A Copper Alliance Member
Copper in the Arts
Arline Fisch: Crafting Whimsy While Pioneering Art
Fisch took inspiration from the nearby waters of Lake Michigan and crafted a seascape of ocean creatures made with color-coated copper wire that looks similar to yarn. Using textile textures, Fisch constructed schools of critters, including her exquisitely delicate jellyfish, creating a community of ocean life that possibly could have been viewed from a coral reef.
Creatures of the Deep is an extension of Fisch’s pioneer work in adopting textile techniques for use in jewelry design. This installation, however, has allowed Fisch to explore elements of design in a larger context and opened up new avenues of expression. In addition, a broader audience is discovering her talents.
Fisch began her artistic journey in college, though her first experiences were with art was at home.
“I did a lot of crafting with the Girl Scouts and with my mother who was a leader,” Fisch admits. Though her interest was painting in college, she found herself dabbling in crafts once more. "I did continue to work in craft areas because I was an art education major.” But it wasn’t until graduate school at the University of Illinois that she trained in jewelry making. “I hadn't done very much in metal before that, but my faculty advisor was Arthur Pulos, who was a very well known silversmith at the University of Illinois. He was my graduate advisor. I worked in his classes, but I also worked for him in the studio.”Arthur J. Pulos was a renowned silversmith and industrial designer who taught at the University of Illinois and at Syracuse University where he also chaired the Dept. of Industrial Design and eventually founded his own business, Pulos Design Associates.
Pulos’ mentoring provided the background Fisch needed for her jewelry work. However, it was at Skidmore College, where she taught, that she discovered textile techniques. “I was not able to teach metal there and there was a very well known jeweler already on the faculty,” Fisch says. “But I was hired to teach art education. I also taught other things. Eventually, the retiring weaving instructor asked me if I would be willing to take over the weaving program. I said, ‘That sounds interesting, but I don’t know how to weave.’ She said, ‘That’s all right. We’ll send you to school.’ They sent me to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine for six weeks. I learned enough to start teaching basic weaving classes in the fall.”
Already having a background in fiber, having knitted while growing up, Fisch was comfortable teaching weaving. But it wasn’t until she went to South America in the 1960s that she thought about putting textile structure and metal techniques together. “I saw the pre-Columbia textiles that had metal pieces sewn onto them.” Trying to duplicate this design concept, she cut out metals and sewed them to a bib kind of shape that she had sewn.
“The next time I thought, well I know how to make fabrics, so why don’t I do that? I made the metal pieces and then wove the yarn around them. I did several of those kinds of pieces including some with knots, all based on looking at the structure of pre-Columbian art,” she says.
She pursued other craft techniques, studying in Denmark for 18 months and came back textile structures in the 1970s. “This time I was only going to work in metals because I had figured out how to do that, Fisch says. “I wove a necklace and a bracelet in silver and molded a necklace in gold because I could do those things without a workshop.”
At this time, she worked with sheet metal and made large scale pieces. “That was always a bit of a worry because they were too heavy, and I wanted people to wear them,” Fisch admits.In 1972, a publisher asked her to write a jewelry book but she refused. Fisch eventually proposed a book on the textile structure and techniques she used but it depended on the reactions of a participants in a series of workshops she did in Australia on these techniques. “After I signed the contract, I ended up doing all of the samples and all of the photography of the step-by-step pieces,” Fisch says. “That took me about twelve months. I tried everything that I knew how to do and a lot of things I didn’t know how to do that I taught myself to do. There wasn't anything that I found that I couldn't do though some were easier than others.”
Fisch retired from teaching at San Diego State in 2000 and continued to make art, doing only a couple of workshops a year on textile structure, teaching both fiber artists and metal artists.
Using a variety of metals, Fisch adapts the metal to the technique. “If I’m machine knitting, the metal that works best is the coated copper wire because it rides through the machine, which has a latch needle. It does that quite comfortably,” she says. “Copper wire has expanded its horizons the last ten or fifteen years. Now there are many more colors in a very broad size range available, and it’s much more appealing to people.“I think of metal sometimes as cloth, says Fisch. “Textile structures especially knitting and crochet make a metal feel much more like fabric. It drapes and it does things that I could do with fabric. Sometimes, it does it better in metal. When you pleat metal, you don't have to fasten it to anything. It just stays there.”
In 2008, Fisch was commissioned by the Racine Art Museum to fill large 14 x 13 foot windows that were only three feet deep. “I had to fill this space, but I’d never done anything like that before.” By multiplying the number of individual creatures of different species of jellyfish, corals, and sea anemones, Fisch filled the space, working for a year and a half on 100 to 130 separate forms that were either spool knit, hairpin lace crocheted, or machine knit. The jellyfish in this exhibit are echoes of her silver work in the mid-1960s and later in a necklace based on the Lion's Mane Jellyfish in 1999, but made primarily of copper wire.
The first appearance of the Creatures of the Deep on the tour was October 2009 to May 2010 at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego. Fisch’s work is also in collections around the world, including the Museum of Arts and Design, New York City, Museum of Fine Art, Boston, the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan, the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, Scotland, and even the Vatican Museum in Rome.
Also in this Issue:
A listing of upcoming events in the arts featuring copper and related materials, or highlighting artisans who work with the materials.