In Memoriam | James Martin 1928 - 2020
It is with love in our hearts and the joy of having the chance to know him that we say a final farewell to our sweet friend James Martin.
Martin will be remembered not only for his characteristically free-flowing, vivid, imagery-filled paintings, but also for his wit, intellect, and off-kilter sense of humor. Martin’s ease of expression in his work was mirrored by his robust, verbose way of expressing himself. The tenderness he felt for those who impacted him was palpable, and was evident in the frequency with which he portrayed recurring characters of personal significance in his work.
Martin came from a hardworking railroad family; his grandfather Francis Martin, an engineer, died in the Wellington Train Disaster when two trains were engulfed by an avalanche. Born in 1928, Martin attended Washington Irving Elementary and James Monroe Jr. High in Edmonds, before the family moved to Ballard to be closer to the railway where his father Wilfred worked. Martin dropped out of Ballard High School during his sophomore year to work as an apprentice mechanic, but not before he met art teacher Orre Nobles, who also taught artists Richard Gilkey and Art Hansen. At Nobles’ encouragement, Martin returned to school and eventually completed his degree, going on to pursue an education at the University of Washington (UW).
Martin studied creative writing while at the University of Washington, hoping to work as a writer after graduating. When his first writing submissions were rejected, Martin turned instead to painting. Having taken 11 fine art classes while at UW, he was no stranger to artistic process or art history. He found early success with his inclusion in Seattle Art Museum’s exhibition of artists of the Northwest in 1955, and began showing with the Otto Seligman Gallery in 1958. His work drew the attention of well-known artists like Kenneth Callahan and Mark Tobey, and throughout the 1960s and 70s, Martin saw considerable success in the region.
Martin was a longtime resident of Edmonds, where he constructed his home from an assortment of found objects, playfully dubbing it “Donald Duck Ranch.” For over 35 years, he lived with his longtime love Helen Reynolds, until her death in 1995. He later found love again with Jessica Holliday, who passed away in 2019.
Martin’s career spanned over five decades, and saw him hold a myriad of roles including working as a framer for Frederick & Nelson and Pacific Picture Frame, and working for a short time at Boeing in addition to his work as an artist. Despite challenges early in his career, Martin made a name for himself as one of Seattle’s most prolific artists. He built a strong following that grew exponentially in the 1990s and 2000s, when he was painting every day and building frames for each piece. This drive allowed him to create a significant oeuvre. In 2001 the Museum of Northwest Art held a solo exhibition of his work. James Martin was a natural storyteller, drawn to the surprising, the surreal, and the playful. He never stopped drawing, working on paper plates and scraps of paper. Towards the end of his life Martin continued to find joy and interest in the characters he drew and created.
James Martin died on December 15, 2020, at home at his Donald Duck Ranch. He was 92.
To read Sheila Farr's biography of James Martin, please follow this link.
"For the past 30 plus years [...], Jim Martin was always so kind and generous. Almost made you feel guilty. Never let me pay for breakfasts at Claire’s in Edmonds or lunches at the Lockspot in Ballard. As an artist, his work embodies the joy and enthusiasm of a life well lived. Fair thee well Bro Jim. Nobody loves you like we do!"
Cort and Connie Vezzani, friends and collectors.