October 31, 2009

The above photograph is one of Monte starting the clean up in the Clubhouse at Big Lake after a flood, most likely in 1973.  Notice two things: the first is the hat Monte is wearing.  Sharyl learned a great many skills while married to Monte.  One was knitting (because of economics, Sharyl became quite adept at many hand crafts.  Often times she would give away during the Christmas season).  Monte wore this black and brown knitted, winter hat for many, many years.  It still is in existence and in the possession of his son, Eric.

The other interesting item is in the upper left hand portion of the photograph is a print of Monte’s painting, Misty Return.  This was a very large oil painting and seen below.

UPDATE – The first thought print is not a print, but the actual painting, Misty Return.  This was learned after reading an old profile of Monte.

It is not known who owns this original.


More about Sharyl…..

October 31, 2009

This is a photograph of Sharyl down at the Duck Island Hunting Club in 1973.  To many people this site is thought of as the Big Lake area.  Behind Sharyl is her cat Fritz and in the background, the Ellis family’s pet Labrador, Pet. This area consisted of a large, privately owned hunting area in the Illinois River bottoms.  The site had numerous out buildings, a main house and an olive drab clubhouse many cherished to have access to.

Often times during wet periods of the year, entry to the location had to be reached by boat traffic along the Illinois River.

After Monte became the on-site manager, sometime during 1969 and until 1974, Monte and Sharyl and their two children, Kathy and Eric, lived at this area.  More will be written about this site and its impact on Monte later.

This is a posting more about Sharyl and her sacrifices to Monte and his art.

Sharyl married Monte when she was very young.  Early on her devotion to Monte was clear.  If not for Sharyl and her later economic and unselfish spousal support, Monte’s artwork would have severely suffered.   Additionally, the Ellis family would have struggled quite a deal more without the help of many generous family members and benefactors met through their lives.

It also needs to be emphasized, several of Monte’s brothers worked at  this site and provided Monte with tremendous help in the caretaking of this massive area.

For years, Sharyl worked at the Blessman Pharmacy in Canton, IL to help make ends meet.  While raising two children, working full-time and helping Monte manage this area, it was clear what a hard worker Sharyl was.  Not only that, she was also responsible for helping Monte regarding the upkeep of this large site and the taking care of influential hunters during waterfowl season.  These hunters would arrive late in the week and stay at the clubhouse during the weekend and Sharyl would be responsible for their meals and sundries at the clubhouse.

Monte was known to tell the story of one wealthy hunter who would show his disapproval of a cooked meal by chewing up one bite of a steak, spitting it out on top of the rest of the steak and sending it back  to the Ellis kitchen.  Recall, during this time, Sharyl was a very young woman and not yet the fine cook she came to be later on.

Both Monte and Sharyl loved this location a great deal.  It was a great opportunity for Monte and an excellent learning experience in many ways for Sharyl.

Sadly, the nine-year stay at Big Lake would come back to haunt Sharyl in different ways.  For one, the cleaning of the buildings, and especially the Club House, involved contact with bird, bat and mice feces.  During this time frame, proper precautions were not always taken when dealing with these droppings.  Later in her life, Sharyl was diagnosed with histoplasmosis and later with Lieukeima.  Near the end of her life, her lung capacity and breathing troubles, along with the loss of her daughter to lung cancer, greatly influenced her mental strength to carry on.  She passed away in 2007.

She also recognized this nine-year period as one of the happiest times of her life and often looked back on it with fondness.  Even when thinking of the man who would spit a bite of food back on his plate when dissatisfied.

To those who knew Monte, it was clear what his political views were.  He was clearly a Democrat and geared toward environmental politics. His love of the natural world goes unquestioned.

His brother Jared died before him and his death took a great toll on him.  More will be written about Jared. This post is about Monte and his relationship with his conservative brother Lonnie.

To appreciate this relationship, one must recall, Monte was a very strong liberal and Lonnie, a very strong conservative.  Ideology and political wise, these two were polar opposites and clashed often.  In the Ellis family, Lonnie and his political slant were actually against the norm.  Their father, John, as with most of the Ellis family, was a tremendous union person and staunch Democrat.

Though Lonnie was of a different political persuasion, he still was one of the hardest working people known to Monte. Not only that of being an extremely hard worker, Lonnie was also a tremendously loyal brother.  After Kathy and Sharyl died, Monte was known to tell the story of how Lonnie called him and told him to be sure to call him if there was anything he would ever need and that he always wanted to help his brother.  Lonnie told Monte that he wanted to be sure he would be okay and when Monte asked him if that meant “financially, ”   Lonnie told him, “absolutely.”  Now, remember, Lonnie was the exception to the norm in the Ellis family in being a Republican and while being so, put such differences aside.

Shortly after Kathy passed away in 2005, Sharyl made a tape memorializing the last periods of Kathy’s life and remarked how touched Kathy was that Lonnie and his wife Mona came all the way to Ashland, Illinois from Texas for a benefit held for Kathy, Frank and their son Kristopher.



A few words about Kathy…

October 27, 2009

Kathy was the daughter of Monte and Sharyl.  She passed away in 2005.  Kathy took after her mother in the way that she always put others before herself.  She married a kind and wonderful man named Frank Hill and had a son named Kristopher. In some ways, Kathy led a very tough life, but through no fault of her own.

Partial lyrics to the song Vincent, by Don McLean aptly describe Kathy,

this world was never
meant for one
as beautiful as you.

Kathy was an extremely hard worker.  And as with her Mother, she only wanted all of her family to get along.   She was also a great believer in people and gave most people the benefit of the doubt.  Even when they were not what they seemed.

Just before she died from lung cancer, she told her brother it was not dying she feared, but instead she was more worried about how her husband and son would deal with her passing.  Kathy was always toughest on herself and too giving to others, even when those she gave to did not deserve it.

October 27, 2009

File0160This is a pastel of a labrador puppy by Monte.  At first it was thought to be a portrait done by Monte.  During one period, he did portraits for money and was not fond of doing so.

After he passed away, the original was found in a portfolio case.  Note the vibrant colors.

Monte and alcohol….

October 27, 2009

It is very well known, Monte loved alcohol.  There are many reasons why people have such a draw and fondness toward this substance.  In Monte’s case he was known to state it was an antidote to many things.  A coping mechanism, if you will. For those who don’t need this sort of coping item, it may be hard to explain or hard to understand.  Frankly, Monte did not care if they understood or did not.

There are many factors that can be examined to help explain Monte’s draw to alcohol.  One would be, that like so many others, Monte liked to have a good time.  Monte grew up in the fifties, ran with the music crowd and enjoyed the bar scene of yesterday.  Not only these, like so many others, Monte used alcohol to placate his demons.

One of the many things many don’t realize about Monte was his love of nature.  He loved nature so much, it hurt him deeply to see how the modern man disregarded nature.  Now, this is not to state he did not care about “man” – because that would be an understatemnet.  Monte love the idea of “man” and the “nature of man.”  He strongly believed in evolution and thought creationism was based on error, myth and not based in science.  For a strange contradiction, while Monte was a pure artist, he was also a literal believer in evolution and science.

This is pointed out to illustrate how he used alcohol to fight this love of nature.  For a long period of time, Monte would watch many nature programs, grew to be a great environmentalist and joined all of the most obvious environmental groups.  But later in his life, he quit doing this because of the pain it caused him to see things such as the eradication of the Amazon Rain Forest, the extinction of animals and lack of respect for the arts.

All people believe their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and grandmothers are without flaws.  As with Monte, Sharyl had her own flaws, but those were few and her great qualities greatly outnumbered her flaws.

Sharyl died in 2007 at the age of 62.  Sharyl was a beautiful woman who constantly put her own interests last before those of other people.  Sharyl and Monte and their family were quite poor most of their lives, and near the end of her own life, she gave away large sums of money from her own retirement fund to other people.  Most of this money was never repaid.  She also was a complex person who was known to speak her mind and quite fond of using the word “fuck” whenever she wanted.

One of her greatest desires was simply for all her family to just get along.  Sharyl was a RN and last worked as a hospice nurse. Many, many families wrote to her and others regarding her skills as a hospice nurse.   Arguably, one of her greatest skills of a hospice nurse was to never lie to a patient.  While not honest to them in an uncaring manner, she would be truthful to them in a way they wanted to be treated.

One of her greatest periods of sadness was watching her daughter, Kathy, succumb to cancer at the age of 43.

It would be fair to state, many who knew Sharyl were surprised at how well she put up with Monte’s “shit” for so long.



The Complexity of Monte

October 27, 2009

Monte was a very complex person.   Along with his good qualities, he also had his faults.  As this blog goes forward, each of these areas will be revealed.

One thing often misunderstood regarding Monte was a perception of laziness when contrasted to ideas.  He thrived on developing new artistic pieces, but quickly bored with them when it came to the topic and practice of the means of mass production.  Like many artists, Monte also had an uncommon eye for a level of perfection, that to the artist, can never be met.  Many people, even his wife Sharyl, did not appreciate the self-perceived, progression of one’s art to the eye of an artist when compared to that of a consumer of art. Often times, Sharyl would be mistakenly concerned Monte would destroy older pieces of his art under the belief the act was out of spite, anger or some other reason, when instead, because to many artists, the early work to the latest work shows a progression that is hurtful to their artistic eye.

In time, when a variety of his artwork is shown here, this progression from a young, learning artist to that of a master, will be very easily seen.

The sad thing about when this huge progression is noticed, one may wonder what would have happened if Monte had not been stricken with cancer around 1992 and lived beyond his age of 69 in 2009.

Sometime around 1992, Monte was stricken with colon cancer.  His treatment, physically wise, was a success.  Unfortunately, during the surgery, Monte was over-anesthetized, which resulted in brain damage.    All during this time, many thought his behavior was due to depression, his abuse of alcohol and other things.  The brain damage was not properly diagnosed until more than five years later.

While Monte was going through this period, he was known to tell people he just did not “see” the same anymore.  He would tell people his art just did not look the same.  People that did not have his artistic eye just did not understand this.

Painfully, in the year or so before his death, he told his son he was finally starting to see like he used to.


October 27, 2009

This is a clay sculpture of a fisherman Monte created.  This photograph comes from a profile in the Peoria Journal Star many years ago.

Zoom in to notice the fine detail in this piece.  Also, notice the high cheek bones and nose structure.  Even though Monte received very, very little formal schooling in art, from many of his pieces, it is clear he did favor the classics.

For some reason Monte never made a cast of this sculpture.  It still exists, but is in a state of disrepair and in the possession of his son, Eric.

October 26, 2009

This is a pastel of a tiger and two tiger cubs.  It is sort of graphic, but Monte had great appreciation for nature, the laws of nature and the brutality of nature.
The striking thing regarding this paste is its size.  This pastel is approximately six feet by five feet.