Born in 1954 and raised in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, Marla Friedman developed her art and interest in academic realism at the Art Students League in New York City with portraitist Nelson Shanks and artistic anatomy with Robert Beverly Hale; and at the National Academy of Design in NYC. She continued her study of natural realism at L’Ecole Albert Defois in the Loire Valley, France. Independent study in France and Italy further expanded her understanding of the Realist Tradition in painting and drawing. While in Paris, Friedman discovered her greatest affinity in the work of the late nineteenth century French academic master portraitist, Leon Bonnat, whose painting reflects a combined influence of French and Spanish sensibilities.
As a professional painter in New York City she maintained her painting studio in the historic Carnegie Hall Studios; and was represented for her oil and pastel portraiture with the legendary Grand Central Gallery on West 57th Street.
Ms. Friedman's commissioned portraiture in painting and sculpture is represented by Hollis Taggart (Galleries) in New York City.
"Friedman’s work illuminates the artist’s reverence for a nuanced and delicate, yet powerful, interpretation of her subject. Academically trained in Europe and New York, and further enriched from having maintained a painting studio in Carnegie Hall, Friedman has earned a deserved place in the lineage of the Realist tradition."~ Hollis Taggart Galleries. Alan Artner, Chicago Tribune art critic, states in his review of her one woman retrospective at Hollis Taggart Galleries Chicago, ‘Friedman Show Evinces Portraiture Elegance..... [ Her paintings ] present the artist’s strong technique with admirable, even beguiling, clarity.’
The artist is most inspired by the subtleties of expression, capturing the fleeting nuance to reflect the essence of the person and in the moment."
Friedman’s client/commissions include Mr. Alex Manoogian, Armenian General Benevolent Union; Apollo 13 former astronaut Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., collection of the United States Naval Academy Museum; Ambassador Richard S. Williamson, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and Special Envoy to Sudan; Mr. Stedman Graham, Athletes Against Drugs: Chicago Bears' George Halas; Mr. Arthur Rubloff ; the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; restaurateur Arnie Morton, ‘Mortons’; the legendary Vince Lombardi in association with the Lombardi estate; 'Hermit's Repose', life-size figurative oil on wood panel on permanent exhibit at the Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago, Illinois. Paintings of Abraham Lincoln are on permanent display at the Illinois Governor’s Mansion in Springfield, Illinois and her large-scale narrative depiction of the assassination of Wild Bill Hickok, ‘Aces and Eights’, hangs at the site of Wild Bill’s last card game in Deadwood, South Dakota.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois commissioned Friedman from 2008 through 2012 to paint the oil portraits of their Lincoln Leadership Prize recipients. In 2009 the ALPLM honored retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor with the unveiling of her portrait at the Union League Club of Chicago. Sittings with Justice O’Connor took place at the United Stated Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.. Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s portrait was presented to the South African leader at a ceremony in 2008 at the Library in Springfield. Former astronaut Captain James A. Lovell was the honored recipient in 2010; Tom Hanks, who portrayed Lovell in the film Apollo 13, unveiled the portrait painting of Captain Lovell depicted in his home library. The late Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press was the fourth recipient in 2011. His portrait was unveiled by Luke Russert and announced by colleague Tom Brokaw. In 2012 the former President of Poland Lech Walesa's portrait was unveiled as the ALPLF honored the Nobel Peace Prize recipient with their fifth Lincoln Leadership Prize award. The Leadership Prize recipients and Friedman’s oil portrait of our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln are on permanent exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.
Marla Friedman's discovered interest in sculpture led the artist to a new path and expression in her art. Her bust sculpture of Captain James Lovell was unveiled in 2010 at the opening ceremony of the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, Illinois. Her second collaboration with Captain Lovell, where upon the fourth sitting Lovell carved his name into the clay to create an historic document of the work, was ceremonially unveiled in May of 2013 at the former astronaut's namesake hospital.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation commissioned Friedman to sculpt the portrait bust of Abraham Lincoln as the signature work of art for their campaign to retain the Louise Taper Collection of Abraham Lincoln's personal artifacts.
Rosa Parks, 'My Soul Was Rested'
On December 1st, 2015 Marla Friedman's sculptural interpretation of Rosa Parks titled, Rosa Parks, "My Soul Was Rested" was installed at Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Pittsburgh. The bronze portrait sculpture was commissioned by philanthropist Steve Sarowitz and subsequently donated to Manchester Bidwell in recognition of the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks' historic act of bravery on December 1st, 1955; and to honor the continuing legacy of Rosa Parks through Manchester Bidwell Corporation and its founder, Mr. William 'Bill' Strickland.
Of her sculptural rendition of 'The First Lady of Civil Rights', Friedman states, "I hope to always 'listen' and here impart in clay the resolute strength and spiritual quality of Rosa Parks at her brave pivotal moment in history. The tranquility of the inner peace she felt with such clarity and her graceful, momentous life so well lived. In Rosa Parks' words, when she made the decision not to give up her seat her "Soul was rested." I believe Rosa Parks was a conduit to a higher power in that moment ~ when universal forces converged."
Friedman's commissioned bronze sculpture of Dr. Maya Angelou titled 'Rise' was unveiled at the historic Schomburg Center in Harlem in New York City in February of 2017.
In 2017, Friedman's commissioned allegorical bronze sculpture titled 'Peace' was unveiled in Akko, Israel at the Akko Center for Arts and Technology.
Hollis Taggart Galleries featured Friedman's commissioned bronze duo portrait sculpture of Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald at Art Expo Chicago, September 2017.
Dr. Jane Goodall, 'The Red Palm Nut'
Dr. Jane Goodall unveiled her commissioned portrait sculpture titled 'Jane Goodall, Tree and the Waterfall' and the narrative bronze monument titled 'The Red Palm Nut' on April 3rd, 2018 at the Field Museum of Chicago, on the occasion of Goodall's 84th birthday. Dr. Goodall and Marla Friedman collaborated over a two year period on both sculptures and both sculptures were inscribed with Dr. Goodall's signature carved into the clay, cast in bronze. The Red Palm Nut depicts the magical moment when Jane Goodall, then a twenty-six year old field researcher of the wild chimpanzee in Gombe, Tanzania first connected with chimpanzee David Greybeard when she extended her hand to offer a red palm nut. David Greybeard refused the palm nut and let it fall to the ground but held onto to Goodall's hand, signaling in that moment his acceptance and understanding. It was to remain Dr. Goodall's fondest memory of her time in Gombe ~ when in that poignant moment, the world of the Gombe wild chimpanzee first opened to her and the resulting unprecedented research that followed.
Self taught in sculpture, Friedman has been inspired by the study of the classical masters Augustus Saint Gaudens and Daniel Chester French, by the powerful work of Augustus Rodin and, most significantly, by the natural realism of portraitist Jo Davidson (1883-1953), who sculpted his subjects with the immediacy of life sittings. The artist resides in the Chicago area.