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 Marshall Dawson (Mark) Miller  (1919 - 2008)

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Lived/Active: New York/California/North Carolina/Oklahoma / France      Known for: magazine illustration, costume design, winemaking

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Ad Code: 4
Mark Miller
from Auction House Records.
Calendar Pin-Up
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information was submitted by Lee Miller, daughter-in-law of the artist, and was compiled by Hudson, Catell, author and journalist of Lancaster, Pennsylvania for the obituary of the artist.

Marshall Dawson Miller was born on Jan. 2, 1919, in Eldorado, Oklahoma; he took the name Mark in college. His mother’s family owned several large cotton farms, but he had little interest in the soil then.

Mr. Miller studied art at the University of Oklahoma, later transferring to the Chouinard Art Institute in California. He was a costume designer in Hollywood before starting a career as an illustrator. His work appeared in Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post and other magazines.

In California, Mr. Miller came under the sway of making wine. After Army service in World War II, he began to practice his craft at home. By then, he was living with his wife and children in Hartsdale, N.Y.  He surrounded the house with vines and made wine in the living room. (His son, Eric, now a prominent vintner in Pennsylvania, recalled stomping grapes in a huge stoneware crock.)

On one occasion, a five-gallon bottle that Mr. Miller had corked too tightly exploded while fermenting. The wine was red. The rug was white. Mr. Miller’s home-winemaking career was over. So he looked for a vineyard.

The one he found, not quite 40 acres on the Hudson, had been planted in the 19th century. He named the place Benmarl, said to be coined from the Gaelic word “ben” or mountain, plus “marl” for its mixed soil.

For several years, Mr. Miller made wine as a hobby while working as an illustrator. By the early 1960s, the demand for magazine illustration had dried up in the United States, and he moved with his family to Europe.

The Millers divided their time between England and the Burgundy region of France. There, Mr. Miller learned the art of winemaking. Returning to Benmarl, he replanted his fields, and in 1967 had his first harvest. His wines were first sold commercially in 1972, starting at around $3 a bottle. Mr. Miller illustrated the labels.

By 1991, Benmarl Vineyards (about 70 miles north of New York City) spanned about 70 acres and was producing about 10,000 cases a year.

It’s founder, Mark Miller, was widely regarded as the father of the winemaking renaissance in the Hudson Valley, which had been home to winemakers since the 1600s but had long since fallen into disrepute.  Though Mr. Miller was not the first modern winemaker in the region, he was for decades the best known, becoming a highly visible public advocate for small artisanal wineries, known as farm wineries. Praised by critics, Benmarl wines were featured at prominent restaurants, including the Four Seasons and the Quilted Giraffe in New York.

Mr. Miller recounted his exploits in a memoir, Wine — A Gentleman’s Game, published by Harper & Row in 1984.

When Mr. Miller began Benmarl, the only American wines taken remotely seriously were Californian. Though the Hudson Valley is the oldest winemaking region in the country — it was first planted by French Huguenots in the 17th century — by the 20th century, its few wines tended toward sweet, cloyingly fruity champagnes and ports. The region was too stony and its winters were too hard, Mr. Miller was repeatedly told, for it ever to yield great wine.

Today, the Hudson Valley is home to more than 20 wineries. Their existence is due partly to Mr. Miller’s influence; his advocacy helped pass New York State’s farm winery bill, signed into law by Gov. Hugh L. Carey in 1976. Among other things, the bill lowered the annual fee for a small-winery license to $125 from $1,500.  For his work, Mr. Miller was awarded New York State farm winery license No. 1.

Mr. Miller died on Sept. 9 at his home in Wilmington, N.C. He was 89.


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