The 164-year Smithsonian in Washington D.C. is a pre-eminent educational and research institution, which stores, displays and disseminates artefacts of American cultural history. Although only a few archival items directly relate to Henry Miller, there are also several oral histories with people in the Arts who make mention of Miller. Most of these interviews are available online.
AUDIO: An Interview With Henry Miller
In June 1962, Henry Miller sat down for an interview at KUOM at the University of Minneapolis. KUOM radio personality Audrey June Booth (host of “Book Chats”) conducted the interview. The recording was released in 1964 by Folkways Records (owned by Moses Asch). When Asch died in 1986, the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage acquired the entire Folkways catalogue, including the Miller recording.
On the Smithsonian website, you can listen to the first minute of each side, and can also order the 46-minute interview on disk for $17, or order a digital download for $7. Or, for free, you can download the liner notes [PDF], which includes a typed transcription of the interview.
Left: LP cover for "An Interview With Henry Miller."
SCULPTURE: Miller bust by Marino Marini
ARCHIVE: Abraham Rattner and the U.S.A. Trip
In the 1940s, Henry Miller drove across America with artist Abraham Rattner. The end result was Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. The Smithsonian American Art Museum holds a couple of ink drawings made by Rattner during this journey: “Around The Bend, USA, With Henry Miller,” “Highway, USA, With Henry Miller,” plus a watercolour called “Route To Petersburg, USA, With Henry Miller.” These drawings are not currently on display at the gallery or online. In the Smithsonian Archive of American Art, one can find the Abraham Rattner and Esther Gentle Papers, which include letters, photos, and at least one watercolour painting from Miller.
There are a number of items relating to the Miller/Rattner Air-Conditioned Nightmare road trip (search the Finding Aid for "U.S.A. Trip"). These include three of Rattner’s notebooks and sketches from the trek (1940-41), a Rattner memoir of the trio, called “When We Were Together,” materials relating to the Our America exhibit about the road trip (1975-1978), something called “The Other Part” (1941), which seems to be about the trip, and a collection of pamphlets he’d gathered from their tour. There are also photographs, including one with Miller, Rattner and Weeks Hall, plus a watercolour of Virginia, made by Miller.
The Rattner collection also includes several writings (drafts?) by Miller on the subject of Rattner. At least one has been published before (“A Bodhisattva Artist”) but there are others, such as “The Rattner Portfolio or For God So Loved the World” (1957), “A Word About Abraham Rattner” (1965) and a few others. See the Finding Aid to the Rattner Papers for references.
None of these Smithsonian interviews go on at any significant length about Miller; they are really just passing comments or brief anecdotes.
Stauffacher (b.1920) is a Californian printer and publisher known for his typeface composition. In his 1993 interview with the Smithsonian, he talks about the avant-garde scene he fell into in Berkeley, and how he came to know Miller through them. Stauffacher had designed a book called Art And Cinema (by his brother, Frank Stauffacher), for which Miller had written the introduction. He describes Miller as being one who enjoys a good conversation, adding “He first was interested in meeting you and talking with you and discussing things and just let it flow out. He had no agenda.”
Mullican, an artist, came into contact with Miller through Jack Stauffacher. “Miller was very interested in what I was doing, and I have letters from him, saying that he really felt I was, you know, someone to be reckoned with and he loved. . . . For some reason he thought my name was just the right thing [chuckles]: Lee Mullican. Somehow that kind of turned him on … And I have a postcard. . . . But he lived in Big Sur, and he was struggling. And I have a postcard in my files from him thanking me for the $5 that I sent him! [chuckles] He was actually asking for money from friends and associates and so forth.” (Mullican transcript).
Silverman is the founder of the Manny Silverman Galleries in Los Angeles. In his interview from 2004, he briefly mentions that art dealer Riko Mizuno was a friend of Miller’s, and may have put on one of his watercolour shows.
Writer and artist, Mary Fuller did not know Miller personally, but she briefly mentions people he knew who did know him, such as Andre and Margaret Moreau in Big Sur, and literary agent Diarmuid Russell: “Henry Miller was his client.”
In her 1997 Smithsonian interview, art dealer Joan Ankrum tells a story of Miller walking into her gallery one day, after spending the day visiting galleries on La Cienaga and not being recognized. When Ankrum recognizes him, Miller has his friend Joe Gray run back to his house to get his paintings. “You can have my show,” said Miller when Ankrum remarked that his watercolours were a lot better than she thought they’d be. She eventually found time to put on the show: “And, of course, that was the big hit of the whole occasion. People were lined all. . . . This was right after Capricorn, after the censorship had been removed.”
The artist Levi gave his impressions of meeting Miller through Abe Rattner in the 1940s: “everybody who knew Abe at that time would know Miller.” “He was a very warm, very pleasant, a very mild-appearing man.”
In his interview, the abstract painter Yunkers tells of running his own magazine in Sweden, and trying to introduce American authors like Miller to Scandinavia: “They refused to publish him so I sold it to Copenhagen.”
In a 1972 interview, Nin says: “I expressed rebellion by associating with rebels. I did not myself rebel. I associated with Henry Miller who was a rebel against Puritanism” … “As to all that nonsense that Henry and Larry talked about -– the necessity of I am God in order to create -– I suppose they mean: I am God, I am not a woman. Woman never had direct communication with God anyway but only through man, the priest. She never created directly except through man. She was never able to create as a woman. But what neither Larry nor Henry understand is that woman's creation, far from being like a man's, must be exactly like her creation of children and that it must come out of her own blood, enclosed in her womb, nourished with her own milk. It must be a human creation of flesh. It must be different from man's abstractions.”
A few Finding Aids make reference to Miller letters or other items held in an archive. Besides the Rattner Papers noted above, these include:
Westwood Art Association: Business correspondence, photographs, slides of artists' works, press releases and clippings, primarily documenting the 1967 exhibitions in Los Angeles and Paris of Henry Miller's 70 watercolors and etchings.
Alfredo Valente papers: Two letters from Henry Miller, dated 1943 and 1945. The letters refer to a "watercolor pad and brushes," and Miller also thanks Valente for a portrait of Abe Rattner; as well, another letter and a sketch from Henry Miller.