Illustrating Pearl Harbor
  • Spotting artist David Driskell at NY art auction
  • James P. Johnson & Billie Holiday art album covers
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    Auction Finds

    The jazz art of David Stone Martin

    When I saw the ink outline of two musicians on the auction website, I immediately looked for a signature on the drawing. It was signed “David Stone Martin,” and somewhere deep in my mind, I recognized that name.

    I had written it before or seen it before but I wasn’t sure where. Then it came to me. David Stone Martin had been associated with the name Dorie Miller, a painting of whom was auctioned off for $17,000 in March at Swann Auction Galleries in New York.

    A David Stone Martin pen-and-ink drawing was up for sale at auction.

    Martin had captured the Pearl Harbor hero in all his grandness in the 1943 painting “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty,” which was developed into a government recruiting poster. Miller was an African American Navy cook who showed bravery aboard his ship during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

    The pen-and-ink drawing at auction was pure Martin. It prominently showed a drummer in the throes of a performance, with another musician watching him and enjoying the show-off just as much. It was a sparse image, but powerful enough for me, too, to feel the music.

    I had not heard of Martin before I saw the Dorie Miller poster. But I learned by Googling that he was well-known in jazz circles as the creator of some of the finest album covers for some of the country’s major performers going back to Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Oscar Peterson. The covers were black lines and a single bold color that were apparently his trademark. They were works of art that I could’ve hung on my wall.

    Album covers for Billie Holiday, 1955; James P. Johnson, 1950, and Charlie Parker, 1950.

    Martin, who died in 1992, drew more than 400 album covers – many during the 1940s and 1950s – as well as illustrated magazine covers, posters, books, billboards, and ads for movies, TV and theater. He was also a fine-arts painter, as in the Dorie Miller piece and this 1930s untitled oil of a logger.

    His love for the music and its figures were said to have grown out of his friendship and personal relationship with the pianist Mary Lou Williams. She was said to have gotten him started in illustrating album covers, including some of hers. Martin was influenced artistically by the line drawings of artist Ben Shahn, whom he worked for as an assistant.

    David Stone Martin, with an album cover for pianist Mary Lou Williams, 1944.

    The covers also seemed to have grown from his love of the music itself.

    Martin was born in Chicago and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He was a supervisor for the mural program of the Federal Arts Project during World War II, and painted some murals himself. His works are in major museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian.

    In 1943, he was among the artists featured in an exhibit on Navy medicine by Abbott Laboratories that toured the country, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command website. The company hired them as correspondents, sending them – with the cooperation of the military – to installations throughout the country and abroad to paint what they experienced. They lived as medical workers aboard hospital ships, in hospitals on land, and even embedded with medical battalions in the field.

    I’ve never come across any of Martin’s jazz covers, but I will surely be on the lookout for them.

    Navy medical officers practice surgery on a patient in an underground operating room in a 1943 painting that was part of an exhibit sponsored by Abbott Laboratories to help the war effort.


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