Chelsea Miller Knives
STORY BY Lauren Steele
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Michael George
"YOU CANNOT DREAM YOURSELF INTO A CHARACTER; YOU MUST HAMMER AND FORGE YOURSELF INTO ONE." - JAMES ANTHONY FROUDE
If you saw Chelsea Miller walking down a street in Brooklyn talking about spring fashion with a friend, moving lithely, beautifully, confidently—if you saw her at a Manhattan bar chatting about the film industry over a platter of oysters on the half shell and a bottle of merlot—you might feel as if you know her. You’d never guess that Chelsea Miller is the product of a workshop in Peacham, Vermont, and the man who still works in it every day.
Miller grew up on a farm. She and her brother and sister were homeschooled. They made bows and arrows out of tree branches and sewed clothes for fun. Her mother, Marylou, was a nurse for 32 years. Her father, Joe, is a carpenter and blacksmith. Miller watched him create the family’s universe—building the house, repairing old cars to drive, making her mother new cabinets—with his hands. “That instilled a mind-set in me that with work and self-sufficiency I could create anything,” she says. “When I turned 18 and left home, I went straight to New York because I wanted to be where the people were. I skipped all of the insecurities young people feel moving to the city because I didn’t know any better. My upbringing always made me feel confident that I was in control and I could create anything out of my life. Anything, anywhere was fair game.”
She made the most of it. Her love of storytelling and creation led her to the New York Conservatory For Dramatic Arts, after which she got an agent and became a part of the city’s film scene. But then her father suffered an injury, and she went home to pursue a different role. He was immobilized and in chronic pain, eventually walking with the help of crutches. But because of him, she never felt like she was without art. “Art is necessary,” Joe says. “Without the mind, what are we—without joy and love and inspiration? And art promotes all of these things, if you let it.”
Miller went from learning script lines to learning the ways of her father’s workshop. She spent her days assisting him so he could continue working and doing things the way he always had—with joy and inspiration that moved him more than a body ever could. “Working with him was never a chore—I felt like I was doing it for me,” Miller says. “One day he and my brother were working on making knives out of horseshoes and farrier rasps and junkyard materials. They were saving scrap wood to cut shapes and make beautiful handles—there is such an appreciation for the story of the knife and its components. When I started making them too, it felt like a really connected discovery.”
Her connections came full circle when her friend Andrew Baker, a filmmaker in New York City, asked if he could make a documentary about the Miller family and the self-made spirit that both connects them with the world and sets them apart from it. He captured Joe teaching Chelsea to run a torch; to pick good used horseshoes from the farrier; to be curious and intuitive and to bring out the best in the available materials despite the rust and imperfections. “Chelsea is like her dad,” Baker says. “There is a lot of his dynamic that is present in her. They both know it but they don’t talk about it—they don’t have to use words to craft their character.”
And now, back at her studio in Brooklyn, Miller has brought the character and the craft that her father and Peacham, Vermont, gave her. Both worlds are intertwined flawlessly into a rustic elegance. She is the flower in the forge hammering tarnished scrap metal and refining it into something worthy of a Saveur magazine Top 100 selection, which her knives received in 2013. She is the rural renegade taking off her mask and putting on her lipstick to meet a friend in that big-city bar.