Preserving a Legacy

Fort Thomas, Ky., group raising money to save Harlan Hubbard studio

Art show and sale of Hubbard artwork planned for June 3

By Don Ward
Editor

FORT THOMAS, Ky. (June 2017) – Fans of the late Harlan and Anna Hubbard in early June will have a unique opportunity to view and purchase Harlan’s artwork during a rare art show and art opening in Fort Thomas, Ky.
A portion of the proceeds from the art show sale will help fund an effort to renovate and preserve Hubbard’s original art studio that still stands behind the home he built for his mother back in the 1930s in Fort Thomas. The small, brick, one-room structure still stands and last August was listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

Photo by Don Ward

Harlan Hubbard’s original art studio still stands in Fort Thomas, Ky., behind the home he built for his mother. Efforts are under way to restore it for eventual public tours.

The “Harlan Hubbard Studio and Preserve,” located at 129 Highland Ave., in Fort Thomas, is in the process of being donated to the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy. Owner Sidney Thomas lives in the home that Harlan built for his mother. She began the process of conveying the art studio and property behind her home to the Conservancy following the death in June 2014 of her husband, Bill Thomas, at age 66.
“Bill’s and my intention was to preserve the property by donating it to the Conservancy and create a conservation easement to protect it into perpetuity,” Sidney Thomas said.
The Conservancy is organizing a “Harlan Hubbard Art Show” at Bowman’s Framing store at 103 N. Fort Thomas Ave., in Fort Thomas. This exhibit and sale will have many never before seen or seldom seen Hubbard pieces. An opening reception is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, June 3, and open to the public. The art show will remain on display at the store from June 3-14. Bowman’s Framing is open 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. weekdays, and 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Hubbard artwork for the show belongs to Hubbard art collector Bill Caddell of Frankfort, Ind. Caddell befriended the Hubbards while he was a Hanover College student and, as a result, Hubbard bequeathed much of his artwork to him, including many watercolors and woodcuts. Caddell has used the artwork to promote the Hubbard legacy and, together with his wife, Flo Caddell, will soon release a book showcasing Hubbard’s watercolors. The Caddells plan to use their portion of the proceeds from the art show sale to help fund their book’s publication.
To help with the Conservancy’s fundraising effort, Caddell has also donated to the Conservancy three original watercolors and two woodcut restrikes to be given to large donors of the restoration effort. Fifteen framed copies of the original watercolors will also be provided to eligible donors. The money from these donations will be split with the Caddells, Thomas said. In addition, donors who give certain amounts of money will have their names etched on a plaque to be erected at the art studio.
A Transylvania College graduate, Bill Thomas was an underwriter, an avid gardener, founder of the Conservancy and vice president of the Fort Thomas Tree Commission. As a second career, he used his writing talent during the last 13 years of his life to operate a free, monthly newspaper, “Inside Fort Thomas.” He also wrote three books about Fort Thomas. And while living in the house that Hubbard built, he became interested in preserving both the home and the art studio out back.
Conservancy members are now raising money to restore Hubbard’s studio.
They anticipate renovation costs to reach $30,000 but have set a goal of $100,000 to cover all costs related to completing the project, according to Chuck Keller, a Conservancy board member and retired high school English teacher. That would include repairing the slate roof, the chimney and windows. The Conservancy also plans to establish a beehive on the property from a nest of bees found inside the art studio and market “Hubbard Honey.” They have obtained a grant from the University of Kentucky to help start the venture.
Keller said that once the art studio is stabilized and renovated, the Conservancy hopes to hold a half dozen or so events there each year, including educational events for school-aged children and students. “It would be a mix of art, science, sustainable living and beekeeping events,” he said.
Hubbard built the house in 1923 and rented it after his mother’s death until it was finally sold. Hubbard built the art studio in 1938 and moved into it. In fact, after he and Anna married, the couple lived in the tiny 14x20-foot art studio for three years while they built their shantyboat that would eventually take them down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on an eight-year journey and away from Fort Thomas forever, eventually settling in Trimble County, Ky.
As might be expected from Harlan, the art studio is constructed entirely from reclaimed materials, including the exterior brick on the walls. He gave $5 for a steel frame window that was meant for a local church but fell off the truck during transport and received minor damage, Keller said.
An open house was held at the art studio on Earth Day in April allowing the public its first glimpse inside the building. It is a modest, small room that features a wood stove and not much else. The Conservancy has a few displays there now about the Hubbards.
“There’s not much to it, but I think it was a comfort zone for Harlan when he lived there,” Keller said.
The art studio sits on 1.5 acres in a wooded area and is not open to the public, but Keller said the long-term plan is to open it to visitors and create an Environmental Experience Center at the property, “to become a touchstone for nature in the middle of the city.” The nine-member Conservancy board sometimes holds its fundraising or restoration meetings there.
A native of Bellevue, Ky., Hubbard was a nationally known artist and author who lived on primitive means on the banks of the Ohio River in Trimble County. His artwork, many of them featuring riverboats and pastoral landscapes, reflect his views on living simply off the land. They spent 34 years living off the land by tending goats, gardening, canning, fishing, weaving, gathering wood and scavenging for useful items that washed ashore. The Hubbards received many visitors, local school groups and Hanover College students over the years. The couple graciously gave their visitors a tour of their modest home and Harlan’s art studio, and they often played music or read to them.
Anna died in 1986. Harlan died two years later. Both are buried below their home in Payne Hollow, which is now owned by Paul Hassfurder, a Madison, Ind., resident who helped the Hubbards during their later years of life.
As the years go by since the Hubbards’ deaths, some followers are concerned that the Hubbard legacy will soon be forgotten. An effort is under way to revitalize interest in the Hubbards. Much of the Hubbard history and story is available at www.HarlanHubbard.com, a website owned and managed by RoundAbout Entertainment Guide. The genesis of the website is a compilation of articles that appeared in the January 2000 edition of the RoundAbout.

You can learn more about the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy at www.ftfc.org.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at info@RoundAbout.bz.

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