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Margaret Lefranc and Laura Gilpin

Lefranc painted Self-Portrait with Scissors (1965) while still using herself as a model. She consistently said, “I was the cheapest and best model I could find.” Margaret was fifty-eight years old at the time of the painting. She represented herself in three faces in a three-sided mirror, which hung over the sink in the bathroom off her upstairs studio kitchen in Coconut Grove. But the images are not as they would have appeared in reality. The faces in the side mirrors reflect each other as they gaze at the figure of Margaret, who is also viewing herself in the mirror she faces as she seemingly looks out towards the viewer. In this sense, it is not unlike early self-portraits from the 1920s, in which Margaret portrayed herself gazing into a mirror. Here, too, she captured the emotions she perceived by studying her face in the mirror. The expressions on all of the faces seem sad and reflective, even forlorn, mirroring Margaret’s own feelings or emotions. 

Writing about Margaret’s exhibition at the St. John’s College Art Gallery in THE magazine in 1993, Diane Armitage said of this self-portrait, “If some of Lefranc’s earlier portraits take the prize for lyricism, a work done in 1965, when she was fifty eight wins ‘best of show’ for its depth of a mature honesty and boldness…here the artist depicts herself confronting her own aging process in a moving and candid image done almost thirty years before it became an avant-garde and even ‘fashionable’ thing for women artists to do. Her treatment of her own persona—split into three aspects of herself—is very canny and typical of Lefranc’s ability to see beyond the surface with uncompromising perspicuity. In this painting, Lefranc centers her own being in one lucid and telling pictorial moment when she offers her ‘middle face’ as both mirror and window to her deepest self.” [1]

O’Keeffe in Her Bedroom (ca. 1960) was photographed by Laura Gilpin at O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu house [2]. Gilpin photographed the scenes and people of the Southwest, and she used to tell Margaret, “I record the things I see. I watch the living creation, and creation is something you have to see and feel.”

From her days at the Clarence White School in New York, design was everything to her. Design was more than decorative. It was integral; not just shapes and compositions, but the way the light worked and what it ultimately signified in terms of meaning. The Navajo Indians fascinated her, and she spent a great deal of time among them. She never lived in their midst nor adapted their lifestyle but she said that at times she felt she had glimpsed their soul. She was fascinated by them because of what she described to Margaret Lefranc as “their sense of oneness with the universe.” [3]

O’Keeffe in Her Bedroom was photographed during the time her dream was to finish The Enduring Navaho, but which ultimately took eighteen years to produce and publish. Gilpin did this without aid or grant money or backing of any kind, and by lugging her heavy view cameras, her 8-by-10 Graflex and Kodak Medallist, over miles and miles of rugged terrain. Elizabeth Warham Forster [4], a public health nurse, was a major part of the “Enduring” project since she introduced Gilpin to the Navajo culture. Together they visited the reservation as much as budget would allow while Gilpin photographed and included “Betsy” in some of the black and white documentaries. Betsy shared fifty years of Gilpin’s life until she died in 1971. 

Sometime during 1968, Margaret and Gilpin met again socially and from then on during the 1970s, Margaret would come to know these cameras intimately as she packed them into the hatchback of her Renault with the back seat removed to transport a handicapped Gilpin to Canyon de Chelly National Monument [5] to camp under the stars. Gilpin waited for the perfect shot while Margaret tried to paint after repeatedly repositioning cameras.

[1] “Margaret Lefranc: A Lifetime of Imaging,” by Diane Armitage, in THE magazine, December 1993, p.55.

[2]  Owned by Margaret Lefranc Schoonover and copy donated to Museum of Fine Arts of New Mexico by Lefranc.

[3] Lois Katz, A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc, pg. 216, Nouveau Ventures Unlimited, Inc., in association with the Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation and Sandra McKenzie ©2007.

[4] Elizabeth Warham Forster “Betsy” (1886–1972).  Some references cite January 1, 1971. Public health nurse for the Navajo Reservation.

[5] Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a vast park in northeastern Arizona, on Navajo tribal lands.

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