The Intelligencer

By Steve Wartenberg

Brushing MS Aside photo

The disease ignites intense aches and pains, so Karlene King Ellsworth truly greets her life one day at a time. However, she does have a way of expressing herself as an artist.

Everyday Karlene King Ellsworth wakes up and takes inventory of her body, hopeful all her various parts will be in working order and she’ll be able to get up and out of bed. 

And paint.

“I wake up and wonder what functions will be working — or won’t be working.” The courageous Doylestown artist said. “I’ve been blind, I’ve lost my voice, I haven’t been able to hold things, my legs have been paralyzed.”

Fortunately, all these functions have returned.

Ellsworth has Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system and can result in the loss of muscular coordination and speech.

But Ellsworth isn’t about to let MS stop her.

She’s got too much to do.

“The thing with MS is that people can respond to it by letting it become a block an get depressed.” she said. “I can’t do that. It’s not my personality. If I have to have a chronic progressive disease that can’t be cured, this one’s not that bad. At least the form I have.”

Amazingly, Ellsworth (who paints under the name Karlene King) said she has never been happier. 

She recently married John Ellsworth and has found fulfillment in her new career as an artist.

Although she has only been painting since 1992, Ellsworth is already exhibiting and selling her work.

Her still life “Ginger Jar” was accepted into the 136th annual Exhibition of Small Oil Paintings at the Philadelphia Sketch Club, which opened on Jan. 10 and runs through Feb 20, 1999.

This is third consecutive year Ellsworth has been part of this prestigious show. She has also exhibited her work at the Ivyland Art Group Show, Doylestown Art League, New Hope Art Show, Oreland Art Center and Tinicum Art Show.

“No matter how much is taken away from me physically, spiritually I am still free to express myself though my art.” she said. “And right now, I still have the physical ability to be a detailed artist. If I ever have less function, I’ll find another way to express myself — maybe through more abstract art.”

The artist can’t help smiling as she shows and talks about “Like a Mozart Symphony”, a beautiful still life painting of a pear and a bunch of grapes in a silver goblet.

“I painted this the day after John asked me to marry him.” she said. “He took a look at it and said, ‘It looks like a Mozart symphony.’ ”

Ellsworth, who grew up in Perkasie and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and earned a master’s degree at Temple University, has had MS since she was 20.

This didn’t stop her from working her way up the corporate ladder at Unisys Corp., where she eventually became Worldwide Director of Methodology (the methods used to develop computer systems.)

She also has two grown children from a previous marriage.

In 1993, Ellsworth’s condition took a turn for the worse.

“I used to go into complete remission (after an episode).” she explained. “But now, I have the next stage–chronic stage, a more progressive stage. I don’t have full function in my legs and can’t stand for too long.”

In 1996, Ellsworth had to leave Unisys, on full disability.

Fortunately, and thanks to the nagging of her friend, Ellen Hall, she has a new career to throw herself into: art.

For several years, Hall, an Ivyland resident and the founder of the Ivyland Art Group, had been after her friend to draw and paint.

“She kept telling me I had to do something besides spending all my time at work on airplanes for business trips.” said Ellsworth, who had never taken a class or been involved in art in any way.

“I kept telling her,” Hall said. “I let her know it was an avenue for her to explore.” Finally, she gave in and attended one of Hall‘s classes. 

 “There was a model and it was a portrait class,” Hall said. “This is the hardest class and a lot of people couldn’t have handed being thrown right into this. But she dove right in and when I saw her do it with such courage, I knew she could learn anything. She took all the energy she used to put into the corporate world and turned around and put it into the art world.”

As soon as Ellsworth discovered oils, she knew she was on the right track. “I fell in love with oils.” she said.

She also fell in love with chiaroscuro, a style of painting that incorporates light and shadow to create a feeling of depth and warmth. The qualities are easy to see in her work, which have an elegant, old master’s feel to them.

“My work is about light,” Ellsworth said. “It lets my light shine through and God’s light shine through.”

Ellsworth’s education as an artist is continuing with Hall, with Frank Arcuri, with the Doylestown Art League and also at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she is studying under a Special Needs Grant.

After her grant runs out she would like to take more courses at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy.

But it’s hard for her to plan that far into the future. “Everything depends on my health.” she said. “I try not to plan too far in advance. That way I’m not too devastated if I can’t do something.”

One thing she knows she’ll be doing in the future is her art.

“It gives me a place of meditation and a feeling of serenity and competence,” she said. “ And a sense of fulfillment.”