Meet Francine Levy, one of the community’s most well-traveled artists
When Francine Levy walked into the Sanford Museum for the first time years ago, the Lake Mary artist couldn’t believe her eyes. Francine had gone to the museum to do research for an art project. She was interested in drawing pictures of Sanford’s historic homes and wanted to learn more about them. As she walked into the museum’s main room, Francine was startled to see a large portrait of King Leopold I of Belgium, who reigned between 1831 and 1865.
“It was so surprising to me,” recalls Francine, a native of Belgium. “I come from so far away. I said, ‘What is the king doing here?’”
Museum curator Alicia Clarke explained that Henry Shelton Sanford – the city’s founder – had been appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to be the United States Minister to Belgium. He served as ambassador from 1861 to 1869 and lived in Belgium for many years. The Sanford-Belgium connection was endearing to Francine, who remains intrigued by the city and its history.
“The diversity of the community is fascinating to me,” she says. “I like to meet people of different backgrounds.”
Francine has been able to do just that, in large part because of the vastly different places she has lived. She earned a degree in art and fashion design in Brussels and worked in the fashion industry there until she met her future husband. After marrying, the couple lived in Belgium and France and then moved to Nairobi, Kenya, with their two children. Francine credits the time she spent in East Africa with reigniting her passion for art.
“It was very exciting because it’s an amazing continent,” says Francine, who marveled at the colors, animals, and lifestyle. “We learned so much from our stay there, in so many ways.”
She was impressed by the villagers’ vibrant art, which included carvings and beadwork. Francine began experimenting with the ancient technique of batik to depict the tribal life that surrounded her. In 1969, after four years in Kenya, the Levy family moved to Miami and then in 1983 to Central Florida. Francine managed a high fashion salon before retiring and devoting herself to art.
She took refresher courses at community colleges, Crealde School of Art in Winter Park, and the Maitland Art Center. Francine also joined plein air art groups, frequently going on outdoor painting expeditions. She has worked in a variety of media, including acrylics, watercolors, and soft pastels – her current medium of choice. Francine has exhibited her work in Kenya and in venues throughout Central Florida, winning numerous awards.
Francine is a member of several art groups, including the Sanford Seminole Art Association. The SSAA will have an exhibit of members’ work (including Francine’s) at the Casselberry Art House on Friday, September 9, with an opening reception from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
This summer, Francine and two artist friends – Kathleen Chenet and Marianna Hamilton Ross – exhibited nature-themed artwork at the Casselberry Art House.
“The environment is something that’s really important to me,” Francine says. “I think we have to try to preserve what is left of our beautiful environment in our painting.”
Francine, whose husband died in 2010, lives with her daughter, Martine Levy Nelson. They often visit parks and other picturesque spots, where Francine takes notes and photographs to use as references for future paintings.
“I just love her art,” says Martine, a math instructor at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. “I see it unfold before my eyes. I’ve really grown to appreciate it.”
In addition to her artistic pursuits, Francine is a member of the Sanford Historical Society and the city’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Steering Committee. Valada Parker Flewellyn, a former president of the Sanford Historical Society, is a friend of Francine’s. They often meet for coffee and conversation, which sometimes turns to serious topics such as race relations and war.
“She is always so sympathetic to the plight of others,” says Valada, an author, poet, and storyteller who wrote a book about Sanford’s African-Americans. “Francine has a beautiful view of the world.”
Valada is also a fan of Francine’s art and owns one of the artist’s still-life paintings, which has a place of honor in her home.
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“It just brings me joy,” Valada says. “Her art is a reflection of who she is.”