Grange artist, writer sees world
from a child's innocent perspective
LA GRANGE, Ky. Her full name is Deborah Lynn LeFan Gattis, but
most people, including her husband, call her Fifi. In college, her friends
dubbed her with the nickname because of her short, curly hair style
and French surname.
by Dianne Stoess
Grange artist and writer Fifi
LeFan poses in her home stuido.
She finds inspiration in her
childhood for both talents.
Fifi is a multitalented artist who has done mainly commissioned
portraits in the past, but she says that after a while, I began
to feel like a portrait machine.
She now limits herself to only six or seven portraits a year because
her real passion lies in free artistic expression.
Freeing up more of her time allowed her to create a beautifully illustrated
childrens book, Dancing in the Hollyhocks. The manuscript
is completed and she and her husband, Bob, are putting out feelers
for a publisher.
Dancing in the Hollyhocks is about a little girl named Hannah
Rose, who is not entirely fictional. She was modeled after Anna, the
8-year-old daughter of friends, Lisa and Richard Roederer, of Westport,
This [Hannah Rose] is actually Lisa Roederers daughter.
Shes a cross between Pippi Longstocking and me growing up,
Fifi said. Its about Hanna Rose, and the things she likes
"She likes to skip and twirl and dance in the hollyhocks her mother
planted by the barn. She chases butterflies and pretends shes
a princess. When she feels sad, she simply wants to fly away, so she
goes out in the wind, looks up to the sky, stretches her arms out wide,
and closes her eyes very tight. She imagines the wind is picking her
up and carrying her high above the house.
"Its about how she views life and it has a lot of wonder
Roederer says that Fifi chose her daughter as the model for the book
because Fifi thinks Annas a lot like her, delighting in
the simple pleasures of life like watching sunsets, being by the river,
in her own world.
She said that the illustrations of Hannah Rose look exactly like Anna.
Indeed, Hannah Rose does mirror the authors own childhood. She
was an only child for eight years and enjoyed being alone, exploring
nature and drawing pictures of the natural beauty all around her.
Her mother says, Shed sing to the cows, sit on the ground,
take her pencil and paper and just draw and draw. She was as happy as
a bug in a rug all by herself in her own little world.
When Fifi was five, her parents moved to a farm in Oldham County, and
it is there that she grew up. She explored her new world with awe. The
surrounding countryside with its woods, creeks, and wildlife, was her
Her paintings usually depict a single child delighting in nature and
animals: a child on his back gazing at the clouds; a pigtailed girl,
arms outstretched, eyes tightly closed, dancing in the wind; a little
girl singing to a herd of cows; a child walking along a creek. Among
the illustrations in her book are watercolor images of Hannah looking
at the stars, making silly faces and playing under a weeping willow
tree. All are recreations of Fifis own childhood.
Her artistic talent surfaced at age two when her parents gave her a
childs desk with a chalkboard top. Across the back of the desk
were pictures of an airplane, a butterfly and an elephant. With a piece
of chalk, Fifi reproduced the pictures one after another without once
looking down at the surface on which she was drawing.
Her mother, Doris LeFan, recognized her daughters talent instantly.
In her excitement, she ran to her husband and said, Oh my gosh!
This kids going to be an artist!
She didnt enroll Fifi in art classes, but added, We spent
a fortune all her life on art supplies.
The driving force that compelled Fifi to write Dancing in the
Hollyhocks came from her desire to use her talent as a means of
self expression and to send a message to parents.
My real passion is proclaiming Christ, and I wanted a way to use
my creativity not only to project that, but to affirm children who are
creative. And to remind adults that (a creative) childs perspective
is a worthy thing.
Fifi still enjoys long walks in the woods. She sometimes walks two miles
along the country lane where she lives, feeling free to sing or pray
without intrusion by the outside world. It helps her keep in touch with
the creative spark that produced her book.
Dancing in the Hollyhocks is ready for submission a publisher.
Its not certain when the book will be available to the public,
but watch for it, because its a work of art and a refreshing account
of childhood memories you wont want to miss.
Back to February 2000