Barbara A. Miller, former longtime dean at the Maryland Institute College of Art whose career spanned nearly three decades, died of cancer Oct. 23 at Gilchrist Center in Towson. The Tuscany-Canterbury resident was 90.
“What a wonderful lady,” said Fred Lazarus IV, who was president of MICA from 1978 until his 2014 retirement. “Barbara played an unbelievably important role at MICA as we changed the profile of students who applied, and she led that effort, and she got to know every student who came through admissions. She was very important to MICA.”
Mrs. Miller hired Theresa L. Bedoya as director of admissions at MICA in 1976.
“I knew Barbara to be classy, sophisticated, and keenly intelligent,” wrote Ms. Bedoya, who retired in 2020 as vice president of admission and financial aid, in an email.
“In the field of college admissions, which was dominated by men at the time, she was one of the first women to have a leadership role and to be widely respected among professionals at independent art colleges as well as comprehensive colleges and universities,” she wrote. “She broke that ceiling.”
Barbara Ann Wehner, daughter of Alfred Wehner, a pipe manufacturer, and Lottie Wehner, was born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where she graduated from Kenosha High School.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1952 in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she moved to New York City and began working as a stewardess for United Airlines.
While working for United, she met her future husband, William A. Miller, on a blind date at a baseball game. The couple fell in love and married in 1956, and because of the airline’s “no marriage for stewardesses” policy, she resigned.
Mrs. Miller gave birth to the couple’s first child in 1957 and would have four more by 1964, while living in the New York and Washington suburbs. In 1966, they moved to Baltimore, eventually to a home on Suffolk Road in Guilford, and she commenced a new career as director of admissions at MICA.
Over the next 26 years, Mrs. Miller assumed greater responsibilities as dean of admissions and progressed to become dean of financial aid and dean of international programs, while becoming one of the institute’s beloved figures.
“On my first day of interviews, Barbara took me to lunch at a place on Park Avenue, and from our first conversation, I became a huge fan of hers,” Mr. Lazarus said. “She was the most wonderful and caring person and it was a treat to work with her. She was a wonderful mentor and a real help to me.”
Mrs. Miller’s accomplishments at MICA were transformative and far reaching. She established its first financial aid office, wrote the first grant proposal for federal U.S. funding for scholarships, developed MICA’s continuing education program and pioneered international recruitment of aspiring and talented young artists from abroad.
“An example of how brilliant she was. Barbara was one of a handful of people that started the Portfolio Day concept of admissions events in the early 1980s,” Ms. Bedoya wrote.
“Independent art colleges such as MICA, Pratt Institute, California College of the Arts, which require a portfolio of artwork for admission, would host a new type of college fair on campus where prospective students could bring their portfolio artwork for preliminary review and assessment by admission professionals and faculty from colleges across the U.S.,” she wrote. “First hosted in Baltimore and New York City, these events have continued to the present day and are currently hosted at over 40 colleges and universities across the U.S. and abroad.”
Mrs. Miller told The Sun in 1978, that Portfolio Day fulfilled a “special need.”
“In all of the thousands of tests designed to identify the strength of high school seniors, none have addressed themselves to the visually oriented student. Students who excel in two or three dimensional expression as opposed to verbal expression,” she told the newspaper.
Mrs. Miller was also a fervent supporter of recruiting international students, which she began doing in the 1970s.
“In a world that is becoming increasingly global, these kinds of opportunities are enormously valuable,” Mrs. Miller explained in a 1989 Sun interview. “They not only create bonds but teach us on a personal level the differences and similarities in cultures.”
Ms. Bedoya wrote: “She took the lead on planning and publicizing recruitment trips for groups of admission professionals to Europe, Asia, Central and South America.”
“By building our reputation abroad, Barbara gave MICA a head start in developing an international reputation that has only grown to this day.”
In the community, she launched Baltimore’s Arts and Aging Program and founded the Mount Royal School of Art. In addition, she developed the first National Portfolio Day at the National Museum of American Art in Washington.
Family members said she referred to MICA’s students as “her students.”
“She was seen by students as a trusted counselor and adviser, and as a friend,” according to a biographical profile submitted by her family. “For numerous Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when many students ― especially those from abroad — could not afford to go home, she invited them to celebrate the holiday dinners with her own family. And she remained in close contact with hundreds of MICA students even after she retired.”
Mrs. Miller retired in 1992.
While working for United, it energized her lifelong passion for world travel, and she and her husband, a founder and editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, roamed throughout Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. They were especially fond of taking cruises where she liked to say the “world would come to them,” family members said.
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They liked visiting local cultural institutions, museums and art galleries on their travels across the world, all the while enjoying fine dining, which were accompanied by “obligatory gin-and-tonics, and a glass or two of wine,” family members said.
“Barbara was wonderfully innovative and forward thinking, but at the same time she was also charming, gregarious and fun loving,” Ms. Bedoya wrote. “She had a very engaging personality. She loved to throw parties. She loved to travel. I can’t remember her without thinking of those personal qualities side by side with her professional successes.”
In recent years, the couple had resided at the Tudor Arms Apartments in the city’s Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood. For the last year until her death, Mrs. Miller lived at Symphony Manor in Roland Park.
Her husband died in 2013.
A remembrance and celebration-of-life gathering is private.
Mrs. Miller is survived by two sons, Thomas A.V. Miller of New York City and James R. Miller of Tuscany-Canterbury; three daughters, Kathryn E. Goldman of Guilford, Julie Elizabeth “Beth” Miller of Roland Park and Lisa Christine Miller of Northwood; a sister, Dorothy Curnes of Lawrence, Kansas; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.