NORTHPORT, Maine — Artist Laura Tasheiko has had a few tough years.
She was diagnosed in 2008 with breast cancer, which is in remission after chemotherapy and major surgery. Then, the bad economy led to a drop in sales of the colorful oil and watercolor landscape paintings that she sells over the Internet or directly to art galleries.
Tasheiko has continued to eke out a living, but just barely, cutting her own firewood for heat and growing vegetables in her garden for food. However, in the course of all this trouble, she has fallen behind on her property taxes with the town of Northport. She owes $3,586.
She had been making installment payments, but in February, after another bout of illness, she received a letter from the town alerting her that if she does not pay the entire amount by Aug. 1, she will face foreclosure.
The 61-year-old panicked. Then she did something uncharacteristic: She asked for help.
“I would not only lose my home of 30 years, but my studio and sole means of survival,” Tasheiko wrote this week on a Gofundme website. “I cannot let this happen. But I can’t do it alone, so I need your help. Please help if you can … and if you can’t pass this message along. Any amount is appreciated.”
A day after her plea hit the Internet, friends, art fans and strangers had given her $2,630, money which may mean the difference between having a home and living on the streets, Tasheiko said.
“I am thrilled,” she said Thursday morning. “It was so embarrassing to put myself out there like that, but I thought I’m going to be a lot more embarrassed to be a bag lady in Bangor, or show up on somebody’s doorstep with my old dog. I have nothing else.”
She said that she’s always been independent, and asking for help has not been easy — but the idea of being “homeless, sick and old” was much worse. She is giving art to people who help through the Gofundme website, from an assortment of her nature painting note cards for people who give $25 to her cause to a custom-made original, framed watercolor for those who contribute $500.
“I’m so pleased with the response, that people care, I can’t even tell you,” she said.
Jeanine Tucker, the town clerk of Northport, confirmed that the town has had an unofficial practice of allowing residents to make installment payments toward back taxes.
“However, our legal counsel told us we needed to stop that,” she said. “We needed to follow Maine statute, and that the selectboard give people no more than six months to take care of back taxes.”
Tucker said that people are struggling financially across the state — pinched by increased costs for food, gasoline, heating fuel and more.
“If there’s no cost-of-living increase in their paychecks, something’s got to give,” she said. “It’s a tough position to be in as a resident and taxpayer, and a tough position to be in in a municipal office. Our attorney said we’ve got to follow the letter of the law. What applies to one, applies to all.”
As for Tasheiko, she said she is amazed — and grateful — to see a light at the end of a dark tunnel. Her home is not fancy, but it’s hers, she said, and is located in a beautiful area with views that inspire her art.
“I can look out my window — it keeps me sane,” she said. “What a roller coaster from the depth of despair to a ray of light and hope.”