Margaret Lefranc & Laura Gilpin

Gilpin was approximately thirty-four when Rosalie and Susanna appeared in front of the photographer’s lens in 1925 at the San Ildefonso Pueblo. Susanna’s pots were actually signed with her spelling as Susana. Born prior to Maria Martinez, Susana Aguilar (1876–1945) was originally a utilitarian potter. She then progressed to black on black, red on red, and Polychrome.  In the 1920s and 1930s, her pottery was highly rated. She also taught her craft to her daughter-in-law Rosalie Aguilar (1898–1947).

Laura Gilpin received her first camera, a Brownie, at age twelve. Her mother had a close friend who was blind, and Laura  was tasked with describing to her in detail everything she saw at a fair they attended. Laura later said that this event taught her the powers and pleasures of observation that kindled her serious interest in photography [1]. Her early photographic career divided her life between the East and West Coasts, beginning in Colorado and transitioning to New York. Among her influences were Max Weber's art appreciation classes. Through Weber she learned how to analyze paintings for their composition, emotive spirit, and the use of light [2].

Laura eventually returned to Colorado to assist her parents. During her stay, a camping trip with friends brought her to San Ildefonso, where she photographed Rosalie and Susanna Aguilar. A few years prior to that, Margaret was sixteen and painting Nude Back. She made a charcoal sketch in Germany at the Art School of the West, tucked it under her arm, and after her transition to Paris with her parents, painted it in oil. She studied anatomy and painted at the Russian Academy (Academy Russe) in Paris with Basil Tchoukaieff—a time she later called her “green period”. "There were a lot of Russians who came...refugees from communism," she said of the experience. "They were marvelous craftspeople. By God, they could draw!" [3]

“When I was 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…I vowed then and there that I would visit American Indians when I returned to the United States. Many years later, I was on my way to do just that.” [4]

 

[1] Laura Gilpin, An Enduring Grace, author Martha A. Sandweiss, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth Texas, 1986, quoting Wilder interview, pg. 10 (audio interview, May 11, 1978, transcript, Amon Carter Museum); Schoonover [Margaret Lefranc] interview, Tape 2; Margaretta Mitchell, Recollection: Ten Women of Photography, (New York: Viking, 1979), p. 120.

[2] Laura Gilpin, An Enduring Grace, author Martha A. Sandweiss, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth Texas, 1986.

[3] Margaret Lefranc interview with Mike Carroll, Turner-Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1994.

[4] Lois Katz, A Lifetime of Imaging:  The Art of Margaret Lefranc, pg. 135, Tapes 3A and 3B, interview with Sandra McKenzie for intended Margaret Lefranc biography or autobiography.