Odds and ends…

February 27, 2010

From time to time, Monte would do work on fliers for local events or announcements.  The first image is from a fund-raising event for the local fire department.  The next one is from some sort of possible fair illustration and the last one, well, who can tell.

The origins or purposes of the last two aren’t known.

For the longest time at the formerly named “9-24 Club” (located in Banner at the Route 9 and 24 intersection), there was a humorously lettered placard behind the bar in Monte’s calligraphic handwriting declaring, “Free Beer And Fish Tomorrow.”



Ellis Family Support

February 27, 2010

With all of Monte’s talent, from the artistic to the musical, none of it would have been possible if not for an extremely wide and deep group of supporters.   It is quite possible there are even others out there not known about because Monte has passed away and can’t be asked.

Below is a photograph of Monte’s parent’s Zelma and John Ellis later in life.

Zelma passed away in 2003 and John in 2004.  Not enough good things can be written about these two people.  Zelma and John raised six boys, each of who were successful in their own ways.   The best way to describe the way they led their lives and raised their nuclear family and influenced the development of the branching-out limbs of their expanding family, is to be able to make the honest claim, their lives was the epitome of living the American Dream.

When it comes to Zelma, unfortunately, some today incorrectly assign the word “homemaker” with less respect than it deserves.  During their lives, Zelma’s “homemaking” skills were ones for a person to be proud of.  Along with providing tangible needs for her family, Zelma was also instrumental for instilling important humane values to those in her family.   Zelma was one of those people where if you disappointed her, then you knew you really messed up and it was through no one’s fault but your own.  Throughout her life, she was a hard-working, kind, generous and pleasant person.  When it came to commenting on the character of other people, if she had nothing good to say about a person, than she would not say a thing at all.

All through his life, Monte was always concerned with the opinion of his mother and did the best he could to avoid her ire.

John was an extremely hard worker and seemed to never tire.  After putting in a long day at a local factory, he would then come home and put in just as many hours in their huge garden or on other tasks.  Physically fit all of his life, John was not one to shy from hard work, even later when in his seventies and eighties.  He was also a premiere fisherman and skilled enough to knit his own hoop and trammel nets.  John was also a staunch Democrat.  Later in life during the second Bush presidency, he would remark how the Democratic Party was finished and just waiting to be buried.  Most likely, he would have been amazed at the shifting  political landscape in 2008 and how quickly his Democratic Party rebounded (though he still would probably be disappointed in the plight of the government’s behavior toward the working man).   John was also widely intelligent and when given the opportunity, a wonderful conversationalist on a variety of subjects.

John and Zelma’s work ethics definitely had an impact on Monte, however, there was an area of resentment regarding Monte’s feelings toward his father.  This resentment deal with Monte’s perception of how his father viewed wildlife and the natural world.  In Monte’s view, he felt his father thought wildlife and nature existed  for the use of Man and for them to be used at Man’s leisure and in any way Man saw fit.  There is one story Monte would tell, where as much younger, he was in the presence of his father when hunting and the hunted animal was being killed more for sport than for eating.  This experience greatly troubled Monte and stayed with him for a very long time.  As explained earlier, while Monte did enjoy eating wild game and bore little, disgust toward those who did hunt for the pleasure of eating the game, he thought differently of the killing of wildlife for the mere sport of just killing an animal.

Several things should be pointed out in John’s defense when it does to come hunting.  The first is, when John was young, as the stories are told, animals for hunting were extremely plentiful, especially waterfowl.  Many times, hunters of many years ago would brag of how the sky was black with flying ducks.  Another thing is later in his life, John’s views on hunting and the environment did somewhat change.  At the end of the day though, it’s probably not disputed that John enjoyed fishing more than hunting and was much better at it, too.

In his later years, Monte would lament how he should have worked harder to be closer to his own father.

Above is a photograph of the John Ellis family and five of the sons.   Top row, from left to right, Zelma holding Fred, Monte, John holding Jared. Bottom row sitting, left to right, Larry and Lonnie.  Their brother Jon had not been born yet (regarding this, Monte would often tell how it was awkward for him when around his peers to explain a pregnant mother while he was so “old”).

Below is a photograph of  Monte, Monte and Sharyl’s daughter Kathy, Monte’s younger brother, Jon, and Monte and Sharyl’s son, Eric.  This photograph is from when the Monte Ellis family lived at “Big Lake.”  It’s hard to see in this image, but Jon is pretending to strike Monte with a hammer in his right hand.

The Monte Ellis family were quite fortunate to have the family they did.  At different periods, it was not uncommon for money to be tight for the Monte Ellis family and Sharyl would often point out if not for the larger Ellis family (and her own), including Monte’s brothers, Christmas time for the young children of Monte and Sharyl would have been much different from what they were.

The total impact of the influence Monte’s family had upon his ability to ply his craft, both financially and otherwise, is impossible to be completely described in the manner deserved.

A few early paintings

February 24, 2010

Below is an early still life painting by Monte.

An early Grizzly bear painting.

Below is a commissioned painting of a horse.  Monte was not known for many pieces of art work involving domesticated animals.   It is not known who owns this painting.

Other mysteries of art…..

February 21, 2010

Below are three more illustrations created by Monte with unknown origins.   It would be interesting to know the ideas behind these pieces.

At first glance, the above drawing appears to be just a color version of an earlier posted black and white version.  A closer examination of the two will reveal there are slight differences.  For one, the neck to the deer is slightly moved backward in the above illustration and in the the pencil drawing, the raccoon and squirrel are on the back of the deer.  Other subtle differences are also present in the two illustrations.

Below are two more photographs of commissioned pieces of artwork created by Monte.  No information remains explaining these pieces or identifying the persons who commissioned them.

The only thing that is clear is these two items are quite dated.

From this to that….

February 21, 2010

Below is the rough sketch draft of a commissioned canine painting.

The picture below is a Polaroid picture of Monte working on the commissioned canine painting.  The typed date on the Polaroid shows March of 1967.  Monte would have been around 27 years of age at this time.

Below is a photograph of the finished product.

Miscellaneous Sculptures

February 19, 2010

Below are a variety of sculptures Monte did throughout his life, roughly in the chronological order when the sculptures were completed.  Again, an examination of the pieces show the artistic progression of Monte’s skills when it comes his sculpting and three-dimensional, artistic skills.

Killdeers are known to feign broken wing injuries to distract predators away from their nests.  This same display was posted earlier in photographs from the Riverbank Gallery and of Monte at a wildlife art show.

Many years ago in a local newspaper profile, Monte was photographed working on a clay sculpture of a bass chasing a minnow.  To simulate a darting minnow, Monte suspended the minnow on a thin wire.  As mentioned earlier, Monte did not produce a large body of work featuring fish.  Other than in the photograph in the old newspaper clipping, the clay sculpture of the bass no longer exists.

The importance of he Morel mushroom sculpture is it was created during an era when Monte started experimenting more and more with improved casting materials with the capability to capture the fine detail he sought to record.  The above Morel is not a mold of an existing Morel mushroom plucked from the ground, but a first sculpted Morel mushroom reproduced through casting procedures.

Monte’s goal was to create a process where he, or others in his employ, could mass-reproduce his pieces for later selling.

Below is an earlier display version of Monte’s Marsh Wren.

In the summer of 1974, Monte made a canoe trip from Canada to the Arctic Circle with three other men that lasted almost two months.

He made this trip with Marvin Robinson, Monte’s cousin Bob Fidler and another man.   When the trip started, Monte was 35 years of age.

For those that didn’t know Monte, he was not the most physically of active people, prone to enjoy a drink and a smoker.

Along with this trip, Monte tried to keep a daily journal and took along his guitar and an art kit.   What he did not realize prior to the trip, the rigorous aspects of this journey left him physically exhausted and with little time to write, play music or artistically record what he saw during this journey.

What does exist in his journal includes some sketches of what he saw and words describing this amazing task.  Monte was also frank about his feelings and was personally, uncharacteristically open about himself in this journal.  In the journal he admitted to physical self-doubt about the trip as it went on and expressed how he felt he was the weaker link of the four on this trip.  Also, for various reasons, he grew to loath the fourth, unnamed man in this journey, but had the integrity to admit this man possessed great strength and tenacity during this trip.  He also mentioned in his journal how this man, who was paired with Monte in their canoe, carried more than the fair share of the load between them.  He added how on portages of great exertion, this man would portage the canoe and carry two backpacks at one time, while Monte could only carry one.

In his journal Monte also has kind words for his cousin and remarked how as the trip progressed, the more he grew to appreciate Bob.

There are two odd things reflected in his writings and recordings of this trip.  The first is, for reasons unknown, later in life, Monte’s appreciation of his cousin Bob dwindled.  The other item is the sparse words Monte recorded regarding Marv, who would become one of Monte’s most loyal and beloved friends until the end of Monte’s life.  There are probably several reasons for this omission.   One might have been his admiration for Marv may have been the sort that can be left unsaid and such respect need not be written of.

Monte does write about an episode where Marv made a cake for Monte’s July 23rd birthday.  His admiration of that day is clear in the journal.  Additionally, Monte writes of episodes where Marv and he were able to break out their musical instruments and jam in the wild.  One such occasion involved concerts at a wayward post deep in the wilderness of the northern hemisphere.

Throughout his life, Monte attributed this journey to being one of the most proudest periods in his life.

Below are illustrations and images related to this experience.

Notice two things:  the first is how Monte kind of resembles a dark haired Lee Marvin.  The other is his pair of boots.  For some reason, Monte was found of wearing the bottom portion of cut off hip-wader boots as footwear.


Above is a rough sketch of the four journeymen doing something.

Above is a sketch depicting the hardship of some of the portages these men had to make during this trip.  The image along the left of is of two of them trying to get a canoe up a steep incline.

Above is a sketch of the four men “shooting the rapids.”  In Monte’s journal he writes of almost drowning after being capsized from their canoe.  He really thought he was going to drown. Marv later said he did as well.

The men relaxing on a rock.  The man with the pipe is most likely Monte’s cousin, Bob.

This is a drawing of a night time paddling session of the four men.  In his journal, Monte wrote sometimes because of rough waters and strong head winds, traveling at night was the best way to make good distance.

A sketch of a lone member making a portage.  This could be a self-portrait of Monte and his art case.  Oddly, later in the trip, Monte’s art supplies became so burdensome to carry that he had them sent back by plane.  For his love of art, in his journal, Monte states he was quite happy to send them back.

Monte love Loons and the calling of Loons.  It is possible, this earlier posted Loon drawing came from this trip.

Above is a picture of Monte in the foreground, the family pet, Scuzz.  In the upper, right corner of the picture the is a photographic collage Marv made of Monte pertaining to their trip to the Arctic Circle.   It is a true work of love from one friend to another.   Monte’s son, Eric, retains this collage.

There is an interesting story about how their dog got the name “Scuzz.”  This dog was a stray that their daughter Kathy found and brought home to them.  At first, Sharyl did not want this dog and would demand the dog be given away to someone else.  Each night when Sharyl would come home from her nursing job, she would curse the presence of this “scuzzy” dog and how she wanted it gone.  When she felt no one would listen to her, she said she would continue to call the dog “Scuzzy” until members of the family felt too humiliated to keep a dog named “Scuzzy.”  She lost out, the dog was kept and she grew to love this dog as much as anyone else.

As a puppy it could not even climb up on to the family couch.

A variety of pencils….

February 9, 2010

After Monte’s death on June 3, 2009, it was not uncommon for people who knew Monte to make various comments of how “he wasted his talent.” For people fortunate to know Monte, able to see a great deal of his artwork and with knowledge of his other abilities, such a belief was quite understandable and not taken as an insult.  However, it was an incorrect assumption.  Monte did not waste his talent, but instead, was a vastly misunderstood artist when it came to any belief of him wasting his talent.

When it came to his artistic work habits, many people may not have realized Monte possessed a deep, possibly unrealistic, perfectionist streak, where to him, no piece was ever complete enough for public viewing or purchase.   Many times, upon viewing a piece he had sold, even years later, he would point to improvements he should have made to the piece while he had the opportunity.  On top of this, it is quite possible Monte had a hard time parting with works of art he put so much time and effort into into.

Monte also lacked a strong desire to enter the world of marketing and self-promotion needed to ensure financial success his artwork should have brought.  He also was quite discouraged about how the arts in America were viewed and treated.

Another issue, even though it seems contradictory to his perfectionist streak, involved his own knowledge of the width of this talent.  Existing in a relatively small, populated region, throughout his life compliments toward his talents were many and may have led to a perception his talent should do the hard work for him.  In one way, his awareness of his talent may have caused the belief people should come to him, rather than he become a successful self-promoter.

Still, with these faults, he had good reasons to have appeared to have “wasted his talent” when it came to financial success.

For one, his love of Nature was unmatched and he possessed a strong drive to reproduce the natural world in an accurate manner. Often, he would profess he cared more about the natural world than that of man.  His love of Nature cannot be over emphasized, nor his disgust when it came to man’s treatment of nature.  Monte would become quite stubborn when asked to compromise these beliefs.

At one point or another, many of the Ellis family were able to work at the Duck Island Gun and Hunting Club (from here on out, this establishment will be referred to as “Big Lake.”)  Monte was site manager of this area from around 1965 until 1974.  This period of his life was instrumental in his artistic development and love of nature.  Often times, Monte and Sharyl would remark how this was one of the most enjoyable periods of their life.   Through journals, Monte also revealed how this period was also one filled of great consternation for him when it came to his art, observations of nature and how he saw how others behaved in nature.

Later, more will be added of the impact this site had upon Monte.

During this time at Big Lake, one other aspect had great influence upon Monte and his desire for marketing and the selling of his artwork.   The exact details are not clear, but near what would be the end of his tenure as site manager of Big Lake, Monte met a man who made great promises and predictions to him regarding his artistic and financial future.

Placing a strong belief in these predictions, in 1975 Monte signed a contract with an art distributorship company that involved very restrictive contractual standards when it came to his artwork.  This contract entailed a stipend of $600 dollars a month for one painting every two months.  Recall, Monte had a deep issue when it came to artistic perfection.  To him, no piece of artwork was ever finished and always in need of refinement, so finishing a painting to his standards in two months was an almost impossible task for Monte.

This contract also required Monte show all of his artwork to this company with the understanding the company could pick and choose the best pieces of his  artwork and do with them what it thought best.

Along with this contract, people involved in this company persuaded Monte he should focus fully on art production and must quit the site manager job at Big Lake.

For these reasons and a naivety of the commercial art world, along with the incorrect belief his family hated living deep in the Illinois River bottoms, Monte chose to follow this recommendation and relinquished the site manager job.   These decisions turned out to trouble Monte and Sharyl for years to come.

Soon after, the Monte Ellis family moved to a small house in Banner, IL and Monte purchased a cabin along the Illinois River from his cousin Johnny Greg Riley.  This cabin would later became known as the River Bank Gallery.

Another facet of art consumption which grated on Monte was how those with a less keen eye toward fine arts commonly thought such productions were easy to complete with little effort and underestimate their worth.  From time to time, while in local taverns, Monte would be asked to paint subjects such as a hunter’s Labrador Retriever with a duck in its mouth or with the hunter’s favorite shotgun and then become stunned or belligerent when informed of the costs involved to fine art.  To some of these people, it was hard to understand there was more to painting than slapping paint on a canvas in a haphazard way.

Another point where Monte refused to compromise his art involved him being approached to paint a painting for the cover of a popular outdoor magazine.  The request was for Monte to create a wildlife painting large enough so a shotgun could be placed upon the illustration for the a  front cover this magazine.  Monte declined due to the amount of work needed and the measly pay such commission offered.

One last incident that may have led to the misunderstanding of Monte’s drive dealt with his colon cancer surgery in 1992.  During surgery, he was over-anesthetized, which resulted in undiagnosed brain damage.  After his recovery and for years later, he would tell people he no longer “saw” things the same.  Frequently, people ascribed his comments and behavior to either depression or laziness.   After years of seeking different forms of treatment from several doctors, Monte found a psychologist able to correctly diagnose his brain damage.  Unfortunately, the actual discovery of the brain damage was beyond the statute of limitations for any sort of legal recourse.

Oddly, near the end of his life, Monte would remark that he was finally starting to “see” things like he used to prior to his colon cancer.