For over half a century, artist James Hubbell and his wife Anne have been working on their 10-acre mountain retreat near Julian, building a home and studios and making art. Once every year, on Father’s Day, they open their hand-built dwelling-place to the public, an opportunity to tour the grounds, meet the Hubbells, and experience their inspiring blend of nature and art.
The almost 85-year-old Hubbell is a sculptor, painter and architectural designer, a master of stained glass and mosaics whose work can be seen in homes, schools, museums, nature centers and peace parks around the world. The Open House is a benefit for the Ilan Lael Foundation, whose name means “a tree belonging to God,” a tree with roots in the earth and branches reaching toward the heavens.
The Hubbells established the nonprofit foundation in 1982 to spread their spirit of creative nurturance to people of all ages and cultures, and bring artists together to collaborate on public art.
Then, in October 2003, much of their property was destroyed in the devastating Cedar Fire, one of the worst wildfires in California history. Refusing to feel like victims, the Hubbells saw the disaster as a time for renewal. Determined to recreate their retreat but unable to pay for it themselves, they turned it over to Ilan Yael, becoming lifetime “artists in residence.”
Now, 13 years later, the area is green and thriving, the burnt-out buildings have been restored, inside and out, and a trio of new, hand-built structures — office, storage and meeting spaces — will be completed next year. “We couldn’t have rebuilt without the Foundation,” Hubbell said. “The new buildings are a staging site, a gathering place; the rest is an art work.”
For years, he had done all the building himself, with a little help from his friends, and as they grew older, his four sons. “We never borrowed money,” he said. “If we didn’t have enough money to buy something, we could lay stone. Cement was only $1.25 a bag. In a sense, this was all built by us, with a handful of helpers. I wouldn’t trade that building experience for anything.”
Now visitors come to admire the buildings, the stained glass and mosaics, but it’s the Hubbells’ lifestyle that really draws them in. As Ilan Lael’s executive director, Marianne Gerdes, explained on a recent tour of the property: “When Jim wants to do something and can’t do it himself, he brings in students and interns. He helps people find what they love to do, and they learn from him. Every day, he just does what he does: he makes art. He’s so humble and accessible, but he’s a genius, a Pied Piper, and he and Anne open their lives and let the rest of us in.
“Jim was building sustainably before it was fashionable, using local materials, and orienting everything to take advantage of light, heating and cooling. They built as they needed and could afford to, and looking at the buildings, you can see his progress as an artist.”
In 2008, the original living spaces were designated a historic landmark residence; the three new buildings are all up to code and made of recycled Styrofoam/concrete-composite bricks, which are fire-resistant, light-weight, and excellent for insulation. “The new buildings are a staging site, a gathering area,” said Hubbell. “The rest is an art work.”
About 800 people are expected at this year’s Open House on June 19. Self-guided tour maps will be distributed, docents will be available to answer any questions, and visitors will be able to get a taste of the “Hubbell-esque” way of life.
Stained glass and other Hubbell-made works are available online through June 30. View auction items at the Open House or ilanlaelfoundation.org/auctions
IF YOU GO: Hubbell Open House, Sunday, June 19. Morning Tour: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Afternoon Tour: 1-4 p.m. Park and catch the shuttle at: Julian Station/Wynola Farms Marketplace, 4470 Hwy 78, Julian. Tickets $30-$50; free for ages 12 and younger. Order at ilanlaelfoundation.org or purchase onsite. Proceeds go toward preserving the property and presenting events.
QUOTABLE: “I believe there is a central hunger in society now. It is the desire to put the world back together into a whole … and for us to be part of that whole. If art and architecture are the continuous search of humanity to find its ever-changing place in the universe, then art and architecture need to lead in the search to rediscover our spirit, a spirit that is comfortable in this our world.” — James Hubbell, from ‘About Art,’ jameshubbellart.com/tag/philosophy