Sunday, September 6, 2009
LILA MOORE KEEN
The Lady of the Camellias
Lila Moore Keen loved the flowers of her native Georgia. With an unequaled talent for painting flowers, Mrs. Keen became nationally renowned for her paintings of camellias, magnolias, and other flowers of the South. Mrs. Keen, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Moore of Winder, Georgia, began her artistic career at the age of twelve. One day she sneaked off a secret place with her sister's paints and began to teach herself to paint. She attended Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. Wayman Adams of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, gave the "budding artist" - pun intended - her formal training. Lila Moore married James L. Keen, Jr., son of James L. Keen, Sr., the founding president of Farmers and Merchants Bank. The couple moved to Laurens County after their marriage. Their last home was located at the southwest corner of North Calhoun Street and Highland Avenue. Their children, James L., III, and Jane were born here and graduated from high school here. Camellia Journal Magazine described Lila Moore Keen as "a missionary for truth and beauty."
One of Mrs. Keen's crowning moments was her management of the South Georgia division of American Art Week in 1944, for which she won statewide acclaim. After the chairman fell ill at the last minute, Mrs. Keen took over management of the entire state's celebration. Mrs. Keen organized exhibits all over the southern part of the state. She convinced four civic clubs of Dublin to each donate an art book to the library. Locally, Noble H. Marshall, Jr. and Mrs. Milo Smith were the county and city chairmen. Mrs. John Waldrep was co-chairman and Mrs. W.M. Harrison was publicity chairman. Misses Mildred Bishop, Virginia Joiner, Ida O'Neal, and Pearl Cofer were chairwomen of the city schools. Mrs. Tom Burts, Mrs. Sam Swinson, Mrs. Fred Brown, and Mrs. Roy Orr were committee members. Mrs. Orr put together a scrapbook of the activities of the art week. That book is now in the Dublin-Laurens Museum. The scrapbook contains paintings of magnolias and cherry blossoms done by Mrs. Keen.
During the celebration, art works were exhibited at the Women's Club House on North Drive. That building still stands and is located in front of the entrance to Dublin Junior High School on North Calhoun Street. The featured artist was Frances Jordan. Miss Jordan, a native of Wrightsville, was the first woman ever to graduate from Wesleyan Conservatory in Macon with a degree in sculpture. She was the first student at the college to have her work put on permanent display. Art works were also displayed in several downtown stores.
School children contributed their best works to the exhibits. The Savannah Art Club sent a large group of paintings by South Georgia artists for display at the Women's Center. Miss Frances Stewart, head of the University of Georgia Art Department, spoke at the chapel program at the High School. The women of the Parnassus Club served as hostesses throughout the week.
For her efforts, Lila Moore Keen was presented a blue ribbon for honorable mention by Art Digest Magazine. Mrs. Keen was one of only four to receive the distinct honor.
Mrs. Keen dedicated her life to preserving the beauty of southerns flower on her canvases. Her talent won her critical acclaim by art critics and the public all over the world. Her attention to detail was especially keen (pun intended.) The least deviation from the true color or detail of the flower was rejected and thrown away. Her standards of quality led to perfect prints of her works. One publisher misidentified a similar variety of camellia. Many readers wrote in to correct the publisher's error and to vindicate the perfect depiction of the camellia.
Mrs. Keen was personally fond of the magnolias of the South. She toured many gardens in order to select the perfect example of the fragrant beauty. Her portraits were often life-sized, captured at the moment of perfection. Mrs. Keen also captured the beauty of other southern flowers; the Narcissus, the Daffodil, the Violet, the Hyacinth, and the Periwinkle.
Lila Moore Keen was a member of the American Artists Professional League and was associated with a number of famous artists. She served as National Director of the 13th Annual Celebration of American Art Work.
Lila Moore Keen was honored nationwide for her paintings. Her works were exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., every other year. She was honored by the American Camellia Society. Keen's flowers adorned the covers of national flower publications. In addition to her floral portraits, Lila Moore Keen's landscapes and portraits were displayed in major cities of our country. Some of the children, who had their portraits done, didn't like them because Mrs. Keen left their freckles on their faces. Lila Moore Keen's originals are highly sought after by art lovers - some commanding prices above one thousand dollars. The prints of her camellias and magnolias are favorites among collectors and lovers of flowers everywhere.
Lila Moore Keen died in 1963. Her legacy lives on the walls of the Dublin-Laurens Museum. Her son, James L. Keen, III, gave a collection of eighty of her works to the museum several years ago. Other examples of her works have been donated by others. The museum displays a large portion of these paintings on a regular basis. Two of the camellia prints are available for sale at the museum. My words do no justice the works of Lila Moore Keen. They are an invitation to come by the museum and enjoy the beauty and splendor of the portraits of the most beautiful flowers of the South by Lila Moore Keen, "The Lady of the Camellias."