The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 4, 2013

Valley artist is a man of 1,000 faces

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

— PORT TREVORTON — The global reaction to Kate Middleton’s first official royal portrait unveiled this month was harsh, but local portrait artist Jeffrey Martin isn’t among the critics.

“A royal portrait has to be in keeping with centuries-old paintings. This captures a person in a certain time, it’s not a timeless portrait,” said Martin of painter Paul Emsley’s work that many criticize as making the duchess appear old and wrinkled.  

Martin should know. He’s painted nearly 1,000 portraits over the past 40 years and many hang in federal and state buildings, hospitals and corporations across the nation.

His subjects include Gov. Tom Corbett, who was painted just before stepping down as attorney general following his election in 2010, members of Congress and several federal judges.

One of his first commissions was for a portrait of then state Attorney General Ernie Preate, the embattled politician who was convicted in 1995 of mail fraud and served a year in federal prison. Martin completed the painting, but there was never an official unveiling.

“It’s in a closet somewhere in the state Capitol,” he said.

Martin meets every subject in person, snaps several photographs and returns to his home studio to replicate an image from a selected photo.

“A person can only sit for two hours and I need to work six to seven hours a day,” Martin said. A typical portrait takes about two weeks to complete, and most of his subjects are too busy to give him much more than an hour or so of their time.

Martin, 59, began drawing as a teen and quickly found his niche painting faces. He studied portrait art in New York City with top portrait artists and slowly gained respect in the field after accepting commissions from universities and hospitals.

He and his wife, Maxine, a Selinsgrove native, moved back to her hometown where Martin took a job teaching art at Susquehanna University for a few brief years. The couple has three grown sons and are eagerly anticipating the birth of a grandchild.

In their home hanging side by side on a wall are three framed portraits of their sons in younger years.

A quick look around the main house and his studio reveals portraits of family members, friends, well-known personalities and clients, but none of Maxine Martin.

“No way,” she laughed.

Though a fan of her husband’s work, she’s not interested in having her portrait done. She learned early in their relationship that he saw faces differently than most.

“He told me I had the most interesting green color under my eyes. Not the color of my eyes, but the skin color under them,” she said.

That attention to detail is what draws many to his work.

“It’s so lifelike it’s incredible,” said Harold F. Woelfel Jr. of the portrait Martin created of his oldest grandson, 8.

The family was so pleased with the result, Woelfel said, they’ve commissioned another portrait of their 4-year-old grandson.

Martin has been able to make a living on corporate portrait commissions, but said demand has dwindled in 20 years from when he worked on about 20 portraits annually compared to about eight or nine now.

Producing portraits of living subjects is “incredibly stressful” so to keep himself from getting too overwhelmed or isolated into the life of painter, Martin teaches film at Susquehanna University. He enjoys it more than teaching art, which often exhausted and frustrated him.

He’s also branching out into pop art, recently selling a 4-foot by 4-foot painting of Curly from the Three Stooges and hoping to sell a similar sized likeness of Carlos Santana and an even larger one of Linda Blair as the demon from “The Exorcist.”

“The work is satisfying, but you can never rest on your laurels,” Martin said.