James Hubbell is well known for his sculptural home/compound in Julian and his parks, schools and other environments that bring art into the realm of everyday human experience. A reverence for nature remains the basis of James Hubbell’s singular career, one that seamlessly integrates art, craft and architecture. Hubbell studied sculpture at Cranbrook Academy of Art and often worked with labor-intensive, ancient techniques like wrought iron and stained glass in a contemporary architectural context.
During the 1960s and 70s Hubbell’s work was included in the prestigious series of California Design exhibitions at the Pasadena Art Museum and the Arts of Southern California series at the Long Beach Museum of Art, as well as at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York. His forged iron work was featured in Craft Horizons magazine in the 1970 article “The Contemporary Blacksmith.” James Hubbell was also one of the artists profiled in the final California Design publication from 1977, Craftsman Lifestyle: The Gentle Revolution.
Conversation with James Hubbell
JH: It doesn't fit either. I think you're right about the art historical thing. There's a painter who used to paint black on black and white on white. I remember in school we used to talk about him. This was back in the '50s. About twenty or twenty-five years later I read that this guy had finally become really important. And the reason was that there were four of five other people doing it. He'd become a movement. The writers and critics are trained to see things that way, not in terms of individuals, but movements.
My problem more particularly is that when I went to Whitney Art School in Connecticut, I had this great teacher. In about a six month time, he gave you the whole world. We went through every style, every method. We stared with four straight lines. When I got through I realized I could do whatever I wanted. It was all part of the language of what I could do. That's very confusing to the artworld.
This teacher also said, "If you want to be famous, find something that is easy to recognize. Every time you paint a picture, put red dots around it. That way anyone can walk in and from the other side of the gallery can say, 'oh that's a so and so'."
RW: Who was this teacher?
JH: Lou York. I think he taught at Yale for a long time. He was just a really great teacher. But in other ways, it's given me a huge amount of freedom, so I wouldn't trade it for anything.
RW: You mentioned someone else who made a big difference in your life.
JH: Sim Bruce Richards. He'd worked with Frank Lloyd Wright in the '30s. When I was about 21, I did my first job with him on one of his homes. Over the next 25 years I probably did something in every one of his buildings. Windows, doors, columns, pools.
RW: You said it was unusual for an architect to hire an artist.
JH: Yes. I don't know why. I think architects think that artists are just another problem. They bring in stuff that isn't standard. In Berkeley I think, the architecture department is in the science department. It's not in the humanities where it should be.
RW: And people don't know how to categorize you, I suppose. I first heard of you as "an architect." You've pointed out that you cross categories, and that's an interesting thing in itself.
JH: I'm not even an architect.
Partial List of San Diego Projects
& Anne Residence & Studios
(1958 – 1965 + later additions)
Pt. Loma Nazarene
St. Andrews Episcopal
Church (windows) (1960)
St. Catherine Laboure Catholic Church (sculpture) (1965)
Leo's Catholic Church (sculpture) (1965)
Elementary Playground (1962)
University Christian Church (windows) (1962)
House #2 (1983)
Hotel renovation (1962)