Deborah Sherron Miller’s exhibition "What Are You Made Of: Beauty in the Composition of the Reclaimed" opened in March. Soon after, the health crisis struck Savannah.
"I had an opening at Starland Café with my artwork," Miller told me for Art on the Air. "And they closed down like what, a week later? So my artwork never really got seen."
Fortunately, a much larger audience can now view at least one of her pieces: It’s featured on episode eight of the new FX television mini-series "Mrs. America."
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"It was so exciting that they found me." Miller said.
The show stars Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, an anti-feminist, anti-abortion conservative, and tells the story of the battle over the Equal Rights Amendment through the eyes of those who were major players.
"I think they were looking for a lot of feminist-type work." Miller explained. "[The scene that features her piece] is all about the feminist movement. A lot of the art that’s in that scene is very feminine artwork."
Stylistically, Millers work would be classified as mixed media, but that catchall term feels like an inadequate descriptor when it comes to her teeming compositions. Miller was happy to clarify further.
"I use acrylic paints. I use yarn. And then I use a lot of reclaimed items such as broken jewelry, aluminum cans, broken watches, broken computer parts." Continuing she added that she also uses "broken toys" as well as "broken bits of metals and plastic that I find out on my bike rides."
From there, Miller begins the process of constructing the piece.
"Everything is hand-stitched with the yarn once the background is done and I’ve got my design down," she told me. "I just start stitching with the yarn and then start gluing and adhering pieces to the canvas. I use reclaimed wood for my canvases and for my frames. I try my best to incorporate as many reclaimed and recycled materials to keep my impact low."
Miller has no formal art training, but she’s always been the type to be involved in creative pursuits, whether it be writing or painting. Her recent "Femmes" series, from which the piece featured in "Mrs. America" comes, began two years ago from an unlikely source of inspiration.
"I was looking at rugs at Ikea," recalled Miller. "And there were all these hand stitched rugs and I’m like, ‘oh, I could do that!’ At first, it was just embroidering and then I started adding in beads and metals. And them I’m like, well why can’t I put reclaimed materials? It came out of nothing. It wasn’t even intended to be art at first. And it’s evolved to what it is now."
Her artist statement describes the work in the series as "an abstract celebration of women and their many shapes, races, and expressions," making clear why it’s her art is a good candidate for a show about an important moment in the feminist movement. But in speaking to Miller it was clear that it goes well beyond that.
"I wanted to find a way to celebrate women," she said. "And all women. I think we all share a common thing, and we forget that. We’re all feminine, and we’re all strong. And I think sometimes we’re undervalued by society."
You can learn more about Deborah Sherron Miller’s work at VersairDesigns.com. She’s also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at Versair Designs.
Listen to our entire conversation embedded here. Next week I’ll be discussing the financial impact that the health crisis has had on local artists, and the ways that some are overcoming those challenges.
Tune in to "Art on the Air" every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show "Art on the Air."
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.