Nancy Marion Elwell was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, into a family descended from some of the town’s earliest English settlers, including several descended from Mayflower passengers William Brewster, Stephen Hopkins, Richard Warren, and John Howland. An island in the nearby Connecticut River is named after her family.
But in addition to Puritans (and their spiritual descendant, mayor Calvin Coolidge), Northampton and its surrounding environs, known as the Pioneer Valley, has always nurtured “alternative lifestyles,” starting with the Puritans themselves. In Elwell’s lifetime, the Valley has incubated numerous vibrant communities of alternative lifestyles, including painters, photographers, musicians, dancers, and writers.
Elwell has studied fine arts, painting, drawing, photography and fashion design at the Art Institute of Boston, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass), where she studied with Nelson Stevens and Femi Richards, and the Paris American Academy in Paris, France.
In addition to her art studies, she has taken a lifelong interest in anthropology and Native American history. She has lived in Merida, Yucatan, where she taught English as a second language, and returns there regularly.