Margaret Lefranc

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We cannot help but reflect the environment in which we live and perform. We are the totality of our experiences in that environment and are shaped by our inner reactions to our outer lives.

Margaret Lefranc

I was born in 1907 under the watchful care of my uncle who was head physician at the Brooklyn, New York hospital.

At age thirteen I joined my parents in Berlin, Germany, where my father was stationed. I remained there for three years studying drawing and doing my first etchings. My family then moved to Paris, France, where I began to paint in oils. At 24 years of age I returned to the United States for good.

Shortly thereafter I established the Guild Art Gallery at 37 West 57th Street, New York City. There I showed the works of American artists, hosting the American Artists' Congress for two years. Some of the artists whose works I exhibited were Arshile Gorky, Lloyd Ney, Marsden Hartley, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Chaim Gross. In my spare time I continued to paint.

In 1937 the second stock market debacle affected the art business. Reluctantly I had to close the gallery. To earn a living I became a textile designer-stylist. Then World War II started. Several of the male curators of Cooper Union Museum departed for the Army. I joined the Museum staff and remained there until the end of the war, still managing to paint and draw.

In 1939 at the age of 32, I decided to explore the country of my birth. It was just before the War, and there was the usual summer lay-off period in the textile trade. By then my parents had returned from Paris and were living in Miami Beach, Florida. Two of my friends had married and had employment at the State Hospital in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The first leg of my trip was planned visits. Canvas, paints and brushes were the important part of my baggage. Fortunately I was traveling by car.

When a student in Paris, I happened to be looking for second-hand books on the Quai d'Orsay. I saw an ancient book about early American Indians, engravings of which were made by De Bry around the mid-1600s. Large Greek god-like mostly nude creatures were portrayed performing daily chores - cooking, baby care, eating, etc. I was sure American Indians never looked like that, so alas, I did not buy the book. I vowed then and there that I would visit American Indians once back in the United States. Many years later I was on my way to do just that.

When I finally reached Albuquerque, New Mexico, I encountered a one Main Street rip roarin' cow town which opened my eyes wide. Once in Taos I recognized that I finally found my home. I knew I would leave New York and come to New Mexico to live and paint.

From my first encounter in 1939 with the varied beauty of the land and sky of New Mexico to the time when I found ancient potsherds, fossil shells, crinoids and dinosaur bones at 8,000 feet, I have been in love with where I live and what I see, and with the Indian culture still so vibrant and growing around me. From all this I receive unending inspiration for every facet of my work.

The Coral, Nambe, New Mexico
Oil on canvas, 18x28", 1948
© Margaret LeFranc

Editor's Note: Margaret Lefranc passed away on September 5, 1998. Lefranc's friend and manager of 25 years, Sandra McKenzie, has prepared the following additional biographical information.

Margaret resided in New Mexico since 1945, but first came to New Mexico in 1939 when she visited Las Vegas, then stayed in Taos at the D. H. Lawrence Ranch, making friends with Frieda Lawrence, W. H. Auden and his friend Chester Kallman. Margaret's trip to California with W. H. Auden is chronicled in an article 'Auden in the Southwest,' published by El Palacio, December 1991.

In July 1945, Lefranc moved to Nambe where she lived until December 1956, editing and illustrating the books of Alice Marriott. Maria: The Potter of San Ildefonso, which is still in print; Indians of the Four Corners; The Valley Below; Indians on Horseback as well as Hell on Horses and Women and Dance Around the Sun. Various illustrations by Lefranc were also featured in the Southwest Review and Sunstone Review.

In the book on Maria (Martinez) the potter, Margaret invented a way of illustrating pottery design in the round, rather than spreading it out with no relationship to the form on which it was painted. The first synoptic series of San Ildefonso pottery was published by the University of Oklahoma in Maria: The Potter of San Ildefonso.

In 1948 Maria won the "Fifty Best Books of the Year Award," given by the American Institute of Graphic Arts in conjunction with the Library of Congress. Like most struggling artists, Margaret didn't have the money to invest in a trip to Washington D.C. to pick up the award. Instead, in 1992, Governor Bruce King presented the award to Margaret, honoring her during the "Three Women in New Mexico" exhibition held at the Governor's Gallery in Santa Fe.

Margaret's work has also been recently exhibited at St. John's College (Santa Fe) in 1993, and was included in the Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945 exhibition and catalog.

Lefranc received a 1996 Governor's Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts along with New Mexico artists sculptor Ted Egri, novelist N. Scott Momaday, and others.

Some of Margaret's achievements in New Mexico which earned her this award include:

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All images and text © Margaret Lefranc.
Appended biographical text © Sandra McKenzie.
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