Three of the biggest turning points in Lucy Rose Fischer’s career involved encounters with aging. Twice, she was influenced by other people’s aging — the third time her own.
Fischer had always enjoyed art and considered majoring in art in college. She wound up with a Ph.D. in sociology instead. Actually, that first decision wasn’t about aging.
“I decided I could make a living as a social scientist,” said Fischer, 70, who lives in St. Louis Park.
But she wound up focusing on gerontology, which she had not planned to do, after her father started to experience age-related health problems. They turned out to be the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The experience sparked Fischer’s interest in helping people understand the aging process.
Fischer spent 25 years researching and teaching on the subject at the University of Minnesota and at HealthPartners Research Foundation. She published numerous academic articles related to aging, as well as several academic books, including one about older volunteers and one about adult daughters and their mothers.
Then came the next big turning point, about a decade ago. She and her husband were vacationing in Colorado when her husband suffered a heart attack.
“He’s doing really well now,” Fischer said, “but it was a wake-up call.”
The shock of the experience gave Fischer a new awareness of the finiteness of life. She started thinking about how to make the most of the years she had left. Inevitably, that led her to thoughts about creativity and art.
“I’d always loved art,” she said. “I would paint on vacations, sketch while in meetings. My mother-in-law was an art teacher. I decided I wanted to spend some of my life doing art.”
So at 60, she quit being a sociologist and became an artist.
“It was scary, but it just felt right,” Fischer said.
For Fischer, creating art offers an opportunity to look back and appreciate the value of everything that has happened throughout her life.
“That’s why I think creativity is even more special as you get older,” she said. “You’re seeing it through the lens of everything else you’ve experienced.”
Fischer’s house effectively functions as a gallery of her work, much of it involving painting on glass. Often, she takes handblown clear glass bowls and paints pictures on them on the inside, which means having to work inside out and upside down.
“I just sort of by accident developed this technique,” she said. “Glass is like water. I love that when you look through glass, it has a liquidy feel to it. What I do with it has evolved.”
Other pieces incorporate sculpture, canvas painting, collage and even some needlepoint. She tends to depict people, usually women, in fluid shapes, vibrant colors, often dancing and celebrating.
Fischer was surprised at how quickly her work started achieving success — not making a lot of money, she said, but gaining recognition. Early on, she was invited to exhibit her work at the annual American Craft Council show in St. Paul, a large event featuring the work of gifted craft artists.
“It was really intimidating to me to be almost my first exhibit with some of the best artists in the country,” she said.
Since then, she has done a few art fairs, exhibited in galleries, received some commissions.
Then about five years ago came yet another career milestone, this one inspired by her own aging. Fischer wrote, painted and published a book about what it’s like to find yourself growing older.
“I’m New at Being Old” is a picture book. It looks and reads like a children’s book but is aimed at boomer-age women and is illustrated with her fluid and whimsical paintings. In the story, Fischer contemplates the strangeness of entering this foreign territory called aging. She talks about finding wrinkles, worrying about how the future may bring the “breakdown of movable parts” or “the unraveling of my mind.” Ultimately, she comes to appreciate the opportunity to join a sisterhood of wise, aging, creative women. She decides to use the rich years still to come to express herself in art.
She published the book herself. “It’s not earning a fortune,” she said, but it has sold more than 5,000 copies. It also won a Midwest Book Award and an Independent Publishers Gold Award.
She also teaches older people the art of collage using tissue paper with vivid watercolors. She’s a big believer in the value of creativity as a way to stay active, social and engaged as we age.
“There’s so much in our lives we don’t have control of — illness, accidents — but there are things we do have control of,” Fischer said. “My goal is to be alive as long as I’m alive, and that’s not a simple thing. That’s what art does for me.”