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The Artist's Wife

  History/Biography of Ary Stillman  

P U B L I C A T I O N S  >  R E M I N I S C E N C E S

bullet Preface
bullet Foreword
bullet Grandfather     Dictated by Ary
bullet The Village     Dictated by Ary
bullet Supplement to the Village
bullet Vilna     Dictated by Ary
bullet Supplemet to Vilna
bullet Coming to the United States     Dictated by Ary
bullet Back of the Store     Dictated by Ary
bullet Omaha     Dictated by Ary
bullet Ary in New York - 1919
bullet Ary in Paris
bullet Ary Comes Back to the United States
bullet Ary's Marriage
bullet Summer Cottage in Harmon
bullet The Studio on Fifty-Ninth Street
bullet We Return to Paris
bullet Cuernavaca-Houston
bullet Ary and Music
bullet Ary and the English Language
bullet Ary Stillman - Thoughts on Painting

Coming to the United States
Dictated by Ary

I was in Vilna a little less than two years, and during the time I was there within me was a strong idea to go, after I finished my studies in Vilna, to St. Petersburg, where a relative of Mother's promised to help me enter the Imperial Academy of Art. For that purpose during my stay in Vilna I was studying various academic subjects in order to facilitate my entering the Academy. The son of the friend of my teacher from Slutzk, who was a student in the Realschule, got me teachers. This idea was very strong in my mind for about a year. Then I heard that my older brother, Abe, had gone to the United States. Mother's uncle had sent him a steamship ticket and he was over there and he was working, in fact he was sending Mother some money every month. I received a letter from Mother, telling me about Abe, that he was in Sioux City, Iowa, with her cousins The Brodkeys, and he wrote that the next step would be for me to come, and then together we could bring the family over. Soon I began to receive letters from Abe, and he told me of the new country, about the bright future that he envisaged, and he told me to go back to Hretzk, and to move the family to Slutzk and then in the fall he would have a steamship ticket sent to me. So in the spring of 1907 I gave up my ideas of St. Petersburg and felt that I was already on the way to the United States.

I received a letter from Sioux City, from Mother's cousin, Max Brodkey, who at one time had studied architecture in the Moscow Academy. He enclosed reproductions of things done by contemporary artists in the United States. They were by Charles Dana Gibson and some other illustrators. He said that if I could learn the art of illustration I might easily be able to get a job in the United States and make good money. I looked at the drawings of Gibson and the others, mostly pen and ink drawings. They created a terrible impression, and my heart sank, after the ambition I had about going from Vilna to the Academy in St. Petersburg. I resisted terribly against the prospect of becoming an illustrator, and I foresaw a very dim future as far as my work was concerned. However, there was nothing I could do but go to the United States. And there were many things that fascinated me about the New World and that overcame my pessimistic thoughts.

So in the spring of 1907, I went back to the family in Hretzk. Grandfather was very happy to see me, although terribly depressed at the idea that we planned to go to the United States, which meant that he would never see us again.

I managed to find a place in Slutzk and the family moved over, left Hretzk with all. What must have gone through my Mother's mind when she said goodbye to everything in Hretzk, to all the joys and sorrows, to all the painful experiences, etc. And now she found herself in Slutzk, the city where she grew up and where some members of her family were still alive. I was glad to be with them in Slutzk, for during the years I had lived there I was always with strangers, and here I was with my mother and my brothers and sister —Eli, Ed, he was born after my father's death, and Sarah, who was a good looking little girl.

My steamship ticket arrived. I was notified by an agent to get ready for the trip. Everything was done through agents, the agent in Slutzk and agents at various places on the way. The agent at Slutzk let me know that on a certain night I should be ready to leave. I had no passport, for the Russian Government at that time didn't issue passports for boys over 15, since war was already in the air. I knew it meant an illegal crossing of the border.

I don't exactly remember the day I left Slutzk. I don't remember if I saw the Rabbiner or his wife — it is very vague. I only begin to recall when I was on the train and the train was nearing the Russian-German border. There were quite a few emigrants. We only knew that somebody would meet us at the train and would guide us through all the things we would have to do to cross the border. Without knowing who that somebody was and without knowing what would happen, still we had confidence that whatever might happen would be the right thing.

The train began to slow down and before it stopped there was a man, about 45, followed by a second man, who rushed into the compartment where all the emigrants were and began pointing with his finger, "You, you, you" (in Yiddish). "Come quickly, follow me." We obeyed orders and made our way out of the compartment and out of the train. The train pulled out and our group, consisting of men, a few women, and I vaguely recall one child about 4 or 5 years old, followed that man. There were several peasants with peasant carts waiting nearby, and the man told us to get into those carts as quickly as possible and very quietly — not to make the slightest noise. It was already dark. Those several carts kept on moving through the dreariest part of the country, on the edge of a little forest. After a ride of about an hour or an hour and a half, maybe a little more, the carts stopped at a log cabin surrounded by trees — all in the forest. "Quietly" — he gave us a signal to move quietly one by one and go inside the cabin. There was straw on the floor; a tiny little kerosene lamp was the only light we had. They told us to stretch out on the straw and to wait, and not to make the slightest noise. I fell asleep; I was fatigued — it was a long trip, we had already traveled two days. All of a sudden they woke me up quietly. "Let's go; don't make the slightest noise." One after another we walked out of the cabin. It must have been midnight. We were instructed to walk and follow the peasant who led us. We went on a part that led through the forest, and we tried to be so quiet. The child was carried by the various individuals so as to keep it from making the slightest noise.

Finally we saw a narrow stream and under the warning of "Quiet, quiet!" we came to the stream and the instruction was to jump over it. How many succeeded in jumping over and how many got wet crossing it, it was difficult to tell. We were anxious to get over on the other side. Once we were on the other side we were told to run, one after another, as fast as we could. There were difficulties, since there were some women and one had to carry the child. We ran and came to a place where the trees were sparse and there was a cabin much larger than the cabin where we were before. How long we had been running I can't recall. I know I was terribly tired. On the floor there was straw, and we were told to lie down on the straw and stay there until further notice. I knew that we were in Germany. The peasant in that cottage was already Polish-German (it was the Polish-German border). I immediately fell asleep and when they woke me up the sun was already high in the sky and you could hear the activities outside. I slept through the night and part of the morning without realizing what really took place. When I woke up I saw they were all waiting outside to get into a cart and to go somewhere. But there was no more fear of the border. We knew that we were outside of Russia. (When running, there was a girl who kept calling to me; practically held me by the hand — all through, and even in Antwerp and on the boat.)

We were on the carts, traveling at the edge of the forest, going we didn't know where, but we were out of Russia. We were brought to a brick or stone house and were told that we had to be there (this part unfinished.)

In Antwerp we found ourselves in a hotel. We had to wait two weeks until there would be passage on the boat, but the two weeks were very interesting because I walked around — we were free to go wherever we wanted — and especially I went to the museum there. Other emigrants wanted to come with me so we went in a group to the places. Those weeks were very colorful.

We were on the boat 13 days. It was a cattle ship. We slept in beds like hammocks, three of them, one over the other. I had the middle one. The people on the boat were typical immigrants of that period, mostly very plain people with a sprinkling of intellectuals and some with a revolutionary flavor. Everyone was preoccupied with his thoughts about the new world of which they had heard so much, and still it was mysterious to them, and they were very hopeful about a new life, each one according to his ideas and dreams. I had a group with whom I was more or less friendly, although very few with whom I had much in common because I had studied in school. However that part is covered up with a veil; I could never put my finger; it is just like a dream.

We had to wait overnight at the port because the ship arrived too late to disembark. None of us slept, it was so fantastic to look at New York, and it was only this one more night that we were on the other side of that big world — the big mouth that would open up and swallow us.

In the morning we got off at Ellis Island. Shortly afterwards Ellis Island closed, I believe, but we still had to go through there. A little boat took us from Ellis Island to the land. Then it was New York — New York at the beginning of the 20th Century. I had addresses of some people that I wanted to look up, especially one fellow who went with me to school in Slutzk. His name was Gordon. I knew he had been in the United States a year or two, and I wanted to see him. I found him, and he was dressed up all American —wore a derby hat. I had heard that he was working at the tailor trade, I didn't know exactly what, and that he was going to school in the evening. Gordon was one of those typical immigrants who go up in the world. He was already adjusted to New York. He was my age, maybe a year older. He looked so stylish and with pride he told me that he was getting $4 a week. This was during the crisis of 1907, and $4 a week was a lot of money.

I saw another classmate who wasn't as lucky; he didn't have a job yet, or else he worked and didn't earn as much as Gordon. As I said, it was the crisis of 1907. I didn't taste New York in those days; I tasted it later when I came to study art. Possibly I would have stayed in New York for a while were it not for the crisis. The immigrants walked around with nothing but hope in their pockets. If one had a job, newcomers who had nothing surrounded him, and he had to share with them.

While I waited for my railroad ticket to Sioux City I stayed in an apartment on the East Side. I could see from the window the elevated railway and when the trains would go through the windows would rattle; you would wonder that they didn't fall apart from the noise.

On Saturday night the immigrants all gathered on the East Side, all the landsleiter in front of their bank, where they would get their letters, and they were all talking about the news from home. It was an experience that one cannot easily forget, how these people would come Saturday night and walk around East Broadway, looking for friends and hearing the news from home, through the letters that came care of the bank. And then slowly the crowd would disperse and there would remain a sort of nostalgic feeling. There was a bank where all the landsleiter from Slutzk would come. The first Saturday I was there I found someone whom I had to look up. It was a special world that existed at that time — Saturday on East Broadway. There should be a play about it.

The Educational Alliance was new at that time but it was an institution that was for the immigrants.

As soon as I received the railroad ticket to Sioux City I left New York. The trip to Sioux City and my arrival there, and my going to Omaha — each place had a flavor of its own. Then you speak of a place like Slutzk it has a special flavor, and as far as I am concerned, when it becomes nothing but memory it is the flavor that continues, that persisted in me, and Slutzk had opened to me a little door to a world of learning, and with all its poverty and all its difficulties I can't help but retain a nostalgic feeling for those days when I am dreaming of the future.

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