The Durango and Mancos arts communities are preparing to say “so long” to a longtime artist who, many say, has been a vitally important contributor, champion, organizer and mentor to dozens of her colleagues.
Heather Leavitt Martinez, who has lived here for 22 years, is moving to Washington, D.C., to work full-time as a graphic recorder – a decades-old but not widely known (outside the corporate world, at least) field that captures her skills in a new way.
Leavitt Martinez has been, for many years, a photographer and print-maker. She is well-known for alternative-process photography, a nontraditional way of making prints, such as hand coating emulsion on tin, aluminum or glass, among other techniques. But now, she has closed her studio and sold her cameras, ready to leave a realm of the artistic world that fed her for as long as it could.
“When I found graphic recording, I found my visual language and no longer needed to create art,” Leavitt Martinez said.
Graphic recording is a practice that takes peoples’ ideas and expressions and, in a live environment, uses words, drawings and simple icons to put it all on paper. Think of it as a blend of listening, synthesizing and drawing, Leavitt Martinez said. She started doing this kind of work 2½ years ago while working as a graphics specialist at Korn Ferry, a corporate leadership company. She took several workshops and was immediately drawn to its impact on people participating in meetings that use these “visual practitioners.”
“As an artist, I would create art and not have a connection with my audience,” Leavitt Martinez said. “In my new work, I can facilitate change, and take that artistic talent to the corporate board room. I can walk into a room and see people transform.”
In D.C., she will be working with a mentor to build the graphic recording practice for OGSystems, which develops software and integration solutions for federal and commercial clients.
“I have really big plans. I can’t create art anymore,” Leavitt Martinez said. “It will be a former life.”
Her transition to a new career doesn’t make Leavitt Martinez pause for even a minute. But her absence locally community will matter. In 2004, Leavitt Martinez and her husband, Ray, started Arts Perspective magazine, which focused on the area’s artists, galleries and more. They sold it in 2010.
“Ray and I started Arts Perspective for completely selfish reasons: to give ourselves and other emerging artists a voice in the community. It eventually grew to covering well-known artists as well. The process of publishing a magazine taught us who we are as much as we learned from the artists in Southwest Colorado,” Leavitt Martinez said.
Ray is chief financial officer at Durango Orthopedics, but he also is a photographer – and, as Leavitt Martinez explains, a “creative thought partner, co-founder and tireless supporter of all of these projects.”
She said on some level, artists here raised her. She doesn’t have to stop for long to think about who impacted her most, because there are many. It goes both ways, too.
“Heather managed to get her influence in many places,” said Margy Dudley, owner of Open Shutter Gallery. “She is one of the most creative minds I’ve ever met.”
Dudley said Leavitt Martinez’s boundless creativity always enhanced what she offered at her photography gallery, whether it was her setting up an alternative-process photography show or silk screening cards to sell there.
“I wonder if she has a clone,” Dudley said. “She must have a longer day than 24 hours. She seems to have a way of getting things done.”
That lines up with what Mancos artist Mary Alice Hearn says about Leavitt Martinez.
“Her impact is her desire to ask, ‘What is possible?’ And to step out and risk,” Hearn said.
Leavitt Martinez’s ability to take younger, emerging artists under her wing and guide them to greatness has been her hallmark, said gallery owner Karyn Gabaldon. She led them beyond the process of making art and into understanding the business side of it. In fact, in D.C., Leavitt Martinez also will be working on creating an art career planning tool to help people build their lives on art.
“For me, personally, Heather is a big sister type figure,” said Tim Kapustka, an artist and one owner of Studio &. “She’s a very nurturing person – to the point where you say, ‘Is this person for real?’”
Hearn’s sentiments about Leavitt Martinez line up with what the now-former photographer is setting off to do in Washington, D.C., as the graphic recorder: “A mindful woman, Heather listens, Heather observes, Heather is curious, Heather overflows with creativity,” Hearn said.