1904 – 1979
Best known for his commercial illustrations, Fletcher Martin was a self taught artist whose talent was so universally recognized that, despite no academic degree, he spent a large portion of his life as a visiting or temporary instructor in art schools, colleges, and universities.
He was born in Palisade, Colorado into a family that moved frequently to small towns throughout the West. As a result, his formal education was rather erratic. His opportunities for seeing art were limited to movie and circus posters as well as the work of amateur painters.
At the age of twelve, he began working in a small printing company, continuing this work while he attended school. Martin finally dropped out of high school and tried to earn a living in various occupations including lumberjack and professional boxer. While in the larger city of Seattle, he worked for Western Show Print, a company that made large, gaudy outdoor posters.
In 1922 he enlisted in the Navy and, on discharge, settled in Los Angeles, again working for a printing company. It was during this time that he met the Mexican artist David Siqueiros and assisted him with a large mural. This experience was valuable as later he was commissioned to do murals himself for post offices in Idaho, Texas, and California.
Fletcher Martin must have done a lot of drawing during the years he spent in non – art related employment for his skills, particularly in figure drawing, were significant. Also, he seems to have absorbed the best of what he saw from commercial printing work and developed a strong design sense. His first public recognition came in 1935 when he won a prize awarded by the Los Angeles Museum.
After this, he began teaching art, first in California and for the next thirty years at art schools, colleges, and universities across the country. Because of his own background, he thought the ability to do art was an inborn gift; but felt his contribution to students was to motivate them to apply their talent.
Fletcher Martin’s work is in The Metropolitan Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Library of Congress, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, LA Museum of Art, Cranbrook Museum, and Denver Museum among many others. His work is also represented in many corporate art collections. His magazine illustration work was prolific and even reproductions are highly collectible.
His favorite subjects seem to be scenes of western life and sporting events.
“Dead Cowboys’ Bar”
graphite drawing on Bristol type paper
image size 8 ½ “ x 16”
This appears to be a working drawing, possibly preliminary to a painting or maybe an exercise for the artist’s own benefit and enjoyment. It is lively and expresses a sense of humor.
It was purchased at an estate sale in Claremont, Ca. The backing paper on the frame had the name “Fletcher” on it. Since Fletcher Martin did live in Claremont, Ca. and taught at Claremont College and since the angular figural style and the subject matter are indicative of his work, I think this is likely one of his drawings. But I can only say it is in the manner of Fletcher Martin.
I have since reframed it using archival matting and a rustic wood frame in keeping with the subject matter. The paper shows traces of a slight crease before it was originally framed.