Jonathan Fisher

 

FISHER, JONATHAN
(1768–1847)
was a painter and Congregational minister from New Braintree, Massachusetts. He was admitted to Harvard in 1788. In 1796 Fisher was named the first permanent pastor of the Congregational Church at Blue Hill, Maine, where he lived for the rest of his life. Fisher’s many intellectual interests besides theology included naturalhistory, poetry, and literature. He was fluent in several languages, including that of the Penobscot people, and his social concerns embraced promoting Native Americanrights and supporting the purchase of slaves from their owners to return them to Africa. Fisher also had practical skills that he used to supplement his minister’s salary.Besides farming, he made medicines, furniture, straw hats, bone buttons, and combs. He also painted sleighs and surveyed local roads with instruments that he madehimself.A self-taught artist, Fisher began painting oils on canvas and panels about 1798, and completed approximately twenty-five works. Besides portraits, he painted still-lifes, religious and allegorical scenes, and at least one topographical view of Blue Hill. An 1804 still-life is noteworthy for having a painted scrap of paper with a dog-eared corner attached to a board background with a straight pin, an early example of
trompe l’oeil
painting in America.The panoramic view of Blue Hill that Fisher painted in 1824 shows a rocky pasture with two women and a man, who is about to strike a snake with a stick in theforeground. Extending to the horizon is the neat village of clapboard houses situated along the main road leading to Fisher’s church. Blue Hill’s prosperity and ruralaffluence was achieved through fishing and agriculture: the former is indicated by a sailing ship entering the harbor; the latter was made possible by clearing the virginforest that remains in scattered patches in Fisher’s view of the town.Fisher’s 1838 self-portrait depicts him as bald, with a deeply lined face, seated in his library and pointing to a verse in the Bible. The painting shows that Fisher coulduse his art as an extension of his ministry: looking directly at the viewer with an intent expres sion, Fisher seems to admonish us to adhere to biblical canon.Fisher continued painting until the year he died, but his major late work was the book
Scripture Animals, or Natural History of the Living Creatures Named inthe Bible, Especially for Youth,
published in 1834. Fisher not only wrote the text but also taught himself to cut and print the book’s more than 140 woodblock illustrations.
See also
Painting, American Folk; Painting, Still-life; Religious Folk Art
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Chase, Mary Ellen.
Jonathan Fisher, Maine Parson, 1768–1847.
Blue Hill, Maine, 1978.Lipman, Jean, and Tom Armstrong, eds.
American Folk Painters of Three Centuries.
New York, 1980