A Piece of History

Fort Thomas group to hold fundraiser to restore Hubbard’s original art studio

Harlan Hubbard’s studio still stands in Fort Thomas, Ky.


(November 2019) –FORT THOMAS, Ky.
Many residents in the Madison, Ind., and Trimble County, Ky., area are familiar with the story of the late Harlan and Anna Hubbard, who lived off the land along the Ohio River in Trimble County. Harlan’s journals and artwork are highly regarded by collectors and admirers. Anna died in 1986; Harlan died two years later, leaving behind a philosophy and simple lifestyle captured in both words and art.

An Evening With
Harlan and Friends

• 6-9:30 p.m. Friday, Nov, 8, at Headquarters Historic Event Center, 935 Monmouth St., Newport, Ky. Limited tickets $40.
• (513) 205-8756

But few may know much, if anything, about an organization in Fort Thomas, Ky., near where Harlan grew up and where in 1923 Harlan built a home for his mother. He rented it after his mother’s death until it was finally sold. He also built the art studio in 1938 in a wooded area behind the house 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.
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, explained Chuck Keller, a Conservancy board member.

Photo provided

Harlan and Anna Hubbard are pictured while on a picnic early in their marriage, when they lived in the small art studio that Harlan built in 1938 in Fort Thomas, Ky.

“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 small, brick, one-room structure still stands and in August 2016 was listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
In recent years, a group of Hubbard followers organized the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy to raise money to restore Harlan’s original art studio and develop educational programming around it.
In fact, the group is planning a unique fundraising event on Friday, Nov. 8, called “An Evening With Harlan and Friends,” to be held from 6-9:30 p.m. at Headquarters Historic Event Center in Newport, Ky. The center is a small venue located at 935 Monmouth St. in a 149-year-old building that once housed a hardware store. Owner Mike Smith has restored the building back to its 1800s architecture and rents the space for weddings and other special events. It can accommodate 200 people.
This particular event will feature displays of never before exhibited original Hubbard artwork. Through the collaborative efforts of the Behringer-Crawford Museum in nearby Covington, Ky., and local collectors, the Conservancy will offer a rare opportunity for guests to see these works. Behringer-Crawford holds one of the largest public collections of Hubbard artwork.
The $40 admission fee will include wine, beer, gourmet small bites and dessert from EatWell and other local eateries, along with a chance to bid on the silent auction, which will include original Hubbard artwork. Tickets are limited, however, due to the small size of the venue. All proceeds from the event will go toward the exterior restoration of Hubbard’s original studio.
Sidney Thomas’ late husband, Bill, founded the Conservancy in 2009. Today, Thomas lives in Hubbard’s mother’s house at 129 Highland Ave in Fort Thomas. She donated the land behind her home on which the art studio sits soon after Bill’s death in June 2014 at age 66. She remains instrumental in the organization’s activities and serves on its board.

Sidney Thomas

A Transylvania College graduate, Bill Thomas was an underwriter, an avid gardener 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.
Since the establishment of the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy, the organization has grown to about 50 members, with a nine-member board of directors, according to group member Alex McIntosh.
The group initially anticipated renovation costs to reach $30,000 to restore the art studio, but it set a goal of $100,000 to cover all costs related to completing the project. Since then, the board has reduced its goal to $5,000 to restore the exterior of the studio, McIntosh said. That would include repairing the slate roof, the chimney and windows. The group has since raised about $25,000, McIntosh said.
Conservancy members also plan to hold a half dozen or so events there each year, including educational events for school-aged children and students.
A local high school science class is managing a native garden next to the studio. The Conservancy also established a beehive on the property from a nest of bees found inside the art studio. They obtained a grant from the University of Kentucky to help start a venture to market “Hubbard Honey.” It is managed by a local beekeeper, according to McIntosh, who attended a June meeting about preserving the Hubbard legacy that was held at Hanover College. McIntosh also gave a presentation on the Conservancy’s projects.

Alex McIntosh

“People are amazed that the Hubbard’s both lived there – off the grid and right in the middle of town,” McIntosh said.
Today, the Conservancy holds several events throughout the year, McIntosh said. A board member is on hand to greet visitors on the third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We intend to turn it into an environmental learning center. We plan to bring in authors and artists and provide hands-on activities for children. We are hoping to create a place where we can have people come in and create more art – much in the spirit of Harlan Hubbard.”
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.
Both are buried on the bank just below their home in Payne Hollow, which is now owned by Paul Hassfurder, a local resident who helped the Hubbards during their later years of life.
Last June, Hassfurder joined about 20 other people at the Hanover College meeting to discuss strategies for preserving and promoting the Hubbard legacy. The meeting, organized by Hanover College alums John and June Fettig of Omaha, Neb., included representatives from the University of Louisville Archives, Behringer-Crawford Museum, among others, and Hanover College President Lake Lambert.

• 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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