Kenyon Hansen, Finlandia University adjunct ceramics instructor, confesses that he wasn’t a particularly motivated high school student … until his senior year when he enrolled in an art class.
“I thought it would be easy and I could slack off,” Hansen said of the art class.
But when his mom learned that he was failing the class, she talked with his teacher, Tim Zablocki, about Hansen’s interest in taking photos with a camera she had recently purchased. So Zablocki set Hansen to building a simple pinhole camera out of construction paper and an oatmeal box.
“It really fascinated me, pulled me into a place I never knew existed,” said Hansen.
From that point on Hansen started showing up at school early and staying late. He discovered how his previously neglected classes could affect and influence his photography. His grades improved overall. Which led to a scholarship to study photography at Northern Michigan University. “In four or five months, my life completely changed,” Hansen recalled.
He completed three semesters at Northern, until the program’s focus shifted to digital photography. He returned home, and that summer enrolled in a pottery class instructed by Zablocki.
“Tim Zablocki introduced me to clay. I knew instantly that it was my medium,” Hansen said.
Kenyon knew he wanted to study ceramics in depth, so he visited Finlandia.
“What’s great about Finlandia is all the personal attention,” he said of his time as a student.
When he graduated in 2005, Bachelor of Fine Arts in hand, Hansen was certain that he wanted to be a potter.
Since then, he has been traveling around the country, finding his voice and perfecting his craft. His first stop was Mill Creek Pottery in Gresham, Wisconsin, with potter Simon Levin. The one-year apprenticeship with Levin was “the most important, the best thing I could have done when I left school,” Hansen said. “I came in contact with how to market and present myself professionally. I learned about packing, shipping, and loading and firing wood kilns. And, I discovered the value of writing about my work, documenting and photographing.”
Hansen’s second extended stop was as a resident artist at Center Street Clay in Sandwich, Illinois, outside of Chicago. “It was a period where I had the time to work without any interruptions; that was really important.”
Then it was on to Penland School of Crafts in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to work with potters Shoko Teruyama and Matt Kelleher.
“I worked in their studio, and they pushed me to apply for an Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts residency.”
Hansen’s work appeared on the cover of the December 2010 issue of Ceramics Monthly for an exhibition he was part of, “Strictly Functional Pottery National.” The issue also features an article he wrote demonstrating his techniques to make a thermos from clay.
Hansen was accepted for a two-year residency at The Bray, in Helena, Montana.
“The Bray is a place a lot of people pay attention to; it’s a gateway into the ceramics world. While there I got some exposure.”
In 2013, Ceramics Monthly magazine selected Hansen as an emerging artist.
This September, Hansen’s work was featured in a solo exhibit in the Harstook Gallery at Greenwich House Pottery in New York City. The exhibit’s description reads, “Hansen’s jars, coffee pots, mugs and teapots are some of the most original being made today.”
Hansen is modest about his work, and declines to speculate why his work stands out. But he said he is “flattered by the amount of attention I’ve received. Landing on the cover of Ceramics Monthly and being named an emerging artist was a great honor, as was the New York City exhibit.”
“My hope is that the pots I make can play a role and be a factor in a renewal of ritual,” Hansen shared in his artist statement. “One of the first things we do in the morning, and the last thing we do at night is to put our lips to a cup. It’s an intimate moment. I believe that finely crafted handmade things can slow people down for a moment, offer beauty to people’s mundane experiences.”
As his Bray residency was coming to an end, Hansen was toying with the idea of teaching, testing the waters to see if it was something for him. So, when Denise Vandeville, dean of the Finlandia University International School of Art & Design, offered him an adjunct teaching position, he accepted.
“I’m glad to be back,” Hansen said of returning to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where he grew up in Channing, near Crystal Falls. “It’s a great place. Leaving for an extended period of time has allowed me to see it a little bit differently. I can really appreciate what’s here now.”
At Finlandia, Hansen teaches ceramic design classes, introducing the techniques and processes of working with clay. In his first months at Finlandia, he spent a lot of time cleaning the ceramics studio, assessing its potential and compiling a wish list, which he has begun to fulfill.
In spring 2013, Hansen threw, glazed and fired several hundred bowls for a fundraiser. The “Soup-a-Bowl” – all the bread and soup you can eat, served in a handmade bowl that is yours to keep, for a $10 donation – was a success! Thanks to a donor who matched the event’s proceeds, the clay studio has a new soda kiln. The second annual “Soup-a-Bowl,” in spring 2014, resulted in six new wheels, a new clay mixer and improved studio ventilation. Proceeds from the third annual “Soup-a-Bowl,” in the works for spring 2015, will perhaps purchase new glaze bins.
Hansen will be busy until then. Right now, he’s preparing for The Art School at Old Church Pottery Invitational, a huge show and sale in Demarest, New Jersey, outside of New York City, December 5-7. He’ll be selling his work in the ARTSTREAM Gallery, a nomadic art gallery built out of an old Air Stream camper, at the 2015 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) Biennial, January 24 to March 29, in Providence, Rhode Island In February 2015 he’ll conduct a five-day workshop at University of California Santa Barbara.
Additional 2015 exhibits of Hansen’s work are scheduled at The Clay Studio, Philadelphia; Carbondale Clay Center, Carbondale, Colorado; and Schaller Gallery, St. Joseph, Michigan.
Story by: Karen S. Johnson
Article originally from the Bridge.Tags: Ceramic Design, International School of Art & Design, Kenyon Hansen