Member Spotlight - November

Getting to Know Ellen Phillips

Ellen met her husband Ken in Ohio, and they moved to Illinois in the early 80’s. She kept busy raising three daughters. As her children began to grow up, Ellen decided she needed to give herself a “gift of time for herself”, and she took a class in basket making through the St. Charles Park District. Ellen credits that class as a real turning point for her life as it opened up a whole world of artistic possibilities. She knew immediately that basket making would become her passion, and she enthusiastically researched materials and techniques. She began teaching herself basic processes and locating sources for supplies.


As Ellen honed her skill set and acquired new techniques, she began teaching classes to small groups in people’s homes. She found that she really enjoyed not only making baskets, but also teaching others to make baskets. She also offered in home shows and eventually she participated in the Craftworks shows and workshops that were held at Le Roy Oaks Forest Preserve in St. Charles. It was at these events that Ellen met Heather Winslow and Diane Evenson, who encouraged her to visit Fine Line. On one of her visits to the new Fine Line campus, Ellen met Denise Kavanagh, one of Fine Line’s founders. Denise was impressed with Ellen’s basketry and suggested that Ellen take some classes at Fine Line. Eventually, Denise also enlisted Ellen to teach basketry, and thus began a long history of Ellen’s basket making classes and workshops at Fine Line.

Ellen enjoys the diversity that is possible in the many forms that baskets can take, as well as the wide array of decorative elements and number of practical applications of basketry techniques. To add more styles and approaches to her repertoire, Ellen continues to attend regional basket workshops and retreats where she not only learns about new approaches and materials, but also enjoys keeping in contact with her fellow artists in the basket making community.

Ellen says she didn’t know she could teach until she learned to make a basket. Building on her teaching skills in basketry, she decided to work as an aide and teacher with pre-school and kindergarten students when an opportunity opened up in St. Charles. She also felt her experience back in Ohio working as an aide with special needs students provided valuable insight and practical knowledge for working with diverse populations. More recently, Ellen was able to apply her educational experiences to her time as a volunteer for the Joshua Tree Community. Joshua Tree offers extended learning and social experiences to adults who have aged out of the special needs programs in the tri-cities schools. For the past four years, Ellen has taught monthly workshops at Fine Line for students in a variety of disciplines, including ceramics, tie dye, weaving, printmaking, and of course, basket making!

In addition to sharing her passion for basket making, Ellen also enjoys taking a variety of classes at Fine Line including weaving and jewelry making. In her “spare” time, Ellen does yoga and enjoys spending time with her children, grand children and dogs. She is a frequent volunteer at Fine Line events such as Uncommon Threads, Exploration Day and Fine Line Festival of the Arts (FLAF). Ellen was one of the co-chairs for Raku Day, which was the foundation of FLAF when it first opened on the new Fine Line campus. She has led craft workshops at the St. Charles History Museum during the annual Electric Parade during Thanksgiving week and routinely helps wherever there is a call for volunteers.

Looking ahead, Ellen would like to see more opportunities for young people to take classes and participate at Fine Line. Because of her experiences working with diverse populations and age groups, Ellen can see many ways to establish partnerships with area groups at Fine Line that can establish connections and benefit participants.

Ellen has work for sale in Uncommon Threads in October and in the annual Holiday Artisan Market in December. You can find her basket work for sale in the Dempsey Gallery.