Vineyard artist Ray Ellis inspires Today Show contest winner

Artist Ray Ellis in his Edgartown art studio. — File photo by Lynn Christoffers

Update, March 8:

Mr. Ellis said in a follow-up phone converation on March 8 with The Times that Joshua, his mother, and the NBC film crew were unable to get to Martha’s Vineyard yesterday, March 7, due to Steamship Authority (SSA) cancellations because of the winter storm Saturn. With a high wind warning in effect today and ferry service uncertain, Ms. Chase and Joshua returned to Hudson and the camera crew to New York.

Mr. Ellis said he gathers that the Today Show is trying to work out another arrangement to complete filming the segment, which is now already over budget.

“I told them hundreds of people would be disappointed if there is nothing on the show next week, and that they should at least mention something about what happened because of the storm,” Mr. Ellis said.

The original story, published yesterday, begins below.

After decades as a well known Martha’s Vineyard artist, Ray Ellis has many admirers. But none match 10-year-old Joshua Chase of Hudson, whose meeting with Mr. Ellis, planned for today in his Edgartown studio, will be filmed by an NBC television camera crew. The segment is slated to air on the network’s Today Show on March 15.

Joshua is one of the winners in a Today Show contest that highlights gifted and talented children age 10 and younger, nationwide. His mother, Chantel Wilson Chase, entered him by submitting a photo of a painting he did, which was a rendition of an oil painting by Mr. Ellis.

It came as a complete surprise to Mr. Ellis when he received a call last Wednesday from the Today Show about Joshua, the contest, and his link between the two.

“I think this is an incredible story for Martha’s Vineyard,” Mr. Ellis told The Times in a phone conversation the next day.

After the Today Show call, he said he also spoke with Ms. Chase and Joshua’s art teacher, Tracey Wessinger. Both told Mr. Ellis that the budding artist was drawn to his paintings from among dozens of art books.

“He was looking at books about Monet, Renoir, and all the different artists, and then he took a book out full of my paintings, ‘Martha’s Vineyard, An Affectionate Memoir Book’ that I did with Ralph Graves,” Mr. Ellis said.

Joshua especially liked a painting on page 84 called “Moonlight Sail,” which Mr. Ellis painted in 1993.

“His mother said he asked her what she wanted for her birthday, and she said. ‘Do me a painting of a harbor, a moonlit harbor,'” Mr. Ellis said. “Joshua did a painting like mine, his mom entered him in the contest, and he won.”

With the news that the Today Show would like to film him and Joshua together, Mr. Ellis said he assumed they both would have to make a trip to NBC’s studio in New York. Instead, NBC offered to send a camera crew to Hudson to film Joshua at home, and then accompany him and his mother to Martha’s Vineyard to meet Mr. Ellis in his studio.

An inspiration

“When I talked to his art teacher, Tracey, she was just in tears, she was so excited,” Mr. Ellis said. “She said when Joshua found out he won, he told her that I’ve been his idol since he was a little kid, and that he’d give anything to meet me.”

He also received a touching tribute in an email from Ms. Chase, who wrote: “Dearest Ray, I hope you realize how full of joy we are because of something you created. Our son Joshua chose of all the paintings in the world to paint your most beautiful seascape. He presented it to me on my 43rd birthday in August. It hangs in my home and it is the first thing I see when I walk in the door. My heart overflows with joy every day I enter my home.”

Mr. Ellis, age 92, said he felt honored to learn that his paintings inspired another generation and is really looking forward to meeting Joshua and his mom.

He and his wife, Teddie, moved from their Savannah, Georgia, residence to live full-time in Edgartown in 1991. He had his first show on the Island more than 40 years ago. Mr. Ellis started as a watercolorist and shifted to oils later in his career.

His work has been exhibited in museums, galleries, and international embassies. Mr. Ellis’s paintings are sold at North Water Gallery in Edgartown and three southern galleries, including the Compass Prints/Ray Ellis Gallery in Savannah, which he founded in 1984.

Over the moon

Ms. Chase told The Times in a phone call that she was excited and nervous about meeting him. “This is an explosive blessing from God,” she said.

Although Joshua knows he won the contest and about the NBC film crew coming to their home, Ms. Chase said she wanted his meeting with Mr. Ellis to be a surprise. She told him she was taking him on a “field trip” on Thursday.

“I’m over the moon that I get to thank somebody that has had such a good impact on my son and has planted a seed of love of something in my child,” Ms. Chase said. “I’m hoping I have the right words.”

Joshua, who turned 10 last October, is a fourth-grader at Farley School in Hudson.

“He is an interesting, beautiful, spiritual kid,” Ms. Chase said. “From the time he was conceived, there was sign after sign that there is something special in him. I don’t know exactly what it is or how it’s going to manifest, but I want to do my best to bring it out.”

After trying out several different sports, about nine months ago Joshua decided he wanted to paint, she said. He started taking oil painting lessons once a week from Ms. Wessinger, a private art teacher in their town.

It takes Joshua about 8 to 10 weeks to complete a painting, Ms. Chase said. He gave his first painting, a landscape also based on one of Mr. Ellis’s, to his dad, Phil Chase, for Father’s Day last year. Ms. Chase said she felt a little jealous of her husband and put in a request with Joshua for a seascape for her birthday in August.

She was so pleased with her painting that she sent a photo of it to her aunt, Kathleen Evan, who urged her to enter Joshua in the Today Show contest. Ms. Chase submitted photos of the seascape and also a painting Joshua did of his older brother Benjamin, age 12, to the contest about five weeks ago.

For real?

“When I got a call from Amanda at The Today Show, I thought I was getting ‘punk’d,'” she said, in reference to the former MTV hidden-camera reality television series that featured pranks on people.

Mr. Ellis also was skeptical at first about his call from the Today Show, as he is not a regular viewer and knew nothing of the contest. He said it reminded him of an experience 20 years ago, when he received a call informing him that former President William J. Clinton wanted to commission him to create the White House holiday card.

“I thought it was my brother playing a joke,” Mr. Ellis said with a laugh. “Then I did three of the cards in a row.”