In the early days of the 20th century, in the tiny town in Cuero, Texas, a young girl read a book called "Religion of the Far East." That book, filled with pictures of exotic people and places and stories of peculiar ceremonies would so profoundly influence the young girl that she decided to one day go experience those fascinating lands for herself.
That young Texan girl was named Martha Sawyers and before she was done she had drawn and painted her way through "Paris, Bali, Penang, Singapore, Sumatra, Java, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Peiping," according to her article in Forty Illustrators and How They Work.
When she and illustrator husband, William Ruesswig, returned to America in 1937, Sawyers had a show of her artworks at the Marie Sterner Galleries. Collier's magazine art editor, Bill Chessman happened to see her exhibition and (as luck would have it) was in need of an illustrator with a solid understanding of Asian cultures.
And so, without planning, Martha Sawyers became "an illustrator of Asiatic lore" - called upon by major clients of all sorts who required an artist who could handle the depiction of other races and cultures with passion and sensitivity.
Last week I launched a new blog called Female Illustrators of the Mid-20th Century. At the time, I didn't realize that today was International Women's Day. I thought this would be the perfect day to begin a week-long look at this remarkable woman, described as follows in the catalogue that accompanied one long-ago show of her pastel drawings:
"Martha Sawyers came out of the heart of Texas... she brings us a bright picture of the other side of the earth, unbelievable peoples and places."
"Only a great love for these could have exacted the hundreds of paintings asiatic-oriental. Hard work that perfected a technique and color brilliant and authentic."
* My Martha Sawyers Flickr set.