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1991: Always the gracious hostess, Elizabeth Tashjian, introduces Geronimo's skull to one of her Native American coconut heads.
1991: Always the gracious hostess, Elizabeth Tashjian, introduces Geronimo's skull to one of her Native American coconut

In a Nutshell: A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian

In 2004, documentary filmmakers Don Bernier and Tina Erickson completed "In a Nutshell: A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian," a feature-length video about artist, philosopher, entertainer and curator, Elizabeth Yegsa Tashjian - known fondly to her many fans and admirers as "The Nut Lady."

The film highlights the diverse roles Tashjian has assumed during her lifetime, from concert violinist and Christian Science healer to the creator of the one and only Nut Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

At ninety-one years old, Tashjian has found herself immersed in a strange new chapter of her prolific life. After a series of tragic events surrounding her health and finances, she is penniless and confined to a nursing home against her will. Her beloved home is on the market and the contents of the Nut Museum have been permanently removed. Officially declared "incapable" by her state-appointed conservators, Elizabeth Tashjian fights to preserve her identity and regain the life she has built as a creative individual.

Public invitation to In a Nutshell premiere.
Public invitation to In a Nutshell premiere.

In a Nutshell explores how society responds to unconventionality on both the local level and the international stage.

Don talked to about the project and his encounters with everyone's favorite nut: What made this story the one you had to tell?

Don Bernier: In the late 1990s, my wife, Tina, and I had been interviewing various curators at roadside museums for a film about private collections. We had narrowed it down to five potential subjects when we came across the Nut Museum (thanks to the Roadside guys). After meeting Elizabeth for the first time, I knew she'd never fit into a film with other museums. She was too original. Plus, she wouldn't hear of sharing the stage.

Over the past four years, many things have happened and we decided to keep filming. We felt somewhat obligated to document the story as it unfolded and follow it through. I feel as though we're not so much telling the story as we are recording it and presenting it for others to digest. Elizabeth has been seen simply as "The Nut Lady" for so long, we wanted to help show others see the person we saw -- a complex, talented, intelligent, very media savvy performance artist with an extraordinary past. How long did you work on the research and recording?

Don Bernier: Four years or so, off and on. First interview took place at the Nut Museum in 1999. Did Elizabeth surprise you?

Don Bernier: Elizabeth always surprised me. A journalist friend of hers, Christine Woodside, once said to me, "She is incapable of using a cliche... hanging out with her is like being in a sharper reality." This is why one is drawn to Elizabeth. Does your documentary uncover more of "The Conspiracy" to destroy Elizabeth and her Nut Museum?

Don Bernier: Several people who are close to the story have been digging for factual evidence of "The Plot" as Elizabeth calls it. That is, the plot to remove her and the museum from Old Lyme. Although I never uncovered anything especially juicy or revealing, I remain convinced that while the Nut Lady was a cult celebrity on late night TV, with a national fan base of her own, she was less liked in her own community. I don't think most people knew what to do with such a person -- she didn't quite fit in and, as a result, may have been ostracized. To be honest, it would've been easier to disprove Elizabeth's accusations if certain state officials would've agreed to speak on camera. So, some things remain "murky" as Elizabeth says.

Apr 2004: IN A NUTSHELL: A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian, a documentary by Don Bernier, premiered April 23, 2004 at the Blaustein Humanities Center, Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut. At the conclusion of the film Elizabeth got up to say a few words to the audience. According to an account by Michael Miller in the Pictorial Gazette, Elizabeth "promptly launched into an attack against the film, claiming that Bernier had infringed on her privacy and running through her oft-repeated list of complaints against the state, doctors, lawyers, Realtors and all others whom she believes have mistreated her. The crowd sat silently at first, but 20 minutes or so into Tashjian's speech, many audience members began to make noise - of the positive kind, laughing and cheering at her defiant comments. At one point, the Nut Lady declared, 'I'm not a pulseless corpse. You can see that,' and the room burst into applause."

Classic Nut Lady.

Nut Lady and the Nut Museum

Was in Old Lyme, 1/2 mile south of I-95 via Shore Rd/156 to Ferry Rd. First driveway and old house on the right. Private property.
Old Lyme
The Nut Lady Sings the Nut Anthem

The Nut Lady Sings!

Roadside America Road Trip Archives: The late Elizabeth Tashjian, the famous Nut Lady, sings her "Nut Anthem" in 1985 -- in front of the World's Largest Nutcracker.Go to video

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