Forty years ago, Arlene Fisher was raising two kids and working part-time as a church secretary.

She had always wanted to be a writer, but the only writing she was doing was the church newsletter.

For some reason she doesn't even remember, she and her good friend Elaine Kozak decided to take an art class from Dolores Hackenberger.

"I had never painted before," recalls Fisher, who was 35 at the time. "Dolores's method was to say, 'here's a painting, paint it.' "

And so she did. Quite well.

That class profoundly changed Fisher's life.

"I was so wound up that night, I almost ran off the road when I drove home," she recalls with a laugh. "I showed Bill (her husband, former Sunday News sports editor Bill Fisher) the painting and I said, 'This is what I did.' He said, 'No, the teacher did that,' and I said, 'No, it was me.' And I thought, hey, maybe I can do this."

Fisher plunged into painting, sharing Hackenberger's primitive style, but quickly making it her own.

"My first show was in 1972, in front of Shaub's shoe shop. I sold five paintings," Fisher remembers.

To celebrate 40 years of painting, Fisher will have an exhibit at Skyler Blu Gallery, on West Orange Street.

It can't really be a retrospective because Fisher sells just about all of her work. But she will be featuring numerous newspaper clippings and posters from shows she participated in during the past 40 years to give visitors a sense of how she and the art world have evolved.

"The art scene used to be much more casual here," she says. "I used to hang shows in hospitals and banks."

And don't forget the shoe store. Selling those first paintings gave her confidence.

"I told my minister that when I sold 50 paintings, I was quitting my secretarial job," Fisher says. "And I did."

Since her kids were in school, she had time to paint, to refine her work and define her own style.

"In the beginning, my work was dark," she says. "I worked on getting the colors to look more natural."

She paints in a barn on her property that's been converted into her studio. And she paints pretty much every day, completing two or three pieces.

"I work fast and accomplish what I want quickly," she says, adding with a laugh. "I have a short attention span."

Fisher is known for her primitive scenes of Amish and rural life in Lancaster County, though she has painted city scenes as well.

"I go out to places and sketch. I have got to feel it," she says.

More recently, she has been doing close-up paintings of farm animals. It began when she pulled her car over to the side of a road at a farm where she was planning to sketch and several cows came over to check her out. She started photographing them as they got closer. They have served as inspiration ever since.

Fisher has the ability to create work that is both charming and innocent, but never cloying.

She usually likes working on small canvases.

"I like the idea of something tiny that people can look at all at once," she says.

That doesn't mean there isn't a lot happening on those small canvases.

"My technique is to have lots of details," she says. "I have to tell a little story."

She does not use realistic perspective in her work, which adds to its primitive quality.

But she somehow makes the pieces -- all those details -- fit together to create a scene you want to keep looking at, a scene that puts a smile on your face yet never seems too sweet and sugary.

It's a quality that has served her well for the past 40 years.

"It's very satisfying that other people like what I do," she says. "At 75, I am loving life and loving what I do. And that affects everything."

Works by Arlene Fisher

Opening reception, Fri. from 5-9 p.m.

Cont. through Oct.

Tues.-Fri. 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

First Fri. until 9 p.m.

Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and by appt. Free

Skyler Blu, 114 W. Orange St.

669-4104

www.skylerblugallery.com