Two more very early paintings

November 27, 2010

Below are two more early paintings by Monte.  Again, they are posted to show contrast regarding his artistic progression.

The top waterfowl painting is a water-color painting and the bass fish painting possibly of acrylic paint.   As noted earlier, fish were not often the subject matter of his artwork.

The exact dates of each painting are not known.


A mountain pastel

November 22, 2010

Monte received great artistic inspiration from canoe trips to the Arctic Circle and Canada in the 1970’s.  Above is one pastel inspired from such trips.  Recall, in a much earlier interview with the Peoria Journal Star, Monte stated many of his artistic conceptual ideas came from memory of things he had seen.

More examples of these pastels will be posted in the future.

Monte and Music

November 21, 2010

Monte was quite fond of music.  He was a self-taught musician and near the end of his life, had greatly expanded his horizon when it came to the listening of music.  Monte could play the guitar, banjo, violin and harmonica quite well.  When the Monte Ellis family lived at Big Lake, Monte and Sharyl’s daughter Kathy expressed a desire to play the piano.  After Kathy started taking lessons, an oak, grand piano was purchased from an unknown person.  Eventually, Kathy’s desire to learn the piano was curtailed, mainly by strict, regimented lessons taught by a firm instructor that tended to shy away from spirited play, while enforcing classical teaching methods.  For some time, Monte and Sharyl tried to force Kathy to play the piano, but she resisted the regimented lessons and eventually quit playing.  Many years later, Monte’s son Eric asked Monte why he was not encouraged to learn how to play a musical instrument and Monte replied he and Sharyl had not wanted to make the same mistake they had made with Kathy and had hoped the desire to play musical instruments would find its way to Eric.


Kathy playing piano at Big Lake


While Monte’s skills at a piano were very limited and not that refined, memories of him “plinking” on it can be recalled.  Years later the piano was sold to Monte’s long time, close personal friend, Marv Robinson.

Through his time, Monte also experimented with a large variety of musical instruments.  These included instruments from bongo drums to wind instruments, such as the oboe.  Below is an earlier posted photo depicting Monte playing his own custom-built, one man music machine.   This device contains drums, snares and even a tambourine and still exists.

Through out his life, Monte played music with others in a variety of places.  Much of his violin playing was refined under the tutelage of his Grandfather Ernie Fidler.  At times, during family gatherings, Ernie and Monte would play music together in Monterey, Illinois at the John and Zelma Ellis home.

Sharyl Ellis, Ernie Fidler, Monterey, Illinois

Later, Monte would play with others at local venues, which included taverns, the old Banner Town Hall and local benefit-type events.  As Monte aged, he played less and less outside of his own home and when he did play music, if not by himself, it was mostly only with Marv.

When it came to listening to music, Monte was more impressed with the quality of an artist, rather than the popularity of an artist.  While Monte appreciated the attention a musician like Ricky Skaggs brought to Bluegrass music, he did not care for what he perceived as the trait of people putting their popularity before that of the craft.

Monte’s knowledge base of music was quite broad, too.  One time, through a music compilation disc, an old song called Swan Blues was played and to the surprise of those present, Monte blurted out that the song was performed by King Pleasure.

Monte greatly appreciated singers/songwriters who told life-lesson like tales in their music, such as Jim Croce.  He was quite fond of standards such as Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down and Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain.

Later, Monte splurged and bought an expensive Bose radio and through acquaintances, he would often play this radio and loaned compact discs to further expand his listening tastes.  Slowly, he grew fond of newer music and started to appreciate newer artists that showed more concern over quality and longevity, such as Steve Earle and Ray LaMontgane.

Unfortunately, Monte also developed a taste for early music of the Eagles, but that was mostly for their years ago focus on acoustically tinged songs.


When Sharyl and Monte were newlyweds, both agreed Sharyl was not a particularly good cook.  This is mentioned because one of the tasks while the Ellis family lived at Big Lake was for Sharyl to cook meals for the hunters residing at the Big Lake Clubhouse during hunting seasons.  Over the years, Sharyl had plenty of help, often from her younger sister Susan and others and before long, Sharyl became quite a good cook and like Monte, quickly adapted to making well received dishes out of normal things found in the kitchen.

Monte and Sharyl also told of one picky hunter, who if he did not care for his food, would spit the first bite back on to the plate and send it back to the kitchen.

Below is a photograph of Gladys Strode, Sharyl’s mother, in the kitchen at Big Lake.  The decorative lamp in the upper left corner was made by Monte from a small wooden barrel.


Sharyl's Mother Gladys in the Big Lake Kitchen


One good thing about living at Big Lake was the opportunity to eat wild game and fish.  Often, hunters would give Monte and other duck hunting pushers waterfowl during the hunting seasons.   Fish was another frequent food item on the Ellis table.

Below is a photograph of Sharyl and a channel catfish.

Monte and his younger brother Fred, Big Lake, with fish


Monte and Eric, posing with ducks and geese


When Kathy and Eric were growing up at Big Lake, candy and sweets were more of luxury item than a common staple.  Sharyl did her best to provide the Ellis children with desserts, but more often than not, sweet items were more likely to be that of fruit or jello, but like most mothers, special occasions deserved desserts and Sharyl would not disappoint her children.


Kathy's 5th Birthday Cake


Because of financial reasons, Sharyl also had to be quite creative when it came to family meals.  One time shopping in a local Canton grocery store with his mother, Eric saw a strange-looking meat item in the bottom of the Sharyl’s grocery cart.  Upon further examination, he learned it was a cow tongue.  When Eric asked Sharyl what the gross tongue was for, she told Eric to mind his business.   Some time later for a family dinner, Sharyl placed an odd-shaped, rectangular, lighter than normal piece of meat on the supper table. Never seeing this type of meat before, Eric asked Sharyl what it was and was told to mind his business and just eat it.  Realizing what it was, for punishment, he ended up sitting at the table alone for some time after refusing to eat the cooked tongue.


Kathy and Eric


As most people can attest to, many items from nature taste better, especially snow.

In the kitchen at Big Lake, on cold mornings it was not unusual to come down from upstairs and to find large, wolf spiders on the kitchen floor.  One time, from the safety of the staircase, Kathy and Eric tossed raw potatoes at an unusually large one to try to either hit it or scare it away.

There also used to be a baseball-sized hole in one of the wooden kitchen walls. A spider webbed filled closet beneath the staircase shared this wall.  One time Eric stuck his hand inside this hole and after being shocked with a live wire, thought for some time a large wolf spider had bit him.

Below is a photograph of Kathy taking a bath in the Big Lake kitchen sink.

Starts to four paintings

November 14, 2010

Below are four paintings that Monte started at one time or another throughout the painting phase of his artwork.   Each of these incomplete paintings are not on canvas, but instead upon sheets of pressed wood fibers.

As mentioned earlier, because of Monte developing an allergic reaction to oil pants, these are not oil paintings.

Below is an oil painting of a winter scene with four Canada geese.  This is another example of a painting Monte could never quite finish to his tastes.   If one looks closely, it can be seen where he had difficulty getting the steam/mist the way he wanted.  For years he would try to add touches to finish this painting.

One of the major intents of this blog is to offer insight into the motivations and behavior of Monte and try to offer an honest description of him and the influences upon his life and artwork.

Like all people, Monte had many flaws and a fair portrayal of him that did not consider these flaws would not be an honest one.  Also, the writing of these flaws, as well as information pertaining to other people and their relationship with Monte, is not meant to offend, embarrass or ridicule.  It is all done in a manner to offer a complete picture of Monte, his life, art and relationships.


Below is a photograph of a red, faux-velvet chair.  The chair once had a second.  These chairs were bought and owned by Sharyl’s mother, Gladys Strode.  At one point, Gladys gave these chairs to Sharyl and Sharyl brought the chairs to their house in Banner.  Not to be disrespectful, but it is well-known Gladys had a unique taste when it came to fabrics and the color of items in her home.  While, not to defend Monte’s later actions, Monte greatly disliked these chairs and how they did not fit the decor of the Banner home.  It would also be dishonest not to point out he also disliked them because of where they came from.

As it has been noted earlier, Monte was known for his fondness of drink and determination to do about what ever it was he felt like doing.  Those who knew Monte and Sharyl also could attest to their relationship being like that of oil and water.  While both were not shy to share their opinions about anything, Monte was different in his nature because he could also be quite selfish and insensitive at times.

Regarding these chairs, in times of raised passions and when Monte was primed with alcohol, he would remark to Sharyl one day when she was not around, he was going to drag not one, but both chairs, out into their yard and burn them.

So, one day after a period of discontent and binge of drink, Monte did just that.  He drug both chairs out into their yard and set them afire underneath their prized Basswood tree, photographed below.  To add insult to injury, later when his tongue was loosened by alcohol, he added to the story of how not only he thought he was going to have a heart attack while dragging these chairs outside, but of what a raging fire resulted in setting the chairs aflame.

Afterward, Monte greatly regretted what he had done (though at later times he would deny the regret, but only when warmed up with alcohol).  Sharyl never forgave Monte and her refusal did not have a thing to do with the loss of two fashion-less chairs, but that they were gifts to her from her mother.  Those who knew her could not blame her, either.

The reason this story is told is not to demonize Monte, but to illustrate how the roots to his behavior were partly found in the existence of his artistic talents.  In other words, the existence of these great skills led Monte to sometimes act any way he wanted to because of a created self-perception he was entitled to act these ways because of his talents.

Above is a photograph of Monte taken in the kitchen at Big Lake.  The hat on Monte’s head is the brown and black hat knitted by Sharyl and seen in other photographs.  (The hat is still intact and even wearable to this day).  Monte was actually a very good cook.  One thing he was known for was the ability to take basic items found in a kitchen and create dishes that tasted well.   In his cooking, Monte enjoyed trying to replicate recipes from local restaurants.  One time, after spending a great deal of time tinkering and simmering over a period of a couple of years, he came very close to capturing the taste of a spaghetti meat sauce from a local restaurant.  This sauce included many secret items, including that of minced carrots.

One topping he was unable to satisfactorily copy to his own taste was that of the Coney dog sauce placed on hot dogs from the once known legendary tavern Em’s, in Canton, IL.


Above is a photograph of Monte while in Galena, IL.  Later in his life Monte did not particularly enjoy traveling and preferred to stay near home.  His wife, Sharyl, was the opposite and enjoyed traveling and visiting other places.  At first Galena, Il was one place they both enjoyed to travel to, but later the appeal of Galena was lost upon Monte for several reasons.  One reason most likely was related to the increased commercialization of Galena and Monte’s opinion of the level of the arts and crafts located in Galena.  Another reason was probably related to Monte and Sharyl’s economic status.

Above is a photograph of a young Monte playing poker at some sort of drinking establishment.  Monte did enjoy poker and other gambling games.  As earlier noted, Monte once created an oddly shaped, homemade rolling dice for betting.  It is believed the dice ended up in the possession of his daughter, Kathy.

Monte once told the tale of when he was much younger, a brother-in-law of his was quite known for his love of poker and his inability to leave a poker table in the possession of his money.   As Monte told the story, card players could hardly wait for each Friday when this man would appear in local beer joints for their turn to separate him from his money.