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Hubbard Archive was attempt
By Meg Shaw
(January 2000) Many people know Harlan Hubbard through his writings about the river way of life. Fewer people know him through his paintings. Except for Wendell Berry’s book, "Harlan Hubbard, Life and Work," few of the books about Harlan Hubbard have many pages devoted to his development as a painter. It was Berry’s concern about the lack of documentation of Harlan Hubbbard’s paintings that prompted the initiation of the Harlan Hubbard slide archive at the University of Kentucky Art Library.
Harlan Hubbard began as an enthusiastic young artist who turned down a scholarship at Cornell University to attend the National Academy of Design in New York. He visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and attended art exhibits with his brother, Frank, who worked in New York as an illustrator.
When family obligations brought Harlan back to Kentucky, he attended the Cincinnati Art School, but much of his time was given over to his first love, roaming the hills and valleys of Campbell County and exploring on the river. He made many sketches and small watercolors with the idea of creating oil paintings. These early works were affected by his experiences at the two art academies, displaying traditional methods with a strong underlying structure based on his drawings.
When Harlan met Anna Eikenhout, he was still searching for his style and the best way to express himself. When they married, she made it possible for him to live out his dream of building a shantyboat and drifting down the river in it.
This took quite a bit of his creative energies but did not completely diminish the output of his paintings. He continued to paint and exhibit his art, framing and sending paintings for an exhibition at Earlham College (Richmond, Indiana) as they drifted down the Mississippi River. He began to seek a more expressive form of representation for the captivating river scenes he saw all around him. Many beautiful watercolors were created at this time.
If you read Harlan’s journals, you will encounter the phrase “painting in the afternoon.” A morning of chores and work around the house or boat with the afternoons given over to cultural pursuits was a pattern established early in Harlan and Anna’s days together, and it continued throughout their lives.
As time went on, Harlan became a practiced and prolific artist. The way of life he and Anna pursued gave him the freedom to create art the was not constrained by a need to produce income. His art captured the spirit of the river with a unique style that was not a part of any school nor dominated by the influence of any one artist. It complemented his writings to give a more complete description of the beauty he found in nature.
Collecting slides for the Hubbard slide archive was a search for the paintings that had been bought or traded during and after Harlan Hubbard’s lifetime. Lois Greene from the Piedmont Gallery in Augusta, Ky., provided some names and addresses of collectors.
Dr. Robert Rosenthal, a philosophy professor at Hanover College in Hanover, Ind., told me a great deal about Harlan Hubbard and furthered the search by opening the archives at the college to me. Florence Fowler Burdine, a Hanover College alumna, copied the slides that she had made while a student at Hanover. Bill Caddell, from the Frankfort (Ind.) Public Library, allowed me to photograph the paintings in his collection that had been created after Burdine’s work had been completed. He also lent a group of watercolors and sketches for an exhibit at the University of Kentucky that were photographed for the slide archive.
Several private collectors were very generous in allowing me to photograph their Hubbard paintings. Laurie Risch, from the Behringer Crawford Museum in Covington, Ky., brought out all the late Hubbard paintings in their collection so they could be photographed for the archive.
The University of Kentucky Libraries’ Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library and Learning Center houses the Harlan Hubbard slide archive. It documents almost 800 paintings, including oils, acrylics and watercolors, with slides of works from public and private collections in Kentucky and Indiana. The library collection also includes three videos about Harlan Hubbard and 11 books by or about him.
Researchers who want to use the collection should make an appointment by calling (859) 257-4908 or by emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Meg Shaw is the art collections director at the University of Kentucky's Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library and Learning Center. She wrote this column for RoundAbout Madison.