Irving Fiske was a freelance writer and playwright who worked with Richard Wright & others on The WPA Guide to New York City. This book is in print today, 2020. (Irving was credited there under his birth name, Irving Fishman. He changed his name to Fiske, which he felt was "more euphonious," at some point. He probably also have used the name Fiske to avoid some of the open anti-Semitism rife at that period. Irving also published in H. L. Mencken's "The American Mercury," the most prestigious literary magazine of the day. (His piece on Pecos Bill for Mencken has been reprinted in an anthology of classic American writing). HIs essay, "Bernard Shaw's Debt to William Blake," appeared in The Shavian. Shaw loved it and paid to reprint it as a little chapbook. Irving translated Shakespeare's "Hamlet " into "Modern American Colloquial English " (the 1940s). GBS and many others praised his work. He married the beautiful and wellborn cartoonist and painter Isabelle (Barbara) Hall in 1946 and they bought 140 acres of land in central Vermont, Quarry Hill, which became VT's oldest and, for a time, largest alternative lifestyle group. The Fiske family never thought of it as a commune because they continued to own the land, and had intended it to be an artist's colony. However, there was, and is, a warm and friendly feeling among the residents, and Irving, to whom someone jokingly gave a card, "The Forest Wizard"-- became the "Mr. Natural" or Quarry Hill. He advised people seeking a greater quality of life and a higher version of themselves; but he insisted that he was not a "guru" but an "anti-Guru," agreeing with Krishnamurti and Buddha that each person must seek out enlightenment for himself or herself.
In 1950 he and Barbara had a daughter, Isabella Joachim Fiske (the middle name was after Barbara's friend and contemporary artist, religious painter Joachim Probst), and in 1954 a son, William, who became a computer genius, classical flautist, photographer, woodcarver, scholar and historian though neither of the Fiske children had attended school. Irving and Barbara Fiske believed, as did William Blake, that schools are "dark Satanic mills that Grind Men's souls to Dust." Speaking to AS Neill of Summerhill School in England, they determined that the children would not go to school unless they wished to go.
The Fiske family traveled for years to escape the compulsory education laws. In the 1960s as the hip East Village and the Hippie era were coming into flower, they went to New York City and opened a storefront gallery, The Gallery Gwen, where Barbara showed her artwork and that of friends, and Irving gave talks. He spoke on philosophy, religion, Eastern thought (then fairly new to the USA), and psychology, among other things. His talks were somewhat like those of Alan Watts, who was then also popularizing Eastern philosophy...but almost everyone who heard Irving speak felt that they had not heard anyone like him. His sense of humor, his radical notion that people should live for the fun they could have, and the creativity they could express, plus his joy at meeting with the Sixties Generation ("I love and honor this generation," he later said), made many people feel welcome. He wrote letters for men wishing to escape the draft and Vietnam. Many young people moved to Vermont with the family and built cabins of their own, had children, and shared food, clothing, laughter, disagreements, and many other such things. The North Hollow School, QH's Independent Reporting School, has been said to have been a "Template" for other independent schools in VT. Unlike many agrarian or political communes in VT-- it was said that there were 200 communes in the state during the 1970s-- QH was focused on art, literature, philosophy, sensual enjoyment, and the rights of children. Even today (
quarry Hill is still extant), all are asked not to spank, scold, punish, or neglect kids on the land. Also, no hunting or fishing is allowed (though no one is forced to be a vegetarian).
Irving and Barbara divorced in 1976 but went on as friends, especially after she married a Quaker Professor of Sociology, Dr. Donald W. Calhoun. The three became friends and remained so till Irv's death in Ocala, Fl. He had a stroke on the 24th, which destroyed his brain. However, he was conscious long enough to say, "I have created this myself." Irving did not believe in fate or destiny, but in the power of the individual to create her or his own life. Irving had been swimming every day for most of his life, and his heart was so strong that he did not pass on till the next day in a hospital in Ocala, Fla. His son William was with him (Isabella could not get to FL in time with her baby and the lack of time). Irv's ashes were scattered in the mountains behind Quarry Hill in the summer of 1990. His friends felt his presence and his exuberance.∼Irving Fiske, writer, playwright, pop psychologist, co-founder, with his wife, Isabelle (Barbara) Hall Fiske, of Quarry Hill Creative Center in Rochester, VT., had a reputation as an entertaining, transcendent speaker whose discussions of religion, philosophy, psychology, art, literature, and the rights of children drew people to him and created a mood in which each person felt special and illuminated. He said he was an "Anti-Guru" and that each person must seek out enlightenment for themselves. Still, many people found him captivating and lived with him in his two homes, 140 acres on an old hill farm in VT and a little cabin in the Ocala National Forest, Florida. By the 1970s or 80s, about 90 people lived at QH and many more visited from all over the world each summer. He "translated" Hamlet into "modern American Colloquial English" (of the late 1940s of New York City); wrote an essay now counted classic on Bernard Shaw's Debt to William Blake, which Shaw loved so much he had it published as a little booklet in 1951 (. It has since been republished. He published many other works and his Hamlet was performed in colleges in America. He worked as a WPA writer and editor in the 1930s on a book now back in print, The WPA Guide to New York City, with Richard Wright and other well-known American writers.
He married Barbara Hall -- then a cartoonist for Harvey Comics-- in 1946 and they bought the land in Vermont, which they made a kind of retreat for unusual and talented people, and which, in the 1960s, became Vermont's largest, oldest, and one of America's most unusual communal living situations. For more on Irving, see his page at Wikipedia.∼Lifelong iconoclast, known as "The Forest Wizard" and co-founder
of New England's oldest and largest alternative community,
Quarry Hill in Rochester, VT, Irving worked for the WPA during the
Depression. He translated HAMLET into modern English, garnering praise
from many including George Bernard Shaw and Orson Welles.
He also wrote many plays of his own-- and the classic pamphlet
on William Blake and George Bernard Shaw, "Bernard Shaw's Debt to
William Blake," which Shaw loved and had republished at his own expense.
Irving hit his stride when he began to speak on comparative religion,
philosophy, and "Tantra, the Yoga of Sex," in the East Village in NYC
during the Sixties, in the Gallery Gwen, his and his wife Barbara's
performance space and gathering-place for freethinkers.
Many visited and some chose to live at Quarry Hill, the land Irving
And Barbara had bought with wedding-gift money. Barbara is an artist
and is still living. They had married on Jan. 8, 1946, and had 2 children
myself, Isabella Fiske McFarlin (8-12-50)a writer, and William Fiske
(2-4-54), a software developer and computer whiz. Irving did not think kids
should have to go to school so we traveled to stay one jump ahead of the law
while Irving, who'd graduated from Cornell at 19, discussed every subject on earth and in heaven with us.
So we received our education.
In the Seventies, many people began to build at Quarry Hill. At its height, it had more than a hundred residents and people visiting from all over the world each summer.
Irving became known as "The Forest Wizard," but always handed a mirror to anyone who tried to give him the appellation of "Guru" and said, "You want a guru? Look here-- every day!"
Irving loved Florida and went there each winter to a little cabin on a lake in the Ocala National Forest. He kept in good shape by swimming, but at the age of 82 suffered a stroke
and died a day later, April 25, 1990, saying "I have created this death myself," several times.
He and Barbara had been divorced in the mid-Seventies. Barbara was happily remarried in 1989, to Dr. Donald W. Calhoun, a Quaker sociologist. The three became and remained friends, often sitting together near the pond at Quarry Hill to watch the kids go by.
He was cremated and his ashes are scattered in the mountains above QH, along with the ashes of his brother, classical composer MILTON FISKE
and Milton's son David. ∼Writer, playwright, Federal Writer's Project writer, and editor, speaker, philosopher, and co-creator of Quarry Hill Creative Center, Vermont's oldest alternative community and family property management business. He translated Shakespeare's Hamlet into modern American colloquial English in the late 1940s, at the time considered by many to be a controversial act. His Hamlet was praised by Orson Welles and many other well-known theatrical figures, particularly George Bernard Shaw, with whom Fiske had a correspondence. He wrote an article for The Shavian (a magazine about George Bernard Shaw and his work) entitled Bernard Shaw's Debt to William Blake, which Shaw appreciated and had reprinted in pamphlet form. This brief essay is now considered by many scholars of both Blake and Shaw to be a classic in its comparison of the work of both iconoclastic writers. In 1946, Irving Fiske married Barbara Hall (Isabelle Daniel Hall), a visionary painter and cartoonist who drew for Harvey Comics, one of the few female cartoonists of the World War II era. On April 10th of that year, they bought 140 acres of mountain and meadowland in central Vermont, which they made available to their Greenwich Village friends and artists, writers, and other creative and unusual people. Because of its proximity to a marble quarry (which produces a rare marble known as Vermont Verde Antique) they called the land Quarry Hill Creative Center. They had two children, Isabella in 1950, and William in 1954. After corresponding with A. S. Neill, creator of the liberal and children's rights-based Summerhill School in England, Irving and Barbara decided not to send their children to public school in America. At this time homeschooling was rare, and truancy considered a very serious crime. The Fiske family began to travel 1500 miles twice a year to keep the children out of school, while Irving taught them employing the Socratic method. They discussed and questioned all topics that arose on these journeys, and conducted scientific experiments when in either Vermont or Florida. Irving also taught his children to write, and Barbara taught them to draw. They traveled with artistic young women who helped care for the children in exchange for room, board, and art lessons. In the mid-1960s, Barbara decided to open an art gallery in New York City, and so the family rented a storefront in the nascent East Village, under the name The Gallery Gwen. There they met Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, R. Crumb, Trina Robbins, and many other well-known people. Isabella, their daughter (Ladybelle), formed a relationship with many of the Underground Cartoonists and became the girlfriend of Art Spiegelman, author of MAUS. Irving gave talks in the Gallery on religion, philosophy, psychology, art, and personal liberation, often attracting standing room only groups. Some of these persons would then come up to Quarry Hill and as the Sixties and Seventies continued, asked to be allowed to build houses and to live at Quarry Hill. In time, as many as 90 people lived on the property, raising children according to the Fiske's point of view-- no hitting children, no calling them names or making them feel inferior. Children were considered to be "ambassadors from another dimension" and the rule was that they were to be treated as though they were important, rare, and unusual beings with the awareness that transcended any knowledge the adults might have managed to garner due to their years. Quarry Hill became one of the Meccas of the Sixties, a place still extant today. Many persons return each year, and new people continue to arrive. Irving Fiske's death in 1990 created the usual schism between the family and those who considered themselves his "followers," even though he had spoken of himself as an "anti-guru" and insisted that each person must be his or her guru. The division was resolved through mediation, and Quarry Hill continues today as a place in constant change, based on artistic freedom and children's rights, but considered indescribable by many. See Irving Fiske's entry at Wikipedia and Wikiquotes.com, as well as that for Quarry Hill Creative Center at Wikipedia.com.
Irving's ashes are scattered in a grove in the mountain behind Quarry Hill, with those of his nephew David, some of his former wife Barbara Hall, their son William, and friend Carl Zemsky.
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