Natchez native, artist helping sell her hometown

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The complex architectural drawings that characterize her work have grown more intricate in recent years, artist Martha Chaffin Miller said.

&uot;My technique is something that has developed over time,&uot; Miller said, as she stood among many of her works that now appear on note cards, prints, cross-stitch canvases, tote bags and T-shirts on sale at the Rosalie gift shop in Natchez.

Her attention to detail is one of the things that sets her work apart, said Miller, who grew up in Natchez and graduated from Trinity Episcopal School before pursuing art on the college and graduate level.

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Today, her work is displayed and sold in many places besides Rosalie, but that Natchez tourism attraction is where she began to realize the potential for focusing her talents on historic houses and buildings.

Her mother, Rouchelle Chaffin, manages the Rosalie gift shop and encouraged her daughter to produce her first note cards and prints featuring architectural drawings of the house.

&uot;The note cards and prints took off, and she realized it would work,&uot; Chaffin said. &uot;She has done really well with it.&uot;

Now living with her husband in Kentucky, Miller has produced similar drawings for sites in that state as well as up and down the Mississippi River.

&uot;Eight or nine years ago, Mom began managing the gift shop and needed custom designs,&uot; Miller said. &uot;When I saw how well they did, I began to think of the other places around who probably didn’t know how to get these things done.&uot;

In the first few years, she called on potential clients to solicit business. Today, however, people call her after becoming familiar with her work.

Living in Florence, Ky., a suburb of Cincinnati, Miller has done work for the Cincinnati Art Museum Center. &uot;They are in an old art deco train station, and I did drawings of the building.&uot;

The work suits Miller very well. She has a small studio in her home but prefers the kitchen table. &uot;We really don’t eat there any more; it’s always filled with my paints,&uot; she said.

Natchez was the perfect place to nourish her talents, Miller said. The houses and buildings, with their historic details, also are respected as businesses. That is not the case in many historic cities, she said.

Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in painting from Louisiana Tech University and then went on to the University of Georgia to receive a master’s degree in art history.

&uot;Because I went into fine arts and not commercial art, I found for many years it was hard to get a job in the art field,&uot; she said.

Miller looks for opportunities to encourage young people. &uot;They look at work I do now and say they could never do that,&uot; she said. &uot;But I show them work I did five years ago to show how much it has changed.&uot;

Her family knew early on that Miller had a special talent. &uot;She was a gifted child,&uot; her mother said. &uot;She was always able to sketch and draw. I think God gives you gifts. Some get up and run with them and some don’t.&uot;

Miller reflects more seriously on the gift as she gets older, she said. Recently on a church mission trip, an experience brought home to her ways that she might further the sharing of her gift.

&uot;When we got to the church where we were going to work, it turned out that the people there had hoped to have someone come who could paint a mural for them,&uot; Miller said. &uot;So instead of working in a class, I ended up painting a mural on the wall for them.&uot;

Miller is pleased with her ability to reproduce what she sees. Now she wants to spend some time trying to paint more in the abstract. &uot;I’d like to see some growth in taking an idea and going with it.&uot;