Once a month, I’d like to feature a business or organization with the history of the place and the people involved. I sent out a 1/2 dozen inquiries, and got 4 responses within 24 hours. I’ve asked for the stories and a couple of photos (old & new, preferrably) and Magnus Toren of the Henry Miller Library was the first to send me a completed history and the first photo shown below. So, featured this month is the Henry Miller Library!! I have been promised three more features from local businesses, and am working on contacting as many as I can to continue the Monthly Spotlight for quite some time.
The Henry Miller Library (also known as the “Henry Miller Memorial Library, Founded by Emil White”) was created by Emil White, a longtime friend of Miller. Located in Big Sur, 35 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea on Highway One, the Library occupies White’s former home. It is a public benefit, non-profit organization championing the literary, artistic and cultural contributions of the late writer, artist and Big Sur resident Henry Miller.
Emil White moved to Big Sur in 1944 to serve as caretaker and personal secretary to Henry Miller. The two had met in Chicago in 1942. In the 1960’s White bought the property, a lush meadow surrounded by towering redwoods, on which the Library now stands. The main building was built in 1966 on the site of the Graves Canyon landfill created during the construction of Highway One in the 1930’s. The caretaker’s cottage adjacent to the main house was added shortly thereafter. Other changes have been made piecemeal since 1981.
After Miller died in 1980, Emil decided to maintain his property as a memorial to his friend. In 1981, with the assistance of the Big Sur Land Trust (BSLT), he converted his home into the Library. Emil spent the rest of his life as director of the new institution, which since has evolved into a local center for the arts.
At his death in 1989, White bequeathed the “HENRY MILLER MEMORIAL LIBRARY, FOUNDED BY EMIL WHITE,” to the BSLT. “With this bequest,” White wrote in his Last Will and Testament, “I am encouraging support and maintenance of said Library, and to promote and enhance the scholarly research and worldwide enjoyment of Henry Miller’s literary and artistic works.”
In 1997 the Library staff, with the blessings of the BSLT, began the process of becoming an independent 501(c) 3 organization. That process is completed.
Henry Miller (1891-1980) is, in the words of one of his biographers, “one of the most famous-and infamous-writers of the twentieth century.” During the eighteen years he spent living in Big Sur, he turned out some of his finest work, including The Rosy Crucifixion, a three-volume epic about his life with his second wife, June; and Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, the story of his life in Big Sur. Miller fell in love with the rugged, isolated region on his first visit in 1944, and decided to move there almost immediately. Upon his arrival in Big Sur, Miller wrote, “Here I will find peace. Here I shall find the strength to do the work I was made to do.” He also became part of a literary and artistic community that included Emil White, Jaime de Angulo, Lillian Boss Ross and her husband Harry Dick, Ephraim Doner, and others.
When he first moved to Big Sur, Miller was struggling to make ends meet. Within four years of his arrival, royalties from overseas enabled him to live comfortably in Big Sur, even providing him with the resources to purchase a house on Partington Ridge. Here, with his third wife, Lepska, he raised his two children, Valentine and Tony. Living in Big Sur obviously had a profound effect on Miller, inspiring him to write: “Peace and solitude! I have had a taste of it, even here in America.” The Big Sur landscape gave him “such a feeling of contentment, such a feeling of gratitude was mine that instinctively my hand went up in benediction. Blessings! Blessings on you, one and all! I blessed the trees, the birds, the dogs, the cats, I blessed the flowers, the pomegranates, the thorny cactus, I blessed men and women everywhere, no matter on what side of the fence they happened to be.”
Miller lived in Big Sur until 1962, when he moved to Pacific Palisades, where he resided until his death in 1980.
Emil White, Library Founder Emil White was one of Henry Miller’s closest friends and confidants. Miller, in fact, dedicated Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch to White, describing him as “One of the few friends who has never failed me.” While he is known primarily for his association with Miller, White was one of Big Sur’s most colorful characters and a remarkable person in his own right. Born in Austria in 1901, White journeyed to Budapest during World War I, where he was arrested as a revolutionary. Just 15 at the time, he was condemned to death but amazingly escaped. Two years after his brush with a firing squad, White immigrated to the United States. There, in 1942, he met Miller in Chicago outside a bookstore where White worked. Though Miller’s work was virtually unknown in the U.S., White was already a great fan of the struggling writer. The two men became fast friends, and when Miller moved to Big Sur two years later, he asked White to join him as a caretaker and personal secretary, eventually paying him $5 a week to handle his correspondence.
In Big Sur, White started to paint. “Painting satisfied my need for creativity,” he said. “It gave me a feeling of great accomplishment.” White’s charming oils and watercolors, distinctively primitive in style, remain today among the most popular images of the Big Sur coast. To support himself in Big Sur, White published tour guides. These sold well and helped him achieve the financial security that ultimately enabled him to purchase the property that is now the Henry Miller Library. After establishing the Library, White spent his remaining years as director of the new institution, which evolved into a local center of the arts. While Miller chose to spend his final years in Los Angeles, White remained in Big Sur until his death in 1989. In an interview he gave shortly before his death, White was asked whether he had any regrets. He responded, “I only wished I had moved to Big Sur sooner.”
(Editor’s Note: Shortly after I moved to Big Sur in 1985, I had the pleasure of visiting the HML while Emil White was in residence. He was an incredible “ladies” man, and latched on to me, literally. It is an experience I shall never forget!)
History and first photo provided by Magnus Toren, curator of the HML. Second two photos creative commons and fair use. Thanks, so much Magnus for helping me kick off this new feature!!
For current events and information about the Henry Miller Library, visit their website at:
Henry Miller Library