The Emil Milan Research Team has been working for nearly a decade to create the first biography and archive of the American artist. Since 2008 they have amassed hundreds of artifacts, photos, and documents, and conducted hundreds of interviews of Milan's friends, neighbors, relatives, students, colleagues, curators, and collectors. The Team helped curate and organize exhibitions, a symposium, and authored a Wikipedia page which acquired more than 2,500 unique visits in its first two years. An abbreviated chronology of the Team's work can be found here.
The work of the Emil Milan Research Project has been made possible through the support of many contributors. These people have shared their time and valuable knowledge with us. If you are able to contribute additional information or materials to help further the research of Emil Milan, please contact us. We gratefully acknowledge the support.
The Emil Milan Research Team
ARTIST & DEVOTEE OF EMIL MILAN
RESEARCHER & contributor
When I began carving spoons and other utensils in 1977, I had found the calling I would love for a lifetime: working with wood to make spoons and objects of elegant simplicity. For much of my career I made functional utensils and enjoyed producing pieces that were both useful and beautiful. I still make special matched salad servers but, in recent years, my work has evolved into creating decorative sculptural objects. These are typically nonrepresentational sculpture, primarily grounded in the spoon or vessel form.
Many of my sculptural spoons are collectible art objects. Others, including some of the carved vessels, embody the celebratory aspects of dining, especially when used as centerpieces. I seek elegant, restrained design, relying on simple forms coupled with attractive surfaces. Facets and contrasting surfaces are often employed as design elements.
I have been active in the Emil Milan Research Project from the beginning. I did a lot of the writing in the early years as I would draft text and then revise it in accordance with Norm and Phil's always-cogent suggestions. Much of the work seemed to be part of a detective saga as we'd uncover new information, sometimes totally unanticipated. My favorite was the chance identification of the European shows — months after having completed a fruitless search for them —that involved paging through an entire decade of House Beautiful magazines. In addition to the bonds formed among the four of us, there were interpersonal connections and friendships created with a number of our informants. We encountered hills and valleys (figuratively as well as literally) but were always inspired by the importance of our task.
Thirty-three years after my single brief visit with Emil, I realize that I was, for a few hours, in the presence of greatness. Observing his woodworking path has strengthened my belief in the importance of well-executed small functional objects and in the value of sharing methods for their creation. I've also been reassured that it is OK to have equal affection for both my powerful shaping sander and my favorite carving knife.
Artist & student of Phil Jurus
researcher & contributor
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. Norm’s work is currently in the permanent public collections of twenty museums including the Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Yale University Art Gallery, The Museum of Arts and Design, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He exhibits regularly at leading retail shows such as the Smithsonian Craft Show and the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. His spoons have won many awards including the Award of Excellence at the Smithsonian Craft Show (1996, 2000, 2002) and Best in Show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show (2009) He is a founding member of the Collectors of Wood Art and has served as a board member and Vice President.
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.
artist & Mentee of emil milan
researcher & contributor
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 have shared our multifaceted relationship. He was a historic figure among Midcentury Woodworkers and deserves that recognition."
Professor and Dean at the University of Alabama, ARtist & mentee of Norm sartorius
contributor & writer
Born in Portland, Oregon, Craig Edelbrock 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. In his Dean’s role he oversees UA’s online degree programs, adult degree completion, lifelong learning, dual credit programs for high school students, occupational health and safety programs, continuing professional education, the Bryant Conference Center, and the Paul W. Bryant Museum. Craig is a woodturner and spoon carver under the mentorship of Norm Sartorius, who has called him “Grasshopper.” 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 the book. He has seen more than 500 of Milan’s works and owns more than two dozen, some quite unusual. As part of the research team, Craig interviewed Joyce Anderson and Gere Kavanaugh about Emil and the 1965 USAID Honduras program, discovered the link between Emil and Pottery Barn, and made some major discoveries including the Emilan sculpture commissioned by Penn State University in 1969.
Co-Founder and Executive Director, The Center for Art in Wood
PROJECT COORDINATOR, EXHIBITOR, AND PUBLISHER
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. (As an apprentice to Israeli wood turner Manny Erez 45 years ago, he turned the scoop handle he’s holding in the photo.) 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. Through his energy and creativity, Albert has built the Center into a singular gallery and museum in Old City, Philadelphia that celebrates and elucidates artists’ endeavors.
Dan Saal & Erika Brask
design, marketing, AND self-publishing management
Dan Saal and Erika Brask 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.
Dan has worked in various design studios during his career and in 2000 he founded StudioSaal Corporation. Dan also served as the director of design and publications at the Milwaukee Art Museum from 2003 to 2008. After leaving MAM, Dan grew StudioSaal Corporation into a successful design business, and in 2017, evolved that business into WonderFull Design along with Erika. WonderFull is a collaborative design firm that focuses on thoughtful, strategic storytelling and design, that promotes the crafts of environmental design, exhibition design, bookmaking, and printing. Dan’s work has been awarded multiple national design awards and appeared in various trade publications.
During her career, Erika has worked in design firms with an emphasis on art and cultural non-profit work while serving as adjunct faculty, teaching graphic design at both Drake University and Colorado Technical University. She also helped shape strategic creative work for Fortune 500 brands while serving as Creative Director for TBWA\ integer. Most recently, as a free-agent designer, Erika joined forces with Dan to form WonderFull. Erika brings digital expertise to the area of publishing while celebrating her love for design, storytelling, typography, and book arts.