On the edge of historic downtown Chaska, there's a century-old brick home on the corner of Pine Street and Chaska Boulevard with large gables, curved alcoves and a covered entrance. The basement was originally the quarters for the servants of William Scott, who moved in with his family in 1905 after purchasing the Chaska Flouring Mills next door.
Surrounded by cups overflowing with paintbrushes, canvases of half-done students' artwork, custom framing equipment and tubes of colorful acrylic paints, artist Sara Hanlon now paces around that basement like a scientist in her laboratory.
Hanlon runs the Mill House Gallery & Gifts shop on the ground floor and lives on the second floor with her school bus-driving husband, Michael. They purchased the house in 2000 and Hanlon has spent most of the dozen years since restoring the neglected home, getting the shop up and running and teaching community education art classes.
Her artwork took a backseat to the necessities that demanded her time.
"I was kind of hidden and I started getting crabby," she said. "I need to get back to my art and I wound up leaping forward."
She made that leap by descending into her basement and noodling around with her toaster oven and plastic garbage -- specifically things such as the binders that hold six packs together, yogurt cups, water-softener salt bags and those suction cup flowers that stick to bathtub bottoms to prevent slipping.
Hanlon has come up with a fancy name for her new artwork: polymeric fusion. Translation: She takes those bits of plastic garbage, heats them in her toaster oven and creates surreal fantasies brimming with color and texture.
"You can keep stopping the toaster oven and pulling it out to manipulate it and stack it," she said.
It's the latest stage in a creative life for Hanlon, who grew up in Roseville and spent 25 years as an artist in Brainerd, where she says Wildlife 101 rules the galleries. She raised stock horses for 30 years -- "breaking, breeding, training, showing and boarding" -- and worked as a veterinary and medical technician, including a stint at the psychiatric ward at the Brainerd State Hospital.
When her husband's job was downsized, they moved to the old house in Chaska. She's a charter member of the Artists Consortium of Carver County and just finished a cubist mosaic portrait of a St. Peter poet constructed, of course, of pieces of discarded, reconstituted plastic.
"Good art has to say something," she said. "It is my joy to seclude myself in my studio with a new definition of art supplies that includes manipulated plastic. One thought led to the next thought and now I'm reprocessing the stuff and making a whole new kind of art."
Check out her website to see for yourself: www.saraleehanlon.com.