The Magazine of South Carolina

Hord's the Man

The Wonderful World of Artist Hord Stubblefield


Family "snapshot": childhood portrait of two of Stubblefield's sons with his mother-in-law in New York

Artist Hord Stubblefield in his studio

Watercolor of vessels at Mystic, CT

Stubblefield's "Alice in Wonderland"

by Aïda Rogers

His voice sounds like deep, dark water burbling over rocks. "Come on over, baby. I'm ready when you are." It’s 80-year-old Hord Stubblefield, slight of body, white of hair, young of mind. See those drawings on Pages 34–35 of this issue? They’re the work of a master.

"He throws away stuff we pull out of trash-cans," marvels Don Clark, owner of Art in a Nutshell Studio and Gallery in Columbia, where Stubblefield’s work is represented. Clark points to watercolors of northern landscapes, whimsical pen-and-ink drawings, a tugboat scene in New York Harbor. That one, Stubblefield’s favorite, shows what the artist does so well. "He is a master at painting water," Clark says. "Very few people can make water look like water. And Hord can put ripples in it."

Stubblefield, however, would never tell you that. "I got so damn many paintings, they’re just stacked up in corners," he mutters, picking his way through the art-ridden home he shares with Frances, his wife of 51 years. The number of paintings at home and at Art in a Nutshell gives proof to his lifelong love of art. Clark is dumbfounded by the volume and range of his work.

"He’s a very, very prolific artist," he says, pulling out painting after painting. "This could come from the pages of Wyeth," he notes, pointing to a rural scene of a barn. "This is Monet," he says of a pastel green pond. "That’s Cézanne," of pink and blue mountains with red-roofed houses. "You got to realize, the man is a genius."

Born in Hartsville, reared in Darlington—where he remembers drawing with a stick in the sand—Stubblefield grew up mostly in Greenwood. He graduated in 1940 from Clemson College with a degree in architecture. "I wanted to go to art school, but my folks thought I needed a profession, because in this world you got to be a dentist or something."

But art will out, and as it was, there wasn’t much call for architects during World War II. Drafted into the army and then rejected for weighing less than 105 pounds, Stubblefield joined the Navy and found himself on a tugboat in the Pacific, and eventually in Okinawa. Upon his return, he took a job in Atlanta, where he met and married Frances Taylor of Anderson. The desire for art school still strong—and the GI Bill available to make it happen—the pair set off for New York. Stubblefield earned a degree in illustration (with honors) from Pratt Institute in 1951.

"He is a trained professional," says Randy Antley, a street artist and musician from New York City, now living in Columbia. "I paint what I paint because I can’t paint what he paints." Antley pulls out a watercolor of a Clemson tiger. "You don’t have to say more than that. He paints every hair. He sees everything."

Clark concurs. "He could have been a wildlife artist. And how does an 80-year-old man keep his hand so steady?"

Stubblefield stayed in New York after graduating from Pratt, working at ad agencies until he wound up at Ogilvy & Mather, one of the largest ad agencies in the world. During his 27 years in the Creative Department, he whipped out storyboards and cartoons and designed art for Hershey, Rolls-Royce, American Express, Shell Oil, AT&T, General Foods, IBM and Mercedes-Benz.

On the side, he painted portraits of his three sons, illustrated a children’s book about an elephant and drew cartoons—selling two to Time magazine. It wasn’t until he and Frances returned to their home state in the ’80s to care for their elderly parents that Stubblefield began focusing on fine art and his true love, political cartoons. He found a place for them in Point, an alternative statewide newspaper that focuses on social justice and the environment.

"He’s done some of the most wonderful covers we’ve had," reports Becci Robbins, Point’s managing editor. Her favorites are his renderings of the South Carolina legislature—particularly of a circus tent enclosing lawmakers drawn as clowns. "I like his eye and his attitude. And I appreciate that he’s so passionate about things. He’s in tune with the world, and he processes what happens and comments on it."

Stubblefield likes his cartoon of an impatient Statue of Liberty. "To hell with the old, the poor, my huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of my teeming ghettos," Miss Liberty says. "Don’t send these, the homeless, jobless, and children to me. I left my lamp with the GOP." At the bottom of the cartoon, a tiny figure says: "There’s a contract out on America."

While cartoons allow him to express dissatisfaction, his pen-and-ink drawings of Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose characters and Kermit the Frog show off his sense of fun. With these, the more you look, the more you see. Tiny animal faces peer from knotty trees. Mice wiggle. Birds twitch. For a recent Sandlapper story about what expatriate South Carolinians miss about their home state (Spring 1999), Stubblefield drew a man hugging a palmetto tree. The tree, with a face and fronds for hair, beamed back. In Sandlapper’s 1991 piece about barbecue, Stubblefield’s pigs preened and panicked. "I was always kinda nutty," he explains.

While Stubblefield discounts his abilities with abstract art and photography, his admirers say there’s nothing he can’t do. Antley, the street artist, believes Stubblefield could be creating huge, museum-style paintings. Members of Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia point to their 14 stained-glass windows, acknowledging a master in their midst. Others admire his irreverent wit: For a painting of God, he used himself as a model. That painting sold fast.

Some of his most realistic, original works have been reproduced into limited-edition prints. One, "Three Dollars and a Quarter," is three sand dollars on the beach, with a quarter nearby. "Look at those bubbles," Don Clark says of the white foam in the corner. "Have you seen his Gervais Street Bridge? Most artists who paint that bridge usually take the shortcuts. They’ll paint it from the top so they won’t have to do the intricate details, and the skyline is painted out. Hord did all the arches and the skyline from an angle that’s normally avoided. That’s his draftsmanship."

Now, with his 60-year college reunion coming soon, Stubblefield grumbles about the slowness age can bring. He participates in art groups and is a "Member With Excellence" of the South Carolina Watercolor Society. He believes he’s 16 mentally, and doesn’t always like to be around people his age. "They look so old and beaten, and all they want to talk about is when they were in the service."

What would he rather talk about? "Art," he says, laughing that deep, rumbly laugh. "Girls," he continues.

"I think it’s something he can’t help," theorizes Robbins, the Point editor. "He sends us more stuff than we could ever use. He’s compelled to draw, and I’m compelled to write, and we filter our world through our medium. He really is an amazing talent."

She remembers how Stubblefield used to visit Point’s former office in Columbia. "He’d make his way up those treacherous stairs, and he was always so starched and clean and looked so out of place because the office was such a dump. But he was really one of the family."

He does endear himself. "Yep," Randy Antley sums up, "Hord’s the man."


* Art in a Nutshell, Columbia

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