Martha Hall (1949-2003)
Martha Hall (1949-2003) was a Maine-based book artist, writer, weaver, and business owner and executive, whose creative work focused largely on themes related to her fifteen-year struggle with breast cancer—living with the fear of dying; creating in order to heal; understanding one's own legacy; and appreciating and living fully each day. In 1989, a week before Hall received her MBA with honors from Dartmouth in 1989, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite the uncertainties, Hall forged ahead with an ambitious new career as a marketing executive at American Express. She lived in New York City during the week and commuted home to Maine for long weekends to see her family and undergo chemotherapy.
Following a reoccurrence of breast cancer in 1993, Hall underwent high dose chemotherapy in Maine, an autologous bone marrow transplant at Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital, followed by radiation. Exhausted both physically and emotionally, Hall left her job in New York City and returned to Maine full-time in order to spend more time with her family and with her writing and art. She joined the staff of L.L. Bean developing marketing strategies, and continued to be employed there until her illness forced her to retire in 2000.
In 1995, Hall began serious and concentrated study of the visual arts. She attended a paper arts workshop at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, the first of several workshops she would take at the school in Deer Isle, Maine. In 1996, she completed her first book arts workshop, a course with Rebecca Goodale and Dennis Gilbert, and created her first artist's book, The Raven. Over the next few years, Hall would develop close and collaborative friendships with several of Maine book artists. In 1998, she moved to Orr's Island, Maine, a place that would inspire and comfort her as she battled a second reoccurrence of breast cancer. In 1999, she entered the BFA program at the Maine College of Art, but following a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, opted to not complete the program and instead focus on creating and sharing her artist's books.
By the early 2000s, Hall's reputation as a book artist had grown considerably. She exhibited in New York City, Massachusetts, and Maine. Hall worked diligently to place her works in academic institutions where they could be viewed and handled by the public, cancer patients, and medical professionals. Her hope was to educate people broadly about what it means to be a cancer patient, and more specifically, to inspire health care provides to improve the way they interacted with patients. Hall articulated her process and desires in the documentary "I Make Books" which the Maine Women Writers Collection at University of New England produced in 2000.
In late 2002, Hall collaborated with Martin Antonetti, then the curator of rare books at the Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College, to develop the exhibition "Holding In, Holding On," a major retrospective of her work. Hall worked tirelessly on selecting works, writing text, and developing the catalogue, even while continuing to produce new works and entering the final stage of her illness. The exhibition opened at Smith College in Fall 2003, a few weeks before Hall's death on December 5, 2003, at the age 54. Following her death, the "Holding In, Holding On" traveled to Bowdoin and Wellesley colleges and to Yale University.
Look at the following FIVE artist's books and come to class ready to discuss what you observed, discovered, and have questions about.
As you engage with the images and video, consider the following questions:
- What does the book look like? How does this relate to your concept of what a book is? What might this book be like to read? Or to hold? How might this compare to reading you do regularly?
- How does the book move? How is the information organized?
- How does the form of the book inform your understanding of what the book is about? What is this book about?
- Is there anything you want to know more about to better understand this book?
- How does looking at these materials inform what you’ve been reading and discussing in class?