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Anne Martinez Makes It Big

Potomac artist turns her talent toward set design.

When Potomac artist Anne Martinez paints a picture, it usually fits on the wall. But this time she had bigger plans when she began painting two large murals for Potomac Theatre Company (PTC) that barely fit in her house. They are going to be a part of the set for PTC’s spring production of Neil Simon’s "The Dinner Party" opening this Friday at the Bullis School.

The play takes the audience to Paris and the posh private dining room of an elegant restaurant. PTC needed two murals in the frivolous and fancy style of 18th century artist Jean Honore Fragonard’s romantic paintings to achieve that opulent look. That is when PTC board member and set builder Mac Grant turned to the artists of PAINT, (Potomac Artists in Touch) a woman’s art club in Potomac where artists use their work to enhance the community. Martinez who is a member, volunteered for the job.

Martinez is not a stranger to PTC. She appeared 16 years ago in their first production, "The Pirates of Penzance," singing and then dancing in the final scene with Grant. Through the years, she continued to help paint sets, do make up and run (for three years) the Potomac Community Children’s Theatre, then PTC’s children’s theatre section. "Anne is very creative and has a lot of energy," says Elie Pisarra-Cain, former president of PTC. "She is a lady for all seasons for us."

IF PAINTING IS NOW her first love, children and theatre have always been in her life. She worked for ten years in the 80s as a 6th, 7th and 8th grade teacher at Our Lady of Mercy School, where she also ran Mercy Eight Players for eighth graders, performing "Godspell" among others. "Anne is very artistic and creative and was devoted to her students," says Administrative Assistant Agnes Boyle who worked with her. Martinez retired from teaching in 1999 but continues to substitute at the Fourth Presbyterian School in Potomac.

Martinez, her husband Ramon and three-year-old son Chris, arrived at Piney Spring Farm, the home of Mike and Margo McConihe, Pisarra-Cain’s parents, in 1964. Among their many contributions to the area, the McConihe’s were responsible for donating the land and helping to build St. Francis Church. At Piney Spring Farm, the Martinez’s settled in a cottage where Ramon began working for the Mike McConihe. "Our children grew up together and it has been more like family than an employee relationship all these years," said Pisarra-Cain.

When Martinez celebrated her 70th birthday last week, she spent the day putting the final touches on the two colorful 4x7 foot murals for PTC. She moved them from a very small room to the lawn where she enjoys painting next to a very large garden. "She did a marvelous job under any condition, but considering the space she was dealing with it was a great success," said Grant. "I suspect that Ramon had to eat outside."

"Inside or outside, this place doesn’t look much different than it did forty years ago when I arrived and asked my husband:

‘Where are the street lights?’" says Martinez, a native of Washington who grew up in an apartment. She describes a life that has hardly changed over the years where they raised a son. Christopher who is now 40 is a photographer and teacher in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

WHEN SHE SPEAKS, Martinez has to compete with a cacophony of rooster crows and cicadas, and a distant donkey call. "I feel like I am one of the last bastions of rural Potomac," she says pointing to the hen house where 30 or so hens and a cocky rooster crate the chatter. "Not many people sell eggs these days and have a donkey and some chickens in their back yard."

But, if life was farm chores and chickens at home, Anne found a way to make it useful at school. She brought her eggs to class for her first grade students in the spring at the Tree of Life Christian School and taught them about nature as they hatched and then were counted during math class.

Throughout her teaching career, Martinez always loved art and started drawing as a child. "I was using pastels when Truman was president," she says. At the D.C. Teachers College, she majored in education and later got a reading specialty at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. She also attended Saint Mary’s College at Notre Dame in Indiana. In later years she went back to school again at Trinity. And all the while she painted.

After retiring, when she began to paint more often, she joined PAINT, which had been organized by a friend, Yolanda Prinsloo who started the club with help of Cherry Dearie, a checker at Safeway. "Cherry enrolled all the people she knew as they passed through her checkout line," said Martinez.

PAINT has had an ongoing relationship with PTC. For the performances of their 2003 production of Chain Links the members each painted a tablecloth with theatre themes, which PTC then auctioned during the evening’s performances.

"Community theatre is very much like a church where a wide variety of people come together and bring different gifts and talents to produce a result," said Martinez. "They end up wanting to help each other, rather than compete."