An art collector shares his secrets
John Hansler kept buying art until he eventually ran out of space
JOHN HANSLER remembers how it all began.
It was November 1957. He was about to buy his first painting.
“I was teaching in Sault Ste. Marie and belonged to a local art club,” he tells me. “I think I was the only male member amidst wealthy mature ladies. Carl Schaeffer was invited to come and give a lecture on art. He brought a large collection of his recent watercolours.
“I chose ‘Plain and Woodlot’ and asked him to frame it. Cost $85. I enjoyed having that picture very much and decided to buy a few more for other spaces where I lived.”
A few more became many more. Hansler says he bought from artists in their studios, from private galleries and at auction. His collection grew to 120 pieces
Last year, Hansler donated more than 90 of them to the McMaster Museum of Art. John Hansler: A Life Collecting, an exhibition at the museum, showcases a selection.
A collection reflects the likes and tastes of the collector. Hansler, who graduated from McMaster in 1956 with an Honours BA, taught history for many years at Midland Secondary School.
He bought paintings and prints made in the second half of the 20th century, a time when many Canadian artists embraced abstraction.
Paul Fournier (born 1939), who often exhibited in Hamilton, is both dramatic and minimalist in “Sawu.”
A big, impulsive splash of white dominates the composition. The marks and movements of the brush are obvious. Small dabs of red, blue, green and yellow, huddle on the sides.
Harold Klunder (born 1943) opts for a more intricate composition in “Landscape/Self Portrait IV”. A dynamic tangle of faces, parts of faces and ambiguous shapes crowd one another. Klunder creates a highly textured surface by layering, scraping and gouging.
Hansler got to know his artists. He met Klunder, for instance, at a private gallery in Toronto’s Yorkville.
“I met him at Sable Castelli Gallery once or twice. He usually showed huge canvases. I was in the market for his smaller works, which Jared Sable described with a chuckle as Klunder’s Blunders.”
Hansler visited Kazuo Nakamura in his studio. Nakamura (1926-2002), another big name in Hansler’s collection, was a member of Painters Eleven, an avant-garde group of abstractionists working in Toronto in the 1950s.
In “Central Seven,” Nakamura creates a carefully controlled geometric composition that includes a central structure comprising horizontal lines framed by thin vertical lines.
Hansler says his purchases were both planned and spontaneous.
“Planning consisted of wanting to add more of an artist’s work that I liked. The execution was more spontaneous, depending when they became available and if I could afford to buy more at a given time.”
“Dealers let me take them home and I would come back several times making large and small payments till they were paid for. Credit cards did not enter into it — cheques or bank money orders.”
He made friends with some dealers. “Other dealers only wanted to get to know big spenders.”
But eventually Hansler stopped collecting. “I ran out of space,” he says.
And what happened to the first purchase, the Schaeffer watercolour?
“I still have it and it hangs above my dresser in my bedroom.”
Regina Haggo, art historian, public speaker, curator and former professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, teaches at the Dundas Valley School of Art.
Dealers let me take them home and I would come back several times making large and small payments till they were paid for.
Harold Klunder, Landscape/Self Portrait IV, 1982-1985. Part of John Hansler: A Life Collecting, an exhibition at McMaster Museum of Art.
Paul Fournier, Sawu, 1979, acrylic on canvas. Part of John Hansler: A Life Collecting, an exhibition at McMaster Museum of Art.
Kazuo Nakamura. Central Seven, 1961, oil on canvas. Part of John Hansler: A Life Collecting, an exhibition at McMaster Museum of Art.