Marcia Gray Martin, 1932-2014

Marcia Gray Martin was a working architect who was an architecture professor at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn for 24 years.

However, friends and colleagues say Mrs. Martin, who also wrote a college textbook on drafting architectural plans by hand, first and foremost was an artist who was comfortable with any medium, whether sketching, watercolors, china painting or sculpture.

"She was the type of person who didn't carry a camera when she traveled. Instead, she'd do a sketch, and then she'd come back and sometimes add watercolors to it," said Alberta Adamson, the CEO of Wheaton's Center for History and a longtime friend.

In 2010, Mrs. Martin's watercolor line drawings of notable homes, churches and civic buildings in Wheaton formed the foundation of a book, "Life in a Small American City: An Artist's View of Wheaton," which she co-wrote with Barbara Hall and Chip Krueger. Her work represented something of a love letter to Wheaton, which was her home for 50 years and where her late husband, Robert, had been mayor until his death in 1990.

"Marcia had a great appreciation and understanding of art, architecture and history and how these blended together," Krueger said.

A resident of Wheaton for 50 years, Mrs. Martin, 81, died on Friday, Feb. 21, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after a long battle with lung cancer, said her daughter, Liz Cox.

Born Marcia Gray and raised in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood, Mrs. Martin attended South Shore High School for three years before spending her fourth year of high school studying at the University of Chicago. She then entered the Illinois Institute of Technology, whose architecture program at the time was headed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Mrs. Martin graduated as the lone woman in her class in 1956.

While at IIT, Mrs. Martin met her future husband, Robert, a fellow yearbook editor. He served as Wheaton's mayor from 1983 until his 1990 death at age 57 after heart bypass surgery.

After graduating from IIT, Mrs. Martin worked for several architectural firms and corporations, mostly designing mechanical systems, her daughter said. She also did work on the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Mrs. Martin and her husband settled in Wheaton, and she focused on raising a family. In the evenings, she continued honing her craft, doing architectural drawings for local home builders.

In 1980, Mrs. Martin began teaching architectural history, site design, drafting and sketching at College of DuPage. She also established a historic preservation program, Adamson said.

"She was just a wonderful teacher, with a soft, quiet way and a lot of patience," said retired College of DuPage geography professor Sharon Nichols, a longtime friend. "She taught her students what they needed to know, and she really did an excellent job of preparing them for the life work that they were intending to do."

In addition to teaching, Mrs. Martin earned a master's degree in liberal arts from North Central College in Naperville in 1997. That same year, she also wrote a textbook, Architectural Drafting: Procedures & Processes.

In 2010, Mrs. Martin teamed up with Hall and Krueger to publish their book on Wheaton's historic structures. The book was anchored by what Krueger called "a composite of 45 years of her drawings from around town."

"The book was really a gift from her to the city that she loved," he said.

After retiring from the College of DuPage in 2004, Mrs. Martin helped her daughter run her Streeterville art gallery.

Mrs. Martin felt a kinship with other groundbreaking women in architecture, Krueger said.

"She was proud of the fact that she was the only woman studying (at IIT's architecture program)," Krueger said. "During the research of our book, she was intrigued that Blanchard Hall, the historic landmark building of Wheaton College, was designed by Jonathan Blanchard's daughter. For a woman to design such an important building was virtually unheard of in the 1800s, and I think it served as an inspiration to Marcia."

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Martin is survived by a son, Charles; a twin sister, Lita Brody; and five grandchildren.

Services have been held.