Royalty resides in Arizona in the form of artist Ellen Dursema. The ‘Tye Dye’ Queen of Arivaca, Ellen will dye just about anything. “I began this work over 25 years ago when I was just starting a family,” she explained. “I loved colorful baby clothes and tie dying was a natural creative outlet.”
Shoe laces, socks, table cloths, curtains, underwear, adult and kids’ clothes, even T-shirts for golf teams have received her loving attention. It’s a medium most of us associate with the hippies of the 1960’s, however its roots go back thousands of years. A Google search reveals that the earliest surviving examples include pre-Columbian alpaca, found in Peru, and silk from fourth century Chinese tombs. Indian Bandhani, one traditional form of tie-dyeing, began 5,000 years ago.
“There are lots of steps in creating tie dye, “ explains Ellen. “First you wash the item, then tie it, soak and wring it out, mix up dyes and dye it. Then the piece is wrapped in plastic for 24 hours. Once that’s done, I wash it three times to avoid color bleeding.
“It’s always like Christmas,” she bubbles, “you never know what you’re going to get!”
Her work, each one-of-a-kind, is for sale in Arivaca at the Artists’ Co-op and Gadsden Coffee, and in Tucson at Antigone’s Books. Not as available as it used to be, tie dye pieces crafted by Ellen are displayed on linen, silk, and cotton garments in traditional and contemporary styles.
As much as her talent is evident in tie dye, Ellen's skill is also expressed in the jewelry and leatherwork she makes. “I started with leatherwork. My boyfriend was a biker and wanted saddlebags. So I made some, and then his friends wanted them.”
What was originally a hobby, became a full time trade when she traveled in a school bus to craft fairs. “I was working at Tandy Leather in Tucson as the store manager and then was asked to run the Oxnard, California, store, which I did for a year, before becoming a gypsy,” she laughed.
It was after she moved to Arivaca from Tucson in 1988 that she followed her guidance to have a child. With that, first son,
Ezra, and tie dye was born.
Today, Ellen is the Neighborhood Center Coordinator for the Arivaca Community Center, overseeing the operation under the auspices of the
Pima County Natural Resources, Parks & Recreation Department. In this capacity she is responsible for all programming and activities for toddlers, after school kids, and adults as well as summer camp and special outings. While it is a very full time job, she still finds time to indulge her art. As a founding “mother” of the Artists’ Co-op, she is very engaged in the community and explains Arivaca’s appeal. “I love the sense of community here and the people, and how much everyone appreciates nature. The beauty and serenity of this place inspires and supports me in all aspects of my life. I am very grateful to have landed in this beautiful spot.”
She can be reached at
520.398.2567 / 520.609.2706