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The Impressionist painter Charles D. Hubbard (1876-1951) is known to this day as "Guilford's Artist," and many in town have enjoyed reviewing his works still on display in locations including the Guilford Free Public Library and Guilford High School (where Hubbard also began the Class Shield tradition).
But Hubbard's work lies elsewhere, in private and public places, including East Haven's Hagaman Memorial Library. For local Hubbard fans, the Hagaman's two whimsical Hubbard murals lie only minutes away and are well worth the trip, because they're likely very different from Hubbard works most of us have come to know and love.
The Hagaman Hubbard panels were installed to grace the space over the library's twin fireplaces, opposing each other across the span of the library's two original two rooms, when the library was built in 1929. The colorful murals remain in their original locations.
Hubbard was commissioned to paint Imagination and Research for the Hagaman. Quaint descriptions of the murals are exhibited just below each panel. To personify Research, Hubbard chose a man seated at a desk in the great outdoors, clothed, as the description notes, "in the costume of the present, to show that it is in our own age that research has, in many fields, made the greatest progress." To his left stands Archeology, "a bloodless old man leaning upon a carving of extreme antiquity." Another figure is History, "aged but vigorous, and partly draped, even as our knowledge of history is in part only." Astronomy is shown as a partially visible woman in blue and "fittingly, the entire composition is lighted by radiance from the star which attends her." A little girl with an armful of flowers represents Botany, while Natural History is a woman embracing a stag and Chemistry is "a primitive man in a servile position?to express the idea that underlying all things and serving all things in the physical universe is Chemistry."
The other mural, Imagination, requires a bit less of a stretch to tie itself back to the subject matter, but is just as captivating. It features recognizable figures from childhood lore such as St. Nicholas and, in a nod to "modern" times, Little Orphan Annie (although with her Page-boy clip, those of us accustomed to the comical curly red-head would easily overlook her had the library's written description not pointed her out). A chivalrous knight astride a white steed raises his lance to salute Old King Cole, who takes his throne in the center of the outdoor scene. Off to one side, Circe the Sorceress has changed a man into a pig-a favorite feat. All around, flower petals drift through the air; some turn into fairies. The famed seven seas are suggested in the distance. All of these flights of fancy have sprung from the imagination of two children in the foreground, thanks to "having filled their minds with tales of the past and present and suddenly finding themselves surrounded by the creations of story and romance," as the description explains.
Hubbard was known to use locals as models for his paintings and illustrations, so there's no telling whether one of the faces of the figures found in Research or Imagination may be those of Guilford folks. Best known for his Impressionistic landscape paintings, Hubbard often toiled away in his studio on Park Street, where the ninth-generation Guilford family member (born in New Jersey) not only turned out prolific works in paint, but also in photography, calligraphy, and illustrations.
The Hagaman Memorial Library is located at 227 Main Street in East Haven. For hours and directions, visit www.hagamanlibrary.info or call 203-468-3890.