The Creative Life in Our Cities: A Conversation with Molly McNeece

We have many talented artists and creatives living and working in our Farmington/Farmington Hills community and our weekly interview series, sponsored by City Life Realty, will introduce you to some of them.

Today we feature artist, illustrator, sculptor and arts educator Molly McNeece.

When did you first get started in the arts?

I first got started in the arts at a very young age. I was born and raised in Bismarck, North Dakota and my mom would have me enter art competitions locally. Being a farm girl, I was always playing outside, building and drawing. My grandparents were weavers and I thought that was so fantastic and to be an artist was the coolest thing anyone could become. I played the violin from the age of three and knew very early on that I was going to become a music teacher. Growing up to be an artist was only a dream.

Did you receive formal training in the arts? If so, where and what did you enjoy about the experience?

As a freshman in high school, my family moved to Alaska. In 1994 I began attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks. There I switched my major from music education to arts education. I loved learning about the fine arts. The best part of becoming an art teacher is that you get to take classes in all of the disciplines. Drawing, painting, printing, sculpture and ceramics all became my passions but the class that helped me the most was color theory. Color theory is the vegetable of the art world. It is really good for you, and if you get good at it, it will keep your art healthy and vibrant! After two years in Fairbanks, I moved to Michigan and completed my bachelor’s in art education and my master’s in curriculum and instruction from Michigan State University.

My favorite learning experience as an artist came in 2009 when I was one of ten teachers in the country chosen for the Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwater Teaching Residency. I spent a week at Fallingwater with some of the most inspiring artists and educators. It was there that I decided to claim being an artist. I would no longer dream of being one. I was one.

Who has been a mentor to you along the way?

As a young teacher I worked in my school district with artist Linda Buck. She is now retired and working as a full-time ceramic artist. I love her work because of the rich colors in her tiles and the beautiful and simple architectural elements in her pieces. She is a hero of mine and I wish someday to grow up to be just like her!

Another hero and close friend of mine is artist Lisa Hermann. Lisa has not only inspired me to be a better teacher, but how to also be a professional artist after a long day in the classroom. Her abstract paintings sing harmonies by themselves and I am lucky to have her guide me about showing in galleries, entering shows and guiding me along the path of being a professional artist. We often text each other to encourage creativity and tell each other to get to work in the studio!

Are you a member of any local or regional art groups?

I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Michigan Art Education Association, and the Northville Art House.

Can you describe something you created that’s particularly meaningful to you?

Recently this year my family in North Dakota began constructing a new family cabin on Lake Sakakawea. My grandfather Carl built the original cabin in 1967 and I spent a lot of time growing up fishing, swimming, and waterskiing with my older cousins. Above the entrance to the bedrooms was a giant taxidermied northern pike that was caught off of our dock. This fish was menacing. I spent long hours looking at its white eyes, vicious teeth, and the monstrous lure hanging from his mouth. I loved that fish.

With the new cabin in construction I completed a painting of a funky northern pike to replace the fish that disintegrated when it was taken off of the wall after 50 years. My cousins have found another of my grandfather’s lures to add to it. The cabin will be finished at the end of this summer and I love being an artist that can bridge this gap between generations, and that my northern pike will grace the cabin wall for a long time. 

Has your art appeared in any city programs or events, such as the Public Art Program at City Hall or Art on the Grand?

I loved having my work in the Public Art Program at City Hall. The program is a great opportunity for artists to show their work in a beautiful public space. 

I was honored to design the poster for the 2018 Greater Farmington Film Festival. I have a series of acrylic ocean creatures and I loved the idea of a blue octopus taking over downtown Farmington!

My artwork is also a permanent feature at the Heritage Park Nature Trail. I was commissioned to create multiple paintings for the different sections of the trail. They are beautifully mounted on metal describing the trail concepts (decomposers, wildflowers, etc.) for the community. The trail is located in between the Splash Pad and the Nature Center and is a short beautiful walk for all ages. I absolutely love walking along the trail and seeing my paintings on display in the middle of nature!

Can you share a favorite quote about art or life?

“A line is a dot that went for a walk” – Paul Klee

What advice or suggestions do you have for younger artists?

Being an artist is so much fun and a lot of hard work. Take time for your artwork. Be in your studio every day and keep a working sketchbook for ideas and inspiration. I am always imagining objects and their colors to put on paper or canvas, constantly thinking about my current piece or the next five to work on in the future. Have fun with your art and love what you create!

What do you think is missing from the arts community in Farmington Hills?

Farmington and Farmington Hills are communities that like the fine arts and support their artists as best they can. What is missing is a community space that can house a gallery, classes, gift shop/artist space to sell work, and for our community to gather. Other communities do this well like the Northville Art House and the Anton Art Center. There are dozens of talented artists working and living here without a community gathering place to call our own.

Why is celebrating and promoting art healthy for a community?

As a resident of Farmington Hills, I want to see the arts impact our community in a few and powerful ways. The arts create culture. A community that is full of art (music, dance, sculpture, photography, etc) is full of culture. We have a rich and diverse world population that can be seen in our restaurants, but why not in galleries, architecture, outdoor art and public murals? Businesses are stimulated by art and art organizations in communities. People of all ages and backgrounds understand the universal language of art and are drawn to create and celebrate. We must also teach our younger generations the significance and value of our arts. Strong school programs, community classes, camps and other learning opportunities will inspire children to create and grow as positive members in our society. 

On her artwork

My artwork follows a few themed paths. When I am illustrating a children’s book, I work for six to eight months using watercolor and ink on a small piece of illustration board. After the book is finished, I immediately begin to work on large canvas in acrylic. My series of funky ocean creatures lets me use color and pattern to play. When I work with authors or create commissions for projects the work is always new. Spending time learning how to paint native Michigan wildflowers or how to illustrate a weaving sheep is a great challenge and breaking away from my usual subjects keeps my work fresh.

My company, McNeece Consulting, is a collaboration with my husband Dr. Alexander McNeece. We work together creating books for communities across the country helping to close the achievement gap of early learners. Our latest book, Alexis and Anthony Go to Kindergarten was released this spring for the children of Racine Wisconsin.  I love being an artist because teaching art and creating art is the best job in the world!

Learn more about Molly McNeece and her work here.

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