Cary artist embodies hometown spirit

aspecht@newsobserver.comDecember 6, 2013 

— This town has been at Jerry Miller’s fingertips for more than 50 years.

Miller, 81, is a Cary-based sketch artist who has illustrated the town. He has also served on various boards and committees, helping to guide Cary’s growth.

He’s won numerous awards and recognitions, including Citizen of the Year, Rotarian of the Year and Herb Young Volunteer of the Year.

In November, that list of accolades grew when he won the 2013 Hometown Spirit Award.

“When you think of Cary, you think of Jerry Miller,” said Cary Town Councilman Don Frantz.

“He’s a Cary fixture and keeps really busy,” said Joy Ennis, the town’s downtown theater and events supervisor.

Miller, a native of Sanford, moved to Cary in 1957 after graduating from N.C. State University. The town had only a couple thousand people back then.

“I like to say I knew everyone and their dog,” said Miller, who refers to himself as Cary’s “old barn.”

Cary now has about 150,000 residents and sprawls over 55 square miles. But Miller insists the town hasn’t lost its charm. He says the town is well-planned and full of interesting people.

“We have the finest people moving into Cary – doctors and other really well-educated people,” Miller said.

He’s an active lobbyist and historian. In 1994, Miller co-authored “Around and About Cary” with his neighbor, Tom Byrd. Byrd did the writing, while Miller drew art that’s on nearly every page of the book.

They printed 6,000 copies, which are available at the Page-Walker Hotel.

But you can learn nearly as much about Cary from one of Miller’s slideshow presentations. His history lesson on Cary is popular among churches, Rotary clubs and other social gatherings.

“He will usually have some tidbit about the town I never knew or heard of,” said Councilman Jack Smith.

Like many success stories, Miller’s career emerged from desperate times. He didn’t become a full-time artist until 1972, when a recession knocked his architecture business out from under him.

He remembers telling his wife: “If we’re gonna keep eating three meals a day and wearing shoes, I’d better get to drawing something people will buy.”

And buy they did.

Miller has been commissioned to sketch state buildings, county buildings, school buildings, private homes, farms and businesses.

He also paints with watercolor – and seems to have as much work as ever.

Aside from his artwork and affinity for the town, Miller is perhaps best known for founding Cary’s Lazy Daze Arts and Crafts Festival in 1977.

“He basically built (the festival) over years and years,” Ennis said. “It was his vision.”

The one-day event is now one of the most heralded and popular arts shows in the Southeast. But Miller remembers a time when he had to convince local artists and craftsmen to take part.

“I basically had to plead with vendors,” he said. “Once they came to Cary, they begged me to get in again.”

Some things never change.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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