Elizabeth Carlson, also known as Ellie, is a historian and a performer with concentration in the domestic arts. For over thirty years she worked as a curator in small to mid-sized museums. Ellie has a B.A. with honors from Roosevelt University (where renowned food-historian Dr. Bruce Kraig, was her major professor) and a Masters of Historical Administration and Museum Studies from the University of Kansas. She completed her professional internship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in the Division of Costume in 1987. She is the recipient of over twenty-five Illinois Association of Museums, Illinois State Historical Society and American Association for State and Local History awards. Ellie has given scholarly papers at New York University’s Fales Library, presented many times at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, performed at several Frank Lloyd Wright properties and sits on the board of the Culinary Historians of Northern Illinois.
In 1973, at the age of 11 (go ahead, do the math), Ellie started taking childrens’ theatre classes at Governors State University from Emmy award winning director Temmie Gilbert. Temmie told all her students, “In the audience tonight there is someone who is seeing theatre for the first time, and someone who is seeing theatre for the last time. You play to those two people and forget about everyone else.” Ellie continued to work in the theatre all through high school and college, serving as cast member, wardrobe mistress and dresser at Illinois Theatre Center; wardrobe mistress at McCormick Playhouse, Drury Lane Water Tower, Chicago Opera Theatre, Opera Midwest, Goodman, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Players Workshop and Second City Children’s Theatre. Theatre and history combined in graduate school to lead Ellie to museum work, but theatrical training is a great base for a lot of other things.
Ellie gives lectures, workshops and programs to groups on various topics including: Ladies’ underwear, Gentlemen’s protective equipment, dating photographs through costume, historic foodways, aprons, quilts, valentines and others by request. Two careers were not enough of course so in 2010 Ellie formed a catering company with Mark Howe, Sweet Symphonie Custom Catering. Sweet Symphonie caters events from recital receptions to formal dinners and is one of the reasons that Ellie’s Tasting History experiences are so wonderful. As a hobby, she manages a vintage base ball team, the Chicago Salmon. They play Civil War Era base ball. In her personal life, she is a Domestic Artist, with responsibility for a family of three children, and an 1895 house in Chicago.
Ellie’s presentations, like Ellie, can be somewhat whimsical, especially those calling for first-person interpretation. She believes that properly costumed living history is the closest we can come to a time machine experience. One of her characters, Anita Willets Burnham, even travels to her talk in a time machine. Her Blue Star Mother presents 100 Years Ago on the Homefront as a living time capsule.
Unless she receives a very specific request, she will not break character during her time at your site. She usually prefers to arrive in modern dress and therefore needs a place to change. However, she would like it duly noted that she can drive a stick shift in a corset and hoopskirt. Demonstrations available upon request.
Ellie’s straight, or non-costumed, lectures can also contain some un-expected moments. Ellie believes that if the audience is laughing they cannot be yawning as it is physically impossible to do both at the same time. So, please arrive at one of Ellie’s talks with your sense of humor. Kidding aside, serious historical scholarship is very important to Ellie. She does not make things up or “play” at history. Her programs are always changing and evolving as new research and information become available. The discussions and question and answer sessions after her talks often yield stories that wind up in the next presentation. Ellie says, “I always learn more from my audiences than they ever learn from me.”