Martha Glinski (1950 – 2010), concentrated most of her energy throughout her life, beginning in childhood, on making visual images that might foster humanitarianism in people. The inspiration for this came from music: blues, jazz, big band standards, and r&b, which her parents listened to as she fell asleep at night, as a child. The music made her visualize compositions that, to her, were beautiful and sometimes harsh. She tried to draw or paint them the next day, empowered by the notion that if she could make them good enough, other people would feel from her pictures – that which she heard in the music. Naturally, this kept Glinski hard at work just to reach a child’s level of “adequate.”
Glinski attended Cranbrook Academy of the Arts in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan at the end of junior high school, but the commute was too far so she settled for majoring in Fine Arts throughout high school, with a concentration on painting and sculpture.
When Glinski was thirteen, she sold her first painting – an oil portrait of a Ford Motor Company executive’s daughter.
At the tender age of 19, Glinski moved to Boston (after a year in Ann Arbor, Michigan, living on campus at the University of Michigan to launch her professional life – not to attend as a student). She was able to exhibit at various banks and galleries throughout Harvard Square and Boston, as well as throughout New England, which she found could be difficult in the higher-flown galleries, as they had no interest in – or respect for self-taught artists.
Glinski was shocked when the local NBC-affiliated TV station anchorman showed up at her door to inform her that Bill Cosby had seen her work and chose her to paint six paintings of him and five other entertainers for the “Benefit To Save Harlem Prep.” This would be the first time she worked 18-hour days to meet the deadline of shipment to Madison Square Garden, where dancers, at Felt Forum presented them onstage.
The remark touched Glinski because she produced several multicultural themes and images over the years and didn’t think anyone “approved” of them very much, never mind be seen as far as New York City. Glinski wanted to create images that bucked the world’s stock of maligned impressions of people of color; she wanted to create images that would be positive – or at least of normal, healthy and productive individuals, in the course of living and loving their lives…
“Especially in light of the fact that they seemed to be providing the soundtrack to the lives of the rest of us,” Glinski said.
Those were the years that Glinski devoted her time entirely to teaching herself how to paint, for the exception of the part-time job that she held at the Orson Welles Cinema, where most of her co-workers were film makers from Harvard’s Carpenter Center, who helped her to understand visual elements with respect to cinema. There, she studied drama in color and composition, such as in so many Ingmar Bergman, Françoise Trufeau and Fellini films, which she recalls staring at – profoundly compelled by shots that she froze in her mind and attempted to duplicate on paper.
At the end of 1974, Glinski was curated into the American Artists in Paris exhibition, held at the Palaise de Congres in Paris, France. Glinski ended up staying for a year after the six-week show ended. While in Paris, Glinski was under the tutelage and mentorship of one of France’s most illustrious artists, Jose Charlet, a Master at Ecole des Beaux Arts, and who was often commissioned by France and other countries for official work of art and painting, sculpture and architecture. He introduced her to another artist and close friend of his, Calmette, who together declared that Glinski was, “almost a painter” – a great compliment coming from these veteran artists, Glinski recalled.
Once back in Boston, Glinski was commissioned by the CBS General Electric Theatre to do 17 paintings for the Joanne Woodward, 1978 television movie, “See How She Runs.” Several of the paintings are now in the collection of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.
Following this, Glinski enrolled at Harvard University taking courses in theater and literary arts, which prompted the making of a film that began as a blank canvas, gradually painted on by Glinski, of a starving baby in the desert. The painting progressed until the baby was robust and his surroundings were lush and prosperous, inspired by Quincy Jones’s We Are The World, project/album against famine.
In 1981, Earl Williams, the founder of the first African American Symphony Orchestra, “The Boston Orchestra,” and math professor at Talladega College in Alabama, commissioned Glinski to do a reproduction of New Deal Artist, Hale Woodruff, of the Harlem Renaissance, “The Trial of The Captive Slaves.” One of six, twenty four-foot murals installed at Talladega College depicting the mutiny of the kidnapped Africans. Glinski created an extensive grid to accomplish this, and struggled with reproducing another artist’s work, but completed it after two years. The mural had two unveiling parties – one in Earl Williams’s home and one in Glinski’s. Her party was attended by the David Rockefeller family, among many other notables. City newspapers ran front-page stories about this unveiling party.
Throughout the eighties, Glinski continued to expand her artistic vision, creating for the first time, a major series that she named Spirit, a series on love. The series involved the use of video and an original soundtrack for six different pieces, each representing an aspect of love known to human beings: Love to God, between man and woman, between parent and child, between one stranger to another, between friends, and love for one’s self. The New England Council for the Arts invited Glinski to meetings to consider touring this series upon her completion of it. She applied for funding to various outlets available to artists and received one: Five hundred dollars for materials from the Cambridge Arts Council – not a sufficient amount for the large scale project that this was to be. The six New England states offered a grant for multi-disciplinary projects. She was not chosen to receive this grant, (“not inter-disciplinary enough”), but when Glinski learned that one of the six projects selected for funding was a rubber eel with musical teeth, and the others were just as meaningless, she realized that she might be on her own for future funding efforts of her projects, and suspected that she would have to create her own opportunities, independent of the usual paths available to her at the time. And she did.
Glinski produced Heroes, a fully executed, enormously successful, 13-painting exhibition of both celebrated and unknown African Americans, in collaboration with a carefully selected ensemble of jazz musicians, including two singers. The experience of producing this series was exhilarating; her growing disappointment in the limitations of the gallery system was replaced by exercising her option to design, promote and hold herself responsible for reaching audiences. She developed her career outside of the usual avenues (museums, certain prestigious exhibitions and publications) which she felt made it more difficult – yet more exciting to keep her career on solid ground. With no advertising budget, the “buzz” for Heroes nevertheless filled the venue, “Josephine’s,” a huge forties-style jazz, supper club under the Wilbur Theater in the Boston theater district. The Boston Globe carried the event on the front page of the Sunday Arts section, along with the Boston Herald, The Phoenix and the Bay State Banner, which covered it as well.
The professional respect that Heroes garnered drew the attention of Braithwaite and Katz, publicist of playwright, Jeff Robinson, who then commissioned Glinski to do six portraits of the great Bebop jazz men and women, who acted as “silent characters” in his theater production about jazz legend, Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, called Live Bird. The play opened at The Institute of Contemporary Arts in Boston.
After moving her family to New York in 1995, Glinski was invited by Merrill Lynch to have her jazz portraits featured for the fourth, annual Charlie Parker Festival in Tompkins Square Park of Greenwich Village. She also started designing the next series entitled, Living Legends, a series of paintings depicting venerable jazz musicians. She began communicating and corresponding with bassist, Ron Carter, Lionel Hampton, Sonny Rollins, Lou Rawls and others from the generation of elders, who had developed jazz to its maximum reach.
A jazz club was created at 22 West (legendary supper club at 22 W. 135th Street in Harlem) by Glinski, where she installed a gallery to exhibit her related paintings. Shortly after, Glinski was commissioned to do Lou Rawls’s portrait and Resurrection on the Ave – a huge mural graced with a solid gold museum frame, destined for the annual United Negro College Fund via his telethon at the Apollo Theater.
Glinski was introduced to Ruth Ellington (Duke Ellington’s sister), who asked her to produce a series with respect to “Edward’s favorite:” The Sacred Concerts. But, due to her failing health, the project was aborted after several months of development, soon after which, Ruth Ellington passed away.
St. John’s University presented Glinski with the Living Legend Award for her Art Directorship and instruction with urban kids and teens of two Boys & Girls Clubs in New York.
Although she went on to hold several solo exhibitions in New York, Glinski held her last, “Lush Life,” at the Henry Gregg Gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY, in 2005. Shortly after – and probably due to the excessive work she did throughout the summer in preparation of it – Glinski was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and ordered not to paint for awhile. She was given a splint to wear, in lieu of surgery, which would have robbed her of 10% of her “fine motor skills” in her affected right hand. This made Glinski resort to drawing, which introduced fluidity, pace, tempo and essence to her extensive repertoire.
Glinski’s dreams began and continued over her life span, “with a pool of color, then a drop of another rich color into it, followed by a slowly emerging picture,” she says.
Martha Glinski passed away in 2010 to lung cancer. Her works and messages survive her.
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