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Friday, August 26, 2016

Fort Thomas Hidden Studio Named to National Register

Harlan Hubbard's studio. FTM file. 
Fort Thomas’ tag-line is “The City of Beautiful Homes” and is replete with historic, beautifully crafted and well-maintained, sprawling homes the walls of which, if they could talk, would tell tales often more beautiful than the home’s Victorian façade.

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The walls, however, are not the only storytellers and the façades not the only art that has graced this town; likewise, the best stories do not necessarily come from the most sprawling manors but sometimes originate from much smaller, much simpler homes or even one-room studios, much like that of famed artist and former Fort Thomas resident Harlan Hubbard who, at the age of 19, moved from the Bronx to Fort Thomas, KY where he would live until the age of 43. He would marry his wife Anna Eikenhout, and where he would spend most of his days living a simple lifestyle and working in a simple, single-room studio which still stands in the wooded area behind Sidney Thomas’ and the late Bill Thomas’ home on Highland Avenue.

Front door, Hubbard's Studio. FTM file. 

Now, after the tireless efforts of several Fort Thomas residents and the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy (FTFC), Hubbard’s studio will stand forevermore, having been named to the National Register of Historic Places.  Future plans for the studio are to restore it and turn it into a place where local schools, museums, artists, scientists, or interested citizens can gather and learn about a “harmonious way to live” with nature, per Chuck Keller, one of the key Fort Thomas residents (and fellow FTM writer) involved in this conservation project.

FTM file. 
Keller, along with research conducted by Trisha Schroeder and the guidance of the FTFC, was instrumental in getting the studio named to the National Register.

Keller authored the Register application, a process that required Keller to read all of Hubbard’s work, visit his home in Payne Hollow (Trimble County, KY), interview people who knew the Hubbards, and research property records.  However, Keller said this all had meaning to him personally.

“We live in a world that often removes us from nature which is a shame because it is (through) our relationship with the natural world that we discover ourselves.”  Keller went on to say that “Harlan Hubbard shows that when we live with nature, rather than trying to futilely dominate nature, then our lives are enriched beyond measure. Life is not about money, power, and prestige. (Hubbard’s) life, I think, became his greatest work of art and it is one that has influenced tens of thousands around the world.”
Back of the studio. FTM file. 

Hubbard was famed for his simplistic living.  After spending much of his adult life in Fort Thomas, he and his wife Anna abandoned their Fort Thomas home and one-room studio to embark upon an eight-year journey on a shanty-boat along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, ending in the Louisiana bayous and inspiring his book, aptly-titled, Shantyboat.  From there, he settled into a new and simple life in Payne Hollow, KY on the shores of the Ohio River.

FTM file. 

Sidney Thomas, owner of the property, began her involvement in this project “as a tribute to (her) late husband, Bill Thomas (who) was a fan of Hubbard and purchased (their) home knowing of its history and potential,” said Thomas.

Thomas is excited to watch the restoration of the studio and considers herself “fortunate to share this home and some of (Hubbard’s) paintings with people.”

Her favorite involvement thus far was last year when eighty fourth-grade Moyer students toured the studio and she got to see their “excitement and enthusiasm for learning” during this experience.  Her goals for this studio are consistent with those of FTFC, who will have the easement rights and control the conservation efforts at the Hubbard studio, and those are to allow this “preserve” to “educate many (…) students from schools and universities in the Tri-State and beyond (who will visit) to study its architecture, Hubbard’s writings, his art, and his philosophies,” says Thomas.
Small windows in the Studio. FTM file. 

The reference to a “preserve”, one of the possible names for the Hubbard studio once restored and available for visitors, was first coined by Teresa Hill, Board Chair of the FTFC.  Hill says she “look(s) forward to the day when The Studio along with the wooded area of the Thomas property is legally (and permanently) protected with a conservation easement.”

Being named to the National Register is only the first step in this conservation process, a process that theoretically began with work that Hill did back in the 1990’s to help pass the Land Protection program which makes it possible for private landowners to create permanently protected preserves in Fort Thomas, thus paving the way for the Hubbard studio work being done now.

FTM file. 
There is another connection that the FTFC has to the Hubbard studio- FTFC co-founders cousins Bert and Bill Thomas hosted the first community gathering and established the steering committee to guide the fledgling FTFC in Hubbard’s studio in Bill and Sidney Thomas’ backyard.

Hill, present at that first meeting, “found (her)self completely absorbed by the mission- to protect the remaining forests in Fort Thomas.”

The significance of this first meeting spot, however, is not lost on Hill who says, “the significance of the fact that The Studio was built by Harlan Hubbard was something I grew to appreciate several years later- at the urging of Bill (Thomas)- when I first read Hubbard’s book Payne Hollow and was later inspired by his artwork at The Behringer-Crawford Museum (where it still remains today).”

Now, coming full circle, Hill hopes to preserve the Studio and preserve the “legacy (that Hubbard left) through his art, writing, and simple lifestyle.”

The preservation, restoration, and conservation will, however, require many donations!  Given the importance of tradition in this city, FTFC is hopeful that the community will buy in to these efforts and will benefit from the Hubbard Preserve.

To learn more about the FTFC, visit their website  Background information on Harlan Hubbard was sourced from

MOAB kids learning about the Hubbard studio. FTM file. 

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