From the Walnut Creek Sesquicentennial History, 1827-1977:
Visitors traveling through the hills of Holmes and Tuscarawas counties always enjoy the scenery as they go. In recent years, an added attraction has been the artistry of Tom Miller which gave birth to a Swiss village and dots the surrounding countryside, lending atmosphere and beauty, providing enjoyment for both residents and vistiors passing through.
Although Tom began his young life on a farm between Walnut Creek and Trail, Ohio, he never liked farming, and from early beginnings, had it in his head to become an artist one day.
“I was always drawing in grade school,” says Tom,” and I never got less than an ‘A’ in drawing and art.”
Tom was given inspiration and encouragement at an early age by an uncle who was a missionary to India and an artist.
“He used to send pictures back from India and I thought, ‘If I could only paint like that,’ and that’s what really gave me the inspiration, his paintings.”
Drawing came almost as naturally to Tom as did breathing. he remembers that when yet a boy, whenever he looked at something he always saw it as a picture.
“If you do that long enough, it gives you a photographic mind and you can put down exactly what you see. There were times I had trouble with my painting, but it always flowed together while I relaxed or lay in bed, and by the next morning, it was okay.”
Tom received his first paint set from Orpha Troyer when he was a freshman in high school and in return, he painted his frist painting for her, a scene which she still has. During high school, his talent were put ot good use as he was selected to paint all of the scenery for backdrops used in the plays.
Tom graduated from Walnut Creek High School during the ’30’s Jobs were scarce and an artist’s talents were not in great demand, so Tom felt fortunate to be working, even though there was nothing artistic about digging coal with a pick and shovel.
After spending three years with a pick and shovel in his hands instead of the paint brush he loved, Tom changed jobs. Running the pug mill at Claycraft Brickyard was not exactly what he would have liked ot have been doing with his life and was dingo nothing to further his career as an artist. He found himself with free time on the job and nothing to do to keep from being bored. His boss, Abe H. Mast, aware of Tom’s talents, encouraged him to do something with them while sitting ast his pug mill post. Tom took up carving to help pass the hours.
“Although I don’t carve much now, I carved a (to scale) replica of the Claycraft brick factory and steam engine. It is on display at my studio in Sugarcreek and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. It’s on of my most prized possessions.”
The model, which included men working at their jobs, moving in synchronization with other parts of the model, took two years for Tom to carve to completion.
During those seven years of work, Tom painted on weekends and evenings.
It was at this point Tom knew that he wanted to become a full time artist, but he needed an income until his work caught on and he could support himself and his family with his art. Tom spent the next four years working as an interior decorator heading up a crew of eight men he had hired. He bought what is now the Gospel Shop in Sugarcreek and turned the little building behind the shop into his art studio.
“At that time, I put one ad in the paper for painting. I never had to do it again and I’ve been busy ever since. Now I’m always three or four months behind.”
Toms’ Swiss background allowed him to fit perfectly into the town of Sugarcreek, a Swiss settlement, and as a Sugarcreek businessman, he became a part of the planning of the first Swiss Festivals held by the community.
“We had had two Swiss Festivals and I thought, ‘Why not have a Swiss Village that people would really come to see.”
Tom designed the front of his building into a Swiss front, the first one in Sugarcreek, then kept encouraging one businessman, then another until the entire town was transformed from a standard American village into an international attraction, a Swiss Village in the Tuscarawas valley. Most of the fronts of the buildings were designed by Tom Miller, one the more gratifying experiences of his career.
The Swiss designs gave way to more elaborate and intricate designs on Tom’s part as he painted scenes from the Swiss Alps on some of the buildings. Not content with a simple painting, Tom’s innovative mind made the painting come alive; a moving train going in and out of tunnels of the front of the Reeves Bank; skiers flying down a snowy slope on the Goshen Dairy; snowmobiles skimming the hills at Jim’s Sunoco Station.
“They became a real interest to the public, especially the children, and this led to the animated murals at Der Dutchman Restaurant in Walnut Creek, Dutch Valley Restaurant in Sugarcreek, and Alpine Alpa Cheese House and Doughty Valley.”
Tom also designed the fronts of Lehman Hardware in Kidron and Stuckey’s Restaurant in Wilmot.
“I have had the opportunity to put moving scenes on big restaurants in five different states, but never went because I have so much to do around here.”
The highpoint of Tom Miller’s career as an artist came this past weekend with the unveiling of his new mural at Heini’s of Bunker Hill, Ohio. The work of art is five feet high and forty feet long, painted on canvas with acrylic oils, and took nineteen weeks from start to finish. It depicts cheesemaking from its origin in 300 BC through the centuries and up to the present time as it is done at Heini’s.
Pete Dauwalder, who owns Heini’s and commissioned the mural, is the son of Swiss parents who had also been cheesemakers, and assisted Tom with much of the research material.
“To my knowledge, there is no other mural depicting the history of cheese, nor do I think there will be one painted exactly like this. The hardest hing after having the knowledge, was making it all fit together.
Tom, who never had na art teacher and accepts his talent as a “God-given gift,” finds his work very rewarding.
“When you complete something as vast as this mural ” says Tom, ‘it gives a great feeling of satisfaction knowing you have created a piece that has contributed to humanity.”
There is probably no individual in the history of Holmes or Tuscarawas Counties who has left a more indelible or more beautiful mark on the area than artist Tom Miller
Tom Miller and his wife Mary live on Cherry Ridge Drive and are life long resident of Walnut Creek Township.
From the Columbus Dispatch, July 2006:
Tom Miller made his name creating scenes in Ohio’s Amish country
Published: Sunday, July 9, 2006By Bill Mayr THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Visitors to the rolling countryside of Holmes and western Tuscarawas counties snap photos of the Amish and their farms — and of buildings with Swiss-chalet facades and murals of Alpine scenes.
The murals, which helped put the quaint rural communities of north-central Ohio on the map, were created by self-taught artist Tom Miller.
Although his name might not be known throughout the state, he surely ranks among the most-viewed of Ohio painters.
“He certainly left a legacy,” said Leslie A. Kaser, director and curator of the Alpine Hills Historical Museum in Sugarcreek.
His murals occupy an odd but intriguing niche.
They pop up at much-visited sites, such as over the entrance to the Sugarlane IGA store, on the front of a Huntington Bank and along the drive-through lane at a McDonald’s restaurant, all in Sugarcreek. They are found, too, inside and outside restaurants and cheese factories.
Some, such as the one at McDonald’s, are even three-dimensional and mechanized.
Miller died a decade ago, on July 28, at age 85.
He wasn’t Amish but spoke fluent Pennsylvania German. He had been a commercial painter, painting houses, lettering signs and occasionally creating murals for homeowners, Kaser said.
His rise as the region’s muralist came as the area sought to promote its history.
Members of the Amish religious sect, with roots in Switzerland, had arrived in the region in the early 1800s. Later that century, Swiss cheese-makers settled in the region, using milk from Amish farms to produce their wares.
In 1953, boosters launched the Ohio Swiss Festival. (The annual event this year is scheduled for Sept. 29-30.)
Some years later, Miller, inspired by a trip to Switzerland, created an Alpine mural on the front of a building he owned in Sugarcreek.
Then, “all the cheese houses wanted him to do the murals,” said Mahlon Troyer, a commercial painter and artist and protege of Miller.
He produced a large mural on the exterior of Guggisberg Cheese north of Charm; he painted an
illustrated history of cheese-making inside Heini’s Cheese Chalet, home to Bunker Hill Cheese, north of Berlin.
His mural-making gathered momentum like a mountain avalanche.
“He never got caught up,” said Miller’s son, Phil Miller of Wooster. “People were waiting, maybe for years.”
Many of the large pieces were painted in the 1970s and ’80s, Troyer said.
How many murals and smaller paintings did Miller create?
“I don’t have any idea,” his son said.
“One fellow went to Indiana and started an Amish restaurant. He took Dad out there to do a bunch of murals. Dad was out there for months.”
Phil Miller said his father’s talent seemed intuitive.
“He’d see that whole picture in his mind before he even started. He’d start sketching quick strokes. Pretty soon he’d have the sketch done. And then he’d paint the same way — quick.”
Miller’s style is reminiscent of Grandma Moses, the self-taught artist who also specialized in pleasant rural scenes.
But while Grandma Moses became internationally famous, Miller’s work remained concentrated in Amish Ohio.
His biggest piece fills the upper part of the walls and flows onto the ceiling in the main dining room of Grandma’s Alpine Homestead restaurant on Rt. 62 in northeastern Holmes County.
The diorama, roughly 45 feet wide and 20 feet tall, depicts Arosa, a Swiss mountain village.
Miller sometimes created depth in his scenes by making wood cutouts, painting part of his scene on the cutout and installing it on the mural.
Some works are mechanized: a toy passenger train runs through the Arosa diorama, and a herd of Swiss dairy cattle moseys through a mural at Grandma’s Alpine Homestead. The cattle and trains are models that Miller built and affixed to belts that run in loops through the scenes.
When Dave Beachy opened Beachy’s Country Chalet in 1988, he asked Miller to paint a series of small, oval-shaped scenes on the ends of wooden booths. Covered bridges, dairy farms, mountain brooks and quaint cottages fill the Sugarcreek restaurant.
Miller, Beachy said, was a man of few words. But he didn’t mind people watching him work.
“He just loved the interaction with the people. People would love to gawk.”
In Walnut Creek, three murals grace the Der Dutchman restaurant a mile south of the small dairy farm where Miller grew up.
John and Joy Maxwell — along with Mr. Maxwell’s mother, Alathea — recently ate dinner in the restaurant beneath a scene of maple-sugaring.
Maxwell, who formerly operated a clothing store in nearby Millersburg, had shown Miller’s paintings in the store windows.
“I loved his paintings,” he said. “I never talked to anyone who didn’t like his paintings.”
Some of the works are weathering, with paint colors and images fading. Beachy said the exterior mural at his restaurant could stand touching up.
Troyer has repainted some scenes and said he’s available to work on others that have captured the lifestyle of Ohio’s Amish and their link to rural Switzerland.
Phil Miller acknowledges the vision and legacy of his father.
“He followed his dream. Yep.”
From a post in the Der Dutchman News blog from September 2010:
Inspired by the houses on a trip to Switzerland, local sign painter, house painter and self-taught artist, Tom Millerpainted a Swiss mural on a building he owned in Sugarcreek. After that, many businesses came to his door step with requests for similar murals.
The local families took considerable pride in their heritage and eventually businesses in Sugarcreek began an effort to model their downtown after the Swiss villages in the “Old Country”. Swiss architecture became commonplace with it’s chalet-style construction and decoration. With the addition of Tom’s murals, the movers and shakers of the early 1950′s began a push for a celebration of everything Swiss. The Swiss Festival was born in 1953, one of the longest running festivals in the state of Ohio.
By the way, if you plan to go “mural hunting”, you can still see many of Tom’s works at the businesses of Sugarcreek and Holmes county. They are still visible at the Sugarlane IGA, Huntington Bank, Dutch Valley Restaurant, Beachy’s Chalet, McDonalds (one inside, one by the drive-through) Sugarcreek Lumber and the former Goshen Dairy building. In Holmes County, you can see three murals at Der Dutchman Restaurant.