My Fifth Starving Artist Story

I was sad when Victoria Donner, Tamsen’s older sister moved out of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs.  I found her to be the sweetest and most approachable of all The Donner clan.  Her room was immediately taken by Parivash Shogi’s cousin, who was sent from Tehran to America for brain surgery. Pari was the Club’s resident Persian Beauty.  Also at this time,  the best room in the Club became available.
I was first in line to move upstairs to a real room.  Everyone coveted this room, which had been occupied for over five years by a woman much older than us.  The room had a private bathroom and balcony with French doors, and two dormer windows.  It also had steamed heat (the Club is one of the few buildings in Austin that has radiators and a boiler room) and hardwood floors.  The rent was $120.00 a month, all bills paid.  Also, I would have accesss to a community living room and kitchen upstairs.

I told Tamsen about my move upstairs, and offered her the dressing room where I had been living for the past six months.  She wasn’t interested in that, but she did want the room upstairs.  I reluctantly conceded, and stayed in the dressing room.  My desire to be connected with the Donners was so strong that it was worth the sacrifice.

I was still working at Les Amis, and at Valentine’s Discotechque.   Valentine’s, which was located just up the street from Les Amis, was popular for its ice cream-based pina coladas and other sissy drinks.  It must have originally been a gas station.  The exterior had those shiny white steel panels that were used to cover up the brick facades of the older stations.  Although I was ashamed to tell people that I worked there, no experience is lost: I learned how to count change, remember 15 drink orders without writing them down, and give the correct drink to the person that ordered it without having to ask.

My love/hate relationship with Les Amis was ongoing.  I was fearful of being stuck at a dead-end.  Ricky, one of the bus-boys/kitchen workers would tell us the story of his suburban mom driving by Les Amis in her Cadillac.  She said, “I went by that place that you worked today, and drove home on a wave of nausea”.  Without the job at Les Amis, eating properly would have been difficult.   Employee meals were half-price.  I ate beans and rice just about every day.  I would even go in on my days off to eat my meals.

Getting stuck back down in the dressing room was actually a God-send.  I started actively thinking of a way out.  It didn’t take a lot of imagination to plan getting accepted in a graduate school as an escape route.  However, if you remember my earlier post, “Rapid Sketch, Pronto-Prontissimo“, I have a fourth grade math education.  I had applied to an  art academy directly out of undergraduate school, and was rejected.  This particular academy, Cranbrook Art Academy, did not require the GRE.  I decided to reapply.  I started working on a portfolio, which proved difficult on my budget.  Cranbrook must have gone through a huge PR push during that period, because every art student that I know had two art schools that they wanted to be accepted at on their list: Cranbrook Art Academy and Rhode Island School of Design.

I was accepted at Cranbrook Art Academy.  I was so excited that I read the acceptance letter over and over.  It was, at that time, a difficult school to be accepted at simply because of the large number of applicants.  The school was tiny (150 students), and was strictly a graduate art school. The tuition was $4,000.00 a year.  I had no money.  I did what I could to save money: stole toilet paper from gas stations, cut my bath soap in half so that the bar wouldn’t melt as quickly, and continued to eat all of my meals at Les Amis.  At the end of the summer, I still didn’t have enough to pay my half of the tuition (the school had offered me a half scholarship).  Two weeks before the Fall semester began, my mom called and told them that if they didn’t give me a full-scholarship, that I wouldn’t be going at all.  They folded.  I was scheduled to enter Cranbrook in the fall with a full scholarship (for that year).  I’m closing this post with a little bit of memorabilia:

valentines ernies

My friend Lisa Kelly loaned this Valentine’s matchbook to me that she kept from the 70’s.  I teased her when she gave it to me by saying, “Well, someone’s name and number has to be written on the inside of it”.  We opened it up, and laughed so hard.  Then, I realized, it wasn’t any Ernie, it was Ernie’s Chicken Shack!  Anyone who says they love Austin music and East Austin, please look at the link that I have provided on Ernie’s.


  1. Posted November 20, 2008 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Great story.

  2. Posted November 20, 2008 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Hi, wrjones.

    If you have a chance, you might want to read the other four (maybe during a lunch-break). It explains why I won’t let my teenaged daughter go to art school. 🙂

    Let’s keep talking.

    ~Lavanna Martin

  3. Posted November 21, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Great story, Lavanna. You bring back memories of that era and working at Les Amis. Keep it up!

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  1. By My Sixth Starving Artist Story « I Stare At People on December 3, 2008 at 8:30 am

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