by Ken Kemp
As a newly married woman, barely out of high school, Gray Hawn had the eye of an artist. She possessed an uncanny sense of color, balance and composition. Her photographs tell stories. From the first Mother’s Day art show set up in a shopping mall, folks have lined up to purchase her work and display it prominently in their homes and places of business.
Her young family needed the money. She found a way.
Her photographs illustrate a deep love of her native Lone Star State. Her creative portraiture has put her in the company of ordinary folks – and presidents, princes and movie stars.
Today, decades later, her list of clients looks like a political who’s who and a performing arts collection of Oscar winners. Look at her web site and see for yourself. Her subjects include “President Jimmy Carter, President George W. Bush, Sophia Loren, President of Mexico Jose Lopez Portillo, Farrah Fawcett, Rod Stewart, Lady Bird Johnson, Baroness de Nadine Rothschild, and Tommy Lee Jones.”* President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore routinely presented their supporters and friends special gifts: Gray’s work.
As we spoke this week, my favorite story focused on arguably one of the world’s most beautiful women of all time: Princess Grace of Monaco. When she shared her dream, Gray’s friends and family laughed. “No way,” they all said.
Her studio was only two years old. Gray accompanied her husband (who had business in Europe) to one of Europe’s most glamorous waterfront cities: Monaco. With confidence in her voice, Gray told him, “Just you watch – I’m going to get an audience with Princess Grace, set up my equipment and take the finest portrait photo the world has ever seen!” He nodded knowingly.
“OK,” said Bill, “Go for it!”
When they arrived at their hotel, Gray made her way to the concierge’s desk and boldly asked for the Palace phone number. The concierge frowned condescendingly. “I’m sorry, no one has that number.”
But Gray was undeterred. She returned to her room to make her plan. She ruminated for a whole day. Then it came to her. She remembered an unforgettable acquaintance back in Houston, a woman she considered the “grand dame” of Texas. She recalled that she made an annual trip to Monaco to work with Princess Grace on the Red Cross Ball. With renewed confidence, hatching her scheme, Gray marched down to the hotel’s official translator.
“Hello! I’m from Texas and I need to speak to Princess Grace’s assistant, but I left the phone number back home. Could you possibly call the Palace and ask for her personal secretary?” (Texas is a big deal in Monaco, Gray told me.)
“It was sort of a divine thing… I just went with my intuition,” she said.
“Just give me a moment,” the translator said with a smile. After a few minutes passed, he reappeared and handed a phone to Gray. On the other end of the line was the Princess’ secretary.
She had to think fast. “How did you get this number?” he asked.
“I got it from the Vice Mayor.” It was a white lie. Then, off the cuff, she quickly shared her dream and talked about her work.
The charm offensive worked. The secretary invited her to come by. The driver and the guard could not believe that this “commoner” had a genuine invitation, but when she arrived, the door was open. Gray and the Princess’ secretary had a long talk right there in the palace offices. While he indicated that a photo visit would not be possible on that trip, he was intrigued by Gray’s ambition and determination. He said he would share her vision with Princess Grace and that they would keep in touch.
When Gray arrived home in Texas, a letter was waiting – from Monaco. She was stunned. She held off, inviting her friends for a ceremonial opening of the envelope. When they walked in the room, they popped the cork from a bottle of fine Champaign - to either ease the pain of disappointment or celebrate the victory.
She read the letter aloud. Her dream came true: it was an invitation to meet the Princess in Paris for a photo session.
Gray got her photo.
That experience opened many doors for the master photographer, including a session with the incomparable Sophia Loren. And many, many more.
Gray’s interest in art began when she was a little girl in Corpus Christi. Her parents were in constant conflict, fueled by too much alcohol. To escape, Gray found solace in two neighbors: one who raised horses and the other a serious artist. At one house, she learned to ride. At the other, she learned to draw and paint. Her first subjects were horses.
Today her work is displayed in some of the finest galleries and homes across the nation.
Gray learned about FLITE TO FREEDOM from her good friend and FLITE board member, Yvette Grove. Last year, after a meeting with Angela, Gray entered several of her photographs into our Art of Freedom Show at the Lawley Gallery. Several sold, adding to the funds raised to help woman and children caught in the web of human trafficking.
She agrees: the best art is often born out of pain and hardship. The creative impulse brings joy and hope and purpose to a world that desperately needs that gift.
With determination and grit, a country girl from Texas can find herself in the company of a Princess.
*From Gray Hawn’s Official Website: https://grayhawnfineart.com
Personal Note to our Flite to Freedom Family –
In the last few years I have really been focused on my fine art work. I’ve traveled on six continents capturing the heart and the soul of these different countries, unless I was in Texas riding horses on cattle drives. Photography is my voice.
One of the things I was most proud of was the celebration of Mexico 2010 Bicentennial Celebration. I was the first non-Mexican to do a huge exhibit for the Mexican Consulate.
I so look forward to sharing my work with Flite to Freedom at the Fall event.
- Gray Hawn