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Emil Milan: Midcentury Master
Emil Milan: Midcentury Master
The first publication dedicated to Emil Milan: artist, designer, and woodworker who was at the forefront of midcentury modern design.
The first publication dedicated to Emil Milan: artist, designer, and woodworker who was at the forefront of midcentury modern design. Read more
This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by .
Limited Quantities—Get Your Book Now!
Why this book is important
Emil Milan stood with now legendary artists and designers like Wharton Esherick, Sam Maloof, Wendell Castle, Charles Eames, George Nakashima, and Bob Stocksdale in the most important exhibitions of fine craft in America. His wares were tailored for and sold in high-end retailers such as Hammacher Schlemmer, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the original Pottery Barn store in Manhattan. Milan's works are in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Center for Art in Wood, the Museum of Arts and Design, and many private collections. Milan was also a teacher, mentor, and role model for dozens of successful artists and woodworkers who found inspiration in his classes. Despite Milan's own success, he slipped into obscurity after his death without reaching the notoriety of his peers.
This project aims to change that.
Your pledge isn’t just to secure a copy of the book. Every dollar we raise is critical to ensure the book is published, distributed and celebrated—inspiring further generations of artists, curators, collectors, and enthusiasts.
Help elevate Emil Milan to his rightful place in American art and design history.
Advance Praise for Emil Milan: Midcentury Master
This is a beautiful book in every sense—the design, photographs, and storytelling. The pages reflect the clean, flowing, functional style espoused by Emil Milan himself, while the narration is not just a biography but a fascinating history of woodcraft in modern America. The authors' passion and respect for their subject shows in the meticulous research they undertook to piece together the story of his life and influence, as well as the ample documentation of his work. Bowls, spoons, trays, and birds flow across the pages, interspersed with photographs that lend context to the artwork. This book will be a treasure to anyone who appreciates elegant design, beautiful wood, and a well-told tale.
—Woodcarving Illustrated Magazine
Emil Milan: Midcentury Master, a beautiful book, is the Emil Milan Research Project’s most recent endeavor. Milan was known primarily for his small, exquisitely made carved wood bowls and stylized birds. The book makes clear that his influence on the work of others continues to this day, though not all of those who are influenced are aware of the source of their inspiration.
... Craig Edelbrock (the author) was enlisted to continue the research on Milan, resulting in his impressive and thorough essay, which provides a sometimes intimate biography set in the greater context of the post-WWII craft movement in the U.S. We get a sense of Milan as a person, who, unlike the subjects of many biographies, comes across as truly likable.... While retrospective exhibitions are great tributes, they are only seen by a fortunate few. This book is a more permanent recognition of an important maker, an homage that is long overdue.
—Excerpt from an article by Mark Sfirri published in the December, 2017 issue of American Woodturner, the journal of the American Association of Woodturners. www.woodturner.org
The book chronicles the life and work of Emil Milan (American, 1922–85), an important American artist, designer, and woodworker who was a major contributor of the studio craft movement in the United States after WWII. Milan’s work, known as “functional sculpture,” captures and exemplifies midcentury modern design aesthetic—exploring balance of form and function. Milan's career was impressive, influencing many students and artists during his lifetime. He also played a part in the emergence and growth of craft organizations including the American Craft Council and Peters Valley School of Craft.
After more than a decade of research, contributions, writing, and design, Emil Milan: Midcentury Master is ready to be printed and distributed. We are collecting pre-orders now and at the conclusion of the Kickstarter campaign, the book will go on press.
- 272 pages illustrated in full color with nearly 300 artworks and historical photos
- Over 35,000 words of text with endnotes and index
- 9 x 11 inches
- 157gsm high-end, heavy weight art quality paper
- Image-wrapped hard cover with full-color endpapers
- Smyth sewn body with exposed soft fabric spine that allows the book to lay virtually flat
- Foreword, introduction, and over 20,000-word main narrative section
- "Circle of Influence" section showcasing artwork by 17 artists taught or inspired by Emil Milan
- Catalogue of Emil Milan artworks of more than 100 pieces
- Biographical timeline, list of exhibitions, and list of museum collections
Own a beautiful limited edition book—
ONLY available on Kickstarter
The limited edition version of the book is a true work of art worthy of Milan's level of craftsmanship, style, and beauty.
- Cherry veneer wood slip case with laser cut bird shape and laser-etched Emil Milan quote
- Hand numbered in a limited edition
- Hand signed by the members of the Emil Milan Research Team
- Hand stamped with an impression of Milan's own signature, carefully reproduced from the base of one of his artworks. This is the closest you will get to an actual signature from the artist.
Warm, luminescent wood is a hallmark of Milan's work. Following Milan's commitment to wood craft, the limited edition will come with a laser cut and etched wood slip case. The wooden slipcases are produced in Tieton, a small town in Central Washington state, by a studio called Mighty Tieton. They are creating products with established, successful, distinctive businesses by connecting creative urban entrepreneurs with local talent and resources. Tieton is uniquely positioned to be a hub for artisan businesses. This beautiful case shows reverence for the level of quality and craftsmanship that Milan put into every one of his pieces.
The limited edition book will have an archival book plate inserted in the front of each book, that will be hand-signed by each member of the Emil Milan Research Team. It will be hand-numbered in a limited edition of only 200 and will only be available during Kickstarter. The book plate will also be hand-stamped from a hand-carved linocut, using archival ink. The linocut is a carefully reproduced signature from the bottom of an authentic Emilan wood bird sculpture. This is the closest you will get to an actual signature from the artist. See how this was done in the video below.
Your edition number is based on when you pledge so be sure to pledge early in order to get the lowest edition number possible.
Sample spreads of the book
A set of ten 5 x 7 inch, beautifully printed postcards featuring Milan artwork, photos, and inspired designs. Frame them, post them on your wall, or mail to your friends and family. Upgrade to either a standard or limited edition book and you automatically get this set of postcards—FREE.
Milan's "Wood Carving" Teacher Handout
This is a PDF of an actual handout that Milan created to give to his students in the 1970s. This is a six page document that covers the basics of wood carving, wood characteristics, tool usage, and finishes. It includes some hand sketched diagrams by Milan. A truly special piece of Milan history.
Show your support with higher pledging
Remember, you can always increase the pledge on any reward level that you choose. Your additional support insures this book can have a larger print run and can be distributed to an even larger audience. Your extra support will help elevate the knowledge and discussion of this influential artist.
Sharing helps spread Milan's story
The best way to help spread the word about Emil Milan is to share this Kickstarter with all your friends. We thank you for your efforts to help ensure more people learn about this influential artist. Use the share buttons below or use the social media buttons in the upper right corner of the Kickstarter page right under the green "Back this Project" button.
A message from the design team at Thoughtfull Corporation
When we were asked to do a book about Emil Milan, we knew it would be an exciting project.
What we didn’t expect — was to fall in love with this artist — and his story — so profoundly that we found ourselves personally invested in doing more to elevate the project.
We believe there is a larger audience interested in Milan and his work, which is why we decided to use Kickstarter to take preorders, get the word out, and track interest.
The Emil Milan Research Team’s mission is to place Emil Milan rightly among his peers and bring him the recognition he deserves. We believe this publication accomplishes that in a way that brings readers closer to knowing the artist … and is something that will be seen as a meaningful, well-crafted tribute to a warm and generous person.
Thank you for supporting this project and for helping bring Emil Milan the recognition he deserves.
The Emil Milan Research Project has been a decade-long passion project between four artists, all connected to Emil Milan. In February of 2008, artist Norm Sartorius initiated The Project. He wanted to learn more about the roots of his own work by investigating the life and work of his earliest influence, Emil Milan, whom he never met. At first the goal was documentation alone, the collection of biographical information where little was available. It quickly became clear that Milan’s role as an artist had been significant and The Project’s mission evolved to include exhibitions, new museum acquisitions, and eventually now this definitive publication on the life and work of this important American artist.
In 2008 The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design provided initial financial support to the Emil Milan Research Project in the form of a grant awarded to Barry Gordon, Phil Jurus, and Norm Sartorius to research Emil Milan’s life, work, and influence. According to the team, “It is no exaggeration to say that the grant provided by CCCD was critical in advancing scholarship on Emil Milan, and in building awareness, understanding, and appreciation of his role and importance in the midcentury modern design and the studio craft movement in America.”
In 2014, The Center for Art in Wood in Old City, Pennsylvania, held an exhibition of Milan's work and his vast circle of influence. Curated by Jennifer Zwilling, it was the largest exhibition of its kind detailing Milan's work, as well as his inventive tools, techniques, and practices.
The forthcoming book, Emil Milan: Midcentury Master will include all of the work shown in the exhibition.
As part of the exhibition, The Center For Art in Wood produced the following video that provides further color and context into Milan's work and his circle of influence.
Artist and devotee of Emil Milan
When Barry Gordon began carving spoons and other utensils in 1977, he found the calling he would love for a lifetime: working with wood to make spoons and objects of elegant simplicity. For much of his career, Gordon made functional utensils and enjoyed producing pieces that were both useful and beautiful.
Gordon has been active in the Emil Milan Research Project from the beginning. He did a lot of the writing in the early years, drafting text, and then revising it in accordance with Norm and Phil's always-cogent suggestions. Gordon describes much of the work as part of a detective saga. The team would uncover new information, sometimes totally unanticipated — always inspired by the importance of their task. Thirty-three years after Gordon’s single brief visit with Emil Milan, he realized that he was, for a few hours, in the presence of greatness. Observing Milan’s woodworking path strengthened Gordon’s belief in the importance of well-executed small functional objects and in the value of sharing methods for their creation. He has also been reassured that it is OK to have equal affection for both his powerful shaping sander and his favorite carving knife.
Artist and mentee of Emil Milan
Phil Jurus has been creating beautiful objects since 1963. He was a goldsmith and silversmith for more than thirty years and co-owned a craft gallery in metropolitan Baltimore, Maryland. In 2009, after closing the gallery, he moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania and set up a wood studio. He makes jewelry as well as sculpted and functional wood pieces using techniques he learned from his woodcarving mentor Emil Milan (1922–1985). Using many kinds of hardwoods, foreign and domestic, his pieces are functional, beautiful and pleasing to the touch. His work is in numerous private collections.
"The influence Emil Milan had in my life is difficult to put into one quotation. From the mentoring in woodworking skills, to the friendship that my wife and I had which included conversations, sharing meals, providing an entre’ to the shops where he sold his work for us to sell the jewelry we made, and being one of the artists whose creations we carried in our own gallery, these were all examples of the generosity of his spirit. My knowledge of him, gleaned from the research my colleagues and I have done, has enlarged the scope of why he had such a unique appeal as a person and an artist. I realize how fortunate I have been to share our multifaceted relationship. He was a historic figure among Midcentury Woodworkers and deserves that recognition."
Artist and student of Phil Jurus
A creator of wooden spoons for 30 years, Norm Sartorius has explored the common wooden spoon as a context for sculpture. Using rare and unusual woods of exceptional beauty, he shapes each spoon to stand as a unique artistic statement of color, form, and texture. Testing the boundary between art and craft. His work is inspired by the material, nature, and rich ethnic spoon making traditions worldwide. Emil Milan instructed Norm's first woodworking teacher, Phil Jurus. Norm still shapes each unique sculptural object using some of those techniques taught to Jurus by Milan.
In February of 2008 Norm initiated the Emil Milan Research Project. He wanted to learn more about the roots of his own work by investigating the life and work of his earliest influence, Emil Milan, whom he never met. At first the goal was documentation alone, the collection of biographical information where little was available. It quickly became clear that Milan’s role had been significant and the Project mission evolved to include exhibitions, new museum acquisitions, and eventually a book. Norm facilitated the addition of Milan’s work to the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Yale Art Gallery, and the Center for Art in Wood. Additional museum acquisitions are currently in progress. Together with friends and fellow researchers: Barry Gordon, Phil Jurus and Craig Edelbrock, the Project seeks to reintroduce Milan and his work to the public and to the academic record of mid 20th century contemporary craft.
Author, Professor and Dean at The University of Alabama, artist & mentee of Norm Sartorius
Author, Craig Edelbrock, was born in Portland, Oregon and holds a bachelor's degree from Western Washington State College and a doctorate from Oregon State University. The author of more than 100 research articles and academic publications, he is a Professor and Dean at the University of Alabama. Craig is also a woodturner and spoon carver under the mentorship of Norm Sartorius. Because of this lineage, he considers Emil Milan his “great grandfather in craft.” He is passionately interested in the evolution and current status of both folk art and fine craft in America. He has served on the Boards of the Wharton Esherick Museum, The Center for Art in Wood, and the Collectors of Wood Art. Craig initiated, designed, and hosted the solo exhibit of Emil Milan’s work at the Henry Gallery in Malvern, PA in 2014. Working collaboratively with the team, he created the Wikipedia article on Emil Milan and wrote the text for Emil Milan: Midcentury Master.
For at least four decades, Albert LeCoff, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Art in Wood, has been involved in wood art as a turner and organizing creator of opportunities for artists who express themselves in turnings and sculptures. Albert and his associates at the Center have generated scores of exhibitions and their documentations that explore the evolving field of art in wood, and occasionally other materials. For the Emil Milan Research Project, Albert encouraged and helped shape the production of the comprehensive exposition and appreciation of Emil Milan’s life, work, and inspiration.
Erika Brask and Dan Saal of Thoughtfull Corporation are multi-disciplinary designers with a passion for storytelling. For more than 20 years, they have each collaborated with clients and artists all over the world, bringing their unique stories to life. With each project, the pair thoughtfully pushes the boundaries of viewer experience and relevancy. Their passion for helping clients tell stories has expanded to include both design and self-publishing management. Their expertise helps elevate the work of artists who may not have the resources of a major publisher, institution, or endowment. They are now also collectors of Emil Milan’s work.
iocolor in Seattle, Washington will do the color management and oversee the printing of the book. iocolor produces museum quality books of the highest caliber for its sister company Lucia|Marquand and many other museums, university presses, and publishers all over the country.
Mighty Tieton in central Washington is hand making the wood slip case. Their goal is to establish successful, distinctive businesses by connecting creative entrepreneurs with local resources. Tieton is uniquely positioned to be a hub for artisan businesses.
Press who are interested in covering Milan's story and that of the publication can download high-res images, sample spreads, bios, and a prospectus on Google Drive at:
December 2017 — Milan's "Wood Carving" teacher handout pdf will be emailed.
January 2018 — Book printing and wood slip case manufacturing will begin.
April 2018 — Standard and limited edition books will ship to backers along with the sets of postcards.
Images of the book, slipcase and offerings: Thoughtfull Corporation
Risks and challenges
"Emil Milan: Midcentury Master" will be the highest quality of museum publication. The Center for Art in Wood has published dozens of publications. This specific project is the culmination of almost ten years of research. It is professionally written, photographed, edited, and designed. The book is already fully designed and will be ready for print in December.
Thoughtfull Corporation, the design team, has overseen the design and production of dozens of large publications—many of which have won national design awards. They have worked with iocolor—the printer—on many books in the past and have a proven ability to see a book through final production and get it delivered on time. iocolor does the color management and printing for museums and publishers all over the country.
Thoughtfull Corporation has also been the design team for three other successfully funded Kickstarter projects—the most recent one was "Masaaki Hatsumi: Dojo Giga | Heaven", which was funded in September of 2017 and raised over $108,000.
With all of this experience we see very little risk for backers of this project. You will all be receiving products of the highest quality.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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