Sunday, October 11, 2009

Living on an Unpaved Road in Downtown Ithaca

On the Ithaca Art trail, we visited an artist who lives in quite an unusual situation.  You expect the different from the artist.  I love visiting with artists because they help to set your mind free and look at the world in new ways.
But this was one of a kind.

Right off a major street in Ithaca which is lined with shopping centers, there is an unpaved road that makes a dramatic climb up a hill to a little enclave with four houses on it.  In back of the houses is NYSEG (local electric utility) owned land so it is undeveloped and like a bit of country right inside the city.  With our relatively new (non-4 wheel drive) car, I almost chickened out but spouse overruled me and up we went.  The road badly needed to be graded but we made it. (we used to live on an unpaved road in rural Arkansas, so are not strangers to the unpaved road.)

It was worth it.

Ellie Hall Minnis is a self taught painter specializing in flower portraits.  Greeting us warmly, she offered us coffee and homemade cookies.  It turns out that although she is a writer and poet, she only became a painter a couple of years ago.  New directions of creativity....

She is totally self-taught, learning through reading and practicing.  Some of her paintings literally glow, a technique she picked up in one of her books.

The house was one of a kind, with all kinds of nooks and crannies.  Many of the crannies were decorated with chickens.  I collect chicken figurines too (in a lot of moderation) so I felt instantly at home.

Ellie told me that the four homeowners paid for grading, and the UPS person and the garbage collectors did get up the hill (in the summer anyway).  All the residents had had four wheel drive vehicles.  She loved the convenience-less than a three minute drive away from major stores.  And, the privacy-who would want to go up that road unless they had a reason?

The only thing lacking was chickens running around the back yard.  I wonder if Ithaca's zoning allows the keeping of hens.  Then she could get into Ukranian egg painting, an art I tried once.  Actually, twice.  It's not easy!

It's wonderful to learn a new art in your late 50's.  There must be something about middle age and painting as I know at least two other women around my age who have gone down that painting path.  One is retired, one is not.  Neither make their living as artists.  One, I think, is pretty good.  When she visits New York City, she has been known to go to art museums and Broadway shows.

Maybe it is menopause that sets you free, free to be creative in ways you never expected to be.

In Ellie's case it was partially being widowed, and a resulting move from Southern California to Ithaca, that lead her to her present paths in life.  Her children are grown and scattered through the country, but in her studio was a painting with these children, lightly drawn in and ready for her paintbrush.

I loved visiting Ellie, and I wish her well in her painting.  And hope she is open again next year.  Maybe I'll see that finished painting and learn even more.

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