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Elizabeth Tashjian, Dec. 4, 2002.

Elizabeth Tashjian Vows Dark Forces Will Not Drive Her Nuts

After a social worker found Elizabeth Tashjian, aka "The Nut Lady," comatose on the floor of her Old Lyme home (and Nut Museum) in late May, few believed she would survive. While the 89-year old artist lay in Middlesex Hospital's ICU, court officials appointed a conservator to handle her estate.

Elizabeth Tashjian.

"Three days after, [the conservator] bought a coffin .... and cemetery plot ," Elizabeth told us in early December, still very much alive. Two weeks into the coma, she had a vision of a local museum tearing her self-portrait to shreds. It was the catalyst that helped her claw her way back to consciousness.

But her world had changed. "When I came out of the coma, my first visitor said, 'Did you know your house is for sale?'"

The State was moving swiftly to sell Elizabeth's only financial asset -- her home (and Nut Museum) -- to pay medical expenses and other bills now totaling over $300k. She was moved to the Gladeview Health Care Center in nearby Old Saybrook, a "gulag," as Elizabeth describes the experience.

We finally visited on Dec. 4th, the night before the opening of a exhibition of Elizabeth's art at a nearby college. It was also scant hours before a huge blizzard would plaster the region. Taking one minor detour along the way -- to photograph a statue of P.T. Barnum in Bridgeport -- we arrived as darkness settled around Gladeview's brick edifice.

While one might ponder the challenges for a woman popularly referred to as the "Nut Lady" entering any senior care facility, there's little irony for Elizabeth. From our brief observation, she's fully aware of her plight -- she knows it's serious. She's as quick-witted as ever when it comes to discussing nuts and her media crusade.

Nursing home.

But she senses conspiring forces around her -- such as the Care Center's procession of "heavy cases" though the other bed in her room. She lowers her voice. "I'm an artist, I need light. Yet I don't have the window side. They give that to someone who never wakes up..." She complains of late night floor waxing, and furniture moving in the room above, carefully timed to ruin her sleep and concentration.

Elizabeth was happy to see us, noting that several other fans visited over the weekend after learning of her plight on Her mood brightened further when we presented a souvenir coconut head. "Oh, how expressive!"

She excitedly discussed her recent breakthrough in the media. "I was on TV yesterday -- NBC"...

"It has been remarkable, after my initial page on the Web site, it finally broke...before that, they weren't allowing journalists to see me. The New York Times was first to come. Then the Harford Courant, the New Haven Register ..."

She also spoke of all the assistance she'd received from Chris Steiner, an art history professor at Connecticut College. He found out about her plight, and offered to help preserve her artwork and papers.

Display at Elizabeth's exhibit.

During the summer, Steiner was granted a three hour window to enter the Nut Museum on a desperate salvage mission. His assistant and he photographed everything (for future reconstruction), then bagged nut items and personal files. "He worked devilishly fast," Elizabeth said. "He even took the rug."

Steiner and a few of his students have put together an exhibition at the college of Elizabeth's nut art and artifacts. Ironically, the only major piece not recaptured is the self-portrait that brought Elizabeth back to life. Apparently some potential house buyer(s) consider that part of the package.

Elizabeth is firm in her conviction that Truth will triumph in the end. She is ready to do battle in court, in a probate hearing where the fate of her house will be decided. She spoke of other legal action in the works, and recounted one appearance where she entered the courtroom, and announced "Here comes the cheese!" Then she pushed her walker aside and sat down.

"They were amazed," Elizabeth said. "I negate everything they have said, because it is based on the false assumption that I lack sanity."

It was good seeing Elizabeth after so long. We said our goodbyes, and promised her we'd stop in to see the exhibit in New London. Prof. Steiner was kind enough to show us around. It's open to the public in the college library.

The big blizzard arrived, forcing a postponement of the show's reception until Monday. Steiner joked "We would have had to send a nut carriage drawn by huskies to get Elizabeth to New London!"

"Evolution of the Nut: The Art of Elizabeth Tashjian at Connecticut College" opens with a reception at the college's Shain Library Monday Dec. 8th from 5-6:30

Was in Old Lyme, 1/2 mile south of I-95 via Shore Rd/156 to Ferry Rd. First driveway and old house on the right. Private property.

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