Jean O’Neil first came to Englewood during the summer after her graduation from Keene (NH) State College in 1980. Newly equipped with a degree in education and certified in art and English, she landed her first job … as a cocktail waitress at a restaurant in Port Charlotte. It was a summer gig, and she stayed with her parents before taking off with friends on a backpack trip to England, Ireland and Holland.
She had grown up in Pittstown, a small rural town in upstate New York, just a few miles from the Vermont border. Her dad owned a small insurance company, her mom was a math teacher, and their daily work commitments meant that Jean was often left in the hands of her three brothers, all much older than she was. How did that work out? “It made me very agile,” she jokes. “I was very independent, I was kind of a free spirit, and by the time I was 13, I knew that I wanted to get out of Pittstown.”
So she did–but not far at first. Her second job was as a substitute teacher in Troy, N.Y. “That paid me $35 a day,” she recalls, “and I had been making $100 a night as a cocktail waitress in Florida.” Go figure. But she had developed an interest in art as well as art education while in college, and that was going to be a career for her. “I was the first woman to have the job of assisting the head of the studio at Keene, and I learned a lot about clay sculpture, hand molding, metal working and running a studio,” she avers. All of that would later stand her in good stead.
She landed her first real job at age 23 as an admissions counselor for Southern Vermont College in Bennington, and after two years moved to San Francisco to take a position as assistant director of admissions at California College of the Arts. “I traveled all over the country for them, from Philadelphia to Hawaii,” she says. One trip, in 1984, took her to an arts convention in New York City, where she reconnected with a young man, Sean Fagan, whom she had dated when she was at Catholic Central High School in Troy. They hit it off, and they were married a year later. Sean was working in Manhattan for Dreyfus Mutual Funds, so they stayed in the East … for awhile. Jean got an interview with Citicorp was hired as a recruiter for their credit division. “I didn’t know anything about the business,” she swears, but she was experienced in marketing and operations management. “It was ‘fake it till you make it,’ she says, but she rather quickly made it. At age 29 she became an assistant vice president at Citicorp.
Two years later she and Sean had their first son, Brendan, and in 1992 their son Gavin was born. Because almost all of Sean’s clients were on the West Coast, they decided to move there rather than have Sean making repeated cross-country trips from New York. So it was that they settled in Vancouver, Washington, just over the border from Portland, Oregon. They remained there for the next 18 years, and it was there that Jean came into her own as an artist as well as a teacher. She did showings of her own work in Portland, Astoria and other West Coast venues. She did some abstract paintings, but most of her work was in clay sculpture. “My sculpture work took off,” she says. Some pieces sold for as much as $2,000. She sold individual pieces through exhibitions at the Sedona Art Center Gallery in Arizona and other art centers around the country. She also was commissioned by several private collectors to do special works for them.
Jean’s teaching horizons broadened sharply beginning in 2004, when she became Art Department Chair at the Darrow School in New Lebanon, N.Y., a highly regarded private prep school with an international student body and its 12,000 sq. ft. Joline Arts Center. In 2006 she received a master’s degree in creative arts curriculum and instruction from the City University of Seattle, and in 2011 she accepted a position as the Art Department Chair of the American International School in Dalian, China, a major seaport in Northeast China. She taught high school students design, ceramic sculpture, studio art and advanced placement visual arts for three years.
Jean returned to the U.S. to head up the Arts Department of the Verde Valley School in Sedona, and while there her artwork was juried into the Sedona Arts Center, where she still exhibits to this day. While in Sedona, she and Sean purchased a property in Englewood for their future residence, and in June of this year they moved into it. Jean declared herself officially “retired” on June 1st. Google has this to say about her: “Jean O’Neil is a showing ceramic sculptor represented by galleries on both coasts. As an educator, Jean has worked in public and private education, higher education administration and community arts. Her professional commitment to art education and her versatility as an instructor have motivated and inspired students from the ages of five to eighty five.” A nice epitaph to a great career, you say? Well, now she’s entered into a new phase in that career. She is working for herself, in her own studio.
It’s called the Lemon Bay Clay Studio, “where magic happens!” Last month Jean and Sean took over a space at the Open Studio on Old Englewood Road. It’s equipped with working tables, three kilns, showroom space, a “learning center” for conducting workshops and classes, and plenty of storage space for artists to keep their tools and wares. Jean will be doing most of the teaching and working with budding artists, young and old. “It’s perfect for me,” Jean says. I can support a studio, teach clay sculpture and mentor students and budding artists here in Englewood. And I can work on my own projects as well. There’s only one thing that equals the joy of making clay art, and that’s teaching it.”
And whether she’s teaching art or making art, “magic” does seem to happen with Jean O’Neil.
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: email@example.com. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.