Remembering Edith Franklin on the 100th anniversary
of her birth, December 2, 2022.
Can you feel it – Edith Franklin is in the air. No wonder, it’s her Centennial.
I met Edith early on when I was building this website about the historical artists of Toledo. At the age of 87, she was majorly downsizing, selling her house and her collections. She asked me to help organize her papers to give to the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections at the Carlson Library of the University of Toledo. We worked on it for almost a year. Here she is donating her papers, shown with the Canaday’s archivist and director, Barbara Floyd (incidentally, who is also the author of The Glass City):
Edith Franklin was quite active. On any given night, she’d be out. She maintained that lifestyle until the week before she died in hospice, three months short of her 90th birthday.
Brian Kennedy, the ninth director of the Toledo Museum of Art, gave a eulogy at Edith Franklin’s Memorial Service on September 2, 2012. He described her as a “delightful chirpy smiling diminutive lady with big eyeglasses and a beautiful necklace who never missed a party.”
“As Director of the museum she loved, where she had studied and taught, which she visited so often, and where in 1962 she participated in the historic first Toledo Glass Workshop, Edith cared deeply that Toledo has a great art museum. After all, Edith had been the very first female artist to receive a solo show at the museum, back in 1958.”
Edith and the Museum
Director Kennedy’s description of Edith in his eulogy was colorful, and she did care very much that Toledo had a great museum, but Edith Franklin was not the first female artist to receive a solo show at the Toledo Museum of Art – not by a long shot. Born in 1922, Edith was a third-generation artist of the once-flourishing and inclusive museum artist community. Seventy women before Edith received local artist solo shows at the museum, starting with Isabel Kuhlman in 1933. (All the local artist shows – 540 local artists from all walks of life – are a thing of the past. See a complete list of the local artist museum solo shows here along with the current museum director’s unfulfilled promise to bring them back.)
Growing up in Toledo and benefiting from the Toledo Museum of Art free children’s Saturday Classes, Edith’s love of clay developed at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School during WWII in 1943-44. That’s not all that developed in Boston, as she returned to Toledo in 1945 with her new husband who had served in the Navy. By 1947, they had two children.
Edith took pottery classes at the Toledo Museum of Art School of Design for 41 years, from 1945 to 1986. These classes, at a world-renown museum, connected her to the world of pottery, where she got to know the greats. (She couldn’t do that today! Pottery classes for adults have been eliminated. The adult artist community is no longer welcome at the museum – which is quite ironic, since the museum has a new so-called community “Belonging” department with a special director.)
Edith showed her work in nearly every annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition from 1952 to 1982, and won the Purchase Award in 1982. (Not to digress again, but what a shallow new museum director Brian Kennedy was, to have known Edith so well, and to have seen how her history with the museum so perfectly exemplified the beneficial symbiotic relationship between the museum and the local art community, but then to have killed the nearly 100-year old Toledo Area Artists Exhibition just two years after Edith was gone.)
Edith incorporated text into her work. Her grandson said that what he learned from her was to take risks, to not fear failing, and to speak truth to power. “Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”
Many of Edith Franklin’s works revolve around the word “Love.”
Edith Franklin was experimental and influenced by what was going on. In a 2000 interview, Edith said,
The artwork since 1948 keeps getting better, it is growing. A lot of that is due to people like Harvey Littleton, who taught at the museum, as well as Hal Lotterman, Dan Woodward, and Hal Hasselschwert. They helped break us out of the ‘red barn’ and ‘sailboat’ mold. People like Harvey talked about ideas that questioned the essence of art and what we were supposed to do with it. The fifties were marked by mentors like these.
In this photo, taken at her 1958 solo show at the Toledo Museum of Art, (on the walls are paintings by Clay Walker), Edith sits next to her double-spouted vessel. It looks like the paintings. Perhaps she was influenced by the work of Toshiko Takaezu, an abstract-expressionist ceramic artist from Hawaii who was Edith’s exact same age. Ms. Takaezu, in the 1950’s, was a teaching assistant at Cranbrook, the esteemed art academy north of Detroit with close peer connections to the artists in Toledo, including Harvey Littleton, Carroll Sims, Clyde Burt and LeMaxie Glover, all clay artists. Edith’s piece, titled Patio Pot, acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art in 2016, could have been inspired by the double-spouted vases Toshiko Takaezu was making at the time. Or perhaps it was the other way around.
Edith and some of her distinctive work, photographed in 2010:
Edith and the 1962 Toledo studio Glass Workshop
The birth of the studio glass movement
Edith’s glass pieces from the first glass workshop in March 1962, acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art in 2011:
Edith and the 577 Foundation
One of Edith’s favorite stories was how she got her first job at the age of 65. Here is the long and the short of it, as she tells it, first to Barbara Floyd, and then at her 88th birthday party and launch of her new scholarship fund:
Edith at her 88th birthday party and fundraiser event to kick off the new Edith Franklin Youth Scholarship Fund. 150 friends and art supporters were present, including Herral Long, Marty Reichenthal and Joyce Perrin shown in these two photos. What an arty gang! R.I.P., arty gang.
Edith built her own kiln
brick by brick, rivet by rivet
She wanted to give back – and so she has.
Edith was a great potter who attributed her success to having luck. She was in the right place at the right time, and she seized the day.
Good luck to all of the Edith Franklin Scholarship recipients. I hope they find a supportive, engaging community to live in so that they can be lucky, too. It’s not so great in Toledo anymore, I’m sorry to say – because all the valuable opportunities local artists once had have been taken away. No free museum classes for public school children, no solo shows for local artists, no annual art exhibitions for the community of artists, no adult classes in a museum-centered school where monumental artistic advancements can be developed, such as the birth of the studio glass movement in 1962, which helped the Toledo Museum of Art just as much as it helped the participants and glass artists. The soul of the community has been swept out of the museum, and with it, all of the potential greatness.
Those who happen to live in federally funded housing projects within two miles of the museum are in luck, however. The museum got millions of dollars from Owens Corning and Promedica for installing on-site art-making studios, complete with on-site classes taught by art museum instructors, in ten housing projects. They tout that it serves 18,000 people. I wonder how many are artists. I’m happy for the few artists who qualify, but unfortunately for most of Toledo’s children and adults, since 94% of the population of Toledo does not live in federally funded housing projects, 94% percent of the community is out of luck. If it had not been for the museum classes and shows that were available to the entire Toledo area community throughout the twentieth century, the opportunity for Edith, who lived in Ottawa Hills, to give back with her Edith Franklin Youth Scholarship Fund would have been lost.
I guess that’s why they call it the Greatest Generation – it was before the museum cut us off. Here’s to Edith Franklin, born 100 years ago today. Keep her in your memory, there is much to learn from her.