The Life, Times and Work of

 

Hans Jorgen Thorvald Christensen

Hans Portrait - Circa 1977

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

    Hans.gif (985 bytes) Christensen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on January 21,1924, to Holger Christensen, an accountant whose clients were involved in art, architecture, exploring the Polar region and Greenland, and to Valborg Makkenbol Christensen who enjoyed an interest in and was supportive of the arts.

    To put the life and career of Hans Christensen in proper perspective it's necessary to describe the Danish economy, culture and society before and during his lifetime. In the early part of the 20th century an important part of the Danish economy was the manufacturing, export and sale of sterling silver ware designed and created in numerous workshops. The best know of these was the Georg Jensen Silversmithy of Copenhagen.

    Growth.gif (1026 bytes) of the Jensen reputation exploded in the early 1900’s through exhibitions in 1901 and 1904 at the Museum of Decorative Art, Denmark, at the Folkwang Museum in Hagen, Germany in 1905 and by winning a gold medal at the Brussels International Exhibition in 1910.  Georg Jensen exhibited at the Parisian gallery Salon d’Automne for the first time in 1913 and the following year a piece of Jensen silver was acquired by the Musee des Arts Decoratifs.  The popular handmade Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau designs were anxiously received by a purchasing public hungry and searching for an alternative to the machine manufactured designs typical of the industrial revolution.  Further international exposure was gained at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Diego, California, where newspaper businessman William Randolph Hearst purchased most of the Jensen silver on display.  Georg Jensen retail shops in the fashionable shopping districts of Copenhagen, Berlin, Stockholm, Paris, London, and in 1924 New York, drew attention to the design, manufacture, export and sale of silver jewelry, flatware and hollowware drawing valuable hard currency for the Danish economy. This economic growth and attention placed the designer silversmith in a significant role in Danish culture and society.  The year 1925 saw designation of the Georg Jensen Works as silversmith’s to both the Danish and Swedish courts.  As the 1920's drew to a close the Georg Jensen Silversmithy of Copenhagen had become a successful extension of the English Arts and Crafts movement begun by John Ruskin and William Morris in the late 1800's, employed 250 workers and was among the most successful industrial and artistic endeavors in Denmark.  To his workers, Danish society and the world at large, Georg Jensen was a native hero and a world-recognized artist/silversmith, an enormous achievement for a man from a working class background in a country guided by royalty.  He personally established collaborative design efforts as the norm in his workshop, first with Henry Pilstrup, who came to the workshop as an apprentice, later with Johan Rohde, the sculptor Gundar Albertus and architect Harald Nielsen. The custom of developing design concepts with other successful artists became an important aspect of the Jensen line and was later duplicated by other world renowned retailers as a marketing philosophy. 

Hans at Frivact, Denmark - Circa 1936.    Hans Christensen circa 1936. 

Photo courtesy Archive of American Art Smithsonian Institution (AAASI).

    The.gif (937 bytes) Royal Family of Denmark involved themselves in the country’s Silversmith’s Guild and in the development of the silver manufacturing industry.

Sivard Bernadotte, Crown Princess Ingrid and A. Hostrup, 1938. 

Sigvard Bernadotte, Crown Princess Ingrid and A. Hostrup, 1938.

    Into.gif (949 bytes) this vibrant and exciting environment the15-year-old Hans Christensen was apprenticed to the famous workshop as a compromise occupation with his conservative father.  The senior Mr. Christensen wanted his son to follow in his own   footsteps and become an accountant.  Hans recalled situations when his father "had both the question and the answer."(Hans Christensen)   Hans wanted to specialize in pure art and sculpture but was directed to a more practical opportunity by his strict business-wise father.  Both father and son considered the choice of silversmithing as a reasonable alternative to pure art and sculpture because the economic and social opportunities available to talented silversmiths were numerous and creativity was involved with designing beautiful silver objects for sale to an international clientele, and sales, at the end of the day, are what account's recognize as substantial.

Hans Christensen - Circa 1938    Hans Christensen circa 1938  

Photo courtesy Archive of American Art Smithsonian Institution (AAASI).

    Hans.gif (985 bytes) began his apprenticeship in 1939, only a few months before Germany invaded Denmark.  His new position was to learn silversmithing during the day at the Jensen workshop, and attend academic classes in the evening. 

Apprentice's lunch break at the Jensen workshop. - Circa 1940 

In his words, he was "fortunate from the very beginning"(H. C.) because he was assigned to be the "go-between"(H. C.) from the design studios to the production factory. Hans drew a salary from the Jensen works of about seven dollars per week.  During this time the Jensen design staff was composed of many talented and accomplished painters, sculptors, and artists from throughout Scandinavia.  After five years, in 1944, Hans created his "journeyman's piece," a teapot and warmer for which he received not one, but two silver medallions, both presented to him personally by King Frederick IX of Denmark.   It was extremely rare for one person to receive two such honors, one for design and a second for execution and such a presentation had not occurred since the 1800’s.   Hans was 20-years-old at the time of this prestigious presentation.  Apprentice silversmiths who failed to pass the Journeyman's examination and performance review at this time were forbidden from working as silversmiths by Danish Law.  Hans's silversmiths certificate was granted on March 30, 1944 by the Danish Central Committee on Probation Works for Goldsmiths, Silversmiths and Electroplaters., Guldsmedehoikoleforeningen, Copenhagen.  

Hans Journeyman's Work.

Photo courtesy Thomas M. Sandretto

Mr. Chuck Evans recently informed me that the spout of this vessel is not raised from the body but applied with a specifically alloyed solder designed for a perfect color match with conventional sterling silver.

    There.gif (965 bytes) was a great tradition of cooperation between the silver industry and the Scandinavian arts and crafts schools at this time because trade and business were so important to the economies of the Scandinavian nations.  After working at the Jensen Smithy for five years Hans enrolled at The Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts (1949–1950) where instructors were drawn from industry including some of the designers he worked with during the day at the Jensen Silversmithy.  It was at this time that Hans learned the critical difference between "looking" and "seeing" and most likely lead to his phrase, "To look is a craft, but to see, is an art".(H. C.)  In 1951, he was accepted to the College of Technical Society for Advanced Silversmiths, where he earned what was comparable to a masters degree, concentrating in (business) management, technique, and especially design.  Hans’s instructors at this school included Erik Herlow, a noteworthy designer at the Jensen Silversmithy and someone Hans recalled as a wonderful role model.  Twelve students were accepted into this program that had five instructors.  Concurrently, in 1952, he studied at the School for Arts and Crafts in Oslo, Norway.  The College of Technical Society created a pool of experts from which industry could draw.  From 1950 to 1952 Hans worked in the model or prototype department where drawings of potential products were transformed into actual three dimensional objects by the highest skill level silversmiths at the Jensen Works.  From 1952 to 1954 Hans Christensen was the lead silversmith of the prototype shop and was among the youngest department heads at the Jensen Works.

 Jensen workshop managers.  Circa 1945

    Hans collaborated personally with a number of Jensen designers: Jorgen Jensen, son of Georg, Sigvard Bernadotte, a member of the Swedish Royal Family who Hans remembered as a perfect gentleman, Arno Malinowski who arrived for work dressed impeccably, "without a speck of dust"(H. C.), Ole Bent Petersen, Magnus Stephensen award winning architect, and Henning Koppel.

 Mr. Bernadotte     Sigvard Bernadotte        Mr. Koppel   Henning Koppel

    Hans advised and assisted these established fine artists, some of who were not trained silversmiths, while they struggled to interpret design ideas into three-dimensional silver products for the market.  Despite Hans being much younger than these men some availed themselves of the opportunity to be Hans’s students at classes he directed and taught at the Arts and Crafts School in order to better understand what could be accomplished in silver design. As a student Hans benefited from exposure to industry professionals, now as head of the model department he became responsible for directing the silversmithing section at the School for Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen.

The student had become the master.  Mr. Christensen

Photo courtesy Archive of American Art Smithsonian Institution (AAASI).

    It.gif (918 bytes) was Hans’s job to translate their abstractions and concepts into something that could be made without, as he liked to say, "hurting their feelings"(H. C.).  Hans remembered Henning Koppel as an excellent, but perhaps abstruse and demanding artist who liked to sketch in charcoal. The problem was interpreting these charcoal drawing’s for silver.   "Did he (Koppel) mean the center of the thick charcoal line? The left side? The right side?"(H. C.)   If Hans chose the incorrect interpretation, Koppel would scold, "Couldn’t you see it was the other line?"(H. C.)  And if Hans anticipated Koppel’s intent perfectly then "of course, it was his (Koppel’s) line that was right."(H. C.)  Always the perfect gentleman and raised with a social demeanor suitable for the company of the Danish Royal family, Hans never exaggerated his ability nor was he boastful about his own success.  It was with characteristic dignity and reluctance during a conversation with Mr. Jonathan Parry, a graduate student at the School for American Craftsmen (S.A.C.) in 1971, that it became clear, though there is little irrefutable  evidence as of the date of this writing, Hans personally made the first of the famous Koppel water pitchers designated as Number 992, and introduced in 1952.

                 Koppel Water Pitcher - Charcoal Drawing         Henning KoppelMr. Koppel  

    In.gif (923 bytes) 1952 an exhibition of Georg Jensen silver was mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Hans, who made about 80% of the designs in this show at the prototype shop, was sent to the museum to represent the factory.  It was at this exhibition that he was introduced to the American Craft movement, and was invited by Amy Vanderbilt Webb to emigrate to the United States and take a teaching position at S.A.C. in New York. Two years of letters from Mrs. Webb, Senator Kenneth Keating of New York and Harold Brennan, Director of S.A.C. from 1948 ensued, urging Hans to take the position.   Finally, on a Sunday morning in Copenhagen, Jack Pripp's father, a third generation silversmith, visited Hans at his apartment to urge him to take the job in America.   He made this personal request so that his son, Jack Jr., who held the position at that time, would return to Denmark to be with his aging father.  Hans was prevented from designing silver products at this time through his employment contract with the Jensen organization but was presented with opportunities to design automobiles, lamps and other consumer goods.  In 1954 Hans Christensen, who didn’t speak a single word of English, agreed to take the position at the School for American Craftsmen in Rochester, New York.

    The.gif (937 bytes) focus of S.A.C. from its inception in 1944 was toward training producing craftsmen, not pure artists.  Most of the students in 1954 were attending college with the help of the GI bill, and were interested primarily in earning a living and, for some, in supporting their already existing families.  Many of Hans’s early students went on to careers in the American silver industry, among them Burr Sebring, director of design for the Gorham Company, Colin Richmond, design manager of Oneida Silversmiths, Stefan Siegel and Ed Zatursky of International Silver, and later Byron Whithurst who lead the Silversmiths at Colonial Williamsburg in the 1980's. Many of Hans’s students pursued careers in education, while others became practicing silversmiths, jewelers, and designers in their own workshops.

    Hans.gif (985 bytes) 's first private commission for a sterling silver object in the United States occurred in 1956 when he was asked to create a trophy for the North American Figure Skating Association.  At the time of original production a large piece was completed for permanent inclusion in the association's collection.  Hans included the pattern created on the ice surface when a particular required exercise is performed.  Association directors were immediately taken with the personal nature of Hans creation and decided that smaller versions were required for presentation to the athletes who distinguished themselves each year.  Hans fulfilled their need for duplicate trophies by personally hand raising, planishing and fabricating copies for the next 25 years.

Mr. Christensen creating the North American Figure Skating Trophy.

Photo courtesy Archive of American Art Smithsonian Institution (AAASI).

North American Figure Skating Trophy.

Photo courtesy Archive of American Art Smithsonian Institution (AAASI).

    Free.gif (950 bytes) from the regimentation of Danish society and employment contract restrictions at Jensen that prevented him from designing silver, assisted by the fullness of time and experience, Hans was able to further examine his final design resolution for the ice water pitcher.  Henning Koppel’s design was a complete creative departure from everything that  preceded it and a masterpiece of asymmetrical minimalist form.  Working in the prototype shop on the development of the famous form Hans knew its contours and was aware of its functional properties.  Undisputedly beautiful to behold at rest and a tribute to both designer and silversmith's perseverance, Hans as maker, knew that it contained functional shortcomings.  The handle was sometimes cold to the touch, graceful but somewhat uncomfortable in the servers hand when holding six to eight pounds of water and more frequently than anyone wanted to admit, spilling ice from the spout creating endless annoyance for the owner.  Hans studied the issues as a scientist studies nature knowing that ice is less dense than water and therefore floats.  He reasoned that if the ice were directed through the neck to a position higher and away from the spout, social decorum and pride of ownership would be preserved.   Hans accepted Koppel’s spout opening geometry and brought it through it’s inferred conclusion with a handle that assured the comfort of the user, an issue the fine artist and sculptor considered secondary.  Hans solution holds the ice when pouring, in what he referred to as a "fanny"(H.C.), located at the base of a wide, comfortable, rich, warm walnut handle.  He advocated using the event of serving from such a vessel as an opportunity to display its full and true magnificence to whom ever was present, as this moment represented the full climax of it’s design.  With  ice water pitcher design issues resolved, Hans moved on like filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, never to revisit these functional issues in the future.

Mr. Christensen's Ice Water Pitcher.           Mr. Christensen's Ice Water Pitcher.

Photo courtesy Thomas M. Sandretto

     In.gif (923 bytes) a testament to his training and ability as an instructor to pass technical information to his students, in the very first Sterling Today Competition sponsored by the Sterling Silversmiths Guild of America and held in 1957, the only winners to execute their own designs were both students of Hans Christensen:  Burr Sebring and Robert King. 

    Hans.gif (985 bytes) designed and made a sterling coffee service including a coffee pot, creamer, and sugar bowl that stirred great controversy at the 1958 Worlds Fair in Brussels, Belgium the same city where Georg Jensen's work was handsomely recognized in 1910.  The service "was either admired extravagantly or attacked vociferously."(Reeves)  The Brussels Coffee Service features straight handles mounted on the top and side of the vessels.  Although many Jensen designs utilized side mounted handles, a top mounted handle was a completely new conceptual innovation. 

1958 Handle     Hans argued that his design was easier to use and more comfortable for the server than the typical side mounted curved handles that had been in use for hundreds of  years.  The preceding photo demonstrates Hans thought on the "conventional" side mounted handles.  The photo suggests that if the conventional handle were simply reversed it would at least fit the angle of the wrist when lifting. 

1958 Brussels World's Fair Gold Medal Winning Coffee Pot.             1958 Brussels Worlds Fair Gold Medal Winning Coffee Pot.

Photo courtesy Thomas M. Sandretto

   A.gif (923 bytes)ccepting membership in the International Institute of Arts and Letters, on July 16, 1960, Hans wrote:  "I am very honored to have been asked to become a fellow member of your organization.  I accept with pleasure.  This is an encouragement for me to continue my (effort) to raise the standards of the craftsmanship in the silver field in The United States of America, and to continue my own growth in creating new designs and beauty in hand made silver in a country where the machine seems to reign supreme".  While there can be many interpretations of Hans acceptance letter my opinion is that this concise letter describes in an incredibly elegant manner the wall of creative rejection that Hans confronted in America when he arrived in 1954.   Accustomed to working daily with the very best high energy creative minds in Denmark and Scandinavia for 15 years he was now detached and isolated in an American culture that did not understand the philosophical and spiritual connection between beauty, environment, mind, soul, hand and work.  The highest personal introduction to American industrial wealth through Mrs. Webb could not crack the conservative mindset of American patrons.  Simply stated, America didn't understand.  This wall however, did not blunt Hans effort nor his spirit.

School for American Craftsmen - Circa 1961

Hans Christensen & students - School for American Craftsman circa 1961 

Photo courtesy Archive of American Art Smithsonian Institution (AAASI).

    B.gif (928 bytes)y the late 1960's the focus of student interest changed. The American silver market was beginning to tarnish while pure art and sculpture students became interested in silversmithing as a means of expressing their inner selves to the world. Generally, the students of the late 1960's and early 70's wanted to make items of their own pure fantasy and pleasing a patron or customer was no longer a pressing consideration.

    Hans asked the question "Why must the artist always be hungry?   Most people live with the idea that the artist-craftsman must suffer all their lives.  Design things for other people, there's no need to prostitute (yourself), but the craftsman must know where to stop so that he doesn't loose (financially or intellectually) the customer. The craftsman is making a product and that product is unique" (by its very nature). (H.C.)    He strongly believed that if this concept was explained to the potential customer a long-term patron could be won.

   Graciously.gif (1042 bytes)y conforming to the expectation of conservative wealth in America Hans accepted popular demand for the basic "punch bowl" shape that had been a symbol of wealth and success for hundreds of years.  When asked by J. Michael McGean, Secretary of Dartmouth College, through The American Craftsman's Council and Mrs. Webb to create a commemorative for the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Royal Charter creating Dartmouth College a photograph of the "Wentworth Bowl" was included in correspondence to set the tone of what kind of item would be acceptable.   As with the North American Figure Skating Trophy, Hans personalized this commemorative piece with decoration that made the basic concave shape of the mundane bowl personal and appropriate for the recipient.  He wrote, "I have tried to combine the 'old' and the 'new' so well (the) body and soul of Dartmouth College.  Using the Hopkins Center's strong architectural lines for the base, leaving it open for the play of light.   The bowl itself, with the soft S curves, representing the beautiful old buildings on the campus."

  More on the way!

More photographs of the Dartmouth commission will be added to this page as they become available.   T.S.  3/27/2000

    When asked by the Eastman Kodak Company of Rochester, NY for a special gift for retiring employees he incorporated a representation of a camera lens, or eye, in its design.

Mr. Christensen's KODAK Bowl.         Over time, as Kodak became less attached to the traditional "punch bowl" concept and more accepting of abstractions, Hans made revisions on his original theme that challenged conservative norms.

Mr. Christensen's KODAK Presentation.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

Mr. Christesen's Sculpture for KODAK.

Photo courtesy Archive of American Art Smithsonian Institution (AAASI).

 

   In.gif (923 bytes) 1973, under Hans watchful eye and guidance, Byron Whitehurst created "Spiral Form #1" and captured top honors in the Statements in Sterling Design Competition marking the first time in the 24-year history of the competition that an entry earned the unanimous decision of a jury.  "Spiral Form #1" was acquired by the largest collection of American silver, the Garvin Collection at Yale University and was its first acquisition representing contemporary design.  Representing "traditional silversmithing" at the awards ceremony in 1973 was Mr. William (Bill) deMatteo II, Master Silversmith, at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

    This was the first actual meeting between Hans Christensen and Bill deMatteo.  Hans must surely have been impressed with Bill because he included, in his archival material, a Wall Street Journal article about the silversmith.  Written by Dennis Farney at the time of the American Watergate Hearings, approximately ten years before Hans untimely passing, Hans highlighted the following passages:  "working with his hands to hammer out beautiful objects from silver, which he (deMatteo) considers quite simply the most beautiful, most challenging material there is", a feeling Hans verbalized often.  Also, "beneath the blows of the craftsman's hammer it becomes alive and almost infinitely responsive.  There is almost no form it cannot be coaxed into.  And thus it is a medium that allows no excuse for failure:  If the craftsman's actual product falls short of the promise of his design, he has no one to blame but himself."  Hans and Bill were in complete agreement.  Further, Hans indicated his approval with an "X" in a margin where Bill is quoted as saying,  "Being a silversmith is just a delightful, lovely way to go through life." And, "The hammer is to the silversmith what the paintbrush is to the artist, the primary tool for creating order out of chaos.  It becomes almost an extension of his arm, and a favorite hammer is an intensely personal tool with a balance and a feel uniquely its own."

   Hans.gif (985 bytes) often explained that "some of the best results of good design are shown in the more primitive tools. Their designs are not one single person's achievement, but have been developed by the daily use of generation after generation."(H.C.)  He found more satisfaction in using an elegant and evolved, simple tool than more complex machinery and called this "creating objects in their purest form".(H.C.)   On the occasion of Hans 50th birthday in 1974, his students, at the urging of a particular graduate student, Jim Chal, contributed to the creation of a special birthday present.   A planishing hammer similar to the one Hans personally used was molded and cast in sterling silver.  The engraved inscription on the hammer stated simply, "To a sterling silversmith - Hans Christensen".  This sterling silver hammer was an appropriate gift for Hans because he mastered its use, helped others understand the marvelous and imaginative creations it could form and now serves as the model for the "Hans Christensen Sterling Silversmith’s Award".

Hans Christensen Sterling Silversmith's Award - Presented Anually.

Photo courtesy Thomas M. Sandretto

    In.gif (923 bytes) 1976, Hans held the newly established and only endowed position in the nation dedicated to the crafts—The Charlotte Fredericks Mowris Professor of Contemporary Crafts.  In 1978 Hans had a second piece included in the Vatican Museum of Contemporary Art’s permanent collection.  In 1979 Hans was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Crafts Council, a lifelong award for the consistently high quality of his work and contribution to the craft world.  Hans’s work was chosen in 1979 to represent the city of Rochester, New York, at the Rennes World Trade Fair, Rennes, France.

    On the occasion of an exhibition of Hans Christensen’s work at the Bevier Gallery, Rochester, New York the Dean of the College of Fine & Applied Art and Director of the School for American Craftsman, Rochester Institute of Technology, Dr. Robert H. Johnston wrote: "Hans is a dedicated and talented artist-designer-craftsman-teacher. He takes his work seriously and is demanding of his students. Professor Christensen is a gentleman and a man of the highest moral and ethical values. He teaches in the traditional European style, which gives our students a different approach to their education. Hans finds joy in his life and his work. He represents the traditional value of craft and the craftsman. As a teacher of teachers he continues to have a major impact in the world of silver."

  Sight is a craft but seeing is an art.           Mr. Christensen offers assistance to a student.

Photos courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

    Hans.gif (985 bytes) participated in a multitude of shows and exhibitions, and created a majestic body of work for private clients and patrons during his lifetime. He accepted limited private commissions and scheduled an18 month backlog despite producing about 20 pieces of hollowware per year ... for 30 years. He took pride in never missing a due date.  His work was reviewed in 13 American and 51 European publications.   He was a member of the Guldsmedehoikoleforeningen, Copenhagen, a Fellow in the Institute for Arts and Letters in Switzerland, a Fellow of the American Crafts Council, a Member of the Society of North American Goldsmiths and a member of the Nathaniel Rochester Society.  His work is in the permanent collections of individuals, institutions, presidents, and the royal families of England, Denmark, Norway, Iran, and Sweden. His work was exhibited in museums and shops in Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland, France, Spain, England, Germany and the United States

    In addition he made a number of interesting "odd" items on special request or on speculation.

  • While still in Denmark he was asked by one of the king's friends to make a small drinking cup from a krone (KRO neh), a coin, while keeping the relief likeness of the king intact. Upon completion and presentation to the king an embarrassed Hans was asked by the Danish treasury if he knew it was illegal to engage in the defacing of currency.
  • On another occasion before the advent of plastic medical implants, he was asked to make a sliver "nose" for medical testing.  Hans replied that he would be happy to do the job. It wouldn’t take long because it would be just like an upside down creamer spout but the silver would turn black under the skin and the wearer would always have a "black nose".(H.C.)
  • In the early 1970's Hans read a newspaper article about a large oil company christening a double hull "environmentally safe" transport tanker inspiring him to make a "bowl within a bowl" capped by the representation of a compass.  Upon completion and presentation, Hans had won yet another long term corporate patron.
  • I recall a nearly unbelievable story about his raising a large silver cylinder with perfectly parallel sides for experimental use and development by the U.S. Navy as a submarine radio antenna. 
  • In 1979, Hans fabricated the chain of office commemorating the 150th anniversary of R.I.T. and incorporated his popular representation of an eye.  Hans placed the abstract "eye" at the back of the piece.  His reasoning was that when President Rose wore the chain his (Rose's) eyes were both looking forward toward the future of the Institute while Hans abstract eye would be ever mindful of the past. 
  • Hans chain of office was worn by current R.I.T. President Albert Simone at the May 2001 academic convocation.
  • And of course, a sailing trophy     Mr. Christensen's Sailing Trophy.

     

MalachiteStrip.jpg (2495 bytes)

 

    Hans.gif (985 bytes) was able to fulfill his boy-hood dream of becoming a sculptor when the social atmosphere and academic expectation of S.A.C. evolved toward pure art in the late 1960's and early 70's.  Training at the Jensen works and flourishing as a producing craftsman and teacher, Hans possessed total mastery of the language that is silversmithing.  Though his voice was always restrained, tempered with consideration and respect for both his European training and his clients background, Hans explored a part of himself put aside for 30 years. 

He originated the Nathaniel Rochester Award Sculpture.

Mr. Christensen's NATHANIEL ROCHESTER AWARD.

As had become his practice in 1956 each individual to receive recognition by his patron organization received a hand raised, batted, planished, fabricated and polished duplicate of the original.

Mr. Christensen with a reciepent of the Rochester Award.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

Free to explore his own sculptural concepts he drew on an abundance of talent and experience often inspired by the concept of flight.

Mr. Christensen's FLIGHT Sculpture.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

"Speed"

Mr. Christensen's SPEED Sculpture.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

 

Hans interpreted the symbol of United States currency ($) for the Community Savings Bank, Rochester NY, U.S.A., 1971.

Mr. Christensen's $ Sculpture.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

Free form "pure" sculpture.

Mr. Christensen's FREE FORM Sculpture.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

 Mr. Christensen's FREE FORM Sculpture.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

"Drill in Ocean"

Mr. Christensen's DRILL IN OCEAN Sculpture.

Un-named sculpture

Mr. Christensen's SPHERICAL FORM Sculpture.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

"Spherical Form"

Mr. Christensen's SPHERICAL FORM Sculpture.

Photo courtesy of Archive of American Art Smithsonian Institution (AAASI).

 

  More information is on the way!

More photographs of Hans's sculptural work will be added to this page as they become available.   T.S.  2/28/2000

 

A.gif (923 bytes)lthough his utilitarian Arts and Crafts sterling silver product roots became redirected, he continued as a producing craftsman and maintained all full time teaching responsibilities at R.I.T. while encouraging young minds to discover their creative potential with the tools and techniques of the ancient craft of silversmithing.

  Mr. Christensen provides a technical explaination to a student.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

    Hans.gif (985 bytes) was posthumously honored with the Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching by the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he taught silversmithing and design for 29 years, on May 9, 1983, about four months after the tragic automobile accident that took his life.

Our Hans.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

He was remembered by his peers and friends in these words of Dr. Robert Johnson:

"The beauty of Hans as a person was that his profound virtuosity as a craftsmen was matched by the warmth and generosity of his nature. He radiated joy in living that was translated creatively into his teaching and work. His students truly loved him. Hans used his God-given talents to make objects that enhanced the spiritual and aesthetic dimensions of our world. He used his talents to teach several generations of young people and to help them develop their own gifts. The rest of us will continue on with the endowed responsibility to carry on the tradition of the teacher."

He was eulogized by Dr. Richard M. Rose, President of RIT with these words:

"The saying that a teacher affects eternity was written for teachers like Hans. His students have become leaders in their fields. He has served for all of us as the example of what a fine teacher should be."

He was described in a memorial publication with this elegant thoughts.

"Hans of Silver - Heart of Gold."    Joseph Jaroff

"No human being outside my immediate family has ever touched my life so deeply, affected the way I approach quality, and therefore, the fullness to which my life will be lived.  I can never repay the debit I owe."    Lance Fredericks   SAC 1971

"Hans was my Mentor!  He was Magister!"    anonymous

"Hans served in the Danish Army and he was the Royal Guard to us."     anonymous

"When he worked, he created masterpieces; when he taught, he inspired his students; and when he shared himself, it was always with a gracious and fun-loving spirit."

Mr. and Mrs. Christensen at a Christmas dance.                   Mr. and Mrs. Christensen at a Christmas dance.

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

Following is a transcript of the message read aloud on Tuesday February 8, 1983, after a memorial presentation and service at Ingle Auditorium on the R.I.T. campus:

On our journey through life we sometimes happen upon a fellow traveler who is different. Like all of us he has his strong points as well as his shortcomings. But when that is said there is still this something else, something about his presence (such as we have seen and heard). Whenever he enters a room it feels like a breath of fresh air, and everything comes to life. It is difficult not to be receptive to his winning smile and the openness with which he approaches you. His high spirit is contagious, and you cannot help being carried away by his enthusiasm. And he is always ready with a helping hand when you most need it. He is, in all, a giver.

And then, when his journey suddenly ends, we are overcome by a crushing sensation of complete emptiness. But our journey goes on, and slowly we recover, only to realize how much our lives were enriched through this human being.

This was Hans Chistensen. Our hearts are heavy at his departure. But we must not despair. Hans would have felt uneasy if we did. He would like us to accept life as it comes to us, and use our talents to our last living moment. Some of us had the privilege to listen to his philosophy on occasion, and it was always lightly spiced with his good sense of humor. "Only two things in life are important", he would for instance say with a twinkle in his eyes; "that you are reasonably happy - - and that you sleep well!" And he would add: "You have to have balance within yourself. Without it, you don’t get very far!" This is a most difficult rule to live up to for anybody. But of Hans we know that he reached further than most of us. His life is most aptly characterized by a quote from a fellow Dane, the poet and teacher Niels Frederik Severin Grundtvig: "His was a happy, active life on Earth!"

Hans, we have arrived at the crossroads. This is where we part and take leave of you. From everyone assembled here at this moment: Farewell, you good and faithful friend. And thanks for everything you so abundantly gave us of yourself. We will cherish the memories we have of you for as long as we shall live.

Mr. Christensen - Autumn 1982

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

Free Form Sculpture

Photo courtesy Mrs. Els Christensen.

"Being a silversmith is just a delightful, lovely way to go through life." (Bill deMatteo)

 

Bibliography

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Christensen, Els and Sandretto, T. February, 2000, Personal conversations.

Christensen, Hans and Brown, Robert Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution 5/5/82 12/3/82 Personal interview.

Christensen, Hans and Dartmouth College  October 22, 1969  A.A.A.S.I.

Christensen, Hans and International Institute of Arts and Letters, Lindau-Bodensee, Germany  July 16, 1960. A.A.A.S.I.

Christensen, Hans and N. C. Evans 1971 Personal conversations.

Committee of Religion and Art of America, Inc. Private communication November 13, 1978  courtesy Christensen, E.

Craft Horizons  January/February 1958

deMatteo, (Chip)W.III and Sandretto, T.  1985-2000 Personal conversations.

Farney, D.  Wall Street Journal  First in a series of articles about craftsmen in the 1970's.

Harvey, C. Press, J. Art, Enterprise and Ethics: The Life and Work of William Morris  Frank Casso & Co.  1996

Honor, H.  Goldsmiths and Silversmiths  G.P. Putnam's Sons  1971

Lifetime Achievements American Crafts Council College of Fellows in Metal 1993

Norton, D. Metalsmith Winter 1985 V5 N1

Parry, J. and Sandretto,T. Private conversations 1970-2000

Reeves, J.  Buffalo News,  January 23, 1960

Rochester Institute of Technology News and Events  various dates 1960-1984

Targan, B. American Craft February / March 1983

Webb, A.V. and Mcgean, J.M.  Dartmouth College 1969 A.A.A.S.I.

Weber, E.  Art Deco  W.H. Smith Publishers  1989

Whitehurst, B. and Sandretto, T. 1971-February, 2000 Personal conversations.

  More information will be posted as it becomes available.

More information and photographs of Hans Christensen's work will be added to this page as they become available.   T.S.  3/27/2000

c  2000    Thomas M. Sandretto


Update: October 1, 2004    Additional information and a brief history are available about the American Craft Movement of the late 20th century and the community of craftsmen that the School for American Craftsmen fostered by selecting the following link.

SHOP 1

 

Update: September 1, 2013   The Rochester Institute of Technology has chosen to recreate the opportunity for appreciation of the decorative arts to grow and flurish much as the founders of the original Shop 1 did in the 1950's!   "Learn more" by selecting the following link.

 

SHOP 1

 

Hans Christensen Sterling Silversmith's Award

Hans Christensen Sterling Silversmith's Award Recipients

 

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