Franklin McMahon self portrait

The Man Who Drew History: Franklin McMahon

My Father’s Stories
by Margot McMahon

With humor, graceful lyrical graphite lines and colorful interpretations of one historical moment after another, my father Franklin McMahon captured his time to tell all of us. In his drawing of the congenial days when Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton debated in the presidential primaries, Dad said, “It looks like a possibility that Obama would become a vice-presidential candidate. Hillary Clinton’s already had that job.” These insightful stories he brought to our dining room table and then to the world by his drawings reproduced in print, film and digital media. My story about him is in three sections:

Margot at the Mayflower

The Eternal Optimist, 1921–1938 is Dad’s childhood with his greatest fan, my elusive, elegant, independent and charming grandmother, Bess Franklin McMahon O’Connor. My family stories are outlined by our family history that my sister Michelle and I published in 2011 in the Illinois Genealogical Society Newsletter.


Parachuting Artist,1938–1959: One afternoon my son, Brendan, and his friend Ian, a WWII buff, listened while I videotaped Dad telling his WWII experience.  This conversation outlined stories expanded with details from books he handed me like The Great Escape, Wooden Horse and Monuments Men, and other readings of WWII. Creating art was his certain purpose to overcome his experiences in the living hell of our industrial war.


“Cut the Flak,” 1960–2012, is his aviation term heard throughout our lively childhood. We tell of his years with our family, while he and Mom traversed the world to paint historic moments. Telling Dad’s stories led to me, the narrator. As the seventh child of nine, I was becoming an environmentalist and an artist in the post-industrial-war Midwest. While I strove to capture in words why he chose his subjects, I was uncovering a collective memory of what had informed his content and artistic decisions.

Go to The Eternal Optimist
  Go to Parachuting Artist   Go to Cut the Flak, 1960 to 2012

Franklin McMahon watercolor and pencil image of politians in press conference

Aquarius Press is publishing a series of three books by Margot McMahon, Franklin's daughter.

Mac & Irene: A WWII Saga, material from the couple's scrapbook that covers the WWII years.

If Trees Could Talk, a hybrid historical fiction/memoir that uncovers family secrets through the clues of Margot's father’s paintings and her mother’s writings.

RESIST! A Visual History of Protest
Franklin McMahon was front and center for much of the protest movements that changed America.His art illuminating the period is featured in RESIST! The drawings and paintings have been shown frequently, and will be seen in 2021 as museums reopen. The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art plans an exhibit of his drawings of the Bryand Milam trial. The Fair Housing at 50 exhibit at the Oak Park River Forest Museum includes a work by Franklin McMahon. The Chicago History Museum, who published an online exhibition of McMahon’s collection of Chicago Conspiracy Trial paintings in 2020, will include Franklin McMahon art in an upcoming exhibit. The images can also be found online: a Chicago History Museum book shows and tells how paintings of the Emmett Till Trial were created for Life Magazine by Franklin McMahon in 1955, and related films can be found at Chicago Film Archives.

Order Mac & Irene: A WWII Saga here.

Press about the books.

Sign up for the Parachuting Artists: Irene & Mac Newsletter

See for an exploration of Franklin's influence on Margot's art.

Go to Margot's Blog

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