Repetitive rows of trees, solitaire standing bushes, fields of heather, the area around Zonhoven makes an attractive subject for artists. They are drawn to the region to depict the ever changing scenery. Growing up in this area planted a seed for Mart De Houwer’s interest in art. As a young girl, during her walks she picked up the discarded paint-tubes and used the leftover paint to decorate her fathers cigar boxes.
Mart de Houwer, Marthe or Martha, was born on 29 March 1931 in Zonhoven, Belgium. She lived there all her life. Zonhoven, located in the Belgian province of Limburg, is in close proximity to the cultural cities of Hasselt and Genk. De Houwer came from a workingclass family. Her father worked in the coalmines and her mother ran the local village cafe. De Houwer was the eldest of four children, with two sisters and one brother. Coming from this humble background there was no motivation for a career in art. Her interest in art was kept to her self and she started working on the local dairy factory. Here she met her future husband Leon, who was the head of the factory’s main vehicle fleet. Whenever she found time between her job, managing the household and taking care of her son, born in 1955, De Houwer made drawings of the surrounding nature or still-lifes of simple household objects. Throughout her career she continued to make these impressions of the local landscape, although her true genius lies within abstract art.
The private artist
Hasselt and Genk are two cultural melting pots in Belgian Limburg. De Houwer was highly engaged in this local art community. From 1980 until 1987 she worked for CIAP Hasselt as a mediator between artists and the public, whilst also acting as editor for the monthly magazine. De Houwer actively worked on promoting and showing other artists in the region. For inspiration for her own art she travelled to Moscow, Canada and Iceland. In 1990 she visited Carrara, Italy, to work with the famous white marble. At home in Zonhoven, her house and garden studio, built by her husband, were a place where creatives came to socialise and share ideas. Over the years she built up a circle of befriended artists like Panamarenko, Ado Hamelrijck and Piet Stockmans. Freek Dumarais, a poet, artist and close personal friend, sent her many collages and cards, now part of her archive. Mart de Houwer died in April 1999 at the age of 68 in her hometown of Zonhoven.