Simple Beauty

Silkscreen artist colorfully captures region’s natural allure

Writer: Susan Craton

Jeanne Norton Hammett of St. Inigoes creates art that she says is inspired by “the simple beauty” of Southern Maryland — an egret in a creek quietly waiting for its next meal, a field of crops, a barn, a boat in the water, a group of trees against the sky.
Hammett amplifies the impact of these scenes by using bright, bold, sometimes unexpected colors in her silkscreen prints. She has a style reminiscent of 1960s pop artist Peter Max but with a more sensitive, serene eye.
The results are eye-catching celebrations of the Chesapeake Bay and its environs.
“Her work is gorgeously colorful,” says potter/clay artist Sarah Houde of Hollywood, a fellow artist at the North End Gallery, an art cooperative in Leonardtown where Hammett is a charter member. “Jeanne’s images are iconic, often peaceful, local scenes. … I am the proud owner of several of these masterful prints.”“I’ve always admired the beautiful serigraphs [Jeanne] has created — hand-drawn, multi-layered prints depicting scenes from our local landscape. … All seem to have a calming sense of beauty,” says painter Bette Bumgarner of Drayden, another North End Gallery artist. “She uses strong, brilliant color relationships, which I think is a distinguishing feature in her work.”
“I love color, bright bold color,” Hammett says.

 
The Process
Serigraph, screenprint, silkscreen — all terms that refer to the same process — are a form of stenciling. It is time consuming, taking weeks to complete a set of prints. The methodical and precise process appeals to Hammett.
“Once I get into it, I like sticking with it to get to the finished product,” she says. “When I’m in the middle of a new piece, everything else falls by the wayside. Dinner will be Cornflakes for a month.”
Hammett says she loves the process: “Getting ink all over your hands, the physical act of pulling the squeegee over the screen and squishing the ink through the screen onto the paper underneath. Lifting the screen up and seeing how the ink was deposited onto the paper. The fact that [each] one will not be perfect. I do love the act of working with my hands and producing a finished product.”
Hammett’s affinity to an art form that requires such commitment is reflected in how she has committed herself to her adopted home of Southern Maryland. Her county name comes from husband Donnie Hammett, who is the son of Regina Combs Hammett, author of “History of St. Mary’s County” and who also is distantly related to St. Mary’s famous son, author Dashiell Hammett.
In comparison, Jeanne Norton Hammett is very much an adopted daughter of the region.
 

Embracing this place
She was born in Annapolis but her family moved to Maine when she was an infant. She was 8 when her family moved to Cameroon in West Africa in 1963, and a life of frequent moves followed, including stints in far-flung locales like Bangkok, Thailand; and Lagos, Nigeria.

“We ended up back in Maryland for my senior year of high school,” she says. After attending five high schools in four years, she graduated from Friendly Senior High School in Prince George’s County.
Stability of location came with college. She graduated with a degree in fine art in 1977 from St. Mary’s
 

College of Maryland in St. Mary’s City. Then, after working as a graphic artist and draftsman locally, she took the leap of becoming a full-time artist in 1988.
Her subsequent career has been a celebration of the beauty of her adopted home, an embrace of the place where she has had the chance to grow some roots. In addition to building their home in St. Inigoes by hand, Jeanne and her husband volunteer for the Ridge Volunteer Rescue Squad; she as an ambulance driver and Donnie as an EMT.
Jeanne Norton Hammett has maintained a long-term relationship with the North End Gallery co-op in Leonardtown, an organization that she says changed her life.“It provided me with a professional venue in which to display and sell my work. It introduced me to the world of artists in the Southern Maryland region. … I’ve been a part of an inspirational group of people for close to 34 years,” she says.
In addition to the North End Gallery at 41652 Fenwick St. in Leonardtown and online at northendgallery.com, Jeanne Norton Hammett’s work and details about the silkscreen process is available jeannenortonhammett.com/. •