Martinez Art and Affair of the Heart
Valentines come from the heart, and so it is for Edw (pronounced Ed) Martinez. Every year he sends between 300 and 400 valentines – his own creations – to friends, acquaintances, the famous and the infamous from London to Las Vegas.
An accomplished artist and associate professor of art at the University of Nevada, Reno, since 1968, his Valentine tradition started by accident in 1973 when his art students began to moan about an assignment. To motivate them, he did a quick demonstration.
“I was doing gestural, abstract art at the time so I quickly did a heart,” he said, adding one of his students called it a “hairy” heart, and the name stuck. Then they asked him to do another.
“The hearts have always had the line imagery Originally I sent them as a gesture of friendship on campus. If I want a favor, I’ll design a heart,” he said with a smile.
Martinez has been both journalist and teacher. He calls himself a typical ’60s artist and jack-of-all-trades, but specializes in printmaking and drawing. And time has aged his face but not his eyes, which light up like a 10-year-old’s. He is easy-going, open, and laid back.
The Valentine tradition has grown over time and while Martinez is generous with his gift.
His Valentines are not for sale. You can’t get one unless you’re on “the list.” The simple hearts, distinctive by their design, have been the object of custody battles in divorces and can be found on the walls of almost any room in many Reno homes.
“Bill Stremmel (a Reno resident who at one time owned Stremmel Volkswagen) said I am probably Nevada’s most collected artist,” Martinez said, adding it’s a distinction borne of the fact that he’s been sending hundreds of valentines a year for more than 30 years.
The tradition got off to a rocky start, earning a level of suspicion in those early years because at first Martinez didn’t sign them.
“People thought they were being stalked,” Martinez said, adding that sometimes the card was seen as a sign of infidelity. “One woman finally told me she didn’t want to receive my card I was crushed.”
The husband of one recipient thought that because the lines slashed through the heart, the Valentine was a death threat. He called the FBI.
“I guess the FBI said, ‘Well, it’s Friday afternoon and couldn’t it wait until Monday,'” Martinez said, noting that the couple attended a dinner party that weekend in a southwest Reno home where they found the same kind of hearts framed in the host’s bathroom.
Originally from Vallejo, Martinez is a sixth-generation Californian and the descendent of a Mexican military officer. The family received a land grant from the Mexican government and settled in the Contra Costa County area in the 1700s. His grandfather, (great or great-great, Martinez isn’t sure which) Ignacio Martinez, was the third mayor (alcalde) of San Francisco.
“I looked him up (in a history book) once and they called him haughty and despotic,” Martinez said with a laugh, then added that in his later years he became known for his hospitality and generosity. He is buried in the cemetery behind the Mission San Jose.
Martinez has displayed his work all over the country including Boston, Philadelphia, Cinncinnati and the New York School of Design. His work is included in numerous public and private collections and Gov. Bob Miller gave him the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Art in 1998.
He holds a bachelor of arts in journalism from the University of Nevada, Reno, a bachelor of science in education from Illinois Wesleyan University and a masters in art from the University of Iowa.
He has lived in Virginia City for more than 30 years with his wife Kay and together they have two grown sons. Ted teaches physical education at Storey County Middle School and Patrick teaches the fifth grade in Reno.
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