Monday, April 11, 2011

End of an Era: Margaret Rebekah "Becky" Brown Martz, Pioneer in Early Brown County pottery.

Margaret Rebekah "Becky" Brown Martz, 96

SEPT. 14, 1914 — APRIL. 4, 2011
Wife, Mother, Artist and Poet 

END OF AN ERA:  Karl and Becky Martz, were early potters in Brown County, Indiana in the mid 1930's.  The Martz Pottery, along with the Griffin Pottery, and the Brown County Pottery were early pioneers in the Brown County Pottery movement.  Her passing represents the closing chapter in the history of the early pottery pioneers and artists in Brown County.

      Becky Brown began her life in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 1914, the daughter of a talented and hard-working father who was a bricklayer, bank manager and Red Cross assessor in various states. By the late 1920s she and her family were living in Bloomington, Indiana, where she went to high school, graduated valedictorian and met her future husband, Karl Martz (shown in photo with Becky, 1979). Her mother died in 1930, when Becky was 16. In 1935, after two years at IU, she dropped out of college and married Karl. Their union lasted 62 years until Karl’s death in 1997.
     Karl was determined to be a potter, and at first they lived in a series of romantic but rustic cabins in Brown County. In 1936 they founded the Karl Martz Pottery. Before long Becky began learning ceramic skills from her husband, initially creating small vases and buttons for tourists. She also served as an Artist’s Representative at the Brown County Art Gallery in Nashville. Her two sons were born in 1940 and 1942. Shortly after her second son arrived, the tourist traffic dried up due to wartime gas rationing, and Karl found a job in industrial research in Chicago. They lived in Jane Addams’ Hull House, where Becky raised the boys and ran the Hull House library. Her spare moments found her frequenting museums and galleries. 
     They returned to southern Indiana two years later when Karl was hired to create the ceramics program in the IU art department, later to become the Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts. In 1949, they began building a house designed by Karl in Brown County. It would house both the family and the Martz Pottery. Around this time, Becky’s work began taking on its own character, often quite different from Karl’s, and in the early 1950s she began creating whimsical animal sculptures in ceramics, possessed of great charm and presence.
     From 1951 through 1981, her works were exhibited in seventeen juried regional Indiana shows and in galleries, including four shows at the John Herron/Indianapolis Art Museum. In 1952, Karl took a semester’s sabbatical in New York City, and the family moved there with him, providing Becky an opportunity to frequent some of the world’s great museums and galleries.
     In 1961, Becky and her family moved their residence and studio to Bloomington. In 1969, Becky completed her A.B. in English at IU, the same year her son Eric completed his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins. She brought her cap and gown to his graduation in Maryland so they could be photographed together in their academic regalia. It’s unclear who was proudest of whom. In 1961-62, and again in 1971-72, Becky accompanied Karl on sabbaticals in Japan, where she worked in the Daisei Pottery, a traditional Mingei (folk art) family pottery in Mashiko. From 1970-1975, she was a full partner in The Gallery, located in Bloomington and founded by Rosemary Fraser. 
     From 1985-1991, her ability to work with clay hampered by arthritis, she served as a docent in the Indiana University Art Museum and returned to her first love, writing, producing a series of poems of depth and power, two of which were published in The Studio Potter and the newsletter of the IU Art Museum.
     Becky loved life and took in all it had to offer, overcoming difficulties with gritty determination and taking advantage of whatever opportunities came her way as a woman in her time. She was creative, loving and caring, loyal to family and friends, hard working and was constantly learning and developing her diverse talents. She was a superb wife and mother and an inspiring role model for her sons as well as for the next generation of female artists.
     In 2004, she left her beloved Bloomington, Indiana, full of friends, achievements and memories, and moved to Massachusetts to be close to her son Eric. She passed away April 4, 2011, after a long decline with dementia, donating her body to medical science in accordance with her lifelong wishes.
     She is survived by her son Eric and his wife Phyllis (Amherst, Massachusetts), son Brian and his wife Dee (Stevens Point, Wisconsin), her sister-in-law Betty Brown (Albuquerque, New Mexico), five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild. She was preceded in death by her brother Edward. Becky’s life, ceramics, and poetry are represented at the website MartzPots.Org.

For a wonderful history of the life and art of Karl & Becky Martz, please go to their website:
www.MartzPots.org 





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