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 Robert James Mills  (1920 - 1981)

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Lived/Active: South Carolina      Known for: landscape, seascape, graphics

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Ad Code: 3
Robert James Mills
from Auction House Records.
The Old Farm
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Lake E. High, Jr.

Robert J. Mills (1920 1981)

Robert James Mills, "Bob" to his friends, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1920. He died there of heart failure at the too young age of only 61 in 1981.

The young Robert Mills received a scholarship to the Booth Bay Harbor School of Arts in Maine at the age of 19. He studied there under Ted Kautzky and Faber Birren. His love of that area lasted all of his life. Each year he would try to get back to Maine to paint, so now his body of work includes not only the scenes, woods and fields of his native state, but also of the rocky coast of New England.

In 1941 Mills entered Pratt Institute for commercial art and studied under William Longear. In 1945 he came back to Columbia and studied under Edmund Yaghjian at the University of South Carolina. In the 1960s and 1970s Mills was teaching at the University of South Carolina alongside Ed Yaghjian his former instructor.

Mills also studied mechanical design and was the owner of a photoengraving company. His varied artistic background was commented on in an April 1968 Sandlapper magazine article about Mills. The writer said of Mills that he was a man "who views the world with the discerning eye of the artist, the inquisitive mind of the educator and the practical concern of the business man." He was also described as "a popular local figure" in the Columbia Museum of Art publication "South Carolina Collection 1779 1985" and indeed he was, with his old students still talking of his influence on their techniques.

Robert Mills was a naturalist by inclination, spending long hours in the woods and forest wherever he happened to be. He was a keen observer of the wild life and told great stories of his excursions, but it was the plant life, rocks and trees and their variety, shape and color that most caught his eye and we see most often in his work.

Mills was an admirer of Andrew Wyeth and some of his art has a Wyethen flavor. Mills was also an outspoken critic of non-objective art. "If you have to have somebody explain it to you then you might as well do away with the painting and just have the artist stand next to the wall and start talking when you come by" was an oft made statement that summed up his negative feeling of non-objective art. During the 1960s when non-objective art reached its zenith, Mills was lovingly creating scenes of old buildings, found objects, landscapes and other mainstays in the Southern art tradition. He did make a point to prove that the then-popular art was within his abilities by entering a non-objective oil in the Southeastern competition held in Atlanta and wining first place. He refused the purchase prize ("I don't want anybody to see this and think it's representative of my work") and put his first place winner in the back of a closet in his home and continued to paint the realistic scenes he loved.

Mills worked in oils, watercolor and egg tempera but he favored watercolor and tempera doing little in oil. Several of his works were reproduced as prints in the 1960s and 1970s.

Robert Mills' work can be seen in the High Museum in Atlanta; the Gibbes Museum in Charleston; the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia; The Greenville County Museum in Greenville, SC; the Furman University collection in Greenville, SC; the Governor's Mansion in Columbia, SC; the South Carolina State Capital building in Columbia; the York County Museum in York, SC; the South Carolina Arts Commission (state collection) and in various corporate collections.

Also by Lake E. High, Jr.

I knew Bob from the early 1960s and was a guest at his home and stopped by at his company (RPM Photoengraving) on various occasions. We had lunch or dinner together several times. Plus, we saw each other at art showings at the Columbia Museum.

The watercolor that AskART uses to illustrate his work was bought by me at a charity auction in 1969. (It was exhibited in the American Watercolor Show in 1967 and won the SC Artist's Guild Award in 1968.)

When Bob died the Columbia newspaper carried it on the front-page of the local section complete with a large photograph. We were all shocked. He looked the picture of good health.

In the above bio I'm including only the list of museums that was published in the 1985 Columbia Museum of Art book previously mentioned. I've seen his work in other public collections since then but I don't have a specific cite in front of me at this time. I'm sure he has been collected more widely than that 1985 list including, of course, the S.C. State Museum. And he is probably in the Coggins collection that is now the basis of the Morris Museum in Augusta, Georgia.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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