Born in Manhattan in 1960, Ellen Mansfield’s love for art developed at an early age. Ellen, who was born deaf, struggled in school since she did not have access to sign language or interpreters. She found that art provided her with a visual voice, allowing her to express feelings of isolation and neglect she has experienced throughout her life. Pursuing her passion, Ellen worked with a variety of media on drawings, paintings and ceramics and earned a BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1984. It was not until she moved to Maryland, a year later, that she began to realize just how much her Deaf identity defined her as an artist.
Deafhood, a term coined by Dr. Paddy Ladd, signifies the process of understanding and embracing one’s Deaf identity. For many, the Deafhood journey involves Deaf View/Image Art (De’VIA), a genre that emerged in the late 1980’s. This style of Visual Arts represents Deaf experiences in a hearing dominant culture through repeated imagery. For example, depictions of mouths represent Deaf people being pressured to read lips or communicate through speech. Hands, however, symbolize the celebration of signed languages, such as the American Sign Language.
As a De’VIA artist, Ellen incorporates similar imagery into her artworks to communicate emotions such as fear and depression, but also pride and resilience. Ellen believes that sharing De’VIA within the hearing dominant community will promote awareness about Deaf struggles and ensure that the rights of Deaf people, most especially children, are not denied.
Her activism in the community is reflected among her many achievements, such as coordinating a special exhibition of 40 Deaf artists in DC, being chosen as one of three finalists for a public works art initiative in Minnesota and participating in an International Deaf Art Exhibition " World Heard By Soul" in Russia. She also has over 25 pieces acquisitioned into public and private collections across the United States and Canada.