Fletcher Martin

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Fletcher Martin at work in his studio, circa 1945

Fletcher Martin (April 19, 1904 – May 30, 1979), was an American painter, illustrator, muralist and educator. He is best known for his images of soldier life during World War II and his sometimes brutal images of boxing and other sports.

Early life[edit]

He was born in 1904 in Palisade, Colorado, one of seven children of newspaperman Clinton Martin and his wife Josephine. The family relocated to Idaho and later Washington. By the age of twelve he was working as a printer. He dropped out of high school and held odd jobs such as lumberjack and professional boxer. He served in the U.S. Navy, 1922-26. His artistic skills were largely self-taught.


He worked as a printer in Los Angeles in the late 1920s, and as an assistant to Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros in the early 1930s. He taught at local art schools such as Otis Art Institute.

He won commissions to paint murals for the New Deal's Section of Painting and Sculpture, including Mail Transportation (1938), painted for the San Pedro Federal Building and Post Office in Los Angeles.[1] Under the WPA he painted a mural study for the Kellogg, Idaho post office titled Mine Rescue (1939). Local industrialists objected that it depicted the dangers of mining, while officials of the Mine & Smelt Workers Union praised it. The industrialists prevailed and Martin painted an uncontroversial mural, Discovery (1941), depicting the prospector who founded the town.[2][3] The rejected mural study is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Perhaps his most ambitious mural, also done under the WPA, was painted for North Hollywood High School in Los Angeles. Legends of Fernandino and Gabrileno Indians (1937) depicts overlapping scenes of Native American life and ritual, and the world being carried on the backs of giants.[4]

Study for Mine Rescue (1939), Smithsonian American Art Museum

As an artist-correspondent for Life Magazine during World War II, he made hundreds of sketches of U.S. soldier life. Fourteen of his paintings from the North African campaign were published in the December 27, 1943 issue of Life, and brought him national recognition.[5] Among these was Boy Picking Flowers, Tunisia, depicting a young GI finding a distraction from war. He also made illustrations of wartime London and the June 1944 Normandy Invasion.

His paintings often depicted men in conflict. Trouble in Frisco (1938, Museum of Modern Art) shows a brawl between longshoremen witnessed through a ship's porthole. The Undefeated (1948–49, St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts) depicts the 11th round of the June 25, 1948 World heavyweight boxing championship. The title is ironic: its subject is a severely battered Jersey Joe Walcott, collapsed against the referee and about to lose to (an unseen) Joe Louis.[6] In 1954 he painted a series of illustrations for Sports Illustrated of heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano defending his title against Ezzard Charles.[7]

Many of his most popular works were reproduced as woodcuts, lithographs or silkscreens. After the war he taught at the Art Students League Summer School in Woodstock, New York, settled in the town, and began raising a family. He experimented with abstractionism and began painting naïve images of women and children.

During his career he was a visiting instructor or artist-in-residence at the University of Florida, State University of Iowa, the University of Minnesota, San Antonio Art Institute, and Washington State University.[8] He received prizes from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1935 (for Rural Family) and 1939 (for A Lad from the Fleet); the 1947 Lippincott Prize from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (for Dancer Dressing); and the 1949 Altman Prize from the National Academy of Design (for Cherry Twice).[9] He was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1969, and a full academician in 1974.[10]

Lots of students get trapped in the effort to be original. After fifty million paintings have been painted you can see that it is impossible to be highly original. There is always precedent. Who would want to be that original anyway? A better intent is to see that one's work is truly one's own — an honest expression of deep personal feelings. The whole history of art, which can't help but affect one, will be filtered through your own personality to produce a sort of original statement.

— Fletcher Martin.

Personal life[edit]

Martin married five times; four marriages ended in divorce. His wives were: first, poet Cecile Boot (married November 1925, divorced ?); second, script writer Henriette Lichtenstein (married 1935, divorced 1941); third, nurse Maxine Ferris (married 1941, divorced 1945); fourth, actress Helen Donovan (married February 1946, with whom he had sons Donovan, Clinton and Robin, divorced 1961); fifth, novelist Jean Sigsbee Small (married 1962).[11] He had a much-publicized relationship with movie star Sylvia Sidney,[12] and painted two portraits of her.[13] He and Small retired to Guanajuato, Mexico in 1967, where they lived until his death in 1979.[14]

Selected works[edit]

Mail Transportation (1938), San Pedro Post Office, Los Angeles, California
Boundary County Courthouse, Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Martin designed the 1940 bas relief panels on the façade.





Book illustrations[edit]

  • Bret Harte, Tales of the Gold Rush, Heritage Press, 1944.[41]
  • Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall, Mutiny on the Bounty, Limited Editions Club, 1947.
  • Jack London, The Sea Wolf, Limited Editions Club, 1961.
  • Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, Heritage Press, 1965.
  • John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men, Heritage Press, 1970.[42]


  1. ^ "San Pedro Post Office 'Mail Transportation' mural". livingnewdeal.org. Living New Deal. Retrieved 8 April 2015. The mural was damaged but restored by Jose-Luis Gonzalez.
  2. ^ "Kellogg Post Office 'Discovery' mural". livingnewdeal.org. Living New Deal. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
  3. ^ McKenzie, Richard (1973). The New Deal for Artists. Princeton University Press. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  4. ^ Legends of Fernandino and Gabrileno Indians, from Flickr.
  5. ^ "Fletcher Martin: The Art of War," from today's Inspiration.
  6. ^ The Undefeated, from Sotheby's.
  7. ^ Homage to Rocky Marciano, from Caldwell Gallery, Hudson.
  8. ^ Fletcher Martin, from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
  9. ^ Morgan, Oxford Dictionary.
  10. ^ National Academicians, from National Academy of Design.
  11. ^ Cooke, pp. 223-25.
  12. ^ "Chatter in Hollywood," The Lowell Sun, April 3, 1945: "Everyone believes Sylvia Sidney will marry Fletcher Martin, the artist, as soon as he is free."
  13. ^ Sylvia Sidney, from Ebay.
  14. ^ Sarasota Herald-Tribune obituary.
  15. ^ A Lad from the Fleet from Chapman University.
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ Bucolic Breakfast, from Chapman University.
  18. ^ Trouble in Frisco, from Museum of Modern Art.
  19. ^ Tomorrow and Tomorrow, from Flickr.
  20. ^ Air Raid, from LACMA.
  21. ^ Black King.
  22. ^ Lullaby, from ArtNet.
  23. ^ Lullaby, from Christie's New York.
  24. ^ The Gamblers, from Oakland Museum of California.
  25. ^ Battle of Hill 609, from Flickr.
  26. ^ Boy Picking Flowers, from WHYY (PBS).
  27. ^ Fletcher Martin painting Charles Laughton as Captain Kidd, from James Cox Gallery.
  28. ^ Urchin's Game, from ArtNet.
  29. ^ The Undefeated, Art Daily, May 12, 2012.
  30. ^ Flame Pit, from National Air and Space Museum.
  31. ^ Inside the Turbine, from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
  32. ^ Mail Transportation.
  33. ^ Mine Rescue, from Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  34. ^ The Horse Breakers, from pinterest.
  35. ^ "Post Office Mural - Kellogg, ID". The Living New Deal. Retrieved 5 November 2015.
  36. ^ Juliet, from Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  37. ^ The Scream, from Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  38. ^ Nurse with Wounded Soldier, from Norman Rockwell Museum.
  39. ^ Study for The Brothers, from Addison Gallery of American Art.
  40. ^ Bas reliefs, from Waymarking.
  41. ^ Tales of the Gold Rush, from George Macy Imagery.
  42. ^ Of Mice and Men, from Crowntiques.


  • Cooke, H. Lester Jr., Fletcher Martin (New York, 1977).
  • Ebersole, Barbara Warren, Fletcher Martin, (University of Florida Press, 1954).
  • Morgan, Ann Lee, Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists, Oxford University Press, 2007. page 300.[2]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Bureau of Reclamation.

External links[edit]