Born Evaline Michelow in Union City, Ohio on April 24, 1911, Ness grew up in Pontiac, Michigan. She later attended Ball State Teachers College with the intent to perhaps become a librarian. However, when given an English assignment, Ness drew King Arthur's Court in full color and from there decided to pursue an illustrating career instead of library science. She enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute and worked hard as a highly paid commercial artist. After more art schooling, a Houghton Mifflin editor encouraged Ness to illustrate a book for children. Her acceptance changed her life.
Using various artistic techniques in her illustrations, Ness illustrated for authors such as Stephen Kroll. Her work won the runner-up award for the Caldecott Medal in 1963, 1964, and 1965 before she won the Medal in 1967 for a book she wrote as well as illustrated entitled Sam, Bangs and Moonshine. Over the years, Ness won many awards numerous times, including the American Library Association's Notable Book, Horn Book Honors, and the Hans Christian Anderson Award. This gifted author and illustrator passed away on August 12, 1986, from a heart attack.
Married three times, she adopted and retained the name of her second husband Eliot Paul Ness, the famous Prohibition agent who led the legendary law enforcement team nicknamed the Untouchables. Their marriage (from 1939 to 1945) followed the famous Chicago period, during which time (1942) they moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked for the federal government, directing the battle against prostitution. She married her third husband, engineer Arnold A. Bayard in 1959; he ended up surviving her.
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