Columbus philanthropist J. Irwin Miller’s family is poised to donate his majestic home to the Indianapolis Museum of Art,
provided it can raise millions of dollars to maintain the sprawling Bartholomew County property.
IMA board members have given CEO Maxwell Anderson
the go-ahead to seek funding for an endowment to care for the home.
He isn’t sure yet exactly how much will need to be raised, but Anderson estimated it will be less
than $10 million. Determining a figure and enlisting local and national donors will take several months.
Landing the architectural gem would be a major
coup for the museum. Architect Eero Saarinen, whose works include the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and Dulles
International Airport in Washington, D.C, designed the house in 1957.
Miller, who died in 2004 at age 95, built Cummins Engine Co. into a Fortune 500 company. But perhaps
his most defining contribution to Columbus was his 1954 decision to establish the Cummins Foundation,
which paid architects to design new public buildings, ultimately transforming the city into a showcase
for modern architecture.
Besides upkeep, funds the IMA raises for the Miller home would be used to make the structure handicap-accessible and to purchase
vintage furniture and decor.
lots of museums that have historic houses in their collections," Anderson said. "But very few of them could lay
claim to a house of this international importance."
IMA’s Michigan Road campus already is home to the 26-acre Lilly House and Gardens, a 22-room mansion
that once was the home of J.K. Lilly Jr., the late Indianapolis businessman, art collector and philanthropist.
But the 7,000-square-foot Miller home is in
another echelon. The house was declared a national historic landmark in 2000, and architectural enthusiasts
consider it a prime representation of the International Style, a subtype of the Modern Movement. Even
the landscaping by Dan Kiley is widely recognized as one of the most important Modern designs in residential landscape
the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic, visited the home in 1994 for an event related to the prestigious Pritzker
Architecture Prize ceremonies. Guests were so taken by the beauty of the gardens that they greeted Kiley with a standing ovation,
home by Saarinen is significant, and this home is doubly significant because it’s owned by Irwin Miller," Kamin said.
"It shows that the guy was really putting his money where his mouth was. He was living his vision."
The building and landscape are integrated with
glass walls that provide a view of exterior room–like spaces extending in pinwheel fashion. Interior
designer Alexander Girard used the home to introduce the conversation pit, and Saarinen designed a dining
room table featuring a fountain as the centerpiece.
Unlike most houses of similar stature, the Miller residence is unusual because it wasn’t built
to be a showpiece but a home for a family of seven, IMA’s Anderson said.
He approached the Miller family in December, before the February death of Miller’s wife, Xenia.
Both were "generous" benefactors of the IMA, a museum spokeswoman said. The IMA had an art
gallery at the Commons Mall in downtown Columbus until 2006. There are no plans to open another.
Donating the property to the IMA makes sense,
said Sarla Kalsi, president and CEO of Irwin Management Co., the entity that handles the Miller family’s
in the very early stages of discussion," she said. "But if it does come to pass, we feel they are the best folks
to secure the property’s long-term preservation."
Heir Will Miller, CEO of Columbus-based Irwin Financial Corp., is the only one of the couple’s
five children who resides in Columbus. He was traveling and unavailable for comment.
Kalsi declined to disclose the value of the
property, which Anderson described as "priceless." But it’s assessed for tax purposes at less
than $700,000–$463,900 for the house and $218,700 for the 20 acres of land, according to the Bartholomew County Assessor’s
to pursue the home is part of the IMA’s new mission to embrace not only the fine arts but also the design
arts. The museum last year hired its first curator of design arts, Craig Miller.
Under its proposal, the IMA would open the Miller home to the public on a limited basis. But it
has no plans to market the house as a tourist attraction, as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water home
in Pennsylvania has become. Rather, the museum would use as a model Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New
Canaan, Conn.–where the waiting time for a tour is a year. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s famous Farnsworth
House near Chicago is another prototype.
Handing the Miller home to the IMA would continue a trend of making modern residences available to the public, the Tribune’s
a principal of locally based Ratio Architects Inc. who designs a handful of homes a year, is excited about the
take one of the best modern architectural secrets–certainly in the state of Indiana, if not the Midwest–and make
it a visible public event, which would be wonderful," he said.
In June, artwork from the Miller home sold at auction for more than $135 million. Among the collection
was a Claude Monet painting that fetched $80.5 million.
The home is just one of more than 60 buildings in Columbus designed by the likes of Saarinen,
I.M. Pei, Kevin Roche, Richard Meier, Harry Weese and Cesar Pelli. The American Institute of Architects
in 1991 declared Columbus the nation’s sixth-most-important city in terms of architecture.