It is August in Texas and it is hot, I write, stating the obvious. Recently, my family and I spent some time out in Emory, Texas, at the Weeping Willow Ranch, fishing early in the mornings before the heat set in and then later in the evenings after the immense heat starts to subside. It is nice to feed the horses, look out over the fields, trees, and the lake and just slow down and unwind. It is peaceful.
I made plans to meet with local East Texas artist Randy Martin at his home and small workshop studio in Van, Texas. I have been familiar with his artwork and sculptures and been friends with him on Facebook for some time, but for whatever reason, we’ve never actually met in person. My visit was time well spent. Randy is a modest, sociable, approachable and open-minded guy. He seems very satisfied with his life, wife, and their tastefully renovated home. His life appears peaceful.
Martin is an outsider or folk artist. Folk or outsider art is an art form embracing the human impulse to create whether the creator has any formal or academic training whatsoever. Outsider art is typified by a personal style, in which the maker creates their own individual set of rules of representation, proportion, and perception. Often, folk art will repurpose discarded or abandoned objects into new creations. Outsider art is generally modest, straightforward, and mostly as oddly interesting as the people who make it.
A self-described military brat, Randy moved around as a child and then lived his teenage years in Elmo, Texas outside of Terrell. This is where he discovered piles of rubbish and would “go junking” to dig out scrap he found fascinating: metal springs, gears, and other rusted mechanical parts. Randy Martin served in the U.S. Coast Guard in the rough seas of the Arctic (1969-1972). He has lived in Van for more than 30 years. His is the house with the groovy, hippie van in the driveway. He has been featured on Channel 8’s “Early Morning News” (Dallas) and “Texas Country Reporter.” Thirteen years ago, Randy Martin had a store selling his artwork in Mineola, Texas, but when the retailer next door caught fire, all was lost. Randy has also suffered through two bouts with cancer, but said he decided to “take the battle on,” and he credits the U.S. Veteran’s Administration with the detection, treatment, and saving of his life. Now living with diabetes, Randy just keeps truckin’ on.
Martin didn’t come to a life of art making until the age of 43, after a layoff from a career at Southland Distribution. Referencing the change he states, “Real life gets in the way sometimes.” His wife and fellow artist is an avid gardener, and she asked her husband to make a birdhouse for their backyard. He did and soon his birdhouses became very popular. He would sell his unique, one of kind artworks at Canton’s First Monday Trade Days and other venues. After a while, one thing lead to another and Randy eventually found himself in the business of making and selling elaborate, wooden, Victorian-style birdhouses, adding metal copper adornments and running a shop with employees. Randy Martin admires the craftsmanship and extra effort. His artwork reflects it. Randy and his wife Sherri have been married for 44 years. They have three children and five grandchildren. He and Sherri have been supporting themselves and their family for the last 22 years through the creation and selling of their artwork.
After the birdhouses had run their course Martin decided to learn more about the skill of melting metal together and enrolled in a welding course designed for artists at Mountain View Community College (part of the Dallas County Community College District) and drove the 200-mile round trip route to classes. His teacher, Dewayne Roy (a welding artist, consultant, business owner, author and instructor who has taught welding at Mountain View College for more than 30 years) took Randy’s final project, a metal “Super Chicken,” and tossed it across the shop’s concrete floor. When none of the attached appendages broke off he stated, “Congratulations, you pass.” The super chicken sculpture still resides outside of Martin’s studio to this day, still intact.
Randy Martin works almost exclusively in metal and found object art now, creating kinetic, moving, wind-propelled whirligigs, spiritual stepping shaman sculptures, fifty-five-gallon barrel chairs, and ice scoop/salad bowl windmill mobiles. He specializes in complex and intricate copper fish sculptures and lawn art spinning bats, which make up the bulk of his business. Selling the fish and bats he states, “Those are the meat and potatoes, that’s what feeds us.” Randy previously had the Flying Fish Gallery in Ben Wheeler, Texas, though he no longer does. It was the first art studio in the rejuvenation labor of love project by the late Brooks Gremmels who renewed Ben Wheeler. Randy now sells his work through art shows and art fairs around our area and recently in a show in Rockport, Texas, where his eclectic fish sculptures were very well-liked. He has also shown at the Artisan’s Collective (410 N. Bishop Ave., Dallas). Randy says he strives to have about six good shows a year while still participating in local art events. He has many connections through social media and Facebook.
Randy Martin gets his inspiration from many sources in life but stated, “Artists and sculptors who make work like this consider Alexander Calder the godfather,” (American sculptor and originator of mobiles, moving sculptures made by skillfully balancing shapes).
Randy has overcome many obstacles and found art there for him to feed his creativity and his spirit and make him self-sufficient. He is a peaceful cool guy and a regional artistic talent. Randy works in a small studio workshop next to his house, cutting and brazing. He now considers himself in semi-retirement creating his art in the cooler early mornings before the heat sets in or sometimes in the evening after the heat begins to subside. “These days I don’t make much, but I don’t need much,” says the artist.
“Truckin’ got my chips cashed in, keep truckin,’ like the do-dah man, together, more or less in line, just keep truckin’ on.” – Grateful Dead.
For more information about Randy Martin and his artwork, find him on Facebook and Pinterest.