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Martha R. Harding
(Provo, Utah, 1933 - )
Martha Rasmussen Harding was born in Provo, Utah. During the depression, her family moved to Salt Lake City, where her father started his own business as a meat cutter. Her mother was an artist (she had taken art in college) and hung a few paintings in the family home. However, as soon as Martha's mother had children, she quit painting. Martha had one brother and two sisters. As a child, she was always drawing and doodling. When she was six, she entered a patriotic poster contest and won. The prize was an ever-sharp pencil. Martha remembers taking art classes in the summer recreation program and making things out of clay and leather. These artistic experiences were a great joy to Martha, but she has wondered why her mother didn't encourage her to be an artist.
Martha Harding married soon after graduating from high school, and her interest in art had to be put on the back burner until her first child entered kindergarten. Then one day her son brought home a flier offering adult-education classes in art, and she and a neighbor decided to go to some of the art classes together. These classes heightened her interest in art as well as teaching her art skills. She started teaching oil painting classes in her home and did this for 16 years. During this period, Harding mostly painted landscapes.
Harding remembers that she organized her house with the specific purpose of allowing herself time to paint. One day she said to one daughter, "Chris, your name should be Chris Play Harding," to which her daughter promptly replied, "Your name should be Martha Paint Harding!"
In 1984, after all of her children were attending school, she decided to attend Brigham Young University. She wanted to gain more skills to share with her students. Soon, taking art classes wasn't enough, she wanted to get her Bachelor of Fine Arts. In 1990, Martha received her BFA, and in the spring of 1995, she earned a Master of Fine Arts in painting from Brigham Young University.
Martha Harding is the mother of 7 children and grandmother of 15, and she tries to express in her art that the time invested in the family pays off. She admires Minerva Teichert as an artist and as a mother. Harding feels that even though their paintings don't look anything alike, a strong parallel exists between their art. Teichert talked of her children as her jewels and expressed that her painting seemed to call to her --she felt her art and family were intertwined. Martha Harding talks of two goals in her painting: " The first, which is more important to me, is to reveal the fact that family can be a blessing in spite of the burden, and second, is to allow the viewer to re-experience the emotions felt toward the family from a child's point of view."
Recently, Harding received a letter from her daughter-in-law telling about an incident with Harding's granddaughter Kellie. Kellie had told her mother she was having a hard time trying to decide if she wanted to be an artist or a mommy. Her mother told Kellie that her grandmother was proof she could successfully do both. Kellie was thrilled, and said she wants to be an artist like her grandma because "I love to paint and draw like grandma, and also, we both like to eat."
Martha Harding's present direction in art grew out of several wonderful drawings sent to her by her grandchildren. One of these drawings was of a house, which inspired her to create paintings that display her own spontaneous drawings and the children's drawings together. She approaches the serious subject of families in a playful way. Harding describes her artistic process by explaining,
As I work on these canvases, I use collage, children's drawings, and my own intuitive drawings. I enjoy the integration of the unexpected, the abstract, and the concrete, which allows me to create a world of imagination. I am constantly surprised at how my intuitive drawings always seemed to fit in with the theme of the painting. They start with doodles while I am listening to music. I then expand the doodles with drawing and painting. It is evident that cadmium red light paint is my favorite color, and a painting does not seem to be complete without a dash of it here and there.
Martha Harding creates a new visual language free from the academic world of realism--a language filled with symbols from the heart. In February of 1994, her husband Ray woke her up to tell her a dream he had about her paintings. He suggested that the backs of children (often included in her paintings), are symbolic of a child's view, "we watch them observing their world."
These and many other symbols are present in Harding's paintings such as the following: double doors on a house are the double standards of the world, vertical lines are symbols of stability created by parents, floating figures are symbols of the child's imaginary world, bright colors are symbols of the happiness of families, the colored underpaintings allowed to show through in areas are symbols of the unexpected happenings in life and the family, and her imagery-filled canvases are due to her desire to please everyone--like a hostess at a family reunion trying to help everyone have a good time--she is the hostess of the canvas. A graduate student visited her studio and said, " I really like your work. When I look at it, it makes me happy." Martha says, " that is exactly what I want to portray!"