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|R.G. Martelet (contemporary)|
Louisville, Ohio in the late 1940s was as good a place as any for Ron Martelet to start drawing military aircraft and fantasy automobiles in the margins of his textbooks. And after learning perspective during his high school years, he couldnŐt keep from sketching out his fantasy vehicles with astonishing realism.
It wasn't until he enlisted in the navy during the Korean War that a submarine shipmate showed him a catalogue for The Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles. The discovery that there was an actual profession called "Industrial Design" gave Ron a direction to follow when his enlistment was up. Now located in Pasadena in a Modernist black space frame bridging a ravine, the Art Center even then had a tight regimen of absolute design methods that were expected to be applied with military precision.
After four years of learning by their rules, Ron was a new design school graduate ready for some variety. By 1959, he headed to Sears Roebuck & Co. and the major leagues of industrial design. For thirty years, he designed everything from tiny Christmas tree light reflectors to a cabin cruiser, all available through the world's greatest "Wish Book" of Americana. Not merely a renderer of superb ability, he could be the total architect of consumer products. All of the objects he designed, whether they were power tools, snowmobiles, golf carts or Coleman lanterns, started as problems that could be solved with the right ergonomics wrapped in a stunning package.
"There is no reason for any product to be ugly" he later wrote. "Occasionally engineers would tell me that a product only needed to be functional and nothing more and that there was no reason to waste money to make it 'pretty', then they would hop in their Corvettes and go home."
An early "propellor head," Ron applied aeronautical technology to many of his larger objects. He envisioned a plane's retractable landing gear in a series of designs for power boats that didnŐt need separate trailers, relying instead on built-in wheels and hitches stored in the gunwales and bows when not being towed. Even his faucets and bathroom shelves were drawn with the streamlined energy of outboard motors and windswept wings.
Ron thought of himself as a combination artist/engineer/psychologist in the world of commercial art. He designed bicycle child carriers with a quick detach feature to reduce aerodynamic drag when not in use. But a revealing consumer survey may have explained why young mothers so appreciated the feature when one lady disclosed "When I go for a ride in the evening by myself, I donŐt want some young man in a sports car to see that damn baby seat back there."
His drawing style was unique to the design department and to this day he is regarded by the current head of product design at Sears as "the best artist we ever had." Precision detail was expressed through the quick, virtuoso stroke of his crayon-like pen to communicate an effortless design that seemed quite buildable. An industrial designer must certainly make his products appear to be the logical result of a carefully researched program. But to also create excitement for the often mundane appliance or tool through a lyrical line and a gleam of reflected light was a Martelet trademark.
Since his retirement in 1989, aviation has consumed his attention. Still an avid model builder, he was honored with the permanent display of one of his examples at the Academy of Model Aeronautics. And his two full size experimental aircraft keep his flying skills as sharp as his drawing abilities.
His drawings come alive because Ron Martelet is first an artist who is compelled to draw. Before he knew of the problem/solution requirements of the profession, he just drew objects for the sheer joy of it. Other young artists sketched still lifes. Ron simply drew cars.
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