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This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the January 31,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Donna Lish’s Lustrous Threads
If it gets dusty, just take it out and hose it
says Donna L. Lish, referring to a glittering fabric wall sculpture
that hangs in her Clinton studio. Her manner toward the work is not
cavalier, but realistic. Lish has a long association with unusual
materials: lustrous metallic threads, multi-colored monofilament,
and glass beads of all sizes and hues.
Lish’s art conveys a joyous use of her materials. Her works include
free-standing sculptural works with enigmatic titles; large
pieces that might hang or floor-float, or both; and wall hangings
stitched together from softly draping pieces of machine-knitted
or patterned from individually-strung beautiful beads. Her goal for
all her works is the same: to "synthesize image and psyche."
She says her work in progress always reflects her own psychological
"Changing Metaphor," Lish’s first solo exhibition at the
Museum of Art, or anywhere, opens Sunday, February 4, with a 2 to
4 p.m. reception. Featuring about a dozen new works, it will run
March 18 in the ground-floor gallery of the museum. Kristen Accola,
director of exhibitions, refers to the "quirky, idiosyncratic
nature of the work," along with Lish’s unusual materials. During
her seven years at the museum, Accola has been aware of the
and diversity" of Lish’s output. "Her material is so
she could keep doing the same things. And yet she keeps exploring
One Lish installation, called "Depletion," shows three curved
shafts crowded with blue-toned beads, above undulating hand-knitted
suggestions of oceanic surfaces, with a machine-knitted air stream
suspended between them. It may simply represent the loss of water
through evaporation — those rising, intensely-colored
— among various other kinds of depletion and loss. "People
used to watercolors of the ocean might not know that this is water
too! It’s a spiritual view of water," Lish says.
Lish’s day job and her own work mesh into a seamless continuum. Having
taught all grade levels in the district, she now teaches K-3 art in
the Bridgewater-Raritan schools, where her husband, Richard, teaches
high school science. A fit, long-haired blond, she speaks in a high,
almost childlike voice loaded with expression — the archetypical
elementary school teacher, of course.
Born in Morristown in 1948, the oldest of five children, Lish is the
family artist. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom, and her father was
in construction. Lish remembers watching him work with his hands and
fix things; she’s sure she inherited those abilities from him, along
with her problem-solving skill. She and her husband are the parents
of two daughters, Helena and Jessie, both in college, and their son,
Andre, is a senior at North Hunterdon High.
And professionally, it’s Doctor Lish, by the way. She earned her
and master’s degrees (in art education and studio art) at Montclair
State University; and her doctorate, in creative arts education, from
Rutgers University. Fearing that her own art was getting stale, she
enrolled in a doctoral program, and never regretted it. Besides the
inherent mental stimulation, she also developed the discipline to
write papers with coherence and clarity. This all carried over to
her art. She didn’t say so, but her habit of spending weekend time
and a few hours each night on her own art may have been fostered
the years when she did her own school work on top of her teaching.
To visit Lish’s studio is to escape the monochromes of January for
a room full of gorgeous colors suffused with the artist’s own animated
talk about what she’s up to. Her workspace is a small room off the
entrance to her home, just a few blocks from the Hunterdon Museum,
in Clinton, where she and her husband have lived for the past 23
To begin with, you quickly forget any narrow ideas you may have had
about monofilament, the synthetic fiber most of us associate with
fishing. In Lish’s hands, and on her knitting machine, it has become
a versatile, if not all-purpose, art medium. Spools of bright-hued
monofilament, in an array of weights, sit in one corner, while a
bright spring-green creation made of monofilament rests in another.
This will become the floor-floating part of an installation piece,
"Losing Ground," destined for the upcoming show.
Why monofilament? Because Lish’s husband, Richard,
fresh-water fishing, and they took a fly-tying course together.
Lish loves intricate hand-work, and as an artist, sees endless
where the rest of us see just . . . fishing line. Art will out, even
when the most unlikely materials are involved. Consider, for instance,
minimalist Robert Morris’s current show at the Sonnabend Gallery in
New York of sculptures made from thick gray felt, long one of his
"It resists the technique," Lish says about machine-knitting
monofilament. In choosing to cast against type and use the fiber as
if it were yarn, she can achieve a look, and a form, she seeks.
also plays a very basic role in her beaded sculptures, with its
weights and sometimes-stretchiness serving as the connecting
for every single bead she makes part of her evolving patterns.
Some artists wax rhapsodic about their materials. The painter may
lust for the smell and feel of oil paint; the sculptor of giant,
columns speaks poetically about the endurance of iron; a printmaker
craves mesh, or pieces of sponge, or crumpled soda cans — all
for their texture and interest. As one artist might clip and collect
home-design examples that could turn up in her painted scenes, and
another prides herself on her paintbrush collection, Donna Lish is
always on the lookout for beads to help her realize her vision.
Her studio bears witness to successful shopping for materials. She
stores the beads — usually glass, although some are semi-precious
stones, like turquoise — in vessels of all kinds on the shelves
that surround her knitting machine. And on the subject of
metaphor," the beads are a visual siren song, luring the eye,
enticing it to move among the range of indescribable colors. Hearing
that a reference librarian planned to throw out the school’s old
card catalog cabinet, Lish immediately laid claim to it, with its
long and narrow drawers that will be perfect to house transparent
packets of beads, arranged in color gradations. The cabinet is
for Lish’s studio, where Sam, a pale, long-haired cat — part Maine
coon cat, larger part master of all he surveys — shadows her every
step, sometimes ensconcing himself on a work in progress.
Here and there on the shelves are fabric remnants and intriguing
small, square, painted houses on stilt-legs; hollow vessels, or traps,
that combine Lish’s knitting and beading with fish hooks — these
are stored with hooks facing in for cat-protection purposes. Elegant
little accordion-pleated "radiator fins" rest on a shelf.
Lish has cleaned up the copper and topped each one with trim to
the patterns of these old auto parts her father had saved.
Like many addictions, Lish’s desire for beads started innocently
Trained in fiber arts and textiles to begin with, she had long used
machine-knitted fabric in her art, realizing only gradually that she
wanted more structure, more foundation strength for her work. Then,
as a perfect change of pace from dissertation-writing, along came
a beading workshop. With beads, she quickly learned, she could create
spines, skeletons, armatures for her sculptures — "Conscience
Keeper" is one example of that synergy. In all such works, Lish
builds free-standing forms with bead-strung monofilament; her bead
arrangements are neither wrapped around anything else, nor are they
For topographical interest in her beaded wall hangings, Lish may use
stretchable monofilament. By tightening it, she can build nubs or
bumps; or, for a raised center, she may work a circular pattern over
a domed shape, like a strainer. Her variously-sized needles and beads,
and the range of monofilament weights all allow her to work back into
the design of a wall hanging if she wishes.
"Fixation," a particularly vivid beaded piece, lay on a coffee
table nearby as we spoke. Lish had worked the center of this one over
a strainer to add dimension. She showed how she had "resolved"
the design, extending toward the perimeter with a matching-color bead
line a diamond shape she had especially liked to form the edge. But,
she laughed, her son had recently had friends over, and one of them
must have played with it. The giveaway: she had found it
quickly apparent because the monofilament knots showed.
No harm done: she simply massaged the middle to remind it of its shape
and re-positioned the piece right-side-up. Eventually, it will be
pinned to her studio wall, perhaps with a sheet of paper stuck behind
it. Because she shows her work world-wide, Lish needs a visual
of what’s due when, and where. Mounting the specs with the work does
the trick. A 1999 fellowship from the State Council on the Arts
photographing of her work. Concurrent with her solo exhibition, Lish’s
work will also be shown in the 2001 annual members exhibition at HMA.
Although Lish enters her work in competitions for fine art, sculpture,
basketry, craft, surface design, and even art of the stitch, and it
has been accepted in all those categories, she calls herself
She prefers to "focus on her work, then get it out
when she thinks it appropriate for a competition, she says. "All
the cellular chaos going on in each piece" defies category, but
she finds that explaining her thought process during creation often
results in acceptance.
"I use various textile mediums and any other ingredients that
will achieve sculptural forms," Donna Lish says, describing her
work. Well, yes. That’s accurate enough as it stands, but where are
the words to suggest this artist’s brilliantly-colored bead works,
her challenging installations, her airy, self-illuminating knitted
pieces? Maybe one work is worth a thousand words.
— Pat Summers
Art , Lower Center Street, Clinton, 908-735-8415. Opening reception
for the solo show of abstract sculpture built of beads, plastic
and found objects. Also opening, the "2001 Annual Members’
featuring work by area artists in all media juried by Carol Rosen.
Free. Sunday, February 4, 2 to 4 p.m.
shows continue to March 18.
Your Feet," an exhibit of painted floor cloths by Tahirih Smith.
Smith is a mural artist from the Dominican Republic who has revived
the ancient art of painted canvas rugs. With bright acrylics and
she paints her designs on unstretched canvas and coats the finished
piece with polyurethane to withstand foot traffic. Trained as an
she also works as a research chemist.
paintings and prints by Carrie Patterson. She holds an MFA in painting
from the University of Pennsylvania where she received the Angelo
Savelli painting award. To February 2.
Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "Old Traditions, New Beginnings,"
a major exhibition celebrating 250 years of Princeton Jewish history,
jointly presented and exhibited at the Jewish Center of Princeton.
This is the first-ever exhibit on the history of Princeton’s Jewish
community, scheduled to coincide with the Jewish Center’s 50th
Topics addressed include early arrivals, family life, social
work and business pursuits, religious traditions, and anti-Semitism.
On view through March.
Dining room exhibition features works by Watercolorists Unlimited,
an artists’ group whose members include Phil Aklonis, Peggie
Betty Whelan Donovan, Vera Harrop, Betty Klank, Elizabeth Roedell,
Patric Spovieri, and Lorraine Williams. Part of the proceeds benefit
the Medical Center. On view daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. To March 14.
Impressions: Art of the Print in the Western World," to March
19. "Contemporary Photographs," to February 25. "The
Tradition in Drawings," to January 28. On extended view in the
Bowen Gallery, Richard Serra’s "Weight and Measure" etchings.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday
1 to 5 p.m. Free tours of the collection are every Saturday at 2 p.m.
The permanent collection features a strong representation of Western
European paintings, old master prints, and original photographs.
of Chinese, Pre-Columbian Mayan, and African art are considered among
the museum’s most impressive. Not housed in the museum but part of
the collection is the John B. Putnam Jr. Memorial Collection of
outdoor sculpture, with works by such modern masters as Henry Moore,
Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso, and George Segal located throughout
The Graduate School continues its centennial observance with the
"A Community of Scholars: Graduate Education at Princeton,"
an exhibition of more than 100 photographs, documents, and artifacts
that chronicle the evolution of graduate studies at Princeton. Library
is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday to 8 p.m.;
Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To April 8.
Library, 609-258-5049. "Art Deco Paris: 1900-1925," a portrait
of the spirited, affluent Parisian society of the early 20th century
through "pochoir" (or stencil) prints. The show features 100
color prints, including a folio by Matisse, reflecting the era of
jazz, tango, high fashion, and modern art. Library is open Monday
through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday to 8 p.m.; Saturday and
Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To April 8.
National Printmaking Exhibition, a biennial juried exhibition. Of
200 submissions received, 40 works were selected by juror Diana
Gandolfi. Area artists represented in the show are Greta Anderson,
Brett Borland, Claire Heimarck, Lucy Graves McVicker, George Olexa,
Michael Teters, and Cyndi Wish. Techniques represented include
lithograph, stencil, woodcut, etching, serigraph, and mezzotint.
hours are Monday to Friday, noon to 3 p.m.; Thursday 7 to 9 p.m.;
and Sunday, 1 to 3 p.m. To February 14.
West Windsor, 609-586-4800, ext. 3589. "Inclusions," an
of prints and handmade paper by Margaret K. Johnson and oil paintings
and collages by Pat Martin. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Thursday,
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m; Thursday
from 6 to 8 p.m.; and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Gallery talk
is Wednesday, February 7, at 7 p.m., for the show that runs to
"This exhibition pairs two of the region’s most respected
says curator Tricia Fagan. "In some ways their creative processes
are almost mirror opposites. Maggi Johnson plans out her work using
a minimum of line, color, and material to express a precise concept.
But if `less is more’ for Maggi, Pat Martin’s motto is certainly `more
is more.’ She develops her work instinctively, incorporating layer
upon layer of color, texture, and material to develop her
Both artists, she adds, share "a luminous elegance, an
and a freshness of approach."
609-620-6026. "The Making of a Monument," an exhibition of
drawings, maquettes, and models for Shahn’s Martin Luther King Jr.
Memorial in Jersey City. The work, which consists of a monumental
bronze bust of the civil rights leader along with bronze plaques
the struggles and commemorating those whose lives were lost, was
in 1999. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.;
except Wednesday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon.To February 17.
Commissioned by New Jersey Transit through a public competition, the
monument stands at the new Martin Luther King Drive Station of the
Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system.
Recent works by Guy Ciarcia, a formalist painter who moved toward
texture and relief sculpture, incorporating collections of found toys
onto two-dimensional and three-dimensional supports. Barbie dolls,
sports action figures, stuffed animals, and Christmas decorations
emerge from the surface of his multi-media reliefs, unified by color,
texture, line, and subject. The gallery is open Monday to Friday,
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To February 16.
609-292-6464. Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45
p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Closed Monday and state holidays. In the
Friends Cafe Gallery, an exhibit and sale of Chinese brush painting
and calligraphy by Seow-Chu See, to March 4. All proceeds benefit
the museum’s acquisitions and publications fund.
On extended view: "The Modernists;" "Fine and Decorative
Arts Collections;" "New Jersey Ceramics, Silver, Glass and
Iron;" "New Jersey’s Native Americans: The Archaeological
Record;" "Delaware Indians of New Jersey;" "The Sisler
Collection of North American Mammals;" "Of Rock and Fire;
New Jersey and the Great Ice Age;" "Dinosaur Turnpike: Treks
through New Jersey’s Piedmont;" "Amber: the Legendary
and "Washington Crossing the Delaware."
732-846-5777. "Herend: Hungarian Porcelain at its Finest,"
an exhibition of hand-painted porcelain pieces created since the
founding in 1839. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to
4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To February 25. $5 donation.
215-340-9800. "The Lenfest Exhibition of Pennsylvania
Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest bequeathed 59 paintings that tell the
story of the renowned art colony, centered in New Hope, in the early
20th Century. To February 11. Museum hours Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m.
to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday
evenings to 9 p.m. Admission $5 adults; $1.50 students.
Also, "In Line with Al Hirschfeld," a retrospective
Hirschfeld’s life, career, and the history of the performing arts.
Exhibit, with accompanying lecture, tour, and film series, to February
11. "Carved, Incised, Burnished and Gilded: The Bucks County
Tradition," featuring 50 objects that tell the story of the
well-regarded group of frame artists led by Frederick Harer and Ben
Badura, to March 18.
New Brunswick, 732-932-7237. The newly expanded and renovated museum
features "Michael Mazur: A Print Retrospective" covering a
40-year span of the artist’s career, to February 16. Museum hours
are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday,
noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults age 18 and up; free for
children and students; admission is free on the first Sunday of each
Also on exibit: "Monotypes in Contemporary American
from the rich resources of the Rutgers Archives for Printmaking
to February 18. "Opening Up: A Half-Century of Artistic Dialogue
between Japan and the West" (ongoing). And "A World of Stage:
Designs for Theater, Opera, and Dance from the Riabov Collection,"
to March 31.
Invasion," an invitational exhibit featuring California artists
Shantelle Julian and Douglas Knight, curated by George Olexa. Gallery
hours are Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. To February 11.
"These works mix realism and surrealism creating not a dream image
but a physiological disturbance. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes
and always questioning," says curator Olexa. "Unlike Dali
who, at least in his later work, distorted all elements of a
work into a total surreal environment and landscape, Julian and Knight
focus almost exclusively on one element, the human eye. If it were
not for the fact that they are well done, the unblinking relentless
star of these eyes would be threatening. Instead, they seem to be
asking the viewer to solve their plight."
609-586-0616. Fall-Winter Exhibition. In the Domestic Arts Building:
"James Dinerstein: New Sculpture," recent works in cast
"Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture."
Show continues to April 8. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to
9 p.m., year round; Sunday is Members Day. Adult admission is $4
through Thursday; $7 Friday and Saturday; and $10 Sunday. Annual
start at $45.
Recent paintings by Mitchell Yarmark. A filmmaker by training, Yarmark
started painting in the 1970s; this is his first solo show. Gallery
is open Thursday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To February 12.
Yarmark describes his non-objective canvases as a "stadium"
in which he experiments with media, mixing oil, encaustic, powdered
and metal pigment, gold and other metal leafs. "I like to dig
into the layers to expose what is beneath the surface," he says,
adding that he has turned up "muted figures and portraits, incised
and faded into most of the hieroglyphics of the painting."
"Ink Dance," an exhibition of watercolors and calligraphy
on rice paper by Seow-Chu See. Also on view, "Six Figures,"
sculptures in stoneware by Julie Fox. Both shows to February 10. Open
Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
A student of the Lin-Nan styles of traditional and contemporary
painting, See has won many awards. She says the artist’s sense of
purpose comes from within. "To me, painting is a way of conveying
and expressing my feelings," she says. "Feelings, happy or
sad, are precious to my being, hence they are beautiful. Through my
art I hope to express these emotions and my enthusiasm for love of
nature and life itself."
Branch, 908-725-2110. "The Senses," a group exhibition of
works inspired by the compound wonders of touch, taste, smell,
and vision. Media include photography, monotype, woodblock, and
etching. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4
p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. To February 17.
609-252-6275. "Contemporary Still Life: Vanitas to Veritas,"
featuring works by 13 artists from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New
York who explore the traditional still-life genre in new ways. Area
artists include Joanne Augustine, Betty Curtiss, Jamie Greenfield,
Wendy Wilkinson-Gordon, and Lisa Manheim. Gallery hours are Monday
to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and weekends and holidays, 1 to 5 p.m.
To March 4.
Carter and Rosedale roads, 609-921-9000. In the Brodsky Gallery, a
collection of prints by Wendell T. Brooks that blend athleticism and
African influences. Since 1971, Brooks has works as an associate
of art at the College of New Jersey. Exhibit is open Monday through
Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., to February 14.
Brooks creates his art through an original technique that combines
intaglio and stencil. He has had exhibitions throughout the U.S. and
abroad. His work is permanently displayed at the Smithsonian and the
Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
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