Ellen Long smiles when she recalls the day seagulls swarmed her grandchildren as they threw pieces of bread in the air. They were like "seagulls on speed," she said.
That memory became an oversized watercolor that today hangs in her Fripp Island home.
Her piece, "Dinner is Served," illustrates the osprey nest near the Fripp Island Bridge, which greets her when she travels on and off of the island.
One of her newest pieces, "Wounded Warrior," was inspired by a shrimp boat she spotted at Gay Fish Co. on her drive along the Sea Island Parkway. Shortly after she snapped a photo from which to paint it, the boat disappeared.
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Each stroke of Long's paint brush is part of a story or a memory from her life.
All of these paintings are part of a 34-piece exhibit titled, "Views From My Window: The Watercolors of Ellen Long," that is open through Oct. 27 at the Beaufort Art Association Gallery on Bay Street in Beaufort.
A 360-degree view of Fripp Island's daily sunrises and sunsets shine through two 22-foot wide picture windows in Long's living room. Swaying sea oats and pampas grass frame the tidal pool between her home and the Atlantic Ocean. Shrimp trawlers, beachgoers and kite-fliers offer a host of subjects for her artwork.
Long's colorful, energy-filled paintings pop against the muted colors of the rosy beige walls where paintings hang filled with memories made with her three children and six grandchildren.
She often snaps photos of her subjects, then traces the photos to watercolor paper by taping the two together and using her oversized windows as a light box.
Shorebirds, one of her favorite subjects, are abundant on Fripp, a barrier island which offers about three miles of beach at low tide.
Watercolor is her medium of choice because of its versatility.
"I love the transparency of watercolor. It has a glow, a luminous quality. I can see through it and you can put one layer over another and be able to see both colors," she said.
A native of Arkansas, Long recalls that art was deemed just as a important as math in her school.
"I painted from early elementary school and won an art contest in the sixth grade," she said. "They disallowed it in the art show because they said a child could not have done that."
Long continued her love of fine arts in high school and then at the College of William & Mary and at Richmond Professional Institute.
While working as an interior decorator for 23 years in the Atlanta area, Long and her husband, Leon, discovered Fripp Island on a vacation in the 1970s.
"Once we found Fripp, we never went anywhere else on vacation," she said.
Shortly after moving to Fripp in 1996, she found the Beaufort Art Association and began painting full time.
She immediately signed up for a class with Gloria Dalvini, a BAA member and then-art gallery owner.
Dalvini describes Long's work as "realistic" with an occasional touch of humor.
"It is remarkable how she has progressed in the years since she took one of the first classes I ever taught," Dalvini said. "I think where she lives has a lot to do with her inspiration. It is so Lowcountry, and I think that shows in her work."
Over the years, Long has become dedicated to the art association. She used her interior decorating skills to help design the gallery when it was inside the historic George Elliott House and in the current Bay Street gallery.
As education coordinator for the association, she helped start the BAA Studio in which classes are taught to the public by members to help support the gallery.
Long credits the many classes she has taken with her progress, as well as the support of painting with the Thursday Painters Group. The group of a dozen artists formed after taking Dalvini's first class and continues to meet weekly.
The varying colors offered in the Lowcountry continue to inspire Long.
"I am awed by the incredible light from early morning sunrise over to ocean to that beautiful golden glow that occurs just before sundown," she said.