For the Love of Art
Of all the museums in all the world, Grant McMartin ’93 still prefers the Des Moines Art Center. After taking a field trip there as a child, McMartin set his life goal to become an artist, and his hard work is paying off.
You wouldn’t see McMartin’s given name on any pieces—he goes by Grant William Thye (his middle names) in the art world, but you might start recognizing his work. In March, McMartin exhibited three solo shows in Chicago (yes, three!) all in different styles. On top of that, he is making the leap into the museum scene with an exhibition in the Dubuque Museum of Art from July to October.
“I work in a couple of different styles,” he says. “Since I did three different shows in Chicago, I wanted them to be a little different from each other. One of them was landscape and oil paintings; one of them was more contemporary, abstract-acrylic painting; and the last one was paper collages. I am not sure how I squeaked out three shows at once, but it was a great opportunity.
“The Dubuque show is really exciting because it will be my first time having my art in a museum which is a very big deal for me.”
Although he hasn’t been featured in a museum yet, his pieces can be found in corporate and private collections in San Diego, New York, England and Germany. His artwork has also been chosen for many juried shows and featured in national advertising campaigns, including one for Buitoni Pasta. The full-time artist has only been focusing solely on his art career for seven years— before he decided to save up money to be away from his job for two years to become an artist, McMartin worked at Pella Corporation and an insurance company. His general studies major (now integrated studies) prepared him to do a lot of different things, but what he really wanted was to set out a plan to support himself with art because there is nothing else he would rather be doing.
“I am happy all day long,” McMartin says of when he’s working. “I get to experiment and play and do what I love every day. I could be painting along and turn around and look at the clock and it could be 9 p.m. Sometimes I’ll get mad because I’ll have to stop and go home and get dinner. I feel like I’m retired!”
It seems like all play and no work, but McMartin tries to keep to a schedule that results in a lot of long hours. He often tries to get to the studio by 6 a.m. with a break in the afternoon before staying until he gets tired of painting. He may work long hours, but he has the freedom to work on the projects he chooses, and he equates that success to his general studies major at Central.
“One of the best parts of a liberal arts education is you are just so much more well- rounded and you can really look at things differently than just through your chosen major,” he says. “You look at different sides of things—you can see the parallels of art and business and how they can work together. That’s one of the biggest things that has helped me break through in the art industry.”
Whether you are strolling through campus (he has a piece displayed in the Roe Center) or through a local museum, look for McMartin’s rolling Iowa landscapes or abstract still life. He counts himself among the lucky artists who enjoys every aspect of the job, and with his Central education among his arsenal of paintbrushes, expect to see him painting his way into museums across the country. This fall, he will have a solo show at Central’s homecoming.
Jack of All Trades
Rob Lindley ’95 isn’t one for pigeon-holing. If there wasn’t a role for him in an upcoming Theatre Central performance, Lindley found a way to create one. Whether that was through directing one-acts or putting on a reading of his favorite play, he knew that exposure was key. And thanks to his persistence and direction from theatre professors, Central taught him a prized skill.
“Theatre Central is small, so it requires you to be a jack of all trades. That is so valuable in the theatre business, especially early on in your career when you might be hired for summer stock to act in two shows, build sets for one and run wardrobe for the whole season.” Lindley added, “Central made me a better person. I met the best people there and it made me value friendship and the families we get to create.”
Following his graduation from Central with a theatre major, Lindley found work traveling the country as a touring actor and director, and then made his way back to the Midwest in the Windy City. In 1997, he enrolled at The Second City, the school of improvisation well known for channeling alumni like John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Tina Fey into the Saturday Night Live cast. He hit the streets and found success in the Chicago cabaret scene where the niche earned him an After Dark Award for Outstanding Cabaret Artist in 2003.The experience and training of doing cabaret and improv led to Lindley getting hired at many of Chicago’s most prestigious theaters and a Jeff Award (Chicago’s equivalent of the Tony Award) for best actor for his role in “Oh Coward!” and a Jeff Award nomination as a supporting actor in “Carousel.”
After a performance in the musical version of James Joyce’s “The Dead,” Lindley got a third nomination nod. He is quick to say that it isn’t just the awards that make him keep going back to the theater night after night.
“It makes me happy to make people feel something,” he says. “I love making people laugh. I also love doing shows that might help soften a person’s heart when it comes to important issues. Theater is an art form that seduces audiences with entertainment, but has the power to change minds.”
One role he is particularly proud of and was the highlight of his career was playing a main role in “Angels in America” which focuses on two couples, one gay and one straight, whose fates become intertwined.
“I had never pushed myself as hard as I did for that one,” Lindley says of his role. “I lost almost 40 pounds to play Prior Walter, who is dying of AIDS, and I knew every step along the way that I was doing something important and that was bigger than me. I think I am still processing that experience in many ways. It was life-changing.”
Currently, Lindley has traded off acting for directing. His past in improv is coming in handy as the director of the off-Broadway show “50 Shades! The Musical.”The parody of the popular book, “Fifty Shades of Grey” tested his skills when it recently opened to rave reviews.
Lindley’s experience at Central of becoming a jack of all trades has paid off, and he sees himself juggling multiple roles in the theater biz.
“I have a feeling I will be splitting my time between acting and directing more and more—part of that is because of aging,” he says with a laugh. “I am so lucky that at Central I spent so much time directing as well as acting. This has been another great side career to have. I think budding actors have such a great chance at success if they have a diverse skill set. You will be a better actor if you know about lighting design. You will be a better theatre administrator or stage manager if you act in a show. So I am glad I experienced a lot of different things in Central’s theatre department.”
Now that he has had years of professional experience and plenty of shows and awards under his belt, Lindley is offering up some advice for his fellow thespians.
“Don’t let people try to put you in a category or tell you to master one thing,” he says. “You need to be curious about other people and human nature. I find the best actors are people who are always studying others and what makes them tick. Learning to market yourself, network, hustle, audition well, stay in the moment, pick the right day job—those are tough things to teach and to learn.You always have to remember the business part of show business.”
It took just one knock on a door to change the entire course of Molly Lehr Blythe’s (’08) career. After transferring from a large state university following her freshman year, Blythe was looking to get involved on campus when she saw a flyer for the Vocal and Instrumental Jazz and Pop Combos musical group and stumbled into the office of professor of music Gabriel Espinosa ‘79.
Blythe was just interested in music as an extracurricular—she was passionate about psychology and a member of the soccer team and she didn’t think she had the time to commit completely to another group. “I started singing in Combos as a side thing because I wanted to be a clinical psychologist and I was very serious about it,” she says. “I wasn’t going to do music and Gabriel kept telling me that I should think about a music career.”
Blythe decided to step down from the soccer team and focus on singing the following year. She performed in numerous concerts and found that although she loved psychology and the professors within the department, she couldn’t shake her love of music.
“(Espinosa) kept giving me opportunities to excel, so, at the end of my three years at Central, I was doing a lot of psychology, but I was also very involved with music.”
But Blythe is quick to point out that music and psychology go hand-in-hand.
“Music and psychology aren’t really all that different,” she says. “Each seeks to know and express things about the human condition and focuses heavily on relationships. What I’m finding is I’m using all of what I learned in psychology in what I’m doing right now. I never think of it in terms of a black and white—I don’t switch back and forth. In my mind I’m using both degrees that I have to the fullest.”
Currently, Blythe teaches music education at St. John Berchmans School in Chicago, Ill., where she oversees the education of kindergarteners through eighth grade students. After graduating from Central, Blythe gave herself a year to decide if she wanted to pursue music and apply to music schools. During that time she was an aide in a special needs classroom while applying to music schools across the country.Then the news came that she was accepted into the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, Mass.
Blythe studied performance and arranging where she was involved in a lot of different projects vocally and as a professional arranger. She has been able to share the stage with Terri Lynne Carrington, Ivan Lins, Kathy Mattea, Oleta Adams and her mentor, Espinosa. Currently, she says 90 percent of her day is teaching, but her teacher’s schedule lends itself well to flexibility. Depending on which projects present themselves, she could be spending more time writing or performing. In the past she has performed with Espinosa’s band, Ashanti, and she even had a small role in Espinosa’s 2012 CD, “Celebrando,” as a back-up singer.
“Gabriel changed everything for me,” she explains. “He pushed me and challenged me. He took me as a student and allowed me to perform professionally with him doing songs and styles that may have been over my head and with players who were, in terms of experience and ability, leaps and bounds ahead of me. He is a Berklee alum as well, so he knew what I needed to do to be successful and held me accountable.”
While Espinosa was preparing Blythe to tackle the music industry, Central was giving her the experience she needed to thrive within the fine arts community.
“The common thing I see in my Central years and my music experience is that I started out thinking I was going to do one thing and ended up doing another,” she says. “Central gave me a chance to explore everything that I wanted to do which gave me the skills and the freedom to be kind of like a Renaissance girl. I got to do so many things and now that helps me stick my fingers in a lot of different areas and that is exactly the skill that I needed to be successful in the music industry.”