Museum Acquires Saarinen House
By Stephanie Smith | Online Only | Dec. 4, 2008
The newest acquisition of the Indianapolis Museum of Art will never hang in its galleries. Last month the Miller family and the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation announced that they will donate their 1957 modernist home to the museum, along with $5 million toward an endowment for the house.
Eero Saarinen designed the glass-and-stone house for J. Irwin Miller, a industrialist who championed modernist architecture, in Columbus, Ind., 40 miles south of Indianapolis.
Its 13-acre grounds were designed by well-known landscape architect Daniel Urban Kiley, and its interior designer was Alexander Girard. But unlike other modern structures such as Fallingwater and the Farnsworth House, the 7,000-square-foot house was a full-time home for more than 50 years.
"It was a place where people raised kids," says Will Miller, a member of the family. Though selling the house, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2000, was always an option he says, the family knew the house was a cultural asset and hoped to find a steward that would open it to the public.
In May 2007, the family held a charette with the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and several architectural experts. Max Anderson, the director of the museum, attended the charette and expressed interest in making the house part of the museum to complement its new design arts collection.
The museum has experience in caring for historic homes and landscapes: It already manages the Lilly House and gardens and the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park located on its campus.
"It's more difficult to appreciate the significance of things that happened in our time," says Katie Zurich, a spokeswoman for the museum, but that the museum hopes that seeing modernism in the context of a real family home will boost appreciation for modern design.
Miller says he has mixed feelings about seeing the home open to the public. "It's the house I grew up in. It will always be home," he says. But, on the other hand, he adds, "It's a cultural asset, and I think it's great that it will be accessible to a wider public."
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