Hanno Ahrens, 1954-2016

Swing, Boat, Table

What Hanno made of wood this year:
a swing, a boat, a table.

He doesn’t believe he’s made art this year;
the swing, the boat, the table

are objects he made to invite those he loves
to sit down.

Not objects people in rooms walk around,
regard in boredom or awe while locked at the knee–

a few vaguely yearning to float to the sea,
break bread with friends, rise through the air–

a few vaguely yearning–and not knowing why–
to sit in a tree.

                                    –Elizabeth Seydel Morgan

I remember Hanno Ahrens as larger than life: tall, commanding, and generous. He was a no-nonsense guy who lived large and his wood sculpture filled that large space. His work was also commanding, yet elegant, deeply in tune with its material, and perfectly proportioned. In “Swing, Boat, Table”, VCCA Fellow, poet Elizabeth Seydel Morgan captures the power of Hanno’s work. It spoke to us, even when we didn’t know we were listening.

I learned today that Hanno died last spring. I remember the many springtimes he drove up the hill at Mt. San Angelo in his truck, its bed full of tools and timber, ready to work in the studio. He came for a residency, but he also came to visit his daughter Dana who lived up the road in Charlottesville with her mother. Dana was the same age as my daughters, and Julia and Eleanor were Dana’s companions in the days before or near the end of Hanno’s residencies. The girls would play in the fields. They were the “nature girls” and Hanno was their guide.

Hanno built a beautiful boat by hand and sent the girls floating off on Sweet Briar Lake.  He dove into the water to grab a snapping turtle by its tail.  He filled his t-shirt with crawfish that he would later cook over an open fire. He ate seedpods off the coffey tree and once skinned a snake right before their wide eyes. 

After years of adventurous visits and four residencies at VCCA, Hanno and Dana moved to the wilds of Northern California and built a life there. Our communication was sporadic, but he still felt like a presence in my world. The note I received today immediately brought him closer than he’d been in years.  The world feels diminished now that I know he’s not in it.

-Sheila Gulley Pleasants


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