Hans Hacker: Artist and community legend

One of many Hacker oil paintings of the Ohio River showing the old Chester Bridge as viewed from the hills above Newell.

1939 was a time of great turmoil. It seemed that the world might fall apart. The United States was in the troughs of its Great Depression, sliding into poverty following its great industrial revolution. Europe was engaged in a great power struggle instigated by tyrant Nazi German Fuhrer Adolph Hitler. In Asia, Japanese Emperor Hirohito was pursuing a dangerous expansion of its power in that region.

In the midst of these worldwide troubles, a young man and his wife raised in Waldenburg, Germany, decided to change their lives for the better by immigrating to the United States of America. Hans and his wife Johanna (Hannah) Hacker chose to start their new life together in East Liverpool. They did so at a very high price. The Hackers were forced to temporarily leave behind their first born, Hans Jr. The temporary separation evolved into six long years. The young boy in the interim was transferred between German Youth training camps. Finally the family reunion occurred in 1945, at the end of WW II.

Hans had visited the Commercial Decal Company in East Liverpool several times in the 1930s. He had been trained at the Breslau Art School and had risen to head designer of the E. Wunderlich Company in Germany. When the Hackers settled in East Liverpool, Hans became the art and technical director at Commercial Decal Company where he remained for 47 years.

The East Liverpool Area Community & Learning Center will hold its fourth Legacy & Legends Lecture series on Tuesday, March 7. The lectures are intended to recognize persons whose lives have had a significant impact on this area. The subject of the Lecture this Tuesday will be Hans Hacker, the artist and community legend.

Speaking that evening will be a close friend and fellow worker at Commercial Decal, Carol Barbuto, an admirer and collector of the arts; Dr. Marc Hoffrichter, president of the East Liverpool Historical Society; attorney Tim Brookes; and Michael Parkes as moderator who was a fellow Rotarian of Hans Hacker. Hacker passed away in 1994.

Oil painting of Thompson Place is owned by Mr. & Mrs. William L. Miller. This picturesque area formerly was located at the east end of Second Street in downtown East Liverpool at the Ohio entrance to the old Chester Bridge. That bridge was subsequently replaced with a new four-lane Jennings Randolph Bridge

Fortunately Hans Hacker was much more than a designer of ceramic decals. He was a talented and prolific artist with the ability to see and capture in paint the beauty in his surroundings. His specialty was his beloved Ohio River valley and his adopted hometown of East Liverpool, including the surrounding area. Through his oil and watercolor paintings, Hans captured a beauty in his subjects that often escaped even the human eye. Hacker’s favorite subjects were the Ohio River, Beaver Creek, residences and commercial buildings, covered bridges, point of interest and even people.

The late Don Schreckengost, a friend, former Hall China designer, and an artist in his own right, once said of Hans’ work: “It has always been more interesting to view the city through Han’s paintings rather than a photograph. Unlike a camera, the artist sees things a little differently. He interprets not only what he sees, but what he feels. That’s what Hans did.”

Among the many charitable acts to benefit his adopted hometown, Hans Hacker designed the annual plates, mugs and ashtrays that were sold over 24 years to support the annual Pottery Festival. The scenes depicted form a pictorial history of our area unlike any other city in America and perhaps the world. His artwork over the years helped instill a pride among the citizens of the greater community. Han’s paintings numbering in the hundreds are highly valued by current and past residents of the community.

The Hackers had three children, all of whom were graduated from East Liverpool High School. None of them remained in the area. Hans (Ollie) Hacker was the first born and he resided in southern Ohio, but has now passed away; daughter Barbara lives in the Burlington Vt., area; and Dr. Peter Hacker resides near San Diego, Calif.

At the Community Center, there is an Exhibit Hall devoted to displays of the works of Hans Hacker. On exhibit in the Hall are complete sets of the dinner plates and coffee mugs produced for the Pottery Festivals between 1968 and 1991, and paintings that have been donated to the Center for permanent display. Included is a Hacker print recently given by Mr. & Mrs. William Auger. Also there are paintings and artifacts loaned for the evening of over a dozen seldom seen paintings from collections of Hoffrichter, the East Liverpool Historical Society, Mr. & Mrs. William Miller, attorney Mary Sue Lang, Mr. & Mrs. Stephen Cooper and Mr. & Mrs. Jeff Zehnder.

Admission to the Lecture Series is limited to donor members and their guests. However anyone interested in viewing Hacker art work is invited to visit the Center between 4-6 p.m. on that Tuesday prior to the program. The lecture will be held in the Bill Blair Auditorium at the Center and it will be video recorded. The recording will be archived at the Center and will be available for viewing on one of the Center’s recording devices.

Available for sale are DVDs with photographs of 650 of some of the Hans Hacker works. The DVDs are also available at the Center, from the East Liverpool Historical Society at its Dale Thompson Home headquarters, and the Museum of Ceramics. The DVD was produced as the Hans Hacker Archive Project in 2009 through the efforts of Catherine S. Vodrey and Dyke Dawson, president of the Dawson Funeral Home. Many Hans Hacker paintings are on permanent display at the Dawson Funeral Home on Fifth Street in East Liverpool. Frank C. Dawson was a close friend and admirer of the artist.

The upcoming weekend movie matinees to be shown at the Center will be: today, March 5, “Pagemaster.” On Saturday, March 11, is the animated “Happy Feet” and Sunday, March 12, is “Dolphin Tale 2.” There is no admission for the movies. Families are welcome. Popcorn and drinks provided. The shows begin at 3 p.m. each afternoon and are shown in the Center Conference Room on a large screen TV.