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By Emily Greffenius
Hometown Weekly Intern
Needham’s Nelson Hammer, whose artwork currently adorns the Wellesley Free Library, began painting birds in watercolor at the age of 68. Although he had dabbled in oil paintings while in college, he laid the painting hobby aside to raise a family and pursue his career.
It wasn’t until he came across a watercolor set in an arts and crafts store some forty years later that he decided to again tap into his creativity and artistic passions. A landscape artist by training, Hammer felt compelled to document the beauty of nature. Upon the impulse to painting something colorful, he typed “colorful birds” into Google.
He quickly fell in love with the subject matter.
“The images were just astounding,” Hammer says of those first Google search results. He took to copying, in watercolors, some of the pictures he saw on the internet. When he realized his methods of choosing subjects might run into problems with copyright infringement, his family was quick to come to his aid.
“My daughter’s mother-in-law, Brenda Robert, is a talented wildlife photographer in Louisiana,” Hammer says. “She gave me permission to use any of her photos as subject matter, and the more I paint, the more my friends and family contribute.”
A number of Hammer’s paintings are based off of Robert’s photography, but he has also worked from photos he shot himself. He has also recently developed an artistic partnership with a professional bird photographer Glenn Bartley. The photos are crucial, since Hammer strives for realism. “I’m trying to make the birds look like the photographs,” Hammer says of his work. “I’m not trying to make art of birds.”
Hammer’s favorite subjects are birds of prey, and three of the paintings in the Wellesley exhibition (“Screech Owl,” “Red-Tailed Hawk,” and “Peregrine Falcon with the Broken Wing”) are painted from close-up photos Hammer took himself of the ferocious birds at a Massachusetts Audubon Society event.
“Birds of prey always look angry,” Hammer says. “The talons are the fiercest part of the bird, but it’s the eyes that get me.”
While Hammer has tended more toward the vicious and the exotic in choosing his subjects, he still holds an appreciation for the everyday.
“I would also like to paint birds that are so common that a school kid could look at it and say, ‘I know that!’” Hammer says. Accordingly, he plans to check pigeon, Canada goose, and seagull off his list.
Even though Hammer would love to sell some of his original paintings, he finds satisfaction in the process of creating the finished work.
“It’s very relaxing,” he says. “I’m self-taught, and I’m still learning, so almost every time I sit down to paint, it’s by trial and error. But it’s so much fun.”
Nelson Hammer’s work will be on display and for sale at the Wellesley Library for the rest of the summer. He has also scheduled upcoming exhibitions in Weston and Brookline that will also be open to the public. All of his paintings and more information can be found at his website, www.artforthebirds.com.