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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Franklin McMahon 1921 - 2012

Internationally known artist, Franklin McMahon, passed away on March 3. In his own words, he was an "artist-reporter" always in pursuit of history with his sketch pad and artists' pencils in hand.

McMahon lived in Lake Forest, but traveled the world to cover events that would be recognized as key moments in  American and world history. McMahon went on assignment for Life and Look Magazines, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Sports Illustrated, to name a few. Those assignments included the Emmet Till trial in Alabama, the March from Selma to Montgomery, the Chicago 8 Conspiracy Trial, the Watergate hearings, and the first walk on the moon (drawn from inside NASA's Mission Control).

Deerfield Elementary School gymnasium, November 1959, by Franklin McMahon. Artist's caption: "Deerfield citizens signal opposition to the racially integrated housing proposal." (LCDM 2010.17.6) 
In 1959, McMahon got word about a meeting to discuss the integration of a proposed subdivision in Deerfield. Since the meeting was at a local elementary school near his home, he decided to attend (though not on assignment). That evening he made nine drawings, which are now part of the museum's permanent collections.

Drawing titled "Lives 12 feet from Project," by Franklin McMahon, November 24, 1959. Artist's caption: "There were several meetings on both sides...Including a visit by Eleanor Roosevelt, supporting the subdivision." (LCDM 2010.17.11)
The Lake County Discovery Museum acquired a total of 14 drawings for its permanent collection with the support of the Friends of the Lake County Discovery Museum. The drawings are related to Lake County and include the Deerfield Racial Housing Controversy, Panel of American Women held in Lake Forest in 1970, and the Senate Watergate Hearings as seen on television by Lake Countians.

"Therefore, I Shall Resign..." President Richard Nixon on television at the Shrimp Walk Restaurant in Highwood, Illinois, by Franklin McMahon, August 8, 1974. (LCDM 2010.17.4)
I had the great privilege of spending an afternoon with Franklin McMahon a couple of years ago. We looked at dozens of his drawings, so numerous and beautiful that I was overwhelmed by his talent. Perhaps even more impressive were the memories he shared. He remembered making every sketch, and told the story of how he came to be in that place, sometimes at risk of bodily harm. Hearing about these experiences gave me a new perspective on American history.

McMahon produced 8,000 to 9,000 drawings in his career. He was an eyewitness to history, and his artworks evoke the emotions of those times.

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