A contemporary artist with a special touch for helping kids
Milstein and Soufflé, in the stunning carport she covered in a mosaic of glass, ceramic, and stone with the help of friends and neighbors.
Photos by Sally Semonite Green
Driving up the driveway, I stop twice, first to peer at what I later learned was Sandy’s Woods, a modern-day Stonehenge of wooden sculptures made from trees fallen after Hurricane Sandy and birds of all sort, and then at the beautiful mosaic carport perched at the top of the driveway. Ilo Milton Milstein welcomes me as her gorgeous Bernese mountain dog, Soufflé, pushes the glass door open with her nose, happy for the new visitor.
Milstein is a therapist who “helps kids with their problems, using art” and a contemporary folk artist who likes to “build and create stuff.” She holds a BFA in art and a master’s in art therapy and creativity development, as well as a master’s in social work. Asked whether she is more an artist or therapist, she replies, “I’d split that down the middle.” When I emerge three hours later, I agree, feeling both better and inspired.
We soon settle in at her kitchen table, and I take in the red, free-form islands on wheels, the colorful totem pole in the corner, and the kilim pillows spilling across the window seat. She tells me of how she taught in a boarding school for girls in Afghanistan, and how they are secretly educated in hopes of changing their country.
Today, Milstein continues to sponsor the students as they further their education in the United States. She tells me of her work at a children’s grief center, which is near and dear to her heart, and of what her ideal dream job would be—working for a Family Court judge in New York City, advising on what would be best for the children. Then she describes the renovations she’s done to the house and makes me laugh.
As we tour her contemporary home, it’s easy to see why Milstein is an effective therapist, using her love of art and “building stuff” to help kids heal. Her four-bay garage has been turned into a one-bay garage and three-bay art studio.
I wander the bays in total amazement as she describes various projects underway. Pottery pieces, eggshells to be turned into mosaics, old furniture with gorgeous glass-mosaic tops set in resin (“just experiments”), glove-clad hands emerging from walls, rolling pins cut in half, doll heads set into a burka, metal sculptures, small, colorful wooden bowling pins and painted blocks, printing- press letters, drawers filled with collections of miniature everything, kilns, her father’s drill press, and walls hung with tools. I never want to leave.
At the end of the tour, we walk out to the carport together. It is covered in a glittering, colorful mélange of mirror, glass, dishes, tiny animals, teapot handles, metal wheels, copper suns and moons, and whatever odds and ends some neigh- bor or friend decided might look good grouted in. It started when her friend, Barbara Cooper, took a trip to Barcelona to see the Gaudi buildings and came back raving about them.
It just so happened that Milstein had collected boxes of scrap glass from her friend, Marty Kremer, a well-known local artist. “I couldn’t let him just throw them out!” she ex- claims. Cooper and Milstein decided they needed to do a big project. “The carport!” The next thing they knew, they were cleaning it out, waterproofing the wooden walls, and gluing things on. Cooper started on one end and Milstein the other, with no plan other than to include a portrait of Soufflé.
Her Pound Ridge neighbors started noticing and stopping by to help, and the mosaic grew into a project of love for everyone. The carport- now-turned-dining room has three interior walls and window-wells finished, but the exterior walls and ceiling are still under consideration. As we lounge there on an unseasonably warm day, I watch the sun turn the walls into ever-changing streams of movement.
Before I leave, I ask Milstein for a quick list of what else she likes to do. She laughs and says, “Oh let’s see, kayaking, fly-fishing, gardening, making wedding cakes for friends, sorting things—I love to sort things. And if someone gave me 15 left sneakers, I could play all day long.”
As I drive away, I realize I have no doubt that this is true.