by Guest Contributor James Neville, Art Teacher, Cincinnati Public Schools
CPS Art Teacher James Neville shows off his personalized Super Bowl XLI Bengals jersey
This story begins with Samantha Gaier, the museum’s Associate Director of School-Based Learning, asking about my personalized Super Bowl XLI Bengals jersey during a “visual arts professional development day” for art teachers with Cincinnati Public Schools. Little did she know, the jersey was just a small part of a larger story, a love story that began almost 40 years earlier.
I first met my future wife Alicia Ann Young when she moved to my part of town and joined Mrs. Gardner’s third grade class at Clough Pike Elementary in 1985. We stayed in school together through high school, but we never got together romantically.
Fifth grade class photo, with Alicia and James circled
Fast forward to Valentine’s Day 2015. I had gone to college for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and had been teaching K–6 art classes at CPS for three years. Alicia had been married and divorced with 19-year-old twin sons and had authored a highly successful poetry book titled Hell on Heels. The only contact we had at that point in our lives was Facebook, and I noticed that we shared many of the same interests and similar senses of humor. I sent her a DM, basically listing the reasons why we would make good “real life” friends and invited her to hang out sometime.
We first met for a drink in Clifton, before driving together to the Cincinnati Art Museum. We walked through much of the permanent exhibitions, and discussed art, life, family—and had a wonderful time. At one point, we were in the REC, and I made a tape and tissue paper sun-catcher. Alicia said this moment is when she first knew that she loved me. I didn’t even realize it was a date, which is probably why I didn’t kiss her until our second date! From that point forward, we were together. We were married in front of family in November 2017.
Over the years, personally and professionally, CAM has always held a special place in my heart. I have attended professional development programs at the museum such as Evenings for Educators and the Summer Teacher Institute. I have also brought students to the museum on field trips and participated in collaborative projects between the museum and CPS students.
Since Alicia and I have been together, we have been to the museum many times to see many of the amazing exhibitions, including 20 Black Artists, Hank Willis Thomas, and the Art of Burning Man—to name just a few. CAM is one of our favorite places for many reasons, which is why I chose it as the place to propose marriage to Alicia.
I decided how I was going to propose early in our relationship. When the time came, I contacted the museum and put the plan in motion. I drew a picture of myself proposing, framed it, and had it placed on a small table on the third floor gallery for the big day. On that perfect day in early June, Alicia and I arrived at CAM and began perusing the wonderful artworks as usual. At the predetermined time, I suggested that we check out the third floor gallery. As we walked around, looking at the artwork, I began to prepare to pop the question.
We arrived at the back of the gallery, where she noticed my framed drawing on the table and moved in for a closer look. When she realized what it was, she turned towards me, and there I was—just like in the picture—on one knee, ring in hand, saying “Alicia, I love you. Will you marry me?”
She said, “Yes!” and in 2022, we celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary. That year our favorite football team, the Cincinnati Bengals, played in the Super Bowl. We celebrated our fifth anniversary with personalized Super Bowl XLI jerseys. Alicia’s says MRSNEVILLE on the back, and mine, MRNEVILLE. She is number 11, and I am number 17, in honor of our anniversary, 11-17-2017.
And there you have it: the story of the jersey, the love story that inspired it, and how and why the Cincinnati Art Museum continues to be one of the Neville family’s favorite places to visit.