July 3, 2011

Cover boy

The whimsy of Monhegan artist Charles Martin, long a go-to illustrator for The New Yorker, is on display in a new exhibition.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Charles Martin

Courtesy photo

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Charles Martin in his studio on Monhegan Island, date unknown.

Courtesy photo

Additional Photos Below



WHEN: Through July 30. Reception, 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Greenhut Galleries, 146 Middle St., Portland

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday


INFO: 772-2693; greenhutgalleries.com

MONHEGAN — Charles Martin was born in poverty, and by age 14 had taken a factory job to help support his family.

He was a tough son-of-a-gun, skilled as a boxer and amenable to manual labor. He did what he had to do to get by, and that sometimes meant surviving on the skills and guile of an artist.

As a teenager, Martin drew posters for local movie theaters in and around Boston for extra cash. Later, he followed the summer crowds, and hawked his drawings and portraits to tourists when they disembarked at the docks of Provincetown and other touristy destinations from Boston to New York.

Even after Martin carved out a distinguished career as an illustrator for The New Yorker magazine, he never wrapped his head around the idea that he had become a successful artist.

"It was difficult for him to think of himself as an artist," said his son Jared Martin, seated in the living room of a simple house on Monhegan Island that Charles and his wife, Florence, purchased in 1960. "That 'artist' question bedeviled him his whole life.

"He wanted to be a real artist, a fine artist. But unlike some of the other fine artists who went to art school and thought of themselves as an artist, Charlie thought of himself the other way. 'I'm a street artist, and a boxer.' He never saw himself as an artist. Never."

Martin retired to Maine, and spent half the year on Monhegan. In the late 1980s, he and Florence bought a place in Portland and gave up their life in New York. In 1995, he died at age 85 in a Portland retirement home. His widow died in 2009.

Martin's ashes are buried on Monhegan, in a cemetery that lies on a sloping hill below the Monhegan Museum.

Before he died, and certainly in the years since, the rest of the world caught up with Martin. Even if he never saw himself as an artist, his legacy is firmly established. The Portland Museum of Art featured his work in 1990, and an obituary in The New York Times noted his success as an artist and illustrator.

This month, Greenhut Galleries in Portland shows several of the original illustrations that Martin did for The New Yorker. In all, he illustrated 187 covers for the publication, and contributed many more illustrations for use inside the magazine, as well as cartoons. He was known for the initials that he used to sign his work: C.E.M.

Many of his covers for The New Yorker include Maine scenes, including those from Monhegan.

"This is a view that Charlie did 8,000 times," his son said, standing on the front porch of the yellow clapboard house, which on this day is trimmed by brilliant blue lupines and lilies preparing to bloom. The view is of the island meadow, looking out past the main dirt road that leads from the dock. The top of Manana Island on the backside of the harbor is visible from the porch.


Martin ended up on Monhegan by chance. "He saw a sign that said, 'Boat to an island,' and he said, 'Let's go there,' " his son said.

He got off the boat and ran into an artist friend from New York. They had worked together as Works Progress Administration artists in the 1930s.

Martin felt immediately comfortable on the island. He knew a few people, met many more and made quick friends, and fell easily into the island life. He came for the first time in 1954, and purchased the house in 1960. Thereafter, Martin and his wife spent most of May to October on the island.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Some of Martin’s brushes, photographed in the late artist’s studio. Greenhut Galleries owner Peg Golden is displaying the brushes and other items along with The New Yorker covers.

Bob Keyes/Staff Writer

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“Wall Street” by Charles Martin

Courtesy photo

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"Seagull" by Charles Martin

Courtesy photo

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