by Aaron Wilder, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Roswell Museum
© Roswell Daily Record
“Untitled,” 2023 by Martie Zelt, Mixed Media Construction, Completed by Agustín Pozo Gálvez After the Artist’s Death, Courtesy of the Martie Zelt Estate
I first want to thank everyone who participated in this month’s event Museum Day Roswell on Sept. 16. It was the first time all seven museums in Roswell had free admission and were fully open to the public. An unprecedented number of individuals participated and came to enjoy the amazing cultural resources housed within Roswell’s museums, many of whom had not entered the museums of Roswell before. This was the first time all seven museums in Roswell collaborated on a program, and we hope this is the start of a fruitful collaboration where we can continuously offer this kind of open access annually going forward.
Last month, my column focused on the Roswell Museum’s exhibition Patrociño Barela: I Stand On My Own Feet / Me Paro Sobre Mis Propios Pies, which was one of the major focus areas of the Roswell Museum during Museum Day Roswell, and I very much enjoyed speaking with visitors about that exhibition. This month, I would like to focus on the works by artist Martha “Martie” Zelt who was born in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1930. Her first exposure to New Mexico was Alamogordo during World War II where her father, who was in the Air Force, was stationed for a time. Zelt credits her mother’s career in interior design as one of many early influences that would later impact her own artistic practice.
In 2013, our current Director, Caroline Brooks, described Zelt’s process in making her “constructions” by saying, “To create her work, Zelt often starts with a printed base—a collagraph printed from a cut and assembled cardboard plate, a photo etching, or monoprint. She then positions and adheres scraps of cloth, handmade papers, or other mixed media such as twigs or pods by use of a needle and thread, sewing machine, glue, or chine collé — a printmaking process that uses the press to fuse papers. These incorporated items may be locally collected — such as onion skin paper made from onions purchased at a local grocery store — or are drawn from previous travels, as in a scrap of fabric from a neighbor in Vera Cruz. She also sometimes includes expressive lines with pastels or graphite. Finally, a thin, wooden dowel is often slid through a fabric sleeve as both a decorative element and for hanging. While she begins each work with a general concept in place, it is only through lengthy trial and error, building layer upon layer, that the work takes shape.”
Zelt moved to Roswell in 1982 when she was accepted into the Roswell Artist-in-Residence (RAiR) program. In the catalog accompanying Zelt’s 1983 solo exhibition at the Roswell Museum resulting from her residency, fellow artist-in-residence Susana Jacobson wrote about the connection between Zelt’s constructions and the surrounding landscape: “The resulting configurations resemble at times an aerial view of land. Major geologic features have been inscribed with the irregularities of erosion and the neat ordering of agriculture, then textured with varieties of vegetation, bounded by thin, arrow-straight roads, broken by meandering waterways, and finally dotted with occasional colorful buildings and random flecks of bright tiny cars. Though none of the pieces are expressly about the land, Zelt’s deep affinity for the New Mexican landscape is clearly visible in her rich, earthy hues and careworn, softly scarred surfaces.” Indeed, this affinity for the land and its connection to her artworks was echoed succinctly in the artist’s own words in the statement of intent she submitted with her RAiR application: “The segmentation and geometry in my work has never been disassociated from notes taken from the natural world around me.”
After moving away to teach in various arts education programs, Zelt returned to Roswell in 1989 for another residency. This time, after the residency, she stayed local to teach part-time at both the Roswell Museum and the Roswell campus of Eastern New Mexico University. During the 1990s, Zelt created a number of mosaic murals here in Roswell. The earliest one she started was at her residence. In 1998, Gailanne Teresa Dill wrote in the Vision Magazine of the Roswell Daily Record, “A mosaic tile mural on her garage wall shows geometric shapes in a harmonious but unfettered dance … Piece by piece, Zelt worked the mural in the winter of 1995 daily adding to it until the cold got to her hands. She worked from no pre-existing sketch.” A photograph of a detail of this mural by Zelt’s long-time friend José Valles Rivera is included in the 2023-2024 memorial exhibition, Remembering Martie Zelt at the Roswell Museum.
Another mural is at the Roswell Convention Center and is 32 feet long and was completed in 1996. Entitled City, Skies, Strata, the artist’s mosaic reflects the area’s biologic and geologic landscape as a result of Zelt’s consultation with local experts in these fields. To realize the mural’s installation, the artist engaged with a multi-generational group of Roswell residents who helped create the mosaic’s panels. Included in Remembering Martie Zelt are two studies Zelt used to compose City, Skies, Strata. In 2000, Zelt created another, smaller mural at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge entitled Five Habitats.
Zelt passed away at the age of 92 on May 11, 2023 in Roswell. The exhibition Remembering Martie Zelt is on display in the Roswell Museum’s Spring River Gallery through Feb. 11, 2024.
For more information about the Roswell Museum, visit roswellmuseum.org.