Introducing OT Blog’s Artist of the Week series! Each week, a different artist, writer, performer, or other emerging voice in our region will be profiled and interviewed. (E-mail us at Open Thread if you’re interested in being profiled! Unfortunately, there are only so many weeks in the year, but we’ll do our best to feature you!)
First up: sculptor, illustrator, writer, chef, and all-around policy maven Laura Miller!
About Laura Miller
If you’d like to know what a real Renaissance woman looks like, look no further than Laura Miller, 22, of Squirrel Hill. Fresh off a BFA in Art and Ethics, History, and Public Policy (Yes, that is in fact what her diploma says.) from Carnegie Mellon University, where she graduated with honors, Laura decided to stay put. (Read her interview, and you’ll understand why.)
As an undergraduate, Laura interned with the Heinz History Center, working on their African American Collection. She also researched the transatlantic slave trade and provided illustrations for Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora, a book by Edda Fields-Black. And she won the Elizabeth Jones Award for her research findings. She is fluent in French. She is taking LSAT courses to improve her score, even though she isn’t sure if she wants to go to law school. If you’re trying to convince yourself that your free time is used wisely, that you are a productive member of society, don’t talk to Laura Miller.
It all begs one question, though: where does she find the time to be an artist? We’re not sure, but she does. And that’s a good thing. These days, Laura spends most of her time doing arts and community outreach in Wilkinsburg and serving up “nostalgia, art, [and] yummy local food” through her RV Eatin’ collaboration with Dawn Weleski and Claire Hoch, also of Pittsburgh. Her BFA show, pictured below, was in May.
But as much as we describe her or show her work, there is no substitute for meeting Laura Miller. Encountering her frantic energy and boundless passion - for, well, a lot of things - explains everything: the complexity and historical relevance of her work, her long resume of accomplishments and her very, very busy schedule. If you’d like to chat with Laura or feature her in a show, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her website. She’ll find the time to respond.
Straight from the Artist’s Mouth!
OT Blog: What is your relationship to Pittsburgh and the surrounding region? You left and then came back, correct?
Laura Miller: Yes. I feel like Pittsburgh is very much a part of who I am and how I came to be an artist, historian, and policy person. I think something happened when I was young that influenced this. When I was little living in Pittsburgh I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, my mother’s parents. I learned from them to appreciate and reflect upon the environment around me, and I came to crave learning about the past in order to figure out what to do in the future. Also when I was very small I just loved Pittsburgh, but not in just a civic pride sort of way, or a competitive way, but where I felt like my emotions and perceptions of the world were formed by the geography of Pittsburgh. So when I left - even though we moved when I was eight - Pittsburgh was the only place that ever felt like home to me. I lived in Nashville for ten years, but I knew I would never stay. I simply counted down the days until I could leave, and then I left. Pittsburgh is my spine.
OT: What sort of environment has this been for your work?
LM: Well, Pittsburgh is my home base. I feel like I can do great art and be creative outside of Pittsburgh, but the work that I do pretty much always relates to how I see the world, and that developed in Pittsburgh. So while I guess it would be interesting to take my work out of the Pittsburgh environment, so much of my work up to this point has been about interacting with the people around me. Over the past five years those people have been in Pittsburgh.
OT: Your strongest interests outside of art - history and food - seem to maintain a pretty strong presence in your artwork. What other interests have manifested themselves in your work? Is it a conscious decision?
LM: Let’s see. I have a strong interest in death, dealing with it, and fear of it. It has been a big thing for me in the past, not as much now as before. Yes, I was aware of the death. It was kind of inevitable given how I was thinking about the world at the time. But to answer the question I wouldn’t say that history and food are my interests outside of art, I think those are two of my interests in art, as you (sort of) said. Public Policy is another interest I have in art. As I am living it, the policy work I do is my art piece, when I talk to people and socialize in a deliberate way, that is my art piece as well. There is a beauty in interacting with people, and I want that to be a part of my art.
OT: What can OT Blog readers expect to hear from you in the coming months?
LM: I’ve been working on RV Eatin. I plan to continue that into December. In 2009, I would like to get more involved in the policy arena, and I’ve already started working for the Jason Altmire campaign. I would like to continue making art in Pittsburgh - but we’ll see where policy takes me!