Martha W. Longenecker's career in art is many-faceted—as an artist craftsman, educator and Founder of the world class Mingei International Museum.
She received a BA in Art with a minor in English from the University of California at Los Angeles. At Claremont Graduate School, she studied painting, and received an Art Education Credential and a Master of Fine Arts Degree. Establishing her own ceramics studio in Claremont, California, she made wheel-thrown stoneware forms, which were exhibited nationally through Dalzell Hatfield Galleries from 1944 to 1964.
In 1955, San Diego State University asked her to develop the school's ceramics program. During Martha's 35-year tenure as Professor of Art, she taught the history of ceramics and design, directed the gallery program and supervised the University's student art teachers. Continuing post-graduate research included significant study in Japan under the guidance of the potter Shoji Hamada, a National Treasure, and the contemporary potter Tatsuzo Shimaoka, also a National Treasure. Working in Japan gave her the opportunity to directly experience the teachings of art historian and aesthetician Dr. Soetsu Yanagi, whom she had met in 1952, and who coined the term mingei—art of the people.
At Martha's invitation, Mr. Hamada and Mr. Shimaoka visited the U.S. to lecture about, exhibit and demonstrate pottery making. As Martha returned again and again to Japan for further study, it became clear to her that an organization was necessary to facilitate these cultural exchanges. With the encouragement of her late husband, Sydney Martin Roth, who provided seed money, Mingei International Museum was incorporated as a nonprofit, public institution in 1974. Four years later, with an unprecedented gift of a 20-year leasehold provided by University Towne Centre and Ernest W. Hahn and Associates, Martha oversaw the design and construction of the original Museum which opened at University Towne Centre in San Diego in May 1978.
During her 27-year tenure as Director (1978 - 2005), Martha directed the organization and design of 128 dynamic exhibitions of "arts of the people," drawing from Mingei International's permanent collection and other museum and private collections. Martha also coordinated plans for the retrofit and renovation of a 21,000 square-foot property in Escondido, California. The property was acquired by Mingei International in October 2001; Mingei International Museum - Escondido opened to the public in December 2003.
In recognition of her contribution to transcultural artistic understanding, in 2003, Martha Longenecker was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan. In October 2005, handing on the operation of the Museum to her successor Rob Sidner, the Board of Trustees named Martha Longenecker Founding President and Director Emerita.