Artist Profile: Martha Pope


“The wonderful thing about a pastel painting,” says Martha Pope, “is that you can mush up parts of it.” Yes, from pastels comes the freedom to change your mind. You can add details or light effects. Or take them out. You can brighten colors or subdue them. It’s about capturing the essence of a scene ‒ a statement of joy about a place and time.

Killneck Creek, pastel painting on sanded paper, photo: Martha Pope

Pope uses that freedom to reach into the heart of a landscape. She watches the light change by the second and feels nature move with the breeze and flow with the waters that spread in a marsh … or drift through a wooded field. Ultimately, it comes from her heart. It’s her conversation with nature.

Pope began her professional life with a degree in sociology with an art minor. She taught at elementary and junior-high levels and picked up a master’s in art education along the way. And then she found herself in DC.

Montana Homestead, pastel on sanded paper, photo: Martha Pope

She advanced from a stopgap job as a receptionist in a US Senate office to legislative positions and eventually to be the chief of staff to a senator. She was elected to be the Senate’s sergeant at arms and then secretary. Along the path was a position with the National Wildlife Federation. She joined the State Department to deal with the religious/political conflict in Northern Ireland.

Pope came back to art. She studied watercolor, but watercolor can be difficult, producing more anxiety than paintings. She studied pastels with Wolf Kahn, an American impressionist, and recently here with Ellen Cornet, an American treasure.

Saint Simons Island, pastel painting on sanded paper, photo: Martha Pope

She travels the world looking at and photographing landscapes, and then sequesters herself in her studio where she reaches into the heart of a place ‒ adding, subtracting and finding its core.

You can find her work this month, through December, at the Hill Center Gallery. (See at the Galleries.)

Jim Magner ’s Thoughts on Art

Imagine. Go ahead, do it.
Imagine what? Anything.
Try placing yourself in a painting.
Just pick one.
Maybe one of Martha Pope’s.
Have a seat,
Or just look around for a while.
You can add a faithful pet
Or other people.
Maybe some birds.
Make it as comfortable as you want.
Now try flying.
High above the land.
Looking down on the wonderful scene.
Soar freely.
You can do that
Because you want to.
You can make your own painting in your mind.
Any place you might like to be.
Add color.
Lights. Darks.
Warms. Cools.
Let them swim through your thoughts,
Your imagination.
Add music. Let it flow.
Add voices.
Interesting conversations.
Now come back.

You don’t want to? Too much anxiety? No problem. You can do it whenever you choose. Once our ancestors recognized beauty, they were swept into that intellectual adventure of enormous complexity we call human imagination. That adventure is art. Creativity tied to the spiritual. Whether painted on canvas or in the infinite capacity of the mind, it can carry us through anything. Art is all we need.

At the Galleries

Hill Center
921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
—Dec 30

This “hybrid exhibit” brings together five favorite Hill Center artists. Their work is on the walls and online.

  • Martha Pope: “Pastel Landscapes”
  • Kasse Andrews-Weller: “Happy Place”
  • Ellen Cornet: “Animal Crackers”
  • Alan Braley: “The Joy of Baseball”
  • Monica Servaites: “Refraction”

Kristina Penhoet
Foundry Gallery
2008 Eighth St. NW
Nov. 5-28
Reception: Nov. 5, 7-9 p.m.

Kristina Penhoet wants us to understand and find beauty in the quiet moments that make us human. She works primarily with wool and textiles, holding close to natural tones, and uses felting, hand-stitching, wrapping and knotting. These are “three-dimensional abstractions of profound emotions tied to universal experiences ‒ through which we gain empathy with others.” The more you look at them, the more you transfer your thoughts and memories to your own experiences. 

Soomin Ham
Multiple Exposures Gallery
Torpedo Factory, Alexandria, Virginia
—Nov. 28

“Lingering Glimpses” is a solo exhibition by Soomin Ham, a DC-area photographer and multimedia artist. It is an ongoing project commemorating American soldiers, young men and women who died in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a subject few people want to deal with. She begins with an online search for images and then uses traditional darkroom methods to create-black-and-white silver gelatin prints. To drive home the reality that young lives were cut short, she processes the film with an expired developer and no fixer, giving the photographs unpredictable lives of their own as the images slowly fade away.

On a personal note: You can watch a short video (85 sec.) about my historical fiction novel “The Dead Man on the Corner,”, and buy the book on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, along with my other new historical fiction novel, “John Dillinger and Geronimo.” See

Capitol Hill artist and writer Jim Magner can be reached at