Anna S. Fisher (American, 1873-1942)
Anna S. Fisher, artist and teacher, was well-known and popular in the New York City art community. Her talent, her living and working in the city and her teaching at Pratt Institute for 41 years, allowed her to participate in the major juried exhibitions in the Northeast and associate with many well-known artists.
Her career and works are essentially overlooked and unstudied yet her paintings appeal even today when seen by the public. Pratt celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2012 and had on its web site the top 125 Iconic Works of all time by its faculty and alumni as chosen by thousands of voters. Not only was a Fisher still life among these works, it was one of the most admired. Fisher’s paintings are in two distinct and contrasting styles. Her better-known studio oil and watercolor works – flower and vase still lifes – are realistic, subdued and detailed. Often the vases and other objects capture and reflect the studio light. In one watercolor, Lilies in a Glass, one can see the artist and the cityscape outside her studio window reflected in the flowerpot. However, Fisher did not confine herself to her studio. When outside in the New York streets, gardens and along the docks, her style switched from Realism to Impressionism and from calm and subtle coloration against plain backgrounds to bold brushstrokes and colors with vibrant backgrounds. These outdoor works in particular exemplify what Fisher’s students wrote about her in Pratt’s 1907 yearbook, The Willow: “She’d rather let starvation wipe her slowly out of sight/Than keep a livin’ on with colors that are not bright.” Fisher was born and raised on the family farm near Cold Brook and northeast of Utica. She attended Fairfield Seminary, a large private school offering coeducational secondary and higher education in a hamlet not far from Cold Brook. Many summers, Fisher left New York City to stay and paint at the family farm. She also died in Cold Brook, likely under the care of her niece, Myrtle A. Dicker. After Fairfield Seminary, Fisher attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and graduated in 1895 from the Normal Art Course that prepared students to be art teachers. She then taught children at several institutions including Pratt before returning to Pratt to enter its Regular Art Course. Upon finishing, Fisher joined Pratt’s faculty to teach watercolor in 1900. She would teach there for the next 41 years. For most of those years, she lived and worked in the Van Dyke Studios at 939 8th Avenue in Manhattan, where many other noted artists had studios. After her death, Pratt had a memorial exhibition of Fisher’s paintings and Pratt’s Institute News of April 10, 1942, described her as one of Pratt’s “most distinguished and beloved teachers … a beautiful character, generous and unselfish to a fault.” Upon her death, Fisher’s niece came into possession of many of Fisher’s paintings. In 1964, the Fynmore Studios of Boonville, New York, had more than 50 Anna Fisher paintings for sale. An advertisement for the sale said, “We are indebted to Miss Myrtle Dicker, Anna Fisher’s niece, for making these available for public showing.” Dicker, a retired local schoolteacher and early seller of antiques, is written about extensively in Hidden Treasures: Searching for Masterpieces of American Furniture (Warner Books, 2000) by the antique dealers Leigh and Leslie Keno of Antiques Roadshow fame (and written with Joan Barzilay Freund). Dicker was a mentor to the Kenos as they started buying antiques before they were old enough to drive. Fisher was an active and honored member of the New York Watercolor Club. Records show that she was on the Jury of Selection for its 23rd Annual Exhibition in 1912 and that two of her works were exhibited. She won the club’s Hudnut Prize in 1921. Fisher was a member of the National Arts Club in New York City and she is featured in A Legacy of Art – Paintings and Sculptures by Artist Life Members of the National Art Club (The National Arts Club in association with Hudson Hills Press, 2007). She won three of the club’s prizes between 1919 and 1932. Fisher was also a member of the American Watercolor Society, the Baltimore Watercolor Club (Jones Prize winner in 1920 and 1924), the New York Society of Painters, the Allied Artists of America, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, and the National Association of Women Artists. Her works were exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1906, 1922, and 1928, at four annual exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago between 1909 and 1917, the Corcoran Gallery in 1916, and the Salons of America in 1934. Fisher was an academician of the National Academy of Design in 1932, where her works exhibited in many of its annual exhibitions. The National Academy of Design also has a portrait of Fisher by Henry R. Rittenberg that was her Associate National Academician presentation in 1920. Her National Academy diploma presentation work in 1932 was entitled, The Old Treasure Chest. Prior to its donation to the National Academy of Design, it was exhibited in the Academy’s Winter Exhibition of 1928. It was later part of a 1989 exhibition, “An American Collection: Paintings and Sculpture from the National Academy of Design”, which opened in New York City and toured to seven American cities through 1992.
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