In memoriam Frank Martin – Brian North Lee, F. S. A., Hon. President of the Bookplate Society
Frank Vernon Martin (1921-2005) was too busy elsewhere as an artist and teacher to be able to engage in extensive bookplate-making, though ex-libris keenly interested him. Indeed, he and his wife Peggy attended the 5th International Ex-libris Congress, held in Amsterdam in 1957. He was a close friend of Mark Severin, and both of them particularly enjoyed depictions of the female nude. Frank had been taught wood engraving by Gertrude Hermes, a distinguished print-maker and sculptor of Anglo-German parentage; and John Buckland Wright taught him the art of etching. He himself became a teacher, at the Camberwell School of Art 1953-80, and for the last four years of that time he was head of its Department of Graphic Design.
Limited edition print-making preoccupied him since the mid 1960s, and amongst his favourite subjects was cinema, including the Hollywood musicals of the 1920s/30s, and theatre. Over the years there have been many one-man shows devoted to his work, but sadly the next, shortly to open in London, must now be a memorial one. Hollywood Continental: Frank Martin (Academy Editions, St. Martin's Press, 1988) is worth searching out, though it has unequal reproductions and fails to reflect his scope adequately. Glamour is, moreover, in the eye of the beholder, and his interpretations would not be to all tastes.
For me, it is Frank's wood engravings which most distill his "magic", and his ex-libris will continue to be sought after. Though there are only about 25 of them, nine of which are illustrated in the book cited above, most - and especially the earlier ones - reveal either his capacity for lyricism, neo-classicality, and bravura, or a mixture of them.
Frank was an enhancing person to spend time with. He was intellectually vibrant to the end, held firm views on art and much else, but he had warmth and an almost youthful enthusiasm like Mark Severin. He also had courage, not least evident during the quick deterioration of Peggy's health due to Altzheimer’s, and in the difficult days thereafter. There is an article on and checklist of his bookplates in Mota Miranda's Encyclopaedia Bio-Bibliographical of the Art of the Contemporary Ex-libris, Vol.13,1993, and he was also the subject of "Profile of an Artist" in The Bookptate Journal for September 1992. For full details of his engravings and cuts on wood and related media The Wood Engravings of Frank Martin, The Previous Parrot Press, 1998, is invaluable.
With the death of Frank we have lost the doyen of artists in the medium in Britain; he was very and impressively busy before most of today's practitioners were born; and he kept working almost until his death. Those of us who knew him are also bereft of the friendship of a very fine man.