Birth and Death:
Ellen Clapsaddle was born January 8, 1863 (some references denote 1865) in South Columbia, New York. She died just before her 69th birthday on January 7, 1934.
Early Years as an Artist:
Clapsaddle developed her artistic skills studying at the Cooper Institute in New York City after which she spent a number of years offering art lessons to individuals, and also worked on portrait and landscape commissions for wealthy locals out of a studio in Richfield Springs, NY. She illustrated several postcards that caught the attention of International Art Publishing and was encouraged by the company to move into the city in 1890.
Working at Mid-Life:
Clapsaddle honed her skills while working with International Art Publishing and her artwork was featured on calendars, trade cards, Valentine cards, and other types of ephemera from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. At the age of 40, she became a full-time employee of the Wolf Company. She worked for Wolf for eight years as the company's sole designer. She is best known for her colorful artistry found on vintage greeting postcards, many of which featured children and youth with sweet expressions. During her career, Clapsaddle completed close to 2,000 postcard illustrations.
Fate Takes Its Toll:
After moving to Germany to be closer to the Wolf Company's engravers, Clapsaddle was stranded as World War I broke out around her. The factory where her original illustrations were stored was burned and conditions quickly deteriorated. She found herself confused, alone, and no longer able to earn a living as an artist. Her mental capacity was compromised. She basically wandered the streets until one of the Wolf brothers traveled abroad to bring her home. She was 55 at the time. The Wolfs cared for Clapsaddle after returning home to New York until they died several years later.
Late in Life:
In 1932, Clapsaddle moved to the Peabody Home in New York where she lived in a child-like state for the last two years of her life. In spite of her great talent, she died without wealth nor accolades touting her brilliant illustrative abilities.
Clapsaddle's Family Ties:
Her early family migrated from Germany and eventually changed their name from Klepsettle to Clapsaddle. She never married, and had no brothers or sisters. After World War II, her wish to rest near her parents was fulfilled when her remains were relocated to Richfield Springs with funds raised by the local historical society. Her footstone simply reads "Ellen."
Her Popularity Today:
Recognizing the quality and charming nature of her work, collectors relish finding vintage greeting postcards bearing Ellen Clapsaddle's signature. Most sell in the $10-50 range, but the rarest cards illustrated by this popular artist can bring hundreds. Even her unsigned cards are recognizable and desirable to the avid collector. Reproductions of her illustrations frequently appear on contemporary vintage-style decorative accessories as well.