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Art, Song, and Life's Big Questions: Eric Baylin Retires

Eric Baylin was a Middle and Upper School teacher at Packer for 37 years. A recipient of the PA Excellence in Teaching award and a holder of the Babbott Chair, Eric engaged and inspired Packer students to find their artistic voices through photography and art, and to reflect on what constitutes a meaningful life through his beloved elective, Life's Big Questions. Eric's reflections on meaningful life at Packer extended beyond the classroom to his colleagues through the professional development program he led (which became a model for many New York City independent schools); through his 20-year leadership of PALS [Packer’s peer-to-peer student mentoring program]; and through his training of colleagues to become group facilitators and encouraging them to share their professional expertise. 

Eric was a true community builder at Packer, creating joyful space with his original songs, inspiring poetry, generosity of spirit and his embodiment of lifelong learning. We will miss Eric deeply, but the sound of the laughter and good vibes he created will continue to resonate through the halls of Packer. 

In his retirement, Eric will serve as the Poet Laureate of Sullivan County, NY. You can follow his work on Instagram at @sullivancountypoetlaureate.

At an Upper School end-of-year celebration, students paid tribute to several beloved and longtime teachers. Below, Kate Marriott ’21 and Abby Marriott ’21 reflect on the impact Eric had on them. 

As an incoming freshman, I quickly learned that Mr. Baylin was a uniting force within the Packer Community. One of his most iconic roles - in addition to being a wonderful art teacher - is leading the song “it’s time to take a break,” which is enthusiastically chanted by the entire community during winter celebration. I have a vivid memory of Mr. Baylin standing on the Chapel stage holding the scroll of lyrics, joyfully conducting a room of roaring teenagers. In another example of his ability to forge community, Mr. Baylin once organized a live art exhibition in the center of the Garden. He asked students and faculty to hold jumbo-crayons to large, white panels while jumping to the rhythm of live music. The result was a vibrant, colorful, and extremely large piece of community-made art. 

When Mr. Baylin is not creating grand exhibitions or writing cheerful songs, however, he can always be found in the studio - sitting in his office or examining his students’ work. Under his kind yet critical watch, I have grown from a timid freshman who only painted portraits on small canvases, to an ambitious senior who paints interiors and figures on vast, 4 by 5 foot canvases. Thank you, Mr. Baylin, for encouraging me to make grand gestures in my work. You taught me that mistakes don’t exist in painting because one can always paint over them. You taught me to explore rather than to perfect. I will miss your steady and patient presence guiding me as I work in the studio. And before I pass the mic to Abby, I want to commend you for always being able to tell the difference between the two of us - I don’t think you ever confused us, even when you had us both in the same class for two years in a row. 
—Kate Marriott ’21

Mr. Baylin has always made the Art Studio a space where students felt at home, and excited to create. From his tradition of starting each lesson with a ring from his singing bowl, to his insistence that AT studio art spend a chunk of the first semester working on quick sketches while sitting side by side, Mr. Baylin consistently cultivated an environment of creativity and community. 

The pure enthusiasm and dedication that Mr. Baylin brought to teaching inspired that same kind of dedication in his students. Mr. Baylin taught me that sometimes taking a step back from a piece is the best way to salvage it, and continuously pushed me to paint what I was inspired by rather than to slug away at a painting that I was unhappy with. 

Thank you, Mr. Baylin, for being a constant stream of support and positivity throughout my high school experience: the studio on the fifth floor will always be one of my favorite rooms at Packer, not only because of its messy, but somehow organized cabinets, and the tilted art that cover its sunlight walls, but because of the energy that you brought to it every day. Your vibrancy will be missed dearly in the art studio, but I and all of your students know that you will continue to apply your constant enthusiasm and high spirits to all of your endeavors outside of Packer’s walls. 
—Abby Marriott ’21 

Eric in his own words

In the weeks before his retirement was official, Eric offered some reflections on his teaching career: 

For more on Eric—including how witnessing a piece of cave art in France changed his life—look back at his Know Your Pelicans feature

If you would like to submit well-wishes to Eric, please send them to communications@packer.edu.

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