The Boston Sunday Globe, September 29, 1996.
By Sally Abrahams
A Brookline potter finds Ghana a source of inspiration.

BROOKLINE - When you walk into Ellie Schimelman's living room, don't expect to find a sweet matching sofa and love-seat or a nature painting over the fireplace. And you shouldn't expect anything so commonplace anywhere else in her house, either. Not at Schimelman's. There, you'll be greeted by an enormous, fully open, African chiefs umbrella made with bright blue, orange, yellow, red, and green kente cloth. Two straw "initiation hats" - which Schimelman said are worn by girls from a tribe in Ghana after they have participated in a coming-of-age ceremony - hang from free-standing tree branches held in place by a floor vase. An African shirt is draped on the door into the dining room. And large, handsome, handmade baskets surround the fireplace and can be found all over her Brookline Village house. The umbrella was the gift of a Ghanaian friend. Schimelman, 57, also knows the other craftspeople whose work adorns her home. That's because Schimelman, herself a potter, spends four months each year in the tiny West African country Of Ghana, taking American artists there to study with master weavers, beaders and potters. After each trip, she returns laden with baskets, brass-carved figures, beads and woven cloth-, which she sells out of her house. All the profits go back to the Ghanaian artists, she said. Schimelman created her ABA Tours 18 months ago and has taken 25 artists to Ghana since. (ABA means female bon on Thursday, the day of Schimelman's birth. Many people in Ghana are named for the day of the week on which they were born. Schimelman's cat is Ama, which is a female bon on Saturday.) She is currently in Ghana planning the winter and summer tours, which cost $2,500 and include air fare, lodging for two weeks and art lessons. "What they won't get is a bus tour. My trips aren't for people who like to stay in an air-conditioned bus and see things from afar," said Schimelman, who discovered Ghana 18 years ago. "My aim is to integrate the Americans with the Ghanaians as much as possible, so our artists can see how they live and work and get to know them. I try to do it all on A very personal level." Schimelman's friends, in fact, will invite her group to have dinner at their houses. Schimelman, who is a part owner of the Cambridge Artists Cooperative and has taught crafts at a number of adult education centers in the Boston area, stays with her charges in Ghanaian cultural centers or houses in the village designed for visitors. They travel to the northwest Ashanti region known for its traditional crafts, southeast to the Volta area, famous for weaving, and to Odumasi Krobo, a village renowned for beading. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and a former crafts teacher in the Wellesley public school system, Schimelman always loved African art. Ghana is known for its weaving and cotton cloth, and she wanted to go to a country that was politically stable. Nearly two decades later, she is sharing the country with others. Last winter, Marcella Stasa of Upton discovered Ghana with Schimelman. "This was a way to get an insider's view. You don't always get a chance to live in an African village," said the weaver and ceramist, who stayed in a Ghanaian weaving village without electricity. "It was neat to be integrated into the weaving culture, or as much as a bunch of white women from the States could be! Everything we saw, every market we went to, was food for the eye and I came back with loads of ideas. I'm still working on some of the projects I started there," Stasa said. Schimelman said going to Ghana also helps her as an artist. "[The people] really energize me. It's a different and rich culture that looks at things differently and I find that inspiring," she said. When in Brookline, Schimelman works in her basement studio crafting bright cups, bowls and plates, depicting primitive animal figures that reflect an African influence. Schimelman is in Africa for the month, meeting with a local architect she hired to draw up plans for an artists' retreat that she hopes to build outside Accra, Ghana's capital city. Schimelman said she will apply for grants and raise funds from private sources to build a studio and living quarters so American and Ghanaian artists can work together. When she's not in residence, Schimelman said she will have Ghanaian artists stay there and sell their work. Schimelman wants to use only local materials, mostly mud, to build her project. "As a potter, I thought it would be appropriate to live in a big mud house," she said one re- cent afternoon, shortly before leaving on her trip. Schimelman said it's the people of Ghana who keep her going back year after year. "You don't run into prejudice there. They don't judge you by, the color of your skin," Schimelman said. "They figure out what you're doing there and if they think its for a good reason, they accept you and work with you. They're very open to outsiders." --- Back