Tens of thousands of people have seen the paintings and drawings of Waco artist Stanley Miller, but the show that opens Friday at Papillon Antiques represents his first public exhibition in Waco in 40 years.

Miller, a former commercial artist with Word Inc., WRS and Raytheon, will display around three dozen paintings and drawings in the two-month-long exhibit.

It’s the largest display of his work since a 1976 exhibition at the Waco Regional Airport and a rare public one, though many have seen him sketching people at Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

“It’s my coming-out show,” said the 75-year-old artist, and as such, it’s populated with his favorite subject: faces and figures. “I love to draw people.”

Miller’s art is part of a Mardi Gras-themed First Friday event at Papillon Antiques that will also include a wine tasting led by The Wine Shoppe’s David Mayfield and a program of New Orleans jazz by the Horton Duo. Miller will be at the First Friday opening reception.

Miller left his native Abilene to study art at Art Center College in Los Angeles in 1960, but became disillusioned with illustration and left after three years, returning to Abilene, where he studied painting at McMurry College. In 1969, he and his bride, Paula, moved to Waco, drawn by a job offer from Word Inc. president Jarrell McCracken to work as an in-house freelance artist with “Faith at Work” magazine and other Word products.

Those products included book and album covers for the Christian publishing and recording giant. In Miller’s nearly 20 years with the company, his path crossed those of more than a few celebrities, including Anita Bryant, Amy Grant, country performers Roy Clark and Ray Price, Dale Evans, classical guitarist Christopher Parkening and Christian author Keith Miller.

“I got to meet some interesting people,” the artist noted. After Word, Miller moved on to other Waco-based corporate employers such as WRS Group, where he did medical illustration, and Raytheon. In 1998, he left to pursue fulltime painting, building up a clientele through private commissions, many for his portrait work and figure painting.

Cut back business

As he’s grown older, he’s cut back on the business end of his painting to follow his own interests.

“I’m 75 now and I don’t have the stamina or eyesight I used to,” he said.

Many of the pieces in his Papillon Antiques exhibit are in his favorite medium, an opaque watercolor called gouache (pronounced GWASH). It doesn’t take as long as acrylic or oil paints, yet allows stronger color and bolder lines than translucent watercolor.

“There’s little more power to it. It’s bolder, more free in the stroke,” he said. The combination of speed, color and intensity dovetails with Miller’s fondness for sketching. “I work fairly fast. There’s something about capturing the energy and spirit of the moment that becomes very powerful for the viewer,” he said.

Miller’s portraits and high-quality painting have made him a favorite among some art collectors in Waco and beyond, but Miller generally has eschewed the limelight for a quieter pursuit of his passion. “Art is not No. 1 in my life,” he said. “Faith is, then family, friends and then art.”