The memory is dim, like the fuzzy signal of an old analog TV set. The kind you would try and rotate the antenna to get it clear.

I’m maybe 5? 7? and enter the Baltimore apartment of a close friend of my grandmother. This friend of hers is short for an adult and speaks a bit with a European accent. Or maybe I imagine the accent.

Rather than the sparse, neat, open living room of my grandmother’s apartment, this one everywhere is filled with easels, canvases of partly finished paintings, tubes, and palettes, and brushes everywhere.

Her living room, her every room, is a artist studio. The thing about the visit is Mrs Hammer said I could pick out ant painting from a pile she pointed to, one I could keep. I don’t remember the ones I looked t, but do remember the one I picked, because I still have it.

It’s an abstract rendering of a shipyard, it’s traveled with me from Baltimore to Arizona and now onto Saskatchewan, where I unpacked Mrs. Hammer’s paintings yesterday.

Gertrude Hammer Art 1969

Gertrude Hammer Art 1969 flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

I find another one, this was I recall, one I found in my Mom’s house when we cleaned it out in 2011, an impressionistic one of flowers, with brush strokes thick, textured, jutting out from the canvas.

Mrs. Hammer's Art

Mrs. Hammer’s Art flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

I’m intrigued as her signature is different here:

This was a bit reminded to me yesterday, because a reminder came via the Google calendar that bears events that once lived on Mom’s paper calendar that yesterday marked Mrs. Hammer’s birthday, 1916.

I know nothing more of this woman, this artist who lived in her apartment studio, and painted, painted, painted. Google gives nothing more than some genealogy links for people likely not the same, or ones for old scanned newspapers I have to pay a fee to see full sized images. Yay internet, not.

All I have is the dim memory… and two special paintings. I guess that’s enough.

Featured Image:

Gertrude Hammer Art 1967

Gertrude Hammer Art 1967 flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. Funny, I was thinking about her recently. I also have one of her paintings hanging in my house. I’ll send you a picture of her (from grandma’s birthday party). Grandma always referred to her as an old friend. I’m not sure how they met. I think she had a daughter named Ruth. I remember that she never wanted to part with any of her paintings. She used to do plein air (painting outside). I love her work. It’s very free and impressionist!

  2. Your blog post, which I serendipitously found this morning, made me extraordinarily happy. Gertrude Hammer is (was) my grandmother on my mother’s side. I spent many hours in her magical art filled apartment which simultaneously smelled like oil paint, turpentine, royal crown sours ( she always had some in her bag), doublemint gum and freshly baked cookies. Gertrude was born in New York in 1899, her birthday was April 14. She studied art while in high school and showed a lot of promise, then put it all away when she got married. When her husband passed away and she was only in her 50’s the first thing she did was to start painting again, and she painted and drew til she drew her last breath. I treasure every sketch book I have, and love the paintings I have at my house in New Mexico, also I saved her brushes and palette knives and her messy palettes, and I use her inks and charcoals to this day. She had two daughters, my aunt Ruthellen ( good memory Harriet!) and my mother Phyllis. Who was your grandmother? I look forward to sharing more memories with you soon. have to catch the train!

    1. Oh my, Melanie, this is the magic of the internet that keeps me hopeful on it. I am thankful for the serendipity that led you to my memories of Mrs Hammer.

      My grandmother was Janet Levine, she passed away in 2003 at 98 years old. I adored her and her stories of her life, and treasure some audio I recorded with her in the mid 1990s. I have written and shared much about her

      I’m less sure how she got to be friends with your grandmother, maybe through synagogue?

      And I am happy to hear you have many of your grandmother’s painting supplies. Thank you, thank you so much.

    2. I a stunned to read this about my great aunt Gertrude and so very happy to “feel a but about my family, Wow). My grandmother Mollie was Aunt Gertrudes sister. My Nana Mollie was born 1892 Manhattan and was one of the 12 sisters and brothers in the Goldstein clan. All or most musicians, and artists. Aunt Gertrude was the artist I knew. While I had known many if the 12 (they were very peculiarly intense and artsy) I loved Aunt Gertrude when she would come visit us in Brooklyn. My grandmother was a concert pianist, give a recital once at Little carnegie hall next to main hall. My aunts were all very short, with Aunt Gertrude maybe the shortest. She was the artist my grandma had always said and she had twinkling eyes I remember. All her sisters and brothers That I recall, and the stories wonderful. weirdly wonderful. My grandma lived till 101 years. I believe I had met RuthElken too. That Aunt Gertrude lived in Baltimore and we in Brooklyn made those visits of hers too rare. Again I am touched at reading of her.

      1. Thank you so much for finding my post and sharing the connection with Gertrude. I knew and know so little about her and not even sure how she got to be friends with my grandmother. I feel fortunate I have a few of our paintings and more fortunate knowing she came from a full family of artists.

      2. Please forgive all these typos. I should have edited never realizing how many there are. But do know again how wonderful to be touched by the family memories of my great aunt Gertrude.

  3. That is so cool! I remember going with Grandma and Gert to Cylburn Gardens in Baltimore. I believe Gert did some plein air painting there. Grandma always referred to her as ‘my oldest friend’. I too wonder how they met.

    1. Dear Levines

      Wonderful! Wonderful! Both my husband and I loved your sensitively written memories of my mother , aka Nanny. She and my father became friends with your folks (Janet – and I cannot remember your grandfather’s name) as neighbors on Barrington Rd in Baltimore, across from Garrison Jr. High. Your Aunt Eve was my best friend! I’m guessing your father was Mickey? My sister and I have Nanny’s paintings all over our homes. Thank you so much for your sweet memories.

  4. Wonderful! Wonderful! Given more time ,I think my mother might have gained some fame. My husband and I loved your sensitive blog about Nanny (Gert). Our parents were neighbors on Barrington Rd across from Garrison Jr. High school . My very best friend was your Aunt Eve.
    Both my sister and I have many of her paintings framed and hanging in our homes. I am guessing that you father was Mickey?
    Phyllis LaBorwit

    1. Thank you Phylis, that means your Mom knew my grandmother from the Garrison Avenue neighborhood, that makes so much sense.

      And how wonderful you were best friends with my Aunt Eve (yes, Mickey was my dad). She passed away when I was only 7, but remember her paintings in her house. She was a great talent too; my Mom (Alyce) had one of Eve’s paintings, I am happy you have some.

      This is wonderful to connect and fill in the gaps of information I had about your Mom. I just remember how positive and energetic she was.

    2. Just for fun I was trying to find in Google where their houses might have been on Barrington Avenue, there are quite a few across from what is now Garrison Middle School. In a folder of things I saved while I had an account, I found Abraham H Levine’s 1940 draft card (that was my grandfather), listed as married to Janet Levine.

      An address in Essex, NJ is crossed out (that was where they moved to Baltimore from) and is written 4103 Barrington Road, baltimore. So I found in Google the house, and even a photo of it– the location is available at

      That would mean Gertrude lived on one of those homes on the side?

  5. I loved the memories of Gert Hammer! I am Alan and Harriet’s sister. I have many memories of visiting her apartment with my mom (Alyce) and grandmother (Janet). I can remember the drawers filled with water color paintings and drawings. I have the one she gave me hanging up in my house. I loved her style of painting and use of color! So nice to read the responses from her family. Gert was such a kind, friendly, talented woman. She was always so excited to see us.
    Judy Levine Griffith

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