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Jun 212018
 

Ajijic has certainly attracted more than its fair share of strange and colorful characters over the years but perhaps nobody with quite so many true tales to spin as serial prankster Jim Moran.

By the time Moran “retired” to Ajijic, he was almost 80 years old and had put his pranks behind him. Tall, rotund, with a flowing white beard and a deliberate walk, he focused on his photography, art, writing and classical guitar playing.

James Sterling Moran (1908-1999) was one of the most original publicists and press agents in the U.S., pulling one stunt after another to boost the products, services or politicians he sought to promote. Moran never attended college but held a wide variety of jobs from tour guide to airline executive and radio studio manager. In 1989, Time called him, “the supreme master of that most singular marketing device–the publicity stunt.”

In chronological order, Moran’s most noteworthy pranks, many based on acting out old sayings, included selling a refrigerator to an Inuit in Alaska on behalf of General Electric (1938); spending 10 days to find a needle in a haystack to promote a real estate development (1939); leading a bull through a china shop on 5th Avenue in New York City (1940); changing horses mid-stream in the Truckee River, Nevada, during the 1944 US Presidential election; sitting on an ostrich egg for 19 days, until it hatched, to promote the film The Egg and I (1946); and opening an embassy in Washington D.C. for the fictitious country of Grand Duchy of Fenwick to advertise The Mouse That Roared (1959).

His best-known outright hoax was to paint an abstract – “the worst thing I could think of” – and get a friend to submit it to a Los Angeles Art Association show in November 1946 as the work of a previously-unknown artist, “Naromji”. The work, entitled “Three out of Five”, was accepted for an exhibition of abstract art.

Woman holding Naromji's "Three out of Five". (Life archive)

Woman holding Naromji’s “Three out of Five”. (Life archive)

The Los Angeles Times described it as “an astonishing conglomeration of paint, chalk, magazine cut-outs and carmine fingernail polish.” At the end of the month, Moran stepped forward to claim authorship, pointing out that Naromji was Moran spelled backwards, with a ‘ji’ added for confusion and that “Three out of Five” was the name of a hair restorer, since abstract painting always made him want to tear out his hair.

Moran wrote several books, including Sophocles, the Hyena: a fable (1954). The first edition was illustrated by Roger Duvoisin, but a later edition featured illustrations by Andy Warhol. Moran also wrote Why Men Shouldn’t Marry (1969); How I became an authority on Sex (1973) and The Wonders of Magic Squares (1982).

Jim Moran. Sophocles the Hyena. 1954. Illustrated by Andy Warhol.

Jim Moran. Sophocles the Hyena. Illustrated by Andy Warhol.

In Ajijic, the multi-talented and highly imaginative Moran was known as a writer, artist and photographer, as well as a skilled classical guitar player.

In 1986, the Galeria Gentes, run by master lithographer Bill Gentes, held a one-person exhibit of Moran’s artwork. The show was comprised of about 100 works by “Naromji”. A contemporary reviewer found that, “His use of brilliant color gives the works an alluring touch. His birds and other serious subjects are strikingly beautiful, while most of the rest convey something of the cosmic giggle to be expected from Jim Moran the prankster.”

Ajijic watercolorist Enrique Velázquez remembers Jim Moran with great affection. He recalls Moran as having lived in Ajijic for several years from the mid-1980s into the 1990s. Velázquez prepared a series of stunningly beautiful illustrations for a children’s book by Moran entitled Linda and the Magic Dream Bubble, a work that was apparently never published.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Ajijic watercolorist Enrique Velasquez for first bringing Jim Moran’s artistic side to my attention.

Sources

  • Anon. 1986. “Portrait of the Artist” (Jim Moran). El Ojo del Lago, March 1986.
  • Ezra Goodman. “High Priest of Hoopla.” The New York Times, 14 December 1947.
  • Los Angeles Times. 1946. “Gagster’s masterpiece hung as authentic art.” Los Angeles Times, 30 Nov 1946.
  • Douglas Martin. 1999. “James S. Moran Dies at 91; Master of the Publicity Stunt” (Obituary), New York Times, 24 October 1999.
  • Christopher Reed. 1999. “Jim Moran” (obituary), The Guardian, 1 December 1999.

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

Jun 132018
 

Lee Freeman Hersch (1896-1953) was born 5 September 1896 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was a painter in realist and abstract styles. He died in Madrid, Spain, in 1953.

Hersch attended the University of Cincinnati and spent the winter of 1917-1918 in Taos, New Mexico, where he painted scenes with Indians of the Taos Pueblo. His Taos paintings established his reputation as an outstanding artist. His formal artistic training included classes with Henry Keller, Kenyon Cox and Douglas Volk at the Cleveland School of Art and the National Academy of Design.

Hersch enlisted in August 1918 and served with the American Expeditionary Forces in France from 28 October 1918 to 11 July 1919. He was honorably discharged a week later. This was his first time overseas and was the start of extensive travels.

In 1920, at age 24, he left the U.S. to return to Europe. On his passport application, he said he planned to visit and paint France, Italy, Spain, England, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Morocco and Algeria. Hersch had not been long in Paris when he met American novelist Helen Virginia Davis (1896-1978). They married on 21 April 1921.

For some years thereafter their joint studio on the Left Bank was a popular gathering-place for painters, writers, and other intellectuals. They became close friends of Mexican artist Ángel Zárraga (1886-1946) who had moved to Paris in 1911 to live there permanently. As a gift, Zárraga painted a portrait of “Miss Davis” shortly before she married.

In 1925, Lee Hersch held a solo exhibit at the Montross Gallery in New York. In the 1930s, he was painting mainly landscapes, dividing his time between California and New York. His painting of Lake Chapala is believed to date from about 1930.

Lee Hersch: Lake Chapala (ca 1930)

Lee Hersch: Lake Chapala (ca 1930)

Relatively little is known about some parts of his life, but his works include a “super modernist impressionist painting” of Mexico’s Lake Chapala, described by the Bruce Palmer Galleries as having “great color and energy, and in fine condition”. It is thought to have been painted relatively early in his career (circa 1930) and was sold at William Doyle auction house in New York in 2005.

Hersch catalog

After the second world war, his work became more abstract, and he joined the ranks of New York’s influential abstract expressionists, an art movement that rivaled or echoed what was happening in the Parisian art world. Hersch was given a one-man show by Peggy Guggenheim in her gallery in New York, which became well-known for shows of abstract expressionism, by artists such as Jackson Pollock, William Baziotes and Hans Hofmann.

Hersch was a member of the Painters and Sculptors of Los Angeles and the Woodstock Art Association. He exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Salons of America. A retrospective of his work, with accompanying catalog, was held in Paris in 1954.

Examples of his work hang in many major museum collections, including that of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published on 22 March 2012.

Credits / references

  • Albuquerque Journal, 3 February 1918, 10.
  • Edan Hughes. Artists in California, 1786-1940.
  • Peter Falk. Who Was Who in American Art.
  • Bruce Palmer Galleries. “Lee Hersch”.
  • Lee Hersch and Michel Seuphor. 1954. Lee Hersch. Paris: Librairie-Galerie Arnaud, 42 pp.

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

 Posted by at 3:06 pm  Tagged with:
Jun 072018
 

In the 1940s, two superbly written books introduced readers in the U.S. and U.K. to life in the village of Ajijic. Both have remained perennial favorites on the must-read lists of anyone interested in Lake Chapala. Village in the Sun and House in the Sun were both written by “Dane Chandos”, who later wrote several travel books.

Dane Chandos was not a real person but a pen name of two distinct writing duos. Peter Lilley and Stansbury (later Nigel) Millett wrote the early Dane Chandos books. After Millett’s death, Lilley’s partner for later Dane Chandos works was Anthony Stansfeld. All three men were well-educated Englishmen with an excellent ear for languages.

Stansbury Girtin Millett was born in London, England, on 23 October 1904.. .

Owing to the unauthorized and uncredited use of material from this post on a third-party website, this article has been removed from public view.

If you have a genuine interest in the subject matter, please contact us via the comments section and we can discuss terms and conditions.

Cover artist

The cover art has a tiny signature (below). If anyone knows who this cover artist is, or anything more about them, please get in touch!

Signature of cover artist, Village in the Sun.

Signature of cover artist, Village in the Sun.

References

  • Dane Chandos. 1945. Village in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Published in London, U.K., with same title by Michael Joseph in 1948. Reissued in London by Country Book Club in 1953. Reissued in Mexico (Tlayacapan Press) in 1998.
  • Dane Chandos. 1949. House in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. U.K. edition in 1950 by Michael Joseph. Reissued in Mexico (Tlayacapan Press) in 1999.

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

May 292018
 

John Russell Clift wrote, and illustrated with original serigraphs, “Chapala-Mexico’s Shangri-La”, published in Ford Times, the monthly magazine of the Ford Motor Company in October 1953. The article was published in Ford Times,. Volume 45 # 10 (October 1953) pp 34-39. The article, with illustrations, was reprinted on Mexconnect.com in its October 2003 edition, to mark the 50th anniversary of the original publication date.

John Russell Clift: Chapala Market

John Russell Clift: Chapala Market (1953)

John Russell Clift: Lake Chapala (1953)

John Russell Clift: Lake Chapala (1953)

  • The full text of “Chapala-Mexico’s Shangri-la“, with accompanying illustrations, reprinted on Mexconnect.com by kind permission of Ford Motor Company.

John Russell Clift, American author and illustrator, was born in Taunton, Massachusetts in 1925 and at the peak of his career in the 1950s when he wrote this piece, one of the earliest to promote the attractions of the Chapala area as a retirement haven. His thoughtful prose and fine silkscreens paint a vivid picture of what life was like at Lakeside in the early 1950s.

After a stint in the U.S. Navy (1944-46), Clift studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and became an accomplished illustrator, painter, teacher, graphic artist, and successful commercial artist. Clift won his first fellowship at the Boston Museum School in 1952-53, which enabled him to spend six months painting in Chapala. He taught drawing and illustration at the institution for many years and was awarded a second fellowship in 1958-59.

John Russell Clift: Weaver's House in Jocotepec (1953)

John Russell Clift: Weaver’s House in Jocotepec (1953)

His commercial art career included spells working for Ford Motor Company, Alcan Aluminum Co. of Cleveland, the Lamp-Standard Oil Co. and the Bethlehem Steel Co. of Pennsylvania. In 1965, The Bridgeport Post lauded him as “an artist admired by the professionals for his technique in encaustic and by businessmen for his illustrations in business magazines.” (10 Oct 1965). Among Clift’s contributions to Ford Times, was “Riverside, Rhode Island”, a story illustrated by his paintings, in the July 1955 issue.

Clift held numerous exhibitions of his work in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the 1955-1965 period. His work was also exhibited at print shows throughout the U.S., including the Museum of Modern Art and the DeCordova & Dana Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. He held a solo show in 1963 in the Mirski Gallery, Boston.

In 1967, Clift was a member of the three-person jury for The Boston Printmakers 19th Annual Print Exhibition, held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 28 February to 2 April 1967. The exhibition featured more than 120 prints from the U.S. and Canada.

John Russell Clift passed away in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on 16 July 1999.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published on 22 March 2012.

Exhibits/collections:

  • A screenprint entitled “Long Wharf” is in the collection of the US National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C..
  • A painting, oil on canvas, entitled “Couple in the Park” (1961) is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
  • A color lithograph entitled “Market at Chapala” was sold at auction in 2007.

Sources/References:

  • John Russell Clift. 1953. “Chapala-Mexico’s Shangri-la”, Ford Times, Volume 45 # 10 (October 1953), 34-39.

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

May 242018
 

Lowell D. Houser (1902-1971) lived and painted in Chapala, and later Ajijic, in the mid-1920s. He was subsequently hired to paint copies of Mayan murals for an archaeological survey of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Houser was born in Chicago on 18 May 1902. During his childhood, the family moved to Iowa, where Houser graduated from Ames High School in 1921. He then studied briefly at Iowa State University before switching to the Art Institute of Chicago. Lowell D. Houser’s long connection with Mexico began in the company of his fellow artist Everett Gee Jackson. The two had studied together at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Following a brief exploratory foray into Mexico, traveling just across the border from Texas into Coahuila, the pair of artists decided to venture further into Mexico, to the city of Guadalajara, in the summer of 1923. They later rented a house in Chapala.

They were among the earliest American artists to paint at Lake Chapala and Ajijic, though they were not the first, given that the Chicago artist Richard Robbins and Donald Cecil Totten (1903-1967), among others, had painted Lake Chapala before this. So, too, had many artists of European origin. Mexico, though, exerted a much more powerful influence over Houser’s art than it did over any of these previous visitors.

Lowell Houser. 1925. Maidens carrying water jars, Ajijic.

Lowell Houser. 1925. Maidens carrying water jars, Ajijic.

Houser’s “Maidens Carrying Water Jars” has been aptly described by James Oles as a “study in patterns… the women almost seem cut from the same mold, and even their faces lack individuality…”.

A chance encounter with the well-connected young author and art critic Anita Brenner (1905-1974) led to Houser being invited back to Mexico a couple of years later to be the illustrator for an archaeological group studying Mayan ruins on the Yucatán Peninsula.

After returning from Mexico, Houser lived for a short time in New York before returning to Ames to teach at the Arts Students Workshop in Des Moines (1933-36) and at Iowa State College (1936-37). Houser developed his own art career in oils, watercolors and block printing and also undertook commercial illustrations for books and magazines. While living in Ames, Houser worked under Grant Wood on nine murals for the new library at Iowa State College.

Houser was then commissioned by the Works Progress/Projects Administration (WPA; 1935-1943) to paint a mural in the town’s Post Office. The bold mural depicts the evolution of corn (maize), from both an indigenous Indian and more modern American farmer’s perspective.

In 1938, Houser accepted a position teaching printmaking, drawing and painting in the art department at San Diego State College, where his good friend Everett Gee Jackson was directing the art program.

Houser died in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1971.

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

Partial list of sources:

  • Peter H. Falk et al. 1999. Who was who in American art, 1564-1975: 400 years of artists in America. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1985. Burros and Paintbrushes, A Mexican Adventure. Texas A&M University Press.
  • Meghan A. Navarro. 2013. “Indians at the Post Office. Native Themes in New Deal-Era Murals: The Evolution of Corn”. Smithsonian National Postal Museum.
  • James Oles. 1993. South of the Border: Mexico in the American Imagination, 1914-47. Smithsonian Institution Press.

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

May 172018
 

Shortly after retiring from Hollywood, Sherman (“Sherm”) Harris and his wife, Jane, moved to Ajijic to run the Posada Ajijic. Harris, who had previously managed a 450-room hotel in Disneyland, ran the Posada from 1963 to 1968. He was a film editor and TV producer best known for the Lone Ranger movies and TV shows, and for more than 70 episodes in the long-running Lassie TV series.

Movie poster, 1958. (Producer: Sherman A. Harris)

Movie poster, 1958. (Producer: Sherman A. Harris)

Sherman Allison Harris was born in Minnesota on 8 Mar 1909. His parents were sufficiently well-do-do that they had a full-time live-in helper when their children were young. Still in his teens, Harris spent the summer of 1928 in Europe.

By the time of the 1930 U.S. Census, Harris was living in Los Angeles, where he apparently first worked for the Bank of Italy (now Bank of America). On 9 April 1932 he married Ninette Crawford (1912-1978) and the following year he began working in movies as a film editor (cutter). By 1940, the Harris household – “studio worker” Sherman, his picture extra” wife, Ninette, and their 3-year-old son, Sherman – was established in Van Nuys, North Hollywood.

As a film editor, Harris worked on It happened One Night (1934); Broadway Bill (1934); One Night of Love (1934) and Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939). In the succeeding decades, he was production manager for several movies and TV shows including Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941) and then, after World War II, for Rendezvous (1946); Dangerous Millions (1946); and Guilty of Treason (1950). He was producer of hundreds of television programs in series such as Stars over Hollywood (1951); Hollywood Opening Night (1951-52); The Loretta Young Show (1953); The Lone Ranger (1956-57); and Lassie (1958-1960).

It is unclear when he divorced Ninette, but on 1 December 1960 Harris married Jane E. Goza (1916-1968) in San Diego. After retiring from the movie industry and directing a 450-room hotel in Disneyland, Harris and his new wife moved to Mexico in 1963. Harris had replied to a classified ad in the Los Angeles Times for someone willing to invest $5,000 “in a growing business”.

The growing business turned out to be the Posada Ajijic. Harris bought the business (not the property) from Vic Aldridge and spent several years building up the business, including improvements such as upscaling the restaurant and adding a swimming pool, bar and a new patio.

Sherm Harris sold his interest in the Posada Ajijic to Sue and Booth Waterbury in 1966. Harris and his wife continued to live at their lakeshore home of Morelos #33 in Ajijic, but Jane died, unexpectedly, in a Guadalajara hospital in 1968.

Within a couple of years, Sherm Harris remarried. His new bride was Adele Adams Harris. Sherman Harris died in Houston, Texas, on 20 August 1980 and donated his body to medical research.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter, 19 March 1964.
  • IMDB. Sherman A. Harris.
  • Jack McDonald. 1970. “Sherm Harris. Posada Ajijic’s former owner was top Hollywood Producer.” Guadalajara Reporter, 7 March 1970, 15-16.
  • Van Nuys, California, City Directory, 1939.

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

 

May 102018
 

Among those active in the Lakeside Little Theater twenty-plus years ago was Norman Schnall (1923-2003) who moved to Ajijic with his wife, Claire, in 1998.

Schnall’s professional name as a film and television actor was Norman Burton. As a stage and screen actor, Schnall appeared in more than 40 movies, including Pretty Boy Floyd (1960), Planet of the Apes (1968), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Save the Tiger (1973), The Towering Inferno (1974) and Bloodsport (1988), as well as in dozens of TV programs.

Schnall was born in the Bronx, New York (of Russian and Austrian parents) on 5 December 1923. He was a good friend of Beat authors Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg, and is the basis for the character “Normie Krall” in Kerouac’s masterwork, Visions of Cody (1973).

Other Beat Era artists and authors with links to Lake Chapala include George Abend, Ernest Alexander, Clayton Eshleman, Jack Gilbert, Don Martin, Anne McKeever, Arthur Monroe, Ned Polsky, Alexander Trocchi, Stanley Twardowicz, ruth weiss, and Al Young.

Schnall studied at the Actors Studio in New York in the 1950s under Lee Strasberg and appeared in several Broadway plays including The Wedding Breakfast, Sound of Hunting and Anna Christie. He became a devotee of the method school of acting, and later taught method acting in Lakeside, California.

Norman Schnall as Felix Leiter.

Norman Schnall as Felix Leiter.

His first film role was a minor part in Fright (1956). He appeared in over 40 movies and dozens of television programs during the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps his best known role on screen was as the villain Felix Leiter in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. Movie trivia buffs will know that Schnall played the gorilla Hunt Leader in the science fiction film Planet of the Apes.

After retiring, Schnall and his wife lived for some time in Prescott, Arizona, before moving to Ajijic.

Schnall was also reputed to be a fine artist and painter, though I have not yet seen any of his work.

In November 2003, Schnall was killed in an auto accident in the U.S. while on his way back to his home in Ajijic.

Sources

  • IMDB entry. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0123680/ [28 April 2018]
  • Dave Moore (compiler). 2010. “Character Key to Kerouac’s Duluoz Legend.” http://www.beatbookcovers.com/kercomp/ [28 April 2018]

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

 Posted by at 6:07 am  Tagged with:
May 022018
 

Painter, jeweler, and accessory designer Hubert Pickering Harmon Jr. (1913-2004) was born into a wealthy family in Evanston, Illinois, on 23 October 1913. The family home was in the Highland Park district and the whole family spent time in Europe even during Harmon’s childhood.

After high school, Harmon chose to study design at the Parsons School of Design in Paris. He lived in Europe, with regular holiday trips back to New York, from 1934 to about 1939, when he returned to the US before the outbreak of World War II.

On 2 January 1940, Harmon married a fellow artist, Louise Katharine (De Mocher) Frazier, who was eleven years his senior, in Greenwich, Connecticut. The marriage to Louise, a divorcée, appears to have been largely one of convenience, given that, according to those who knew him, Harmon was openly gay. Louise was born in 1901 and graduated from East High School in Rochester, New York, in the class of 1919, before attending Columbia University, where, part of her yearbook entry read,

“The boys think “Weezie” is a dear;
She does, too, don’t you fear!”

The newly weds made their home at 51 East 51st Street in New York City, but planned to return to Paris after the war. They regularly traveled overseas. Within weeks of marrying, they traveled to the Caribbean, they returned to New York in May 1940 for a quick visit before heading for Hawaii, where they stayed several months.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, in a letter from Hawaii in January 1941, wrote:

“Have met a young couple at the Niumalu who drop in for Contract [Bridge] or conversation quite often – Louise and Hubert Harmon. He has spent much of his life in France and England and consorted with royalty, nobility, and aristocracy; so he is very interesting. He is so well connected that he had the entree to the palaces, castles, and chateaux of many interesting people.”

Late in 1941 or early the following year, Harmon and his wife moved to Mexico to pursue their artistic careers. Harmon and his high-society wife breezed into Taxco in 1942, with more than two dozen items of luggage and accompanied by their two brown standard poodles.

Harmon worked briefly in jewelry design in Taxco before moving to Mexico City, following an incident involving a gun in a bar. He continued to visit Taxco regularly for several years in order to oversee his designs, mostly of silver jewelry but also of copper or brass accessories. His silver designs are often described as “whimsical” and are much sought after by collectors. His silver pieces include feet, angels and dogs (especially poodles) as well as stars, mermaids and dolphins. Harmon is recognized today as one of the several outstanding designers who contributed to the popularity (and success) of Mexican silverworking.

Synnove (Shaffer) Petterson and Hubert Harmon at Galeria OM in Guadalajara in November 1975

Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen and Hubert Harmon at Galeria OM in Guadalajara in October 1975

Harmon’s designs were worn not only by his wife but also by such illustrious stars as Hollywood glamor icon Dolores del Rio (whose Great Dane sported matching Harmon-designed accessories).

In the early 1950s Harmon and his wife enjoyed a playboy lifestyle jetting between Europe and North America. Harmon established design studios in various cities as his wanderlust carried him in search of artistic inspiration. Despite leaving New York in January 1949 with the avowed intention of planning to stay abroad indefinitely, Harmon and Louise returned to the US from a spell in Cannes twenty months later in October 1950. They left again in 1953, planning to spend the next two years abroad.

Harmon was definitely painting during much of this time, as shown by plans for a December 1951 showing of his paintings of poodles in a New York City gallery, and an account of him spending six months painting every day in Rome “on his way back to America.” (Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 11 Dec 1957, 28)

In the 1950s, a Mexico City jewelry firm, Casa Maya, produced less expensive copies for the tourist market of many of Harmon’s original designs, using brass and copper in place of silver and precious stones.

After his wife died in 1970, Harmon moved to Ajijic. By the early 1970s, he was a bright light on the Ajijic social scene and active in the local art community. He was a founding member of the Clique Ajijic art group that arranged group exhibitions in several cities in Mexico for 3 or 4 years in the mid 1970s. The group also included Tom Faloon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, Sidney (“Sid”) Schwartzman, John K. Peterson and Adolfo Riestra.

A Clique Ajijic exhibition in Guadalajara at the Galería OM was reviewed by Martha Fregoso, who described Harmon as having gained international fame as a designer of fashion, jewelry, and paintings, by working with fashion designers such as Christian Dior, Shiaparelli and Tina Lessa, and designing jewelry for Paul Flato and Bronzini. The list of those who had acquired Harmon’s works included King Carol of Rumania, Dolores del Rio and Edgar Rice Burroughs. According to Fregoso, his paintings showed some influence from the classes he had taken with Diego Rivera and Rodriguez Lozana.

A decade later, Harmon was one of a number of Lakeside artists whose work was included in a group exhibit at Club Campestre La Hacienda (km 30, Guadalajara-Chapala highway). Other artists in the “Pintores de la Ribera” exhibition, which opened on 4 May 1985, included Laura Goeglein; Carla W. Manger; Jo Kreig; Donald Demerest; B.R. Kline; Daphne Aluta; De Nyse Turner Pinkerton; Eugenia Bolduc; Emily Meeker; Eleanor Smart; Jean Caragonne; Tiu Pessa; Sydney Moehlman; and Xavier Pérez.

Some of Harmon’s paintings in the early 1970s were overtly homoerotic; others were amusing, revealing a keen sense of humor and fun. Synnove Pettersen, a fellow member of Clique Ajijic, remembers Harmon as a “very sensitive, somewhat flamboyant” man who was an elegant dresser and loved to have parties.

Tragically, in the 1990s a fraudster tricked Harmon out of his valuable personal collection of silver and he lived the last few years of his life in extreme poverty in an old folks’ home in Chapala. Harmon died destitute on 1 February 2004 at the age of 90.

[Note: This is an updated and expanded version of an article originally published on 22 March 2012.]

Acknowledgments

  • My thanks to Tom Thomson of Ajijic for sharing some of the details of Harmon’s later life, and to Alan Bowers, the late Tom Faloon, Synnove Pettersen and Enrique Velázquez for sharing their memories of Harmon.

Sources / references

  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 11 Dec 1957, 28.
  • Chicago Tribune: 3 Aug 1936, 19; 27 Nov 1936, 19; 06 Jan 1940, 13.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs. 1941. Letter to his daughter, dated 27 January 1941, published at ERBZine (Collated by Bill Hillman)
  • Martha Fregoso. 1975. “La Galeria OM y el Buen Gusto en Exposiciones, Esta Vez Ocho Pintores de Ajijic.” El Diario de Guadalajara, 24 Oct 1975.
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 4 May 1985
  • Kingston Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica): 25 January 1940
  • Penny C. Morrill. 1997. “Hubert Harmon -Whimsy and Humor in Mexican Silver”, in Jewelry (Journal of the American Society of Jewelry Historians.) 1 (1996-97): 64-77.
  • Penny C. Morrill and Carole A. Berk. 2001. Mexican Silver, 20th Century. Handwrought Jewelry & Metalwork. Revised 3rd edition. Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
  • Maggie Savoy. “Designer Chooses Valley for Wintertime Working,” Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 11 Dec 1957, 28.

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

Apr 262018
 

The talented visual artist Sidney Schwartzman was born in New York City on 2 June 1917 and lived almost thirty years in Ajijic from about 1973 until his death there, at the age of 84, on 27 March 2002.

Schwartzman, the son of two Russian-born immigrants, grew up in New York and was a member of the honor society, Arista, at a public high school (the Thomas Jefferson High School, according to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, though he told his son he attended the Dewitt Clinton High School).

In an interview late in life, Schwartzman recounted how especially proud he was that, at age 8, one of his paintings (of a circus) had been chosen for a school art exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

He initially wanted to be a writer but thought the school’s writer’s club snobbish, so joined the art club instead. He later took drawing and paintings private lessons and decided to dedicate himself to his art. He painted his first nude while in high school and took art classes at the New York Adult Evening School of Art and the Art Students League with American illustrator and painter Churchill Ettinger (1903-1984). While living in New York, Schwartzman also taught children and the physically challenged under the auspices of the Works Progress/Projects Administration.

Schwartzman, a conscientious objector, was imprisoned for about a year during World War II for declining to serve in the military. He had married Elizabeth Mary Murphy and Schwartzman was released on parole shortly after the birth of their son, David, in June 1944.

Sidney Schwartzman. 2001. Study in Color. Reproduced by kind permission of David Schwartzman.

Sidney Schwartzman. 2001. Study in Color. Reproduced by kind permission of David Schwartzman.

In about 1946, Schwartzman moved to Washington D.C. where he worked as a night janitor (and sometimes watchman) at the Corcoran School of Art while taking classes there under the Hungarian-born artist Eugen Weisz (1890-1954). Schwartzman was encouraged to experiment with different styles and his vibrantly-colored landscapes and nudes began to sell. He also held his first solo exhibition at about this time either in Bethesda or Arlington, Virginia (the family records are unclear on this point).

From 1948 to 1959 Schwartzman lived in Woodstock, Vermont. Each time he moved he left behind most or all of his completed paintings and started a new phase in his artistic career. This has made it very difficult to document his lifetime’s work, though each phase stimulated fresh artistic exploration and discovery.

In 1957, he was lucky to survive a single vehicle accident in Woodstock, in which his brother-in-law Stanley Murphy was killed instantly. Schwartzman, who had been driving, was devastated by this loss.

Two years later, in August 1959, Schwartzman was one of a very large number of artists exhibiting at the annual Cracker Barrel Bazaar art show in the village of Newbury, Vermont, alongside such distinguished painters and illustrators as Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish.

In 1959, Schwartzman moved to Los Angeles, California, where he lived and worked for about a decade. He had a job with TV Fanfare Publications and appears to have lost interest in painting (for the only time in his life) for a few years. He then took a small studio in Hollywood where he painted ten major, large paintings many of which are still in the family, before moving to Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park where he later opened (with son David as partner) the Woodstock Gallery .

Work from this time formed the basis for the joint show he held at this gallery in 1972, with friend Tom Darro, entitled “Life Drawings”.  The exhibition was later repeated at the Livingstone Evans Gallery, on North La Cienega Boulevard in the same city. The gallery was not a financial success and Schwartzman decided to abandon Los Angeles and visit Mexico. His mother-in-law had lived for a short time in Ajijic in the 1950s, so Schwartzman headed for Lake Chapala.

Sid Schwartzman. Reproduced by kind permission of Synnove Pettersen.

Sid Schwartzman. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Synnove Pettersen.

Productive years in Ajijic

Schwartzman, whose eyesight was failing, arrived in Ajijic in about 1973, after living for a few months in Jocotepec. In Ajijic he shared the “Mill House”, at the foot of Flores Magón street near the lake, with fellow artists John K. Peterson and Ernesto Butterlin. After successful cataract surgery, the mustachioed, bushy-haired Schwartzman became artistically active again, producing numerous pencil sketches and paintings of nudes. He made fairly frequent trips back to Los Angeles, and brought some of his American work back with him to Ajijic. These trips also enabled him to renew his Mexican tourist papers every six months.

He shared a studio from about 1974 with Daniel Palma at Constitución #45A, Ajijic. He also had a studio for a time in the building that is now the office of the Lake Chapala Society. Initially, Schwartzman was not a frequent exhibitor, concerned that his prolific output of nudes might antagonize some viewers.

Schwartzman held an auction of his paintings and sketches at El Tejaban (Zaragoza #1) in Ajijic, on 17 November 1974. The pieces included “figurative sketches, mixed media and oils”, with reserve prices ranging from 250 to 9000 pesos.

The following month, he participated in another art auction, this time at the home of Frank and Rowene Kirkpatrick in San Antonio Tlayacapan, with the proceeds going to local charities. Other artists whose work was auctioned on that occasion included Rowene Kirkpatrick; Rocky Karns and Antonio Santibañez.

Portrait of Sidney Schwartzman. Reproduced by kind permission of David Schwartzman.

Portrait of Sidney Schwartzman. Reproduced by kind permission of David Schwartzman.

Schwartzman was a member of Clique Ajijic, a grouping of eight artists that held several group shows in 1975 and 1976: in Ajijic, Chapala, Guadalajara, Manzanillo and Cuernavaca. The other members of this very talented Mexican Group of Eight were  Tom Faloon, Hubert Harmon,  Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, John K. Peterson, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, and Adolfo Riestra. Pettersen, the youngest of the group, credits Schwartzman, whom she recalls as easy-going but serious about art, with being very encouraging of her own artistic efforts.

According to a review of a group show in Guadalajara in 1975, Schwartzman had also exhibited his mixed media works in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Boston. Fregoso added that his canvasses, influenced by Schwartzman’s time in Vermont, had “an incomparable beauty” that invited refection.

Schwartzman was especially encouraging to several young Ajijic-born artists, including Efrén González, Antonio López Vega, Jesús López Vega, Dionicio Morales, Daniel Palma and the late Julian Pulido, all of whom became successful artists or art teachers. Schwartzman’s legacy lives on through their efforts.

In the early 1980s he shared a studio at the intersection of Zaragoza and Colón, first with Julian Pulido and later with Dionicio Morales.

In the late 1980s, with the help of local art patron Sally Sellars, who purchased several of his works, Schwartzman opened his own gallery in Ajijic where several noteworthy shows were held. Among those whose work was exhibited at the gallery were American CIA agent Mitch Marr Jr., local Ajijic-born artist Efren González, the talented mixed media and textile artist Hey Frey, and the former Hollywood star Todd (“Rocky”) Karns. The Karns exhibit opened on 10 December 1988.

The Sellars-Schwartzman Galería, at Felipe Angeles #12 in Ajijic, held annual auctions to benefit Oak Hill School (Ajijic’s only bilingual school at the time) and the galley remained the artist’s main working space until shortly before his death.

In 1980 Schwartzman married his Ajijic girlfriend Regina Galindo, taking on the responsibility of helping raise her four daughters, one of whom later married local Ajijic artist and muralist Efrén González. Schwartzman and Regina had two children of their own, both boys. [Born ca 1981 and 1984]

After 1990, the Casa de la Cultura in Ajijic held annual exhibitions of works by “invited members”. Schwartzman’s last showing of a painting in Ajijic was in one of these shows in November 1996. On display was Trapeze, an early “visual jazz” painting that collector Patrick Dudensing had given back to Schwartzman.

Dudensing had previously submitted Trapeze to a Special Collectors’ Show in 1994 at the South Shore Art Center in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Schwartzman was justly proud of the fact that his work had hung there alongside a Fernand Léger and not far from a Miró, a Picasso and a Chagall!

Schwartzman’s eldest son, David, arranged a posthumous show of his father’s works (paintings and drawings) at the Library in Woodstock, Vermont, in September 2013. In an interview at the time, David noted that his father “painted in an impressionistic – expressionistic style from the start of his professional career”, and that “He was infatuated with color theory and was considered a painter’s painter.”

Acknowledgments

I am greatly indebted to David Schwartzman, who is working on a book about his father, for sharing his knowledge and research. My sincere thanks, also, to Alan Bowers, Dionicio Morales and Synnove Pettersen for sharing with me their personal memories of Sidney Schwartzman.

Sources

  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 9 Apr 1930, 17.
  • The Burlington Free Press (Vermont), 9 Oct 1957, 1; 6 Jul 1959, 7.
  • Martha Fregoso. 1975. “La Galeria OM y el Buen Gusto en Exposiciones, Esta Vez Ocho Pintores de Ajijic.” El Diario de Guadalajara, 24 Oct 1975.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 9 Nov 1974; 4 Jan 1975.
  • The Los Angeles Times: 24 Sep 1972, 481; 07 Jan 1973, 420.
  • El Ojo del Lago. 1986. “Portrait of the Artist.” El Ojo del Lago, January 1986.
  • Jackie Hodges. “Focus On Art: Sid Schwartzman“. El Ojo del Lago, ca 2000.

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

 Posted by at 5:12 am  Tagged with:
Apr 192018
 

This interesting picture recently came to light in Ajijic. It is (to the best of my knowledge) unsigned and undated. It appears to be a silkscreen rather than a painting. Does anyone recognize this work or have suggestions as to who the artist might be?

Mystery image

Thanks, in advance, for any help you can offer.

Previous art mysteries:

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

 Posted by at 5:05 am  Tagged with:
Apr 122018
 

Gail Michel, as she was then known, arrived in Ajijic in 1961. Her talents as a businesswoman and dress designer, enabled her to start a store, El Ángel, close to the Posada Ajijic, that became so successful it was featured in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue Paris. Alongside her boutique, Gail continued to develop her own art and was a regular exhibitor in local group shows. Seventeen years and four children later, she moved back to the U.S.

Born Julia Gail Hayes on 3 March 1935 in the small South Dakota town of Wasta, her university education at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, was interrupted by falling in love with a fellow student, Frank Clifford Michel, a psychology major. The young couple were married in Pullman on 12 December 1955 and had a son, David, but the relationship did not last. Gail, a competitive swimmer, gave swimming lessons to help finance university, completed her degree, obtained a divorce and, in 1961, after receiving a letter from a Colorado friend about the beauties of Ajijic, traveled to Mexico with David to start a new life.

Gail Hayes. 1955. (University Yearbook photo)

Gail Hayes. 1955. (University Yearbook photo)

In Ajijic, she quickly found employment at Los Telares, Helen Kirtland’s handlooms business which had begun operations in the late 1940s. She also soon made many very good friends and decided to stay in the village, starting a serious, long-term relationship with a local contractor, Marcos Guzman, with whom she had four children.

During her time in Mexico, Gail was usually known as Gail Michel or Gail Michael (sometimes Michaels) before she opted for Gail Michel de Guzmán.

Gail credits Jane and Sherm Harris, the then managers of the Posada Ajijic, with persuading her to branch out on her own in 1964 and open a store selling her embroidered, hand-loomed dresses, original jewelry, paintings, and select Mexican handicrafts. The Harrises even provided the fashion boutique’s first venue: a room in the Posada. Its name, El Ángel, was in honor of her oldest daughter, Angelina. (The title of Al Young‘s 1975 novel Who is Angelina?, set partly in Ajijic, is apparently purely coincidental.)

Periodic fashion shows ensured that the El Ángel boutique quickly outgrew its temporary residence in the Posada. In April 1966, it moved a short distance away to the building (occupied later by La Flor de la Laguna) at the south-west corner of the Morelos/Independencia intersection. The boutique’s opening was attended by more than 250 people, an impressive turn-out given the size of Ajijic at that time. The store remained in that property for more than a decade before returning to its roots in the Posada Ajijic shortly before Gail returned north.

Veteran journalist Jack McDonald opened his informative and enthusiastic profile of Gail Michel in 1968 for the Guadalajara Reporter by describing her as “One of most creative, versatile gals in all Ajijic.”

“Her enchanting place offers passing tourists and permanent residents a variety of items such as art works, jewelry, rugs, bright hand-woven mantas, colonial furniture and antiques in stone, wood and metal.

And dresses. As an outlet for her creative energies, which include her own paintings on rice paper with ink, she employs a dozen seamstresses and a staff of wood and stone carvers who cut anything from small figurines to water fountains.”

The El Ángel boutique, described later by long-time Ajijic resident Kate Karns as “the most beautiful of Ajijic’s three shops” at the time, was featured in Vogue Paris and recommended in the August 1970 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

By December 1969, Gail, now described as “a well known expert on Mexican arts and crafts” was also managing the gift shop at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

In 1974, Gail was one of only four “members of the Ajijic business community” invited to participate in a program for Guadalajara TV Channel 6 to celebrate the first anniversary of the state’s “Conozco Jalisco” (“Know Jalisco”) campaign. (The other invitees were Jan and Manuel Ursúa of the Tejabán Restaurant and Boutique, and Antonio Cardenas, the owner of La Canoa boutique.)

[Aside: Jan Ursúa, better known as Jan Dunlap, recently published her first novel, Dilemma, set in 1970s Ajijic.]

Everyone I’ve interviewed who knew Gail Michel de Guzmán in Ajijic has expressed their fond memories of her. Many have also shared favorite anecdotes. Eunice Huf, for example, recalled Gail as a young blonde girl with freckles who designed both jewelry and dresses with simple, elegant, lines. She chuckled as she told me how Gail had once dressed her up in a crocheted top that was so sexy it made even their fellow artist Abby Rubenstein jealous!

The late Tom Faloon openly expressed his admiration for Gail’s art, and then laughed as he remembered how on one occasion Gail, on learning that Marcos had a new girlfriend, had once deliberately driven her car into the girlfriend’s vehicle. The next day, a contrite Gail went to the police station to admit her wrong-doing but found, to her pleasant surprise, that the police had no interest whatsoever in this or any other “crime of passion”!

As an artist, Gail participated in numerous shows during her time in Ajijic. One of the earliest was the Posada Ajijic’s Easter exhibit in April 1966. Other artists on that occasion included Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Allyn Hunt; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge (wife of author David Dodge); Mr and Mrs Moriaty and Marigold Wandell.

In January 1968 Gail’s paintings were shown in an exhibition at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque, alongside works by Hector Navarro, Gustavo Aranguren, Coffeen Suhl, John K. Peterson, Don Shaw, Peter Huf, Rodolfo Lozano and Eunice Hunt. The following month, a group of Ajijic artists (Gail Michel and the members of “Grupo 68” – John K. Peterson, Eunice Hunt, Peter Huf, and Don Shaw) were reported to be exhibiting weekly, every Friday, at El Palomar, and also most Sunday afternoons at the Camino Real hotel in Guadalajara.

Gail Michaels. ca 1971. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado)

Gail Michaels. ca 1971. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.)

An appliqued wall-hanging by Gail was shown in a collective fine crafts show at Galeria Ajijic (Marcos Castellanos #15) in May 1968. Among the other artists at that show were Mary Rose, Hudson Rose, Peter Huf and Eunice Hunt (with their miniature toy-like landscapes complete with tiny figures and accompanying easels), Ben Crabbe, Joe Rowe, Beverly Hunt and Joe Vine.

Not surprisingly, Gail’s art was included in the large group show, Fiesta de Arte, in May 1971 at the private home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic), along with paintings and sculptures by 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; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass and Agustín Velarde.

In March 1975, three Ajijic painters – Gail Michel, Rocky Karns and Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen – held a group show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

These three artists joined with Tom FaloonHubert Harmon, John K. Peterson, Adolfo Riestra, Sidney Schwartzman, to form a new group known as Clique Ajijic, a group of eight artists who formed a loosely-organized collective for three or four years in the mid-1970s. The group’s exhibitions included two in Ajijic – at the Galería del Lago (Colón #6, Ajijic) in August and at the Hotel Camino Real in September – as well as shows at Galeria OM in Guadalajara (October 1975); Club Santiago in Manzanillo (October 1975), the Akari Gallery in Cuernavaca (February 1976) and at the American Society of Jalisco in Guadalajara (also February 1976).

Gail’s first solo show of artwork was at Ajijic’s Galeria del Lago in April 1975. In February of the following year, the same gallery hosted an invitational group show – the so-called “Nude Show” – with works by Gail Michel, Guillermo Guzmán, John Frost, Jonathan Aparicio, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Dionicio Morales, John K. Peterson, Georg Rauch, Robert Neathery and others.

Gail’s work also formed part of a Jalisco state-sponsored show entitled “Arte-Artesania de la Ribera del Lago de Chapala” in October 1976 at the ex-Convento del Carmen. In addition to Gail, exhibitors on that occasion were Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionicio Morales; Gustel Faust; Bert Miller; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai and Jim Marthai.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and copies of Gail Michel de Guzmán’s original dress designs can still be found in some Ajijic stores.

Acknowledgments

Sincere thanks to Gail Michel de Guzmán for her help compiling this profile of her time in Ajijic, and to Judy Eager, the late Tom Faloon, Katie Goodridge Ingram, Peter and Eunice Huf, and Enrique Velasquez for sharing with me their personal memories from that time.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 2 Dec 1964; 2 April 1966; 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968; 25 May 1968; 22 Jun 1968; 6 Dec 1969; 12 Sep 1970; 24 April 1971; 15 May 1971; 18 May 1974; 20 July 1974; 14 Dec 1974; 15 Mar 1975; 12 Apr 1975; 12 Apr 1975; 31 Jan 1976.
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 25 Oct 1976.
  • Kate Karns. 2010. “Old Ajijic”, Lake Chapala Review, Volume 12 #1, February 14, 2010.
  • Jack McDonald. 1968. “Ajijic Woman Carved out Business for Herself …” (a profile of Gail Michel), Guadalajara Reporter 22 June 1968, p 15.

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

 Posted by at 5:15 am  Tagged with:
Apr 052018
 

Frank Ward Kent (1912-1977) was a talented illustrator and painter who lived at Lake Chapala for much of the last decade of his life, from about 1968 to 1976.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 16 February 1912, Kent spent much of his youth riding and sketching in the Teton Mountains and is best known for his landscapes and scholarly portraits of Native Americans, including the Shoshone and Blackfoot Indians. He later turned some of the sketches into paintings. In the 1940s, Kent completed many social realism paintings depicting racial and social problems.

Frank Ward Kent. ca 1941. "They Shall be Free". (Decatur Daily Review)

Frank Ward Kent. ca 1941. “They Shall be Free”. (Decatur Daily Review)

Kent began his formal education at the University of Utah (1930) before studying art at the Chicago Art Institute (1931), the Art Students League in New York (1931-32), and privately in Paris, France (1934). At age 23, he married Helen Gladys Allred, 25, of American Falls, Idaho, in June 1935.

Frank Kent. ca 1973. Lake Chapala shoreline. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Frank Kent. ca 1975. Lake Chapala shoreline. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Kent completed a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts in 1937 and a Masters in Fine Arts in 1938, both from Syracuse University, New York. He worked as an illustrator for Wild West magazine in New York and also worked for many years as a specialist in identification, attribution, appraisal and cataloguing for various museums and colleges, including the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in New York. He was a Professor of Fine Arts at Bradley University in Illinois (1938-1944) and at Syracuse University in New York (1944-1958).

He was the Director of the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento, California for 11 years (1958-1968), after which he became a fine arts appraiser, researcher, and restorer for Hunter Gallery in San Francisco.

Kent had undertaken private study in Mexico in 1946 and 1952, and apparently also taught at the Mexican Art Workshop (organized by Irma Jonas) from 1949 to 1955. The 1949 workshop was based in Ajijic, with an “overflow” workshop in Taxco. In the succeeding years, the workshop was based entirely in Taxco.

Frank Kent. 1975. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Richard Tingen.

Frank Ward Kent. 1975. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Richard Tingen.

After he retired from his position at Crocker Art Gallery, Kent moved to Lake Chapala.

According to a brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1975, “The well known California painter Frank W. Kent has settled into his Villa Formosa apartment and expects to be busy portraying the Lakeside beauty on canvas.”

A few months later, Katie Goodridge Ingram, who was director of La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic, announced an exhibition of 10 of his works. The artist, who had been painting in the area for eight years, gave a talk on opening night (in February 1976) about creativity and composition. Ingram said that “his work has an original and characteristic style reflected in the colorful breakdown of shapes and planes. His paintings of Mexican children reflect joy and movement, and his depictions of street musicians are marked by a real freshness of approach.”

Kent’s award-winning art was exhibited widely during his lifetime, including at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1934); Springville, Utah (1934-40); University of Utah (1935, 1936, 1939, 1940); the All-Illinois Exhibition (1940, 1942); Peoria Art League (1940-43); Syracuse Art Association (1945, 1946); Heyburn, Idaho (1934); Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (1944-55); Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, Utica, New York; Pan-Am Union; New Georgetown Gallery, Washington, DC; and the Mexican Embassy, Washington, DC.

Examples of his work are included in the permanent collections of the Chicago Art Institute; Rochester Memorial Museum; Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts; Iowa State University; University of Utah; Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento; and in many private collections.

Kent, who died in Sacramento, California, on 14 July 1977, also wrote two art-related books: A Search into the Unknown (1968) and Icons of the Community (1970).

Sources

  • Anon. Undated. “Profile of Frank W. Kent, M.F.A., A.S.A.”. Document that accompanied a painting purchased in 1980 and submitted to askart.com by Dr. Sherburne F. Cook, Jr. of Sherburne Antiques & Fine Art, Inc. in Olympia, Washington.
  • The Decatur Daily Review (Illinois), 2 December 1941, 24.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 26 July 1975; 14 February 1976.
  • Frank W. Kent. 1964. Crocker Art Gallery – Catalogue of Collections. Sacramento: Crocker Art Gallery.
  • The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah): 26 June 1932, 25; 1 June 1935, 47; 2 Jun 1935, 92;
  • Richard Tingen. Personal communication, 27 Oct 2017.

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

Mar 292018
 

Gayle Jemison Hoskins was born into an American military family in Ancón in the Canal Zone of Panama on 28 July 1920 and died in Henrico, Virginia, on 6 January 2010. Jemison Hoskins, as he was usually known, attended the Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida, and served in the U.S. Navy between 7 December 1942 and 8 May 1946.

Shortly after his military service, Hoskins was “a guest instructor with the Mexican Art Workshop in Ajijic and Taxco”. This means he was in Ajijic for one of the summers between 1947 and 1949 inclusive.

Jemison Hoskins. 1976. Hand-tinted line drawing of Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah.. Digital image copyright 2012, The College of Charleston Libraries. Reproduced with permission.

Jemison Hoskins. 1976. Hand-tinted line drawing of Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah.. Digital image copyright 2012, The College of Charleston Libraries. Reproduced with permission.

Unfortunately, I have failed to find any details relating to his time at Lake Chapala, or examples of his work there. If you can help, please get in touch!

He studied in New York City at the Art Students League, gained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, and a Masters in Fine Art from the University of North Carolina. He subsequently taught visual arts at Maryville College (Maryille, Tennessee), St. Andrews College (Laurinburg, North Carolina), Louisiana Tech (Rustin, Louisiana), and, beginning in 1967, was Assistant Professor of Art at the Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, where he remained at least until 1971.

He retained links to Florida, where he grew up. In 1967, for instance, Hoskins gave a six weeks summer art course for teenagers at the Norton School of Art in West Palm Beach.

Records exist for several art exhibits featuring Hoskins’s own work. Venues for these include Laurinburg, North Carolina (September 1961 and March 1962), at the Louisiana Tech (March 1967) and the Gallery 209 in Savannah, Georgia (1992),

Gayle Jemison Hoskins also wrote a book, Criteria for a Painter Today, published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1959.

Sources

  • Anon. Bulletin of Wesleyan College, Macon, Georgia. Catalogues, 1968-1969 and 1970-71.
  • The Lance (St. Andrews, Laurinburg, North Carolina), 20 March 1962, 1.
  • The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Florida), 19 June 1967, 23.
  • The Robesonian (Lumberton, North Carolina), 19 September 1961, 12.
  • The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana), 22 February 1967, 42.

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

 Posted by at 5:54 am  Tagged with:
Mar 222018
 

Visual artist and architectural designer Tom (“Tomas”) Faloon first arrived in Ajijic in 1970 and lived and worked in the village for more than forty years.

John Thomas Faloon was born on 30 January 1943 in New York City. After graduating in 1960 from Oakwood Friends School, a Quaker college preparatory school in Poughkeepsie, New York, he enrolled in Rutgers University. He traveled to Florence, Italy, to study art the following year, returning with fluent Italian and a determination to pursue art as a career. In the summer of 1962, he took a summer course at the Douglass College campus of Rutgers with the renowned modern artist Roy Lichtenstein. Faloon transferred to the University of Mississippi, “where the faculty of the time was young and progressive”.

Tom Faloon, 1965 (Univ. of Mississippi Yearbook)

Tom Faloon, 1965 (Univ. of Mississippi Yearbook)

Faloon had only just arrived on the Mississippi campus when the Ole Miss race riot of 1962 erupted, following the enrollment of the university’s first black student, James Meredith, a military veteran with strong academic credentials. Faloon recalled becoming an active participant in the anti-racist movement, involved in preparing anti-racist posters and paintings.After he completed his degree in Fine Arts (Painting) in 1965, Faloon transferred to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

On 30 July 1966, Faloon married Shannon Elizabeth Rodes in Melbourne, Florida. The couple had two young daughters. Faloon began working for his father’s agricultural chemical firm in Clarksville, Mississippi, but soon decided that the environmental impacts of agrochemicals often outweighed their benefits. He and his wife had first visited Ajijic over the winter of 1967/68 and, in 1970, Faloon gave up his position in the family business to live at Lake Chapala full-time, focus on his art and raise his children in a welcoming, friendly, eclectic community.

Roy Lichtenstein. 1962. (The Central New Jersey Home News)

(l to r): Tom Faloon, Mrs Everett Sherrill, Roy Lichtenstein. 1962. (The Central New Jersey Home News)

The family lived for a short time at La Villa Apartments (on Javier Mina) in Ajijic before purchasing a home on Donato Guerra. Described as “a serious 28-yr-old artist who studied in New York and Italy”, Tom “comes fully equipped: talent, a stunning Cherokee Indian-Irish wife named Shannon, two girl children and two dogs.” (Guadalajara Reporter, 6 March 1971.)

Faloon quickly made friends with his Mexican neighbors and became seamlessly integrated into local life, developing a particular love of Mexican handicrafts, folk traditions and design.

In May 1971, he was one of the large number of artists exhibiting in the “Fiesta of Art” group show held at the residence of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33). Other artists at that show included Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

This example of his work was published in A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972).

Tom Faloon. ca 1972. "La Mujer"

Tom Faloon. ca 1972. “La Mujer”

Tomás, as he was known in Ajijic, remained in the village after he and Shannon separated in 1973. (They divorced in 1979.)

Faloon was an active member of the “Clique Ajijic” which existed for 3 or 4 years in the mid 1970s. This group held exhibitions in Ajijic, Chapala, Guadalajara, Manzanillo and Cuernavaca. The other members of this very talented Mexican Group of Eight were Hubert Harmon,  Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, John K. Peterson, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Adolfo Riestra, and Sidney Schwartzman.

Faloon’s paintings were mostly abstract or impressionist. He participated in several local exhibitions and one of his paintings was purchased for the permanent collection of a museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Recognizing that art sales might not earn him sufficient income, in the 1980s Faloon began working on remodeling and redesigning traditional village homes. His own artwork took a back seat (though he continued to paint occasionally and complete mixed media works) as he quickly found he was in his element working on homes, undertaking projects that combined his interests in architecture, design and craftsmanship with his love of Mexican materials and handicrafts. Most of the many homes that Faloon lovingly transformed incorporated some whimsical elements: “las locuras de Tomás” as he called them.

Faloon, fluently bilingual, was a generous, kind and sensitive individual, and always wiling to help causes close to his heart, including those related to the environment and animal welfare. He was a great supporter of Mexican artisans and their colorful, creative folk art.

Faloon met his soul mate, Carlos Rodriguez Miranda, in the mid-1970s. Their partnership lasted until Faloon’s untimely passing on 5 August 2014 from complications following what should have been a routine surgery in a hospital in Guadalajara.

In her obituary for him, Dale Hoyt Palfrey was absolutely correct to call Tom Faloon an “icon of Ajijic’s expat community” and “one of the community’s most prominent and endearing long-time foreign residents.”

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to the late Tom Faloon for his encouragement with this project and for so generously sharing his knowledge and memories of the Ajijic art community with me in February 2014.

Sources

  • Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi) 16 April 1965, 44.
  • 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).
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 6 March 1971.
  • Lake Chapala Society, Oral History project: “Tom Faloon” (video).
  • Dale Hoyt Palfrey. 2014. “Remembering Tomás Faloon, icon of Ajijic’s expat community”, Guadalajara Reporter, 29 November 2014
  • Poughkeepsie Journal (Poughkeepsie, New York) 26 June 1960, 4B.

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

Mar 152018
 

Canadian artist John Russell Richmond (1926–2013) began drawing and painting as a child, “around the time that he was learning to hold a crayon without eating it.” He was still producing highly original work at Lake Chapala well into his eighties.

John Richmond

John Richmond

Richmond was a painter, illustrator, muralist, educator and author. He was born in Toronto on 25 October 1926 and died in Lindsay, Ontario, on 17 January 2013.

He retired from his position at the Ontario College of Art & Design in 1991 to divide his time between Ontario and Ajijic. Richmond was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, the Ontario Society of Artists and the Arts and Letters Club.

Richmond wrote and/or illustrated numerous publications, including Gambit (1958); Around Toronto (1969); Discover Toronto (1976); and the “Discover Ontario” series of whimsical maps and columns, published in Toronto Calendar Magazine in the 1970s. Together with his wife, Lorraine Surcouf, he also published A Tearful Tour of Toronto’s Riviera of Yesteryear (1961).

John Richmond also undertook mural commissions and was responsible for works in the original Maple Leaf Gardens and the former Air Canada Centre (both in Toronto), and the Public Library in the township of Uxbridge where Richmond made his home and studio. Richmond was a founding member of the Uxbridge Celebration of the Arts.

Richmond’s art was exhibited widely during his lifetime in Canada, and later in Mexico, where he adopted the art name Juan Compo.

Juan Compo (John Richmond). Tree Goddess.

Juan Compo (John Richmond). Tree Goddess.

As Juan Compo, in Ajijic, he produced an impressive series of mixed-media images of imaginary ancient American goddesses as well as more traditional paintings.

Juan Compo (John Richmond). Moon Goddess.

Juan Compo (John Richmond). Moon Goddess.

This 5-minute YouTube video is a good introduction to his project.

Like many artists before and since, living at Lake Chapala jolted this artist of talent into an entirely fresh, creative phase of his career. His stated ambition was “to raise awareness of The Ancient American Goddess among all inhabitants of both American continents, North and South.”

Sources

  • Anon. 2013. John Russell Richmond (obituary). The Globe and Mail, 22 January 2013.
  • Anon. “Focus on Art.” Ojo del Lago, February 2003.
  • Anon. 2013. John Russell Richmond – Obituary. Toronto Star, 22 January 2013.
  • Juan Compo. “Ancient American Goddess Art by Juan Compo“, MexConnect. 1 August 2008.
  • Juan Compo. “Ancient American Imaginary Goddesses.” (artist’s former website)
  • Shelagh Damus. 2013. “Artist John Richmond dies at 86.” The Uxbridge Cosmos, 31 January 2013, p12.

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

 

Mar 082018
 

Fun-loving journalist Kate Karns, who has written many entertaining columns and articles about Ajijic over the years, lived in the village from 1971 to 2013. Karns was the local correspondent for the Mexico City News for several years immediately after Katie Goodridge Ingram. She also ran an art gallery for a time on Calle Colón, the main north-south street leading to the pier.

Katherine Julia Flaten (her maiden name) was born in Hennepin, Minnesota, on 25 September 1921. Curiously, the record of her marriage in 1944 to actor Todd “Rocky” Karns, when both were serving in the U.S. military in New Mexico, spells her first name Catherine with a “C”! She was court-martialed and reassigned shortly after marriage, not because of any spelling error, but because she had had the temerity, while serving in the ranks, to marry an officer.

Heading of article by Kate Karns, El Ojo del Lago, Nov 2013

Heading of article by Kate Karns, El Ojo del Lago, Nov 2013

Prior to the war, Kate was well on her way to becoming a Hollywood actress. She performed in high school shows in Milwaukee, studied drama at the University of Minnesota and attended the Maria Ouspenskaya acting school in Hollywood. Tod Jonson, who also lived in Hollywood for years before moving to Ajijic, has said that “Katy Karns, a talent in her own right, had been under contract to Paramount Studios and was a member of the Golden Circle of Players on their studio lot.”

Unfortunately for Kate’s career, the war intervened. She returned home to Milwaukee where she later joined the Army and was trained to fix radios. After the war, Kate and Rocky started a family and lived in Hollywood where Rocky built his acting career, eventually retiring from movies and television to work for the North American Philips Corporation.

Following some prompting by Kate, a profile of her family was published in the September 1950 edition of the Ladies Home Journal in its series, “How America Lives”. Not long afterwards, the magazine published an article featuring Kate modeling some elegant clothing.

When Rocky retired in 1971, the couple moved to Ajijic. Kate had been working for a fabric weaving business in the village for some time before federal authorities realized she lacked any work permit and ordered her to leave the country. She was soon able to sort out her paperwork and return. Kate also worked for seven years in local real estate, found time to be President of Lakeside Little Theater (in 1983/4) , and combined family life and all this with writing and being the local correspondent for the Mexico City News.

Kate’s writing is always well-observed and often humorous, with many references to her own experiences in adapting to life in Mexico and to the myriad of quirky characters that Ajijic seems to have attracted in the 1970s.

One of my all-time favorite lines from Kate Karns is her description of the small town of Jamay, on the north shore of the lake, mid-way between Ocotlán and La Barca, in 1988 as “like a running sore; its feet in mud and garbage, its head covered by torn corrugated tarpaper held up precariously by half-finished grey cement-block walls and disintegrating bricks.” Jamay is very different now, but in 1988, her words were only a slight exaggeration.

Kate Karns, who has, with good reason, been critical of those in-comers who fail to learn any Spanish or make any real effort to integrate into the local community, continues to hold the highest regard for the people of Mexico in general, and of Ajijic in particular.

Her husband, Rocky Karns, passed away in February 2000. The couple had enjoyed 54 years of marriage. Kate continued to live in Ajijic until 2013 when she moved to Ellensburg in Washington state to be closer to her children and grandchildren.

Sources:

  • Lakeside Little Theater (website). Undated. “LLT’s Beginnings… to Honor a Glorious Past” (interview with Tod Jonson).
  • Anon. 1950. “How America Lives: Meet the Karns of California – Todd and Katherine Karns”, Ladies Home Journal, September 1950.
  • Jeanne Chaussee. 2011. “Laguna Chapalac”, Guadalajara Reporter, 30 September 2011.
  • Kate Karns. 1988. “Kate Karns in Lake Chapala”, Mexico City News, 3 July 1988, p16.
  • Michael Warren. 2015. “Lakeside Little Theater 50th Jubilee Season!El Ojo del Lago, March 2015.

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.

Mar 012018
 

Ixca Farías was a key figure in the artistic, literary and cultural circles of Guadalajara of the early twentieth century. He was a frequent visitor to Lake Chapala and the lake inspired some of his best artwork. He also wrote a newspaper article about Chapala recalling his early visits to the lake in the 1880s and 1890s.

Farías (whose birth name was Juan Farías y Álvarez del Castillo) was born in Guadalajara on 16 March 1873. He adopted the name Ixca, which comes from a Nahuatl word for “roasting in embers”, a technique used to make traditional pottery.

Isca Farías.Paisaje de Guadalajara. (Guadalajara landscape).

Ixca Farías.Paisaje de Guadalajara. (Guadalajara landscape).

Farías studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and later took art classes in Paris. He subsequently taught art in a variety of educational institutions in Guadalajara, influencing an entire generation of young aspiring artists. Perhaps the most famous of all his students was Raúl Anguiano (1915-2006) one of Mexico’s best-known muralists, who studied art from the age of 12 with Farías at the Regional Museum’s Escuela Libre de Pintura.

In art circles, Farías is primarily known as a landscape painter. His work apparently included some outstanding images of Lake Chapala, which were exhibited north of the border and helped widen the appeal of some of Mexico’s finest scenery. If anyone has photos of any of his Lake Chapala paintings and is willing to share them, then please get in touch!

Ixca Farías is best known in Guadalajara as one of the two co-founders (alongside Jorge Enciso who also painted Lake Chapala) of the city’s Regional Museum. The museum opened its doors in 1918 and Farías was its director for almost thirty years, until his death in 1947.

As an author, Farías’s most useful work from our perspective is his Biografía de pintores jaliscienses, 1882-1940 (1939) in which he sketched the influences and careers of artists who worked in Jalisco. Several of these painters, muralists and sculptors were closely associated with Lake Chapala, including José Guadalupe Zuno and José Othón de Aguinaga.

Farías also wrote El cultivo del dibujo en la escuela primaria de Guadalajara (1923) and Artes populares (1938). A selection of his newspaper articles was collected posthumously and republished as Casos y cosas de mis tiempos: artículos costumbristas sobre Guadalajara (1963).

Farías’s newspaper article “Casos y cosas de mis tiempos: Chapala” was first published in El Informador in 1937. It is by-lined December 1936 at “Villa Perico, Chapala”. If anyone knows where this building was, and whether or not it still exists, please get in touch!

In the piece, Farías recalled that his first visit to Lake Chapala was in the 1880s, when he traveled to Chapala on horseback in the company of Manuel Rivera Basauri, owner of Hacienda de la Concepción, and of brothers Modesto and Gonzalo Ancira, owners of a lithography business in Guadalajara.

At that time the beach in Chapala had piles of wood stacked up to refuel the Ramón Corona steamboat which traveled regularly between Ocotlán and Chapala, and occasionally other ports of call. (That boat sank in 1889, so we know for sure which decade is being described.)

Looking back on these early visits, Farías wrote, disparagingly, in 1936 that,

“The Chapala of that time was very different to the Chapala of today, because it has lost its natural charm and become a grotesque copy of a gringo spa. The Chapala of that time did not have the plague of hyacinths and of “beer gardens”, the first with their vermin and the second with their drunks.” (My translation)

In the same newspaper, El Informador, but much more recently, José Manuel Gómez Vázquez Aldana claims that Farías was at the forefront of a movement to drain Lake Chapala, during the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas del Río in the late 1930s, This is hard to reconcile with Farías’s obvious love of the lake, at least of the lake as he first saw it in his youth.

Sources

  • Ixca Farías. 1937. “Casos y cosas de mis tiempos: Chapala”, El Informador, 17 January 1937, 6, 12; reprinted in Informador 22 December 1963, 2, 12.
  • Ixca Farías. 1939. Biografia de pintores Jaliscienses, 1882-1940. Guadalajara: Ricardo Delgado.
  • José Manuel Gómez Vázquez Aldana. 2008. “Chapala: Patrimonio de la Humanidad nacional”, El Informador, 27 July 2008.

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

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.)

Jean Caragonne. Lake Chapala. ca 1975. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Jean Caragonne. Ajijic, Lake Chapala. ca 1975. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

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. With the exception of the Lake Chapala panting, all artwork 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 Mehner, 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.

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