Profile of an Artisan: Brett Hansen - Handmade Cigar Box Ukuleles.

 Joseph and I often find ourselves in deep conversation about being artisans, defining what an artisan or craftsman is now days, observing the way other people view artisans, etc. . .  Then we find ourselves in even deeper conversation about artistic processes, inspiration, importance of material, technique, tools etc. . .  Having all of these conversations and knowing several craftsman we've come up with our own definition of what a true artisan is, and I don't think many would disagree with our definition.

The definition of an artisan is a profile, a philosophy, and a lifestyle; It is the nature of an artisan to express himself or herself through the invention, creation, manufacture, repair, and manipulation of things.  Artisans get restless if they don't create something tangible, and this restlessness is driven by their nature from something within themselves.  They generate an idea and from within themselves they use raw material, and with simple tools and their own hands, they create beautiful and functional works of art.

Eidolon House started long before Joseph and I moved to Texas and opened our bindery.  Eidolon House began as our home, a venue to foster and capture a spirit of creativity, and it is with this spirit that Joseph and I celebrate all artisans that cross our path.  To showcase these wonderful artisans I'm going write a monthly blog featuring their creative genius.

 Meet Bret Hanson owner and creator of Hanson Music Works & Goods

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When Bret is not spending time with his beautiful wife and two sons, he enjoys riding his bike, skiing, making art, and making music.  With his Masters of Fine Arts from UNM and a true passion for music and art, Bret had an idea and with his artistic drive created a line of custom instruments that are both functional and beautiful.

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Bret makes cigar box ukeleles, electric cigar box guitars, banjos, and even belt buckles and bolo ties!  I had the opportunity to ask Bret a few questions about his craft and am excited to share his insights with you!

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Profile of an Artisan/Craftsman

Q:  What is your artistic philosophy?

A:  My artistic philosophy has three parts:  Conservation, innovation, and instinct.

  • Conservation:  My instruments are made from 75% reclaimed or recycled materials.  This just makes ecological and economic sense to me as a craftsman.
  • Innovation:  The world is full of brilliant ideas.  I steal the ones I like, and use them to create my own designs.  The internet has placed innumerable ideas, pictures, and designs at my fingertips.  How to combine, rearrange, or improve them is my task.  Each day I experience a changing mashup of experiences, beliefs, wisdom and passions, when I am open to these things, my ideas evolve. 
  • Instinct:  Form the time I was in Kindergarten to the completion of a Master of Fine Arts degree, my mind and body have been recording every aesthetic decision.  I trust that experience completely and empower my artistic eye and calloused hand to make decisions quickly and confidently.

Q:  What or who are your artistic influences?

A:  Aside from my favorite visual artists, such as:  Goya, Picasso, Durer, Rembrandt, are thousands of "ordinary" people all over the world that are choosing to live life conscientiously and creatively.  Anyone that asks, "Is there a better, or more elegant, or less wasteful way to do this?" are my artistic influences and inspiration.  I love seeing people who have come up with brilliantly simple new ideas, designs, or ways of doing things.  Music has also always played a prominent role in my creative process.

Q:  Describe your artistic style.

A:  My artistic style is simple, utilitarian, and strives to balance dichotomous themes and materials, such as organic/natural and man-made/industrial.  My instruments and goods must be both aesthetically pleasing and functional.  I view them as useable sculptures hand built from found objects and reclaimed materials.

Q:  When or how did your passion for music begin?

A:  I distinctly remember lying on my back in the living room as a 10-year-old, listening to records from the public library, such as Miles Davis and the Beatles.  Listening to the White Album with eyes closed and a speaker next to each ear may have been how my passion for music began.

My father had an old acoustic guitar, and I taught myself to play my freshman year of high school.  As soon as I knew three chords, I wrote my first song.  I haven't stopped since then.

Q:  What inspired you to make your own instruments?

A:  The decision to make my own instruments came as a natural conclusion to a life-long love of music, a love of working with my hands, and a desire to earn money by turning ordinary goods into beautiful instruments. . . But mostly I did out of curiosity.

Q:Why re-purposed materials, and how are materials important in your artistic process and artistic philosophy?

A:  We can take back the production of MANY things in our lives.  Doing this allows us to become free (or freer) from the corporate consumerism that is pervasive in modern life.

Q:  What has been the biggest challenge in this endeavor?

A:  Without question, it is TIME.  Balancing my time and energy between my family, full time job, and building has been a constant challenge.

Q:  What is your proudest moment in this endeavor?

A:  Every time I tune up an instrument and hear how it sounds.  I feel like a proud new father in a very small way.

Q:  What is your opinion on the importance of handmade goods in modern society?

A:  I feel that handmade goods are extremely important to modern society.  Handmade goods ground us to our shared human history.  Human beings once had to do nearly everything by hand.  Modern society has moved very far from those roots.  Many of us feel a collective pull towards reclaiming a level of control over our lives that we feel is missing.  Making and repairing our belongings can be incredibly fun and empowering.

Q:  What is your hope and/or plan for the future of Hanson Music Works & Goods?

A:  I hope to sell many, many instruments and make enough money to eventually quit my day job and do it full time.  I'd also like to start teaching art part-time eventually.

Q:  What is the best advice you've been given?

A:  The most important thing you can do is to help other people feel good about themselves.

Q:  What advice would you give to a would-be artisan?

A:  Make that thing that you love to make.  Do it as best you can.  Find a way to make it different from your competition.

Here are more photos of Bret's shop, building process, materials used, and custom instruments.