Edith Franklin lived a long and full life. She nearly made it to her 90th birthday. The Toledo Museum of Art’s main building on Monroe Street opened to the public in 1912, one hundred years ago. It was two years ago yesterday that I became the ninth director of the museum. Edith had known nearly all of my predecessors. Her daughter Nan asked that I would speak today at this service, and I accepted, with both honor and humility, for I knew her only in her last years, when so many here knew her a very long time and so much better than me. So my words here today represent a personal story but I am sure many of you will echo them. It was indeed possible to know Edith quickly, because she was so open, a truly free spirit. You simply needed to be in her charismatic presence. Although she would brush it off, I know Edith enjoyed being told that she was special, and how so many people, as I did myself, thought so highly of her. 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.
After arriving in Toledo, I quickly came to hear the name Edith Franklin. When I looked her name up on the internet, there were headlines like “Event Honors Local Legend Edith Franklin.” Articles attested that she had been active in the Athena Society, a founding member of the Toledo Potters Guild in 1951, mentor to young artists, a winner of many awards for her work as a potter. In 1999, she had been given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Toledo Federation of Arts Societies. She had been so involved with the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo for decades, and as an educator at the 577 Foundation in Perrysburg, at the School of the Toledo Museum of Art, and at the Toledo Botanical Gardens. And so on went the impressive list.
It was not difficult for me to meet Edith. She seemed to be at everything – this delightful chirpy, smiling, diminutive lady with big eye glasses. She would never miss a party. I must have met her dozens of times in just two years. She always reminded me: “I’m from Toledo you know, born and bred!” Early on, she told me that everything had really begun after she was 65 – when she received her university degree, and got her first job. Whenever Edith and I met, we observed a ritual. I would say: “How are you Edith?” And she would laughingly say: “I’m still here.”
Toledo will be different without Edith, now that her body has finally told her “enough”, but we know that her spirit is here with us still, lighting up this space, her beloved city, and the cherished memories of everyone who knew her. Early on in my time in Toledo, in recognition of her significance in the artistic community, I invited Edith to lunch, one-on-one at the Toledo Museum of Art. She was so charming, truly flattered. I introduced her to our server, a final year student at the University of Toledo, and Edith asked her what she was studying.” “Ceramics,” said the student said, “I have a scholarship named after someone called Edith Franklin.” Edith beamed – and the student could not stop her tears when Edith introduced herself. Edith relished having a scholarship in her name and that funds had been raised for it by selling her works. She was very grateful for those who had done that for her.
Edith loved all people, but especially young people. She was the youngest 89 year old I ever met. I suspect she was forever young. Edith believed in people. Last Monday, as she lay in her hospice bed, she had no concern for herself: she talked about how pleased she was that there were so many young people in the museum, at lots of different activities, especially on Friday evenings. “You can do it, you can do it,” she told me. She was always glass half full, truly indomitable to the end.
The section on Penny Gentieu’s remarkable website “Artists of Toledo” begins with a photograph of two young girls, Edith and her next door neighbor on Fulton Street, standing on sleds in the snow. Edith is smiling, a big and full smile. And she is surely smiling now. We would all agree, she will have little difficulty smiling her way through the gates of heaven. A newspaper article from the 1950s informed the Toledo Blade’s readers that “Edith Franklin combines a serious interest in ceramics with home duties and Girl Scout work, teaching pottery to girls working for merit badges.” For Edith, teaching was such fun. She made it look so easy. We have lost a wonderful guide and a remarkable friend. We give thanks for the life that Edith Franklin so fully lived. We offer our deep sympathy to her family, relatives and friends. May her light continue to shine brightly in our lives.
Brian P. Kennedy
President, Director, and CEO
The Toledo Museum of Art