Fisch Anhalzer Olga, from Győr to Ecuador

„Once in Ecuador she was mesmerized by the colors textures and tradition of folk art and began to collect and curate the first popular art collection in Ecuador, a collection that would later be touring the world.” [1]

Fisch Anhalzer, Olga Fisch, painter and textile artist, was born in Budapest in 1901 and died in Quito (Ecuador) in 1990. Her father was a porcelain merchant and she was the fifth child in a line of four brothers.

From an early age she wanted to be a painter.

Győr in 1913, Rába bridge, the Synagogue building on the upper left side – regigyő

Her family moved to Győr in 1906.

The gravestone of Olga Fisch’ parents in the Győr cemetery –

Olga attended the Hungarian State High School for Girls and Gymnasium in Budapest, and as a private student at the Benedictine Gymnasium in Győr, she passed some of her exams at the age of 16. She attended art classes at the present-day Kazinczy Ferenc Gymnasium in 1917.

During the Council Republic in Hungary, she painted political posters. She then moved to Vienna, where she became a ceramics designer at the Wiener Werkstätte. [2]

The logo of Wiener Werkstätte – Wikipedia

Besides her work, she illustrated books and worked for Népszava in Budapest (daily paper of the Social Democrats established in 1873 – ed.).

Female head, by Olga Anhalzer, engraving, cold needle, 1925 –
Old woman, by Olga Anhalzer, etching, signed, 1923 -the collection of the Bánki family, The Netherlands, photo by Esther Bánki

In 1920, she used her paternal inheritance to move to Düsseldorf, where she met and married the sculptor Jupp Rübsam.

Family Anhalzer, the parensts on the left, Olga second from the left in the 2nd row, her first husband, Jüpp Rübsam to her right, 1920s – collection of family Anhalzer, Quito

She studied at the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts. She and her husband worked together, creating public sculptures, painting and drawing. Around 1930 they divorced, but remained on good terms – shortly afterwards she married Béla Fisch, a trader in an Italian-Yugoslavian cement factory.

The staircase of the Düsseldorf Academy of Art today (the National Socialist “purge” in 1933 led to the dismissal of several lecturers, including Paul Klee) –

She and her husband travelled a lot, and she was able to spend a whole year in Africa. They returned to Germany in 1934, but sensing the spread of Nazi ideology, they returned to Győr.

Somewhere at a railway station, from left to right Pál Anhalzer, Olga’s brother, Olga and friends of the family, 1930s – Esther Bánki’s collection, The Netherlands

But they also perceived the historical dangers in Hungary. So, they left for Brazil. In 1939, they finally settled in Quito, capital of Ecuador, where she became a professor at the local school of fine arts.

Quito in 1930 –

She started weaving her own unique carpets combining Hungarian and Indian motifs, and discovered the art of the craftsmen of the Indian villages around Quito. In 1940, by chance, he ran into Lincoln Kirstein, then director of MoMa New York [3], who made her an offer to buy a rug for 300 dollars, an important sum at that time. Olga Fisch used this money, among other things, to open her folklore gallery in Quito in 1942, which is still in operation today.

Gallery Olga Fisch in Quito today –

Her relationship with the Native American folk artists soon became a two-way street: she learned from them their motifs, weaving techniques and exotic use of materials, and taught them to use stronger knotting, typical of Persian rugs, instead of the local loose weaving. At the same time, she became a regular customer and buyer for the Indian artists. She was not only interested in carpets: she also had interest in costumes, masks, musical instruments, paintings and ceramics, as well as clothing, from classic ponchos to modern garments.

The jewel of the gallery is a unique collection of pre-Colombian art –

Next to the gallery, she ran her own carpet weaving workshop, where she also worked a lot. She organised fashion shows, the business became internationally known and she had to move to larger premises in the 1960s. Her husband died in 1958, from then on, she ran the business alone, later with her niece and her descendants.

Not only did she collect and trade, but in 1962 she was instrumental in the creation of the Instituto Ecuatoriano de Folklore (Ecuadorian Institute of Folklore), documenting art that had previously been of no interest to anyone, and founding a scientific journal. Her role in drawing the attention of Ecuadorian intellectuals to ancient indigenous art is indisputable.

Olga Fisch in old age – twitter

Some accuse Fisch of “commercialising” Indian folk art, as she replaced the free hand of the artist with commissioned pieces. Others argue that the unintentional infiltration of Hungarian forms and the mixing of Indian and Hungarian folk art has broken the integrity of Ecuadorian folk art. Others consider it most significant that she discovered and made visible to others the indigenous values and that the inhabitants of many villages were able to earn a secure livelihood through Fisch’s work in the organizing and trading of the indigenous culture.

The Christian Science Monitor quoted her in 1980 and wrote this: “‘When I first started collecting the local Indian art and then opened this gallery, people were shocked,’ she says. I remember someone asking, ‘How can you, as a cultured European woman, collect this trash?’ Largely because of the efforts of Olga Fisch the artifacts produced by Ecuador’s 250 Indian tribes are no longer regarded as trash. Over the decades she has helped thousands of Indian artists and craftsmen acquire the means of placing their wares in the world market.”

Fisch visited her home country once more in 1987. Several exhibitions were held in Hungary: in 1988, her collection of Indian art was shown at the Ethnographic Museum.

The British Museum has bought dozens of works of art from Olga Fisch –

In Ecuador, Fisch’s name is well known, but even in the United States of America, several public collections, the Lincoln Center, the MoMa and the United Nations Palace hold a weaving of her.

Quito, with Cotopax volcano in the background –

Compiled and English translation by Péter Krausz


Wikipedia click (with modifications) and click


The Christian Science Monitor, 1981. szeptember 15

El Mundo

Hungarian State High School for Girls and Gymnasium, Budapest, Könyvtár | Hungaricana; Arcanum (thanks for the information to Esther Bánki, Netherlands)

St Benedict’s Catholic High School, Győr, 1917 Könyvtár | Hungaricana (thanks for the precision to Esther Bánki, Netherlands)


[2] The Wiener Werkstätte (Engl.: Vienna Workshop), established in 1903 by the graphic designer and painter Koloman Moser, the architect Josef Hoffmann and the patron Fritz Waerndorfer, was a productive association in Vienna, Austria that brought together architects, artists, designers and artisans working in ceramics, fashion, silver, furniture and the graphic arts. The Workshop was “dedicated to the artistic production of utilitarian items in a wide range of media, including metalwork, leatherwork, bookbinding, woodworking, ceramics, postcards and graphic art, and jewelry.” It is regarded as a pioneer of modern design, and its influence can be seen in later styles such as Bauhaus and Art Deco.

[3] The Christian Science Monitor, 15 September 1981