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Theresa Miller has spent many successful years developing new looks for people. Photo by Sheela McLean
Believable Dressing
The art of Theresa Miller

Theresa Miller's walk to becoming an accomplished hair and makeup artist started in a railroad car.

Miller’s father and grandfather were railroad men. She was “born and raised on the railroad,” she said, the last of nine children. Technically, she was born in the Four Corners area, where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. But her home was an old dining room car provided by the Santa Fe Railroad.

Her family’s name was Urvina, which is “Argentinian, we think.” She was “raised in the Mexican culture in a family that believed in education”. But there was no set place for school in a railroading life - Miller attended many schools when she was young.

Everything turned south for the family in Miller’s teen years. Her mother died while she was in high school, and “my last years at home were really impoverished.”

But “poverty is a condition, it’s not who you are,” she said.

She ended up living with family members - a brother, and then an older sister. That older sister, Susan, became a hats and gloves model for Frederick and Nelson, which, Miller said, probably pointed her towards her own career.

Susan made a home in Las Vegas. Miller lived with her while attending the University of Southern Nevada - she completed four years at their Alexander Academy for the Performing Arts. She earned money for school by setting up hair salons at Caeser’s Palace.

But those were the early days of Vegas, a rough-and-ready place. One night, fairly late, she left work and walked through a parking lot where she saw a man who had been shot dead in his car. “A murder in the parking lot,” was too much, says Miller. She shipped out for Hollywood, where she found more work with heads, hair and makeup.

Miller said her work is a form of joyful escape “because it’s all pretend. You can be anybody you want to be,” on the stage and in the movies.

Hollywood eventually led to Seattle, where she became the Seattle Opera’s first resident wigmaster. It was there she met, and later married, Lee Miller and had a son, Vincent. She spent the Opera's off seasons in Costa Rica.

What she did was “dressing for the head” - believable dressing, she said. Developing a new look for a person, something that “your eye can accept as the truth, that’s the art that fascinates me,” she said.

Some of Theresa Miller's work in makeup and hair design, locally and outside the Methow Valley. Click images to enlarge.

She was part of a roster of image artists ‘on call’ when a famous person would come to the Pacific Northwest for a movie, play or advertisement. Part of her success in her field may come from discretion: she won’t spill the names of famous people she has worked on. “I hold out on name dropping because I have always respected their privacy,” she said. She doesn’t keep much memorabilia, either. “When your artistry is established and you’re respected for it” keepsakes aren’t needed. Her work “is a walk” that she experiences each time she takes on a project. And she likes more typical walks also. She said the light, lines and art of nature are her greatest teacher.

Miller was a founder of the Methow Valley Community Theater. Now much of her creative energy for theater is taken up with a 15-year long paying job doing stage productions for Roosevelt High School - a school “where young students who are working towards a profession in performing arts become recognized for their talent.”

Theresa and Lee live up the Rendezvous Road out of Winthrop. Their son, Vincent, and his family live close by. Theresa gardens passionately and loves to travel. That’s between productions at Roosevelt High School.

Theresa Miller seems to enjoy what she does, but it’s not because it just flows along naturally. Mostly, she said “ “my work in film, stage and opera are the results of hard, disciplined study.”


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