University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Martha A. Hall collection, 1971–2011, undated

Full finding aid (pdf) | I Make Books documentary

Collection Scope and Content

The Martha A. Hall papers document Martha’s practice as a book artist, and include journals, notes, postcards from shows, email and postcards exchanged with Allison Cooke Brown (coauthor of Paper Passages) and multiple prototype books that show Martha’s interest in form, texture and color. Also included are slides of work, artist’s statements, promotional material and price lists, as well as a catalog published by Smith College for a traveling exhibit. There are some photocopies of letters written by UNE students to Martha Hall and her family, which were produced in response to Martha’s work. The collection also includes Martha’s obituary and a letterpress booklet created by Betsy Shepard for Martha’s memorial service in January 2004. Additionally, there is a box of books that were made by other artists. Many of these works were made at Haystack, but others are of unknown origin.

The journals included in the collection span a wide range of time, from the Halls’ honeymoon in 1971 to 2003, near the end of Martha Hall’s life. The contents are a mixture of creative process and deeply personal reflections on illness and death, family, art-making and success.

Biographical/Historical Note

Martha Hall was born on June 4, 1949, in Malden, Massachusetts, to Dwight and Gertrude Smith. She attended Deering High School in Portland, Maine, and then Smith College, graduating in 1971 with a degree in English. She was married in 1971 to Alan Hall, and they had two daughters, Gabrielle (1976) and Danielle (1978). From 1971 to 1975, Hall taught eighth grade English in South Portland, Maine. In 1972 she earned art education certification, and it was then that Hall began weaving. In 1973, Hall started teaching weaving, and in 1975 she traveled to Finland and Sweden to study weaving techniques. On her return, she taught Finnish weaving at Wittenburg University in Ohio. She established Martha Hall, Inc., a retail store selling yarn, books, spinning and weaving supplies, in 1979 and in 1983 the business was expanded to include a national mail-order catalog.

To further improve her marketing and management skills, Martha took business classes at University of Southern Maine. In 1987, she entered the MBA program at Tuck School, Dartmouth College. She became the first woman to be awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from Dartmouth College. A week before she graduated from Dartmouth, Martha’s long struggle with breast cancer began. Still, she continued to commute from Maine to New York for her job at American Express, and then returned to Maine in 1994 to work as director of customer service at L.L. Bean. She worked there until 2000, when illness forced her to retire.

In 1995 she attended the Paper Arts Workshop at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine, which marked the beginning of the creative pursuit that would become her legacy. In 1996, Hall took her first book arts workshop with Rebecca Goodale and Dennis Gilbert at Haystack and in the same year created her first artist’s book, The Raven. In 1998 she moved to Orr’s Island, Maine, and graduated from the BFA program at Maine College of Art. Hall’s books were featured in many special exhibitions across the country, and in 2001 the Maine Women Writers Collection acquired a core collection of her books for student use in the medicine and humanities curriculum as well as produced a video about her work entitled “I Make Books.” Hall’s books are now part of the permanent collections at Bates, Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Smith and Wellesley colleges, and Harvard University, among others.

It was Hall’s wish that her books not be sold to private collectors but be made available for the public, cancer patients, and medical professionals. Hall said that her books helped her heal, that they were a way for her to explore the importance of living life fully. She died at her home on Orr’s Island on December 5, 2003, at age 54.