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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy Lands $10,000 Grant That Restored Historic Hubbard Studio

The Harlan Hubbard Studio. 
There has been some activity in the middle of town on Highland Avenue - Moyer school has been renovated, a couple of residences are undergoing renovation or being built, and the Harlan Hubbard Studio and Nature Preserve has been quietly undergoing historic renovation.

If you don’t know, Harlan Hubbard is often called the Thoreau of Kentucky, but he developed his skills and philosophy in the middle of Fort Thomas in a a home and studio that he built. Hubbard and his wife left Fort Thomas and floated down the Ohio River to New Orleans, traveled the country, and then settles in a remote spot in Trimble County, Kentucky where he lived an isolated, rugged, yet sophisticated life without running water or electricity. Hubbard influenced contemporary writer Wendell Berry, local bluegrass artists, The Tillers, and area artist Ken Swinson.  His art and writing remain popular because he speaks to our desire to be with nature and find deeper meaning in that relationship.

The window prior to renovation.

The studio, that is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built from all reclaimed materials in 1939. Harlan scavenged many of the razed warehouses along Covington’s riverfront for materials to build his little 14’ x 20’ studio.

The large steel framed window in the north wall has an interesting story. It was originally destined for a church but it fell off a truck and was run over. It was useless to the church but valuable to Hubbard. He offered five dollars for it, hauled it back to the property, banged it back into shape and installed it.

The Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy (FTFC) now oversees the restoration and holds a conservation easement on the property that protects it from development. The Ohio Valley Foundation, through 5/3rd bank, awarded FTFC $10,000 to finish the Phase 2 restoration.

The restored window. Thanks to Jim Turner Restoration.

Sidney Thomas, owner of the property and active FTFC member, says that “working with Heidi Jark, Foundation Manager of Fifth Third, was such a pleasurable and smooth experience. Her interest in the Harlan Hubbard Studio and the restoration of it was genuine.  She immediately knew the perfect foundation with whom we could partner. As the owner and one of the caretakers of the Harlan Hubbard Studio and Nature Preserve, I feel honored to be able to share in this important journey of restoration of not only a building but of a lifestyle.  Thanks to the contributions of The Ohio Valley Foundation and other donors to restore and protect the studio, Anna and Harlan’s legacy will continue to influence our future generations.”

Thomas continues, “The Ohio Valley Foundation was looking for presence in Northern Kentucky, and one of their interests was strengthening community schools and assisting local arts programs.  The work the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy had already done hosting local schools and educating the idea of sustainability and Harlan and Anna Hubbard’s unique lifestyle would be appealing to the foundation’s interests.” 

As a result, the studio has hosted Moyer students, HHS students, Xavier University students, historic preservationists, and area artists. FTFC has ambitions plans to offer more events - like the October 13 event with artist Ken Swinson who has carved a special woodblock of the studio that patrons will be able to transfer to t-shirts using an old fashioned press. There will also be a local actor who travels the region portraying Harlan Hubbard, and there will be music. Follow Fort Thomas Matters and the Harlan Hubbard Studio and Preserve on Facebook for further development of this event.
Xavier University theology students visit the studio to discuss nature and theology.
Sidney Thomas says, “With the $10,000, we were able to upgrade the electric, restore the steel window and door and secure the building. The soft, discrete lighting is ideal for the studio to display works of Hubbard.  The double pane windows will help withstand the elements and keep the studio dry.  Finally, the building is more secure with a strong door and proper lock.” 

So make plans to stop by Saturday, October 13 between 12:00 and 4:00 to experience the studio, buy a special t-shirt ($20), and have some fun learning about Hubbard, his life, and the world around us.

Phase 3 will address the exterior of the building. Fundraising activities are underway. Contact for more information.

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