Vernon Geyer, who taught himself tennis and had his sculptures displayed in museums, passes away a day after celebrating his 80th birthday.
DANVILLE, Va. — Those who knew Vernon Geyer often described him as a renaissance man.
An accomplished artist, geologist and farmer, Geyer died Sunday — a day after celebrating his 80th birthday among his closest friends.
A native of Chatham, Geyer served in the U. S. Army in the South Pacific during World War II, and later attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating in 1949. He worked as a geologist, consulting for companies in many countries.
Geyer bought land in Markham while he was living in North Carolina. The land became his love, and he saved money to gradually clear the land as he could afford it. It soon became Banister Bend Farm, where Geyer raised cows and began an annual dove hunt.
"He had an artist's vision in everything he did," said his wife, Anne Geyer. "When he was clearing the land, he was uncovering the beauty. He loved his farm."
Many people have seen the sculptures Geyer created. A beautiful mermaid perched at the side of a fountain can be seen in several locations throughout Danville and Chatham, and he made busts of many prominent people. He also sculpted children and animals. Even the gargoyles he fashioned had an undeniable beauty about them.
While Geyer showed an early talent as an artist, he didn't pursue sculpting until he retired.
"When I was 8 or 9 I took an art class at Chatham Hall," Geyer said in an October 200 interview. "It wasn't a very macho thing to do and the boys would rib me that my muscles were sagging and here I was painting like a girl. I didn't take art for very long, but I guess I was pretty good. Anyway, my mother still has some of my drawings."
Geyer couldn't get very far from his love of art. While fighting in World War II with the 475th Antiaircraft Artillery Unit in the Pacific, he carved and painted ducks out of Philippine mahogany.
Earlene King, a Winston-Salem artist, was instrumental in Geyer's interest in sculpting. When he decided to sculpt mermaids, he went with King to Florence, Italy, to study.
Geyer always was interested in what others were doing. He enjoyed sculpting, but was just as interesting in helping someone else with their art. He would often invite aspiring artists into his Westmoreland Court home, giving them tips or allowing them to watch his sculpting.
When Geyer decided to do something, he went at it full-force. He once said he could do nothing in moderation.
He decided he wanted to learn to play tennis when he was 47. He built a tennis court and bought a tennis ball machine that shot balls at him. He became a contender on the tennis courts, rivaling many members of the Stratford Tennis Club.
Geyer said when he decided he wanted to sculpt, he went at it full-force until he mastered the art.
His work can be seen at the Womack Museum, the Danville Museum of Fine Arts, the Stratford Inn, Eldon, and in many private homes and gardens.
A funeral for Geyer is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Chatham.