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Campus Closeup: John Hubbard

NMU’s DeVos Art Museum unveils a new exhibit April 1—a retrospective of works created by John Hubbard (Art and Design). It may be a challenge for Hubbard to decide which pieces to display. He has to pare down more than four decades’ worth of paintings, drawings and paper items accumulated from art school through his career on the NMU faculty, which began in 1969 and will continue “for at least another year.” A concurrent exhibition showcasing the work of former students of Hubbard will serve as a visual testament to his creative influence.

 

Originally from New York, Hubbard was inspired to pursue art after tagging along with his older brother to high school classes taught by a “fantastic teacher.” He earned his BFA from Boston University and his MFA from Syracuse. His first teaching position was at a small college in Florida. Hubbard had trouble adapting to the hot weather and quit without having another job lined up. He returned to his parents’ home and churned out 500 letters on a manual typewriter to send to other institutions, inquiring whether there was a teaching vacancy. Several responded, including NMU.

 

“I was originally hired to teach drawing at Northern,” Hubbard said. “The printmaker on the faculty found another job and left, so the department head at that time asked me to take over those classes. I had some experience, but it wasn’t my major or area of concentration. Later, a professor who taught painting died two weeks before the semester started. They decided to merge painting with drawing, so I got painting by default.

 

“They used to display art in the library concourse and the Thomas Fine Arts hallway, but security was an issue. When they opened the gallery in Lee Hall as the first real exhibition space on campus, I was the first director. It was fun, but a lot of work on top of teaching. There was no budget so we lobbied ASNMU for about $800 per semester to run it. I guess you could say I’ve done most of my learning on the job over the years.”

The professional demands prevented Hubbard from literally practicing what he preached: painting. About 14 years ago, he decided he “wasn’t getting any younger” and needed to change that. He has earned a regional reputation as an oil painter who effectively captures the rugged landscapes of the Upper Midwest (such as the oil on canvas above). He's received numerous awards and completed an artist residency at Isle Royale. His work has been featured in more than 200 juried exhibitions and 21 one-man shows throughout the Midwest and Canada.

Hubbard also is an accomplished printmaker and papermaker, specializing in two techniques: lithography, in which a limestone slab or aluminum plate is treated so that an image drawn on the surface attracts ink, making it possible to transfer that image to paper; and intaglio, where a design is etched on a metal plate and ink is forced into the low areas and wiped from the surface, resulting in a reversed image. A separate plate is required for each hue in intaglio, similar to screen printing (an example is pictured right).

 

“I enjoy working in the arts because it’s creative, inventive and changing all of the time; it’s never boring,” said Hubbard, who shared a self-portrait drawing (left). “It’s also fun to work with students who don’t know much and are receptive to what you have to offer. But sometimes the older, upper-level students are incredibly creative and give me ideas, so I learn from them. I will miss that interaction with students. That’s why I’m leery of retiring just yet.”

 

Even when he does step down, Hubbard may not have much more time to devote to art. That hobby will compete with the others on his list: cross-country skiing, biking, kayaking, gardening, woodworking/carpentry, driving antique tractors and motoring his 1938 Chris Craft boat. He also wants to travel to visit family. Hubbard and his wife, Susan—an NMU graduate who makes jewelry and other glass pieces—have three children spread across the country: Alyssa, a graphic designer in Colorado; Justin, who works for a solar panel company in Boston; and Jesse, a full-time dad in Sun Prairie, Wis.