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 Armin O. Hansen  (1893 - 1976)

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Lived/Active: Wisconsin/Illinois      Known for: WPA muralist, portrait painting

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Sheltered Cove
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Chicago of German-American parents, Armin O. Hansen established a career in Milwaukee as a noted portrait painter and muralist.  He was especially active in the Federal Arts Project during the Depression era of the 1930s and served on the FAP Milwaukee Art Commission.  About thirty buildings in the Milwaukee area have murals painted by Hansen including the Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School, Bay View High School, Custer High School, the Pabst Brewing Company reception and tap room, and the executive suite of the Outboard Marine Corporation.

According to the federal census, he was in that city by 1910.  He attended West Division High School and studied with Alexander Mueller at the Wisconsin School of Art.  He also studied with Gustave Moeller and Frederick Fursman at the State Normal School of Art. 

Memberships included the Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors, and the Pennsylvania Academy was an exhibition venue for his paintings in 1914, 1922, 1924 and 1927.

Peter C. Merrill, German-American Artists in Early Milwaukee, pp. 37-38

Biography from Museum of Wisconsin Art:
Following is an exhibition review, November 23, 2009, of work by Armin O. Hansen at the Museum of Wisconsin Art.  Titled "Armin O. Hansen's 'Worlds of Wonder' at MWA", the author is Peggy Sue Dunigan.

Drawings, photographs and paintings from the past are often forgotten, overlooked or damaged before they come to a museum's attention. But a loan to the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MWA) by Madison's Helen and William Papador family recovers and relives a Milwaukee holiday tradition after being rescued from the refuse bin during a remodeling project. These preparatory drawings, in pristine condition and never before displayed in public, comprise the current MWA exhibition "Worlds of Wonder: Armin O. Hansen's Festive Float Designs."

Hansen's small-scale, intricately detailed watercolor and graphite drawings display the design work used for Milwaukee's annual Christmas parade sponsored by Schuster's Department Store (eventually bought out by Gimbels) during the years 1932-1956. An illustrious city institution then, Schuster's developed the parade as an advertisement for shoppers to visit its "Santa's Toyland." The holiday event, which took place on the Saturday evening after Thanksgiving, attracted thousands of spectators over the years to see the parade's float cars that were designed and constructed according to Hansen's specifications.

The 13 drawings installed in the MWA Focus Gallery represent a small sampling from the original loan of 44. This welcoming space proves ideal for nostalgic images that require intimate viewing. Chronologically sequenced, the drawings illustrate the actual floats depicted in vintage photographs from the Milwaukee County Historical Society interspersed with the illustrations.

These charming pictures offer storybook recollections from a bygone era, an era more innocent than one featuring instantaneous downloaded images on iPods and cell phones. Vibrant watercolors, still amazingly translucent, delineate designs filled with elves and other creatures, landscapes, childlike interiors and holiday kitchens. Santa's Sleigh (1949), painted in ivory and silver on cocoa-colored illustration board, presents the furry-suited man in a swan-like sleigh on his midnight travels.

Elf Train (1943) illustrates a toy engine and train car loaded with tiny holiday helpers. Classic nursery rhymes and fables imagined on other floats, including The Three Bears, Little Miss Muffet, Alice in Wonderland and Blackbirds Baked in a Pie, recall early 20th-century children's culture before The Muppets, The Simpsons, SpongeBob SquarePants and animated characters from video games.

The exhibition also testifies to the significance of hand-drawn commercial art. Designers applied their technical skills and produced fine artwork as a prelude to a project before the age of digitalization and computer art dominated this process. Often dismissed as unimportant, this creative first step remains integral to every object society touches. The viewer only wishes that MWA would consider adding another layer to the exhibit, at least 13 more drawings, to more completely showcase Hansen's talent and contributions to this holiday tradition. However, "Worlds of Wonder" still presents an enchanting tribute to the ardent ingenuity of all designers, Milwaukee's past and childhood holiday memories.

"Worlds of Wonder" continues through Jan. 3, 2010.


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Armin Hansen is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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