Stroke Claims Prominent Montgomery Portrait Artist

You could say it all began with a few snaps for Leon Loard.

"He began as a photographer in 1947," said son-in-law Arnold McRae.

Back then Loard made 35 cents a week, often going door to door in Florida selling Olan Mills pictures. That's when Loard had a vision.

"Leon saw the need to be unique and specialize, so he began working with oil portraits and represented oil portrait artists all over the country. Leon developed a technique. He wasn't the originator of it but we feel like he perfected the studio gallery canvas, and that's where we take a photograph, bring that portrait to life and make it real," McRae said.

Make it real with a touch of oil. Over the next 60 years, Loard would brush his way to the top and hone his marketing skills. Portraits of former governors, a former first lady of Kentucky, prominent Alabama businessmen and children hang in his east Montgomery gallery. There is also a portrait of Loard's granddaughter. It was his favorite portrait.

"Leon often said that portrait is the royalty of art," said McRae.

That royalty of art included supreme court justices in several southeastern states. Not bad for a man who grew up during the depression and did more than survive. Loard's studio business sells about a thousand portraits a year nationwide. Only 5% of the business came from the Montgomery region.

"Money wasn't what drove him. I think it was his love of people, a love of portraits. Ironically, Leon did a portrait of me 46 years ago when I was 18 months old. I wound up marrying his baby girl," McRae said.

Leon Loard died at 83 at Jackson Hospital following complications from a stroke. Services for Loard will be held at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montgomery Saturday morning at 11:30.