By VICKI URBANIK
Hazel Hannell, the beloved local painter and potter whose life became
virtually synonymous with the Indiana Dunes, died early Wednesday morning,
Feb. 6, 2002 in Ashland, Oregon.
She was 106.
Hannell was a prolific painter and potter who for decades worked from her
home/studio in Furnessville. She was known for her profuse wildflowers in
vibrant watercolors, dunes landscapes in oil, wood block series, and pottery
in both porcelain and Indiana red clay.
She was also an advocate of dunes preservation. As one of the early members
of the Save the Dunes Council, she traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for
the establishment of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
A Chesterton Tribune feature on her in 1987 was appropriately headlined:
“Artist’s story is a tale of the Dunes.”
Chesterton artist Gloria Rector said Hannell’s renderings of dunes
wildflowers like trillium and the forest floor brought to life the beauty of
the dunes. “I really think that helped people value the dunes even more,”
“We all loved her work immensely,” Rector added. “She was one of ours. I
think she knew she left her mark.”
Hannell and her husband, noted artist Vin, moved to Furnessville in the
early 1930s from the near northside of Chicago. Hannell recalled in the 1987
interview that she and Vin were both out of art school when they met; at
that the time, Hannell was renting a studio with some of her artist friends
from the Church School of Art on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. “We designed
chintzes and such for Marshall Fields,” she said.
She met Vin after one of her friends went off for the summer to the Art
School in Saugatuck and returned with Vin, one of several boyfriends. The
friend ended up marrying Hannell’s old boyfriend, and Hannell married Vin.
Hazel and Vin used to visit the Indiana Dunes fairly often on weekends,
visiting their Furnessville artist friends, Charles and Frances Strain
Biesel. “It made us want a place down here,” Hannell recalled. She and Vin
bought a home in Furnessville, which is now gone as it was a leaseback in
the National Lakeshore.
She and Vin donated some of the property they bought to the National
Lakeshore and kept the rest as a leaseback. “We wanted the National
Lakeshore, and we wanted Congress to know that the people who didn’t want it
were not in the majority here,” she said.
Russ Nelson, owner of Art and Frame in Valparaiso, noted that Hazel and Vin
were intensely devoted to their artwork.
“She and Vin chose not to have children. They chose to be artists,” he said.
As such, both Hannells produced a large volume of work. “We always painted,
and we had one rule. If one of us was painting, the other tended to the
business work,” Hannell said.
A large part of Hannell’s living room was a painting studio, and her pottery
studio was located down a hill from her house. She once attributed her
frequent walks up and down the hill as one reason why she stayed so fit.
The first pottery work Hazel and Vin did involved fountain tiles for Arthur
Hoyne, a Chicagoan architect. Hannell recalled that she and Vin had never
done tiles, so they went to a potter friend and painted them.
Hannell said she and Vin got into pottery after someone saw their work and
asked if they wanted to go into the wholesale pottery business. “We had
trouble deciding to do the pottery. Vin didn’t want to and I did. I forget
now why, probably because it seemed steadier, and it was. Neither of us was
skilled enough on the wheel to do it all on the wheel, so we designed and
cast,” she said.
Their pottery was sold throughout the country. One of Hannell’s designs,
which she called her “blue stuff,” included an image of dune grass blowing
in the wind.
The Hannells had contacts with many Chicago well-known architects, artists,
designers and building contractors. Among their contacts was Jane Addams,
the noted Chicago philanthropist who founded the Hull House. The Hannells
had a pottery business with the Hull House and were invited to live there.
After Vin died in 1964, Hannell continued her artwork and environmental
activism. In the 1980s, she rented a place in Ajijic in Mexico during the
winter months. Nelson said he and other artist friends would travel to
Mexico and paint with Hannell. The group included Elizabeth Murray, wife of
the Col. Robert Murray, who donated Sunset Hill Farm to the county for use
as a park.
In 1988, Hannell moved to Oregon to live and paint with her friend Harriet
Rex Smith, who lives about a mile up in a mountain 18 miles away from
Ashland. In Oregon, Hannell expanded her repertoire by producing prints, and
she continued her environmental activism by joining group involved in forest
preservation. She gave up pottery after moving to Oregon but continued to
paint four to six hours each day.
Rex Smith said about six weeks ago, Hannell began coughing one night, and,
fearing that she had pneumonia, Rex Smith took her to the emergency room. It
was decided then that Hannell needed more intense care, and she was placed
in a foster care home in Ashland. Up until just about a week ago, Hannell
was active, able to feed herself and walk with assistance. “It looked as if
nothing was imminent,” Rex Smith said.
Shortly after midnight, on early Wednesday morning, Hannell died a peaceful
death. Her remains were to be cremated today, with her ashes spread on a
site she selected on the mountainside. Rex Smith said the site is in a
triangle where two driveways meet, a spot where Hannell planted numerous
daffodils. “She was always sending out for flower bulbs,” Rex Smith said.
A small service will be held sometime later this month. Rex Smith said she
plans to have on display at the service the very last painting Hannell ever
produced -- a small floral, done in watercolor.
She was 103 at the time.