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ARTIST PROFILE: LPES art teacher happy to settle down in Tri-Lakes

April 13, 2018
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE-Lake Placid Elementary School art teacher Rebecca Philion was born in Vermont, moved to Queensbury, New York at age 14, went to college for fashion design in Oneonta, and then worked in Ithaca for four years.

But when LPES position opened up, she was more than ready to make the move.

"When I noticed the job opening in Lake Placid, I was like, 'Ooh! Ooh! Pick me!' I was very enthusiastic," Philion said.

Article Photos

Lake Placid Elementary School art teacher Rebecca Philion displays her works in multi-media collage at her home along Turtle Pond in Saranac Lake.
(Photo provided — Steve Lester)

That's because by this time she was already more than familiar with the quirky side of living in the North Country that could make first-time visitors wonder if they could actually handle living here.

"I thought it would never happen, working in a place where I grew up in the summers. But it's really cool," she said.

Philion's father, Ken Ryba who teaches science in Hudson Falls, worked summers at the Adirondack mountain Club's Adirondak Loj in Lake Placid in the 1970s and 1980s. She became an Adirondack 46er by climbing all 46 of the area's High Peaks by the age of 12. She attended Pok-O-MacCready Camps in Willsboro as a youngster and worked there as a counselor between the ages of 18 and 21.

Philion's experience as a camp counselor helped her realize that what she really wanted in life was not to be a big city fashion designer but a North Country school teacher.

Since the age of 3, she had been saying she wanted to be an artist when she grew up, so she went back to school first at SUNY Adirondack and then the Sage Graduate Schools, got certified in art education and landed what she considers to be something less than a dream job as a teacher's assistant near Troy at St. Colman's Home.

St. Colman's is known primarily as a boarding school for children with autism. But it also has a day school for emotionally disturbed children, which are the children Philion came in contact with.

"It was so sad, so draining," Philion said. "After six months I just couldn't do it any more."

Not that it didn't have its small rewards.

"I wasn't hired as an art teacher, but that's what I taught there," Philion said. "It allowed the kids to release a lot of tension and just hang out with me and enjoy art. I had this one little dude who was 14 but had the mind of a 7-year-old. He liked Pokemon, so we'd sit there and draw Pokemon figures together."

Philion spent the next four years working as an art teacher in Ithaca, but only in a part-time position.

"That's a long time to work part time," she said. "I was looking for a full-time position the whole time until I noticed the opening in Lake Placid. The woman who taught there before me was there forever, so I said, 'That's going to be me. I'll be there forever.' Ithaca is a wonderful place but just not right for me."

There was one more factor that made Philion want to teach in Lake Placid.

"We were sick of moving," she said. "By this time, we'd moved six times in four years."

All sorts of life-changing events began to happen around this time.

Philion married her boyfriend, Jake Philion, in 2014, moved to the North Country the following year to start a new job, bought a three-story house next to Turtle Pond in Saranac Lake the year after that, and then nine months ago became a mom to twins, Charlotte and Emily.

"Who plans to have twins right out of the gate?" Philion said.

Five years from now, she sees herself still teaching in Lake Placid, still living next to Turtle Pond, still making her own art, "and hanging out with my 5-year-old kids," she said.

Philion credits much of her devotion to art to the day care center she first attended at age 3 on the campus of Bennington College in Vermont where she was offered extensive opportunities to indulge in artistic activity.

"I've always known I wanted to be an artist," she said. "It's always been a part of my life."



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