James Martin's New Hope Modernism

by David Rago

New Hope modernist design is remembered most for the more visible of its star players, like George Nakashima, Phil Powell, and Paul Evans. And, certainly, these three artists/designers are primarily responsible for putting this tiny community on the world map. But they didn’t work in a vacuum, neither starting the famous artist’s colony nor seeing it end with their respective deaths. Maybe it’s something in the Delaware River water of Washington’s Crossing fame. But for a century and a quarter, artists have made Bucks County and, on the Jersey side, Hunterdon County, their muses of choice.

James Martin was one such artist, working in and alongside the mainstream. He had a stint with Nakashima Studio half a century ago, and breakfast every morning at Mother’s on Main Street with Phil Powell. His studio/gallery was just two blocks from Evans’ showroom, also on Main. If you close your eyes you can see them hanging in the 60s, like jazz musicians riffing off of one another’s variations of a theme. Martin died in September of 2020, leaving behind a didactic body of work, things of his own, of others, and a hybridization of all of New Hope, which we are honored to offer at auction.

These objects are best understood if seen as Martin’s assimilation and interpretation of New Hope design. Walking through the small town today it’s easy to miss the quirky bohemia that fostered such creativity, with all the gift and ice cream shops, and the bars with noisy partiers spilling into the streets. But it’s when you walk the back alleys, the side streets, and the canal path, preferably at dusk, on a Wednesday in January, looking at the architectural mix of the Federal and the Hippie, that you can really get a sense of why people like Martin, Evans, and Powell chose New Hope. Best viewed in their totality, these works offer but a glimpse of this magical little artistic town on the Delaware.