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Artist in Residence: Seeing a piece of your soul

Jessi Fleisher’s life work has involved creating art while also teaching and promoting artistry to the next generation in its formative years.

A resident of Farmville, Fleisher is the sole art teacher at Lunenburg Middle School in Lunenburg County.

She is living the dream of so many college students, who hope to find a job in their major. She went to Longwood University and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, majoring in art education and minoring in art history. She also has a master’s degree in elementary education.

“I’ve always loved art,” she said. “I think every child, for the most part, likes art class at school. And in high school, I took photography, and it was strictly darkroom at that time, and I loved it, just absolutely loved it.”

But she was also very interested in languages.

“I have a very creative brain, so I went into Longwood as a French major, and I was going to be a French teacher,” she said. “And then I just lost my passion for French, I guess, and I remembered how much I had loved photography and the arts as a kid growing up and especially in high school when I really, really loved photography, and so I decided to switch my major from French to art, and I just loved it.”

In addition to photography, her favorite mediums to work in are acrylic and watercolor paint.

“I’m not sure that I’m really very good at them, but I enjoy them very much, and that’s what I have fun with,” she said.

With photography, Fleisher said she loves the idea of capturing and freezing a moment in time, one that no one else noticed. She listed the example of a friend and that friend’s long-time boyfriend being off in a corner one time, gazing into each other’s eyes.

“Out of the gaze of anybody else, they were off doing their own thing, and I just kind of captured them, and it was this beautiful, beautiful image, and I sent it to her later,” Fleisher said.

Family also draws her into creative work.

“My two nephews, who are huge, huge muses for me, they’re very important to me, so they’re a huge subject of my work as well, kind of capturing their life and watching them grow up and things,” she said.

Her nephews are 9 and 11 years old.

In terms of painting, she said it is therapeutic and quite relaxing.

“I enjoy abstract art because I feel like it takes some of the pressure off,” she said. “So many people, they think of art, and they think, ‘Oh, I’m not good at art, because I can’t draw.’”

She said she hears this from a lot of her students.

“I try and say, ‘Well, you don’t have to draw well to create something amazing,’” she said.

Recurrent themes are often part of artists’ work, and this is true of Fleisher as well. Her photography and paintings are drawn from things she loves and is passionate about.

“Feminism and human rights are two very, very important things to me, so there’s a lot of that in my work,” she said. “I have two nephews who I hope are the future of good-hearted men in the world, so I’m trying to teach them to be good men and consider the rights and feelings of everybody, not just themselves.”

Having studied art history, Fleisher has been influenced by some artists who have gone before.

“Frida Kahlo is my absolute favorite,” she said, referring to the Mexican painter who lived from 1907 to 1954 and achieved international acclaim.

“She struggled a lot in her life, and she was a pretty radical thinker for her time and for her community,” Fleisher said.

Fleisher said Kahlo was staunch in her beliefs, adding that she loves the style of Kahlo’s work.

“A lot of people say that she’s a surrealist so that her paintings are kind of dream-like, but she said that was kind of her own reality,” Fleisher said. “She painted her own pain, all the things that she dealt with and felt strongly about, and I just admire her very much.”

As an art teacher, Fleisher is able to promote photography, acrylic and watercolor paint, but she tries to offer her students the chance to create in as many mediums as possible.

“I want them exposed to as many things as I can afford, financially, to expose them to,” she said.

She also tries to expand her students’ concept of art, bringing in different artists and a lot of non-traditional media.

“We’ll use things like electric tape and Elmer’s Glue, and we’ll use dried-out markers and collage-type of things to try and create beautiful art, because I don’t want them going into the world thinking art is just about painting the perfect face using oil on canvas,” she said. “That can be wonderful, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of the visual arts.”

And she wants to see her students develop their own themes derived from their own passions and beliefs rather than simply mimic hers.

“When I look at your work, I want to see a piece of you, I want to see a piece of your soul,” she said. “Art is all about self-expression and showing who you are as a human being and who you are as a person.’”