Franklin McMahon, an internationally recognized artist-reporter, died at the age of 90 as a result of a stroke on March 3, 2012. McMahon’s drawings and paintings, a number of them on assignment for the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Daily News, the Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Magazine, the New York Times, Life and Look Magazines, and Sports Illustrated, captured the major historical events of the post-World War II era. His work included the trial of Emmet Till, the political campaigns and conventions from 1960 through 2004, the Second Vatican Council, the 1965 March on Selma, the conspiracy trial of The Chicago 8, the first walk on the moon drawn from Mission Control and the Watergate hearings. McMahon made all of his drawings “on scene” because he believed an artist reporter could “see around the corners” to capture the essence of the emotion of the subjects of his work.
As the culture reporter of the Sunday Telegraph of London, Peter Lyle noted, “His pencil and his pad have been witness to many of the most significant events in postwar American and world history.” According to close family friend and Art Institute curator Gloria Groom, “His on-site sketches and artworks of many local, national and world events captured the energy and emotion of the given moment.”
McMahon received the Renaissance Prize of the Art Institute of Chicago and was named “Artist of the Year” by the New York Artists Guild in 1963. In 2000 he received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Civil Rights from the Minority Economic Resources Board. He was the recipient of three Emmy Awards and one Peabody award for films incorporating his artwork, broadcast on WTTW and a number of other Chicago television stations. He received honorary degrees from Loyola University of Chicago and Lake Forest College. His work is in a variety of public collections, including the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution and the Chicago History Museum, which has collected his drawings and paintings of the Emmett Till trial and the Chicago 8 conspiracy trial. He was a member of the Guiding Faculty of the Famous Artists School in Wilton, Connecticut.
McMahon, the father of nine children, a number of whom followed in his artistic footsteps, was born on the West Side of Chicago in 1921 and grew up in Oak Park and Los Angeles before returning to Chicago to attend high school. He is a 1939 graduate of Fenwick High School where his professional artistic career started when one of his drawings for his high school publication was published in Collier’s Magazine. He is a member of the Fenwick High School Hall of Fame.
McMahon enlisted in the Army Air Force and served as a B-17 navigator, conducting missions over Germany. His plane was shot down and he spent months as a German prisoner of war, where he made drawings of his Nazi captors, which were later published.
After the war, he returned to Chicago and married his high school sweetheart, the late travel reporter Irene Leahy McMahon, who preceded him in death in 1997. The McMahons were married for 51 years and resided in Lake Forest. For the last 20 years, they traveled the world. Franklin made drawings of the venues that Irene documented as a travel reporter for the Pioneer Press and numerous other Chicago and national publications.
McMahon’s son, photographer Wm. Franklin McMahon, said, “While his coverage of historical events resulted in public acclaim, it was his work in creating a ‘world studio’ of drawings and paintings while traveling the world with my mother that brought him his greatest joy.”
Franklin McMahon is survived by his nine children, Wm. Franklin, Mark, Mary McMahon Taplin, Deborah McMahon Osterholtz, Patrick, Hugh, Margot, Michelle McMahon-Kubota and Michael; 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A wake will be held at Wenban Funeral Home, 320 E. Vine St., Lake Forest, on March 9, from 4-8 p.m. A mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m., March 10 at St. Patrick’s Church, 991 S. Waukegan Road in Lake Forest. Private burial will follow.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to: Deborah’s Place, 2822 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago 60612.