Arline Fisch: A Great American Artist


Born in New York City, Arline Fisch is, first and foremost, an artist. In fact if you called her a jewelry designer you’d be doing a disservice to her versatility. Her character is reminiscent of the early post-war jewellers who prospered in the United States. She started-out at San Diego State University where she taught a rigorous metal-smithing program for more than forty years. During that time she influenced countless jewellers and aspiring designers. Perhaps her most famous body of work was displayed at the quaint Mobilia Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The exhibition was called ‘Hanging Gardens’ and it was replete with her signature fusion of textile techniques and metal-smithing. Soon she was revered in the America jewelry industry as one of the reigning queens of the art. So where did all that talent come from?

Working as an artist from an early age, Arline dove headfirst into undergraduate study, opting for the college with the largest studio and most promising liberal arts curriculum. She expanded her interest in jewellery using combined studies in literature, language and psychology, but, at the same time, she never neglected the studio and at the end of her studies she was awarded a degree in Art Education. In the months that followed Arline decided the next logical step was to study for a master’s degree at the University of Illinois. Once there she began to experiment with ceramics and metal. She was also given a number of challenging assignments, like, for instance, she was once asked to make a pair of eyeglasses. It might sound cliché but the course opened up a well of possibility for Arline. Soon afterwards she received her first teaching position (in the late 50s) at the Evangelical Christian Wheaton College in Massachusetts. It was through this pious institution that Arline advanced her ability in jewelry manufacturing, gaining valuable experience in both the factory and studio. After two years she confessed a need for further technical training and so, supported by a Fulbright grant, she jetted-off to Denmark to pursue a goldsmiths’ program. For five years Arline learnt first-hand through a workshop-based apprenticeship, which again stoked her passion in jewellery. But students can only follow the teachers for so long and the time inevitably came when she had to find her own voice.

Eager to make her mark, Arline visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was particularly in awe of the Egyptian collection, which included a majestic array of broad collars and jewelry diadems, each skilfully wrought to combine simplicity and dramatic impact. Arline was drawn to the effect and the fact that a twentieth-century viewer could still be moved by this decoration. She began to develop a fruitful contrast that she applied to several innovative pieces, combining metal and fabric to create something timeless and entirely unique. After several years she began to incorporate weaving and knitting into her metalwork, drawing upon a variety of textile techniques to complement woven gold, braided and loom silver, all delicately woven into neat patterns. Later she became known for her machine-knitted collars and bracelets, as well as her thought-provoking exhibitions, like one particular jewelry installation that was crowded with dangling coral, sea forms and hanging flowers. Her work is invariably elegant, shaped with a fluid and experimental design that evokes antiquated Egyptian jewelry. Meanwhile she continued to lecture and travel around the world throughout the 1960s. Then, during the late 70s, a new generation of European jewellers began to stretch conventions with a collection of new forms and materials, like glass, steel and plastics. The distinction that redefined jewelry as wearable art was fast becoming manifest and Arline benefited directly from the evolution of this zeitgeist. So much so that, by 1994, she was awarded the elaborately-named Lifetime Achievement in the Crafts Award.

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