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Fletcher Martin was a self-taught artist acclaimed for his dynamic and carefully composed social realist works, including images of laborers and athletes. Though he worked in the realm of representational painting, his style was tempered by the expressionist qualities of modern art. Born in Palisade, Colorado in 1904, he was the son of a newspaper editor who moved the family frequently. He worked at Western Show Print beginning at age thirteen, producing outdoor posters and picking up on concepts of graphic design. Several years later he left home to become a hobo, and traveled widely after joining the Navy in 1922.


In 1931 Martin began attending evening lectures at the Stickney School of Art in Los Angeles. Deeply committed to his independent studies, he immersed himself in the work of Italian Renaissance painters, as well as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Edgar Degas. Martin befriended Japanese artist Tsuguharu Foujita, and worked alongside Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros on a Los Angeles mural project. He then traveled to Katonah and Woodstock, New York, in 1932 and became acquainted with Alexander Brook, Louis Bouche, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Peggy Bacon, and Niles Spencer. 

Martin exhibited at various galleries in California, and drew great acclaim for works shown at the Los Angeles County Museum. He spent several years teaching at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, before the success of his 1940 showing at the Midtown Galleries drew him back east. He became the artist-in-residence at the University of Iowa in 1940, succeeding Grant Wood, and later taught at the Art Students League. He was honored with the Walter Lippincott Prize for figure painting from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and earned the 1955 Gold Medal from the New York Art Directors Club. After receiving the Altman Prize of the National Academy of Design in 1949, he became a full Academician in 1973.


Martin undertook numerous documentary projects, beginning with images of American activities in North Africa during World War II for Life magazine. He later received the Merit Award from the Art Directors Club of Chicago for his work documenting health conditions among Native Americans on reservations across the United States. Before his death in 1979 Martin documented space shuttle launches for NASA, and assumed various academic positions, ultimately becoming a Professor of Drawing at the University of Bridgeport. 


Written by Zenobia Grant Wingate