E. Martin Hennings was born in Penns Grove, New Jersey on February 5, 1886 to German immigrant parents. Two years after he was born, Hennings’ father moved his family to Chicago.
Looking back on his early exposure to art and his decision to pursue a life as and artist, Hennings remarked; “It was rather strange that I chose painting for my profession, for practically none of my family showed any artistic tendencies. It happened that when I was 12 or 13 years old, another lad and myself wandered into the Art Institute of Chicago and it was during that visit that I determined to become an artist. That day I secured a pamphlet that showed me that art could be studied. That had never occurred to me.”
It was in 1901 that Hennings began taking classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which was largely based on the great European art schools and made particularly emphasis on the importance of drawing. On June 17, 1904, he graduated from the school with honors, but continued to study there for another two years, mostly under the instruction of John Vanderpoel.
Hennings eventually took up work as a commercial artist, mostly painting murals and portraits around Chicago. Murals on which Hennings worked, usually on canvas panels, include one for the cafeteria at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Florentine Ballroom at the Congress Plaza Hotel in Chicago, and The Ascension, a mural painted for the Grace Episcopal Cathedral in Topeka, Kansas.