May 31, 2006

Living Animated Life: At Home With Ellen Nora

MTV uses her. Her work has been featured on HBO. And she knew the Pillsbury Dough Boy before he went high tech.

Ellen Nora, a painter, sculptor and stop motion animator (a 3-D animation that's not computerized), brings her eclectic style and originality to every aspect of her life. This summer, the HGTV cable television show "Look What I Did" will offer a sneak peak inside the artist's Southold home.

Nora's colorful and intricate mosaic work can be seen all over her humble abode, which was the old IGA Market in its former life.

From the outdoor patio garden to the kitchen countertops, bathtub and sink pedestal, Nora has turned her home life into a piece of living art. She merges art with functionality in a unique way that stamps every corner of her house.

Nora was born in Zurich, Switzerland to a small family of three girls. Steering her children away from the traditional, Nora's mother encouraged arts and crafts over 'girly' toys, such

as dolls.

"My mum never bought us girls Barbie dolls, so I made my own toys," Nora recalled.

At 17, Nora wanted to be an interior decorator and attended school in Zurich earning a Degree in Interior Decor and Window Display.

"I worked in that profession for a few years, but I wanted to do something more soulful. So I went into Art-Therapy and Psychology to teach physically and mentally handicapped children. Working with those children asks a lot from you, so after six years I took a much needed break and worked in an art gallery," she said.

Nora began helping a friend who owned a piano bar and met her future husband, jazz musician and producer Gil Goldstein. In 1984, they married and moved to New York.

That's when Nora decided to attend Parson's School of Design where she earned her Associates Degree in Illustration with Specialties in 3D Illustration, Painting and Sculpture. She later returned to Parson's to take courses in Art Direction for Film, Drafting for Interior Design and study sculpture with Paul Lucchesi. Her training in New York would catapult her into a long career of animation and clay sculpting.

Nora's recent stop motion animation was for an HBO series, Fairy Tales of the World, and an MTV series Celebrity Deathmtach, coupled with music videos for Public Enemy and Flavor Flav.

Additionally, she made character-designing clay models for MTV, Nickelodeon and television commercials throughout Europe, and puppets for legendary puppet master Jim Henson. Designing album covers for Blue Note Records and book jackets for New York Publisher Bob Hersh are two other notches on

her belt.

Nora has also dabbled in the world of commercials, doing animation for Cheez-Its, Kool Aid and Frito's, to name a few. She worked on the original Pillsbury Dough Boy commercial before it and other clays were computerized.

"Making animations for commercials was really fun to do," she said. "Some models were made out of clay, some out of cardboard." She worked on the animation for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Roland Fruit Roll Ups.

But life in this business is not without its controversy, and true to form, the customer always comes first.

Over a decade ago, a Hydrox Cookies commercial was pulled off the air because they felt the character Nora created too closely resembled the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

It wouldn't be the first commercial in which the clay characters that had been born from the hand would end up getting flushed, as was the case with Nora's Toilet Duck and the little green monsters hiding under the seat. "When the commercial was tested, it scared the kids and they didn't want to go to the bathroom," she explained.

Her Norman Rockwell-themed Rice Chex commercial, however, would go on to win an award.

What Nora has loved about her work is the ability to be free, "and to be able to do what I like to do. I'm pretty lucky to be able to do work that's art related and have the freedom to do it," she said.

She derives inspiration from nature and inspiring people. "I love being out here and at the cultural affairs in the city. If I have a bad day where I'm not inspired and my muse is asleep...I go for a run. But there's always a struggle until I'm able to release a creative birth. When I do, I feel relief and loose...and it just pours out of you."

The architect Antonio Guadi, and the great painters Picasso, Dali and Matisse have

influenced her, and so has her husband. "He gives me the freedom to create," she said. She is also passionate about food, cooking and

functional sculpture.

But life as an artist is not all wine and roses.

"The worst aspect of my work is that I have a hard time selling it, because it's a creation of yourself. There's so much of my own spirit in there. How do you sell that? If people see it and love it then they should just buy it!" she exclaimed.

Still, the best part of her work is when she can inspire other people to make art, especially kids. "My sculptures are whimsical, so they tend to bring people joy and laughter."

Nora intends on making documentaries for children, but in the meantime she is studying to become a licensed health nutritionist. And if you're in the Huntington area, her nine-foot character "Max" that was created for Nickelodeon's anti-smoking campaign has found a home there in the Cinema Arts Center. More of Nora's work can be seen in their Sculpture Gardens.

In Port Jefferson, her work will be in the exhibit "Of Nature and The Hand" at The Village Center until June 25. Also in Port Jefferson at the John Mather Memorial Hospital she will be part of a large group show at the 26th Annual Outdoor Sculpture Show and Reception on June 16, from 6-8 pm (exhibited until August 31). To view her work online, visit www.ellennora.com.

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