Larry LaRue: Diane Hansen's art career clicks with glass, locks

Diane Hansen was born an artist, then spent much of her life waiting for her talent to show itself.

She tried singing on tape for her grandmother and created a sound a grandparent could love. From a woman in her Anacortes neighborhood, Hansen was introduced to drawing with pencils, charcoal, then watercolors.

“I tried painting. I worked with bronze. I made prints. Nothing really seemed to fit,” Hansen said.

And then, in 1989, she visited the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle.

“I went to an auction at Pratt and there were women blowing glass,” she said. “I watched, and when a class catalog came and offered a beginning glass class, I signed up.”

Now 52, the mother of two teenagers is recognized for her glass work. She shows in Northwest galleries and partners in a Tacoma business — bellaballs — that’s about to begin its fifth year.

Last month, Hansen added another line to her résumé when she turned out her first piece of public art in a small tunnel at the Sound Transit stop outside the Tacoma Dome.

“The city of Tacoma trained 22 of us in public art, and we did limited pieces on a budget of $500,” she said. “They gave eight commissions to do public art, and I was the seventh chosen.

“I love working with auto enamels, bright colors. I’d seen the love locks in Europe, where people put locks with messages on fences. I wanted to create an area, a sculpture people could be a part of, interact with.”

With fencing around a series of bright locks and keys, visitors are invited to make their own contributions to the display.

“I wanted it to have a life of its own. You can put your lock on it, return in a week or in five years as your life changes, add another lock,” Hansen said. “The city opened it Nov. 21. There’s 150-200 locks on it already. I stalk it to find the new ones.”

Amy McBride, the arts administrator for the city, loved the finished project.

“She knocked it out of the park. It’s industrially made, beautiful, a combination of welded steel and fancy paints,” McBride said. “Her desire was to make it interactive, and she’s definitely done that. I put my first lock on there.”

Hansen owns a building at 747 S. Fawcett Ave. On the top floor in the back is bellaballs. There, she and business partner Lesli Jacobs-McHugh display and sell hand-blown glass floats in dozens of colors.

A little more than five years ago, both women were healing from personal losses — Hansen’s mother had died of breast cancer — and they went to Italy together. One evening they talked about glass fishing balls and how they represented life.

“They looked fragile but weren’t,” Hansen said. “And they were beautiful, and I thought living beautiful was a choice.”

Back home, Jacobs-McHugh wanted to have glass balls placed at the setting of each guest to her daughter’s wedding. Hansen and a small team churned out 200 in a day.

A few days later, Jacobs-McHugh called Hansen and asked about creating a business.

“I’d spent my career trying to get away from creating $40 items,” Hansen said. “If I was going to do these, I wanted to make them really important for people. I wanted to keep them affordable. I consider them a gift of love from Tacoma.”

Atop each bellaball is an image stamped in sterling silver.

The first was a fig leaf surrounded by a band representing the circle of life. Since then, there have been snowflakes and pineapples, ribbons and a baby carriage, a bee, horseshoe and the footprint of a dog.

The latter was in honor of Kim Sorensen Kyler and her loyal dog, Zoe. Kyler died of breast cancer last year, and a portion of proceeds from her bellaball is donated to the South Sound Care Foundation.

Now, Hansen is beginning work on new glass projects, crafting new pieces for a spring showing. On the floor below bellaballs is her studio. Anyone interested in seeing her art has only to show up and ask.

“I work the shop a few days a week, and on those days all anyone has to do is say, ‘Diane, I’d like to see your other work.’”

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