LOGANSPORT — As one of 12 children, Emanuel Martinez was a tough kid who got tangled up in the Colorado juvenile detention system. He was on his way to adult prison by the age of 15 — until one man crossed his path and changed his life forever.
Nearly five decades later, Martinez is on a mission to be that man to other troubled youth.
“I was incarcerated myself at the age of 13,” Martinez said during a visit to the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility. “I pretty much discovered my talent as an artist while I was in there.”
His first battle with the law resulted in a three-month stint in a juvenile detention facility where, to pass time, Martinez would use match sticks from the day room and draw on paper towels. When released, he established a statewide reputation for his art, until he was locked up twice for seven months each and was facing time in the reformatory.
That’s when Bill Longley, a man who ran an art apprenticeship for minorities, sought out Martinez and got him out of the juvenile detention facility and into his program. Martinez spent two years with Longley, who eventually got Martinez back into school.
“Somebody helped me out because I was in pretty deep trouble after a few times and I was on my way to prison, and he just got me just in time,” Martinez said. “It completely changed my life — the art experience. With that help, I just completely changed.”
Martinez would make a nearly 45-year professional career out of art, having three pieces at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and teaching at the Art Students League of Denver, where he met Louisa Craft Jornayvaz – the eventual founder and sole financial supporter of Art for Kids: The Emanuel Project.
The program was originally created to provide safe, age-appropriate art supplies for kids in homeless shelters and has evolved into creating an art curriculum in juvenile detention facilities and then a visit by Martinez to work with juveniles on a mural within the facility.