Ellen Sarkisian Chesnut (aka Shakeh) was born in Mosul, Iraq to Armenian parents. She was two years old when with her parents and baby brother Arthur Minas the family immigrated to the United States. She has lived in San Francisco all of her life and went to public schools. Ellen graduated from San Francisco State University and earned a secondary teaching credential specializing in Social Studies and English. She taught in the public schools in San Francisco for forty-two years.
While teaching she took art classes at night and during her summer vacations at the San Francisco Art Institute, Academy of Art College, and City College of San Francisco. For the last two decades Ellen has concentrated on printmaking with monoprints and collagraphs being a special focus. Concurrently, she continued with painting in watercolor her great love.
Ellen's work uses discernible images along with a quality of mystery that comes through because of her special handling of ink in printmaking and the pigments in her watercolor paintings. So much of life in her opinion is unknowable and a mystery and that is what her work evokes in the viewer.
In 1990, Ellen had a one person show at the Nelson Morales Gallery (no longer open) on Market Street in San Francisco which was her commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Genocide of the Armenian people perpetrated by the Young Turk government in 1915. She is already in the planning stages for a series of art works for the one hundredth anniversary in 2015 with the title: THE LOST GIRLS for the tens of thousands of our female children, young women and matrons taken into slavery by Turks, Kurds, and Arabs never again to be seen by their families.