John Fiske Mary Conley AwardPeople

John Fiske, 1939-2021

We sadly learned of the recent passing of John Fiske, a long-time member of the Ipswich Historical Commission. At our June meeting, the Commission unanimously voted to grant the 2021 Mary Conley Preservation award to our esteemed former chairman for his exceptional service to the Town of Ipswich, and granted him the honorary title of Chair Emeritus.


John Fiske
John Fiske

John Fiske, 81, passed away on July 12, 2021, following complications from heart surgery.

Born on September 12, 1939, in Bristol, England, John was raised in the Cotswolds, where he acquired his lifelong love of seventeenth-century English oak furniture. He received a BA (Honors) and MA in English Literature from Cambridge University, where he studied under the renowned critic Raymond Williams, whose influence guided John’s writing and thinking throughout his life. While there, he acted in the Cambridge Footlights alongside several of the founding members of Monty Python, revealing the dry wit and humor for which he was so well known.

During his first career as a cultural theorist and critic, John held a number of academic appointments in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States including Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Polytechnic, where he designed the first undergraduate degree in Communication in the United Kingdom; Principal Lecturer in Communication at the Polytechnic of Wales, where he supervised the first Ph.D. candidate in Communication in the United Kingdom; Principal Lecturer in the School of Communication and Cultural Studies at Curtin University in Perth, Australia; and finally Professor of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, from which he retired in 1990.

In addition to hundreds of articles and book chapters, John was the author or coauthor of nine books including Reading Television (with John Hartley), which was one of the first scholarly works to apply semiotics to media texts; Introduction to Communication StudiesTelevision CultureReading the PopularUnderstanding Popular CultureMedia Matters: Everyday Culture and Political Change; and Power Plays, Power Works, the book he considered to be the culmination of his theoretical work. His books have been translated into over 20 languages and have sold millions of copies. The founding editor of what is now the journal Cultural Studies, John lectured widely throughout the world. He was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the University of Antwerp in 2008. His commitment to teaching and to his graduate students was perhaps his greatest contribution and gave him enormous pleasure and satisfaction.

Following his retirement from academia in 2000, he moved with his wife Lisa Freeman to a farmhouse in Vermont and embarked on his second career as an antiques author, editor, and dealer trading as Fiske & Freeman: Fine and Early Antiques and specializing in seventeenth-century English oak furniture. He became editor-in-chief of the New England Antiques Journal in 2004, and when the publisher decided to cease publication in December 2018, launched the online Digital Antiques Journal. Known for both his personal reflections (Yours Sincerely) and his deep insights into the meaning of antiques and the future of the antiques business (In My Opinion), he published several more books on seventeenth-century furniture including Living with Early Oak and When Oak Was New. His passion for the “humble history” that antiques offer had deep roots in his academic training and commitment to understanding the culture of everyday life.

In 2008, he and Lisa moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, where his love of antiques expanded to embrace historical preservation in the coastal New England town that claims more first period houses than any other in the United States. This led him to chair the Ipswich Historical Commission, persuade the town to adopt its first Architectural Preservation District, and embark on the restoration of the collection in the National Historic Landmark John Whipple House.

John is survived by his wife of 32 years, Lisa Freeman of Ipswich and Manhattan; his daughter Dr. Lucy Fiske of Sydney, Australia; and his cousin, Eric Saumarez of Guernsey. He was predeceased by his son Matthew. Contributions in lieu of flowers may be made to the John Fiske Memorial Fund of the Ipswich Museum. A celebration of John’s life will be held at a later date.

Articles on this site by John Fiske

To secure a competence - Remarks by Ipswich Historical Commission chairman John Fiske, on accepting the 2014 Community Service Award from the Ipswich Democratic Town Committee to the Historical Commission on January 31, 2015
Perkins Hodgkins house, East St., Ipswich Ma To live locally - “You can’t ask for anything more ‘local’ than that,” was my thought as I was writing this story about Tyler Fahey's, restoration of Glover’s Mill and his family house. His was built for one of his ancestors around 1700, and has never been sold!
The Glazier house on Water Street, Ipswich The Old Tann Flats - This article first appeared in the September 2013 Antiques Journal. We have a dear friend who has moved three or four times since we’ve known her. And each time, she and her husband have bought or built a new house. As she said to us once, “I can’t […]
The Fox Creek Canal - The Fox Creek Canal provided the missing link between the forests of New Hampshire and the shipyards of Essex. Lumber boats would sail down the Merrimack to Newburyport, cruise south along the landward-side of Plum Island and reach the Ipswich River without ever having to go on the ocean, then take the canal to the Castle Neck River to Essex Bay.
Clock on First Church in Ipswich 1930 The First Church Clock - As the parish records tell us, “A clock purchased by subscription was landed in Ipswich May 29, 1762. The Parish on May 31st voted their readiness to receive it into the steeple of this meeting house and September 16, 1762 they voted to be at the charge of putting it up there.”
County Street Ipswich MA The APD: A balance between the community and the individual - Ipswich got the balance between the community and the individual just about right when it decided to preserve its historic district.
Fences Make Good Neighbors - Just three years after the town of Ipswich was incorporated, each household had its own fenced lot within the town, and the town itself was fenced off from the rest of the world. Boundaries matter.
Abraham Knowlton, “Workman of rare skill” - Ipswich is home to two groundbreaking masterworks of early eighteenth century America, a paneled wall and a pulpit. Both were made by Abraham Knowlton (1699- 1751), a woodworker who is less well known than he deserves to be.
County Street Ipswich MA Painting your historic house, a guide to colors and color schemes - First Period houses rarely painted trim and sash in different colors and so were generally of two colors only; later styles often had three. Paint was used to delineate the main visual elements
Construction of the 1657 Alexander Knight house - Ipswich is unique in having so many first period houses; it is also unique in having among its town records the only written description of a single-room house, and a reproduction of the house itself.

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5 replies »

  1. The passing of John Fiske – out of our little moment of time and into all time – is nothing less than seismic. The marvelous catalogue of his musings on buildings, objects, customs, values – at once whimsical, witty and erudite – inspires as much awe as gratitude. We will so much miss the utterly distinctive sound of his writing voice, to say nothing of his witty, warm presence in our town which, in a comparatively short time, he came to love so much and serve so well. If we could dim the lights of Ipswich, as they do on Broadway at a momentous passing, no one would deserve it more than John Fiske.

  2. Sad to hear this… I have some Fiskes in my family tree… Thank you for your dedication to preserving the past

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