Margaret Lefranc & Laura Gilpin

Margaret Lefranc’s earliest landscape (completed around 1928 or 1929) was displayed in the Arts in the Embassy exhibition "Breaking Boundaries: American Women Artists in France, ca. 1880 to 1930" held at the Weber Residence of Ambassador Amy L. Bondurant in Paris from 1999–2001. When Lefranc was very ill in New Mexico, Sandra McKenzie shared the news, whereupon Margaret replied, “I’ve come full circle, haven’t I?”

In 1929 painting Switzerland Mountain (From My Hotel Balcony), Lefranc’s concern was to apply amorphous color shapes but in a landscape imagery. The greens, yellows, blues, reds, and other hues do not define specific shapes but infer the elements of the landscape. Until then, she had concentrated on figurative works.

 

Though Margaret was athletic—horseback riding, playing tennis, ice skating, gymkhana racing, and skiing—Lefranc suffered frequent health problems during her life. First it was rheumatic fever at age thirteen and later at eighty-eight accompanied with intermittent heart challenges in between those years. While on vacation in Switzerland, she was hospitalized for a month. She paid for her surgery with a still life and a landscape she painted while recovering from having eight inches of her lower intestines removed. She didn’t inform her parents until two weeks after the operation when she asked them to send money. They wanted to make the trip from Paris, but she asked them to wait. 

“No matter where I went, the important things I took with me were a small mechanical Victrola with my favorite Bach pieces, without which I seemed not to be able to live, small canvases, a box of paints and a collapsible easel, because that was my life [1]Switzerland Mountain was not exactly from a hotel, but it was from a balcony at the hospital.

           

During this same time period, Laura Gilpin was far removed from the European life style of Lefranc. However, despite being isolated in the West with family, Gilpin’s photographs were shown nationally and internationally and received honors including in Great Britain and the United States.

Bryce Canyon, no. 2 [2], was photographed in 1930 during a trip taken in an old Buick stuffed with camping supplies and accompanied with a close friend for many years, Betsy Forster, who approximately a year or s o later would become a nurse for the Navajo Indians. 

A platinum print, Bryce Canyon, no. 2 is described as having been shot looking down into the rock formation as the sun was setting and illuminating the top of the rocks.  These photographs had, “No horizon line and no recognizable objects to give a sense of scale.  The rock towers rise from the dark in luminous, castle-like splendor” [3] which is a perfect description for a new observer of Gilpin’s photograph.

In 1979 Gerald B. Richardson, the grandnephew of Betsy Forster and Personal Representative of the Estate of Laura Gilpin, delivered Bryce Canyon, no. 2, to Margaret Lefranc (Schoonover) as a gift “to you…which Laura had not delivered prior to her death on November 29, 1979 as she had not yet inscribed the print to you.”

During their close friendship, Lefranc and Gilpin exchanged paintings and photographs. Margaret kept all but one which she sold to put a new roof on her home. Sandra McKenzie, a close friend of Lefranc’s, sold Snowstorm, Central Park, New York, 1917, a platinum print, to help pay for lawsuits against Lefranc’s estate.

[1] “A Lifetime of Imaging, 1921–1992,” statement by Margaret Lefranc for the exhibition at St. John’s College Art Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1997.

[2] Bryce Canyon, no. 2, plate 52, platinum print, published in Laura Gilpin, An Enduring Grace, author Martha A. Sandweiss, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth Texas, 1986.

[3] Laura Gilpin, An Enduring Grace, author Martha A. Sandweiss, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth Texas, 1986, pg.51.