When approached for an interview, Joan Hansen, of Sandstone, asked why the paper would want to interview her. We soon learned that her response was a very humble one and that her art alone would answer that question.
Joan Hansen has exhibited her artwork at the Old School Arts Center (OSAC) since its opening in 2012 and has never missed a show. Fitting Hansen’s art style into a box would be difficult. First, you can’t fit a life-sized horse and troll into a box. And second, her style of art could be classified as realism but also has a unique whimsical style that sets it apart. Her medium is typically acrylic on canvas. But she has done paper mache, watercolor, rosemaling (a traditional form of decorative folk art), tole art (decorative painting on tin and wooden surfaces), pencil drawings, pen and ink drawings, and more.
Hansen has been contributing art to a variety of events since the late 1960’s. She had her early beginnings creating art for floats in Askov parades. She recalls one year when Askov had a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale theme in the late 60’s in which she made three magical dogs with wings of about an eight foot span.
Her early art was spurred by attending street and mall shows. She saw the art displayed there and thought she would try to sell some of her own art. “I thought I could do that, so I did some, and they sold,” recalls Hansen.
For quite a few years she was forced to take a sabbatical from her art due to raising children and caring for her husband when his health failed. “When the art center opened up, that was a really good thing,” said Hansen. “But I went over there and thought, ‘Who do I think I am that I can exhibit in a gallery?’”
It turned out that she has been an asset to the art center. “She continues to make wonderful art work at an age where most of us have taken to retirement,” says Fran Levings, OSAC’s director. “She is also one of OSAC's most reliable volunteers.”
She admits that painting is not for the faint of heart and says it is something that requires thinking all the time. “It’s pretty hard work and people sometimes think you’re just dabbling away, but you’re thinking every minute.”
Hansen attends the three shows per year at the Old School Arts Center and submits two entries per show. The piece she is currently working on is a landscape with beautiful clouds in the sky that her son had taken a photo of in Colorado and that her neighbor commissioned. Hansen has a tendency toward painting clouds. “I'm a cloud person. I was raised on a farm, and when we were kids, we had to go sit by the cow fields to keep the cows out of the corn,” recalls Hansen. “It was real boring, so we would look at the clouds, and it was interesting seeing all the different types of clouds. If I could just paint clouds, I would paint clouds all the time.”
Some of what Hansen does has been a bit outside of the box. One example was the life-sized horse she made for Kathy Ebnet to be featured in the school play Music Man several years ago. “I made a paper mache horse. My husband made the armature out of wood, and I used newspapers, from the Askov American and Pine County Courier, along with chicken wire. I layered the paper and grocery bags and then painted the horse and used twine and string for the mane and tail,” said Hansen.
She has also contributed to the community by set and backdrop painting. And at the Askov City Hall, a four foot troll made by Hansen greets visitors as they enter the building.
Hansen believes that art keeps her mind and body strong. “I’ve always drawn cartoons and other sketches, many times in the morning after breakfast,” she said. “ I will try to think up different things. I do that to keep my brain working and keep my hand eye coordination. If you don't do anything for a while, you have to retrain your eye and hand.”
Hansen is an inspiration to both skilled and budding artists. “Not everything I’ve made is successful. I have made some duds that I’ve thrown out. But when it's finished and it looks pretty good, and if somebody likes it, that really keeps me going,” she said. “There was a time when I couldn't really do anything, and I got a little depressed. But you just have to do it I guess.”