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  • Writer's pictureCatherine White

EX- Pats - Elizabeth Marks

Elizabeth Marks moved with her family from New England to a 220-acre dairy farm on East Hill in Elmira when she was 7 years old.

“We were so damn poor,” she says, smiling as she thinks back on memories tucked away that will forever tie her to the Southern Tier, though she has returned to New England, currently residing in Connecticut.

Elizabeth’s early years were a dichotomy between the safety, serenity and natural beauty of the farm, where she tended the calves and played with barn cats, and the chaotic and cruel world of elementary school, where she dreaded the taunts of careless kids who teased her about her “farm” smell and handed down clothing, as well as her thick glasses blue-eyed blondeness, which the kids mocked when she had to switch to a grade school that was predominately black.

“I didn’t feel like I belonged there,” Elizabeth said. She explained that the school district had bussed her to Arthur W. Booth School from 2nd to 5th grades, then abruptly stopped, which forced her to relocate to T.K. Beecher Elementary School.

Although she was shy and tried to be invisible at school, Elizabeth’s creativity flourished when she was home on her farm in a variety of ways.

“Our neighbors were miles away,” she says. “As soon as I could write, I started drawing.”

So, when she wasn’t hanging with baby cows, Elizabeth was cultivating her creativity through drawing, painting, designing clothes and even a mini-golf course on the family farm!

As she entered Southside High School, Elizabeth’s parents divorced, and she moved with her mother and sister closer to town. She also abandoned her shyness and found her tribe with a group of outgoing, fun friends that would forever tether her to the southern tier for the rest of her life.

“I’m really grateful for the time I spent there,” she says. “I’m so thankful that I had roots somewhere, and lifelong friendships.”

That tribe of teenage friends has brought Elizabeth back to the southern tier frequently to visit, even though her family is now scattered across the country.

After graduating from high school in 1989, Elizabeth first attended Corning Community College for Mechanical Engineering then took up Art History and Visual Arts at SUNY New Paltz and finishing at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco with an MFA in Interior Architecture and Design.

Throughout her college experience, Elizabeth traveled extensively, even spending a semester in Italy learning about art. After college she moved to the Big Apple working within the theatre world as an assistant/production assistant, working high end catering gigs when necessary, and in between participating in art shows and honing her artistic abilities. Broadway was also where Elizabeth met her first husband and had her daughter, Bailey, who’s named after Elizabeth’s grandfather.

She learned over the years that, in addition to an exceptional creative ability, she had an affinity for technical thinking. So, after her first marriage ended, Elizabeth settled into a more stable job as a receptionist for a PR/lobbying firm. It wasn’t long before she rose from greeting clients to leading operations for the entire New York office. However, by this time she’d moved with her daughter to Westport, CT, married for a second time and was commuting into the city.

After the 2008 stock market collapse and significant financial and relationship losses, Elizabeth searched for a way to support her family with a job closer to home in Connecticut. Eventually, she made her way back to theatre and landed a job as Director of Community Engagement and Corporate Relations at Westport Country Playhouse.

“I know what it looks like to have nothing, then to have a lot, and then to have nothing again,” she said recalling the roller coaster ups and downs of her life since she first moved to that farm on the green rolling slopes of Elmira’s East Hill in the mid-1970s.

While working at the Playhouse Elizabeth became more entrenched in her community , serving President of the Young Woman’s League, chair of the Westport’s Domestic

Violence Task Force and many others. Elizabeth pursued her next new adventure and mission as Director of Community Fundraising at USA for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, where she raised awareness as well as funding for the organization. During her time with USA for UNHCR, Elizabeth traveled extensively, witnessing and hearing stories from refugees around the world. She developed national initiatives and fundraising campaigns to educate Americans and raise funds to helps refugees including; Read4Refugees and Step with Refugees (Step with Jillian Michaels).

Throughout it all, she found a way to stay connected to her art, launching her own art and interior design firm, Elizabeth Marks Art & Design, where she showcases her work. Elizabeth creates a variety of art, using her body to apply paint onto a canvas, along with recycled newspaper, resulting in enhanced color and texture. The entire process captures the organic shapes of the body which represents the hills and valleys seen in landscapes, especially reminiscent of her days on that farm on East Hill.

“It’s truly me on that canvas,” Elizabeth says. “Many of those organic shapes of Elmira hills – it’s an extension of me. I just can’t get away from it.”

Reevaluating the work life balance in 2012, Elizabeth placed art as one of her top priorities. Currently, she lives with partner Brian Kelsey in Connecticut, working as a consultant on special projects related to her refugee work, volunteering in various community organizations, finding inspiration for her art in her surroundings – past, present and future, and supporting her daughter, who’s building a career as a performer on New York City’s “Great White Way”.



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