An American Illustrator
Martha Sawyers was born in Corsicana, deep in the heart of Texas. Martha spent her youth in Victoria and Cuero, Texas where she discovered a book entitled “Religions of The Far East”. That book became her magic carpet to strange and exotic lands on the other side of the world. From Cuero, Texas, Martha Sawyers went to New York and trained as an artist at the Art Students League, where she met a William Reusswig, a young writer and illustrator in 1924. The couple were married in 1928.
It was the 1920’s. The world was between two great wars, there was no bomb, no television, no plane travel, the third world was not yet named as such, and the world was to become Sawyers’ canvas. During 20’s and 30’s she worked as an illustrator, designing Broadway Playbills, covers for theatre and film magazines, and jackets for the serialized versions of Pearl Buck’s novels. During this period, Sawyers did stain glass windows for J & R Lamb.
In a fortunate marriage of talents, the exciting and romantic husband and wife team went to the Orient in 1937 and returned with a visual feast of subtle portraits, rich with history of ancient people and their exciting cultures. Scenes captured city, farm, palace and, tribal life that throbbed with color and movement. Upon their return to the U. S., Sawyers exhibited in New York galleries and became an overnight success.
It brought her to the attention of Collier’s magazine, who commissioned her to record her impressions of china, and subsequently Life magazine sent her as a war correspondent to the Far East. The famous team of Sawyers and Reusswig became World War II correspondents. The most famous of her war posters, The China War Relief poster, was done in 1943 and is known internationally. Her illustrations of the famous appeared on the covers of “Life”, “Colliers”, “Liberty” and “American” magazines.
Two famous travel books on the Far East were co-authored and illustrated by Sawyers and Reusswig. The books are “India and South East Asia” and “The Illustrated book about the Far East.” Lowell Thomas, world famous commentator, wrote the introduction to their book. He noted: “No other authors have etched the contour and color of the Far East as this couple has: he in his prose and narration and she as an artist who has captured the very spirit of the Far East.”
After the war, she continued to travel and exhibit widely in North and South America as well as the Far East. She achieved an astonishing descriptive force and fluency of line. Her last trip in the mid-1950s, which covered India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, Burma and China, and her enthusiasm never diminished. “It is impossible to go out in the street anywhere”, she said, without seeing many fascinating faces that demand translation.”
Martha Sawyers work belongs to the great tradition of American illustration which extends from Winslow Homer to Norman Rockwell. She is featured with notable illustrators as Norman Rockwell in “Forty Illustrators and How They Work” by Ernest W. Watson’ published by Watson-Guptill, Inc.,1946. WHO’s WHO OF AMERICAN WOMEN, 1972-1973 listed Sawyers for on-the-spot portraits for the “New York Herald Tribune,” editorial illustrator for “Colliers” and “Life” magazines, one-man shows for Society Illustrators and The Art Institute of Pittsburg. Sawyers exhibited at the Grand Central Art Gallery, Camel Black Gallery in Arizona, Den Passar, Bali, Indonesia, LaPaz, and Bolivia. Martha Sawyers and William Reusswig returned to Texas in the 1970’s. Both are now deceased.