Artist brings color to a Flagstaff icon.
If, as the saying goes, “Behind every successful man is a woman,” what’s behind a successful woman? Another woman, it turns out – maybe even whole generations of uplifting matriarchal energy. In 2001, as the new owner of MartAnne’s Breakfast Palace, Anne Ozmun remembers that when she saw Emma Gardner, inspiration struck, and preparation met opportunity.
“I was walking by Joe’s Place, the doors were open, and Emma was shooting pool,” Ozmun recalled. “We all waitressed and she’d done a mural inside La Bellavia. She was happy, smiling – very charismatic. Little did I know I’d cook and she’d be the waitress. I didn’t have a budget but we’re both decorators, so I bought paint, she painted, and we’d brainstorm over cocktails.”
For her part, Gardner was a third-generation painter who followed friends to Flagstaff from her hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She’d studied art conservation and restoration, done sculpture and had been “winning awards for painting since kindergarten,” she says with her disarmingly wide smile. “I always thought of myself as a maker, not a painter. And I really appreciated the friendly, casual atmosphere. People lived authentic lives. I wanted to stay.”
To do so, she waitressed, where she met Ozmun. “Working in a restaurant, I appreciated Hispanic Catholic art. It coincided with my Italian-Catholic identity. That’s how I started my painting career in my 30s,” Gardner said. Specifically, she painted murals in a style Ozmun knew would be perfect for the downtown classic Mexican food joint. “I always knew I wanted to be an artist, I didn’t know how,” she said. MartAnne’s provided the route.
Soon, walls had color and the room had glittery, mismatched chairs. “I kept the bare bones of the food and made it spicier, cheesier. We became each other’s muse,” Ozmun added. And more importantly, “we did it because it was fun.”
When Gardner suggested they open for First Friday Art Walks, the idea hit. Gardner displayed paintings and even marionette puppets for puppet shows. The scene became: see, be seen – and good business.
This afforded Gardner a space to experiment, using iconic imagery like Barbies until she came upon her signature skeleton paintings. “I don’t do sugar skulls,” she’s quick to note. “I draw from Mexican culture inspired by culturally relevant artists’ work like Jose Posada and Jesus Helguerra. I think that’s why my work is taken more seriously.”
Her skeletons are also bright and playful, incorporating river runners and pinup poses. “Sex sells and skinny is in,” Gardner said with a laugh. “It wasn’t about flesh, their attitude made them sexy.” And it seriously sells.
Fast forward to MartAnne’s success. As Gardner’s gallery, it’s brought in commissions, she’s published a book, been included at the Heard Museum and the Museum of Northern Arizona. Best of all, she’s a working artist in her own unique way. Ozmun sold the restaurant to her daughter, Tina, who tapped Gardner to curate their first Valley expansion – MartAnne’s in Paradise.
“I worked in restaurants to support myself but within that, I wanted to know how I could make that environment more inviting, entertaining, fun – create a good experience for people,” Gardner said. “Anne wanted her food to be beautiful, so the rest of the place ought to be, too. If it’s one-third food, one-third service, one-third environment, MartAnne’s has all three.”
And if they never had each other? “I think I would’ve had a restaurant and Emma would’ve been an artist, but I don’t think MartAnne’s would be what it is,” concluded Ozmun. FBN
By Billy Miller, FBN
Courtesy Photos: Painter Emma Gardner, top left, adorns MartAnne’s Breakfast Palace with her signature skeleton paintings, influenced by Hispanic, Catholic art.
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2023-08-16 16:28:42 , Flagstaff Business News