Charles Martin believes every piece of artwork has a story. And the body of his artwork tells his.
You can’t identify “a Martin” like you can “a Picasso.” He doesn’t have a distinct style because, as an art teacher, he wanted to try his hand at everything so that he could share those experiences with students.
The only thing he hasn’t tried his hand at is weaving.
“Now and Then,” a 60-year retrospect of art, features more than 80 pieces of the 84-year-old Fridley artist’s work in the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts gallery.
On one wall, there’s a haunting acrylic casting. On another, an oil abstract. On another, a still life created with crayon. A metal mobile spins overhead.
Growing up in Rochester, Minnesota, Martin picked up many mechanical skills from his father, who hoped he would follow in his footsteps as a maker of medical instruments used by physicians at Mayo Clinic.
“If I wanted a toy, he would tell me, ‘Go make it,’” Martin said, remembering spending two weeks carving a walnut stock for his play rifle. He was the only child around who made his own football.
“You just got used to making things,” he said.
And Martin continued to make things – just not medical tools.
He graduated from the University of Minnesota with his bachelor’s degree in 1957 and master’s degree two years later.
He taught art at the University
of Minnesota, Centennial High School, Anoka-Ramsey Community College and Irondale High School, as well as many arts centers and community buildings.
Martin taught his students ceramics, printmaking and everything in between (except weaving, of course).
“I wanted them to have a wide experience,” he said.
Much of Martin’s life has been spent teaching, but he was in the Army for six years and had a job with KSTP-TV as a cameraman for a short time.
Martin was a charter member of Artists del Norte when it formed in 1976.
“Being a part of that and seeing artists grow was pleasing and exciting for me,” he said.
In his spare time, Martin has pursued an array of interests beyond art – drumming, judo, magic, etc.
He has also traveled extensively, and many scenes from his travels can be seen in the pieces displayed at Banfill-Locke.
His oldest work dates back to 1956. It’s a black-and-white photo of a sleeping car and sleeping student.
The most recent piece is a wood duck etched into scratchboard, made last year.
Many pieces in the show feature animals and plants.
Martin has an affinity for nature, volunteering tirelessly at Springbrook Nature Center over the years. He created a number of characters for Springbrook’s Pumpkin Night in the Park, including a 250-pound spider and 12-foot dragon.
Martin has lived through two heart attacks, cancer and other illnesses. And he’s still going strong.
“I invent ways to get around infirmities” to keep creating art, he said, adding that he still produces a new piece about once a month.
But his house is full to bursting.
“Almost every nook and cranny of my house is stuffed with art,” he said.
Martin is hopeful the exhibit might help some artwork sell so that he can make space for new work.
The exhibit is free and runs through May 13. The gallery, 6666 E. River Road, Fridley, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.