The Can Man Can Creativity: Old junk and puns may seem an unlikely combination, but Bobby Hansson, part wordsmith, part tinsmith, mixes them with love and make a fine art of recycling

September 03, 1996|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

RISING SUN -- Right now Bobby Hansson is the pied piper of the tin can. He's surrounded by children while he curls a strip of No. 10 tomato juice can around the handle of a hammer.

"What we're trying to do is make a 'weasel'," he says. "A whistle."

He's a wacky wordster, the Dada Duchampion of verbal and visual puns. As he works he's an eyepopping visual pun, decked out in an ensemble of plum-colored clothes rescued from secondhand shops.

"I'm a 'Plumb Bob'," he quips.

Plumb Bob's got a full head of flowing gray-blond hair, a bristly, canescent beard and mustache and an assortment of tattoos decorating both arms, covered now by the long sleeves of his plum shirt with its blue and yellow stripes. He looks like a bemused and benign biker St. Nick. He's the featured guest at the Rising Sun Library's "Can Do! Day."

Bobby Hansson wants people to see the empty beer can as a potential work of art, the Spam tin as a clever toy, the chicken liver can as a banjo. He's just published a book called "The Fine Art of the Tin Can." It's the latest of some 30 arts and crafts books he's illustrated with his photos, not to mention numerous catalogs and magazine articles. He's a photographer, a teacher, a filmmaker and a terrific tinsmith.

"The whole idea," he says, "is to start thinking of tin cans in another way. To think of them as a possible resource, instead of a problem. Instead of burning everything, throwing it in the ocean."

He shapes his strip of tin into a recumbent P, a G with a long tongue. He folds another strip around the long end for a mouthpiece.

"This is supposed to work," he says.

He blows. His whistle emits a pipsqueak weasel squeal.

"It's clagged," he says. "You've got to get an unclagger."

He fiddles with his "weasel." He blows again and brings forth a very satisfactory traffic-cop-type screech. He gets a nice round of applause. He turns his work table over to the kids and pretty soon the room is as full of piping squeals as a convention of hotel doormen.

They're easy to make. A blacksmith from Stafford, Va., named John Daniels showed Hansson how. You could look it up. They're in his book.

"The Fine Art Of the Tin Can" is, of course, a can-do book of tools and techniques. But it's also a catalog of canny works from about 90 artists and collectors, including an homage to Madonna made from an extra virgin olive oil can, a reliquary for St. Andy Warhol from a Campbell's tomato soup can, and an "Icon Tina Turner" in a boiled ham tin.

"I got a dozen different Kikkoman cans," he says. "Because I think they're beautiful. And I sent them to a dozen different artists and I said make whatever you want out of it."

He got back everything from a Kikkoman Poop Scoop to Kikkoman jewelry to Kikkomobiles to a Can Tickle for Bobby, a sort of Kikkoman collage. If nothing else, the fine art of the tin can inspires puns.

Bobby Hansson's own tour de force of canned punnery is actually a wooden can turned from pecan wood and filled with split peas. Sheltered under half a tin can in a chaste little shrine, it's called "Pecan Can of Peas with Tin Can Canopy."

Cab Do! Day is pretty much about recycling. He and his wife, Maggie Creshkoff, designed a Can Do! Day can-cellation for the Rising Sun post office: "Conserve-Recycle-Reuse We Can Do It."

Hansson is better known around here as "Maggie's Husband." She has roots here. They live at "Maggie's Farm," which used to belong to her grandmother.

"She's a potter," Hansson says. "She likes the idea of making pottery out of local clay, and the clay here is very good."

They moved into a tractor shed, "sort of converted, we took the tractor out." He works in a cluttered shop rebuilt from an outbuilding with walls of recycled tires and beer bottles.

"We have a lot of privacy," Hansson says. "We're surrounded by

cornstalks."

Wedding band tattoos

He and his wife had their wedding bands tattooed on their fingers instead of wearing rings that they'd have to take off while working anyway. Their rings are a design of eights: They were married 8/8/88.

Creshkoff got so involved in Can Do! Day she wrote a short history of canning in Rising Sun, where the twin Cameron Brothers canned sweet white shoepeg corn, once a local specialty now hard to get.

"I didn't know any of this stuff about canneries," Hansson says. "It's fascinating."

But he doesn't want so much to preserve the detritus of the past as transform it. He has never seen a pile of junk he couldn't mine. He loves to reuse refuse. He turns a Maxwell House coffee can into a Can-estoga wagon, a hockey stick into a fiddle, an ironing board into a throne.

Hansson's got the Northeast Maryland art scene covered this day. You can see an assortment of his thrones for people he admires at the Cecil County Art Council's gallery on Main street in Elkton, where he has what amounts to a retrospective of his art from found objects.

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