CUBES ON CANVAS: Ellie Vega seeks to capture emotion behind the characters in her art

Sheri Gourd, Tahlequah Daily Press, Okla.
·4 min read

Apr. 17—As far as Ellie Vega is concerned, she has always been an artist.

"Since we moved around a lot, you have to have something. What was constant was my family and art. When I went to a new school, I always had something I could fit into," she said. "I never really thought about doing anything else, really. I've had different types of jobs, but I've always painted."

A Tahlequah High School teacher, Vega graduated from a high school in Mexico City. She attended the Altos de Chavon School of Design in the Dominican Republic, and then went to study in New York.

"I studied mostly illustration. I love to tell stories in my art," said Vega.

Her whole family was living in New York, but when her parents, Jerald and Molly Peterson, moved to Tahlequah, Vega and her sister brought their families here, too.

Her father was a foreign service officer, and she grew up all over the world, including time in Latin America, Europe, and Morocco. These experiences have influenced her art along the way.

"There are a lot of different influences in my art. I like to jump around," she said. "I do a lot of different kinds of artwork."

Acrylic is mainly what she paints with, but Vega also prints in oil, uses mixed media, and does pen and ink drawing.

"As an artist, you should always find your style and stick with it," she said.

Currently, Vega has three paintings on display at the Northeastern State University John Vaughan Library as part of an Earth Day exhibit. Including are the works "Shoeshine Boy," "Phillip's Lounge," and "Dios Sabe Mi Nombre," which means "God knows my name."

"I like to exhibit my artwork. I want to make sure this coming year that I will be showing my work. Last year was such a bust," said Vega. "As an artist, you have to show your work; it's important."

The pieces in the show are realism, but Vega has been working on some cubist portraits recently.

"I'm not a portrait painter. I try to capture the emotion behind the characters," she said. "I wanted to do a whole series of people with masks. It really lends itself to cubism — it's presenting an abstraction of yourself to the world."

Vega said she began doing cubist drawings a few years ago, but has really gotten into it this year because it's multifaceted.

"With cubism, you kind of look at different sides of an object or it could be different sides of a theme. It's very playful. It could be really expressive, but for me, it's playing," Vega said. "My ultimate goal is to do some tile murals. Cubism lends itself to that. The designs are geometric. You don't have to worry so much about shades."

At THS, Vega teaches three levels of painting and illustration. She has taught art there for seven years; assisted English language learners at THS for a year, as a bilingual speaker; and taught art in Muskogee for a year.

"That's a fun class. We're doing stop-motion animations right now. I have a lot of imaginative kids," she said. "I have to stay one step ahead of the kids. That's my motivation."

Vega is also surrounded by a creative family. Her parents are artists and own Peterson Fine Art Studio and Watercolor Barn, just outside of Tahlequah. Vega's husband, Martin, and their children, 15-year-old Dominic and 13-year-old Molly, are also artists.

"Dominic and Molly have both won awards in art. Martin has sold several paintings and is a generally all-around creative person," she said. "We've done big projects together. We all worked on the Kidzone murals together and built a giant dragon in the library at TMS [Tahlequah Middle School] several years ago."

The family moved to a new home in November. Vega said she doodled some designs and her husband is building the structure.

"We live in it and build on it, little by little," she said.

Vega is a member of the Arts Council of Tahlequah, American Portrait Society, and National Art Education Association. She is looking forward to a return of large art exhibits, especially shows for her students.

Check it out

To see more of Ellie Vega's artwork, including the pieces on display in the NSU library, visit