Ebener gaining recognition
for unique painting style

Martha Ebener freely admits that public speaking is not her forte. Addressing a formal gathering of people seated in front of her, waiting for her to say something profound, is quite unnerving for Ebener, a documents associate in Woodruff Library's Government Documents section.

Actually, Ebener's apprehension about public speaking has not been a major concern for most of her life. But since her paintings began to increase in popularity and she began showing them in more places, Ebener has been asked more and more to talk about her work with the art lovers who come to see it.

Calming the butterflies
Last March during Emory's celebration of Women's History Month, Ebener got her first taste of public speaking outside a classroom setting. An exhibition of her works was displayed in the Dobbs Center Art Gallery during the month, and she was asked to discuss her work before an Emory audience.

"Of course, I kept messing up the slide projector," Ebener recalled, "but everything turned out okay." She was much more comfortable at a showing of her works last October at the Autrey Mill Nature Preserve in north Fulton County. "People were just hanging out in the chapel [where her work was displayed]. So it was a bit more informal, and I could just be relaxed about talking to people."

Becoming more accustomed to public speaking is an important goal for Ebener, "because I'm talking more to gallery dealers, curators and reporters," in addition to audiences of art lovers.

Art interpretation
A graduate of the University of Georgia with a BFA in painting, Ebener describes her painting as figurative and allegorical. "I like to paint animals and landscapes, but they're not very traditional or academic," she explained. "A lot of them are based on certain ideas I've had or stories in folklore mythology that I've read." Ebener said she works mainly with the theme of nature "because I feel like all human beings have a need for a spiritual connection with nature."

Ebener is often surprised by some of the connections other people make when they see her work, connections that never could have occurred to her while she was creating the work.

"At the Autrey Mill show, there was a woman whose father was a Holocaust survivor, and she was a sculptor," Ebener said. "I had this painting of a cow in the show and I was telling her about how I just love cows and thought they were wonderful creatures with beautiful faces and eyes. The woman told me what it was like when her father returned to their town after being in a concentration camp. He found that most of the people were gone, but a lot of the farm animals were still there. That was a startling realization, how the appearance of things hadn't changed that much in the midst of something horrible going on."

In addition to her paintings, Ebener also creates hand-made books. She has done about 25 so far. One is titled "The Prayer Book" and is based on the hours of the day when monks and nuns pray. The book developed as a result of Ebener's waking up in the middle of the night several times. "I couldn't go back to sleep, so I started analyzing the world's problems," she said.

As a result of that insomnia, "The Prayer Book" contains some strong statements about the condition of the world. One page includes the phrase, "I wish the Pope would wake up to reality." Another deals with Ebener's wish that she would never have to see the phrase "Thank God for AIDS" as long as she lives. "They're really statements of frustration," she said. "I guess they're more wishes than prayers."

In a five-book series called "Rape in These United States," Ebener used her experience working at a rape crisis hotline to explain how rape has come to be seen as an almost typical occurrence in this country. "It seemed as if [rape] was happening all the time and people just ignored it, or at least didn't pay much attention to it," she said. "It was almost like rape was being trivialized as just another part of life."

Creating a book can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks, Ebener said.

Earning a living
Five years down the road, Ebener hopes that sales of her paintings will have become successful enough for her to work at least part-time on painting. Currently, she squeezes it in between shifts at the library. "This has been the best year I've ever had," Ebener said of her painting sales. "I got into a lot of shows and sold a lot of paintings, so I'll definitely have to report something to the U.S. government."

Ebener's secret fantasy is to save up enough money to go to Italy for a couple of years and do nothing but paint. "That really is a fantasy," she said. "Maybe some day."

-Dan Treadaway

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