Nell Gifford Martin (1943-2005)

Obituary published in Winston-Salem Journal on June 25, 2005:

Nell Gifford Martin, Ph.D., died Wednesday, June 22, 2005, at her home at Creekside Terrace, 3895 Old Vineyard Road, Winston-Salem. The cause was cancer. Born Nellie Louise Gifford on Aug. 24, 1943, Dr. Martin grew up in Canonsburg, Pa., a small town south of Pittsburgh, which she loved for the dramatic diversity of its population and the beauty of its setting. She would recognize that setting again when she first visited the steeply wooded hills of Tuscany. Even the crumbling subsistence farms of the Italian countryside were reflected in the fading fortunes of her home’s small dairy farms. Dr. Martin graduated from Wheaton College in 1966 with a degree in English literature and French. She worked as a writer and editor in Chicago, Ill., until 1974, when she moved to Washington, D.C. At that time she began collecting primitive American folk art and furniture, in which she saw qualities that complemented 20th century American fine art. In 1976, she moved to New York City where, in 1978, she opened an art gallery devoted to exploring relations among these several forms of art. She continued as an art dealer until 1984, although her emerging interest in relations between the history of religions and the history of art gradually drew her away from commerce and back to school. In 1984, she earned a master of arts degree in religion from Columbia University in New York. In the same year, she married James Alfred Martin Jr., a professor of religion retired from Columbia University. The couple moved to North Carolina, where he accepted a post as university professor at Wake Forest University and she entered graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this time concentrating in art history. She received a master of arts degree in 1988, and a Ph.D. in 1995. Her area of particular expertise was the illustration of devotional literatures in 12th and 13th century England and France. She was especially interested in uncovering the practices and content of female devotion, information largely obscured by the suppression of female religious life in the period and later. Dr. Martin had the pleasure of filling teaching appointments at Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill and the North Carolina School of the Arts. But her most gratifying teaching experience was in Winston-Salem, where she taught eighth grade language arts and social studies at Hill Arts Magnet from 2001 to 2004. She is survived by her beloved husband; her stepmother, Mary Ruth Gifford, of Washington, Pa.; two sisters, Ruth Waite Brown of Washington, Pa., and Joyce Wilson of Huntersville; two brothers, John C. Gifford of Burlington, Vt., and Walter S. Gifford of Cumming, Ga.; seven nieces and nephews; and many cherished friends. She is grateful for untiring friends and loved ones, and their unstinting loyalty, support and kindness.

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