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Dean Hanmer

website: www.deanhanmer.com

Article by | Photos by published | february ‘09

mary portraitDean Hanmer was living an ordinary life: put on a suit, take a bus to work, sit in a cubicle, take the bus home. Repeat, repeat, repeat. His colleagues patted him on the back and said he was a role model. His clients boasted about him at cocktail parties. And one day, with little money in savings and no other job lined up, Dean walked into the office and resigned.

It was a shock to his employer, but his decision had been brewing for awhile. Little did his employer know, Dean had discovered his artistic passion and was ready to trade in his laptop and suit for nails and glue.

"I kind of liked the job but it was not me," Dean says. "Quitting the job was about not being authentic. Even though I looked good and people thought I was authentic, I knew that I wasn’t. I became clear that I wanted to learn what a real being looked like. Who really am I? And what am I capable of?" So Dean began to ponder what an authentic life might look like for him. "’Well, I have got to start making art. And what do I have available?’ I had beer bottle caps and I had friends that drank beer. I thought, ‘Here’s a renewable resource!’"

In the months leading up to his resignation, Dean had been busy during evenings and weekends creating his first piece, a large wooden cross covered mosaic-style in family memorabilia, religious imagery, and of course, bottle caps.

christ and familyFor Dean, this piece was a way to honor family members and to honor how he felt about his life and himself within the context of family and religion. "There’s an idea as a kid that all of your relatives or anyone who’s bigger than you is held in esteem. You’re the person sitting at the little table and you have to honor them because you’re told to," he says. "It made me realize that we’re all working under such severe limitations. We’re all doing the best that we can. It turned out to be not only a documentation project but a healing work." Then he adds, laughing, "You can be as enlightened as you think you are until you spend some time with family."

Dean finished the cross and moved to Port Townsend, Washington, a slow-paced town on the waterfront that is home to many artists. He rented an art studio and slept in a tent on the beach. Every day he walked the beach and immersed himself in his work on his next piece, a large altar.

Living on the beach and working on his art was a great way to switch gears, but Dean knew it wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle for him, regardless of how low his expenses were. He was aware in the back of his mind that he could not continue on like this forever, not making any money.

love noteThis was the time that Dean began dating Pattie, whom he would later marry. He moved with her to Vashon Island, a small island off the coast of Washington and set up a studio in their home. Even with her income, he had to put his creativity to work finding ways to make ends meet, including physical labor. "I had an art show and sold some art, and I met some people and asked them who was doing their landscaping. As I delivered my sculpture I would always try to get the landscaping job," he says.

Much of Dean’s art is devoted to working out a philosophical concept through his hands to create art.  He draws a parallel between the bit-by-bit creation process and the gradual insight that occurs as he does his work. "You really get clear when you’re doing this kind of work because you’re so in the present. All you’re thinking of is putting this bottle cap on, or gluing on this picture. You can’t do that in yoga or meditation—your mind’s always going. Working on this helps me clean to the extent that it’s possible." He works with the goal of creating "sacred space" in the form of garden markers, memorials, and cenotaphs that serve as a focal point visually or energetically where a person feels grounded with who they really are.

In addition to the cross and the altar, Dean continues to craft new pieces for the installation in his studio. He has added a podium and several large panels to create a chapel that documents his life and preserve the things and ideas that make up an important part of who he is.

Dean emphasizes that while he is living authentically and pursuing a dream, he has to work hard to protect that opportunity. "The Universe absolutely does want to provide, but it’s only going to meet you halfway. So you have to do something: change your action, take physical action, and take responsibility in that. Watch less TV, get away from the computer, say yes to some things you’ve said no to."

Hidden Treasures

altarBut how do you know which things deserve a yes? Dean uses another form of art called Treasure Mapping to make sure that he’s putting his time and energy into things that are in line with his goals. Treasure Mapping is a way of creating a collage with images that are seemingly random, but that represent your highest goals, desires, and intentions—in a way, creating a map of where to focus next. Dean began several years ago collecting images in a notebook. About a year after he started, he was flipping through the book and realized that the images he had chosen were beginning to manifest in his life. He started to create collages in a purposeful way, to keep his aspirations at a conscious level.

Dean’s current Treasure Map includes pictures like fresh vegetables to represent growing his own food, an older man contorted into an impossible yoga pose on the beach at sunset, and just for fun, the Teatro Zinzanni logo (he’s always wanted to go). "This helps me to keep it alive in my own day-to-day so that when it appears in whatever form I can say yes instead of wondering if it’s right for me," he says. "I use this not only as a way to communicate to the Universe what I want, but also as a real-life daily reminder of what I should be saying yes to without stumbling on my words." For example, when he grows old, he wants to be doing yoga on the beach. This picture is a reminder to him to go to yoga tonight, instead of saying no to yoga tonight.

hulaEarly in Dean’s relationship with Pattie, he learned that she had also been doing Treasure Mapping and getting similar results. Now they teach Treasure Mapping workshops together as a way to bring art to the community. "It’s my way of introducing people to hammering bottle caps, only in a more universal way," says Dean.  He hopes that participants will take that state of mind home and transfer it into their own art forms.

When Dean left his corporate career, he didn’t drop out of society. Instead, he found a way to engage with those around him in a way that feels joyful and authentic. "As I became an artist, I could see that people were reacting to me in a less guarded way. That encouraged me. When I would get in a conversation they would always ask about the art. It became clear to me that people have the need for more art in their lives, and many of them are aware of it," he says. "This is my chosen way of being a contributor."

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