hen Elizabeth Holmes Fisher, described as a conservative, midwestern Christian woman of modest means, began collecting art in 1928 at the age of 61, her taste ran to works by English and Dutch masters. Just over a decade later, in 1939, the Elizabeth Holmes Fisher Gallery opened at USC, and she donated 29 paintings, with a promise of more to come.
Elizabeth Holmes Fishers wish was that the students of USC have beautiful and important art to study, and that this art be accessible to the public. Her collection was meant to be a nucleus to attract additional gifts, and she also hoped it would provide a cultural base for the growing city of Los Angeles. If Los Angeles is to build up her collection of art treasures, she said, now is the time.
Elizabeth Holmes was born in Illinois on Sept. 13, 1867, the eldest of eight children. She attended college in Nebraska and subsequently met and married Walter Harrison Fisher. After the birth of their two daughters, Rachel and Ruth, the family moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where Walter worked for an insurance company and their son, Walter, was born. They moved to Oakland, California, in 1892, arriving with the princely sum of $25 in cash.
A year later, the family moved to Los Angeles and, in 1900, Walter invested the familys savings in a Long Beach oil well. The company struck oil soon after, and the Fishers began an era of prosperity. When Walter died in 1926, his family was left very well off.
Elizabeth Holmes Fisher had joined USCs Board of Trustees in January, 1936, the first woman to do so. Soon after, her friend May Ormerod Harris became the second woman to sit on USCs board; and in 1937, USC President Rufus B. von KleinSmid announced that a new building housing the College of Architecture and Fine Arts would be named for its primary donor, May Ormerod Harris, and its attached gallery for Elizabeth Holmes Fisher.
Over the years until her death in 1955, the Fisher collection grew to include over 70 paintings, drawings and sculptures by artists from North America and Europe. Her dream of seeing the collection inspire donations from other private collectors culminated in 1965 with the gift of 50 paintings from Armand Hammer, including works by Peter Paul Rubens (Venus Wounded by a Thorn and The Adoration of the Shepherds), Jacob van Ruisdael and a small masterpiece by Gerard Dou (Still Life with Book and Purse).
In honor of the 60th anniversary of Fisher Gallery and its benefactor, an exhibition of paintings and drawings from the permanent collection will be on view from Jan. 12 through Feb. 26, 1999. For a preview of the exhibit and a look at the legacy of Elizabeth Holmes Fisher, click HERE.