Studying art for its financial value
and for its historical significance are two different things, says art
history professor Judy Bullington.
She practices the latter.
But ever since being asked to present an art critique of Harlan Hubbard's
work at a June 17, 2000, symposium at Hanover College, she has fielded
frequent questions about the value of Hubbard artworks.
To distinguish the two, she declines to even suggest a price tag for any
one piece of the dozens of Hubbard paintings she has been inspecting since
last summer. Rather, her presentation, complete with color slides, will
attempt to put Hubbard into a historical context, and to try and identify
the early sources, techniques and processes that influenced him.
Meg Shaw, art librarian at the University of Kentucky M.I. King Library,
will join Bullington in making the presentation and provide the slides.
"Anything that the collector of Hubbard's paintings knows is helpful
in studying an artist's style, so the stories that go with them are important,
too," said Bullington, a native of Carlisle, Ky., who now serves
as assistant professor of art history at Western Oregon University in
Monmouth, Ore. She earned three degrees at the University of Kentucky
before earning her doctorate in art history at Indiana University.
"I'll take those images and my knowledge art history to place Hubbard
in historical context of what was going on around him at the time,"
she said. "I'm also interested in the Hubbard mystique, and Harlan
Hubbard certainly had that. It is that combination of his art being an
extension of his lifestyle that makes him unique."
But as far as talent and his place among Midwest American artists? Well,
that may be a question for someone else to answer. Or discuss, as they
are sure to do at the June symposium, which is expected to attract Hubbard
enthusiasts from all over the country.
Bullington was in Madison, Ind., on Dec. 18-20 to visit homes of area
private collectors and view paintings at public buildings where Hubbard's
artwork hangs. She will return in June to report her findings.
"It should be the first of its kind presentation," said Meg
Shaw, who six years ago took a one-year sabbatical to catalog Hubbard's
artwork on color slide film at the suggestion of Henry County, Ky., author
Wendell Berry. A close friend of Hubbard's, Berry published the 1990 book,
"Harlan Hubbard Life and Work," one of view sources that discusses
Hubbard's development as an artist. The book contains eight pages of color
photos of Hubbard's work.
"Mr. Berry was concerned that there wasn't any public collection
of Hubbard's art for people to come and see and study," Shaw said.
"He put me in touch with some people who had some of his art, and
I went around and took pictures of it."
The university also negotiated to purchase a collection of nearly 500
slides of Hubbard's oils and acrylics taken by Flo Burdine, a 1980 Hanover
College graduate. Burdine spent nearly a year cataloging Hubbard's work
as part of a college project. She now serves as director of the Anna and
Harlan Hubbard School of Living, based at the Frankfort (Ind.) Public
Library. The school sponsors a variety of classes "to teach people
how to make their lives a work of art," according to library director
Caddell, who donated 30 wood-cut prints to Hanover College, shows his
collection each year in November at the Frankfort library, and he has
been asked to exhibit his Hubbards from Jan. 14 to Feb. 15 at the Greater
Lafayette (Ind.) Museum of Art. He recently gave 25 wood-cut prints to
the Behringer Crawford Museum in Covington, Ky., and will split the profits
from their sale as part of the museum's effort to raise money to print
a catalog of its collection.
"I lend things to museums all the time," Caddell said. "But
curators and museum directors have to be convinced that Harlan Hubbard
is worth preserving."
Though large, the UK collection is still incomplete, and Shaw is trying
to arrange another grant-based sabbatical to finish the job.
Though it's early in her research, Bullington cited Hubbard's obvious
expression of his environment in nearly all of his work. She says his
artistic style is "inconsistent" thematically, and for that
reason will not organize her presentation as a chronological development
of Hubbard's artwork.
Rather, she plans to present her case thematically, tied to Hubbard's
use of impressionistic and post-impressionistic styles that were prevalent
among late 19th century artists.
"Hubbard is eclectic (in his styles); he chooses selectively from
various techniques," she said. "But is he a backwoods Picasso?
I'm not sure."
Bullington does, however, see the danger in people losing touch with the
Hubbard legacy if it is not somehow preserved or promoted, especially
locally. Aside from Hanover College's little known permanent collection
and a few single paintings hanging in various public buildings in Trimble
County, Ky., there is no way for people to view Hubbard's artwork, except
maybe for the occasional art showing.
"If his work is not consistently accessible to the public, you won't
have scholars coming to study the collection. And the fact they're so
dispersed (among collectors), that's a problem, too," Bullington
As a result, she has had to depend on the hospitality of private art collectors
to view Hubbard's paintings in preparation for her presentation.
Despite her Kentucky roots, Bullington learned of Harlan Hubbard through
books, newspaper clippings and his art. She never met Hubbard but was
hoping to make her first visit to Payne Hollow during her December stop
She said her recent introduction to the Hubbard legacy should provide
some objectivity to evaluating his artistic talent.
And about the financial worth of his paintings? "It has value,"
she said. "But it may not be the kind of value that some people hope
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