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Making connections through color

By JUDITH LINDER-ASHAKIH • Oct 14, 2018 at 6:00 PM

For Martha Ahrens helping people make connections with each other has been the result of her lifetime love of drawing, combined with her expertise in the Spanish language.

These abilities coalesced due to her parents move from Long Island, NY, to Bogota, Columbia, South America, when she was a baby.

There she learned to speak Spanish as well as English. She realized when she was 8 or 9 years old that "all I did was draw photos from books or anything interesting, mostly copying."

Study architectural drafting at Bogota University was a dream come true. She taught drawing in her home high school right after her own graduation, and now Ahrens is a retired professional draftswoman, artist and Spanish teacher.

Her first job as a professional draftswoman, was working with a company drawing perspectives of buildings and floor plans. Then she became an assistant to the architect who designed new headquarters for Nescafe's Colombian coffee division in Bogota. She researched old Spanish colonial buildings to find an authentic style for the architect, and even produced the original drawings for him.

Then came an opportunity to visit her sister's family in Minneapolis, MN.

"I had always wanted to come back and see the United States, and perfect my English," Ahrens said.

As it happened, she was offered a job in Minnesota to teach Spanish to air traffic controllers who were to be sent to Panama by the FAA. They needed to have exactly the Colombian Spanish accent she spoke. Eventually, that was where she met her husband to-be, an air traffic controller originally from Michigan.

While in Minnesota, Ahrens revived her love of art.

“I had decided to go to the Minnesota Institute of Art and did six months of lessons there with an artist in oils. And I'll be putting them in an exhibition in Vermilion next year,” she said. “I finally finished them after 40 years.”

The FAA transferred her husband to Ohio 40 years ago, and the unfinished paintings came with them.

During those years, when her children were still young, Ahrens used to do acrylic tole painting. She began with oils but when her little son knocked the can of oil paint on the carpet she vowed "no more oils with children." She began to work with watercolor instead, "just to learn how to use and manage it.”

“I like to mix media in my art," she added.

She also went back to teaching Spanish at a school in Elyria and worked as a professional draftsman for Ridge Tool Company. She said that after retirement in 2004, her husband told her “‘Do nothing but art; enjoy yourself,' so I dedicated myself to watercolors."

Ironically though, one of the first things she did was work with oil painter David Pavlak at the Elyria Art Council, finishing the oil paintings she’d begun in Minneapolis. Pavlak is known for his "incredible pictures” of horses. He had done many covers for horse racing industry magazines, and Sports Illustrated.

"One of the main things about belonging to many leagues is to be able to meet so many people and make such a good bond and connection with them through the art," Ahrens said.

She soon joined several art groups like the Firelands Area Art League, based in Norwalk. There she met Diane Reinhart. She found she "had the freedom to go everywhere and to belong to as many art leagues as I have time." She took lessons at FAVA in Oberlin, the Museum of Art in Cleveland and with Mitzi Lai at Brunswick. Lai does watercolors, having gone to China to learn authentic techniques and "she's fantastic."

Ahrens said she finds watercolors enticing.

"I love developing on a white piece of paper the pencil guidelines and to produce out of that empty space something special,” she explained. “Adding colors and letting them mix brings a great joy, to get the combination of colors that sometimes surprise you. It's like they are giving you fulfillment. I just love to paint."

She likes working and sharing what she has learned with other people.

"My joy is, if I can tell someone or pass on the little I know to others, not advice, but to show what I have learned,” Ahrens said. “Develop your own style (because) it’s too difficult to try to paint in someone else's style. I find color in people and try to have a connection, to make people feel good about what they do."

Her perspective on painting?

"It keeps you on a certain level of peacefulness that I really embrace to the point I can spend hours painting. Some call it therapy."

Examples of her art and that of other FAAL members will be on exhibition and for sale in Sandusky at the Episcopal Church, 315 Wayne St., beginning Nov. 4.

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