This page was last modified on 31 March 2014, at 03:35
Photo Credit: Photographed by Thalia Skaleris. Permission granted by Creative Commons.
Brenda Martin can be found at Jackson Square sitting next to an art cart under a weather-shielding umbrella. She has been doing this a while.
In 1977 Brenda Martin passed through New Orleans on her way to Houston and never left; she can be found selling French Quarter scenes at Jackson Square now. For Martin it has always been about the art. Her interest started in high school, developed through college and left her with a desk job in Boston.
“Boston was great,” Martin said, “but I didn’t fall in love and I couldn’t do art.”  In New Orleans she could do art all the time, and attended the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts. In 1981 she won the John Singer Sargent Award for Painting in all Mediums. The bio displayed by her art claims that she sells to individuals as well as to corporations around the world.
Martin began doing portraits and caricatures around the Square, a less common phenomenon then. It wasn’t until a few years ago that she switched to French Quarter prints and paintings. There are very few artists that Martin has seen there for as long as she’s been selling, and with the change in artists comes the change in art: more textures, a focus on repurposing other materials, more abstractly New Orleans.
Martin doesn’t come out as much as the younger artist either. If it’s rainy or cold she stays home, and she doesn’t observe the 4 a.m. weekend start time of the younger artists.
Jackson Square is teeming with people taking pictures and exploring the New Orleanian nuances. They have traveled from their cold homes to see the famed historic French Quarter, and hope to buy a memento. Martin characterizes the typical tourists as young travelers with money to spend and the goal of having a fun time in the Big Easy.
The Jackson Square market is a young person’s market and a tourist’s market. Martin gets to meet people from all over the world, and these people want to buy Vieux Carré, or French Quarter, scenes. Adorning Brenda Martin’s portion of fence are dozens of prints and paintings of different Vieux Carré scenes, some made up, some real. Martin doesn’t work on location or from photos; her art is representative of the French Quarter in general, portraying Vieux Carré trademarks that tourists expect to see. She has prints of women second-lining in front of people holding to-go drinks and street brass bands.
This is the art that sells best.
Among the French Quarter scenes, one painting of Noah’s Ark stands out as different. This painting represents a matter close to Martin’s heart — the fight to save the animals. To her, the story of Noah’s Ark symbolizes the need for animals to be saved from humans. Now she sees so many going extinct again from the hand of man. This painting is her tribute to that cause, and the only painting she displays for personal reasons.
Martin expects to sell a few French Quarter scenes a day, depending on the weather and the season. She doesn’t seem too worried about losing sales to the newcomers. It is a competitive market with little certainty, but Martin has been doing this for long enough to know it’s nuances. She realizes that she’ll eventually have to come less frequently and eventually not at all, but the day Brenda Martin stops creating art seems much further in the future.
- Brenda Martin, interviewed by Thalia Skaleris, Jackson Square, March 25, 2014.