Mar 062017
 

The Jesuit philosopher and author José Sánchez Villaseñor was born in Sahuayo, Michoacán, on 6 September 1911 and died on 18 June 1961, shortly before what would have been his fiftieth birthday.

José was the fifth child in a large and very religious family, whose home in Sahuayo was at Madero #60, one block north of the town’s plaza. The family moved away before José’s third birthday when revolutionaries took Sahuayo and caused massive disruption, closing schools and businesses.

The family moved to Guadalajara. In 1914, this involved a long, arduous, full day of travel. First, they rode on horseback for four hours from Sahuayo across the marshes bordering the lake to reach the small fishing village of La Palma. At 1 pm, the steamboat, “The Maid of Honor”, left La Palma on its regular one-hour crossing of the lake to Ocotlán. From Ocotlán it was a four-hour train ride to Guadalajara.

[This family relocation via La Palma is very similar to that undertaken in about 1897 by the family of José Rubén Romero (1890-1952) and described in detail in Romero’s Apuntes de un lugareño (1932). The relevant extract, with commentary, is included in my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travelers’ Tales.]

José Sánchez Villaseñor completed his primary school education in 1925. There was no secondary school at that time, so he immediately started classes at the Instituto de Ciencias, a Jesuit-run preparatoria.

Family summer holidays (July and August) in José’s childhood years were spent at the Las Gallinas ranch in Michoacán, south of Cojumatlán. Situated some 600 m above Lake Chapala, it afforded commanding views over the new recently-reclaimed farmland  and across the lake to the northern shore, from San Juan Cosalá in the west to La Barca in the east.

Sánchez Villaseñor left Guadalajara in 1927, a year before his mother’s death, and, at the age of sixteen, joined the Jesuits. He spent most of the next nine years studying at Ysleta College in El Paso, Texas, where the classes ranged from theology and ancient languages to science and philosophy.

He then returned to the Instituto de Ciencias in Guadalajara, where he taught for a few years, before being sent to Italy in 1939 to continue his education at the Universidad Gregoriana in Rome. Two months after he arrived, the second world war began. In 1941, Sánchez Villaseñor was hospitalized with pneumonia. He returned to Mexico, still very ill, on a Venezuelan ship and received treatment in the Sanatorio Español in Mexico City.

Once recovered, he studied for a doctorate in philosophy at the National University (UNAM) in Mexico City, completing a thesis on the work of José Gaos. According to his contemporaries, he saw philosophy as an experimental activity, one that was based on non-transferable experiences and was both subjective and dependent on the historical moment when they occurred.

After Mexico City, he was then sent to West Baden College, Indiana, to complete his theological studies. He was ordained on 13 June 1946, and gave his first mass in Mexico the following year when he returned to teach briefly in Mexico City before being sent to Montevideo, Uruguay, for a year (1948-1949).

In the 1950s, and despite suffering from ill health, Sánchez Villaseñor was active in the foundation of Mexico City’s Ibero-American University (Universidad Iberoamericana de la ciudad de México). At that institution, he established the career paths of Industrial Relations (1953), Business Administration (1957) and a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences (1960), the earliest such program in Mexico.

As a multilingual Jesuit philosopher, he published several books, including El sistema filosófico de Vasconcelos: ensayo de crítica filosófica (1939); Pensamiento y trayectoria de José Ortega y Gasset (1943); Gaos en Mascarones: La crisis del historicismo y otras ensayos (1945); and Introducción al pensamiento de Jean-Paul Sartre (1950). An English edition of his work on José Ortega y Gasset, translated by Joseph Small, was published in 1949 by the Henry Regnery Company, New York, as Ortega y Gasset Existentialist – A Critical Study of His Thought and Its Sources.

In addition to his academic works, he also wrote poetry, including one entitled “Tristezas y recuerdos” which recalls his youthful summer vacations overlooking Lake Chapala. The poem, roughly translated, opens as follows:

I would like the beauty of the Michoacán woods,
And the perfume of her lilies, which in my childhood hours
I gathered in her fields when the sun was already declining,
And its dying rays reflecting in the waters
Of the great Lake Chapala with gold and purple iridescence.
I would like that sky to show signs of scarlet,
The silence of its valleys, and the blue of its mountains.
I would like from her woods, the weeping of the waterfall,
The bleating of sheep, and the lowing of the cattle.
In short, I would like to see the summits of oaks crowned,
The daring silhouettes that rise into the sky
And weave with her fond memories a garland . . .

This profile relies heavily on the extended biography of José Sánchez Villaseñor written by his brother Luis, a fellow Jesuit priest.

Source:

  • Luis Sánchez-Villaseñor. 1997. José Sánchez Villaseñor, S.J: 1911-1961. Notas biográficas. (Tlaquepaque, Jalisco: ITESO.) (Editorial Conexión Gráfica, June 1997,)

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Feb 132017
 

Mexican author Ramón Rubín Rivas (1912-2000) wrote a novel set at Lake Chapala: La canoa perdida: Novela mestiza. He wrote more than a dozen novels and some 500 short stories over a lengthy career and this work, first published in 1951, is considered one of his finest, though it has never been translated into English.

Rubín was a particularly keen observer of the way of life, customs and beliefs of Mexico’s many indigenous groups. His writing is based on extensive travels throughout the country and prolonged periods of residence with several distinct indigenous groups including the Cora/Huichol in Nayarit and Jalisco, the Tarahumara (raramuri) in the Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua, and the Tzotzil in Chiapas. His novel about Lake Chapala, which we will look at in more detail in a future post, is the story of an indigenous fisherman who wants to acquire a canoe, set against the background of a lake facing serious problems. During the 1950s, Rubín was an ardent campaigner for the protection of the lake when drought and overuse threatened its very existence.

Rubin Ramon. Credit: Archivo-CNL-INBA

Rubin Ramon. Credit: Archivo-CNL-INBA

The early history of Rubín’s life is hazy. His “official” biography states that he was born to Spanish immigrant parents in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, on 11 June 1912, and that the family moved to Spain when Rubín was two years old. However, some researchers have found evidence suggesting that he was actually born on that date in San Vicente de la Barquera in northern Spain, and subsequently “adopted” Mazatlán as his birthplace as he became known as a Mexican writer. Rubín would apparently respond to questions about his birthplace by saying that his only source of information had been his parents, and they had said he was born in Mazatlán. The lack of a Mexican birth certificate is not surprising given that the public records in many parts of Mexico were destroyed during the early years of the Mexican Revolution, which erupted in 1910.

Wherever he was born, Rubín attended school in Spain until 1929 when, at the age of sixteen, he relocated to Mazatlán in Mexico. It was while taking typing classes in Mazatlán (as a means of earning a living) that he wrote his first stories, allegedly because he was sitting too far from the blackboard to copy what the teacher wrote as practice exercises. The teacher agreed that he could write whatever he wanted, provided there were no typing errors, and Rubín’s literary career was under way.

Working as a salesperson, Rubín traveled widely in Mexico. When he settled for a time in Mexico City, he had several short stories, based on his travels and experiences, published in Revista de Revistas. He later became a regular contributor to newspapers, especially to El Informador and El Occidental. Rubín’s direct approach to narrating stories owes much to his childhood, when he was entranced by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and by the adventure novels of Emilio Salgari.

In the Spanish Civil War (1938), Rubín enlisted as a merchant seaman on the side of the Republicans. While not formally a member of the International Brigades, he took a cargo of arms and ammunition to Spain and was lucky to escape alive. Franco’s forces dropped 72 bombs on his ship, none of which hit their intended target.

Rubín enjoyed a measure of literary success in 1942 with the publication of the first of an eventual five volumes of short stories, all entitled Cuentos mestizos (“Mestizo tales”). Later short story collections include Diez burbujas en el mar, sarta de cuentos salobres (1949), two volumes of Cuentos de indios (1954 y 1958), Los rezagados (1983), Navegantes sin ruta: relatos de mar y puerto (1983) and Cuentos de la ciudad (1991).

Rubín had traveled to Chiapas for the first time and lived among the Tzotzil in 1938. He put this knowledge to good use in his first novel, El callado dolor de los tzotziles {“The silent pain of the Tzotzil”) (1949). Literary critics consider this to be a seminal portrayal of Mexico’s indigenous peoples. The novel goes far beyond mere description or adulation of indigenous lifestyles and is a genuine drama about the intolerance of an indigenous community towards a couple who are unable to have children. In line with tribal tradition, the woman is banished to the mountains, the man leaves the community to live for a time among the mestizos. When he returns, his mental state altered by his experiences, he spirals downwards and seeks refuge in alcohol.

In a later indigenous novel, entitled La bruma lo vuelve azul (“The smoke turns blue”) (1954), the main character is a Huichol Indian named Kanayame who is rejected by his father, stripped of his indigenous roots in a government school, and turns to banditry. Rubín’s other indigenous novels include El canto de la grilla (1952), La sombra del techincuagüe (1955) and Cuando el táguaro agoniza (1960).

In addition, Rubín wrote the novels La loca (1949), La canoa perdida (1951), El seno de la esperanza (1960) and Donde mi sombra se espanta (1964). Some of his work has been translated (into English, German French, Russian and Italian) and several stories have been adapted for the stage. Rubín also wrote a short autobiography – Rubinescas – and several screenplays, none of which was ever made into a film, though Hugo Argüelles’s 1965 film Los cuervos están de luto is a plagarized version of Rubín’s original story “El duelo”.

Given that Rubín’s books have a wide appeal – cited as valuable sources of information about people and landscapes by anthropologists, biologists, sociologists and geographers – and were acclaimed by famous contemporaries, including his good friend Juan Rulfo, and literary historians, including Emmanuel Carballo who saw fit to include him in his Protagonistas de la literatura mexicana – why is it that Rubín is not much better known?

First, many of his books had small print runs, and were often self-financed, not the work of major publishers. Many of his books are, therefore, very difficult to find.

Second, Rubín was very much an individualist and neither living in Mexico City nor a member of any mainstream literary group.

Third, according to the author himself, his public disagreements with another famous Jalisco novelist, Agustín Yáñez, who served as Governor of Jalisco during the crisis affecting Lake Chapala in the 1950s, led to him being denied support by any of Yáñez’s numerous friends. Rubín was a vigorous opponent, on ecological grounds, of many of the “development” (drainage) schemes proposed during Yáñez’s administration.

Indeed, when he was chosen as the recipient of the Jalisco Prize in 1954, he declined to accept it on both intellectual and moral grounds, not wanting anything to do with the Yáñez administration which he believed had failed to do enough to protect Lake Chapala. (He was eventually awarded the Prize in 1997).

Rubín was proud of the fact that his work was based on travel and first-hand research, and did not derive from library sources or from his imagination while sitting at his desk. His writing shows that action and plot are more important to him than relaying introspective thoughts or feelings. However, he disliked the suggestion, sometimes made by literary critics, that he was Mexico’s Hemingway.

Rubín lived the bulk of his creative years (1940-1970) in Guadalajara. He taught at the University of Guadalajara and owned two small shoe manufacturing companies in Jalisco, both of which he eventually gave to his employees. In the early 1970s, he spent three years in Autlán, in the southern part of the state, before moving to San Miguel Cuyutlán, near Tlajomulco, for a decade. He then lived in a seniors’ home in Guadalajara for two years. Notwithstanding the many websites that claim he died the year before, Ramón Rubín Rivas died in Guadalajara on 25 May 2000.

Rubín did not win as many awards as might be expected from the quality and originality of his work, but he was awarded the Sinaloa Prize for Arts and Sciences in 1996 and the Jalisco Literary Prize in 1997. Prior to either of those awards, he had been recognized in the U.S. by the award from the New Mexico Book Association in 1994 of their “Premio de las Americas”, as the writer “whose work best exemplifies the common humanity of the peoples of the Western Hemisphere” – a truly fitting tribute to this man of the people.

Sources:

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Feb 062017
 

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 books, 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 author is traveling with Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher who owned “Aggie”, their vehicle.

They meet 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.

The following extracts come from chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey.

1. TRIP ONE  (March 21, 1946)

“We had arrived in Guadalajara ready to spend a week with Nadeyne. We had never heard of Chapala, but we were willing to take her word that it was worth visiting, especially when we learned it was on a lake.” (82)

– – –

[After a day in Chapala] We drove out past the villas of the wealthier residents and found the smooth gravel ended at the outskirts of the town. The road proved even worse than I anticipated. It was dirt all the way and in very poor repair. To minimize the jolts it was necessary to go so slowly that most of the time I had to drive in second gear.

The road paralleled the shore of the lake. There were fields on either side and the mountains rose on our right. Actually, it was very pretty, with the picturesqueness being heightened by the cattle grazing in the fields and by the peasant people we passed, some riding donkeys, some herding goats, others carrying baskets. But, Lord, the going was bumpy! Trying to find the least broken surfaces occupied most of my attention.

As we rounded the first mountain headland, where the hills came close, I saw that a flood-stream, in racing down the slopes to reach the lake, had cut a ravine across the dirt tracks that comprised the road. The gully was narrow, but it was a good four feet deep and it was bridged only by two thick planks which were set a car’s width apart. As we crept over the planks, I thought, with a shudder, of the danger if one had to come back over them at night when it was hard to see.

After jolting along for about four miles we came to a pretty village called San Antonio. The road took several jogs to get through it and at the far end the General asked us to stop. She had some business to transact at a friend’s house. We offered to wait, but she announced she would walk the rest of the way. She needed the exercise. Mrs. Beyer would show us where to go, so we would not get lost. Once in Ajijic we were to visit the authoress, Neill James. We were to wait there and she would join us later.

As we resumed our way over the rutted washboard, I could see why the General preferred to walk. From here on the road had the appearance of a country lane, for it was shaded by gnarled trees that resembled mimosas. And besides being cooler and lovelier for walking, it was, if possible, even rougher for riding. Once in Ajijic the bumps came like bullets from a machine gun. The streets were cobbled. (85)

– – –

There was a resplendent purple and gold sunset. Sometimes unusual lighting effects can illumine a scene in an odd way, opening its whole significance, as it were. But this sunset did not have this effect on me. Principally, I saw it as a reminder of how late it was. I even resented the vividness. It seemed too flagrantly showy to be beautiful, and it heightened my sense of not belonging to Mexico. (90)

How could anyone ever feel at home in a land of such overpowering and excessive color? I asked myself. And as the question presented itself I felt as if all the alien features of the country—the heat, the tropical vegetation, the primitiveness, the throbbing colors— had gathered themselves together to oppress my northern spirit. (90)

Ross Parmenter: Aggie the Car[They had trouble starting the car and only left Ajijic as the sun was going down]

We were only a little way beyond Ajijic when I had to turn on the lights to see the ruts of the awful road. At first I doubted if the bulbs were burning, but as the dusk deepened I could see they were making a faint orange impression on the air in front of them. The glow dimmed and brightened according to our speed. I saw the generator was operating a bit, for when the motor turned faster the lights shone brighter. The trouble was that the road was so bad I had to go very slowly. It meant we had very little light. (91)
– – –
The intervening town of San Antonio, where the General had stopped on business on the way out, proved the greatest hazard. Not being electrified, there were no street lights and one turn looked very much like another. But we got safely through the dark village. [and eventually safely back to Chapala]. (91)

The illustration in this post is by Ross Parmenter.

Source:

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

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

Jan 302017
 

Given that Canadian Ross Parmenter (1912-1999) only ever spent a few days at Lake Chapala, his inclusion in this series of profiles of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala may seem surprising. However, his detailed accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – first by car and then by boat – on two consecutive days in March 1946, are compelling reading, affording us a glimpse into several aspects of lakeside life at the time. [We look at these accounts in future posts]

And the 1940s was certainly an important time in the literary history of Ajijic. The author duo writing as Dane Chandos had just published Village in the Sun, while Neill James’s book Dust on my Heart, which also includes an interesting account of life in the village, was just about to be published in New York.

Parmenter’s travel account, published in Stages in a Journey, coincided with a time when more and more Americans (and to a lesser extent other foreigners) were traveling south to explore Mexico. Parmenter, though, was not your average tourist. He had an artist’s eye but remained anxious about the difficulties and rewards of observing things in great detail. He was also an experienced writer. This somewhat unlikely combination gave Parmenter not only keen powers of observation but also an almost-obsessive attention to recording as many pertinent details as possible.

Even if the detailed accounts of his trip were not enough, Parmenter is one of the relatively small number of Canadians who have ever written about the area, quite possibly the first of any note.

Charles Ross Parmenter was born on 30 May 1912 in Toronto, Canada. At the University of Toronto he majored in modern history and reviewed art for the undergraduate newspaper. After gaining his BA degree in 1933 he worked briefly for the Toronto Evening Telegram before moving to New York in 1934 to work as a general reporter on the New York Times. In 1940 he joined the New York Times‘ music department as a reviewer, and was appointed the paper’s music news editor in 1955, a position he held until his retirement in 1964.

This lengthy career at the New York Times was punctuated by the second world war, during which Parmenter served for three years as a medical technician. Discharge from the armed services did not immediately alleviate his troubled soul and he set off to Mexico, hoping to find his bearings.

His traveling companion on this first trip – Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher – was more than twice his age. The two friends drove down from California in “Aggie”, her 1932 Plymouth four-door sedan. Parmenter later wrote that whereas he had gone to learn about Mexico, he had actually learned from Mexico, a sentiment subsequently echoed by many other authors and artists.

Parmenter’s Chapala-Ajijic trips comprise chapter 3 of his Stages in a Journey, which was not published until 1983. Stages in a Journey is an unusual book, part travel writing, part travelogue and part “an account of personal growth”, but still well worth reading.

The same volume has descriptions of several major 16th century monasteries in Mexico, including the Church of San Miguel Arcangel in Ixmiquilpan (Hidalgo); the Monastery of San Miguel Arcángel in Huejotzingo (Puebla); and the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol in Cuilapan (Oaxaca). Parmenter’s long-time friend Dick Perry, who has himself written several seminal works about Mexico’s colonial religious architecture, has stressed the importance of these accounts from the 1940s:

“His descriptions of these early colonial monuments, then virtually unknown to American art historians or travelers, remain among the earliest accounts in English and can claim considerable historic interest.”

Parmenter loved Mexico. After he retired in 1964, he divided his time between New York and Oaxaca. Over the years, he published several books related to Mexico and to his specialist interests in archaeology, Mixtec documents and colonial architecture.

For Lake Chapalaphiles, the most interesting of other Parmenter books about Mexico is Lawrence in Oaxaca: A Quest for the Novelist in Mexico (1984), in which he looks in minute detail at D. H. Lawrence’s stay in Oaxaca over the winter of 1924-25. It was a productive stay, during which Lawrence wrote four of the pieces in Mornings in Mexico and rewrote The Plumed Serpent which he had drafted in Chapala the year before.

Other books written by Parmenter include The Plant in my window (1949); Week in Yanhuitlan (1964); Explorer, Linguist and Ethnologist (1966) [Alphonse Louis Pinart]; The Awakened Eye (1968); School of the Soldier (1980); Lienzo of Tulancingo, Oaxaca (1993); and A House for Buddha: A Memoir with Drawings (1994). Parmenter fans will be disappointed to learn that another work – Zelia Nuttall and the recovery of Mexico’s past – remained unpublished at the time of his death, though copies of the manuscript are held by Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Ross Parmenter died at his Manhattan home on 18 October 1999 at the age of 87.

Sources:

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

Dec 082016
 

Alan Horton Crane, aka Alan Crane (a name also used by his artist son), was an American artist, illustrator and lithographer who spent most of his life in New England, but who visited Mexico several times in the 1940s and 1950s.

Crane was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1901 and died in 1969. (His son, Alan Crane, best known for his magical realism paintings, died in 2015.)

Crane senior studied at the Pratt Institute with Winold Weiss and with Richard Boleslawsky at the American Laboratory Theater. He also worked with  Boleslawsky and at various other theater venues.

Weiss later used Crane as the model for one of the heads depicted in his Union Terminal mosaic mural in Cincinnati, which commemorated the broadcasting pioneers of the city. For aesthetic reasons, Weiss felt he needed someone with wavy hair to replace the head (but not the body) of radio engineer Charlie Butler, who had straight, slicked-back hair. When the Union Terminal concourse was demolished in 1974, the mural was moved to Terminal 2 at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. When that building in turn was removed, the mural was relocated to the Duke Energy Convention Center.

Alan Horton Crane. Indian Laurels, Chapala. 1948

Alan Horton Crane. Indian Laurels, Chapala. 1948

Crane exhibited widely from about 1941 to 1956 and his art won numerous awards. He also undertook illustrations for books and magazines, and wrote and illustrated several books of his own, including Pepita Bonita (1942); Gloucester Joe (1943); and Nick and Nan in Yucatan (1945). In 1956, he illustrated Elizabeth Borton de Trevino’s book A Carpet of Flowers.

Crane was a member of numerous art groups, including the Salmagundi Club, Audubon Artists, Society of American Graphic Artists, Philadelphia Water Color Club, Guild of Boston Artists, Rockport Art Association and the North Shore Arts Association.

Crane’s work can be found in the collections of the Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library, Carnegie Institute, American Society of Arts and Letters, Brooklyn Museum, Pennsylvania State College and the Princeton Print Club.

It is unclear precisely what motivated Crane to first visit Mexico, but he visited the country several times, as witnessed by a succession of superb, finely detailed, lithographs (in editions of between 40 and 50) of Mexican scenes, including “Haunted Garden, Mexico” (1947); “Indian Laurels, Chapala” (1948); “Clouds and Spires, San Miguel Allende” (1949); “The Mirror, Camecuaro” (1952); “Shadows at Noon, Patzcuaro” (1952) and “Morning Catch, Puerto Vallarta” (1959).

Sources:

  • Various authors. 1964. Artists of the Rockport Art Association. A pictorial and descriptive record of The Oldest Art Organization on Cape Ann. (Rockport Art Association, Massachusetts, 1964).
  • cincinnati.com Undated. “Uncovering the murals” [http://local.cincinnati.com/community/pages/murals/tablet/index.html – viewed 8 Dec 2016, no longer active]
  • Jac Kern. 2016. “UC artists revisit Union Terminal worker murals with modern mission and materials”. University of Cincinnati Magazine, 11 Aug. 2016

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

Nov 102016
 

The famous American writer, composer and translator Paul Bowles (1910-1999) was a frequent visitor to Mexico in the late 1930s and early 1940s prior to moving to live in Morocco in 1947. Bowles spent a few relaxing weeks in Ajijic, on Lake Chapala, in the first half of 1942.

Paul Bowles was born in New York on 30 December 1910 and displayed early talent for music and writing. After attending the University of Virginia, Bowles made several trips to Paris in the 1930s, and also visited French North Africa in 1931. During the late 1930s and most of the 1940s, Bowles was based in New York where he composed music (primarily for stage productions) while making frequent trips south to explore the sights and sounds of Mexico and elsewhere, trips which had a profound influence on his musical compositions.

Bowles’ interest in visiting Lake Chapala dates back to 1934, when he was considering accompanying Bruce Morrissette in traveling around Mexico. In March 1934, Bowles wrote to Morrissette that, “A while ago I made a list of what seemed to be the best places there: Campeche, Necaxa, Toluca, the baja part of Baja California, Mazatlán, Pátzcuaro, perhaps Lago Chapala, Morelia, which looks to be lovely, Tepatzlán, Cholula, Amecameca and Xochimilco …”

In 1937, Bowles met Jane Auer at a party. When they met again, accidentally, a few days later, Jane suggested to Bowles that he “take her to Mexico with him.” Auer and Bowles married 21 February 1938, and had a successful, if unconventional, marriage that lasted until her death in 1973.

[Jane Sydney Auer (1917-1973) was an American writer and playwright. Her novel, Two Serious Ladies, first published in 1943, may have been the catalyst that resulted in Bowles’ own novel-writing career. Jane Bowles suffered a stroke in 1957, from which she never fully recovered. She died in 1973 at a clinic in Spain.]

bowles-paul-autobiographyThey took a Greyhound bus to reach Mexico on their first trip together in 1937, with Bowles hiding 15,000 anti-Trotsky stickers in his luggage. In Mexico, he met the Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas and attended a concert at which Revueltas conducted his Homage to García Lorca. Bowles took a second trip to Mexico later in 1937 in order to live for a short time in Tehuantepec (on the recommendation of Miguel Covarrubias, whom he had met in New York), where he worked on an opera about a slave rebellion.

On 23 February 1938, two days after their marriage, Bowles and his wife attended the first performance of Bowles’ Mediodia (Mexican dances for 11 players) in New York. The couple then left on a honeymoon, “with 27 suitcases, two wardrobe trunks, a typewriter and a record player”, aboard a Japanese freighter, the SS Kanu Maru, on a trip that took them to Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Barbados and Paris, France. They returned to New York in September.

They visited Mexico again in 1939 and stayed in Acapulco and Taxco (where Jane first met Helvetia Perkins, who would later became her lover). On this trip, they met a still unknown Tennessee Williams, and a young man named Ned Rorem, then only a teenager, who went on to become a composer and diarist, and win a Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

bowles-paul-on-musicSome idea of the exalted literary and musical circles in which Bowles and his wife moved can be gained from a list of their roommates in the rented house they occupied in 1941. The house, at 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn Heights, New York, was rented by the novelist and editor George Davis, who occupied the ground floor. Paul and Jane Bowles lived on the second floor, together with the theater set designer Oliver Smith. Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, and W. H. Auden shared the third floor, while Golo Mann lived in the attic. It was in this house that Bowles composed Pastorela, a Mexican Indian ballet commissioned by Lincoln Kirstein for American Ballet Caravan.

Early in 1942, when Bowles and his wife revisited Mexico, he was taken ill with jaundice and spent several weeks in a “British hospital in Mexico City” before going to Cuernavaca for convalescence. In Cuernavaca, Jane let him read and critique her manuscript of Two Serious Ladies, though it was greatly rewritten and edited prior to its publication the following year. Jane, accompanied by Helvetia Perkins, left for New York at the end of March, while Bowles remained in Mexico a few more weeks, staying at Casa Heuer, the small posada run by siblings Paul (Pablo) and Liesel Heuer in Ajijic.

In a letter to Virgil Thomson, Bowles wrote that, “As soon as she had gone I came to Chapala. Reasons for my not going with her were several.” During his stay in Ajijic, Bowles visited the house in Chapala where D.H. Lawrence had written the first draft of The Plumed Serpent in 1923; Bowles found it “depressing” and poorly ventilated, with the ambiance of a dead-end street. According to his autobiography, Bowles discovered a whole new world of “delightful” literature during his time in Ajijic. He started with García Lorca, then completed two novels by Bioy Cásares and the memoirs of Mario Alberti before turning his attention to Mexico’s early colonial times, and then to short stories by Jorge Luis Borges.

bowles-paul-and-janeBowles’ compositional creativity was in full flow during these years. In 1944, for example he composed the incidental music for the Broadway opening of Tennessee WilliamsThe Glass Menagerie. (The success of this work enabled Williams to spend the summer of 1945 at Lake Chapala).

In 1947, Bowles moved to Tangier, Morocco. His wife, Jane, followed a year later. Except for a series of winters spent in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and occasional trips elsewhere, Bowles lived the remaining 52 years of his life in Morocco. His fame was undiminished and a succession of famous writers and musicians made the pilgrimage to Morocco to visit him, including the most famous names of the Beat generation: Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg.

When Gregory Stephenson interviewed him in Morocco in 1979, he found that Bowles had mixed memories of Mexico:

“When I mention the Tarahumara, Bowles says that he once translated some Tarahumara myths for a surrealist magazine. He rummages in his bedroom and returns with a copy of View for May 1945, a special “Tropical Americana” number which he edited. There are black and white photographs, collages and translations, including sections of the Popul Vuh and the Chilam Balam, all done by Bowles. A myth titled “John Very Bad” has been rendered by him into English from the Tarahumara. There are also bizarre and gruesome news stories selected by Bowles from the Mexican press.

Bowles speaks of the extreme poverty and squalor he encountered in parts of Mexico when he visited that country in the 1930s. Mexico was a land of gloom and chaos, he says, but also poetry, mystery and great natural beauty. Places such as Acapulco and Tehuantepec were very pleasant in those days and living there was very cheap. Yet he was often very ill in Mexico, afflicted with diverse ailments.”

The astonishingly prolific writing and composing career of Paul Bowles was drawn to a close by his death in Morocco on 18 November 1999.

Bowles’ extensive musical output included Sonata for Oboe and Clarinet (1931); Horse Eats Hat, play (1936); Who Fights This Battle, play (1936); Doctor Faustus, play (1937); Yankee Clipper, ballet (1937); Music for a Farce (1938); Too Much Johnson, play (1938); Huapango – Cafe Sin Nombre – Huapango-El Sol, Latin American folk (1938); Twelfth Night, play (1940); Love Like Wildfire, play (1941); Pastorela, ballet (1941); South Pacific, play (1943); Sonata for Flute and Piano and Two Mexican Dances (1943); ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, play (1943);  The Glass Menagerie, play (1944); Jacobowsky and the Colonel, play (1944); Sentimental Colloquy, ballet (1944); Cyrano de Bergerac, play (1946); Concerto for Two Pianos (1947); Concerto for Two Pianos, Winds and Percussion (1948); Oedipus, play (1966); Black Star at the Point of Darkness (1992) and Salome, play (1993).

Novels by Bowles include The Sheltering Sky (1949); Let It Come Down (1952); The Spider’s House (1955); and Up Above the World (1966). His collections of short stories include A Little Stone (1950); The Delicate Prey and Other Stories (1950); A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard (1962); Things Gone & Things Still Here (1977); Collected Stories, 1939–1976 (1979); and A Thousand Days for Mokhtar (1989). Poetry works by Bowles include Two Poems (1933); Scenes (1968); The Thicket of Spring (1972); Next to Nothing: Collected Poems, 1926–1977 (1981); and No Eye Looked Out from Any Crevice (1997).

Sources:

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

Nov 072016
 

Betty Binkley, a painter mainly associated with Santa Fe, New Mexico, lived and painted in Chapala in the mid-1940s. In 1944, she exhibited her work at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in a group show that also included works by Jaime López Bermudez, Ernesto Butterlin (“Lin”), Otto Butterlin, Ann Medalie and Sylvia Fein.

Betty (sometimes Bettie) J. Binkley, also known as Betty Binkley Farrar, was born in Long Beach, California, on 5 September 1914 but spent most of her early years in El Paso, Texas. She died of a heart attack in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, at age 63 on 25 August 1978.

Binkley’s parents were James B. Binkley and Bee Binkley (1889-1968). Following their divorce, in the early 1930s, Bee Binkley moved to Santa Fe and built a house on land that had previously been part of the Hacienda de San Sebastian.

Betty Binkley attended Radford School for Girls in El Paso before moving with her mother to Santa Fe, where she took art classes for many years with local Santa Fe landscape painter Fremont Ellis (1897-1985).

In 1936, the El Paso Herald-Post was already referring to Betty Binkley as a “well known Santa Fe artist”. According to the newspaper, Binkley, who was in town visiting her grandmother, had “recently returned from two months’ stay in the Navajo country of Arizona, where she sketched and painted Indians and scenes of Indian life.”

Three years later, in January 1939, the same newspaper was extolling the virtues of Binkley’s art, examples of which were on display for a couple of days at Radford School for Girls, her former high school. The report explains that Binkley had recently taken up portrait painting and had chosen “childhood playmates” Teddy Bear and Raggedy Ann as her first subjects:

“Teddy is yellow and fuzzy and wears a blue bow around his neck. Annie, as the artist calls the doll, has button eyes, a smile that never leaves her face and a cutout heart that insists on slipping out of place–because of the sawdust filling. She wears a white apron. Miss Binkley has done a series of 10 portraits of the toys for children. Each picture depicts an incident of Spanish or Mexican life. There is a cockfight where the toys are spectators.”

In September 1939, Binkley’s work was included in the Twenty-sixth annual exhibition of painters & sculptors of the Southwest, a group exhibition held at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe.

The following month, Binkley, then a student at the University of New Mexico, was elected “draughtsman” of the New Mexico Anthropologist, the student publication of the university’s Anthropology Department.

Betty Binkley: Self portrait. 1950. Reproduced by kind permission of Jane Farrar.

Betty Binkley: Self portrait. 1950. Reproduced by kind permission of Jane Farrar.

Binkley had been married at least once prior to being married (briefly) in 1940 to Catalan-born sculptor, painter and art educator Urbici Soler (Urbici Soler i Manonelles, 1890–1953). The couple held a joint exhibit of terra cottas at the College of Mines Museum in El Paso in July 1940, before leaving the city for a trip to “The East” in August. In November 1940, Binkley accompanied Soler when he opened a School of Sculpture at 214-216 East 34th street in New York City. Soler planned to teach clay modelling, stone cutting, woodcarving, life drawing, terra cotta and casting, as well as run a summer school in Glacier Park in Montana.

After the couple separated, Binkley moved to Texas in 1942 to attend the University of Texas at Austin. She spent the early part of the summer of 1943 at a University of New Mexico summer school in Albuquerque, and then spent August with her mother in Santa Fe, before returning to Austin.

It is unclear precisely how long Binkley lived at Lake Chapala, but Sylvia Fein, who lived in Ajijic between 1943 and 1946, has clear memories of Binkley living in Chapala at about the same time. Certainly, Binkley spent the winter of 1944/45 in Chapala, as evidenced by her exhibition at the Villa Montecarlo in late 1944. She became friends with poet Witter Bynner who owned a home in Chapala; Bynner gave her a hand-written poem, “Breakers” in March 1945, with a note that read, “Let this be your other home, too – Chapala, where I came to know you and Laotzu”. (Bynner’s The Way of Life According to Laotzu had been published the previous year). Binkley and Bynner may well have encountered each other again later in their overlapping social circles in Santa Fe.

Binkley held a solo exhibition of paintings at the art gallery of the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City from 27 April to 11 May, 1945. Despite her participation in the earlier 1944 group show at Villa Montecarlo in Chapala, this Mexico City show was reported in the local press as Binkley’s first ever show in Mexico.

Betty Binkley. Woodlands chief wearing peace medal. Date unknown.

Betty Binkley. Woodlands chief wearing peace medal. Date unknown.

By 1946, Binkley was back in New Mexico and was exhibiting her art more frequently. Reporting on a group show, the Santa Fe New Mexican said that “… we come upon Betty Binkley’s more precise San Miguel Allende with its intersecting pattern of black-swathed women ascending the stairs to the sanctuary. Note the scavenger dogs in the foreground relieving the tension, whimsically.” Included in the same show was work by artist Peter Hurd who would later also have a close connection to Chapala.

It was at about this time that Binkley took classes with the distinguished art educator Hans Hofmann. Hofmann had at least two additional Lake Chapala connections. The first was via another of his former students, Clara Schafer Thorward (1887-1969). The second connection was via fellow artist Jack Bateman,  who had lived in New York in an apartment one floor above Hofmann and whose accidental spillage of plaster through the ceiling onto unfinished paintings below had led to a productive friendship between the two men.

Binkley’s work was included in numerous group shows over the next decade, including two in 1947: An exhibition of oils, tempera and watercolors by Ivan Bartlett, Betty Binkley and John Langley Howard (also associated with Lake Chapala),  held from 5 February to 1 March, at the Rotunda Gallery, City of Paris, California; and “6 Southwestern States: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana”, held at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 15 June to 14 September 1947. Binkley showed an oil painting entitled “Beach”. Peter Hurd was also exhibiting. In 1951, Binkley was one of the artists included in “New Mexico Artists: An Exhibition”, held at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Among the other artists exhibiting there was Alfred Rogoway, yet another artist closely associated with Lake Chapala.

The following year, she held a joint show with ceramicist Warren Gilbertson, exhibiting 12 oils, described as “a collection of fresh work, primarily non-objective” at the Plaza Art Gallery in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In 1950, she took a solo trip to Europe for several months. She left New York on 7 April, one of only four passengers aboard the SS Marengo bound for Hull, England, and flew back from Paris France to New York on a “special” flight operated by The Flying Tiger Line on 31 July.

Binkley had a solo show at the Willard Hougland Gallery in Hermosa Beach, California, in March 1951. (Houghland had strong Santa Fe connections, and had previously operated the La Quinta Gallery at Los Poblanos, near Albuquerque) .

Binkley continued to visit Mexico. She spent the winter of 1954/55 painting and sightseeing in and around the city of Guanajuato, before returning north to her studio at 552, Canyon Road in Santa Fe.

The summer 1955 group show of New Mexico artists at the Museum of New Mexico Art Gallery, Santa Fe, included her work, as did a group showing of Santa Fe artists in Albuquerque in November 1955, and a November 1956 exhibit of “nine of New Mexico’s most famous women artists” at the Sandia Base Library in Albuquerque.

In July 1973, one of Binkley’s paintings received special mention in the Santa Fe New Mexican review of a show of “vigorous, contemporary art” organized by The Artists Co-op:

“The most astounding painting, however, was painted by Betty Binkley. Using absolutely horrible blues and muddy earth colors which were most depressing in themselves and in combination, she “nonetheless managed to paint a portrait of a woman seated at a table which for some inexplicable reason does not produce a depressing effect on the whole. Rather, after one gets used to it, it turns out to be an interesting, mood-provoking piece.”

At some point, probably in the 1950s, Betty Binkley married Charles H. Farrar (1906-1963) of California; the couple’s daughter, Jane Farrar, was born in August 1957.

Binkley’s death certificate lists her residence as Cuna de Allende #7 in San Miguel de Allende. That building is now the Maria Xoconostle restaurant.

Acknowledgment

Sincere thanks to Jane Farrar (Betty’s daughter) for drawing my attention to the fact that there was a second, unrelated, painter named “Binkley”, who  is believed to have painted “Sunlit Daisys”, mistakenly included in a previous version of this post as being the work of Betty Binkley.

Sources:

  • Albuquerque Journal. 1956. 10 November 1956, p6
  • El Paso Herald-Post, 2 November 1936, p 6; 5 January 5, 1939, p 6; 7 June 1943, p 6.
  • Barbara Spencer Foster. 2010. Fremont Ellis (Sunstone Press)
  • Los Angeles Times, 11 March 1951, p 112:
  • New Mexico Lobo [Publication of the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico] 1939. 3 Oct 1939.
  • The Santa Fe New Mexican. 1946. 31 August 1946, p 6; 29 July 1973: p 50.

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 Posted by at 11:17 am  Tagged with:
Oct 032016
 

Film director and writer Alfredo (“Fredy”) Bolongaro-Crevenna (1914-1996) visited Ajijic in about 1945 with movie producer Francisco Cabrera. Their visit was noted by Neill James in her 1945 account of the village.

Bolongaro-Crevenna and Cabrera played very significant roles in the golden age of Mexican cinema. Bolongaro-Crevenna directed about 140 films between 1945 and 1995, in genres ranging from melodramas to comedy, horror and science fiction.

Bolongaro-Crevenna was born in Frankfurt, Germany, on 22 April 1914 and was more commonly known as Alfredo B. Crevenna. He studied chemical engineering at Oxford University in the U.K. before returning to Germany to take a position at the UFA film studios in Berlin.

Crevenna married his high school sweetheart Renate Horney (1916-2009), the youngest daughter of German-American psychoanalyst Karen Horney (who also visited Ajijic, in 1945).

In 1938, at age 24, Crevenna left the UFA film studios and moved to New York City, with the intention of finding work eventually in Hollywood. After several wasted months trying to obtain a work visa, he accepted an invitation from an old school friend to go to Mexico City.

alfredo-b-crevennaAt a welcome party, he was introduced to the film producer Francisco de P. Cabrera. Cabrera was about to start shooting La noche de los mayas (1939) and asked Crevenna to take a look at the script. Crevenna did not at that time speak Spanish, so he translated the script into English overnight and then made various suggestions to tighten up the structure. Thus began the lengthy and exceedingly fruitful working relationship between the two men. Crevenna never did return to live in  New York, and eventually became a naturalized Mexican citizen.

Crevenna and Renate Horney settled into family life in Mexico City and Cuernavaca. The couple had at least two children: Angela Karen Bolongaro-Crevenna (1936-1999) and Pedro Bolongaro-Crevenna (ca 1940-1988). In 1960, Renate Crevenna exhibited in a group show of German artists in the Galerias Chapultepec in Mexico City. The show also featured a work by Otto Butterlin.

In 1943, Cabrera suggested that Crevenna begin his career as a director in Mexico with the movie Santa in a version starring Esther Fernández and Ricardo Montalbán. Unfortunately, at that time the U.S. completely controlled the supply of film stock. When the U.S.-based Office of the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs objected to the use of a German-born director, Cabrera was forced to work with Hollywood director Norman Foster, even though Foster did not speak a word of Spanish.

bolongaro-crevennaHis films included Neither Blood Nor Sand (1941), Muchachas de uniforme (1950), Mi esposa y la otra (1951), Una mujer en la calle (1955), Orquídeas para mi esposa (1954), Talpa (1956), Where the Circle Ends (1956), Yambaó (1957), Adventure at the Center of the Earth (1965), La venus maldita (1967), La Satánica (1973). He collaborated on many projects with the legendary Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

Many of Crevenna’s movies won awards. For instance, Talpa received several ”Ariel“ awards and was nominated for Best Picture in 1957.

Alfredo Bolongaro-Crevenna, described by those who knew him as tall, polite, and with a wonderful sense of humor, died in Mexico City on 30 August 1996, leaving a legacy that included some of the finest Mexican movies of all time.

Postscript

Angela Karen Bolongaro-Crevenna, the German-born daughter of Alfred Bolongaro-Crevenna and Renate Horney, and grand-daughter of Karen Horney, had an additional close link to the Lake Chapala area.

After the family moved to Mexico, Angela become a naturalized Mexican citizen. She met German-born audiologist Dr. Carl Lohmann in 1955 and married him three years later. They spent most of their time in the U.S. but were frequent visitors to Mexico and had a winter home in Quintana Roo. From 1993, they began to spend winters at Lake Chapala. They bought a home in Chapala Haciendas and, in 1995, moved permanently to the area.

Even after Angela Lohman (née Bolongaro-Crevenna) died in 1999, her husband Carl continued to reside in Chapala until his own death in a Guadalajara hospital a decade later.

Sources:

  • Rogelio Agrasánchez, Jr. Undated. “From the UFA to the Mexican Studios: Alfredo B. Crevenna.”
  • Cinema Reporter. “Crevenna, Alfredo Bolongaro”, Cinema Reporter. No. 482, 11 October 1947, p. 16.
  • José Luis Gallegos C. “Alfredo B. Crevenna colaboró con Luis Buñuel.” Excélsior. Espectáculos. 30 November 1990, p2.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. “Longtime Lakeside resident Dr. Carl Lohmann died in a Guadalajara hospital on June 14 at the age of 84. 19 June 2009.” Guadalajara Reporter, 19 June 2009
  • Jaime Hernández.. “Alfredo B. Crevenna. Sólo en México no protegen al cine.” Novedades, 10 August 1984, p 1-2.

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.

Sep 262016
 

German-American psychoanalyst Karen Horney (1885-1952) worked on a book during her stay of several weeks in Ajijic in 1945. Horney lived in New York and the local Guadalajara newspaper El Informador (27 August 1945) reported that she was visiting Ajijic in order to complete the manuscript of her next book.

Surrealist painter Sylvia Fein, who was living in Ajijic at that time, recalls meeting Horney and a male colleague who was collaborating with the book. Horney was staying at the modest guesthouse of the Heuer siblings on the lakeshore. It seems likely that the male colleague is the fictional “Dr. Borman” described in Barbara Compton‘s thinly disguised autobiographical novel To The Isthmus. The novel’s protagonist, Peg, stays several weeks at Casa Heuer, having heard about it from one of her husband’s colleagues (Dr. Borman) who “was down here not long ago, with a woman friend. She was an analyst too. They were writing a book together, and in the evenings used to try out their latest chapter on me. They seemed to think I was normal, or normal enough to try it out on.” [ To The Isthmus, p 153]

Karen Horney. Oil on canvas, c. 1940-1950, by Suzanne Carvallo Schulein. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Karen Horney. Oil on canvas, c. 1940-1950, by Suzanne Carvallo Schulein. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Horney was born in Blankenese, Germany, on 16 September 1885. Her full maiden name was Karen Clementina Theodora Danielson. She entered medical school in 1906. On 30 October 1909, in the middle of her medical studies at the universities of Freiburg, Göttingen, and Berlin, Karen Danielson married Heinrich Wilhelm Oskar Horney (1882-?), a law student, in Dahlem, Germany. The couple had three daughters: Brigitte (1911-1988), Marianne (born in 1913) and Renate (1916-2009).

[Brigitte Horney (1911-1988) became a German theater and film actress who eventually moved to the U.S. after the second world war. Her first husband (from 1940 to 1953) was movie producer Konstantin Irmen-Tschet (1902-1977); her second husband (from 1953 to 1985) was Hanns Swarzenski (1903-1985).]

[Marianne Horney (born in 1913) studied medicine and became a psychoanalyst like her mother.]

[Renate Horney (1916-2009) lived with her husband, cinematographer Alfredo Bolongaro-Crevenna, and their three children in Cuernavaca, Mexico, from 1939 onwards. Karen Horney was a regular visitor. While staying with her family in Cuernavaca, in 1944, Horney wrote Our Inner Conflicts (1945). In her later years, Karen Horney would visit Renate and family in Cuernavaca for up to several months at a time.]

In 1926, Karen Horney left her husband, Oskar, and moved to the U.S. The couple finalized their divorce in 1937.

horney-karen-coverIn the U.S., Horney practiced as a psychiatrist and developed theories of sexuality that were at odds with the then traditional Freudian views. Horney, usually classified as a Neo-Freudian, is credited with having founded the field of feminist psychology. She had also founded the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (AAP) and became Dean of the American Institute of Psychoanalysis. She later left these positions in order to teach at the New York Medical College.

Horney had published several books prior to visiting Lake Chapala, including The Neurotic Personality of our Time (Norton, 1937); New Ways in Psychoanalysis (Norton, 1939,) Self-analysis (Norton, 1942) and Our Inner Conflicts (Norton, 1945).

The book Horney was working on in Ajijic was presumably Are You Considering Psychoanalysis?, which she edited for Norton and which was published in 1946.

Several biographies of Karen Horney have been written. They include:

  • Hitchcock, S. T.  Karen Horney: Pioneer of Feminine Psychology (Chelsea House Publishers, 2004).
  • Quinn, S. A mind of her own: The life of Karen Horney, New York: Summit Books, 1987).
  • Paris, Bernard J. Karen Horney: A Psychoanalyst’s Search for Self-Understanding (Yale University Press, 1996). The cover illustration shows Karen Horney in Ajijic in 1947.
  • Rubins, J. L. Karen Horney: Gentle rebel of psychoanalysis, New York: The Dial Press, 1978).

Her life and work are also featured in American Women Scientists: 23 Inspiring Biographies, 1900-2000, by Moira Davison Reynolds (McFarland, 1999).

Dr. Karen Horney, one of the twentieth century’s more remarkable women, died in New York on 4 December 1952.

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

Aug 152016
 

Francisco Cabrera was beginning his career as a film writer and producer when he visited Ajijic in about 1944 with fellow producer Alfredo Bolongaro-Crevenna. Their visit was noted by Neill James in her 1945 account of the village.

Poster for Doña perfecta (1950)

Poster for Doña perfecta (1950)

Cabrera, whose birth name was Francisco P. de la Cabrera, had an acting role in the 1932 movie Carceleras, directed by José Buchs, which was the first Spanish film with direct sound recording.

In 1938, Cabrera began working in the then nascent Mexican movie industry. His first title as producer was Refugiados de Madrid (1938), followed by Noche de los mayas (1939), Ni sangre ni arena (1941) and Santa (1943), which he wrote.

In 1944, at about the time he visited Ajijic, Cabrera wrote and produced Adán, Eva y el diablo, which was directed by Alfredo Bolongaro-Crevenna.

In 1946 Cabrera was one of the founding members of Mexico’s film academy: the Academia Mexicana de Ciencias y Artes Cinematográficas, founded on 3 July of that year. The following year, the academy launched its Ariel awards, Mexico’s equivalent of the Oscars. This was the golden age of Mexican movies, with as many as 85 movies being made each year. The Ariel awards were held annually until 1958 and, after a lapse of 14 years, were re-initiated in 1972.

Other Cabrera productions included La malquerida (1949), Un día de vida (1950); Doña Perfecta (1950), which won three Ariel awards in 1952, He matado a un hombre (1963) and Amor de adolescente (1965). He also both wrote and produced the movies ¿A dónde van nuestros hijos? (1956) and Los hijos que yo soñé (1964).

Cabrera died in Mexico City on 3 July 1965, coincidentally, the 19th anniversary of the founding of the Mexican film academy.

Among Cabrera’s many claims to fame in the history of cinema in Mexicoy is the fact that he introduced the artist Gunther Gerzso to movie-making, when he contracted him to work on Santa (1943). The film was directed by U.S. actor Norman Foster and starred Esther Fernández and Ricardo Montalbán. Gerzso was initially reluctant to try his hand at set designing, but the success of Santa was the start of a lengthy and highly successful career in cinema. Gerzso, who was a good friend of Otto Butterlin (a German-Mexican artist with strong ties to Ajijic),  went on to work in more than 150 movies between 1941 and 1963. Octavio Paz considered Gerzso to be one of Latin America’s greatest ever painters, on account of the fact that he, Carlos Mérida and Rufino Tamayo had opposed the “ideologist aesthetic movement into which muralism had degenerated.”

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.

May 262016
 

Catalan artist and writer Avel-lí Artís-Gener, who often signed his art simply “Tisner”, left Spain for exile in Mexico following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). He lived in Mexico for 25 years, and visited and painted Lake Chapala in the early 1940s.

Tisner was born in Barcelona, Spain, on 28 May 1912 and died in that city on 7 May 2000.

Tisner. 1953.

Tisner. Untitled. 1953.

Artís-Gener exhibited numerous times in Mexico City. His work was included in a group show for the 4th National Floriculture Exhibition in May 1945, and a painting entitled “Chapala” featured in his third solo exhibit in Mexico City in the first half of September 1946, in the vestibule of the Cine Mageriti.

Artís-Gener has another interesting link to Chapala. One of his students for watercolor classes was Conrado Contreras, who has since produced, among other works of art, numerous fine watercolors of the Lake Chapala area. Contreras and his wife (poet, writer and educator Zaida Cristina Reynoso) moved to Chapala with their two young children in 1975, and have lived here ever since.

As a young man in Spain, Tisner had articles and cartoons published in a variety of media, including El Be Negre, Mercantil, l’Opinió, La Rambla, Esport i ciutadania and La Publicitat.

At the start of the Spanish Civil War, Tisner received death threats and fled to Paris. Soon after, he joined the Republican Army and returned to fight. During the war, Tisner edited Meridià, Amic and Vèncer, magazines written for the combatants.

During his time in Mexico (from 1940), Tisner worked as a journalist, cartoonist and scenery designer for Mexico City’s Channel 4, as well as working in publicity and as an editor. He retained close links with other exiles from the Catalan community. His cartoons appeared in Full Català, Quaderns de l’Exili, Revista de Refugiats d’Amèrica, Lletres, Pont Blau, Tele-revista, La Nostra Revista (founded by his father), and its successor La Nova Revista, founded by the artist himself.

Tisner took particular interest in Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past, which was the motivation behind his best known book, Paraules d’Opòton el Vell (1968). Other works written by Tisner (he almost always wrote in Catalan), include 556 Brigada Mixta (1945); Prohibida l’evasió (1969); L’Enquesta del Canal 4 (1973); Les nostres coses (1978); Els gossos d’Acteó (1983); and Ciris trencats (La Campana.

tisner-portraitIn 1965, Tisner returned to Catalonia, where he worked initially as a journalist for the daily El Correo Catalán, and later became deputy director of the Catalan weekly Tele/Estel. In 1970 he translated Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad into Catalan. During his later years, he worked for a large number of different newspapers and magazines, including Avui, El Periódico, Catalunya Informació, L’Avenç, Serra d’Or, Canigó, Cultura, El Triangle, El Món, Presència, and Espais mediterranis.

Tisner was politically active in the 1980s, and in 1988 received the Creu de Sant Jordi, one of the highest civil distinctions awarded in Catalonia. He also won a City of Barcelona prize for Catalan prose. He was a founding member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers, and the group’s president from 1990 to 1994.

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Apr 072016
 

Melvin (“Mel”) Schuler (1924-2012) was a sculptor, educator and a co-founder of the Humboldt State University Arts Department. Shortly after commencing his distinguished teaching career in 1947 at Humboldt State University, he was one of six artists exhibiting at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in August 1949. The exhibit, entitled “Cuarta exposicion anual de pintura” (“4th Annual Painting Exhibition”) also featured works by Nicolas Muzenic; Tobias Schneebaum; Alfredo Navarro España; Shirley Wurtzel and Ann Woolfolk.

Sadly, so far, we have learned nothing more about his time in Chapala.

Mel Schuler: Cirice (2008); copper over redwood

Mel Schuler: Cirice (2008); copper over redwood

Schuler was born in San Francisco in 1924 and died at his long-time home in Arcata, Humboldt County, California on 20 May 2012.

After attending Yuba College (1942-1947), Schuler studied at California College of Arts and Crafts (B.A., M.F.A.), and the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen (1955-1956).

The Humboldt State University website describes how, “While working as an art professor at Humboldt State University he developed a form of sculpture characterized by tall, irregular, solemnly monumental columns in elegantly carved and finished black walnut; they were sometimes clustered and partly enclosed in “racks,” and suggested archaic runes and totems. In the 1970s he turned to carving rhythmically organic columns in redwood, which were then covered with overlapping plates of copper that formed scaly, armor-like carapaces, and given a rich green patina that suggested great antiquity.”

In the 1970s, the internationally renowned sculptor began to produce large abstract sculptures using old growth redwood carved into abstract forms clad in copper and fastened with bronze nails.

Museums that acquired his work include the Smithsonian, Hirshhorn (Washington D.C.), Palm Springs, Phoenix, Oakland, La Jolla, Portland, Crocker Art Museum (Sacramento) and Storm King Art Center (Mountainville, New York).

In 2013, a permanent gallery for his works was opened in Eureka, California. The Melvin Schuler Court Gallery, created by Dan and Jayne Ollivier, opened on the second floor in the Gross building, at corner of 5th and F streets.  Ollivier has been quoted as saying, “Mel’s sculpture has enormous presence. Mel would say to me, ‘If it sings to you, it is a great work of art.”

Schuler continued to paint, as well as sculpt, throughout his life; the walls of his Arcata home were adorned by his own paintings, displayed alongside art collected from his travels in Africa and India.

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Mar 212016
 

Author and filmmaker Richard Zdenko Moravec is known to have visited Ajijic in about 1945, where he met Barbara Keppel-Compton who later wrote To The Isthmus, a novel which includes fact-based passages about their time there. The pair, both of whom had previous marriages, became husband and wife in 1951.

Artist Sylvia Fein remembers Moravec as a friendly, interesting “darling man”, who walked up and down the beach with her when she was revisiting Ajijic with her husband Bill, who had just returned from military service. Fein recalls that Moravec was a friend of Salvador Dali, and talked a lot about Dali’s piano.

Richard Zdenko Moravec was born 24 November 1894 in Zagreb, Croatia, Yugoslavia. He appears to have lived in Paris during the first world war and shortly after the war ended, wrote a short book about Italian-Yugoslav relations. The 47-page work, published by Lang, Blanchong et Cie. in 1919, was entitled L’Italie et les Yougoslaves, avec un exposé des relations italo-yougoslaves pendant la guerre et des documents à l’appui texte imprimé (“Italy and the Yugoslavs, with a statement of the Italian-Yugoslav relations during the war and documents to support the printed text”).

Moravec left France in 1919 and emigrated to the U.S., arriving there on the SS Chicago from Bordeaux, France, on 29 July. Moravec’s first wife, Selma, was born in Dallas, Texas on 26 February 1906. They were already married by the time Selma gained her A.B. degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1929. The couple remained in the San Francisco area, and are recorded as living in Oakland, California in 1934. In 1940 the couple was still definitely together since they are listed as disembarking on U.S. soil (in New York on 18 July), having crossed the Atlantic aboard the SS Manhattan.

Moravec appears to have been a chemical engineer and is credited or co-credited for several U.S. patents, most in the 1930s on behalf of the Shell Development Company of San Francisco.

On 17 October 1951, Moravec, described as an “engineer” and “divorced”, married Barbara Joan Keppel-Compton (“writer”) in Charlottesville, Virginia. They left almost immediately for Mexico, to make a motion picture film about Paricutin Volcano. The Story of A Volcano, relating the Tarascan Indian legend of Paricutin Volcano and the volcanic activity since its birth in 1943, was copyrighted in 1952. The credits include:

  • Producer and director: Richard Z Moravec
  • Narration: Anita Brenner
  • Narrator: Homer Gayne
  • Music: Tarascan Indian band and ballad singers
  • Film Editor: Alberto E Valenzuela

In 1955, Richard Moravec and Barbara Moravec, both of Yellow Springs, Ohio, filed for joint copyright of the motion picture With Malice Toward None.

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Mar 142016
 

I was surprised when I first read Barbara Compton‘s To The Isthmus (1964). The only review I had seen made it sound like a lightweight romantic novel in which the inclusion of scenes at Lake Chapala was largely incidental to the main plot. In fact …

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compton-to-the-isthmus

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Mar 072016
 

Barbara Joan Keppel-Compton (1902-1999), also later known as Barbara Keppel-Compton Witt, and Barbara Moravec, used the name Barbara Compton for a novel partially set at Lake Chapala in the 1940s…

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Mar 032016
 

Leonet (“Leo”) Matiz Espinoza was a Colombian photographer and caricaturist who lived and worked in Mexico in the 1940s. In 2011, eight gelatin silver prints in a series called “Fishing on Lake Chapala” came up at auction with an estimate of 8000 Euros; one of these eight images appears below.

Matiz was born on 1 April 1917 in Aracataca, Colombia, coincidentally the birthplace of novelist Gabriel García Marquez. He left his native Colombia for Mexico City in 1939, hoping that his artistic talents would enable him to find success there. He traveled overland from Panama via Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

It was in Central America that Matiz met and immediately proposed to Celia Nichols, the daughter of a British diplomat; he was 23, she was 40. They were only able to marry after Matiz had seen off a rival in a dawn shooting duel. According to La metáfora del ojo, Matiz claims he responded to Celia’s concern about the age difference by pointing out that, “I don’t see your age. I’m as interested in you, as you are in me.”

Matiz, whose long black hair, and gangster-like mustache complemented his mischievous sense of humor and absurdly colored jackets, would eventually have seven marriages in all.

Leo and Celia arrived in Mexico in 1941 as newly-weds and Leo quickly established himself as a caricaturist and photographer, claiming to have chosen the latter more for its economic rewards than because it was his first love as an artist.

Leo Matiz: Fishing on Lake Chapala (ca 1940)

Leo Matiz: Fishing on Lake Chapala (ca 1942)

Matiz held several exhibitions of his work in Mexico City in the early 1940s. The first, entitled “Fotos y Dibujos” (“Photographs and drawings”), opened at the Museo de Bellas Artes (Opera House Museum) in Mexico City in 1941 with a speech by the Chilean poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda.

In June of the following year, “El Pueblo de México” (“The People of Mexico”) in Mexico City’s Galería de Arte y Decoración showcased 59 photographs taken in Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico. The Mexican images included portraits, scenes of everyday life and artistic shots taken in Veracruz and elsewhere. Photograph #6 in the catalog was “Cabezas, Chapala” (“Heads, Chapala”).

In 1943, Matiz arranged another exhibit, entitled ““Tipos y Costumbres de México” (“Characters and Customs of Mexico), at own photo studio on Avenida Juárez in downtown Mexico City.

Leo Matiz: Lake Chapala (ca 1942). Reproduced by courtesy of Leo Matiz Foundation.

Leo Matiz: Lake Chapala (ca 1942). Reproduced by courtesy of Leo Matiz Foundation.

While the precise dates of his visit, or visits, to Lake Chapala are unknown, Matiz sent a special photo-report on the lake to the magazine Así. The report, entitled “Chapala, mar jaliciense” (“Chapala, Jalisco’s Sea), was based on several outstanding examples of Matiz’s photos, and was published in Así on Valentine’s Day in 1942 (Así # 66, 14 February 1942: 31-35). One photo in that article shows the main church and beach in Chapala as viewed from the lake, but most depict fishermen going about their work. Several views of fishermen tending their nets are taken close to the lake shore and show masses of lirio (water hyacinth), though this is not commented on in the accompanying text which focuses, instead, on the superior eating quality of the lake’s fish, especially the highly prized whitefish.

Matiz was not only a photographer. In Mexico, he also honed his skills as a caricaturist, influenced by the work of Guadalupe Posada and others, transferring these same skills of keen observation and astute choice of angles to his photography. As a result, his work regularly featured in the pages of magazines such as Así, Life, Reader’s Digest, Harpers Magazine, Look and Norte. He was also active in the world of cinematography.

As Matiz’s fame grew, so did the invitations and commission he received. In 1944, he held a solo show of “Watercolors and Paintings” at the Advertising Club of New York in New York City, and, in 1947, his work was included in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Solo shows of his work have since been held in numerous countries, from Switzerland, France, Italy, and Austria to Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Australia.

Leo Matiz was completely enamored with the extraordinary diversity of Mexican geography:

“The magazine Así launched me as a graphic reporter in Mexico. I began to look for themes and discovered the old and deep Mexico, eternal and fleeting. There before my eyes was the baroque architecture, the paintings, the murals, the Maria islands and the poignant histories of its presidents, the starving coyotes in the desert, the day of the dead, the sacred temples and the purity of Yucatan, the red ants in the desert, the women of Pancho Villa, the dead trees, the divas in the movies, the cemeteries, the colour of the folk crafts, the peasants and the remote hope of their redemption.” [quoted in Leo Matiz: The Eyes of Time]

The indefatigable Matiz traveled widely across the country. In the mid-1940s he accompanied Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl) to watch the birth of Paricutín, the volcano that erupted in a farmer’s field in Michoacán. On another occasion, he visited the infamous Islas Maria penitentiary, off the coast of Nayarit, documenting the lives of its prisoners.

Throughout the 1940s, Matiz was in great demand in Mexico City. He  considered José Clemente Orozco to be his mentor and father figure. At one time or another, all the major celebrities of the day, from stars of stage and screen such as Mario Moreno (“Cantinflas”), Dolores del Río, Agustin Lara and María Félix (with whom he had an amorous relationship) to artists such as Orozco, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and David Alfaro Siqueiros, looked into the lens of Matiz’s Rolleiflex. Matiz also photographed Janice Logan, Luis Buñuel, Marc Chagall, Louis Armstrong, Álvaro Mutis, Pablo Neruda and Walt Disney. His portraits show sensitivity, intimacy, the product of what one admirer called a “profound psychological penetration”.

He collaborated with Siqueiros to document his murals, though the two men later had a very public disagreement. When Siqueiros mounted an exhibition of paintings derived from his photographs in 1947, Matiz claimed some of the works were plagiarized. Siqueiros retaliated by calling Matiz an enemy of muralism and a North American imperialist. Things really escalated out of control when Siqueiros arranged for Matiz’s studio to be set on fire, forcing the photographer, concerned for his safety, to flee with his family to Venezuela. It would be almost fifty years before he returned to Mexico.

Matiz lived the remainder of his life in various countries, dividing most of his time between Colombia and Venezuela. Besides his art, he also started newspapers and opened art galleries. In 1951, a gallery he owned in Bogota staged the first exhibition of the Colombian painter Fernando Botero.

Matiz regularly claimed to miss Mexico, but did not return there until 1995, and was then profoundly shocked when he learned that the building that had housed his studio had been totally destroyed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. He remained active, despite failing eyesight, traveling through Mexico in 1997 taking pictures of rural workers for “Los hijos del campo”, the last book he illustrated.

Matiz’s photographic work is considered to be some of the finest of the twentieth century, demonstrating remarkable versatility, composition and technical ability. In 1948, he was named one of the world’s 10 best photographers. Examples of his work can be found in many major museums, including the Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Tate Gallery in London, U.K.

Leo Matiz died in Bogota, Colombia, on 24 October 1998. His images and artistic legacy are conserved and promoted by the Leo Matiz Foundation.

Acknowledgment:

  • Sincere thanks to Alejandra Matiz, the photographer’s daughter, and President of the Leo Matiz Foundation, for providing details of her father’s photo-account of Lake Chapala.

Sources:

  • Sergio Blanco. 2010. Leo Matiz regresa a México.[Gato Pardo, N° 110 / Abril 2010]
  • Miguel Angel Flóres Góngora. 2005. “Leo Matiz: The Eyes of Time” in ReVista (Harvard Review of Latin America).
  • Miguel Ángel Flórez Góngora. “Leo Matiz, fotógrafo universal.” (was at http://www.leomatiz.org/ at time of writing)
  • Leo Matiz. 1942. “Chapala, mar jaliciense” in Así # 66, 14 February 1942: 31-35.

Related post:

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Feb 292016
 

Santa Fe poet Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964) visited Chapala regularly with poet Witter Bynner (1881-1968) for about thirty years, starting in the early 1930s.

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Feb 222016
 

Elaine Gottlieb (1916-2004) was a novelist, author and teacher who lived for several months in Ajijic in the second half of 1946. She traveled to Mexico shortly after completing her first novel, Darkling, which was published the following year. She used her experiences in Ajijic as the basis for a short story, “Passage Through Stars”, published many years later, in Noonday #2, 1959.

Gottlieb’s decision to visit Mexico was apparently at the suggestion of Robert Motherwell, her art teacher one summer at Black Mountain College. (By coincidence, another former Black Mountain College art student, Nicolas Muzenic, lived in Ajijic shortly afterwards, from about 1948 to 1950).

noonday-2-coverIn Ajijic, Gottlieb stayed at the collection of small cottages on the water’s edge known as Casa Heuer, run by a German brother and sister (Pablo and Liesel), where communal dinner was the norm. At mealtimes, Gottlieb found herself drawn to a handsome, smartly-dressed, charismatic older man, Elliot Chess, a flying ace from the first world war whose stories and anecdotes kept his mealtime companions spellbound.

She was 30 years of age, he was 46; within two weeks they were engaged. To celebrate, on 15 September 1946, they caught a bus to Guadalajara. Gunmen attacked the bus and Gottlieb credited Chess with saving her life. Their precipitous, but short-lived, relationship led to the birth of Nola Elian Chess (her middle name is a combination of Elliot and Elaine) in New York in July 1947, which turned out to have life-changing consequences for Gottlieb and her future family.

[Nola, conceived in Mexico and born in New York, developed a brilliant mind, but died at the tragically-young age of twenty-five after a prolonged struggle with schizophrenia. Gottlieb’s younger son, Robin Hemley, has written an absorbing account of the life of his older half-sister: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness.]

In Gottlieb’s “Passage Through Stars”, Casa Heuer is transformed into Casa Unger, with Elaine becoming Emma and Elliot renamed Claude. The fictional names of the inn’s owners are Don Ernesto and Donna [sic] Sophía. The autobiographical story is a powerfully-told and moving account of her brief fling with Chess, exploring her personal doubts before, during and after.

She recalls her lover’s daily ritual swim in the lake:

“She would see him in the mornings, going down to the lake for his pre-breakfast swim; a shiny maroon robe flapped around his narrow legs. He would walk briskly, towel in hand, remove his robe in two swift movements, step out of his slippers, and, chin erect, approach the lake. Deliberately, he would plunge his head in, shake it vigorously, stand waiting a moment, and then plunge boldly. A little later, he would return, hand passing through his wet, mahogany-colored hair. Frowning against the light, he would continue to walk, martially erect, his head high and handsome, the face still young, eyes like the eyes of tigers.” [Passage Through Stars,  82]

According to Gottlieb, she and Elliot Chess lived together as man and wife there for two months, from mid-September (following the attack on the bus) to mid-November, at which point Chess returned to El Paso, promising to sell some of the land he owned there and rejoin her in New York in two weeks. Gottlieb, meanwhile, traveled by train to Mexico City and then to New York. Chess never made it to New York, and the two never met again.

In “Passage Through Stars”, Gottlieb says that Emma (herself) had “come to the pension alone, a widow, and had never fully recovered from her widowhood. Claude had happened on the scene…” but I have yet to find any mention elsewhere of Gottlieb’s former spouse.

Elaine Gottlieb. Credit: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, by Robin Hemley

Photo credit: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, by Robin Hemley

Gottlieb was born in New York City in 1916. Her mother, Ida, was a teacher in the New York Public Schools and eventually established the family home on Long Island. She gained a degree in journalism from New York University and studied art at the Art Students League of New York and at Columbia University. When Gottlieb was 25 years of age, she moved to Manhattan, determined to become a successful writer. During the summer of 1941, she studied at the Cummington School for the Arts.

During the second world war, Gottlieb had a job inspecting radios for the Signal Corps and also trained to teach photography to Army Air Corps recruits in Denver, Colorado.

In 1946, her short story “The Norm”, about an affair between a couple of college students, was chosen for inclusion in Martha Foley’s annual anthology The Best American Short Stories. The biographies attached to that and later stories say she had once sold books at Macy’s and written cables for The Office of War Information, as well as written book reviews for The New Republic, the New York Herald Tribune, Poetry, Accent, and Decision.

Her first (and only) published novel, Darkling (1947), tells the story of Cristabel, a young woman who yearned to become an artist, but was alienated from family and peers, and “lost in her own insecurities”. The book’s subject matter was ahead of its time and contemporary reviews were generally not favorable.

Prior to marrying poet and novelist Cecil Hemley (1914-1966) in 1953, on Nola’s fifth birthday, Elaine Gottlieb had been raising her daughter as a single parent. Despite a succession of family tragedies, Gottlieb continued to write short stories for publications such as The Kenyon Review, Chimera, New Directions, Chelsea Review, Noonday and Commentary, and also wrote “The writer’s signature: idea” in Story and Essay (1972). By the time of her death in 2004, she had still not completed two more novels that she had started many years earlier, including a mystery story based on a trip to England.

The Hemleys socialized with a glittering array of literary and artistic friends (including Robert Motherwell, Joseph Heller, Louise Bogan, Weldon Kees, Conrad Aiken, John Crowe Ransom and Delmore Schwartz) and became particularly close friends with poet and novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. The Hemleys helped translate and edit, several of Singer’s works from their original Yiddish, including The Manor (Penguin Books, 1975); Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories (Peter Owen Limited, 1958); The Magician of Lublin (Bantam Books 1965); and The Estate (Jonathan Ball, 1970).

Gottlieb taught creative writing, literature and film at Indiana University (South Bend) in the 1970s. Several former students of Gottlieb have acknowledged her role in helping them develop their craft. They include Gloria Anzaldúa, a foremost Chicano feminist thinker and activist, and author of This Bridge Called My Back (1981); Borderlands/La Frontera (1987); and Interviews/Entrevistas (2000).

Elaine Gottlieb was also known as Elaine S. Gottlieb, Elaine Gottlieb Hemley, Elaine S. Gottlieb Hemley and Elaine S. Hemley.

Sources:

  • Elaine Gottlieb, 1959. “Passage Through Stars”, in Noonday #2, edited by Cecil Hemley and Dwight W. Webb, p 80-93. (New York: the Noonday Press)
  • Robin Hemley, 1998. Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness. (Graywolf Press).

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Jan 302016
 

Charmin Schlossman lived in Mexico, mostly at Ajijic on Lake Chapala, from 1942 to 1945, while her first husband Marc Levy (they married in 1939) was on military service during the second world war. In Ajijic, she shared a house with Guadalajara-born artist Ernesto Butterlin (better known as “Lin”) and renowned surrealist painter Sylvia Fein. While in Mexico, Schlossman exchanged correspondence with Frida Kahlo.

Sylvia Fein (l) and Charmin Schlossman, Mexico City, ca 1944. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Fein.

Sylvia Fein (l) and Charmin Schlossman, Mexico City, ca 1944. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Fein.

Charmin Schlossman was born 24 October 1917 in Waukesha, Wisconsin and attended Riverside High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She then studied at the Community College in Milwaukee (1935–36), the University of Wisconsin (1936–37) and the Chicago Art Institute (1938–39) prior to living in Mexico. Schlossman initially visited Mexico on a tour, but remained there for several years. A chance meeting in Mexico City with fellow Wisconsin artist Sylvia Fein, who had attended the same high school, led to the two women living in Ajijic.

From 1946 to 1947, Schlossman traveled in Central and South America, collecting and studying hand-woven fabrics.

Shortly after her return to the U.S., a report from a meeting of the Brazos (Texas) chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, held on 3 April 1948, says that “Miss S. L. Charmin (sic) exhibited some of her paintings and discussed the unusual technique which she developed using Duco as a medium. Her subjects were the Indians of the remote Mexican village of Ajaijic [Ajijic] on Lake Chapala, where she lived for several years.”

At about the same time, the Ninth Texas General Exhibition, 1947-48, included one of her oil paintings, entitled, “Sunset on the City”, priced in the catalog at $300.

Soon afterwards, and now known as Charmin Lanier, she took summer classes (1950 and 1951) at the School of Crafts in New Brunswick, Canada. Daughter Danielle Lanier was born in about 1950, and son Christopher two years later.

From 1951 to 1957, she was founding president and designer for Charmin Lanier Handwoven Originals, which made custom fabrics for draperies, upholstery, and clothing. Her design work was recognized in 1955 when she attended the International Conference of Design in Helsingborg, Sweden, as the American representative. The fair ran from 10 June to 28 August 1955.

Charmin’s daughter, Danielle Lanier Shelley (herself a professional artist) remembers a family trip to Ajijic in about 1958, when her mother introduced her to “Lin” Butterlin and to the Johnsons, an English couple who were long-time permanent residents of Ajijic.

Lanier continued to paint, and besides some earlier group exhibits in Mexico, she also exhibited (between 1947 and 1961) at the Kraushaar Galleries (New York), Chicago Art Institute, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Contemporary Arts Museum (which she co-founded), New Orleans National Exhibition, and Texas State National Exhibitions.

The Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, was established in 1948 to showcase new art and to document its role in modern life through exhibitions, lectures and other activities. Lanier had works added to the Museum’s Rental Collection in 1956 and 1957.

Lanier completed a formal art education degree at the University of Houston (1957–59) and started an art teaching career with a spell in the Houston Public Schools (1958–61). The Laniers then moved to California, where Charmin continued her art teaching career at the Palo Alto School District (1964–69) and the San Diego Community College District (1973–74).

After she met and married David Knock in 1974, she retired from art teaching to dedicate herself full time to painting. In the mid-1970s, she exhibited at the rental gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla.

Lanier had begun painting in what she referred to as her “hard-edge realism” style in 1954. Her son, Christopher Lanier, says proudly that “Charmin loved striking, vibrant colors and chose to paint only beauty. She said, “there’s enough ugliness in this world–I don’t have to immortalize it.”” She was largely self-taught in this style, and completed about 400 “hard edge realism” paintings between the mid-1960s and 1993, when ill health meant she could no longer continue to paint.

Charmin Lanier Knock passed away on 23 January 2002. In her memory, husband David Knock established the Charmin and David Knock Grove as a permanent memorial in the Navarro River Redwoods State Park, near Fort Bragg, north of San Francisco.

Her early experiences living in Ajijic on Lake Chapala, led Charmin Schlossman (later Charmin Levy, Charmin Lanier and Charmin Knock, as well as S. L. Charmin, Charmin S. Levy, Charmin Lanier Knock, and other variants) to lead a rich and expressive artistic life.

Acknowledgements

My sincere thanks to Charmin’s husband David Knock, daughter Danielle Lanier, and son Christopher Lanier, for generously sharing invaluable information about Charmin’s personal and artistic life, via emails. (March 2015).

This is an expanded and updated version of a post from 22 March 2012.

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Dec 282015
 

Author and poet Harold Witter Bynner (1881-1968), known as “Hal” to his friends, had a lengthy connection to Lake Chapala extending over more than forty years. He first visited the lake and the village in 1923, when he and then companion Willard Johnson were traveling with D.H. Lawrence and his wife.

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