Hazel Hanson Chilstrom, third from the left, standing
My aunt Hazel was a member of Atelier 17 in New York in the early 1950's, part of the midcentury modernist printmaking movement. She was married to my father's brother, Ray, who was also an artist. Sorting through family papers today, I came across a little notebook in which she recorded her training as an artist - it was extensive. Her children, husband, and Hazel herself are all gone now, and I was struck by the knowledge that I'm one of the few people left who remember my aunt and uncle, so this is an honoring of them both. Hazel and Ray touched my life in inexplicable ways, some remembered, and others just vague, happy memories. As a young child stepping into their house during the holidays, I remember an amazing Christmas tree - it hung upside down in the front hallway and it wasn't green...it was made of lights and sparkly dangling things - this was in 1958! I later learned that Ray worked as a display artist at Lipman Wolfe (a high-end department store formerly located in downtown Portland). I was amazed when he made hand-painted cloth and then sewed it into a skirt for my aunt. They made toys from scraps of cardboard and felt for us: wonderful, imaginative, simple toys that inspired me to become a maker of unique things later in my life. Summer parties on their backyard patio were relaxed and full of laughter, with kids splashing in a blow-up pool and teasing everyone with squirt guns. I loved watching my father and his brother reminisce, kid each other, and just catch up on the comings and goings of their lives.
The Chilstrom Clan 1957
Top row from left: Gladys, Lee, Bill, Herb, Mary, Betty, Homer, baby Lisa, Ray Chilstrom
Bottom row from left: Robin, Cecilee, Lynne, David, Karen, Hazel Chilstrom
Below are the few samples of Hazel's printmaking:
Here is Hazel's brief bio - from a publication about The Women of Atelier 17. Atelier 17: Modernist Printmaking in Midcentury New York, by Christina Weyl
Hazel Hanson was born in Portland, Oregon, the third of four children. Her parents were blue-collar laborers, her mother a laundry folder and her father employed in various industries like meat processing, milling, and construction. In 1947, Hanson enrolled in classes at the Museum Art School, then based at the Portland Art Museum (the school is now independently affiliated as the Pacific Northwest College of Art), and she graduated with a four-year certificate in May 1951. She received a Tiffany Foundation Award in 1952 for her work in printmaking, and this grant likely supported her residency in New York City where she studied at Atelier 17 in the fall of 1952. While living in New York, she also married Ray Chilstrom, son of an artistic family from Oregon and fellow classmate at the Museum Art School. After returning to the Pacific Northwest, the Chilstroms had three children, and she continued to work as an artist, exhibiting at the Oregon State Fair in 1958 and at the Salem Art Museum with the Chilstrom family in 1958, among other venues. Her work was mostly representational, but executed through the lens of modernism seen in her expressionist and symbolist inspired prints. In the 1960s, the Chilstroms both gave up their careers in the visual arts and moved to Southern California where they became involved in community theater, co-founding the Horizon Players in Simi Valley. Chilstrom died in Oregon in 2002.
My uncle Ray worked as a set designer in the movie industry when the family moved to California. Hazel performed in (and wrote) plays produced by her Simi Valley Theater Company. Below she is standing, second from left.
Just a few prints remain in the family from her years as a printmaker. But I will always remember her - a no-nonsense mother who managed to twinkle in the midst of it all, and a woman who lived a full, meaningful, artful life.