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Straight From the Heart

“Scynte Valentine of custome yeere by yeere
Men have an usuance, in this regioun,
To loke and serche Cupides kalendere,
And chose theyr choyse by grete affecioun,
Such as ben move with Cupides mocioun
Takyng theyre choyse as theyre sort doth falle;
But I love oone whiche excelleth alle.”

— John Lydgate, in praise of Catherine, wife of Henry V (14th century)

Straight From the Heart : The Valentines of Edw Martinez
Martinez, Ed
Reno, NV: Black Rock Press, University of Nevada, Reno, 1997
Z232.5 B4 M37 1997

The customs of Valentine’s Day have been traced back to the ancient days of Rome — where young men and maidens would come together, celebrate the pagan holiday Lupercalia, and draw names from a bowl to learn of their valentine for the year to come. Although the Roman origins of Valentine’s Day can still be seen in images of Cupid, the Roman god of love, we are more familiar with later Christian interpretations and, specifically, with the name Saint Valentine. Some say that there were at least three Saint Valentines, while others believe there were as many as seven. No one knows, however, why exactly this day in particular is attributed to any Saint Valentine.

Despite its mysterious past, February 14th has long been known as the day we express our love.

Even birds do it! At least, that’s what Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem, “Parlement of Foules,” suggests. Written for the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia in 1382, Chaucer’s poem recites,

“For this was on Saint Valentine’s day, When every fowl comes there his mate to take.”

From the birds and the bees we move to Edmund Spenser’s epic poem, The Faerie Queene. Published in 1590, one particular verse inspired the famous Valentine rhyme some two hundred years later:

“She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew, And all the sweetest flowers, that in the forest grew.”

Throughout all ages, messages of love were natural. In the 17th century, the famous English diarist, Samuel Pepys, remarked on what he called the very first valentine’s card.Those who could write would send their beloveds words of affection, while those who couldn’t would express their emotion with symbols and objects.

Not all were skilled poets and wordsmiths. But by the 18th century, those who lacked the talent of writing could purchase The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, published in England in 1797. This book came equipped with a variety of different phrases one could copy, and for sentiments of all kinds. Not long after, other books came on the market specifically with the purpose of helping such Valentine’s Day messages flourish. Some examples include, The Beauties of Hymen (A. Kidwell, 1824) and The Quiver of Love (Marcus Ward & Co., 1876).

During this same time, the first valentines were created for a commercial market. They were symbolic, lacy cards which expressed sentiments of affection with images of birds, cherubs, and lovers. Of the many publishers who printed these dainty cards, George Kershaw and Louis Prang were some of the most prominent. Today, their prints continue to circulate through antique collections and are still considered the classic ideal of Valentine’s Day cards.

While Kershaw and Prang’s valentines sold for anywhere between two and three dollars, the late 19th century also mass produced “comic” penny valentines. These were printed cheaply, in several colors, and often on newsprint. Although many thought the presentation crude, the penny valentines helped develop a new market in the greeting card industry. By the 20th century, Valentine’s Day cards were more simple in design and coloring, and embodied a different kind sentiment — the spirit of friendliness.

Today, Valentine’s Day is often called a “Hallmark Holiday” — a holiday that seems to exist primarily for commercial purposes. Perhaps, for this very reason, we might find ourselves returning back to the time of the handmade and unique. Such are the valentines created by print-maker Ed Martinez.

Martinez made his first valentine in 1973, during a printmaking class at University of Nevada Reno (UNR). “Frustrated with his classes’ inability to understand what could be done to set an image on the road to being a metaphor, he drew a heart shape and filled it with scrawling gesture. Rapid, impatient marks, part of the essential lesson every art student has to learn — loosen the hand! Images made that way are drawn straight from the heart, through the arm and out the fingers; they carry an immediate veracity.”

This “hairy heart” was given to each of the students in his class that semester. Then, twenty-two years later, Martinez had filled a computerized Rolodex with over four hundred “Valentines,” who received one of his handmade hearts every year.

The cards aren’t just reproductions of any old valentine, rather they depict the heart as a “briarpatch of emotion,” where “love is difficult, if not impossible to manage and contain within stereotyped conventions.” For Martinez, the Valentines represent a “freedom of gesture,” and “express more about the genuine nature of love than a tidy sentiment; and, that with the elevation of love to a ritualized emotion, there exists a counterbalancing and untamed pain.”

Designed by Robert E. Blesse at the Black Rock Press, University of Nevada, Reno Library with the help of John Balkwill. The type is Trump Mediaeval designed by Georg Trump; the display type is Adobe’s Nueva designed by Carol Twombly. The cover was printed in letterpress from photopolymer plates on Curtis Flannel Paper. Bound by Roswell Bookbinding, Phoenix. Five hundred copies were printed with fifty special copies containing an original Valentine printed by the artist, Ed Martinez. All copies are signed by the artist.

Notes on the Valentines:

… In the last minute confusion, we inserted one of my new prints, (one I was going to use either next year or in a special display in the exhibit) and it was mistakenly dated ‘79 by one of my helpers. I saw the error, but it was too late to screw around with it and it went up on the wall dated ‘79. No harm done, huh? Then of course one of the first prints sold in the exhibit was this so-called ringer ‘79 version. Because it was sold, I have not circulated or used the image for one of my annual mailings, so it is in a true sense of the word, a very limited edition.

A two-color image with both the red and black done separately. This time very “expressively,” and not really registered in the beginning — just sort of put together. How it was printed was what we got — smears, dropped out lines and all that.

Candy box with attached plastic flowers. I was doing a lot of “nature-mort” still life drawings at the times, and I liked the idea of some flowers in the valentine. One some versions, I hand-drew crayon colors in the petal areas. I tried several versions and one of the results were very good. I went with this version because of time-limitations. It is not one of my favorites, but there are one or two large scale images that are OK.

The central heart image and the cupid are both rubber-stamps… The heart is almost as large as the reproduction and I only had to enlarge it slightly. If anyone asks, I think this is my own personal favorite hairy heart. I would use the visual cupid image again in ‘91. A visual source, in my mind at least, was from a funeral monument I had seen in London’s Highgate cemetery in the late 1970s. The statue was of an angel, but it was wrapped and covered with an overgrowth of vines. It is an image that has remained in my memory, and my photographic collection all these years.

The twentieth valentine. I did three versions, some with drawn and others with printed pink outlines of a second and third heart. This is the simple image. I quite honestly did not see it, but many people view this as a very sexually anatomical image. Where is Desmond Morris when I need him?

Of course, this is THE anatomical heart. I lifted it from a book I bought in a London flea market, with great scientific illustrations. Actually, I purchased it for the skeletons and bone engravings. I printed this and three other heart images. A few people thought I was telling everyone that this was the last heart because i was sick and dying. Maybe it was the rubber stamps on the envelope? “Hair clogged arteries”? Everyone asking me, “Are you really OK?” I did get a lot of negative response to the ‘94 hearts. So I said I would do “pretty” lollipop one next time so that people would know I am still alive. One new sweetheart who works in the medical field like it and wanted to buy one, if I would do it large on canvas — I think I will.

Suggested Reading:
The Romance of Greeting Cards
Ernest Dudley Chase
Boston, Mass. : Printed at Cambridge, Mass., by the University press for E. D. Chase, 1926
NC 1860 C45

~Contributed by Lyuba Basin

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