The Life Of Ellinore Ginn
Whimsy Of Another World

As reported in the 1986 New Zealand Times and the Kapi-Mana combined - celebrating her 40th year as a painter and exhibitor.

Ellinore 1971 At Age 56

Artist Ellinore Ginn is not of this world.
At Wellington's Titahi Bay, looking out to Mana Island and, in the distance, the South Island, she walks the dog along the beach; she looks after her husband and daughter and grandson; she entertains friends; she reads and watches television. She spreads a canvas on the kitchen table, sketches an idea, puts on a wash, begins to paint.

And now, her real world starts to appear - faun-like people with sweet gentle faces, harlequins, clowns, musicians, flowers, animals whose eyes are alive with understanding. As she develops her characters, she removes from reality. "I'd rather live in a fantasy land," she says. "I'd rather be a woodcutters wife, walking up a hill to a little house with a wooden gate. I like the colour combinations in the real world, the shifting and changing scenes. I like people of ineffable sweetness, but, there aren't many of them about - are there?"

At 71 Ellinore Ginn is almost an ananchronism. A dahlia-like lady with a beautiful face and long hair and skirts, she is extremely artistic - and almost frighteningly vulnerable. Unlike most people who hide their doubts behind assumed expressions, she is apparently without defense.

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Ellinore Ginn

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She has exhibited her work here and overseas, earned rave reviews, and been compared to Marc Chagall. But "boring" is the word she uses most often about herself. She has become "tedious"; there's nothing of interest to say about her she feels.

She has exhibited her work here and overseas, earned rave reviews, and been compared to Marc Chagall. But "boring" is the word she uses most often about herself. She has become "tedious"; there's nothing of interest to say about her she feels.

Currently, 14 of her paintings are on display at the Couturier Gallery in Stamford, Connecticut. Madame Coutier called to see her three months ago, asking to see samples of her work. She loved it, and felt it would go down well in America. "I thought of the almighty dollar," Ellinore Ginn says, "and I said yes." She chose paintings from her own walls and her daughter's walls, and did a couple of new ones to make up the numbers. She sent them to America in March, and the exhibition opened on May 7 to run till June 14. "Now I am just waiting - to see how it goes, and for the energy and inspiration to start work again. The way I feel now, I don't know if I ever will."

She repudiates her comparison to Chagall. "I could never reach the heights he did, I haven't his village knowledge. He grew up in a village and his work reflects the sadness and love of that life. I had a conventional up-bringing in Canada. I did suffer tremendously in London as a painter and actress, but my work lacks Chagall's deep nostalgia. Mine's more whimsical. I love whimsy. I like to joke that Chagall copied me, not vice versa - in fact I never copied him at all, I was much more influenced by Van Gogh."

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Ellinore Ginn © Copyright 1983

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She was born Ellinore Wilson in Ontario, one of the four children of an Irish businessman father and a Scots artist mother. Her parents' talents were equally shared - she and her twin sister Marion paint, and her two brothers Francis and Albert are businessmen. She went to Bishop Bethune College, a school for young ladies, and at a tender age left for Toronto where she worked with Lorne Greene doing commercials for CBC, while training at the Harthouse Theatre with director Nancy Piper. "My father, thinking I might be Sarah Bernhardt, let me study acting at RADA. I was there when Vivien Leigh was there, and I met her - a petite woman with an exquisite face."

She was invited, on the strength of her "so - called ability" to join Northampton Repertory, where she starred in several roles and spent two years in the Midlands in a dinghy Victorian boarding house with a gas ring in her room. Unable to stand the misery of it, she returned to London and threw herself on the mercy of drama producer Val Gielgud (Sir John's brother) who agreed to give her a contract for 4 years. "He liked me, I think, because I was wearing a sexy grey striped suit. He was a great one for the women. I didn't have anything to do with him, although I live a lot. I told him I could sing too, so when Marjorie Westbury fell ill I was asked to take her part in a play in which her character had to sing a Chopin serenade. "God! I had to get a singing teacher who strove to help me. Came the day, I thought 'I'll never do it'. I went to Rothwell House, where the studio was situated, with flagging steps.

When I got there, I just thought "No, I can't do it", so I ran away down Oxford Street, I thought it over, then ran back, played the part, and sang my song. My teacher told me the song was nice, but, I had a little tremor. I thought, "So would you if you'd just run about a mile".

Ellinore was for some years close to Carlton Hobbs, and knew other greats of the time like Howard Rose, Nestor Payne, Gladys Young, and Belle Crystal. She did a lot of work for the BBC drama department with actors like Flora Robson, Norman Shelley, and Ralph Richardson - the latter a "terribly pompous" man. "He had one microphone all to himself, and the rest of us had to make do with the other." While at the BBC the plays were recorded and sent to America. Her experiences included a tour of the United States, and she made extra money with contract work as the official poetry reader to schools in India, produced by Patrick Dickinson of the BBC.

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Ellinore at home in her lounge.
Photograph By: Neil Penman

As time went by she turned more and more to art. She had studied at the Heatherley School of Art (Interior Design and Theatre) in Chelsea - "a bit of a snooty school, but people rushed to get into it because of its wonderful teachers, Sir Frederick Whiting and Iain McNab". The New Zealand artist Gwen Knight trained there, and she said to me "Ellinore, go there if you possibly can". So, with my heart in my mouth, I took along some drawings - and I was accepted. I graduated with honours.

During the blitz in Croydon she was an ambulance driver. This involved driving into some terrible places, including a flattened perfume factory where most of the women were killed. "I was a coward, I hated it more that I can say." But, she was decorated for valour by Admiral Evans of HMS Broke; she celebrated when the lights went on in London at the war's end; and she married Russell Ginn, an insurance broker with Lloyds, whom she met through an actress friend, Joan Heal. "Russel was going around with Joan, and switched to me, it was a case of opposites attracting."

He was a New Zealander, from Wellington, and wanted to return home. She made a short trip to Canada to see her family, and then with her new husband saw New Zealand in 1947 for the first time in her life. "I was devastated. I felt a profound barrenness of spirit, and I think it was then I turned from reality to fantasy, as a defence. My husband's mother had a beach house at Titahi Bay and we made that our home. It has been ever since - just the three bedrooms, small living area, sunporch, and kitchen. I paint on the kitchen table, I haven't a studio."

Ellinore found Titahi Bay arid, and set about developing the Titahi Bay Little Theatre (now the Porirua Little Theatre, and a going concern). A naturally gregarious person, she determinedly sought out local people to join her group. "I wasn't just director, I was a one-man show for a while. I modeled myself on Maureen O'Hara, dyeing my hair red and floating barefoot round the streets. People used to say, "who the hell do you think you are?" I thought I was the greatest - Ingrid Bergman had nothing on me."

I had long dark hair then, and always dressed in beads and frills, as I do now. I suppose I was regarded as a bit mad, though I made many friends and had a wonderful time with the group. We did plays like Gaslight, Ladies in Retirement, Come Back Little Sheba, Ring Around The Moon, and Hay Fever. One of our members, Brian Hudson, who's now a broadcaster, decided he and I should do readings from The Taming of the Shrew. It was a cold winter night and I was terribly nervous. I had a lot of whisky and got dead drunk - I can remember the curtain going up and the Presbyterian minister sitting in the front row, and me saying, "Hell's teeth, I've forgotten my lines". That finished me as an actress. It was fun, but I enjoyed painting more and more and turned to it as an escape from the quiet desperation of living in Titahi Bay in those days - it was so bleak, so windswept and remote.

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Titahi Bay

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In 1950 she was actively involved in fundraising for the Catholic Church in Titahi Bay (then part of the Porirua parish) Between fundraising and paintings she had four of her paintings in the NZ Academy of Fine Arts between 1956 and 1958. One was of the late Alex Lindsay as a minstrel player. Continuing her painting through the years, she also studied with Paul Oldes in 1966. From 1971 on there were busy years for Ellinore. She taught art at Hartham Centre on Saturday mornings and took art classes at Mana College in the evenings.

The Red Cottage Gallery in Kelvin Grove, Wellington was once a shabby dwelling until Ellinore and her friends scrubbed, wallpapered it and painted it red. One exhibition after another was held for "unknown" and known exhibitors of Wellington to show their work. As a result, the gallery was booked solid for two years. Ellinore's first exhibitor was Robyn Kahukiwa, and after that, names such as Tui McLauchlan, Bety Eaton, Peter Leitch, Marie Stephens and many others followed one after the other, all well recognised by their work today.

When she had to eventually give up the gallery in Wellington, she opened another under the same name at Waikanae which also helped young painters to show their work. With all this happening, Ellinore still found time to paint and had her largest and most successful exhibition of 65 paintings at James Smith's, opened by Avis Higgs who was most impressed.

Over the years, she's had many exhibitions in Wellington, Christchurch, and Auckland. Joan Sutherland, Lady Todd, and New Zealand Embassies are among owners of her works, which also hang in Government House. When Prince Charles and his family were in New Zealand, interiors of Government House were shown on television, and Ellinore's daughters excitedly told her of seeing some of her little horses in Prince William's bedroom.

Her paintings are poetic fantasy in which nostalgia, the joy of meeting, and the sadness of parting are main elements. Right now, she feels she's at a stalemate. She's uncertain whether to go on painting or not. If she does, she needs a theme - "something tremendously absorbing". "I wish I'd stayed in Canada. I love the landscape, the trees and squirrels, and the Canadian winter with that feeling of being cosy and warm and well-cared for indoors. But, I'm still a Canadian citizen and I guess that gives me a right to be buried there if I want to."

Ellinore and her husband have five daughters. Margot, the eldest, "a nice, practical person who sees me safely through the difficulties of life". Diana, Joanna, and Adair are all artists, and another daughter is a well-known overseas photographer. Ellinore is recognised as a foremost painter of poetic fantasy from her exhibitions far and wide. She says she is a sensually naive painter and her portrayals of innocence have found a ready market for overseas collectors. It is the innocence of her work that has given her the strong following of admirers. She refuses to change her style of painting and by it she remains unique in her field of work. She paints mostly innocent faces with the odd bird, butterfly, flower of dog peeping out from the most unlikely places, all very whimsical.

Hats And Dogs Painting Image
Of Hats And Dogs And Candy Floss

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Wilson Descendants Ginn Descendants Anna Ginn Russel Ginn Russel's Dinghy Frodo George W Ginn Poems Ellinore's Life My Tribute to Mum
Poppelwell Descendants Dugald Poppelwell Mackenzie Descendants Ellinore's Daughters Ellinore's Grandchildren Fantasy Paintings Heatherley's School of Art Harlequin Paintings Ellinore's CV
Platero & I Paintings Story of Platero Exhibitions Newspaper Clippings Jug of Memories Porirua Little Theatre Titahi Bay NZ Links to other sites Awards

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