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Martha Kaplan

Martha Kaplan (1950---2019) was born and grew up in New York City. Then as now, home to two of the greatest museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Her earliest art memory was seeing Mexican artist David Alfred Siqueiros’s 1937 Echo of a Scream [1]. In 1939, it was given as a gift by Edward M.M. Warburg to MOMA. A powerful hallucinatory image of a screaming child’s head from whose mouth its tiny screaming double comes forth, painted in enamel with grey debris surrounding the babies. It is an anti-war manifesto created in response to the Spanish Civil War and an equal in its visual potency to Picasso’s Guernica

This painting transfixed and transformed the eleven-year-old to become an artist. Kaplan’s earliest pieces date back to when she was 14. As a free spirit with a school entrance pass to the museums, they became her teacher, her muse. After marriage in 1970, the couple became custodians of a rural farm without modern conveniences for ten years, until the owners sold the property. During this time, she continued to paint. 

Without support, she became part of “Project New”, a government program to help train women. She chose to become an electrician, having been so long without electricity. In the 1980’s, Kaplan worked at Indiana power companies in Petersburg, and Merom Power.   

That career ended due to a disability. Though she had to retrain her dexterity several times to continue her art, she did. Landing in Sullivan, Indiana, she found a 3,500’ studio space where she was able to work on a multiplicity of art projects from miniscule to majuscule at the same time. Her repertoire of materials varied from Sumi ink, pastels, acrylic, metallic acrylic, and pen and ink.

Exhibits include a retrospective in Charleston, Illinois, in 1988; a 2016 show at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana; and a 2016 exhibit at the Gaslight Art Colony in Marshall, Illinois. 

She drew subject matter from Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism, the faiths of her parents and grandparents, as well as that from the Navajo threads through her art. Styles she explored range from organic to geometric.  Kaplan enjoyed creating small pieces that fit together to form a larger and complete image. 

Her oeuvre is between 3,000 and 4,000 pieces. She said, “I have been fortunate that I have never had to compromise my integrity and truth in my artwork.”


[1] Miller, Brian. 2016.  “Artside-Inside: Interview with Martha Kaplan.” Spectrum, April: 20---23. Article says that she saw the painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has always been at the Museum of Modern Art.

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