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Finishing the Story – Steve Miller

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Strong arms and broad shoulders belie the image of a simple artist. Hands, while soft enough to make the most minute change to a delicate clay leg, have also fell towering trees. Guthrie’s Steve Miller wasn’t raised to be an artist or a successful salesman, but he became both. As a storyteller, recounting the narrative behind his art, he can’t be beat. Most things he says deserve quotation marks.

Miller grew up as a fourth-generation logger in Kalispell, Montana, more accurately, the Flathead Valley. His earliest memories were of long days and even harder work. “Most people in the western industry don’t know that about me. I felled timber, set chokers, skidded logs, and loaded and drove logging trucks. I could do anything in that world and was a pretty good hand,” he shared. “It was just what you did. I always tell people that know me now that it was like being born in a coal mining town in the Appalachians.”

Every summer vacation from the seventh grade on, Miller would do a man’s job in the woods with his father. The day he graduated high school, he applied and was hired for a job at a sawmill.

Still, he always gravitated towards art. “I have loved it since I was a little kid. I would look at mountain scenery, at the deer, the elk, the horses, and I would always think, ‘How do you make that with a brush? How do you paint that? How do you get that color?’” He added, “Like all young artists, that’s what I wanted to do, but I had to go to work. I’ve worked my whole life and my art was always pushed to the back as a hobby, because I got into careers I owed a lot of time to, and there was not enough time left over.”

While he recalls the work ethic he learned in his early years and his love of art, he remembers no aspirations of a better life. “You were just a logger. You didn’t have a choice, or, better said, you didn’t think of having a choice. There were no plans for higher education; you simply needed to get out of school and go to work. I’m lucky I finished high school, because there was that mentality, not only in the Valley, but even in my family, that you just quit school and go to work,” he shared.

Looking back from where he is now, Miller contemplates how different life could have been. “I can’t believe how short-sighted I was. I take full responsibility for that. I had no clue in my 20s that I could have gone to college or that there was a whole different layer to the world,” he said.

While a death-defying experience with grievous injuries doesn’t sound like a positive, Miller is adamant that an accident just prior to his 30th birthday was just that. “The best thing that ever happened to me was when I had a logging accident where a tree fell on me. I should have been killed, but I was limbing a big tree, and the one that fell on me knocked me off of that tree down to the ground. It landed on the big tree, and if I would have been limbing a smaller one, it probably wouldn’t have ended as well,” he said.

The resulting broken back led to unemployment. “I couldn’t go back to work in the woods. I was on food stamps and had two kids to support. I remember thinking, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’” he recalled.

In a twist of fate, Miller met a friend of his father’s who’d heard of his bad luck. The man offered to teach Miller how to be an audiometric technician. “That basically means you sell and fit hearing aids. I didn’t have a college degree, but he told me I didn’t have to, I just had to work under his supervision for a year,” Miller said.

It only took a week of work for Miller to realize he had a talent for sales. Just two years later he had worked up to being the Regional Manager of the Miracle Ear Hearing Aid Company and was one of the top 12 sales representatives in the nation.

A few years after that, the National Sales Director job came open, and Miller applied. “I’ll be darned if I didn’t get the promotion,” he laughed. Soon he was living in Minneapolis, working out of a corner office on the seventh floor. While his career was thriving, Miller himself was dying on the vine.

“I’m a team roper. I grew up in the country, but my horse was 50 miles away in a stable and I never got time to ride him. I took a Western Horseman magazine with me to work one day, made a list of every company that I might want to work for, wrote up a resume, and sent it out,” he said. “I got a call from Montana Silversmiths back in my home state. I interviewed for the job and got it.”

Miller has worked for Montana Silversmiths for nearly 30 years. He started his career as the Vice President of National Sales and Marketing. While he’s handed over the reins for most of his duties, he’s still an Ambassador at Large for the company. “I think my biggest claim-to-fame there is that I put together one of the best sales rep forces in the industry, so much so that I was approached by other major western industry companies to help with their sales staff,” he shared.

The Art

Miller never pursued art as a career, but he couldn’t help indulging in his hobby. “I can’t even tell you how many pictures I’ve given away. Drawings, paintings, you name it,” he laughed. If you find him sitting still for more than a minute, he’s likely roughing something out. “I’ve spent several long conference calls doing sketches.”

He had no formal training in art, but if he begins to question his ability, he reminds himself of Charlie Russell, a well-known American artist of the old American West. “Charlie Russell never had a lesson in his life, and he was able to do it. He’s my hero. I have read everything about him and know the names of most of his paintings. I was actually born on the same date he died, just different years, of course. I always say I hope I got a little piece of him,” Miller shared.

For a long time, he wondered where his artistic streak had come from, but he recently found out that it came from his mother’s side of the family. “That family is Norwegian. My great grandfather came here from Norway in 1904. Because of social media, I’ve been in touch with that side of the family, and they all make their living as artists in tv, film, and painting,” he shared. “My son, Jason, is a better artist than I’ll ever be, really, so we got that from somewhere.”

Miller began with acrylics, but found his talent lay in oil painting. “I feel like it’s easier for me to paint with and is much richer. My son got me into sculpting. I picked up some clay he sent me and took some coat hangers and bent them up for armatures, and started doing some sculpting, and wound up making more money on my sculptures than my paintings,” he said.

He did his first sculpture in the early 1990s, and by later in the decade, his hobby and his work finally collided. Montana Silversmiths was hoping to expand into the lifestyle sector. “They wanted to do sculptures that could be sold through Western stores at a reasonable price so that anyone could own a gallery quality sculpture for their home,” he shared. “Instead of paying $10,000 for a bronze, they could buy a resin one for $200. It wound up being a very successful line.”

Miller began working on the sculptures, which became the Steve Miller line that he called “My Vision of the West.” The series consisted of nine pieces, concentrating primarily on the people and times of the mid- to late 1800s. “It’s how I see the west. But the west as we know it started with the discovery of the New World. The first Europeans entered a new land, a land that to them seemed an empty wilderness to be settled and tamed.

“But the land they saw as empty wilderness was not empty, and it certainly would not tame easily. This land was home to many tribes, languages, and cultures of people. These were an innocent and primitive people, open, and even helpful to the culture that would soon overwhelm them. These were a people who did not work iron, copper, or steel, nor did they know of the wheel, or write their language. But they did know the land and how to live off its bounty. It provided all they needed, and they left it as they found it, unscarred and flourishing with animal life of every kind. The meeting of these two cultures would soon become a violent collision,” Miller explained.

“Of Stone and Steel” was the first in the line, showing a lone Indian curiously tapping his arrow against the railroad tracks; something strange that appeared during his time away from home. “I have no idea where the ideas come from. I just saw something and wonder what it would be like to be this young man. You see, this man was a Cheyenne, but the territory stretches from southern Nebraska up to Montana. These kids would go visit relatives far away for a few years to find a wife before heading home. What would it be like for him to go find a wife, start riding home, and then there is this monstrous looking snake crossing the prairie? What would he be thinking?

“I’d just be thinking about that, and then pretty soon I’d doodle a picture and then make a sculpture,” he shared.

That same thought process took him through the entire line. The remaining pieces were named His New Winchester, The Highest Price for Beef, When Beef Was Wild, When Cowboys Take a Dare, the Houlihan, the Crossing, When A Woman Knew Her Place, and Sittin’ Pretty.

The title of the artwork is important to Miller. “The stories behind the artwork make the piece, and I always said you can’t have a piece of artwork unless the title can tell you the story,” he shared. “It’s important to me that my work allows people to finish the story for themselves. The person looking at it has to decide how each of those stories end. For example, in the Highest Price for Beef the horse and rider are falling in the middle of this stampede. What happens? Does the cowboy pay the highest price? In the Crossing, does the rider make it to the other shore, or the distant shore?”

While the Steve Miller collection was exceptionally popular, selling out quickly, his most prized work did not make him a dime. He did a series of sculptures of three Cheyenne warriors killed in the Battle of Little Bighorn, which was commissioned by the tribe to raise money to mark the Cheyenne deaths on the battlefield.

“The Cheyenne don’t refer to it as Custer’s Battle. They refer to it as the Battle of Greasy Grass. That battle, outside of Napoleon’s Battle of Waterloo, is the most written about battle in history. When I started the sculptures, the only marker on the battlefield for a Native American was because a soldier had documented where he had fallen,” Miller said.

The three Native Americans Miller portrayed were Lame Whiteman, Limber Hand, and Noisy Walking, and all three men still have living relatives. “I roped with Dennis Limberhand, and that’s how I knew they were wanting to do this project. I made the sculptures, gave them to Dennis, and he took them to the tribal council,” he shared.

As with most of his works, Miller engrossed himself in the project. He shared the story of Noisy Walking. “He was a 14-year-old boy. His relatives told me he would have had four braids, because he hadn’t been in war yet. You can see he has a stake with a loop on it, and that’s because he was an Undefeated Warrior. The Native American’s don’t have a name for a Suicide Warrior, like we would call it. When the battle started, they were required to put that loop around their ankle and drive the stake into the ground. The only way they could retreat was if another warrior pulled the stake or they were killed. The night before the battle, him and about 14 other young men took the undefeated pact, not knowing there would be a battle the next morning,” he shared. He learned that Noisy Walking would have been armed only with a bow and arrow, and his sculpture reflects that.

He spent an incredible amount of time researching each man, then donated all his work, including foundry costs for the originals and molds. “They were trying to raise money to put markers on the battlefield, so it wasn’t something to make a profit on. It’s the work I’m proudest of,” he said. “I was able to help the Cheyenne Indians put markers on the battlefield where their family members died.”

In addition, Miller created the Miss Rodeo America pageant’s perpetual award and did a bronze of Bodacious with his son, both sculptures are in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. He also created the bronze sculptures given to the Head and Heel Horses of the Bob Feist Invitational each year.

These days, Miller is focusing on his oil paintings, spending his time perfecting his technique. “I found I really enjoy doing portraits in oil and special projects for people, instead of just painting a picture and hoping someone likes it.  I love doing commissioned work.”

Learn more about Steve and his art in the August 2020 issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.


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Poinsettia Partnerships Will Make Your Holidays Beautiful

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By

Norman Winter

Horticulturist, Author and Speaker

National Poinsettia Day just passed, December 12 to be exact. While I am sure the powers to be wanted a celebratory type day, from what I have been seeing this year is this may have been a deadline day. This most likely applies to poinsettia partners too! If you are asking what a poinsettia partner is then put on your thinking cap and gather around.

Proven Winners got most of us to thinking partners when they introduced the concept of combining poinsettias with Diamond Frost euphorbias. This is one of the best ideas ever and we now actually have three choices, Diamond Frost, Diamond Snow with double flowers and Diamond Mountain that is the taller of the three.

To a horticulturist like myself this combination is so special because both the Poinsettia and the Diamond Frost are Euphorbias. That’s right, they are cousins. Just like Christmas, families visiting and long-lost cousins getting together. Of course, the main reason we like this idea is that the red, pink, or variegated poinsettia looks incredible, it’s as though it is sitting on a bed of snow or frost. I have found these to be more available at fine florists.

But if you are going to create your own and go plant shopping then keep in mind some other options you might want to-try. For instance, a couple of years ago Jenny Simpson of Creekside Nursery in Dallas North Carolina introduced us to not only using caladiums at Christmas but even in combinations with poinsettias. She used the Heart to Heart White Snowdrift caladiums which turned out to be a perfect partner with red poinsettias.

My time as Executive Director at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah GA taught me there are opportunities for outside use with poinsettias, particularly if you are astute at long range weather forecasting. First consider that Savannah is technically zone 8B with a proclivity to lean into zone 9. We used poinsettias in large planters surrounded by Silver Bullet Dusty Miller or artemisia.

A similar application gave me the opportunity of photographing pink poinsettias mass planted in an atrium-like setting and surrounded by gray leaved Icicles helichrysum. But the most obvious and perhaps easiest if you are getting a late start is to combine your poinsettias with another Christmas plant like cyclamen. White cyclamen around a red poinsettia can be simply breathtaking.

This year I have also been watching what I call the professional garden club ladies walking out of both florists and floral departments with holly berries. We all think of hollies on swags above the fireplace or front door, but two or three preserved branches loaded with red berries stuck in a pot of white poinsettias is quick, easy and unbeatable.

Red berries for Christmas, landscape beauty, and of course feeding the birds is a prime reason to grow winterberry hollies like the compact Berry Poppins. Consider also growing Berry Heavy Gold winterberry holly. Cutting branches of the gold berries to be used with red poinsettias makes a stunning partnership. Go to Proven Winners site, Winterberry Holly: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Colorful Berries. If you don’t have poinsettias yet make today your shopping day! Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy for more photos and garden inspiration.

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Homesteading Skills: The Essentials for Self-Sufficiency and Sustainable Living

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Homesteading, once a way of life for our ancestors, is experiencing a resurgence in today’s world. As people seek greater self-sufficiency, a deeper connection with the land, and more sustainable lifestyles, homesteading skills have become not only practical but also deeply rewarding. In this article, we’ll explore the essential homesteading skills that can empower individuals and families to live more self-reliant and sustainable lives.

1. Gardening

At the heart of homesteading is the ability to grow your own food. Gardening is the foundation of self-sufficiency, and it’s a skill that can be cultivated no matter the size of your property. Key gardening skills include:

Soil preparation and composting

Seed starting and transplanting

Crop rotation and companion planting

Pest and weed management

Harvesting and food preservation techniques like canning, freezing, and drying

2. Animal Husbandry

Raising animals for food, fiber, and companionship is a fundamental aspect of homesteading. The skills related to animal husbandry include:

Care and feeding of livestock, such as chickens, goats, cows, or pigs

Breeding and reproduction management

Livestock housing and pasture management

Animal health and basic veterinary care

Dairy and meat processing if you’re raising animals for consumption

3. Food Preservation

To make the most of your garden’s bounty or the harvest from your livestock, knowing how to preserve food is essential. Food preservation skills include:

Canning fruits and vegetables

Fermentation for foods like sauerkraut and kimchi

Dehydrating fruits, vegetables, and herbs

Making homemade jams, jellies, and pickles

Smoking, curing, and other methods for meat preservation

4. Foraging and Wildcrafting

Homesteading often involves making the most of what nature provides. Learning to identify and use wild edibles and medicinals is a valuable skill:

Identifying edible wild plants and mushrooms

Harvesting herbs for teas, tinctures, and salves

Sustainable foraging practices to protect local ecosystems

Preserving wildcrafted items for later use

5. Beekeeping

Keeping bees not only provides a source of honey but also contributes to pollination on your property. Beekeeping skills include:

Setting up and maintaining beehives

Handling and managing bees safely

Harvesting and processing honey and beeswax

Identifying and addressing common bee health issues

6. Food Self-Sufficiency

Beyond gardening, you can work toward greater food self-sufficiency by learning skills like:

Seed saving to preserve heirloom and open-pollinated varieties

Raising and harvesting small livestock like rabbits or quail

Cultivating perennial food crops like fruit trees and berry bushes

Aquaponics or hydroponics for year-round food production

7. Basic Carpentry and DIY Skills

Homesteaders often find themselves needing to build and repair structures, tools, and equipment. Carpentry and DIY skills include:

Building raised beds, chicken coops, and animal shelters

Basic woodworking for constructing furniture and farm implements

Repairing and maintaining machinery like tractors and generators

Fencing and infrastructure construction for property management

8. Water Management

Managing water resources efficiently is crucial for sustainable living. Key skills include:

Rainwater harvesting and storage

Drip irrigation and water-saving techniques for gardening

Proper well maintenance and water testing

Building and maintaining ponds or water features for livestock and wildlife

9. Energy Independence

To live off the grid or reduce your environmental footprint, consider energy independence skills:

Solar panel installation and maintenance

Wind turbine installation and maintenance

Energy-efficient building design and retrofits

Off-grid living strategies for reduced reliance on public utilities

10. Soap and Candle Making

Homemade soaps and candles can reduce reliance on store-bought products. These skills include:

Making soap using cold or hot process methods

Crafting candles from beeswax, soy, or other materials

Adding scents and colors naturally

11. Herbal Medicine and Remedies

Homesteaders often turn to herbal medicine and remedies for self-sufficiency in healthcare:

Growing and harvesting medicinal herbs

Making tinctures, salves, and herbal teas

Natural remedies for common ailments

Basic first-aid and emergency care skills

12. Sewing and Textile Arts

Basic sewing skills are essential for making and repairing clothing, linens, and more. These skills include:

Hand and machine sewing techniques

Mending and darning clothing

Knitting, crocheting, and other textile arts

Crafting items like blankets, rugs, and quilts

Homesteading is not just a return to simpler times but a way to embrace self-sufficiency, sustainability, and a deeper connection with the land. While mastering all these skills may take time, the journey itself is a rich and rewarding experience. Homesteading is about learning, adapting, and continually improving your ability to live more independently and in harmony with the environment. Whether you have acres of land or a small urban plot, these essential homesteading skills can empower you to live a more self-reliant and sustainable life, fostering a sense of fulfillment and purpose in the process.

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Raising Chickens for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Raising chickens can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, whether you’re a homesteader looking to become more self-sufficient or a backyard enthusiast seeking fresh eggs for your family. Chickens are relatively low-maintenance animals, making them an excellent choice for beginners in the world of poultry farming. In this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through the essentials of raising chickens, from choosing the right breed to ensuring their health and happiness.

Selecting the Right Breed

Before diving into chicken-raising, it’s crucial to choose the right breed that suits your goals and environment. Different breeds have various characteristics, including egg-laying capacity, temperament, and adaptability. Here are some popular options for beginners:

Rhode Island Red: Known for their excellent egg production and hardiness.

Plymouth Rock: Friendly birds that lay brown eggs and adapt well to various climates.

Australorp: Record-holders for egg-laying, known for their docile nature.

Silkies: Unique and fluffy birds often kept as pets; they lay smaller eggs but are adorable companions.

Research the specific breeds available in your area and consider factors like climate and available space when making your selection.

Coop and Run Setup

Before bringing your chickens home, you’ll need to set up a safe and comfortable living space for them. A coop and run are essential components of your chicken-keeping setup:

Coop: The coop is where your chickens will sleep at night and lay their eggs. It should be well-insulated, predator-proof, and provide at least two to three square feet of space per chicken.

Run: The run is an outdoor area where your chickens can roam during the day. It should be fenced and covered to protect your birds from predators and provide shade.

Make sure to include roosting bars, nesting boxes, and adequate ventilation in your coop for a healthy environment.

Feeding Your Chickens

Chickens need a balanced diet to stay healthy and lay eggs regularly. You can feed them commercial chicken feed, which comes in various forms:

Starter Feed: For chicks up to six weeks old.

Grower Feed: For chicks aged six weeks to 20 weeks.

Layer Feed: For hens producing eggs.

Additionally, you can supplement their diet with kitchen scraps, vegetables, and grains. Ensure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Care and Health

Regular care and monitoring are essential to keeping your chickens healthy. Here are some key aspects of chicken care:

Regular Health Checks: Inspect your chickens for signs of illness or injury daily. Common issues include mites, respiratory infections, and injuries from pecking.

Disease Prevention: Vaccinate your chickens against common diseases to keep your flock healthy.

Egg Collection: Collect eggs daily to ensure they remain clean and prevent hens from brooding.

Clean Coop: Regularly clean the coop to prevent the buildup of waste and odors, which can attract pests.

Handling and Socializing

Chickens can be friendly and enjoy human interaction when handled gently. Spend time with your chickens, hand-feeding them treats to build trust. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises, which can startle them.

Understanding Egg Production

Egg production varies by breed and age. Hens typically start laying eggs at around 5-6 months old. The amount of daylight, diet, and stress can affect egg production. You can use artificial lighting to simulate longer daylight hours, which can encourage consistent egg-laying.

Dealing with Challenges

Chickens, like any animal, come with their challenges. Here are a few common issues and how to address them:

Predators: Invest in a secure coop and run, and consider adding motion-activated lights or alarms to deter nighttime predators.

Broodiness: Some hens may become broody and stop laying eggs. You can break this behavior by isolating them in a separate enclosure or providing them with dummy eggs to sit on.

Feather Pecking: Chickens can sometimes develop a habit of pecking at each other’s feathers. Ensure they have enough space and distractions to prevent this behavior.

Raising chickens can be a delightful and educational journey. By selecting the right breed, setting up a proper coop and run, providing a balanced diet, and offering care and attention, you can enjoy the rewards of fresh eggs and the companionship of these feathered friends. Remember that every chicken has its unique personality, so get ready to be charmed by your new flock as you embark on this fulfilling adventure in poultry farming. Happy chicken-keeping!

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