GUIZERIX: Chester O. Martin’s death leaves a hole in Vicksburg’s art community

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, September 13, 2023

In the main hallway of my house hangs a painting of two fish, painted in exquisite detail with layers of color and depth.

The painting is titled “Albies on the Run,” and it was created in 2020 by Chester O. Martin.

One day, maybe next week, I’ll get off of the “tribute column” kick I’m on, but today’s not that day.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The passing of Martin, a beloved artist, bat expert and all-around genius, brought tears to my eyes last week. I had the privilege of sitting down with Martin for a story in Vicksburg Living Magazine last year, during which I learned more about his artistic work and the kind man who wielded the brush.

From humble beginnings painting Wild West scenes on Central Texas shop windows to illustrations in textbooks and every brushstroke in between, Martin’s devotion to art and nature conservation defined his life.

Martin possessed great skill and was a fount of knowledge when it came to wildlife biology, a passion he shared with a fellow artist: his late identical twin brother, Victor. I remember the pang of heartbreak I felt every time he said “we,” when speaking of time with his brother, only switching to singular pronouns when he reached a point in his story after his brother’s death.

I’ve always been fascinated by artists, especially those who possess the ability to accurately portray the things around them. Martin was primarily self-taught, but his natural skill and dedication to his craft, on top of being a scientist at the Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, led to his illustrations being printed in textbooks and educational references.

When the weather, and his bad heart, allowed, it wasn’t uncommon to see Martin outside Peterson’s in downtown Vicksburg, selling paintings on Saturdays.

It wasn’t uncommon to see Martin wielding a magnifying glass, painstakingly outlining each scale on a fish, or with a fine-bristled paintbrush, spending hours creating the perfect texture for an eagle’s tailfeather.

Ever the scientific mind, Martin’s precision in painting came second only to his record-keeping. Each work of art was signed, named and labeled, and he could easily recite the places his artwork traveled, even as far away as South America and Eastern Europe.

“I’ve had to split my time with art and science. … But still, it’s art that identifies me,” Martin told me last year. “I think I’m a pretty good scientist, but I’m a better-than-average artist.”

If you have one of his paintings in your home, I highly recommend you look on the back of the frame, make note of the name and label, and thank God for sending Martin to Vicksburg.