Quarry Hill Creative Center

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Quarry Hill Creative Center, in Rochester, Vermont, is Vermont's oldest alternative living group or community.


On April 10, 1946, Irving Fiske (born Irving Fishman in Brooklyn, New York, on March 5, 1908), a playwright, inventor, freelance writer, and speaker, and his wife, Barbara Hall Fiske, (born Isabelle Daniel Hall in Tucson, Arizona on September 9, 1919), an artist and one of the few female cartoonists of the World War II era, bought 140 acres (0.57 km2) of mountain, meadow, and brook land in Rochester, Vermont. They had been married on January 8, 1946.

Irving, a 1928 graduate of Cornell University, worked for the Federal Writer's Project of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the 1930s. Fiske also wrote for H. L. Mencken's American Mercury [vol. 48 (December 1939), pp. 403–7],[1] had corresponded with George Bernard Shaw, had written an article praised by critic Colin Wilson, among others, "Bernard Shaw's Debt to William Blake",[2] and had translated Shakespeare's Hamlet into modern English.[3] This was considered a controversial literary action at the time. John Ciardi, who did not approve, reprinted excerpts in the Saturday Review. Most readers wrote in favor of the translation. Barbara was one of the few female comic book artists in the United States during the World War II era.[4] She drew Girl Commandos and other strips for Harvey Comics, signing herself B. Hall because female cartoonists were not held in high esteem.[5]

Creation of Quarry Hill[edit]

At Quarry Hill, the Fiskes' intention was to create an artists’ and writers’ retreat, a gathering place for creative and freethinking people. They had two children, Isabella (also called Ladybelle), born August 12, 1950 in Randolph, VT., and William, born February 4, 1954 in Brooklyn, NY. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the family traveled to keep their children out of the strict public schools of the day, which the Fiskes regarded as "Dark Satanic Mills That Grind Men's Souls to Dust," in the words of William Blake. They did so on the advice of A.S. Neill of Summerhill School in England. The Fiskes were opposed to spanking[6] or corporal punishment of children, indeed, punishment of any kind; and most schools of the time used corporal punishment.

William later earned two Masters' Degrees, in computer science and in history, from the University of Vermont. At the time of his death on July 18, 2008, he was in the process of seeking a Ph.D in computer science.

Isabella, who studied writing, English, and psychology at Montpelier's Adult Degree Program of Vermont College (The Union Institute and University took over the program while she was a student there and she was graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing from that institution),became a writer and children's rights activist. Today (2014) she is one of those who focus on the continuation of Quarry Hill Creative Center. She is also writing a memoir/life and times of her life and Quarry Hill's place in the counterculture. On May 21, 2014, Isabella did an interview for Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition" with reporter Steve Zind, explaining that in the eyes of the Fiske family, Quarry Hill, known to many Vermonters as "The Commune," (somewhat as Sherlock Holmes would refer to Irene Adler as "The Woman,") Quarry Hill is not considered a commune. It has had communal, sharing, and mutual child-care aspects, and has done much to help develop and free the creative nature of those who come to live here even for a short time, as one resident, painter and decorator Terri Cobb, said after hearing the program; but the land has always belonged to the Fiske family, and all personal property remains in the hands of its particular owner.[7]

In the 1960s, Isabella became friends with many well-known underground cartoonists, including R. Crumb, Trina Robbins, Kim Deitch, and Spain Rodriguez. Isabella and Art Spiegelman, later author of the celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus, A Survivor's Tale,, met in 1966, through a group of Spiegelman's fellow-students at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and through Trina Robbins, who would later celebrate Barbara Hall Fiske's cartooning in her book "The Great Women Cartoonists." Spiegelman and Isabella became a couple in Binghamton, NY., in early 1968, during Art Spiegelman's well-documented nervous breakdown. They were together on the weekend Art Spiegelman's mother committed suicide,dying on May 21, 1968. These events are documented in the "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" section of MAUS, A Survivor's Tale. Despite their difficult beginnings, Art and Isabella were deeply attached, Isabella regarding Art as already one of the great artists of the twentieth century. Art also seemed to enjoy Quarry Hill, and had relationships with other women there, but his core-relationship was known by all to be with Isabella/Ladybelle. Art and Isabella separated for a time in 1970 when he moved to San Francisco, but reunited in 1976. By mutual agreement, their relationship became platonic when, in 1977, Art married Françoise Mouly, whom Isabella considered a friend and an energetic and creative person. Art and Françoise visited Quarry Hill into the 1990s, with their children, and had a longtime friendship with many residents of Quarry Hill.

In 1978 Spiegelman, Mouly, and a number of Quarry Hill residents created Top-Drawer Rubber Stamp Company, a pictorial rubber stamp company featuring art by R. Crumb, Spiegelman, and other cartoonists and artists, including Barbara Fiske. This art rubber stamp company provided employment for many Quarry Hill residents, one of whom at the time was Laurence Mouly (now Larreché), Françoise Mouly's sister.

In the mid-1960s, Barbara opened a storefront, The Gallery Gwen, in New York's East Village. There Barbara showed her paintings, along with those of others, and Irving began to give public talks on Tantra, Zen, Sufism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and atheism, among many other things. He joined Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky in a First Amendment-based defense of the Beat coffee houses along 2nd Avenue in the East Village; certain business owners there objected to the use of "obscenity" in the Beat poetry being read there by poets like Ginsberg and many others. Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Fiske, and others won the case and the right for poets to use any language they considered a part of their art. Irving began to become well-known around the Village, and he soon spoke to many standing-room-only audiences. Many associated him with Ladybelle's friend R. Crumb and Crumb's character, Mr. Natural. In time Irving, known in the Village as "The Forest Wizard," (someone had given him a card on the street one day and he made it a part of his persona), would also speak in colleges and churches on the East Coast, such as Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont and in many other locations.

He spoke out in favor of people finding their own creative path in life, enjoying themselves, being free of guilt and shame, and children's rights. He wrote letters for young men who were conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War. He was called "The Forest Wizard," and in Florida, where he had a cabin on a lake, "The Socrates of the Ocala National Forest." Irving was a controversial figure. In the 1970s, when his cabin in the Ocala Forest was burnt by arsonists, and the authorities did not give him a permit to rebuild, he launched a legal and media battle, claiming that the authorities were prejudiced against the young people he brought there as his friends, most of whom had long hair. He eventually got the permit and rebuilt the cabin.


When the countercultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s began, hundreds of people, from all over the world, began to pour through Quarry Hill. Many people wanted to build houses at Quarry Hill, and they did. The place was known for its international population and for its ideals about child care. Many children grew up at Quarry Hill and attended its school, The North Hollow School. Many graduates of the school have gone on to college and graduate school. One of the well-known residents of Quarry Hill was the late Stephen Huneck, who lived at QH during the mid to late 1960s. Huneck later became a well-known folk artist, with a "Dog Church" with many carved dog images, in northern Vermont. He often said Barbara Fiske was one of his art teachers, and he called Isabella Fiske McFarlin till almost the end of his life (he committed suicide in 2010).[8] In 1976, Irving and Barbara divorced, and a family-owned rental corporation, Lyman Hall, Inc., took over the land. It is presently (2014) managed by Brion McFarlin and Isabella Fiske McFarlin. Residents with houses have lengthy easements. Many changes have occurred over the years at Quarry Hill. It has had its own private K-12 school based on the principles of the Fiske family and of Summerhill School in England, and ran Free The Kids! Program, which offers educational material on the self- destructive and negative effect on children of spanking and other violence. The one central principle at Quarry Hill is that no violence towards children is permitted. Quarry Hill's land is under a covenant that outlaws spanking, slapping, and the denigration or neglect of children. Quarry Hill also permits no hunting, fishing, or animal slaughter. But there are few other rules. One rule remains, however: no roosters allowed. This is considered by some to be a peculiar whim of those who enjoy sleeping. By others it is thought to be a necessity of human sanity. In 2012, a few roosters do seem to be walking freely about the place—having read, perhaps, the iconic cartoon by Gilbert Shelton, "When I set my Chickens Free." (Those Quarry Hill roosters literate enough to read underground comix are assured a place at Quarry Hill while the place endures). (In fact, they may be in charge of the whole shebang.)

Irving—who went on with all the activities that entertained him and promoted a more sane future for humanity for as long as he lived—became well known in the counterculture both in the United States and elsewhere. He died of a stroke in Ocala, Florida, on April 25, 1990.

In 1989,Barbara remarried Dr. Donald Calhoun (June 14, 1917 - May 5, 2009), a writer,[9] sociology professor and a Quaker like herself. Barbara Fiske Calhoun lived and taught art at Quarry Hill until 2013,when she entered a nursing home. William Fiske died in his sleep on July 18, 2008. in Burlington, Vermont. The Fiske family does not consider Quarry Hill a "commune", as property is not communally owned; rentals or fees are charged for residence at Quarry Hill and the land continues to belong to the Fiskes.

Each year, those with a history with Quarry Hill hold an "All Night Costume Dance Party" at Quarry Hill. They dance until dawn, whereupon they consume as many blueberry pancakes as they would like.

On April 28, 2014, Barbara Fiske Calhoun died at the age of 94.[10] A "Celebration of Life" in memory of Barbara Calhoun was held on September 14, 2014, at the Middlebury Friends (Quakers) Meeting in Middlebury, Vermont.


  1. ^ Science Reference Services (Science, Technology & Business Division, Library of Congress)
  2. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20060901121513/http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/research/fa/shaw.gb.folder.html
  3. ^ http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:QRE-4DaQkNUJ:www.aberree.com/v10/n08p02.html+Irving+Fiske+%2B+Shaw&hl=en&client=safari
  4. ^ Arnold, Andrew D. (December 11, 2001). "Consciousness Raising". Time. Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Comiclopedia". Lambiek. 11 March 2009. OCLC 62169818. Retrieved 12 July 2009.  |contribution= ignored (help)
  6. ^ Table of Contents
  7. ^ http://digital.vpr.net/post/paradise-souls-legacy-quarry-hill-commune
  8. ^ Huneck's picture can be seen in "Freedom and Unity, The Vermont Movie," Part III
  9. ^ Spirituality and Community: An Autobiographical Memoir. ISBN 0-87047-101-5. 
  10. ^ Vermont 'hippie commune' co-founder dies at 94


Irving Fiske, obituaries:

  • The New York Times, May 1, 1990: "Irving L. Fiske, 82: Created Community for Workers in Arts"
  • The Boston Sunday Globe, April 29, 1990: "Irving Fiske, noted for essays, modern version of Hamlet; at 82." by Kevin Dotson, Contributing Reporter
  • The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, April 30, 1990: "Communal Living Pioneer Irving Fiske dead at 82"
  • The Rutland (Vt.) Herald, April 29, 1990. by Monica Allen, Sunday Staff Writer.
  • The Herald of Randolph (Vt.) May 3, 1990: "Quarry Hill Founder Dead at 82"
  • The Gainesville (Florida) Sun, April 1990: "Author Irving Fiske, "Socrates of Ocala Forest," dies at 82. By Mitch Stacy, Sun Staff Writer.
  • The International Herald Tribune, May 1990.

Quarry Hill in the media, a selection:

  • Spiegelman, Art: MAUS (1986–92, Pantheon Press). Spiegelman and Mouly's "Friends in Vermont" are the Fiske family and other Quarry Hill residents. "Isabella," in the "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" section of MAUS, is Isabella Fiske (McFarlin), Art Spiegelman's girlfriend at the time of his mental breakdown and his mother's suicide. (See below for some of Art Spiegelman's version of this in Spiegelman's "MetaMaus.")
  • Story on Fiske family women in The Herald of Randolph
  • The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, October 14, 1987. "Quarry Hill Players stage play written by Vermonters." --Brighter than the Sun by Irving Fiske and Allen Sherman.
  • Vermont Life magazine Spring, 1998: "Rochester Renaissance" by M. Dickey Drysdale.
  • Vermont Life, Winter, 1978. Vermont craftsman Alan Stirt: "Al Stirt, Bowlmaker," article by Ladybelle Fiske, photography by William Fiske.
  • Walter Winchell: Broadway Newsstand column on G. B. Shaw and Irving Fiske—late 1940s or early 1950s.
  • "Total Freedom" by Timothy Miller, University of Kansas. From the 2002 CESNUR International Conference: "Minority Religions, Social Change, and Freedom of Conscience" (Salt Lake City and Provo (Utah), June 20–23, 2002) http://www.cesnur.org/2002/slc/miller.htm
  • "Not a commune—just Fiske and all his friends" by Debbie Ibert, the Gainesville Alligator, Gainesville, Fla., 1972.
  • Ocala Star-Banner, Ocala, Florida, May 25, 1971. Letters to the Editor. "Not a "Hippy," by Irving Fiske.
  • The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, May 6, 1990: "Leaderless Commune Seeks Peace." by Sam Hemingway, Columnist
  • The Herald of Randolph (Vt.), July 31, 2008. Obituary of William Fiske by Isabella Fiske McFarlin and Steve Ellman. C:\Documents and Settings\Owner\Desktop\William J_ Fiske www_rherald_com Randolph Herald.htm
  • Vermont Magazine, May–June 2008, article on Rochester's art culture and Quarry Hill's influence on the art scene in Rochester. Photo of Barbara Hall Fiske Calhoun and Isabella Fiske McFarlin.
  • Herald of Randolph (VT) Obituary of William Fiske, July 31, 2008.
  • Spiegelman, Art. METAMAUS: A look inside a modern classic. Random House, New York: 2011. See pages 24–25 for mention of Isabella/Ladybelle Fiske, to whom Spiegelman refers as "my girlfriend", and Irving Fiske,"The Mr. Natural of the commune (QH)I was involved with."
  • Huneck, Stephen: See "Freedom and Unity, The Vermont Movie" (2013). Part III shows a picture of Stephen Huneck standing with another person by the old schoolbus at Quarry Hill in the Sixties.
  • McFarlin, Isabella Fiske (Ladybelle): Interview with Nora Jacobson, Vermont filmmaker, for "Freedom and Unity, The Vermont Movie, 2013 (Part III)."
  • Calhoun, Isabelle Fiske (Barbara). Interview with Nora Jacobson, Vermont filmmaker, for "Freedom and Unity, The Vermont Movie, 2013 (Part III)."
  • Several other Quarry Hill residents and former residents speak about Quarry Hill in "Freedom and Unity," a six part documentary on the history of Vermont. Part III covers the influx of "hippies" and "Bohemians" into Vermont, and takes note of Quarry Hill's longevity since its founding in 1946.
  • http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/8609143c1a834c6a88575e0f1f989968/US--Obit-Fiske-Calhoun