Mary Ellen Bickford

A Napa, California Native

     Mary Ellen Bickford was born in Napa, California in 1948. She descended from a pioneering family of early California settlers who had created the first Bear Republic flag for the state. The Bickford family were Napa Valley builders and developers who have left a legacy of historical buildings in Napa and a ranch in the Sierra Mountains where they built cabins, roads and grazed cattle.
     The Bickfords were inventors also. Mary Ellen’s grandfather invented high-beam headlights for automobiles, her father designed and held patents for the first molds that expanded polystyrene and compressed it into floatable styrofoam used in boat marinas, and her brother John invented the steering-wheel handheld controls for paraplegic drivers and, along with brother Tom, the one-pump jack for NASCAR. John is also the stepfather of world-champion race-car driver Jeff Gordon, Mary Ellen’s nephew.

     Mary Ellen has been called an inventor herself for her unique creations as an artist – turning ideas into clothing, furniture, stained-glass windows, events, websites, music videos, documentaries, and films.

A Napa Community Volunteer

     In Napa, Mary Ellen served as president of the PTA, chair of the School Advisory Board, director of North Bay Crisis Intervention Hot Line, and led fundraising projects and grant-writing teams for early childhood education. She was one of the five people who served on the building committee for Napa’s New Tech High School that became a model school for future education. Fifteen years later, over sixty schools across the nation had followed the building and educational plan that she helped create. In every organization that she helped; her colleagues elected her to be their leader.

Adventures Away from Home

     In the 1980s, Mary Ellen moved to Sonoma County, California and began working in the media. She was a co-founder of a nonprofit research and educational organization, Rainbow Research, Inc. that studied the effects of music, light and color. She gathered thousands of supporters along the way, holding weekly seminars for several years. She also served as an advisor to the building committee for the Center for Positive Living Church at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa. 
     In 1986, Mary Ellen moved to Dana Point in Southern California to work with MacGillivray Freeman Films, who were beginning development for an IMAX film. She was appointed executive producer for the filming in IMAX of Hands Across America and the Statue of Liberty Centennial Celebration. She also worked as a corporate event producer for Archive Corporation, planning picnics for 3,000 people and dinner parties at the Disneyland Hotel for 800 attendees. Mary Ellen also chaired the committee for Archive’s earthquake and disaster preparedness and the Orange County Chamber of Commerce’s award-winning environmental committee, working with community leaders and local businesses. Furthermore, as a public relations representative for Friends of the United Nations (an NGO), she worked on behalf of children, the environment and peace.  

Working with Kids

     In the late 80s and through the 90s, Mary Ellen co-founded a nonprofit organization called The Kids X-Pressions, Inc. to provide education and opportunity for the kids to speak their truth through the media. She worked with schools, kids, professional coaches, celebrities and sponsors to produce special projects and local television specials. Mary Ellen also continued working part-time with MacGillivray Freeman Films as director of environmental education for the film The Living Sea, bringing together IMAX film producers and leading environmental agencies around the world.  

Onward to Music City, USA

     In 2003, Mary Ellen moved to Nashville, Tennessee to work in the music industry with her husband Don Robertson. There, she co-authored several books, one being Songwriting for Dummies. She produced numerous music videos for Nashville artists, conducted interviews and created documentaries and educational books for Don Robertson’s Musical Kaleidoscope. 

More About Mary Ellen...

“The Rainbow Light Show”

During the 1980s, Mary Ellen Bickford and light-show specialist Norman Miller created a “Rainbow Light Show” in their home in Santa Rosa, California. Here is that story.

“Let in the Light: Can Light Affect Your Health?”

In 1982, a Santa Rosa, California newspaper published a full-page article about the effects of light on health, based on information from Norman Miller and Mary Ellen Bickford’s Rainbow Research project.  

“Eloquence” by Mary Ellen Bickford

Eloquence: It’s About Life is a book of poems by Mary Ellen Bickford. The flipbook version can be read here ->

Videos by Mary Ellen

A selection of videos created by graphic designer and visual artist Mary Ellen Bickford, vice-president of the Rising World Foundation.