Audrey (Nye)'s Story
Former art teacher at Phillips Academy in Andover and accomplished potter, Audrey "Naut" Bensley, died on Friday, October 27, 2017, at her home at Edgewood Retirement Community in North Andover after a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was 87.
Audrey was born in South Orange, N.J., in 1930 and grew up in New Vernon. The daughter of Joseph and Else Nye, she and her three siblings often helped out on the family home and farm, giving her a passion for the country and horses. She made the All-New Jersey Field Hockey team and was a fearless equestrian, competing in shows with her horse “Sam.” It was really only after an auto accident in her late twenties that she could no longer do athletics.
Audrey graduated from Kent Place School in 1948, then while attending Hood College, married Gordon “Diz” Bensley in 1950. The couple moved to Andover, Mass., as young faculty members. Her outgoing personality and striking appearance made her a favorite early on. “She was independent, daring and chose to be an individual in a place set by strict standards,” wrote Margot Grover. “Students loved her. In fact, she was named ‘class girl’ by the class of 1951 an honor normally bestowed to Hollywood actresses. Audrey appeared in many of the school’s theatre productions." Naut played the heroines in Penrose Hallowell’s annual Shakespearean plays, noted her colleague Ginny Powell, “She was unforgettable and completely believable as an intriguing Cleopatra."
It wasn’t until 1965 that Audrey went into teaching. Her husband, Diz, had recently given her a potter’s wheel and when Abbot Academy (soon to merge with Phillips) offered her a position she jumped at the chance to be an instructor. “Teaching set the inquisitive Naut on to a continuing search for more knowledge, for intellectually she never accepted half-measures in ceramics,” wrote Powell. Audrey schooled herself in workshops in Maine, Quebec, New Hampshire, and later Japan where she studied with a Japanese master potter.
The ceramics department grew in popularity and with husband, Diz, the Bensleys’ co-taught many classes in Visual Studies. “The Bensleys’ space was a safe space, full of ideas and inspiration,” wrote Nick Stoneman, former student and president at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. “In the midst of the academic pressure of PA, they encouraged imagination and artistic experimentation. Little did we know that the foundation for our future appreciation of architecture, design, ideation, and entrepreneurship was being fostered.” Audrey went on to teach for 27 years before retiring in 1995.
At Andover, Audrey and Diz became close friends with painters Maud and Pat Morgan and mentored students by the likes of Frank Stella. The Morgans took them to Quebec one summer, where they fell in love with the area and purchased an old farmhouse overlooking the Saint Lawrence River. Family summers in Quebec were treasured, along with fly fishing, horseback riding, and blueberry picking.
After retirement, she and Diz purchased a home in Andover, Mass., and spent winters in Bradenton, Fla., where Audrey continued to teach and practice her ceramics. She exhibited her work in several locations, including the Addison Gallery and Gallery on the Green. Audrey and Diz were also involved with teaching at Camp Kieve in Maine where Diz would become a trustee. The daughter of the Camp Director, Nanne Kennedy reflected upon her passing as, “the woman who inspired me the most and taught me to live and take more than a breath into my lungs, and in this, I am not alone. How ironic she had to fight for hers."
Audrey, predeceased by son, Peter, leaves two sons, Chris of Andover and Zach of Hamilton; two daughters, Wendy Percival of Apia, Samoa, and Jennifer Eskioglou of Athens, Greece; 11 grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.
Services will be held on November 18 at 11 a.m. at the Cochran Chapel at Phillips Academy in Andover, followed by a reception at the Addison Gallery of Art.
Published on  November 1, 2017