HARTLEY—Picture a cool autumn day in the country.
A red barn sits near a corn field soon to be harvested.
There are no people but rather two birds flying over the horizon of the picturesque scene.
It could be anywhere — Maine, Nebraska, Oregon, even N’West Iowa.
But it’s not.
The artfully crafted landscape is a piece of LaVonne Hansen’s imagination, and the two birds are her signature.
The 80-year-old from Hartley has been honing her artistic talent since she was only 7.
“I kind of let it get away from me in high school,” she said.
But, while enrolled at Drake University in Des Moines, Hansen took an art class and re-discovered her gift.
Not for long, though, as she moved to Vermillion, SD, after graduation to work at a bank.
“After awhile, I was itching to do something, to create,” Hansen said.
She began creating small chalk drawings for the Order of the Eastern Star, the largest fraternal organization in the world to which men and women may belong, and matched her drawings to a short story she imagined about a rock and a lighthouse.
“It just developed into something fun,” Hansen said.
Before long, she was traveling to different organizations, groups, fairs, conventions, reunions, showers, churches and libraries, presenting what came to be known as “chalk talks.”
For each 20-minute presentation, Hansen comes prepared with a large metal easel, a wooden board, a large piece of newsprint and a set of soft chalk pastels. The presentation usually will have a theme, so Hansen will have time to develop a story and idea of an image.
While Hansen tells the story, she gradually draws on the newsprint.
“I always try to leave one space out while I’m drawing and fill it in later,” she said. “It’s an element of surprise.”
Hansen times her story with her chalk drawing, so they are both completed at the same time.
“You’ll know I’m done when I draw the two birds,” she said.
What results is a simple, colorful masterpiece.
“I draw very quickly,” Hansen said. “It’s very, very messy.”
After each piece is complete, she usually sprays it and takes a photograph so she can remember each drawing, then either lets the group keep the drawing or takes it home and stores it in her basement.
“I try to make each one not like the last,” she said.
This has not proven easy, as Hansen has done hundreds of chalk talks around the country and even some in Canada.
“It’s just a fun hobby I’ve gotten myself into and can’t seem to get out of,” she said.
But, Hansen’s chalk talks are not her true passion.
“I love painting and doing pen and ink drawings. I also recently took up woodcarving,” Hansen said. “As long as God lets me keep my eyesight and my right hand, I’ll be OK.”
AT A GLANCE:
Name: LaVonne Hansen
Family: Husband, Don; two children; four grandchildren
Hobbies: Drawing, fishing, hiking in Arizona
LaVonne Hansen and her husband, Don, recently got back from a book launching party in Canada for Irvin Goodon’s autobiographical memoir “Climbing: One Pole at a Time.”
Hansen, who became acquainted with Goodon in Arizona, has more than 60 pen and ink illustrations in the book.
“We would sit by the hour together, and he would tell me stories, and I would draw what he was seeing,” she said. “I would definitely do it again if I had the opportunity.”
Hansen also has pen and ink drawings in “Walking Beans Wasn’t Something You Did with Your Dog,” an anthology of stories about growing up in and around small towns in the Midwest, published by Jean Tennant, owner of Shapato Publishing in Everly.
This article appeared in the July 25, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.