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Mississippi photographer/writer Franke Keating dies at 95

November 4th, 2011 Comments off

Greenville’s Franke Keating, known world-wide as one of the most celebrated photographers for National Geographic, died Friday in Atlanta at 95.

Franke Keating, who died Friday, may be best known as a photographer for National Geographic Magazine and her coffee table book of photos from around the state of Mississippi.

Keating had lived in Atlanta recently with her son, Dr. John Keating, since her health had begun to fail.

“She was a special lady,” Greenville realtor Betsy Alexander said. “It is a sad day for Greenville.”

Having traveled across the globe to some of the world’s most exotic locales, including 17 trips to Kenya, Keating was known throughout Mississippi as an extraordinarily talented portrait photographer, having shot some of the area’s most well-known families and authors. She also shot for The Smithsonian and Travel and Leisure as well as smaller publications across America.

But to many around Greenville, she is simply known as “Ms. Franke.”

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“Franke lived her life fully,” said long-time friend Jan Engel. “She was always ready to go. She had more energy than I did. My family loved her dearly, and anyone who knew her loved her.”

A member of the Greenville community for more than 60 years, Franke Keating originally grew up across the river, in southeast Arkansas. In 1939, Keating married the love of her life, Bern, and moved to West Palm Beach, Fla. The couple relocated to Utica, N.Y., before Bern joined the U.S. Navy, and subsequently fought in World War II.

The Keatings returned to the South after the war, eventually settling in Greenville, where the couple opened a studio, which thrived on freelance and magazine contract work.
Initially, Bern was at the photographic helm of the business, but Franke longed to become more involved with the art. Eventually, the couple would switch roles, leaving Keating more in the photographer’s seat, and her husband took over the writing aspect of their work.

Franke with Parker Reily at the 2007 Keating Cookie Party

The couple traveled the world over the next 50 years, flying off into the wild blue yonder, traveling to far away lands, going on safari and meeting new and exciting adventures head on.

In 1995, Franke and Bern received the Special Achievement Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.

Keating’s importance to Greenville and the Delta is reflected in the comments of Greenville mayor Heather McTeer, who viewed her as an icon.

“She was an amazing woman, who showcased the Delta with her talents,” McTeer said. “I loved her adventureous side. She was a classic lady but was unafraid to go anywhere, or meet anyone.

“I also loved her grace. I usually saw her at local arts events and everytime, she always gave me a warm hug and kiss on both cheeks. Mrs. Keating was really special to Greenville.”

One of the things Franke loved the most was her Christmas cookie party, a Delta tradition for more than 50 years.

Franke and Bern up with the idea for the Cookie Party after visiting the home of a friend one Christmas where they admired the beautiful ornaments on the tree.  The Keatings decided to open their home and have children come to decorate ornaments for the birds to enjoy to be hung on trees in their yard. Over the years, the event grew to be more of a grownup party.  But Franke says she wanted a tradition for the children, “not a cocktail party!”

It was then that Franke literally sketched out several designs.  She took her drawings to a local blacksmith shop and had cookie cutters made.  To her surprise, the blacksmith made the cookie cutters out of copper. She promptly told him not to send her the bill until after New Year’s; she didn’t want to spoil her holiday.

When my family and I lived in Greenville, we were always invited to the Cookie Party, and my children always enjoyed the fun and frolicking at Ms Franke’s

Franke was one of the kindest and most talented people I ever met. She will be greatly missed.