An interview with Hubert Keller, Junk Art Master
Written by Johnny Murphy Photos by Michelle Lynn Morris Photography
Taking a tour of the art Hubert Keller made with his own hands is much like going to a museum. Plenty of questions came to mind as we began the interview.
Reflections Question 1:
What gave you the inspiration to do all the things we see around your farm—the mailbox, that big cow and the soulful vehicles you have built?
It began when I was a teenager. Growing up on a farm, you had to entertain yourself. And that, I did.
We constantly played jokes on each other, which ultimately was what kept us smiling. When you grow up on a farm it’s hard to understand how people live in a house— on a piece of property so small that they can’t go out in the yard and shoot guns or hoop and holler.
On a farm, you can’t see your neighbors, I couldn’t even see the road.
On the farm, I learned how to take our equipment apart and put it back together. I built my own race cars. I think I raced at the Ogeechee Race Way on Highway 80 for 35 years. There comes a time when your brain is still young, but your body starts to get old, so I gave up racing. But I did not give up building things.
In 2005, I bought a 1949 Ford truck and completely rebuilt the whole thing. I decided I would put a coffin in the back. That definitely got people’s attention when I drove it around town. I added a spring and a raccoon tail to the inside so when the coffin opened, the tail would hit people in the face. Ideas would come to me in the middle of the night and after a couple of years, I ran out of places to add things.
I needed a place to stretch my imagination, so I had to build another and then another. In total, I have five, and each one has something special about it.
I just love watching people when Cheri and I drive up to Cracker Barrel to eat breakfast. We have to get out fast before someone stops us to talk about “what it is.” We like to sit where we can see it, and I use the remote control to make noises when someone gets close. I often wonder if people think they are on Candid Camera. They look around like it came from outer space! Ask me about what the Police think, and I will tell you.
We normally trailer one of the trucks when we go out of town. It is not uncommon to see funny cars and motorcycles at beaches, right? A few years ago, Cheri and I visited the panhandle of Florida. We were driving along and sure enough, a Florida State Trooper pulled us over. He informed me that I could not have red lights on top of my vehicle, only emergency vehicles were allowed to have these. No problem officer, I disconnected the light I had run to the eyes of the skull that was on top of the truck and we were free to go. Cheri noticed he stayed behind us and followed closely for a couple of miles and sure enough, he put the blue lights on again. I pulled over into a parking lot. He got out, walked around the truck and asked if I would mind if he took a few pictures. We had a few laughs and off we went.
The same State Patrol Officer in Georgia has pulled me over twice. The first time was at night, just outside of Brunswick. By the time the second officer arrived, they wanted me to show them how the truck could shoot flames out the top exhaust. Nearly a year later, he saw me pulled over on the side of Interstate 95 and he stopped to help me with a mechanical problem.
That cow, Prissy, is my baby. I can’t remember how long I have had her, but she brings back memories from my childhood. The Annex Dairy owned her back in the day. She stood next to one of their milk machines. Some might remember when you could by cartons of milk out of a milk machine. It’s another one of those things that makes people wonder and smile. The straw hat on her head is made of steel and is coated in fiberglass. Can you believe it’s about five feet in diameter? A friend of mine painted it the same color as a straw hat.
We used to decorate Prissy at Easter, Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day, but you have to rent a crane and the expense outweighs the gain. But who knows? I may wake up in the morning and decide to dress her up.
Speaking of big, you asked about the mail box. I still do not know why I did that one. I purchased a mailbox from Royal’s and used a scale to reproduce it where one inch would equal one foot. I have never actually measured it from the ground, but I think it is 18 feet tall. If I invite you to my house and tell you to turn at the big mailbox, I know one thing for sure, you won’t miss my driveway.
Sorry for the long answer, now what was your other question?
Reflections Question 2:
Have you ever thought about writing a book?
Interestingly enough, someone is writing a book as we speak, not so much about me, but about my home place, Hopeton Plantation. I’ll give you a copy when they are done.
Our visit with Hubert Keller is unlike any since we started the magazine. He’s a kid, he’s an artist, he’s a businessman, a loving husband. He’s a father and a grandfather. And although his art may be a bit irreverent, Hubert is one of those people who just wants to see you smile, and that he has mastered!
On Saturday and Sunday, you can find Hubert and Cheri at Keller’s Flea Market— a place you might have written off if you aren’t in to hustling your unwanted household items, or perusing other peoples. But, I urge you to visit one weekend and look closely at the culmination of junk turned into art. It is hard not to take seriously the rusted Ford pickup truck turned beautiful planter for annual flowers and the propane tank turned park bench the color of Cheri’s hot pink lipstick. The bench was a Christmas gift to Cheri, handcrafted by Hubert. The attention to detail and the art that has become of the once unwanted junk items gracing the grounds of the very large market is like something seen in a movie. The entire place and every piece detail about it has its own story.
The Keller’s memorabilia isn’t stored in plastic boxes buried deep in an attic, the old racing suits, family photos, license plates, medals of honor, cheering uniforms and photos from special times are lining the walls of the different buildings on property. A visit to Uncle Hube’s Redneck Cafe and you’ll understand the days of Cheri and Hubert’s youth. Family memories are honored and their stories will never fade.
Hubert and Cheri live on the farmland upon which Hubert grew up— lovingly known as Hopeton Plantation. All over their property treasures meet the eye, mostly created by Hubert in one of his many tinkering shops. The imagination of this man is incredible. His latest rat rod has a music theme.
While his art will amaze and amuse you, the intricacy of the woven details throughout will astound even the most creative of minds. The beauty of junk has been exemplified by the junk art master and his beautiful wife.