Jimmie Miller, 71, designer and artist known as `mayor of South Baltimore'

August 15, 2005|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

Jimmie Miller, a graphic designer and artist, died of prostate cancer Thursday at the Manor Care Ruxton nursing home. He was 71.

Born James Hamilton Miller in Baltimore, he was a 1952 graduate of Gilman School and attended the New York School of Photography, Corcoran College of Art in Washington and Maryland Institute College of Art.

Mr. Miller spent 16 years working in the fields of architecture and city planning before becoming a full-time artist.

He worked as a graphic designer for several companies, including Rouse Co. in Columbia, and had done design work for city planning and urban renewal projects during the 1960s and 1970s in Virginia and West Virginia.

As an artist, Mr. Miller worked in a variety of media, including oils, ink, crayon, pastel, collage and ballpoint pen. His work was shown at galleries throughout the Baltimore and Washington area, including Partners Art & Frames, the Eubie Blake Gallery, Resurgam Gallery near his former Federal Hill home, and the old Mencken's Cultured Pearl Cafe.

Of a 1996 showing of his colorful mixed-media collages at Resurgam, Miller wrote at the time, "I should title my works `Enjoyment #1,' `Enjoyment #2,' etc., because that's what they represent for me."

In addition to his collages, Mr. Miller, during the mid-1990s, created what he called fractals -- "a kind of organic geometry based on broken and uneven shapes and executed with mixed media, including ballpoint pen, oil pastel and colored pencil," according to an art review.

Throughout his life, Mr. Miller suffered from ataxia, a neurological condition that affected his balance and speech. The condition can make people appear intoxicated, and Mr. Miller was at times denied access to public transportation, restaurants, bars and social gatherings because of his disability, according to his longtime friend and caregiver, Gracie Thompson Claxton.

"It got worse as he got older," she said. "People were prejudiced. They thought he was intoxicated."

As a longtime resident of Federal Hill, near Cross Street Market, Mr. Miller came to be called the mayor of South Baltimore, Mrs. Claxton said, because he was frequently seen walking his Bedlington terriers.

"He was a friendly and entertaining artist," Mrs. Claxton said. "He had many friends."

Mr. Miller moved seven years ago to the city's Mount Vernon neighborhood, where he was residing at the time of his death.

He enjoyed traveling, which had inspired some of his art, and had visited New Zealand, Norway, Fiji, the Netherlands and Mauritius. Mrs. Claxton said he had also traveled around the U.S., visiting Boston, San Francisco and south Florida, among other places. His favorite destinations, however, were in the South Pacific, Mrs. Claxton said.

"He liked to rough it," she said.

Mr. Miller volunteered for the American Friends Service Committee and Pets on Wheels. He loved dogs and over the years owned three Bedlington terriers.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

He is survived by two brothers, Decatur Miller of Baltimore and Vernon Miller of Annapolis.

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