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Margaret Lefranc and Laura Gilpin

Margaret accompanied Laura Gilpin to see Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico [1]. Gilpin was a close friend of O’Keeffe’s, and Margaret had known O’Keeffe since her time in Nambe when they both arrived in New Mexico at approximately the same time as also did Gilpin. One day, O’Keeffe asked Gilpin to come over to take some photographs of her because she had just finished a book and wanted Gilpin to do her portrait for the frontispiece. Gilpin said that she could not manage long drives anymore but that she would ask Margaret to drive her to Abiqu. Inside O’Keeffe’s house, Gilpin asked Margaret to move a piece of furniture so she could get the shot she wanted. O’Keeffe didn’t want Margaret to change anything in her house, but Margaret had to do it to help Gilpin get the particular texture she wanted for the photograph [2]. While doing that, Margaret found, stashed in a corner, The Black Place, a watercolor O’Keeffe later painted as an oil and used as a poster for Alfred Stieglitz, her husband [3]. The painting discovered, O’Keeffe was delighted because she said she had been looking for it for years. Then they all had lunch and found that they saw eye-to-eye politically.

Couple on the Beach (1972) Lefranc painted in Miami approximately during this time before returning to Santa Fe to meet up with Laura Gilpin who, as her best friend, always bolstered her spirits, whether in person or by long-distance phone several times a week while Margaret was in Miami. Laura, who suffered for years with a bad hip, became dependent upon Margaret for transporting her on photographic trips and for their social life, which included concerts. Since Margaret spent a great deal of time in Santa Fe and was very close to Sheldon Rice and Alicia Shafter, the founders of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festivals, she and Laura were always invited to their parties. Also, once a year a special concert was given at Louise Trigg’s ranch in the chapel in honor of O’Keeffe in appreciation of the funds and one of her pieces of art which graced a poster for the Chamber Music Festival.

McKenzie, as Lefranc called her, was reminded by Eleanor Caponigro [4], in a May 2019 telephone conversation of a story Margaret related to her about her swim in the ocean. The event occurred about the time Lefranc painted Couple on the Beach in Miami, Florida, where Margaret and a friend swam the forward crawl abandonly and confidently toward the horizon. Rather far out in the ocean, taking a forward stroke, Margaret extended an arm and her hand touched an obviously slippery body. As she took another stroke, swallowing hard, she again encountered the same slippery body which now also bumped deliberately against her blocking her progress. Immediately she thought of shark and yelled to her friend who, with no hesitation, turned and swam away leaving Margaret alone to cope. As it turned out, when the bump occurred again, Margaret saw that it was a dolphin warning Margaret to go no farther, protecting her against an approaching shark in the water. 


Sina Brush points out in her book Working with Laura Gilpin, Photographer [5] that Margaret Lefranc Portrait with Camera, taken by Laura of Margaret holding her own camera was centered in a group of other pictures on the cabinet in the photographer’s new darkroom over the developing sink immediately after the cabinets were installed. It was placed along with Elizabeth “Betsy” [Forster’s] picture [6], a woman who had been Laura’s friend for over fifty years. Decades later, McKenzie [7], Lefranc’s nickname for Sandra McKenzie, placed Margaret Lefranc Portrait with Camera in a place of prominence in Lefranc’s living room above an overstuffed chair where Margaret sat next to the fireplace built by the artist’s adopted Nambe family of women. Musical Trees, also in this exhibition, had been in the Gilpin’s collection. Laura returned it just before she died, and Margaret hung it in her home next to the windows where nature displayed the Atalaya Mountains prominently.


[1] Margaret Lefranc interview with Marc Simmons, September 29, 1996,

[2] Margaret Lefranc interviews with Sandra McKenzie, 1994–1996. 

[3] Ibid.

[4] Eleanor Caponigro, book designer and friend of Laura Gilpin.

[5] Sina Brush, Working with Laura Gilpin, Photographer, published by Tomboy Press © Sina Brush.

[6] Ibid., pg. 196.

[7] Sandra McKenzie, Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation, president, 1994–present.

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