Pamelia Markwood Neff, 57, of Trenton died unexpectedly on Dec. 26, 2018, while with her husband, Craig Neff, and his family celebrating the holidays in Roxbury, Conn. She was a universally adored, vibrant, loving, energetic, extraordinarily creative artist and big-picture thinker with a passion for protecting wildlife, habitats and the planet. She and her husband invented and ran The Naturalist’s Notebook, the award-winning nature-and-science exploratorium-shop-museum in Seal Harbor, which she conceived and viewed as a unique type of interactive, educational, experiential art installation.
Pamelia, also known as Pammie, was born Feb. 6, 1961, in Elizabeth, N.J. Because of her engineer father’s job assignments, she grew up in many places, including England (she loved all things British), Italy, California, Illinois and New Jersey. She spent nearly every summer exploring the low-tide zone at her mother’s cottage at Shady Nook in Trenton and developed a lifelong passion for nature, animals and protecting the environment. Her mom’s cottage had been passed down by Pamelia’s great grandfather Scott S. Estey, who for years owned the Pioneer Farm in Ellsworth and (as Pammie proudly told people) was Maine’s 1948 Farmer of the Year.
After attending Muhlenberg College and duCret School of Art, Pamelia pursued a career as a painter in New Jersey and New York City, where she lived for more than 20 years in Tribeca, Soho and Greenwich Village. In the 1980s, she developed a global art project called Masterpeace. She recruited prominent painters from dozens of countries to each do a painting that featured the color cobalt blue, representing Earth and the need for a harmonious connection among all who live on it, non-human species included.
In addition to painting fine-art pieces while in New York, she gave her time and energy to creating theater backdrops and public-space murals. One of them, at P.S. 41 in Manhattan, inspired students (including future actress Scarlett Johansson) to write her memorable thank-you notes. Pamelia and her dear artist friend Kathy Coe (who sometimes worked together as the team Markwood & Coe) painted a multi-scene mural for the entry of Gilda’s Club, a support center in Manhattan for cancer patients and their families and friends that was created in memory of comedian Gilda Radner. Pamelia and Kathy worked closely with Radner’s husband, Gene Wilder, in designing it.
Pamelia met her future husband while teaching youngsters to paint their plain T-shirts, helmets and sneakers with their own designs for a feature story in Sports Illustrated For Kids magazine, of which Craig was then the editor. Two of the magazine’s staffers later served as matchmakers. On Sept. 2, 1995, Pamelia and Craig were married at high tide behind her mother’s cottage, with Moxie, one of several beloved dogs (and cats) Pamelia had over the years, as ring-bearer.
Pamelia was inseparable from her husband, who shared her love of learning and was her constant companion and creative partner. The two explored much of the planet, including both the Arctic and Antarctic, and she shot photographs to accompany the travel-magazine articles he wrote (apart from his job as a Sports Illustrated writer and editor). She took the photographs, including the cover shot, for the acclaimed book An Artist’s Handbook, by another close friend, Margaret Krug of the Whitney Museum and the Parsons School of Design.
In 2008, Pamelia and Craig began converting a small, creaky, century-old building in Seal Harbor into The Naturalist’s Notebook. They hoped to use the interactions, installations and intelligent books and merchandise for sale in the three floors of the space to inspire others of all ages to learn more about nature and science, including the 13.8-billion-year history of the universe. Pamelia playfully dubbed the Notebook “a space for everyone who’s even a little curious about the last 13.8 billion years (give or take).” That became the Notebook’s slogan.
In more than a decade of tireless work on the Notebook, Pamelia arranged nature-art classes for both children and adults, mentored young collaborators, gave visitors exuberant personal tours and explanations, and invented an amazing succession of games and displays. They ranged from Hominid Foosball (before her death she had been painting each plastic player in a foosball game as a different type of early human) to Extinction Roulette (a gaming wheel devoted to endangered species) to an innovative, spectrum-color-coded timeline of the universe’s 13.8-billion-year history, which she developed after meeting with prominent scientists from around the country.
Over time, Pamelia and Craig made every room in the Notebook into an immersive environment — from a forest to the ocean to the surface of the Moon — as part of Pamelia’s vision of creating what she called the world’s first 13.8-billion-year building. She was a visionary in finding creative ways to convey the vast scales of time and space. She felt those were needed for people to fully grasp and appreciate nature, how it evolved and works, and humans’ biological connection to every other organism. The more people learned, she believed, the more they would work to protect our precious planet and everything that lives on it.
Her energy and innovative thinking led both Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Institute to ask her to serve on art-and-science committees. The latter named her a Schoodic Scholar. At the invitation of organizers of the TEDx Dirigo conference, Pamelia and Craig devised a temporary outdoor 13.8-billion-year learning trail at Bates College. Each of the 24 interactive timeline stations was a different color, in spectrum order. Pamelia loved color in all things, among them clothing, food (she and Craig studied on Saturdays for six months at the French Culinary Institute in New York and she invented spectrum-colored dinners for them) and the dahlias she grew, drew and painted for the last 25 years.
Pamelia was predeceased by her mother, Pam Markwood Voris, who died in 2009, and her father, Bill Markwood, who died in 1984. She is survived by her husband, Craig Neff; their adored rescue dog, Rocky; her brother, Scott Markwood of Prospect Harbor and his wife, Cherrie, and daughter, Sarah; her entire Voris step-family; her brother-in-law, Brian Neff, and his wife, Heidi, of Roxbury, Conn.; her parents-in-law, Jean and Henry Neff, of Roxbury, Conn.; her nephew, Todd Neff, and wife Silvia and daughter Julia of Houston, Texas; niece Jenny Neff Alley, husband Doug and daughter Harper of Waterbury, Conn.; the Markwood family of Virginia and North Carolina; and many good friends not just in the U.S. but also in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, Greece, Italy and Russia.
No memorial is currently planned. Everyone is invited to visit The Naturalist’s Notebook in Seal Harbor next summer to enjoy Pamelia’s work and passion. All are also encouraged to take a hike through nature in her memory, draw a nature picture (especially if you don’t think you can), or to make a donation to a scholarship fund that has been set up in her name at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, which strongly emphasizes ecology and protecting the planet and has been named America’s greenest college. (Please note “Pamelia Markwood Neff Scholarship” on contributions made by check or through the COA website.)
Pamelia had the shining personality to persuade serious scientists to skip with her arm-in-arm, to get 90-year-old cancer patients to laugh and play games with her, to coax the superintendent of Acadia National Park (among many others) to don silly eyeglasses. She brought more love to the world than could ever be measured. More than once she organized roomfuls of scientists, naturalists, business leaders or friends in an exuberant “Supernova!” cheer. She was, herself, the brightest of supernovas.