, it is more likely that they refer to are an honest expression of his spiritual beliefs that tap into developing ideas of race, spirituality and identity at that time. Certainly, Miller Snr himself tells us that his first sculpture of a Rasta was created out of his curiosity at the new phenomenon when he first encountered a rastaman at the Institute of Jamaica. Ironically, meeting David Miller in person was similarly like an encounter with a biblical figure as Robert Verity recalls. “…Very often ‘Pops’ who had the face, the presence and the resounding voice of an Old Testament patriarch would pause in his chipping away at a piece of wood to propound their faith as Jehovah’s Witnesses and to explain the fine distinction between carving and a graven image…These men spent their lives working with integrity and serene dignity – turning wood into beauty and enriching the lives of those who came to know them and their work”. (The Intuitive Eye exh. cat. , National Gallery of Jamaica, 1979)David Miller Snr’s long white beard characterized him as a spiritual figure and something of a mystic, and it is this same sense of cosmic understanding that attends his work. Many of his works bear symbols such as the rose, lily, intricate patterning, and symbolic writing that suggest his wide intellect and exposure to mystical thought. His was a fertile imagination and even though his techniques were somewhat cruder than his son’s, his works are more varied in form and content. They suggest an understanding of the cosmos yet to be explored.PA-S