Like a lot of Homer artists, Gerri Martin’s early interest in art got sidetracked. She took art classes in high school in Yakima, Washington, and really enjoyed it, but marriage, parenthood and running a business came along.
“Of course, life happens and I was super busy with my fishing business and raising kids,” she said. “I put it on the back burner.”
A second career growing peony flowers on the family’s Diamond Ridge property led Martin back to art and a show this month at the Fireweed Gallery, “Peonies: Alaska’s Floral Gems.”
To determine how long the peonies would last, she did vase testing in her house.
“I had these amazing flowers growing in my home all the time,” she said. “I started photographing, and then I started painting them. … I love painting the peonies.”
Over the past four years, she painted, and even more so last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Irene Randolph at Fireweed Gallery called her a few years ago to see if she wanted to do a show.
“No, no, no — I’m not ready,” Martin said she told Randolph. “I was too shy to do it.”
This year, she got up the courage to do a show. Martin put together a proposal for a peony-themed show in July for the annual Homer Peony Festival. Randolph gave her the go ahead.
“So then I just had to get real and do it,” Martin said.
Martin, 63, grew up in Anchorage, but moved to Yakima in her teen years. After high school, she returned to Alaska, where she met her husband, Sean. They came to Homer in 1978 when Sean got a job running a boat servicing the George Ferris, a jack-up oil rig set up in Mud Bay.
“Then that got stuck,” Martin said.
The George Ferris became a symbol of how things could go wrong with oil and gas drilling in Kachemak Bay. Environmentalists and fishermen united to oppose drilling in the bay, which led to a buyback of oil and gas leases there. Sean Martin got a new job as a halibut captain for Silver Fox Charters. The next summer, the Martins started their own charter business, North Country Charters.
“When we started North Country, I was 20, maybe almost 21. Your long-term goal is five years,” she said. “Nothing stretches out beyond your nose when you’re that young.”
Five years turned into 43, and now the Martins have two grown sons, Ben and Ethan. Ben Martin and some friends plan to buy North Country this year from the Martins. Ethan helps run the peony farm. With her boys grown, Gerri Martin took over their old playroom and turned it into her art studio.
Martin got back to art five years ago when she started taking classes with painter Jim Buncak at Kachemak Bay Campus. She had worked mostly in watercolor and Buncak introduced her to oil painting.
“I had never painted in oil. That was a new experience with me,” she said. “He’s a fabulous instructor.”
At KBC, Martin also took business and other classes.
“I was so busy running my business — why do I need to go to college? I don’t need to go to college to have another career,” she said.
But she took classes anyway, enough so that eventually her adviser, Liz Downing, told her “You have so many credits, you need to wrap this up and get yourself a degree,” Martin said. In 2006, Martin graduated with an associate of arts degree, the same year her son Ben graduated from high school.
At her First Friday opening, Martin said she got a great reception.
“I was very humble when I had my First Friday,” she said. “I had gone to them before. I never imagined having them. It was really fun. They (friends) came out in support. It was a fun night.”
Of 16 paintings, she sold half.
“That was like, ‘whoa,” she said. “I’m definitely just new in the art world. People didn’t know that I painted.”
Now that her show is up, and she’s not as active in the charter business as the new generation takes over, Martin is in the middle of the peony harvest season — well, when it comes. With this summer’s cold weather, Martin said the flowers are about late about two weeks or more. But as Martin’s art career has shown, just because something blooms late doesn’t mean it won’t be fabulous.