Margaret Lefranc and Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Author Lois Katz [1] wrote that compiling the background information on Margaret was not an easy task. Margaret was a modest, private person, and it was difficult to get her to talk about herself. She was so modest that some people didn’t even know that she was Margaret Lefranc, the painter. They knew her by the name of Margaret Schoonover, which had been her married name from a brief marriage she entered into when she was in her early thirties, and a name that she maintained thereafter as had Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. Margaret got to know Douglas in about 1957. In an interview with Marc Simmons on September 29, 1996 in New Mexico, “I had barely moved there when Marjory came by with a little kitten and asked, ‘Is this your kitten?’ And I said, ‘No, it isn’t.’”  From that day on they were friends along with their many alternating cats.

 

Marjory Stoneman Douglas [2] was one of Margaret’s best friends who lived two blocks away in Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida, and who “tootled” around with Margaret in Margaret’s bright red 1957 convertible Mercedes “with the top down with their white hair blowing in the wind.” [3] Later the ride included Sandra McKenzie [4] as the two women aged and wanted to go to their favorite restaurant treated by Margaret, where Marjory had a scotch or a sherry. Marjory wrote The Everglades: River of Grass, a book about the environmental threats to the Florida Everglades, in 1947. Her book won many awards, and in 1993 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Clinton, for her work in saving the Everglades. 

A video entitled Marjory Stone Douglas—informally known as “This is Your Life”—was produced by MDTV for Stoneman’s one hundredth birthday in April 1990. While Margaret was recovering from a broken hip under the watchful eye of McKenzie, who was cataloguing Lefranc’s art and scheduling exhibitions in January of the same year, Margaret was asked to appear at a television studio along with Helen Muir [5]  and Kitty Harwood [6], all mentioned in a few of Stoneman’s books. Their testimonials were filmed and to be included in the video narrated by Ann Bishop [7]. At the last minute before driving Margaret to the studio, McKenzie grabbed the oil Marjory Stoneman Douglas Portrait (1978) Lefranc had painted and took it with them.  To the delight of the producer, the portrait was a major addition to the recording of Douglas’s history. The film ends with the camera repeatedly panning up and down on the painting.

 

In the mid-1990s, Douglas became blind and almost deaf before dying in 1998 at the age of 108, a few months before Margaret died, but not before Margaret called Marjory in 1996 to share the news from New Mexico that Lefranc had been nominated by McKenzie and had received the Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts, Painting—the same award that Lefranc’s friends Georgia O’Keeffe had both received for art and Laura Gilpin for photography in 1974. By telephone, Marjory Stoneman Douglas said to Margaret, “It’s a shame I never saw your work when I had my sight.” She was so unaware that her friend, Margaret Schoonover, was Margaret Lefranc. Apparently, Douglas’ experience of not knowing Margaret’s work as an artist was typical for many people,[8] for Margaret never promoted herself.

Sunset in the Everglades (1964), painted by Margaret Lefranc, would be only one of many paintings influenced by the Everglades, perhaps as a result of her friendship with Douglas, dubbed the “Grandmother of the Everglades.” This painting is an example of amorphous color forms moving into each other. In it, the sweeping shapes of color in orange, blue, gray, tan, brown and other shades move like a storm of racing clouds and present a play of color in abstract forms, although for Margaret they represented a colorful sunset in the Everglades. It was exhibited in Miami Six, El Paso, Texas, in 1964–1965 and later in 1965 at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami and other shows.  

In 1990, when Douglas was 100 years old, she came to Margaret’s and McKenzie’s home for Christmas dinner. Being quite hard of hearing by then and with a severe visual impairment, she arrived with her caretaker. McKenzie was doing the cooking and went all out to please them, but Douglas really only wanted ice cream which McKenzie served in spite of the caretaker’s objection that it wasn’t good for Marjory’s health. Lefranc and McKenzie chuckled later as if ice cream would shorten this centenarian’s life.

On her 105th birthday in 1995, the Miami Herald reported that Douglas was six years older than the city of Miami and that her “birthday bash began with a visit from an old friend, Margaret [Lefranc] Schoonover, an artist from Coconut Grove and Santa Fe.” [9] The paper also reported that Douglas, “worried about losing her knowledge of French, learned in France during World War I…carried on a thirty-minute conversation in French” with Margaret, who was herself then eighty-eight years old. Margaret was quoted as saying, “She will probably outlive me. I’ve lived a reckless life.” Then Douglas “demanded—and got—a dish of ice cream and sipped sparkling wine.” [10]

[1] Lois Katz, Curator of Oriental Art at Brooklyn Museum of Art; Curator of the Arthur M. Sackler Collections; lecturer.

[2] Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998), journalist, author, conservationist.

[3] Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the Florida Everglades by Sandra Wallus Sammons, Pineapple Press Biographies 2010.

[4] Sandra McKenzie, Margaret Lefranc art Foundation president, 1994—present.

[5] Helen Muir (1911-2006), American reporter and author focused on Miami history.

[6] Kitty Harwood “was in the group of beautiful young people Marjory swam with in the early days of Miami Beach.”

[7] Ann Bishop (1930-1997), television news anchor.

[8] Lois Katz, Introduction, A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc, Nouveau Ventures Unlimited, Inc. in association with the Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation © 2007 Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation and Sandra McKenzie, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

[9] Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s 105th Birthday, the Miami Herald, April 8, 1995.

[10] Ibid.