by Dawn Blunk
"I believe it was part fate that my parents moved to Isleton when I was only three months old. I was meant to grow up here in the Delta," reflects artist Marty Stanley.
Instantly recognizable, Stanley's signature landscapes recall even the most elusive and surreal Delta sunsets. Capturing nearly all the moods and hues of the picturesque channels and tributaries of the Delta, Stanley continues to add to his collection of nearly 400 original watercolors and oil paintings. In addition to his Delta suites, Stanley has completed a collection of watercolors commemorating his two trips to the Greek Island of Santorini. Six of the images from his Return to Paradise series have become international posters published by Top Art of Milan, Italy and San Diego. Two of the images appeared in the 1998 and 1999 "Artists of the World" calendar published in Germany. Stanley also collaborated with author and friend Charlie Soderquist on "Sturgeon Tales, Stories of the Delta." The 150-page book features eighteen Stanley paintings beautifully reproduced in color as well as four pencil renderings. His Delicious Art series, a set of still-life oil paintings on canvas, evoke the early days after the birth of his first child when simple, seemingly mundane items like a slice of watermelon or an eggplant took on a new visual splendor. Stanley relocated his Levee Gallery -- an art gallery devoted solely to his original works and prints -- to a larger space in Walnut Grove. Locals, as well as out-of-towners continue to visit the gallery and collect visual memoirs of the Delta for their homes and businesses.
Apart from his two forays to Greece for short but intense periods of inspiration, Stanley attributes much of his stimulation and growth as an artist to the small Delta towns in which he grew up. "Little did I know then, but that atmosphere was offering me the building blocks of my young, formulating mind. It was feeding the creative side of me. It nourished me -- the people, shops and restaurants were really fascinating. It was all the fabric of my life, very rich and diverse," muses Stanley on the mixture of cultures -- Japanese, Hispanic, Chinese and Filipino -- in the post-war era Chinatowns of Isleton and Locke. "It was a melting pot that was only two blocks long. Instead of living in New York or San Francisco where you might visit Chinatown in one day and go to Japantown another day, this was all in walking up and down the street -- the Filipino area, the Japanese store at the end, Pop who had the toy store and all the Chinese candy. It was very interesting and completely different."
As a kid, Stanley spent nearly everyday after school in his father's upholstery shop in the heart of Chinatown. Some of his fondest memories were of watching the eclectic mix of locals pass by the storefront window, buying and trading saltys (Chinese preserved plums) with his friends and even making a monthly trip to see the landlord, Bernie Wong. "I am telling you if I could just paint the picture of paying the rent in that place -- those Pekinese dogs yelping at me and running back and forth on top of the counter and this old man with a long pony tail braided down his back wearing the traditional silky Chinese clothes and slippers -- it was fascinating to a little kid."
After high school, the artist-to-be rented an old café in Chinatown where he set up his first studio. "I think it took me a while to realize how lucky I was, but as a kid I just took it all for granted. Then, as I started to venture out and be a creative entity in this world, I had a background which helped me to understand the subtle differences in life and culture by growing up in a place where there was so much stimuli -- culturally, visually -- everything there was unique."
Stanley says a close friendship with the owner of a Chinese restaurant also influenced him in his early years as a budding artist. "Pineapple was born in China like most of the older generation. He came over in the '20s," explains Stanley. "He was a Kung Fu Master raised in a Shaolin school as an orphan."
Cooking unique, off-the-menu dinners late at night, whipping up herbal concoctions at the slightest hint of a cold or teaching Stanley and his friends Kung Fu moves, Pineapple provided a much-needed source of support and encouragement in Stanley's life. "He wanted to know how I was doing, if I was saving my money, how my business was doing, everything. He was always asking me, 'Marty, what you do? You come now, you show me.' He was my mentor; he inspired my creative mind," recalls Stanley. "This guy was like a father to me because we spoke the same language, the language of life."
Because Pineapple was an artist himself and had painted watercolors, Stanley says that their shared interest also compelled him to explore his own artistic talents. "He appreciated what I stood for where both my parents couldn't quite come to grips with my decision to be an artist. From Pineapple, I found support for the person I was."
Contemplating the time he spent as an artist in Isleton Chinatown and later on, in Locke Chinatown, Stanley acknowledges the precious gift he received -- the freedom to follow his dreams. "It gave me a sense of myself and believing in myself, not having anyone say to me, 'you shouldn't be doing this.' If I wanted to be 19 years old and live in a little old restaurant and start off painting, there wasn't any resistance to that. It was more comfortable to live in a reclusive kind of way and yet still be a part of a community."
Stanley now lives with his wife Sherry and their two children, Skyler and Callista, in a two-story Victorian farmhouse alongside their beloved Delta.
Written in 2002. Marty passed away in September 2006.