You’ve likely seen his work. From show posters for Liver Mousse and Furrows to the annual Priced to Move art events, and most recently, the poster art for this weekend’s Crossroads Film Festival, Fondrenite Ian Hanson is no stranger to Jackson’s creative scene.
What you may not know is that the Mississippi-raised Hanson was almost the typical “local kid leaves for greener pastures” kind of story. Blame the economy for his return from Minnesota almost six years ago. Blame Jackson for his reason to stay.
Hanson’s family moved here when he was just seven, “as much of a native as I can be,” he says from the front porch of his frequent hangout/collaboration/chill spot, Sneaky Beans.
At 18, he moved to the Midwest and graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in art and design. “I just wanted to put graphics on the bottom of snowboards,” he laughs, growing up a skateboard kid. “Then you realize that, like six people have that job.” After school, Hanson moved around a bit before settling in Minnesota for a custom art fabrication job.
Returning to Jackson in the summer of 2008 was with mixed emotions. “I moved here at the absolute worst time in the economy,” he explains. “But I thought I’d only be here for three years. I thought, ‘I’ll do the whole resume builder thing,’ but then Jackson gets its hooks in you and you start getting involved in community. I was looking for design jobs in Minneapolis, so when an opportunity came up here, it made perfect sense.”
That opportunity was a sit down with the art director of local ad agency, Mad Genius, where he’s spent the last five years beginning his design career. “It was a really good run in advertising, but I was ready to do something different…to step away and have the fruits of my labors be something a little more tangible,” he says.
Enter Kalalou, a home goods and furniture company based in Jackson. What started with one basket from Jamaica has grown to source products from artisans and manufactures in all four corners of the globe. The rustic-chic wholesale company, whose At West End catalog and retail stores also operates The Outlet on Northside Drive, was hiring, but for what, the 35 year-old Hanson couldn’t figure out.
An online listing for a “design job” at the first of the year sparked Hanson’s interests and spurred a call to friend and Kalalou creative director, Bradley Adair. In a “everybody knows everybody around here” twist, Hanson had met Kalalou owners Doug and Susan Williams, whose Midtown design studio is directly across the street from Hanson’s Mid City Prints (with partners Leslie Galloway, Bryan Barham, and Ken Patterson). “Doug gave me a homework assignment to design three or four products and email them in,” Hanson recounts. “I was super nervous and panicky about whether it was good enough, but I got a call the next day, with Doug asking if I wanted to come work for them. Design and interiors is always something I have been interested in, so it was a no-brainer.”
Hanson’s position, the first of its kind for Kalalou, is that of product development designer. On a given day, he says his work truly runs the gamut of the home goods spectrum. From side tables to coffee tables, chairs and shelving, down to small cast iron pieces like coat hooks or rain gauges and ceramics, Hanson is allowed the freedom to create. “One day it’s a sleek metal and wood side table and the next day, a ceramic bowl shaped like a cow,” he says.
How do you come up with original pieces? “Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s inspiration from other places,” he explains. “I spend a lot of the day looking at blogs and looking at other online stores selling similar things. You see one photo that looks a certain way and you think, ‘If I changed this and did this finish,’ and you start with a rough thumbnail. The next thing you know, you’re in illustrator drawing it to scale.”
It has been said that good artists borrow, great artists steal. “It’s ‘appropriation’ as one of my professors called it,” he laughs. “It would be hard to sit in a white room with a sketch pad and come up with things. Sometimes there are twists and, sometimes, improvements; it’s got be a mix of all of that.”
Next year will be the first time Hanson sees the products he has created in catalog and in store. “That’ll be crazy,” he exclaims. “I’m sure for some people, the polish falls off the stone, but I can’t wait for that moment where I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s mine!’”