“In a Nutshell: A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian”
October 13, 2004
by Jason Guerrasio
While making a documentary about strange roadside museums, Don Bernier came
across Elizabeth Tashjian’s 18-room Victorian home in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
>>From the outside it looked like the other homes in the neighborhood, but
once inside Bernier realized it was anything but normal. “It was filled with
paintings of nuts. Nut masks. Elizabeth would basically educate you on nuts
and where they were from,” he says.
Elizabeth Tashjian is better known in up-state Connecticut as “The Nut
Lady.” For years she’s given guided tours of her home, which is filled with
a wide array of nut artwork. Intrigued by Tashjian’s obsessive hobby,
Bernier ditched the roadside museum doc and began one on her. But before he
could start she collapsed in her home and was in a coma for close to two
months. She awoke to learn that the government had taken over her home and
destroyed most of her art (the work that survived is currently at
Connecticut College). “When she came out of the coma, essentially she was
pissed,” says Bernier. “So the state threw a lot of physiatrists and
therapists to declare she was mentally incapable [to live on her own] and
now she’s been moved to a nursing home. Everything got taken away from her.”
Bernier’s documentary follows Tashjian, who’s still wacky about nuts, as she
tries to pick up the pieces of her Nut Lady legacy.
Shooting on and off since 2001, Bernier is currently finishing post with
hopes to have a final cut by the end of the year. Budgeted at under $200,000
and shot on DV, he has recently received a Jerome Foundation grant to finish
it. Though he will submit it into festivals, Bernier believes the ideal
outlet for the doc is television.
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