Today we’d like to introduce you to Martha Wakefield.
Martha, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
Since I was little I was always making things. My mom and grandmother taught me sewing and all other forms of needlework as well as all those household chores. By the time I reached high school I was making most of my clothes. Growing up in large family, my siblings and I were always building things like fairy houses in the woods and tree houses. I was pretty young when I took my first drawing class at a convent in the next town. Being the only kid sitting in an austere room drawing ugly jugs and gourds wasn’t very inspiring at that age, but I think I was too scared of the nuns to stop going. When it came time to decide on a college direction, art school was not an option as my parents wanted me to focus on a career that would support me. Luckily my high school art teacher encouraged me to consider fashion. I went to the University of Vermont in Burlington and studied clothing and textile design receiving a BS degree. My junior year I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and received an Associate of Applied Science degree in one year. After college my first job was at Movie Star Lingerie on Fifth Avenue as an assistant designer in intimate apparel. After a few years I switched to sportswear then eventually became VP of Merchandising for a national Jeanswear brand. I traveled constantly and loved working in such a creative field. And I am forever grateful for my high school art teacher’s guidance.
After 18 years in NYC and a relatively new husband we moved to the Boston area. I started my own company consulting on fashion trends, color direction and product development for other Jeanswear brands. By 1999 after passing a painting class in process on my way to my Italian class I knew where I really wanted to be. I started taking art classes and found the mentor to study with. By 2007 I left the fashion industry to pursue my art fulltime.
Initially I worked in watercolors switched to oils and finally mastered acrylics. I love pushing paint in any media and my new focus is now cold wax. Early on my work was landscape-based. I had some success with local shows and gallery interests. But there was a turning point when my mother’s health started to decline. For two years painting stopped as I cared for my mom. After that difficult loss I found a wonderful mentor in the late Jon Imber. He helped me to refocus on my work, as did finding a large studio outside the house. I share this space with artist Wendy Young
In 2009 – I sent a proposal for an article to The Palette Magazine, a quarterly publication. They liked it enough to offer me a job as staff writer. I wrote articles on working artists until 2016, ending that job when the two editors retired.
In 2013 I was an instructor at the Mother Brook Arts Center in Dedham where the former Avery school was being renovated into a new art center under the direction of Executive Director Jean Ford Webb. She asked if I would be interested in organizing a small show for the still raw space. My first curatorial experience bloomed into the inaugural show Flirt. I envisioned this exhibit as a visual feast courting member of the greater Boston community to engage in a long-term relationship with this new center. The exhibit included 14 well-known artists of Massachusetts showcasing 64 works in a variety of media. I invited artist Jeanne Williamson to join me as co-curator to assist in the marketing of the show. Opening night drew a huge crowd and Mother Brook Arts Center continues to be a thriving art center under Ford Webb’s direction and vision.
Last year I curated my second show titled Grey Matter inviting 9 artists to explore the grey scale through print, paint, photography and sculpture. This exhibit ran in August at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck in Gloucester.
In 2016 Powers Gallery of Acton, MA contacted me about representing my work. Last year Law and Water Gallery of Gloucester invited me to show there.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
My work has evolved from just paint on paper to mixed media employing many tools in mark making. And I am excited about the possibilities with cold wax medium as I think this medium allows more latitude in constructing my narratives on memory.
It was my mom’s failing health those two years that became the basis of my work. Since her passing in 2010 I continue to explore the fragility and emotional anatomy of memory.
I am intrigued by how memory has many forms from persistent vividness to fleeting passages to total loss. Memory has no physicality: we cannot hold it in our hands yet we carry it with us. It has no weight yet can weigh us down. We may bury it deep inside until a scent or voice or place conjures its power to rise. Memory changes with each recall becoming altered narratives. Through paint I explore its power and mysterious fragility.
My process starts with disorder eventually finding order. I scribble graffiti-like marks as if journaling by symbols. This is followed by layering, building and then scraping and sanding the surface to reveal moments, strange journeys of the mark and the history of work. I am working on a new series called memory vessels as they contain these ethereal fragments.
I’ve been a photographer most of my life too as the designated historian of a childhood in Maine with five other siblings. Now I shoot with a Nikon D80 and my iPhone camera. I post some of my work on Instagram. Besides exploring memory through paint, I am adding photography into the conversation. Nature draws me in. My goal is to illuminate the intimate treasures of the landscape – journey beyond the tall trees and take time to see with what’s right at my feet–vessels created by nature.
Recently while an artist in residency I worked on a series of diptychs pairing paintings of memory vessels with photography of the surrounding landscape holding fragments of its past. These pairings engage in a conversation on the intangibles of emotion and experience.
My studio time also consist of a daily practice. This practice is warm-up paintings I do when I first arrive. I started this ritual at a residency in 2012. The practice continues to evolve from large-scale paint pouring to now using the Strathmore Sketchbook 500 series. It is an active form of meditation allowing me to get centered in the space, play and use the many tools cluttering my worktable. Some days it’s the only thing I get done but at least I’ve fed my spirit with some mark-making. And at the end of the month I have a book of experimental paintings.
The sterotype of a starving artist scares away many potentially talented artists from pursuing art – any advice or thoughts about how to deal with the financial concerns an aspiring artist might be concerned about?
There are many challenges facing artists today as well as many more platforms to promote their work. Think about multiple streams to get paid one’s art or expertise and/or promote one’s work: teaching, blogging, social media, YouTube videos and galleries, etsy, online galleries, local art organizations, alumni events, college galleries, open studio, house party, licensing, meet-ups/networking, pop up shows. alternative spaces, interior designers, kickstarter campaigns, mentoring etc. Also find a small supportive group of peers to help get through those challenging times.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
My work is at Powers Gallery in Acton, MA, www.powersgallery.com. Please visit my website marthawakefield.com or arrange a studio visit
- Address: Martha Wakefield
- Website: http://www.marthawakefield.com
- Phone: 617-513-3515
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: instagram.com/mmwakefield
- Twitter: twitter.com/mwakefieldart
- Other: marthawakefield.blogspot.com
Martha Wakefield & Pip Shepley