Sunday, June 2, 2024

James Hubbell: A Timely Exhibition Morphs into a Tribute

 By Patricia Frischer

James Hubbell was much more that an architect and an artist. He was a gatherer of community. His optimism and belief in beauty and his love of humanity and the environment that surrounds us, was his daily source of hope.

He was fed by his belief that, “The imagination of an artist is not imagination, but the freedom of the soul.”

This exhibition, beautifully designed at the 9th floor Art Gallery at the Central Library, can only give you the briefest idea of the depth and stretch of work created by our own international treasure. You can see pictures of the homes he designed, but you can’t feel the families they created. You can learn about the string of oceanside parks he nurtured, but you won’t feel the sun on your face. You can observe the tribute to the Kumeyaay, but you can hear the wind whistling through the edifices he constructed for them. You can marvel at the 18 palace doors created for the United Arab Emirates sheik in Abu Dhabi, but unless you see them in person you cannot create the poetry needed to experience them.

A ten-year-old visitor to Ilan-Lael, the foundation set up to continue his work, stated, “Mr. Hubbell builds houses that trees aren’t embarrassed to stand next to.”

His youthful, play-oriented attitude never left James Hubbel and you can still see that in the models on display, almost like doll houses. You can see it in every detail (and he was a maximalist!) down to the door knobs. You see it in the tilting roof lines, almost like slides and the color, color, color glowing from every window.   

As I think about James Hubbell, I realize his whole life was meant to delight. He leaves a legacy for us. He no longer here to suggest words of wisdom, (like don’t build walls, build bridges), but the edifices and spirt he created will live on and on.    

  • Central Library Art Gallery: Exhibit featuring Hubbell’s 70-plus-year career as a contemporary master who expresses himself through nature-inspired art, architecture and functional objects and spaces. Open 1 to 5
  • Scripps Miramar Ranch Library: “A Mountain Home & Studios” exhibit features Hubbell’s studio and some of his most famous art.  
  • Mission Valley Library: “The Pacific Rim Project” tells the story of Hubbell’s vision that nations located on the Pacific Rim can find common ground through art.
  • Otay Mesa-Nestor Library: “Lado a Lado” focuses on Hubbell’s work in northern Baja California and his first experiment in community-built art parks.

I saw the exhibition at the Central Library Art Gallery, but I also visited the Scripps Miramar Ranch Library.  I can’t recommend that you go to the second unless you live locally. That display duplicates some of the image in the Central Library and has no objects, but it does serve as an introduction to the local residents about James Hubbell. And the library itself, which I had never been to, is extremely welcoming with a rich layout and lovely views.  

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