E. Martin Hennings was born in Pennsgrove, New Jersey, the son of a skilled craftsman. His family moved to Chicago, where he enrolled at the Art Institute, graduating with honors after five years. He then traveled to Munich to study with leading teachers Franz von Stück and Angelo Junk and remained in Germany until the outbreak of World War I.
Hennings returned to Chicago and was soon commissioned by noted art patron, Carter Harrison, to paint at Taos. Hennings then spent two more years as a commercial illustrator in Chicago before deciding to pursue a career in fine art. Though he maintained a part-time studio in Chicago until the Depression, Hennings made Taos and its many attractions the subject of his life's work, settling there in 1921.
By 1922 Hennings was gaining recognition and winning many prestigious awards, including the Art Institute of Chicago's Clyde M. Carr Memorial Prize and the Martin B. Cahn Prize. The National Academy of Design awarded him the Ranger Fund Purchase Prize in 1926. A one-person show at Marshall Field & Co. in 1925 led to his meeting of and subsequent marriage to Helen Otte. After a sixteen-month honeymoon in Europe, the couple returned to Taos, where Hennings enjoyed a successful career until his death.
Hennings was an incomparable draftsman, which enabled him to create his lyrical compositions. He is most noted for his paintings of Indians placed against the incredible background of the high desert landscape. Often infused with dappled sunlight, his paintings are like tapestries; their rich colors and stylized forms create peaceful and luminous images of life in Taos.