Ary In New
York In 1919
By 1919, Ary felt that if he was to pursue his
dreams of a painting career he must make for New York. His two
younger brothers and his sister were able to find work, in addition
to continuing with their schooling, and he had saved up enough
money that his mother could receive a monthly sum and there
would still be some capital for him to fall back on when necessary.
Ary as student at National Academy of Design,
New York City
Ary dictated to me something of his first days
in New York and I will quote this first of all.
"I came to New York from Sioux City and I had about $400
with me. It was Saturday evening. I walked on the East Side.
Saturday night the street was very crowdedthe banks crowdedthe
immigrants used to come around to get their mail, which was
sent to them in care of the banks. There was one particular
bank where all the "landsmen" would go. One man working
there was a "landsman."
I passed by this bank and I said to myself, 'I am carrying money
with me and it is so crowded down here, I'll go in and deposit
it! I went into the bank; it was crowded and the guard told
me to stand in line. I stood in line and waited until my turn
came. I told the cashier I wanted to make a deposit of $400.
The cashier said, 'We don't accept now. It's too late and we
don't accept we can't open an account. I was very much
annoyed because I know there were people ahead of me attended
to and why doesn't he want to take my money. No use in putting
up an argument I had to move on. So I walked away and
I was terribly angry that I had to carry the money in my pocket.
"Monday morning I was surprised to hear that the bank had
closed down. I always thought of that cashier who refused to
accommodate me because it was too late.' Did he know and for
some reason try to save me? It is difficult to determine whether
he knew what was happening, and tried to save an innocent man's
In New York there was a distant relative I had known in Slutzk.
The man who was supposed to meet me when I came over on the
boat and forgot about it. He was one who had been in the ranks
of the unemployed ever since he came over. His wife was a dressmaker.
I went over to see him when I came to New York and I found that
his lot had improved during the years when I was in Sioux City.
I asked him if he knew where I could rent a room and his wife
said that with her in the shop was a girl who lives on Lenox
Avenue and they have a room for rent. She said they are very
nice people and if I get a room there I will be all right. I
went over. A very old lady let me in and she showed me a tiny
little room squeezed in between the kitchen and dining room.
It contained a folding bed, a tiny little table and a chair.
In the corner were hangers to hang up my clothes. There was
a window to a very dark passage. I asked the old lady how much
it was. I was surprised at the low price that she quoted and
I accepted, and the same afternoon moved in.
"I only stayed in that room when I was tired and had to
go to bed, so I didn't record any cracks or spots in the wall.
I was always very tired and would immediately fall asleep. I
can only record that I remember sounds coming from the dining
room and the voice of the old lady trying to quiet down any
kind of discussion or argument so as not to disturb me. That
little room was my home all the time I was in New York, until
I went to Europe."
Ary used to talk often about the old lady and her family. She
was a widow, with a large family of grown-up sons and daughters;
a good-natured and hard-working woman and very kind to Ary.
She was a hospitable soul, and the house was always over-flowing
with the friends of the young people of the family. She would
gladly have included Ary in all the noisy and happy gatherings,
but Ary had not come to New York for this.
He enrolled at once at the National Academy of
Design (now National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts)
and later at
The Art Students League
. Then he set out to look for work. He couldn't get a job in
a jewelry store, because when they found out that he had been
manager and a partner in stores in Sioux City, they said he
wouldnt be satisfied with the small jobs they had to
offer. Finally in desperation he took a job as bus boy in
a cafe on Broadway near Times Square. At one of the first
tables he had to clear, there sat a man from Sioux City with
a man to whom Ary had sold a wedding ring only a few weeks
before. The man recognized Ary, and sensing Ary's embarrassment,
introduced him to his wife, saying something about "these
art students who work while they study." But after Ary
carried the dishes out to the kitchen he took off his white
jacket and left the cafe, never to come back. However he did
find a cafeteria, up by Columbia University, which wasn't
far from the Academy. It was patronized mostly by students,
and run by two elderly spinsters. Ary had to be there early
in the morning to punch tickets during the breakfast hours.
For this he received his breakfast and noon meal, and he was
free to paint all day and evening. So during the day he painted
at the Academy and evenings it was The Art Students League
or the Jewish Educational Alliance.
In the summer Ary bought a camera, the kind that could make
a print at once, and he would go to Coney Island or to a park
in Brooklyn and take pictures of people there. He was skillful
at grouping them to make an effective composition, and he could
make quite a sum of money this way to help pay his rent and
other expenses. He didn't enjoy this work however; some of the
groups were tough and there were unpleasant experiences. So
when he finally was on a boat going to Europe he took out his
camera and in a sort of private ceremony he threw it into the
sea, as a symbol of his deliverance.
The first summer he was in New York he spent some weeks on the
estate of a very wealthy and prominent man, whose name I don't
recall. This man had a big country estate in New Jersey, and
he invited a number of art students from the Academy to come
there and paint. They lived in a big barn; I don't know how
they got their meals. The Soyers were among this group. Ary
spent most of his time studying trees and how to paint them,
which he said is a very difficult thing, for one doesn't paint
separate leaves or branches, one has to paint them as part of
a whole. I believe his success in painting trees derived from
Meanwhile Ary's brother Eli had arrived in New
York and was studying architecture at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn,
while working as a conductor on a streetcar to make his expenses.
Ary and Eli would get together whenever possible, and occasionally
attended a concert together.
The second year in New York, Ary began to think about going
to Europe. Joseph Raskin, a friend of his at the Academy, got
a scholarship (Guggenheim, I believe) to study in Europe, and
he, an art student named Ginsberg, and Ary booked a cabin together
on a ship bound for France. Ary's landlady was disconsolate,
for she had been hoping to capture him for one of her girls.
But Ary was bent on painting, not romancing or marrying.