Kenneth Stubbs
(American artist, 1907-1967)

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Provincetown Visitor Makes Movies for U.S.

photo of Kenneth Stubbs in his studio

Provincetown, Oct. 14--Kenneth Stubbs of Washington, D.C. is spending a month at his Bradford Street house in the east end, where he is busily working on documentary films for instructional purposes for the Government. They will be sent to technical people in the armed forces. In addition to writing the script, he also illustrates it, sometimes in color, and often makes as many as 200 basic sketches, and then writes the special instructions for the director and producer. When the drawings are completed, they are turned over to an assembly line of artists, and the technique followed is similar to that of the Disney studios.

Vertigo Aloft

Mr. Stubbs says that as soon as he has been given the subject of a film, he spends hours on research to develop the idea. He has worked on over 300 movies, and recently read a medical book on vertigo and equilibration, in connection with a film, "Vision in Military Aviation -- Illusions," which dealt with illusions relating to pilots of fast traveling jets at a height of 50,000-60,000 feet.

Kenneth Stubbs was born in Ochlocknee, Ga. He studied at the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, and later taught there for 17 years, after which he taught for 12 years at the George Washington University. He was no2 45, and thought he would retire and devote his time to painting. As his teaching duties were not full time, he started to make films on a part-time basis. He had become interested in them when he served in the Navy as a chief petty officer from 1942-1945, and made instructive films on gunnery. Since 1953, he has devoted full time to them and says he is working harder than ever.

Coming here first in 1931, Mr. Stubbs studied with the late E. Ambrose Webster. At that time there were two major classes of art students; those of Webster and those of the late Charles Hawthorne.

Mr. Webster was considered quite modern in those days, painting in bold, bright colors.

Some of his Bermuda canvasses were startlingly brilliant, with their white houses, glistening in the strong sunlight, against a background of banana trees with their large bright green leaves.

Exhibition Set

Last summer Mr. Stubbs started to arrange for an exhibition of Mr. Webster's paintings. This Memorial Exhibition will be held next summer at the East End Gallery.

Mr. Stubbs is married to the former Miriam Margolies, who holds an important position in the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in Washington. The have two children, Keith, 10, and Pamela, 8.

Although dealing daily in weighty world problems, Mr. Stubbs was greatly concerned with a local problem last week. He was elected to cook the weekly dinner for the Beachcombers (a men's club of artists and writers) at which about 24 hungry members would appear.

"Can you cook?" I asked him. "Heavens, no!" he exclaimed, "but I wrote to Miriam, and she sent me a recipe for chicken paprikash, to be served with rice, and what I'm worried about is HOW am I ever going to get the chicken and the rice done at the same time?"

"Anyhow," he continued, "Mischa Richter (cartoonist on the New Yorker) and Art Snader (the Town Crier) both offered to help me, so I'm hoping they can solve the problem."

Harriet Adams, Cape Cod Sunday Standard-Times, Sunday, October 15, 1961, p. 1

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Bearded Cape Artists Plots Films To Help Train Nation's Astronauts

photo of Kenneth Stubbs in his studio

Provincetown, Oct. 3 -- Kenneth Stubbs, a bearded, genial person who maintains studios here and in Washington is so subdued in manner his role in the age of outer space comes as a sharp surprise to everybody but himself. He sees nothing incongruous about sitting at his drawing board or typewriter and outlining a film to teach astronauts how to land on a spinning platform in orbit.

After all, it's a living. And if the Navy Department considers him one of its two best script writers of space age training scripts, that's the Navy's business. His own concern is to meet his next deadline for drawings and copy. Since he is working currently on five film scripts in addition to realistic-abstract painting of his own choosing, it might seem that Mr. Stubbs is difficult to interview.

On the contrary, once you can find his small, delightful home and studio behind its facade of concealing hedges on Bradford Street you find a most relaxed and genial host.

Granted, on the day we called his wife Miriam already had departed for Washington with Keith, 13, and Pamela, 11; the children to return to school and Mrs. Stubbs to her responsible post in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The house seemed strangely quiet.

Mr. Stubbs is a veteran of Provincetown living having come here during the Depression of 1928. Those were hard times for artists and writers but exhilarating at the Cape-end where purses were skimpy but spirits high and easily obtained.

He had studied at Corcoran Gallery in Washington and turned now to E. Ambrose Webster, one of Provincetown's greats, but gravitated later toward abstract painting which is still his best medium, combined with realism. His drawing, almost cubist, is softened by superb coloration and profound adsorbtion with effect of light.

Then came a job in Detroit, painting and lettering huge signs high above the streets. "Some were 50 feet high," he said, "and we painted even during snow storms." This kept him alive but, back in Washington in 1935, he landed a job teaching drawing and painting at Corcoran. It lasted 18 years and during the last 13 he also taught at George Washington University.

"I was a professor in the catalogue," he said, "but I had never earned any college credits and the arrangement finally was untenable."

Came World War II and Mr. Stubbs found his forte in the Bureau of Aeronautics at Anacostia, D.C. making training films for unskilled gunners. It was a challenging job and at war's end he emerged as a chief petty officer, a rank highly regarded in the Navy.

He had learned a lot about films and when he and Miriam got married in 1948 they decided to spend a year in Europe, eight months of it in Italy. (In the meantime a documentary film he had made for the Navy won honorable mention at the International Film Festival in Europe, a real triumph, and Stubbs was on his way.)

Since then, although plagued occasionally by illness, Mr. Stubbs has been an independent script writer of documentaries and his long list of clients, in addition to the Navy, includes General Motors, Westinghouse, General Electric, Squibb, Lederly, the New York Port Authority, American Telephone and Telegraph Company . . . .

"Please," I said, "that's enough."

Production of about 100 shooting scripts in 10 years strikes Mr. Stubbs as a reasonably tight schedule. He does not do the finished film, sometimes doesn't even see it before release. His job is to start with the idea of the film, study material which is provided by scientists and medicos at the top, then sit down and do some skull work of his own.

Requires Experience

Reducing the theme to its basic pattern he then sets up a typical Hollywood or Walt Disney cartoon "story board," making and tacking up 100s of rough sketches. These, he discards or shifts around until a real continuity emerges. Then he reaches for his typewriter and starts putting the story in easily understandable English. (It is translated later into other languages.) This summer he completed four -- is working now on five more.

Oh yes, among other awards and recognitions he has won is a First prize from the National Safety Council about 1960 in national competition. It had to do with the protection of men administering nuclear medicine.

The five scripts on which Stubbs is now working project the viewer into space. The first deals with procedures for ejecting oneself from a high-flying jet and problems to be faced at various altitudes at, say, up to 80,000 feet. Then there is one on the functions of a highly-pressurized suit--with a lot of important do's and don't's, plus another on how to conduct yourself in a low pressure chamber.

The latter is just the opposite from the high pressure air chamber used by divers returned from ocean depths. The first one gets you used to living at normal Earth atmosphere after orbiting through vacuum. Do you get it, junior?

Still another film is titled "Illusions." It has to do with the funny, inexplicable things that go on in a pilot's inner ear at high speed while very, very high above Earth. All the pilot need do is relax and realize that suddenly 2 and 2 do not make 4 and whatever he is doing is probably opposite from what he SHOULD be doing under the circumstances. (Space flight, anybody?)

Then comes his upcoming script on "Human Disorientation."

"It's a little difficult to explain," said Mr. Stubbs, smoothing his beard. "This one is for the Navy and being financed by NASA. It has to do with centrifugal forces which must be met by an astronaut approaching a space platform for a landing. Naturally, he must convert to natural gravity on arrival but to provide this the space platform must have tremendous rotation. Our job is to adjust pilots to those conditions."

"Sounds complicated," I said. "How do you do it?"

"Well," he laughed." I was a member of the Beachcombers here for 23 years before I got hooked into the Saturday night cooking job. As I told George Moses when he got me to write a "guest column" for "Slightly Salty" while he went fishing in Canada, dodging the cooking chore at the Beachcombers takes some thinking. So does my work for the Navy and NASA."

Roger Hawthorne, Sunday Cape Cod Standard-Times, Sunday, October 4, 1964, Pgs. 1-2