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Vermont 'hippie commune' co-founder dies at 94

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Isabelle "Barbara" Fiske Calhoun, a New York cartoonist during World War II who moved to Vermont just after the war to co-found what is now described as Vermont's "oldest alternative and artist's retreat," has died at age 94.

She died Monday in White River Junction, said her daughter, Isabella Fiske McFarlin, who did not give a cause of death. In 1946, Calhoun, then Isabella Fiske, 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, McFarlin said.

It was initially intended to be a summer home, but they stayed. In a 1984 interview Irving Fiske said, "We're free and easy. We're not very authoritative. We have no doctrine, no dogma. It is a community of mostly people who are interested in the arts, literature, photography, music."

In the 1960s, young people moved to Quarry Hill, lured by the land, and began to build houses and have children. Quarry Hill soon had its own school, and by the 1990s about 90 people lived on the 140 acres full time.

"They opened it to whoever wanted to come," McFarlin said. "There were two rules: no hitting the kids and no hunting or fishing." Now there are about 25, McFarlin said. The arrival of the Fiskes in the 1940s belies the popular conception that it wasn't until the 1960s that the state became a magnet for what became known as the counterculture that over time helped transform it, said University of Vermont history professor Dona Brown, who has written about the back-to-the-land movement.

"It sounds to me very much like the story of a lot of movement, mostly from New York City's kind of Bohemian arty scene in the '30s and '40s and buying up old farms," Brown said. "Often (they came) with a kind of common political or common 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," Brown said. "And also where they could live cheaply. For artists that's always been a really big selling point for Vermont, is that you could spread out and live in relative comfort."

Calhoun was born in Tucson, Ariz., on Sept. 9, 1919. She attended art school in Los Angeles and moved to New York around 1940. During the war, when male cartoonists were away on military duty, she drew "Girl Commandoes" and other strips for Harvey Comics. An obituary provided by her family said she had to draw under the name B. Hall as cartooning was "a man's profession" at the time.

She divorced Irving Fiske in the 1970s and later married Dr. Donald Calhoun, who died in 2009. Irving Fiske was a freelance writer who won acclaim in the 1940s for a modern translation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet." He died in 1990 at age 82.

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