Ben Wever has long been a steward of the Miller House and Garden, both when it was a private home and now as a museum. Wever will discuss his work maintaining this jewel in Columbus’ architectural crown at the Making & Maintaining session of “Foundations and Futures,” chaired by Tricia Gilson.
Wever is the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s site administrator at the Miller House and Garden. Commissioned by J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller in 1953, the residence showcases the work of architect Eero Saarinen, interior designer and artist Alexander Girard, and landscape architect Dan Kiley. But Wever’s relationship to the property stretches back long before it opened to the public. His association with the house dates to 1999, when it was still the Miller’s private home and Wever worked there as a landscaper. As J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller grew older, Wever’s role in maintaining their home and grounds grew as well. The Indianapolis Museum of Art acquired the property through a bequest from the Millers’ estate in 2009, and Wever’s years of experience made him a natural fit to join the staff. Wever watches over the facility, leads VIP tours, manages security, coordinates volunteers and trains the house’s docents. Wever also shares his expertise with the community by volunteering as a Landmark Columbus Advocacy and Education Committee member. Earlier this year, Wever received the Columbus Area Visitors Center’s Partner of the Year Award.
When asked about what the property means to him, Wever says, “the Miller House and Garden are so very close to my heart,” adding, “they’re really a labor of love.” Wever knows the house, the garden, and the way both respond to the changing seasons and the passage of years. He knows how the Millers liked to display their collection of crèches at Christmas time, and how Alexander Girard, the house’s interior designer, continued to collaborate with the family on seasonal decorating. He’s had to solve the problems of maintaining Dan Kiley’s landscape design as the original trees Kiley planted grow old and fail.
Wever’s work exemplifies the “maintaining” of Columbus’ design heritage that the Making & Maintaining session celebrates. His labor ensures that the house, the garden, and the extraordinary collection of objects within will be preserved as a major component of Columbus modern design heritage. His close association with the Miller family helps to maintain the feeling of the place as a living, lived-in home, not a stale historical exhibit. It is through the dedication of stewards like Wever that Columbus has the chance to build upon its legacy, helping inspire and enable the architects, designers, and makers of today and tomorrow.
When asked about his hopes for the Making and Maintaining session, Miller says, “I hope that Exhibit Columbus will bring more attention to the city’s landmarks so that more people can have a more personal understanding of design’s impact.” Wever certainly has that personal understanding of the Miller House and Garden, both its treasures and the challenges it presents to its caretakers.