James Hubbell

Arts & Crafts | 1931

A reverence for nature remains the basis of James Hubbell’s singular career, one that seamlessly integrates art, craft and architecture. Hubbell studied sculpture at Cranbrook Academy of Art and often worked with wood, iron and stained glass in a contemporary architectural context alongside Sim Bruce Richards.

James T. Hubbell is well known for his sculptural home in Santa Ysabel as well as parks, schools and other environments that bring art into the realm of everyday human experience. Mr. Hubbell was born on October 23, 1931 in Mineola, New York to Julia Jones and James Hubbell Sr. Akin to the experiences of his brother Bert and sister Ann, having attended thirteen schools by the time of his high school graduation, James finished at Choate, in Connecticut (in 1950) at a time the young man invested himself in hitch-hiking across the states. Shortly after graduation, he and others toured Africa and Europe before returning to the US (in 1951) to enroll in the Whitney Art School. By 1952, he was drafted into the US Army and initially stationed at Fort Ord (in Monterey), Naval Air Station Alameda and Camp Stoneman (in Sacramento). Stationed in Taegu, Hubbell was assigned a variety of graphic arts projects through the end of the Korean War.

Shortly after James returned home, in 1954, he left for Cranbrook. During his two years (1954-56) at the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan campus he spent time in Europe witnessing the work of Antoni Guadi, Henri Matisse, and Michelangelo among others. Returning to San Diego County, the young artist established a studio on his mother's property in Rancho Santa Fe.

While attending Questaven, his army buddy Jim Hulbert introduced James to Anne Stewart in 1953. They two married and purchased property near Julian in 1958.

James' mother, now Julia Larrea, recognized her son's labor-intensive work inwrought iron and stained glass in a contemporary architectural context, and introduced him to architect Sim Bruce Richards. Following their first collaboration, in the mid-1950s on a stained glass project for a Richards-designed home in Del Mar, the duo initiated a long history of collaboration. Hubbell's work integrated into Richards' architecture would prove mutually beneficial (not to mention clients' years of enjoyment of the results). Following his work with Richards, Hubbell engaged in relationships with others like Lloyd Ruocco, Martha Longenecker

During the 1960s and '70s Hubbell’s work was included in the prestigious series of California Design exhibitions at the Pasadena Art Museum and the Arts of Southern California series at the Long Beach Museum of Art, as well as at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York. His forged iron work was featured in Craft Horizons magazine in the 1970 article “The Contemporary Blacksmith.” James Hubbell was also one of the artists profiled in the final California Design publication from 1977, Craftsman Lifestyle: The Gentle Revolution.

Interview Excerpt

James Hubbell: It doesn't fit either. I think you're right about the art historical thing. There's a painter who used to paint black on black and white on white. I remember in school we used to talk about him. This was back in the '50s. About twenty or twenty-five years later I read that this guy had finally become really important. And the reason was that there were four of five other people doing it. He'd become a movement. The writers and critics are trained to see things that way, not in terms of individuals, but movements. My problem more particularly is that when I went to Whitney Art School in Connecticut, I had this great teacher. In about a six month time, he gave you the whole world. We went through every style, every method. We stared with four straight lines. When I got through I realized I could do whatever I wanted. It was all part of the language of what I could do. That's very confusing to the artworld. This teacher also said, "If you want to be famous, find something that is easy to recognize. Every time you paint a picture, put red dots around it. That way anyone can walk in and from the other side of the gallery can say, 'oh that's a so and so'."

RW: Who was this teacher?

James Hubbell: Lou York. I think he taught at Yale for a long time. He was just a really great teacher. But in other ways, it's given me a huge amount of freedom, so I wouldn't trade it for anything.

RW: You mentioned someone else who made a big difference in your life.

James Hubbell: Sim Bruce Richards. He'd worked with Frank Lloyd Wright in the '30s. When I was about 21, I did my first job with him on one of his homes. Over the next 25 years I probably did something in every one of his buildings. Windows, doors, columns, pools.

RW: You said it was unusual for an architect to hire an artist.

James Hubbell: Yes. I don't know why. I think architects think that artists are just another problem. They bring in stuff that isn't standard. In Berkeley I think, the architecture department is in the science department. It's not in the humanities where it should be.

RW: And people don't know how to categorize you, I suppose. I first heard of you as "an architect." You've pointed out that you cross categories, and that's an interesting thing in itself.

James Hubbell: I'm not even an architect.

Partial List of Projects

St. Souls Episcopal Church (windows)
Point Loma

Cal Western University
Rohr Hall sculpture

Davidson Residence (1972)
1025 Alpine Blvd, Alpine

Greenery, The (1972)
4475 Mission Boulevard, Pacific Beach

Hubbell, James & Anne Residence & Studios (1958 – 1965 + later additions)
930 Orchard Lane, Santa Ynez

Pt. Loma Nazarene (details) (1962)
Point Loma

Rainbow Hill House (1991)
643 Oak Land Road, Julian

St. Andrews Episcopal Church (windows) (1960)
Pacific Beach

St. Catherine Laboure Catholic Church (sculpture) (1965)

St. Leo's Catholic Church (sculpture) (1965)
Solana Beach

Sunshine Elementary Playground (1962)

Triton Restaurant
Cardiff By The Sea

University Christian Church (windows) (1962)

Vint House #2 (1983)
3877 Arroyo Sorrento Road Del Mar

Wishing Well Hotel renovation (1962)
Rancho Santa Fe