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Jewish artist turns pieces of glass into works of art

Journal Staff

Eleanor Fisher at home next to one of her glass shard paintings.

JULY 5, 2018, LYNN – When you walk into the foyer of a grand Victorian house in Lynn’s Diamond District, you’ll immediately see a gleaming, golden lion with cascading tufts of red, gold, and orange framing its face. Closer inspection reveals that the winding shards that compose the lion’s mane are not paint, but layer upon layer of carefully cut pieces of travertine and colored glass.

Standing next to the lion with flowing red hair is a small woman with flowing red hair. She is Eleanor Fisher, an artist who pioneered the glass-shard painting technique that gives an incandescent shine to the countless paintings that fill her home from top to bottom.

Five years ago, Fisher had a strange dream that convinced her to use glass. “I dreamt I saw all the artists I’d copied and studied, like Monet and Gauguin, and they all said, ‘You have learned enough. Now go smash glass and we will guide you.’” The next morning, Fisher found an empty bottle of wine, gave it a good rinse, and then took out a mallet and smashed it.

Since that first fateful thwack, iridescent shards of glass glimmer everywhere in Fisher’s house. They form the skin of frogs, the scales of fish, the waves of the ocean, and the rays of the sun. Actual pebbles and seashells dot the ocean floors of Fisher’s series of Garden Under the Sea paintings. Crushed up flower petals spray-painted gold adorn the head of a goddess dressed in a Technicolor dream coat. The chain of a long, gold necklace lines a horse’s mane. The stars of the nighttime sky in “Genesis,” which is Fisher’s interpretation of the story of creation, are pearls and red rubies.

Fisher grew up in the Brickyard neighborhood of West Lynn in a religious Jewish family that sent her to Hebrew school four days a week. She still says the Shema every night before she goes to sleep.
“I’m proud to be a Jew,” she said while pointing to a lone Jewish star on a small piece of glass attached to the door of her studio. Fisher found the tiny, stand-alone piece in a larger box of glass she got from a distributor in Peabody. She immediately placed it on the hinge of the door to her studio, and kisses it every time she walks in and out of the room where she creates her work.

Her parents, like all the other parents in the neighborhood, stressed education above everything else. “My father said one thing I’ll never forget when I was a girl,” she said. “He said, ‘Princess, get a good education, and you can do anything you want in life.’ I believe education comes in many forms.”

Fisher’s educational journey took her on a long, winding road to self-discovery. First, she studied theater, and eventually, theater morphed into drama therapy, which morphed into a career as a psychotherapist.

Over the years, Fisher helped coach creative people to realize their talents, which was often difficult to do in a society that she feels discourages creativity.

“Everyone has inborn creativity of some sort, but our society does not help them develop it,” she said. “So I start off by saying that you can do so much more than you think you can. And I’m gonna give you a gift. I say, ‘I am your fairy godmother, and I give you the gift of approval.’ You don’t need anyone else’s mistakes.”

Like her patients, Fisher also received a command to create. In 1991, she began having trouble speaking and walking. She started to put unusual emphasis on letters so she’d be able to say them, and needed to put her hands on chairs so she wouldn’t fall down.

After consulting with a doctor, she learned that she had a brain tumor the size of a fist, and would need surgery. As she healed, she received a message. “After that, once a day for six weeks at different times, I heard the word ‘paint!’” said Fisher. “I said, leave me alone!” Finally, she caved in, went to an art store, and ordered the six biggest canvasses they had.

Hundreds of paintings later, Fisher still is hard at work. In her light-filled studio on the top floor that overlooks the ocean, she uses a special cutter to clip the edges off a long, curving purple shard of glass. She takes the newly cut piece and samples it on different parts of her newest work, a Victorian woman in a long mauve dress holding an umbrella. It doesn’t work at the bottom of the dress, nor at the top. “Perhaps I’ll use it as a feather in the hat,” she muses for a second before putting the shard down and walking to another corner of the room.

She comes back with a large bowl. “I forgot I could use my crystals,” she said.

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