Born: January 4, 1900
Died: January 16, 1988
Harlan Hubbard’s realization that industrialism and consumerism posed a threat to the environment and human survival changed his life forever. So did his marriage to Anna Eikenhout in 1943.
“They were enormously gifted people,” writer Wendell Berry said of the Hubbards. “What made them unique was they were determined to live according to the requirements of their gifts, and that’s what they did.”
Together, the newlyweds launched a shanty boat in Northern Kentucky in 1944 for an eight-year journey, drifting with the Ohio and Mississippi rivers currents to Louisiana. After returning to Kentucky, they lived the rest of their lives in a small house they built at Payne Hollow in Trimble County.
The Hubbards welcomed countless visitors to their humble abode. Sometimes, entire classes of college students studying botany, writing, art, music, or utopian societies came to see them. Some just came to help in the everyday chores of gardening, cutting firewood, cooking, or helping check Harlan’s trotlines on the Ohio River.
“What Henry David Thoreau did for two years, Anna and Harlan Hubbard did for 40, except they did it in the 20th century,” said filmmaker Morgan Atkinson, who produced the 2012 documentary, Wonder: The Lives of Harlan and Anna Hubbard. “Anna and Harlan chose to live life as few people in modern times have. In so doing, they inspired thousands.”
Harlan Hubbard was born in Bellevue, Kentucky, opposite Cincinnati. After his father died in 1907, he moved to New York City to live with two older brothers. Hubbard was educated at Childs High School in the Bronx, the New York National Academy of Design, and the Art Academy of Cincinnati. He became a writer and painter. His books Shantyboat and Shantyboat on the Bayous documented the couple’s river journeys, while Payne Hollow and Journals, 1929-1944 lay out his philosophy of the well-lived life.
Harlan published 12 books from 1953 to 1996, including journals, travel essays, and artwork (woodcuts and paintings) with publishers such as Dodd-Mead, Eakins Press, Oyo Press, Larkspur Press, Gnomon Press, and the University Press of Kentucky. Hubbard was a prolific painter, often selling landscapes for small amounts to pay for the necessities of life that he and his wife couldn’t grow or make.
Anna died in 1986; Harlan two years later. They bequeathed Payne Hollow to Paul Hassfurder, an artist they befriended.
Shantyboat. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1953. Republished as Shantyboat: A River Way of Life. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1977.
Payne Hollow: Life on the Fringe of Society New York: Eakins Press, 1974. Republished Lexington, KY: Gnomon Press, 1997.
Harlan Hubbard Journals, 1929-1944. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1987.
Oyo: An Ohio River Anthology. With Don Wallis. Yellow Springs, OH: Oyo Press, 1987.
Shantyboat on the Bayous. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990.
Shantyboat Journal. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994.
The Woodcuts of Harlan Hubbard: From the Collection of Bill Caddell. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994.
Payne Hollow Journal. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996.
A Visit with Harlan Hubbard. With Wade H. Hall. Lexington: University of Kentucky Libraries, 1996.
Sonata at Payne Hollow: A Play. With Wendell Berry. Monterey, KY: Larkspur Press, 2001.
Morgan Atkinson’s 2012 film, Wonder: The Lives of Harlan and Anna Hubbard: