My Year as a NYC Street Artist, a Walk of Faith


Note: This post covers an entire year of my life. It is a long and detailed account I first wrote out last November, 2017, after an old friend asked me about my time in NYC. I thought others might want to know what it was like for me to live in NYC as a visual artist, without a regular paycheck, and on a veritable shoe-string. My interactions with some of the people I met, and also my many answers to prayer are what stand out most in my memory.

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After our family lost our home of thirty years in early 2009, I prayed fervently about where to go, and what to do. I had just $300 to my name, and it was dwindling fast. We were moving to different friend's homes every couple nights. I knew my mom couldn't afford to feed us.

Virginia Bound and Needing $950


A special family came to mind, so I called and they invited me to come and stay with them, while working on painting their University wrestling room wall with large letters and inspirational words, like Determination, Hard Work, Perseverance, etc.

I left Vermont to go to stay with these old friends in Virginia. I'd done a similar lettering job in a different wrestling room, about ten years prior to this.

A dear friend pressed $140 into my hand as I got on the train to leave Vermont, heading south. I was to need that money in the future. I had spent all I had left on the train fare going south.

I lived with this family, their three daughters and baby son for five weeks, painting in two weeks fifty hours of large encouraging words in many styles, fonts, and team colors.

Another family asked me to teach some art classes to their children. These lessons really helped their children when they later went to art school.

One Spring day in March of 2009, I was outside in the woods behind our friend’s home, praying about several things. One was my need to fix a broken tooth. Another was about attending a seminar in Albany, NY.

My Aunt Helen had called to tell me, “Elise, if you ever want to go to NYC, my mother's old apartment is still there and it's empty. You are welcome to live there for as long as you like.” I remember dismissing this idea immediately. Me, go to the city? I was a mountain woman. What would I do, one who had spent so much time in the backwoods, in a bustling, noisy, concrete city?!

But I said, “Father, if you want me to go to NYC, then all the lights have to be green.” I could think of at least seven things that needed to happen logistically for me to get there.

I remember watching a butterfly, newly hatched from its cocoon, pumping fluid into its wings in the Spring sunshine. Metamorphosis takes a long time for a butterfly caterpillar. Then the thought came to me that perhaps I was to go to NYC and stay awhile. The city was a place I'd never lived in long-term.

My old friend, Nelya, who I mentioned in my Nashville blogpost, had said she was heading north to a hockey tournament in Montreal soon. She said she'd stop by and visit me. I said, “No, Nelya, pick me up, I need to go north to Albany, NY!”

And so, I hitched a free ride north. She dropped me off in New Paltz at another family home. They took me to my dentist's office outside NYC. I was told my broken tooth would cost $950 to fix, including the exam and x-rays. I had only around $200 at this time.

Now I pleaded in prayer, “Father, I am your child, and I know you own the cattle on 1,000 hills. Will you please provide $950 by next week, so I can pay for the dental work in NYC without going into debt?!”

The family dropped me off at the train station to go from New Paltz to Albany on Amtrak and they handed me $22 for the fare. “We want to help you,” they said. I went to the pay phone to make the train reservation and some change fell down into my hand from the phone slot, $1 in quarters.

I got on the train and waited for the conductors to come take my $22, but they never came. So, on the Albany platform, I walked up to two conductors and tried to give them my fare. “You forgot,” I said. They looked at each other and then pointed to the elevator and said, “It's too late now! Enjoy your day!”

Now I had $23 more than I'd had before.

At the seminar location, I waited in the hotel lobby, caught what I could of the information and spoke with people. I stayed that first night with an old family friend, and the next day someone came up to me in the hotel lobby. “I can tell you have been going through a hard time physically, mentally and emotionally, and I was told to give you this,” he said, putting a white envelope in my hand.

“I'm okay,” I replied. “No, I was told to give this to you, and I try to do as I'm told,” he said, refusing to take his white envelope back.

I knew what was in that envelope. Sure enough, inside was $300 cash, in twenty dollar bills!

I decided to stay another day, but needed a safe place to sleep. That night I stayed with a woman at the seminar who had two beds in her room. I told her our story – how mom had been fighting our taxes, lost our home, and that I was now practically homeless. I told her about my need to fix my tooth and how I'd been given the cash in the envelope by a stranger.

The next day I found this man and asked him for more details. “Did you talk to someone here about my need, or did the Holy Spirit speak to you?” I asked this man. “It was the Holy Spirit who told me, and I wasn't sure if I should give you $300 or $350,” he said.

Later that afternoon, the woman I'd stayed overnight with came to say goodbye. “I'm flying back to my husband in California and just wanted to say goodbye,” she said. “The LORD gave me this and I want to pass it along to you,” she continued, as she pressed a different white envelope into my hand. I thanked her, and she left for the airport.

Later that night, on my way south to NYC, in a ride provided by another seminar attendee, I opened her envelope. It contained $650 cash! “You don’t need a job, Elise, people just give you money,” a friend said.

And so, I arrived in NYC with $223 of my own money, and also with the needed $950 to pay for my broken crown.

Our Father had answered my prayers, for the logistical aspects of getting to NYC and for the money I needed to fix my badly broken tooth.

Some doubt the very existence of God, but I don't. The woman I'd spoken with knew exactly what my need was, but that first monetary gift came from someone who didn't know anything about me!

My Year in NYC – April 2009 to April 2010


I bought my first mobile phone for emergency purposes, following the good advice of a friend. It was just a small flip phone that fit inside my pocket.

Then I figured out in two or three days how to get around the city. The metro still gave away paper subway maps at that time. Now they don't, and you need a smart phone to get around. A kind woman explained the difference between the express train and the local, and I began to get really comfortable, really fast. I felt at home in NYC.

Waiting Expectantly, 22x30 2016 watercolor by Elise


A friend wrote me, “Good, you're on your own, now you'll find out how sheltered you were.” But I replied that my mother had not sheltered me - sheltered people don't feel comfortable traveling the NYC subway in only two days! The express at rush hour was my favorite place to be...people watching.

I felt elated and excited by the daily adventure. Goodness, I had had a driver's license by age sixteen and was buying and cooking food for a family of five by then...people are weird in how they see others sometimes! Just because I had lived at home to help my family most of my life didn't make me stupid or sheltered!

I was a bit naive, perhaps. I was told by a friend of Helen's that I was far too open to be in NYC. She was worried about me. This woman’s own daughters had hard, care-worn faces.

I would ask people around me for assistance in reading the street numbers across the road, because I couldn't see them. NYC folks are very friendly. I spent hours walking around, smiling, because I felt I was walking through my grandpa's history. Grandpa had walked nine miles each day as a salesman in NYC, to feed his family. One policeman called my “smiley” because most everyone was exhausted from their work and would go around glumly staring down at the pavement, or their phones.

I’d never really talked to homeless street people before, they had scared me. But now I could relate and would sometimes stop to speak with them. Some were gentle and kind – and they would encourage me.

My apartment was located at 101st and Broadway, only two blocks from Central Park, on the upper west side of the city. It was a great location.

It was a very old building and the apartment had been rented by Helen's family since the 1950's so they had a rent discount. The plumbing didn't work well, but we had a doorman and the building was safe at night. I'm told Leonardo DeCaprio had done a period film there.

I was indoors before dark each night, because I don't see all that well after dark, especially being in a city I didn't know, and it was safer. The apartment contained an out-of-tune piano, which I played for comfort, despite its condition, and I know it must have bothered my poor neighbors. But the homeless people across the street would come outside on the steps to sit and listen to me play them a “concert”.

Only a few rare times I was out of my apartment after 9 PM in the dark. Once was on July 4th to see the fireworks, and another was for New Year's, when I went to Brooklyn to hear a guitarist I’d heard at Redeemer play another gig. And once I went to an evening service at the Times Square Church.

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One Spring day I walked through flowering and beautiful Central Park and remember telling God, “I just want someone to tell me everything is going to be okay!”

A little while later, an older man sat down next to me on a park bench and had a short conversation with me. He lived in one of the high-rises nearby, he said. At the end of the short talk he reached over and took my hand, pressing it and said to me, “Everything is going to be okay!” Wow. That was a fast answer to prayer. I wonder if he was really an angel.

The days passed. It was now May, 2009 and my food money was dwindling fast. I was eating rice and beans. For several good reasons, finding a regular job in NYC was something I didn't feel too prepared to do. I began making baskets and tried to find a shop to buy them. One grocery did discuss my making dozens of them, but I didn't know if I really wanted to become a “basket-making machine” for forty hours a week.

I was walking home via Central Park, carrying my baskets, when a stranger going by exclaimed, “Those are hand-made baskets!” “Yes,” I agreed, “they are.”Can I buy one?” I came home with some extra funds that day.

Union Square Greenmarket and Street Market


Then, Helen's son, who worked at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital but lived in NJ came by to see me. He was paying the rent on his grandma's place, but only crashed there one night each month. He told me I could set up a table at the Greenmarket at Union Square, down on 14th street. I visited the Union Square market soon after, with my baskets, and learned I couldn't sell crafts or baskets there, only visual artwork.

An artist named Robert Lederman had fought for his First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech for many years. He had gone out at Union Square with his artwork, and been arrested many, many times, Forty times, I was later told, he'd had his work thrown in the dumpster and had to go before a judge. But he wouldn't stop fighting and finally, they let him and many other artists create a street market of their own, next to the Greenmarket, where farmers sold their vegetables several days each week and on weekends.

This man, Robert Lederman, had prepared the way for me. The very next summer, 2010, the city closed the Union Square market, allowing only 10-20 table spaces where they used to be 200, and you had to pay for those spaces.

I called to ask Helen if I could use the metal card table I'd discovered in her mother's closet. “Anything you find there is yours to use, Elise,” she kindly told me. So, I found a small green tablecloth and ironed it. I painted myself a sign which said, “Original Watercolors for Sale” and had it laminated at the local print shop. I was ready for customers.

 
Banana in the Sun, 25x22 2016 watercolor by Elise


Spring - Becoming a Street Artist


The first day out on the street I sold two $40 5x7 original watercolors, which I'd taped onto a piece of 8x10 mat board. My new frame shop friend had kindly given me double-sided tape and sold me some small pieces of mat board. I had no plastic sleeves to protect the work then. I went home with $80 and a heart full of joy. This street artist thing was going to work!

I would wake up around 5 AM on days when it was supposed to be sunny and take the 5:57 AM express train from the 103rd street platform to Times Square. Then it took ten minutes to transport my things through an underground maze to the Q or R train, which went on to Union Square.

I carried a metal card table, a metal folding chair, and a small wooden box of paintings. I also had a backpack of food and water. It was heavy at first and sometimes I stopped to rest, but I got stronger as Spring turned into Summer.

I usually arrived at Union Square around 6:30 AM if I could catch both express trains, and went to find a good spot to save for my table. I had to arrive early enough to save a place, even though the real customers didn't usually arrive until around 10 AM.

Standing on the sidewalk all day by my table, until just before dark became my normal day job, two or three days each week, unless the wind was too bad, or it rained. They were long, twelve-to-fourteen-hour days in the summertime.

One day a man stopped at my table and began to expound on the mental benefits of transcendental meditation. I listened without much comment. When I called my mom to tell her about my day, she was very upset. “I want you out of that city, Elise!” My mother had a lot of fear about NYC. She had grown up in Queens, in the days when Manhattan was very, very dangerous. Somehow, I felt strongly I was being led by God to be there, even though it meant disagreeing with my mother. “Mom,” I told her, "if I don't know what I believe by now, I'm in big trouble! I have to listen to all the people who come up to my table!” I never saw that man again. 

My mom was afraid I'd join some cult or get abducted and raped...and what hurt most was she obviously didn't trust my judgment. Sometimes dealing with family can be very trying. I spoke to my mom by phone several times each week, the entire year I was in NYC.

A smart and toothless “homeless” man would go by almost daily, asking me for $1. The artists would each give him his $1, and he would have a better business day than any of the artists, and in less time!

My vivacious sister came to stay with me for a few days in late May. She still has a magnetic personality and is just much better than I am at selling things. She sells herself really well! She helped me a lot, AND immediately got herself invited to dinner. “And you can come with me,” she told me. “Uh huh, who with?” I wanted to know.

Turns out, my presence wasn't much of a protection after all. The man who invited us out was the son of a martial arts expert and he could have killed both of us with no problem, if he'd wanted to. He twisted my elbow half off at the dinner table. We had a nice meal at an Italian place.

My sister also came with me to set up in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts. She got asked out again. It upset her. Men were lining up. The city was no place for my sister and I told her so.

No one bothered me the entire time I was in NYC, with the exception of once, early on, when I went to a man's apartment for the express purpose of viewing his artwork...a former graphic artist, he had said he could improve my composition and design, which is an area I'd been heavily criticized in, at an art course in Ogunquit, Maine, many years earlier. This retired graphic designer didn't have honest motives.

He was pretty ancient, a huge man, looking for another artist paramour, and I refused to participate. “That is not the reason I came here,” I told him. “You're in trouble,” he replied, “When someone invites you to their apartment in NYC there are expectations.” “I'm in trouble? I've dedicated my life to God and no one touches me without His knowledge,” I declared firmly.

I wasn't afraid at all. He sneered, “And how do you dedicate your life to the Lord?” So I began to quote Romans 12:1-2. He cut me off half-way through, and at some point my phone, which I'd just gotten ten days earlier, rang at the right time in my pocket. Only five people had my phone number. It was a friend. When I hung up from taking this call, he ushered me to his door, refusing to shake my proffered hand. I left, unsullied. But it was a stupid thing to have done and I learned not to go to people's apartments for any reason other than group bible studies.

Summer on the Street


It was 2009, the summer after the stock market crash of 2008, and the other artists told me how the street had changed. “It used to be easy to make $200 a day on the street,” they'd tell me, “but now we're lucky just to make one sale.” I often went home with one $35 sale, and I had prayed hard for that one sale. The metro cost $2.25 each way at that time. I figured I was making around $3/hour on most days.

If it was too windy, people didn't want to stop and look. Or if it was too hot, or too cold. There were many, many long rather boring days, when I didn't want to be there. Other times I had great times of talking with a constant stream of tourists and strangers. I loved those days!! I also had artist friends who I could talk with, to help the time pass.

I had fun people-watching. Hundreds of people went by me each day. Many of the men who wore suits didn't stand upright when they walked. Most looked pretty stressed out. In the summertime, women would go by in flowing, beautiful dresses.

In the nine months I was out on the street I had eight no-sale days. I met lots of folks, many were tourists from other countries. A clothing designer of Dolly Parton's “discovered” me, but that didn't go anywhere. He liked my “Trout Paradise” print a lot, I remember.

I happily gave away hundreds of Dr. Werner Gitt's evangelistic tracts at my table, as my business card, because my illustrations were on the cover. Some people thanked me profusely for them, others dropped them quickly, in horror. 

The other street artists became my friends, and we trusted each other. We watched each other's tables when we had to use the bathroom. One artist helped make prints of my work, which was an enormous benefit, as I didn’t have to physically paint each image.

I met artists from Estonia, Amsterdam, Tibet, Turkey, Columbia, the Philippines and many other places! I wrote all the nationalities down in my journal at the time.

One girl was making $40,000 a year on Etsy with her prints. She was at the street market to give out her card. And her work was sweet and funny. Another girl sold unrealistic children’s-style art. Their work sold like hot cakes, bringing people happy memories or laughter.

My work didn't do as well. I was a serious realist. One artist said he couldn't believe I was selling anything.

Mostly tourists recognized my farm animals and took them home to Europe. I was told by one man who stopped at my table, “You're a fine artist, in fact, you are the only fine artist here!” He supposedly built twenty-billion-dollar metro systems around the world. “And we have a corporate account!” he said. “That's great,” I replied. I wasn't sure if he meant I should beg him to buy my work, or not. I gave him my card and never heard another word from him.

A girl who played the lead role in Mary Poppins on Broadway stopped by my table once. She liked Stuart, the lamb, because of the Psalm 23 I had put under my autograph.

A couple times, I went across Central Park on foot, to the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts to see the largest display of Japanese armor outside of Japan, and a film about Japanese history.

On rainy days, I began painting my large full-sheet watercolor doe deer piece, Ensured by Faithfulness which became one of my finest paintings. It was also the painting I later gave to a dentist to fix my teeth in 2015. I listened to Mahalia Jackson while painting, and sang loudly with her, “When I get to heav'n, sing and shout, be nobody to kick me out, Keep a your hand on the plow, hold on.”

Ensured by Faithfulness, 22x30 2009 watercolor by Elise

My apartment wasn't air-conditioned and as the summer came on, it was very hot inside it. Perspiration poured off me, but I continued to paint new work several hours most days I wasn't out on the street, and then I'd go Rollerblade through Central Park. I didn’t have knee or elbow guards, just a broken helmet, but I never once fell badly. I knew I could not afford an injury.

I remember singing the old hymn Count Your Blessings a lot, and another verse I repeated to myself for encouragement was Isaiah 26:3-4:

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD forever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength:"

On rainy days I was also working diligently to complete an eight-part workbook study from II Peter 5-7 done by horseman, Lew Sterrett of Sermon on the Mount Ministries, which was a huge spiritual encouragement to me. 

I was determined to be “a white lily” by God's grace, amid what often felt more like a black mud swamp.

Sitting out on the broiling hot asphalt street in July and August wasn’t easy. The pavement steamed and smelled pretty bad. The upper class had left the city for their country homes. 

On July 4th, one of my sandal straps tore out and I had to try to drag it home, keeping the sandal on my foot, while carrying everything, because the pavement was too hot to walk on, barefoot.

I remember starting to sing out loud that day to strengthen my faltering heart, amid the horns and traffic noise, while limping along, crossing a busy street. I didn't care what people thought. “You have a plan, Father, when I don’t,” was my pretty constant cry of faith.

It was a mental battle and I fought daily to keep my mind on Christ and to be hopeful for a better future when everything about my life appeared pretty grim.

But, happily, the city didn't remind me at all of Vermont and the home I'd recently lost, so that was good. When I was back in Vermont, seeing farms, hearing the sound of a domestic turkey call or smelling manure often made me feel very sorry for myself. So NYC was a blessing that summer. I was told it was actually a cool summer, it rained a lot, but it sure was hotter than what I was used to!

I began to look forward to rainy days, because they meant I didn't have to go out on the street and could get more rest. Union Square was surrounded by busy streets and my table was often only three feet from the traffic going by. After a day of standing with taxis, cars and trucks rumbling by, I would come home and close all the windows and shut the curtains and try to recover from noise exhaustion.

Helen came down from Maine, to visit me in August. She was exhausted from caring for her ailing husband, Carl. We took the train out on Long Island, to see her old high school friend, Loretta, who then lived in the Hamptons. I went swimming out to the buoys at a private beach and it was a wonderful break.

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On some days I painted while sitting outside at the market. One of these paintings became Stuart, Dwelling Securely Forever, which depicts a little wooly ram-lamb face. He became my best-selling image! “Pure Gold,” said my printer. I sold many prints of this image, and the sale of them paid for my groceries.

When I had taken this ram lamb's photo in New Zealand, he had just been culled from the flock, and was on a truck going for slaughter. Stuart the Lamb was a picture of what Christ had done for me – given His life, so I could live.

Stuart, Dwelling Securely Forever, 7x9 2009 watercolor by Elise


The original painting also sold on the street late that summer. I went to Mike, an artist friend standing next to me, and said, “Mike, I've just sold my best painting and I don't think I asked enough, they said they thought it was worth $150 more.” “What did you get for it?” Mike asked me. “$350,” I said. “No!” he didn't believe me. “It's right here in my pocket,” I said, pointing to the bulge in my jeans.“Elise, you've done very well! 90% of the people at this market will never sell an item over $200!” he praised me.

Once, returning to NYC on the train from a short visit to Vermont, I remember tearfully singing to myself the Virtuous Grapevine Song (lyrics at end of blog) which I used to teach to children. The song spoke of how the Vine must be pruned, in order for it to bear more fruit. My mother didn't want me to go back to the city. She felt it was too dangerous. I had never gone anywhere against her wishes but I felt due to our family circumstances, and decisions she had made outside my control, I had no choice. I felt I HAD to find a way to support myself. “When the door closes and I cannot afford to be there, I will leave,” I told her.

On the whole, the city was such a lonely place. I'd tried hard to find trustworthy friends, but I didn't feel I could trust the majority of those who came up to my table. Some would take my number and promise to call me “tomorrow” but never call at all. NYC is full of broken promises.

A few men asked me out or propositioned me. I used to think I knew what I believed, but after my year in NYC, I really know I do believe it.

I lived my faith, day by day. The Holy Spirit met me and blessed me.

Ben, who had come from Africa and was a security guard in a building near Union Square, stopped to meet me one day and talk because he saw the light from my works of art. Several more times he came by and we would discuss mainly spiritual things. He emphasized to me the power of the blood of Christ.

One early evening I attended a platinum photography exhibit at a gallery show opening around 11th St. The photographer's book is titled, We Walk in Beauty. They were beautiful black-and-white photos of Native Americans. One elderly Native American lady was asked when her portrait was taken, “Do you fear for the future of your family, and of the earth?” She wisely replied, “Oh, me and my children, we walk in beauty.”

The gallery was really crowded with people at this opening, and I started up a conversation with the black man standing at my left elbow. I asked what he did. He said he was a red-carpet photographer. “Oh, that sounds like an interesting job.” “No,” he said, “all the models are air-heads and they have nothing intelligent to say. But you sound like you would be an interesting person to get to know, is it mutual?” I had two seconds to come up with a response. “No,” I said, declining his offer...he didn't define what “get to know” meant, and I didn't ask.

Once I asked a street artist how so many people could afford to go to the fancy restaurants...she told me that very few do eat out, most of NYC works to just keep the city up and running.

Communion in the Big Apple, 17x23 2017 watercolor by Elise


I sat on the subway trains going to and from Union Square, and saw the working class fall asleep going to and from their work places. They resembled black slaves to me. They were too poor to move anywhere else, even if they wanted to.

I told one street artist, “This will be an interesting summer to look back on.” “If you can look back on it,” he replied. There was no way I wanted to make this a life-style. It was an experience for me, but for others, it was the only life they knew. They had no friends outside the city, as I did!

By mid-summer I had decided I must find a church to attend, in order to meet better people. Who was going to want to be friends with me, someone penniless, selling my work on the street?

 

Finding Redeemer Presbyterian


So I started attending different church services. There were a lot of contemporary services, with words on a screen and loud, rock music. I went to five or six places without desiring to go back to a second service.

It took me a long time to find an atmosphere I liked – the traditional service which was then held at Redeemer Presbyterian West at 64th and Central Park West.

They had a small symphonic group of musicians playing every Sunday!! I loved the music, which accompanied old hymns, and it often brought me tears of joy and relief, it was so beautiful. 

I looked forward to the sermons every week, saved my notes, and I often felt they were written especially for me. One in particular was on Isaiah 42:3, "A bruised reed shall he not break..." That "bruised reed" was me in NYC. I was very bruised from all that had occurred surrounding the loss of our home, and in need of His kindness.

I sang in the Redeemer choir on one occasion, hitting high G with great volume and joy, and am still receiving the Voices of Redeemer emails, nine years later, because I hope to one day sing with them again!

I also joined a Redeemer film-making group, wanting to learn about a different style of artistry, and helped out on a 24-hour film project. Film is such a difficult medium!

I also joined a few evening bible studies. I didn't really have much free time for socializing, because I was working too much to stay alive. 

The community bible studies through Redeemer were wonderful because they opened up time each week to get to know others more personally than just attending a short church service.

A Potential Job Offer


In September, a man stopped at my table on a Friday and remarked that I did good work. His name was Richard, and he was a high-end house painter. He showed me photos of the painting jobs on his cell phone, and said he was looking for someone to paint frescoes and murals for his Long Island house painting jobs.

I was glad to speak with him, for I knew winter was coming. I had been praying about finding an indoor job. He asked if I could go to dinner with him that night. “I don't really go places alone, or date,” I said. “Well, I'm meeting a friend, my best friend, so it would be a three-some.” Because I saw him respect what I had told him, I told him I could make it.

I went uptown, dropped off my table and paintings, and returned to Union Square an hour later, joining him and his friend at a restaurant on Union Square. We ate and talked. Richard must have had around six beers and no food – he had finished a big job and was celebrating.

At 11 PM his friend went home because he had work the next morning. I had been up since 5 AM and was very over-tired. I should have gone home, but I decided it would be safe to stay out. 

Richard went to a bar nearby and asked what I wanted. “I'll have a hot water with lemon, please.” “No, please drink with me,” he said. “I'll have a hot water with lemon,” I again firmly told the server. We went to another disco place and I couldn't see or hear. Then a third place.

At 3 AM I was still recounting to him very sorrowful life stories, and he said, “What can we do to make you happy?”

I was in the process of grieving the loss of our home, where I had lived for thirty long years. Pearl S. Buck, who lost her home very suddenly in 1927's Nanking Incident in China, said in her autobiography, My Several Worlds, "Anyone who has lost all his habitual environment by sudden violence will know what I mean, and those who have not, cannot possibly understand, and so there is no use in trying to explain." 

I could genuinely relate to what she said, about feeling "alive and free," even while losing so many possessions which were once beloved family heirlooms. Healing takes time. I was in no position, emotionally, to be courted by anyone. My grief would pass, but it would take time.

At 5 AM, after waiting for an early AM metro that never came, he put me in a cab and I went home, utterly exhausted. I had had about three tablespoons of beer.

Richard then called and invited me to go to dinner, which I declined. He had told me his philosophy, which was, “Christ suffered so we don’t have to suffer.” This is not a Biblical view. And, if someone didn’t know a lot about suffering, they would certainly never be able to understand my life.

That was the closest I got to a date in NYC. A business meeting that turned into a night talking at a bar. A job painting frescoes never materialized. It would have been fun to work with others, for working by myself gets very old sometimes.

Fall – Further Testing


Carl, Helen’s husband, sadly died late that October, and their son and his girlfriend picked me up so I could ride up to the coast of Maine to attend his funeral. I was glad to see my family again and walk the rocky beaches with my little niece!

I also went back to Vermont in November, to attend a counseling course, leaving my brand new $750 gift computer on the NYC subway by mistake, on the way there. I was carrying literally around 150 pounds of luggage on my shoulders and wasn't thinking all that well as a result. I thought it would “save me $20” by not taking a taxi to the Amtrak station...I was wrong. Ironically, it was because I was giving a dollar to an artist soliciting funds on the subway that I lost the computer. I had taken my computer strap off my shoulder to get the dollar, and forgotten to pick it back up. I was distraught. I never left things places...it just happened that day.

Losing that computer was a huge hit. Losing my home, summer clothing, shoes, possessions, camera and computer – all in one year!!! I never saw that computer again, but I was in the right frame of mind to receive counsel.

That fall, payment finally arrived from the job I’d done in Virginia, and this was perfect timing. I needed $400 to frame my doe deer painting, because it had been accepted by Redeemer Presbyterian for an art exhibit at their main offices. 

My doe deer represented fifty hours of work spaced over six weeks just painting her – not including getting the piece matted and framed. 

I remember standing next to the painting at the exhibit reception and hearing the commentary. “Oh, that’s a paint-by-number” one young viewer said, who obviously knew very little about painting and didn’t appreciate high detail. Then another artist from the show stood in front of my deer. “This is the best piece in the entire show!” he enthusiastically declared. As an artist, he could more accurately imagine the large effort behind the work. I was very grateful to have my work displayed at Redeemer.


Christine Receives Christ


One of my street artist friends, Christine, came to my apartment to celebrate Thanksgiving that year. I'd had a very good previous Saturday, making $200, so I could afford to buy holiday food.

Christine and I shared the same birthday, although she was exactly twenty years older than me, and she had insisted on being my friend for this reason, when we first met.

I could guess we'd had a pretty different life and wasn't too sure about it, but back in June, I'd agreed to be her friend. I didn't have much choice, she called me often to talk, as she was very lonely following the sudden death of her husband that Spring. I came to really appreciate her friendship.

Christine found out we had had very different backgrounds that Thanksgiving day.

I knew she’d worked as a prostitute on the streets for fourteen years, before her marriage, but she didn't know much about me. She was shocked when I shared my background, of attending church three times each week with my family, reading my bible daily, praying corporately with family, and singing hundreds of old hymns...

She had not had parents who expressed any love toward her or her siblings but I knew this before she told me about it.

Her common-law husband, George, a lamp inventor, had taken her in so she didn't have to work on the streets, selling her body. They had been together twenty years when he'd suddenly had a heart-attack and died. This forced her to sell her artwork, to pay her enormous rent on Roosevelt Island.

A very creative artist, she also knew how to sell – what to say and when not to speak.

Christine sold faux gold and silver work, which shone after dark. Just before Christmas she was selling well after the sun went down, and she kept encouraging me not to go home and rest, but to stay out for a couple more hours, after dark. But it got so cold and I was so tired. I never sold anything after dark.

Christine was perhaps one of the best reasons I went to NYC. We had a great time that Thanksgiving. If I remember correctly, I made turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry relish, sweet potatoes and green beans, and a pecan or pumpkin pie.

She prayed with me to repent of her sin and receive Christ as her Savior a couple months after Thanksgiving. “Christine, do you feel any different?” I asked her. She told me she felt lighter, and she began listening to sermons on the television, something she’d never been interested in doing before.

________________________________


When it was a very cold day on the street, I'd go over to Whole Foods and ask at the coffee counter for a large hot water, and then add honey and milk to it, making a free hot drink. The staff knew who the street market artists were and they didn't mind trying to keep us warm. I learned to wear three layers of pants and four on the top. My snow pants probably saved my life.

It was difficult to be out there for hours, standing in the terrible cold in December. I remember how everyone was bustling around getting ready for the holidays, but I had no extra money for gifts and our old decorations at home were gone.

I was disconsolate and full of self-pity...until one evening, while walking through the dark, wet and snowy streets to a musical performance at Redeemer Presbyterian. A passage came to mind very strongly, which I'd memorized many years earlier.

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;” ~ Philippians 3:8-10, emphasis mine

Suddenly, I was given a new perspective on loss and pain. Our Father would work even this seeming calamity out for my good and His glory.

 
Winter – More Answers to Prayer


On Sundays, I would leave my apartment by 8 AM, with a change of clothing in a backpack, to walk two miles each way, to attend the 9 AM church service. I was saving $5 by not taking the metro. Those were my favorite days in the city, because NYC is very silent and quiet on Sunday mornings. 

Bona, my doorman, once told me, “Elise, it is winter and you can’t walk that far in this weather!” But I replied, “Haha, Bona, it’s 30 degrees outside! In Vermont we have -20 below zero, without the windchill, and this is nothing!”

Last minute, my brother invited me home to Vermont for Christmas, and I went. A large monetary gift was given to me by a generous art mentor just before I left to return to NYC. These funds got me through the month of January.

There was a Whole Foods supermarket nearby my apartment, as well as a health food store and some other grocery shops. One cold damp day, as I went to lug spring water back to my apartment, through the snow, for drinking, I remember being watched by the men in hooded sweatshirts, who always sat around on the street edges and watched for prey, like vultures. They began to follow me, probably because I looked so vulnerable and depressed. I went quickly into Whole Foods and determined to project a much more purposeful attitude on the way back to my apartment.

I wasn't selling much of anything on the street by this time, and was struggling to keep going. There were few things I could look forward to, and I really didn’t know how to overcome my health and financial struggles. A friend hadn't come to visit, as planned, and this was also a great disappointment.

In early January, Jack called me. He lived in Cresskill, NJ and wanted to check up on me. Jack is Jessie's older brother and Jessie was my first art teacher. I'd known Jack for years and years. He was around 81 then. He was worried about me. “Every time I hear you say you're out on the street, the hair on the back of my neck rises!” he exclaimed. “Jack, I'm selling my art, not my body on the street!”

Then he asked, “How are you doing? Is your apartment warm enough?” “Yes, I'm plenty warm,” I told him, “I'm wearing shorts it's so hot in here.” “What do you weigh, he wanted to know, telling me, “I wouldn't normally ask a woman this.” “I weigh around 165 lbs, I'm eating well and I'm fine.”I replied. “Well, that sounds okay...You should come and visit me,” Jack said. So I went.

I was thinking about my life and grieving, wondering about how to get through the immediate future while on the metro heading north. What am I going to do? I mumbled to myself.

The train was going toward the George Washington Bridge and because this way was unfamiliar, I went one stop too far. I got off the train to change directions and heard the sweet tones of a black trumpet player, busking.

He was playing an old hymn and his music rang gloriously through the metro platform. The words of his song came to mind, “Ask the Savior to help you, comfort, strengthen and keep you, He is willing to aid you, He will carry you through.”

I knew that once again, the Holy Spirit was there with me, hearing my cry, caring and watching over me. I could trust Him.

My tears fell as I put a few dollars in the busker's trumpet case, “I was really blessed by your song,” I told him softly, and he nodded, his eyes closed, as he continued to praise God on his trumpet.

I doubt anyone else knew the words to that song that day – just me and him. I got back on the train going south, glad I'd gone that “extra” stop north.

____________________________


Now one of my wisdom teeth became badly infected. The pounding pain seemed to worsen each month. It needed to be dealt with. I was paying $140 each month for utilities at the apartment, and around $200 monthly for my food, but not the $2,200/month rent. I talked a dentist down from $300 to $100 to pull my tooth. But the shock and fear of having it extracted took a toll on my health.

I couldn't walk two city blocks without feeling exhausted after that tooth was pulled. I spent several days in January lying in bed, trying to rest and heal. Later, a doctor told me the infection was probably going to the brain, and I'd done the right thing to have it pulled when I did. I'm sure the cold weather on the street didn't help at all.

One day, a street-artist photographer-friend gave me his old wooden display so I could hang my prints higher up. It was made of wooden 2x4's and it was too heavy for even me to carry, with everything else.

I learned while in NYC why I am the size I am – I have a large build and by now also had the strength of an ox. No one dare bother me! But this display was the “straw which broke the camel's back.”

I was straining to drag it up the subway stairs one morning, when suddenly I had a flashback to the winter I was thirteen: Our Dad was gone by then, and we were freezing cold. My mom had gone to work, leaving us at home to load the fires, cook and educate ourselves.

We had to go out into the woods every day, to pull wet, icy logs up the driveway, through the snow on sleds. Our mittens and knees were sopping wet from slipping and falling down so many times. “Daddy, daddy, why can't you come home!” we had then cried...

Somehow, those subway steps and the burden I was carrying on my back reminded me of that very hard time, many years earlier. And I felt I was done. No more street markets for me.

 

Making Floral Bouquets for Valentine’s Day


At the beginning of February I had very little food left, and only $1.25 to my name. I did have 100 EU as my last resort “leave the city” savings fund.

My doorman, Bona, had become a very kind friend. I told him how I'd gone up to 107th street to the floral shop, to put my name in to do delivery work for Valentine's Day. I called this shop on Wednesday, February 10th, and was assured by the woman who answered the phone that they were going to call me in to work.

But Friday arrived, and I hadn't heard anything. I called that shop at least twice, and had gone to see them. Bona told me, “Call them again, Elise.” “But I've already called them! Twice!” I protested. “This is New York City, people get distracted and busy, you must call them again,” he urged me.

So I called them again.“Oh, honey, you haven't been put on the schedule? Well, come in tomorrow morning at 9:30,” I was told. I was there on time and they gave me a few bunches of flowers to take out on foot and by subway. 

I'd worked for fifteen years in Vermont, doing floral deliveries by car on special occasions for the local shop. It felt a bit dreary, wandering down the sidewalk, finding addresses by myself. I was told to bring ID the next time I went to one high-rise downtown.

When I got back to the flower shop, the owner, Sal, exclaimed, “You're a waste on the streets, I'm going to have you stand next to me and do designs!” 

Wow! I had always wanted to create floral designs, but the florist in Vermont was very stuffy, highly educated in the business, and wouldn't let me touch his stems. I was thrilled. 

Sal had gotten 400 orders in on the Tele-Floral machine, and didn't have enough designers to fill them. 

I stood in one place at the counter for hours and made up a lot of orders. I had to ask for a sharper knife. They glanced at each other, wondering if I would cut myself. I can handle a knife. I made up several $150 bouquets of roses and Sal showed me how to shape them slightly.

The next day, on Valentine's Day itself, I took orders from the shop customers who came in to select loose stems from the refrigerator. I had a blast, it was SO much fun working with a team!

Sal told me every time he would eat a sandwich he'd think of me, with my $1.25, which I'd explained to him was all I had left. Sal asking me work for him was another answer to prayer.

I met an old friend later that evening, and she gave me a check for over $200. She said God had told her to give it to me. It was unexpected. Suddenly I went from $1.25 to over $400!

A Slumbering Giant Awakes, 22x30 2016 watercolor by Elise

Time to Leave NYC


After this weekend I went back to Vermont, mainly to see my chiropractor about my wounded cranium, and then wound up staying to help my mother on an important project, going to Maine to have another adventure.

Then, on Easter Sunday, Helen’s son texted that he’d found someone to live in the apartment, and I'd need to move out of NYC soon. I returned and packed and left the city.

I had come through my year unscathed and stronger than ever, in many ways, although with some adrenal fatigue, too. I was no longer afraid of being in a big city by myself. I had learned more about sales and made a lot of artist friends, too.

Christine went Home to heaven, after a long second round of lethal cancer treatments in 2013. If for no other reason, I believe I went to NYC for Christine’s eternal security.

Your painting and praying friend, with love,
Elise


P. S. Those who follow Christ are not merely insured or even assured His help; the people of the Living Yah are ensured by His faithfulness! 

These are the verses I added to my doe deer painting, Ensured by Faithfulness:


"For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me."

~ Psalm 50:10-15


This is Psalm 23, which is on my Stuart, Dwelling Securely, Forever painting:


"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."


The Virtuous Grapevine Song - part of the original CF!E curriculum

1. You've heard tales of a beautiful garden/That shelters a beautiful vine/It drinks from the river, which flow through the vale/And turns to the sun as it shines!


Refrain: 

But oh, do you know, of the good things that come/When the gardener sharpens his shears?/The pruning seems painful, but all will rejoice/When the harvest of plenty appears/When the harvest of plenty appears.


2. All the branches grow longer and taller/From the strength of the life-giving roots/And the flourishing leaves pull aside to reveal/The clusters of wonderful fruit!





Angels from the Sky


I recently heard Simon Sinek's interesting talk with a group of artists in NYC. His "preamble" included a short discussion on the missing element today of Art Patrons. 

He pointed out how great musicians like Mozart and Beethoven did not pay their own bills - they had Patrons who believed in their genius and ability to provide needed inspiration to the world. 

Historically, many visual artists lived in the homes of those who had commissioned their portraits.

I believe similarly, most artists today would greatly benefit from and need more private financial support from friends, relatives and others in order to have the rest, emotional and physical strength to create their best works. A tired mind does not create well.

I currently have several friends who function as my Art Patrons. I could not survive without them. One gives me food from their farm, another houses me when I travel, another helps me when I am in need by commissioning paintings or placing card orders. I am sincerely grateful for these kind and generous people!

The following account is about the life a former Art Patron, who died in September of 2016. She is greatly missed by her family and friends.

My Aunt Helen opened her home to me after my sister's 35-pound benign ovarian tumor surgery. I was my sister's primary care-giver for five months, and had physical/emotional fatigue and very little funds when I first went to live with Helen.

Butterfly on Echinasea, photographed outside my Aunt Helen's home and painted for the "The End" page in my children's books

I painted illustrations for my children's books the next Spring, while Helen shared many of her amazing life stories with me. 

She told me this important and unforgettable story of her own WWII heritage. I share it now, as best as I can remember it, in Helen's own words:

Angels From The Sky


It was early in 1945, and my mother, Marie, had already narrowly escaped being shot and killed many times at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

She was a political prisoner, and I had been born there at the camp, in early August, of 1944.

My mother was a strong, beautiful, intelligent and generous woman. She was nursing me in the camp, and yet she would also share her food rations with others.

She was imprisoned in Auschwitz after being caught in the woods of Poland, carrying dynamite used to blow up German bridges.

My mother was a trained member of the Polish Resistance against the Nazi invasion. She would leave the Jewish getto, putting her pinned “Jude” star into her pocket. She spoke fluent Polish and German, and had excellent false papers, declaring her to be an Arian Catholic.

She was really of completely Jewish heritage.

My mother had previously been taken to be executed in “Room Eleven” where Auschwitz prisoners went to be shot and killed. 

Once, the Polish guard who took her there had been drunk, and they arrived late. The dead bodies of those just executed were already being carried from this terrible room.

As a very beautiful twenty-two-year-old woman, my mother's guard may have desired to spare her life, or perhaps he had some measure of conscience. His tardiness saved her life that day.

[In January of 1945, the Germans began to realize the end of World War II was near. Russian and Allied Troops were approaching.

The Germans decided to take all remaining Auschwitz prisoners - about 60,000 people - on what became a “Death March”.]

One day, a member of the German SS Troops came into the room where my mother was and ordered her harshly to “Get out!”, motioning toward the door with his rifle.

"I have a badly sprained ankle,” she told him quietly, in perfect German. “I will not survive a march. Shoot me first, and then shoot my baby,” she instructed the German Officer.

This young German Officer looked frightened. He quickly crossed himself and told her, “I, too, have a wife and child at home. Hide over there in the corner.” The SS Officer rushed out of her room, again sparing my mother, Marie's life, and mine, too.

The camp then became much quieter, without the SS Guards and most of the other 60,000-odd prisoners, who had been marched off. A few prisoners, too weak to march, remained at the camp.

Meanwhile, like angels from the sky, Russian paratroops had dropped from planes, opening parachutes, and floated silently to the cold, snowy ground. It was the middle of winter and air temperatures were frigid.

After landing on the ground, these brave men wrapped their uniforms with white parachute fabric, camaflaging their bodies against the whiteness of the snow, and ran as fast as they could. They had expected to be shot at by German troops as they descended from the planes.

On January 27, 1945, heavily clothed Russian parachute troops entered Auschwitz prison camp. Speaking brokenly in a different language to his mother tongue, a Russian Officer demanded to know, “Where are the Germans?!”

"They have all gone,” my mother answered them.

Another Russian soldier put a radio down on the ground and began to transmit this message to Russian command. 

As this Russian soldier pulled down their face mask, which protected them from the frigid winter air, Marie was shocked to see this Russian soldier was a woman! My mother learned the radio operator was the wife of the Russian Officer who had asked her where the Germans were.

The Russians arrived to help liberate us!

My mother and I stayed at the Auschwitz prison camp until May of that year. We had survived a terrible ordeal by the grace and mercy of God.

We moved from Poland after the war, first to Israel, then France, then to Canada, and finally to a peaceful life in America.

____________________________

It amazes me how God preserved Marie and Helen's lives, so that Helen could then help preserve mine, seventy years later. 

May you, friends, receive with joy and gratitude all the help given to you, for at times we all need the assistance of others.

Happy Spring! Happy Passover! And Happy Resurrection Day!

Blessings and love from your painting friend,
Elise

Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness.

And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.

Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate.

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.

I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah.

Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.

Cause me to hear thy loving kindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.

Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me.

Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.

Quicken me, O Lord, for thy name's sake: for thy righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble.

And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant.

~ Psalm 143




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