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Remembering Martha Zackey

Martha Zackey grew up in southern Illinois and in suburban Chicago. As a young adult she left the area with her husband for the west coast and then the east coast before her return as a widow to the Midwest, but she credited Chicago for her artistic roots, and she maintained her virtual presence at the online Woman Made Gallery for as long as she lived.


Life in the big city was the initial inspiration for Martha’s paintings, usually in watercolor and on a small scale. Early paintings study the light falling through the framing on construction sites, or sifting through the structural supports for the elevated trains in the Chicago loop.  Soon similar works included stray neckties or bowler hats as she reflected on the effects of urban bureaucracy on the people who live and work in big cities.


After earning her M.F.A. from Indiana University, Bloomington, Martha returned to Chicago to live at The Three Arts Club and serve as a case worker in the Stateway Gardens public housing project. She credited her experiences there for leading her to draw and paint her visions of the way power structures of big cities compartmentalize those who live and work in them – depictions of wasps’ nests (with human wasps!) and seeds in living fruits – and eventually to her painting years later of a watermelon slave ship that deeply moved viewers at her exhibitions.


In Chicago Martha exhibited in the Chicago Art Institute Art Rental and Sales Gallery, The Three Arts Club and ARC Gallery.  She taught and exhibited in group and solo exhibitions in Indiana, Oregon, New York and Wisconsin.  She enjoyed theatrical set painting and design, and provided editorial illustration for a number of publications. She was accepted as Signature Member into the Central New York Water Color Society in 2005. Most recently she was an award winner in the 2010 - 2011 Watercolor Wisconsin exhibit at the RAM Wustum Museum in Racine, Wisconsin.


Martha identified herself as a magic realist. W.M. Ittmann, Jr., writing in Spectrum Magazine of the Arts in Portland, Oregon in 1976, described her exhibition there as “The Magic of Martha Zackey,” and that could serve as the title for her life’s work.

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