High School Student Works to Help Less Fortunate
By Noma Faingold
Laura Altair Hanson, 15, started selling paintings at age seven, but she is not some artistic prodigy who gets booked on television talk shows or a freakishly gifted phenom who has gone viral on YouTube.
While Hanson is more than a little creatively inclined, those early paintings were sold to friends and colleagues of her parents, outdoor writer/broadcaster Craig Hanson and journalist/author Maria Goodavage. Hanson's current work has evolved into an appealing surreal combination of the worldly and whimsical, such as a painting of a dog sitting in a wine glass and a Warholesque quadtych of antique keys.
What really makes Hanson remarkable for her age - or any age for that matter - is her benevolent nature. For some time, she's been preparing to exhibit up to 20 paintings at the Overland One Salon in her Outer Sunset neighborhood, with the sales revenue going to her charity of choice, Charity: Water, a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.
She is dedicating a large ambitious landscape, featuring a giving tree and an amusement park, to the family of salon owner Katie Nicholson, whose one-year-old son Cian is being treated for a brain tumor. Hanson and her parents attended (and contributed to) a March 19 benefit at the salon to raise money for Cian's medical expenses.
"Laura is a good-hearted person and always has been," said Goodavage. "She's very genuine."
Goodavage encouraged both her daughter's creativity and giving nature early on. For several years Hanson was a volunteer at the Italian American Community Services Agency. She helped out at events and visited an elderly woman with polio once a week for more than five years until the woman died.
"She never complained," Goodavage said of her daughter. "She loved the feeling she got helping someone."
Prior to her 14th birthday, Hanson and a friend were throwing a combined birthday party when Hanson decided she did not need any gifts and requested her guests bring money to donate to charity.
Goodavage suggested a few, including Charity: Water. Hanson looked into it and realized for the first time that many people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water.
"I had no idea. I felt so bad for people in these situations. It's something we just take for granted, and others are dying because they can't get safe drinking water," Hanson said.
She also liked the fact that 100 percent of private donations went directly to build water projects - and not to overhead and salaries. They ended up raising $140.
One of Hanson's favorite artists is Pablo Picasso, as much for his art as his attitude.
"He said that people could interpret his work however they want," she said. "I love how he didn't care what people thought. That's how I am. Some people questioned why I wanted to do something good, that I might have other motives, but what other motives would there be?"
While some of her peers might be preoccupied by "The Hunger Games" or whatever else is trendy, Hanson, a freshman at The Marin School in Sausalito, seems willing to look beyond what she considers her own fortunate life.
"I have a house. I have food and what I need," she said. "There are people who don't and that's not fair."
Not that Hanson does not have focused personal ambitions, involving dance and especially acting.
"I love to create. If I'm not being creative, then I'm not happy," she said.
Hanson is with the JE Talent Agency and is starting to audition. Her long-term plan involves graduating early, going to Los Angeles, landing an agent, taking acting workshops, going on auditions and getting steady work. But, the end game is not about being rich and famous.
"When I start making money," she said, "I will be able to donate more."
Editor's Note: Hanson's art show will have an opening night party on April 9, from 5 to 8 p.m., at Overland One Salon, 3811 Noriega St. Her art will be on display for about one month.