Ray Ellis, whose oil and watercolor paintings hang in world famous museums, the White House, local galleries, and many Martha’s Vineyard homes, died Friday evening at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. He was 92.
The prolific artist first knew the Island as a visitor. He first showed his work here 43 years ago. In the 1970’s, he moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he established a successful gallery. In 1991 he came to live in Edgartown permanently.
“There’s no place as beautiful as here,” he told The Times in a 2011 interview. “Harbors, beaches, farmland, and light — I never run out of ideas. I see compositions every time I go out.”
He was comfortable in a variety of mediums, devoting his time to watercolor early in his artistic career, then working primarily in oils. He also worked in pencil and pastels.
He knew at an early age he would devote much of his life to art.
“I remember when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I got inspired by the science fiction comics of Buck Rogers. I filled huge scrapbooks with pictures and drawings of rocket ships going to the moon,” he told the times in a 2011 interview.
Years later he would meet and befriend astronaut Buzz Aldrin. While Mr. Ellis admits he didn’t have the academics to be an astronaut, he learned early in life that he did have the talent to be an artist.
“I sold my first painting in 1936 when I was 15,” he said. “We lived in Glenside, Pennsylvania in a house on the edge of a dairy farm. I looked at that scene every morning and finally did a watercolor of it which I sold to my neighbor for $300.”
He attributed his prolific nature to a dedicated work ethic. Over the 70-plus years that he’s been painting, Mr. Ellis estimated that he completed more than 6,000 works.
Mr. Ellis was known for his iconic Vineyard scenes, as well as for his many publishing collaborations with the late CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, one of his Edgartown neighbors.
At age 90, he told an interviewer he had given up golf and tennis, but still kept an active routine that varied little from day to day: up at 6 am, a half-mile walk with the family dog, read the paper, paint until lunch, resume painting until 3 pm, another dog walk, a nap, dinner, and 5 to 10 games of backgammon with his wife.
After interrupting his studies at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art to serve in the Coast Guard during World War II, Mr. Ellis became a salesman, and then built a thriving advertising agency in New Jersey and New York. In 1968 he left the business and became a full-time painter. He embraced contemporary marketing tools including the Internet and credited both technology and his devoted staff for developing his worldwide reputation.
An obituary appears in the obituary section.