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The Autobiography of James Ellison


I was born in Chicago on September 24th, 1948 to Olaf and Marguerite Ellison and raised in York Township near Downers Grove, Illinois. In the spring before I turned five a missionary brought in fruit from Africa containing the larva of the Tsetse fly which carries the disease Encephalitis Lethargica, Sleeping Sickness. I, along with over fifty other children and adults, contracted this disease from the fly bites, of which about a dozen survived and only a few were functional. My fever rose to the point that my brain was wiped clean. The doctors gave my parents little hope, saying I would be severely retarded. My parents refused to accept this. When I came home from the hospital my mother began retraining me to walk, talk, use the toilet, etc. I entered kindergarten six months late. Throughout public school I had to work twice as hard as my peers to learn the same thing. The school district's solution was to put me in "special classes" or hold me back a grade or two. My mother would not hear of this because she was determined all three of her children would go to college. To the consternation of all but a few of my teachers she demanded full inclusion for me. My mother taught me two important things; I could overcome any obstacle if I just tried hard enough and I was spared for a purpose which God would reveal.

The brain damage had been mostly to my left side which was a blessing because it left me very artistic. In first grade the teacher assigned a classroom mural about the United States. I saw a post card of the Statue of Liberty she had on her wall and proceeded to draw it on the butcher paper. The teacher, amazed by my drawing, kept after my parents for years to take me to the Art Institute of Chicago for Saturday art lessons . But my parents could not afford it. So my mother would take me to the Museum of the Art Institute as often as she could. Then two incidents convinced me I wanted to be a professional artist. First, on one of the visits to the Art Museum my mother had me walk through a narrow door. To the right was a maze of dots. I asked my mother, "What is this?" She told me to turn my back on it, walk to the other side of the room and turn around. There before me, in all its splendor, was Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. I wanted to use color like him to make something appear out of nothing. The second event occurred when my Aunt Helen took me to her church where Warner Sallman was demonstrating and talking about art and faith. I saw him create the pastel painting of The Good Shepherd. I, too, wanted to inspire people with my art. I spent most of my time in the woods and fields near my home drawing and painting.

I received my B.F.A. from Eastern Michigan University, got married to Marci Schattenberg, my childhood sweetheart, and went on for my M.A. and M.F.A. at Northern Illinois University. At that time I was an abstract expressionist with a fantasy/Surrealistic twist, but the painting program there wanted me to be a Hard Edge painter, so I transferred to the Ceramics program. There I became a glaze chemist doing my paintings on the fantastic forms I created. When I came back to painting years later, this was of great benefit because I understood volume and depth in a way that most painters can not. After my M.F.A. I served as a Captain in the Army, and then Director of the Beverly Art Center, School of the Arts. During this time my two children Jennifer and Peter were born. After that I was a ceramics teacher at South Holland Community College.

While struggling to be a professional artist and teacher, I received a prophetic call from God and headed to the seminary with my wife and two children. I gave up doing art, wrongly thinking that God wanted me to deny this part of myself. I received my M.Div and pursued the ministry for twelve years until it was revealed to me that the ministry was a preparation for my call to reach people through my art. So I re-entered the art world with God at my side as a Symbolic-Realist painter.

Now I am teaching art at Nogales High School, showing my art in national and international shows and winning many awards. My work has appeared in the Manhattan Arts International Magazine and the Encyclopedia of Living Artists as one of the top one hundred and fifty artists in the world. In 1997 I signed with Art Reps as my agent to the art print industry. Five of my paintings have been published as signed and numbered limited edition lithographs. I have copyrighted and published The Perceptual Color Corona, a revolutionary color system, based on the negative afterimage. I use this system with my students so they can get better color matches, vibrating color contrasts, and luminescent color harmonies. I have created a method of artistic interpretation and communication by combining my divinity work with cultural anthropology and Jungian psychology through the use of color, line and shape. In August of 1997 one of my paintings was in a group Exhibition at Agora Gallery in Soho, New York.

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