Several years ago, probably fifteen, I toured James Hubbell’s home and studio in the mountains close to Julian, California. Every year he opened his studio and home to the public, put out a lot of food, and had costumed creatures flitting around the grounds. His main house and a separate satellite smaller house (the boys’ house) were filled with his leaded glass works. The roof of the boys’ house was a skylight of leaded mosiac. He had just set up his forge and was doing his own metal work but assistants assembled his leaded glass. (I talked with one “assembler” who considered herself a purist–she felt that a grinding wheel to help shape the cut glass was a huge no-no. I used one because I couldn’t always cut the small glass pieces to fit precisely. I pointed out that the glass cutter she was using was just a small wheel itself but that didn’t change her mind.) Sadly, in 2003, the huge Cedar fire destroyed the whole compound. He is still rebuilding.
And his works are still here. There used to be more, in restaurant doors, especially. I miss them. But he does have three major pieces on Shelter Island in the grassy areas called Shoreline Park.
I was recently on Shelter Island looking for a spot to view the Tall Ships for the Festival of Sail and paid attention to three pieces that I only had glanced at in passing. The pearl fountain is at the tip of Shelter Island. It is a combination of mosaic, cement, and metal work which students assisted in the construction.
The pearl and fans are obvious once you know what they are. The mosaics under water are not. They are the four points of a compass and represent different Pacific Rim countries–a Chinese dragon, an American shore bird, a Russian Siberian tiger, and a Mexican feather serpent. Hard to see though. And the cement fans are a bit solid and gray. (Cement is a big deal in San Diego from Scripps Institute to La Jolla Playhouse. I find it solid and gray.)
The bronze Pacific Spirit is more interesting. She is mermaid-like. And she stands with the background of the bay and the ships. And looks good against a gray sky or a bright blue one.
Down at the other end of the island is Pacific Portal with a typical Hubbell curved and poured dome shape. Inside on the ceiling are mosaic tiles and the walk through the portal also is mosaic swirls of waves and color.
You can always read the details of what the artist intended with these works, but these pretty much say a lot without explanation. Maybe the fountain benefits from the explanations of the fan, the metal “Russian calligraphy,” and the points on the compass floor of the fountain, but that great female “spirit” doesn’t need to be explained.