During the summer of 1987, Joanne Weeter traveled to Trimble County, Kentucky to conduct an oral history with artist, and author Harlan Hubbard. The interviews, that are punctuated with the sounds of birds chirping and a dog, Ranger, barking were conducted at Hubbard's home 'Payne Hollow.' Harlan was eighty-seven at the time and already a legend. Known as the "Kentucky Thoreau," he gained notoriety for his unique lifestyle that was as frugal as it was abundant. An artist, a writer, a carpenter, and an environmentalist - Hubbard's list of accomplishments goes on. But, as humble as he was talented, Harlan was unsure of himself during the oral history. He admits that he is "not much of a talker."
Harlan's on being an "awkward speaker"
“I know we can't be quite, you know, we always think it could be better and I know I've been awkward about speaking sometimes and expressing myself but I've told some people about this, like Anna's sister, for instance, and she said, "Well, that's certainly a surprise to me that you're doing anything like that because you're not much of a talker and you seem to try to . . . I don't see how you could do it," she said. So maybe that's the reason it isn't so good. But at least we've done the best we could and I'm sure I said something that's valuable and if anything that anybody takes, makes an objection to, I think I wish they'd be a little lenient and realize that it was hard for me to do all this. If I was writing it and could do it over again and over again I would get it just as I wanted it. But to speak it and have no chance to correct it or change it is really a hardship.”
“Well, I guess the important thing is that there's a record.”
“I think so. And I hope if anybody is interested enough to read all this and listen to it that they will understand that nothing is definitive.”
But Hubbard understood the importance of oral histories, of hearing the voice behind such a large body of work.
Hubbard on the value of Oral Histories
“Well, in a way, I guess there's not much more in them than would be in the manuscripts and letters and things I gave to the library. But it's a different medium and I think the voice is important just to know that you're listening to the man who wrote those letters; it means more than if you just read the letters, I think. Then I can say things that come on the spur of the moment that might not be transmitted any other way. I think it gives a good picture of a man and his mind and the way he thinks and what he's interested in.”
“Are you comfortable with the medium and with hearing your own voice?”
“I'm getting worse, though, but it still seems strange to me. I'm not a talking man, to tell the truth.”
Despite his insecurity with speaking, over the course of eleven tapes, Harlan gives profound insights on his unique life. He discusses his childhood in Bellevue Kentucky and New York City. He reflects on his passion for art, which spanned the majority of his lifetime and spawned thousands of water colors, woodprints, oil paintings, and sketches. Harlan talks at length about his forty-three year marriage to Anna Eikenhout, and their shared life of adventure and humble simplicity. He reflects on his identity, his spirituality, and his unanticipated fame.
The interviews hold special gravity as Harlan passed away a year after their taping.