Bob Miller’s creative practice was defined by an "unhardening of the categories," as he used to say—a refusal to accept formal categories of study such as science, art, math, or engineering. Instead, he called himself a "natural philosopher" and made a practice of wandering, musing, hypothesizing, and collaborating, building new questions on the backs of the old ones.
Miller was born in Niagara Falls and studied at Hiram College in Ohio. After working for a short time with the army at the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, he began computer programming at IBM, later joining the Merchant Marines and eventually settling in San Francisco. Fascinated by optics, he began to construct artful experiments using natural light and prisms in his small apartment.
During a visit from Exploratorium Founding Director Frank Oppenheimer in 1970, Miller was offered a job at the museum that lasted nearly 20 years. His early investigations gave way to the creation of the museum’s Artist-in-Residence program, and he played several roles on staff, including exhibit developer, teacher, and assistant director. He designed and built a number of beloved and iconic exhibits at the museum that focus on light, color, shadow, and perception including: Sun Painting (1970); Sophisticated Shadows (1980); Cheshire Cat (1978); Everyone Is You and Me (1980); and Aurora (1976).
But perhaps his most enduring contribution was the most ephemeral: Miller’s Light Walk was a pedagogical walking tour that lasted from an hour to an entire day, illuminating principles of light using simple yet ingenious props and tools. Those lucky enough to experience a Walk never see the world in quite the same way.
Aurora shows how reflections are created both by the shape of the light and the shape of the reflector. The reflector is a large curved sheet of brushed stainless steel. The tiny ridges in the steel act like tiny mirrors, each reflecting an image. When the images from all the ridges add up, they blend into a single, elongated image that looks like a ribbon of light. The many colored tiles with the exhibit let you experiment with both the shape and color of the reflections.
Sun Painting is an art piece creating a beautiful display of refracted and reflected sunlight. Sunlight is directed to the exhibit with a heliostat, reflected by plane mirrors, dispersed by prisms, and projected onto screens by both plane and nonplanar mirrors. The flexible mirrors create a variety of images with a tremendous amount of delicacy and complexity.