Meet Pam Schiftic, a.k.a. pj FISHSTICK
By Leslie Moore
Known throughout the art world as pj FISHTICK, Pam Schiftic began her career as an educator – an elementary school teacher, assistant principal and arts education supervisor. Her name is difficult for little ones to pronounce, and one day at school a child came running up to Pam saying, “Miss Fishstick, Miss Fishstick!” Several of her fellow educators overheard and the name stuck. Today, Pam is a full time artist, creating one-of-a-kind pieces called memory jugs and uses the name pj Fishstick. Beautiful and unique, Pam’s designs are a treasure chest of fascinating objects brought together to tell a story. Recently, Pam’s work was showcased locally in a private show hosted by her first cousin, Julia Wilson, and Sasee was invited to meet and learn more about this talented artist.
What led you to begin creating memory jugs?
[laughing] I like old things! You should see my basement. Actually, memory jugs are not new. They are believed to have a history in both the African American community and in Victorian England. Nineteenth century African Americans would create memorials to loved ones by affixing personal objects to a jug and use them for grave markers or remembrances. In Victorian England, highly embellished memory jugs were created, mirroring the era’s love of “stuff!”
I started doing my memory jugs for family about 15 years ago, and it has evolved into something much larger. I did a special piece for Julia’s birthday. It’s “Ju Ju’s Jug” and features objects that represent Julia’s life and history, including various things that belonged to our grandmother, who was part Cherokee Indian. Quite a character, she was born in the 1880s and would make her own herbal medicines. I also included our great-grandmother’s change purse, complete with a $2 bill and a $3 bill! I keep everything, so I had quite a few family belongings that I placed on the jug, including our Granny Gracie’s old pipe.
How do you decide what to put on each piece?
I’m a storyteller, but I use objects instead of words. It’s amazing what you can do with the things in your junk drawer! I pull a group of quirky and mundane things together and begin to tell a story. The entire memory jug isn’t done at once; I have to find just the right place for each object. Look at this, [showing me an object] would you ever think of using a doll without a head? I reinvent the rejected. Instead of throwing things away, I look at them with new eyes. The sum is so much greater than its parts. My newer work has lots of symbols. This one [showing me a piece featuring religious objects] symbolizes my strong faith.
The jug can be any type of glass or metal container, and after experimenting with many different adhesives, I ended up using tile grout that I color with acrylic paint. My workshop is crowded with bins of stuff and I am always out looking for more. I combine “dime store chic” with vintage baubles and an heirloom here and there. It’s recycling at its best!
What’s next for you?
This is my second career – I retired from teaching and reinvented myself through my art. There are always opportunities if you’re open to them. This summer, Julia and I are doing “Grandcamp,” an annual week-long camp we do with her seven grandchildren, on memory jugs. Each grandchild was told to collect things throughout the year to bring to camp. But, even if they don’t, I’ll have tons of stuff!
Where can our readers see your work?
Currently, my work is in Gallery Matilda, in Roswell, Georgia, near Atlanta. I also do custom pieces featuring personal collections.
Contact pj FISHSTICK at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 770-640-8724.
About this writer
- Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.