Martha is an artist. Period.
Martha Bird is an artist. While you may not think twice when you read that statement, it took Martha a great deal of time to accept and finally call herself an artist.
Martha joined the collective at Avivo ArtWorks in August of 2016. She’s an artist living with a mental illness, but prefers to be known for what she does and who she is, not her diagnosis. “I’m an artist. Period.”
“The fact that Martha can identify herself as ‘an artist, period,’ is really inspiring,” says Sally Sales, Avivo program director.
“Martha is a natural leader and a strong mental health advocate,” says Jes Reyes, Avivo ArtWorks program manager.
Martha takes a sculptural approach to basket weaving, called sculptural basketry, and she’s making a name for herself. Martha has pieces on display at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum through the month of May, and a piece on-tour with the National Basketry Organization.
“When I first started doing art, what I needed was the encouragement. You can do it. Keep going. You are worthy of doing beautiful work.”
Success didn’t come easily for Martha. She found basket weaving and basketry at a tough time in her life. “I was working as a nurse and injured my back. Doctors put me on bedrest,” she says. After two years of bedrest, she decided she’d had enough. “It’s been two years and [bedrest] is not helping. I’ve got to get up and do something. So I took a basket weaving class.”
Throughout her recovery, Martha’s lived by the words of the poem The Way It Is by William Stafford. The poem starts with: “There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change.”
“I’m just following the thread,” says Martha. “What’s next?”
Martha’s achievements are teaching her that she is capable of great things. “When I first started doing art, what I needed was the encouragement. You can do it. Keep going. You are worthy of doing beautiful work.”
Martha still struggles with the difference between her perception of herself as a person living with a mental illness and her new-found success. “You’re mentally ill, sick. I really identified with that because that’s what I’ve been told.” Now she has concrete evidence that she’s capable, which is gradually removing her self-doubt.
Martha has big goals. She’s applied for several grants, as well as to craft and folk schools, and to the Women’s Art Institute at St. Kate’s University. “That’s as far as I see – and that’s just the next year,” she says.