Greater Cincinnati has lost one of its true Renaissance minds, with the death of Fran Watson at the end of October.   A regular critic for aeqai, I’d known and worked with Fran for nearly forty years, and admired her as much as any writer/art critic I’ve known in my own long career as writer/critic.  And Fran, who knew a lot about a lot of fields in the arts, was mostly self-taught, a generalist/humanist in the era of the specialist.  Fran made prints, and wrote about them critically with a real knowledge of how prints are made (her last review for aeqai, thus, is her review in the early fall issue of the woodcuts by Jay Boloton, newly on display at The Cincinnati Art Museum).  Fran also painted, taught students abstract expressionism, which she loved, wrote a daily haiku poem on her FaceBook page, wrote criticism monthly for aeqai (and other publications before ours).  She’d long been a docent at The Taft Museum of Art, as well: those are the externals.  She was also married twice, mother of five children, I believe, and had numerous grandchildren as well. She lived in Northern Kentucky her entire life, and also served in World War II as a WAC.

We began to know one another way back in the ’80s when The Art Academy of Cincinnati had a newspaper, The Art Academy News, which was sent to every Academy alumna/alumnus in the country; it was one of the best marketing devices The Academy ever had.  The editor at that time, Jane Tobler, asked both Fran and me to write a review bimonthly, and it was a smart choice, as we wrote very differently, thought differently, but saw the visual arts in the same overall context within the arts and humanities.  I learned a whole lot about how technique enhances or detracts from a work of art from reading Fran’s reviews, which were smart, enthusiastic, highly knowledgeable.  I write more about the psychology of a culture as manifested through its visual arts, and that newspaper really got around the country; I was always sorry that it closed. We were excellent bookends for that publication.

Fran and I wrote together at other publications over the years, and then when I took over aeqai, through the good offices of our mutual friend Mary Heider, she called me one day out of the blue, and asked if she could write for aeqai, and I was delighted to have her return (there’d been some hiatus in her writing for a period, often caused by a lack of venues in which to write/publish).  I knew that I could call upon Fran to write about virtually any show, about any medium; her intelligence was vast, her ideas firm, and there was a feisty streak in her, which sometimes appeared in her columns, which I both admired and encouraged as her editor.  Since neither of us grew up with computers, and neither of us was terribly comfortable with them, we went over her columns over the phone, and those are the calls I will miss the most, as the conversations veered all over the boards. She was funny, irreverent, skeptical, and always smart.  (I also loved the way she referred to a certain male friend of hers as her “gentleman friend”).  And her own house was a treasure trove of art and beauty, wonderfully sited, with lovely views and greenery surrounding it. She was also a mother tiger to her children, about whom she cared passionately and with unconditional love.

I received a phone call from one of Fran’s daughters the Wednesday before she died; Fran wanted me to know that she was in the hospital, anticipated having a “procedure”, and being back at home in about three days, but she wanted me to know that she probably  couldn’t finish her column for the Oct./November aeqai: how typical of Fran to make sure that I knew that her column wouldn’t be coming in, under such dire circumstances.  Then on Friday after that, I learned that she’d died.

Fran was as engaged with the visual arts as anyone I’ve known, and her passion for art was one of her defining characteristics, along with her keen ability to transmit her ideas, critical and admiring, about prints, painting, sculpture, what’s now known as “object-based art” (she was very skeptical of video, performance, and such, so I didn’t ask her to review such shows; that may have been generational, too).  Her voice had a lilt, just slightly Southern, and was musical to one’s ears. She was a woman who never let difficult circumstances mar her forward march in her careers and in her life: she was, truly, an admirable woman, and as people like Fran die off, we are absolutely lessened as a polis without her ilk: honesty was such a defining characteristic of Fran; she abhored snobbery and hypocrisy in any form, but valued creativity and intelligence, possibly because she was, herself, so creative and brilliant.  I think I’ll miss our phone calls the most, those candid, often funny minutes with no interruptions, when her own personality so sparkled and soared.  Fran Watson represented all that is good about art, and I hope that for those of us who knew her, we’ll remember her as a beacon of intelligence and honesty and candor, and make sure that what we do will meet her highest of standards.

–Daniel Brown

0 Responses

  1. Thank you for this beautiful tribute of this beautiful woman. It is clear that you knew her well and your words celebrate the vibrant soul she was. The gifts she shared are many, as are those she left behind. It means a great deal to see your acknowledgement of her and her work. With gratitude, Theresa Coop (Fran’s granddaughter)

  2. So well said. She was a friend and such a talent. I am happy that I had one very humorous visit with her fairly recently at my youngest stepson’s wedding. We were totally irreverent. I loved that about her. I miss her regular haiku post and her laughter. I aspire to be more like her. Thank you for this.

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