Born in 1954, Marla Friedman developed her art at the Art Students’ League and the National Academy of Design in New York City and L’Ecole Albert Defois in the Loire Valley, France. Independent study in France and Italy further expanded her understanding of the Realist Tradition in painting and drawing. While in Paris, Friedman discovered her greatest affinity in the work of the late nineteenth century French academic master, Leon Bonnat, whose painting reflects a combined influence of French and Spanish sensibilities.
As a professional painter in New York City she maintained her painting studio in historic Carnegie Hall.
Friedman’s work illuminates the artist’s reverence for a nuanced and delicate, yet powerful, interpretation of her subject. Alan Artner, Chicago Tribune art critic, states, ‘Friedman Show Evinces Portraiture Elegance..... [ Her paintings ] present the artist’s strong technique with admirable, even beguiling, clarity.’
Friedman’s client/commissions include Mr. Alex Manoogian, Armenian General Benevolent Union; former astronaut Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., collection of the United States Naval Academy Museum; Mr. Rich Williamson, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and Special Envoy to Sudan; Mr. Stedman Graham, Athletes Against Drugs: Chicago Bears' George Halas; Mr. Arthur Rubloff; the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; restaurateur Arnie Morton, ‘Mortons’ and Mr. Vince Lombardi in association with the Lombardi estate. Paintings of Abraham Lincoln are on permanent display at the Illinois Governor’s Mansion in Springfield, Illinois and her large-scale narrative depiction of the assassination of Wild Bill Hickok, ‘Aces and Eights’, hangs at the site of Wild Bill’s last card game in Deadwood, South Dakota.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois commissioned Friedman to paint the oil portraits of their Lincoln Leadership Prize recipients. On March 5th, 2009 the ALPLM honored retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor with the unveiling of her portrait at the Union League Club of Chicago. Sittings with Justice O’Connor took place at the United Stated Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s portrait was presented to the South African leader at a ceremony on May 13th, 2008 in Springfield. Former astronaut Captain James A. Lovell was the honored recipient in 2010 with Tom Hanks, who portrayed Lovell in the film Apollo 13, unveiling his portrait. The late Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press was the fourth recipient in 2011. His portrait was unveiled by Luke Russert and announced by his colleague Tom Brokaw. On February 9, 2012 the former President of Poland Lech Walesa's portrait was unveiled as the ALPLF honored the Nobel Peace Prize recipient with their fifth Lincoln Leadership Prize award. It will join the portraits of the former recipients, along with Friedman’s oil portrait of Abraham Lincoln, in Springfield. The portraits are on permanent exhibit at the ALPLM.
Marla Friedman's discovered interest in sculpture has led the artist to a new path and expression in her art. Her bust sculpture of Captain James Lovell was unveiled in 2010 at the opening ceremony of the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, Illinois. She recently completed her second bust of Captain Lovell where, at the final sitting, he carved his name into the clay.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation has commissioned Friedman to sculpt the portrait bust of Abraham Lincoln as the signature document to their twenty-five million dollar campaign to retain the Louise Taper Collection of Lincoln's personal artifacts.
Her sculpture has been influenced by the study of classical masters Augustus Saint Gaudens and Daniel Chester French and, most significantly, by the naturalistic realism of Jo Davidson (1883 - 1952), who sculpted his subjects with the immediacy of sittings from life.