Remembering Ray Ellis

ray ellis

I first met Ray Ellis in the 1970s when we were both exhibiting at the Edgartown Art Gallery. I had just brought in a recent painting and so had he, and we got into a casual discussion about starting to work on our next canvases and what the subject matter would be. Ray was going to paint the boat landing at Eel Pond, and two days later he had completed his picture! I was awestruck that an artist could produce such a fine painting in such a brief time…my own effort took at least two weeks.

That said a lot about Ray’s prolific output and steady work ethic. He was born to paint, and he had the skills, the eye, and the training to turn out wonderful oils, watercolors, pastels, and drawings at a prodigious rate. And he never lacked for subject matter and inspiration on this Island, which he loved so much and which became his home for many years. Landscapes, seascapes, nocturnes, lighthouses, buildings, boats, still lifes, fishermen, animals, flowers, fish, sailors, children, even martinis on the bar at Alchemy; he did it all, capturing the beauty and romance of the Vineyard year after year in a steady stream of lovely paintings. In 2011 he estimated that he had painted more than six-thousand pictures in his career to date.

When I saw him last winter he was still working steadily, spending virtually every morning and afternoon at his easel. He told me that he simply couldn’t stop. How blessed he was to still have such creative passion and energy at age ninety-two. And to still have that wonderful sparkle in his eye, that irreverent wit and contagious love of life. What a charmer he was!

One of the most outstanding of his many accomplishments was painting the cover pictures for the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby Souvenir Booklets for twenty-five consecutive years from 1988 through 2012. Prints of these paintings were sold and the money donated to the derby’s scholarship program, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the benefit of more than fifty Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduating seniors. He was elected to the Derby Hall of Fame in recognition of his important contributions and generosity. The subject matter of these paintings included many of the Island’s most iconic views and all types of fishing – surfcasting, trolling, fly fishing – from Wasque to Aquinnah, the North Shore, the Chops, Edgartown, and beyond.

The title of his final picture in that series was Journey’s End – Cape Poge Light. How fitting.