The story of the Elizabeth Fisk Looms is the story of an inspired
artist who made a unique contribution to the history of weaving.
Elizabeth Fisk developed an art which demanded intense manual labor,
detailed technical knowledge, and an ability to weave together the
aesthetic, cultural and social threads of her time.
In doing so, she succeeded in resurrecting an ancient art, bringing
it exquisite levels of refinenment, and in training a generation of
women to carry on her work. The Elizabeth Fisk Looms received international
recognition as a type of fine weaving that had never been seen before,
Archeologists believe that weaving and basket making were probably
the first "crafts" developed by humans. Remnants of woven
fabric have been found dating from 7000 to 8000 B.C. in Mesopotamia
and in Egypt. The earliest evidence of looms has been traced to a
model loom found in an Egyptian tomb.
Tapestries are woven fabrics which contain images. The yarns that
are used are typically heavier than those used in weaving, producing
a thicker finished product. They have existed for hundreds of years
in many cultures. Ancient Egyptians and Incas buried their dead in
Tapestry woven clothing. Important civic buildings in the Greek Empire,
including the Pantheon, had walls covered with tapestries.
The French medieval weavers brought the art of tapestry to a new level.
Tapestry became a status symbol of the aristocracy, as well as a way
to cover cold castle walls. The subject matter was generally biblical,
historical or mythological, depending upon the interest of the patron.
Of particular note are 10 tapestries, based on paintings by Raphael.
They were commissioned by Pope Leo in 1515 for the walls of the Sistine
Chapel. Raphael’s paintings formed templates, known as “cartoons”
that served as technical guides for the armies of weavers that produced
At the turn of the 20th century, the Arts and Crafts Movement gave
rise to modern tapestry weaving. In England, William Morris gave new
life to the tired industry, teaching himself the 18th century craft.
His tapestries, such as the Woodpecker, are based on Medieval styles,
and are still popular and sought after today.
As Elizabeth Fisk developed her work, she drew upon these influences,
improved on them technically, and combined them with current artistic
movements to produce unique hand made pieces.
During the late 1800s, Lake Champlain, which lies between Vermont
and upstate New York was one of the major commerce routes of the northeastern
United States. In the days before planes, trucks, and railroads, many
trade goods were moved by water. Lake Champlain was a major conduit
in the flow of goods between Montreal, New York and Boston.
In those days the tiny island of Isle la Motte straddled this important
trade route and became a crossroads that attracted the commercial,
cultural, and political figures of the region.
Much of this activity centered around the Fisk homestead. The Fisks
were a family of quarriers who came to the island in 1788 and became
regional business leaders active in state and national politics.
The Fisk place was founded by Reverend Ichabod Ebeneezer Fisk, who
was born in New Milford, Connecticut and educated at Yale. Fisk surveyed
the island and taught at the local school. His son Samuel started
quarrying the local black marble in the late 1700s and built a home
from the stone in 1802. The Fisk quarry was the first marble building
stone quarry in the state of Vermont.
Demand for the fine black marble of Isle la Motte was strong and business
boomed. Samuel Fisk built a general store and a post office to provide
for the quarry workers.
Samuel Fisk’s son Nelson attended Eastman’s Business College,
in Poughkeepsie, New York, to prepare him to take over the family
concern. In 1880, Nelson Fisk married a young woman named Elizabeth
Hubbell. Elizabeth came from the prominent Platt family, founders
of Plattsburg, New York.
She was a descendant of General Benjamin Mooers, who had been an adjutant
to George Washington during the American Revolution, and then served
as a General officer in the War of 1812 between the United States
Elizabeth was well educated and well traveled. When she married Nelson
at the age of 21, the Fisk property was a bustling hive of economic
and political activity. Nelson was elected to the Vermont State legislature
in 1882 and then to the state Senate in 1888. He attended the Republican
national conventions in Chicago and Minneapolis.
Life at the Fisks was a whirl of gaiety. As Nelson gained prominence,
he became aquainted with three American Presidents: William McKinley,
Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft.
During a gala luncheon
for the annual meeting of the Fish and Game League, attended by Vice
President Theodore Roosevelt, word came that President McKinley had
Festivities were abruptly cut short as Roosevelt was rushed away on
a private yacht. Ten days later, Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as
the 26th President of the United States in Albany, New York.
During this period, artists such as William Morris, Walter Crane and
Phoebe Anna Traquair were making their mark with a body of work that
would later come to be called the Arts and Crafts movement. Soon afterwards,
the Art Deco movement appeared on the scene. Both of these artistic
currents would play a role in shaping Elizabeth Fisk’s sense
of a Lady" by William Merritt Chase
She studied with the famous
American painter William Merrit Chase and took courses in art and
dye chemistry at the Pratt Institute in New York city where she and
Nelson kept an apartment to avoid the harsh northern winters.