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Miss Lani
Inspiring Us All, and Bringing Art to Life

By Pat Waring

“I am the lucky one,” says Lani Carney reflecting on her more than two decades teaching children’s art classes on Martha’s Vineyard.

Born and raised in Northern California, at the base of Mount Shasta, educated in Oregon, Lani lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest for years. Her move to Martha’s Vineyard in the mid-1990s brought her to the perfect place to pursue and fulfill her life’s mission, teaching children.

With an in-depth education in child development, degrees from the University of Oregon, Lani became a college professor on the west coast.  

At the time women seldom joined that profession. But Lani was not deterred. After many successful years it was time for a change.

Lani traded the mountains and broad, breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Northwest for New England, and the equally scenic shores and meadows of Martha’s Vineyard.

Drawn by warm memories of family trips to both the Vineyard and Nantucket as a child, “and the pure kindness of the people here.” Lani set out to establish her new Island home.

“I felt it was a wonderful place to continue my life’s work,” she recalled. Although art had been important to her throughout her life and her college minor, Lani did not begin her classes immediately. Aiming to learn about the community, it’s culture, and opportunities for children, Lani began substitute teaching.  

She frequently helped out organizations and groups that worked with youth. She served on the Skate Park committee. Finally she began teaching art.  

“I felt happy to be here and wanted to contribute,” she says.

Soon Francine Kelly, late Director of Featherstone Center for the Arts, enlisted Lani to establish a children’s art studio and education program at the Center.

Thrilled and thankful for the opportunity, Lani built a successful program, working with several assistants, offering a variety of well-attended classes year ‘round. She felt deeply gratified by the enthusiastic feedback she received.

Several years ago a family crisis struck. Regretfully Lani turned the program over to a trusted assistant and headed to Vermont to help a relative facing a severe health challenge.

After some time, as her family member’s condition improved, Lani was able to divide her year. She offers Vineyard classes throughout the school year. In the summer she heads back north to help with family needs and offers classes there too.

But even with these seasonal shifts, Lani remains whole-heartedly committed to the Vineyard. “This is my home!” she says.

In her comfortable Vineyard Haven cottage filled with light and color, Miss Lani’s classes have a mellow yet vibrant atmosphere. Although the sessions feel casual and easy-going, Lani plans them carefully with the intention of empowering children and giving them abundant opportunity for self-expression.

“I loathe erasers!” she announced with charac-teristic passion. “Children should never be shamed or reprimanded for making a mistake, she explained. They are encouraged to giggle and draw a little heart beside the mishap.”

“It’s not always perfect. We are humans. Children are humans. Nobody is perfect!” she admits. For a time she collaborated with Island Children’s School, offering a full schedule of art after school classes there. Eventually she settled on her home as a perfect teaching venue.

Lani offers four after-school classes and one on Saturdays. Each has a theme. “Being Pablo” delves into Picasso’s work. Another focuses on Impressionism.

“Fierce and Fragile” highlights endangered animals, part of her efforts to teach children the importance of conservation and respect for wildlife.

Classes welcome children ages 4 to 14 working in multi-age groups. Lani believes children of diverse ages can inspire and guide one another.

The room is set up with bright rugs, kid-sized tables, a big easy chair, and an array of inspiring art supplies. Lani often reads to the children, tells stories, and recites poetry. The students sing together, stretch and spin in creative movement. They go for a nature walk to observe, and then depict their surroundings in art.

Garbed in layers and accessories as colorful as the art on her walls, Lani joins the children on the floor as they work.  

A young student coined her catchy professional name years ago. She has been “Miss Lani” ever since.

Lani empowers the children, offers them every opportunity for individual expression. When they begin a picture she invites them to use the style that suits them best working from reality, memory, or their imagination.

“The process of creating art is much more important than the outcome,” Lani tells her students. Wishing to bring her young artists’ work into the community, Lani and the children created attractive sets of greeting cards that are available Island-wide. Sale revenues will fund scholarships to Lani’s classes.

The youngsters also hand-decorated cardboard hot coffee cup sleeves that were donated to Mocha Mott’s for their patrons.

Primarily dedicated to children’s classes, Lani offers occasional coaching to adult artists seeking guidance, support, and inspiration.  

For more information about classes with Miss Lani, text or call 774-563-3069. Email