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The twenty years from 1950-1970 saw a drastic change in the perception of Hamilton, also known as the Rust Belt. Yes, many employers like Otis Elevator, Firestone and International Harvest shut their doors, leaving many without sound employment. It, however, became a tipping point for the City. 

Change, also seen as opportunity, lead to the attraction of financial institutions, High-tech companies, and research sectors to be embed themselves in the fabric of the new Hamilton. This resulted in the need for supportive amenities, specifically in the downtown core. Highways were built, Jackson Square rose from the ashes of architectural mastery and high-rise buildings reshaped the skyline.

And this is what John Hanson chose to capture!

During this time, John Hanson was an art director at the paper company Consolidated Bathurst. It was his primary source of income, besides teaching art. As you may have heard, artists have varied sources of income, especially when raising a family. This steady income allowed Hanson to venture into the changing Hamilton. Armed with sketchbooks, drawing boards, conte, charcoal and Inks, he would place himself not far from the towering cranes erecting the financial company’s new headquarters. Hanson took the time to capture Hamilton evolving; not just a before and after shot.

“City” is a collection of drawings from the 1960s by John Hanson capturing Hamilton’s evolution into the direction we now know it is be aiming for at a more rapid pace. Enclosed in the collection are several rural images from what is now considered Hamilton, since the amalgamation in 2001 (even now those rural images are developed land).  John Hanson stopped to take the time to capture the raw transformation occurring in Hamilton amongst the hustle and bustle of a City. His drawings are witnesses to an old and overlooked City at the cusp of change.

-- Curator Andrea Jackman



John Hanson  CSPWC (1920 – 2011)

Watercolourist John Hanson was born in 1920, Hamilton, where he grew up in the East End on Balmoral Avenue, North. As a young student passionate for art, Hanson attended Memorial (City) School. Under the supervision of art instructor, watercolourist, and printmaker, Viola Depew (1884-1992), Hanson began to explore his passion for the arts, which was contrary to his father’s advice. Viola Depew provided strong instruction for Hanson as she passed on her knowledge from her studies under G.A. Reid (1860-1947) and Arthur Lismer (1885-1969).

Following his education at Memorial School, Hanson attended Hamilton Technical Collage for visual and commercial art. There he studied under Hortense Gordon and John Sloan Gordon (1891-1940). Both artist strongly influenced Hanson to capture the land in and around Hamilton, however, when World War II broke, Hanson left Hamilton to serve in the R.C.A.F for six years. Upon his return from the War, Hanson followed his passion working in art.

John Hanson became an art director for the paper company Consolidated Bathurst. The paper company became Hanson’s primary source for income. Here he was able to be a commercial artist, yet still find time to work on his on paintings.  John Hanson deeply enjoyed venturing out into Hamilton and surrounding area in his “Studio on Wheels”: a van stocked with arts supplies for any sketching venture.

It was not uncommon to stumble upon John Hanson painting and sketching in the streets, rural area, and industrial lots of Hamilton, Newfoundland, Maine, and Bermuda. Some of Hanson’s preferred subjects to paint were horses, sailing, golfing, seascapes and landscapes. One significant subject matter that caught Hanson’s attention was during a dramatic surge of construction in Hamilton in the 1950s. Hanson, armed with his watercolours, sought to capture the demolition of the buildings once found at now popular locations known as Jackson Square (King St. and Bay St.) and the former Board of Education (Main St. and Bay St.). Upon completion of highly detailed sketches, Hanson would work up major works in his home Tanglewood studio, Beach Boulevard.

In addition to working as a commercial and career artist, John Hanson taught at Mohawk College and high schools in Hamilton and Oakville area. After over 50 years of being a career artist, Hanson was elected to the Canadian Society of Painters and Watercolours (CSPWC/SCPA) in 1981.  After a strong career as an artist, John Hanson died in 2011 in Hamilton, leaving true documents of history by way of his art.

He had several notable shows: Art Gallery of Hamilton (1972), Beckett Gallery (1974) Royal Winter Fair (1997), John B. Aird Gallery (2009), CSPWC show at Epteck Centre on Summerside (2000); and a retrospective at Earls Court Gallery (2013).

Hanson’s work can be found in such collections as the Canadian Society of Painters and Watercolours; Steel Co of Canada; Dominion Foundries and Steel; ArcelorMittal Dofasco; Newfoundland Government; Mohawk College, and private collections across North America. John Hanson was also honoured with Price Fine Arts Collection Award among others.