Moments in Time – Review – Pat Craddock

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Moments in Time – Ralph Miller – Artist

‘Artist of War and Peace’

This is a well-produced and enlightening art book about Dunedin artist, Ralph Miller. A skilled sign-writer by trade, Ralph, as a soldier in the Pacific during World War 2 discovered a passion and talent for drawing people engaged in their daily activities. He drew and painted soldiers in the mud, soldiers … reading newspapers, listening to a radio the size of a suitcase, playing tennis, sleeping in bell tents…
Going through the many illustrations is like sitting beside Ralph and watching him as he draws small personal mementoes, such as a Christmas card to Nan, his future wife. There are working drawings of crabs, shells and tropical flowers, a sketch of a Japanese boat captured by Kiwis…

This documentation of New Zealand army life was accomplished in between military duties, playing in the military band. In a letter home Ralph vividly described facing his first hurricane in Fiji:
The lights were going off and on… while the rain pelting on the roof and windows made speaking almost impossible…
and a few lines later, when the wind was howling at full fury…
We sat around the hut in any dry spots we could find… then I missed one of the best sights of the day; an officer bowled head over heels down in the mud with half a hut after him.

These drawings, water colors and paintings reflect a segment of New Zealand history caught in “Moments in Time” and written by his son, Brian Miller. It’s a thick book; over two hundred pages long and printed on quality art paper. The old photographs of Ralph Miller in army uniform and the numerous illustrations come to life in black and white, sepia, half-tone and full colour. Ralph Miller survived the war, but not without damage. He was medically discharged as being permanently unfit, although he had entered the army with a grade one qualification – a fit man. His medical report noted, “Treatment: none.”

But there were to be ten more years of activity and many more drawings before he suddenly died at the age of 37 years. Ralph studied American Regionalist artists, and like them he painted people and street scenes. If you lived in Dunedin immediately after the war you’ll recognize his paintings of Queens Gardens, the front of the State Theatre in George Street, the Vedic Tearooms and a crowd all enjoying themselves at a fancy dress ball in the Dunedin Town Hall. Of particular note are the sketches of family activities, his children playing, and their mother reading to them. These drawings have a vitality that seems to make them whirl around the page.

The Miller family has a long history in Otago. Ralph’s father, Oswell Miller (1887-1956), became a skilled sign writer and glass embosser at an early age and started up his own business, which as Miller Studios just celebrated its centenary. Ralph’s older brother, Roy, began working for his father in 1929, but focused his talent on stained glass windows, now seen in over 100 churches around New Zealand. Much of their work was sign-writing, but the talents of the two brothers took them well outside their daily bread-winning skills.

The reference section deserves a special note and contains a small section with five websites. The first site, is a good introduction to Ralph’s work and should whet appetites to own this fine work, Moments in Time -Ralph Miller – Artist, an important piece of Otago and New Zealand history.
By – Patrick Craddock – Media Analyst – 228 Wood St. Greytown, Wairarapa. N.Z. 5794
Ph 06 304 8382 Cell: 021 227 5055

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