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On Harlan Hubbard and Wendell Berry book covers

Have you ever wondered about the artwork that decorates the covers of so many of Wendell Berry’s books? I have, and so years ago I went digging to find out what I could about the pieces, and the man behind them. In doing so, I was introduced to one of those fascinating characters that hides behind the curtains of history.

Harlan Hubbard was born in 1900 in Bellevue, Kentucky. Although he would leave Kentucky several times in his life, first to live in New York and then to travel in a “shantyboat” down the Ohio River, Hubbard was as bound to farms and rivers of Northern Kentucky as a hobbit is bound to the Shire. He studied at the National Academy of Design in New York and later at the Cincinnati Art Academy. At the age of nineteen, however, he moved back to Kentucky with his mother, and he lived with her until he was married in 1943. 

Wendell Berry, in his book Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work, writes that Hubbard was an “odd young man” who, from very early on, viewed the world differently than most people. He was pretty much a failure in the world’s eyes. His art was not recognized, he earned his living as a day laborer, and he spent his spare time roaming the hills and riverways of Kentucky with his bicycle and painting tools.

Read all of "To Be Whole: A Call from the Fringe of Society" by Kevin Morse at The Rabbit Room.

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