Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Look Here! project: An interview with Madeline Martin

This is the fourth installment in our interview series with artists participating in the Look Here! project. Madeline Martin, an MFA candidate at UW-Milwaukee, is a watercolor, paper, and embroidery artist. Her work honors everyday people by commemorating their intimate and familial moments through rich and layered details. Her work has been exhibited across the United States. In addition to raising her three young children, she was an art teacher at the Boys & Girls Club in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park for five years, an artist-in-residence at RedLine Milwaukee, and a teacher for disabled adults in the Twin Cities.

Why were you interested in participating in the Look Here! project?

I was initially interested in participating in the Look Here! Project because of the blend of RedLine Milwaukee artists and UWM faculty. I was an artist-in-residence at RedLine from 2011-2013, and I am currently an MFA candidate at UWM. The union of both groups felt like a welcome congruence in the beginning of my grad program. I also was confident that I could make something based on the library’s cache of knowledge; an artist could truly spend an entire career working with the UWM Library’s materials.

What collections are you using or did you begin to use for your work?

I initially planned to make work related to the library’s watercolor period paintings found in the Work Progress Administration Collection. Since a lot of my work has focused on embroidered and watercolor portraits, I was intrigued by the different names applied to pieces in the library’s collection, such as "EuropeanPeasant," or "Civil War Child."  I thought I could apply those same titles to Milwaukee community members in a contemporary context.  As I delved deeper into this project, though, I concluded that those titles were applicable to theater characters but somewhat reductive for actual people. That collection was a fruitful origin point, however, and it served as a stepping stone for later research.

How did what you found in the collections influence your work?

In the American Geographical Society Library, I was impressed/overwhelmed by the vast amount of information, but I was most amazed by the fact that the AGSL staff will print images onto fabric and a variety of paper for a reasonable price. The AGSL is a treasure for artists and researchers, and I will be utilizing some of its topographical maps and aerial imagery in this project as a way to connect the people whom I am featuring with ancestral lands.

I also spent time with the UWM Archive's Vel Phillips collection, which features some of her personal family photo albums alongside content related to her career and civil rights history.  While I may not use any of the archived images directly in my work, Vel Phillips’ professionalism and commitment to her family and community inspired me during this project.  The archives contain a photo of Judge Phillips tying her son’s shoes, and a scanned image of that photo hangs above my desk. That image has kept me company while I work, reminding me that mothering and parenting, although a common activity, is still profoundly sacred. Despite its endless minutiae, parenting has effects we can never fully understand. I am grateful for the role model of Vel Phillips, a mother who still maintained her commitment to justice and community. Her work towards equality could arguably be considered an extension of her role as a mother, ensuring a better life for her children and grandchildren, simultaneously weaving together the past and the future.   

How does having so much content available digitally affect the work you're creating? 

Digital images have immense power and provide a way to continually revisit a piece, but I still appreciate the physical nature of touching books, maps, and archives in the library.  For me, material interactions usually inspire greater reflection than online viewing.  In my research, I especially found the books related to family in the Special Collections helpful as I navigate the creation of work that is often very private but offered to the public sphere. Those included Argentine artist Silvia Guigon's 2011 homage to her grandmother, Amanda (La mujer amada), Roberta Lavadour's 2008 glass book Relative Memory II, and Milwaukee artist and UWM BFA grad Taylor Easton’s 2011 one-of-a-kind fiber and mixed-media piece A Self Portrait.

What more can you tell us about your experience with the Look Here! project?

The location of our show at the Villa Terrace helped solidify my ideas.  When we toured the space and I learned that the room with the Madonna niche is called "The Family Room," I instantly knew that my work would have good company, and I became committed to further exploration of the theme of mothering and parenting.