The Lumberyard
The Man and His Art (click to open/close)
From time to time an artist comes along and changes everything. Harold Hahn is one of those renaissance men who took the craft of model ship building and raised it to a fine art form, influencing and inspiring an entire generation of model ship builders. Harold was born in Oakland California on March 25 1920. His dad moved the family to Cleveland Ohio 4 years later. It was here in Cleveland, where Harold grew up, received his education, married, raised a family and continues to reside. Like all prolific artists something or someone in their lives provided the spark that ignited the creative energy. For Harold, it was back in Shaker Heights junior high school where he had an excellent manual training teacher who taught him to appreciate woodworking. After building an end table he started a big project of building a pair of twin beds and a desk which carried over into Shaker High school. As a young teenager Harold started to build a ship model of the “Swallow” from plans and an article in Popular Science magazine. Work on the Swallow drudged out for 2 years. The love of fine wood was reflected in his first ship model, Harold remembered going into Cleveland to buy Ebony for the model. From the shop classes in junior high school Harold’s education remained centered around art.

An early picture of Harold does give an impression he wasn’t about to waste any time getting started in life and he was  ready to begin his career. The caption under the photo said it all, it read “here I come”. 

Print making was a large part of Harold’s life that began in the 3rd grade when his teacher Miss Burnside introduced him to print making with a class project that involved gouging out a pattern on the surface of a rubber block. This absolutely enthralled young Harold and launched a life long adventure.  After high school, Harold’s freshman year was spent at the college in Wooster Ohio. While enrolled at Wooster college Harold ran across a newspaper article about the Cleveland school of art.  Having an interest in art, Harold questioned his studies at Wooster and toyed with the idea of enrolling in art school. That summer Harold enrolled in two summer school classes at the Cleveland School of Art to see if that might be the right direction to follow. After the summer classes Harold felt qualified enough to sign up for the fall classes. His ambition was to draw better ship pictures.

On a vacation that same summer, Harold saw something that set into motion a series of events that resulted in him becoming one of the most recognized model ship builders of our time. Taken directly from his Memoirs and in Harold’s own words. “The Boston Museum of fine arts really hit me hard. I found ship models in cases located in the halls of the museum. The thing that bowled me over, and forced me to reassess my intent in ship modeling was a gallery devoted to a collection of British Admiralty models. I had been patting myself on the back for being quite a fine model builder after the few opportunities I had had to see other noted people’s work.  Suddenly it was revealed to me that I hadn’t even reached first base. The exquisite workmanship and detailing that I saw in the complicated Admiralty models had me eating humble pie. I shelved any thought of continuing model building at that time. It decided me to really apply myself to the courses that I anticipated taking at art school in order to develop my potential for work in the field of fine art.” 

That fall Harold began his pursuit of fine art at the Cleveland School of Art.  Although Harold’s father never complained about Harold’s abrupt changing of direction and flightiness in schooling, he did comment once that he didn’t think Harold had much of a financial future as an artist.  After three years in art school Harold agreed with his father’s thought. Determined to continue with an interest in fine arts, but having no real interest in finding a place in commercial art Harold began thinking of becoming an English teacher, to this end he transferred to Western Reserve University.  After only a semester Harold realized he wasn’t cut out to be an English professor.  With his fourth try Harold started school at the Case School of Applied Science, here he enrolled in the engineering curriculum. Seems at this point Harold set aside model ship building and pursued etching and print making.  At the Cleveland Museum’s art show two of Harold’s prints were accepted for display and purchased by the print club for the museums collection.  During this time Harold’s etchings would win him prizes and recognition at museums in Cleveland, New York and Washington. After a year at Wooster college, three years at the Cleveland School of Art, one semester at Western Reserve, and three years at Case School of Technology, Harold joined the army specialized training program.

Back from the Army (click to open/close)

Out of the Army, Harold returned to Cleveland and back to Case School of Technology to get his degree in engineering he also attended selective classes at the Cleveland School of Art.

While at Cleveland School of Art, Harold met Nancy Norris. On July 19, 1947 Harold and Nancy were married and on July 19, 2007 they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
The art work of Harold Hahn began with a Saturday morning class in etching back in 1939. This class was designed for high school students. It was these classes that launched fifteen years of competition etching. In 1942 he won first place at the Cleveland art museum.
The same year his work was shown at the New York Metropolitan Museum where the Library of congress purchased it  for their collection.  One of the etchings was reproduced in the book Prize Prints of the Twentieth Century. Along with the 39 pieces of his work in the Cleveland Museum of Art there are five in the Library of Congress and one in the New York Metropolitan Museum.
The writing was on the wall and a shift in art from the “realism” to the abstract expressionism had pushed the realistic approach of Harold art out the door.  By this time Harold realized the competitive shows no longer offered the opportunities of recognition and there was no longer an incentive for him to do etchings for which there was no outlet.  At this time the print career of Harold was put on hold, but not the love of working in wood and doing oil painting as a hobby. While he and his wife Nancy raised a daughter and three sons and being engaged in all the activities of their children, Harold built rooms in his house as well as cabinets, furniture and a staircase where he milled the banister and newel posts.

As the kids grew older Harold found time and he began to search for an activity to satisfy the creative artist within him. It was only natural for him to return to his childhood interest in model ship building.  To begin Harold made a trip to a local hobby shop and decided to build a plastic kit.  This resulted in little artistic satisfaction and no real sense of accomplishment. It was obvious to him that he needed to move on to scratch building models and working with wood.  He had a well equipped work shop so he choose the Niagara as his first subject. This took about a year to complete and included a case with a painted background.  Not remembering exactly how it happened but he got the notion to try and carve a couple of figures to stand on the model and nameplate. This started the habit of adding figures to all his models. The model was loaned to the Western Reserve Historical Society and used on an afternoon TV program.  His son Mike now has the model. As a second subject Harold selected a little harder subject which was the Mayflower and now that he had a taste of carving figures he was ready to develop the skill. He carved a scene of pilgrims walking to church mounted on the name plate. With this second model Harold had developed a good system for carving the miniature figures out of Boxwood.  As a third project, the Essex, was selected which was more complex and more of a challenge. For the nameplate a cross section of the gun deck with cannon and complete gun crew was carved.

Out of the blue came a commission to do an etching for an exclusive literary society. Harold had done two etchings for the society and after a 10 year hiatus and his printing press sitting idle Harold had a renewed interest in print making.  He selected a subject and did one more etching named “Tracery of a Fragile Moment” the etching was entered into the Cleveland Museums art show and ended up being rejected.  This is Harold Hahn’s last etching. From here he returned to ship modeling.

Go to PART 2 - Harold Launches a Career in Model Ship Building

return to Harold Hahn main page

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