Marta Blades painted Indiana barns early on in her career. But Blades, 82, isn't your typical Hoosier artist. She was born in Hungary, from which she fled with her parents at age 14 after the Russians invaded. She moved first to Germany, then found her way to the U.S. via a scholarship to Marian College (now Marian University).
She raised three children in Indianapolis, and worked as the Director of Editions Limited Gallery, now located in Broad Ripple, for over 30 years. She currently lives in Winston-Salem, N.C., where she continues to paint.
Blades will return to town Dec. 7 for a show, Back Home in Indiana, at The Arch at Chatham including 40 paintings, most of which were completed over the last year and a half.
About her early work painting Indiana barns, she says, "I always thought they were nice barns, but my heart has always pulled me towards the contemporary." By the time she started showing her work around 1980, her work was largely abstract.
Yet there are some representational touches in her current work. In a painting entitled "Nie kann ah Herr - ich daubeu Dir genug" (Oh Lord, I can never thank you enough) you see this text, the first line of a prayer, painted on a deep blue canvas awash with thick painterly strokes, flecked here and there with yellow and red.
"The German prayer dates back to after World War II, when we were refugees - my parents and I - in Germany," says Blades. "It stuck with me, and reflects my feelings of what I consider miracles: of my survival, through, and after the war, and through 2 bouts with cancer. It's a Thanksgiving prayer." The painting features the bare silhouette of a street lamp: a metaphor, perhaps, for the spiritual force leading her through the darkness.
But Blades is quick to point out that painting for her is an intuitive process. "I don't start with a theme," she says. "I don't sit down and think now I'm going to do this about a play or about something. I just do it. Then after it's done I pour a glass of wine and I sit and I look at it. Then I christen it."
Blades came to Indy at a time when artists and galleries were few and far between.
"In the early '60s, I think there was maybe one art gallery in Indy," says Blades, who was part of a cultural shift that led both to an acceptance of more contemporary forms of art in the Midwest. "It didn't happen overnight."
She mentions Mark Ruschman - whose Ruschman Gallery mounted consistently innovative shows until its closing in 2009 - as an early pioneer, alongside Joanne Chappell, the founder of Editions Limited. About her own approach to directing an art gallery, she says, "I have never advocated buying art to match the couch."
"There were young couples who would start with maybe a $200 piece," she says. "But they would buy something original rather than hang up a poster or an edition. Once they started, it was a very exciting thing."
Meeting John Mallon was a watershed. "A friend of mine and I opened a little boutique called the Emporium in the 70s," says Blades. "There was a frame shop next door. John Mallon and a partner owned it. So they were my next-door neighbors for seven years, and we became very good friends."
After the Emporium closed, Mallon asked Blades to run his frame shop (Frame Designs at 49th Street), and thereafter enlisted her to open a gallery downtown. And when Mallon bought Editions Limited, Blades was asked to be director, a job from which she retired in 2006.
In addition to her day job, Blades has served on numerous boards, including those of the Phoenix Theatre and the Riley Area Revitalization Program. This year she also served on the jury of the Skip McKinney Faculty of the Year Fellowship, awarded by the Indianapolis Art Center, an institution she loves.
Blades still feels right at home in Indianapolis. At the same time, she still feels the pull of her birthplace.
"For my 80th birthday I went and rented an apartment in Budapest and spent a month there," says Blades. "It's a beautiful language, and you walk around the street and little kids are talking in Hungarian. It's amazing how smart these kids are."
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