Margaret Lefranc and Eugene Massin

Miserable, Margaret Lefranc moved to Miami, Florida. “Is there such a thing as an art colony or people in the arts here?”  Someone invited Margaret to lunch with Eugene “Gene” Massin [1], artist and professor. While Lefranc settled into the routine of taking care of her parents’ health and business, she enrolled in Massin’s art classes at the University of Miami “to see what the younger people were doing.” She was fifty years old. 

Lefranc also managed her property in Santa Fe, a house she had built in 1955 before she moved to Florida. She rented it over the years to various well-known and not-so-well-known people from various walks of life. At the same time, Margaret became very active in art in Miami, was in demand as a judge in juried shows, and was president of the Artist Equity. In addition, she exhibited and sold many of her paintings and prints [2] and made friends with other artists including Gene Massin. Lefranc used Gene’s studio and printing press until she bought her own press, moved it to the top floor of the cheapest two-story home she could buy and restore in Coconut Grove, and installed good lighting upstairs so she could paint at night [3]. She felt compelled to buy a home because builders were demolishing residences to build high rises. Her neighborhood had become the posh section of Miami by the time she was ready to sell decades later. In the meantime, Gene invited her to travel with the art class to Oaxaca to paint.

Construction No. 2, (1956, lacquer on masonite) is evidence that Lefranc explored the possibility of working with abstract geometric forms. As Margaret stated of her work, “My abstractions are in the world, not in my own imagination but in something actually physical, and that’s where I leap off.” [4]  It was only later in her monotypes that she let the anchor fall away which Massin may have influenced. Of course, given Margaret's thirteen years over Massin and past studies in Berlin and Paris, there was certainly an artistic symbiotic relationship between the two.

Race Track No. 2 (1958, was created during the time Massin used lacquer for its fluidity, covering large surfaces. He dripped his paint from the end of the brush along the curving lines that would give increased definition to the shapes and interrelationships of his forms. As he mastered this technique, the style and application would change with the subjects and the years [5].

Born of Russian Jewish immigrants—as was Margaret— Gene’s father took him fishing and made him feel welcome in his grocery store, where Gene was free to draw pictures on paper bags. His mother encouraged his creative instincts by taking him for art lessons and to museums [6]. Later, Massin came to believe, “A painter doesn’t look for the unusual. He looks at the usual and finds in it feeling and the basic things of life itself… He’s in complete awe of the beauty of things—not as something pretty, but as the motivator of the senses.” [7] 

In letters written to Lefranc’s sister, Celeste, Margaret sold one of Massin’s lacquer on masonite paintings, explaining that it was slightly delayed because Gene had pneumonia. His schedule had been quite busy exhibiting in the American Federation of Art while preparing for a Whitney Museum exhibition in New York City in addition to teaching art classes at the University of Miami and lecturing and receiving awards. As told in letters from him and his wife, Helen, the Massins shared the adventures of several trips accompanied by their children to Moracco, Tanger, Merrakesh, Spain, and Israel. In one letter, Gene wrote with broken fingers, “I have seen too much of the world at this point to enjoy further travels, but, boy, would I love another year here just to paint and mentally catalogue all that I’ve seen.” [8]

[1] Eugene Massin (1920–2003), American artist, University of Miami, 1956–1985, previously taught at universities in Wisconsin, Mexico and South Carolina.

[2] Margaret Lefranc interview with Michael Koster, January 2, 1997, for article in Pasatiempo, January 17–23, 1997, re:  St. John’s College Exhibition.

[3] Margaret Lefranc interview with Sandra McKenzie, 1994–1996.

[4] Interview with Diane Armitage of THE magazine, September 22, 1994.

[5] June E. Gill, Eugene Massin Retrospective, 1955–1965, Joe and Emily Lowe Art Gallery of the University of Miami, Florida, February 19, 1966.

[6] Sunshine, May 28, 1995, pg. 14, Miami, Florida.

[7] The Village Post, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, South Miami and Key Biscayne, March 1965.

[8] Letters to Margaret asking for film to be sent while sharing his travels, 1959–1960.