A Career Narrative, by Martin Demaine
I grew up in the Boston metropolis, and decided I should learn about
country life. So I bought 65 acres in northern New Brunswick, Canada,
and cut down trees to build a log cabin. This set a pattern for my life
of experiencing ideas and learning from the process. After building the
log cabin, I hitchhiked around North America, Africa, and Europe.
While in England, I discovered blown glass. I went to Leicester
Polytechnic (now De Montfort University), initially as a student, but
after a couple of weeks I became an instructor in glassblowing. My work
was exhibited in Covent Garden and a piece was purchased by the South
Australian Museum for its permanent collection.
After a year in England, I returned to Canada and started the first
successful glassblowing studio. Five years later, I built a craft
village in partnership with two potters. We did everything required to
build the village. We even bought a woodlot so we could cut down the
trees to take to a sawmill to use as lumber for the construction.
I was called the father of Canadian glass. My artwork is in the
permanent collections of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, New Brunswick
Museum, Nova Scotia Museum, National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Clay
& Glass Museum, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and Canadian Museum of
Civilization. I had numerous gallery shows in Canada and commissions,
including to make a set of goblets for Queen Elizabeth.
Later I got interested in goldsmithing to create jewelry and body
adornment from precious metals. I opened a successful jewelry store in
Halifax specializing in custom jewelry. This expanded my understanding
of material and design. I continued through my life to teach myself and
explore, continually creating art.
I became a single father when my son, Erik Demaine, was two years
old. This changed my life. To understand children, I quit working as a
goldsmith and became a fulltime daycare worker. This experience led me
to introduce a sense of discovery and play into my work. A few years
later—my son and I decided that homeschool would be a good choice for
his education. Learning became fun for both of us. Whatever Erik
expressed an interest in, we would go to the library and learn about
I am self-taught. I enjoy learning “the hard way”—learning by doing,
instead of by instruction. I wanted to be a role model for Erik and show
that you can do anything you want to do. Our first collaboration was
the Erik and Dad Puzzle Company when Erik was six years old. We made all
business decisions together and split the money evenly.
As Erik became attracted to mathematics and computer science, we
learned to communicate art and mathematics to each other. We felt it
was important to experience each other’s worlds, so we exchanged ideas.
The more Erik and I worked on art and science together, the more we
found that this process merged the two. Theoretical computer science
follows the same creative process as designing and building sculpture.
The final goal is to make art and science indistinguishable.
This theme has continued at MIT where we have both been employed
since 2001. Erik is a professor in computer science and I am the
Angelika and Barton Weller Artist-in-Residence, the first permanent
artist-in-residence at MIT. I am also a researcher in the Theory of
Computation group and have published 90 papers in peer-reviewed journals
and conferences. I am also an instructor in materials science and
engineering, where I teach glassblowing.
With Erik as collaborator, we are concentrating on understanding new
ways to build sculpture using curved folds. This artwork simultaneously
gives us insight and understanding into the mathematics of folding. Our
work has grown and by now has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern
Art (MoMA), Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and a
gallery in Chelsea, New York.
To me, it is important to always be learning and growing, to be
building and experimenting, to show people new directions and ideas, and
to share the excitement of discovery. I immerse myself intensely into
all of my professions and projects—as puzzle maker and designer,
log–cabin builder, architect, goldsmith, glassblower, jewelry appraiser,
childcare worker, day trader, mathematician, computer scientist, and
Demaine the father, attended Medford High School in Medford,
Massachusetts. After studying glassblowing in England, he began his
artistic career by blowing art glass in New Brunswick in the early
The Demaine Studio, located in Miramichi Bay and later at Opus Village
in Mactaquac, was the first one-man glass studio in Canada, part of the
international studio glass movement. Demaine's pieces from this period
are represented in the permanent collections of half a dozen major
museums including the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the National
Gallery of Canada.
THE MIT CONNECTION. Since joining MIT, (yes the father before the
son) Demaine has begun blowing glass again, as an instructor at the MIT
Glass Lab; his newer work features innovative glassblowing techniques
intended as a puzzle to his fellow glassblowers.
In 1987 (when Erik was six) they together founded the Erik and Dad
Puzzle Company which distributed puzzles throughout Canada. Erik was
home-schooled by Martin, and although Martin never received any higher
degree than his high school diploma, his home-schooling catapulted Erik
to a B.S. at age 14 and a Ph.D. and MIT professorship at age 20, making
him the youngest professor ever hired by MIT.
MATHEMATICS AND ART AT MOMA. The two Demaines continue to work
closely together and have many joint works of both mathematics and art,
including three pieces of mathematical origami in the permanent
collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; their joint
mathematical works focus primarily on the mathematics of folding and
unfolding objects out of flat materials such as paper and on the
computational complexity of games and puzzles. Martin and Erik are also
featured in the movie Between the Folds, a documentary on modern
Mathematical origami artwork by Erik and Martin Demaine was part of
the “Design and the Elastic Mind” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in
2008 and has been included in the MoMA permanent collection.