Nestled in San Diego’s East County mountains, near the historic Gold Rush town of Julian, you will find a magical wonder: the James Hubbell Studio, Home & Garden compound and the Ilan-Lael Foundation. It’s quirky, eccentric, interesting and beautiful—but you can only visit by invitation or by signing up for one of their tours. You can find more information at their Facebook page: James Hubbell Studio. Luckily I have a special lifelong friend who works for Jim and his wife, and she was able to facilitate my entre along with my camera.
James and Anne Hubbell acquired [their] property soon after they were married in 1958. Their intent was to create a home that appeared to grow out of the landscape and blend naturally with nature. Granite boulders, oak, manzanita, and the nearby mountains influenced its design. They named their home Ilan-Lael—Hebrew words whose meaning has informed James Hubbell’s art and design throughout his life. This also represents the ideals of [the] Foundation, which provides a forum for the exchange of ideas, and celebrates nature and the aesthetic of the built environment for their ability to create a more humane and harmonious world.
Upon my introduction to Jim I found him to be a soft-spoken, quiet and unassuming gentleman of about 85 years of age. However, his energy and spryness seem to totally belie that chronology of years—in other words, he appeared to be much younger than my 70 years. His life’s work is a testament to that energy, inquisitiveness, creativeness and hard work. I was told that he never repeats his work or succumbs to a formulaic approach—but rather each new piece of art or project is an original brand new and unique creation un to itself.
[Ilan-Lael is] first and foremost a home for their family, their art, and the art of living itself. Ilan-Leal was created by James and Anne Hubbell and their four children as a celebration of art and nature, the creative process, and the Hubbell’s vision of an architecture of jubilation that inspires a more whole and peaceful world.
Jim is still very active with his art and architecture projects, receiving and completing commissions from all over the world not to mention right here in San Diego. And the compound itself appears to be continually under construction with new buildings, gardens, pools, trails and sculptures. The structures themselves (with their sprung from nature motifs) suggest that maybe Hobbits are full-time residents in this magical place—certainly it seems to be within the realm of possibility.
Wildlife Sanctuary: Ilan-Lael’s 40 acres of undeveloped mountain landscape are adjacent to the Santa Ysabel Preserve and in the shadow of Volcan Mountain Preserve. We maintain a one-mile nature trail that provides access to our wild and beautiful landscape. Note: The devastating Cedar Fire of 2003 caused extensive damage to the compound, but through luck (or divine intervention) most of the structures and artwork survived and the natural landscape eventually reasserted itself.
I’ve included twenty more images to showcase some of Jim’s work. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge for better viewing. It’s my understanding that he is primarily a sculptor but also has beautiful renderings in stained glass and other mediums. His art is original, unique and beautiful. For more information I invite you to click on the various links I have provided to his website and Facebook pages. If you ever have a chance to tour the compound I strongly encourage you to do it—you won’t be disappointed. Thank you Jim, Anne and Mary Ann for allowing me to share your treasure.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, World Traveller