Lynne Foster Fife’s
Spirit of Cooperation
by Rachel Perry
photo by Cindy Steele
Lynne Foster Fife spends a lot of time encouraging artists to work together. In her current role as president of the Art Alliance of Brown County, she has spearheaded several noteworthy projects. The group has created an attractive user-friendly website <www.artalliancebrowncounty.com>, developed a six-page advertisement/article in last spring’s Southwest Art national magazine, and produced a striking full-color brochure featuring images of work by each member. “Although I’m the president, we have been able to get a lot done just by letting artists do what they do well,” she declared. “I can’t say enough fabulous things about the artists that have put their time and effort into our collective projects. Eric Lindley (from Partners Photography) put the brochure together, and Chris Gustin (Homestead Weaving Studio) completely produced the website. With these two projects, we have things to go forward with.
“For the Art Alliance, I’m trying to get artists to realize that what we are doing is worthwhile,” she continued. “That what we are doing we can do ten times greater with a group than we can individually, and that we can help each other. We can open doors for other people and at the same time be opening doors for ourselves.”
Like many all-volunteer organizations, the time and continuing effort to keep the group viable as well as visible is not the top priority for all of the Art Alliance members. Many of them are trying to make a living from their art, and Mrs. Fife is no exception.
She has owned her Nashville gallery/studio, New Spirit Gallery, for the past three years. “It’s not a retail Mecca,” she laughed. “It’s not open in the winter and only limited hours during the season. I’m going to try to do better this year.” Also the accountant and promoter for her husband’s independent business, Lynne’s time for painting is carved from a busy schedule.
Her signature fantasy-style Native American portrait paintings adorn the gallery walls, where she also has workspace. “Everywhere I travel, whether it’s the Indian Museum on the outer banks of South Carolina, or whether it’s the historic Indians on Catalina Island off the west coast, it doesn’t matter where you go, everybody’s got a local tribe and a native history—a real spiritual element,” she explained.
“I started doing this style of painting in 1978,” she said. “I began to see Native Americans as the best vehicle to express the connection between the universe and human life. I took a trip out west with my first husband and was absolutely awestruck with the badlands and the scenery—how incredible the air is and the sky.
“And then there are these people that are part of the landscape. They decorate themselves and they take dead things and make them beautiful—beads and shells and feathers, things like that. I think that’s what you’re supposed to do with life, is enjoy it and celebrate it.”
The intensity of Lynne Fife’s assessment of life may be enhanced by her two past battles with breast cancer. “The paintings I created when recovering were less Native American and more spiritual—less from photos and more from my imagination or desire to be what I painted,” she revealed. “Stupidly, I recently advertised one painting in Southwest Art Magazine that I had already sold. A woman wrote and wanted to buy it and I sent her a print. She was bedridden, tormented and agoraphobic. And she called me one day and said, ‘I just want you to know that no matter what I look like, this painting is what I look like on the inside.’ That’s kind of the way I was feeling after the breast cancer too.”
A Hoosier since 1971, Lynne grew up outside of Philadelphia, the eldest of two children. Her father, an electrical engineer, was a Sunday landscape painter and avid Boy Scout leader. “All through high school I did art,” she remembered. “I passed up an opportunity to go to Moore College of Art in Philadelphia for the option to attend Juniata College in the mountains of Pennsylvania….They had a very good art department and art museum studies course.”
Lynne married her college sweetheart and later came to Indiana with him, after a period of time teaching in Washington DC. Her only daughter was born in Indiana, but the marriage broke up, and Lynne opened up a picture framing shop in Indianapolis. She then landed a corporate job with Willanette Industries where she worked for almost twenty years.
“Tom Fife came into my life twice,” Lynne said. “He met me when I was the ‘Girl Friday’ working for a custom van outfit. Tom came in to have his van customized. And basically asked my boss if I would go out with him. So in 1974 we went to Chez Jean’s, had fabulous wine, fabulous meal and he took me home, kissed me on the cheek and I never heard from him again.”
Fifteen years later, the two crossed paths again. “We were at a party at a mutual friend’s house and I said, ‘Who’s that guy?’ When I’d first met him he had long blond hair he could sit on, and when I re-met him he had short blond hair and he was fifteen years older. I had remembered that date—I remembered what I wore and everything else. So I went up to him and said, ‘I know you. And I bet you don’t remember me, do you?’ And he did not blink. He turned around and said, ‘Why absolutely I remember you and I remember that we went to Chez Jean’s….’”
Tom Fife married Jean in 1994. They completed construction of a hilltop haven on Tom’s property in Unionville in 2001 and Lynne became increasingly involved in the Art Alliance. “I’ve encouraged all our (Art Alliance) artists to get themselves listed at the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau and to get themselves on the artist registry at the Arts and Cultural Commission,” Lynne Foster Fife said. “Promoting the arts is good for your art just like it’s good for somebody else’s art. You can’t have too much cooperation in a town this size.”
Lynne Foster Fife’s New Spirit Gallery is located at 173 North Van Buren Street in Nashville where hours are Thursday through Saturday noon to 5:00 p.m. or by appointment. To reach Mrs. Fife, call 317-902-8725, e-mail her at <email@example.com> or visit her website at <www.lynnefife.com>.