Indiana Artisan woodworker Lee Ellis puts a twist on the common refrain, ‘some people fail to see the forest for the trees.’
For more than 20 years, the retiree from Eli Lilly Research Labs has seen the forest and the trees, if one considers his impressive body of work.
“I start with an Indiana tree and make pieces to show the beauty of the figure,” he says. “Indiana cherry is my favorite.”
Lee began working with wood in high school, doing furniture repair and turning parts. A farm boy from eastern Nebraska, Lee earned two degrees in microbiology — a bachelor’s from Colorado State and a master’s from the University of Nebraska — before serving a two-year stint in the Army.
He began his career in 1959 with Eli Lilly, in agricultural research. He left to earn a Ph.D. in virology from Michigan State, and returned as head of Lilly’s electron microscope lab, overseeing it for 29 years before retiring in 1993.
In the more than 20 years since, he has taken up gardening, walking and boating, but his greatest interest focuses on the repair of antique wood pieces and, increasingly, on creating bowls, platters, vessels and vases from Indiana hardwoods.
With an obvious appreciation for education, he also shared his skills and passion by teaching woodturning for several years at the Indianapolis Art Center.
“Many skills are needed to make individual pieces,” he says. “With wood, there are endless possibilities of pieces.”
In a state with an abundant supply of hardwood, there’s also nearly an endless number of woodworkers learning and honing their craft. Among that group, Lee and his work stand out.
“Indiana Artisan promotes the best artists in our state, and I wanted to be part of this group,” he says.
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