Janet Schafer Fleisher, 93, of Elkins Park, who operated the avant-garde Janet Fleisher Gallery near Rittenhouse Square for more than 30 years, died Monday, Aug. 2, at her home.
In 1952, Mrs. Fleisher and a college classmate, Eunice Leopold, opened the Little Gallery on Manning Street in Center City. Six years later, the women opened Gallerie Philadelphia on the Left Bank in Paris. The Inquirer reported in 1958 that the dual locations "makes it possible to sell American paintings in France and French paintings in America."
Shipping art abroad was not without its difficulties, the women told The Inquirer, especially when they tried to explain Calder mobiles to customs officials.
In 1959, the women were asked to serve on a committee to select paintings by American artists for the International Art Exhibition in Paris.
Clients at both galleries were allowed to purchase art on a layaway plan, and works were priced from $5 to $5,000, including inexpensive watercolors and a Picasso with a four-figure price tag.
By the mid-1960s, Mrs. Fleisher had become the sole owner of Gallerie Philadelphia and the Little Gallery, which eventually moved to 17th Street and renamed the Janet Fleisher Gallery.
In 1970, she hired John Ollman, who had a master's degree in fine arts, to be her assistant. He became gallery director in 1971. "We worked together on ideas and agreed what direction the gallery was going," he said.
Both had an interest in exhibiting art by self-taught artists. Mrs. Fleisher was "very forward-looking" and was always discovering new artists on her travels, Ollman said.
"She had a keen eye for emerging artists and was a talented art appraiser," said her daughters, Jill Bonovitz and Nancy Hellebrand Blood, both artists.
The gallery was known for its eclecticism, they said. Early shows featured European surrealism; African and Oceanic art; and pre-Colombian, American Indian, and American folk art. Mrs. Fleisher exhibited works by major modern artists from whom she purchased art directly, her daughters said.
Mrs. Fleisher's personal collection included works by Amedeo Modigliani and the German abstract expressionist Anselm Keifer, whose art is now in great demand.
Years before alternative health became popular, Mrs. Fleisher was interested in Reiki healing, macrobiotic food, meditation, and yoga, her daughters said, and it was not uncommon for people to stop by the gallery for hands-on healing.
Mrs. Fleisher continued to own the gallery in France until the 1980s and the Janet Fleisher Gallery until 1996, when she retired. Ollman then became owner of the business, which is now Fleisher/Ollman Gallery on 16th Street.
Mrs. Fleisher, a native of Trenton, earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where she met her future husband, Robert.
She enjoyed summers at her family's seaside home in Ventnor, N.J., and loved nothing more than walks on the Boardwalk, reading in her garden at the Shore, and listening to Frank Sinatra, her daughters said.
In addition to her daughters, Mrs. Fleisher is survived by a brother; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Her husband of 50 years died in 1988.
Funeral services will be private. Donations may be made to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 34th Street and Civic Center Boulevard, Philadelphia 19104.