Elizabeth Hubbell Fisk

Fisk, Elizabeth

Time Period

1860-1910

Notable Facts

Developed an unique style of artistic weaving

Personal Information

Date of Birth

1859

Date of Death

1927

Primary Residence

Isle La Motte

Religion

Methodist

Ethnicity

Caucasian

Historical Significance

Elizabeth Beckwith Hubbell was born in Chazy, New York in 1859 to Margaret Louise Beckwith and John Wolcott Hubbell, the second daughter of 11 children. In 1880, when she was 21, she married Nelson Fisk, the son of Isle La Motte quarry owners. The Fisks had a large stone house, and ran a quarry and store. They had no children, and spent their summers on Isle La Motte and winters in New York City. Nelson Fisk served as Lieutenant Governor and in the State Legislature and Senate in the 1880s. He established many connections to prominent national figures. Vice president Theodore Roosevelt was at a luncheon at the Fisks' in 1901 when he received the news that President William McKinley had been shot.

Elizabeth Fisk discovered a loom in the attic of the Fisk home, and began to learn the art of hand weaving on these colonial-era looms. She began with weaving rag rugs, and, by 1895, was encouraging her neighbors on Isle La Motte to resurrect their abandoned looms as well. These rugs were sold locally to raise money for refurnishing the Methodist Church, as well as to establish a library.

Fisk soon graduated to weaving delicate table linens with complex, tapestry-like patterns. When the Fisks were in New York City during the winter, she took courses in art and dye chemistry at the Pratt Institute and studied with the painter William Merritt Chase. Fisk developed a unique and labor-intensive technique, weaving so that the threads on the back of the work were interwoven and creating a reverse image identical to the front of the textile. With her friend Anna Bailey Smith, wife of Governor Edward Curtis Smith of St. Albans, Fisk experimented with vegetable dyes and finer linen thread.

As demand for her weavings grew, Elizabeth Fisk, with the help of her friend Mrs. Smith, began training women from Isle La Motte and St. Albans to help fill the orders of her cottage industry. The Elizabeth Fisk Looms produced bedspreads, tablecloths, wall hangings, pictures, pillows, napkins, runners, and curtains, among many other products. Fisk received awards from the Chicago Art Institute, and the national Federation of Women's Clubs. Her small company produced weavings from 1890 to 1935, and received a great deal of publicity, including an article in the Ladies' Home Journal in November 1923, which described her "trained vision that sees graceful vines and baskets of fruit and flowers; that contrasts the gay plumage of birds with dark, shadowy trees." She trained a number of women in her weaving techniques, and willed her looms to her workers. After her death, they formed a guild and continued her work.

Elizabeth Fisk's company and techniques were unusual. Most women of her time had abandoned labor-intensive hand weaving as textile production became industrialized. While during the Revolutionary period, many Vermont women created household textiles at home, by end of the 19th century, women had long been employed as workers in textile factories, and few had the luxury of time to undertake hand weaving. Elizabeth Fisk, by contrast, was a wealthy woman with no children, and had artistic rather than financial concerns as she approached weaving. She was inspired by Arts and Crafts, the aesthetic movement of the early twentieth century, largely popular among the upper class, which emphasized handcrafted decorative arts in response to the mass-produced creations of industrial machines.

Elizabeth Fisk died of complications associated with diabetes on Isle La Motte on August 17, 1927. The Fisk home burned in 1924, but the store, her studio, and the quarry, as well as the ruins of the stone house, remain. Today, the Fisk Farm hosts afternoon teas, concerts, and art exhibits. Adjacent to the Fisk Farm is the Fisk Quarry Preserve, a 24-acre wetland site owned and managed by the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust. The preserve includes remnants of the 480 million year old Chazy Reef Formation. The weavings of the Elizabeth Fisk Looms are held by museums and private collections throughout the country. In 2009, she was recognized as part of Vermont's Champlain Quadricentennial celebration.

Organizations or Movements

  • Arts and Crafts Movement

Occupations

  • Weaver
  • entrepreneur

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • Stratton, Allen. History: Town of Isle La Motte, Vermont: An Account of the Discovery, Settlement, and Interesting and Remarkable Events.

  • Dale, Martha. Elizabeth Fisk Looms: The Story of a Weaver. Link

  • Smith, Mrs. Edward Curtis. Color and Beauty from Village Looms. The Ladies' Home Journal, November 1923, Volume XI, Number 11.

  • Vermont Women Revive Ancient Art, Burlington Free Press, Tuesday, January 27, 1936.

  • Fisk Farm Link