Step out the back door of Jay Hubbell’s modest, one-story house into his yard – all of a sudden you’re in Wonderland, expecting Alice to appear at any moment. To the right sits a colossal brick and stone structure, shaped like a coin standing on edge. Judging by size, it could be pocket change for King Kong.
Glance to the left, and you’ll find a giant triangle made of stone and steel planks, and a stack of old, industrial chimney-flues that appear to float in air. Finally, set your eyes on a short brick wall displaying eight faces side-by-side, each representing a phase in the cycle of life. According to Jay, this cycle consists of: the fetus, the cherubic infant, the mischievous toddler, the teenager, the comfort of middle age, the fear of death, the vision of the Devil, and finally, death.
The yard is nothing short of eccentric, and a perfect backdrop for a kooky party, but Jay says he’s ready to build more.
“It’ll be like Dr. Seuss back here if I have my way,” Jay says.
Jay, a masonry artist, makes his living assembling intricate, outdoor stone and brick structures – staircases, terraces and walls – for homes and some state-owned buildings. He loves it, but he says his life would be even more complete if he could make more of his crazy, Dr. Seuss reminiscent pieces and display them for all of Columbia to enjoy.
The artist already has several triangular, pyramid-esque public artworks displayed throughout the city – one at 2400 Millwood Avenue, one at 2437 Stark Street, and another at the corner of Oak and Gervais Streets – but he’s unable to line numerous projects up because all the expenses are on him. Still, Jay longs to build more (he’s currently pondering over some circles, spires, and a 15-foot stack of numbers and letters), because he says they create a sense of unity.
“It’s a social equalizer,” he says of public art. “When I’m in a not-so-nice neighborhood working on art, people in Land Rovers, and people who are barely walking, will come by to look at it. People can go to a place in their minds where they realize that not everything has to have a function or a purpose. I build it to be an icon, or a landmark.”
The Columbia native attended Sarah Lawrence College in New York City, which he entered on account of his play-writing talents. A rebellious punk-rock band member, Jay returned to Columbia after one semester and began working at a landscaping company. There, he began laying stone, and now he has about 15 years of masonry experience under his belt.
“I go out to a rock yard and I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Jay says. “I’m happy with masonry. I feel like you could spend your whole life doing it and still be figuring out how to do it. There are so many different shapes of rocks and different applications.”
Jay says his biggest accomplishment thus far was his completion of the Gibbes house – a giant ranch home belonging to the owner of Gibbes Ford in Bamberg. The project took three years to complete, and snapshots of Jay’s work reveal exterior walls, stairways, terraces, and a stone fireplace in the Gibbes’ screen room – all blanketed by a cobblestone pattern of chiseled grey rocks.
In Jay’s ideal future, he’ll continue his full-time masonry work and gain more opportunities to make public art. He recently applied for several grants through the Creative Capital Foundation, which would allow him to live his artistic dream. Public art, he says, is a creative outlet that fascinates the masses.
“I like building the secret garden or the fabulous backyard that only your friends will see, but I’d really like to do the stuff that’s out there for people of every level of income to see,” he says. “I’d like to be that guy.”