Connecting with U.P. Maker and Educator Kenyon Hansen

May 30, 2019 1 Comment




Kenyon Hansen is all about making connections, and he felt a connection to Pewabic long before ever setting foot inside the building.

Last week was his first time not just at the pottery, but in Detroit, though he’s long known about Pewabic founder Mary Chase Perry (Stratton) because he lived a stone’s throw from her Upper Peninsula birthplace. And once Hansen became a potter, that connection strengthened even more.

"We used to live literally less than a block from the house she grew up in Hancock. You could almost see it outside our window. After driving by that house so often and hearing so much about her, we’re really happy to be here," says Hansen, before adding: "and I’m a ceramics guy.”

The Finlandia University visiting artist came to Pewabic to jury the Maker/Mentor exhibition, lead a workshop for the Education Studio students and deliver his studio work to make its Pewabic House & Garden Show debut June 6-9.

Getting social through social media

The Dollar Bay, Mich., potter continuously strives to ensure his customers feel connected with his Upper Peninsula studio, no matter their distance. Artists in more isolated locations need to curate online presences and relationships to reach their customers, says Hansen.

“With Instagram you give people a window into your own life,” he explains, adding that it provides a sense of the maker. “I may not know them, but through social media people feel that connection.”

That’s imperative to a professional artist like Hansen, who knows that other U.P. jobs might have come easier— and be more profitable — had he not decided to go to art school.

“The hand really isn’t celebrated today. There are a million reasons not to make with your hands,” he says, pointing to the precision computers afford. Stepping away from your craft, even briefly having a taste of a steady income flow, can force goals once important in art school to drift further and further away, he says.

“I struggle with the word artist because I think of myself as a craftsperson. If you’re interested in making — if that’s where your heart is — if you’re not making, you’re not moving forward,” Hansen says. “Nearly every major decision I made after I left school, the question was: Where is my next kiln? Where will my next body of work be made?”

At one point the answers included making pots outside and finishing them in the kitchen of a one-bedroom apartment in Marquette, Mich. And it means not being afraid to fail.

“I knew that the pots were bad, but if I wasn’t doing it, I knew I’d be remodeling kitchens and I wouldn’t be a maker,” says Hansen. “You’re never going to come up with anything original without failing.”

Along with a steadfast commitment to forge ahead, Hansen advises burgeoning artists to be mobile.

“Don’t be afraid to move across the country for opportunity,” he says, pointing out that he lived in seven different states in 10 years. “Every time I moved it was for another opportunity.”

It was all about the journey of making — keeping that the top priority, he says.

Jurying Maker/Mentor

For Maker/Mentor, Pewabic’s upcoming staff and student exhibition that opens with the House & Garden Show, Hansen said he looked for a level of consideration from each artist. He wanted to discover what in each submitted piece caught the artist’s eye, and then moved on to the utility: interior and exterior relationships, the weight of a cup, how the artist worked with lines, forms and surface texture.

“A lot of the work jumps out at you. We all recognize quality,” he says. “I’m looking at craftsmanship — that’s part of my own process — because I’m a potter.”

He definitely had to turn turned away well made work, he says, to focus on the ones that ticked every box of what he hoped to find.

“You have to make a lot of bad work before you make good work,” Hansen explains. “A lot of people have ten years before they figure out who they are and how they communicate.”

Hansen is now at the point of his career where he hopes he’s closed the gap and that he won’t look back in 20 years and gasp at his own work, like he has in the past. Instead he hopes to continue seeing little threads from older work resurfacing.

“I like making pots — pots connect that experience between art and everyday,” Hansen says. “The average time spent between art in a museum is 15 seconds, whereas in a home people let down their guard. They interact with the pieces. When you bring it home, suddenly you’re holding it closer to your body. You’re engaging with it. It’s a whole different experience.”

1 Response

Bakos Anna Angeline Angel
Bakos Anna Angeline Angel

October 02, 2019

Your story is very inspirational for people in every walk of life. You describe a journey of maturing as a person that is reflected in the work you do.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Blog

Historic Inspiration for Pewabic's Hex Paperweight
Historic Inspiration for Pewabic's Hex Paperweight

August 20, 2020

Our entire team was eager to reveal the newest hand-painted addition to our paperweight collection prior to the launch of this year’s 2020 Summer Catalog. The new Hex Paperweight was inspired by long-standing favorites piece from our archival collection, two glaze test hexagons.

View full article →

Inside The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer
Inside The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer

August 13, 2020

View full article →

Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter.

June 05, 2020


Pewabic has operated in Detroit for over a century. We recognize the inequity our Black community faces on a daily basis and we share the grief and horror following the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and far too many others.

The challenges currently facing this nation are severe and will require all of us working together to overcome. But progress will only be made when we recognize that the pain and suffering has not been equally shared. Black Lives Matter. We stand with those calling for an end to racism and injustice. We know that we have much more work to do ourselves, but we will continue our efforts to build an organization that is welcoming to and fully reflective of Detroit's diverse community.

We’ve been mostly quiet this week, listening, but we believe that art can be a powerful vehicle for understanding. In that spirit, we wanted to share some of the work being created by Kyle and Kelly Phelps, two of our favorite artists working in clay.


View full article →