The parents of Ellie struggled with ideas of what to put on her gravesite. They wanted something that would let people know who Ellie was. Ellie’s artwork had been chosen by the Children’s Art Project of MD Anderson Hospital. Originally it was thought that the artwork might be reproduced into a tombstone. When I met Ellie’s parents I suggested a likeness of Ellie, and the sculpture evolved from there.
The sculpture project was a creative endeavor involving Ellie’s family and myself. Her parents decided on the seated pose- legs out to the side, this was a typical pose for Ellie. We opted for putting her artwork on a sketchbook on her lap. With a sketch book created in bronze children who visit the sculpture can do a rubbing of the artwork with paper and crayon.
A computer-generated sketch was created for approval by the parents.
Ellie loved butterflies so we put a monarch on her finger. Real monarchs regularly visit the gravesite. Originally the sculpture was created on a metal plate, but further on in the design process we did away with the plate deciding to place her in the grass, so that she would look like she just decided to sit down and sketch.
Another element of the sculpture is her bunny Floppy. She took it with her everywhere and wore off the fur from the end of the ear by rubbing it under her nose.
The real floppy was buried with Ellie so I worked from photos. Floppy was placed behind Ellie; head resting on her leg looking up at her, jealous of the attention Ellie is giving the butterfly.
In creating the sculpture we found one of Ellie’s friends who is the same size as Ellie was. She posed for the sculpture. I took photos all around including details. I also acquired many photos of Ellie from her parents. I used these as reference.
The most difficult part of the sculpture was her hair. Most photos showed Ellie with a wig or no hair. One professional photo gave good reference of her hair, however it had been consistently combed during the photo shoot. We messed it up a bit, tucking it behind her ears, as Ellie would often do, and the final touch was made.
A second casting of this sculpture will reside in a prayer garden at Ellie’s home church St. Marks United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas.
Articles I have written concerning Ellie
Heights Artist Helps Children With Cancer through Artwork
A life remembered helps 6 children go mad over art
Tribune July 2003
Bridgette Mongeon © 2003
The excitement on the children’s faces at the Mad Hatters Art Camp was enough to inspire any writer. The enthusiasm of the six special participants was especially delightful.
Nicholas Orozco, Chelsea Valles, Daniel Duron, Ever Reyes, Faith Pruneda, and Rosa Juarez, were all winners of the Ellen O’Neal Art Scholarship.
Each child, encouraged by Harvard Elementary’s art teacher Mr. Robertson, submitted art work in hopes of winning the competition, and the award of the $300 tuition for the two weeks at The Mad Hatters Arts Camp.
The Ellen O’Neal Art Scholarship was developed by Jazzercize instructor Jane Luco and attorney Beatrice Mladenka-Fowler. Both women are friends of Jo Ellen Snow the mother of Ellen O’ Neal. Ellen O Neal was a vivacious artist who attended kindergarten and first grade at Harvard Elementary. She was also a student of artist Naomi Smulian, an art teacher at Mad Hatters Art Camp, and one of the camps founders.
Ellen never did get the opportunity to attend Mad Hatters Art Camp; she lost her battle with a brain cancer while attending Harvard Elementary. Both Luco and Mladenka-Fowler felt it was important to contribute to Ellen’s memory and created the Ellen O’Neal Art Scholarship. Teachers at Harvard Elementary determine who is eligible. The scholarship is based on financial need, artistic talent, good citizenship and a commitment from the parents concerning transportation.
“I’m very, very proud,” states Snow, “I greatly appreciate anything that keeps Ellie’s memory alive, both at Harvard Elementary and in the community.”
This is the third year that the scholarships have been awarded. The first year two scholarships were awarded. The second year the scholarships grew to one child in each age category, kindergarten through fifth grade. Luco and Mladenk-Fowler raise the funds for the scholarship yearly. Luco said her dream would be to send a boy and girl in each grade, funds permitting.
I had a chance to visit the camp and talk to some of the scholarship winners. I was greatly impressed with the quality of the camp and the teachers. They were all professionals in their field, giving the highest quality of instruction. This year’s theme of Around the World with the Mad Hatter also added geography and further education into the mix. The children were each equipped with their passports that were stamped as they traveled with their instructors to such far away places as Barbados, China, Greece and Portugal.
I met with one of the winners, Daniel Duron, in art teacher Cindy De Hart’s class. Daniel was in the Australian room busily working on a paper sculpture while fiddling with his colorful smock. Daniel said the camp was pretty good “you get to go outside and play and I do art and rhythm and music and the drums.” His eyes twinkled as he said drums. I asked him if he knew who Ellen O’Neal was and how he felt about the scholarship “I felt happy when I won, Ellie was a girl who died and loved to paint. She was a great artist. I want to be a great artist like her too.”
I met with Ever Reyes in Greece at the theater class held by Robb Brunson. Ever was a bit older than Daniel and seemed to know why this scholarship came to be. “The girl’s favorite thing was drawing and they did this to remind everyone of her.” Ever was also very expressive when describing his work. “I worked on the art picture all day, I added wallpaper and colored with crayons and then I thought about doing something with dinosaurs, so I made them stripes, then the night sky not really a night sky” I could tell he was really into this painting.
I stopped into two other classes before the last, Rhythm and Movement with Kristie Kiser and Nature Studies by David Petersen. As I talked with each teacher I was impressed with their ability to woo the children into creativity and learning. “It is as much about team work, and critical thinking as it is movement. We are teaching the kids thinking skills, how to be choreographers”, states Kiser. In Mr. Peterson’s class I was enlightened to hear a run down of what they did that day, as the children lined up at the door and handed in their colored paper chameleons. “We looked for grasshoppers to feed the fire belly toad, we looked at the baby caterpillars, and also talked about how our nose has a memory, and that my favorite smell was dill because it reminded me of my grandmothers farm. We also got to look at the butterfly wing under the microscope and name our snails.” I was beginning to wish I had arrived in this class a bit early to take part in some of the adventure and quickly ran to look at the butterfly before running to my next class.
The last class I visited was Terrence Karn’s music room. I arrived before the children and marveled at the 18+ drums lined up in front of chairs, along with two plastic waterbottles, a Rubbermaid container and plastic planters each with their own set of drum sticks. The children didn’t miss a beat in Mr. Karn’s class. I could see why Daniel’s eyes twinkled when talking about Mr. Karn and the drums. Scholarship winner, Chelsea Valles, was enjoying the opportunity of echoing the teacher’s rhythm on a drum.
Even though I did not get to visit all the classes nor meet all the winners, when I left Mad Hatters I felt like I had been on an adventure, and I had only been there a few hours. It must be wonderful to be a kid and have two weeks of this creative experience. For all the participants I am sure it would be a memory that would last a lifetime, and for six special children a life of a little girl that would be remembered.
The Ellen O’Neal Art Scholarship is maintained by the Houston Independent School District. To make a donation please send a check made payable to HISD, and mail to Snow and Whitworth, Attorneys at Law, 1148 Heights Blvd, Houston, Texas 77008.
To receive information about next years Mad Hatters Art Camp contact Claire Smith administrator at 832-618-1120.
All written work is copyrighted and cannot be used, whole or impart,
without the written consent of the author.
Houston Tribune December 2002
Bridgette Mongeon © 2002
I first heard about Ellie’s artwork from her sister Meagan. One day while driving Meagan home from church, I was discussing the production process of my own sculptures that were packed neatly in a box on the floorboard of my van. “I am familiar with sculpting,” Meagan replied, “My sister’s an artist”. I was intrigued, wondering about her sister’s art. Moments later I was in Meagan’s home and viewing that very artwork. Watercolors were framed and hung with honor in the hallway of their home; colorful animal figurines were corralled on end tables. Stain glass art hung in the window, while reproductions of Ellie’s art sat upon the dining room table. Soon Ellie’s mom, Jo Ellen Snow, and I were enthralled in a conversation about Ellie’s art.
Ellie’s painting titled, “Gift Heart” was first reproduced as gift cards. She felt honored to have her artwork chosen by the MD Anderson Children’s Art Project. A reproduction of an artist’s artwork at any age is quite an accomplishment. It is a tremendous honor when you are only 7 years old. Ellie received a two hundred-dollar honorarium and recognition for her efforts, however, she never would have the opportunity to see the effects and demand that her artwork created. Within a few days of viewing the printed note cards Ellie O’ Neal lost her ferocious fight with a brain tumor that held so tightly to her little body. On January 17, 2001 Ellie passed away. The Children’s Art Project worked diligently to reproduce the jewelry created from Ellie’s art so that family members at Ellie’s funeral could wear it proudly.
Since Ellie’s death, many Height’s residents have honored her. Orange ribbons appeared throughout the Heights. Ellie’s Elm is planted in Donovan Park, in the very spot that she held her third year birthday party, the first birthday party to be held in the then newly built park. Harvard Elementary has a Japanese maple, a bench with painted tiles from her classmates, and a courtyard dedicated in her memory. The street median of Heights Boulevard has a sweet gum tree planted by the Houston Heights Association that was donated by the law firm of Snow and Whitworth, Ellie’s mom’s law firm. “I can see the tree from my window,” states Ellie’s mom. When driving down Heights Boulevard one will notice the tree still has its orange ribbon.
Ellie studied for three years with artist Naomi Smulian at Arts Studio on the Boulevard. Naomi describes Ellie’s artwork as being very sensitive, “Ellie had a calculated sense of design. She loved color and had her favorites,” states Ms. Smulian.
Ellie’s watercolor, “Gift Heart” is now being produced as a Radko Christmas Ornament. Gayle Goodwin, communications director of the Children’s Art Project, states that the ornaments are flying off the shelves. There is discussion of reproducing yet another piece of Ellie’s art for the Children’s Art Project.
“Anytime you buy artwork from the Children’s Art Project, it is a gift that gives twice. All the proceeds from the artwork go to fund the children’s projects at MD Anderson, including the art program,” states Ms. Goodwin. In the 29 years of its existence 15 million dollars has been given back to the program. Ellie certainly has made her mark on the Heights, the art community, and the many children at MD Anderson. Ellie’s “Gift Heart” just keeps on giving.
If you would like to purchase any of Ellie’s artwork or any other artwork from the Children’s Art Program it can be seen at www.childrensart.org or ordered at 1 800-231-1580.
All written work is copyrighted and cannot be used, whole or impart,
without the written consent of the author.