Sheri Martinelli, self portrait titled Miss Sheddi mid summer, 1956. Norman Holmes Pearson papers (YCAL MSS 899), Correspondence–Martinelli, Sherri Box 2. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Sheri Martinelli, Untitled print from 15 Original Etchings and Serigraphs, 1946. Soft ground etching, plate: 5 7/8 x 4 in. (14.9 x 10.1 cm); sheet: 6 7/16 x 4 3/8 in. (16.4 x 11.1 cm). Dolan/Maxwell, Philadelphia.

56. Sheri Martinelli

Life Dates1918-1996
Place of BirthPhiladelphia, PA, USA
Place of Deathunknown
Birth NameShirley Burns Brennan

Shirley Burns Brennan was born in Philadelphia on January 17, 1918, the oldest of Alphonse and Mae Brennan’s four children. The family was living in Wildwood, New Jersey, by the 1930 census, where her father was employed as an interior decorator.1 Having changed her first name to Sherry, she moved back to Philadelphia by the late 1930s to attend the Philadelphia Museum School of the Industrial Arts (now University of the Arts), working on ceramics under the tutelage of John Butler.2 Either in Philadelphia or back on the Jersey Shore, she met the painter and printmaker Ezio Martinelli (1913-1981), who had trained at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna and the National Academy of Design in New York. The couple married, and the 1940 census shows they lived initially with his parents in a town adjacent to Atlantic City, New Jersey.3 Together, they briefly attended classes at the Barnes Foundation in the fall of 1940, but had to withdraw in November due to the financial strain of commuting from Atlantic City to Merion.4 One daughter, Shelley, was born February 20, 1942 in Atlantic City, and the Martinellis divorced sometime before the spring of 1945.5 Sheri Martinelli, the name she would use professionally, moved to New York City by December 1945, at which point encountered Anaïs Nin for the first time.6 It was around this time that Ezio and Sheri Martinelli came in contact with Stanley William Hayter—though totally independently and in different cities. Along with Hayter and Will Barnet, Ezio co-taught the Philadelphia Print Club’s Wednesday evening working group which launched in 1945. Sheri began taking classes at Atelier 17’s studio in New York City. In January 1946, she had five totally abstract soft ground etchings included in a portfolio titled 15 Original Etchings & Serigraphs, published by Joseph Luyber Gallery, along with artists Frank K. Bacher and Judith Rothschild.7 She kept a press in her apartment, and a collection of prints and plates included in her papers at Yale University’s Beinecke Library suggests she produced many more experimental prints.8 Even though they were long divorced, Hayter still referred to Ezio and Sheri as “the Martinellis” in his introduction to the Atelier 17 group’s 1947 exhibition at the Leicester Galleries.9 Sheri Martinelli remained deeply involved with the literary avant-garde, becoming Ezra Pound’s companion during his incarceration at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and serving as muse to countless other poets and writers.10


Sheri Martinelli Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Selected Bibliography

Gibbs, Josephine. “A Modern Portfolio.” Art Digest 21, no. 6 (December 15, 1946): 11.

Moore, Steven. “A Sheri Martinelli Bibliography.” Accessed April 16, 2017.

———. “Sheri Martinelli: A Modernist Muse.” Gargoyle Magazine, no. 41 (June 5, 1998).

Nin, Anaïs. The Diary of Anaïs Nin: Vol. 4 (1944-1947). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1972.


  1. Information about Martinelli’s early life comes from the 1930 census, Wildwood, Cape May, New Jersey; Roll: 1325; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0022; Image: 906.0; FHL microfilm: 2341060.
  2. Rosemary Savoia, Records Systems Manager at the University of the Arts, was not able to document Martinelli’s attendance at the school, which likely means she took classes as an un-matriculated student. Rosemary Savoia, email to Christina Weyl, April 27, 2017. Information about Martinelli’s time at the school comes from Steven Moore, “Sheri Martinelli: A Modernist Muse,” Gargoyle Magazine, no. 41 (June 5, 1998).
  3. 1940 census, Ventnor City, Atlantic, New Jersey; Roll: T627_2303; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 1-137.
  4. See correspondence from Azio Martinelli (note alternate spelling), Sherry Brennan, and Sherry Martinelli, 1940 and 1946, Presidents’ Files, Albert C. Barnes Correspondence, The Barnes Foundation Archives, Merion, PA.
  5. Shelley was named for the Romantic poet Percy Shelley. In biographies of her parents, Shelley’s birth year is often and incorrectly given as 1943. Ezio (also known as Azio) remarried to Marion R. Wilson of Milton, Pennsylvania, in September 1945.
  6. Anais Nin mentions Martinelli in her diaries: The Diary of Anais Nin: Vol. 4 (1944-1947) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1972), 107–8.
  7. Josephine Gibbs, “A Modern Portfolio,” Art Digest 21, no. 6 (December 15, 1946): 11.
  8. See Guide to the Sheri Martinelli Papers, YCAL MSS 868, August 1999 Acquisition, III. Artwork. The prints are primarily found in boxes 27 and 29. Thank you to Lisa Hodermarsky, Yale University Art Gallery’s Sutphin Family Senior Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings, and her summer research assistant Evelyn Davis, for facilitating remote research at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  9. Stanley William Hayter, Atelier 17: New Etchings and Engravings by Members of the Group (London: The Leicester Galleries, 1947), 9.
  10. For more about Martinelli’s biography, see Moore, “Sheri Martinelli: A Modernist Muse”, accessed April 16, 2017. Several collections at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library contain mention of Martinelli, including the William Carlos Williams papers, H. D. Papers, and Norman Holmes Pearson papers.