March 30, 2014
By Vandy Duffy
Many artistic journeys begin by having a teacher hang up a childhood drawing or by taking a class. But, picture this: A 25-
It's the mid-
Sounds like something out of a movie, right?
Cynthia — never Cindy — Ellis is the young woman above. She grew up with a father who was an electrical engineer and who made furniture, and a mother who was a model in her late teens, had a radio show and then the first TV talk show in Portland.
"My mother was independent," Ellis tells me, "my parents were supportive; it is from them that I get my boldness."
This "boldness" has served Ellis well.
When she arrived in California she had office skills, so she could work. She went to San Francisco State University and graduated in 1978 with a degree in creative arts.
Her father gave her $500 as a graduation gift, and this she used to buy secondhand woodworking tools — a three-
She joined the street artists of Berkeley, setting up her table along the street near Berkeley's university with a slew of other artists.
She started by making "pocket boxes" with toothpick hinges.
Her customers were from all income brackets, some students, some tourists, and some employees of the university.
She didn't get rich, but made enough money to get by. There were seasons with tourists or holiday gift-
After the birth of their son, Ellis had to make some decisions. It was difficult to be suited up and covered in sawdust, working in her shop, and then hear the baby cry through the baby monitor's headphones. She would then need to strip down and dust off and calm the baby.
This was a routine that played itself out over and over again — Ellis was part of the beginning of an era, experiencing the now classic struggle of a mother trying to work at home while raising children.
She decided she needed a "cleaner" art form and joined her husband as a jeweler.
"I became a niobium jeweler," Ellis says. "Niobium is number 41 on the Periodic Table. Electricity is used to create colorful layers through anodizing — it was lots of fun. Holly Yashi (a jewelry designer who worked in niobium) was beginning to boom in California, so I was able to work in her shadow."
Ellis and her husband had a second child — a daughter — and her husband began to make wood pens. Their roles had reversed. She was now the jeweler and he the woodworker.
With a move to a more rural location, Ellis' trips to the Berkeley street art scene became fewer and fewer. As her husband's pen sales increased, she decided to help him in the shop. She became a woodworker once again, creating her own line of pens and adding hair pins and other items.
Ellis' artistic journey continued as she began to enter the craft-
"I am mostly self-
Each work she produces is one-
She is proud to not be contributing to the deforestation of the rainforest through the use of exotic hardwoods.
"The laminate I use is eye-
When she was 25 Ellis went to California to have lunch. She stayed for 33 years and built a life around her art.
In 2008, she heeded the call to come back to New Hampshire to aid her ailing parents. Since then both of her parents have died and she has settled her workshop into the basement of their home, which is now hers.
Her work has taken off with quilters and fabric artists. She is making "sewing essentials," such as seam rippers, shawl pins, stilettos, rug and crochet hooks, and many other items used in textile arts and crafts. They all have beautifully turned handles or bodies that exude color.
"I like to make useful items that are pleasing to look at and handle. These are tools for people to use and express themselves," Ellis says.
Ellis also listens to her customers and is eager to design items that solve problems that people experience. She tells a story of an older woman who used a walker. The woman sat and did her needlework in a chair, but then would get up and make her way over to her work table only to discover that she had left her scissors back at her chair — she needed some way to transport her scissors back and forth.
Ellis designed a product that is now very popular, her "Magnetic Scissor Pendant." It is a colorful, turned-
Boldness can take you far in business, and Ellis has taken her wares to craft and quilt expos and followed up with possible sales leads from her customers.
At a Manchester quilt expo, a workshop leader stopped by her booth to see who was selling the tools all his attendees were talking about — his name was Mark Lipinski and he was the editor of Quilters Home magazine. In November 2009 he featured Ellis's seam rippers in a piece called "Un-
"I like to make things that are useful, that function, that are pretty and feel good in your hand," Ellis says, "guys have tools galore, girls haven't had wonderful tools. These are almost collector's items."
Her journey began on a lark and became an artistic lifestyle.
"It is rewarding to find you can feed yourself with your own ingenuity and effort without 9 to 5 hours," Ellis says.
Ellis is a juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and her wood-
Article reprinted with permission and thanks to Vandy Duffy and Seacoast Media.