This is the obituary I wrote when my friend Ernest Franklin passed. He was a big part of my life, professionally and personally, for nearly fifty years and we had a rapport that was almost spooky. I would describe something and Ernest would turn out a drawing or painting that was exactly what was in my mind–what I would have drawn if I had his talent. Perhaps it was his sense of humor that made us such good friends. It seems appropriate to begin my reincarnation on the internet with these words.
Ernest Franklin Sr. of Twin Lakes passed away Monday, March 22. Franklin was born January 26, 1942 to the Mexican clan, born for Zia clan. He grew up traditionally in Twin Lakes, New Mexico, herding sheep and taking care of the family livestock. He attended high school at the Albuquerque Indian School where he met his wife Irene Wiletto. They were married 47 years and had four sons.
Ernest was a prize-winning artist who began drawing in early childhood. He worked in every medium imaginable, including traditional Navajo silversmithing, rawhide braiding and leather carving, both welded and cast sculpture, ceramic pieces, pencil, oil, conte crayon and pen and ink, but it is his vibrant watercolors of cowboy scenes that were his personal favorites. He called himself an Indian Cowboy Artist.
In the mid-Sixties, fresh from Vietnam, Franklin started teaching art at Wingate High School, where he met Ernie Bulow. They have had a collaboration ever since. In recent years Franklin, who has won innumerable awards for his painting at the annual Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial, Navajo Tribal Fair and New Mexico State Fair, had become the official illustrator for mystery writer Tony Hillerman. He illustrated the Hillerman short story Chee’s Witch in the fall 1988 issue of Native Peoples magazine.
His first illustrated book was Words, Weather and Wolfmen in 1989 (reissued by University of New Mexico Press as Talking Mysteries ) followed by Navajo Taboos in 1991. In 1998 he illustrated a limited edition book by Hillerman called Canyon de Chelly, and in 2000 another limited about Hopi called Sacred Land. From the late eighties until his death he did original illustrations in copies of Tony Hillerman’s novels. These are highly prized today.
In 2001 Franklin did the illustrations for the Hillerman children’s book, Buster Mesquite’s Cowboy Band. At the time of his death Franklin was working on illustrated editions of Tony’s first seven mysteries in matching volumes. Only the first three were completed, though he had done jacket art for all of them.
In 2008 his last book was published in collaboration with his long-time friend Ernie Bulow. Uncle Ernie’s Guide to Old Time Rodeo was intended as the first in a series of “Cowboy” guides. The artwork for two more volumes was completed before his death. Franklin has been featured in a number of magazines including Native Peoples, Firsts, New Mexico Magazine, and Gallup Living.
Ernest Franklin was known locally as the “Singing Preacher” or the “Cowboy Preacher” because of his work in Christian ministry. He would hold special services at rodeo grounds around the area. When there are too many contestants at a rodeo a special session is held on Sunday morning, known as the “slack.” Ernest felt it was important to give these cowboys some sort of church attendance on Sundays. He expressed to family and friends that his ministry was the proudest time of his life.
In his youth Franklin contested in local rodeos. He made exhibition rides on buffalo at the Ceremonial rodeo back in the early Sixties. He was the announcer for the Wingate High School rodeo for many years, and still entered “old timers” events. This was followed by his ministry. In one way or another Franklin was active in rodeo all his life and still raised cattle, sheep and horses on the Navajo reservation.