Elbert Hubbard: An American Original

Elbert Hubbard: An American Original

Mon, 01/11/2010 - 10:00pm

Pictured: Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) was the influential, flamboyant founder of the Roycroft artisan community in East Aurora, New York.

 

Credit: Courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society and the Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum

Paul Lamont presents the story of Elbert Hubbard, founder of the Roycroft artisan community in East Aurora, New York during the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Elbert Hubbard: An American Original, airing Monday, January 11 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable1011/cable11), presents the fascinating life story of Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), the flamboyant founder of the Roycroft artisan community in East Aurora, New York. The program is narrated by actor Liev Schreiber, with Adam Arkin providing Hubbard’s voice.
 
Producer Paul Lamont, who also produced Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo for PBS, describes his latest film as “a story of love, art, passion and controversy set against the backdrop of the Arts and Crafts Movement.”
 
At the turn of the 20th century, the Roycroft community was at the forefront of that movement, which rejected industrialization and emphasized the hand-crafting of everyday objects. Hubbard, an influential author, publisher, lecturer and entrepreneur, attracted master craftspeople, as well as numerous dignitaries, to the campus.
 
Hubbard had risen from relative obscurity, exploding onto the American landscape and into the nation’s consciousness. He influenced popular culture and American thought for two decades, only to die aboard the Lusitania en route to a meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II.
 
Colorful and independent, Hubbard was a controversial national figure, a man of extreme contradictions. As an innovator in business and advertising, he was in the vanguard of the emerging age of American commerce. At the same time, he was the ultimate non-conformist. Eventually, he dropped out of the lucrative business world and entered the idealized world of arts and crafts. As a champion of the movement, he was simultaneously proclaimed a prophet and a charlatan. Some felt he genuinely believed in and espoused the ideals of Arts and Crafts, while others thought he was using the movement for his own advancement and search for immortality.

His private life was as controversial as his public one. He carried on a decade-long affair while married, fathered a child out of wedlock, went through a public divorce, was vilified in the national press, yet rebounded to become more popular than ever.
 
Several themes resonate within Elbert Hubbard: An American Originalthe industrialization of America and the reaction manifested in the Arts and Crafts Movement; the effect of the movement on the new American middle class; the notion of “popular culture” in America; the influence and effect of advertising and mass marketing on everyday lives; and America’s transition from straight-laced Victorian mores and ideals to the kind of society in which men like Hubbard could thrive.
 
“You may not approve of everything Hubbard did,” said Lamont, “but I think people will be able to relate to the contradictions that were part of his personality, as well as his personal and professional struggles during a very turbulent and transitional time in America.”

 

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