J. Ellen Austin
Service Announcement and Tribute to an Artist
J. Ellen Austin, proud Ashland, Ore. resident, shed her earthly ties November 3, 2015, like the beautiful, free butterflies she loved, and soared to new adventures and accomplishments at 90 years young.
Artist, stone sculptor, gallerist, visionary, entrepreneur, pioneer, activist, role model, rebel, debutante, feminist, learned, and athletic, J. Ellen was dedicated to learning, growing, giving, and laughing.
Jane Ellen Gilson Austin, also known as “Corky” in school, because as some put it, “She’s a corker, she’s a New Yorker.” was born in Schenectady, N.Y. She was raised to be a young lady of society, a debutante, and was educated at St. Agnes School, Ecole Champlain and graduated from The Baldwin School, Bradford Junior College, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.
“Pourquoi Pas” was her favorite motto. Being a mother of four was not enough. She was a Greenwich, Conn. top tennis player, skier, master swimmer, and taught gifted students. J. Ellen’s love for travel took her to Europe, China, Egypt, and to discover Cornish relatives in Great Britain. A passionate, political, and cultural campaigner, her daughters joined her as early as age eight, fundraising for political candidates (both parties), supporting the arts, public library, and Planned Parenthood.
In the late 1960s, J. Ellen and her husband, Stuart, moved their children and Nantucket retriever to Europe. They explored many countries from the Netherlands to the Mediterranean, resting in Nice, France and enjoying skiing in Switzerland and Italy. Upon returning to the United States, she completed graduate school in the 1970s at Pratt and University of Bridgeport and reinvented herself for her long- time passion, art, first as an art therapist, then painter, sculptor, and other mediums.
J. Ellen's artwork and sculpture reflected metaphors for the feminine desire for creativity; to risk and open up, to view from a different perspective; to explore the femininity, myths, and mysteries. One such sculpture, “Free Us From Tyranny,” a hollowed-faced woman and baby supplicates for a woman’s right to have control over her own body. J. Ellen looked at her sculpture as an intimate, ongoing dialogue between the viewer, the work, and themselves.
J. Ellen made an entrance to every event, sophisticated, but with a ready smile and a wink. She loved creating new ventures, her own or supporting young and old talent in her community. She helped to intuit and guide Ashland’s distinction as a “Top 10 Small Town for Art in the U.S.” in the 1990s, still managing her art gallery until 2015. She helped to establish the trendy Ashland “Railroad District," designing, building, and managing gallery-residence units.
Her JEGA Gallery and Sculpture Garden drew art-savvy people for over 20 years. Artists from as far as Asia and Australia came to exhibit works in her JEGA Gallery. Her own paintings and sculptures are exhibited globally in private clients’ homes and businesses.
She was the youngest child, and only daughter, of the late Eleanor (Hanchette) and Wesley James Gilson; sister of the late Wesley Jr., Robert and James; and predeceased by her husbands, James Sumner Riddick Francis and Stuart O’Neil Austin. J. Ellen is survived by her four daughters, Carolyn, Laurie, Amy, and Rebecca; her two grandchildren, Robert, and Ellee; and her faithful Shar-pei, Chi.
A celebration of J. Ellen’s life and work, “Remembering JEGA!” will be held on Sunday, January 17, 2016. For more information call (541) 488-2474 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In lieu of flowers, please consider fighting for the arts! Memorial contributions may be made to The JEGA Students Art Fund by contacting the Ashland Gallery Association, P.O. Box 241, Ashland, Ore. 97520, (541) 488-8430.
J. Ellen's final installment, "Passing Through," in translucent Italian Alabaster, can be visited at Scenic Hills Memorial Park at 2585 E Hills Drive, Ashland, Ore. “Open a New Window, Open a New Door.”