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The Art of Memory

Eva Carlson Miller poses with "Muklaya," a clay sculpture inspired by the pregnant mothers she witnessed on a trip to Uganda. To create her sculptures, Miller molds the clay and then fires it. She then paints over the clay with oil paints instead of glaze. (Submitted photo)

Most people take snapshots of grinning family members in front of major landmarks to remember their trips to faraway places. Eva Carlson Miller creates intricate life-sized sculptures out of clay, packed with stories of people and their relationships with their environment.

Sounds like a lot of work, but representing memories of travel through art is Miller's job. Since heading off to college in Oklahoma in 2004, the Willmar High School and Ridgewater College graduate has been creating a series of artwork that will be exhibited at the Ridgewater College Gallery in Willmar beginning next week. She calls it: "The Art of Memory."

"It's a way to remember these trips and the people who sort of stuck on me," Miller said.

Those trips include voyages to Uganda, Thailand, and more recently to Kauai, one of the Hawaiian Islands.

To represent that trip, Miller is creating a clay figure of a woman playing ukulele encircled by a school of fish. It combines two distinct moments from her travels on the island into one image of the place and the people she met there.

Combining faces, sights and moments from past trips into one cohesive piece of art is a main feature of Miller's work, which includes 3-D clay figures and 2-D oil paintings.

Exhibit info

Eva Carlson Miller's art

exhibition, "The Art of Memory," will be at the Ridgewater College Gallery in Willmar from Monday through Sept. 26. An opening reception will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the

college gallery.

The bulk of the collection to be displayed in Willmar was produced while Miller was studying Fine Arts at Oklahoma State University. This will be the first time her work will be brought back to her hometown.

"Now my family actually gets to see it," she said. Miller graduated Willmar Senior High School in 2000 and Ridgewater College in 2003.

Work on the series of sculptures and paintings began after Miller took a trip to Uganda in 2004. The people and sites she saw there inspired her to start documenting memories of her travels through the medium of oil on canvas.

But her methods evolved over time. Instead of canvas, she began painting life-sized clay figures of her own creation. She said it was a major shift in how she was forced to conceptualize her art.

"I actually have to think about volume, rather than how to represent it," she said. "It's definitely very different."

Marjorie Nilssen, an art instructor at Ridgewater College in Willmar, said when she taught Miller back in her time on campus, she could tell the young woman was "going places with her art."

"She was just very thirsty for knowledge about art," Nilssen said. "She was focused and very hard working. Those are important qualities in an artist."

Since her time at Ridgewater, Miller has gone on to win numerous awards for her artwork, including a selection as the Oklahoma State University Department of Art's outstanding senior in the studio area in 2008. Her paintings and sculptures have been displayed at galleries throughout Oklahoma.

Nilssen invited Miller back to Willmar this year to display her work for the opening of the Ridgewater College Gallery's fall season. Miller has also been invited to speak in front of Nilssen's classes as they begin their fall semester.

"From time to time, it's important to bring a former student in to talk to these students," Nilssen said. "A lot of Ridgewater students have gone on to become great artists."