by Grant Moser
Germantown resident Lisa Hurwitz, 43, has a lot on her plate. She’s an artist, a blogger and a tweeter, has an online Etsy shop (a website that features handmade and vintage goods), sells vintage finds and art at pop-up stores she arranges, is currently pitching a children’s book, and is a mother of three boys, five cats, two dogs and one fish. She also has a husband.
“I don’t sleep,” she explained. “I can’t be sedentary. I have so many loves and passions that I wish the day was longer. I don’t need this ‘quiet, alone time’ to work; obviously, because I have three boys, I don’t have that ‘quiet.’ I take my sketchbook or whatever I’m doing and do it at the dining room table, in the kitchen, in the family room. My work is birthed from chaos.”
Hurwitz has carved out a quite successful career from her art, but it was a long time coming. It wasn’t until she was attending Rider College in Lawrenceville, NJ, when an art teacher recognized that she had talent and encouraged her to “think about doing this more.”
However, her parents, like most parents, wanted her to have something more dependable than an art career, so she graduated from Rider in 1991 with a degree in education. She started teaching kindergarten at Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square. “And then I got all jealous of my kids because they were doing art, and I wanted to do art,” she said.
She started taking classes at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia at night, when a teacher there recognized her talent and encouraged her to study sculpture in Italy. Hurwitz pitched the idea of attending a program in Italy over the summer to the headmaster of the school, and she agreed. They even paid for half of the cost because “it always looks good for a school when their teachers further their education,” she explained.
Lisa spent the summer of 1993 in Italy taking sculpting classes. “You were given a lump of clay and you could do what you want. And then the critic, who was French, would come to your studio and critique you. There were no classes, no models, no anatomy. It was totally organic. My figures were these little blobs, kind of Chagall-esque. He said, ‘You should really learn the anatomy.’”
Hurwitz knew she needed to learn the classical, fundamental concepts of art, and started attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts part-time in 1995 while still teaching kindergarten part-time. But she quickly found out that even though she had the drive, she didn’t have the background in technique that many of the other students already had. So on the side she took night classes at The Barnstone Studio in Coplay, Lehigh County (near Allentown).
“It was this old-school British guy who taught the fine elements of classic drawing and painting in his studio. He taught me everything. I went back to the Academy of Fine Arts with these crazy skills. Then I could draw, I could paint. Once you knew what you were doing in terms of drawing, it was a completely different experience,” she said.
In 1998 she left teaching and attended the Academy of Fine Arts full-time. She graduated as a sculpture major in 2000, but did not enjoy her time there, but when she got out of school, Hurwitz found her dream job at Laran Bronze, a foundry in Chester.
The process of making bronzes involves many steps, and she worked in the wax department. “I got to cast sculptures in wax, and you’re using torches to heat up the waxes and fixing them in preparation for the next step, which was the dipping. There was no better job than that, nothing. I miss it every day,” she said.
While working there, she got to help with the World War II memorial that was installed in Washington, DC. She was able to work there for two years before she got pregnant and had to leave due to the toxic nature of the work.
After her first son, Nate, was born in 2004, Hurwitz was getting bored. “I started losing my mind. Your brain gets mushy. I couldn’t sculpt because doing that in your house isn’t as easy as somewhere else, plus everything was still toxic. That’s when my husband Jeff said, ‘You need to draw or paint.’ I hadn’t drawn since school, but these figures came out immediately.”
She kept at it, producing lots of drawings featuring kid-like figures that eventually evolved into Agatha Rose, her most frequent character. It was in 2005, while she was pregnant with her second child, Henry, that her art career took off.
Hurwitz loves coffee and was at the Starbucks in Chestnut Hill nearly every day. The employees got to know her and asked if she wanted to show some of her work there. She got some prints made up of 12 of her paintings, and hung them up in the store. The next day the manager called her and said, “People are freaking out.” She sold out of the prints and had to order more.
That led to other cafes asking if she would show, people calling her to buy not only prints, but the original artworks as well, and a show at Silicon Gallery in Old City. Then she started her Etsy store to sell her art.
In the meantime, she has plenty to keep her busy, including Three Aprons, her pop-up store with two other artist moms on her street. The store features vintage items she’s found, her artwork, and the artwork of the other two moms. The most recent pop-up was in Mt. Airy around Mother’s Day and was a huge success.
Hurwitz is still thinking ahead; she wants to do an animated movie about Agatha Rose. “There’s just too much to do,” she insisted. “I can’t imagine ever being bored in my life. How can someone be bored? There’s not enough minutes in a day to do what I want to do.”
For more information on Hurwitz, visit www.lisahurwitz.com