Ray Ellis of Edgartown died at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital on Oct. 4 of complications from a stroke. He was 92.
A nationally recognized artist whose paintings are in the permanent collection at The White House and museums around the country, Mr. Ellis sought out beauty in everything. He was an unwavering optimist and a romantic who imagined the best possible reality and then stepped inside and lived it.
Born in Philadelphia on April 24, 1921, Raymond George Ellis grew up on Lismore Avenue in Glenside, Pa. He began painting as a child and spent his life celebrating each day — both on canvas and in the world he shared with Theodora (Teddie) Axtell, his wife of 28 years.
He attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, and in 1947, at the age of 26, had his first one-man show at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
He was elected to the American Watercolor Society and in 1968 to the Salmagundi Club in New York, the oldest established professional art association in the country. Other New York memberships included The Century Association, the Artists’ Fellowship, and The Lotos Club.
After serving four years in the Coast Guard during World War II, he married Elizabeth Ketcham, who predeceased him in 1972. Mr. Ellis pursued watercolor painting while working in advertising to support his family, eventually founding his own advertising agency with offices in New Jersey and New York. But from 1969 on, he worked exclusively as an artist.
During a brief second marriage, he moved from New Jersey to Hilton Head Island, S.C., and then to Savannah, Ga.
Mr. Ellis felt his life became truly charmed during the 1980s when he and Teddie built their summer home on Martha’s Vineyard, eventually making it their year-round residence.
In the 1980s, Ray Ellis and the late television journalist Walter Cronkite collaborated on a series of three books depicting America’s coastlines in word and image: South by Southeast, North by Northeast, and Westwind. There are 15 other books exclusively devoted to his paintings. His biography will be published in the spring of 2014.
In 1986, he founded Compass Prints and The Ray Ellis Gallery in Savannah, Ga., which continues as his headquarters. His work is also displayed at the North Water Gallery in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, and The Cheryl Newby Gallery, Pawleys Island, S.C.
For three consecutive years beginning in 1998, Mr. Ellis was commissioned by President and Mrs. Clinton to paint scenes of the White House to be reproduced as their official holiday greeting card.
He painted on all seven continents. His works have been exhibited in United States embassies around the world. In 2004, the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Ga., created a major traveling exhibition of his paintings. He was awarded the Salmagundi Club’s Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts in 2004.
Until the time of his illness, encouraged and supported by Teddie, his daily routine included at least five matches of backgammon with Teddie at the table in his studio and then several hours of painting at his easel. He was an enthusiastic tennis player, golfer and fisherman as well as being an active member of The Edgartown Reading Room and an honorary member the Vineyard Golf Club.
Mr. Ellis raised more than $1 million for the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust over two decades. For 25 years, he was commissioned by the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby to paint yearly Vineyard fishing scenes from which commemorative limited edition prints were made to benefit the Derby Scholarship Fund. He also donated prints for auction to numerous charities on the Island and in Savannah. In an effort to support young artists who aspire to duplicate his own path as a full-time artist, he established the Ray Ellis Foundation, which provides funds for those wanting to pursue a career in the visual arts.
Mr. Ellis grew up surrounded by relatives and had a deep respect for his heritage. His maternal grandfather, William Trapier was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. His paternal grandfather, George Wilson Ellis, was a blacksmith who served two terms in the Pennsylvania State Legislature in the late 1800s.
His father, Raymond Grant Ellis (named for Ulysses S. Grant) of Welsh and Irish descent, studied art at Drexel Institute, eventually becoming advertising manager for the Exide Battery Company in Philadelphia. His mother, Helen Trapier, an aspiring watercolorist, was a French Huguenot with an ancestry that traced back to plantation life outside Georgetown, S.C.
He is survived by his wife Teddie; his four children, George, Andrew, Margaret, and Elizabeth and their spouses; nine grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. He also leaves his sister Margaret Dando, brother Richard Ellis and legions of friends around the world.
Interment services were private. Friends are invited to a celebration of his long, wonderful life at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown on Sunday, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The Ray Ellis Foundation, P.O. Box 8456, Savannah, GA 31412, or Artists’ Fellowship, Inc., 47 5th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10003.