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Martha Lowrey (Tommy) Greenwell

 (1920 - 2014)
Martha Lowrey (Tommy) Greenwell was active/lived in Hawaii.  Martha Greenwell is known for miniature tropical landscape painting, crafted wood ornaments.

Martha Lowrey (Tommy) Greenwell

Biography from the Archives of askART

A native of Hawaii, Martha Lowrey Greenwell was born on December 27, 1920, in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. She is best known for her small oil paintings depicting the quiet, tranquil, and hidden aspects of Hawaii. Throughout her life she has loved the idyllic beauty of the Hawaiian Islands, and in her art has captured visions of back roads, fog-shrouded forests, old Island shacks, rolling pastures, and weathered fences.

Martha was the youngest of four children. Her brother, Bob, did his best to turn her into a tomboy, and nicknamed her Tommy, a name she has kept all her life. Her father, Sherwood M. Lowrey was a talented though modest painter, as well as a meticulous carpenter, photographer, and well-respected businessman. The familys home was in Manoa Valley, and it was there her father gave Martha her first drawing lessons, mainly the techniques of perspective and shading.

It is he who Martha credits for her love of drawing and painting. She recalls watching him paint in the studio he built next to a beach house the family had in Kailua, Oahu, during the late 1920s and 1930s. He would make painting field trips to different parts of the island, -Waimanalo, Kaneohe, Kawainui-, and Martha was always excited to see what he had created on these outings. Her father also instilled in her a great love of the outdoors, and she often rode horses with him on local sugar plantations. Sherwood Lowrey loved walking in the rain and would frequently invited his daughter to join him on wet days for walks through the heights of Makiki and Tantalus, -highland areas of Honolulu.

Marthas mother, Ida Kopke Lowrey, also supported her art, constantly encouraging her to draw. Martha loved all her art classes in school, and begged her parents to be allowed to skip her piano lessons and instead enroll in classes given by various art instructors in Honolulu. When her birthday or Christmas would arrive, Martha was delighted to often find pads and pencils as presents. When she and her sister, Cherrie, sailed to California in 1936 to attend school in San Rafael, she found pads and pencils tucked into their shipboard cabin with a note from her mother saying "Keep sketching. With love".

In 1939 Martha met a young rancher, James M. Greenwell, who was new to Honolulu, having moved there from the Parker Ranch on the island of Hawaii. They married in 1940 and settled into a home in Honolulu where they lived for the next forty-nine years. It was there that their children, Wendy and James, were born and raised. Family vacations were often spent at the Greenwell ranch house high on the slopes of Hualalai Mountain in Kona, on Hawaii.

Despite all the ranch work to be done, Martha recalls always being distracted by the beautiful views. The fog-filled forests, the cattle, horses, geese and wild turkeys, all fascinated her. Often she drew by the light of a kerosene lantern, well into the night, detailing and completing sketches she had made during the day.

Along with her busy life as a mother and helping at the ranch, Martha also began creating and painting small wooden Christmas tree ornaments for which she became more and more renowned. Originally just intended for friends and family, they became so popular that after fifteen years making them as a hobby Martha decided in 1956 to sell them commercially, and began the company Emgee, using her initials MG. The business grew, and eventually she offered over three hundred different ornament designs a year.

Her enthusiasm for the landscape of the islands was constant, however, and whenever she had a spare moment she would paint. In 1980, Martha decided to sell the business and focus on her painting and the lands she so loved. Moving from their home in Honolulu, Martha and her husband, Jimmy, built a house in the midst of ranch pastureland on the island of Hawaii, and there she found a perfect place to resume her painting.

At times her work is based on photographs she has taken of a scene she likes, plus a sketch, and copious field notes about color. Many of her pieces are quite small, sometimes measuring only a few inches. Often they include details of old structures, cabins, sheds, which are reminders of the unique life-style of Hawaiis past. An example would be her oil Kealapuali, which depicts the sheds of an old sheep station high on the slopes of Hualalai, structures that date from the mid-1800s. Isabella Bird, an Englishwoman, visited the site in 1873, and chronicled her experiences in her published letters. The body of Marthas art spans her years in the Islands, and includes scenes of most of the Hawaiian Islands, including Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, as well as the Big Island of Hawaii. Some of her later works show the influence of Lloyd Sexton, with whom she studied.

Martha Greenwells art is held in many private collections, and has recently been reproduced in a book, The Islands of Hawaii, Paintings by Martha Greenwell, published by the Hawaii Preparatory Academy.

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About  Martha Lowrey (Tommy) Greenwell

Born:  1920 - Oahu, Honolulu, Hawaii
Died:   2014
Known for:  miniature tropical landscape painting, crafted wood ornaments

Essays referring to
Martha Lowrey (Tommy) Greenwell

Artists who painted Hawaii