The son and grandson of railroad men, James Martin was born in Everett, Washington in 1928. Martin dropped out of Ballard High School, but finally returned to finish his diploma and later entered the University of Washington, where he received a BA in Creative Writing in 1953.

Not succeeding as a writer, Martin worked several jobs to support himself and became an art framer for several Seattle galleries, which gave him first-hand access to many great paintings. He was heavily influenced both by European masters, such as Chagall, Picasso, and Matisse, and by the Northwest masters, Tobey, Graves, Anderson, and Callahan. In fact, Tobey was one of the first to buy some of Martin's early paintings, which he saw at the Seligman gallery in the University District.

While Martin began as a Northwest-style painter, he soon adapted his own style of fantastic, comical, perhaps warped characters. His work was highly successful, however Martin, somewhat of a recluse, was never a strong promoter. Many of his works are signed James Martin D.D.R., for "Donald Duck Ranch," the name he's given to his self-built house and studio in Edmonds, Washington.

Martin's small gouache on paper, Curtainesque, appears on the 6th floor in the Habib Conference Room. In his notes, Martin describes this as "a painting of Elizabethan characters wearing John Phillip Sousa's jacket."


Foster White Gallery, Seattle


James Martin: Art Rustler at the Rivoli, by Sheila Farr. University of Washington Press, March 2001.

Art in the Allen Center