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New Cowan director wants to share her love of regional art

Lauren Hansgen poses with a piece of Cowan pottery. (Photo courtesy of Kitty Sommers)

 

Rocky River

By Sue Botos

Lauren Hansgen makes no apologies for what she calls her “embarrassing” love of local art. In fact, one of the things that the new director of Rocky River Public Library’s Cowan Pottery Museum is looking forward to is sharing her enthusiasm with patrons.

In her library office, Hansgen reflected on her art background, which started, traditionally, with studies of the great European masters.

“I kept narrowing it down and kept zeroing in on the stuff I love. Regional art history is what I love,” she said, commenting that discussing lofty topics with other scholars doesn’t excite her as much as introducing a relatively unknown local artist to the public.

“I approach art from what the public gets out of it,” she said, adding that one of the best things about regional art is that all of the resources are right here. “It took place in our own backyard.”

The Centerville, Ohio, native received her undergraduate degree from Ohio State University and her master’s in art history and museum studies from Case Western Reserve University. It was during her time at Case that the stage was set for her present position. Hansgen recalled that in lieu of a master’s thesis, she served two internships, one of them at ARTneo, formerly the Cleveland Artists Foundation.

“It was quite serendipitous,” said Hansgen, who began as a gallery manager, then filled in as interim director when that job became vacant. She was named executive director in 2008, and held the position until she was named to the Rocky River post.

It was through her work at ARTneo that Hansgen first became acquainted with Rocky River Public Library’s Cowan collection, which showcases pieces of the iconic pottery crafted in the city during the 1920s and 1930s. When putting together a show, “Unchallenged Workmanship: The Artists Out of Cowan Pottery,” for Lakewood’s Beck Center in 2012, she got to know former Cowan Museum Director Carol Jacobs, and borrowed several pieces for display.

“I became familiar with the material and people, so I feel right at home here,” she stated.

Hansgen credits her grandmother’s interest in genealogy with igniting her passion for historical sleuthing. Often accompanying her to cemeteries, Hansgen became fascinated with the stories the grave markers told.

“I love regional art because it’s like a treasure hunt,” she said, noting that at the local level it often takes a lot of digging to uncover a simple fact about an artist.

“At our level, secondary sources don’t exist. It’s up to you to do the research,” she said, adding the Internet makes this task a bit easier.

Also serving as library historian, Hansgen will have plenty of opportunities to delve into local history. She also hopes to make documents and other items in the library’s collection more accessible to the public. Recalling some things that are usually dug out when students are doing research, she said, “I’d love it (the collection) to be something beyond what a group of students can use.” She added that possible collaboration with the Rocky River Historical Society may be discussed.

Hansgen says that her immediate goal is to keep the museum moving forward by getting more of the collection photographed and by making more resources available online. “I want people to embrace my enthusiasm for regional art,” she said.

 

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