Gabriel Ellison was born in Lusaka, Zambia in 1930 and was the designer of many of the country’s postage stamps after Northern Rhodesia was granted independence in 1964. Ellison worked mainly with oils, acrylics, watercolours, tempera and in three dimension form. When doing sculpture she used resin bronze and terracotta.
At the time of independence, Ellison was working as the head of the Graphics Arts section of the Ministry of Information designing banking and railway insignia, emblems, coins, honours and awards but most famously the national Coat of Arms. She was asked to design the new national flag. In the Parliament Building, Ellison designed the mace, the rod that symbolises the Speaker’s authority, as well as the Speaker’s seat.
Her murals decorated many important buildings in Lusaka such as Barclays Bank on Cairo Road, Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.
From 1960 to 1972 Ellison headed the Visual Art and Exhibitions Section and travelled around the world to international trade fairs and exhibitions with senior exhibitions officer, Ron Found and his assistant, Damien Kachidza.
Her early stamp designs reflect the printing colour limitations of the mid 1960’s. She was mentored initially by Hugh Harrison, the boss of stamp printers Harrison and Sons and her designs used two or three colours. Her use of copper in stamps of the late 1960’s reflected Zambia’s dependence on this mineral and her artwork was distinctly her own, yet reminiscent of Emvin Cremona’s Maltese stamp designs.
Ellison was a prolific, designing well over 480 stamps for Zambia, not including various First Day Cover designs and subsequently overprinted designs or designs additionally used for miniature sheets. In addition, she designed eight stamps and a miniature sheet for Swaziland. Zambia has had nine definitive sets and Gabriel Ellison designed them all.
She was noted for her bird designs, often using specimens from the Livingstone Museum. She showcased Zambia’s wildlife, her illustrations were also used for the Zambian Ornithological Society books and she went on to illustrate similar books on Mammals and Fishes and Amphibians, published by the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia, of which she was a life member.
As a payment for her design work the then Posts and Telecommunications Corporation paid her monthly telephone bill. This arrangement became complicated when the PTC split, forming Zampost and Zamtel.
Ellison was a fellow member of the Royal Society of Arts, British Display Society and the Chartered Society of designers. She has been honoured by both the British and Zambian Governments for her work in the arts. The British Government awarded her the MBE and the Zambian Government awarded her the Grand Officer of Distinguished Service.
Ellison died 18th July, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
- Adam Goulding