January 21, 2016

A Modern Archive at Indiana's J. Irwin Miller House

  • By: Katherine Flynn
Exterior of the Miller House

photo by: Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Not every historic structure can boast the contributions of three midcentury architecture and design giants, but every historic structure isn’t the J. Irwin Miller House and Garden in Columbus, Indiana.

In the Winter 2016 issue of Preservation magazine, we bring you facts and figures from a recent archive digitization project at the J. Irwin Miller House and Garden, which is owned and maintained by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The online archive features 17,699 downloadable images that include architectural drawings, material and fabric samples, photos, and administrative documents relating to the construction, decoration, and upkeep of the house. It went live in June of 2015.

In 1953, industrialist J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia commissioned architect Eero Saarinen, interior designer Alexander Girard, and landscape architect Dan Kiley to create a house that would be a modernist gem both inside and out. They lived in the house for the next 51 years, from 1957 until Xenia’s death in 2008.

Below, you'll see images from the house and archives, including an original blueprint by Saarinen and Girard, an interior decorating scheme by Girard and a planting plan for the grounds by Kiley.

In 2009, the Millers' children donated the entirety of the house, its grounds, and many of its furnishings to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which opened it to the public in 2011 after a two-year restoration.

“Prior to the creation of the Digital Archives Portal and this collection specifically, the only way for researchers to browse through the full scope of the material was to visit the IMA in person and to request specific boxes or folders that they would like to see,” says Samantha Norling, the museum’s archivist, of the materials available in the new digital archive.

Norling also points out that her staff was able to transcribe the majority of the documents into their new digital format, which makes them keyword searchable—not something that can be done when using the physical material. “The ability for scholars to instantly download the digital files directly from the Portal is another great benefit,” she says.

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

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