A Conversation with Area Fine Artist Nancy Hammond
It’s 10:30 a.m. on a windy Saturday in October, and I’m across the street from a line of people that begins at a beautifully designed art gallery storefront in the Annapolis Arts District on West Street and snakes down the street and around the corner. The line started forming in the wee hours of the morning, and only shows signs of getting longer.
This is the type of cue one normally sees when a big name rock band comes to town, or at TKTS in Times Square for discounted Broadway tickets. But this group of patient consumers is in line for something different; something they will take home to display in their home and treasure every day.
They’re waiting in line in front of Nancy Hammond Editions (192 West Street) to receive the 2017 Annual Chesapeake Poster by fine artist Nancy Hammond, entitled “Crescent Moon”. This year’s poster is crisp, lovely, and another beautiful example of the accomplished work that Nancy Hammond has been creating for decades. There is great advantage to waiting in line for it: this sought-after, signed, limited-edition poster is just $75 (incredible!) today only, and the first 250 early birds also receive goodie bags—all of which are long gone well before I arrive.
Artist Nancy Hammond greets every person who comes into her gallery, and it’s clear she is genuinely interested in each one of them. Her staff, headed up by her daughter-in-law and right-hand business person Kate Hammond, has the process down to a science. People move through the gallery without being rushed, making their purchases and possibly adding a hat or t-shirt to their orders. Mixed in with the new are return customers and friends. Nancy is well known in the region.
This phenomenon of the Nancy Hammond poster collection and people camping out overnight to be first to obtain it began decades ago when Nancy lived in Eastport and opened a gallery on State Circle. What set this Rhode Island School of Design educated artist apart from other fine artists when she first started was the seamless marriage of fine art and commerce, which was the focus of our interview.
I “met” Nancy over the phone, as she now lives on the Eastern Shore, in a place that she says is the most beautiful and wonderful place on earth, surrounded by nature where she can take long walks to clear her head and gain inspiration for her work.
Your success started early on, with your artwork that focused on sailboats and Chesapeake life. Was that the natural origin of your art, or was it a conscious decision?
Definitely a conscious decision. I went to a party back when real estate was doing quite well, and there were six realtors in the room. They were on fire, talking about how they flipped that house, and sold this one; they were having a ball! They were all dressed up in their gold bracelets and fun clothing. I went home and had a chat with myself. I thought: They are in the world of commerce, and I am not. I’ve been sitting in the studio for years, entering contests, working and working so that maybe galleries would hang my work. Did I think a miracle was going happen in the next few years and I’d suddenly find myself in the museum world? I did have one really wonderful experience at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where they hung my art in the most prominent place. It gave me a lot of confidence, and I realized that what I wanted was more immediacy and feedback.
I decided to put commerce in my life by having a store and having my own gallery. I changed the subject matter of my artwork. I stopped painting my inner feelings – people aren’t interested in that. I just knew I wanted to paint so badly that I had to figure out a way to do that and make it work in business. I knew I could be happy as long as I was creating artwork with color and paper. I started painting my boats on the bay. Now I’ve been in business long enough that I have come full circle and can paint for myself, and I love it!
Did your style that is now so recognizable come naturally to you?
Not at first. At one point, I got so unhappy with myself that I decided to take two years off and discover myself; discover what was truly my style so that when someone saw a work they would know that it was mine. I discovered I love outlines and silhouettes; I love bold flat areas of color up against each other, and cut paper, and crayons that rip across the paper. That was fundamental. The dedicated time paid off, and I was ready. Once I opened my gallery, I never had any trouble with people liking my style.
You were greatly missed when you closed your gallery on State Circle and moved to the Eastern Shore! What drove the decision to come back to Annapolis?
It was a business decision. We were doing alright (on the Eastern Shore), but never doing great. We were staying kind of neutral. To have a healthy business you have to beat inflation and you have to grow.
Moving the gallery back to Annapolis was a phenomenal move! We had to dig deep, because it is very expensive, and while I was hesitant to take another risk at this stage, it has paid off. We had done our homework. We’re delighted to be back, and in the Arts District. Selling work on the website was also another good business decision.
You have many wonderful series of work. What sparks a new series?
That is the fun of having a collected mass of work. I can start feeling that there is a hole that perhaps I should flesh out, and wouldn’t it be fun to fill that in. I have a tropical show every year, and there are deadlines. In art school I didn’t like that, but now I thrive on it. In August I am doing Christmas cards. In March I am doing a poster. It’s good because the more you stay in the artist’s eye it stays with you, whereas when I get away from that and go on vacation, I get completely immersed in swimming and cooking, and the artists eye goes right out the window.
To stay in the artist’s eye, I walk. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, no great work has been done without walking. I find that I need that motor. I walk every day and clear my mind out, and new stuff just comes flooding in; it’s how I learn. I will be stuck on something, and then I will think “I know – just paint the whole thing green!” I had to write a limerick the other day, gave up and then I went out and as I was walking down the road, it started coming to me: “There once was a bridegroom named….”
Our conversation was lively, and Nancy is as lovely as her art. We went on to talk artist to artist about just doing the work… to create good work you have to go at it with fun and not put the pressure on yourself. After playing and working and 17 trips to the refrigerator, all of a sudden you find yourself in the zone and creating something you absolutely love!
And so does everyone else. I’m already looking forward to next year’s poster. Thank you for coming back to Annapolis, Nancy Hammond!
Photos courtesy of Nancy Hammond Editions and Patrice Drago