After Barbara Hall Fiske Calhoun’s death, much media interest arose surrounding her life and the community she helped to create. Vermont Public Radio, the local affiliate of NPR, was kind enough to do this 11- minute interview with Ladybelle (Isabella) Fiske McFarlin. It is brief, and inevitably there are things one would like to have clarified more fully, but it is a very kindly and warm point of view on a place and vision that shocked Vermonters to the core when it first arrived in Vermont in 1946 and later, when the “Hippies” arrived and formed it into a more communal version of itself (it had been seen by Irv and Barb as an artists’ and writers’ community, open to all who were willing to be peaceable, never strike or demean children, and not hunt or fish. Some have asked me (Ladybelle), if others were allowed, how then was it an artist’s community? I think what Irving would have said– and most likely Barbara, too– would be that there is a great capacity for art and literature, music, and all the arts in each of us. This is sadly suppressed by our parents and schooling when we are young and we grow up seeing ourselves as not creative, not valuable, and not worthwhile. One of the magic qualities of Quarry Hill was, and I hope, is, that it was able to draw forth the creative powers in every person who happened to walk up the driveway– and to help each to see the life they were in the process of living as a work of art. Their own value became clear to them as they lived with us and found that “Being” was considered more important than “Doing,” though the artistic work involved in “Doing” was immensely praised and treasured. We are our own work of art… and our lives are our masterpiece, our magnum opus..
— Ladybelle Fiske
So, my mother, Barbara Hall, or Isabelle Hall Fiske Calhoun, who was born in the Arizona desert almost 100 years ago (missed it by four and a half years), has died in Hartford (White River), Vermont, in a valley surrounded by the Green Mountains. She wanted all her life to live in Vermont and achieved that goal when she was an artist from “Tibet”– the 1940s nickname for the West Village in New York (Shangri-La, I think). She and my father, Irving Fiske finally married, got enough money to buy a $1,000 piece of land (140 acres of old hill farm) in Central Vermont, just after WWII. She had drawn The Black Cat, Girl Commandoes, and a character she herself seems to have invented, called The Blonde Bomber (looks just like her). Then, she took Irving’s advice to become a fine artist (painter, pastellist) and immediately threw $300 worth of pencilled pages in the trash. He was agonized… not having meant right THEN!
But then and always, The Blonde Bomber was a thoroughly impetuous person. She invited “angels unawares” to visit and stay on the land in Vermont, visited me in Binghamton, NY when I was living there with my boyfriend without waiting to be asked, charged down to New York and collected money from all she knew, and invested Quarry Hill with her wild, but somehow very centered and unshaken soul. “No coward soul am I…”– E. Bronte.
She died April 28, 2014, in a very peaceful state, like a baby rocked to sleep. I am so glad that it was peaceful and at rest. Her last words to me, even when she could not really SAY them, were “I love you so much.” She said that to all who came, whom she knew and recognized. I love you so much too, Barb, and have a Happy Mother’s Day, or I hope you had one– freed of all the silly conventions and memorializations of this earth. But boy, you have some beautiful grandchildren and great-grandchildren….
Barbara died in the Brookside Nursing Home in White River Junction, VT. on Monday, April 28, 2014. She was 94, and was the guiding light and co-creator of Quarry Hill, VT’s oldest extant alternative community or “commune.” For many years she and Irving Fiske welcomed free-spirited and artistic people to their 140 acres in the mountains of Vermont. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” she sometimes quoted from the Bible. She also said, “Art is Prayer.” Barbara was a Quaker and a gathering to celebrate her life, perhaps in September, is planned with the Middlebury Friends Meeting in Middlebury VT. Her ashes will be scattered at Quarry Hill, with those of her 2nd husband, Dr. Donald Calhoun, who predeceased her in 2009. She is survived by her daughter, Isabella Fiske McFarlin (Ladybelle), son in law Brion McFarlin, grandchildren Joya Lonsdale and her husband Brem Hyde, Eva Isabel Us, Jason Us, Andrew D. F. McFarlin, and two great-grandsons, Isaiah Simon and Amir Malik. Don Calhoun predeceased her in 2009 and William Fiske, her son, in 2008.