Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Feb. 7, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

Concrete sculpture finds new home near Vancouver waterfront

James Lee Hansen’s work installed at Esther Street underpass

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
success iconThis article is available exclusively to subscribers like you.
6 Photos
Above, Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober looks over an informational panel about artist James Lee Hansen after he unveiled his latest 34-panel installation at the corner of Esther and Cascade streets on Friday. The collection of 5-by-5-foot squares on the underpass in downtown Vancouver were salvaged from the Clark County Title Company Building before it was demolished in 2019.
Above, Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober looks over an informational panel about artist James Lee Hansen after he unveiled his latest 34-panel installation at the corner of Esther and Cascade streets on Friday. The collection of 5-by-5-foot squares on the underpass in downtown Vancouver were salvaged from the Clark County Title Company Building before it was demolished in 2019. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

At the Esther Street underpass, large concrete squares with peculiar carvings signify a rich history of its creator and his influence in the region.

James Lee Hansen, one of the Pacific Northwest’s most renowned artists, originally created the white 5-by-5-foot square panels to embellish the Clark County Title Company Building in the early 1960s. The building’s minimalist design would be otherwise bare if it hadn’t been adorned with the 90 grooved panels that wrapped around its exterior.

A handful of decades and ownership changes later, the building was slated to be demolished in 2019 — something that wouldn’t occur without sparing some fragments of its façade. With funding from the Vancouver Culture, Arts and Heritage Grant Program and iQ Credit Union, the building’s latest owner, 34 panels were salvaged from its face.

Now, the panels have a new home at the northern edge of the city’s new waterfront neighborhood alongside an interpretive sign encompassing Hansen’s work.

Hansen’s portfolio contains more than 700 expressionist sculptures that he crafted throughout his seven-decade — and then some — career. Some of these creations can be seen in the core of Clark County, whether it’s his 8-foot-tall “Guardian”  or Ritual Series “Glyph Singer No. 3” next to the Vancouver Community Library, 901 C Street. But his work extends beyond Washington, as it’s displayed in major art museums and other spaces across the nation.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said the public art display serves as a continuance of Hansen’s distinguished career in the region, which has had a palpable influence through his abstract sculptures, poetry and mentorship.

“We’re so excited that we continue to call them home,” she said at a private ribbon cutting event Friday commemorating the art installation.

Life of art

Hansen, now 97, attended the ceremony with his wife, manager and collaborator, Jane, to provide remarks.

“My biggest gratitude of all goes to my late wife, Annie, and my present wife, Jane, who have experienced my obsession regarding sculpture with patient understanding,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if not for them.”

Hansen, born in Tacoma but raised in Vancouver, always leaned into his artistic tendencies, which included sketching throughout his childhood and, eventually, attending an art school in Portland after his World War II Navy service. He later established Vancouver’s first bronze casting studio in Vancouver and eventually relocated to north Clark County.

State Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, touched on Hansen’s prominence in both Southwest Washington and the state through his extensive assortment of experience. In January, she introduced House Resolution 5634 honoring Hansen, which was unanimously approved by the Legislature.

Most notably, Wylie continued, Hansen provided a significant gift to the region’s history through his castings of ancient petroglyphs in the Columbia River Gorge that became submerged and destroyed by the Dalles and John Day dams in the 1950s. Without his excavation work, pieces up to 10,000 years old would have been lost.

“James represents the best as being a historian, a cultural archivist, an artist, a teacher, a synthesizer of the past and the present and the arts and the sciences,” Wylie said.

In a 2017 interview with The Columbian, Hansen compared crafting sculptures to life, as it’s full of “disassembling, reassembling and discovering.” The same can be said for his work displayed along Esther and Cascade streets, initially assembled more than a half century ago and now being shared with a new generation in a new high-profile configuration.

Loading...