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Sunday, January 21, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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While The Light Is Good, Hazel Hannell, 100, Paints

Mail Tribune

GREENSPRINGS, Ore. - Her soul is fulfilled, her regrets few. Hazel Hannell, who recently turned 100 years old, only hopes 1996 will allow her to do what she's done all her life.

"Usually I paint every day while the light is good," she said.

Hannell estimates she has created 10,000 pieces of art, including paintings and pottery, during her long and healthy life. And she believes her craft has contributed to her longevity, "because I do what I love," she explained, sitting in the studio of her home amid easels and flowers that are often the subject of her watercolors. "Turning 100; it's peculiar. It's one of those strange things that happen."

Hannell is an elegant woman with short silver-gray hair combed straight from the crown of her head. She never gets up in the morning without putting on her earrings.

She almost always has a glass of wine with dinner, but never has been drunk. And although her passion is art, her interests are varied: On her bed a dozen books and publications are scattered, ranging from Robertson Davies' "The Cunning Man" to Brian O'Leary's "Exploring Inner and Outer Space."

She'll eat anything set before her, according to the woman she shares a house with, Harriet Rex Smith, 74.

Her only concession to her centenarian status: hearing aids in both ears. "She has embraced life totally and never put up barriers," Smith said.

Hannell was born Dec. 31, 1895, in Illinois to an Alabama-born farmer and a college-educated mother who painted whenever she could.

Hannell started painting when she was 5, using the paints her mother had left on her palette after she had finished for the day.

"When I was young I know I copied pictures of pretty girls on magazine covers, things I'd be scornful of now," Hannell said.

While still in the lower grades she studied art, but also secretarial skills.

"My father insisted I learn shorthand and typing so I'd have a way to make a living," she said. "He wasn't sure about me making a living as an artist."

And when World War I rolled around, Hannell had a chance to use those more utilitarian abilities. She took an office job, but it didn't last long.

"I got fired for being impertinent," she said with a giggle. "One of the foremen told me to do something and I was annoyed with him and I said, `I won't,' even though I'd already done it."

On her birthday in 1923, she married a Navy man who had been injured in the war. The couple established themselves as artists in Chicago after studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Hannell's husband, Vin, painted and later sculpted.

Hannell was commissioned to design fabrics and wallpaper for Marshall Field and Co., and Vin exhibited in impressive gallery and museum shows. But despite their success, when the Great Depression hit they were forced to move to their vacation home in Furnessville, Ind., because they no longer could afford Chicago rents.

Although she was the poorest she'd ever been, Hannell remembers it as one of the happiest times of her life. They converted an old chicken house into a potting studio and lived off Vin's small government pension, vegetables they grew in their garden and income from the pots they created from the native clay. And Hannell scandalized the neighbors by wearing pants when other women still wore skirts.

The couple became an active part of the arts community there and stayed involved in arts affairs in Chicago. They also enticed many of their artistic friends to the area, near the Dunes State Park.

Vin died in 1964, but Hannell continued to live in their Indiana home until 1988, when she moved in with Smith in the rural Greensprings area, southeast of Ashland.

"Harriet urged me to move here," Hannell said. "I was living alone and it became difficult to do certain things."

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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