Famed graphic designer and racial, cultural and gender equity advocate Cheryl D. Miller donates personal archive to Stanford Libraries
Special Collections at Stanford Libraries is the beneficiary of the Cheryl D. Miller collection, a rich archive that documents Miller’s research and advocacy work related to racial, cultural and gender equity, diversity and inclusion. In the 1970s, as a young female of multiracial and multiethnic background, her mother of Philippine descent from the West Indies and her father African American, Miller was determined to forge ahead and complete her education, connect with mentors in the design industry, and ultimately establish a reputable design firm.
The Cheryl D. Miller collection illuminates an important era of design innovation through the advertising and external messaging narratives created for her firm's clients. The archive includes personal correspondence, design files and proofs, photographs, first edition prints and taped interviews with clients and design professionals, like Paul Rand, a renowned New York based designer known for creating innovative visual identities for some of the largest companies in the United States during the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Regina Roberts, librarian for Communication & Journalism, Anthropology, Feminist Studies and Lusophone Africa at Stanford Libraries, contacted Miller after Michael Grant, a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford, inquired about a thesis Miller wrote. “I asked Regina if she could help me gain access to a thesis written by Cheryl D. Miller about the absence of African Americans in the design industry,” said Grant. “Not only did Regina find it, she was able to secure copyright with Mrs. Miller so I could share it with my reading group."
"During my conversation with Cheryl, I could tell there was more to explore—there was a story to tell far beyond her thesis,” said Roberts.
Roberts' instincts proved to be correct. Researchers will find Miller’s studio design work and process; her research and qualitative interviews used to complete her master’s degrees from Pratt Institute and the Union Theological Seminary in New York City; as well as family research and the manuscript for her memoir Black Coral: A Daughter's Apology to Her Asian Island Mother, which describes her own journey to understand her multi-ethnic, multi-racial background and its impact on her own identity.
“Cheryl is an excellent archivist,” said Roberts. “She has meticulously documented her career and the evolution of the design industry. Her archive offers a unique perspective as an entrepreneur, woman and person of color during this important time in U.S. history.”
Miller started her career in the early 1970s, having attended the Rhode Island School of Design and graduated from Maryland College of Art. She led a team of designers through the creation of a set and studio design features for the newly launched public television station, WHMM-TV 32 at Howard University, while also building her own company, Cheryl Miller Design, Inc., creating logos for corporations and nonprofits in the Mid-Atlantic, Washington D.C. area.
She moved to New York City to complete her graduate degree in Communications Design from the Pratt Institute School of Art and Design and grow her company, which flourished as a top corporate identity design firm, with notable corporate clients including Time Warner, Inc., the Ford Foundation, Philip Morris, and McDonalds. She also worked for non-profit organizations that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement, including the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, NAACP, Legal Defense Fund, the United Negro College Fund, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the YWCA. Miller was commissioned by NASA to create the poster for Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to orbit in space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
In conversations with Roberts, Miller expressed her hope that the collection inspires the next generation of graphic artists. It hasn't taken long for that hope to be realized. Grant, who initially inquired about Miller's thesis, which led to Cheryl Miller's archive coming to Stanford, will be working with Roberts utilizing the collection while finishing his research.
“Too often these important stories remain unknown until someone has passed away,” said Grant. “Aside from Mrs. Miller’s accomplishments and stellar reputation in the design industry, researchers will benefit from the first-hand accounts she has provided the Libraries for much of what is represented in these boxes,” said Grant. “She is very transparent about her successes and the challenges she faced, which has inspired me to talk more freely about my own failures and struggles, so others may learn from me as I am learning from her.”
The Cheryl D. Miller Collection is currently not open for research until processing is complete. Stanford Libraries benefits from generous gifts of materials and archives, however because these gifts are unbudgeted, allocating funds to make the collection discoverable is a challenge. To help the Libraries expedite access for unprocessed collections, including the Cheryl D. Miller Collection, please call the Development Office for Stanford Libraries at 650-723-3866.
###Note: All photos are courtsey of Lisa Barlow