Ms. Neely’s Goodbye
by Elana Golub on Friday, June 8th, 2012
What is your reasoning for retiring? . What do you plan to do after you have finished teaching at Milton?
I have led a double life at Milton Academy since I arrived in 1974. I have been a practicing artist as well as a teacher of art. I am not alone in doing this, as some teachers practice their field, whether it’s writing or research, because they love to do it. I was also a young mother during my first 12 years at Milton Academy and juggled family needs alongside teaching and making art. When my daughter went off to college, I became teacher by day and painter by night and, after almost 39 years of being immersed in life at Milton, I decided to keep a promise I had once made to myself to be, at some point in my life, a full time artist. I reasoned that if I didn’t do it now, then when would I? I could stay here forever but the challenge for me now is to see if I can sustain myself as a full time artist and fulfill my dreams of expressing a vision about our environment that I feel compelled to paint.
What was your first year teaching at Milton?
When I first came to Milton I taught Middle School Art, Class IV Art, Studio Foundation, Drama Movement and Advanced Drawing. As I continued to teach, I taught more Upper School Classes, and helped develop and create a structure for the Advanced Independent Tutorial Semester course, (a senior art seminar of sorts), Adv Painting and was part of discussions about the curriculum of, Studio Foundation and Class IV Art.
How did you hear about the school? Who interviewed you? Why did you want to teach at Milton?
I was interviewed by Jerry Pieh and found out about the job through an artist, Tim Hamill, in Boston who was also teaching at Milton. I liked the open feel of the place, the students, and felt that I could contribute to the community.
What do you feel you’ve accomplished as a teacher at Milton? What are you going to miss most about Milton?
During my teaching life at Milton I was an energetic teacher who conveyed knowledge and skills and during the last 20 years I have added to that energy and skill-based learning, the importance of art being “a place for movement, discovery and travel”. I leave Milton knowing that there are a bunch of students who have experienced this way of looking at the world through the lens of art. My intention was to give my students a way to access their creative minds, develop an idea and see it evolve. I will dearly miss the rewards of seeing the growth each student has made, from the beginning of an idea, to the final realization of the project: that’s what I call traveling. It is “the process” that some folks would call “the journey,” that has intrigued me as a teacher and I feel I have passed that on to my students. Ultimately my students will have experienced owning an idea, solving some problems that go along by thinking about it, and making something emerge from the slightest nugget of thought.
I have never told my students to become artists, that’s an individual preference, but what I have encouraged them to do is to cultivate their ability to think creatively and use that function like a high jumper, to catapult them into a higher resolve, in any situation or career. Developing the Advanced Independent Tutorial course has been my particular delight. It was for the students who had “fire in their belly” and a yearning to go beyond the courses that give you assignments, and to carve out a path of their own and make a body of meaningful work that they could believe in.
I will miss the energy and personalities of all my students. I love the openness that my freshmen students bring to the making of art of any kind and their total absorption in the “Identity” project. In the Foundation Studio Course, the older students bring their more complex selves into the mix of other complex selves, which determines the dynamic of the class in different ways each year, and that is most exciting to watch unfold. Finally students in the advanced courses, both Painting and the Advanced Independent, bring that flame, already lit, of desire to be doing art, to paint, to invent, to explore and expand their horizons. I will miss all of that and most of all being their coach as I see them realize something they never dreamed they could do at the start.
What have been your main contributions to the Milton community?
Over the years I have been here, in many of those years, I have directed the Nesto Gallery and I feel that I have attempted to bring to this community a wide variety of artists and their work, to engage various parts of the school community, such as the show of science illustration, or, more recently, the show based on engineering kinetic sculptures. I have felt that in some small way I have helped educate the community about the importance of having art, on some level, in one’s own life, whether it’s being an observer, participant, active maker of things or even expanding their idea of what art is.
I also feel that any of my artistic accomplishments outside of school such as my exhibitions in Boston, San Francisco and New York, awards like the recent MA Council Finalist in Painting, or Collections, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Whitney Museum or The Smithsonian, l have shared with the school.
What are a few memories that define your Milton experience?
In many ways Milton is a bubble, but of the most amazing kind. During my life as a teacher here, I have been empowered to be the best I can be, to pursue different approaches to teaching my field, to engage in dialogue with my students in wonderful ways that have grown into lasting and cherished friendships, and to consistently widen my own horizons in other arenas by being able to hear and learn from both my colleagues and outside speakers. In many ways I feel like I grew up here and have felt, like Bob Dylan’s song, “forever young” but the difference is, that being older than the seniors who are experiencing “their own leaving taking”, I have known over time, the extraordinary experience that happens at this school. I have experienced the disappearance of time in a moment, elastic time of a moment stretched, the extension of time knowing the relief of more moments, the refusal of time when infinity happens in the most ordinary and the most extraordinary of moments. I will miss the rhythm and energy that is attached like a muscle to the bones of this place and I hope that to carry with me the sense I’ve had of the richness of time here.
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