Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Girl In White

I've spent many hours of wonderment touring the Art Institute of Chicago.  It started when I was given a Saturday morning semester course there for being the most promising art student of my eighth-grade graduating class.  However, my sharpest memory of the experience was not the class, but traveling on the bus along the outer drive watching the water on Lake Michigan. Sometimes high winds shot waves against the rocks and into the air to what looked like twenty feet high, and in really cold weather, ice formations became fantastic.  It's understandable that in 1963 my husband and I decided to spend our one-day honeymoon at this fine museum built so close to the wild lake.

Years later, in the spring of 1986, something interesting began to develop while visiting the museum gift shop.  I found a card that was blank inside with a painting I liked on the cover; one in the white girl series by James McNeill Whistler.*  I remember that Kentucky artist and writer Harlan Hubbard also admired Whistler's work, so even though correspondence between us had been brief and limited, I decided to send the card to Harlan and Anna to tell them how much I was enjoying his books.

In a short time I received an unexpected note from Harlan telling me he was 'intrigued' with the painting on the card.  Then I tucked the note away with the satisfaction of knowing that a random act of kindness brought some small happiness.  I didn't notice until later the significance in the note being signed Harlan Hubbard, and not H and A Hubbard, like my other correspondence from him.

I don't remember when or how I learned that Anna was gone.  She had passed away on May 4, 1986.  Harlan's note to me is dated June 29, l986.   The card I sent reached him somewhere between these dates, but I didn't know that then.  The Little White Girl had become something of an accidental sympathy card.

What more may have happened finally dawned on me after Harlan and Anna were both gone. Harlan's last note had let me know the Whistler painting stirred him.  Now I am the one who is intrigued, because when I saw the the painting again-its quiet, mysterious quality, the girl so unassuming with an almost angelic look...suddenly I envisioned a young Anna.  You can easily say I imagine too much, but I think Whistler's painting does look like her.  It certainly captures the essence of her for me.  What was Harlan thinking?  I guess we will never know.

*Symphony in White No. 2: the Little White Girl Series 1864, James McNeill Whistler

Friday, February 15, 2013


Books by Harlan Hubbard:
Shantyboat: A River Way of Life, by Harlan Hubbard.  Published 1953, by Dodd, Mead;
republished 1977, University Press of Kentucky.

Payne Hollow:  Life on the Fringe of Society, by Harlan Hubbard.  Published 1974, by Eakins Press; republished 1985, Gnomon Press, Box 475 Frankfort, Kentucky 40602

Shantyboat on the Bayous, by Harlan Hubbard.  Published 1990, University of Kentucky

Harlan Hubbard Journals, 1929-1944.  Edited by Vincent Kohler and David F. Ward.  Published by University Press of Kentucky.

To learn about the Hubbards' and Harlan's art:

Harlan Hubbard and the River:  A Visionary Life, by Don Wallis.  Published 1989 
OYO Press
Box 476 
Yellow Springs
Ohio, 45387

Harlan Hubbard:  Life and Work, by Wendell Berry.  Published 1990, University Press of Kentucky.  

The Woodcuts of Harlan Hubbard, From the Collection of Bill Caddell.  Published 1994,
University Press of Kentucky.

Also of interest: 

Traveler's Joy: by Juliette de Bairacli Levy.  Republished 1994,
Keats Publishing, Inc.
27 Pine Street (Box 876)
New Canaan, Connecticut 06840-0876

Houseboat Girl: by Lois Lenski    (out of print but used books available on internet sites.)
The forward of this book for young readers includes a thanks to Harlan and Anna Hubbard.

There have been various newspaper articles and videos too numerous to mention here.
At present a documentary movie by Morgan Atkinson of Louisville, Kentucky is being premiered.  Watch for it.  I would not be surprised to see it on PBS soon!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Dreamers Drift

Life stream in river form
rushs by.
Flood threatens to wash over us.  
Whirlpools circle
trying to suck us down.

Through a curtain of willows,
I find the shantyboat resting in a peaceful pool.
I know this place,
so I explore unhindered in the johnboat
where the current is refreshing.

Venturing upstream,
I stop, rest, then set the boat free
to float home again.
The universe is fluid and I reach in a dream
scavenging precious drift...
the Hubbard legacy.

Salvaged treasure,
retrieved for my own carving-
this story.


It later occurred to me that my interest in the lifestyle of the Hubbards was not so surprising after all.  Even though I was born and raised in Chicago proper, my mother (pictured above) was an artistic woman who also loved nature.  We often camped at J.W.Wells St. Park in upper Michigan.  I grew up on the sand dunes of the Great Lakes, as did Anna Hubbard, and I still feel some of the grit between my teeth.  

When I discovered this old photo of mother fishing there on the Cedar river, I was amazed to see this houseboat.  It's a northern version of a wooden houseboat or shantyboat, and it appears well crafted with interesting slightly bowed walls. I like to believe my interest in shantyboats started on this day.