Rare Find

New Harlan Hubbard art exhibit
goes up at Hanover College

Student Hannah Miller curated
the exhibit as class project

(November 2019) – Most people who resided in the vicinity of the Ohio River 35 years ago were familiar with Anna and Harlan Hubbard. Basic knowledge was that they lived a subsistence type of life on the banks of the Ohio in Trimble County, Ky. Those with a little more information might have known that Harlan was a painter and philosopher, and he enjoyed talking to people who made the effort to visit his small enclave. Those who really knew him and had a lot of audacity would ring a bell south of Hanover Beach in Indiana and wait for the 70-something-year-old to row across the river to take them back to his cabin in Payne Hollow.

Photo by Ben Newell

Hanover College student Hannah Miller poses in front of her favorite Harlan Hubbard painting, part of the new Hubbard art exhibit she curated at the college’s library.

On Oct. 19, Hanover College opened its art exposition called “Harlan Hubbard: Life as Art.” Using a large wall space in the Duggan Library, 31 of his paintings are prominently displayed. While the Ohio River is the theme of much of Hubbard’s works, other works include scenes of the surrounding countryside and even a trip that the couple made to the American West. The library is a fitting location for this display of Hubbard’s art, since it was a place that the couple often visited to satisfy their voracious reading habit.
Before the ceremony, Charlotte Canida was taking in the exhibition. When asked what she thought of it, she said it was “Awesome. Now Harlan’s works will be displayed permanently in a safe and prominent location.”
The Canidas had been long time friends with the Hubbards, helping them in many ways, including taking care of Harlan during his final days. He died in their home in 1988.
Speakers for the event included Dr. Bob Rosenthal, a retired professor of philosophy at Hanover College. Rosenthal’s relationship with the Hubbards began when he helped chaperon his wife’s Girl Scout troop on a visit to their cabin. He eventually became good friends with the two and often took his philosophy classes on field trips to visit the riverside home.
He noted that the Hubbards’ minimal lifestyle really resonated with the students, especially during the 1960s. “While the Hubbards lived on the outskirts of society, Harlan wanted the outside world to hear his thoughts on life and for his paintings to be seen.”
Rosenthal gave a synopsis of the Hubbards’ life. In their 40s the Hubbards wanted a total change in their lifestyle. Harlan constructed his own makeshift shantyboat out of used lumber. The cabin was just big enough for sleeping and space to set up his painting easel.

Photo by Ben Newell

Dr. Bob Rosenthal, a Hanover College retired philosophy professor, poses in front of the new Hubbard art exhibit during the Oct. 12 opening. He was a close friend of Harlan and Anna Hubbard during their lifetime.

Starting in Pittsburg the current slowly took them down river and eventually they reached their goal of New Orleans. They came back to Trimble County, settling in Payne Hollow, four miles down river from Hanover College. There they built a very small cabin, which had to be expanded when a grand piano was brought in for Anna, who was a trained classical pianist. The piano took up most of the space in the new room. If you were fortunate you might have heard Anna playing the piano and Harlan accompanying her on the violin. They lived off the land, raising vegetables in the garden and goats for their meat and milk and bees for honey. In today’s terms they were totally living off the grid.
Harlan became a prolific painter, and eventually his style of watercolors increased in popularity.
“Right after Harlan’s death, I went with a group to collect Harlan’s paintings for safe keeping,” said Bob Canida. “We were surprised to find over 2,300 of them stashed in various places.”
The last speaker of the event was Madison Consolidated High school graduate Hannah Miller, who is currently a senior at Hanover College. As an art history major, she took on the project of setting up a permanent display for Hubbard’s works. Her first challenge was to collect all of his paintings that were scattered throughout the campus. Next was to find a visible place to hang them, not only for the Hanover College residents but for the public at large. Duggan Library filled those qualifications since it is open for everyone and had a great display area.
Choosing and then researching the paintings, deciding how to present them and what information would be going on the wall, turned out to be quite a task. The more she worked on the project, the more respect she developed for the Hubbards.
“I only wish that I had been born earlier, so that I could have met them in person,” lamented Miller, who is an artist herself.

• To learn more about the Hubbards, read Harlan’s books, “Shantyboat” and “Paine Hollow” or visit the Internet website: www.HarlanHubbard.com.

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