Arts Pioneer Janie Ellis Honored


Women of Scottsdale has honored Arizona arts pioneer Janie Ellis as its 2011 Woman of the Year. She was recognized at the organization’s Feb. 17 luncheon at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa.


Dignitaries at the Feb. 17 Women of Scottsdale Luncheon

Front: Linda M. Herold (founder), Hon. Carolyn Allen, Janie Ellis, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Paula Cullison, Hon. Mary Manross, Donna Reagan, Wink Blair (founder), Ellen Andres-Schneider

Standing: Hon. Sam Campana, Debbie Gaby, Lois McFarland, Vicki Collins Edwards, Hon. Linda Milhaven.


Ellis is an Arizona native who grew up on the banks of the Arizona Canal in the wide-open spaces two miles north of what was Scottsdale’s border on McDonald Drive in an early arts colony established 70 years ago by her parents, George and Rachel Ellis. You can still find her there at Cattle Track Arts Compound, a unique arts colony that includes art exhibits, artist studios and workspaces, a colonial antique gallery, women’s theater performances and a vintage letter press rescued when a local newspaper moved on to more modern modes of reproduction. Now, however, the compound is nestled among residences in a much more densely populated space.


As she was growing up, art was an integral part of everyday life for Ellis, whose mother taught fine arts to youngsters in Loloma Little School and whose father worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, crafting dramatic Southwestern, yet contemporary, doors for Valley homes. After leaving the Valley for 10 years to study ballet (including study and dance with George Balanchine in New York), she returned to help her parents with the burgeoning arts colony along the dusty trail that had served as the most direct route for ranchers to run their livestock from the Salt River in the winter to the cooler pastures of the McDowell Mountains in the summer, creating the Cattle Track Road.


To keep her interest in dance alive, the Ellises added a dance studio made from adobes baked on the property and that included her father’s remarkable doors. Since returning to Arizona many years ago, she has choreographed and directed too many productions to name at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, local high schools, community colleges and community theaters. An enlarged arts studio today provides working space for local architects and artisans and through the years has hosted an eclectic parade of artists, photographers, potters, woodworkers, quilters, playwrights, philosophers and others, many of national and international renown.


In 2009, she was hired for her special expertise with adobe to manage the project that took Sandra Day O’Connor’s 1950s ranch house apart brick by brick from its Paradise Valley location and moved it to the western end of Papago Park for re-assembly. Her work included restoration at the new site.


She has served on the boards of numerous arts organizations and commissions – the Scottsdale Fine Arts Commission, the Public Arts Commission, the Scottsdale Public Arts Board, the Scottsdale Center for the Arts Board, the Scottsdale Arts Center Association Board – contributing time, expertise and financial support.


She also serves as a founder and trustee of the Philip Curtis Charitable Trust for the Encouragement of Art, established to maintain the substantial collection of paintings the artist left to the trust. Many of these were painted during his residency at the Ellis art compound.


Ellis was honored as a visionary by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art with itsContemporary Catalyst Award in 2006.



Opening March 10 and continuing through April 30, Cattle Track Couture: Fashion by Rachel Ellis, an exhibit and catalog, will feature clothing made by Janie’s mother. Phoenix Art Museum’s Curator of Fashion Design Dennita Sewell says the project is creative, resourceful and imaginative. “Rachel created a remarkable body of work that goes beyond the practical and necessary service of a wardrobe to serve as a visual expression of her deep and lasting bond with her daughter, Janie,” Sewell says.


– Story by Sandy Doubleday; photos by Ron Nachtwey


Photo at top: Women of Scottsdale founders Wink Blair, left, and Linda Herold, right, with Janie Ellis


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