Cultivating inspiration at The McCormick Domes
R-C Alpine Bureau
In many ways, it was the worst of times. The nationwide protest against the war in Vietnam was at its height, and violence was rampant on campuses across the country. In response to this, and to other aspects of society that were considered constricting and unnatural, an incredible idealism sprang up. People were looking for a way to change the norms, and a counterculture grew, with new ideas about living simply, being self-sufficient, teaching your own children, and living peaceably with each other. Simultaneously, the hopefulness and ingenuity at the center of this movement made it the best of times.
The year was 1971 when University of Nevada, Reno Professor Jim McCormick heeded the call to make a difference in the world by changing his own life. Originally moving from Oklahoma, he and his first wife Sandy had relocated to Reno where Jim quickly found his niche as a well-known artist and influential professor. It was on Thanksgiving Day that Jim, Sandy, daughter, Kristin, and son, Theo, packed all their belongings and headed back-to-the-land. Jim wanted to separate himself from what he called “the glittering rudeness” of life in the city, and protect his family from prevailing political and social stresses.
They had purchased 5 acres in Silver City. It was and is a unique town filled with rugged individuals. They may come from any walk of life: anthropologists, welders, artists, mechanics, entrepreneurs, or musicians: the one thing they share in common is a love of this particular mountainous section of Nevada. Although self-contained, they are people oriented, help their neighbors, and have a deep and abiding sense of community. During that period the town was often referred to as a “hippie haven,” and boasted an impressive collection of unusual living structures and abandoned, rusting vehicles.
Visiting places along the lines of Drop City in Colorado for inspiration, and rejecting traditional American materialism, the family used their own resourcefulness to return to a straightforward existence more connected to the natural world. Although eventually switching to power, they started out building with only hand tools. Jim had studied the writings and ideas of R. Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, engineer, poet, inventor, and philosopher. Fuller advocated and popularized the geodesic dome as an inexpensive way for conscious people to construct their own dwellings.
Jim’s quatrefoil design was his own unique invention, perhaps based on the ancient design popular in Gothic architecture, Christian symbolism, heraldry, and the four leaf clover. The home consists of four domes meeting into one common area. The interior is nothing like being in a regular house: the organic nature of the large spheres reverberate the shape of our planet. Being inside is like walking in a giant sculpture: unexpected and aesthetically compelling. The light reverberates with a lyrical elegance across the triangular components, making the space continually magical. No corners to hide in, the domes arch above your head just like the sky.
The large separate dome on the east end of the house was originally built by UNR students and used at Reno events. There are many other sections of the complex that are also made of recycled materials, integrating yet another aspect of intentional living.
Willing to use original approaches, Jim served on the local fire department, working extremely hard to integrate more training along with newer and better equipment, wanting to protect new found friends and neighbors. Jim was elected to the town council, and served with dedication, shaking the foundations of local politics with his fresh ideas and resourcefulness. He was instrumental in getting approval for, and creating the park that is the gathering place for the people of Silver. Along with a loose confederation of parents, Jim also attempted to create a “free school,” taking a fresh approach to traditional educational philosophy. He was a man of integrity and devotion, willing to step outside the usual constraints with a new perspective, and just give it a try.
It did not turn out to be a modern utopia however. The 60-mile round trip to his position in Reno took a toll. After the breakup of his family, Jim moved back to Reno, eventually marrying Loretta in 1982. Once there, he was instrumental in helping to create the Nevada Arts Council, and was highly involved in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
Jim McCormick passed from this earth on April 11, 2017, leaving a lasting legacy of love for his family and the arts of our region. As a fitting tribute to a true Nevada visionary, his son Theo McCormick and daughter-in-law Quest Lakes have repurposed his domes as an Artist-in-Residence program, drawing well-known and emerging artists both from our own backyard and around the globe. Since 2014, they have funded the program themselves, with in-kind support from benevolent locals, friends, and often the artists themselves. In exchange for free rent and utilities, the artists offer exhibitions, lectures, readings, and projects to inspire the community as a whole.
Theo majored in physics, but is a self-taught computer programmer. He is an expert in restoring VW vans, karmann ghias, and bugs. With his first wife Margot, their two children Sarah and Zephyr were both born in birthing tubs right in the Domes. He and Quest also had their son Mylo while living there. Mylo is now a guitarist for the popular local band Mo’z Motley Blues.
Originally from Indiana, Quest was never a city girl, finding a true fit for who she is right on the Comstock. She currently works as Content Curator for the Nonprofit Healthy Communities Coalition, increasing access to healthy local food and affordable health care. Together the family oversees maintaining the domes and running the program.
There have been 14 resident artists since 2014, and two of them have come back for a second time. Poet David Lee, photographer Frances Melhop, and Stewart Easton are just a few who have been part of this impassioned endeavor. You can email for more information at email@example.com or follow the link to learn more about upcoming events: https://www.facebook.com/silvercitynevadaresidentartistprogram/
I was fortunate to live in this unusual structure with my family in the early 1980s, and can attest to the enchantment of being there. Looking out over the sage and pinion covered peaks from a perfect vantage point at the crest of the ridge, the town sprawls out below. The wide open spaces of Nevada offer an opportunity to look at the world with new eyes: to study, create, and innovate. No place can rival this one for being encouraged to march to the beat of your own drummer. Jim McCormick, and now Theo and Quest, have given the people of Northern Nevada the most timeless of gifts, sharing their vision of interconnection, uplifting aesthetics, and collective awareness with a generous heart.