PRINT MAS­TER

Also known as Geese in Flight, the Sun­ridge tex­tile pat­tern by Dan­ish-born Cana­dian de­signer Thor Hansen was in­flu­enced by The Group of Seven. Nathalie Atkin­son re­ports on how the print from the 1950s rep­re­sents a long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween Scandi

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - THE BUZZ -

Be­gin­ning in the mid-1920s, waves of ar­ti­sans from Swe­den and Den­mark set­tled across Canada, Thor Hansen among them. Ac­cord­ing to Cana­dian de­sign his­to­rian and cu­ra­tor Rachel Gotlieb, it was the mem­o­rable graph­ics of Cana­dian Pa­cific tourism posters that ini­tially in­spired him to im­mi­grate here. A charis­matic and tire­less ad­vo­cate of na­tional iden­tity and ex­pres­sion through arts and hand­i­craft, he could be con­sid­ered the Wil­liam Mor­ris of Canada. “Cul­ture is some­thing that evolves out of the sim­ple, en­dur­ing el­e­ments of ev­ery­day life,” Hansen said in a 1955 talk. “El­e­ments most truth­fully ex­pressed in the folk arts and crafts of a na­tion.”

Hansen first set­tled in Saskatchewan in 1927 and worked as a farm labourer be­fore find­ing cler­i­cal work at the Bri­tish Amer­i­can Oil Com­pany’s Regina of­fice. He opened a shop that sold needle­point and a small pro­duc­tion of tex­tiles to sup­ple­ment his in­come. In 1938, Hansen trans­ferred to the com­pany’s Toronto of­fices, and a decade later its vice pres­i­dent, Ger­ald God­soe, hired Hansen to cre­ate the decor for their new Toronto head­quar­ters. The mod­ernist build­ing de­signed by Page+Steel was com­pleted in 1951 and Hansen soon be­came the com­pany’s na­tional art di­rec­tor, set­ting the de­sign tone at other of­fices around the coun­try.

Hansen lent his de­signs widely, on ev­ery­thing from quilts, rugs, wood pan­els and needle­point to met­al­work, carved linoleum pan­els, posters and sou­venir ob­jects. He also prac­ticed a sort of open-source de­sign, at one point giv­ing his Ge­or­gian Bay-in­spired pat­terns to lo­cal arts groups to adapt and remix in their own way.

Pat­terns re­fresh and sub­vert Cana­di­ana clichés such as geese, loons and for­lorn lean­ing pines, and many of Hansen’s other de­signs (in­clud­ing Ea­gle Pass, 1956) were in­spired by in­dige­nous and folk art. An­i­mal, wild­flower and plant life are fre­quent sub­jects of Hansen’s prints, with heavy out­lines and styl­ized, colour­ful pat­tern fields. Yet even in mo­tifs that os­ten­si­bly re­flect the still­ness of the land­scape, there is a sense of dy­namic mo­tion.

Most of his pro­duc­tion tex­tiles were hand-screened fab­ric de­signed for Kitch­ener, Ont. up­hol­stery man­u­fac­turer A.B. Caya Ltd. in the 1950s. Orig­i­nal tex­tile swatches are scarce to­day, and the Huro­nia Mu­seum in Mid­land, Ont. holds the largest col­lec­tion of Hansen art­work in the coun­try. To mark Canada 150, Globe Style’s Clearly Cana­dian se­ries ex­plores iconic ex­am­ples of do­mes­tic de­sign.

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