Margaret Lefranc and Stuart Ashman

Former U. S. Ambassador to the Organization of Economic, Cooperation, and Development in Paris Amy L. Bondurant stated, “Margaret’s paintings were part of a well-received exhibit, Breaking Boundaries, American Women Artists in France, circa. 1880–1930 by the US State Department’s Art and Embassies program. The exhibition included the first American women artists to study and work in France. Margaret lived in France from 1922 to 1933, where she received most of her art training. The lovely landscapes…that hung in our Residence were painted during her years in France and depict respectively the French countryside and the famous central park in Paris.”

Chatel Guyon, No. I ,painted in 1929 by Margaret Lefranc, is noted by the exhibition guide in Paris in 1991–2001, “The cubist influence and palette can be readily discerned.” This was her first landscape and that the Chatels were her first attempt at “depicting the bulk of a hill, ” according to Margaret. “You have a hill and changing light which affects the form—so different from studio painting.” She had visited Chatel Guyon in Auvergne or Central France with her parents. Toward the end of Margaret’s life when she was too ill to travel to accept the invitation to have tea with Ambassador Amy Bondurant in Paris, Sandra McKenzie told Margaret of the Paris exhibition to which Lefranc remarked, “I’ve come full circle, haven’t I?”   

Stuart A. Ashman referred McKenzie to the particulars of the State Department exhibition. From starving artist to Cabinet Secretary Department of Cultural Affairs under Governor Bill Richardson in New Mexico, Stuart A. Ashman has an astonishing career. Born and educated in New York, he spent some years in Cuba. However, he started his impressive career in New Mexico in the 1970s as visual arts coordinator in Santa Fe at the Armory for the Arts, where later the Center for Contemporary Art would be housed and ironically the very place Ashman eventually would become Executive Director and Chief Curator. He briefly moved to California as President and CEO of the Museum of Latin America (MOLAA), but unequivocally his mark has really been etched in Santa Fe. Other positions but not exhaustive include Director of the Governor’s Gallery under former Governor Bruce King, Director of Museum of Fine Arts now known as New Mexico Museum of Art; Executive Director Museum of Spanish Colonial Art; and CEO International Fork Art Market in Santa Fe. 

Sagrada Familia, a monotype in 1987 by Stuart Ashman was created at Pokrasso’s Graphics Workshop and inspired by Gaudi's cathedral in Barcelona when Ashman “had just returned home from the trip, after getting a tour of the site under construction, and riding in the contractor’s elevator.”  

Margaret and McKenzie first met Ashman when he was stepping into the curator position at the Governor’s Gallery at the New Mexico State Capitol encouraged by Sandra D’Emilio, senior curator at the Museum of Fine Arts. David Turner had given Margaret a contract for a one-person exhibition at the gallery, but asbestos in the New Mexico State Capitol stalled her show for three years during repairs. After Ashman was hired, his solution with his first exhibition in 1992 was extremely well received and helped launch his successful tenure at the gallery. With Ashman’s initial and subsequent help, one exhibition led to another—three more to be exact for Lefranc—and in addition one featuring a traveling exhibition which included the artist. It originated from the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles, California, and was titled Independent Spirits: Woman Painters of the American West, 1890–1945. Margaret and McKenzie met Gene Autry in California at the opening before it traveled to Utah, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Later in 1996, Margaret received the Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts, Painting, presented by Governor and Mrs. Gary Johnson in conjunction with an exhibition of Lefranc’s paintings at the Governor’s Gallery. Then there was the Paris exhibition.

Margaret’s works are part of the New Mexico Museum of Art collection. One hung in the office of the First Lady Barbara Richardson in 2004–2010, and years previously, another hung in the office of Governor John F. Simms during his tenure in 1955–1957.

Stuart A. Ashman is a man of many talents who catapults the careers of many artists into the national and international spotlight.

[1] Sandra McKenzie, President of the Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation, 1994–present, and friend of the artist.

[2] Stuart Ashman (1948), artist, photographer, author and various positions throughout New Mexico’s art world.

[3] Governor Bill Richardson (1947), New Mexico Governor from 2003–2011, member of the U. S. House of Representatives, 1983–1997 and 21st Ambassador to the United Nations from 1997–1998 under President Bill Clinton.

[4] Governor Bruce King (1924–2009), served three non-consecutive terms as Governor of New Mexico for a total of 12 years.

[5] David Turner, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts now known as New Mexico Museum of Art, 1983–1995.

[6] Lois Katz, A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc, 2007, Nouveau Ventures Unlimited, Inc., in association with the Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation, pg. 239.