Martha Nilsson Edelheit

Martha Nilsson Edelheit was born in New York City, where she lived and worked for most of her life. In 1993, she moved to Sweden and currently lives outside Stockholm. For some thirty years, the human figure was a dominant and dynamic element in her work, yet Edelheit was never a realist. For her, the human form is at once strong and vulnerable, sexual and unidealized, tangible and mysterious. Following her arrival in Sweden, the human figure was largely replaced by animal imagery. Throughout her working life, Edelheit has avoided traditional illusions of space and has embraced the materiality of art. Her recent work continues to “play with shape, size, scale, transparency and density, pastel and vibrant color,” as the artist describes it.

In 1960, Edelheit had her first solo exhibition at the Reuben Gallery in New York. Since then, she has exhibited in numerous solo and group shows. In New York, her work has been featured at Judson Gallery, Byron Gallery, Artists Space, A.I.R. Gallery, Women’s Interart Center, and SOHO 20 Gallery. Elsewhere in the United States, she has had solo exhibitions at O.K. Harris Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts; Evanston Art Center in Evanston, Illinois; Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania; and Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In Sweden, she has had solo shows at Wetterling Gallery, Galleri Hovet, and Galleri Cupido in Stockholm; Medborgarhuset in Smedstorp; Galleri Strömbom in Uppsala; and Konstpaus in Ekerö. Solo exhibitions of her work have also been held at Gallery BE' 19 in Helsinki, Atelier 2000 in Vienna, and Galerie Carinthia in Klagenfurt, Austria.

Edelheit has been in group exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Queens Museum, Brooklyn Museum, The New York Cultural Center, and The New School Art Center in New York; the Wadsworth Atheneum in Harford, Connecticut; and numerous others in North America and Europe.

She was Artist-in-Residence at The Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Cincinnati, and Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania; Guest Lecturer at Montclair State College in New Jersey and The New School in New York; and Visiting Artist at The California Institute of the Arts.

In the 1970s, Edelheit made experimental films which were screened in the United States and Europe. Hats, Bottles & Bones: A Portrait of Sari Dienes (1977) was shown at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Edelheit’s work is in many private collections in Europe and North America.


I continue to work with the theme of animals in the countryside, which has absorbed me since 1994 when I moved from New York City to a rural area outside of Stockholm. In this contemporary world, filled with extreme threat, horror and violence, destruction of the environment, and disastrous abuse of all our resources, human and natural, I want to look at what is still here.

My most recent series of paintings are life-size sheep, usually looking directly at the viewer. They are friendly, independent, particular individuals. The sheep are surrounded by, and enmeshed in, a grid. This underlying geometric format, chicken wire covered in papier-mâché, is the painting surface. This surface, a mosaic of hexagonal forms, becomes a random pattern of intense color, evoking imaginary landscapes. Some of my earlier works are also on a chicken wire and papier-mâché base. They, too, are sheep in landscapes. The grid in these works is a minor part of the dialogue, a base note continuum.

Groups and clusters of sheep (or goats in one painting) wander or rest within their landscape. Their solid images are replicated in wire or ink or acrylic drawing, or are shadows cast from the wire constructions of their shapes. The dialogue between wire line, ink line, cast shadow and solid form, is intense, poetic, and sometimes political. And the Lion Lies Down with the Lamb and Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing were painted after George W. Bush was elected. They also refer to Edward Hicks’s Peaceable Kingdom (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art), a pictorial dream of reconciled differences that idyllically and peacefully inhabit the same space, and Henri Rousseau’s more ferocious jungle dreams. Many of the small sculptures are conversations between the linear and the solid, the wire-drawn line and the shadow, as are the drawings made from the cast shadows of the wire sculptures.