Barbara Fiske Calhoun obituary: Wartime cartoonist who dropped out and founded what was a hippie commune decades ahead of its time


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The Independent Online

Barbara Fiske Calhoun was a cartoonist who moved to Vermont just after the Second World War to co-found an artist’s retreat.

In 1946, Calhoun and her husband, Irving Fiske, Bohemian intellectuals from New York, used wedding money to buy a 140-acre hill farm in Rochester that later became a hippie commune known as the Quarry Hill Creative Center. It was initially intended to be a summer home, but they stayed. In 1984 Irving Fiske said, “We’re free and easy. We’re not very authoritative. We have no doctrine, no dogma.”

In the 1960s young people moved to Quarry Hill and began to build houses and have children. It soon had its own school, and by the 1990s about 90 people lived there. “They opened it to whoever wanted to come,” Fiske Calhoun’s daughter said. “There were two rules: no hitting the kids and no hunting or fishing.” A couple of dozen people still live there.

Calhoun attended art school in Los Angeles and moved to New York around 1940. During the war, with male cartoonists on military duty, she drew Girl Commandos and other strips for Harvey Comics – under the name B Hall, as cartooning was seen as a male preserve.

 The Fiskes’ arrival in the 1940s belies the idea that it wasn’t until the ’60s that the state became a countercultural magnet. Dona Brown, who has written about the back-to-the-land movement, said, “Often they came with a common political or cultural expectation that this would be a place where they could be free and where they wouldn’t be subjected to a lot of pressure And also where they could live cheaply. For artists that’s always been a really big selling point for Vermont.”

Isabelle “Barbara” Fiske Calhoun, commune leader: born Tucson, Arizona 9 September 1919; twice married; died 28 April 2014.