I created Featured Art Tuesday Artist Spotlight, to showcase inspiring Artists and to provide a forum for all Artists to share their work with one another -- this includes every type of medium, sculpture, cooking, beading, watercolour, restoring vintage cars, pen and ink, oils, gardening, interior decorating, photography and crafts, including drama, writing and poetry.
The list goes on and on.
Each one of us is creative in one way, or another -- FATuesday Artist Spotlight celebrates the creativity found in every person.
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I am out of time with all that must be done for a trip I will be taking this week. FATuesday Artist Spotlight takes many hours of work each week. So today, I am featuring one of my favorite artists once again--our beloved Great Aunt Martina Gangle Curl.
Great Aunt Martina was a delight. I can still hear her laughter and the sound of her voice in my mind. It was obvious she deeply loved her family. I remember her worn, yet beautiful face, the way her eyes would twinkle when she smiled beneath the ever-present scarf she wore over her hair. She was always kind to me and gently encouraged me to draw.
Above you see Aunt Martina in 1975, at a "sit in" protesting Portland General Electric. She would have LOVED today's Occupy Wallstreet movement! She would have been in the thick of it all.
This is the wonderful face I remember. She had a tender and truly noble heart. Like so many of today's young people, she was passionate about the equality of all peoples and caring for the poor and disadvantaged. When she was in her early 80's she was arrested for picketing the White House in Washington DC! I remember seeing her face on television. Though she and I did not always agree, I admired her stand for what she believed.
Aunt Martina was one of 200 artists employed by Federal Arts Project, the New Deal’s ambitious effort to support visual artists, writers, and dramatists under the auspices of the massive Works Progress Administration (WPA). These artists provided murals, paintings, watercolors, and wood carvings for Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. She and fellow artist Arthur Runquist created a great mural for Rose City Park Elementary School in Portland. It is called The Columbia River Pioneer Migration – The Homesteaders. Her artwork hangs in the Oregon Art Museum and she is considered to be one of Oregon's most important historical artists.
Her artwork was born from the terrible Great Depression. She was one of seven children who lived in desperate circumstances. Their father had gone to look for gold during the Alaskan gold rush and was never heard from again. Life was incredibly hard. Their mother provided food for the family, working as a domestic – washing clothes, sewing, or doing farm chores. The family often followed the harvest as workers in the fields.
When Aunt Martina was in her mid-20's, she attended the Museum Art School in Portland. Unlike most artists of the time, her etchings, lino cuts, and lithographs of the mid-thirties often portrayed women and children fruit harvesters and other working people.
She once speculated how different things would have been if she had gone directly from high school to attend art school. “I would have had seven, or eight years of ignorance of what was happening in the country,” she reflected. “I would no doubt have painted flowers and landscapes instead of poor families and people running from violence, homeless people sleeping on benches, etc.” These powerful images from her early life experiences filled her thoughts and deeply influenced her artwork. Her mentors, she once mused, “didn’t realize what life had already done to my thinking.”
She and fellow artist Arthur Runquist, were blacklisted during the Cold War because of their political views. She wrote. “Thugs beat Arthur up. They injured his hand so badly doctors thought they would have to amputate. Luckily, his hand was saved." He and Martina were working on the Pendleton murals at the time.
Last year, when my sweet Sis Clytie called to say she had found an original painting by our Great Aunt Martina, I was in awe. The above painting was found in a box of our Grandmother's papers--which would have been destroyed that very day. Through her artwork, Aunt Martina succeeded in dramatizing the beauty and aesthetic diversity to be found in the everyday settings of people living throughout the Pacific Northwest in those hard years.
She was not only a gifted artist, but was a wonderful person who deeply loved her family. Once at a family reunion, I was sketching a rough picture of something which had caught my fancy. I remember feeling a hand on my hair, looking up to see Aunt Martina smiling down at me, nodding her approval.
I wish I would have known then, how much she loved art--I would have asked her about her life and how she saw the world--about what it was like growing up in the Depression. I wish I could tell her how proud I am to be her great niece and how much I treasure those moments when she would lean over my drawings with a smile and an encouraging word. I wish I could tell her what an inspiration she's been to me over the past few years.
You can find restrikes of fourteen works of art by Aunt Martina for sale, at The Pathways Collection. To read more about Martina Gangle Curl's fascinating life, visit The Oregon Encyclopedia and the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission.
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