When Louise Fishman began going through her mother’s homes, she was prepared to discover a lot of art. At 96, Gertrude Fisher-Fishman stopped working only two-and-a-half years ago, and as a child, Fishman remembers her painting every day in their West Oak Lane home. Even so, she was impressed by what she discovered. “I picked up piles of drawings and watercolors and prints and put them in my suitcase and just took them home,” says Fishman. “There was wonderful work filling two apartments, and I thought, these paintings are important — I don’t want to just put them in storage.”
Fishman — an accomplished abstract artist herself who now lives and works in New York City — began looking for a venue to host an exhibit of her mother’s work. She found the perfect match at Woodmere Art Museum, a converted Chestnut Hill mansion with an interest in the work of Philadelphia natives, and of women in particular.
Opening this weekend, “Generations” has become not just an overdue retrospective of Fisher-Fishman’s work, but a portrait of a family, as well: The exhibit also includes paintings by Fishman and her aunt, Razel Kapustin, who acted as her mentor during her days at Tyler School of Art. “I remember walking up her stairs at an apartment at Ninth and Pine — her paintings were all stacked out in the hallway, her house was all Persian rugs,” says Fishman. “She had a Siamese cat that scared me; there were books all over and it smelled of paint. It always smelled of paint, and I was, of course, very interested in her.”
Louise Fishman has work in museums across the country, as well as two shows currently running in New York. She didn’t, however, always plan on entering the family business. “I didn’t have any interest in being a painter. But I think that this happens to people — they’re set up to be a painter, but aren’t aware of it,” she says. “Aside from wanting to be a basketball player, an impossibility in 1956, I signed up for the teacher’s college at Temple, which I really had no interest in. But then I met someone who was going to art school, and I was very interested in him — in what he was carrying, in how he was dressed, in what he was saying.”