Margaret Keane: A Mother, an Artist, and a Storyteller

08e0e610-7c1d-11e4-a916-3fee2a7a4fc4_big-eyesThis week, I was enticed by the story of Margaret Keane.

A few nights ago, I was sifting through Netflix when I stumbled upon the Tim Burton’s film, Big Eyes. I was amazed, awed, and touched by the story of this woman.

Margaret Keane had been painting ever since she was ten, members of her church remembering how she would draw ‘big eyed’ angels. She would later attend the Watkins Art Institute in Nashville and the Traphagen School of Design in New York City. The fingerprint of her paintings being the large eyes of her subjects. For Margaret was fascinated by the eyes, believing them to be the purest expressions of the soul.

After divorcing her first husband, Frank Ulbrich, she became a mother, who was trying to provide for her daughter during the 50’s, a time when women didn’t have many rights. An artist, who fell under the charm of Walter Keane, who portrayed himself to be an artist too. And a storyteller, living out a beautiful story of both light and darkness.

big-eyes-12She married Walter in Hawaii, and helped him transition from the life of a realtor to an artist. However, Margaret would later discover that Walter was not who he appeared to be, actually being a con-artist who was selling her work under his name. He would convince her this was for the best, for her paintings had skyrocketed in popularity. Though they were not favored by critics, they were loved by the masses–which may not have happened if the truth came out they were painted by a woman.

For a decade, Margaret painted for her husband, sometimes for sixteen hours a day. Sometimes even locked in her studio, with nothing else to do but paint her children.

Walter instilled fear in her, threatening to take Margaret’s life if she ever revealed their secret, for he was happy with the fortune, the mansion, the lifestyle which his wife’s work had granted him. Yet Walter himself was a drunk, a philanderer, and even emotionally abusive towards his wife.

b61ca87327627d0b0afd2563af09185fFinally, after years and years of living in a lie and fear, Margaret escaped Walter’s grasp with her daughter, fleeing to Hawaii and divorcing him in 1965. Under the encouragement of Daniel McGuire, her new spouse, she revealed that she was the true artist of the “Big Eyed Waifs” in 1970. And in 1986, she won a lawsuit against Walter in a paint-off, the judge giving them both an hour to paint a ‘big eye,’ in which Margaret did. While Walter claimed he couldn’t because of a sore shoulder. However, though she won the case and the $4 million, she never saw a penny of it, because Walter had already spent their fortune.

At the age of 89, Margaret Keane is still painting masterpieces today. And the children she paints look much happier, than the sadder children she had painted while she had been trapped.

If you get a chance, I highly encourage you to check out the film based on the life of this amazing woman. Warning, it’s a hard movie to see, and there is some language. But in a heartbreaking way, it is also a beautiful story which blesses the soul.


Jesus loves the little children


All the children of the world


Red and yellow
Black and white


They are precious in His sight.


Jesus loves the little children
Of the world.



~Photos Obtained

One thought on “Margaret Keane: A Mother, an Artist, and a Storyteller

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.