Alison Smith Hannan was born in New York City in 1925. She was the second of three children. Her mother, Dr. Adelaide Ross Smith, was a medical doctor who worked for the State of New York as an occupational safety inspector. She later became a psychoanalyst in the school of William Alanson White. Alison's father, W. Seymour Smith, was a Wall Street wealth manager. Alison's lived with her parents and two siblings at 172 Sullivan Street, in Greenwich Village.
Alison attended City and Country School and Friends Seminary, graduating in 1943. She then attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri from 1943-1945. Having exhibited an interest in clothes from early on, Alison learned how to sew at Stephens. After receiving an Associate's degree from Stephens, Alison returned to New York and attended Parsons School of Design from 1945-1947, first specializing in fashion design, then switching her focus to fashion illustration. She graduated from Parsons in 1947.
After graduating from Parsons, Alison worked as a stylist for fashion photographer William Payne and one other fashion photographer. She then worked in the art department at Abraham & Strauss in downtown Brooklyn. In 1950, she spent six months traveling alone in Europe. Upon her return to New York that year, Alison got a job at Time, Inc. She was working at Time when she met Tom Hannan, in 1953. Hannan had arrived in New York in 1950 with a scholarship to study painting at The Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, located on 8th Street in Greenwich Village. Tom and Alison were married in 1954 and moved to 137 Thompson Street, a cold-water flat below Houston Street.
Tom met Bob Weinstock, owner of Prestige Records, in 1956 and was hired to design jazz album covers. Alison prepared printer's mechanicals for the album cover designs. She worked at the kitchen table at 137 Thompson Street, while Tom worked in the front room. An artist friend, Bruce Barton, also assisted Tom a few days a week. Three album covers were prepared and delivered each week to Prestige, Blue Note, Columbia, and Roulette records. Evening outings included attending friends' openings at the 10th Street galleries, where many of Hans Hofmann's students showed their work, followed by drinks at the Cedar Tavern. The Hannans also frequented jazz clubs, often "closing out Mingus" at the Five Spot on the Bowery.
In 1957, the Hannans moved to a loft on the fourth floor of 156 West 22nd Street, where Tom set up a larger studio. Other artist friends from the Hans Hofmann school lived in the building and nearby, including painters James Gahagan, Gerald Samuels, Joe Stephanelli, and Jan Muller.
The Hannans bought their house in Guilford, Vermont in 1959, spending summers in Vermont and winters in New York until moving to Vermont permanently in 1969. Alison sang in choirs for many years, beginning with the Interracial Chorale in New York City from 1950 until it disbanded in the late 1960s.
Prepared by Pamela Seymour Smith Sharp, with Alison Hannan, September 26, 2011.
Parsons School of Design oral history program