Martha Graham Cracker Shines in New Portrait Series

Painter Jenny Laden captures one of Philly's favorite drag acts in watercolor.

Philly drag queen Martha Graham Cracker is the subject of a stunning new portrait series by NYC/Philly painter Jenny Laden. There are 11 images in all, each capturing MGC where we love her best — behind a mic and glammed up in feathery accents and a variety of wigs. 

Laden says she saw Martha perform earlier this year and knew the tall, hairy queen would be a perfect subject for her work, which she describes as dealing with femininity, beauty, glamour and sexuality. “I loved her hairiness, and her character — so dirty and sweet and hilarious, but really, really smart too.” But most importantly, Laden says, she found in Martha a way to re-connect with her father, a gay man who died of AIDS in 1996.

“He instilled in me a love of music —Sondheim, opera, Barbra, Judy, Ella — and I just love to be around the sort of humor and song that Martha conveys.” Plus she says, the drag queen’s statuesque, masculine frame rekindles a fond memory of her father: When he came out to her when she was 13. “He assured me that his decision to come out did not mean he was going to be … ‘running down Spruce Street wearing a red taffeta dress.’ Needless to say, this image has stayed with me. I loved the idea of my Dad — a six-foot-four, Ralph Lauren-blazer-wearing lawyer who hardly ever wore sneakers — in a dress.”

The paintings run in the 9- to 16-inch range and are mostly watercolor on paper — a medium she says conveys Martha’s vivacity and one-of-a-kind stage presence. “There’s something about Martha that distinguishes her from a lot of drag queens. She  has a kindness and self-possession about her [that made me feel] instantly at ease. While some queens are simply [about] worship/attention/shock, Martha has this way of granting respect to her audience while kicking ass as a singer and performer. I guess I wanted to find a way to relay that in a still image, and to sort of be with it in my work.”

The paintings are for sale via Laden’s website. They’re kind of pricy — in the $1,000 range — but the artist says she plans to make prints and possibly even posters that she’ll sell at upcoming shows.

See also: Find out when Martha’s performing next in G Philly‘s roundup of summer adventure trips in August.

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