Surveying History

Artist Brings Mason, Dixon to Life

Adrian Martinez to highlight famous surveyors at exhibit in Pennsylvania

November 22, 2013
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Adrian Martinez paints pictures of ordinary people who just happen to do extraordinary things.

That’s a reason why Martinez said he has taken his brush to Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the now-famous men who started surveying the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania 250 years ago.

Now their names are immortalized by the Mason and Dixon Line, but Martinez believes they did not understand the implications when they started their work in 1763.

“Mason and Dixon themselves could not realize the full consequences of what they were doing,” Martinez said.

In fact, that makes Mason and Dixon particularly appealing to Martinez—who designed holiday cards for President George W. Bush in 2001 and completed a mural for the White House in 2003—as an artist.

“I make still pictures and bring the times alive, not by making them superheroes,” Martinez said. “It was just as they were as real people.”

Martinez wants to convey that image of Mason and Dixon at an exhibit at the Chester County (Pa.) Historical Society. The exhibit, entitled “History in the Making: A Contemporary Artist’s View of Chester County 1750-1800,” will open in 2015. Martinez will serve as the artist, designer and curator.

Though the opening remains two years away, Martinez already has indicated Mason and Dixon will play a large role in the exhibit, which will feature 12 of his oil paintings to show the change of Chester Country from frontier to farmland. Two of the paintings will focus on Mason and Dixon.

In addition, the exhibit will examine other figures from the area’s history, including Humphry Marshall, a famous botanist, and Indian Hannah, the “last of the Lenape in Chester County” who worked as a guide for Mason and Dixon. Martinez also hopes to include 18th century surveying equipment to help people understand the tools Mason and Dixon used.

Martinez, who lives in Downingtown, Pa., said he became drawn to Mason and Dixon after researching Marshall.

“It’s the local connection,” Martinez said. “I only realized the full significance of them three years ago, and it was by accident…. Everything started connecting. You start working on one thing, and you realize you are working on another.”

Martinez builds on the connections. One of Martinez’s paintings shows Mason and Dixon meeting with Marshall outside of Martin’s Tavern.

“This is what I imagined,” Martinez said. “Did this happen? Who knows? But he (Marshall) was working on a stone mason when they were there.”

Martinez said he connected with Mason and Dixon, who he said differed from people like Napoleon, who had always dreamed of ruling the world. Instead, Martinez pictures Mason and Dixon as two men who accomplished greatness through their every day work.

As Martinez continues to plan for the exhibit, he becomes more entranced by the history.

“As it moves along, doors keep opening,” Martinez said. “There’s a buzz accumulating. It seems like something bigger than me has grabbed me by the neck.”

Images of Adrian Martinez’s paintings of Mason and Dixon will be available for sale after Thanksgiving at his website, The website also includes a blog by Martinez and his wife, Leah, as well as a gallery, a store and images of my work.

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