Mar 072019
 

Writer and illustrator Ellis Credle Townsend moved from Guadalajara to Ajijic in about 1974 and lived and worked at Lake Chapala for more than a decade. She was the author and illustrator of more than twenty children’s books over a long career.

Ellis Credle Townsend

Ellis Credle Townsend

Ellis Credle (she used her maiden name on all her books) was born and raised in North Carolina. Born in 1902, she studied at Louisberg College and taught high school in the Blue Ridge Mountains before moving in 1926 to New York City, where she studied interior design and took painting classes at the Art Students League. She worked as a governess for two children before landing a commission to draw reptiles for the American Museum of Natural History. While continuing to write in her spare time, she was also asked to paint a series of murals for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

She had several rejections from publishers before one finally accepted Down Down the Mountain (1934), the first ever illustrated children’s book set in the Blue Ridge country. Helped by her deep familiarity with the area’s folk tales and life styles, it was an immediate success and quickly became a classic; it sold more than 4 million copies.

Credle visited Mexico in the early 1930s and another of her early books, Pepe and the Parrot (1937), a story about a dog and a parrot, was set in a traditional Mexican village. Other books Credle published before moving to Mexico include Across the Cotton Patch (1935), based on her childhood days on a grandfather’s farm; Little Jeems Henry (1936); That Goat That Went to School (1940) and Janey’s Shoes (1944).

Credle married Charles de Kay Townsend; the couple had one son. Born in Rhode Island, her husband was a Harvard graduate and served in the Navy during the second world war. He was a photographic technologist with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. for many years, and it was after he retired that the couple left for Mexico with their young son, Richard, in 1947. Her husband’s photographs were used in some of Credle’s later books.

Richard grew to love Mexico and became an eminent authority on pre-Columbian cultures. He gained a masters degree in anthropology form the University of the Americas and a doctorate from Harvard for work on the art of Tenochtitlán. He was curator of the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at The Art Institute of Chicago, and edited numerous exhibition catalogs including The Ancient Americas: Art from Sacred Landscapes and Ancient West Mexico (which has many close links to the Lake Chapala area).

The family arrived in Mexico planning to stay only six months so that Credle could write without distraction, perhaps to put the finishing touches to My Pet Peepelo (1948), a story set in Mexico. Here Comes the Showboat was published the following year. By then, the Townsends had settled in Zapopan, Guadalajara, where their stay kept being extended by other book commissions; Credle ended up living in Mexico for more than 40 years.

Even in so-called retirement, Credle continued to write and based several more stories in Mexico, though none ever received the same high praise as her tales of the Blue Ridge country. In 1964, she and her husband were commissioned by Nelson to write a school book about Mexico, aimed at young teenagers. This was published in 1968 as Mexico, land of hidden treasure in Nelson’s World neighbors series.

Following the death of her husband in 1974, she moved to La Floresta in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Late in life she also wrote “Dog Ignacio Lives On“, a short piece published in El Ojo del Lago, November 1994.

Ellis Credle Townsend was often asked to lecture in the U.S. on account of her knowledge of authentic folklore and was a regular at the Ajijic Writers’ Group.

Interviewed for El Ojo del Lago late in her life, Credle said, “I have never regretted coming to Mexico. I have always felt happy, at home, and strangely safe here.” She did not travel very far apart from occasional trips to Chicago to visit her son. She was in Chicago at the time of her death on 21 February 1998.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 2 April 1964: 1 Oct 1964.
  • Shep Lenchek. “Ellis Townsend —A Lakeside Literary Treasure.” El Ojo del Lago,
    1996; reproduced March 2015 issue.
  • Richard Walser. 1960. Entry for Ellis Credle in Picturebook of Tar Heel Authors. Raleigh, N.C.: State Department of Archives and History.

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 072019
 

Neill James’ book Dust on my Heart is many visitors’ first introduction to the extensive English-language literature related to Lake Chapala. In the book, the self-styled “Petticoat Vagabond” tells of her adventures in Mexico and of two terrible accidents she suffered, the first on Popocatepetl Volcano and the second at Paricutín Volcano.

Cover of Dust on my Heart (1946)

Cover of Dust on my Heart (1946)

After two lengthy stays in hospital, James’ recuperation eventually brought her, in 1943, to the small village of Ajijic, which would be her home for the remainder of her long life. The final two chapters of Dust on my Heart describe her first impressions of Ajijic and of how she learned to appreciate the idiosyncrasies of pueblo life.

As with several other noteworthy Lake Chapala residents, separating fact from fiction in trying to sort out James’ story is tricky, and made more complex by hagiographic portrayals that simply repeat identical misinformation with no attempt to check sources or provide independent corroboration for claims made.

For example, we are led to believe that James was born on a cotton plantation in Grenada, Mississippi, a woman of means who graduated from the University of Chicago, met Amelia Earhart, was visited in Ajijic by D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway and George Bernard Shaw, and pioneered the looms industry in Ajijic, before founding the Lake Chapala Society.

Unfortunately, not a single one of these claims is true. James was born in Gore Springs, Mississippi. While Gore Springs is near Grenada, James was not born on any plantation and her family was far from wealthy. She never attended the University of Chicago and almost certainly never met Amelia Earhart. The claims about Lawrence, Hemingway and Shaw are especially ludicrous. D. H. Lawrence was long dead by the time James first visited Mexico. Neither Hemingway (whom James may conceivably have met in 1941 in Hong Kong) nor Shaw ever visited Ajijic. James did not pioneer the looms industry in Ajijic and was never a member of the Lake Chapala Society prior to being accorded Honorary Membership a few years before she died!

After studying stenography at the Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls (later Mississippi State College for Women) in 1918 James became a secretary at the War Department in Washington, D.C. Over the next decade, she traveled widely: from Hawaii to Japan, China, Korea, India, Germany, France, Costa Rica and New Zealand. In 1931, she settled on Hawaii to work at the Institute of Pacific Relations. Three years later, she left to travel again in Asia, returning to the U.S. via the Trans-Siberian railroad and Europe.

She then began travel writing and joined the stable of writers managed by Maxwell Perkins (who edited Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Erskine Caldwell, among others) at leading New York publishers Charles Scribner’s Sons. Prior to visiting Mexico, James had published three travel books: Petticoat Vagabond: Up and Down the World, (1937); Petticoat Vagabond: Among the Nomads (1939) and Petticoat Vagabond in Ainu Land: Up and Down Eastern Asia (1942).

Her early travels in Mexico in 1942, including a few weeks spent with the indigenous Otomi people, are entertainingly told, in rich, keenly-observed detail, in Dust on my Heart. During her first few months, James traveled to many very different parts of the country, from the capital city to impoverished rural mountain villages, from Acapulco to Chiapas.

It was only after two serious accidents, the first on Popocatepetl Volcano, the 17,899-foot peak near Mexico City, and the second on the slopes of the brand-new Paricutin Volcano in Michoacán, both recounted in gory detail in her book, and both requiring months in a Mexico City hospital, that James decided to recuperate at Lake Chapala.

It was August 1943 when James first arrived at Ajijic. She eventually built her own house there. In order to complete the manuscript of her next Petticoat Vagabond book, James penned a couple of chapters about the village. This was the last book she ever wrote. As suddenly as she had started writing travel books, she stopped.

James had no independent wealth and needed to generate some income for herself. She began to buy plain white cotton blouses and pay local women piecemeal rates to embroider them. Many of the designs were created by American artist Sylvia Fein who was living in Ajijic at the time.

From the late 1940s on, James started three new tourist-related ventures – renting and flipping village homes; clothing (including weaving and silk production); and running her own tourist store – all of which remained active until well into the 1970s. Over the years, she also tried all manner of other potentially lucrative but ultimately short-lived ventures, ranging from keeping bees and selling honey to looking for buried treasure.

The short-term promise of her “revival” of embroidered blouses had fizzled out when marketing problems reduced its appeal. Meantime, Helen Goodridge, with her husband, Mort Carl, had started a commercial looms business in 1950 which was attracting attention. While James could not compete directly with their venture, she could, and did, begin to teach local women how to use smaller hand looms to weave small cotton and wool items such as women’s blouses and scarves. Whereas Goodridge employed only men as weavers (very much the tradition in this part of Mexico), James’s workforce was entirely female, in line with indigenous practice in southern Mexico.

Neill James' store label

Neill James’ store label

James also started a silk industry in Ajijic. She brought in hundreds of white mulberry trees, from Uruapan in Michoacán, and planted as many as she could in her own garden, offering others to families around the village. James also bought silkworm eggs and before long, Ajijic had a thriving silk production industry. James employed local women to weave the delicate silk thread into fine silk cloth. Precisely when James introduced the silk industry into Ajijic is unclear, though it was certainly in full flow by 1962.

The third strand of her business activity was to open a small store out of her own home, selling items made in Ajijic as well as handicrafts from elsewhere. The store closed in 1974, when James announced her retirement.

James is best remembered today for her many positive contributions to the health and education of her adopted community.

Having helped educate the children of her domestic helpers from the very beginning, James broadened her scope in about 1954 to open the area’s first public library (biblioteca pública), principally aimed at serving the needs of the local children.

The first library in Ajijic was a room, donated for the purpose, on Ocampo near Serna’s grocery store. James persuaded the municipio to part with funds for books and arranged for Angelita Aldana Padilla to oversee its activities. As their reward for reading and studying, students were offered the incentive of free art supplies and classes. This humble beginning led, after many twists and turns, to the justly-praised Children’s Art Program, now run by the Lake Chapala Society, that has helped nurture the talents of so many fine local artists.

At some point, a second library was opened, with its own supervisor, in a building James owned near Seis Esquinas, to help children living in the west end of the village. After the supervisor left, the running of La Colmena (The Beehive), as it was known, was turned over to some well-meaning teenagers. When the library was badly vandalized, the remaining books and supplies were moved to the original library, which James later moved to a building on her own property at Quinta Tzintzuntzan.

In 1977, James donated a property at Seis Esquinas (Ocampo #90) to be used as the village’s first Health Center (Centro de Salud).

Leonard McCombe. 1957. Neill James (hammock) and Zara in the gardens of Quinta Tzintzuntzan. (Life)

Neill James (hammock) and Zara (on horseback) in the gardens of Quinta Tzintzuntzan. Photo by Leonard McCombe for Life, 1957.

After her retirement in 1974, the wonderful gardens of Quinta Tzintzuntzan were no longer normally open to the public. However, in 1977, James agreed that the grounds could be open every Sunday afternoon as an art garden (jardín del arte) for a new artists’ group, the Young Painters of Ajijic (Jovenes Pintores de Ajijic).

In 1983, James offered to let the Lake Chapala Society use part of her Quinta Tzintzuntzan property rent-free for five years, provided it took over running the Ajijic children’s library located there. The Lake Chapala Society subsequently (1990) acquired legal title to the property in exchange for looking after Neill James in her final years. James died on Saturday 8 October 1994, only three months shy of her 100th birthday. Her ashes were interred at the base of a favorite tree in her beloved garden.

Given her early career as a travel writer, it is only fitting that the Mississippi University for Women now awards at least five Neill James Memorial Scholarships each year (worth up to $4000 each) to Creative Writing students. First offered in 2007, these scholarships are funded with the proceeds from a charitable trust established by her sister Jane.

It was James’ generosity that enabled the Lake Chapala Society to move from Chapala to Ajijic at a time when it was struggling and desperately needed new premises. Given her amazing accomplishments and legacy she left Lake Chapala, there is no possible need to embellish the story of Neill James, one of Lakeside’s most truly colorful, memorable and enterprising characters of all time.

Note

James was not the creator of the saying, “When once the dust of Mexico has settled upon your heart, you cannot then find peace in any other land.” What she actually wrote (on the first page of Dust on My Heart) was “There is a saying, “When once the dust of Mexico has settled upon your heart, you cannot then find peace in any other land.”” James was merely quoting an old saying; it was not her creation. An earlier version of the saying appears on the first page of Your Mexican Holiday: A Modern Guide, Anita Brenner’s book published in 1932.

Acknowledgments

I am greatly indebted to Stephen Preston Banks, author of Kokio (a fictional biography of James), and to Michael Eager and Judy King for sharing with me their insights into Neill James’ life and contributions to Ajijic.

Sources

  • Anon. 1945. “Neill James in Mexico.” Modern Mexico (New York: Mexican Chamber of Commerce of the United States), Vol. 18 #5 (October 1945), 23, 28.
  • Stephen Preston Banks. 2016. Kokio: A novel based on the life of Neill James. Valley, Washington: Tellectual Press.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 17 September 1983, 18.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I Live in Ajijic.” Modern Mexico (New York: Mexican Chamber of Commerce of the United States), Vol. 18 #5 (October 1945), 23-28. [Reprinted in El Ojo de Lago. Vol 17, #7 (March 1999].
  • Neill James. 1946. Dust on My Heart. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  • Leonard McCombe (photos). “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.” Life Magazine, 23 December 1957, 159-164.

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

Jan 312019
 

From way back when, visiting artists such as surrealist painter Sylvia Fein in the 1940s offered students in Ajijic art materials and encouragement. In 1954, authoress Neill James, almost a decade after she had moved to Ajijic to recuperate from a serious climbing accident, started a tutoring program for local youngsters. Children who worked hard were given art materials to paint and draw. This was the beginning of Ajijic’s famous Children’s Art Program (CAP).

Early classes combined reading and writing with art. James became so committed to the project that the following year she opened a public library, donating the building to the village. She later opened a second library. She was sufficiently impressed by the efforts and creativity of several young artists that she arranged for them to continue their art education by attending classes in San Miguel de Allende.

To its eternal credit, the Children’s Art Program provided (and continues to provide) one of the stronger bridges between the expatriate “colony” and the local community. Almost all families in Ajijic have benefited from the program at one time or another. As the program expanded, greater organizational skills were required and the Lake Chapala Society stepped in to offer its support to help run the libraries and the art classes.

Javier Zaragoza and Jesús López Vega. 2012. Children's Art Program mural, Lake Chapala Society.

Javier Zaragoza and Jesús López Vega. 2012. Children’s Art Program mural, Lake Chapala Society.

For most of the first three decades of the Children’s Art Program, James was ably assisted by Angelita Aldana Padilla. One of Aldana’s nephews, Florentino Padilla (who lived from about 1943 to 2010) was one of the first students to be given a scholarship by James to study in San Miguel de Allende from 1960 to 1962.

On his return to Ajijic, Padilla gave back by teaching the next generation of CAP students. He helped promote the sale of the children’s “bright, charming paintings” to raise funds for materials and supplies. In 1964, for example, Padilla and Paul Carson (the then president of the Lake Chapala Society) arranged an exhibition-sale at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-NorteAmericano in Guadalajara of over 50 paintings by youngsters who had been taught at the Biblioteca. Nearly all the paintings sold. Padilla’s niece, Lucia Padilla Gutierrez, is also a gifted artist who attended CAP classes, and her own son became the third generation of this particular family to benefit from the program.

Many other later CAP alumni, including Javier Zaragoza and Jesús López Vega, have also given back to the program by teaching classes.

Every time CAP artwork was sold, a healthy percentage went to the individual student artist, as it still does today. In the 1970s, regular shows of CAP art were held in Ajijic. For example, in 1973, an exhibition of student work was held at the Tejabán Restaurant in Ajijic (then run by Jan Dunlap and Manuel Urzua). The acclaimed American photographer Sylvia Salmi (who had retired to Ajijic a decade earlier) and Peggy Duffield helped promote and organize the show.

The following year, Betty Lou and John Rip, who were frequent visitors to Lake Chapala, purchased CAP paintings to decorate all 44 rooms of their Mayan Motor Inn in Laredo, Texas.

For a variety of reasons, including Neill James’ advancing age and ill health, the CAP ran out of steam in the late 1970s and there were no regular art classes for children from 1979 to 1984. Classes were revived – initially during summer vacation and shortly thereafter year-round – thanks to the joint efforts of the Lake Chapala Society and the Ajijic Society of the Arts and the tireless endeavors of Mildred Boyd, an American writer and volunteer, who stepped forward at just the right time. Boyd, who died in 2010, dedicated thousands of hours of selfless service to the cause of CAP.

When Boyd came across a stash of long-forgotten works done by students who had been in the program decades earlier, she (with the help of one of her daughters, Judy) assembled a heritage exhibition that included early works by several children who had gone on to become successful professional artists.

The Legacy Art Collection (paintings and other works, some dating back to the 1950s, by children in the Children’s Art Program), the patrimony of all the people of Ajijic, is now in the care of the Lake Chapala Society. The collection is being catalogued and around 400 individual items can be viewed online via this online database.

Boyd’s two daughters are supporting LCS attempts to digitize, catalog and preserve hundreds of the better paintings and hope that regular exhibits in the future will showcase the extraordinary artistic talents of so many local families.

The first major retrospective, spanning more than 50 years of paintings from the program, was held at the Centro Cultural Ajijic in October 2014. The 60th Anniversary exhibit featured 130 works by CAP alumni. The “legacy artists” included José Abarca, Antonio Cardenas, Efren Gonzalez, Ricardo Gonzalez, Antonio Lopéz Vega, Jesús Lopéz Vega, Bruno Mariscal, Juan Navarro, Juan Olivarez, Lucia Padilla, Daniel Palma, Lucia Padilla, Javier Ramos, Victor Romero and Javier Zaragoza.

Frank Wise and Mildred Boyd with Children’s Art Program students. Credit: Lizz/Judy Boyd.

The Children’s Art Program is commemorated in a colorful mural at the Lake Chapala Society entitled “Six Decades of Children’s Art” (“Seis décadas de arte infantil.” The mural, financed by the Ajijic Society of the Arts (ASA) and painted by program alumni Jesús López Vega and Javier Zaragoza, was unveiled in March 2012 and pays special homage to the three remarkable women who ensured the program’s success: Neill James, Angelita Aldana Padilla and Mildred Boyd.

Today, between 50 and 70 local children participate each week in art classes given by CAP. Both CAP and the children’s library remain integral parts of the links between the Lake Chapala Society and the local community. Ironically, in spite of her contributions, and the fact that she gifted her own home to the Lake Chapala Society, Neill James was never a member of that organization, preferring to support Mexican causes rather than expatriate ones.

Artists of note who began their art careers by taking classes in the Children’s Art Program include José Abarca; Armando Aguilar; Luis Anselmo Avalos Rochín; Antonio Cardenas Perales; José Manuel Castañeda; Efren González; Ricardo Gonzalez; Antonio López Vega; Jesús López Vega; Bruno Mariscal; Luis Enrique Martínez Hernández; Dionicio Morales López; Juan Navarro; Juan Olivarez; Florentino Padilla; Lucia Padilla Gutierrez; Daniel Palma; Javier Ramos; Victor Romero; Javier Zaragoza.

The Children’s Art Program can always use additional help. To donate time, funds or resources, contact the organizers.

Sources

  • Mildred Boyd. 2001. “Children’s Art Alive and Well in Ajijic!”, El Ojo del Lago, Vol 17, #10 (June 2001).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 24 Sep 1964, 10; 1 Oct 1964; 10 Nov 1973; 16 March 1974.

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.

Dec 272018
 

According to American writer Oakley Hall, the novelist Christopher Veiel (born in 1925) was living at Lake Chapala at the same time he was in 1952. A New York Times reviewer described Veiel as looking “a little like a British F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

veiel-hearts-and-heads-coverIt is not known what Veiel was working on, if anything, during his time in Mexico, but his first (and apparently only) novel was published two years later, in 1954, in the U.K. as Intrigue (London: H. Hamilton), and in the U.S. as Hearts and Heads (Boston, U.S.: Little, Brown and Company).

Michael Hargraves says that at the time of its publication Veiel was living in Connecticut, having settled there after some extensive traveling.

Veiel was also the translator (from French) of Francois Clement’s book, The Disobedient Son (Boston: Little, Brown, 1956) in which “Juan, an ignorant but proud and ambitious Indian, learns the ways of power in Veracruz and Mexico City, and returns to his village to lead the fight against those attempting to become the village bosses.”

The Kirkus Review of Hearts and Heads, describes it as “A frivolous entertainment” and “saucy and skittish”. The novel “follows the emotional escapades of Edward Wallingford and Constance, his young wife, as their first months of marriage take them to Geneva where Edward does not find with Constance the sexual incentive he has had with other girls… Constance, on the other hand, while appreciative that Edward is “such a rock” finds something softer in Pierre – the brother of the housekeeper of their neighbor Carlos, and now their chauffeur. Constance decides to marry Pierre but postponing the admission to Edward, the three leave for England where Pierre, in a moment of petulant pride, bares the past and turns on Edward – with a poker. Edward almost dies, and both Constance and Pierre are tried but cleared when Edward comes to their defense…”

“A. Christopher Veiel” (it is unclear what name the initial A stood for) was born in Switzerland and educated at Chillon College and the University of Geneva. He became a teacher of French, German and Latin and retained his Swiss passport after moving to the U.S. in about 1949 to work at Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut.

Choate alumni, according to Wikipedia, include President John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, playwright Edward Albee, novelist John Dos Passos, investor Brett Icahn, philanthropist Paul Mellon, screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, actors Glenn Close, Michael Douglas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern, Paul Giamatti, and businesswoman Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published on 7 July 2014.

Sources

  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).
  • New York Times, 24 July 1955, 89.

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.

Nov 152018
 

The charismatic writer and artist Mort Carl, no doubt wearing his accustomed bandana tied in front of his neck, first arrived in Ajijic in the mid-1940s. Not long afterwards he married Helen Kirtland Goodridge; together they established the first weaving business in Ajijic, an enterprise that became known as Telares Ajijic.

Mortimer R. Carl was born into a Jewish family in Cleveland, Ohio, on 26 June 1905. His father, Benjamin Edward Carl (1877-1930), had been born in Ohio and (in 1910) owned or managed a brass company. Mort Carl’s mother, Minnie Rosenblum (1884-1965) had been born in Austro-Hungary and taken by her family to the U.S. as an infant.

The family was presumably fairly well-off since Mort and his mother spent the summer of 1908 in the country. Mort’s brother Norman was born in about 1915.

Little is known about Mort’s early life as a writer and artist except that he spent time in Woodstock, New York. He started his creative career as an artist and then tried his hand at writing, before rededicating himself to painting and sculpture.

When Carl first arrived in Ajijic in 1946, he initially stayed, like so many before him, at the small lakeside inn belonging to the Heuer siblings. This is also when he met Helen Kirtland for the first time.

Carl Mort. ca 1981. Antiphon.

Carl Mort. ca 1981. Antiphon.

After marrying Helen Kirtland, Carl set up his art studio in the family home (today the Mi México store) but continued to rent a “small two-room house with a patio and kitchen area” as a writing studio a couple of blocks away, at the intersection of Calle Constitución and Ramón Corona. From about 1950 to 1952, that building was the always-hopping Club Alacrán (Scorpion Club), run by adventurous Black American artist Ernest Alexander and his Canadian partner Dorothy (“Dolly”) Whelan.

Soon after their marriage, Kirtland and Carl saw an opportunity to start a weaving business. Kirtland (who had changed her name to Helen Carl) had studied fashion and worked as a dress designer in New York prior to moving to Mexico. She provided the creative genius behind the project. The Carls found some small dusty handlooms sitting in a forgotten corner of the Posada Ajijic and bought them from the inn’s owner, Josefina Ramirez.

The weaving business quickly became a success story, so much so that poor imitations of several of Helen’s original designs are still being made in Ajijic today!

Carl Mort in 1955 (Credit: El Informador)

Carl Mort in 1955 (Credit: El Informador)

In 1955 Mort Carl held an exhibition of his latest artwork in Guadalajara. The two-week exhibit of twenty modernist abstracts opened at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Jalisco (Galeana 158, Guadalajara) on 20 October. The works had such uninspiring names as “Construcción en negro y blanco”, “Construcción vertical” and “Composición en color.” The artist was quoted as claiming that his paintings needed to be seen and felt, not understood. Carl had previously (March 1954) held a show of his paintings at Galeria San Angel (Dr. Galvez #23) in Mexico City.

Unfortunately, life in Ajijic was not all a bed of roses for Mort and Helen Carl. When their marriage broke down, Mort left Ajijic and moved to Mexico City, where he set up a new weaving business.

He subsequently remarried and lived for some time in San Francisco before settling in Chester, New Jersey.

Paintings by Mort Carl were exhibited alongside woodblocks by Blance Small at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery in San Francisco from February to May 1973.

In New Jersey, Carl became a moderately successful artist, specializing in large metal sculptures. The example in the image, which comes from the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog, is entitled Antiphon. The 2-meter high sculpture was acquired and installed in about 1981 by Chester Public Library in New Jersey.

Mort Carl died in New Jersey in November 1985 and left his body to Columbia University Medical Center.

Acknowledgment

My heartfelt thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing her personal knowledge and memories of Mort Carl.

Sources

  • El Informador: 19 October 1955, 7; 20 October 1955; 22 October 1955.
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram. 2011. “Helen Kirtland Goodridge”, chapter in Alexandra Bateman and Nancy Bollenbach (compilers). 2011. Ajijic: 500 years of adventurers. Mexico: Thomas Paine Chapter NSDAR, 91-100.
  • Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York): 12 September 1947; 8 October 1952, p 15
  • Oakland Tribune, 25 Feb 1973, 128.
  • Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog.

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.

Aug 092018
 

Chapala-born Jorge Seimandi Ramírez was a highly-respected art educator at the University of Guadalajara for more than 40 years. He was not interested in the commercial side of art and his own work was rarely sold or exhibited.

Seimandi was born in Chapala on 2 February 1929, the son of Italian-born businessman Juan Seimandi and his wife, Refugio Ramírez, a local Chapala girl. Jorge Seimandi studied art at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Guadalajara from 1947 to 1950. His teachers included Ixca Farías, Leopoldo Bancalari and Rubén Mora Gálvez.

Recognized for his proficiency in both oils and watercolors, Seimandi painted still lifes, figurative studies, portraits and landscapes, some of which were exhibited in the 1950s.

Jorge Seimandi. Undated still life. Photo credit: A. Hinojosa/Informador.

Jorge Seimandi. Undated still life. Photo credit: A. Hinojosa/Informador.

His work was exhibited at the Exhibition of the School of Fine Arts (Exposición Anual de la Escuela de Bellas Artes) in Guadalajara in 1949 (where he won a “diploma of recognition”); in two shows at the city’s Galerías Degollado, in 1957 and 1958;and at at the Mexican-North American Cultural Institute (Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco). Seimandi  held solo shows at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas (1970; 1994) and at the Galería Jorge Martínez (1998).

Along with Alfonso de Lara Gallardo, Jorge Navarro Hernández and others, Seimandi was an active member of Grupo Integración, a loose collective of modernistic artists founded in 1966.

Seimandi was never a full-time professional painter but pursued art in his spare time while earning a qualification in law. He was appointed head of the Jalisco State Tourism Office in 1957. He taught art and art history at the University of Guadalajara’s Escuela de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts School) from 1953 to 1981, where he inspired the next generation of artists. He directed the school from 1978-1981. He was also appointed Professor of Drawing for the Jalisco State Primary Schools, a position that enabled him to research basic education in drawing.

Following his death in Guadalajara on 2 October 2013, at the age of 84, his family announced their intention to compile a complete catalog his works, many of which he gave to friends, and to arrange a retrospective exhibition at the University of Guadalajara’s Museo de las Artes. If they are successful, this will be a show worth seeing!

Sources:

  • El Informador: 25 April 1970; 26 June 1994; 25 Nov 1998; 28 Nov 1998.
  • Thamara Villaseñor. 2013. “Seimandi y su pasión por la pintura.” El Informador, 1 Dec 2013, 11-B.

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.

Aug 022018
 

Anthony Ralph Wolryche Stansfeld was born in Winchester, Hampshire, on 4 March 1913.

Cover of first edition (published by Michael Joseph)

Cover of first edition (published by Michael Joseph)

It is unclear how he and Peter Lilley first met, though they were very close in age.

Continuing the pen name Dane Chandos, the duo wrote two travelogues: Journey in the Sun (a trip from Mexico to Spain) and The Trade Wind Islands (which takes the reader from Mexico to several Caribbean islands).

The two men also created the huarache-wearing Mexican detective Don Pancho and wrote two well-constructed stories about his crime-solving exploits: Boiled Alive and Three Bad Nights, for which they used the pen name (or more accurately pen name of a pen name) Bruce Buckingham.

References

  • Bruce Buckingham. 1956. Three Bad Nights. London: Michael Joseph (Reissued as Penguin edition, 1961).
  • Bruce Buckingham. 1957. Boiled Alive. London: Michael Joseph (Reissued as Penguin edition, 1961).

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.

Jul 192018
 

The second strand of the pen name Dane Chandos, and indeed the originator of the name, was Peter Lilley. How, when and where Lilley first met Nigel Millett is currently unknown but they became literary collaborators and good friends during their time in Ajijic…

Peter Lilley is not known to have published anything under his own name, or any nom de plume, prior to the books about Ajijic.

The name Dane Chandos was conjured up by Lilley himself, since it combined his nickname at Stowe – “Dane”, on account of his blond hair and square, Danish-looking jaw – with Chandos, the name of one of the school’s boarding houses. Interestingly, though, Lilley had actually spent his own school years in a different house, Grafton.

Village in the Sun tells the story of building a house (located in real life in San Antonio Tlayacapan). The house was Peter Lilley’s home in Mexico. In House in the Sun the author has added extra rooms for guests and taken on the role of amateur hotelier, “held hostage by maddening servants and equally unpredictable and maddening guests.”

The two books share many of the same characters.

The final Dane Chandos book

Leslie Chater and his wife, Moreen, long-time friends of Lilley, eventually became the new owners of the house in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

A chance find there in a desk drawer by Moreen Chater caused her to revive the Dane Chandos brand in 1997, long after all three original Dane Chandos authors had died. Chater stumbled across a “scruffy folder” containing a manuscript of recipes “faintly typed and badly eaten by mice.” Providentially, these proved to be Candelaria’s original recipes, with notes and anecdotes added by Lilley. Chater used them to compile Candelaria’s Cookbook, an unusual bilingual book of more than forty recipes (and related stories) sold as a fund-raiser to support projects benefiting children in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

References

  • Dane Chandos. 1945. Village in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  • Dane Chandos. 1949. House in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  • Sophie Annan Jensen. 1999. “Candelaria’s Cookbook” (review) on MexConnect.com –
    [25 May 2018]

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 282018
 

Everett Gee Jackson (1900-1995), the renowned American painter, illustrator and art educator, lived at Lake Chapala, apart from some short breaks, from 1923 to 1926 (and returned there in 1950 and 1968). Jackson loved Mexico and during his first visit to Chapala he became intimately acquainted with the artistic creativity of Mexico’s ancient pre-Columbian civilizations, later teaching and writing on the subject.

Unlike so many other early foreign visiting artists who have left very little trace of their presence, Jackson wrote entertaining accounts of his experiences in Chapala and Ajijic in his two memoirs —Burros and Paintbrushes, A Mexican Adventure (1985) and It’s a Long Road to Comondú (1987), both published by Texas A&M University Press. Both memoirs are informative and beautifully illustrated.

Given the wealth of available material on Jackson’s life and art, this post will focus on the personal and wider significance of his earliest extended trip to Lake Chapala.

Cover painting is "Street in Ajijic", ca 1924

Cover painting is “Street in Ajijic”, ca 1924

Jackson was born in Mexia, Texas, on 8 October 1900. He enrolled at Texas A&M to study architecture but was persuaded by one of his instructors that his true talents lay in art. In 1921 Jackson moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute where impressionism was in vogue. At the end of the following year he eschewed another Chicago winter in favor of completing his art studies at the San Diego Academy of Art in sunnier California. He eventually completed a B.A. degree from San Diego State College (now San Diego State University) in 1929 and a Masters degree in art history from the University of Southern California in 1934.

As an educator, Jackson taught and directed the art department at San Diego State University (1930-1963) and was a visiting professor at the University of Costa Rica (1962).

Prior to his first visit to Chapala in 1923, Jackson had already undertaken a brief foray into Mexico, traveling just across the border from Texas into Coahuila with Lowell D. Houser (1902-1971), a friend from the Art Institute of Chicago. In summer 1923, the pair of artists decided to venture further into Mexico, to the city of Guadalajara. After a month in the city, they rented a house in Chapala and 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 much earlier, as had many artists of European origin.

Mexico, though, exerted a much more powerful influence over Houser’s and Jackson’s subsequent art than it did over any of these earlier visitors.

Jackson and Houser stayed in Chapala until the summer of 1925 when they decided to move to Guanajuato to experience a different side of Mexico. En route, they stopped off in Mexico City to view some of the famous Mexican murals, by Diego Rivera and others, that they had heard so much about.

After a few months in Guanajuato, the two young artists briefly parted ways when Jackson went back to El Paso to meet his girlfriend, Eileen Dwyer.

Everett Gee Jackson. ca 1923. Fisherman's Shacks, Chapala. (from Burros and Paintbrushes: A Mexican Adventure, 1985)

Everett Gee Jackson. ca 1923. Fisherman’s Shacks, Chapala. (from Burros and Paintbrushes: A Mexican Adventure, 1985)

Jackson returned to Mexico, newly engaged to Eileen, and discovered that Lowelito had decided to rent another house, not in Chapala but in the smaller, more isolated, village of Ajijic. Jackson is almost certainly correct in writing that they were the “first art students ever to live in Ajijic”, but there may be a hint of exaggeration in his claim that they were, “the only Americans living in Ajijic.”

After Jackson married Eileen in July 1926, the couple had an unconventional honeymoon, sharing a house in Chapala with Lowelito and a friend. In November the group moved to Mexico City, where they were welcomed by Anita Brenner and an elite circle of young artists and intellectuals that included Jean Charlot (1898–1979). They were also visited by the great muralist José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949). Early the following year, at Brenner’s insistence, Jackson and his wife visited the Zapotec Indian area of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec before returning home to San Diego.

Everett Gee Jackson. 1926. Lake Chapala. (Hirshl & Adler Galleries, New York)

Everett Gee Jackson. 1926. Lake Chapala. (Hirshl & Adler Galleries, New York)

Even before their return, fifty of Jackson’s Mexican paintings had been exhibited at the “The Little Gallery” in San Diego. The exhibit was warmly received by critics and art lovers and further showings of his “ultra-modern canvasses” were arranged for venues in Dallas and New York. Among the paintings that attracted most attention in The San Diego exhibition were “The Lake Village,” (Chapala), which had won first prize at the Texas State Fair in Dallas in October 1926, and “Straw Shacks in Chapala”.

There is no question that Jackson’s subsequent artistic trajectory owed much to his time in Chapala at the start of his career. His encounter with Mexican art — from pre-Columbian figurines to modern murals — transformed him from an impressionist to a post-impressionist painter. He was one of the first American artists to be so heavily influenced by Mexican modernism, with its stylized forms, blocks of color and hints of ancient motifs. Jackson’s work remained realist rather than abstract.

Jackson’s work was widely exhibited and won numerous awards. His major exhibitions included Art Institute of Chicago (1927); Corcoran Gallery (1928); Whitney Museum of American Art; School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1928; 1946); Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1929-30); San Francisco Art Association; San Diego Fine Arts Society; and the Laguna Beach Art Association (1934). Retrospectives of his work included a 1979 show at the Museo del Carmen in Mexico City, jointly organized by INBA (Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes and INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia); and an exhibit at San Diego Modern in 2007-2008.

Jackson’s wonderful illustrations enliven several books, including Max Miller’s Mexico Around Me (1937) and The Wonderful Adventures of Paul Bunyon (1945).

Everett Gee Jackson, Drying Nets, ca 1924., pen and ink. (from Burros and Paintbrushes: A Mexican Adventure, 1985)

Everett Gee Jackson, Drying Nets, ca 1924., pen and ink. (from Burros and Paintbrushes: A Mexican Adventure, 1985)

In addition to his two volumes of memoirs, Jackson also wrote and illustrated Goat tails and doodlebugs: a journey toward art (1993).

Jackson’s time in Mexico led to a lifelong interest in pre-Columbian art, as evidenced by his short paper, “The Pre-Columbian Figurines from Western Mexico”, published in 1941, and his book, Four Trips to Antiquity: Adventures of an Artist in Maya Ruined Cities (1991). In his 1941 paper, which included images of two figurines found at Lake Chapala, Jackson considered the varying degree of abstraction or expressionism in different figurines.

Everett Gee Jackson, author, pioneering artist, illustrator and much more besides, died in San Diego on 4 March 1995.

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to Texas art historian James Baker for his interest in this project and for sharing his research about Everett Gee Jackson.

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

Sources

  • Anon. 1927. “Talented Artist Of Mexia To Have Dallas Exhibition”, Corsicana Daily Sun, 29 Jan 1927, p 13.
  • Archives of American Art. 1964. Oral history interview (by Betty Hoag) with Everett Gee Jackson, 1964 July 31. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  • D. Scott Atkinson. 2007. Everett Gee Jackson: San Diego Modern, 1920-1955. San Diego Museum of Art.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1941. “The Pre-Columbian Ceramic Figurines from Western Mexico”, in Parnassus, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jan., 1941), pp. 17-20.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1985. Burros and Paintbrushes, A Mexican Adventure. Texas A&M University Press.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1987. It’s a Long Road to Comondú. Texas A&M University Press.
  • Jerry Williamson. 2000. Eileen: The Story Of Eileen Jackson As Told By Her Daughter. San Diego Historical Society.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. 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.

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.

Jan 012018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norman Mailer book cover

Norman Mailer book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Dec 142017
 

The American poet Witter Bynner, who first visited Chapala in the company of D.H. Lawrence in 1923, purchased a house in the town in 1940. The original address of the house, close to the plaza on the main street down to the pier, was 411 Galeana, but the current name of the street is Francisco I. Madero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Nov 202017
 

Internationally renowned sculptor Felipe Castañeda was born on the shores of Lake Chapala. He was born on 16 December 1933 in La Palma (in the municipality then called San Pedro Caro, now Venustiano Carranza) at the south-east corner of Lake Chapala, where pre-Columbian artifacts are common. Castañeda’s lifetime in art shows the influence of millennia of sculptural techniques and creativity.

Felipe Castañeda. Kneeling Woman. date unknown

Felipe Castañeda. 1982. Untitled (Kneeling Woman).

Castañeda moved to Mexico City as a young man. In 1958, he entered La Esmeralda Painting and Sculpture Academy of the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City where he took classes in drawing, modeling, carving and constructive drawing. He quickly became especially proficient at carving and sculpting.

In 1962, after he married his wife Martha, Castañeda began working for the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. He also became assistant to the Costa Rican-born Mexican artist Francisco Zúñiga (1912-1998), a world renowned sculptor and the single greatest influence on Castañeda’s artistic career.

By 1966, Castañeda was already molding incredibly detailed plaster and clay sculptures when he turned his hand to working in stone. He now works mainly in marble, onyx and bronze. Many of his sculptures depict the female form, whether wife, mother, lover or friend. Castaneda’s harem of perfectly proportioned women are simultaneously both mysterious and provocative.

Castañeda held his first one-man show in 1970 at the Sala de Arte (Gobierno del Estado de Nuevo León) in Monterrey, México.

Felipe Castañeda. Gracia. date unknown

Felipe Castañeda. 1986. “Gracia”.

His major solo exhibitions include Galería Mer-Kup, Mexico City (1977); Mexican Art International, La joya, California (1978); Princes Hotel, Acapulco, Guerrero (1988); Hotel Pierre Marqués, Acapulco, Guerrero, (1980); Art Expo, New York (1983, 1984, 1985); Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico City (1988); 30 Años Galería de Arte Misrachi, Mexico City (1990); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Morelia, Michoacán (1991); Club Britania, Morelia, Michoacán (1991); the B. Lewin Galleries, Palm Springs, California (1982, 1983, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994); Le Kae Galleries, Scottsdale, Arizona (1995); Instituto Cultural Mexicano Israel-IbereoAmerica, Mexico (1996); Galeria Lourdes, Chumacero, Mexico (1997); Museo de la Isla de Cozumel, Mexico (1997); Mexican Cultural Institute, Los Angeles, California (1998); Whitney Gallery, Laguna Beach, California (1999); Alvarez Gallery, Laguna Beach, California (1999); “New Gallery Artist Exhibition,” Eleonore Austerer Gallery, San Francisco, California (1999); and the Anderson Art Gallery, Sunset Beach, California (2000).

Among Castañeda’s group exhibitions are numerous shows in Morelia (Michoacán), Zacatecas, San Salvador (El Salvador), San Francisco (California); and Palm Springs (California).

Castañeda, who has received awards for his work from UNICEF (1980), Israel (1996) and from the International Academy of Modern Art in Rome (1998), currently lives and works in Morelia, Michoacán. This 4-minute YouTube video (in Spanish) shows the artist at work in his studio:

Commissioned public sculptures by Castañeda can be seen in a number of Mexican cities, as well as in Palm Springs, California. Examples of his work are in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Art History in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, among many others.

Sources:

  • Felipe Castañeda (Gallery BIBA, Palm Beach, Florida)
  • Felipe Castaneda (Artnet)
  • Felipe Castaneda (Artistic Gallery)
  • Felipe Castañeda Jaramillo (Bio on his website “Estudio de la Calzada”) – http://www.espejel.com/estudiocalzada/bio.htm [20 Nov 2017]

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.

Oct 052017
 

Author, playwright and lecturer Vance Bourjaily (1922-2010) lived in Ajijic during the summer of 1951.

Bourjaily was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on 17 September 1922. Writing was in his blood: his father was a journalist and his mother wrote feature articles and romance novels.  By the time he graduated from Bowdoin College in 1947, he had already been commissioned to write a novel about a young man coping with the experiences of war. This first novel, The End of My Life (1947), established Bourjaily’s reputation as a fine writer. Bourjaily’s later novels explored other great American themes, though none of them garnered the same degree of praise as his debut novel.

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

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Vance Bourjaily in the 1960s. Credit: patricktreardon.com

Vance Bourjaily in the 1960s. Credit: patricktreardon.com

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 212017
 

Jack Vance was a successful mystery, fantasy and science fiction author who wrote more than a dozen books and also wrote TV screenplays.

He and his wife Norma spent several months in Mexico traveling with Frank Herbert (author of Dune) and his wife Beverly and their two young sons in the second half of 1953.

Vance had met the then less successful Herbert a year earlier in California, and the two had become friends and writing companions, sometimes working on joint projects. They decided to visit Mexico in search of new experiences and stimulation. The Vance-Herbert friendship was the start of one of the greatest literary bromances related to Lake Chapala.

Many aspects of the families’ joint trip to Mexico in the Vances’ new blue Jeep station wagon are endearingly told by Herbert’s elder son, Brian, in Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert.

Selection of covers of books by Jack Vance

Selection of covers of books by Jack Vance

Vance and his wife Norma bought a new blue Jeep station wagon for the trip and the families shared driving, expenses and domestic tasks. After stopping briefly at a roadside monument marking the Tropic of Cancer, Norma accidentally left her purse on the car as they drove away. By the time they made a quick U-turn to recover the purse, which contained Jack’s favorite fountain pen (Vance was accustomed to writing long-hand whereas Herbert used a typewriter), it had been run over by another vehicle and the pen squashed.

A few days later they reached Chapala and rented a large house in the village. Brian Herbert describes the lake and surrounding farmland before writing that,

“A fishing and artists’ colony, Chapala was much favored by tourists, especially Americans. The town, while small, boasted one of the world’s great beer gardens – a large tavern by the lake that had outdoor seating under a shady, striped canvas roof. On hot days, my parents and the Vances could be found there, cooling themselves in the shade. Sunsets on the lake were spectacular.”

The “two-story adobe and white stucco house, which had been converted to a duplex” rental property was on the hillside a block from the lake. Strict silence was enforced during the mid-morning to mid-afternoon “writing hours”, so that both men could concentrate on developing plots and characters.

While the writers did cooperate on some “joint ventures” while in Chapala, they each also wrote short stories, hoping to sell some to magazines north of the border and thereby extend their stay in Mexico.

According to San Francisco book and art dealer Tim Underwood who edited a work about Vance, the origins of his futuristic novel To Live Forever (1956) date back to 1953 at Lake Chapala:

“One night Frank and Jack tossed around an idea for a novel and afterward flipped a coin to see who would write it. Jack won the toss and the book became To Live Forever.” 

It should be noted that To Live Forever was Betty Ballantine’s choice for the title, not the author’s. Well received by critics, it was later renamed Clarges.

After two months in Chapala, with funds running low, the Vances and Herberts decided to move to the larger, lower-cost city of Ciudad Guzmán in southern Jalisco. After about a month in Ciudad Guzmán, with funds running low, the group returned to the U.S. and then shared the Vances’ farmhouse in Kenwood, California, for several weeks.

John Holbrook Vance was born in San Francisco on 28 August 1916 and died in Oakland on 26 May 2013. He wrote more than 60 books. In addition to work published under “Jack Vance”, he published 11 mystery stories as John Holbrook Vance and 3 as Ellery Queen as well as single titles using various different pen names, including Alan Wade, Peter Held, John van See and Jay Kavanse.

Vance, educated at the University of California Berkeley, held a variety of jobs prior to serving in the Merchant Marine and becoming an established writer.

Described by Carlo Rotella (in a 2009 profile for the New York Times Magazine) as “one of American literature’s most distinctive and undervalued voices”, Vance won numerous awards, including the Edgar Award (1960), the Hugo Award (1963, 1967), the Nebula Award (1966), the Jupiter Award (1975), the Achievement Award (1984), the Gilgam’s Award (1988), the World Fantasy Award (1990) and the Grand Master Award (1997).

Sources:

  • Brian Herbert. 2003. Dreamer of Dune: the biography of Frank Herbert. (New York: Tom Doherty Associates).
  • Erik Jorgensen. 2014. “‘The Spice’ Flows From Santa Rosa“, Oak Leaf (SRJC’s Student Newspaper), 8 December 2014.
  • Carlo Rotella. 2009. “The Genre Artist“, The New York Times Magazine, 15 July 2009.
  • Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller (eds). 1980. Jack Vance. (Taplinger Publishing Company).
  • Jack Vance. 2009. This Is Me, Jack Vance! Or, More Properly, This Is “I” (Subterranean Press).
  • David B Williams. “Vance Museum – Miscellany – Biographical Sketch“.

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.

 

Sep 042017
 

Near the start of his writing career, an impecunious Frank Herbert, the genius behind the epic science fiction novel Dune, lived in the town of Chapala for several months. It was September 1953 and Herbert was 32 years old and struggling to make a living as a writer.

Herbert would not have been in Chapala at all had he not met fantasy writer Jack Vance for the first time a year earlier. The two men were about the same age, but Vance was already a successful writer known for his science fiction “pulps” and was making decent money writing scripts for Captain Video, a popular TV show. Herbert was a reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, had not yet found much success as a writer, and was struggling to pay the family bills.

As the two men got to know each other they talked of joint writing projects and of the two families traveling together to Mexico in search of new experiences and stimulation for their work.

This joint trip to Mexico, endearingly told by Herbert’s elder son, Brian, in Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, was the start of one of the greatest literary bromances related to Lake Chapala. Brian was only six years old at the time so much of what he writes is presumably based on notes written by his father and recollections shared by his mother, Beverly.

Vance and his wife Norma bought a new blue Jeep station wagon for the trip and the families shared driving, expenses and domestic tasks. After stopping briefly at a roadside monument marking the Tropic of Cancer, Norma accidentally left her purse on the car as they drove away. By the time they made a quick U-turn to recover the purse, which contained Jack’s favorite fountain pen (Vance was accustomed to writing long-hand whereas Herbert used a typewriter), it had been run over by another vehicle and the pen squashed.

A few days later they reached Chapala and rented a large house in the village. Brian Herbert describes the lake and surrounding farmland before writing that,

“A fishing and artists’ colony, Chapala was much favored by tourists, especially Americans. The town, while small, boasted one of the world’s great beer gardens – a large tavern by the lake that had outdoor seating under a shady, striped canvas roof. On hot days, my parents and the Vances could be found there, cooling themselves in the shade. Sunsets on the lake were spectacular.”

The “two-story adobe and white stucco house, which had been converted to a duplex” rental property was on the hillside a block from the lake. Strict silence was enforced during the mid-morning to mid-afternoon “writing hours”, so that both men could concentrate on developing plots and characters.

Frank Herbert, 1952. Photo by Jack Vance.

Frank Herbert, 1952. Photo by Jack Vance (used in Jorgensen 2014 by courtesy of Jack Vance estate)

While the writers did cooperate on some “joint ventures” while in Chapala, each of them also wrote short stories, hoping to sell some to magazines north of the border and thereby extend their stay in Mexico. Herbert was also working on a psychological thriller set in a submarine, serialized in Astounding magazine as “Under Pressure”, and later turned into the book The Dragon in the Sea (1956).

Herbert also completed a humorous short piece entitled “Life with Animalitos”, submitted to Reader’s Digest but never published.

After two months in Chapala, with funds running low, the Vances and Herberts decided to move to the larger, lower-cost city of Ciudad Guzmán in southern Jalisco. Shortly after arriving in the city, Herbert was invited to the home of a retired Mexican Army general. When sweet cookies were brought round, Herbert hungrily consumed two before discovering they were laced “with the most expensive North African hashish in the world” and experiencing hallucinations.

This was the initial experience that gave Herbert the idea for melange, the fictional spice found only on the planet Dune that was “the most important substance in the universe”. According to Herbert’s son, “Paul Atreides’s experiences with that drug [in the novel] mirror the author’s personal experiences.”

After about a month in Ciudad Guzmán, and almost out of funds, the group returned to the U.S. and then shared the Vances’ farmhouse in Kenwood, California, for several weeks.

Herbert eventually found his financial footing, in part by writing speeches for Republican senator Guy Cordon. In 1959 he began work on Dune (published as a hardback in 1965) which opened all kinds of literary doors and enabled him to achieve the success he had previously only dreamed about.

Dune, one of the most popular science fiction novels ever written, won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965 and was the first major ecological science fiction novel. The movie version of Dune in 1984, screenplay by David Lynch, was shot entirely in Mexico: at Churubusco Studios, Mexico City;  Samalayuca sand dunes in Chihuahua; and at Puerto Peñasco  and the nearby El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar in Sonora.

Many elements from Dune – including warring noble houses, “aura” spice and “moisture farming” – are evident in the later Star Wars movies. Herbert was the first to recognize this and formed, with a number of like-minded colleagues a lighthearted club called the “We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society”.

Herbert wrote more than twenty other novels, including The Green Brain (1966), The Santaroga Barrier (1968), Hellstrom’s Hive (1973), The Dosadi Experiment(1977) and The White Plague (1982).

Science fiction fans everywhere should be eternally grateful that Frank Herbert accompanied his friend Jack Vance to Chapala, and that he then ate those two cookies at the General’s house in Ciudad Guzmán.

Frank Patrick Herbert, Jr., was born on 8 October 1920 in Tacoma, Washington, and died on 11 February 1986 in Madison, Wisconsin.

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.

 

Aug 242017
 

Bet Lamoureux was a writer and artist with close links to Los Angeles and to Desert Hot Springs in California. A short news item in the Palm Springs-based Desert Sun newspaper in 1951 says that Lamoureux was flying to Mexico City and Guadalajara in order to spend several months in Ajijic, where “Once settled in her Mexican paradise, she will write the book for which she has been gathering bright and humorous material for the past four years.”

Audrey Bernice (sometimes “Bettina”, usually known as “Bet”) Martin (her maiden name) was born in Riverside, California on 14 May 1909. She married Howard Lamoureux; the couple’s only son, Albert Howard Lamoureux, was born in 1939.

In the early 1940s, Howard Lamoureux was among the first to purchase lots when the new town of Desert Hot Springs was founded. According to a later newspaper report, Lamoureux “had enough faith In Desert Hot Springs to purchase the first two lots.” By 1949, Bet and Howard Lamoureux were hosts at Miracle Isle in Desert Hot Springs, but tragedy struck in April of that year when Howard became critically ill and passed away shortly afterwards.

In November of 1949, Bet is mentioned as being the owner of the Village Store but the family’s run of bad luck continued and she decided to sell the store the following year in order to spend more time with her son Albert who had fallen ill. During Bet’s ownership of the Village Store, it occasionally held art exhibits, including one in November 1949 of paintings by Marie Ropp, a “Grande Dame of Art” in California and the West.

As a writer, Bet Lamoureux had contributed a “very clever and refreshing column” about Desert Hot Springs to The Palm Springs News “for over two years”, coining the phrase “the friendly village on the sunny slope” as the most appropriate epithet for her home town.

In February 1951, now working on a book, Bet flew from California to Mexico intending to spend several months in Ajijic. Things did not work out quite as planned. While she had originally planned to return to the U.S. in June, she remained in Mexico a little longer and married John Addington in Mexico City on 11 August 1951. Addington was an electrician in Desert Hot Springs. The couple apparently met at the Writing Center of the Mexico City College.

Over the next few years, Bet Addington as she was now known, featured prominently in numerous arts and crafts fairs in Desert hot Springs, turning her hand to flower arrangements and opening, with her husband, a restaurant-gallery named Addington’s. The gallery held weekly shows during the winter season and the restaurant gained an enviable reputation for fine food. Details are sketchy but it appears that Bet Addington visited Mexico again in the summer of 1953.

In 1956, Bet Addington was instrumental in founding an artists’ group known as The Sand Witches. According to a local newspaper, the group was founded after Addington remarked that, “We are famous for our water and our wind. Let’s get in and feature our desert sand!” The sand paintings by members of the group were exhibited in clubs and art galleries all over California, sometimes as fund raisers for local charities. The other members of the group, active until at least 1960, included Dorothy Chester, Kay Farnum, Enola Hulbert, Betty Lukomski, Sally Sweet, Karen Thompson, Ginna Walker, Lillian Woods, Helen Young and Rae Taylor.

Grave marker for Bet Lamoureux. Photo courtesy of CRob (findagrave.com)

Grave marker for Bet Lamoureux. Photo courtesy of CRob (findagrave.com)

Bet Addington died in Orange County, California, on 29 March 1989. Sadly, we may never know whether or not this pioneering writer and artist of Desert Hot Springs ever completed the book she was working on when she visited Ajijic in 1951.

Sources:

  • Desert Sentinel (Desert Hot Springs, California): 10 February 1949, p4; 1 April 1949; 8 April 1949; 17 November 1949, p6; December 8, 1949, p6; 30 November 1950, p5; 14 December 1950, p9; 22 February 1951, p2; 23 August 1951, p1; 26 February 1953: p4; 16 April 1953, p1; 28 May 1953: p2; 13 August 1953, p5; 21 October 1954, p6; 20 November 1958, p 15.
  • Desert Sun: Number 30, 23 February 1951 p 8; Number 78, 19 May 1955; Number 234, 4 May 1967.
  • Independent Press-Telegram (Long Beach), 17 April 1960, p 87.
  • Mexico City Collegian, 14 Jan 1954 – vol7 #6.

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.

Aug 212017
 

Orley Allen Pendergraft was born in Arizona on 12 May 1918. He worked as a school teacher for many years and was ordained as a minister prior to deciding to dedicate himself to art.

Even before he completed college, Pendergraft had made several visits to Mexico, usually to Rocky Point (Puerto Peñasco) on the Sea of Cortés. He painted in Mexico for the first time in 1940 and spent part of 1951 in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. After 1959 he became a regular visitor to the town of Álamos in Sonora, establishing his permanent home there in the mid-1970s and living there for more than thirty years until his death on 22 November 2005.

His first one-person show was apparently in “the Guadalajara area”, but it is unclear whether this refers to a show in Tlaquepaque, for example, or to a location on Lake Chapala.

Pendergraft, “a native Arizonan of Cherokee and Anglo descent”, was born on his father’s dairy farm near Mesa and displayed artistic talent from a young age, winning an Arizona Republic art contest at the age of twelve. He also picked up street Spanish from the farm’s Mexican workers. He graduated from Phoenix Union High School and won an art scholarship to Carnegie Institute, but chose to remain in Arizona and, in 1938, entered the Arizona State Teachers College (now Northern Arizona University) at Flagstaff.

His mother insisted that he postpone his intended career as an art teacher and instead study for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, so Pendergraft next attended a seminary in Arkansas from which he graduated with a Doctor of Divinity degree. He was ordained as an Episcopal minister on 21 December 1943 by Bishop Block of California in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

By 1949, Pendergraft had been assigned to, and was teaching in, the diocese of New Jersey. In March of that year, he married a French nurse, Eleanor Madeleine Langpoop. This was also the year when he joined the Graphic Sketch Club in Philadelphia and decided to renew his art education by enrolling in the Fleisher Memorial Art School in Philadelphia. At some point in his career, Pendergraft also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia) and at the Art Students League in New York, where he had worked as a free-lance commercial artist for Young and Rubicam Advertising. Pendergraft had also spent a year in Europe, mainly in Paris and Spain.

By 1951, Pendergraft and his wife were living in Mount Hermon, California. The Santa Cruz Sentinel for 28 September 1951 reports that one of Pendergraft’s landscape paintings – Ajijic on Lake Chapala, Mexico – has taken the “coveted silver bowl” at the county fair for gaining first place in the watercolors landscape class, and that one of his oil paintings – a still life – had also won a first place award.

Allen Pendergraft. Ajijic. 1951

Allen Pendergraft. “La Esquina del Carrisal – Ajijic”. 1951. Credit: Figureworks.

This Ajijic painting (above) dates from that time and is currently listed for sale at Figureworks, a gallery in Brooklyn, New York.

From 1953-63, Pendergraft exhibited exclusively with the Artists Guild of America, Inc., both in Carmel and in their traveling exhibitions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Pendergraft was also invited to participate in an exhibit entitled “Sixty Living Americans”, held in New York and Miami. Pendergraft’s agent was art patron Joanne Goldwater. [By coincidence, Joanna Goldman used to reside at least part-time in Ajijic, and her father – former U.S. senator Barry Goldwater – exhibited photos of American southwest landscapes at the Centro Ajijic de Bellas Artes (CABA) in January 1998.]

Sadly, in 1959, Eleanor contracted an antibiotic-resistant form of tuberculosis and died shortly afterwards. The church granted Pendergraft early retirement and a pension, giving him the freedom to focus on his art. For many years, he divided his time between studios in Sedona, Arizona, and Álamos, Sonora.

According to the post “Allen Pendergraft” in the Álamos Interviews series published on the Álamos History Association website,

“Immediately after his wife’s death, though, and in a state of depression, he went to Mexico intent on drinking himself to death. Fortunately for him, the drinking only made his sick! He was out of money at a hotel in Southern Mexico, so the owner gave him a job tending the cash register at the hotel bar. While at work he met the playwright Tennessee Williams, who was looking for a location for a play he intended to write. Allen took Williams to Puerto Vallarta, then a small, sleepy fishing village, and Williams proceeded to write “The Night of the Iguana,” putting Allen in the play as the alcoholic priest. Allen was not pleased with the characterization!”

This wonderful story may have some truth to it. Williams completed the play, based on his 1948 short story of the same name, in 1961, and the famous movie version, starring Richard Burton, was released in 1964, so the time frame is about right. However, the Wikipedia entry about the play claims that, “The Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon was partly based on Williams’ cousin and close friend, the Reverend Sidney Lanier, the iconoclastic Rector of St Clement’s Episcopal Church, New York.” It is of course perfectly possible that the character of the drunken defrocked priest is based on both men. [Note that Williams himself had spent the summer of 1945 in Chapala working on a play provisionally called The Poker Night,.]

Pendergraft’s religious training and art education came together in the mid-1950s. From 1956 to 1967, he worked, in association with his cousin Peter Carroll, on the liturgical arts commission in California, designing stained glass windows, murals and church furnishings in glass, mosaics and wrought iron for churches in many communities, including San Francisco, Oakland, Orinda, Sacramento, Portola Valley, Santa Clara, Pebble Beach, Carmel, Pasadena, Laguna Beach and San Diego.

In addition, Pendergraft was commissioned to paint the portraits of various senior ecclesiastical figures, including Bishop Banyard (whose portrait hangs in the cathedral in Trenton); Bishop Torres (whose portrait is in the cathedral of Ciudad Obregón, Mexico) and Bishop Block (San Francisco).

According to a newspaper piece in 1972, by which time he was becoming very well known as a painter of western landscapes, Pendergraft’s work was being exhibited “in La Posada and the Wesley Gallery in Sedona, Scottsdale’s Blue Flute and Saddleback Inn in Phoenix”.

Pendergraft was a member of the Artists Guild of America and his work won numerous awards in regional shows and fairs in California, as well as a first place in the New Jersey Summer Art Festival (Cape May). His oils and watercolors can be found in museums in New Jersey, Arizona and Massachusetts, and in private collections throughout the U.S.

Pendergraft wrote a family history entitled Pendergrass of Virginia and the Carolinas: 1669-1919, published in Sedona in 1977, and contributed the pen and ink drawings used to illustrate Ida Luisa Franklin’s Ghosts of Alamos, first published in 1973.

Pendergraft sold his Sedona house and moved full-time to Álamos in the mid-1970s. Most of Pendergraft’s paintings in Álamos were small enough to fit in a suitcase, and inexpensive enough ($25) to appeal to the tourists he met on the plaza. He did also paint some large canvasses, one of which is in the town’s Museo Costumbrista de Sonora.

When his failing eyesight brought an end to his painting career in the mid-1990s, Pendergraft was cared for by a local couple. After the husband’s death, and concerned about the financial future of his widow, Pendergraft married her not long before his own death in order that she could benefit from his social security, pensions and estate.

Sources:

  • Álamos History Association. Álamos Interviews: Allen Pendergraft. 21 June 2011.
  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona). 1939. “Valley Students Placed On Roll” in Arizona Republic, 10 January 1939, p 15; 14 June 1972, p 89.
  • Nancy Dustin Moure. Santa Cruz Art League Statewide Art Exhibition Index, First through Twenty-seventh, 1928-1957. (Publications in California Art, No. 12).
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, (California), 28 September 1951, p 5; 7 October 1951.

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.

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Aug 072017
 

Marcella Crump (ca 1926-2017) was a photographer born in Estonia who emigrated to the U.S. and was  active in Ajijic in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her story is similar in some ways to that of Beverly Johnson who arrived slightly later.

Crump’s husband – Capt. David O. Crump, a B-47 pilot with the Air Force Strategic Air Command and stationed for a while at Lake Charles, Louisiana – was killed in January 1955 when two B-47s collided during refueling, leaving her to bring up their six young children. Marcella later took the family to Mexico and settled in Ajijic. In her limited spare time, she painted and, after a couple of years in Mexico, sent a selection of her completed works for exhibition in Lake Charles.

Crump initially rented Zara’s “beach house”, a small cottage positioned on the lakefront a couple of blocks west of the pier. This cottage had some very interesting renters over the years, including Lona Isoard, Mimi Fariña (the younger sister of singer Joan Baez), and Iona Kupiec, drama teacher and world traveler.

Gustel Foust. 2000. Painting of former Mallie Crump residence.

Gustel Foust. 2000. Painting of former Mallie Crump residence.

Later, the Crump family remodeled a home (see painting above by Gustel Foust) near the church with the assistance of architect Jack Bateman.

This photograph is of Raymond’s younger sister Hilda and other children, with the obligatory piñata, enjoying a posada, sponsored by the church, at the Escuela Marcos Castellanos (a Primary School for girls) in Ajijic.

Malle Crump. Hilda Crump striking piñata, ca 1960. {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Marcella Crump. Hilda Crump striking piñata, ca 1960. {reproduced courtesy of Hilda and Raymond Crump)

Raymond Crump remembers many of the people who were living in Ajijic during his childhood and adolescence, including Curtis Foust (son of Gustel Foust), Alice Bateman (eldest daughter of Laura and Jack Bateman), John Bruce, Eugene Quesada, and Alice Sendis and her two children: Gustavo and Milagro.

Ajijic has quite a long tradition of holding an annual globo (balloon) competition in which contestants vie to make a balloon that flies the furthest. Watching the event in about 1962 (below) were (left to right): Laura Bateman, Neill James, unknown, Alicia Sendis and Hilda Crump.

Malle Crump. Watching globos. From l to r: Laura Bateman, Neill James, unknown, Alice Sendis, Hilda Crump. ca 1962 {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Marcella Crump. Watching globos. From l to r: Laura Bateman, Neill James, unknown, Alicia Sendis, Hilda Crump. ca 1962 {reproduced courtesy of Hilda and Raymond Crump)

The balloon made by the Bateman family dwarfed all others in this particular year, with the author-artist Jack Bateman proving his abilities in terms of design and construction.

Malle Crump. Bateman family's balloon dwarfs all others. ca 1962. {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Marcella Crump. Bateman family’s balloon dwarfs all others. ca 1962. {reproduced courtesy of Hilda and Raymond Crump)

As one example of the many photographs that Marcella Crump took of the village of Ajijic, here is one of what was then Serna’s store, near the plaza, in the early 1960s.

Malle Crump. Serna's store, Ajijic. early 1960s. {reproduced courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Marcella Crump. Serna’s store, Ajijic. early 1960s. (reproduced courtesy of Hilda and Raymond Crump)

When some of Crump’s children returned to the U.S. to attend school in California, Marcella herself started taking courses at Costa Mesa Community College and became an archaeologist. She later worked for the Forestry Service and on digs in Costa Rica (in 1976) and Panama.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Raymond and Hilda Crump for graciously sharing information about their mother and the family’s life in Mexico.

Want to learn more? (Sources):

  • Lake Chapala Society Oral History Project: Marcella Crump.
  • The B-47 Stratojet Association. Webpage [29 July 2017].
  • Lake Charles American Press (Lake Charles, Louisiana). 1955. “Four Crewmen Still Missing after 2 Stratojets Collide”. Lake Charles American Press, 6 January 1955, p 1. [and succeeding days]

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.

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