Behind-the-Scenes in Collections! There & Back Again: The Ella Ferris Pell Collection

Anna Faherty, Edward W. Pell Graduate Fellow, reading one of Ella’s travel diaries from the 1870s.

This year has taken an in-depth focus on the women of Fort Ticonderoga. Costumed interpreters discuss women’s importance and their roles at Ticonderoga in the 18th century every day for our guests. Sarah Gibbs Thompson Pell, Museum co-founder and advocate for suffrage and equal rights, is highlighted in a new exhibit at the Mars Education Center (, where several of her pieces from her collection are on display. This summer, the Museum’s Collections Department has also been working on a project that rediscovers a famous female from our past–Ella Ferris Pell.

Ella Ferris Pell was the niece of William Ferris Pell, who bought the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga in 1820. She was born on January 18, 1846 in St. Louis, Missouri, and trained as an artist with William Rimmer at Cooper Union School of Design for Women in New York City, graduating in 1870. After school, she traveled extensively in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East with her sister and brother-in-law, Evie A. and Charles H. Todd. She visited France, Austria, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, and many other countries between the years of 1872-1878.  In the 1880s, she studied at the Académie des Beaux-Arts des Champs Elysées in Paris. She returned to New York from Paris in 1892 and was listed in various artist directories as a painter, sculptor, illustrator, and teacher throughout the 1890s and early 1900s. During this time, she created works for reproduction by lithographer and printer Louis Prang.  In 1897, she illustrated Through the Invisible, by Paul Tyner, a supernatural love story with Eastern philosophical influence, which included reincarnation as a primary theme. Pell was known to use similar themes of the spiritual and mystic and aspects of orientalism in her art. During her lifetime, she was respected as an artist and displayed many paintings in galleries in New York as well as in the salons of Europe. Ella Ferris Pell died in 1922 in Beacon, NY, and is buried in the nearby town of Fishkill, NY next to her sister Evie.

Anna and Collections Department team member, Tabitha Hubbard, helped preserve many of the paintings by re-framing and backing those that needed more support in order to be exhibited. Preserving exhibit pieces requires specific conditions such as light and humidity regulation, and providing acid-free supports for the backs of fragile artworks which might otherwise be warped from improper storage and hanging.

In the last few years, more interest in her works was generated by a 2000-2001 exhibit at the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, “Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America 1870-1930.” The exhibit showcased Pell’s painting Interior of the Sybil, that depicts the inside of a stateroom on the Dahabeah Sybil, the boat which Ella rode during her journey down the Nile in 1874.  This painting is part of Fort Ticonderoga’s Museum Collection, and can be viewed in our Thompson-Pell Research Center as a part of There and Back Again: The Ella Ferris Pell Collection, an open storage exhibit featuring 43 pieces of Ella’s works.

The exhibit was created by Edward W. Pell Graduate Fellow Anna Faherty. In addition to the exhibit, Faherty also cataloged and created a finding aid for Ella’s archival collection. The collection includes Ella’s travel diaries from her trip to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East between 1872-1878. The diaries refer to many paintings and sketches made by Ella and her sister Evie while abroad, and reference specific events, which influenced their art and lives. The object collection includes about 60 paintings, 43 of which are included in the exhibit. The paintings depict various scenes of Ella Pell’s life, both abroad and here, in upstate New York, between the 1870s and 1920s. Anna is studying a dual Master’s degree in History and Archives Management at Simmons College in Boston, MA. “The Edward W. Pell Fellowship has been a great opportunity for me to expand my resume as an archivist, to handle object collections, and to create my first exhibit.” says Anna. “I have spent lots of time with Ella’s collection, and am glad that everyone will now have the chance to appreciate her work as I do!”

Researchers using the Thompson Pell Research Center may make an appointment with Curator, Matthew Keagle, to examine the archival collection or to see the exhibit. For more information about appointments, check out:

If you are interested in learning more about the Edward W. Pell Graduate Fellowship, please visit

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