The peacock’s 7-foot semi-circular train includes 33 plumes with 219 eight-layer frontal eyespots and 215 two-layer rear eyespots, with more than 2,100 appliques on the train.
If you think it’s time-consuming to order, purchase, prepare, cook, slice and serve your Thanksgiving turkey, imagine how Henry ‘Hank’ Fleischer feels after spending 508 hours over the course of four months to create his! Albeit, Fleischer’s turkey was made of file folders with no need for an oven or refrigeration, but the artist did create it in his kitchen. Unlike the Thanksgiving bird, gone after a few days, Fleischer’s creation “lives on” as one of three sculptures showcased as his award-winning entry in this year’s international ArtPrize competition, and again at a special exhibit at Fox Run Senior Living Community of Novi where he lives.
Adding to the impact of the creation, which is part of his mixed media “Birds of a Feather” trilogy, is the fact that the artist is 97 years old! Along with the turkey, the three pieces include a peacock and a phoenix, all of which took more than two years to complete.
Fleischer wasn’t always an artist. After working for 53 years as an engineer, he retired as vice president of Numatics Inc. in Highland when he was 78, spending the next 12 years as a consultant.
“When I was 84, I had done everything on my (late) wife Rhoda’s ‘honey do’ list and needed to find something else to do,” he said. “I happened to be in the Gifts of Art Gallery at the Taubman (Health) Center in Ann Arbor and saw some pieces of art made from folded cutouts. I was intrigued by this and went home and spent six months folding and cutting materials, but it didn’t hold my attention,” Fleischer said. “Then Rhoda suggested that I try drawing and putting my work into 3-D form.
“I started working with paper, but it was too soft and then I used the cardboard that comes on hangers from the cleaners, but it was too heavy.” Through trial and error, he discovered file folders were the perfect material in a medium he calls “architectural art.”
“I made smaller things at the beginning,” he said. “An owl, a swan, a cat, a penguin, and a lot of geometric forms and shapes.” With smaller leftover folder-pieces, he would create jewelry for Rhoda, who he calls his muse. “I made her earrings and pendants and broaches, and used her clear nail polish as a finish,” he said.
Math Plus Art Equals a Win
Fleischer says the process to get to where he is now was one of trial and error, and took much time and patience — and math.
“I used my trigonometry and geometry skills to see where to make the folds,” he said. “It took lots of empirical work until I realized what I was doing.”
He begins each piece by outlining the forms he draws on the file folders, scores the edges with a sharp-edged leather needle with a slightly dulled point, and then cuts, precisely folds and glues the intricate sections into 3-D art forms.
He uses various colors of file folders, even different shades of the same color from different manufacturers. “I’m always looking for different ones,” Fleischer said. “Seems everybody’s going paperless and I’m going paper.”
Much of his work also includes appliques that he cuts out and glues onto other sections. The peacock’s 7-foot semi-circular train includes 33 plumes with 219 eight-layer frontal eyespots and 215 two-layer rear eyespots, with more than 2,100 appliques on the train.
“My pieces do not have a front and back,” he said. “Everything is finished in all directions. Some have parts that can be removed and put back in.” And all of them can be touched. “With clean hands,” he stresses. “You need to feel them and pick them up, if they’re small enough. Then you can really appreciate them.”
The conception of his artwork varies. “Sometimes I design it before hand,” Fleischer said. “Sometimes I just wander off in a phantasmagorical way.”
His descriptions of his work include mathematical terms like isometric, hexagons, algebraic equations, polyhedrons, ratio, altitudes and apex but also artists’ depictions like blissful, graceful and chic.
His list of tools is as simple as it gets. “I use a compass, triangle, ruler, scissors, pencil, an awl and Elmer’s glue,” Fleischer said.
He is currently working on his 121st piece of art, storing all of them in a makeshift gallery in his apartment. “My studio is my kitchen, and my second bedroom is totally filled with objets d’art,” he said. “The peacock, which is the biggest piece, was on a coffee table in the living room for a while, but its train took up too much space on the couch, so it’s now on the dining room table.”
Born in Paris and raised in New York, Fleischer received a bachelor’s of mechanical engineering degree from the City College of New York and a master’s of science degree from Columbia University. He is a 25-year trustee of the Carls Foundation, a past member of the Detroit Science Center Board of Trustees, a Michigan licensed professional engineer, certified manufacturing engineer, and a 2019 inductee of the International Fluid Power Society Hall of Fame. He served as a regional judge for the International First® Robotics Competitions and was commissioned to author a text on fluid dynamics.
His work has been shown in the Greater Michigan Art Exhibition Midland Center for the Arts, Huron Valley Council for the Arts in Highland, Janice Charach Gallery and the Taubman Gifts of Art Gallery where he saw the piece that first inspired his art.
This year’s Sept. 16-Oct. 3, ArtPrize competition was Fleischer’s second time exhibiting in the show, having also attended in 2012. The 2021 event showcased the artwork of 955 artists at 142 venues.
The Birds of a Feather trilogy, which he says he created “in memory of my late wife Rhoda (to) honor the moments we shared, from our first meeting through family and senior years,” was also presented at a Nov. 9, exhibition, sponsored by the Fox Run Birders group.
Before the showing of his work, the group viewed a video interview with Fleischer by the film’s producer, Fox Run resident Marj Taylor, who described him as having an inborn sense of beauty of how things are related and work together. “He can take something as simple as a file folder and with a pair of scissors and a bit of glue transfer it into art that has meaning,” she said.
Fleischer, the father of two married sons and grandfather of five was thrilled to welcome his son Dr. Bruce Fleischer and his wife Judy Freedman of Bedford Hills, New York to the show.
“I’ve had lots of time to marvel at my dad’s sculptures and they still amaze me,” Bruce Fleischer said. “He’s always been my model of patience and perseverance. Combine those with curiosity, a good nature and humility, and see the creative results. He loves sharing his enjoyment of the process, turning file folders, trigonometry and lots of glue into art.”
Also at the exhibit was local artist Gail Rosenbloom Kaplan, who met Fleischer in 2006 when she and fellow artist Dani Katsir created the Beaumont mosaic installation for the pediatric entrance at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.
“We worked with pediatric patients on this artwork and the hospital had a dedication for the children, their families and the hospital staff,” she said. “Hank and I met as he was on the board of the Michigan Carls Foundation which funded the artwork.” She said the two had an instant connection and friendship. “We each had an appreciation of each other’s art and an understanding of the power of art to teach, and to heal. In his work, mathematics is the basis for his constructions, and he is excited to show young people how math can be a part of the creative process.”
During the show, she said Fleischer was able to meet with guests. “He walked through the exhibit and was able to share one-on-one and to mingle with not only the residents but those who attended from the Carls Foundation,” she said. “He expressed his pride that at his age he was able to still contribute and to be a role model for other seniors in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Certainly for me he is a role model and affirmed that I enjoy having friends who are older as they have more experience, and I can learn from having them.”
Fleischer shared what he calls “three basic missions” for exhibiting his work. “I want to show that math is beautiful and useful,” he said. “The angles from trigonometry and geometry and the equations from algebra are all so beautiful and they fit together so nicely. The second purpose is to show how I used all simple tools and that nothing was computer-generated and the third was to prove that an almost centenarian can still contribute and can still be constructive and can still fly like the young eagles.”
To view more of Hank Fleischer’s artwork, go to www.hankfleischer.com