Pamela Ellsworth owns two galleries in addition to being a photographer and graphics designer. She is originally from Connecticut, and spent much of her adult life in Southern California. She now enjoys what I think is an extraordinary and wonderful lifestyle in a tiny, magical town called Madrid.
Pamela recently took time out of her busy schedule to do an interview for us. I think her answers are inspiring for anyone who aspires to quit their day job and do what they’ve always wanted to do, and for those who are hoping one day to find a place where they feel they belong.
AnaMana: Today I’m talking to Pamela Ellsworth, an artist and owner of two galleries in New Mexico, near Santa Fe.
How do you begin your morning?
Pamela Ellsworth: When I come to the gallery in the morning, I have this beautiful humming bird fountain from one of my artists, and I turn that on. And then I have all these cedar fragrances, spray mists, and I spray it all through the gallery, and it creates a nice, warm feeling, a welcoming feeling.
AM:As an artist, what medium do you work with most?
PE: Photography. I do a little graphic design, but mostly I focus on the photography.
AM: How would you describe your work?
PE: These days my photos are mostly of landscapes. New Mexico is an incredibly beautiful place, and the sunsets and the landscapes, that’s what I do most of.
AM: What other mediums have you explored?
PE: Stone carving, watercolors, pen and ink, pencil, I’ve even welded metal sculptures. Complete with an arc welding mask (laughs). Pastels, I love working with pastels. Charcoal.
AM: Is that a glittery star on your face?
AM: What is something you find particularly beautiful about the process of creating art?
PE: Watching it form. Like in a sculpture, you’re watching it take shape. When it’s done, you know it’s done, and I just want to keep looking at it.
AM: What do you find is one of the biggest challenges as an artist?
PE: Being inspired. With all that I’m doing these days with the business and everything, having the space in my mind to be inspired. Because it’s really difficult for me to do any art work if I’m not inspired. If I’m not feeling it here, (motions toward heart) I can’t.
AM: Did you study art in school at all?
PE: In high school, it got to the point where I just would go to school and go into the art room. Sometimes I wouldn’t even go to home room. I would just go straight to the art room, and just stay there all day. And I had a wonderful teacher, who actually got in trouble.
AM: For harboring you?
PE: (laughs) Yeah, pretty much. They tried to force him to enforce a structured art class, and I just was not I was not having any of it. ‘Cause again, going back to being inspired, I couldn’t do it, so I got up and left. And so he was like, “Ok, from now on, just bring me something at the end of the semester.” And I did, and that was how we worked it. If I needed help, I would ask him.
AM: Are there things that you learned in school that you use regularly in your work?
PE: Um, you know,.. I mean.. reading. (laughs) …but yeah, it’s really interesting how much math comes into play. Especially with the graphic art.
AM: What about stuff that you learned in the art class?
PE: Because I hadn’t listened in school, I’ve been forced to teach myself… which is ok. It’s like on-the-job training. I’ve never really taken any photography classes, but I’ve been taking pictures since I was ten years old so over the years I’ve learned a couple things.
AM: What made you decide to move to New Mexico?
PE: Jesse. (laughs)
AM: That’s your partner?
PE: Yeah. We had been living in California, Southern California, in the high desert. I really didn’t like it there, I didn’t like the high desert, it was really hot and miserable. I grew up in Connecticut, where there were a lot of trees and water, and kind of was missing that. So I thought I wanted to go up to Oregon. For ten years, Jesse, he’d been telling me he wanted to go back to Santa Fe. So we took a little trip up to Oregon, and checked it out, and then he said, “Let’s go to Santa Fe”. And as soon as I got here, I was instantly at home. And we went back to LA, got all of our stuff, and moved back.
AM: What was your first home in New Mexico like?
PE: It was a little two bedroom casita in the middle of the Pinyon Ponderosa Pine Forest. Absolutely beautiful. The person who built it pulled the trees away from the house, built the house, he even built the deck around a tree, and then when he was done with the house, he let the trees come back up. So this house is really IN the woods. (laughs)
AM: And when did you decide to move to Madrid?
PE: About a year and a half later, I had remembered that I always wanted to have a gallery, and so I was able to do it. I figured, I have a gallery in Madrid, I should move to Madrid. So I did.
AM: Were you successful right away?
PE: No. Nobody knew I was there. I was around the corner from the main drag, and I had a really hard time getting people to know that I was there. It was really difficult. The first Winter was really rough.
AM: How do you decide which items to carry?
PE: I have to go with my instincts, what I like, and then I have to kind of hope other people like it too. Most of the artwork on the walls is mine. And that happened because people started buying my work and when somebody would buy something, I’d replace it with two more things. So I’ve come to understand that that’s something that people like. The Guatemalan jewelry, the beaded jewelry, that was somebody who just off the street, came in out of nowhere, and as it turns out, it sells really well.
AM: Which items are your biggest sellers?
PE: Well, my photography is probably the biggest. And then there’s the Native American jewelry, and then the Czech glass, the Guatemalan Czech glass bead work.
AM: You own Chumani gallery now too. How did that all happen?
PE: Todd, who used to own Chumani Gallery was working seven days a week. And Jesse and Todd got to be friendly and Todd was telling Jesse “If I could just get somebody over here one day a week I could get a day off,” and Jesse said “I can put in a day”. So he did and then one day ended up turning into three days, and then next thing you know, Jesse turned Chumani from something that was not doing very well to a gallery that was really doing very well. Todd had been wanting to go to Belize with his wife and daughter, and he needed to find somebody who could take over Chumani. And that person happened to be Jesse.
AM: Have you made many friends in New Mexico?
PE: Yes, yes, I have. In fact I have more friends in New Mexico than I had anywhere I’ve ever lived.
AM: What’s one of your favorite things about living in New Mexico?
PE: Thaaaat’s a tough question.
PE: Yeah! Everything is my favorite. (laughs) The environment, the energy, the people, the entire experience. (laughs) Yeah.
AM: Do you have a favorite color?
PE: (laughs) Pale yellow. I really like pale yellow.
AM: Me too!
PE: Really? Oh.. yellow, it’s such a wonderful color. Not really huge on this ’cause it’s more of an orange-y yellow. (motions to yellow sarong hanging in front of a window as a make-shift curtain)
AM: I’ve been really enjoying that.
PE: Oh really?
PE: Oh thank you. It’s from Bali. (laughs)
AM: How about a favorite flower?
PE: Columbines and irises.
AM: What does a bee sting feel like?
PE: (laughs) It REALLY hurts!! (laughs) But the thing is, is that the only time I’ve ever been stung by a bee is when I didn’t know that there was a bee there.