Ellen Rice began painting as a small child, sitting across the dining room table from her mother, a Corcoran student who loved to volunteer her drawings for good causes.
Ellen’s first love was drawing ballerinas and horses, then family pets, portraits of her sisters and the many aspects of life around her. She won her first award in the sixth grade for a Maryland safety poster she created and sold her first painting as a sophomore in high school to a fellow art student. It was enough money to get a bus to her summer job in Rehoboth Beach.
Today one of the East Coast’s most collected artists, Ellen’s paintings are found in private homes and government and corporate collections throughout the United States and abroad.
The daughter of a Navy officer/aeronautics engineer and granddaughter of two Navy Admirals, Ellen has lived most of her life within a few miles of the Atlantic Ocean, the majority of them in Delaware. Today, she resides on a small peninsula a mile from the coast in a home overlooking the pastures and wetlands of the James Farm Ecological Preserve. The ocean, the natural beauty of the region where she lives, its people and wildlife are the focus of much of her work, but by no means its limits.
Ellen began taking her art seriously in her early 20s, when a relative to whom she had given a drawing had prints made of it and told her to go out and sell them. Ellen showed the prints at a local town fair along with a handful of originals. Soon, she was showing regionally and steadily gaining a strong following.
Requests for commissions began coming in. She was soon doing commissioned portraits of children, dogs and horses, illustrating newspapers and magazine covers throughout Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia. “I was not sure how to do some of the things I took on,” says the self-taught artist. “But I’d stick my neck out and say, ‘Yes, I can do it,’ then get a ‘How to’ book and learn through trial and error, working at whatever I took on until it looked and felt right to me, no matter how long it took.”
Sideline work doing illustrations for her hometown newspaper in the late 1970s and early 1980s led her through the back door into a 10-year career in journalism, during which she advanced from stringing as a Church Section illustrator and free-lance photographer to writing full-time and eventually becoming an editor and corporate liaison.
She won more than 60 first and second place awards for writing, photography, illustrations and newspaper design from the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association and Chesapeake Publishing Corporation (later Gannett). Her devotion to her work and volunteer endeavors in the community also garnered numerous civic awards, including the designation “Female Role Model in Journalism” by the American Federation of Women’s clubs.
In 1994, she completed more than 10 years of research on a pet archaeological/historical project, then drew, painted and published her findings ~ a historically accurate map she called “Treasure Beaches of the Mid-Atlantic.” The map and a companion piece she designed to look like an old newspaper page, “Treasure Legends of the Mid-Atlantic”, attracted national media attention and led to the piece being carried in more than 100 galleries throughout the country. The map was later chosen to represent the state of Delaware on QVC’s “Quest for America’s Best.” Today it can be found in homes and offices around the globe.
The success of the map and resulting national and international interest enabled Ellen for the first time in her life to devote full time to her art and inspirational writing and in April 1999 open The Ellen Rice Gallery in coastal Ocean View, Delaware.
Her paintings are called inspirational. Those that are not of specific local scenes or portraits, painted using photo references, she says often come to her as complete images in quiet times of prayer or meditation. Sometimes, she adds, she just starts painting with a light source and lets the painting dictate what it will be as she works. These paintings that “just seem to emerge from the canvas, have a life of their own” are usually the most quickly purchased by patrons.
“I think people connect with Ellen through her paintings,” one private collector says. “There is an intangible quality to her work that people respond to. It’s not just visual. Her work is truly beautiful, but it goes deeper than that. Her paintings touch you, something within you.”
Says Ellen, “When I left journalism for art, it was with the realization that paintings can touch a person in a way no words can. It was a conscious decision to communicate through paint rather than words, though now I often combine both, writing about the inspiration behind a painting if I think sharing my thoughts will be helpful to anyone.
”People, other artists, often ask me how I do this or do that. I can’t tell them how to do what I do, because with me it’s not so much technique as instinct. My advice to artists—people in all walks of life—is to reach deeply within your own heart and soul, then employ what you find in whatever kind of work you do. Technique only takes you so far. Great art is honest art.”