Al Hansen’s love of pottery began at the age of 8 when he was playing on a Lake Michigan beach and came across clay in the ground. From this ruddy clay Al and his friend made a small outdoor furnace to roast marshmallows and hot dogs. His passion for clay kept growing as he took classes throughout middle school, high school, and at Bay College, but the real tipping point for him was when he attended Wayne State University and learned how to throw pots. It seemed there was no going back after this.
Al is a recognizable figure in Escanaba known for his work in the community, his many years of teaching at Bay College, and his raku pottery, but sit down with him for a few minutes and it becomes clear that he has a real passion for the Bonifas Arts Center and the work he does there. Over the years he has worn many hats at the Bonifas and seen many changes take place but he feels that the center has thrived over the years for the same reason it was started–community.
“The Bonifas has thrived as a community arts center because it was made by the community.” He explained, “The community involvement over the years is what sets the Bonifas apart and makes it special.”
The Bonifas has offered pottery classes for years and many of them have been taught by Al. These classes are popular and often completely booked because of the small class sizes—usually between 6 to 8 people—and the enjoyable atmosphere that the Bonifas gives. Too often people are nervous about trying something new, but classes at the Bonifas give the beginner a chance to be taught pottery by a professional and have fun at the same time.
The costs associated with pottery tends to be one reason people shy away from the art. Many people don’t have the room or money for a studio, let alone a kiln or glazing area. Al agrees and thinks this is why the pottery studio at the Bonifas is so great.
“You can rent out the studio for around $25 a month,” he said, “and that is an extremely reasonable price for any kind of studio space. You can bring your own clay in, like I do, or purchase some from the Bonifas. The kilns, wheels, and just about anything you’d need is all right here for you to use. The Bonifas really made this a place that is usable for just about anybody.”
The pottery studio is a cozy, bright, and quiet room nestled in the lower floors of the Bonifas that holds two different kilns, lots of shelf and desk space, and a couple of wheels. It feels very calm and peaceful which would make it the perfect place for a busy artist to get away for a few hours.
Al is known mostly for his raku style pottery. Raku originated in Japan in the early 16th century and is believed to have made its way to the States with Paul Soldner. The style is known for its metallic and flashy finish but was once used for creating items for tea ceremonies. Al has taught many classes on this style at the Bonifas and will be teaching another one in April and May. The class is broken up into an indoor session that focuses on creating the pot by hand and wheel and outdoor session that is dedicated to the glazing and firing aspect of the art.
“Raku is a fast-firing technique. We use garbage cans outside to fire up the pots. A kiln can take hours to finish but this technique takes about 20 minutes and the end result is pretty spectacular,” he explained.
When asked what advice he would give to someone in the community curious about pottery but nervous about where to start he laughed, “Come take a class at the Bonifas! It’s a great way for anyone to get their toes wet in many different arts, including pottery. The prices are fantastic and you’re going to have a fun time.”