Valerie’s Letter, 2021
oil on stretched canvas
In the summer of 2018, before we moved to Boulder, Colorado, my partner’s family hosted a going-away party for us at their farm. My grandmother was able to attend and, upon arrival, presented a small box and blue envelope to me as a going-away gift. The box contained a few stray possessions of my uncle's: a scarf, a pair of suspenders, a tie clip. The envelope contained a two-page handwritten letter on lined paper, which detailed my late grandfather’s efforts and experience in earning his Bachelor of Science degree and becoming an educator (knowing that I was going on to get my Master’s degree in hopes of becoming a professor).
My grandmother was also aware that I had claimed “Robert Martin” as my artist name, and included a brief lineage of the name “Martin” in her family. As she recounts in the letter, “#2 son arrived and was named Martin Ross. Martin was my grandmother’s maiden name. (Alma Martin Nelson),” highlighting the gender variances with blue and pink underlining. My full name is Robert Martin Buehler, but I honor my uncle, Martin Ross McRoberts, as well as a lineage of femininity within my family, in employing Martin as my surname in my art practice.
About a year after arriving in Boulder, my mother sent me a picture, taken on her iPhone, of a photograph of Marty. In the image, he is leaning against a sideboard with a sparkling set of glassware. He’s facing the camera with his arms crossed, and his profile is captured in a circular mirror behind the glassware. The grey athletic sweatshirt he’s wearing reads “University of Colorado.” Marty did not attend college, as far as I’m aware, so it’s uncertain who the sweater initially belonged to or what his connection with the University of Colorado could have been. As for me, I applied to CU at the request of my partner, who at one point had plans to finish off his undergraduate degree at the university, and by this time, I had already begun exploring depictions of artifacts and ephemera of Marty’s within my practice. I’m sure one can imagine the full-body, hairs standing on-end reaction when this image surfaced.