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

(Continued from page 1)

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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

Jared Martin remembers coming here as a kid, and how happy his parents were to be here. They never locked their doors, and it seemed they hadn't a care in the world when they were on the island.

"He got to hang out and rub shoulders with real fishermen," Jared said. "He liked that a lot. He would say, 'These guys are tough. And the women are tougher.' "

In the very early years, Martin came to Monhegan to get away. He told his editors back in New York that they might not hear from him for a few months.

Later, as the family fell into a routine that centered around their island house, Martin began sending illustrations back to New York that included Maine scenes. One of the most famous, from August 1960, humorously shows a seagull perched on a piling with a group of easel-bound artists eagerly painting away. With that piece, Martin captured the crazy Sunday-painters scene that has evolved on the island.

Monhegan changed his father's art, Jared said. "He came up here and his stuff was lighter, more pastel-ey. It seemed to open him up."

During his time in Maine, he also illustrated several children's books, and wrote one himself called "Island Winter" in 1984.

In addition to The New Yorker, Martin's illustrations appeared in Harper's, The Saturday Evening Post, The Saturday Review, Punch and Esquire. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Library of Congress are among the institutions that include his work in their permanent collections.

Greenhut is showing about 15 covers, said gallery owner Peg Golden. During a recent island visit, Golden also packed up a number of items from Martin's studio out back, including brushes, a palette of dried ink, an original cover and a few other items. She is displaying those items along with the original artwork.

A video about Martin's life, made by his son, is also showing in the gallery. (Jared Martin enjoyed a long career in Hollywood, appearing on the TV show "Dallas" throughout its run, and later working as a director.)

Golden called the opportunity to show Martin's work "too good to pass up. As a New Yorker myself, I think his covers have always resonated with me. Until I met Jared, I didn't know anything about his life. I didn't know that he lived in Portland. The more I learned, the more attracted I was to his personality."

She calls Martin's style of painting "inviting, colorful and nostalgic. You sort of want to become part of them."


The covers themselves were stand-alone pieces of art. They didn't necessarily refer to content within the magazine, so Martin had total freedom to create. He did his first cover for The New Yorker in 1938, then hit a drought. His next came in 1947, and then a flurry of them through 1985.

During World War II, Martin worked with the Office of War Information as the head of a mobile leaflet unit in North Africa, Italy and France. He edited and illustrated pamphlets and newspapers that were air-dropped behind enemy lines. He also stuffed leaflets into artillery shells, which later were fired at the enemy. If a German came back waving a leaflet, U.S. troops were instructed not to fire.

Jared Martin looks back at his father's life with a sense of wonder. He lived in very different times than today, and experienced things that most of us can't imagine, he said.

For a man who spent most of his years chasing the elusive life of an artist, it's fitting that he came closest to realizing his desired life in Maine, and specifically on Monhegan. On this island, where the likes of Rockwell Kent, James Fitzgerald and countless others found their creative voices, so too did Martin.

He came up here to get away from the madness of New York, and here he found his stride. It's not coincidental that Martin's most successful run with The New Yorker came during the years that he spent most of his time on the island, his son noted. Monhegan has a way of rubbing off on artists.

"He came up here and produced like gangbusters," Jared said.

Martin's studio is still largely untouched since his death, and reminders of his life and his work are prevalent. His brushes stand in a jar, his easel off in a corner. A dusty old suitcase with a tag marked "Martin" sits over on the side. Nautical charts that he liked for their design are tacked to a wall.

All are remnants of the life of an artist, well lived.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:


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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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