Martha Speer: Kuan-yin Touches Earth

Martha Speer

Late one heavy Albuquerque summer (in the southwest an afternoon’s scorching heat is often followed by chaotic storms of rain, thunder and lightening) I spent the afternoon driving about town with Martha and my friend Gina Yates (Martha’s daughter) looking for the earth-bound representations of the goddess Kuan-yin.  Martha, a zen Buddhist, sometimes practicing but mostly just embodying its philosophy, had heard of a garden where she might be spotted. She had taken an interest in painting representations of the goddess of Mercy and Compassion, sometimes with a comparable resemblance to another Southwest favourite, Mother Mary (and her sister Santa Muerte).  

After much driving about, on a non-descript side street off Albuquerque’s long main drag, Central Ave, we found her life-size embodiment basking in a gurgling fountain, in an otherwise barren desert garden.  Standing with Martha, who was noticeably pleased yet calmed, Kuan-yin’s essence seemed to flow out of the water and into the brewing day. I remember being a little surprised by the contagious feeling of peace that flowed from Kuan-yin in this unassuming space or maybe it was in fact, Martha, she had a presence like that. . . an infectious awe for the minutiae of life found in the everyday around us.

Enterprising yet unpretentious, Martha lived and travelled throughout the US, including studies in Iowa, where she met her first husband, the acclaimed novelist Richard Yates; Michigan; Denver; and the tiny border town, Point Roberts, WA, where she lived in order to be closer to Gina, who was attending UBC, at the time.  She eventually settled in New Mexico after a sojourn in Puerto Vallarta deciding it was the next best thing to the dual named southern locale.

A multi-disciplinary artist,  Martha worked across a variety of mediums and styles that mirrored her own dynamic relationship with the world. Distinguished by a vibrant use of colour, at times her subject matter, a seed, the moon, a mountain, a bird, moved from sketch to abstraction to an expressionistic flourish like a thought formed than escaped from the mind.  Though cerebral (Martha was also a psychologist) she could just as easily fill her work with a playful sincerity that did not take itself too seriously. . . sweet, gentle, leaving one with a happy smile.

A lover of animals and in particular rabbits who lived in plentiful numbers (and as always abundantly) outside the apartment of her retirement community, Martha turned frequently to nature for both inspiration and analogy.  In the last decade of her life, the classical prose tradition of the haiku ignited Martha’s imagination and her charming sketches are found entwined with the aesthetic lilt of words.  A true artist, of incomparable vision, her final piece is both an appreciation of life’s beauty and magic, and the mystical unknown of night yet to come.  In such divisive times, sometimes it’s the gentle reminders that hold the greatest strength: the light lives on.

Martha Speer (Self Portrait)

To view more of Martha’s haikus please visit Haiku on the Edge.

For further information about Martha and her work please contact DanevaD directly.


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