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James A. Fisher

  • Born: March 15, 1920, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0229
Interview Date: 19 December 2001
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Interviewers: Lloyd DeWitt and Marjorie Gapp
No. of pages: 40

  Abstract of Interview

James A. Fisher begins the interview with a description of his family and early years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After graduating early from Yale University because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Fisher secured a position in a smelter plant making aluminum for warplanes at Alcoa Inc. In 1945, Fisher left Alcoa to work for his father, Chester G. Fisher, at the family business, Fisher Scientific International Inc. While at Fisher Scientific, Fisher became fascinated with his father's collection of alchemical art. Fisher's interest grew to the extent that he began to purchase paintings, engravings, and photographs relating to alchemy to add to the growing Fisher Collection. After the death of his father, Fisher was instrumental in the creation of the Fisher Museum, which was used to display the Fisher Collection, and the Pasteur Room, which was dedicated to the achievements of Louis Pasteur. Fisher concludes the interview with reflections on his role in the donation of the Fisher Collection to the Chemical Heritage Foundation.


1942 B.A., Chemistry minor, Yale University

  Professional Experience

Alcoa Niagara Works

1942 - 1944 Engineer

Fisher Scientific International, Inc.

1945 - 1950 Sales Staff

Fisher Scientific International, Inc.

1950 - 1960 Sales Manager, Director

Fisher Scientific International, Inc.

1963 - 1981 Senior Vice President and Director

Fisher Scientific International, Inc.

1981 - 1985 Assistant to the President

Kipling Corporation

1985 - Present Chairman and President

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Childhood and Family History 1

Parents. Fisher family emigration from Germany. Early settlement of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Siblings. Chester G. Fisher. Alcoa Inc. Fisher Scientific International Inc. Fisher Collection.

Fisher Scientific International, Inc. 3

Chester G. Fisher's early interest in alchemical art. Harry Schwab. Use of alchemical art on the cover of The Laboratory. Creation of the Fisher Collection. Effect of World War II on the significance of "the laboratory." Use of reproductions as a form of advertisement. Alfred R. Bader. Alchemy symbols and their meaning. Reflections on visiting father's office.

Fisher Museum 11

Creation of the museum. Company use of the museum. Pasteur Room. Edward L. Hennessy Jr. and Allied Chemical Corporation (now Allied Signal Inc.). John Pavlik. Reflections on first summer job at Fisher Scientific. Location of collection prior to the building of the museum. Edward Weidlein. Chester G. Fisher. Interest in collection. Museum design. Grant Curry. Pasteur Memorial Collection. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. Chester G. Fisher's reason for collecting alchemical art. Venues for the collection. Carnegie Museum of Art. Reflections on parents' view of art and museums. Taking over the collection after father's death. Harmony Society and Old Economy Village. David Teniers the Younger. Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Acquisition of the Pope Collection. Andrew Carnegie. Pittsburgh Film Makers. Visit to the Pasteur Institute. Joseph Meister. Candid images of the Fisher family. Photography. Carnegie Museum of Art. W. Eugene Smith.

Conclusion 33

Paul M. Montrone. Donation of the Fisher Collection to the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Arnold Thackray. One hundredth anniversary of Fisher Scientific International Inc.

Index 37

  About the Interviewer

Lloyd DeWitt

Lloyd DeWitt is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History at the University of Maryland, College Park, and is currently a museum fellow working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He was the 2001–2002 Price Fellow, and collaborated with Lawrence Principe on Transmutations, the CHF guidebook to the Fisher and Eddleman Collections. His area of specialization is Dutch and Flemish painting of the seventeenth century. In 1993, he received his M.A. in art history from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Marjorie Gapp

Marjorie Gapp is the curator of art and images at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. She comes from a fine-arts background and was awarded both a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant. As part of her work with the collections, she has mounted many exhibits including, Spinning the Elements: Wallace Carothers and the Nylon Legacy, Dow Chemical Portrayed, and Transmutations: Alchemy in Art: Selections from the Eddleman and Fisher Collections. She recently coordinated a yearlong research project of the Eddleman and Fisher Collections of alchemical art.

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