Tag Archives: Chris Kemp

Todd “Fox” Hansen

June 27, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Todd “Fox” Hansen looks like a guy you’d see hiking up a mountain, followed by his loyal dog pack, maybe carrying a whittled, wooden staff and helping out lost, less fortunate hikers.

In reality, he only recently started climbing mountains, taking his dogs with him when it’s allowed. Sometimes things are exactly what they seem.

For Hansen, that last statement couldn’t be more true. He has a kind smile and a soft chuckle that comes easily. He would readily fit in one of those old-timey museum settings, hammering away as a fire blazed in front of him.

Since the age of 16 he’s been creating, learning the age-old trades of black- and silversmithing and later moving on to experiment with more intricate metalworking practices.

Sitting in a booth sipping on a stout at the Crescent Moon Ale House, (where he also works on the package side, Beertopia) he picks up a coaster from the table as he explains what he does.

“There’s a distinction between making, like knife making, where you can take a bar or something like that and cut your shape out of it and just grind it to form,” he says. “But there’s not many people where you could give them something like that,” indicating the salt shaker in front of him, “and they can form that into a different shape.”

Hansen has been working on that second practice for years, though he started with simpler stuff at the age of 16, when he attended a class on silversmithing with his mom at Pipal Park Community Center. Tom McDowell, a member of the local group Prairie Blacksmiths Association, was the instructor.

“They were doing some casting and ring making, so I started to play around with that a little bit,” he says. McDowell invited him to one of their ‘hammer-ins’ they had once a month. “I was the youngest one there by about 40 years, at that point…I got to pick their brains.”

Hansen says he “putzed” around on his own for a couple years before attending college at the Kansas City Art Institute, where he majored in sculpture and minored in philosophy, literature, and science.

But he was still kind of on his own.

“There wasn’t really anyone there [at the time] who knew what I was doing,” he says, adding that while there were some good professors who pushed him to work on the conceptual side of the work, there were others who didn’t really consider what he was doing art.

A look at the pieces Hansen is doing now would probably change their minds. He is working in the Japanese styles of Mokume-Gane, a process where you alternate fusing different metals, such as copper and silver. He also started learning Uchi Dashi, which is the process of manipulating a thin piece of metal into the artist’s desired shape.

The results are intriguing. He brought an emblem and a small copper frog he’s been practicing on as examples. At first glance, they may not seem that impressive. But once he’s explained the process that goes into making them, it’s clear that there is an artistry that goes into their making.

However, there is certainly a more practical side to metalworking. Chris Kemp, owner of CK Fabrications, says he got his start working at a fencing company that did ornamental ironwork. He really enjoyed what he was doing, and when he left, over “creative differences,” he started his own business out of Hot Shops Art Center.

“I’m basically a prostitute,” Kemp says. “I pretty much do whatever people pay me to do.”

But there is still an artistic aspect to his work. He says while he rarely gets to do his own thing, he does collaborate with other designers. Though Kemp hasn’t had a chance to work with Hansen in that aspect, they have talked about it. “It’d be nice,” Kemp says. “I could really use the (experienced) help.” A part of the problem is that mistakes are expensive in this line of work, and not just monetarily. “It’s the kind of equipment where it’s a life-changing accident, not just a ‘Whoops, I screwed up.’”

For Hansen, this is especially true.

In January of 2017, he found out he has the vascular form of Ehlers Danlos syndrome, a rare, inherited disorder that affects connective tissues—primarily skin, joints, and blood vessel walls. Symptoms include bruising easily and overly flexible joints. While that may sound innocuous, there can be life-threatening complications, including aneurysms.

“One day I’ll probably just be like, ‘Oh gosh, I’ve got a really bad headache’ and I’m just gonna lie down and someone will find me in a couple days,” he says, in the most good-humored way possible.

Hansen believes the disorder may not be as rare as it seems, but possibly underdiagnosed, as it requires genetic testing to determine whether or not you have it.

Despite warnings that he should stop his work because of the potential dangers, Hansen doesn’t intend to give up on his life’s passion just yet. The 35-year-old Hansen says he is currently apprenticing with the American Bladesmith Society, always working on his smithing education.

“I enjoy all of it,” he says. “It’s nice to have a broader palette to draw from and then I can combine those into things that are suited to each other.”


To learn more about Hansen’s work, visit facebook.com/Empyrean-Metalworks.

This article appears in the May/June 2018 edition of Encounter

The Divine She.la

May 10, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I’m divinely happy where I am,” She.la owner Sheila Christ says of her store’s new location. In fact, you could almost say her choice of location for her women’s and children’s apparel business, in the Sterling Ridge development near 132nd and Pacific streets, was “divinely” inspired; Christ was attending a memorial service at nearby Temple Israel when she was struck with the realization that she had finally found the perfect site—after a year of searching—for relocation.

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“I looked around and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, the light out here is magical,’” she says. “It turned out to be a beautiful fit for us. We knew our lease was up and we had been looking at all kinds of options including the purchase of our own building, and we just couldn’t find the right size and the right corridor of the city…long story short, I come out here after looking and looking and looking and struck a deal with the Lockwood Development people within about 36 hours. It was very quick.”

So, in November, after 18 years (and two remodels) at Countryside Village, She.la moved three-and-a-half miles directly west into its new 4,000-plus square-feet location. Excited to have the opportunity to start with a vanilla shell for the first time, Christ worked with Eddy Santamaria of Contrivium Design + Urbanism to design the new space. Santamaria, who Christ calls a “visionary,” had served as Christ’s architect for several residential projects and the last remodel for the former She.la.

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“He ‘gets’ us,” Christ says. “His architectural eye will weigh in and make you think outside of what (you think) is possible…If the architecture will allow for it and the pocketbook will afford it, anything is possible.”

The former location encompassed two floors, and Christ says having all operations on one level ensures all employees feel connected. The new She.la also boasts a flexible space including a kitchenette, which was first put to the test with a successful trunk show in January. And the sky’s the limit for potential events; Christ is considering everything from wine tastings to meditation seminars to hands-on art demonstrations for children.

“It’s a space that allows for complete intimacy but you’re able to have a connected event happening,” Christ says.

Moving after 18 years was an inspiration to streamline, Christ says, and the new store has an upscale, spacious feel. It retains, however, some longstanding features familiar to established patrons, including its signature shade of orange. A careful selection of lighting elements and major fixtures were transferred or replicated. New décor was incorporated, including creations by local Hot Shops artisans like fabric art from Kris Khan, metalworks from Chris Kemp and glass art by Valerie Spellman Batt. With both northern and southern exposure, the space is filled with natural light that showcases both environment and merchandise.

“It’s high-style but it has warmth. That was important to me,” Christ said. “And it’s an absolutely unbelievable space to work in.”

It sounds magical.

Visit shopshela.com for more information.

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Controlled Chaos

August 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in Summer 2015 B2B.

Jeff Day will not apologize for his messy studio.

It was expected it would boast cutting-edge horizontal and vertical features, or perhaps make some sort of interesting artistic statement. Instead, it is rather cold with chipped white walls. But to Day, it is the perfect place to take a client so he or she is right in the mix of things.

His studio is an open, creative space, waiting to be filled, which symbolizes the artistic philosophy of his architectural firm Min|Day. Plus, he loves the way the client can interact with the designers as the process unfolds.

A little bit beautiful and frightening all at the same time. “I like being here,” he says. “I have no energy to find a new place.”

He is a busy guy, to put it mildly. Day can’t even count the number of hours he works each week. Whether it is running Min|Day, directing the architecture program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, or working on his MOD furniture company, Day has a lot of creative balls in the air all at once. Just the way he likes it.

One major project on his untidy design table: the Blue Barn Theater.

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Day, ever somber, perks up when discussing the new body that will soon inhabit eager theater-goers. He rarely glances anywhere but at his model encased in glass. Along with partner E.B. Min, who is based out of their San Francisco office, it is their creation and beauty.

“Our strategy was to design a building that can evolve with users,” Day says.

It will include such things as steel that, with time, will look like rusty metal, salvaged timber to adorn walls, and maybe even some artificial turf on the gray roof.

Day graduated from Harvard magna cum laude with an A.B. in visual and environmental studies. He received his master’s in architecture from the University of California-Berkeley.

His art interests led to commissioning four local and regional artists (Chris Kemp, Michael Morgan, Daniel Toberer, and John Woodfill) to develop components of the Blue Barn.

Day likes to steal his ideas from the environment around him. The Blue Barn will include sustainability aspects such as salvaged trees for squares on either side of the aisles in the theater.

Day wanted this to be a creative venture to develop an “open space…to treat it as a test case as a public/private space.” Flexibility, such as creating inside/outside performance areas, was essential.

This will include Green in the City, a simplistic outdoor area in which to produce the cutting-edge work the Blue Barn is known for, or even just a place for the public to hang out. The designs of El Dorado (a Kansas City architectural firm) and Urban Rain Design from Portland were selected out of 60 entries in a national contest sponsored by Omaha by Design to create this community space.

Day believes Omaha has not seen a lot of risk-taking or innovative architecture. Even with a limited budget, he hopes the Blue Barn will appeal to a broader audience.

“It is not mainstream, Pollyanna theater, but edgy and provoking,” states Nancy Mammel, the program director of the Mammel Foundation, which helped fund the project. Blue Barn launched a seven million dollar campaign to raise donations and this fundraising venture will continue even when the building is complete.

Day has been passionate about building since he was young. He recalls one condo project he worked on while he was a high school intern in Maine when he realized something important about the design and construction of buildings.

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“The vision isn’t just from a single person, but a collaborative effort,” Day says. Even now, he makes sure this joint effort is a positive experience. Hence, the cluttered office spaces so clients are in the trenches as the designers create.

Day also takes this theory into his classrooms as a professor at UNL. When a young student “gets it and understands what it means to be a designer” is Day’s best part of the day. He realizes it is frustrating and there is not always one right answer for anything.

Day runs FACT—which stands for fabrication and construction team—where students problem-solve real world issues, not just work on hypothetical projects. This even meant visiting a medium-security prison to develop code for a computer-controlled milling machine.

“It is a mixture of humor and fear,” Day says of this actual hands-on approach. He budgets actual projects with student mistakes in mind, but believes it is necessary for students to “figure out how to get this built.”

Day knows the risks of construction, something that makes him nervous because things do not always go exactly as planned.

When a client walks into his studio, Day will draw out real personal discussions with his client. He prefers to make buildings out of experiences rather than style. If he is renovating a barn, Day will see it through the farmer’s eyes and view it as a piece of machinery.

If it is built out of something honest, someone will want it. Just like the studio scattered with work Day has built over the years.

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