Wonder: Lives of Anna & Harlan Hubbard

Harlan Hubbard paintingPaintings by Harlan Hubbard. He even made the frames.

Anna and Harlan were those genuine people who did not preach their beliefs but lived them. Their romantic story may not seem so idyllic to some, but what they lived is near a fairy tale. Their story may become one of those fairy tales not so long in the near future. This couple lived ‘off the grid’, a term they never heard of. While they did not live for money, they were rich in other ways such as their ethic, humbleness, and intelligence. They both were highly educated, especially during the time they lived. They were born in the early 1900s and lived to their 80s until the late 1980s. They met in their late 30s while at the University of Cincinnati and soon began their life living on a shanty boat and eventually in a home they built in northern Kentucky.

Recently a documentary, “Wonder“, was made about their lives and has had a few showings in Kentucky. The movie of course reveals their story, but it also illustrates how full their lives were and has a good few stories about their encounters with normal society. One of these stories is when Harlan had to answer questions to a man with the Census, such as “Does your home having running water?” Harlan’s answer, “Well, there is running water outside the home”. This is when they lived on a boat on the Ohio River. It reminds us how it’s hard to place statistics on someone who doesn’t live by the confines of normal living.

There were people at the showing who personally knew the Hubbards. They said visits to their home were some of the most civilized with talks about Bach, music playing, and fine dining on precious China. One man said they kept busy all the time with visits from people and also in their own pursuits. Not only was their living, just working to live, but they also kept up with their mind with literature, art, and music. They were both in many ways different from each other, but they both agreed on how they wanted to live. Anna was formally trained in music and literature, and Harlan was trained as an artist, wrote often, and played violin. Harlan wrote several books about his life and adventure and even had rave reviews from the New York Times. Harlan traded many of his paintings for items he needed and even had a few gallery showings at a nearby university. He was influenced by the impressionist, but said he was never accepted by them because of his paintings of reality, which were mostly of the rustic land and waterscapes in which he lived.

At the event, some of his original paintings and prints were for sale, which was an insight into the reality that these people truly existed. While their type of living actually may not be all that abnormal for the time (as it is now), their story is kind of unique because they chose to live that way even though they had opportunities and the background to live otherwise. While most of us don’t have the means to live like the Hubbards except in some of our dreams, it reminds us that we can do more to live simply.

The film was hosted by Idea Festival, an organization in Louisville Kentucky, produced by Morgan Atkinson, narrated by Wendell Berry, and features music by Ben Sollee.


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