If you wander down Highland, passing through the many little shops that make up Somerville, you can catch a glimpse of the careening and undulating blue glass sculptures of Martha Friend’s “Sapphire City” bursting from her front lawn — visible and sparkling only the brighter in the snow and blizzards of New England winters.
Sister Gem Cities
Friend, a long-time resident of Somerville and verified whimsy queen, grew up in a family of artists and has passed the gene onto her children. She has been adding to her household installations since 2015 after she retired as a Health and English as a Second Language teacher at Revere Public Schools. Friend considers herself a “found-material artist,” often finding inspiration and objects in thrift stores, flea markets, and sometimes even the street. She has used rusty farm implements, seashells, vintage ceramics, old dolls, religious icons, plastic dinosaurs and glass figurines to build her creations and dazzle the neighborhood.
She initially started in her backyard, creating a sweeping array of green glass, which she aptly named “Emerald City.” She has even painted the way for her guests by adding a yellow brick road in case they lose their way. A “Teapot Graveyard” is also featured, with lime and cobalt metalwork under a sky of glowing orbs.
With lots of encouragement and the “need to sink her teeth into a project,” she began work on “Sapphire City,” branching out into her front yard and fully sharing her work with the world. A sister city to her Emerald masterpiece, her front lawn features skyscrapers of cobalt and teal, with glimmers of orange to add even more pizzazz. Watching over her miniature city is “Dance Party,” a playful array of horses and action figures on her roof.
Self-described as having a “love affair with rust,” Martha Friend’s Victorian wonder is a beautiful compilation of glass and objects that jut out of her lawn, surrounding her house with an ephemeral grace. With her home being impossible to miss, Martha has admitted that she frequently keeps her windows open so that she can overhear people’s remarks on her work and listen to the joy that she brings to passersby. While she didn’t expect her home to become a staple in the neighborhood, she says she was confident people would enjoy it and that she’s never received any negative comments.
One passerby expressed her pleasure at viewing the local landmark: “I’ve circled [her] wonderful home. Fun, interesting, and an adventure; a feast for the eyes!”
While another adamantly stated that, “Martha always amazes.”
Always new additions
Martha always welcomes people to check out her yard, allowing people to circle her house and view her many installations. She will be participating in the Amory’s Somerville Open Studio and allowing people to view all of her work— inside and outside her house— the weekend of April 30. You can see some of her new work, including her dioramas, photographs, and a vast array of found objects to fully immerse you in a vibrant den of color. Anyone could spend an hour wandering around her collection and still discover a hidden treasure tucked artfully in a corner somewhere. (I personally enjoyed her sailor’s valentines box and the old-fashioned baby carriage that she has outfitted with lights, thermometers, and photographs!)
Martha Friend is constantly rejuvenating her house, and working on new projects, so stop by her house to see what the next additions to her garden are! (I’ve been told there might be ninja turtles!)
Friend, Martha. Martha Friend Statement, 2008, http://marthafriend.com/mf_stmt.php.
Nolan, Erin. “Martha Friend’s Fantastic Multi-Colored Glass Menagerie.” The Somerville Times, 2019, https://www.thesomervilletimes.com/archives/93191.
Stories, Local. “Meet Martha Friend in Somerville.” Boston Voyager Magazine | Boston City Guide, 3 July 2018, http://bostonvoyager.com/interview/meet-martha-friend-martha-friend-artist-im-somerville-home-studio/.