Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Fletcher Martin: Self-Taught Teacher

With Fletcher Martin's discharge from the Navy in San Francisco in 1926 the young man's growth, personally, artistically, and intellectually began in earnest. He married, found employment in a printshop where his boss recognized and nurtured his artistry, began voraciously reading books on science, mathematics, philosophy, sociology and literature and sought out art and artists so he might learn from experience what he had never had for lack of formal schooling.

Along the way he began winning important art competitions and receiving one-man shows. With his reputation as an important emerging artist coming to the attention of the Federal Arts Project, Martin received a commission to paint a mural in the auditorium of the North Hollywood High School (above). It was immediately acclaimed by both professional critics and the public and resulted in further mural commissions that took him from California to Texas to Idaho.

Along the way, Martin, who had never attended a professional art school, began teaching drawing classes at the Art Center School in L.A. and, in 1940, after a successful first one man show in New York City and the accompanying critical acclaim, Martin was offered the chance to replace Grant Wood as the artist-in-residence at the University of Iowa and then, a year later, he replaced Thomas Hart Benton at the Kansas City Art Institute.

In spite of the many teaching situations Martin found himself in over the course of his career, he always doubted the value of a formalized art education. Martin believed that his role as a teacher was to ensure that his students enthusiasm for teaching themselves was always maintained.

"It takes a certain natural skill, a creative attitude toward life and a profound, unswerving interest to become an artist. The rewards," said Martin, "are abundant but rarely material."

In 1943 Fletcher Martin had achieved a level of recognition that brought him to the attention of the editors of Life magazine. Along with several others, he was asked to travel overseas and document America's war effort. His first assignment took him to North Africa to Tunisia where his earlier experiences as an enlisted man in the Navy served him well. Martin executed over two hundred sketches like the one below, developing several into finished paintings (as can be seen in the two examples above).

After a brief return to the United States, Martin accepted a second assignment, this time to London, where he witnessed the horrific fighting in northern France and the destruction caused by the V-2 rocket bombardment of London. The high-profile exposure Martin's work received in the 1943 Christmas issue of Life (13 colour pages plus the cover) meant that millions of Americans now knew who Fletcher Martin was.

In that sense, Martin had bridged the divide between fine and commercial art.

* From the book "Fletcher Martin" © 1977 Harry N. Abrams Inc.

* All of today's images can be seen at full size in my Fletcher Martin Flickr set.


  1. I've been looking online for a copy of the Martin book... I want to see more of his stuff. I really love his work!@

  2. I hope you manage to find it, pulphope - its a spectacular volume with over 200 images of which approx 50 are in colour. Good luck! :-)

  3. Steven Stern, has several paintings for sale by Fletcher Martin.