Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1917, Martyl Suzanne Schweig later became known to the art world as Martyl. The Schweig family of St. Louis, Missouri valued the arts. Martyl's mother, Aimee Schweig, an admired artist, founded the Ste. Genevieve Summer School of Art: her father, Martin Schweig, was a well known photographer. She began the study of painting with Charles W. Hawthorne in Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the age of eleven, and later with Boardman Robinson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Martyl attended Mary Institute and received a Liberal Arts degree majoring in the History of Art from Washington University, St. Louis.
In 1941, Martyl married the nuclear physicist Alexander Langsdorf, Jr. and a legendary match of art and science began. The couple moved to Chicago in 1943 at the invitation of Enrico Fermi to join the Manhattan Project. Their daughters Suzanne and Alexandra were born in 1945 and 1948. In 1953 they purchased the home of master architect Paul Schweikher in what is now Schaumburg, Illinois. The home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. The Schweikher House and Studio is forever linked with Martyl’s career.
Martyl continued to reside and work in the landmarked home and studio. Martyl was an innovator throughout her career. Exploring new media while using traditional methods, her work was created in an evolving contemporary context. In the 1960’s, the Washington University Archaeologist George Mylonas invited Martyl to draw and paint in Greece. A decade later, Robert Braidwood, Archaeologist and Anthropologist from the University of Chicago, invited her to draw and paint at the pre-history excavation in Eastern Turkey.
In the 1970’s she created a series of works inspired by electric circuitry and Nervous System synapses. Notably, she was one of the first artists to work with Mylar. This series became a metaphor for the relationship of the human brain to modern electrical circuits. In the 1980’s, she revitalized the tradition of archaeological site drawings in her drawings of the Precinct of Mut at Luxor, a project undertaken with the sponsorship of the Brooklyn Museum, New York.
In 2002, she collaborated with (art)n, a group that produced large three dimensional images. These digitally rendered barrier strip autostereograms, known as PHSCOLOgrams, produce 3D images that are viewable without glasses. Her iconic original design for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, the Doomsday Clock, created in 1947, later juxtaposed with her painting of Tent Rocks, New Mexico created a new image, “Have a Nice Day.” In characteristic style, Martyl married the themes of new technology, American landscape traditions, and social awareness.
In a career spanning over eight decades, Martyl embraced painting, printmaking, drawing, murals, and stained-glass design. Martyl is recognized with numerous honors, prizes, commissions and other distinctions. Her extensive world travels include journeys and extended stays in the American West and Southwest, Mexico, France, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, the UK and Japan. She is represented in many museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, Illinois State Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art in Washington DC, Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago, St. Louis Art Museum, and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Her work is in a large number of corporate, institutional, and private collections worldwide. There have been close to one hundred solo exhibitions of her works in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and galleries in between.
Martyl's fascinating life and career came to a close March 26, 2013.
The complete oral history of Martyl by Betty Blum is housed at the Ryerson and Burnham Library of the Art Institute of Chicago and is accessible on the internet. Click Here