When did you know you were an artist?
ELY knew he was an artist at 4 years old in Dublin, Ireland, while studying painting and drawing with Pauline Bewick at the National Gallery Saturday children’s art classes. ELY emigrated to Allentown from Dublin at age 5 with his single American mom and five siblings, escaping domestic violence and street bombings in autumn 1969.
Why did you decide to pursue it as a career?
For ELY, pursuing a career path in the arts was intuitive — at age 11, taking ceramics classes at Baum Art School in the basement underneath the Allentown art museum — at 14, studying figure drawing and oil painting at Barstone Studio — at 18, attending Cooper Union School of Art in NYC, graduating with a BFA in painting and sculpture in 1987.
What’s been your hardest challenge?
The hardest challenge for ELY was continuing the creative process after college graduation. Working two summers at the Berkeley Pottery Studio in California was pivotal. Teaching ceramics and pottery at Baum for eight years proved useful.
What successes or achievements are you most proud of?
Recently ELY received an Allentown Arts Commission grant in 2020, and an NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) grant through the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts in 2022. The NEA grant funded his original audiobook, Saving Pottery Wheels,* which is available online.
What’s your advice for anyone who wants to explore art, but can’t seem to find the time or feels intimidated by a blank canvas?
ELY advises aspiring artists to find community, at least for moral support and encouragement. Stay creative and productive, because this will help you progress out of life’s tragedies.
Did the pandemic have an impact on your work or how you work?
ELY is still emerging triumphantly from the pandemic with the generous help of grants, patrons, and exhibition opportunities like this EPL show.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers about yourself or your art?
Since 2012, ELY has been a current studio artist at the Toshiko Takaezu Studio in Quakertown, NJ, where ELY continues to exhibit and fire his original ceramic art.
*Saving Pottery Wheels is a series of stories of young clay artists saving vintage potter’s wheels during the pandemic. The vintage wheels came from a variety of different places mostly on the east coast of the US and these are the stories of how they were refurbished and found new life with artists who will put them to good use. Each chapter is a unique inspirational tale of resourcefulness and resilience.
ART@EPL is the library’s exciting partnership with the Lehigh Art Alliance and the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. The series is funded through a grant from PA Partners in the Arts, making it possible for area residents to enjoy free art lectures and workshops from local artists working in pastels, charcoal, sculpture, and watercolor among others.
Visit the ART@EPL page to see all the artists who have led workshops and exhibited work at the library as part of ART@EPL.