Brian “Fox” Ellis

Brian Fox Ellis alt headshot

For our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, this scholar is fully booked through 2024. 
However, you may book them outside of any Illinois Humanities affiliation using the contact information in the “Booking Information” section below.

Explore themes of ecology, exploration, history, and nature in engaging, character-driven performances and presentations by storyteller Brian "Fox" Ellis.

Audiences will enjoy Brian's unique mix of character work, performance, and educational stories. Brian is a long-time Road Scholar who presents conversationally engaging programs in a safe space that allows for civil discourse on important ideas.

Presentation 1 of 2
Fully Booked

Robert Ridgway: When Amateur Bird Watching Became a Rigorous Science

Join Illinois’ most pre-eminent bird man as he recalls the history of the Audubon Society and the evolution of bird watching as it grew from a hobby to a scientific discipline. Hear stories that illuminate our legacies as bird watchers, namely creating a cadre of citizen scientists, encouraging the next generation of conservationists, and protecting habitat for future generations of birds.

Brian “Fox” Ellis becomes Robert Ridgway, telling the story of his transect of the western wilderness when he was still a teenager, his life-long work at the Smithsonian Institution, his birding trips into Central America, his journey across Alaska with John Burroughs, Louis Agazziz Fuertes, and John Muir. Ridgway was a student of Spencer Baird, who traveled with Audubon, creating a direct link to the lineage of America’s preeminent ornithologists. He helped to refine systematics and evolutionary theory, redefining the relationships between species, sub-species, and geography.

This dynamic program is equal parts storytelling and discussion about birds and preserving habitat. Participants are invited to discuss and plan direct actions to improve the ecological health of their community. They will be given tools to become citizen scientists and encouraged to use art as part of their appreciation of birds and Illinois ecology.

Program Logistics

The presentation takes approximately 45 minutes, with extra time at the end for Q&A, making it approximately 70 minutes.

Fox as Ridgway Nature Preserve
Presentation 2 of 2
Fully Booked

Prince Maximilian and Karl Bodmer: Touring the Wilderness of North America

Join the Prince of Wied, Maximilian, as he takes you on a tour of North America as he saw it in 1832-34. Using Karl Bodmer’s illuminating illustrations in a multi-media slide show, Prince Maximilian will escort the audience on an adventure from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to the Great Falls of the Missouri River, from New Harmony, Indiana to New Orleans, Louisiana. Travel with this intrepid explorer to meet America’s best scientific minds, explore the West in the wake of Lewis and Clark, camp among the Mandan, Lakota, Crow and Omaha, and participate in traditional American Indian drumming songs.

Storyteller and author Brian “Fox” Ellis steps into the shoes of Prince Maximilian, allowing the audience to step back in time. Blending history, science, art and cultural anthropology, the Prince gives us a unique view of America as he saw it in the early 1830s. Much of the text for this performance comes directly from his journals. The backdrop includes the landscapes, portraits, and scenes from everyday life painted by Karl Bodmer. This program was sponsored in part by New Harmony, Indiana in celebration of their bicentennial, with support from the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.

Program Logistics

The presentation takes approximately 45 minutes, with extra time at the end for Q&A, making it approximately 70 minutes. A projector and screen are preferred.

Prince Max onstage Atheneum 2014


Brian “Fox” Ellis is of Cherokee descent and has performed at Powwows and native gatherings across the country. Fox has created more than a dozen one man shows. He is an internationally renowned storyteller, author and naturalist. Fox is a frequent speaker on the modern Chautauqua circuit. Fox is also a museum consultant who has worked with The Field Museum and The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Fox is the author of more than twenty books including the critically acclaimed Learning From the Land: Teaching Ecology Through Stories and Activities, (Libraries Unlimited, 1997/2011), and a series of biographies based on his one-man shows, History in Person (Fox Tales International 2020).

Brian “Fox” Ellis portrays Audubon, Darwin, and Mendel… so he leapt at the opportunity to portray Ridgway because he is a direct link to these giants of science. And Ridgway is a local boy who grew up in Mount Carmel and retired to Olney, Illinois. Fox has not only read much of the canon produced by Ridgway and the scholarship about him, but he has also gone bird watching in many of Ridgway’s favorite places. He has also developed two different programs, one for adults that focuses on science and history and another for young people that shares Ridgway’s sense of adventure and early appreciation of nature, with an emphasis on citizen science projects.

Brian Fox Ellis as Billy Herndon Photo by Steve Verdun cropped

Brian "Fox" Ellis as Billy Herndon (photo by Steve Verdun)

Book this Road Scholar

Follow the steps below to book a presentation.
  1. Contact Brian to schedule a date and time via email at or phone at (309) 696-1017.
  2. Once you and Brian have agreed upon a date and time, complete the online Road Scholars Host Organization application.
Contact Us

Fairouz AbuGhazaleh
Director of Statewide Programs