Artist profile: Ella May Mason

[Correction 8 February 2007: I had misspelled her name and have corrected the error.]

I’ve shared before about how my wife and I came to purchase a cute bungalow here in Northwest Arkansas. What I didn’t mention in that post was the name of the previous owner: Ella May Mason.

In what seems to me a Divine irony, Ella May Mason was an artist. A significant motivation for purchasing this home revovled around my own artistic needs. Neither my wife or I liked our second bedroom in the apartment (which also served as the office, the studio and a spot for our deep freeze) being covered in wood chips and saw dust or reeking of paint thinner and varnish.

We learned right away that Miss Mason owned the house we purchased. Mason taught at John Brown University from 1959-1973 as a professor of art, and owned this bungalow. She was also very active in Siloam Springs’ Sager Creek Arts Center, to which a lot of her books and studio paraphernalia went upon her death.

Mason’s two nephews from Mississippi handled her estate, and they left a lot of odds and ends in the house when it sold. To my chagrin, however, they didn’t leave any of her artwork. A lot of printmaking supplies, papier-mache and antiquing kits were in her studio and the attic, but none of the cardboard shipping tubes in the house held any treasures as I hoped.

Imagine how thrilled I was then, attending an opening last year at the JBU gallery, when I finally got to see one of her paintings:

Painting by Ella Mae Mason

She left this piece to the university. I don’t know what it’s titled or when Mason painted it, and I’ve never seen any of her other work. This seems to be a painting of Chinese dolls propped up with dowels on a base; I vaguely remember my own great grandmother displaying some similar dolls in her home in my youth.

I make no judgments about this piece or Mason’s work in general. One painting in the life of an artist does not do justice to an artist’s portfolio or skill.

But at least I’ve seen some of her work now.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

13 Responses to Artist profile: Ella May Mason

  1. Rhonda says:

    I have one of Ella May Mason’s water colors from 1948. I’m from Mississippi was wondering if you know anything more about her…

  2. TAE says:


    Wow! That is really cool. I’ve only seen one of her works, owned by the small Christian university here in Siloam Springs, Arkansas — as noted in this post. I don’t know how much more I can say about her that’s relevant, but I’ll try.

    She died about three months after having a stroke in late 2004 or early 2005. She was an avid gardener; we haven’t been able to keep the backyard up as well as she did. When we bought the house it was painted entirely a drab mint green (the paint on the walls was probably more than 25 years old) — the walls, the trim and the carpets were all green. The one exception was a room in the back of the house with a floral wallpaper.

    She never married from what we’ve been told. The bungalow had locks everywhere, as well as a security system. The neighbors, who my wife went to college with, suggested she thought herself feisty enough to fight off intruders as it was. They had apparently suggested she come to him when she needed assistance of some kind.

    A box of printing blocks was left in the home which she used to create small thank you cards and invitations. I’m pondering the use of these in some of my upcoming clay work. The attic contained a number of the printed cards and thousands of unused envelopes. A large trunk is also in the attic; it will remain there when we move as it doesn’t fit out of the access.

    She was friends with two people I know, if I recall correctly: Joyce Munn and Bep Morrison. From what I remember she attended the Methodist church in downtown Siloam Springs.

    I think that’s about all I can tell you. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE email me a photograph of the painting! I would love to see another one of her paintings!

    • mike burns says:

      i just bought a framed picture of ella may mason on the back it has a typed label that says “deserted house”. which that is what the painting is. the size of picture & frame is 29 x 35. if you can tell me anything about this please do.

  3. Pingback: Ella May Mason watercolor « The Aesthetic Elevator

  4. Sue Ellen Smith says:

    I am proud to say I knew Ella Mae, and yes she was diffently fiesty. I first knew her from church and then learned that she only lived around the corner from me. We visited often. I am sad to learn of her death, she was an awesome woman.

    In her bungalow she had a small front room, it might have only looked small because she had so much art on the walls. As you walked in, there was a painting of an asian roof, not one of hers, that would take your breath away. Absolutley huge, it took up almost the entire wall. I remember the picture of the geishas that she left to JBU. I was always in love with that work. I asked her to paint me something one day when we visited and she asked me what I would like, I told her I loved flowers, and that is what she painted me. When I took it to be framed the store owner was amazed. Ella Mae had painted all the way to the edges and so it was framed with the mat under the picture, so all the edges show. It hangs above my fireplace and I think of her everyday.

    She suffered from allergies form certain foods so she was limited in what she would fix. Living alone she just did not fix certain foods. She did love chocolate cake and I would take her a slice whenever I baked one and she was always elated.

    She was extremely intelligent and loved to talk about any subject, she excelled in the world of art. She knew so many painters personaly. I always looked up to her. I used to take my small daughter down to her house in hopes that some of that “fiesty’ spirit would rub off on her. I think it did, and I may pay for that one day, but I don’t mind.

    We moved away from Siloam Springs in 1996 and I think the last time I saw Ella Mae was about 1999. She was still doing pretty good.

    You now live in a house that has a great history and yes, a very lovely garden. However, I think that she liked it very full and overflowing, kinka like she was. I would love to send you a picture of her garden. It is the water color that hangs above my fireplace. It really is incredible.

  5. TAE says:

    I would love to have a picture of the garden and the painting over your fireplace! You can email them to TheAestheticElevator(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks for the anecdote. I love to read such stories.

  6. Pingback: Another Mason watercolor « The Aesthetic Elevator

  7. Regina Watson says:


    I too own a painting by Ella May Mason…It was painted in 1953 and is signed and on the back of the painting says “A Wintry Blow”. It is really beautiful. It depicts a countryside with trees, snow and a cottage.

  8. Zach Moore says:

    My mom and dad have an Ella May painting dated nov. 1945 it is a painting of a landscape. It is not very large, my great great grandmother got it in crystal springs mississippi. If any one knows anything about this i would be most grateful, thanks.

  9. Zach Moore says:

    hey sorry i gave you the wrong return email. it is

  10. Ann Lampe says:

    I am in Mississippi and also own one of Miss Mason’s watercolors. The date is ’41 or perhaps ’47. It is an odd thing. A bridge being built over a southern river. Small boats are moored at the bank. The landscape appears to be from this area.
    The painting was always a part of my life. I suspect that she gave it to my grandmother, the connection bring Marie Hull.
    Any information would be appreciated.

  11. ethel thompson says:
    4 feb. 2012 at 12:07 pm

    i am in mississippi and i also own two paintings by ella mae mason. i bought a house and they were left in the house for me. they are 1954- 1955 large paintings signed by ella mae mason.they are breath takeing paintings both smooth country side with a old rugged fence running along the road, and mountains, a railroad extends through the center. my email is i would like to know how much they are you have any sujustions if so please email me.

  12. Susan Glick-Schroader says:

    My mother was Ella May Mason’s cousin. Mom passed away in April of 2009, and I have 3 or Ella May’s paintings. I’m glad to read such wonderful words about our truly gifted family member. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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