Monday, April 26, 2010

How I Met Martha...the end! (and our give-away winners!)


(The East Hampton kitchen where it all took place...)

I was pensive and distracted.

It had been three weeks since I had met Martha, and every time the phone rang at my job (which was often, because I worked for a gift basket company) I literally jumped out of my skin in anticipation. I was like a ping pong ball on an endless table, just waiting to land in a chair, with a phone to my ear, to listen to what my future might hold. Martha had me send my portfolio to Lisa Wagner, an art director and soon to be television producer in Manhattan. It was all so exciting.


As we toured the house and listened intently to Martha talk about the furnishings and the paint treatments, there were more knocks at the screen door. I eyed an ornate wooden mantle topped with a dozen vintage mercury glass vases and spied some beautifully bound art books in glass front cabinets topped with exquisite matte green art pottery from the 20’s and 30’s - beautiful large decorative pieces in sizes that I had never seen before or since, but that have inspired my own (almost miniature in comparison) collection. The ceiling was a masterful feat of carpentry and paint that Martha was very proud of - painted wooden beams with bead-board inserts that were each angled to create an interesting decorative pattern. Time consuming for both the carpenter and the painter, it was an absolutely stunning detail that added just one more layer of fastidiousness to the interior. “Someone likes perfection”, I thought “and it doesn’t matter if the route to get it is slow, arduous and hard core.”

(Multiple urns, leather bound books and a Venetian glass chandelier)

I heard voices in the hallway and the footsteps of someone joining us. Martha was expecting, and now greeting, Sallie La Grone, (her southern friend of more than twenty-five years) who had come for a visit. I recognized Sallie from an early Martha television segment on who made the “best fried chicken
Big surprise: Martha won that one...

We continued the tour, stopping to note an East Lake-style armoire that had very simple and graphic stenciling on it. Martha said that she had purchased it because of the stencil and would perhaps show this technique in the magazine. All these years later, I have yet to see a story about this type of stenciling. As we toured, I saw more and more pristine collections assembled in mass quantities… iron urns, multiple Venetian glass chandeliers, glassware, dishes, art, alabaster - museum quality collections en masse. I literally began to develop whiplash as we made our way through the maze of different rooms.

Back at the marble kitchen table where I had left my portfolio and the vase of sweet peas (which were dwarfed by the large vases and Jardinières), we each took a seat to look at my designs. Martha flipped the pages and I described what we were looking at. An urn of daffodils, a stack of fig-filled cookies, a chocolate, sweet potato cake. We arrived at a photo of a long loaf of bread stuffed with seasoned ground chicken meat, tied with string, festooned with fresh rosemary and then roasted in the oven. I had learned to make it on a trip to the Tuscany region of Italy. Martha had never seen anything like it and was fascinated. “You must send your portfolio to my art director, Lisa Wagner… she will point you in the right direction, she said.”

Indeed, Martha was very nice to me - at this time in my early career. We exchanged more and more thoughts and ideas for about twenty minutes, until her friend from New Hampshire arrived. She gave me her business card (which was a beautiful watercolor of a garden border with her personal phone number on it). We chatted in the drive way and I thanked her profusely for her time. She shared with us that much of her staff was in California shooting many stories for summer, and then revealed that she would be launching a new company, MARTHA BY MAIL, a catalog that has since disbanded. She said she was busy collecting houses and referred to the Gordon Bunshaft house in East Hampton and Skylands in Maine. I walked away with hope and promise in my heart that perhaps, somehow, I had fast tracked myself to something that would really improve my future.
(Skylands looking somewhat tomb-like as opposed to a comfy nest)

(The Bunshaft house - a property that Martha referred to as another "collected" home)


When the phone finally rang it was not what I was hoping for: Lisa Wagner. Sharp and to the point, Lisa told me that although my style was nice, it wasn’t like I could do this kind of work from New Hampshire; and that there were many, many talented people living in NYC right at the fingertips of magazines and advertisers. She asked, 'What made me think that I was different and that clients would want the bother of using someone from far away?' I didn’t have an answer right away… I couldn’t explain how or why I knew my perspective was valid. I was certainly crushed and disappointed, but my youth allowed me to be resilient and I adopted an “I’ll show you” attitude that has kept me going right up until today.

(Lisa Wagner (left) felt that I was "geographically disadvantaged." Should we let her know that my locale really paid off for years of work for Country Home and so many clients that love the seasons in New Hampshire???)

I have since crossed paths with Martha in a professional way many times (I wonder if she remembers our meeting
(I have a few more stories regarding our connections but I will save those for another time).

Needless to say it, didn’t play out in the way I had hoped. But, looking back, it was filled with valuable lessons and the push I really needed to realize in my youth that no one can truly hand you your opportunity on a plate (a fine French porcelain one at that). You must work hard on your own, make your way, lay the foundation and stack the building blocks all on your own. And while I didn’t let my geography work against me, I realized that I had to take all of my advantages and show myself I could make it work anywhere. Years later - and thousands of photographs - I continue to grow and evolve right here in the state that I was born in. And while I didn’t need Martha’s cache of contacts, I did need the support of my family, friends and readers. And along the way, I’ve collected many vintage, glass cake stands and lots of teal-colored pottery as a side effect of my visit to Martha's home, and maybe in some small way they have inched me a bit closer to success.

Holiday is my way of creating some opportunity for everyone. Please stay tuned to our site for all of the ways you can participate in this magazine of colorful and fresh ideas.

(To see who won our magazine give-away copies, please go here!)



  1. You gave it your best shot, but it did fuel you to push harder in your own way. I loved the story and there's something in it for everyone. I too, keep striving day to day to reach my ultimate goal.. to do something I LOVE to do for a living. This story has inspired me to keep pushing forward and never give up. Opportunity knocks when you least expect it. Thanks for the inspiration !

  2. Great story...there is always room for growth/goals no matter WHO you are.....I read somewhere that one per cent of Americans have no goals..hummmm something to think about. I am sure Martha has a list a mile long! Have a great day...and thanks for inspiring.

  3. Wow, she was a bit rude. Let me tell you, you proved her wrong. I so miss Country Home. Esp. you and Mary.........loved your articles and style. I ordered your HOLIDAY the first day I saw it posted. I can't wait to receive it. Keep up your good work.

  4. I, too, really miss Country Home, I have stacks of the magazine around my house and still go back and look at them over and over! I can't wait for Holiday and ANY work that you do in the future! Love, love, love Flea Market Style and hope there are more to come!
    By the way, Martha who? :) Beth

  5. Thanks for taking us back to "that" day! Staying true to one's self seems to be the surest way to success. In your case, it seems that your true self is gutsy, confident and hopeful. You fast tracked yourself to success...and wound up with a great story, to boot!

  6. I so enjoyed reading your tale of one of the many paths that you took on your creative journey. There are many of us in this creative community that long for that recognition from whom ever we deem "the one" to validate our chosen professions. Thank you for reminding me that it always comes back to the dream we have for ourselves and how hard we are willing to work to make it a reality. Continued success!

  7. Hard work, a little gumption, and the love of family and friends is the best key to success there is! :) Thanks for sharing this story!!

    (I just commented on part 2 as well, but the ending was wonderful!)


  8. What a great and fun post...and you told your story so well...isn't it interesting to look back and what at the time must have been a big disappointment and see that rather than a missed opportunity, it was a window to a place you really did belong...hindsight really is 20/20...looking forward to more opportunities to read your story and (hopefully) mine...sharon at

  9. Thank you for sharing your story! It has a good lesson of using disappointment to grow!

  10. What a terrific story! I'm so glad that you followed your own path and stayed true to your New Hampshire roots. I do miss Country Home, and have many much cherished issues. And I so look forward to seeing Holiday with Matthew Mead -- I'm sure it will be a keeper! Thanks for sharing your story. :)

  11. So inspiring !I am following my dreams, working hard to better my photography skills. I will have been published in 20 different magazines by the end of this year but would like to do more ,maybe for other magazines as there are several I like.I do however appreciate all I have done and the opportunities I have had to create .

  12. A really wonderful story... to inspire each one of us... to over come any obstacle... and not let rejection stand in our way of our passion and purpose!


  13. You described the visit just right, I could see it all! I love people's stories, and this one of yours was great! Lezlee

  14. Matthew, I first "discovered" you in the pages of COUNTRY HOME which I so miss (as I do rural New Hampshire). You've always had a distinctive style, separate from anyone else, and while I think the woman was rude in saying that you were "geographically challenged" you, and the Internet and faster communications, have certainly proved her wrong as have people like Stacy Kunstel (who I believe has now left NH). It wouldn't surprise me at all if over the years Martha had "borrowed" in some way from you. Keep at it, no matter what. I realize the magazine and book world is changing but there will always be a demand for fine photography and stylists.


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