September 8, 2014

My Life In Savannah (Part 3)

3. Street Passion 

Life as a “street artist” wasn’t easy. There were good and bad days, occasionally I could go home with nothing. The working condition was rough. Beside the uncomfortableness like heat or coldness, humidity or mosquitoes, the most troubling condition was weather. Georgia’s weather was so “capricious” that sometime it would rain instantly in the middle of my portrait process. At this moment I usually moved into stores, whose employees were kind enough to let me staying there for a little while, until I finished my works.

Savannah's River Street is a popular destinati...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
But all these hard time could not beat good time. How can I forget all those beautiful faces I drew, the joyful eyes that looked back into mine, or the broad smiles that messed up my drawing process but lightened up my heart? Once after I finished drawing a lady and her newborn baby, the lady gave me double amount of money and asked no change back.
Another time after I finished several drawings in a row, a handsome 10 year-old boy stood in front of me, and his grandma told me that they missed my drawing a few months ago, because the waiting line was too long and they had to catch the boat. I was so moved by their coming back so I made my mind that I must do my best to make him happy. The boy sat still for the whole 15 minutes, endured not only heat but also mosquitoes’ bite. I admired his endurance, and was greatly satisfied after I saw his heartfelt smile when I showed him the drawing. Oh yes, I should also remember all those good sense of humor, which turned my “hard working time” the most fun time I ever experienced.

Summer was long and exciting, and winter was quiet and short. Most street artists and musicians were temporarily retired from their “business” during winter. So from late November to next February, River Street would look cold and bleak, except a few warm days that brought Ted, me or couple of other musicians to stay there for a few hours. However, spring came back early in South. Around March, temperature became warm enough for outdoor activity, some “early birds” would show up on the street again, enjoying the brief cool weather in South.

The most exciting event during early spring would be St. Patrick’s Day. Every year during this holiday long weekend, the entire River Street would be blocked to prohibit motor vehicles from entering. From mornings to night, all day long, you would see crowds with “green”, and everybody smiled to each others and dancing together, celebrating this special Irish festival.

Savannah is a small town, but it hosts the second largest St. Patrick Day parade in the world, only seconded by the one in New York city. There is historical reason behind this fact. The history of Irish people in Savannah is almost as long as history of Savannah itself. In 1734, the second year after Savannah was founded, a boat with 40 Irish people was forced to dock in Savannah river bank due to the bad weather. Despite of their Catholic religion, they were welcomed by General Oglethorpe. Though their life must be hard because of difference of religions, they managed to blend in community, survived and became first Irish immigrants in Georgia. The larger influx of Irish immigrants in Savannah came a century later. First time in early 19th century, during the railroad construction, when many Irish people came here became cheap labors; second time was around mid 19th century, during Irish famine, when many Irish people came to Savannah looking for a better life.

Every time during St. Patrick’s Day long weekend, my business went extremely well. The waiting line was long, and I kept drawing one after another. There were troubles too, mostly caused by drunk people, but overall, those were most exciting days of my life in Savannah.

1996 on River Street, with a
caricature artist. 
It was during St. Patrick’s Day, I grasped the true meaning of “revelry”. During this long weekend, not only bars or restaurants, but all stores and gift shops sold beer. You could see drunk people at 10 o'clock in the morning. Right after lunch time you would hardly find one who was not holding a beer. Everyone seemed to forget about all those etiquette nonsense, acted genuine and friendly. They also looked extremely happy too. During the festival, all street artists would show up, from portrait or caricature artists, musicians, to magicians or juggling performers. There was a platform near the bank, where some bigger scale bands came to play rock n roll, made the street even more exciting. Of course, audiences would not be silent onlookers. As long as there was one start dancing, he or she would be instantly followed by another, and another, as if it’s highly contagious, soon everybody on the street would be shaking their bodies. After duck, such “epidemic” would take place once every 10 or 15 minutes, and each time spread wider and more exciting, at the end it seemed that the whole street was shaking together with people, even those still objects - buildings, trees, light poles, etc. all became animated parts of this dynamic passion.

(To be continued)

part 4


  1. True to your art, you have put up the summer, the winter, the spring and the carnival in Svannaha in a manner that pops those scenes right before my eyes. Your brush has put in strokes of history too, wherever due. I am hanging on...

    1. Uma, thanks for following my memoir and all the kind words. They mean a lot to me.
      Probably, the good thing of working as a street artist is those opportunities of looking at life in its "rawest" form. Despite I did not enjoy doing portraits very much, I do treasure those times I lived.

  2. I am enjoying reading about your time in Savannah. We may have even passed each other down on River Street. You're right about St. Patrick's Day down's crazy! Great place to be a street artist.

    1. That could happen, Kris. I mean we may passed each other on River Street. The world is small, after all. Yes, it was crazy down there, the St. Patrick's day. I was impressed! :-)

  3. yunyi, what a colorful part of your life those street artist days must've been. It all sounds like so much fun. It seems that's the way an artist should live, not holed up in a studio somewhere, but working outdoors either in nature or among people.

    1. Marty, I will have to agree with you that that's the way an artist should live. I had an artist friend who proposed to rent a RV and travel together around country just doing street art, I can imagine how fun it would be.