Who was Annie Hooper?

A sign to guide visitors

Annie Miller was born in 1897 in the easternmost town of North Carolina. She grew up with 12 siblings and 14 foster children. The Methodist church was the centre of their community life. She married John Hooper, a commercial fisherman, and had one child, Edgar.

Life in remote Stumpy Point, NC was quiet and predicable until America entered the Second World War. Most of the men left to join the war effort; her husband went to work further north at the shipyards in Norfolk and Edgar was sent to the South Pacific. Annie buckled under the stress of the war and her life became lonely and unbearable. Not wanting to be alone, she joined her husband up north and opened a boarding house.

After the war, Annie hoped that life would return to the status quo – John and she would return to Stumpy Point, and Edgar would return to their family home. But that was not to be. Edgar stayed in the Philippines for a year after the war, and Annie’s health deteriorated. Edgar returned when he was 30 years old, and had a different vision for his life. He lived for a short while in his parents’ house, but soon married and moved away. He was then stricken with lung problems and was sent to the mountains for a year of convalescence.

This second and prolonged absence from Edgar triggered Annie’s breakdown, followed by a deep depression. She stayed with her twin sister (Mamie) in Raleigh, North Carolina, for four months while she received medical treatment. (One can only speculate what treatment she received in the late 1940s.) Sister Mamie worked as a teacher at the prison in Raleigh and tended to the spiritual needs of the prisoners on death row. Annie saw how the prisoners took comfort in religion, with the saints, with the biblical heroes. When Annie returned home, she studied an illustrated Bible while she was resting. One day, she modelled a piece of driftwood into Moses on Mount Nebo looking over the River Jordan into the Promised Land of Canaan, the first of her Biblical “symbols”. She soon spent all her free time creating Biblical stories from clay, driftwood, paint, and cement. The Creator, she said, could be found in everything, and she could discern figures and faces in objects from nature – driftwood, clouds, roots, and twigs.

Annie believed that God guided her to create her works, but her creations had particular meaning in her own psyche. She chose to depict scenes that represented traumatic events her own emotional life – loneliness, fear of loss, separation from home and family.

As the community became aware of her work, she led visitors through her home, narrating the scenes as they followed her though a maze of statues. In 1978, John suffered a stroke, and her work came to a halt. She could no longer guide people through the sculptural scenes in her home, so she set up hundreds of signs with instructive messages. She died in 1986, leaving unfinished statues in her workshop – 47 grieving Hebrew mothers.

This biography is a summary of Roger Manley’s manuscript, “A Blessing From the Source: The Annie Hooper Bequest,” published in conjunction with an exhibit at the North Carolina State University in 1988. Roger was privileged to meet Annie Hooper in 1970 when he was 18 and she was 73 and to marvel at her life’s work in its original setting.