T B

Feb 212018
 

Jean McCrum Caragonne was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania, on 21 February 1906 and studied at Allegheny College, Pennsylvania. After taking courses in fashion design at the Cleveland Museum School of Fine Art in Ohio in the mid-1920s she moved to Boston to become a fashion illustrator.

Jean Caragonne. Flower at window.

Jean Caragonne. Flower at window.

Her husband George (1891-1981), born in May 1891 was an accomplished portrait photographer. When the couple visited his family in Greece, Jean fell in love with the spectacular scenery and the colorful day-to-day life.

In 1948, the couple moved to Houston where George opened his own studio.

They made their first visit to Mexico in 1949, when they drove down to Mexico City. In between return visits to Greece, they returned for vacations in Mexico several times in the 1950s and 1960s.

Jean Caragonne. Quiet Hill.

Jean Caragonne. Quiet Hill.

At age 58, Jean started taking classes towards a Masters in English Literature, and also took painting classes under George Shackleford and Bernard Lammie.

In 1967, shortly after George retired, the Caragonnes planned another trip to Mexico, intending to visit San Miguel de Allende where Jean had enrolled in Instituto Allende, the city’s fine arts school. Their plans changed when they reached Guadalajara and found a motel near Plaza del Sol.

According to the Guadalajara Reporter, while George “fills his time touring in his Rolls Royce and giving lectures on photography… Mrs Caragonne teaches English…”

The Caragonnes rented a home on Avenida Madero in Chapala in 1968. The view from there towards Cerro San Miguel, the hill that overlooks the town center, was the subject of Jean Caragonne’s first painting in Chapala. The painting was used many years later (1986) for an Amigos de Salud fund-raising greetings card. In 1970, Jean Caragonne was working on quilts and tapestry, as well as “beautifully composed and well drawn” paintings. Caragonne also made embroidered evening skirts, jackets and bags.

Jean Caragonne. Market.

Jean Caragonne. Market.

In 1971, the Caragonnes moved to Ajijic where they rented a house for several years before purchasing a studio-home on Calle Hidalgo. Jean Caragonne held at least five one-person shows in Ajijic. (If you are reading this and can supply details of dates and venues, then please get in touch.)

In February 1974, Caragonne’s latest paintings were included in a group show at La Galeria in Ajijic, alongside works by Jane Porter, Violet Wilkes and Allen Foster (the Galería’s president).

Jean Caragonne. Tulips and ebony.

Jean Caragonne. Tulips and ebony.

By August 1974, the Galería had moved to a new home at Calle Colón #6 in Ajijic where they displayed works by Caragonne and numerous other local artists including Luz Luna; the late Ernesto Butterlin; Jerry Carr; Fernando Garcia; Jane Porter; José Olmedo; Odon Valencia; Mildred Elder; Robert Neathery; Jose Santonio Santibañez; Allen Foster; Vee Greno; Armando Galvez; Arthur Ganung; Virigina Ganung; Gloria Marthai; Dionicio Morales; Antonio López Vega; Priscilla Frazer; Eleanor Smart; Rowene Kirkpatrick and Sylvia Salmi.

In May 1985, Caragonne was one of the group known as “Pintores de la Ribera” who exhibited at the Club Campestre La Hacienda (located at km 30 of the Guadalajara-Chapala highway). Other artists at this show included Laura Goeglein; Carla W. Manger; Jo Kreig; Donald Demerest; B.R. Kline; Hubert Harmon; Daphne Aluta; De Nyse Turner Pinkerton; Eugenia Bolduc; Emily Meeker; Eleanor Smart; Tiu Pessa; Sydney Moehlman; Xavier Pérez.

When interviewed in the 1980s, Caragonne claimed that there was more color in Mexico but better light in Greece. The paintings illustrating this profile were all completed between 1982 and 1990.

Acknowledgment:

  • My sincere thanks to Penelope Caragonne, not only for fact-checking this profile, but also for sharing images of her mother’s artwork, and for permission to use them in this profile.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 2 May 1970; 2 Feb 1974; 31 August 1974; 31 May 1975.
  • El Ojo del Lago. Portrait of the artist: Jean Caragonne. El Ojo del Lago, December 1986.
  • El Informador: 4 May 1985.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Feb 152018
 

Newcomers to the village of Ajijic will not necessarily have heard of Zara Alexeyewa, (known popularly as “La Rusa” – “The Russian”), one of the village’s most distinguished long-term foreign residents, and one still remembered affectionately by the entire community, Mexican and non-Mexican. Everyone who knew her has their favorite anecdote about this iron-willed lady who would gallop her horse through the narrow streets, hooves clattering on the cobblestones, cloak billowing in the wind.

When La Nueva Posada opened in 1990, its dining room was named “La Rusa” in honor of Zara, who had passed away the previous year at the age of 92. Zara’s incomparable contribution to Ajijic life over more than sixty years was focused on the welfare of children and the conservation of Lake Chapala.

Zara Alexeyewa Khyva St. Albans (her formal name in Mexico) lived out a very full and dramatic life – from the moment she set foot on the stage on Broadway as a teenager, until her eventual death in Ajijic in 1989. Objectivity was not, however, always one of her strong points, and piecing together the truth behind the legend can be difficult. In her enthralling autobiographical book, Quilocho and the Dancing Stars, which certainly contains fiction alongside fact, Zara weaves some wonderful tales about her ballet career interspersed with an account of the life of a Mexican friend and supporter, Enrique Retolaza, who (according to the book) had been the youngest officer of Pancho Villa.

In reality, Zara was no more Russian than most native New Yorkers, having been born in that city in 1896. After making an early impression as an actress on the New York stage, twice being featured on the cover of the Dramatic Mirror, and playing lead roles in several Shakespearean productions (as Juliet, Portia, and Ophelia among others), she decided, in the wake of the Great War, to go to Europe. She had attended dancing classes from age six, and in Europe she began a new career as a ballerina. She performed her own ballet, “The Red Terror”, based on a poem by Leonid Andreyev, with a musical arrangement which had been worked on by her mother, organist Charlotte Welles.

"Khyva St. Albans". White Studios. 1915.

“Khyva St. Albans”. White Studios. 1915.

While in Europe, Zara met a young Danish dancer, Holger Mehmer, and the two remained inseparable dancing partners until his untimely death in Guadalajara in 1944. Zara and Holger gave numerous performances of “The Red Terror” around the world, playing to packed houses in Europe, South America, the U.S., and in Mexico.

In 1926-27, they were engaged by the Philadelphia Opera Company as directors of ballet, and presented an unusual Egyptian ballet, called AIDA. They also choreographed and performed “The Black Swan and the White Lilly”.

While contemporary newspaper accounts speak of “the two geniuses of Dance of the ex-Court of Russia”, “dancers of the imperial court of Nicolas II and of King Constantine of Greece”, and the like, it is probable that the nearest either dancer got to those places was Budapest in Hungary, where they gave one of their many standing-room-only performances.

They first performed in the Degollado Theatre in Guadalajara in January 1925, by which time they had decided to take a prolonged vacation at Lake Chapala, living initially at the Villa Reynera in Chapala. In about 1940, they moved to Ajijic.

Degollado Theater program, 1936.

Zara and Holger. Degollado Theater program, 1936.

Zara seems always to have had the knack of leaving indelible first impressions on people she met.

The American artist Everett Gee Jackson, who resided in Chapala for several years in the 1920s, in Burros and Paintbrushes, his entertaining account of his time in Mexico wrote that, when he and his friend Lowelito first arrived in Chapala, they “did not see any other Americans. The two Russians who lived in the house with the bats were the only other non-Mexicans in the village, as far as we knew.” These two “Russians” were, of course, Zara and Holger.

Not long afterwards, Jackson had a much closer encounter with Zara:

“I set up my easel… because the place was… mysterious and magical… with the lazy hogs asleep in the shadows. I was lost in what I was doing, but, suddenly, to my surprise, all the hogs began to shuffle to their feet and move off the road… grunting ferociously. Then I heard a sound like thunder behind me. But it was not thunder. It was that Russian woman riding at full gallop on a dark horse, and she was coming right at me. She knocked my easel over but missed me… She never slowed down but kept galloping at full speed down the road.”

Another of Ajijic’s marvelous characters, Iona Kupiec, who lived for decades in the village, also remembered her first meeting with Zara. Iona was staying in the Posada Ajijic in 1962, having only just arrived in the village. The next morning, she met Zara:

“While I was standing there entranced with the loveliness of everything, what should I see suddenly appearing in front of me from around a bend in the road but a beautiful woman wearing a big red velvet, gold-embroidered charro sombrero with a red, satin, high-necked Russian blouse with a gold dragon embroidered on it from the belt up to the collar, black culottes, with red leather boots, riding a black satin horse which reared up on its hind legs when she suddenly tightened the reins. I was stunned!”

Iona agreed to rent a cottage from Zara. In order to sign the contract, she followed Zara (still on her horse) “through more than a thousand square feet of garden, with glorious eucalyptus trees standing like stately monarchs, countless other fruit and flowering trees, and vast blooms from all kinds of bushes and shrubs – so much color and beauty, and even cool perfumed air!”

Zara’s house was full of mementos from her theater and ballet days, full length oils portraying her and her “brother”, Holger, in their dancing costumes, gilded-framed portraits from her New York theater appearances, photographs, figurines, books, “a veritable art museum in one, very large, elegantly furnished, parlor”.

Zara’s energies were undiminished as she approached her eighties and she insisted on reviving her ballet career for several performances, including a memorable farewell show in the Degollado Theater in Guadalajara.

She also continued to ride daily until well into her eighties, and was a popular and much-loved figure as, astride her horse, she rode through the streets of Ajijic. This remarkable woman, perhaps the only person ever to reach stardom as an actress under one name (Khyva St. Albans) and as a dancer under another (Ayenara Zara Alexeyewa) is one of the more extraordinary characters ever to have lived in Ajijic.

Note:

This is a lightly edited version of my first article about Zara, originally published in The Chapala Riviera Guide in 1990. It is not a coincidence that a photo of the Villa Reynera, where Zara first stayed in 1924, appears on the front cover of my Lake Chapala through the Ages, an anthology of travelers’ tales.

Acknowledgment:

This article could never have been written (back in 1990) without the help of long-time Ajijic residents Laura Bateman and Iona Kupiec, both of whom have since passed on to a higher world.

Feb 082018
 

In a previous post, we offered an outline biography of Canadian writer Ross Parmenter, who first visited Mexico in 1946 and subsequently wrote several books related to Mexico.

One of these book, Stages in a Journey (1983), includes accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – the first by car, the second by boat – made on two consecutive days in March 1946. The following extracts come from chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey:

The author was traveling with Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher who owned “Aggie”, their vehicle. They met up with Miss Nadeyne Montgomery (aka The General), who lived in Guadalajara; Mrs Kay Beyer, who lived in Chapala; and two tourists: Mrs. Lola Kirkland and her traveling companion, Mary Alice Naden.

On 22 March 1946, the party returned to Ajijic, this time by boat, to collect a hat left the day before at Neill James’ home. They collected the hat, walked around the village, and then returned to the pier to set off back to Chapala. Part way back,

as Colombina rounded a point we saw a little fishing settlement in the bay beyond. We asked the boatman if he could take us near the shore for a closer look. Without a word, he turned the prow towards the land.

Near the water’s edge there were many small willows, with feathery showers of foliage and contorted trunks. Fishing nets, stretched to dry on posts, made diaphanous tents a little way back. A man was standing knee-deep in the water casting a circular net. And as we drew closer we saw other men were drawing water to irrigate the fields.

– – –

The water near the shore was shallow, but the fishermen had created artificial spits of land by setting out stones that made little walls to separate fishing areas. By bringing the bow to one of these the boatman apparently thought it would be possible for the women to cross to land without getting their feet wet. But a rasping sound before we reached the stones showed his miscalculation. But the ladies didn’t mind. Thyrza was in her seventies and Mrs. K. in her fifties, but wading was nothing in their young lives. So off came their shoes and stockings and they paddled to shore.

First we watched the fisherman casting his net. Its outer edges were weighted so that the net spread like a disk as it flew through the air. A cord was attached to the center of the net like the stem to the leaf of a waterlily, and as the disk plopped on the water the man let the cord fall slack. When the net had settled, he started to draw it slowly towards him. The cord pulled the net to a peak and one would have thought he was dragging a sack to the shore.

Once the weights were drawn together to close the bottom of the net, he lifted the whole thing up and emptied a slew of minnows into a round basket.

The tiny fish were silver with eyes like black buttons on disks of bright aluminum. Each fresh lot was lively as it was dumped into the basket. But mass activity soon ceased and then a few would flop a bit and some shivered before lying still.

Because of her fondness for fish, T was particularly fascinated by the minnows. Having seen their counterparts dried and piled on fibre mats in the market of Chapala, she asked the fisherman what they were called.

Her question, being in English, was incomprehensible to him. But I could help, because trying to find out about other things had led me to learn that nombre was the word for name..

El nombre?” I asked, pointing to the minnows.

Charales,” the man replied.

One of the reasons T liked our hotel in Chapala so well was because every lunch and dinner it served delicious pescado blanco. The fish were always cooked the same way, presenting a similar flat appearance with the structural outlines obscured by the batter in which they were fried a delicate brown. Having the attention of a man who knew something about the fish of the lake, she asked him if he had any pescado blanco.

He understood and went over to some moist sacking. Lifting back a flap, he exposed some small, but plump fish of conventional shape. T was surprised. Not realizing the hotel split them open to cook them, she had expected a sort of flounder.

Ross Parmenter: Canoa. . . [When the engine failed] I looked back on the shore. Being a short way out, we could see a wider stretch than when we had been right on the land. In addition to the people we had seen close up — the fisherman throwing his net, the woman cooking and the men working the hoist — we could see others on either side. At one little point there were women on their knees washing clothes. In the age-old grace of their activity, they were beautifully grouped and the bright garments they had laundered were lying around drying ¡n the sun. Near the women were brown children playing on a narrow beach and dashing calf-deep into the water from time to time. Further along some fishermen were pushing out one of their high-peaked canoas to fish where the water was deeper.

The animals were picturesque too. At the mouth of the inlet a chestnut horse and a gray burro were drinking, their muzzles almost touching. Different species though they were, they suggested a father and son. A black and white cow had waded right into the water to do her drinking. A few small ducks swam near her, tame as could be. On the shore a piglet rooted around near the woman with the charcoal fire. Some puppies frisked about and chickens were pecking.

Source:

  • Ross Parmenter. 1983. Stages in a Journey. New York: Profile Press.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Jan 292018
 

Roscoe (“Rocky”) Karns lived in Ajijic with his wife and family from 1971 until his death on 5 February 2000. Karns had retired from careers in acting and sales and devoted himself in Ajijic to his painting and working as producer and director on shows at the Lakeside Little Theater.

Roscoe (“Rocky”) Todd Karns Jr., was born in Hollywood, California, on 15 January 1921, to character actor and comedian Roscoe Karns and his wife Mary Fraso.

Rocky Karns as Harry Bailey

Todd Karns as Harry Bailey

Karns’ movie career was interrupted by four years service in the Army during World War II.

After the war, when Rocky was assigned to work in Los Angeles as a military recruiter, he and his wife, Kate, established their home in Hollywood and Rocky began to build his acting career even as they started a family.

Rocky’s most significant movie role was as “Harry Bailey” in the classic Christmas holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), starring Jimmy Stewart (playing Harry’s elder brother “George Bailey”) and Donna Reed.

The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards including best picture. Though it did not do terribly well when it was released, it has gained popularity in recent years and has now made the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best American films ever made.

Todd Karns. Moulin Rouge. (sold 2012 at Capo Auction)

Todd Karns. Moulin Rouge. (sold at Capo Auction, 2012)

Karns had minor roles on several other films, including My Foolish Heart (1949), It’s a Small World (1950, Battle Zone (1952), Invaders from Mars (1953), China Venture (1953) and The Caine Mutiny (1954).

He also worked in television, co-starring with Helen Chapman in a sitcom entitled Jackson and Jill (1949). In 1950, he also worked alongside his father, the star of a popular cop series, Rocky King, Private Detective.

Karns retired from acting in about 1954 and began a 17-year career in sales and public relations for the North American Philips Corporation, eventually becoming its West Coast manager. In 1971, Karns retired from the company and moved to Ajijic. During his “retirement”, Karns focused on his painting, and on directing local theater shows.

Todd Karns. Circus. (sold 2012 at Capo Auction)

Todd Karns. Circus. (sold at Capo Auction, 2012)

Karns directed numerous plays at the Lakeside Little Theater (LLT) , beginning in 1973 with Barefoot In The Park and The Pleasure of his Company. Other plays directed by Karns at LLT included the comedies Sauce For The Goose, Squabbles, Marriage-Go-Round, Noel Coward In Two Keys, The Gin Game and Last Of The Red Hot Lovers, as well as the fantasy A Visit To A Small Planet, the thriller Wait Until Dark, and the drama On Golden Pond.

Karns’ art career in Ajijic enjoyed similar success. Karns had begun painting shortly after the end of World War II.

Todd Karns. 1971. Street scene. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Cantu.

Todd Karns. 1971. Street scene. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Cantu.

After moving to Ajijic, Karns soon began to exhibit and sell his art at local shows. In December 1974, for example, one of his paintings was auctioned in a charity fund-raiser organized at the San Antonio Tlayacapan home of Frank and Rowene Kirkpatrick, alongside works by Rowene Kirkpatrick, Sid Schwartzmann and Antonio Santibañez.

In March the following year Karns joined Gail Michaels and Synnove Shaffer (Pettersen) for a three-person show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

Karns was an active participant in the Clique Ajijic, a group of eight artists who formed a loosely-organized collective for three or four years in the mid-1970s. The other members of Clique Ajijic were Sydney Schwartzman, Adolfo Riestra, Gail Michaels, Hubert Harmon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Tom Faloon and John K. Peterson (the only member of Clique Ajijic who had been a member of the earlier Grupo 68).

In 1989, Karns was accorded the honor of a solo show by Sydney Schwartzman, owner of the Schwartzman Galería in Ajijic. Karns was quite a prolific artist and his works, with their charming naiveté, do occasionally turn up in online auctions.

This is an outline profile. Contact us if you would like to learn more about this particular artist or have information to share.

Sources:

  • El Ojo del Lago: March 1985; January 1989.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 4 January 1975; 15 March 1975; 28 February 1976.
  • anta Cruz Sentinel. “Local Theatre Attractions”, Santa Cruz Sentinel (California), 9 March 1941, p 10.
  • Vincent Terrace. 2011. Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010. McFarland & Company.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jan 222018
 

After retiring in the mid-1960s from a career in the U.S. military, Robert (“Bob”) Snodgrass and his wife Mira (sometimes Myra or Maria) lived at Lake Chapala for almost twenty years. They settled in the residential development of Chula Vista, an area that was known at that time as having more than its fair share of musicians and stage performers. Snodgrass proceeded to play an active part in the local theater, music and visual arts communities.

Robert Baird Snodgrass was born in Porterville, California, on 12 September 1912 and died, after a lengthy illness, in Guadalajara on 4 September 1983.

Snodgrass grew up in California and entered the University of California, Berkeley, in the class of ’34. He apparently studied architecture, landscape architecture, art and journalism, before finally graduating with a B.A in Art in 1936. In 1933, as a student, he worked on the Daily Californian, a UC Berkeley publication, and contributed a painting entitled Melting Snow to an exhibition of paintings by students in the classes given by Chiura Obata. In that same year, he also appeared in The Valiant, a play performed by the university’s Armstrong College Thesbians.

In 1935, while still living in Berkeley, he composed and copyrighted (as “Baird Snodgrass”) the music for several songs, including “Dream-in little dreams of you” and “Vanished melody”. The words for both songs were written by Jack Howe.

Illustration by Robert B. Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

Illustration by Robert Baird Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

He also drew several delightful illustrations for a puppet play book entitled The Broken Promise, written by “Nellie Nelson and The Puppetman”, published three years later.

Illustration by Baird Snodgrass for The broken Promise

Illustration by Robert Baird Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

From Berkeley, Snodgrass moved to Los Angeles where he studied drama and theater arts and had parts on several weekly radio shows.

It is unclear when he married Mira, but the US Census for 1940 has the couple living in Berkeley. Snodgrass’ employment is given as editor of “Rural Magazine”.

In March 1942, only months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Snodgrass enlisted in the U.S. military. After graduating with the twenty-fourth class of engineer officer candidates at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, he received a commission as second lieutenant in the corp of engineers. During his first stint of service he served four years before returning to civilian life in May 1946. He then had two years playing in New York City night clubs, including the 1-2-3 Club on East 54th Street, before re-enlisting with the Army in June 1948. By the time he retired he had risen to the rank of colonel.

Snodgrass “retired” to Lake Chapala in about 1965, two or three years prior to his final, official, release from the military. In retirement, Snodgrass put his earlier education in architecture and landscape planning to good use, designing and building several homes and gardens in the Lake Chapala area.

His earliest recorded contribution to Lakeside theater was painting a nude which hung on the set in June 1965 for The Saddle-Bag Saloon, a musical written and directed by Betty Kuzell. The official history of the Lakeside Little Theater (then known as the Lake Chapala Little Theater) claims this was the group’s first ever show.

Snodgrass loved to draw and paint and a short article in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1965 stated that he had become interested in archaeology and was “using his talents as an artist to do illustrations of the “finds” of this area for a book to be published and for museum use.” The writer pronounced Snodgrass’ drawings of the artifacts to be “beautifully perfect”. It is unclear which book this article refers to, or if his drawings were ever published.

Robert B. Snodgrass. 1968. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Cantu.

Robert B. Snodgrass. 1968. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Cantu.

As a painter, Snodgrass had a one-person show at La Galería in Ajijic in March 1969 and one or more of his paintings was still on view the following month when the original five members of Grupo 68 (Peter Huf, his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf, Jack RutherfordJohn Kenneth Peterson and Don Shaw) had a collective exhibit at the same gallery.

Snodgrass also exhibited in the large group show, Fiesta de Arte, at the Ajijic home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33) in May 1971. Other artists in that exhibition included Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; and Agustín Velarde.

Ever generous, one of Robert Baird Snodgrass’ last artistic actions was to bequeath his easel and paintbrushes to his good friend and fellow artist Georg Rauch.

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Katie Goodridge Ingram and Phyllis Rauch for sharing with me their personal memories of Bob Snodgrass and to Katie Cantu for permission to reproduce the image of one of his paintings.

Sources:

  • Berkeley Daily Gazette: 19 April 1933.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 10 June 1965; 28 Oct 1965; 5 Mar 1966; 29 Mar 1969; 10 Sep 1983, p 18 (obituary).
  • Nellie Nelson and The Puppetman. 1938. The Broken Promise, illustrated by Baird Snodgrass (Los Angeles: Suttonhouse, 1938) 36 pages.
  • Reno Gazette: 10 March 1943.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jan 152018
 

Did the great British author W. Somerset Maugham ever visit Lake Chapala? A number of writers and websites, extolling the literary connections of Ajijic, have claimed that W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) has connections to the village. Some of these writers add that he lived in Ajijic for several months in the 1930s where he supposedly completed his novel, The Razor’s Edge (1944).

The Razor’s Edge is the story of Larry Darrell, an American pilot psychologically damaged by the First World War who seeks some meaning for his life. It was turned into a screenplay which was nominated for four Academy Awards in 1946, including Best Picture, with Anne Baxter winning Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

While I have been unable to ascertain when or how the myth about Maugham at Lake Chapala began, I am now completely convinced that he never ever visited the area. The closest he ever came was when he was in Mexico City in 1924.

It is possible that the idea of Maugham being in Ajijic originated from the fact that while in Mexico City he did actually meet (albeit briefly) D. H. Lawrence, who does have a close association with Lake Chapala. However, during the time Lawrence was living in Chapala (from May to July 1923), Maugham was traveling in Burma (Myanmar), Siam (Thailand) and Indonesia, a trip that lasted from October 1922 until July 1923.

On the occasion when the two men met in Mexico, on 5 November 1924, it was at an uncomfortable lunch at the home of archaeologist Zelia Nuttall in Mexico City.  It was during Maugham’s one and only trip to Mexico.

Lawrence later used this lunch meeting as the basis for his description of the memorable tea party hosted by “Mrs Norris” in Chapter 2 of The Plumed Serpent. For his part, Maugham later based his character sketch of the dying poet “Francesco” in A Writer’s Notebook on a passage by Frieda Lawrence about her husband (“Lorenzo” to his friends) in her autobiography. Maugham’s only other connection to Mexico is a later short story, set in Europe, entitled “The Hairless Mexican”, the original version of which appeared in 1928.

Even though Lawrence and Maugham met over lunch, there was no love lost between them. As Jeffrey Meyers writes in Somerset Maugham, a life, the two men were very different:

“Maugham always returned to his permanent home; Lawrence never had one. Frequently pressed for money, Lawrence traveled simply; Maugham usually journeyed in luxury. Lawrence loathed Capri, where Maugham felt entirely at home. Always in delicate health, Lawrence had to be more cautious, and died young. Maugham was much tougher. He’d risked his life as a spy in Switzerland and Russia, survived tuberculosis, traveled in remote and dangerous places.” (Meyers 156)

Moreover, in terms of their writing abilities:

“Lawrence thought Maugham was a superficial, commercial scribbler who catered to the establishment that had suppressed his own novel, The Rainbow, in 1915. A far greater writer, but living from hand to mouth, he bitterly resented Maugham’s popularity, financial success and self-indulgent way of life… For his part, Maugham considered Lawrence “a pathological case”. “ (Meyers 156-157)

In addition, as Robert Calder has pointed out, Maugham was decidedly underwhelmed by Mexico and disappointed that it had not given him the literary stimulus he was seeking:

“Maugham and Lawrence were unlikely to have enjoyed each other’s company under the best conditions, and by the time that they met, Maugham was depressed by the realization that Mexico was not providing the kind of material for his writing that he had anticipated… Maugham found little inspiration and produced nothing from the trip.” (Calder 182)

Shortly after their brief meeting at Zelia Nuttall’s home, Lawrence continued on to Oaxaca where he completed the final draft of The Plumed Serpent, while Maugham left Mexico City for the Yucatán Peninsula, from where he and his secretary-companion sailed to Havana, Cuba. Maugham never returned to Mexico but found his inspiration elsewhere.

Despite Maugham’s lack of empathy for Mexico, his novels and plays were popular in the country and several of his plays were performed at the Degollado theater in Guadalajara during the 1930s.

Even if Maugham never did work on The Razor’s Edge at Lake Chapala, the novel does have one very tenuous link to the area. According to literary critics, “Larry Darrell”, the novel’s central character, is based on the English-born novelist and playwright Christopher Isherwood. Isherwood himself, in an interview with David Lambourne, once referred to Lake Chapala when he credited D. H Lawrence with having taught him that, for best effect, you don’t need to describe things as they are, but as you saw them:

“Lawrence… was so intensely subjective. I mean his wonder at the mountains above Taos, you know, and then his rage at Lake Chapala. And the characteristic methods of his attack were so marvelous. I mean, he was in a bad temper about Lake Chapala, so he just said, ‘The lake looks like urine.’ He meant, ‘It looks like urine to me,’ you see…”

Conclusion

Unlike many other great writers and artists over the years, Somerset Maugham never did visit Lake Chapala. Some would say “his loss”, given that the area attracted and nurtured so many famous names and such a range of talents over the years. Even without staking any claim to Maugham, Lake Chapala residents can still justifiably be proud of the area’s rich literary and artistic heritage.

Sources:

  • Robert Calder. 1989. Willie, the life of W. Somerset Maugham. London: Heinemann.
  • David Ellis. 1998. D.H. Lawrence: Dying Game 1922-1930: The Cambridge Biography of D. H. Lawrence, p 205.
  • David Lambourne. 1975. “A kind of Left-Wing Direction”, an interview with Christopher Isherwood in Poetry Nation No. 4, 1975. Manchester: C.B. Cox & Michael Schmidt. 152pp.
  • Frieda Lawrence (Frieda von Richthofen). 1934. Not I, But the Wind... (New York: Viking Press)
  • W. Somerset Maugham. Collected Short Stories, Volume 3.
  • W. Somerset Maugham. 1938. The Summing up. London: Heinemann.
  • Jeffrey Meyers. 2004. Somerset Maugham, a life. Vintage.
  • Harry T. Moore (ed). 1962. The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence (two volumes). Heinemann.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 5:12 am  Tagged with:
Jan 112018
 

Edythe Wallach (1909-2001) lived and painted for most of 1944 in Chapala and Ajijic. Her Lake Chapala paintings were exhibited in both Chapala and in New York. About a year after her return to the U.S. she married a fellow artist, Hari Kidd.

Edythe (Edith) Gertrude Wallach (later Wallach Kidd) was born in New Rochelle, New York, on 10 August 1909 to Dr. William Wallach and his wife Anne Rosenthal. Edythe grew up in New Rochelle which appears to have remained her home at least until the death of her father in 1937. The family, which was Jewish, was clearly well-to-do since the parents were able to spend summer in Europe (with one or both children) every few years, notably in 1926, 1929 and 1933.

It is unclear where Edythe acquired her education or art training, but in 1939 she was in the U.K. where she was listed in the minutes of a meeting of the British Federation of University Women (which provided aid to Jewish and other foreign refugees during and after World War II] as “Dr. Edith Wallach”. (This title probably refers to an academic doctorate rather than a medical degree).

She must have spent some of the war years in the U.K. before deciding to return home, a decision perhaps precipitated by the health of her mother who died in January 1944. Shortly after that, she left for Lake Chapala, where she lived first in Ajijic for several months and then in Chapala. Wallach was one of several artists mentioned by Neill James in her article “I live in Ajijic”, first published in 1945.

By November 1944, Wallach had completed enough paintings to warrant an exhibition at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala. The local El Informador newspaper in Guadalajara described this as “one of the most brilliant artistic and social events of the Fall”, saying that guests from Ajijic, Guadalajara and Chapala responded warmly to the bright color and lively designs of the paintings which were being transferred later for exhibition in New York.

Postcard of The Villa Montecarlo, Chapala, ca 1940

Postcard of The Villa Montecarlo, Chapala, ca 1940

The opening on 12 November 1944 attracted many noteworthy guests, including Mr and Mrs Jack Bennett; Nigel Stansbury Millet and his father Sir Harry Millet; Neill James; Pablo García Hernández (representative of Teatro Mexicano del Arte); Otto Butterlin and his daughter Rita; Witter Bynner, the famous American poet; Charles Stigel; Dr and Mrs Charles Halmos; Ann Medalie; and Herbert and Georgette Johnson.

Shortly after this exhibition closed, Wallach took her paintings back to New York. She then carried on to the U.K. for a short time, returning to the U.S. (from Swansea in Wales) via Canada at the end of February 1945. The ship’s passenger list says she was a teacher and had been living at 99, Woodstock Ave, Golders Green. It is possible that Wallach had been teaching in London during the war, before taking an extended leave of absence or sabbatical in 1944 in order to look after her mother and then paint in Chapala. Her quick return trip to London may have been to resign her position and collect her belongings, and there is a distinct possibility that she returned to Chapala to paint in the spring and summer of 1945.

Whatever the motives behind her movements, by fall 1945, Edythe (now described as “Dr. Edith Wallach of Goddard College”) was giving talks about “Wartime in England” to social groups in Burlington, Vermont. A contemporary account of one of these talks says that, “Dr. Wallach was in England during the war and recently came to the United States. She gave a very vivid description of the flying bombs, time bombs and the terror and destruction they caused; also about the children, their lack of food, rationing in England, etc. Dr Wallach answered many questions at the close of her talk.”

In November 1945 Wallach’s New York art show opened at the Bonestell Galleries at 18 East 37th Street. It was favorably reviewed as “Mexican in theme but not in manner” with one anonymous reviewer writing that

Miss Edythe Wallach… has just returned from a year’s travel in Mexico where she has been painting….

Walter Pach, eminent art critic, in speaking of Miss Wallach’s work, says, “Your report on Mexico is far beyond what I had hoped for when you went to that country. You have seen its light, you have seen its beauty, and your painting speaks of all these things. What impresses me in your work is that you have retained your central idiom, your own vision and, even when looking at a place so impressive (and so Mexican) as Chapala, you have not been tempted to imitate, but have told of your impressions with complete freedom to work in a way that is personal with yourself.” ”

While it remains unclear how, when or where Edythe first met Hari Kidd, their paths must surely have crossed in Chapala in 1944 since Edythe had a solo show at Villa Montecarlo in November while Hari was in a group exhibition there the following month. It is entirely possible that their romance began in Chapala under the soft moonlight reflecting off the serenely beautiful lake!

In March 1946, Edythe Wallach and Hari Kidd married in Key West, Florida. Kidd was already a well-known artist and one account of the wedding says that, “The bride, herself an artist of note, recently held her first exhibition of Mexican oils in New York, and is planning a new group of paintings for a forthcoming show.” A similar comment about a forthcoming show appears in The Miami News in September 1946 which says that Edith Wallach, wife of Hari Kidd, “fresh from a painting sojourn in Mexico” is “preparing for a second show in New York of her Mexican interpretations in oils.” I have been unable to confirm whether or not Wallach (presumably with Hari) returned to Mexico in the summer of 1946 (as this piece suggests) or, indeed, to find any further reference to this second U.S. show.

Both Edythe and Hari Kidd were in a three-person show at the Miami Beach Art Center which opened in January 1948. The third artist was Eugenie Schein of New York. Edythe exhibited oil paintings “favoring Mexican themes” while Hari showed both oils and watercolors. According to the press notice, “Both artists have spent a number of years in Mexico and Spain and their work reflects this influence.” They also participated, with Elvira Reilly, in another three-person show at the Martello Towers Gallery in Key West in January 1954.

The couple lived in Key West from about the time they married in 1946 to 1964. Due to Hari’s declining health, they then moved to Tucson in summer 1964, where he died in hospital barely four months later.

Edythe remained in Arizona for several years and attended the inauguration of a retrospective of her husband’s art at the El Paso Museum in October 1967.

In late 1968 or early 1969, she returned to live once again in Key West, Florida, where she held a show of her work at DePoo’s Island Gallery in 1969. Several years later, one of her paintings was chosen for the juried 13th Annual Major Florida Artists Show which opened in January 1976 at the Harmon Gallery in Naples, Florida. At that time, the artist was listed as “Edythe Wallach (Key West)” but Edythe later moved to Lake Worth, where she passed away on 17 December 2001.

If anyone can supply a photo of a painting by Edythe Wallach, please get in touch!

Sources:

  • The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont), 19 October 1945, pp 16, 20.
  • El Paso Herald Post, Monday, 18 March 1946, p 6; 14 Oct 1967, Showtime, p14; 12 April 1969.
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 18 November 1944; 3 December 1944, p 11.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • The Miami News : 7 September 1946; 25 January 1948, p 59; 31 January 1954, p 24.
  • The Naples Daily News (Naples, Florida), 11 January 1976, p 58.
  • The New Yorker : 10 November 1945.
  • Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 19 November 1964, p 7.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 5:51 am  Tagged with:
Jan 082018
 

Dorothy Bastien, a writer of juvenile fiction, and her husband Clarence Bastien appear to have lived in Chapala for about a decade in the 1970s. A brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1972 says that Dorothy, living in Chapala, has just received an advance for a book accepted by the Teenage Book of the Month Club. The book in question must be Lori, published in New York by Scholastic later that year. Lori, her first book to be accepted for publication, is about a 17-year-old girl who is forced to spend the summer with her estranged father in Mexico while her boyfriend is back home in Texas.

Dorothy Bastien also wrote several other books: Westward to Destiny (1973), an historical account of Missouri and Oregon in the early and middle 1800s; The Night Skiers (1974); Shy Girl (1980); Remember to Love (1980); and I Want to Be Me (1981). She had previously written several articles and stories, including “Friendly Harvest”, published by The Country Home Magazine in 1936.

Dorothy Bastien (née McNamara) was born on 14 March 1906 in Wisconsin. She married Clarence James Bastien in about 1932. The couple’s son, James William Bastien, was born on 10 April 1934 in Bellingham, Washington. By 1940, the family was living in Portland, Oregon, where Dorothy was a teacher in the Tigard-Tualatin School District. She taught English and Latin for many years at Fowler Junior High School, where she introduced telephones into the Latin class. She described the positive impact of this idea in a piece for the November 1963 issue of the National Education Association Journal:

“Students who become ill at ease if they attempt to speak one word of Latin to the class will talk with some confidence over the telephone. Two students converse while the class listens in.”

The Bastien’s family home was at 7665 SW Oleson in the Portland neighborhood of Garden Home. Don Krom, a nephew of Dorothy Bastien, contributed to the Garden Home History Project with recollections of life there in the 1950s that shed some light on the kind of literary and intellectual circle in which the Bastien family grew up. Don recalls that Dorothy Bastien was in a writing group that met in Garden Home and included some well-known personalities: L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology) who was better known at that time for writing science fiction; Peg Bracken, author of humorous books on etiquette cooking, such as The I Hate to Cook Book; and Charlotte Goldsmith who wrote stories about war and planes for the Saturday Evening Post and other publications.

Dorothy Bastien’s husband, Clarence, was musical and a violinist (and quite possibly also a high school teacher). The Bastiens’ son James (1934-2005) became a professional pianist and educator who, with his wife Jane, wrote more than 300 books related to piano playing that have been used by millions of piano students, including the series Bastien Piano Library, Bastien Piano Basics and Music Through the Piano. Their books have been translated into 15 languages.

It is unclear when the Bastiens moved to Chapala, though Dorothy Bastien is recorded as taking a flight from Guadalajara to Mexico City in July 1968. Further details related to Dorothy and Clarence’s time in Chapala have not yet surfaced but it appears that they lived there from about 1970 until Clarence’s death on 5 July 1980, of respiratory failure, at the couple’s home (5 de Mayo #224). Clarence was interred in the local cemetery.

Dorothy later moved to La Jolla, California, where she passed away on 19 May 1985, at the age of 79.

Sources

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jan 042018
 

More than forty years ago, photographer Bert Miller lived in Chapala and took some fine images of the town and its surroundings. While we are unable to reproduce these images to the high standards of the original negatives and prints, here is a small selection of some of his evocative photos, starting with the lakefront in Ajijic.

Bert Miller. ca 1972. Ajijic Lakeshore.

Bert Miller. ca 1972. Ajijic Lakeshore.

Further east along the lakeshore, Miller’s next photo shows a clean and lirio-free beach as the scene for a woman washing clothes in the lake and a couple of youngsters on horseback.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Beach scene.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Beach scene.

Miller lived in Chapala and many of his photos capture a moment in time of the everyday life of the town, like this one of the intersection of Juárez and Morelos (in the center of town).

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street corner in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street corner in Chapala.

Informal street vendors have long been an integral part of the town’s commercial system.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendor in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendor in Chapala.

Even children play their part. These two youngsters appearing to be taking a break while waiting for their next customers.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendors in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendors in Chapala.

You can sense in this next image that the three watchful onlookers at the intersection, while holding back, are thinking of sampling the same culinary delights as the family group in the foreground.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street corner (2) in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street corner (2) in Chapala.

Though we don’t know precisely when this image was taken, Miller entitled this keenly observed portrait of five men, “El Cinco de Mayo”.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. . El Cinco de Mayo, Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. El Cinco de Mayo, Chapala.

From the southern shore of the lake, Miller captured this great image of the current lake (in the far distance) with the flat fields in the middle of the image revealing the extent of the area drained for agriculture in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Lago de Chapala y Campo de Michoacan.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Lago de Chapala y Campo de Michoacan.

Bert Miller’s photographs are a valuable time capsule of life in Chapala in the 1970s.

Profile of Miller’s life and work:

Note and acknowledgments

I am very grateful to Chapala archivist Rogelio Ochoa Corona for giving me permission to reproduce these images, the original prints of which are in the Chapala Municipal Archives, and to Norma Louise Miller Watnick for her support in publishing examples of her father’s work.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Jan 012018
 

Several Lake Chapala websites boast that the talented and multifaceted American author Norman Kingsley Mailer (1923-2007) is among those writers who found inspiration at the lake. But is their pride in his visits to the area misplaced? Mailer’s biography has been exhaustively documented in dozens of books and there is no doubt he is a great writer. However, this post concentrates on the less savory side of his visits to Ajijic and Lake Chapala. Is he really someone local residents should be proud of?

According to normally reliable sources, Mailer visited the area more than once in the course of his illustrious career. Mailer’s first visit to Lake Chapala was in the late 1940s with his first wife, Beatrice Silverman. Journalist Pete Hamill referred to this visit in his “In Memoriam” piece about Mailer:

“Moulded by Brooklyn and Harvard and the Army (he served as an infantryman in the Philippines in World War 2), he erupted onto the literary scene in 1948 with “The Naked and the Dead”, the first great American novel about the war. For the first time, he had money to travel and hide from his fame. He went to Paris where he succumbed to the spell of Jean Malaquais, the critic and novelist. He went to Lake Chapala, where he did not succumb to the charms of the American expatriates.”

This is presumably the occasion referred to by Michael Hargraves when he wrote dismissively that Mailer “only passed through Ajijic back in the late 1940s to have lunch”.

While Mailer may not have fallen immediately in love with Lake Chapala and its American expatriates, he certainly grew to love Mexico and spent several summers in Mexico City during the 1950s. In July 1953, and now with painter Adele Morales (who became his second wife the following year) in tow, Mailer was renting a “crazy round little house” a short distance outside Mexico City, in the Turf Club (later the Mexico City College). Mailer described the house in a letter that month to close friend Francis Irby Gwaltney :

“At the moment we’re living at a place called the Turf Club which is a couple of miles out of the city limits of Mexico City in a pretty little canyon. We got a weird house. It’s got a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room shaped like a semicircle with half the wall of glass, and a balcony bedroom. It looks out over a beautiful view and is furnished in modern. This is for fifty-five bucks a month.”

In another letter (dated 24 July 1953) from the Turf Club, Mailer was clearly referring to Ajijic when he wrote that “There are towns (Vance was in one) where you can rent a pretty good house for $25 a month and under.” Mailer was referring to novelist Vance Bourjaily, a long-time friend who lived and wrote in Ajijic in 1951.

In October 1953, Mailer was guest speaker at the Mexico City College (then in its Colonia Roma location) at the fall session opening of its Writing Center, along with Broadway producer Lewis Allen. Bourjaily also gave lectures at the Mexico City College.

Norman Mailer book cover

Norman Mailer book cover

By a not-entirely-surprising coincidence, one of the owners of Turf Club property at that time was John Langley, a former concert violinist living on insurance payouts following a shooting accident that had cost him the index finger of his left hand. During the 1950s, Langley spent most of his time at his lakefront home in Ajijic. (The 1957 Life Magazine article about the village includes a photograph of Langley, at his Ajijic home, relaxing with Jeonora Bartlet, who later became the partner of American artist Richard Reagan). Langley and Mailer definitely knew each other and more than likely shared the odd joint.

Struggling to complete a worthy follow-up novel to The Naked and the Dead, Mailer found that smoking pot gave him a sense of liberation. Biographer Mary V. Dearborn quotes Mailer as writing that, “In Mexico… pot gave me a sense of something new about the time I was convinced I had seen it all”.

She then connects this to Mailer’s cravings for sexual experimentation:

“But it was also bringing out a destructive, event violent side to his nature. Friends have recalled some ugly scenes in Mexico and hinted at sexual adventures that pressed the limits of convention as well as sanity.”

In 1955, Mailer co-founded The Village Voice (the Greenwich Village newspaper in New York on which long-time Lake Chapala literary icon and newspaper editor Allyn Hunt later worked) and in the late 1950s or very early 1960s, Mailer and Adele were back in Mexico, living for some months in Ajijic.

In his obituary column, Hunt described how Mailer “discovered weed when he lived in Greenwich Village” and then “began using marijuana seriously”, before asserting that when Mailer and Adele “landed in Ajijic, their consumption of grass and their sexual games continued.” This is supported by Mack Reynolds, another journalist and author living in Ajijic at about that time. In The Expatriates, Reynolds, who eventually settled in San Miguel de Allende, recounts a more-than-somewhat disturbing story told him by the aforementioned John Langley:

“A prominent young American writer, who produced possibly the best novel to come out of the Second World War, had moved to Ajijic with his wife. His intention was stretching out the some $20,000 he had netted from his best seller for a period of as much as ten years, during which time he expected to produce the Great American Novel. However, he ran into a challenge which greatly intrigued him. Their maid was an extremely pretty mestizo girl whose parents were afraid of her working for gringos. They had heard stories of pretty girls who worked for Americans, especially Americans in the prime of life, and our writer was still in his thirties. Still, the family needed the money she earned and couldn’t resist the job. After the first week or two, the maid revealed to the author’s hedonistically inclined wife that each night when she returned home her parents examined her to discover whether or not she remained a virgin.

To this point the author hadn’t particularly noticed the girl, but now he was piqued. The problem was how to seduce her without discovery and having the authorities put on him by the watchful Mexican parents. He and his wife consulted with friends and over many a rum and coke at long last came up with a solution.

The girl, evidently a nubile, sensuous little thing, which probably accounted for her parents’ fear, was all too willing to participate in any shenanigans, especially after she’d been induced to smoke a cigarette or two well-laced with marijuana. The American author and his wife procured an electrical massage outfit of the type used by the obese to massage extra pounds off their bodies. They then stretched the girl out on a table, nude, and used the device on her until she was brought to orgasm over and over again.”

These brief descriptions of Mailer’s visits to Lake Chapala suggest that websites may like to rethink his inclusion on their list of the great writers inspired by the lake and its friendly communities. Mailer clearly pushed the bounds of friendship well beyond the reasonable. (Perhaps a Mailer biographer reading this can pinpoint precise dates for Mailer’s visits, and suggest some of his more positive contributions to the area?)

Mailer does have at least one additional connection to Ajijic via the Scottish Beat novelist Alexander Trocchi (1925-1984), who worked on his controversial novel Cain’s Book (1960) in Ajijic in the late 1950s. Shortly after its publication, and live on camera in New York, Trocchi shot himself up with heroin during a television debate on drug abuse. Already on bail (for having supplied heroin to a minor), and with a jail term seemingly inevitable, Trocchi was smuggled across the border into Canada by a group of friends (Norman Mailer included), where he took refuge in Montreal with poet Irving Layton.

Mailer’s novels include The Naked and the Dead (1948); Barbary Shore (1951); The Deer Park (1955); An American Dream (1965); Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967); The Executioner’s Song (1979); Of Women and Their Elegance (1980); Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1984); Harlot’s Ghost (1991). He also wrote screenplays, short stories, poetry, letters (more than 40,000 in total), non-fiction works and several collections of essays, including The Prisoner of Sex (1971).

Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction with The Armies of the Night (1969) and a Pulitzer for Fiction with his novel The Executioner’s Song (1980).

Sources:

  • Anon. 1953. “Writers hear Mailer speak”, in Mexico City Collegian, Vol 7 #1, p1, 15 October 1953.
  • Mary V. Dearborn. 2001. Mailer: A Biography. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Pete Hamill. 2007. In Memoriam: Mailer y Norman. (Published, translated into Spanish in Letras Libres, December 2007, pp 42-44.
  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A literary survey (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).
  • Allyn Hunt. 2007. “Norman Mailer, Contentious Author And Provocateur Who Died A Death He’d Have Scoffed At…”, Guadalajara Reporter 23 November 2007
  • J. Michael Lennon (editor) 2014. Selected Letters of Norman Mailer. Random House.
  • Mack Reynolds. 1963. The Expatriates. (Regency Books, 1963)

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 282017
 

Priscilla (“Pris”) Frazer (1907-1973) was active in the Lake Chapala area in the 1960s and early 1970s. She made her home in Chapala Haciendas and spent several months every year at Lake Chapala with summers in Laguna Beach, southern California.

Priscilla Jane Frazer was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, on 14 May 1907 and died at the age of 66 on May 17, 1973. The family relocated to California when Frazer was a child and she graduated from the University of Southern California before gaining a Masters degree at Long Beach State College. She studied art at the Jepson Art Institute and Chouinard Art Institute.

Among her art teachers were Hester Lauman (South Pasadena High School art department), Eliot O’Hara, Rex Brandt, Phil Dike, and Lucille Douglas. In 1928-29, she and Lucille Douglas spent eight months on a world tour, painting wherever they went.

Frazer also studied art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, in Oxford (U.K.), and with James Pinto at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 1955.

Priscilla Frazer, who never married, spent most of her career in southern California, living in Laguna Beach and teaching at Orange Coast College. She traveled widely, including visits to Europe, India, the Far East, North Africa and Spain. Her painting entitled “Ebb Tide, Ireland” was included in a major exhibition of the Society of Watercolorists of California held at the Institute Mexicano-Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales (at Hamburgo #115, Mexico City) from 30 August to 14 September 1960.

Earlier that year, in April, Frazer had participated in a group show at a private home in Long Beach, California, exhibiting “Mosaic Gate”. Among the other artists included on that occasion was Eugene Nowlen who, with his wife Marjorie, had first visited Lake Chapala in 1950 and had also later lived there for several years.

In 1963, an article in the June issue of Ford Times included a photograph of Frazer’s “Sunday best”, the prize-winning watercolor in the Laguna Beach Art Show.

Frazer was already very familiar with Mexico before she built a home in Chapala Haciendas in 1963. Newly settled in Mexico for the winter of 1963-64 she is recorded as attending a party at the Posada Ajijic in January 1964, along with another Pasadena artist, Jonathan Scott.

Thereafter she spent several months each year in Chapala, painting and occasionally exhibiting her work in the area. For example in May 1966 she had a show at the Ruta 66 gallery in Guadalajara (located at the traffic circle where Niños Heroes met Lafayette.)

The illustration (below) comes from A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972) which unfortunately misspells her first name as “Prisdilla”.

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

In November 1966, she held a solo exhibition and sale of 50 paintings at the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara as a benefit for Chest Clinic #4 of Mexico’s National Campaign against Tuberculosis (which was the only specialist chest clinic in Jalisco at that time). The show was formally opened by the Jalisco State Governor, Francisco Medina Ascensio. Frazer donated all fifty works (worth an estimated 200,000 pesos) to the campaign, and the organizers deliberately set modest prices to ensure rapid sales.

A contemporary reviewer praised “her latest oils and acrylics” for their “beautiful, glowing translucent colors reminiscent of stained glass (an original technique)”, as well as the “great strength and depth” of her watercolors.

A week after the show opened, Ajijic gallery owner Laura Bateman visited and reported that it looked like it would be a sell out. She found that Frazer’s “history of assiduous study to become a major talent shows in her lively drawings, her fresh representational water colors and in her giant abstract oils.” Frazer shared with Bateman an anecdote about why she had started to paint large abstracts. After winning first place for a watercolor in an early art show, Frazer had been disappointed as she “sat there with her blue ribbon watching the backs of prospective customers passing her work” while the large, abstract works of another artist, a non prize-winner, attracted all the attention.

Frazer was an active member of the California Watercolor Society, Long Beach Art Association and the Los Angeles Art Association. During her career, Frazer had more than a dozen solo exhibitions of her work, ranging from Washington D.C. across the country to Los Angeles and Laguna Beach in California. Her major shows included the California Watercolor Society (1930-33); the Laguna Beach Art Association (1930s); the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts (1939, 1961).

In January 1970, a few months before setting off with a friend on an extended trip to India (which she had visited 41 years earlier) and Kashmir, Frazer held a one-person exhibit of watercolors and collages at the American Legion in Chapala. Later that year, in August, Frazer was honored by the Board of the California National Water Color Society which selected one of her works for a star-studded show at the National Academy in New York of 70 works (by 70 different artists) from across the entire country.

Note:

Other Laguna Beach artists associated with Lake Chapala include John A. Bruce, Felipe Castañeda, Eugene & Marjorie Nowlen, Georg Rauch and Phyllis Rauch.

Sources:

  • Battle Creek Enquirer (Battle Creek, Michigan), 26 May 1963, p 24.
  • Justino Fernandez. 1961. Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en 1960. Suplemento Num. 1 del Num. 30 de los Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Esteticas, Mexico, 1961.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 23 Jan 1964, 24 Dec 1964, 30 Sep 1965, 2 Apr 1966, 14 May 1966, 5 Nov 1966, 10 Jan 1970, 18 April 1970, 22 Aug 1970
  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California, 10 April 1960, p 57.
  • La Galería del Lago de Chapala. 1972. A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería. 1972. (Ajijic, Mexico: La Galería del Lago de Chapala).
  • Laguna Beach Art Association. 1956. Laguna Beach Art Association catalogue, March 1956.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 12:29 pm  Tagged with:
Dec 212017
 

A number of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala have clear links to Christmas. Admittedly, some links are more tenuous than others. Here, in no particular order, are a few of those that come to mind:

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian from A Book of Christmas Carols.

Regina Tor (deCormier) Shekerjian and her husband, photographer Haig Shekerjian, were frequent visitors to Ajijic from the early 1950s to the 1980s. In addition to many other works, they co-wrote A Book of Christmas Carols (1963) and illustrated Nancy Willard’s book The merry history of a Christmas pie: with a delicious description of a Christmas soup (1974).

American author Garland Franklin Clifton lived in the Chapala area in the 1960s. He wrote Wooden Leg John. Satire on Americans living in Mexico, a series of 20 letters dated from Christmas Day 1967 to Christmas Day 1968.

Both Eunice (Hunt) Huf and Peter Huf, who met and married in Ajijic in the 1960s, were regular exhibitors for many years at Munich’s Schwabing Christmas Market. In 1994, Peter Huf founded the market’s Art Tent, and oversaw its operation until 2014.

The work of several Lakeside artists was included in a December 1968 exhibition – the Collective Christmas Exhibition – at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728) in Guadalajara. These artists included Gustel Foust, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf and José María Servín and Guillermo Chávez Vega.

Architect George Heneghan and his wife Molly Heneghan, a graphic designer, first visited Ajijic in 1970 to spend Christmas with Molly’s parents. They liked what they saw, stayed for several years and George designed the Danza del Sol hotel in the village.

Charles Pollock was born in Denver, Colorado, on Christmas Day 1902. He painted for a year in Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala in 1955-56, producing his Chapala Series, exhibited in New York in 2007. Charles’s younger brother Jackson Pollock became an icon of the American abstract art movement in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Frieda Hauswirth Das (1886-1974) painted in Ajijic in the mid-1940s and spent Christmas 1945 in Monterrey, Mexico.

Anthropologist George Carpenter Barker is noteworthy for his editing and translation of a copy of a manuscript found in Chapala in 1948 after a performance of a nativity play on Christmas morning in the village churchyard. The manuscript was apparently committed to paper, from older oral sources, by Aristeo Flores of El Salto, Jalisco, around 1914.

German-born photographer Hugo Brehme, many of whose superb black-and-white postcard views are hauntingly beautiful, is credited with having introduced the first photographic Christmas cards into Mexico.

Toni Beatty. Christmas Cheer, Mesquite, NM. Print on metal.

Toni Beatty. Christmas Cheer, Mesquite, NM. Print on metal.

Another photographer Toni Beatty found creative freedom while living in Ajijic in 1976. The image above (reproduced with her kind permission) is an example of her more recent, extraordinary, work involving digitally-enhanced photographs printed onto metal to emphasize their vivid colors and luminescence.

Dudley Kuzell, husband of Betty Kuzell, was a baritone in the Ken Lane Singers and The Guardsmen quartet. The Kuzells lived at Lake Chapala for many years, from the early 1950s. The Ken Lane Singers accompanied Frank Sinatra on his 1945 recording of America the Beautiful; Silent Night, Holy Night; The Moon was Yellow; and I only Have Eyes for You, and on his 1947 recording that included It Came Upon the Midnight Clear; O little Town of Bethlehem; and the iconic White Christmas.

John Maybra Kilpatrick who painted a WPA mural in Chicago in 1947, retired to Ajijic with his wife Lucy in 1964 and lived there until his death in 1972. Kilpatrick had been a commercial artist for the H. D. Catty Corporation of Huntly, Illinois. In 1952, the corporation copyrighted colored Christmas wrapping paper designed by Kilpatrick, entitled “Merry Christmas (Snow scene with 3 figures in front of houses)”.

Novelist, playwright and travel writer David Dodge settled in Ajijic with his wife Elva in 1966. Early in his career, Dodge co-wrote (with Loyall McLaren) Christmas Eve at the Mermaid, which was first performed as the Bohemian Club’s Christmas play of 1940.

Award-winning novelist Glendon Swarthout, whose short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala, was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart, spent six months in Ajijic with his wife and son in 1951. Among his many successful novels was A Christmas Gift (also known as The Melodeon), published in 1977.

Guadalajara poet Idella Purnell frequently visited Lake Chapala, where her dentist father owned a small home, in the 1920s and 1930s. Her short story “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala“, which we used as our Christmas post last year, was first published in the December 1936 issue of American Junior Red Cross News and reprinted in 2001 in El Ojo del Lago.

– – – – – – –

Happy Christmas! – ¡Feliz Navidad!

Note: This is a revised version of a post first published in December 2016.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

 Posted by at 9:39 am  Tagged with:
Dec 182017
 

I have so far seen only two examples of this photographer’s work. Both examples are photographs of Lake Chapala and appear to date from about the 1970s. This one (excuse the poor quality due to reflections) shows women washing clothes on the beach.

Lake Chapala. Photographer unidentified.

Lake Chapala. Photographer unidentified.

The photographer worked in both color and in black and white, and signed each print with a very distinctive monogram.

Monogram of unidentified photographer

Monogram of unidentified photographer

Please get in touch if you recognize this signature or can suggest who this photographer might be. Then we can add them to the growing list of fine photographers who have graced the shores of Lake Chapala.

Acknowledgment

  • Sincere thanks to Linda Fine Samuels of Ajijic for drawing my attention to the work of this currently unidentified photographer.

Other photographers related to Lake Chapala:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 142017
 

The American poet Witter Bynner, who first visited Chapala in the company of D.H. Lawrence in 1923, purchased a house in the town in 1940. The original address of the house, close to the plaza on the main street down to the pier, was 441 Galeana, but the current name of the street is Francisco I. Madero.

Bynner’s home had previously belonged to the famed Mexican architect Luis Barragán (1902-1988). It had apparently belonged to the Barragán family since the end of the 19th century and had been remodeled – by Luis Barragán himself, with the assistance of Juan Palomar – in 1931-32. (We will consider Barragán’s connections to Lake Chapala in a future post).

The Bynner House, Chapala, 2016. Photo: Tony Burton.

The Witter Bynner House, Chapala, 2016. Photo: Tony Burton.

Bynner and his companion Robert “Bob” Hunt became regular visitors to Chapala for several decades. Their mutual friend, artist John Liggett Meigs, is quoted as saying that, “Bynner’s house was on the town’s plaza, a short distance from the lake. Hunt restored the home and, in 1943, added an extensive rooftop terrace, which had clear views of Lake Chapala and nearby mountains. It became Bynner and Hunt’s winter home.” (Mark S. Fuller, Never a Dull Moment: The Life of John Liggett Meigs, 2015). It is worth noting that, while the house was on the plaza when Bynner bought it, the center was remodeled (and the plaza moved) in the 1950s (see comment by Juan Palomar below) so that the house is now a short distance south of the plaza, though it is very close.

According to some sources, Bynner lent his home in Chapala to the then almost-unknown playwright Tennessee Williams in the summer of 1945. During his time at Lake Chapala, Williams wrote the first draft of A Street Car Named Desire.

At some point after Hunt’s death in 1964 and Bynner’s serious stroke in 1965, or upon Bynner’s death in 1968, the house in Chapala (and its contents) was purchased, jointly, by Meigs and another well-known artist Peter Hurd.

Meigs was particularly taken with the fact that the house had once been belonged to Barragán, whose architectural work had been an inspiration for his own architectural designs. Mark Fuller writes that,

“the house had two floors, the rooftop terrace that Hunt had added, and a “tower” overlooking Lake Chapala. The other buildings on the block included a “wonderful cantina“, which became a supermarket; another two-story house next door, with a high wall between that house and Bynner’s courtyard; and a two-story hotel on the corner. However, after John [Meigs] and Hurd bought Bynner’s house, they discovered that the owners of the hotel had sold the airspace over the hotel, and, one time, when John arrived, he discovered a twenty foot by forty foot “Presidente Brandy” [sic] advertisement sign on top of the hotel, blocking his view of the lake. John said that that was when he and Hurd decided to sell the place. While he had use of it, though, he very much enjoyed it.”

In 1968, Hurd rented the house out to another artist Everett Gee Jackson. By a strange coincidence, Jackson had rented D.H. Lawrence‘s former residence in Chapala way back in 1923, immediately after the great English author left the town!

For a time, the Barragán-Bynner-Hurt/Meigs house was temporarily converted into warehouse space for a local supermarket, but is now once again a private residence.

Sources:

  • Mark S. Fuller. 2015. Never a Dull Moment: The Life of John Liggett Meigs. Sunstone Press.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 112017
 

English novelist and playwright Raymond “Ray” Rigby was born in Rochford, England, in 1916 and died in Guadalajara aged 78 on 19 May 1995.

Ray Rigby, ca 1970

Ray Rigby, ca 1970

In 1972, Rigby turned his back on a successful Hollywood career to move to Mexico. He lived initially in Jocotepec and for a short time in San Antonio Tlayacapan. About two years later, he moved to Guadalajara, where he married María Cristina Quintero in 1975, and where he resided until his death in 1995.

Rigby, who claimed to be a descendant of Saint John Rigby, one of 40 English martyrs canonized in 1970, had a troubled early life, doted on by his mother but abandoned by his father. It led to him finding it a challenge to form lasting partnerships, as evidenced by his five marriages, the last of which was by far the most successful. Rigby had five daughters, all born prior to his move to Mexico.

During the second world war, Rigby served as a private with the British Eighth Army in North Africa, but got into trouble due to various nefarious activities, and spent two spells in British field punishment centers. His experiences there would later form the basis for his award-winning novel The Hill, which he later turned into the famous anti-war movie of that name starring Sean Connery.

Rigby’s writing career began in 1948, when he began to write for television series, documentaries, radio and theatre. His greatest success came in the 1950s and 1960s, when he was employed as a screenwriter by MGM, 7 Arts, Warner Brothers, David Wolper Productions, Nat Cohen, 20th Century Fox, John Kohn Productions and Associated British Productions.

The screenplays and adaptations for numerous TV series and movies that Rigby worked on included: The End Begins (1956); Shut Out the Night (1958); Armchair Mystery Theatre (1960); The Avengers (1961); The Night of the Apes (1961); Operation Crossbow (1965) and his own masterpiece, The Hill (1965).

The-Hill-1965

The Hill won the 1966 BAFTA Film Award for Best British Screenplay, the 1965 Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, and the 1966 Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for the Best British Dramatic Screenplay. It was translated into 13 languages and enjoyed a resurgence of interest following the break-up of the former Soviet Union.

jacksons-peaceRigby’s novels, several of which are largely autobiographical, were The Hill (1965); Where Have All The Soldiers Gone? (1966); Jackson’s War (1967); Jackson’s Peace (1974); Jackson’s England (1979); and Hill Of Sand (1981) (written as a sequel to The Hill).

As can be seen from their publication dates, several of these novels were completed after Rigby moved to Mexico.

Rigby was always positive and cheerful and led a very disciplined life. He would “exercise” by walking round and round the small patio of his home on the outskirts of Guadalajara every morning for at least an hour, a habit possibly instilled during his spells in detention. He also had specific times set aside for writing and for socializing. He loved cooking and would watch and re-watch classic old Mexican movies. At the same time, he was one of the most gracious hosts imaginable, with a never-ending treasure chest of amazing experiences and stories. I first met him in about 1987 and we quickly became good friends. Indeed, it was Rigby who urged me to start writing and who provided moral support during my first struggling attempts, provided I visited him at a time when he wasn’t exercising or writing.

Rigby was a born raconteur, with keen street-smarts and a ready wit. Author Alex Gratton was not exaggerating when he described Ray in a memorial piece as a “world class wit and a fabulous story teller”.

While living in Jocotepec, Rigby had numerous run-ins with the local postmaster who was apparently accustomed at that time to check all incoming mail personally for any cash or valuables.

In 1973, Rigby and Wendell Phillips of Ajijic sold their joint script Ringer, written at Lakeside, to Universal Studios for a 90-minute pilot TV film. The two authors traveled to Hollywood to make the sale. This is almost certainly the last direct contact Rigby had with Hollywood.

Ray Rigby’s papers are in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

Note:

This post was first published in April 2015. I owe a massive personal debt to Ray for having encouraged me to begin writing non-fiction articles about Mexico. Without his initial enthusiasm, none of my books (or this series of posts about artists and writers associated with Lake Chapala) would ever have seen the light of day.

Sources:

  • Alex Gratton. Remembering Ray Rigby, El Ojo del Lago, July 1995
  • Informador 6 August 1982, p 20-C

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 072017
 

Famous Swedish painter Nils Dardel (1888-1943) visited Chapala towards the end of his life at a time when he was mainly painting fine watercolor portraits. Does anyone have additional knowledge about his visit (or visits) or recognize a friend or family member in any of the following paintings?

All of the paintings are believed to date from about 1940-1942.

Nils Dardel. 1936. Mexican girl with braided hair.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican girl with braided hair.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican girl.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican girl.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican girl (2).

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican girl (2).

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican man.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican man.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican woman.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican woman.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican boy.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican boy.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican boy. (2)

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Mexican boy. (2)

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Elderly Mexican lady.

Nils Dardel. ca 1940. Elderly Mexican lady.

Dardel was traveling with Swedish writer Edita Morris, the love of his life, and the couple also visited Central America including Guatemala.

Nils Elias Kristofer von Dardel, who took to calling himself simply Nils Dardel, was born on 25 October 1888 in Bettna, Sweden, and died of a heart attack in New York on 25 May 1943.

Dardel studied at the Stockholm Royal Academy of Arts from 1908 to 1910 and then spent many years living in Paris, working as a set designer for the Ballets Suédois and painting surrealist fantasies. In 1921, Dardel married a fellow Swedish artist: Baroness Thora Klinkowström. However, in the late 1930s Dardel fell in love with Edita Toll Morris, a beautiful, married, Swedish-born author. The new couple soon moved to New York and over the course of the next two or three years they traveled to Central America and Mexico. Attempts to reconstruct their precise itinerary are hampered by the fact that, following Nils’ death in 1943, Edita asked their friends to destroy all correspondence (a not uncommon request at that time).

Mona Lang and her colleague Kurt Skoog at dynamofilm.com in Sweden, who are working on a documentary of Nils Dardel’s life and work, believe that Nils and Edita were in Mexico and Guatemala from 1940 onwards. The couple was living in Chapala in May 1941 and probably remained there until Christmas, with short visits elsewhere including to the Pacific coast resort of Acapulco. Nils was in poor health (he had heart problems from an early age) and one letter makes it clear that he found the local Chapala climate “perfect” for him.

In Chapala, Nils and Edita rented the Villa Monte Carlo and were especially pleased by the extensive grounds, writing that their garden was the largest and most beautiful in all of Chapala. Their cook was apparently a local women named Magdalena. While in Chapala, Dardel worked on paintings based on sketches he had made in Guatemala and elsewhere and is presumed to have also completed paintings of some individuals living in Chapala.

Not long after spending the summer of 1942 in the Hotel Belmar in Mazatlán, Dardel and Edita returned to New York where an exhibition of his Mexican and Guatemalan paintings was held at The Architectural League of New York, prior to being sent on tour to various U.S. cities. Even after Nils died in New York (on 25 May 1943 at the artist hotel The Beaux Arts on 44th Street), the tour continued, though it was now referred to as a Memorial Exhibition.

A reviewer in Philadelphia, where the exhibit opened in October at the American Swedish Historical Museum, wrote that,

“Here are some of the fruits of the artist’s recent two year stay in Mexico and Central America, and water-color specialists will discover in his large paintings of native Latin-American types an amazing skill in execution and a deep knowledge of the medium’s use, especially in covering large areas.

The artist’s fantasies in oil however indicate more potently his inventive and imaginative powers. In these he has utilized certain Peruvian and Ecuadorian decorative themes in the presentation of such episodes as David and Goliath and the Biblical swine possessed by devils; “The Fishermen,” “Head-Hunters’ Breakfast,” and “Head-Hunters’ Afternoon”….

Card-players will take special delight in his treatment of “The Heart Family and “Queen of Diamonds” while “Adoration,” with its humorous skeletons of men and animals will set beholders to wondering about the alliance of subject matter and title. All these fantasies present something enchanting and decidedly refreshing in art…”

After the exhibition tour of U.S. cities was complete, Dardel’s paintings were returned to Sweden and went on show in Stockholm. There, his art met with a lukewarm reception from most art critics but was adored by the Swedish public. In 1946-1947, the exhibition traveled all over Sweden, always attracting big crowds. Reproductions of his portraits were produced for many years and sold well. They can regularly be found on Ebay and similar online auction sites.

Nils Dardel’s wonderful original paintings can be seen in museums in several European cities, including Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö, Oslo and Hamburg. His surrealist works command very high prices and his painting entitled “Waterfall”, which sold in 2012 for $3.7 million, was the record price ever paid at auction for a work by a Swedish artist.

To see more of Dardel’s work, including examples of his surrealist paintings, see Nils Dardel page on dardel.info.com.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Mona Lang for bringing Dardel’s connection to Chapala to my attention.

Sources

  • Folke Holmér. 1946. Nils Dardel I Mexico och Guatemala. (Stockholm: Nationalmuseum).
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer: 27 October 1943, p 27; 7 November 1943, p 48.
  • Moderna Museet (Sweden). “Nils Dardel and the Modern Age”. (2014 Exhibit)

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 042017
 

Swedish-American visual artist Carlo Wahlbeck lived in Chapala for two or three years in the mid-1970s.

Wahlbeck was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1933. At the age of 14, he started classes at the Stockholm School of Fine Art. Among his influences he credits the sixteenth century Italian artist Benvenuto Cellini and Swedish sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955).

When he was 16, Wahlbeck spent a year in the United States and became acquainted with several American Indian tribes. In 1957 he left Europe to live in North America, taking classes at the Winnipeg School of Art in Canada. Three years later, he moved to southern California which has been his home ever since, with the exception of his time in Mexico.

Since moving to the U.S., Wahlbeck has lived for extended periods of time among the Navajo and Zuni Indians, using their beliefs and lifestyle as a source of inspiration for his own surrealist works.

Carlo Wahlbeck. Mother and Child.

Carlo Wahlbeck. Mother and Child.

Prior to his extended stay at Lake Chapala, Wahlbeck had been living in Los Angeles. His residence in Chapala, with his two sons, coincided with the time when the local community was getting an unwanted reputation as a center for drug use. The biography on his studio website says that Wahlbeck “spent 2 years in Mexico, living among the Huichol people in the inaccessible mountains north of Tepic, painting the Indian religion and the white man’s religion as seen through Huichol eyes.” It is unclear whether this was before or after his stay at Lake Chapala.

Carlo Wahlbeck. "He stands for America". (ca 1975)

Carlo Wahlbeck. “He stands for America”. (ca 1975). (Richard Tingen collection).

In May 1975, two of Walhbeck’s original lithographs were offered for sale in an auction in Ajijic to raise funds for the local Primary School for Boys. Wahlbeck’s lithograph entitled “He stands for America” (above) dates from about this time.

Wahlbeck, who has lived on-and-off and exhibited in Palm Springs, California, for some 50 years, is best known in the U.S. for works relating to Native Americans. In addition to his skills as an illustrator and painter, Wahlbeck is an expert in the sculptural techniques used in working with cast paper.

His solo shows in California include Newport Beach, California (July 1965), the Gane Freeman Art Gallery in Los Angeles (January 1968), the Upstairs Gallery, Long Beach (November 1971) and Catchpenny Art Gallery in Tarzana (December 1977).

Carlo Wahlbeck. 1987. "June - Second State".

Carlo Wahlbeck. 1987. “June – Second State”. (cast paper work)

Wahlbeck’s works have found their way into many prominent collections, including those of King Gustav of Sweden, former US Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Robert Guggenheim, and the actresses Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Taylor. Institutions with Wahlbeck’s work in their permanent collections include The Bob Hope Cultural Center (Palm Desert, California); the Museum of Western Art (Ardmore, Oklahoma) and the Museum of Art in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to Richard Tingen for bringing Carlo Wahlbeck’s link to Lake Chapala to my attention and for permission to use the image “He stands for America”.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter, 17 May 1975.
  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • El Informador (Guadalajara) 16 May 1975, p 5-C
  • Los Angeles Times: 18 Jul 1965, p 261; 07 Jan 1968; 14 November 1971, p 546; 11 December 1977, p 844;
  • WahlbeckStudios website

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 6:07 am  Tagged with:
Nov 302017
 

Charles Bogert (1908-1992) and his wife Martha (ca 1917-2010?) visited Chapala in 1960 and recorded a mariachi band – the “Mariachi Aguilas de Chapala” – playing several well-known songs. The recordings were released on a Folkways record later that year, and accompanied by explanatory notes written by the couple.

One of the curiosities about this record is that it came about almost by accident. Bogert had not visited Chapala to record mariachi music but was there with funds from the American Museum of Natural History to record and analyze the mating calls of the local frogs!

Charles Mitchill Bogert was born 4 June 1908 in Mesa, Colorado. He gained his undergraduate (1934) and master’s degree (1936) at University of California, Los Angeles before being appointed as assistant curator in the Department of Herpetology (Snakes) at the American Museum of Natural History from 1936-1940. He was promoted to associate curator in 1941 and became curator in 1943, a position he held until 1968.

Folkways Album Cover

His work with snakes included several field expeditions to Mexico, the earliest in 1938. He also traveled extensively in Central America, researching snakes and frogs in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Bogert published numerous articles in academic journals related to his chosen field of expertise and was made the first president of the Herpetologists’ League in 1946. From 1952 to 1954 he served as president of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and in 1956 was vice-president of the Society for the Study of Evolution.

Just how did the mariachi recordings come about?

In 1957, Folkways Records had released an LP of recordings made by Bogert (many of them in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona) entitled Sounds of North American Frogs. The following year, Folkways issued an other LP – Tarascan And Other Music Of Mexico (FX 8867) – which featured tunes from Chihuahua, Jala, Tepic and Lake Pátzcuaro and included a 12-page booklet by the Bogerts. In 1959, Folkways released Sounds of the American Southwest (FX 6122).

In 1960, the American Museum of Natural History awarded Bogert funds and provided him with the equipment to visit Chapala and record the sounds of that area’s local frogs. It was in the course of this trip that the Bogerts recorded the Mariachi Aguilas de Chapala.

In their notes, the Bogerts recognized that though “The mariachi band may be no more typical of Mexico than the sahuaro cactus is typical of the American deserts… [it] is now as prominent in Mexican culture as the giant cactus is in the desert landscapes of Arizona and Sonora.” They offered some historical context to the development of mariachi music, though modern scholars of the origin of mariachi music would beg to differ with their version.

The Bogerts noted that there was an on-going decline in the amount of live music in Mexican villages:

“Not so many years ago almost every village in Mexico supported a brass band or a small orchestra, sometimes both. Today much instrumental groups are largely confined to cities and the more prosperous towns. In many villages the bandstand in the center of the plaza has the neglected air of an unused edifice, which leads one to suspect that the sole source of music is now the ubiquitous loud-speaker. Before the advent of these unfortunate but less expensive substitutes for the local musician, each region had its own folk-music rather than the homogenized product of the radio station.”

According to the Bogerts,

“Another contributor to the decline of Mexican folk-music is the tourist, especially the American. Too often he limits the musicians’ repertoire by insisting on hearing only the pieces he already knows or has heard in the United States…. If this trend continues, songs purely local in character may fade from the scene.”

Their recordings of the Mariachi Aguilas de Chapala were made not in a studio but in the open air, “on the third-story roof garden of the Country Club Arms, an ultra-modern apartment hotel in Chapala” owned by Mrs. James Grant and her late husband. [Aside: If anyone can tell me more about the Country Club Arms, please get in touch!]

The band had ten musicians, playing two trumpets, three violins, one guitarrón, one guitarra de golpe, and three guitarras. The songs recorded were Atotonilco; Las Olas; La Negra; Jarabe Tapatío; La Bamba; Chapala; Tecalitlán; La Adelita; Las Bicicletas; Ojos Tapatíos; Ay, Jalisco, No Te Rajes!; Las Mañanitas; and El Carretero Se Va.

Despite their reservations about the possible role of tourists in the decline of the village mariachi, the Bogerts clearly recognized the importance of tourists as a source of income for mariachi musicians:

“Needless to say, tourists are a good source of income for these peripatetic bands. When business is slow, one member of the orchestra, usually carrying only a violin, sometimes approaches an unwary tourist and asks if he would like some music. lf the answer is yes, the tourist may find that instead of having hired one man to playa softly romantic violin, he is suddenly surrounded by ten musicians who burst forth with their loud music, sometimes in cheerful, cacophonic competition with a blaring radio. The tourist’s discomfiture rarely lasts, however, for he and his party are soon infected by the lilting melodies and foot-tapping rhythms of the mariachi. Whatever fee he pays will be small in comparison with the pleasure he derives from the memories he takes with him.”

During the 1960s, the Bogerts continued to visit Mexico, with Charles Bogert, in his role of herpetological researcher, focusing mainly on the Oaxaca area.

Bogert has the distinction of having had at least 21 reptiles and amphibians named after him by his colleagues, including a subspecies of the venomous Mexican beaked lizard called Heloderma horridum charlesbogerti.

Bogert died at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on 10 April 1992.

Bogert’s recordings and notes about mariachis are valuable reminders of Chapala’s long musical history, but the Bogerts were by no means the first visitors to Chapala to laud the irresitible attractions of mariachi music. For example, in 1941, David Holbrook Kennedy became fascinated by a local mariachi band, especially by one of its singers in particular.

Nor was mariachi music the only attraction for anthropologists interested in music. At the start of the 1950s, a well-known American musicologist – Sam Eskin –  visited Ajijic for a short time and (from the patio of the Scorpion Club) recorded the ambient sounds of a religious festival in Ajijic, complete with church bells and pre-dawn firecrackers.

Sources:

  • Charles Bogert and Martha Bogert. 1960. “Mariachi Aguilas de Chapala”, a collection of mariachi music from the Mexican state of Jalisco. (Folkways FW 8870, 12″ 33rpm LP.)
  • Barbara Krader. 1961. Review of Folkways record “Mariachi Aguilas de Chapala”. Ethnomusicology (University of Illinois), Vol 5 #3, September 1961, p 227.
  • Charles H. Smith. 2005. “Bogert, Charles Mitchill (United States 1908-1992)” (web)
  • Charles W. Myers and Richard G. Zweifel. 1993. “Biographical Sketch and Bibliography of Charles Mitchill Bogert, 1908-1992”, in Herpetologica, Vol. 49, No. 1 (March 1993), 133-146.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Nov 272017
 

Ferdinand Schmoll (usually known in Mexico as Fernando Schmoll) was a German painter, born in Cologne in 1879, who owned a lakefront house west of the pier in Chapala for several years early in the twentieth century. It is unclear when Schmoll first arrived in Mexico, or in the Lake Chapala area, but he was certainly living in the Chapala area between 1919 and 1921. Shortly after, Schmoll and his wife left the lake to establish their home in Cadereyta in the central state of Querétaro. Schmoll is best known for his fine landscapes, painted in the European tradition.

Schmoll first arrived in Mexico several years prior to his residence in Chapala. Schmoll had apparently studied art in Germany and Italy and he and his wife were definitely living in Mexico City by December 1913, the year the Mexican Herald reported the opening of an exhibition of his paintings at Avenida Juarez No 8.

Early the following year, Schmoll and his wife arrived in San Francisco. According to the passenger manifest of the “Peru”, it was the first time either of them had been in the United States. They gave their previous residence as Mexico City.

schmoll-ferdinand-painting

A Mexican landscape painted by Ferdinand Schmoll

In December 1916, Schmoll was living and working in Saltillo in northern Mexico, near Parral. When forces loyal to Pancho Villa invaded the town, Schmoll was initially reported missing but the artist turned up a few days later at the border in El Paso, Texas. According to contemporary newspaper reports, which described him as “formerly of Los Angeles, California”, Schmoll had been forced to flee Parral and leave behind “a large number of sketches and paintings”, as “he feared to bring them out through Villa territory”. A few months later, in April 1917, Schmoll held an exhibition of oils and watercolors of Mexico and California at the art gallery of the El Paso Women’s Club.

By 1919, Schmoll and his wife were back in Mexico, living at Lake Chapala. Among his early solo exhibits in Mexico was one at the then State Museum in Guadalajara in September 1919. The advance notice for the exhibition says that all the oil paintings by Ferdinad (sic) Schmoll had been painted during the artist’s time in Mexico. The following month, Schmoll donated an oil painting entitled “El Patio” to the museum. In November 1919, Schmoll traveled to Mexico City to exhibit his “perfectly finished and undeniably beautiful paintings” there.

Ferdinand Schmoll. 1913. Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl Volcanoes.

Ferdinand Schmoll. 1913. Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl Volcanoes.

Schmoll exhibited in Guadalajara again at the Club Alemán (16 de Sept #140) in 1921. A review of that show, in the Guadalajara daily El Informador, singled out his painting “Serenata” as best of the 19 works on display, for the way it portrayed light playing on the group of singers. It also praised the flower painting “Dahlias” for its use of color and “intense freshness”. The reviewer concluded that Schmoll was more of a portrait artist than a landscape artist, despite the fine quality of landscapes he incorporated into his paintings. The review lauded Schmoll’s meticulous technique, comparing it favorably to that seen “in the works of the best German artists”. Also mentioned (and well ahead of their time for their subject matter) were several works that were “faithful interpretations of the customs of our humble classes”, including a fine portrait study of an indigenous male.

The show included three works clearly painted at Chapala: “Orilla del Lago de Chapala” (Lake Chapala Shore), “Lago de Chapala” (Lake Chapala) and “A orillas del Chapala” (On the Shores of Chapala).

In June 1925, a solo show of paintings by Schmoll, “considered one of the most notable pictorial interpreters of Mexican landscapes”, was held in Berlin, Germany, at the German Economic League for Central and South America. When Schmoll returned from Europe in September on board the “Holsatia”, he stated his residence as Saltillo.

Schmoll was not only an artist, but also a cactus lover, and in 1920, founded a cactus farm in the town of Cadereyta de Montes, Querétaro, with his wife biologist Carolina Wagner (1877-1951), who had a degree in biology from a German university. The couple traveled widely throughout Latin America. It was a match made in cactus heaven. Schmoll’s exquisite drawings of cacti were coupled with his wife’s scientific descriptions, and this at a time when publications much preferred detailed drawings to photographs.

Ferdinand (“Fernando”) Schmoll died on 24 May 1950 at the age of 71 in Cadereyta de Montes. His death certificate confirms that he was an “artist” and “Mexican by naturalization”.

Quinta Fernando Schmoll (the Schmoll Cactus Farm)

Quinta Fernando Schmoll (the Schmoll Cactus Farm)

The cactus farm and nursery continue today as a commercial venture, Quinta Fernando Schmoll, that specializes in growing cacti and succulents for export, as well as testing alternative methods of cultivation. The current owner of the cactus farm is Heinz Wagner, a great nephew of the founders.

The center is the Americas’ most important greenhouse location for cactus breeding and houses more than 4000 plant species, of which 1700 are cacti from the Americas. Research at the center has led to the discovery and description of several new cactus species, among them the endemic lamb’s tale cactus (Echinocereus schmollii) named in the Schmolls’ honor.

[Note: This is an updated version of a post first published on 21 May 2015.]

Sources:

  • El Informador: 16 September 1919; 5 October 1919; 24 November 1919, 30 November 1919; 11 December 1921, p5; 11 June 1925
  • El Paso Herald: 16 April 1917, p12
  • Los Angeles Times: 4 January 1917, p10
  • Mexican Herald: 9 December 1913, p2
  • Reno Gazette-Journal: 3 January 1917, p3
  • The Cactus and Succulent Journal of Great Britain, January 1952

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 6:03 am  Tagged with:
Nov 232017
 

Eduardo A. Gibbon y Cárdenas (full name Eduardo Anacleto Jesus Maria Antonio Gibbon) was born in Mexico City on 13 July 1845 and was a 19th century Mexican art critic, journalist, writer and diplomat. His father was born in England, his mother was Mexican.

As a young man Gibbon was one of the private secretaries of the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian (who was Emperor of Mexico from 1864 to 1867).

In the 1870s, he made various contributions to El Artista, a Mexico City-based  “monthly review of literature, science and the aesthetical arts.” After the magazine ceased publication (due to lack of financial support) Gibbon resuscitated the title, with the first of the new series of El Artista appearing in October 1891. By all accounts, this was a well-produced magazine, the first issue of which included a translation of part of Hopkinson Smith’s White Umbrella in Mexico. Gibbon’s main contribution as a writer to the first issue of the new series was “a description of the Luray grottoes of Virginia in sprightly and unhackneyed phrase.”

In 1874, Gibbon was elected a Member of the Mexican Society for Geography and Statistics.

gibbon-title-pageHe wrote several books, including La catedral de México (1874) and Reflexiones sobre arte nacional (1892), and a Spanish translation of Felix Salm-Salm’s memoirs about the final days of Emperor Maximilian. Gibbon also translated Father John S. Vaughan’s work, “Life after Death”. According to the brief obituary of Gibbon in The Sun (published in New York), he was also “the author of various novels”.

While holding a diplomatic position in London, England, in the 1880s, Gibbon took the opportunity to write Nocturnal London, published by S. E. Stanley in 1890. He later also served as a diplomat in the United States.

In 1893, Gibbon published Guadalajara, (La Florencia Mexicana). This is essentially a popular guide to the author’s chosen trilogy of major attractions in Jalisco: Guadalajara, Juanacatlán Falls (the “Niagara of Mexico”) and Lake Chapala. Gibbon’s writing is poetic, verging on the flowery, but despite that many of his descriptions make for interesting reading.

Gibbon’s romantic, poetic prose about his trips to Lake Chapala, in 1893 or earlier, includes one of the earliest detailed accounts of a boat trip on the lake. He also mentions the fact that deposits of petroleum have been located under the lake, and that studies are being undertaken to see if the deposits are large enough to be worth exploiting.

Gibbon stayed in a simple hotel; this was at least five years before the famous Arzapalo hotel opened. The author also described the chalet built on the shore by an Englishman (possibly Septimus Crowe), and clearly recognized the tourist potential of the area. This is how he described the then-village of Chapala:

We entered along a straight and long road, like those that form the main street of every village. The houses were of a single story, with white or colored facades. The doors and windows of wood; the latter without bars or glass, showing that in the honored home of the fisherman, they are safe even without these luxuries. So it is just as easy to enter one of the homes here, through the windows, often obstructed by the pots full of flowers or the large cages of melodious birds, as it is through the doorway. A soporific silence, that in this village of fishermen! So quiet that, at mid-day, only the buzz of the clouds of gnats, and the beating wings of the gulls crossing the sky can be heard.

But the great luminous place was at the end of this street: Lake Chapala. A fishing boat, with its lateen sail, was approaching the port. Apart from that, nothing was in sight on the immense surface of the water, on which the afternoon sun shone, producing lights and shadows like those made by marcasite….

The bells of the poetic parish church that rang on the shores of the lake-sea, brought all the village’s inhabitants to their feet. On the rustic wharf, very close to the hotel, one of those regular-sized vessels, called here canoes, but which are really flat-bottomed launches, was already anchored. The unloading of the domestic merchandise that had been brought for sale, had begun; later these would be sold in the Sunday tianguis, [street market] so common in these villages. With a slight following wind, three canoes came through the small waves, which, with sails slightly filled, came towards the beach. The rowers were working to propel the slow advance of these such primitive vessels, which, in rough waters would tip over very easily, and which only progress in their race when the wind is really strong and favorable….”

Eduardo A. Gibbon, who was unmarried, died at the age of 51 in Mexico City on 19 May 1897 following a lengthy illness.

Note

Source

  • The Sun (New York, New York), 21 May 1897, p 5.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

error: Content is protected !!