Where Earth Meets Sky

by Jonathan Wright

A landscape painter and lifelong artist finds a new role as a gallery owner in Morton.

“I am a landscape painter, but the land, per se, is not the focus of my art. My inspiration derives instead from an area just above the land—that beautiful, mysterious line where the earth meets the sky, where the two seem to melt together into a gauzy mist. It is this evocative, moody area that drives the desire to reach for my brushes.”

An artist since childhood, Rozanne (Rose) Hubbard cites the “soft, beautiful, dreamy paintings” of the American tonalists as a critical influence, but took her earliest inspiration from her mother, who “always drew and painted, and provided me with plenty of art supplies.” Upon moving to Morton in her early teens, she was disappointed that her new high school did not offer art. “They got an art teacher the year after I graduated,” she adds with a smile. “I just kept on buying art books, taking classes and that sort of thing.”

Eventually, she became a graphic designer and a mother herself. In the mid-eighties, she started traveling around the country, attending workshops and studying under a host of nationally known artists. “It was hard in this area at the time,” Hubbard recalls. “They didn’t have the venues that they do today. You had to go out and find them yourself.”

As she polished her craft, she displayed her work in numerous exhibitions, both locally and in the Chicago area. But circumstance pushed her into real estate, and for nearly a decade, her true passion was put on hold. “I was so busy, there was no art going on at all. I just couldn’t get it done.” She eventually returned to painting, and the last 10 years have seen her work blossom.

Mood of the Land
Having started in watercolor and experimented with pastels, Hubbard works almost exclusively in oils today. “It was really frustrating at first—there was a lot of cussing and carrying on,” she laughs. “It took me a while to figure out, and I’m still learning.” Though she also paints portraits, florals and still lifes, she finds herself drawn to landscapes, always seeking that “mysterious line where the earth meets the sky.”

“We can drive down the highway and see the same old scene every day and pay no attention,” she muses. “But when the light is at a certain [place], it can be so beautiful and striking.” She might use a photograph or a pencil sketch for inspiration, but Hubbard is more interested in capturing the mood of the land than “just copying a scene.” Her sketchbook is full of descriptive notes “about the color of the sky or trees, which direction the sun is coming from… or just about the day.”

She enjoys setting her easel up outdoors and painting en plein air—or she might start with a blank canvas and see what happens. “I’ll just cover [it] with paint and start pulling it away with paper towels… If it’s not developing right, I can cover it and just keep doing this. That’s what’s great about oil: it stays wet for several days, so you just keep messing with it until you get it how you want it.”

A 2009 vacation to Door County, Wisconsin led to an affiliation with Edgewood Orchard Galleries, which has displayed her work every year since. “They were very welcoming,” she notes. “They made you feel comfortable, where some galleries seem a little stiff, or you feel like you don’t belong there.

With a steady flow of tourists, Hubbard’s paintings sell very well in Door County. “And I had a really nice studio at home,” she adds. “But when you’re in your own home, nobody really knows what you’re doing. I wanted a place [locally] where I could have my studio and also display my work.”

The Gallery Life
Located in the heart of Morton, Jefferson Street Studio & Gallery came to life about five years ago. “My daughter had opened Eli’s Coffee Shop… and I could see this little house across the street,” Hubbard recalls. Over the years, whenever the “for rent” sign went up, she’d call to express her interest in purchasing the 100-year-old brick bungalow. Today, her studio takes up the former kitchen, two bedrooms and a basement studio are rented to other artists, and the living and dining rooms are now a gallery featuring painting, pottery, photography and jewelry from 16 artists.

She hadn’t planned on running a gallery, but the house afforded her space. “I have a lot of friends and family who are artists, so I told them to bring their work in,” she explains. “And it kind of grew into this gallery.” She soon joined CIAO (Central Illinois Artists Organization), and the venue became a stop on the local First Friday circuit.

Among the artists with studios on Jefferson Street is Connie Andrews, a painter and sculptor whose award-winning works have become well-known in the Peoria area. “She’s very talented,” Hubbard expresses. “I love when people come in… I can hear them when they see Connie’s sculptures—they’re always blown away.

“And then I hear them down in the basement, where Kelly Scarfe has a studio,” she adds. “Kelly is very funky. She does these big, bold abstracts… I hear people down there ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing,’ talking with her about her art. So, it’s fun—we have an eclectic group.”

Though she’s not much for marketing, or the paperwork that comes with running a business, Hubbard enjoys promoting her fellow artists. “I get excited when we sell something,” she says, “or even when they get compliments—I send them a message right away. As an artist, I know how that feels. It’s not always about the money; it’s about knowing that somebody connected with your work.”

On the Horizon
In 2017, Hubbard is trying something new: teaming up with The Mansion on Walnut in Pekin for a twist on the First Friday concept. “We’re going to try to do Fourth Fridays to switch it up,” she says. “I think it will be nice for us to be able to go to First Fridays… and then have those artists be able to come to our shows. It will open things up a little bit.”

As her brushes continue to survey that “gauzy mist” of the horizon line, Hubbard is embracing her role as a gallery owner. She smiles, recalling a recent visit from two high school girls, one of whom had previously been in on a school field trip.

“I was in my studio visiting with Kelly Scarfe,” she says. “I told her to show her friend around the gallery… and just yell if they had any questions. It wasn't long before she asked if I would step out into the gallery for a moment. The girls had big grins on their faces and whispered to me... ‘Is the Kelly you are talking to the same Kelly who painted these paintings?’ Then they asked if they could meet her.

“They were so excited that the actual artist of the paintings they loved was right there… in the flesh! She was a total ‘rock star’ to them. They even asked Kelly if she would mind having her picture taken with them in front of her work. These are the types of things that make owning a gallery so much fun.” a&s

For gallery hours or additional information, visit jeffersonstreetgallery.com.