The Pelham Historical Society has established the Ruth Sherburne Sturrus Art Gallery to provide local Pelham Artists with a venue to display their artistic creations. The Gallery will display the Society’s permanent collection of paintings and provide an opportunity for the temporary display of paintings loaned to the Society by local artists for the occasion.
Ruth Evelyn Sherburne was born on January 6, 1919 and shortly thereafter was adopted by Ernest G. Sherburne and Mary (May) Hillman Sherburne. She received her grade school education in the one room Gumpus School House and graduated from Nashua High School and the University of New Hampshire. During World War II she served as a uniformed field unit member of the American Red Cross in Europe. Red Cross Field Unit members lived in tents and provided a great variety services to the American troops during their march from the beaches of Normandy to the outskirts of Berlin.
Newspaper articles, quoting letters to her parents, detailed the hardships endured and the care provided to the American Soldiers by the American Red Cross volunteers. The American Red Cross Field Units were never more than a couple of miles from the advancing battle lines. These newspaper clippings are part of the Pelham Historical Society’s special documents collection.
Ruth’s father, Ernest Gardner Sherburne was born on January 16, 1885 on the farm purchased by his ancestor, James Sherburne. James and his family came to Pelham from Portsmouth in the winter of 1751. Ernest was a direct descendent of three of Pelham’s first four permanent settlers, Edward Wyman, William Richardson and John Butler. He attended a nearby Tyngsboro Grammar School and Lowell High School. He graduated from Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts and the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire.
He was a farmer and craftsman, who dedicated his life to improving the Pelham Schools and the educational opportunities that they provided to Pelham students. While a member of the Pelham School Board, he participated in the planning process that led to the consolidation of Pelham’s five one room school houses into one single school to be located in Pelham Center. In contrast to the one room schools, the new school was to have a furnace, running water and inside toilets. Ernest died in 1948, while the Pelham Junior High School was being remodeled and greatly expanded to become a thoroughly modern eight grade grammar school. At a dedication ceremony organized by Edward F. Hayes, who had been appointed to finish Ernest G. Sherburne’s term on the Pelham School Board, the new school was officially named the E. G. Sherburne Grammar School.
Ruth’s mother, Mary “May” Semple Hillman was born on April 6, 1888, the daughter of Frank H. Hillman and Alice M. Greeley. The Hillman Family owned the Hillman Sawmill, the Hillman Cider Mill and the Hillman Carriage Shop, which manufactured heavy duty horse drawn farm wagons. May studied to become a teacher and began her teaching career at the one room Gumpus School in 1911. Her teaching career was cut short when she contracted typhoid fever. In a short autobiography she wrote that during her period of convalescence “Ernest began trying to console me and I ended up here on the hill.” They were married on August 22, 1914.
During her lifetime May held the position of Lecturer (program director) of the Pelham Grange and was the head of the women’s auxiliary of the Farm Bureau Organization. She was a 4-H Leader and served as Clerk of the Congregational Church and as President of the Ladies Aid Society of the Pelham Congregational Church. She also served as a Trustee of the Pelham Public Library and as a Library Assistant to Aunt Molly Hobbs, Pelham’s librarian from 1892 to 1955.
May Sherburne is best known as one of Pelham’s leading artists. At age twelve she drew a pen and ink map of the entire town of Pelham accurately locating by name every street, residence, farm and public building. In addition to pen and ink, she created oil and water paintings. Her paintings were done on paper, canvas and textiles. By her own count she completed more than 125 paintings which she either sold or gave to friends.
In her brief autobiography, May wrote “I taught art at the Sherburne School for five years and loved it. I was allowed to teach even beyond the retirement age. Then I had art classes here at the house-some in oil and textile in the evenings for older people and on Saturday mornings for the children. Of course painting has been my chief interest and joy.” May Sherburne died on May 10, 1975 at the age of 90 years.
The Pelham Historical Society, through the creation of the Ruth Sherburne Sturrus Art Gallery, is pleased to acknowledge the many contributions of May and Ernest Sherburne to the Town of Pelham. The Society is equally pleased to acknowledge Ruth Sherburne Sturrus’ personal contribution to the American war effort during World War II and her subsequent substantial financial contributions to the Pelham Historical Society.
The Ruth Sherburne Sturrus Art Gallery has about a dozen May Sherburne paintings on display, including an oil portrait of Ruth.
The Society is actively soliciting additional paintings by May Sherburne and other local artists. If you have a May Sherburne painting, or other work of art created by a Pelham Artist, or if you are a local artist, and would like to make a donation to the Pelham Historical Society Art Gallery, please contact us by clicking here.
A small plaque recognizing your donation of the artwork to the Pelham Historical Society Art Gallery will be placed under each donated piece of art.