Martinez uses Operation Liberty Hill materials to create works of art

 Costumer Yvonne Martinez, alongside husband Louis Martinez, hold some of her signature “critters.” The costumed animals are meant to bring comfort to its owner, whether an elderly person or a young child. (Christine Bolaños Photo)

Costumer Yvonne Martinez, alongside husband Louis Martinez, hold some of her signature “critters.” The costumed animals are meant to bring comfort to its owner, whether an elderly person or a young child. (Christine Bolaños Photo)

By Christine Bolaños 

Yvonne Martinez wears many hats.

She is a passionate advocate of veterans, she enjoys nature and she loves creating. She is a military brat of Japanese heritage, who lived in Guam for years and decided to move to Illinois after a dart she threw on a U.S. map landed on the state. She completed a stint in Las Vegas, Nev., before moving to Arlington, and eventually ending up in Austin. When she became wife to Louis Martinez, a longtime Georgetown resident and an employee of Meridell Achievement Center in Liberty Hill, she was introduced to Operation Liberty Hill.

There she found all kinds items, from fabrics to sewing tools, that she could use to make her creations. As a professional costumer, Mrs. Martinez has made everything from customized costumes for Las Vegas magicians to an Easter dress and toy bunny for a child staying at a hospital. Operation Liberty Hill proved a treasure chest of wonder for Mrs. Martinez.

“I buy a lot of things from them because my husband and I help paralyzed veterans,” she said. “We purchase products to donate to them. We purchase children’s wear, men and women’s wear.”

It is especially important to her that paralyzed veterans have the clothes they need because she comes from a family with a long history in the military.

“I have a lot of family members who are veterans who have passed away or are disabled,” she said. “We have to give back to them because they protect us. Not just the paralyzed veterans, but all veterans. They’re the ones who keep us safe.”

Mrs. Martinez said she is drawn to Operation Liberty Hill because it is filled with people with a genuine urge to serve their community.

She and her husband collect items to donate to the Paralyzed Veterans of America Texas Chapter regularly. She searches for items specifically for this purpose at Operation Liberty Hill every week.

“They come around once a month,” Mr. Martinez said. “They’re coming this Friday. We’ve been donating for years to them.”

Mr. Martinez said it was his destiny to join the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War era. But life circumstances put him in a different direction.

Witnessing so many veterans, particularly Vietnam veterans, homeless, disabled or struggling, truly makes his heart ache.

Mrs. Martinez has been visiting Operation Liberty Hill weekly for about three to four months.

“People are friendly. They’re very honest,” she said. Her husband appreciates the diversity of religion and background represented in the people of the organization.

“I think it’s a good thing for the community of Liberty Hill,” he said.

The other side of her regular shopping trips to Operation Liberty Hill is to find material for her works of art. She makes quilts, costumes, scarves, animals, or as she fondly calls them, “critters,” and more.

She is working on a full-size quilt with hummingbirds. The project was started by her mother and sister who reside in Las Vegas. Every time she paid them a visit they would ask for her help. On their last trip to see her, they asked her if she could finish the project.

She has another quilt in her workroom that represents farm children in different settings. One of the children sewn on the quilt has a stick horse, another one is shown with his fishing pole, a third shows a girl with her doll and another one shows a girl jumping rope.

The patterns are meant to mirror a child’s innocence and joy. Specifically, it is meant to reflect the personality of her special needs nephew. He is now 23 years old, yet was not expected to live past age 5 or 6. He is a miracle to the family.

“He’s so special,” Mrs. Martinez proudly shared. “He always laughs. You never see him upset.” Though he can’t verbally speak, he can communicate with facial expressions and sounds. He also understands both Japanese and English languages.

“He watches cartoons and videos, he plays video games, he knows how to maneuver things,” she said. “He just loves people. Just like you and me. If he’s sees you, he’s going to pat you on the shoulder and he’s going to smile at you.”

Her other works represent nature in big, bright, bold colors and usually have flowers or animals such as turtles, birds or butterflies. They are meant to reflect peace and serenity, something important in Japanese culture and in Mrs. Martinez’s life.

The items in her bathroom feature koi fish and the torri gate.

“The Japanese believe the koi fish is good luck,” she explained. “As you enter the torri gate, you enter life. All Japanese homes have a torri gate. It’s cultural. It’s peaceful.”

Some of her patterns include the zori, which are Japanese flip-flops.

“With me living in Guam for many, many years I love flip flops,” Mrs. Martinez said. “These are very common in Guam.”

She also made a quilt representative of the ocean complete with jellyfish, regular fish, octopus and a crab.

“When you go to a traditional Japanese sushi bar you see stuff like this,” she shared.

Mrs. Martinez pointed at a quilt that sported dozens of butterflies.

“Everything on here came from Operation Liberty Hill,” she said. “The cloth, the fabric. Just like the banner it all came from them.”

The banner she referenced is displayed at the front door of Operation Liberty Hill. It has flowers, plants, a cross and a religious quote.

“I wanted to make them something special so I got together with the ladies,” Mrs. Martinez said.

She told the ladies she wanted to make a wall plat for Operation Liberty Hill.

“They gave me the words to put on it, they also decided they wanted a hummingbird, dragonfly and butterflies,” Mrs. Martinez said. “They donated some of the fabric and I donated a lot of the fabric in the banner.”

A costumer by trade, Mrs. Martinez made the costume worn by the first woman to ever participate in the Miss Universe Pageant representing Guam in 1998.

She said there are levels of expertise and she is at the highest.

“Costumers are on the top,” Mrs. Martinez explained. “Then you have a tailor, then you have a seamstress and then you have a dressmaker. I’m a costumer because I build without patterns and can also make my own patterns.”

She has been in the trade for about 32 years.

“My mother was a tailor,” she recalled. “I used to go into her sewing room and get fabric. When I was a preteen I would cut it out and make things.”

After her first husband, who was from Guam, passed away, she made the adventurous decision to move to the United States. Once her children were of adult age, she moved from Illinois to Texas, to be near her in-laws. Then she started costuming full-time and completed a stint in Las Vegas.

She has done everything from her sister’s best friend’s wedding dress, to costumes for a Black Gospel fashion show to costumes for a gay pageant.

“I’ve been doing critters for about 20 years now,” she said. “People like them. Even adults like to buy them for their parents in nursing homes. Kids like them. Guys like them.”

She said the critters give the owner comfort.

“You know how some people love to garden, or get on the computer to relax, or get on the telephone,” Mrs. Martinez rhetorically stated. “I do this. It’s almost like therapy. I can have the worst day and then come home and sit down and do this and I kind of like wipe my troubles away.”

Mr. Martinez said work motivates his wife.

“The more she does it the more she wants to do it,” he said, with a smile across his face.

Despite committing her time and efforts to her artwork and her family she still finds time to put forth her best effort at her job at a healthcare professional company. Mr. Martinez also passionately works in cafeteria services at a facility in Liberty Hill that makes a difference in people’s lives.