New mural in Vevay pays homage to Hubbards; town’s river heritage

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What we need is at hand

– Harlan Hubbard

Dick and Wendy Yanikoski have been looking at the blank wall on the north side of their building on Ferry Street since they purchased the “She Coon Saloon” and began operating the Ladies’ Bazaar.

Earlier this year, the couple began to visualize what an addition to that wall might look like, and now that vision has become a reality; as a new mural has been added to the Vevay streetscape.

“When we bought that building, we were aware that it had a long, interesting, and – in some respects – an unrecorded history,” Dick Yanikoski said. “We’d like to find out more about it as time goes on. Now, particularly as Wendy is over there, people come in to talk about their recollections of that building and ancestors who lived there or their memories of it from earlier times.”

From those conversations, Dick Yanikoski said that part of the history is that the building is one of the older commercial buildings in town, and the couple felt that the building deserved its fair share of attention as a historical structure.

Wanting to add to the history of the building; and recognizing that Vevay has a rich history in wine making; but perhaps an even greater history when it comes to the Ohio River – the idea of a mural paying homage to that river history began to take shape.

The second element of the planned mural came from Dick Yanikoski’s involvement as the chair of the Vevay Main Street organization. The board held a retreat to discuss short and long term planning, and more ideas came up.

“We were talking about the future of Vevay, what made it economically viable and what could be done in the future,” Dick Yanikoski said. “One of the points that we made as a group of board members of Vevay Main Street is that a lot is made of the wine history of Vevay and Switzerland County; but we don’t make as much out of it as a river town. So at that time I took more of an interest personally and talked with people about doing more with the river theme.”

While all of that discussion was going on, the situation with the “River Town” mural currently gracing the south wall of the Historic Hoosier Theater came to light.

In preparation for Vevay’s Bicentennial celebration in 2013, plans had been made to have artist Steve Bickis restore the mural. That plan came to a halt, however, when different interests involved in the mural, from Switzerland County Tourism to artist Josiah Leatherbury, clashed over what would be done to the mural and who would do it.

“That sparked some discussion, including in our house, as to where in Vevay could there be other places for murals,” Dick Yanikoski said.

With the restoration of the theater mural on indefinite hold, the Yanikoskis felt that there was an opportunity to have a mural painted on the side of the Ladies’ Bazaar building, especially with the former Western Auto building immediately to the north of it being torn down.

“Wendy was the one who made the specific suggestion that we might do something with the Hubbards,” Dick Yanikoski said. “Because of her personal fascination with rivers – this isn’t the first river we’ve lived on. Also her personal fascination with the Hubbards, after all – Anna was a librarian and my wife was a librarian. She made the suggestion that we do something with the Hubbards.”

“I always thought that side of the wall there would make a great canvas,” Wendy Yanikoski said. “I just didn’t know what.

“When we first moved here, one of the things I did was I read a lot, and one of the books I read early on was Harlan Hubbard’s ‘Shantyboat’, and I was absolutely taken with their story. I always had this ‘Huck Finn’ thing about going down the river, and real people having done that, it was very romantic. How they met when they were in their 40s and he had this dream and she helped him realize it.”

From there, the couple spoke with Steve Bickis, whose art currently graces the walls of the Yanikoski home. If someone was going to paint the mural, they knew whom they wanted.

Then, Tourism made available specialized mural paint that it had previously purchased for the restoration of the theater mural, but hadn’t been used because of the disagreements involved.

“Tourism had already purchased quite a bit of expensive paint for the theater mural project, and that fell through,” Dick Yanikoski said. “You can’t just keep that stuff forever, because it was special outdoor artist paint.”

Add to that, information surfaced to Historic Vevay that the mural was damaging the exterior of the theater and would have to be taken down in order to save the south wall of the structure; so with all information being considered, it became apparent that nothing was going to be done long term with the theater mural.

That’s when Tourism made the paint available for potential murals in other locations in the community; and Vevay Main Street was storing the paint until other projects could be identified.

By that time, Dick Yanikoski was off of the Vevay Main Street board, but was still active in projects and programs promoting the community. When the paint became available, the couple saw the opportunity to move forward.

“Then Dick came home from a Vevay Main Street meeting on day talking about river-themed paintings and Steve Bickis being approached, and all of a sudden it just flashed in my mind: ‘That’s what I want on the side of Ladies’ Bazaar, a shantyboat picture of Anna and Harlan Hubbard,” Wendy Yanikoski said.

The couple then made an application to Vevay Main Street, with artist Steve Bickis submitting a water color drawing depicting the proposed mural to the grant committee for its grant cycle. The grant was approved and the agreement to proceed was signed in early June.

Steve Bickis then started on the mural about a week after the grant agreement was signed; and worked on it for about a month.

“Almost everywhere you will see ‘Harlan and Anna Hubbard’, but this is ‘Anna and Harlan Hubbard’,” Dick Yanikoski said. “After all, it’s on the side of a women’s store.”

“One of the things that I found was that Harlan had purchased a pink sun bonnet before he even met Anna,” Wendy Yanikoski said. “He was hoping someday to find someone to give that bonnet to, so that’s why Anna is wearing a pink bonnet in the mural.”

Near the mural is a plaque memorializing the work and the subjects:

“What we need is at hand.”

Shantyboat home (1944-1951)

of Anna & Harlan Hubbard

Painted by Steve Bickis, 2014

“This is not a way to promote the store,” Dick Yanikoski said. “This was a way to honor our river history. A lot of people came down that river. The wine people came down the river. Farmers came down the river. Shantyboat people came down the river. Vendors came down the river selling things.

“There’s a lot river history here.”

“It’s a river story, but it’s a simple life. The river brought them happiness, and travel and food and company, and wood that they needed to make their boat. All kinds of things,” Wendy Yanikoski said.

“I just think it’s a great love story,” Wendy Yanikoski said. “They were very different. He was an outdoors person and a hard worker with his hands, building and painting. She was more refined, a very gifted musician. Educated.

“They really made a good team.”

- Pat Lanman