By Jessica Carreras
Don’t define Holly Fisher. By her job, her gender or her sexual orientation.
“There’s no clear line for anyone,” she muses about labeling people by their sexuality. “We don’t need to have these clear lines. Our need is what is splitting us apart.” Even the steel she works with is as malleable as her own life, and her occupation changes depending on when you ask her. Artist. Blacksmith. Teacher. Some would even say community activist.
But the one thing that never changes is her love for creating art out of steel.
Steel, known for being hard, cold and unforgiving, is an unlikely medium for Fisher, a Kalamazoo artist who considers her work “play” and admits on her Web site: “When I am laughing in the studio, I am making good art.”
But for her, the choice to make art with metalwork was fate. Though Fisher went to Truman State University in Missouri as the lone sculpture major in their art program, her work in a cramped solo studio scattered with metal inspired a lifelong relationship with steel. “What’s interesting,” she adds, “is that my great grandfather, my grandfather and my uncles have all been involved in metalwork.”
Steelwork was in her blood. “I feel like the world is very serendipitous,” Fisher says. “I was able to pay attention at the right time.”
Now, the world is starting to pay attention to her. Recently, the American Craft Council accepted her for its flagship Baltimore show, the largest wholesale and retail buyers’ market in the country. The six-day event, held at the Baltimore Convention Center, will give Fisher’s work national exposure. Moreover, it will help to promote the Smartshop Art Gallery & Sculpture Garden, the Kalamazoo metalwork gallery and school founded by Fisher, where she showcases her work and teaches classes to aspiring artists.
“We hope that we will be able to make a better living by expanding our market outside of Kalamazoo,” explains Smartshop gallery director Rachel McCartney, regarding the push for national recognition. “It’s really tough to keep an arts organization open in an economy like ours. We decided that we wanted to get clients outside of the state … because that guarantees that we can keep the doors open.”
However, the road to Baltimore isn’t easy to travel, due to a lack of funds. To help raise money for the trip, Smartshop is holding a benefit event on Jan. 26 called “One Hundred for Holly.” In a true artist’s fashion, they are selling 100 hand-forged steel tickets to the event for $100 each. The event will include food, wine and – the kicker – each attendee will be able to take home a piece of Fisher’s original artwork – some valued up to $5,000.
The money raised will go toward expenses for the show, including transportation, marketing, staying in Baltimore and reimbursement for the construction of the booth that will be used to showcase Fisher’s work. “(The event) is to support Holly’s career as an artist/blacksmith,” McCartney says. “She’s ready to compete nationally and internationally.”
For Fisher, the show is more-so a chance to prove herself as an artist once again. She explains that with the opening of Smartshop in 2002, her life became consumed with teaching classes and running the gallery.
“I lost my original goal, which was to make work,” she says. “When I got accepted (to the Baltimore show), it meant so much to me to know that my work was worthy and capable of reward. It was really reaffirming that I was doing the right thing.”
And being recognized for her artwork is one way Fisher doesn’t mind being defined.
‘One Hundred for Holly’
5:30-9 p.m. Jan. 26
Smartshop Art Gallery & Sculpture Garden, 516 E. North St., Kalamazoo