Nature-inspired art: Past and present

A pretty hand-lettered sign propped up on an old easel at the start of a residential driveway on Highland Avenue in Ft. Thomas, KY, pointed the way to the printmaking event held at the Harlan Hubbard Studio on a bright, crisp Saturday morning in late October. The tiny hand-built studio is so hidden away, it’s like a secret treasure. Even lifelong Ft. Thomas residents might walk past the entrance one hundred times without knowing it’s nestled in the woods behind the little wooden green house.

Printmaking workshop guests inside the Hubbard House Studio.

The attendees of the day’s event, led by Cincinnati painter and printmaker Elizabeth Ross, crunched their way down a gravel path that meanders behind the main house leading to the small brick-and-stone building with a slate roof that’s somehow equal parts rough-hewn and artfully crafted. You can feel it’s an artist’s creation, which it is.

Artist and naturalist Harlan Hubbard built the studio himself in 1923 from mostly reclaimed and salvaged materials, including old, handmade bricks. The only window was acquired as a bargain as it had fallen off a truck on the way to the church it was meant to grace, then run over and bent. Today, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, and serves as an intimate location where the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy regularly hosts events centered around conservation, sustainability and art.

Carved wooden blocks included carvings of birds, one of mushrooms, a snail, and a pair of barn owls.

Learning the Art of Printmaking
Inside the studio, a long table was set up with carved wooden blocks, a glass surface slick with black ink and a series of rollers. Attendees could choose two blocks from the neat arrangement, one larger one that’s the mirror of the studio itself, as seen from the back; and a line of smaller ones reflecting nature you might see if you walked around a bit in the woods here. A few of the carvings were of birds, one of mushrooms, a snail and a pair of barn owls.

Elizabeth Ross patiently showed each person how to roll ink over every detail of the carving block. She guided them through aligning the paper just so with the top of the block, smoothing it down onto the inked surface and gently rubbing and patting it — like you would a baby’s back, she said. “There are birds in the window,” she said, running her fingers over a certain spot. “And bees in the milkweed.” The peak of the studio’s roof breaks through the frame at the top, and she made sure to run her fingers over the point an extra time to make sure that detail was captured, too. Carefully peeling the paper up revealed the black-inked design, which each guest initialed to claim their unique print.

Also on display was a selection of Elizabeth’s merchandise for sale, including printed tea towels, greeting cards and hand-painted prints of a myriad of naturalistic subjects, from soaring owls to still lifes of leaves.

Much like the studio’s namesake, Elizabeth’s art is inspired by nature and a handmade aesthetic. “I only carve by hand,” she says. “I sketch sitting in front of nature, within nature and observing nature. Even when I do screen printing, I do an old-fashioned technique where I’m basically painting the image onto the screen.”

She shares a kinship with Harlan beyond art as well. Even in the 1950s, life moved too fast for Harlan, and it happened too far from the land. Elizabeth shares that feeling today. “I feel like I am a woman born in the wrong time, I wish things were simpler,” she says. “I’m not a huge fan of technology. I rely on it for certain things because I am of this time, but I don’t love it.”

That feeling drives her creative approach. “There’s a visceral warmth and connection when you make something by hand, it brings a sense of humanity, and also there’s a connection to nature within that.”

Although Elizabeth lives in Cincinnati, she has a strong family connection to Ft. Thomas through her husband, Matt Ross. He can trace four generations of his family there, including a great uncle Henry who was friends with Harlan and Anna Hubbard.

Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy volunteer, Alex McIntosh (left) and board member Ginny Gesenhues (right).
To learn more about the Harlan Hubbard Studio, as well as the Artist-in-Residence program jointly sponsored by the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy and the Behringer-Crawford Museum, visit

The Harlan Hubbard Studio is located on private property at 129 Highland Avenue, Ft. Thomas, KY, 41075. Visiting is by invitation only.

To purchase Elizabeth Ross’ art, visit her store, The Chestnut Market, in Mariemont, or shop online.
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Read more articles by Jessica Bozsan.

Jessica Bozsan is a writer, content marketer and overall passionate communicator who lives in Ft. Thomas, KY, with her hectic family of five. She’s also a reader of novels, a yogi, a walker and a hiker. Additionally, she loves to knit, sew, draw, make jewelry and throw pottery on the wheel.