Information on portrait’s origins surfaces

Jul. 04, 2014 @ 05:37 PM

New information has come to light about the portraits of the Perry family hanging in Henderson’s library.

In a story last August, The Dispatch reported a portrait of H. Leslie Perry as a child was painted by his mother probably in the 1920s, perhaps after his untimely death in 1923 at the age of 36.

A photograph of the young Perry in the same pose as in the painting suggested that it served as the model for the painting.

But a recent discovery by Annice Cannady, fittingly in a microfilm document stored in the library, indicates otherwise.

Cannady found an article about the portrait in the Henderson Golden Leaf newspaper dated Oct. 10, 1895, indicating the portrait existed at that time.

The article reads in part: “It was our pleasure yesterday to see an exquisite work of art by one of our townsladies. It was an oil painting of Master Leslie Perry, son of Colonel and Mrs. Henry Perry, executed by his mother. ... We have not seen a better executed or more artistic piece of work of the kind. The likeness is perfect, the background appropriate, the colorings happily blended, the whole pleasing to an artist’s eye. The portrait is full length, with gun in one hand and a few sprigs of flowers in the other. ... Master Leslie looks out from the canvas life-like and natural and appears in a remarkable degree the beautiful boy that he is. Mrs. Perry is a natural artist, as deft and accurate with the brush as she is original and delicate in taste.”

Leslie Perry would have been 8 years old when the article appeared in 1895. He appears somewhat younger in the portrait, suggesting that it might have been painted a few years before the Golden Leaf article.

Today it hangs between portraits of his parents. All three paintings were restored last year through the efforts of the library staff and funding provided by the Vance County Historical Society and Friends of the Library. A portrait of H. Leslie Perry as an adult hangs nearby.

Cannady, a longtime member of First Baptist Church, was reviewing microfilms of old newspapers to document events in the history of the church when she discovered the article. However, she credits North Carolina Room Historian Mark Pace for recognizing its significance.

After Leslie Perry’s death, his parents and widow, Flora McKinnon Perry, established the H. Leslie Perry Memorial Library. It opened at 121 Young St. on Sept. 1 of 1924. In 1986, the library moved to the building on Rose Avenue now occupied by City Hall. In 2006, the library moved to its present location at 205 Breckenridge St.

To acknowledge the role of the entire family in its creation, the library is now called Perry Memorial Library.

And the boy — Leslie Perry, with toy gun in hand — surveys library patrons as they come and go in the memorial that bears his family’s name.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.