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Harland Hubbard

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In HARLAND HUBBARD, Wendell Berry pays tribute to a little-known Kentucky painter and writer, a modern disciple of Thoreau who sought to live a life of cultured simplicity. After studying art in New York and Cincinnati, Hubbard (1900-1988) settled in the Ohio River Valley and devoted himself to music, art, and journal writing, working at odd jobs or bartering for food to provide for basic necessities. He spent his free time hiking, canoeing, and painting along the Ohio River.

After their marriage in 1943, Hubbard and his wife Anna built a shantyboat from materials scavenged from the Ohio riverbanks and spent five years drifting down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, stopping to tend a garden during the summers and generally supporting themselves by fishing, gardening, or bartering. Avoiding modern conveniences, they read, played chamber music, and worked at handicrafts. Later they settled at Payne Hollow, in Trimble County, Kentucky, on the Ohio River, and homesteaded on seven acres from 1952 until their deaths in the late 1980’s.

In his books, SHANTYBOAT (1953), PAYNE HOLLOW (1985), and SHANTYBOAT ON THE BAYOUS (1990), Hubbard offers a vision of a creative, self-sufficient, and cultured life in harmony with nature. As a painter, Hubbard depicted the farms and landscapes along the Ohio River in the style of naive folk art. His paintings and writings share a quality of clarity and simplicity, a joy of life, and a celebration of the present moment. The quiet satisfactions of his life led Hubbard to affirm that “The beauty of the earth is Christ himself.”

In HARLAND HUBBARD, Berry celebrates a life of principle, a modern alternative to the heedless consumerism and wastefulness of modern industrial society.