Love through Art
A master tribal weaver, Wence Martinez has more than 46 years of experience. Strong mentors and extensive technical studies in design and wool dyeing gave him the tools to rise above anonymous production weaving most weavers endure in his native Oaxaca, a rare achievement.
Wence learned the weaving process from his grandfather and father, then furthered his studies in Mexico City at the Taller Nacional de Tapiz, (National School of Tapestry). He returned to his village as the head weaver in a workshop, overseeing 40 weavers. He supervised design and production, often taking on some of the most challenging work himself. He soon found the work, reproducing designs ranging from Navajo to Turkish, wearisome.
His dream of focusing on his own designs and opening his own gallery came into view when a Milwaukee artist named Sandra showed up in 1988 with a commission that would forever change both of their lives.
Sandra (Hackbarth) Martinez has been focused on her primitive drawing style for 30 years. Inspired by the Haitian Collection at the Milwaukee Art Museum, “Harold and the Purple Crayon” and a strong mentor, David Damkoehler, she sees her work as a way to engage both nature and spirit. The simple and graphic nature of her work lends itself to a variety of projects, from tapestries woven by her husband, Wence, to small collections of wearable- and functional-art accessories. Sandra produces her drawings on thin paper, worked with layers of washes and finally floated in shadow-box format so the paper becomes a fragment, an object itself.
Friends suggested to Sandra that her images would work well in tapestry and, on her behalf, took a small painting to Teotitlan del Valle in Oaxaca. The painting featured subtle curves that demand patience and expertise to weave, and the weavers in Teotitlan did not want to take on the project — that is, all except one. To Wence, the black and cream figures with their curves and swirls were a welcome relief and a refreshing challenge.
Wence and Sandra have been together ever since. Working, creating, raising a family, running their gallery… and they are continually amazed at their good fit and good fortune. They recently learned that a generous collector has made arrangements for one of their pieces to go into the permanent collection at Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art.
Since opening the Martinez Studio in 1994, the couple has selectively participated in local and regional art shows when invited, but they remained focused on working in their studio and showcasing their art in the on-site gallery until 2012, when they debuted on the national craft scene at the Architectural Digest Design Show in Manhattan. Their trajectory has been swift and full of validating attention. Both Wence and Sandra say their greatest pleasure comes from working and creating, side by side, in their beloved Wisconsin studio and gallery. The addition of their daughter, MaLena and son-in-law, Jacobo as apprentices in the ongoing Legacy Project has opened a new chapter.
Art enthusiasts and collectors are warmly invited to visit the Martinez Studio, where they can watch Wence and Sandra in the processes of creating their contemporary designs, practicing traditional craft and producing one-of-a-kind heirloom work. The couple is happy to answer questions, particularly to deepen the appreciation for and understanding of weaving, dyeing and the cultural legacy that their work reflects.