Wendell Berry's book "Harlan Hubbard, Life and Work"

I recently finished reading the Wendell Berry book "Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work." Mr. Berry tells an interesting story of his meeting and getting to know the Hubbards, as well as his view of the life story of the couple. Hubbard is an increasingly important Kentucky artist who died in 1989. Of course, his work lives on.

Hubbard painted many landscapes of the Ohio River in the northern Kentucky area. His landscapes are at the same time folksy and academic. That is one of the characteristics of his work that make it so interesting and significant. He was schooled in art and knowledgeable of art history. Yet his life was much more in tune with what you would expect from a great folk painter.

Mr. Berry focuses on the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard (and really, they were a team in every sense) strove to find that place in their heart and soul where there was little if any difference between the most "mundane" activities required to sustain their lives and their painting and music. All those activities were those necessary to be whole, but, because of their necessity, they became one not more important or significant than the other, but entwined inextricably and of a more or less equal value to their lives.

Gardening or cutting firewood or fishing - it was all the same as what we commonly refer to as "artwork." In this way, their lives were a rejection of the specialization that permeates today's world, and attempts by many people in creative fields to "make it big" on their "talents."

The one big difference in painting and, say, fishing, is that after one finishes a painting, the painting lives on. Once a caught fish is either eaten or thrown back into the river, there is nothing left but the memory. And, if the paintings are preserved well enough, they live on even after the life of the painter has ceased. In that way, for those of us left after a painter has passed on, a painting becomes something significant and special - more than just a memory. But for an artist like Hubbard, a painting is just a natural part of home and the local landscape, and nothing to get a big head over. If someone happened to like it, that counted as a bonus, but seeking that approval was not the motivation leading the artist to take the action of creating the painting.

Kristi and I have lived a lifestyle with many parallels to the Hubbards in our nearly 35 years in very rural southern Illinois across from western Kentucky. We live near the Ohio River and see it every day. It is a very powerful symbol in our lives. On several occasions it has been more than a symbol - a concrete factor affecting our day to day movements. We see it as a natural phenomenon not unlike the Grand Canyon or the ocean.

We also live in a very rural homestead which we own on a small acreage. We have learned how to live on little money, and thus, aren't dependent on a "job" although at the moment both of us work outside the home. But we garden, produce our own electricity, use firewood for heating and cooking for much of the year, and try to stay as independent as possible from many of the influences of modern life. We also paint, sculpt, draw, write, and play music.

When we first moved to our home in 1980, we pretty quickly starting going to Paducah, KY, which is the location of many of our friends and our jobs. We became involved in the city arts organization - at that time called the "Paducah Art Guild" (now the "Yeiser Art Center" after one of the founders of the art guild, Mary Yeiser, a friend of ours who painted our portraits in exchange for work that we did for her.). The Yeiser Art Center is not a museum - they simply do not and have not had the facility to be a museum - but it is a credible gallery in the historic Market House building, and over the years, they have acquired a significant permanent collection. That collection includes some nice Harlan Hubbard paintings. It was through exhibitions and viewings of that private collection that I first saw a Harlan Hubbard painting. I always liked his paintings, but I didn't know much about him at all.

From about 2005 until her death in 2010 after a 12 year battle with cancer, I worked as what might be described as personal assistant (or secretary/scheduler/art assistant) for a visual artist who lived in downtown Paducah, Sarah Roush. A person that was curious could review many of her works of art at her website, www.sarahroush.com. She was an incredible artist, also with roots in the northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area. She ended up in Paducah, however, which is to the benefit of everyone here.

We spent a good bit of time talking while I drove her around and helped her with her businesses and personal affairs. Much of that conversation was regarding the visual arts. While I have been painting since I was about 19 (I am 62 now), I have never had any training, and tend to think that while I enjoy my paintings, that most people wouldn't. I have been shown over the years that this isn't exactly true, but I tend to downplay any "importance" attached to my paintings.

The late Sarah Roush, an art collector extraordinaire, liked my paintings. She bought several over the years that we worked together. One day, when we were discussing the visual arts, she, in her typical mode of total encouragement of other artists she liked, told me in response to my typical musings that no one was interested in my paintings, au contraire. In fact, she said, "I think that in about 20 years or so, your paintings are going to become much more valuable...like that Kentucky painter...what's his name...um...um....let's see...oh yeah...Hubbard....Harlan Hubbard. Everyone wants one of his now."

That didn't mean that much to me at that moment, because I didn't really know that much about him except that I remembered seeing a few of his paintings at the Yeiser. But it did put Hubbard on my radar screen. Since that time I have looked at photographs of a number of his paintings, and read the Wendell Berry book, as well as a number of other pieces about the Hubbards.

I don't know nor do I care that much whether or not my paintings ever get to be as valuable as Hubbards. Hubbards are going up, but they are still affordable for a lot of people. They will continue to increase in value like most credible paintings. I hope someday to have a piece he made. But the one thing that I find interesting is that while in so many ways our lives run parallel, our paintings have, (although not entirely) been pretty different. But, I do have a deep appreciation and growing love for his landscapes of the Ohio River, and in fact, have been working on a painting honoring Hubbard by covering his work, in particular his Ohio River landscape that he painted for a church in Milton, Kentucky. I love that painting.


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