VA NY Harbor Healthcare System
Ralph Martel: Inventive Man
Veteran artist Ralph Martel was not well enough to attend the reception for a piece of sculpture he and his family donated to VA’s Manhattan campus, but he and his sons were able to connect with the festivities via Facetime. Martel’s wife Huguette and a group of longtime friends participated in the reception held in front of the wood sculpture which is mounted in an alcove on the 2nd floor near the cafeteria where it enormously enhances the space.
About Ralph Martel
Navy Veteran Ralph Martel, worked, “intensely and joyfully” in his studio every day, recalls his son James Martel, now a Professor of Political Theory at San Francisco State University. Growing up and later, James admired Ralphs many skills, “He was good at a large number of things, welding, joinery, carpentry and he made his own tools sometimes.” James says his father knew art of Intarsia, an Italian wood inlaying technique and Japanese joinery and incorporated these intricate techniques in his wood sculptures which curve and flow with deceptive simplicity.
He was inventive and playful too. James recalls being fascinated with the way his father wielded a grease machine that spurted red lipstick grease into sculptural forms as the machine was moved from place to place. James said he and other children from families who lived at Westbeth Artists Housing loved Ralph’s 20’-30’- long sculptures made of a synthetic material that he inflated and then deflated in the building courtyard. Westbeth is an all artists building,” says James. “There were lots of super dinner parties, it was very fun.”
Ralph was born and raised in Lynn, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the Navy serving as a ship journalist during his tours in the Mediterranean and also for a shorter time in the Caribbean. After the military, Martel came to New York and studied art at Cooper Union where he met his wife Huguette. Also a professional artist, she worked as a cartoonist for the New Yorker and then became a French teacher, a job she still enjoys today.
“In many ways he followed his own way,” says Huguette. The couple’s younger son Django is a Veterinarian who sometimes treats some of the animals housed at the Bronx Zoo.
Along with making elegant abstract sculptures using many varieties of wood, Ralphalso explored experimental interactive art. In the 1960’s, for example, he created with Jean Dupuy a sculpture entitled “Heat Beats Dust” a work exhibited at MOMA in 1968. The piece, combined art and technology and involved the viewer in listening to his heartbeat with a stethoscope. The heartbeat was amplified and synchronized with the movement of red dust contained in the display. Ralph Martel was also a dedicated teacher. CUNY Staten Island Professor Emeritus Morty Schiff, while Chair of the Performing and Creative Arts Department, appointed Martel to the position he held for many years,” The two became close friends, Schiff says, “ He’s always had a great imagination and great skill as a craftsman. Ralph finds the soul of the materials he’s worked – wood, aluminum and various other materials Martel enjoys talking about his life as an artist, the materials he used and the places his works were exhibited.
See more images at Flickr Album Ralph Martel: Inventive Man https://www.flickr.com/photos/144760790@N02/albums