The Hubbard Legacy

Filmmaker hopes to release
documentary on Harlan,
Anna Hubbard in spring

Rivers Institute adds its support to the project

By Don Ward

(January 2012) – A film documentary titled “A Natural Wonder” about the life and times of Harlan and Anna Hubbard is nearing completion by a Louisville filmmaker who hopes to release it sometime in spring 2012.

Morgan Atkinson has logged 30 years as a filmmaker, the past 25 running his own film production company, Duckworks Inc. He works on commission mostly but in this case has chosen to focus on the Hubbards in hopes of getting the final product aired statewide on Kentucky Educational Television and maybe even nationally on the Public Broadcast System. He began working on the project last year with a goal of researching and presenting the couple in a more personal way – a way that has not yet been seen by the public, he said.

Photo provided

Louisville filmmaker Morgan
Atkinson (right) and assistant
Pete Neihardt cruise along the
river on the way to a filming
location for “A Natural Wonder.”

Harlan and Anna Hubbard lived solitary, simple lives in Payne Hollow, nestled along the Ohio River in Trimble County, Ky. It was in this quiet setting the Hubbards lived without electricity, farmed, fished, read books and played classical music, he on a violin and she on a baby grand piano.

Harlan also painted and wrote his many books there in the hollow, drawing inspiration from his natural surroundings. The Hubbards died in the late 1980s – Anna in 1986 and Harlan in 1988.

With the help of his film production company team, Atkinson has recreated some scenes using actors to illustrate how the Hubbards lived.

Actors Mary Oliver Humke and David Harryman portrayed the Hubbards in a scene showing them washing clothes and doing other chores along the banks of a creek.

He also has re-enacted moving a grand piano through the woods to the Hubbards house by filming a crew carrying a piano up a hill in Louisville’s Cherokee Park.

And in November, Atkinson traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., to visit Anna’s niece and nephew, Lynda and George Bartnick, to gather photographs and some of Anna’s letters, which have never before been published.

“At first I wondered why I am driving five hours to Grand Rapids, but once I got there and met the Bartnicks, it was really worth the trip,” Atkinson said. “I gained so much insight about Anna from that visit with them.”

Photo provided

Morgan Atkinson and Fred Harbuck discuss a shot of actor David
Harryman sketching by a creek.

Atkinson also has visited Harlan’s great niece, Polly Hubbard. And he has traveled to Maysville, Ky., to visit the courthouse where the Hubbards married in 1943. While there, he spent an afternoon with a shantyboater named Mike Fletcher and gained insight to that lifestyle, he said.

Atkinson recently received major funding for the project from the Rivers Institute at Hanover College. The institute’s mission includes the study of communities and life involving rivers, but the Hubbard story has a special place at Hanover College, said the institute’s executive director Larry DeBuhr. The Hubbards used to check out books at the college library; many Hanover College students have visited the Hubbards over the years; and the college holds a large collection of Harlan’s paintings at its Campus Center.

“The Hubbards have a close connection to Hanover College and for that reason we felt that this project was worthy of our support,” DeBuhr said. “The Hubbards’ story is very closely tied to this region and the river. It is an interesting story of how a couple can live and survive a long period of time living off the land and the river.”

Atkinson recently visited the Rivers Institute and showed DeBuhr and his staff some of the raw footage he had shot. DeBuhr said the documentary will indeed be a unique and personal approach to telling the Hubbards’ story.

Photo provided

Actress Mary Oliver Humke
recreates a version of what
laundry day may have been
like for the Hubbards.

Atkinson said the film will not have a narrator or on-camera interviews with people who knew the Hubbards, but rather the voices of actors reading the Hubbards’ own words. Even so, Atkinson said he has interviewed off camera several people who were instrumental in the Hubbards’ story. These include Madison, Ind., residents Paul Hassfurder, Bob Canida, retired Dr. Marcella Modisett, Hanover College professor Bob Rosenthal and former Hanover College professor Bill Keller.

Atkinson said he plans to spend time this spring wrapping up the project by doing more research at the University of Louisville Archives, where Harlan’s original manuscripts and letters are stored.

“So far, what I have read re-affirmed the integrity of the two individuals and the way they lived their lives,” said Atkinson, 62. “They definitely talked the talk and walked the walk of what they believed. It’s all very interesting to me.”

Two previous KET documentaries have been done on the Hubbards – the first in 1980 by filmmaker John Morgan and the second in the mid-1990s for KET’s “Kentucky Life” series.

Photo provided

Actor David Harryman (by bike)
writer-producer Morgan Atkinson
and director of photography Fred Harbuck waiting on the sunrise.

Atkinson says the Hubbards’ lives were so inspirational that it bears visiting again. He hopes that when completed, it could be premiered at Madison’s Ohio Theatre or at Hanover College.

Atkinson is a Louisville native and a University of Kentucky graduate who has made dozens of films, with about 15 airing on KET and several nationally on PBS. Recent productions have focused on Louisville musician Tim Krekel, Anglo-American Catholic writer Thomas Merton and “Black Like Me” author John Howard Griffin.

Atkinson is being assisted with research on the Hubbard project by a close friend, John Kasey. In all, Atkinson trying to raise about $150,000, which he says is what he needs to complete the project.

“I don’t pretend to live like the Hubbards and don’t think anyone would,” he said. “But we can all learn something from their lives and incorporate it into our lives.”

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