Margaret Lefranc and Bernique Longley

While Margaret lived at the Nambe Indian Reservation illustrating five books for Alice Marriott [1] published by the University of Oklahoma Press—one including Maria:  The Potter of San Ildefonso (which is still in print)—Margaret also bought land in 1948 in Santa Fe for a future home she built with her own hands in 1955 facing her much beloved Atalya Mountains. She also traveled with Alice Marriott, the anthropologist, throughout Oklahoma setting up museums in public places with antiquities and pottery donated by people who searched their collections, attics and homes.  During one summer vacation, they ventured to Mexico where they met Ervin Roberto Frisell and his wife who fell in love with Oaxaca and archeology. The Frisell’s bought the “La Sorpressa” Inn from two siblings in 1950 and started gathering a collection of archaeological pieces. They had in mind to build a Museum, bequeath it to the Indians and, since they’d become friends, to have Alice and Margaret design the Frisell Museum, plan the displays and become its directors.  However, Margaret and Alice had to return to the states to their own jobs; but during their vacation, the women cleaned and repaired broken Zapotec idols.  Their work was the beginning of the Frisell Museum (Mitla) which was later established 27 miles East of the City of Oaxaca.  Years later it was eventually given to the University of the Americas along with its collection when the Frisells and their director died.

Man and His Catch 1959 Oil on masonite by Margaret Lefranc.  During 1956 an older Margaret took classes taught by friends at the University of Miami School of Art joining her friend professor Eugene “Gene” Massin [2] and his young class in a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, which she had never forgotten after the Frisell’s.  Once there, Lefranc painted numerous gouache on paper of portraits, churches, landscapes, still life, fans, boats, and figures sometimes using blocky color forms to make up their shapes and thin brushstrokes to give the forms their figural presence.  In some she abstracted the essential elements of the specific forms, with their abbreviated shapes sufficient to give recognition to the images.  The freedom of expression she achieved in watercolors also appears in her lacquer painted on masonite with the amorphous quality of imagery and the brushwork creating broad swaths of bright color.    

 

Bernique Longley [3] born in Moline, Illinois, attended the Art institute of Chicago on scholarship for four years beginning when she was thirteen.  After full time classes for another four years, upon graduation, she was awarded the Bryan Lathrop Foreign Travel Scholarship.  During her life she traveled to almost every state in Mexico and most of its archaeological sites as well as cities in the United States and abroad too numerous to mention.  According to an article by Kathleen McCloud,[4] “Classical art and mythology occupied a great deal of Longley’s time while she was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago in the early 1940s…”  Not liking Denver, finally Longley decided to settle in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she successfully sold her work and exhibited.  Alfred Morang [5] wrote, “The exhibition by Bernique Longley is a remarkable achievement for a young painter and would be an excellent show for anyone known or unknown.”

The Dancer (1956) Oil on masonite by Bernique Longley was painted in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Her daughter, Pooka Longley, stated, “It was part of a group of thirty pieces painted in the 1950s and all were studies in drapery and light.” [6] The fact that Pooka was studying ballet may have broadly inspired the artist. Bernique stated during her exhibition sometime after 1959 that the main influences on her work were “Mexico—and the color and brilliant light of New Mexico…”  Bernique did sculpture and collages as well as paintings, drawings, and more, but her paintings were definitely about people.  “One of the troubles with landscapes is that they aren’t people,” she stated. 

According to Sina Brush, in her book, Working with Laura Gilpin, Photographer, [7] Sina reminisces about being in Gilpin’s studio, “Friends were not limited to photographers…Bernique Longley, a wonderful painter, lived right next door.  She often had me and my daughter, Aissa, over to enjoy her garden and always sent flowers with us [for Laura].”  While Margaret Lefranc took breaks and was a daily visitor at Laura’s, Bernique painted from nine to five but not on weekends. 

Bernique and Margaret had much in common though Longley was considerably younger than Lefranc and also decades younger than Gilpin; however, their creativity bonded them.  The two artists became residents of Santa Fe in a prestigious area where they both built their own homes, painted profusely, had fond memories of Oaxaca and exhibited in Alcove shows and group exhibitions at the New Mexico Museum of Art and its various name changes during the decades they showed in Santa Fe.  Both women were artistically driven.  With an art angel on her shoulder, Margaret emphatically stated in multiple interviews, in a book, and on film, [8] “Since the age of six, all I ever wanted to be was an artist.  And so I did.”   Longley wrote a statement for a 1970 exhibition, “I love to paint, and I do it every day,” while Pooka Longley stated to Sandra McKenzie, [9] “Mother was married to her easel.”[10]

Bernique and Pooka attended Margaret’s memorial.  Approximately a year later, McKenzie visited Bernique and Pooka in their beautiful garden. Always well-coiffed, Bernique looked as beautiful as her flowers though she was seriously ill and would not recover.

 

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[1] Alice Marriott, 1910-1992, anthropologist and author from Oklahoma of more than twenty books about Indians.

[2] Eugene “Gene” Massin 1920-2003, artist and Professor of Art at University of Miami in Florida for 30 years, and friend.

[3] Bernique Longley, 1923-1999.

[4] Kathleen McCloud, Mythic memory Journeys Captured on Canvas, Pasatiempo, The Santa Fe New Mexican, Oct. 3, 1997.

[5] Alfred Morang, 1901-1958, artist, radio show host, critic, writer, Art in the News, Friday, February 10, 1950.

[6] Pooka Longley, daughter of Bernique Longley, interview by Sandra McKenzie by telephone on July 18, 2019.

[7] Sina Brush, artist an author, Working with Laura Gilpin, Photographer, photographs by J. B. Smith, published by Tomboy Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2017.

[8] A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc, book by Lois Katz, film by the same name produced by Sandra McKenzie.

[9] Sandra McKenzie, President of the Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation.

[10] Pooka Longley interview…Op. cit.