top of page

Margaret Lefranc, maria martinez & Alice Marriott

“I traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1945—car laden with my worldly goods [1]. The dresser I had in my bedroom was on top of the rack of my ten-year-old Dodge as I drove toward the Henry Hudson Parkway. A policeman stopped me and said, ‘Trucks are not supposed to be on this highway. What have you got there on top of your car?’ Oh, I’ve got a small dead body, I said.  Of course, he cracked up.” [2] It was the chest Lefranc had in France holding all of her possessions. He let her go.

“I met Alice Marriott [3] when I was married to Ray Schoonover and Alice was supposed to marry her fiancé, but he and his boat were torpedoed and lost when shipping oil.” Margaret was Liaison Secretary at Cooper Union and had divorced Raymond Schoonover shortly before Marriott suggested that the two join forces. Marriott had received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to interview Maria Martinez [4], the potter, in San Ildefonso. 

Margaret and Marriott each were to rent a small, inexpensive casita with a small bedroom and living room, and the owner would do the cooking for them. While Marriott interviewed at San Ildefonso, Margaret could paint all day, then the two would meet in the evenings and have dinner together. Marriott’s friend was Irish and Marriott was half-Irish. They clashed, and that ended the agreement. Instead they had to stay in a small hovel in Nambe which they rented for five dollars a month. It was at the end of World War II, and the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos had swallowed all rental property in and around the area.

Margaret looked at the apparition, “My God, how will we live here!” [5] No heat, no water, no electricity. Margaret hurried to beat the winter. They lived in the three rooms resembling railroad box cars while Margaret, with her tools and Sears brochures offering repair directions, created, over time, a home from the adobe. Lefranc loved the beautiful mountains, arroyo, the Spanish-American neighbors and their cows, pigs, horses, and all the other animalitos wandering onto their property. Then there was the outhouse fifty yards away insulated with cardboard from Sears.

Lefranc drew Portrait, Alice Marriott (1947), and Maria Martinez (1947) while Alice worked with the potter. The Maria portrait was published in the book Maria: The Potter of San Ildefonso. “Here is a unique American biography and a unique story of the birth of art…this one Indian woman made pottery, stumbled upon new techniques …black on black ware…is collected by museums all over the world.” [6] Completing the text took longer than Marriott had planned, as Maria was paid only one dollar per interview, not enough to detain her from her pottery production. To generate more income, during the slow time, Marriott wrote about their adventures in The Valley Below. Savoie Lottinville, director of the University of Oklahoma Press, insisted that Lefranc do the line drawings for both books. 

Maria: The Potter of San Ildefonso, which is still in print, was published in 1948 by the University of Oklahoma Press at Norman. “The drawings done by Margaret Lefranc are exceptionally beautiful…Maria’s and Julian’s popular designs are also the most complete survey, so far published, of the traditional designs of the San Ildefonso pueblo.” [7] Lefranc was the first to draw pottery in the round instead of as a flat panel with no relationship to the pottery curvature. Lefranc received the Fifty Best Books of the Year Award for Illustrations given by the Library of Congress and the American Institute of Graphics Arts. Also, Indians of the Four Corners in 1952 was honored as One Hundred Best Books of the Year for Illustrations. The author and artist would collaborate on a total of six books which Margaret illustrated and edited, including a Preface on a new edition of a Herbert Spinden book, Songs of the Tewa [8]. In only two of Marriott’s books is Margret given credit as editor—one as Margaret Schoonover and another with her same married name and Wynderllyn Folsom, their Welsh Terrier. Also, Margaret is noted as Martha, for some reason. It became a source of unpleasantness. Then there were The Cowgirl and the Horses, Indians on Horseback, Hell on Horses and Women, and Dance Around the Sun.

Maria and Santana Pottery [9] (1956, 4” x 6 ½“) is one of the remaining pieces of pottery in the Lefranc personal collection after she donated most of her collection to what was then called the Museum of the University of Oklahoma, Norman, under the direction of Stephan Borhagyi in 1956 which later became the Stovall Museum of Science and History. Santana (1909–2002) was the wife of Maria’s oldest son, Adam (1903–2000?). 

“I was adopted by a Nambe Pueblo family and woman, Grandma, Leonidas Romero y Vigil, a medicine woman.” [10] The Nambe Indians called Margaret Chamisa after an Indian herb and because her hair was almost white. Margaret related, “When they [the Indians] had a fight, the elders came over one evening with a package and they handed it to me and said, ‘This is our sacred fettish. We’re having a fight. We are afraid someone might steal it. You keep it for us.’ I never opened the package. I kept it for two years. When the fight was over, they came for it. I gave it to them.” The trust they placed in Margaret offended Marriott's pride as an anthropologist, eventually leading to the dissolution of their collaboration in 1956. Illness among both of their parents and Marriott herself contributed to this split. 

Georgia O’Keeffe’s cat, Anselmo, who loved classical music, stayed with Margaret when Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s husband, died suddenly. Others with whom Lefranc became friends over the ten years were artists, writers, poets, architects, museum directors and anthropologists, including Witter Bynner, Robert Hunt, Maria Chabot, Frederick Douglas, Laura Gilpin, Alfred and Dorothy Morang, Randall Davey and wife Belle; Eleanor and Eric Jette, Oliver Lafarge, Nicolai Fechin and daughter Eya, and husband Dane Rudhyar; Maria Martinez, Irene Von Horvath, John Brinkerhoff ”Brinck” Jackson, of Landscape magazine; Alfonso Ortiz; and numerous others during this important historical period of time in the Southwest.  

[1] “New Mexico, 1939–1956,” by Margaret Lefranc, May 20, 1997.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alice Marriott, 1910–1992, anthropologist and author from Oklahoma of more than twenty books about Indians.

[4] Maria Poveka Montoya Martinez, ca.1887–1980, Native American artist. Husband Julian Martinez (1897–1943), San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico.

[5] Lois Katz, A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc, Nouveau Ventures © Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation, pg 159.

[6] New York Herold Tribune, Books and Things, Lewis Gannett, April 9, 1948.

[7] This Week in Santa Fe, A Weekly Magazine, Books, May 7–12, 1948, pg. 6.

[8] “New Mexico, 1939–1956,” by Margaret Lefranc, May 20, 1997, and Sandra D’Emilio, curator, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe,” interview with Sandra McKenzie for Margaret Lefranc biography or autobiography.

[9] Signed Marie and Santana.

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

bottom of page