Fred Martin was born in 1927 in San Francisco and grew up in Alameda and Oakland. He received his BA and MA from University of California, Berkeley, in 1949 and 1954, respectively. In between receiving his degrees, Martin studied at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) under David Park and visiting artists Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko. In 1954, he became the registrar at the Oakland Museum of Art (now the Oakland Museum of California) and in 1958 became the Director of Exhibitions at the San Francisco Art Institute. It was there that he oversaw the Art Bank, a membership-based initiative that supported artists through travelling shows; he also organized exhibitions featuring local Bay Area artists including David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, Bruce Conner and Wally Hedrick. From 1965-1975 Martin was Director of the College of SFAI, and then from 1983-1992 he was the Dean of Academic Affairs.
Kathan Brown met Fred Martin while she was teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute, and in 1966, Crown Point Press published Martin’s Beulah Land, a bound book of 15 etchings printed by Kathan Brown and hand-colored in watercolor by the artist. Martin used hard ground etching to draw delicate vignettes and he created a pictorial narrative representative of optimism and youthful innocence. Two quotes taken from an 18th-century Polish poet, Princess Isabel Czartoryska, bookend the etchings. On the last page is a phrase that evokes a wistful poignancy to Martin’s endeavor: “I wrote this for my / own pleasure and to / record experience / I should not wish to / forget.” The term “Beulah Land “is a Biblical reference to a place where people wait outside the gates of Paradise. Martin said of his book that it “…showed the way there… [and] the objects and landmarks and emblems of the place.”
In addition to championing other artists and students through his roles as an art instructor and administrator, Martin wrote about art extensively; from 1976-1992 he was a contributing editor at ARTWEEK. His artwork is held in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Oakland Museum of California; the Richmond Art Center, Richmond, CA; the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento; the Fogg Museum at Harvard Museum, Cambridge, MA; Museum of Modern Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The exhibition, The Art of Fred Martin: A Retrospective, 1948-2003, was held at the Oakland Museum of California, 2003.