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Payne Hollow Today
Despite the Hubbards'
Editor's Note: The following column was published in the August 1997 Friends of the Hubbards newsletter.
It is posted here by permission.
By Paul Hassfurder
August 1997 – I am honored to have been asked in 1980 by Harlan Hubbard to help with the work of the Hubbard’s home and land here at Payne Hollow. I did that work with them for seven and a half years.
Before Harlan’s death in 1988 (Anna died in 1986 at the age of 83), he asked me if I could continue the work of Payne Hollow and be happy living there. I understood the work and philosophy of Anna and Harlan and, at Harlan’s request, agreed to take Payne Hollow forward and make it my home.
Keeping Payne Hollow alive
Many people expect Payne Hollow to be a Hubbard shrine, museum or tour house, basically kept just the way it was when the Hubbards lived here.
Harlan called their life and home an experiment in living that worked. The experiment in living did not stop with the passing of Anna and Harlan. It is still alive and developing.
Payne Hollow is still a private home, separate from the influences of the fast-paced techno-driven world which surrounds its boundaries. I, like Anna and Harlan, have chosen to live a quieter, physically demanding, artful life at Payne Hollow, where the work is done mainly in solitude using simple hand tools.
Visitors keep coming
As interest in Anna and Harlan and Payne Hollow grows, there is danger to Payne Hollow from having too many visitors. It’s been called tourist pollution. It is a bit of a dilemma. Parking is very limited to approximately four cars, and the mile trail is in the rugged category.
The Hubbards preferred their privacy through the week, setting Sunday afternoon aside for visitations, and I have found that Sunday visits work best to preserve the pace of life here. Harlan said he built his home to have a lot of solitude and little society, but as time passed, there was less solitude and more society.
I turned the Hubbards’ guest book over to the archives at University of Louisville and have continued my own.
Over the past nine years, I have received guests from 27 states and 14 foreign countries. One visitor came by sea plane.
I have hosted two classes from Northern Kentucky University on "Utopias in Our Life and Imagination," and yearly visits from Hanover College’s "Utopias and Intentional Communities" class, taught by Dr. Robert Rosenthal. The Trimble County Junior-Senior High Art classes have visited. Also the Cincinnati Historical Society, the Sailboat Cruising Club of Louisville, the Westlake Church of Christ and the Kent Church of Christ.
I loaned Harlan’s artwork to the J.P. Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky., for the first major retrospective show after Harlan’s death. Also to the Gallery at Hanover College, the "Always a River Show," which was on a touring barge, the Painting Heaven Show at the Capital Arts Center in Bowling Green, Ky., the Progressions Show in Washington, D.C., and a show called "The River," which is currently touring the state of Kentucky for two years.
I’ve given lectures and slide shows at the opening of the Painting Heaven Show in Bowling Green and also at the BonAir branch of Louisville Free Public Library and Duerson-Oldham County Public Library and the Hubbard Symposiums at Hanover College.
Effects of the 1997 flood
I’ve been asked, “What happened at Payne Hollow during the spring floods?"
The flood waters didn’t reach the buildings. It did cover two-thirds of the upper garden, a few feet lower than the 1964 flood.
The lower garden valley floor was also covered, the water blocking the trail in or out in the east valley. I was able to walk upstream of the flood and creek, locate a log, make my way up a steep bank and then around to the path to the studio and breezeway entrance, which leads on to the cabin.
I had been in Louisville the night the storm hit, and the river rose so fast I wasn’t able to return in time to move the salvaged lumber (retrieved from the riverbank from earlier rises) brought back by johnboat and stacked on the lower gardens shelf, beside the canoe, which is untied.
The water floated and filled the johnboat and moved the riverbank ramp to where they were caught by the stand of bamboo. I found the canoe upside down and floating beside the johnboat, as were the boards, lifejackets, canoe and paddles and upper garden floor ramp. I was able to empty the water out of the johnboat and use it to snag and retrieve the other floating items. Amazingly, little was lost.
When the water leaves its banks and fills the long narrow valley bottom in front of the cabin, it’s like being on the point of a large wraparound lake. When the water subsided, it had left a deposit of two to three inches of fresh topsoil, very sandy in some places, muddy in others. A very large hackberry at the base of the hill near the cabin uprooted and lay on its side. The run-off creek had changed course.
The most serious situation is the heavy erosion on the riverbank now consuming the upper garden. I have observed a loss of one foot to four feet of bank erosion following each high water rise. Unless some attempt is made to construct a retainer wall, the narrow upper garden shelf will be gone in 10 to 15 years.
The gardening method established here by the Hubbards is to start the early garden on the upper level shelf, which rarely floods, and then to transplant and re-seed in the lower valley garden after the flood water recedes and the soil dries out.
Since self-produced food is one of the goals and chores here, the upper garden allows for an earlier growing season. I am open to suggestions as to the best construction methods and ways to finance a retainer wall for a little above the goat shed to near the creek mouth.
Payne Hollow: A home
I’ve lived here for seventeen years now and It didn’t start feeling like my home until two years ago. Now it is fully my home. The work is still done by hand with hand tools.
I consider even this work as the production of art, the art of the place, which is full-time work with no income, so I take occasional short-term outside work.
I am finding more time to produce art objects that can leave the place and hopefully provide the income needed.
A print of one of my pieces should be available soon, which should help set up a support system, which will allow me to do more of the work of the place.
Lessons to be learned
Anna and Harlan Hubbard’s lives and the art, literature and music from and about their lives have encouraged and inspired many people. No one can repeat their life and times, but we can learn from them about the inner rewards of a life of order and discipline: An easy grace and serenity of life.
The Hubbards were two people living on a very meager cash income but possessing a rare combination of vigorous intellectual creativity and skilled practical know-how: people who could think with their hands as well as their minds and who therefore lived by a philosophy rooted in the solid earth, not just flying in the wind.
The Hubbards did not say: “Here is what should be done,” but rather “Here is what we have accomplished.”
Some of the simple methods and wise advice from the Hubbards is learning how to make do. “What you need is at hand,” is another way of saying it. Be friendly to your neighbors. Don’t think you know it all, or don’t be afraid to admit your ignorance. There’s not just one way that works. Find the simplest and most efficient way that works for yourself and your situation.
Another point to remember is to feed your body and your mind what is healthy and wholesome.
Another very important ingredient is one’s attitude toward physical labor. Somewhere along the line, humans decided “work” was dull and painful. I agree with Harlan that when carried on outside in nature, work is an adventure and a never-failing source of health, pleasure and satisfaction. Harlan said that working for someone else, at someone else’s bidding, is what can be distasteful. Far from being tedious, doing your own work frees a man.
If you are touched by the lives of Anna and Harlan Hubbard, the best tribute you can give them is to gradually include elements of what touched you into your own life and your own circumstances. I think we all would like to thank people who pursue a life of time well spent.