Heather Neill

I was born in Honolulu Hawaii a few months before that island celebrated statehood. The first of four children born to my minister father and artist mother, my three younger brothers were all born on the mainland as we moved every two years or so from California to NJ to PA, back and forth and in-between before coming to rest for my high school years in Swarthmore, PA.

After graduating in 1976, the bicentennial year…I still have the class ring with the liberty bell on one side and the minutemen on the other, I left home to attend Connecticut College in New London. The only formal art training I have is from my college years, when I focused mainly on black and white, finding refuge in the pencil and printmaking process.

I moved to Boston after college. Worked in the Harvard Sq. Coop as a picture framer and ended up managing their custom-framing department for most of the 80’s. It was also during this time that I was invited to visit a friend’s home on Martha’s Vineyard which began a lifelong love of that island that continues to feed my artistic soul. Along the way the family reshuffled itself and I was blessed with a new stepfather, Fred, and four more brothers. When it became clear that Fred was ailing, I left Boston with my best friend Peter Follansbee, and we moved down to Muddy Creek Forks, a tiny self-contained village in a remote holler of Pennsylvania in order to be closer to my family and to try our hands at traditional woodworking.

We lived for a time in an abandoned general store (post office, train station and hotel all in one building) and, while Peter returned to Massachussets to pursue his career (he is now a world renowned expert in seventeenth century joinery and chief woodworker at Plymouth Plantation), I spent the next 5 or 6 years working as a traditional chairmaker. Using only hand tools I made Shaker style ladder-back chairs and traveled around in my little red truck making the rounds of juried craft shows and museums. The old crafters joke eventually won out…What would I do if I won the lottery ? Keep making chairs until the money runs out !

I can’t count the number of odd jobs that have put bread on the table since then, but they include farm hand, carpenter, bookbinder, vest maker, stripper at a three-woman printing company and picture framer off and on for 25 years. All of which made for interesting detours and each were attempts to make enough money so that I could paint. My easel has been set up in every one of the 26 places I have lived so far and by the time I decided to give painting my full time efforts I was well into my early forties.

My partner of over 20 years, Pat Lackey, is a hospice nurse, and living with her has taught me that life is short and far too precious to be doing something less than meaningful work. With her encouragement and support, I took the leap and had the first solo showing of my artwork in 2001. The success of that show set me squarely on the path toward my dream of being an artist.

I now paint full time and divide the work between my log cabin home with adjoining studio along the Little Conewago Creek in Manchester, PA and the open studio of Martha’s Vineyard, MA. I work at my easel happily and gratefully all day, every day, with the loyal companionship of Finnegan the Bernese Mt. Dog, taking not one minute for granted.