Nancy Behles Overcame Challenges to Become a Beloved Teacher at North Shore Art League

Nancy Behles, who teaches primarily 3rd through 5th graders at the North Shore Art League, is one of the North Shore’s most dedicated art educators.

Jason Miklik of Wilmette, who also teaches at the North Shore Art League, calls Behles “a teacher of genius.”

“The sound basis of Nancy’s approach in education lays an empowering foundation, whether her students pursue art or any other creative future,” he says.

Meanwhile, Behles, 59, says she simply tries to expose her students to as much media as possible, and every one of her lessons includes some history or key concepts such as color, form, line and texture. They always have a beautiful product to take home, as well as lots of information coming at them along the way.

Behles is also a working oil painter—you can see her work in the window of 818 Church St. in Evanston until about the second week of September, or in the North Shore Art League’s Members Show opening Sept. 11—but describes herself as an art educator first.

And Behles has overcome a daunting challenge to teach art: She knew she wanted to pursue art education long before discovering that she had a congenital eye disease that made her vision “very poor.” She has had 11 eye operations, including 7 cornea transplants—and struggles with her vision led her to leave teaching in public schools to do merchandising work for store windows for several years. In 2001, a pair of surgeries radically improved her vision and allowed her to accept the teaching position at the North Shore Art League and return to her passion.

Because she teaches after-school classes where students come of their own volition, Behles says her job is really a pleasure.

“They’re like little birdies with their mouths open—they just want me to feed them,” she says.