The Real Change Portrait Project


David Rice

"David Rice" Acrylic on Canvas by Derek Gundy
Cold weather doesn’t bother David Rice. “Even rain and snow — I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been a construction worker. I’ve got a fractured hip, so I couldn’t stand out here all day. Four or five hours a day is really pushing it, but I can do it. I used to get $16 an hour doing harder work.”

A native Canadian, David learned plumbing in college. He started out digging ditches in Chicago, but when he got to Seattle, a friend from school gave him a plumbing job at a condo development in Belltown. “He said, ‘Hey, David, I got 85 toilets for you here.’”

David’s hip was fractured when some skinheads beat him up 20 years ago. “I got jumped on Pike Street and Boren Avenue. I didn’t start it. I didn’t hear anything. They hit me and hit me, and next thing I knew, I was in the hospital.”

“I had eight doctors operating on me. They were ready to pull the plug.” Besides the broken hip, David had a concussion; he permanently injured a muscle and nerve in his face and lost an eye and hearing in one ear. There were no witnesses. The police never found who did it.

Sometime after that, David’s wife left him. “She went to Canada and drank herself to death.” He never sees their two boys. David remembers growing up in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island with fondness. “It was in Canada, but it was the American dream. We had vegetables galore, strawberries, corn, peas, potatoes.” As a child, he helped build his grandfather’s house, “the first on the reservation. He had a level so the house would be true.”

Even as a child, there were hard times. “My dad passed away when I was 7. My mom had six kids. She got involved with the wrong guys and went downhill. I saw my mom die and my [big] sister die of alcohol poisoning, and I just had to scream, ‘Help me!’”

David has had his own problems with drinking. “It’s been a struggle, but I’ve got it down pat now.” The downside is that he sees less of his friends. “If you don’t drink, they don’t come around.”

Selling Real Change helps David afford decent food. “You can’t get nothing nourishing from canned green beans or corn.” He doesn’t get many fresh vegetables at the food bank. When he’s feeling “down and out,” he gets up and sells papers. “It perks me right up. I’m helping people. I’m also helping myself.”

“A lot of people tell me, ‘I support Real Change,’ and give me $5. A lot of people tell me how much they like this paper and tell me this is a lot better than the ‘real’ paper. But this is the real paper.”

Artist: Derek Gundy
Derek Gundy's second Real Change Portrait is of David Rice. The painter was influenced by the sadness of David's story, but also by his strength.

"I was struck by his statement of how he didn't mind the rain and snow, and I wanted to paint a portrait that really felt both cold and warm, so I used the Phthalo Blue against the warmth of the Burnt Sienna. This man is lucky to be alive, let alone stand on the street selling paper for hours on end."

Derek also wanted this portrait to be larger than life size to bring out David's strength.

Derek is a busy working artist on the Kitsap Peninsula, across the water from Seattle. He also manages Artists' Edge in Poulsbo, an art supply and custom framing business. For more information on the artist you can visit his website at

Derek also created a portrait of Addis Michael Jr.

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