Danielle E. Miller ’11 didn’t set out to be an artist. Instead, art found her at a time in her life when she needed it most.
And now her art is inspiring others. Miller, joined by 22 international artists, is currently exhibiting at The Chelsea International Fine Art Competition in New York City. The show, which runs through Aug. 23, is on display in Agora Gallery, located in the heart of the famous Chelsea Art District.
“It’s always been one of my dreams to show in New York,” Miller said. “It’s a big stepping stone in my career.” At the opening reception, Miller was told that thousands of artists applied to be in the show.
Miller is showing a series of mixed-media sculptures—called the “Cat Eye Marble Series”—made from chicken wire, soft organic paper from books, and organza fabric.
According to the gallery website, Miller’s “mixed-media sculptures are works of exquisite balance. Miller creates small-scale pieces that are compact yet airy and graceful in composition. She manipulates her materials to create new and thought-provoking textures. All the while her editor’s eye allows for beautifully clear lines.”
The Inver Grove Heights native has shown her sculptures at a number of galleries since graduating from Saint Mary’s with an art studio major. She was part of a Saint Mary’s alumni show in 2013 in Winona and has exhibited in St. Paul, California, and North Dakota.
Her dream is to one day give up her day job and become a full-time artist.
“People may say you are crazy for being an artist,” she said. “It may not pay the bills but it’s worthwhile and if it makes you happy, that’s what you should be doing.”
Once considering a career as a veterinarian, Miller changed her major course of study after taking a drawing class her sophomore year—as well as receiving ongoing support from the faculty in the Department of Art and Design. She’d always been interested in art, but when she took a sculpture class her junior year, she especially found her niche.
“All artists love being creative and finding new avenues to work with, and I like texture and color and shapes and that’s what brought me to sculpture,” she said. “This book art I’ve been doing actually started at Saint Mary’s. My professor handed me a book, said to just carve into it; it was an open assignment.
“I like reusing different materials,” she added. “That’s why I kept up with using book pages. I like the texture, and each book I’ve found has a different color and tint to the pages. The fabric idea I got from my mom who taught me how to sew.”
Faculty and staff at Saint Mary’s who taught and worked with Miller call her a Lasallian success story.
Miller is quiet when she hears the label. She admittedly shies away from praise, but it’s a title she has proudly earned. “I had a hard time my freshman and sophomore year in college,” she explains.
A Cardinal track and field athlete, Miller found herself going through some difficult family changes, all the while working hard to excel, despite a learning disability.
Diagnosed with ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorders), Miller says she learns a little bit slower than other people. Though articulate, she pauses, choosing her words carefully.
“It was a dark time,” she said. “But then I found art. That lifted me up out of the darkness, and my professors helped me out. My favorite year at Saint Mary’s was my senior year; I got more into my Art Studio Major classes and was spending more and more time in the art building—more than most, I confess. I skipped out on a lot of sleep and skipped a lot of meals to work on art. I thought at that time it was all for my senior show, but now I think it was because I loved working on new art pieces and discovering new ideas.”
Miller said professors like Rob McColl and Preston Lawing had an open-door policy, and she frequently went to them to ask questions. And they always found time to answer them all.
Additionally, the Student Success Center, she said, helped her overcome learning obstacles, and she is grateful to them and to all her cheerleaders at home and at Saint Mary’s.
McColl has followed Miller’s career with interest. “Since graduating, Danielle has kept all of us in the art department updated on her art work, so, as exciting as it was, it was no real surprise when the postcard for her New York show arrived in the mail this summer. The art faculty is so pleased that Danielle’s creative work is getting such notable recognition.”
Miller is eager now to focus on creating new art. “I have hundreds of ideas of taking this series to a different level,” she said. She lists her next goals as: work on more art, show more art, get her own studio, show in a different country, show at the Walker Art Center, have a solo show, have an art piece in a major art collection and an art museum, and give back to the Saint Mary’s Department of Art and Design.
She tells other young artists to follow their dreams. “Do not listen to anyone who may detour you from reaching them,” she said. “Life is tough sometimes; you just have to remember who you are and remember your dreams.”
Karen Hemker, director of Saint Mary’s Disability Services, said that Miller serves as an inspiration to others who face challenges in life. “Danielle was not afraid to seek support, and therefore, was able to find her passion,” she said. “Pursuing her dream, which has led to a career, is a testament to her strength and resilience.”