Steve Miller is my best friend, has been for a long time. His work is known to the privileged few who are collectors of the finest handmade books. I am prejudiced in his favor because he's been my friend since 1972, but I think it's objectively true that you would need only one or two (maybe zero) fingers to tally up his peers among book artists. His books are scarcely to be believed.
He's now a professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where he heads up the Book Arts Program. If you are interested in fine printing and the book arts, Steve has collected an impressive number of related web links on the Book Arts Program page.
He hails from a smallish Wisconsin town called Fond du Lac, so named because it is at the bottom, that is, the south end, of a large lake, Lake Winnebago. Fond du Lac doesn't provide much in the way of cultural stimulations, and from a very young age Steve gravitated first to land as a source of sustenance and inspiration and later to art. When we met, he was amazingly naive and just coming out, a first-year graduate student in Landscape Architecture, a fairly small but select program at the UW-Madison.
At first he was a little leery about me, I think. I was 15 years older, rather more sophisticated and considerably less reserved, about gay things especially. But before long we started seeing each other regularly at breakfast at the student union and his reserve began to melt. I was pretty attracted to him at the time. Later, I would fall in love with him, though that didn't work out well for either of us.
I had been living with a boyfriend for about 10 years, a time of great domesticity but little creative endeavor for me. It was really Steve who sparked a resurgence of my musical life, a first step in what was to become an on-going series of each being the goad and catalyst for the other's creative impulses.
As it worked out, we both saw an exhibition of handmade books by Walter Hamady, guru of the book arts on the University's Art faculty. The effect on Steve was really electric, and as soon as possible after that he signed up for Hamady's class. It would shortly lead to the formation of Red Ozier Press, under which marque Steve and his later partner Ken Botnick would issue a long series of quite remarkable book projects. Though Red Ozier started in Madison, in due course Steve and Ken moved to New York City, where despite the almost insuperable difficulties of making ends meet the bulk of the press's projects were realized.
Eventually, however, the unremitting hardships of New York's high cost of living and its enervating atmosphere proved overwhelming, and when Alabama was looking for a new director for its fledgling books-arts program, the by now international reputation of Red Ozier made Steve a strong candidate. Faculty positions in art ordinarily require a Master of Fine Arts degree, but by a stroke of good luck, book arts at Alabama were not part of the art department. Rather, it was administered by the graduate library. A recent reorganization has moved the program under the communication arts department, fortunately after Steve obtained tenure.
In October of 1993, I had the good fortune to be in New York for the opening of a Red Ozier retrospective at Cooper Union. A detailed catalog of all the press's output, together with a substantial narrative, had just been published, and a bit to my surprise just about everyone at the opening knew who I was because I was mentioned in the book and had from the very first day been the main patron of the press, receiving copy No. 1 of all its numbered editions (alas, there were two slip-ups in that procedure).
One of Red Ozier's objectives was not just to make books of fantastic beauty and craft, but also to publish works of distinction, including such authors as William Faulkner, Isaac Bashevis Singer, William Burroughs, Guy Davenport, William Goyen, Robert Bly and many others.
With the move to Alabama came the dissolution of Red Ozier, Ken getting married and starting a family, Steve moving to the still alien culture of the Deep South. But they would again be collaborators later, when Ken took over the directorship of the Penland School of Crafts near Asheville, North Carolina, where Steve had been teaching summer courses in book arts. Ken left Penland in 1997 and is now at George Washington University in St. Louis.
Though we manage to visit one another a couple times a year, the 800+ miles that separate us make it difficult and expensive. It's fortunate that Steve is fairly computer-literate, so we exchange email daily. I'm glad to be able to say he's flourishing quite nicely, still excited by books and teaching, and thoroughly enjoying gardening around a new house he had built last year, which he playfully calls the Villa Milla.