“Martyl – A Retrospective": linking art and science with a Fermilab flare

Martyl's painting "Trees by Water" will be displayed in Fermilab's gallery from Sept. 20 through Nov. 6.

Martyl’s painting “Trees by Water” will be displayed in Fermilab’s gallery from Sept. 20 through Nov. 6.

In 1943, physics Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi invited nuclear physicist Alexander Langsdorf Jr. and his wife, Martyl Langsdorf, a well-known artist, to Chicago to join the Manhattan project. Now, nearly 70 years later, Martyl – as she’s known in the art world – continues to produce works combining art and science, and what better place to exhibit such works than the Fermilab Art Gallery on the second-floor crossover in Wilson Hall?

“Martyl – A Retrospective,” the exhibit, comprises a collection of Martyl’s paintings and works in other media, spanning from 1946 to 2010, which are on loan from Fermilab scientist Alvin Tollestrup and his wife, Janine, and former Director Leon Lederman and his wife, Ellen. Both families are devoted collectors of Martyl’s art. Fermilab employees may already be familiar with her work “The Canyon,” which Fermilab owns and displays on the west side of the art gallery.

“The deep appreciation of Janine and Alvin Tollestrup and Ellen and Leon Lederman of my work is evident in this memorable collection,” Martyl said. “It reflects a commitment to the cultural life of the community as well.”

While the majority of works on display are acrylic paintings capturing the American landscape, there is one piece different from the others that many viewers will recognize immediately – “The Doomsday Clock.”

This image of a clock face, designed by Martyl in 1947 for the magazine Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, still adorns the cover today. As explained by the magazine, how near the clock’s time is to midnight symbolizes how close the world is to global disaster. “The Doomsday Clock” is referenced in works of popular culture, including Alan Moore’s 1986 graphic novel, Watchmen.

“This is an important piece of art, but also of history,” said Georgia Schwender, Fermilab’s visual arts coordinator. “It’s a unique work that combines art and science in a way that reflects our country’s past, present and future.”

A copy of the first cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to feature the clock will be on display at the exhibit, which runs from Sept. 20 through Nov. 6. An artist reception takes place tomorrow, Sept. 20, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Jessica Orwig