Library exhibit stirs memories of artist

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 6, 2011

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — The small art exhibit in Rowan Public Library’s main lobby this month won’t take your breath away, though one can appreciate the considerable skills displayed by the artists.
The real intrigue lies behind the paintings, for they pay tribute to artist Carrie McCanless Hammer and her legacy — the many students she taught and befriended.
The exhibit also touches the heart strings of twin sisters Barbara Upright and Christine Hilton, whose late mother, Rachel “Patricia” Sloop Fesperman, was a longtime student of Hammer’s.
Most of the artwork on display was painted by Fesperman before her daughters were born. There are chrysanthemums; a replica of a stained-glass window at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; a portrait of Rachel’s father, Whitson Patterson Sloop; a white stallion; an English garden; a log cabin; a “View of the Seine”; and wildlife “At Bay” in a hunting scene.
Those are just a few of Rachel Fesperman’s pieces that the daughters were able to assemble for the exhibit, put together nicely by the library’s Rudy Hyde.
The sisters look at “View of the Seine: Harp of the Winds” and don’t see it as a reproduction of the 1895 painting by Homer Dodge Martin. Rather, they remember it as the late Rachel Fesperman’s favorite painting and how it hung in their parents’ bedroom.
Upright is sure the “White Stallion” painting is a copy of the horse at Walt McCanless’ old White Horse Tavern on U.S. 29. It had a home for a long time on her son’s bedroom wall, she says.
Only a few exhibit pieces were done by the Paris-trained Hammer herself, including one of a matching pair of bluebird plates she painted for Rachel Fesperman at the birth of Barbara and Christine.
Another painting, “Sunset,’’ was done by Hammer and given to Rachel Fesperman as a wedding gift in 1946.
Hammer also produced the 1932 lithograph copy “Historical Map Rowan County” and a late 1940s portrait of Emily Beaver Stirewalt as a young girl in her red Christmas dress.
Hammer painted Stirewalt’s portrait from a photograph supplied by Emily’s mother, Nell Beaver Pethel. Hammer and Pethel were longtime friends.
Hammer died in 1957 at age 83.
The other Hammer students represented in the exhibit are Breganza C. Gosney and Mamie Lowder Curran. The late Gosney became one of Hammer’s more accomplished students, working with her teacher for almost 20 years.
The exhibit’s striking portrait of Carrie McCanless Hammer was painted by Gosney and is on loan from the Rowan Museum. Lillian Gascoigne donated the portrait to the museum.
Blanche Curran Stutts loaned the art on display from her mother, Mamie Curran. As with many of Hammer’s students, Mamie Curran learned to paint at Hammer’s Goslar Farm, located off U.S. 29 across from the old Swink Plant.
“Mamie Curran started going to Goslar Farm after work with several friends during the 1930s,” Upright says.
Upright had the idea months ago to assemble the artwork of both Hammer and her former students. She believed — and still does — that many of the Hammer-inspired paintings of her students survive in businesses, homes, attics and basements throughout the county.
Much of Hammer’s own artwork, which often included landscapes, portraits and flowers, also found its way into private homes.
Hammer painted the River Jordan into the baptistry of Oakdale Baptist Church in Spencer, and her large painting of Jesus Christ belongs to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in China Grove.
As part of her instruction, she often had her students copy the old masters and encouraged them to read books about the painters they were imitating.
Hammer was known, too, for murals and tapestries. Some were on the walls of the Goslar Farm home, and others were part of the decor of her parents’ large stone house on South Main Street, which still sits on the corner at Military Avenue.
“After the Goslar Farm was sold and when the new owners of the property were tearing down the house,” Upright says, “the three large murals were saved and moved to two homes in Rowan County.
“At least two of them are still well taken care of today. The murals or tapestries in the house that Carrie’s father, Napoleon Bonaparte McCanless, built on South Main Street, Salisbury, did not survive over the years.”
Upright says she had hoped to locate the original painting of the Rowan County map from which 2,000 prints were made.
“This painting hung in her dining room, I learned,” Upright says. But trying to track down it down through the Hammer family turned up nothing.
“I hope to locate this painting some day,” Upright says.
Upright says acknowledgements and thanks for the library’s exhibit go to Hyde, Hilton, Carl Hammer III, Bill Hammer, Gradon Foster, Stirewalt, Stutts, Gascoigne, Gretchen Witt, Betty Dan Spencer and Mary Jane Fowler.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.