Ten years of transformation

Annette Hansen looks back at ten years as owner of Cobalt Gallery on Kingston Road 

Like the clay she transforms into objects of art and function, Annette Hansen has, at age 62, become something new. Marking 10 years since she first opened the doors of Cobalt Gallery and Clay Studio on Kingston Road in Toronto, Annette has emerged renewed, right along with her growing circle of customers and community.

When you walk into Cobalt, you’re greeted by that sense of renewal. Any given day, there is something new to look at, pick up, talk about. Outside the door, you pass a hand-thrown pottery bowl of water for visiting dogs. You take in an array of wood, wire, clay and stone that fill the shop window. As you open the door, an old-fashioned bell chimes you in, somehow applauding your choice to enter. And when you do, you don’t know where to look first in this small space because everywhere, calling for your attention, is beauty.

Pottery, painting, jewellery, textiles, sculpture, furniture. All stylishly displayed and carefully made by Annette or a fellow artist from her widening network of those who create, and those who value creativity. At the sound of the door chime, she emerges from behind her small counter, usually stepping away from a wet bowl or vase, standing half-created on the pottery wheel, visible from where you stand. She wipes her clay-covered hands on her apron, pushes her hair away from her face and smiles, signalling she’s all yours.

“Over the years, the Gallery has become a meeting place,” says Annette. “There are a lot of people who drop by to chat or browse or buy. There are even a few kids who come in to say hi because I’ve been in their classroom to teach. Knock wood, I’ve never felt any negativity from anyone walking through the door. And that reinforces that I’m doing the right thing.”

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Opening a business on her own – even one involving her love of teaching and art – didn’t always feel like the right thing. “Emotionally, it’s been the ten hardest years of my life,” says Annette. “They say it takes five years to get a business established. I think it takes much more than that.”

Putting the pieces in place to realize her lifelong vision took some doing. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Annette graduated from the Kolding Design School and honed her pottery skills in the States and Greece before moving to Toronto in 1986. Ten years ago, when the studio at 870 Kingston Road became available, she saw an opportunity to build a place to teach, to focus on her own art, to show other artists’ work and to settle down after years of working for other studios or in other fields. With a look around and a quick look back, it’s easy to see that, in spite of the obstacles, she’s fully realized her vision.

“Keeping everything afloat has been the hardest thing,” says Annette. “You wear a lot of hats when you have a business to run. And you worry. ‘Will there be enough to pay the rent? Will there be enough to pay the HST?’ It’s living on the edge. But I think that’s what art is.”

And when it all gets too much? “When I’m completely flustered, I work with clay. This is my therapy. I sit down at the wheel, get my clay ready and, because I’m focused on what I’m doing, all the rest of it just disappears.”

It’s always been about the clay. “It’s one of the oldest materials in existence,” says Annette. “It’s from the ground. You use water. You use heat. You use all the elements to create a piece, whether it’s decorative or functional. There’s a little bit of soul that goes into each piece.”

Along with her art, Annette credits her family and the people around her for helping motivate her to keep the Gallery doors open. She’ll run into a neighbour and celebrate the completion of three years of construction along Kingston Road. A customer will drop by to say the wedding gift was a hit. A high school student will report she still uses the bowl she made at the Gallery when she was seven.

As new artists set up their first show of paintings, Annette feels exhilarated on their behalf. Her adult students talk about a new appreciation of the creative process, and of artists in this city. Her husband Tim welcomes her home after an evening of teaching and reminds her how proud he is of her. And her 20-year-old son, Erik, involved in the Gallery “right from the get go” sees, daily, the power of persistence.

“There’s a lot of community in my life now,” says Annette in describing some of the transformation this decade has inspired. “I feel calmer than I was 10 years ago. I feel more confident. My own work has evolved. I’m grateful for all the new people in my life, and to still be here. I love it.”

Marianne Chilco is a Toronto writer who values creativity

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