Tag Archives: Beertopia

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

Winter Is Coming

December 2, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The day after Christmas 2011 coincided with the eight-year anniversary of the day Matt and Kim Mixan first met. At the skating rink on 10th and Howard streets, a small group of their friends quietly encouraged Matt to go through with the afternoon’s plan: proposing to Kim. “It was something I’d been wanting to do for years,” he explains. “I’d always planned that spot, that day, that event, for three years in a row, and it never panned out.”

“At lunch, he was downing the margaritas,” Kim recalls. “I was like, what is going on?” The nerves didn’t go away. It took several laps around the crowded rink and Kim wanting to stop due to bruised ankles from the skates before Matt coaxed her to the center of the ice. With their friends surrounding them, he got down on one knee and said, “I couldn’t think of a better place to do this than on our eight-year anniversary with people who love us.” Laughing, Kim asked a couple times if he was serious, then answered, “Yeah, okay!”

Of course, it’s not strictly necessary to be prepared with that level of commitment before enjoying the ConAgra Foods Ice Skating Rink, and you don’t have to plan for three years. As of Sat., Dec. 14, all that’s really required is a five-dollar bill for admission and skates, because who has those? On the weekends, night owls and lovebirds alike can skate till midnight. Wear an elf hat and feel good about yourself, because 100 percent of proceeds go to Food Bank for the Heartland. The donations translated into 1.3 million meals last year, according to event manager Vic Gutman of Vic Gutman & Associates.

Still, the rink’s varying hours can get a little tricky to keep in mind. If you just want to soak up some holiday cheer already, Downtown’s Holiday Lights Festival is in full swing from Thanksgiving evening until about a week after the New Year. What that means in English is the trees along the Gene Leahy Mall are lit by more than a million fairy lights every night. As are six blocks of 24th Street in North Omaha. And six blocks of 24th Street in South Omaha. Soak up even more nostalgia and stop by the Mall around 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Choral groups, ranging from youth to professional, will regale passersby with holiday tunes for an hour.

But sometimes standing around admiring sparkling lights isn’t that appealing because, you know, winter. It’s cold. Get thee to Beer Corner USA on 36th and Farnam streets for Holiday Beerfest. This is a one-time deal on Sat., Dec. 7, and it’s from 1–5 p.m. (drinking in the afternoon? Psh, it’s the holidays. Also, good prep for long-planned proposals, apparently). The seasonal-brew-sampling fest has been going on for the past seven years, so get your tickets early ($22 in advance, $27 at the door) and drink your way through 100 or so winter brews and three separate bars: Crescent Moon, Huber-Haus, and Max and Joe’s. “Winter beers,” explains Michael Perdue, manager of the attached bottle shop, Beertopia, “are darker, use more roasted malt, and there might be some spice as well—cinnamon, cardamom. We’ll have a lot of porters, stouts, some strong English ales, too.”

What is beer without a little snack? The Old Market Candy Shop officially has its annual offering of pumpkin pie fudge. Owner Jeff Jorgensen promises that egg nog fudge is not far behind. Sometimes they have ribbon candy too, but don’t hold your breath. It may or may not be available when you go. Of course, right next door to the Candy Shop is Downtown’s permanent homage to Christmas, Tannenbaum Christmas Shop, also owned by Jorgensen.

Consider working off the chocolate with an amble along Farnam Street near 33rd. The shop windows at Midtown Crossing are decorated once again for Miracle on Farnam, a series of intricate holiday displays. More than 20 sponsors have designed these nostalgia-inducing, shadow-box-like tableaus. The windows housing animated pieces in particular call to mind postcards of old-fashioned toy shop windows decked out for the season.

It makes for quite a romantic stroll in the evening, by the way. No ice skates required. And let’s be real, you don’t want to be that guy who stole someone else’s proposal technique anyway.