by Lori Murphy
Never underestimate the power of immersing children in experiences, values and talents you hope they will carry with them into life. It is often to those earliest memories they turn in times of struggle and challenge. That has been true for this issue’s cover artist, Claire Freidrichs Taylor of Mandeville.
Growing up the daughter of an educator gave Claire and her sister, Rhenda, the chance to attend the lab school on the campus of Louisiana Tech in Ruston. Located next to the university art department, the students were treated to professional art training three times a week throughout elementary school. Working in various media using color, texture and paper techniques was as common in their school day as math or reading. What a gift.
Agnes Miller was the dean of home economics on campus. She was grateful for the chance to provide well for her daughters as a young single mother, not very typical in the 1960s. But, then again, Agnes is anything but typical. Of the many blessings she bestowed on Claire and Rhenda, the most important was her sage advice. “No two people are alike, and everyone has talents. Find yours,” she said. There was a lot of love in the small family, but not a lot of sympathy for unmet aspirations. “If you decide to do something, put your mind to it. There is nothing that you can’t do if you are willing to work at it.”
It was advice she had undoubtably given herself time and again. When Agnes’ husband fell ill, Claire was only one and her sister three. She decided to move home to Ruston to be near family while she set about creating a future for her girls. Well-read and determined, Agnes is still going strong, having just celebrated her 102nd birthday at The Windsor with a social distancing celebration under the porte- cochère with family and friends.
Graduating from LSU with a degree in elementary education, Claire continued to immerse herself in art whenever she needed an emotional lift. It has been the best medicine for challenging the bouts of depression which have plagued her life, something she inherited from her father. Her sister, Rhenda, a professional artist herself, has encouraged Claire to paint and be creative as great therapy. It was Rhenda who suggested classes at the New Orleans Institute of Fine Art. When Claire walked in, she burst into tears, saying “I can’t do this.” Instructor Adrian Deckbar made her promise to strike that word from her vocabulary and join the small studio sessions that met weekly. She was the first to challenge Claire to leave her comfort zone and push through. The first completed piece was a pastel portrait, not an easy feat. “Whatever Adrian painted, I painted. She taught me valuable fundamentals about how to break down the image into a grid of spaces, looking for details in each smaller area as I progressed. I still work that way today.”
Claire’s art journey continued with workshops everywhere she could find them. She studied plein air, pastels and studio subjects with a wide array of instructors, learning something new from every opportunity. Some of what she learned helped her develop her style and favored subjects—some things she wanted to paint, and some she definitely did not want to paint. But every experience added to the process.
“To this day, when I feel depression coming on I pick up a brush. There is a great blessing in becoming lost in the fog of creating. Painting is my medicine. I recommend it as treatment for everyone—you can immerse yourself into something for a long period of time, without realizing where you are,” says Claire. It is impossible to “snap out of it” when suffering a bout of depression. You have to move through it, and Claire does it with painting—and golf.
Remembering the lessons her mother taught her about constantly learning and evolving as life swirls around you, Claire has followed her example as an educator in many ways. Her nine-to-five is working in investments with Raymond James as a Columbia University-educated financial advisor. She built her clientele through a conscious effort to teach investors how to read portfolio information and learn company dynamics to make sound choices in investing. It is another Agnes lesson. In the 1960s, Agnes went to see Mr. Marbury, a friend and community bank president, asking to borrow $40,000. She wanted to buy an apartment building or duplex to secure long-term income. Knowing her well, he loaned her the money, but told her to find the best companies in America and invest in the stock market instead. He said, “Thirty years from now your investment won’t have plumbing problems!” Agnes was a great researcher, with annual reports as her guide. Claire’s approach is the same, looking for opportunity in places where the fundamentals are strong and the situation provides opportunity.
She didn’t start in the investment industry as an advisor—she started at the receptionist’s desk. “It was the job I was qualified for,” she says without regret. She had two young sons from her first marriage when she married Buddy Freidrichs, a partner at the New Orleans investment bank of Howard Weil Labouisse Friedrichs. After only five months of marriage, he died of a heart attack, and Claire discovered that he had no life insurance, no savings, nothing. Just as her mother had done, she set about finding a way to support her sons. Going to work at Friederichs’ firm, she was a quick study, moving into the research area after demonstrating interest and aptitude, and she eventually decided to break out on her own as an investment advisor. Her goal was to educate women so that no one ever had to face the harsh reality she found when Buddy passed away.
Comfortable isn’t a place where Claire looks to stay. Things that make her uncomfortable are those things that teach her, and that is certainly true in her art. The subject or media that push her outside her comfort zone create the pieces she appreciates most. She credits her instructor, Gretchen Armbruster of Armbruster Artworks Gallery and School in Covington, for constantly pushing her to do those challenging things. There she internalizes new techniques and ways of looking at subject matter that she can use in the next piece.
“When Gretchen taught me to paint a vase, I found myself using what I had learned about the play of light and dark in the next portrait I did.” Her favorite subject these days is portraiture—of dogs. She started with her own Buckwheat, an English setter. “Dogs are great subjects because they are not critical,” she laughs. Donating a dog portrait to a CCA auction at the behest of friend Pierre Villere started the ball rolling toward combining two of her passions, dogs and art. She does many for herself, for friends and by commission.
Tenacity is a word I use to describe Claire. She has found ways of gaining great strength from tragedy. She is quick to say that she will never retire, that constantly learning and evolving is where she finds joy. Married to Dr. Denny Taylor for 21 years, she says, laughing, “I was lucky to find a man so generous and supportive. He supports me even when it isn’t easy.” She enjoys spending time with him at their weekend home in Covey Rise. It is in this very happy place that she most enjoys painting—on the porch, with the breeze on her face and her grandson and beloved dogs, including her newest challenge, Ginger, playing at her feet.
Claire learned a long time ago to get your high heel through the door and then prove you are worthy of being there. She works hard at creating and finds refuge in her art. Great medicine indeed, and she is definitely worthy.
Claire’s work can be found at Armbruster Artworks Gallery at 502 N. Columbia Street in Covington.
This story first appeared in our May-June 2020 Digital issue which can be found here.