Montserrat faculty member and alumna Leah Rafaela Ceriello – beloved daughter, sister, partner, aunt and friend, internationally recognized interdisciplinary artist, and devoted educator – passed away at her home in Gloucester, MA on January 19 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.
Leah was a 2007 graduate of Merrimack Valley High School, where she was a varsity field hockey goalie and performed the role of Mrs. Potts in the U.S. high school premiere production of “Beauty and the Beast.” Leah discovered a passion for performance art at Montserrat College of Art. She founded the experimental art and research group “The Collective” as a way to build new platforms, exhibitions and connections for young artists across New England. Leah never missed a chance to lift up her colleagues, to share her successes by creating new opportunities, friendships and collaborations.
Leah received a Master of Fine Arts from Tufts University’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts. In graduate school, she honed her craft as a performance artist and explored new artistic disciplines: bookmaking, typography, graphic design, photography, printmaking and video. Leah taught herself every stage of textile arts. She learned to prepare and clean raw fleeces, to spin and ply yarn, to weave fabric, and to dye with natural materials, including mushrooms, cochineal, indigo and goldenrod. Her artistic practice expanded to include beautiful hand-dyed garments, yardage, yarn and blankets. As an experimental performance artist and as a weaver and craftsperson Leah approached her work with generosity, nonviolence, an ecological ethic, and unwavering discipline.
Leah’s own artwork was exhibited at major galleries and international festivals, including the Boston Center for the Arts, the Lublin International Performance Art Platform in Poland and the Skomvaer International Art Festival in Norway. In 2019, Leah began teaching time-based art practice and interdisciplinary studio practice at Montserrat College.
By her students and fellow teachers, especially at Montserrat College of Art and Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Leah will be remembered for the rare and fierce love that filled her classrooms. She shared freely her encyclopedic knowledge of experimental art practices and of advanced weaving and textile technologies. Her commitment to dynamic, anti-hierarchical, equitable education enriched the curriculums and communities where she taught.
Leah’s art strove to perceive, to realize, and to share the relationship between human time and geologic time, between our embodied and brief experience of change and growth and the earth’s endless gradations of melt, abrasion, still focus, eruption, return. Her performances and her textile work made time visible and physical to the people around her. Her sustained attention and generous discipline holds a space for human love – in which all who know and love her can share and live.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that contributions in Leah’s name be made to Montserrat College of Art, 23 Essex St., Beverly, MA 01915
A selection of her work, chosen by Leah, can be viewed at https://www.leahceriello.net/
Leah’s family will hold a memorial service in early July. The college will announce the services once they are arranged.
An exhibition of Leah’s performance work, which had been scheduled on the Montserrat Gallery calendar, will take place Feb. 24-28 performed by her loved ones and Montserrat students. More information about the times and locations of the performances will be posted on the Montserrat Gallery website soon.
The college has placed a basket at the front desk of Hardie for those who would like to leave messages of condolence that will be sent to her family.
The basked will remain through this week.