Influential teacher's art to be gathered
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011
SALISBURY — About once a year, Carrie McCanless Hammer would open up her home at Goslar Farm to display her latest works.
The low-key art shows would draw large crowds, including many of the students Hammer taught over the decades in Rowan County.
Rachel Sloop Fesperman was one of those students.
Before Rachel married and started a family with Bo Fesperman, she took one-on-one art lessons for several years with the Paris-trained Hammer.
The teacher guided Rachel and her other students through their copies of the old masters, encouraging them to read books about the painters they were imitating.
The close, creative work forged lifelong friendships. Many of the students were still visiting and painting with Hammer at her death in 1957, when she was 83.
Rachel Fesperman died in 2004, but the paintings she did as a Hammer student are among daughter Barbara Upright’s most prized possessions, even though her art career was relatively short.
“The minute my twin sister and I were born,” Upright says, “she put down the paintbrush.”
Upright and Rowan Museum curator Mary Jane Fowler, a great niece of Hammer’s, are certain that Hammer and her students have left behind a legacy of artwork that would make for an interesting local exhibit, if the pieces could be rounded up.
On loan, of course.
Hammer, the artist, was probably best known for the “Historical Map Rowan County” she produced in 1932 and from which 2,000 lithograph copies were made.
Her painting of the River Jordan went into the baptistry of Oakdale Baptist Church in Spencer. A large picture of Christ found a home in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in China Grove.
Hammer’s artwork — often landscapes, portraits and flowers — also found its way into many private homes. In addition, she was known for murals and tapestries — some on the walls of the Goslar Farm and others once part of the decor of her parents’ massive stone house on South Main Street.
Upright and Fowler believe many of the Hammer-inspired paintings of her students must survive in businesses, homes, attics and basements throughout Rowan County.
“We just kind of wonder,” Upright says, adding that Hammer “totally influenced” a generation of Rowan County artists such as her mother.
“She was a beautiful artist, and she must have been a great teacher,” Upright says. “She was a real genteel lady and had a graciousness about her that must have been quite appropriate for the time.”
Breganza C. Gosney of Spencer became one of Hammer’s more accomplished students. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration, it led to Hammer’s teaching of an art class in Spencer that lasted about five or six months.
“She told me I had such good talent I should take private lessons, and I worked with her for 15 to 20 years,” Gosney recalled for the Post in 1977. “She had some pupils until she was over 80.”
Two of Gosney’s works, “Good Shepherd” and “Susanna Wesley” were painted for Central United Methodist church, where she was a longtime member. In the 1940s, and with Hammer as a special guest, Gosney had a 75-piece show of her artwork in Spencer.
Gosney, who died in 1994, said Hammer would occasionally talk about her schooling in Paris and how she wasn’t allowed to go out without a chaperone.
When Gosney started taking lessons, Hammer’s children were already grown. At that time, Hammer was painting china and portraits.
“I would go down and spend an afternoon taking a lesson,” Gosney said. “You were so enlightened just to talk to her.”
Hammer loved history, too, and was known for prowling around old cemeteries and county courthouses. Her “Historical Map” of the county is filled with illustrations of things she found interesting, such as Sapona Indian settlements, the Morgan muster ground, the Heights o’ Gowerie, Dunn’s Mountain, Organ and Lowerstone churches, the tomb of Maxwell Chambers, Stoneman’s Raid and Margaret Phifer’s begging the British to spare her home.
Hammer painted the original map in the dining room of her farmhouse in the early 1930s. The original was so large it reportedly covered half a wall in the house. Much more manageable copies sold for $2 each during the Depression years.
She supposedly fashioned a similar “Historical Map” for Guilford County.
Mrs. L.B. Thomas presented the Hammer map to China Grove in 1977, to hang at the town’s new municipal building. It had been a gift to Thomas from Hammer’s husband, Carl, after Thomas had sung at his wife’s funeral.
Hammer also gave a copy of the map to the funeral director
Born in 1874, Carrie McCanless was one of 11 children and the eldest daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte McCanless and Georgia Mauney McCanless.
Her father was a major figure in Salisbury at the turn of the century. He played significant roles in the establishment of Vance Cotton Mill, which became Cartex Mill. He also joined with Tobias Kesler, D.R. Julian and others in organizing Kesler Mill, which became part of Cannon Mills.
In addition, McCanless had a hand in the construction of the Washington Building on North Main Street and the Empire Block on South Main Street. He was president of Harris Granite Company, which probably served as catalyst for his building the three-story stone house that still exists on South Main Street at Military Avenue.
While the house was under construction in 1897, Carrie returned to Salisbury after studying art in Paris at the famous Ecole de Julienne under Madame Hortense Richard.
The walls of the South Main Street house’s parlor were once covered with tapestries, which Carrie painted. “They were Rococo-like scenes with a frieze of cupids above them,” a history of the house says.
The murals no longer exist.
Carrie McCanless would marry Carl Hammer, colorful newspaper editor for the Salisbury Globe. As editor, Hammer apparently walked the streets armed with a .38 pistol in his belt.
He told the Post later in life that he carried the gun in defiance of “a political gang that had an obsession for beating me up.”
Hammer had a running feud with Gen. Baldy Boyden, mayor of Salisbury at the time, and Sheriff Dave Julian, who together controlled the Truth Index, a newspaper competitor.
Before Hammer came to Salisbury, he worked as a city editor for a Dayton, Ohio, newspaper and was mentor for a young O.O. McIntyre, who later became a nationally known syndicated columnist.
In Rowan County, the German-born Hammer gave up newspapering and settled into a life of farming, first on a 300-acre farm in Providence Township, then on the Goslar Farm, five miles south of Salisbury across from what would become the U.S. 29 Swink Plant.
Carl and Carrie McCanless Hammer had two children, Barbara and Carl Jr.
Dr. Carl Hammer Jr. became a professor of German at the University of Texas. He was as recognized authority on Goethe and wrote the 1943 “Rhinelanders on the Yadkin,” a history of German settlement in this area.
Carl Sr. and Carrie M. Hammer are buried in the old graveyard of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, which was across from their Goslar Farm. Only the cemetery, not the church, remains at the site today.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.