The Life and Work of Alice Fischer, Cultural Pioneer

January 10, 2015 - March 08, 2015
Boone and George-Ann Knox Gallery II

Born in Vienna to a Jewish family, Alice Fischer (1907–2004) was an artist and designer who immigrated to the United States by way of Paris to escape the Nazi regime. Known to her family as Lisl, Fischer graduated in 1927 from the internationally known School of Applied Arts of the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry, where she studied with Josef Hoffman, one of the founders of the Wiener Werkstätte. She subsequently worked in Berlin as a freelance designer but left after Hitler came to power in 1933 and lived mostly in Paris until the German army entered the city on June 14, 1940. Lisl then spent a tumultuous several months in the South of France until family and friends were able to secure her travel to the United States.

After arriving in New York in the summer of 1941, Fischer found work in a French silk house but soon left her job and began experimenting with ceramics. Her experiments led to the design and handmade production of ceramic buttons and jewelry, which she sold successfully throughout the United States. A set of Fischer’s buttons, applied to a made-to-order ensemble by the fashionable New York store Henri Bendel, appears on the October, 1945, issue of Vogue magazine. She received many commissions, including one for a brooch for Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. Fischer’s jewelry production diminished when she enrolled in Columbia University’s Ph.D. program in art history and ceased completely in 1963 when she began teaching.

Fischer was versatile—she supported herself as a commercial designer, as an art historian and as an artist. This exhibition serves as an introduction to Fischer’s jewelry and other works of art (etchings, watercolors and drawings), which scholars have mostly overlooked, but will also delve into issues of identity and the influence of early Christian and medieval art on her jewelry designs. Expulsion (from Germany and Austria, and finally from France) and the trials of immigration marked her life. When her ship was stopped at Casablanca during her flight from the Nazi regime, Fischer was interned at camp Oued Zem for nearly three months. Uncertain of her fate, it was here that Fischer expressed her willingness to be a “cultural pioneer” in northern Africa if she was unable to leave. After arriving in the United States, she continued to journey—from Manhattan to Woodstock, from Virginia to Athens, Ga., where Lamar Dodd hired her to teach art history at the University of Georgia, and finally to North Carolina, where she worked in collage, printmaking and drawing until her death.

Photographs by David Butler.

In-House Curator

Dale L. Couch, adjunct curator of decorative arts


Mary Koon, independent curator


The W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art