More on Big Lake

July 30, 2011

As noted earlier, from 1965 to 1975, Monte was the on-site manager of the privately owned Duck Island Hunting and Fishing Club.  This site was located in the river bottoms south of Banner, IL.  Entrance to the area could be made by water or use of a private road accessed at the end of the Banner Dike Road.  A heavy log chain pulled taut across the roadway prevented the uninvited from entering the property.  A hidden nail pounded into tree held a key to the padlock for those visitors that were welcome.

Below is the area depicted on a map.  The dot in the center represents the location of the Big Lake buildings. The time spent at this location was instrumental in influencing Monte’s further development as a wildlife artist.

Aerial image of Big Lake, center dot location of living quarters

To get to the Big Lake site by vehicle, one would have to drive down the Banner Dike Road, a gaveled, levee road bordered by farmland, woodlands, the Copperas Creek and Illinois River.  Along this area, other privately owned sportsman’s clubs also were in existence. Some still exist to this day.

Below is a photograph of the flooded bottom land depicting the hunter’s lodge at the Voorhees hunting and fishing lodge.  Part of this lodge was actually built upon a floating barge.  Fred Ellis, Monte’s uncle, can be seen in the water craft. Fred Ellis was a locally known accomplished taxidermist.

This lodge and other buildings was located along the Banner Dike Road opposite of where the Copperas Creek fed into the Illinois River.

Fred Ellis at Voorhees Hunting Lodge, Courtesy J. G. Riley

Below is a another photograph of the Voorhees’ hunter’s lodge as photographed from the Banner Dike Road during a flood.  During the 1980’s an arsonist destroyed this landmark.  No one was ever charged with the crime.

Voorhees, Hunting Lodge, Courtesy J. G. Riley

Below is a photograph of the dirt, entrance road and the view one would see when approaching the Big Lake site.  In the forefront is the clubhouse. Behind the clubhouse are other out buildings and in the rear, the main living quarters.

Front Entrance Road to Big Lake Site

Below is a photograph of a dredge, building up land for the living quarters site at Big Lake.  The waterway is a small river known as West River and branches west off of the Illinois River. West River cut out a portion of land named Senate Island and then met back up with the Illinois River.  Years later, refuse and trees, as well as an access road crossing West River would prevent boaters from traveling the entire length of West River back onto the Illinois River.

Often times, when dark, boaters on the Illinois River would mistakenly take the West River branch and lose their way.  Some times late at night, through the screened windows of the Big Lake house,  boaters could be heard cussing in confusion, especially when coming upon the log jam.

Main living quarters, adding fill, courtesy R. Logan

Living Quarters, years later

Main House time of dredging, Courtesy R. Logan

Rear of living quarters during flooding, Courtesy R. Logan

Above and below are photographs of the rear of the living quarters during flooding.  During these times, there was not too much of a yard for the Ellis children to play.

Rear of Living Quarters during flooding, 1970's,

Club House, flooding 1962, Courtesy R. Logan

Club House, flood of 1941, from West River, Courtesy R. Logan

Big Lake pick house, from West River, Courtesy R. Logan

Below is a photograph during the early times when ditches were being made for access to Big Lake.  Dynamite was used to blow mud out of the ground to form the ditch.  A large tower was also constructed in this area. In years since, Silver Maple trees have grown higher than the tower and while the tower still stands, only the metal framing exists and it is no longer safe to climb upon.

Creating ditches for boats, Courtesy R. Logan

Created Boat Ditches, Courtesy R. Logan

Created boat ditches, Courtesy R. Logan

Below is a photograph from the 1970’s of Monte and Sharyl’s son, Eric, cracking ice with a push pole at the same ditch in the above photographs.

Created boat ditches in 1970's, Monte and Sharyl's sone Eric with push poll

Boat ditch in 1970's, Monte and Sharyl's son Eric with push poll

Below is a photograph of Monte at the end of the Banner Dike Road during flood season.  In the background is the Illinois River and across the river are cabins along the river near Spring Lake.  The cabins in that area still exist to this day.

Monte, flooding near end of Banner Dike Road off of Illinois River

Below is a photograph of Kathy, Monte and Eric arriving at the living quarters at Big Lake.  In the background is West River.  Boards would have to be placed upon the mud and extended more and more as the river receded back to its banks.  To step off the boards meant to lose one’s footwear to the suction of the mud. A putrid odor would waft through the air as the mud dried during the warmer weather.

West Lake River driveway at Big Lake living quarters, Kathy, Monte, Eric

Below is a photograph of the entrance road of Big Lake during flood season.  This was north of the site complex where the road met the Illinois River.   It was preferred to use the flood water over the road during more inclement weather and before the flood water receded too much because trees lining the roadway offered shelter and safety from the rougher waters of the Illinois River.  As the waters receded, boat motors became harder to use and forced boat travel back onto the Illinois River.

Flooded Big Lake Road, 1973

Below is a photograph of Jared, Monte’s younger brother, using a push pole to propel a wooden skiff along the same area of the Big Lake access road as in the above photograph.

Big Lake entrance road, 1973, Monte's brother Jared in skiff

One attribute Monte brought to the Big Lake site was creative ways to do what he could to foster improved wild life habitat.  Monte, with the help of many others, built and assembled many wooden Wood duck houses at the Big Lake cite.  Later, because of increased construction efficiency, sheet metal was used for these structures.   Note the material below the duck house to prevent predators from climbing up and eating the eggs of the waterfowl.

Wood duck houses, Big Lake, Eric

For Monte and Sharyl, during their years at Big Lake, it was both a wonderful and tough time.  For Monte, it allowed a front row seat for him to observe wildlife in a natural setting.  During these years, this area of Fulton County was also a lively place to be for a young couple as well.  Monte and Sharyl were also filled with feelings of optimism regarding their future and promise over what Monte’s talent was predicted to bring.

But this time would also start to open their eyes to the tougher things ahead in life as well.  Near the end of their stay at Big Lake, Monte delved further into the business side of the art world and as noted earlier, entered into a very draconian and restrictive contract with an art house that would have a huge impact upon his future and his outlook upon the business aspect of the art world.

Below is a photograph of Sharyl during a river flood while sitting in a Maple tree during more playful times.

Sharyl in Maple tree, flood, 1973

During their time at Big Lake, the amount of help Monte and Sharyl received from relatives, friends and associates cannot go without reminding.  Many people were extremely generous and helpful to the young, starting out Monte Ellis family.  Without such help, the quality of life for their family would have been much, much less.


July 23, 1939

July 23, 2011

Seventy-two years ago today, a baby was born in a home in Banner, IL.  The young baby, raised by two remarkable parents and a number of amazing relatives, grew up to become a very talented person with both a broad range of abilities and flaws.

He was a slight boy in frame, but large in passion for the natural world and the creatures that inhabit this world.  After birth, his family moved to Monterey, IL and the grown man would later re-tell the stories of growing up in an idyllic place many today do not know of.

Let there be no doubt, this man was able to live a life quite suited to him because of the support of too many to mention and in a variety of generous ways.  He also benefited from good luck and being in the right places at the right times.  His talents and the promise others saw in his talents most likely also brought this man leeway for behavior others were not so fond of.

There is also no doubt, this man, because of his love and passion of nature, bore scars upon his spirit over Man’s constant destructive assault upon the natural world and the creatures that struggle every day to co-exist with such an uncaring species.

On June 3, 2009, this man, Monte J Ellis, the boy in between the two parents in the above photograph, passed away in the same bed he was brought forth on.  He would have been 72 today.

The Canton Daily Ledger reported on July 10, 2011, that the Fulton County Arts Council is celebrating its 40th Anniversary and in doing so, will be offering an artwork display of Fulton County area artists in the atrium gallery at Graham Hospital in Canton, IL, from July 17th, 2011 to October, 2011.

Artwork to be displayed will include art by Monte Ellis.    An image created by Monte’s accompanying the article is posted below.

The below pastel is from Monte’s remaining collection and was recently found while Monte’s remaining property was being sorted.  Note the similarities and differences of the two images, which again show Monte’s abilities to recreate images from memories throughout his life.

Rough water pencils…..

July 16, 2011


Below are five pencils of scenes depicting rough water.  As previously mentioned and revealed in interviews, Monte’s renditions were often based on his visual observations and from memory.

It is quite possible the pencils of the rough water scenes below were heavily based upon Monte’s observations from his canoe trips to the Arctic Circle and Canada.

In the below image, lightly drawn trees and large rocks similar to those from the north can be seen in the back ground.

Below, Monte added flying waterfowl and possibly a setting sun, but with the emphasis still being on the rough water.

Below are two sketches by Monte of unknown origins.  One is a sort of care-free, type drawing of a woman wearing a hippie-like hat and the other of a barn on a hillside.

The age of the first sketch may be quite old, evident because of the way Monte’s last name is signed in the lower, left-hand corner.  The same type of style seen in this sketch is the same style noted in an earlier posted self-portrait.



Below are two more early paintings recently found from Monte’s remaining property.   Again, while Monte would most likely would have preferred these paintings not to see the light of day, these pieces show his artistic progression over the years.

From the depiction of the airborne waterfowl, it is probably a fair assumption the inclusion of the waterfowl in the below illustration was an early attempt in Monte’s career, while at the same time, the reproduction of the aspects of the backwater lake and foliage clearly show his skills at capturing natural environments were present very early on.