Motor Illustrator: Dean Ellis
Feb. 1960 Cover. Against a yellow background with red and green splotches and smudges, we see a detailed image of a piston with a connecting rod. In silhouette, there are also images of a red socket wrench, a black micrometer, and (atop the micrometer) a purple gear puller with gear.
Dean W. Ellis (December 25, 1920 — October 12, 2009) was a commercial illustrator who painted images for advertising, books, magazines, and postage stamps. Perhaps best known for his work in science fiction during the sixties and seventies, he worked in a wide range of mediums. While he preferred gouache or acrylic on paper or Masonite, he also worked in oil and tempera.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, he showed artistic leanings early on and first exhibited his art at age 19. After his 1939 graduation from East High School in Cleveland, Ohio (where he was art editor for the school yearbook), he went to the Cleveland School of Art on a four-year scholarship. Three years into his study, however, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. During World War II, he served as an infantryman in the Pacific.
Post-War, he returned to Cleveland to finish his art training before pursuing further study at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, from 1946 to 1947. There, he studied under Karl Zerbe, Boston expressionist. Under Zerbe's tutelage, Ellis achieved an early honor as he took first place at the Springfield, Illinois State Fair in August 1947, with his painting, "Gaye Street, Boston".
Concentrating on painting and illustration, Ellis really began his career back in Cleveland where he did illustrations for several art studios. He made a name for himself quickly, Life magazine including him in 1950's list of nineteen of America's most promising artists. In 1954, having won a prestigious Tiffany Grant meant to recognize and develop artistic talent, he went to Spain to study. In 1956, he was ready for a larger art market and moved east to New York City to work as a freelance artist. Soon thereafter he was awarded a resident fellowship at the MacDowell artists' colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
Clearly on his way to greater success, in the late fifties, he began illustrating covers for Bantam books, leading to their request in the early sixties that he illustrate reissues of Ray Bradbury's science fiction books. Those distinctive, fantasy-filled covers brought additional work from other publishers, in New York and California. By the seventies, for example, his illustrations were often seen on Ballantine Books. Those paintings often portrayed seemingly-realistic alien landscapes in vivid colors.
During his career, he drew advertising campaigns for Rand McNally, SKF bearings, Lummus plant design, Tennessee gas, and others. His work appeared in magazines such as Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Omni, Saturday Evening Post, Reader's Digest, and Life.
Ellis had illustrated postage stamps since at least 1971 when he depicted New York Hospital in commemoration of its 200th anniversary. In 1973, he painted the Jefferson Memorial, which appeared on a ten-cent stamp and, in 1981, the U.S. flag over the Supreme Court. In the eighties, however, commissioned by Unicover Corporation (marketing stamps), he expanded his scope further and painted stamps commemorating prominent Americans; riverboats; drive-in movies; the space shuttle; rock and roll; submarines; manatees; the Dodgers vs. Giants National League championship; and others. Most of these images appeared on U.S. stamps but a few appeared on stamps of other nations.
For the 200th anniversary of the United States Coast Guard, Ellis was commissioned to paint "The Defeat of the Privateer Dart", a night scene off Block Island , Rhode Island, during the War of 1812. It shows the fire fight between a U.S. Coast Guard merchant cutter and a British privateer.
Ellis was a member of the Society of Illustrators for fifty-one years, often serving as Treasurer. In 1974, he contributed significantly to Walter Brooks' book Creative Ways with Drawing. His work has been shown at the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum, the National Academy, and other museums, both in the United States and abroad. His paintings and portraits are particularly prized and are held in such collections as the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and Cleveland Museum of Art.
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