The Artistry of the Sherman Family

When you hear the name “Sherman” you probably envision war, the “March to the Sea,” the Union, the Sherman House Museum, or even the City of Lancaster. However, there is another word that could be associated with the famous last name: artist. That’s right, one of the greatest generals in American history drew more than just battle plans and it seems that he received his talents from his mother, Mary Hoyt.

Mary Hoyt, who was born in 1787, was an educated woman at a time when the education of women was not a priority. When she was young, schools were scarce, private, and very expensive. Girls were seldom given the opportunity for a formal education. Luckily for Mary, her parents believed that both boys and girls should be educated and she was sent to the Harlem Female Seminary in her hometown of Norwalk, Connecticut.

Following that, she was sent to Poughkeepsie, New York and attended Sketchley Finishing School where she was taught the usual academic subjects as well as music, dance, and fine embroidery. Embroidery was something that Mary excelled at. As a teenager, she embroidered a beautiful and somber image dedicated to the memory of her two sisters who passed away. It was stitched on silk fabric with silk thread and might have been a way to deal with her grief (a strategy that would be used by subsequent generations of the Sherman family).

At Sketchley Finishing School, Mary would once again show off her artistic ability and create another silk embroidery piece. This one was of a woman standing next to a tree. It is believed by some to be a self-portrait. If that is the case, it is the only image that we have of Mary Hoyt. Although, there are photos that people claim to be of her, there are no verified images of Mary. Her son, William, appeared to have inherited her artistic abilities.

Although William Sherman will forever be remembered as a great general, he had many other layers to his personality. One of those layers was his artistic talent. As a student at West Point, William excelled in the classroom. He finished 6th in his graduating class, although he would have finished 4th if not for his accumulation of demerits. He was 7th in engineering, 8th in artillery, and 4th in mineralogy in geology.

The Dying Centaur, a drawing made by General William Tecumseh Sherman when he was at West Point.

The Dying Centaur, a drawing made by General William Tecumseh Sherman when he was at West Point.

In drawing however, William was at the top of his class. He drew an incredible picture titled, “The Dying Centaur,” which is still displayed at West Point. Following his graduation, he would continue to use his artistic ability, even during the Civil War.

During the war, William would go for long stretches separated from his family. However, on a rare occasion, his wife and children were able to visit him while he was stationed at Vicksburg. While at the camp, one of his daughters became anxious. Just as his mother had, William would use art as a strategy to deal with emotions.

Woodpecker drawing by General William Tecumseh Sherman - on display at The Sherman House Museum in Lancaster, Ohio.

Woodpecker drawing by General William Tecumseh Sherman – on display at The Sherman House Museum in Lancaster, Ohio.

As a way to calm his daughter, he drew several sketches of the surroundings for her to keep. The sketches included a ship, a fort, a tent, and other scenery. Although done in a camp under circumstances that would not be considered ideal for artwork, you can see the talent that William had. The drawings are nicely detailed and show someone who understands perspective and scale. It’s obvious that he enjoyed art and he would pass that ability on to his daughters.

Two of his daughters showed the same penchant for art that their father and grandmother had. One of his daughters, Marie, would also use the same strategy of using art to deal with emotions. After losing two of her daughters, a 2-year old and an infant, William suggested that she use art to help her cope with her losses. What she created was an impressive fireplace screen with sewn-on flowers and plants. Another daughter showed the same talent for embroidery that her grandmother and sister had. She made a bell pull that had flowers on a vine similar to the style that her sister created.

Art might not be the first thing you think of when the Sherman family is mentioned, but it certainly played a major role in their lives. Whether it was being used as a way to deal with something going on in their lives, as a school assignment, or simply for leisure, the Sherman family certainly proved that they were talented artists.

You can view a lot of the Sherman art pieces at the Sherman House Museum at 137 E. Main Street in Lancaster, Ohio. The museum has both of Mary’s needlework pieces, a copy of William’s “The Dying Centaur” drawing, and his daughter’s fireplace screen and bell pull.

Also, during this year’s ArtWalk, copies of William’s sketches that he drew for his daughter will be on display at the museum. The sketches have been in the possession of Notre Dame’s archival department. Recently, they made prints for the museum to keep and display. They will be unveiled for the first time during the ArtWalk and then put on display permanently.

The ArtWalk takes place this Friday, July 21st from 6:00 – 9:00 pm. Stop by and see the artwork of Lancaster’s most famous son!

If you enjoyed this story, read more from Michael Johnson by becoming a supporting member of the Fairfield County Heritage Association. He authors the Association’s quarterly publication which includes stories like this one.

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Filed under: Books, Arts & Music, Histories & Mysteries, Life, News, People
Michael R. Johnson, marketing director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association based in Lancaster, Ohio.

By Michael Johnson

Lancaster native Michael Johnson is the Marketing Director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association and serves as editor of the Heritage Quarterly – a magazine highlighting local history. Michael is a member of the Sherman Rotary and the Lancaster Fairfield Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee. His bachelor’s degree in history education was earned at Ohio University. Michael is married to Tara Johnson and has two children, Isaac and Mia.