After making a name for himself in the worlds of architecture, robotics, and solar energy, a Newcastle man has embarked on a new business venture: manufacturing ornaments.
Jack Hanson recently launched the line of carved birch ornaments, which are all designed, manufactured, and packaged at his home in Newcastle.
Hanson has a long and varied professional history in the U.S. and across the globe.
“I like to stay busy with different things,” Hanson said.
After dropping out of college in the fall of 1962, he joined the U.S. Army and trained as a draftsman in the 249th Engineering Battalion. During his three years in the Army, he helped engineer the rebuilding of 10 World War II-era U.S. air bases in France to bring them up to modern standards.
Following a one-year stint with Boeing Co. working as a designer for a project, Hanson started working as an architect, spending three years in Seattle before taking a job at Wright-Pierce in Topsham.
In 1973, Hanson opened his own architectural design firm, David Jack Hanson Architectural Design, in Newcastle. Buildings he has designed or redesigned can be found across the state, including the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head; as well as in Philadelphia and New York.
In addition, Hanson began Watershed Brick in Edgecomb, a brick-making company that began work in 1975. Hanson designed a new brick-making machine which made 8,000 bricks every four hours. He received a patent for the machine in 1978.
Hanson also began a solar heating company in 1978 called Hanson Energy Products, for which he designed and created his own solar collectors and heating system. Hanson and his company were featured in The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, and Popular Science.
In 1980, the company and design were sold to Down East Enterprises, which manufactured the collectors until 1984.
Hanson’s other enterprises include a company that made children’s music boxes and furniture and a company that designed and built displays for trade-show exhibits.
In 1988, Hanson, after becoming frustrated with the price of machines used to cut letters for his trade-show displays, designed and built his own machine, leading to the start of USA Robot. USA Robot built and sold one-armed robots that could be programmed by a computer to cut a variety of materials.
USA Robot sold robots from 1989-1997, when Hanson sold his interest in the company to his business partner, Tom Bryand, who continued to produce the robots until 2009.
His work with USA Robot helped make the ornament business possible, Hanson said. After purchasing a computer numeric control machine, Hanson decided to design his own ornaments to meld technology and art, his two passions.
“The pursuit of art is an exploration into understanding what it is to be human,” Hanson said. “As far back as we can trace history, humankind has asked the big questions about who we are, how we came to be, and what purpose our earthly lives may have. Neither science, religion, nor philosophy has provided definite answers. Art, however, succeeds at giving us glimpses of life and our lives.”
Hanson designs the ornaments on his computer and sends the designs to the CNC machine, which cuts the ornaments out of the wood.
The designs for the ornaments are based on Maine imagery, such as the lobster, humpback whales from the Gulf of Maine, and a lobster boat, as well as iconic lighthouses from across the state, including Pemaquid Point Light, Burnt Island Light in Boothbay Harbor, and Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth.
Hanson currently offers 12 ornaments. In the past, Hanson created an ornament resembling the Boothbay Harbor Opera House for sale as a fundraiser. Hanson said he is open-minded about doing custom work, but is currently as busy as he wants to be.
Some ornaments pose unique challenges. When designing a lobster ornament, Hanson needed to make sure each of the legs and antennae were sturdy enough to withstand a drill, but also small enough to fit within the ornament ring. Part of the lobster’s claws and tail overlap the ring.
“Sometimes you have to test it a few times to find a design that works,” Hanson said. “You might design something that looks great, but if it breaks or chips, it’s not going to work.”
Hanson said he typically designs an ornament “on and off for about a week.”
“If it was taking more than that, I moved on to something else,” Hanson said.
After the machine cuts the ornament, Hanson and his wife, Macky, sand the ornament down to remove any rough sections. Eventually the ornament is painted with a light gold shimmer before it is packaged and ready for purchase.
Hanson said response to the ornaments has been positive. Each store he has visited has placed an order.
In addition to the ornament business, the Hansons also run downeastecards.com, an animated e-card website. The Hansons create the cards by animating some of their own paintings, as well as paintings by other artists in New England.
The ornaments are available for purchase at Once a Tree in Camden, Sheepscot River Pottery in Edgecomb, Sweet Bay in Boothbay Harbor, Southport General Store and Gift Barn in Southport, and Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine in Bath and Portland.
For more information about the ornaments, go to jackmacky.com.