Potter doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty

ESCANABA – When Al Hansen exhibits his pottery and ceramics at the Waterfront Art Festival in Ludington Park on Saturday, he won’t be sitting in his tent waiting for potential customers to turn up. He will also be prepared to put on quite a show for the attendees, including demonstrations throughout the day with his pottery wheel.

“I have lots of fun watching the audience while I’m demonstrating,” Hansen said. “And if I sell something, that’s a plus. But I certainly have more fun doing.”

Along with his own creations and demonstrations, Hansen will bring along his 8-year-old grandson, Landon, who will be selling his own wares for the first time in the youth tent. The boy has been busy working on creating fish and his own medallions to ward off dinosaurs.

“He’s been working with clay since he was 4 years old, and if you buy one of Landon’s medallions, it’s guaranteed that you won’t be attacked by a dinosaur while you’re in the U.P.” said the smiling grandfather.

Born and raised in Escanaba, Hansen learned about the potential of working clay while a youngster. He said he discovered clay while digging on the border of Lake Michigan with some friends. While handling their new find, they learned that it stuck together and was fun to work with.

While in junior high and high school, he learned to enjoy art under the tutelage of art teacher, John Gustafson.

“He was a great influence on me,” Hansen said. It was from Gustafson that he learned to enjoy all types of art and even had to opportunity to learn the basics of pottery.

Upon graduation, Hansen enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit where he “spent a lot of time on the wheel.”

Hansen and his wife, Shirley, were married while he was a student at Wayne State and he continued his education there after his marriage. He appreciated the opportunity to get more experience, not only in pottery, but in painting and drawing, and even metal smithing.

“I even had a chance to try glass blowing,” he said. “It was a good training ground for me.”

After obtaining a degree from Wayne State, Hansen and his wife moved to Munising where he taught elementary art for the next three years. The experience was a challenge for the new teacher.

“I had 660 kids that I taught and a budget of $150,” he said.

His next teaching job was for the Bark River-Harris School District where he taught art on the elementary and high school level.

But teaching art was not in the future for Hansen for a long time. After three years at Bark River-Harris, he left education and worked in sales for the next 30 years.

But pottery and having the opportunity to share his talent with others was still very much in Hansen’s blood. He has been teaching pottery for the past 10 years at Bay de Noc Community College. However, his teaching is not limited to “throwing” pottery on a wheel. He has worked with his students in designing masks, and learning the techniques of pinch, coil and slab pots, along with glazes and firing. Learning to use a pottery wheel is only the beginning of actually creating something a pot or a bowl.

“It takes eight weeks just to learn to center on the wheel,” he said.

In addition to basics, Hansen also teaches advance and a variety of other techniques, such as raku (a form of Japanese pottery), to students enrolled in his Ceramics II class.

“That’s why I love this job,” Hansen smiled. “There’s so much to learn and so many opportunities to share it with others.”

Over the years, Hansen has been able to explore the craft of glass-blowing.

“I got to do a half-day of glass blowing while I was at Wayne State and fell in love with it,” he said. He has spent considerable time improving his ability and is in the process of building his own furnace to melt the glass.

“It’s about 40×40-inches,” he said. “It’s taking a long time and it’s been a lot of work but I’m almost there. If I had to buy one, it would be much too expensive. You almost have to built your own.”

Hansen said he has been exhibiting at the Waterfront Festival for almost 40 years.

“Ever since we moved back here from Detroit,” he explained. “I’ve tried to attend every show and I don’t think there’s too many that I’ve missed around here.” He has also exhibited in shows in Marquette, Iron Mountain and Menominee, adding, “As I get more and more retired, I might start doing more shows.”

When not attending art fairs, Hansen enjoys working with young people. He recently organized a “Dinosaur Dig” for the youngsters enrolled in the summer reading program at the Escanaba Public Library and worked the same program at the Bay Cliff Health Camp. He also has put on pottery programs at Bay Cliff to help the youngsters experiment with the craft and was even instrumental in obtaining a special wheel that is more accessible to children with disabilities.