Feb 212018
 

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

Jean Caragonne. Flower at window.

Jean Caragonne. Flower at window.

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

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

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

Jean Caragonne. Quiet Hill.

Jean Caragonne. Quiet Hill.

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

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

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

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

Jean Caragonne. Market.

Jean Caragonne. Market.

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

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

Jean Caragonne. Tulips and ebony.

Jean Caragonne. Tulips and ebony.

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

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

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

Acknowledgment:

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

Sources:

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

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

Feb 152018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Degollado Theater program, 1936.

Zara and Holger. Degollado Theater program, 1936.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

Acknowledgment:

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

Jan 222018
 

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

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

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

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

Illustration by Robert B. Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

Illustration by Robert Baird Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

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

Illustration by Baird Snodgrass for The broken Promise

Illustration by Robert Baird Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments

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

Sources:

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

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

Jan 082018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Jan 042018
 

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

Bert Miller. ca 1972. Ajijic Lakeshore.

Bert Miller. ca 1972. Ajijic Lakeshore.

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

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Beach scene.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Beach scene.

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

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street corner in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street corner in Chapala.

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

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendor in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendor in Chapala.

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

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendors in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendors in Chapala.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profile of Miller’s life and work:

Note and acknowledgments

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

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

Jan 012018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norman Mailer book cover

Norman Mailer book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Dec 282017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

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

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

Sources:

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

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

 Posted by at 12:29 pm  Tagged with:
Dec 142017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Nov 302017
 

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

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

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

Folkways Album Cover

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

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

Just how did the mariachi recordings come about?

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

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

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

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

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

According to the Bogerts,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Nov 062017
 

American artist Marion Greenwood (1909-1970) was definitely in Chapala at least once, as evidenced by a water-damaged drawing entitled “Chapala girl”, dated 1969 and offered for sale on EBay in 2017.

Greenwood traveled south of the border for the first time in December 1932 and spent several years in Mexico, where she is best known as a muralist.

Born in Brooklyn on 6 April 1909, Greenwood displayed artistic talent from childhood. She left high school at age 15 to attend the Art Students League in New York where she studied under John French Sloan and George Bridgman. She also studied lithography with Emil Ganso and mosaic with Alexander Archipenko.

While still only a teenager, she made several visits to Yaddo, an artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York, to meet fellow artists and paint portraits of visiting intellectuals. A portrait of a wealthy financier gave her the funds to travel to Europe where she studied briefly at the Academie Colarossi in Paris.

In 1930 she was back in New York and drawing theater-related sketches for The New York Times.

The following year she made the first of several trips to the Southwest to paint Navajo Indians. From there she drove to Mexico City where she met artists Leopoldo Mendez, Alfredo Zalce and Pablo O’Higgins, who had worked with Diego Rivera and introduced her to fresco painting.

Marion Greenwood. Archives of American Art.

Marion Greenwood. Archives of American Art.

Greenwood spent some time experimenting in Taxco in 1932, where she completed a fresco of native life on the stairwell at the Hotel Taxqueño. After returning to Mexico City, she was introduced to Gustavo Corona Figueroa, the rector of the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo (in Morelia, Michoacán), the oldest institution of higher education in the Americas. Milan commissioned Greenwood to paint some frescos in the university and Greenwood decided to portray the everyday lives of the local Tarascan people.

Mexican students at the university initially ignored Greenwood’s work but began to take a serious interest after presidential candidate Lázaro Cárdenas visited, met Greenwood and praised her work-in-progress. Greenwood’s final work, known as Paisaje y economía de Michoacán (Landscape and economy of Michoacán), painted in 1933-1934, still adorns the second story of the university’s main patio.

Marion’s older sister, Grace Greenwood, also an artist, had joined her in Mexico City and both women had become members of the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists) to which Diego Rivera and many other famous artists belonged. In 1934, a group of Liga artists was commissioned to decorate the newly-constructed Mercado Abelardo L. Rodríguez in downtown Mexico City. The artists involved were Pablo O’Higgins, Ramón Alva Guadarrama, Antonio Pujol, Pedro Rendón, Miguel Tzab Trejo and Angel Bracho. O’Higgins used his influence to have Grace and Marion Greenwood added to the group. The murals were completed by early 1936. In April 1936, shortly after the Greenwood sisters had returned to the U.S., the Washington Post reported that Diego Rivera had named them “the greatest living women mural painters.” [quoted in Oles]

Marion Greenwood. Mexican Fishing Village.

Marion Greenwood. Mexican Fishing Village.

In the late 1930s, Greenwood taught fresco painting at Columbia University and completed murals for the social hall of the Westfield Acres Housing Project in Camden, New Jersey, and for the post office in Crossville, Tennessee. In 1940, she received a WPA commission to paint frescoes for the low-income Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn.

After 1940, Greenwood focused more on easel painting and printmaking than on frescos and murals. During the second world war she was one of only two women appointed as an artist war-correspondent. Her paintings, drawings and etchings of wounded and recovering soldiers are housed in the official archives of the U.S. War Department.

From 1944-46 Greenwood lived and worked in China. She continued to travel widely after her return to the U.S. Towards the end of the 1940s, Greenwood moved away from New York City and settled in Woodstock in upstate New York.

The context and details of her visit to Chapala in 1969 are unknown. Despite some water damage, her drawing entitled “Chapala Girl” dating from that visit is wonderfully evocative.

Marion Greenwood. 1969. Chapala girl. (damaged drawing - best available illustration)

Marion Greenwood. 1969. Chapala girl. (damaged drawing – best available illustration)

If anyone can fill in the details of Greenwood’s visit to Chapala, please get in touch!

Marion Greenwood. 1969. Chapala girl (detail). (damaged drawing - best available illustration)

Marion Greenwood. 1969. Chapala girl (detail). (damaged drawing – best available illustration)

Greenwood’s solo shows include Associated American Artists (Hong Kong) (1946, 1947, 1948); American Contemporary Artists Gallery; Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C.; Whitney Museum, New York; Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, New York); and the New York World’s Fair.

Greenwood won numerous awards for her art including the Lithography Prize from John Herron Art Institute, Lippincott Figure Prize at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, both the Altmann Figure Prize and the Lillian Cotton Award at the National Academy of Design, and The Grumbacher Prize.

In addition to her many murals on public buildings, examples of Greenwood’s works can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale in France, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Tel Aviv Museum, Yale Museum, Boston University, the Butler Art Institute, Newark Museum, Mint Museum, Montclair Art Museum, Norfolk Museum, National Academy of Design, New Britain Art Institute, John Herron Art Institute and Smith College.

Marion Greenwood died on 20 August 1970 at the age of 61.

Sources:

  • Manuel Aguilar-Moreno and Erika Cabrera. 2011. Diego Rivera: A Biography. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood biographies.
  • Angelica Martinez-Sulvaran. 2017. Marion Greenwood: A Modern Woman in Modern Mexico. Docomomo US. 9 January 2017.
  • James Oles. 2004. “The Mexican Murals of Marion and Grace Greenwood.” chapter 7 in Laura Rachel Felleman Fattal and Carol Salus (eds) Out of Context: American Artists Abroad. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • Charlotte Rubinstein. 1982. American Women Artists. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall & Co. pp. 217–220.
  • Washington Post. 1936. “Marion Greenwood Applauded for Steady Rise to Mural Fame,” Washington Post, 12 April 1936.

Other artists and authors linked to both Lake Chapala and Woodstock include:

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

 Posted by at 6:24 am  Tagged with:
Oct 022017
 

The talented painter and musician Gustavo Sendis divided his time for much of his life between Guadalajara, where he was born in 1941, and his family’s second home in Ajijic.

Born on 8 July 1941, Sendis became interested in art at an early age and studied drawing with Juan Navarro and Ernesto Butterlin in 1958 and 1959. His father was a scientist and university lecturer who founded several important projects in the Guadalajara’s Hospital Civil and Sanatorio Guadalajara. His mother wanted Gustavo to pursue a conventional career but the young man, with the support of his father, chose otherwise, married young, and went to live in Europe.

His love of guitar music and painting took him first to the U.S., where he studied with Jack Buckingham at the University of California, Berkeley, and then to Spain, where he studied with Alvaro Company (taught by Segovia) in Malaga, and with Emilio Pujol (1886-1980), the preeminent Spanish classical guitarist and composer.

Emilio Pujol (left) and Gustavo Sendis, 1965

Emilio Pujol (left) and Gustavo Sendis, 1965

On his return to Guadalajara, Sendis brought back a heartfelt open letter from Pujol, dated 1965, to “Mexican guitarists”, and began to exhibit his paintings and give public guitar recitals. In 1967 he gave a guitar recital and exhibited about 20 abstract works (painted during his time in Europe) at the Sociedad de Amigos de la Guitarra de Guadalajara on Calle Francia in Colonia Moderna. Sendis’s first formal exhibition was at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara in (1968).

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

During a second trip to Europe, he continued to exhibit his work and give guitar concerts. He had exhibitions in several European countries, including Spain, where he participated in the Ibiza Bienal (1971) and held a show in Málaga (1977) of paintings related to music, with titles like “Notes on the Flute”. In this same period he had several exhibitions in Italy, France, Switzerland and Portugal. Practically self-taught, he lived for many years in Ajijic prior to moving first to Taxco, Guerrero (where he gave a concert in the city’s Santa Prisca church) and then to Tepoztlán, Morelos, where he suffered a fatal heart attack on 25 May 1989, while he was still in his 40s.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Sendis recorded one record, Tras la huella de Sendis, and

Throughout his life, Sendis entertained people with his sensitive guitar playing. For example in June 1972 he was performing nightly in Ajijic at the El Tejaban restaurant-gallery (then run by Jan Dunlap and Manuel Urzua). The following month, he had a month-long solo show at the gallery of paintings that had been shown previously in “Paris, Madrid, Lisbon and several other cities in Europe”.

Sendis recorded one record, Tras la huella de Sendis, and there is also a cassette tape, entitled Homenaje a Emilio Pujol, of a recital by Sendis in August 1987 in the Santa María church in Tepoztlan, Morelos, made by Victor Rapoport from an original recording belonging to Alice Mickelli. The cassette includes two pieces by Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), one by Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849) and two composed by the guitarist himself: “Danza Nahuatl” and “Paisajes”.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

In March 1974, he showed several paintings alongside works by his mother, Alicia Sendis, and Sheryl Stokes at  La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic. The inspiration for many of his paintings came from Jalisco scenes that he knew as a child. In fellow artist Tom Faloon’s words, Sendis “did some wonderful paintings, and pretty much lived in his own world.” In addition to conventional paintings on flat surfaces, Sendis is also known to have painted scenes on stoneware plates.

Though the details remain a mystery, a selection of his works was exhibited at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada in July 1980, in a joint show with Zbigniew Olak and Aquatic Exotic.

In June 1984 Sendis exhibited at the Centro de Investigación y Difusión del Arte Exedra in Zapopan, Guadalajara (Paseo del Prado #387, Lomas del Valle).

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

In 2010 a major “Winter Collective” exhibition in Guadalajara at Galería Vértice included a Sendis painting, alongside originals by such renowned artists as Rufino Tamayo, Gustavo Aceves, José Clemente Orozco, Rafael Coronel, Gunther Gerzso, Leonora Carrington and Juan Soriano. Sendis’s work was also included in a similar exhibition the following year, alongside works by Georg Rauch, Jose Luis Cuevas, Juan Soriano and Francisco Toledo.

Sendis is included, deservedly, in Guillermo Ramírez Godoy’s book Cuatro Siglos de Pintura Jalisciense (“Four Centuries of Jaliscan Painting”).

When the Guadalajara newspaper El Informador reached its centenary in 2017, the paper’s director, Carlos Álvarez del Castillo, selected 100 pieces of art from the “Fundación J. Álvarez del Castillo” collection of horse-related paintings and sculptures to be displayed at the Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara. The exhibit, entitled “Equinos 100”, includes the very first painting acquired for the collection – a painting by Gustavo Sendis.

This is an updated version of a profile originally published on 26 February 2015.

Acknowledgments

My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram, Jan Dunlap and the late Tom Faloon for sharing with me their memories of Gustavo Sendis, and for the valuable additions and clarifications by Gustavo’s niece Isabel Cristina de Sendis (see comments section). Special thanks are also due to Hilda Mendoza of Ajijic for her generous and treasured gift of the cassette tape, Homenaje a Emilio Pujol.

Sources:

  • Anon. 1979. “Madrona exposition centre – 1980 schedule of shows”. Staff Bulletin (Malaspina College, Nanaimo, B.C.), 21 December 1979 (Vol 1 #13).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 3 June 1972; 10 June 1972; 1 July 1972; 16 March 1974
  • Ramon Macias Mora. 2001. Las seis cuerdas de la guitarra (Editorial Conexión Gráfica).
  • Guillermo Ramírez Godoy. 2003. “La dualidad artística del pintor y guitarrista Gustavo Sendis”. El Informador (Guadalajara), 26 Oct 2003.
  • Guillermo Ramírez Godoy and Arturo Camacho Becerra. 1996. Cuatro Siglos de Pintura Jalisciense (Cámara Nacional de Comercio de Guadalajara).

Note: Galería Vértice catalogs were at http://www.verticegaleria.com/esp/antes_exp.asp?cve_exp=82

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 282017
 

Pema Chödrön, then known as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown lived with her husband, the poet and writer Jim Levy, for about a year in Ajijic from mid-1968 until May 1969.

Pema Chödrön, 2007. (Credit: Creative Commons)

Pema Chödrön, 2007. (Credit: Creative Commons)

Chödrön was born (as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown) in New York City on 14 July 1936. After attending Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut, she married at the age of 21, had two children, and moved to California, where she studied at the University of California at Berkeley. She graduated from that institution with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s in elementary education.

While at Berkeley, Chödrön met Jim Levy for the first time. She divorced her first husband and married Levy in 1966. Chödrön taught as an elementary school teacher for some years, first in California and later in New Mexico.

During her time in Ajijic, Chödrön taught English to Beverly Johnson‘s daughter Jill Maldonado who retains fond memories of her former tutor.

[I have so far been unable to find out anything else about Chödrön’s time in the village, so if you can add to this brief profile, please get in touch!]

From Ajijic, Blomfield-Brown and Levy returned to the U.S. to live in Taos, New Mexico. In a memoir entitled “¿Paradise Lost?” published in Hakod in 2009, Levy recalls their arrival in Taos:

We — my wife Deirdre, her two children, and I — came to Taos in a VW van in May 1969 with a white rat named Fortunata smuggled in from Mexico rolled in a sleeping bag. We had been living for a year in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. The scene in Ajijic was crazy, but in a Mexican village there was only so much trouble you could get into. In Taos, we found more ways.”

They tried to live as close to the land as possible:

Although Deirdre and I had BAs and teaching credentials from Berkeley, we didn’t mind living without indoor plumbing or a phone — in fact we thought it was glamorous. We used a two-seat outhouse and carried water in buckets from the Rio Hondo. Like our counterculture neighbors, we “returned” to the land — a purely hypothetical return because my family was Jewish from Los Angeles via Newark and Germany, and Deirdre’s was Catholic from New Jersey via Ireland. My father was a Freudian psychoanalyst and her father was middle management for Bendix Corporation.”

After Deirdre Blomfield-Brown’s marriage to Levy ended in 1971, she “explored different therapies and spiritual traditions” before stumbling across Buddhism. Deirdre subsequently changed her name to Pema Chödrön and became a novice Buddhist nun in 1974. She studied with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in San Francisco and Lama Chime Rinpoche in London, England. Following years of study, she was ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Hong Kong in July 1981.

Chödrön was appointed by Trungpa Rinpoche as director of the Boulder Shambhala Center in Colorado for a few years before moving in 1984 to establish Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. She became the Abbey’s director in 1986 and remains in that position to this day.

Chödrön’s teachings and books, such as The Wisdom of No Escape (1991), Start Where You Are (1994), When Things Fall Apart (1997), No Time to Lose (2005), and Practicing Peace in Times of War (2006) have reached a very wide audience.

In 2016 Chödrön was awarded the Global Bhikkhuni Award, presented by the Chinese Buddhist Bhikkhuni Association of Taiwan.

Sources:

  • Jim Levy. 2009. ¿PARADISE LOST? in Hakod – “The Voice of the Taos Jewish Center”, Vol 8 #2, Winter 2009/5770.
  • Andrea Miller. 2017. Becoming Pema. Lion’s Roar, 16 July 2017.
  • Wikipedia. Pema Chödrön.

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

 Posted by at 5:05 am
Aug 282017
 

Sylvia Ester Salmi (1909-1977) was a prominent and highly respected American photographer. During the 1930s and 1940s, she took portraits of numerous great artists and intellectuals of the time, including Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and, in Mexico, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco and Leon Trotsky. In 1964, following the death of her second husband, Salmi moved to Ajijic and lived there until her own death in 1977.

Iconic photo of Frida Kahlo by Sylvia Salmi.

Iconic photo of Frida Kahlo by Sylvia Salmi.

Salmi was born on 5 November 1909 in Quincy, Norfolk, Massachusetts. She graduated from Washington Irving High School in New York in 1928 and shortly afterwards (3 April 1930) married Victor M. Kroetch. The couple made their home in New York City and had a daughter, Cassandra Eloise Salmi, in 1933. The marriage broke down, and Salmi and Kroetch were divorced the following year. Salmi then threw herself into her true passion – photography – and quickly gained a reputation as a fine portraitist.

Salmi’s second husband was Herbert Solow (1903-1964), a prominent New York journalist, editor and intellectual.

After his death in 1964, Salmi decided to live full-time in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. She became known as a notoriously parsimonious woman and one of the village’s real characters. Judy Eager, who with husband Morley ran the (Old) Posada Ajijic for many years, recalls that Salmi held weekly Sunday cocktail parties at which she was rumored to serve a punch comprised of “mixed leftover drinks from a prior party” and served hors d’oeuvres made of food scraps she had taken home from the Posada’s restaurant. Salmi’s parties were, by all accounts, pretty wild affairs, with Eager quoted as saying that, “She [Salmi] was known to take her clothes off after many drinks and loved to wear a cape which allowed her to flash whoever she wishes.”

Sylvia Salmi. Beverly Johnson and friends. 1974.

Sylvia Salmi. Beverly Johnson and friends (1974).

Salmi is remembered with affection by many Ajijic old-timers. Jim Dunlap, who frequently visited his mother and stepfather – Virginia and Arthur Ganung – in the village during the 1970s, remembers Salmi as a regular at their parties who would “sometimes come in her bathrobe.”

While Salmi did not pursue photography as diligently in Ajijic as she had done earlier in her life, she did, nevertheless, take part in several local exhibitions, and also helped with the Children’s Art Program (CAP) organized by the Lake Chapala Society. For example, in 1973, she arranged for the Mexican-American hospital in Guadalajara to purchase art from the CAP to decorate a patient’s room.

Beverly Johnson. Portrait of Sylvia Salmi, ca 1974. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Beverly Johnson. Portrait of Sylvia Salmi, ca 1974. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

In November 1973 Salmi held an solo show of portrait photos at “La Galeria del Lago de Chapala” on the plaza in Ajijic. Salmi’s photos were also included in a large group show at La Galeria del Lago the following August, alongside works by many other local artists, including Luz Luna, Jerry Carr, Fernando Garcia, Robert Neathery, Jose Antonio Santibañez, Allen Foster, Vee Greno, Armando Galvez, Jean Caragonne, Arthur Ganung, Virigina Ganung, Gloria Marthai, Dionicio Morales, Antonio Lopez Vega, Priscilla Frazer, Eleanor Smart, Rowene Kirkpatrick, and the “children of Ajijic”.

Ad for Sylvia Salmi exhibit, 1976

Advert for Sylvia Salmi exhibit, 1976

The OM Gallery in Guadalajara (at the intersection of Lopez Cotilla and Chapultepec) featured some outstanding shows during its brief existence from 1975 to about 1978. Salmi was accorded the honor of a solo show there which opened on 25 October 1975 and ran for a month, and among those present at the opening was Guadalajara sculptor Alejandro Colunga.

In February 1976, Salmi’s photos were in a joint show at the newly-formed Wes Penn Gallery (16 de Septiembre #9, Ajijic) with fourteen oil paintings by Allen Wadsworth. (That gallery was owned by Jan Dunlap, and named for an ex-husband who had died. Following that joint show, the gallery’s next exhibit was a solo show of paintings by Synnove Pettersen.)

A second exhibit of Salmi’s work at the OM gallery in Guadalajara, a “review of portraits and pictures”, was mounted in June 1976.

Katie Goodridge Ingram, who ran a gallery in Ajijic for many years, remembers organizing works by Salmi for two shows, including one for Bellas Artes de Jalisco which was taken to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate the opening of a new museum. The fact that the venue had no windows, doors or security appears to have been a minor problem to the indomitable organizer: “We kept the art safe, got night guards, and somehow the show went up on the night assigned”.

Sylvia Salmi passed away in January 1977 at the age of 67.

Salmi’s home in Ajijic has many connections to other artists. In 1976, Salmi rented her small casita to photographer Toni Beatty and her husband Larry Walsh for several months. Later, the property became the home of Diane Murray (who had worked with Salmi and was also a photographer) and her daughter, Amanda, who is now pursuing her own career as an artist.

Not long before she died, Salmi had given all Herbert Solow’s personal papers to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Sources:

  • Alexandra Bateman and Nancy Bollenbach (compilers). 2011. Ajijic: 500 years of adventurers (Thomas Paine Chapter NSDAR)
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 10 November 1973; 21 February 1976
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram.”Lake Chapala Riviera”, in Mexico City News, 20 June 1976, p 13

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 102017
 

Artist and writer Allyn Hunt has lived in the Lake Chapala area since the mid-1960s. Hunt was the owner and editor for many years of the weekly English-language newspaper, the Guadalajara Reporter. His weekly columns for the newspaper quickly became legendary. (Hunt’s wife, Beverly, also worked at the Guadalajara Reporter and later ran a real estate office and Bed and Breakfast in Ajijic.)

Hugh Allyn Hunt was born in Nebraska in 1931. His mother, Ann, was granted a divorce from her husband J. Carroll Hunt, the following year. Allyn Hunt grew up in Nebraska before moving to Los Angeles as a teenager.

He studied advertising and journalism at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, where he took a creative writing class under novelist and short story writer Willard Marsh. Marsh had known Ajijic since the early 1950s and later wrote a novel set in the village.

At USC, Hunt was associate editor of Wampus, the USC student humor magazine, and according to later bios he also became managing editor of the university newspaper, the Daily Trojan.

After graduating, Hunt worked as public relations representative for Southern Pacific Railroad, and edited its “house organ”, before becoming publicity director and assistant to director of advertising for KFWB radio in Los Angeles. Hunt also worked, at one time or another, as a stevedore, photographer’s model, riding instructor and technical writer in the space industry.

Living in Los Angeles gave Hunt the opportunity to explore Tijuana and the Baja California Peninsula. As he later described it, he became a frequent inhabitant of Tijuana’s bars and an aficionado of Baja California’s beaches and bullfights.

Hunt and his wife, Beverly, moved to Mexico in 1963, living first in Ajijic and then later in the mountainside house they built in Jocotepec. They would remain in Mexico, apart from two and a half years in New York from 1970 to 1972.

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1970)

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1970)

This portrait of Allyn and Beverly Hunt was painted by Winnie Godfrey who subsequently became one of America’s top floral painters.

In their New York interlude, Hunt wrote for the New York Herald and the New York Village Voice, and apparently also shared the writing, production and direction of a short film, released in 1972, which won a prize at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival in Germany and was shown on European television. (If anyone knows the title of this film, or any additional details about it, please get in touch!)

When the Hunts returned from New York, they decided to build a house in Nextipac, in Jocotepec. They moved into their house, “Las Graciadas”, towards the end of 1973. The following year, they agreed to purchase the Guadalajara Reporter. They became owners and editors of the weekly newspaper in 1975 and Hunt would be editor and publisher of the Guadalajara (Colony) Reporter for more than 20 years. Hunt’s numerous erudite columns on local art exhibitions have been exceedingly useful in my research into the history of the artistic community at Lake Chapala.

As a journalist, Hunt also contributed opinion columns to the Mexico City News for 15 years, and to Cox News Service and The Los Angeles Magazine.

As an artist, Hunt exhibited numerous times in group shows in Ajijic and in Guadalajara. For example, in April 1966, he participated in a show at the Posada Ajijic that also featured works by Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Gail Michel; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge (wife of author David Dodge); Mr and Mrs Moriaty and Marigold Wandell.

The following year Hunt’s work was shown alongside works by several Guadalajara-based artists in a show that opened on 15 March 1967 at “Ruta 66”, a gallery at the traffic circle intersection of Niños Héroes and Avenida Chapultepec in Guadalajara.

In March-April 1968, Hunt’s “hard-edged paintings and two found object sculptures” were included in an exhibit at the Galería Ajijic Bellas Artes, A.C., at Marcos Castellanos #15 in Ajijic. (The gallery was administered at that time by Hudson and Mary Rose).

Later that year – in June 1968 – Hunt showed eight drawings in a collective exhibit, the First Annual Graphic Arts Show, at La Galeria (Ocho de Julio #878) in Guadalajara. That show also included works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson, Eugenio Quesada and Tully Judson Petty.

The following year, two acrylics by Hunt were chosen for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco in Guadalajara (at Tolsa #300). That show, which opened in June 1969, featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende.

The details of any one-person art shows of Hunt’s works in the U.S. or Mexico remain elusive. (Please get in touch if you can supply details of any other shows in which Allyn Hunt’s art was represented!)

In the early-1960s, Hunt was at least as keen to become an artist as a writer. Rex Oppenheimer later recalled in an article for Steel Notes Magazine that when he visited his father in Zapopan (on the outskirts of Guadalajara) in 1965,

“Among the first of my father’s friends that I met were Allen and his wife Beverly. Allen was an artist. He looked like a beatnik or incipient Hippie and had a very cool house out in Ajijic near Lake Chapala. After touring the house and taking in his artwork, we went up on the roof. I don’t remember the conversation, but there was a great view out over the lake, and I got totally smashed on Ponche made from fresh strawberries and 190 proof pure cane alcohol.”

Despite his early artistic endeavors, Hunt is much better known today as a writer of short stories. His “Acme Rooms and Sweet Marjorie Russell” was one of several stories accepted for publication in the prestigious literary journal Transatlantic Review. It appeared in the Spring 1966 issue and explores the topic of adolescent sexual awakening in small-town U.S.A. It won the Transatlantic’s Third Annual Short Story Contest and was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 1967 & the Yearbook of the American short story, edited by Martha Foley and David Burnett. Many years later, Adam Watstein wrote, directed and produced an independent movie of the same name. The movie, based closely on the story and shot in New York, was released in 1994.

One curiosity about that Spring 1966 issue of Transatlantic Review is that it also contained a second story by Hunt, entitled “The Answer Obviously is No”, written under the pen name “B. E. Evans” (close to his wife’s maiden name of Beverly Jane Evans). The author’s notes claim that “B. E. Evans was born in the Mid-West and lived in Los Angeles for many years where he studied creative writing under Willard Marsh. He has lived in Mexico for the past year and a half. This is his first published story.”

Later stories by Hunt in the Transatlantic Review include “Ciji’s Gone” (Autumn 1968); “A Mole’s Coat” (Summer 1969), which is set at Lake Chapala and is about doing acid “jaunts”; “A Kind of Recovery” (Autumn-Winter 1970-71); “Goodnight, Goodbye, Thank You” (Spring-Summer 1972); and “Accident” (Spring 1973).

Hunt was in exceptionally illustrious company in having so many stories published in the Transatlantic Review since his work appeared alongside contributions from C. Day Lewis, Robert Graves, Alan Sillitoe, Malcolm Bradbury, V. S. Pritchett, Anthony Burgess, John Updike, Ted Hughes, Joyce Carol Oates, and his former teacher Willard Marsh.

Hunt also had short stories published in The Saturday Evening Post, Perspective and Coatl, a Spanish literary review.

At different times in his writing career, Hunt has been reported to be working on “a novel set in Mexico”, “a book of poems”, and to be “currently completing two novels, one of which is set in what he calls the “youth route” of Mexico-Lake Chapala, the Mexico City area, Veracruz, Oaxaca and the area north and south of Acapulco”, but it seems that none of these works was ever formally published.

Very few of Hunt’s original short stories can be found online, but one noteworthy exception is “Suspicious stranger visits a rural tacos al vapor stand“, a story that first appeared in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1995 and was reprinted, with the author’s permission, on Mexconnect.com in 2008.

Sources:

  • Broadcasting (The Business Weekly of Radio and Television), May 1961.
  • Daily Trojan (University of Southern California), Vol. 43, No. 117, 21 April 1952.
  • Martha Foley and David Burnett (eds). The Best American Short Stories 1967 & the Yearbook of the American short story.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. 2 April 1966; 12 March 1967; 27 April 1968; 15 June 1968; 27 July 1968; 5 April 1975
  • The Lincoln Star (Nebraska). 15 August 1932.
  • Rex Maurice Oppenheimer. 2016. “Gunplay in Guadalajara“. Steel Notes Magazine.

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 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.

Jul 242017
 

Architect Jean Taylor Strange moved to Chapala with her husband William Strange in January 1965 (having bought a house in Chapala Haciendas in December 1964) and resided there for more than forty years.

Jean Taylor Strange. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Jean Taylor Strange. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Besides the fact that she worked with her husband on researching his radio documentaries about Mexico for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Jean Strange has a significant additional claim to fame since she was one of the first women in Canada to graduate with a degree in architecture.

A short profile of Jean Strange, who graduated from the School of Architecture at the University of Toronto in 1948, is included in Joan Grierson’s For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture. The profile includes some photographs of her work and quotes Jean Strange as saying that, “My architectural training has enriched my life immeasurably. I cannot claim that any of these years had been dull.”

Jean was educated in the U.K. and Switzerland and then enrolled in the architectural course at Brighton Art School and Technical College in 1937. Two years later, part way through her studies there, she visited Canada on what was meant to be a six week trip as a student member of the Overseas Education League. The second world war broke out while she was in Canada, preventing her from returning home. She enrolled at the University of Toronto and was placed in the second year of the program of the class of 1943.

In 1943, she had completed all formal studies but still lacked the one year of experience required to be awarded her degree.

Since the war was still ongoing, she joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, working in operations and base planning. This included a spell as assistant to Captain William Strange in the Directorate of Naval Information.

Discharged from the Naval Service after the war, she worked for the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in Ontario under architect Sam Gitterman, gaining the year’s experience required to complete her B. Arch degree in 1948. The following year she transferred within the CMHC to the publications section under Humphrey Carter.

Jean Taylor Strange with Ted Raines, Design Center, Ottawa, 1954. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Jean Taylor Strange with Ted Raines, Design Center, Ottawa, 1954. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Carver, in his memoir, Compassionate Landscape, writes that “I was also very lucky that through this whole period Jean Strange worked for me, with her meticulous sweet patience for the small-scale problems of housing design and the page-by-page layout of the publications that issued from our office. I had first known Jean as an English school-girl and wartime-evacuee who came to the Toronto School of Architecture in 1939. Later, she joined the Navy, married Captain William Strange, historian and broadcaster, and now they live in Mexico.”

Jean Taylor married Captain William Strange in 1950. She continued to work for the CMHC until 1959 when her husband was working in Jamaica, training staff for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. In Jamaica Jean was a volunteer researcher and her husband’s assistant.

In 1962, the Stranges took two trips to the Yucatán Peninsula collecting information about the Maya for a CBC special. Shortly afterwards they decided to relocate to Mexico and bought a home in Chapala Haciendas.

Jean Strange assisted her husband with the research and writing of further documentaries about Mexico for the CBC, including a program on Cortés and the conquest of Mexico, entitled “The Bold Ones” and one about Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota.

Jean Strange continued to live in Chapala after the death of her husband in 1983.

Sources:

  • Humphrey Carver. 1975. Compassionate Landscape. University of Toronto Press.
  • Joan Grierson. 2008. For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture. Toronto: Dundurn.
  • Guadalajara Reporter 30 April 1964, 2; 18 Nov 1965, 6.
  • Peter C. Newman. 2005. Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power. McClelland & Stewart.

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.

Jul 132017
 

Captain H. E. William (“Bill”) Strange OBE was Director of Naval Information in the Canadian Navy before “retiring” to Mexico with his wife, Jean, in January 1965 (having bought a house in Chapala Haciendas in December 1964) . He then proceeded to research, write and produce several radio documentaries about Mexico for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC).

Strange was born in Corazal, British Honduras (now Guyana) in 1902. His father was the then District Commissioner. He attended a boarding school in the U.K. from the age of seven. When the first world war broke out, Strange became a cadet in the Royal Navy, and undertook training at Osborne and Dartmouth. Following his discharge in 1918, due to a vision problem, he moved to Trinidad, where his parents were then living and worked in that country’s oil fields. After Trinidad, he took teaching positions in England and Egypt.

Strange emigrated to Toronto, Canada, in 1929. During the next decade he worked in a variety of jobs related to sales, advertising, writing and public relations but found most success in writing radio scripts and plays. Among his weekly productions were “Who’s Who in Music”; “Let’s Disagree”; and “Echoes from History”. In 1935 he published a novel, Sunset in Ebony, based on his experiences in Trinidad.

When the second world war began in 1939, Strange used his skills to focus on radio programs designed to assist the allied cause. After producing about 20 half-hour shows in a series for CBD titled “They Shall Not Pass”, he started a long-running series named “Carry on Canada”. In 1941 he visited England as a CBC war correspondent “to look at the blitz”, collecting material for another book (below) and for several radio specials, one of which became the first Canadian program to win the top award at Ohio State University’s Institute of Education by Radio. Royalties from the book all went to the Navy League of Canada.

Strange joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1942 as an information officer. He served as Director of Naval Information from late 1945 until his retirement in February 1959. Much of his time with the RCN was spent making radio broadcasts.

After the second world war ended, Strange established the RCN’s first peace-time public information organization. During his time with the RCN Strange produced dozens of radio plays, booklets and articles as well as several books, in addition to documentary series, including a tri-service show called “Comrades in Arms”. In 1948 he founded The Crowsnest, the magazine of the Directorate of Naval Information.

William Strange wrote several books related to Canada and the second world war, including Canada, the Pacific and War (Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1937); Into the blitz; a British journey (Toronto: Macmillan, 1941); The Royal Canadian Navy, 1942-1943 (Canadian Print and Lithographing Co, 1943); and Ships Mean Security (Toronto: The Navy League of Canada, 1945).

For his many and varied services, Captain Strange was awarded the OBE in January 1946.

Captain William Strange married Jean Taylor in 1950. In his memoir, Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power, Peter C. Newman pays tribute to Captain William Strange for having been an outstanding mentor to him in the early 1950s. Newman also refers to Strange’s wife, Jean, “his wonderful architect wife”.

From 1959 to 1961, the Stranges were in Jamaica where Bill was writing and training staff for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

In 1962, the couple took two trips to the Yucatán Peninsula collecting information about the Maya civilization for a CBC special. Shortly afterwards they decided to relocate to Mexico and bought a home in Chapala Haciendas, from where they began to explore the rest of Mexico, working on new projects for the CBC. A brief note in the 30 April 1964 edition of the Guadalajara Reporter informs us that “Capt. and Mrs William Strange have returned from a trip to Mexico City, Tlaxcala, Cholula and other spots. He’s doing research for a program on Cortés and the conquest of Mexico for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Toronto.”

From a lengthier piece in the same newspaper the following year (18 November 1965) we learn that the Stranges have returned to Chapala Haciendas after spending the summer settling affairs in Canada. Captain Strange’s 90-minute radio documentary about Hernan Cortés’ conquest of Mexico, “The Bold Ones”, was being broadcast by the CBC national network. Strange had already completed a new project, the story of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota, which the CBC had agreed to produce and broadcast.

In 1966, Strange entered an “experimental film” entitled “Dimensions” into a contest held as part of Guadalajara’s annual Fiestas de Octubre celebration. The film won “Capitán William Sprange” (sic) a silver sombrero.

It was in 1966 when Strange was appointed to the first board of directors of the newly-formed Anglo-Mexican Institute (IAM) in Guadalajara. Less than a year later, he became president of the IAM’s governing council and he was still actively involved in IAM affairs when it celebrated its 10th anniversary in September 1976.

Captain William Strange, OBE, CD, RCN, died in Chapala in 1983.

Sources

  • Anon. “Founder of The Crowsnest Retires.” The Crowsnest, March 1959.
  • Guadalajara Reporter 30 April 1964, 2; 18 Nov 1965, 6;
  • Informador 11 Sep 1966; 28 Oct 1966; 3 July 1967; 11 Sept 1976
  • Peter C. Newman. 2005. Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power. McClelland & Stewart.
  • William Strange. 1941. Into the blitz; a British journey. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • Captain William Strange Papers (Director of Naval Information): Speeches and Related Materials in National Defence Headquarters Directorate of History and Heritage.

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.

Jun 082017
 

The Black American artist Arthur Monroe, born in Brooklyn in 1935, grew up in New York and traveled in Mexico, before settling in California and becoming an integral part of the abstract expressionist movement of West Coast painters and poets. He lived and painted for three years in Ajijic in the early 1960s.

Monroe studied art and first encountered abstract impressionism (and its links to jazz) in New York, where he studied at Pratt Institute, the Brooklyn Museum Art School and City College. The East Village at the time was a “caldron of creativity stirred by poets, painters, sculptors and jazz musicians.” Monroe, whose studio was close to that of Willem De Kooning, became close friends with the famous jazz musician Charlie Parker. His love for jazz has never diminished.

Arthur Monroe. Street Games - Skully. 2001.

Arthur Monroe. Street Games – Skully. 2001.

Deciding that he needed to look at less traditional forms of visual art, and determined “to escape American racism and discrimination”, Monroe traveled to Mexico (and later to South America), where he became immersed in the rich spirituality and iconography of the ancient cultures: the Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula, the Zapotec and Mixtec of Oaxaca, and the Olmec of eastern Mexico.

From Mexico, Monroe returned to live in California, first in Big Sur and then in San Francisco, where he quickly became part of the legendary Beat Era of North Beach in the late 1950s. (Other Beat Era artists and authors with links to Lake Chapala include Al Young, Ned Polsky, Alexander Trocchi, Don Martin, Clayton Eshleman, Ernest Alexander, Jack Gilbert, ruth weiss, and Stanley Twardowicz).

Arthur Monroe. Jam Session. 1991.

Arthur Monroe. Jam Session. 1991.

Monroe’s circle of Beat Era friends included painters Michael McCracken and Michael Bowen. The three painters shared a huge loft-studio relatively near Pier 23. Monroe had a Volkswagen Bug and avoided any parking issues by the simple expedient of driving into the elevator and storing his vehicle, when not in use, in the studio. Later, the trio of artists found themselves unable to meet the rent. Monroe put his works into storage and when that bill wasn’t paid, they were auctioned off: many of the paintings ended up in the hands of two Santa Cruz art collectors for a measly $400 in total.

Monroe’s interest in Mexico continued. In the early 1960s, as the Beat Era was drawing to a close, he was back in Mexico, living and painting for three years in Ajijic. It was in Ajijic that Monroe first met the poet and writer Al Young who also lived in California. In a 1969 newspaper interview, Young recalled that,

“At that time, Ajijic (near Guadalajara) was crammed with hippies … Arthur was one of the beatniks who had sort of lasted into the hippie era … The Mexicans loved him. They all called him by one name: Arturo. He was a very romantic figure, wearing the Mexican straw hat that the peasants wore. He was painting, and he was highly respected.”

In 1965, Monroe held an exhibition of his work at the Posada Ajijic, at the invitation of the inn’s manager Peter Spencer. In August 1965, Spencer announced that he would host a series of four solo shows in the hotel, each lasting two weeks, starting with Charles Littler (of the University of Arizona Art Department) and followed by Dick Poole, Arthur Monroe and John Thompson.

Back in California, Monroe continued to paint but took an establishment position as Registrar at the Oakland Museum. In addition, Monroe has taken an activist role in fighting to preserve indigenous petroglyphs scattered throughout California and has researched the history of African-American soldiers in World War II for a future book.

Arthur Monroe with a self-portrait.

Arthur Monroe with a self-portrait.

As a painter, Monroe has always remained an abstract expressionist, preferring to let his ideas emerge gradually on the canvas to having any pre-determined drawing guide what he wanted to portray. Some works have taken up to three years to complete as he continually seeks to convey new “visual truths”. His work was included in a group show at the Cabrillo College Gallery in 1969 to mark Black Culture Week. He has also exhibited at the Richmond Art Center and the Museum of the African Diaspora.

Monroe’s many one-person shows include an exhibition of large paintings at the Santa Cruz Art League’s Da Vinci Gallery in January 1991, the Don O’Melveny exhibition in December 2001, and the major show “The Inside of Now”, held at the Wiegand Gallery on the campus of Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California, in 2006. A newspaper preview of the show described Monroe’s large-scale canvasses as “vibrant with rhythm and color”, “unplanned, improvisational works, created in the moment”. Al Young, then Poet Laureate of California, said of Monroe that, “With playful clarity and depth, he paints his emotional response to the wayward world — and always with loving spontaneity.”

Sources:

  • Judith Broadhurst. 1991. “The beat goes on for artist Arthur Monroe”, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 25 January 1991, p 11.
  • Terry St. John. Arthur Monroe (website)
  • East Bay Times, 16 March 2006
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 5 August 1965
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California), 23 February 1969, p 13; 18 January 1991.

Other posts related to Beat artists, poets and writers:

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

 Posted by at 5:39 am  Tagged with:
Jun 012017
 

François de Brouillette was an artist and poet who was born in Vermont on 22 April 1906 and died in Santa Barbara, California, on 12 February 1972.

It has so far proved impossible to reconstruct a reliable time line for various significant events in his life, but de Brouillette is known to have visited Lake Chapala numerous times over a period spanning more than forty years, and definitely painted the lake, probably on numerous occasions.

A few years ago, two of his oil paintings connected to Lake Chapala – “Lake with Boat San Juan Cosala” and “San Juan Cosala Steeple” were in an auction of paintings belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Lucien Lemieux, though it is unclear when these works were painted.

From contemporary newspaper reports, we know that he spent several weeks in Chapala over the winter of 1966-67, a few years before he died. During that visit, Anita Lomax, who wrote for the Guadalajara Reporter, met de Brouillette when she called on another artist, Jesús “Chuy” Alcalá, at his studio in Chapala.

Lomas later wrote that de Brouillette had known the Chapala area since 1926, and was “an artist of great versatility”, though “his forte is restoring fine paintings.” Lomax reported that she had first met de Brouillette in 1962 when he exhibited a selection of his paintings at the Galería del Arte (in Guadalajara) and that de Brouillette was based in Houston, Texas, but continued to travel regularly for work and pleasure. Lomax found that de Brouillette was quite the raconteur, more than willing to talk about his many adventures and misadventures while researching and restoring old paintings.

Francois de Brouillette. Untitled.

François de Brouillette. Untitled portrait. Date unknown.

Precisely where de Brouillette acquired his art knowledge remains something of a mystery, but he was living in Hollywood, California, and described himself as a “portrait painter” when, shortly before his 26th birthday, he married Joanna Catherina Tenneson in Yuma, Arizona, on 9 April 1932. Tenneson,  aged 33, was also living in Hollywood. Sadly, the marriage did not last very long.

In addition to his painting, de Brouillette was also becoming well known as a writer, with poems or articles published in the Honolulu Star-bulletin, Outlook, Town and Country, Wide World News and Harper’s Magazine. He compiled one poetry collection, Peon’s prayer, published in 1933 by the Bella Union Press in Los Angeles (at which time de Brouillette was apparently living in California). While some reports attribute a second book of poetry – Youth is a beggar – to him, its details do not appear in any of the usual bibliographic sources.

brouillette-francois-de-peon-s-prayer-title-page-1933s

de Brouillette married for the second time in 1935. His second wife, Velma Mildred Henard (1912-1968), who preferred Mildred to Velma, later remarried to become Mrs Edgar Taylor. She was an artist and professor of art education who taught at the University of Southern California for 18 years. Mildred became an authority on Mexico’s ancient sculpture and pottery. In the 1940s and 1950s, she and her second husband amassed a large collection of archaeological pieces from the area of Chupícuaro (Guanajuato), later purchased by the actress Natalie Wood for the Fowler Museum of the University of California of Los Angeles.

Mildred’s parents had a ranch near Wellington in the Texas panhandle and in May 1935, de Brouillette, a “nationally known painter-poet”, was invited to give art classes in Wellington and helped reorganize the Wellington Art Club. By this time, de Brouillette had, apparently, already acquired a serious interest in archaeology and the tropics, having spent five years in Florida, Cuba, the West Indies, Mexico and the Hawaiian islands. Advance publicity in the local newspaper said of the artist that, “As an archaeologist his journeys have taken him into Mayan country of Yucatan, Aztec lands, back mountain sections of Mexico, visiting Indian tribes never before visited by the white man. He lived and worked with the last tribe of the Aztecs and the Tonala Indians in Jalisco. His adventures and genius give promise of a great new name in western art and lore.”

Exaggeration aside, de Brouillette had clearly already traveled quite widely in Mexico and was much in demand as a speaker and lecturer. In June 1935, he was guest speaker for the Wellington Kiwanis Club and spoke about the background of the “last tribe of Tonala Indians”. In December, he lectured, exhibited and read poetry at Southwestern University.

In 1936, de Brouillette was director of the Miami Federal Art Galleries in Florida, an institution that had 780 pupils and 30 instructors. At about this time he was responsible for taking “the first exhibit of paintings ever sent abroad by the United States government”, a collection that included 36 water color paintings, for an exhibition in Havana, Cuba.

In September of 1936, de Brouillette, who had already gained a reputation as a fine portrait painter, was in Dallas working on a portrait of John Nance Garner, the U.S. Vice President, for the Washington Press Club. The following year, de Brouillette conducted a two weeks’ art class at Saint Mary’s Academy in Amarillo in March 1937, teaching figure, portraiture and still life.

He and Mildred held a joint exhibition of their recent artwork at the Country Library in Wellington in September of that year. de Brouillette showed various portraits, mainly of local people, while his wife showed mainly scenic works and still lifes. Both painters also had works accepted into the juried show that opened at the Witte Museum in San Antonio in December 1940.

Newspaper accounts list several places (Washington D.C., Miami, California, Texas) as “home” for the de Brouillettes in the 1930s, but it appears that from 1940 to at least 1947, they were living and working mainly in San Antonio, Texas. For at least part of this time, the couple operated an antique shop on Broadway.

de Brouillette had oil paintings accepted into two consecutive major Texas annual juried shows. “The Mine Fell In” was included in the “7th Texas General Exhibition”, which ran from November to December 1945 at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in Dallas, Texas, and “The Novice” was accepted into the “8th Texas General Exhibition”, which ran from October 1946 to January 1947, opening at The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, before moving to the Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio and The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.

Somehow, de Brouillette even found time to be the director of the Little House School of Art in San Antonio in 1947, an institution which trained dozens of fine young artists.

Newspapers in the 1950s include very few references to de Brouillette, apart from the occasional mention that he is undertaking a commission to paint a portrait of some then-famous personage.

By the time of his visit to Guadalajara in July 1962 and his exhibit at La Casa del Arte (Av. Corona #72), de Brouillette was billing himself in publicity adverts as “an acclaimed portraitist”, who was “considered to be one of the five finest restorers in the world.”

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter : 21 January 1967; 25 February 1967
  • Molly Heilman. 1940. “New Artists In Witte Exhibition”, San Antonio Light, 15
    December 1940, p 42.
  • Informador (Guadalajara): 9 July 1962; 14 July 1962
  • The Megaphone (Georgetown, Texas). 1935. 3 December 1935: Vol. 29, No. 11, Ed. 1.
  • San Antonio Express (Texas). 1947. “Art School Directors To Address Students”, San Antonio Express, 8 June 1947.
  • The Wellington Leader (Wellington, Texas). 30 May 1935; 6 June 1935, p 8; 1 October 1936, p 1; 1 April 1937, p 9; 23 September 1937, p 1; 6 January 1938, p 9; 23 February 1939, p 3.

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

 Posted by at 5:26 am  Tagged with:
May 082017
 

Bob Somerlott was a well-respected writer of both fiction and non-fiction who lived in Ajijic for several years in the early 1960s before moving to San Miguel de Allende, where he resided for almost forty years.

Robert (“Bob”) Somerlott was born 17 September 1928 in Huntington, Indiana, and died, following surgery, on 22 July 2001 in León, Guanajuato. He attended Northwestern University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, and then worked for about 15 years as an actor and stage director before moving to Mexico and becoming a professional writer.

According to Michael Hargraves in Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Somerlott spent the winter of 1958 at Chapala and then lived intermittently at Ajijic from late 1962 through the spring of 1965, before moving to San Miguel de Allende. While Somerlott apparently first settled in San Miguel in 1963, we know from contemporary newspapers that he was in Ajijic over the winter of 1964-65 since in December 1964 he is mentioned as being mid-way through a 12-week competition organized by the Ajijic chess club, playing against Phillip Hildreth and his wife Gina Dessart Hildreth, John Mersereau, Dick Bishop, Larry Hartmus and Lou Wertheimer.

At some point during his several decades of residence in San Miguel, Somerlott was academic director of the Instituto Allende, a college for English-speaking students. Somerlott’s interests were far-ranging. His works draw heavily on his particular keen interest in everything historical, including archaeology. History-related themes frequently made their way into his books.

His first major success as a writer came when he had a short story accepted for the January 1964 edition of Atlantic Monthly; it went on to win that publication’s annual fiction award. The following year, Somerlott had a short story entitled “The Hair of the Widow” published in the January 1965 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. That story was “based on a tale told to him early one morning on the pier in Ajijic by an old man” and was “supposed to be true, naturally, as all ghost stories are!” In 1967, his story, “Evening at the Black House” was chosen by Alfred Hitchcock for his Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories That Scared Even Me. Somerlott also had a piece published in American Heritage in 1971.

Somerlott’s first novel, The Flamingos, written partly in Ajijic and partly in San Miguel, was published in 1967.

The Flamingos is not an especially strong first novel since both plot and dialogue are somewhat predictable but, in the words of the Kirkus Review, is “a most entertaining commercial novel”, in which “The author brings an assortment of expatriate Americans with a full range of sexual tastes to a flyblown Mexican shoreline village”, and a variety of Mexican characters who suddenly find themselves in the path of a major hurricane. “The only bull in the book is a muscular lesbian whose company built a defective dam above the town not destined to outlast such a storm.” As the anonymous reviewer concluded, this would be a better movie than a book.

Some locales and incidents in The Flamingos are clearly derived from Somerlott’s experiences in Ajijic and San Miguel, though heavily disguised. For example, there are descriptions of the “city” of Nexcotela, half-way to the coast, with its waterfall, mineral baths, American Legion and “Café International”, a bar that somewhat resembles The Beer Garden in Chapala. Much of the book is set in the fictional coastal city of San Antonio Tlaxtalapan on Mexico’s west coast. (Clearly, therefore, the title is a misnomer since flamingos are only found on Mexico’s eastern coast!). The city has a “Mexican-North American Institute” that is the educational front of the missionary arm of the church.

The novel’s minor characters include Stephen Mayers, a one-handed, ex-military American who had been a fine amateur pianist. His maid, Adela, is a petty thief whose husband, Roberto, “graduates” into a hitman, employed by two brothers from Guadalajara. The two main characters are Matthew Selkirk, a 58-year-old former professor and translator, an openly gay member of the “American colony” and 26-year-old, blond, blue-eyed Clay McPherson who has fled the U.S. because he believes he has murdered his mother. The relationship between the two men is often strained but Clay eventually risks his own life in order to try to rescue Matthew.

Hard on the heels of The Flamingos came The Inquisitor’s House (1968).

Somerlott then changed track and published a book about occultism – “Here Mr. Splitfool”: An Informal Exploration Into Modern Occultism (1971) (released in the U.K. as Modern occultism) – and another non-fiction work, The writing of modern fiction (1972).

Hargraves has pointed out that Here Mr. Splitfoot includes the following tangential reference to Lake Chapala:

“Throughout Latin America today there are divinas who gaze into a glass, a jewel, or a bowl of water in attempts to find the missing property of clients. Sometimes they have remarkable results, as in the Mexican village near Lake Chapala, where a divina announced that a lost watch would be found wrapped in a blanket—and this proved to be perfectly true. In another Mexican case a ring, supposedly stolen, was described as being lodged in a drainpipe—and so it was true. Despite numerous correct hits and the continued popularity of divinas, there has been to date no realty scientific study of this facet of crystallomancy.” (p 221)

Somerlott then wrote several mystery novels under the pen name Jessica North, including The High Valley (1973), River Rising (1975), The Legend of the Thirteenth Pilgrim (1979) and Mask of the Jaguar (1982), before returning to use his own name for Blaze (1981) and Death of the Fifth Sun (1987). A Spanish language translation, by Miquela Misiergo, of Death of the Fifth Sun, was published as La Muerte Del Quinto Sol (1991).

In later years, Somerlott focused on non-fiction. He co-edited The Penguin Guide to Mexico 1991 (1990) and wrote San Miguel de Allende (1991) before completing a series of historical works including The Lincoln Assassination in American History (1998); The Little Rock School Desegregation Crisis in American History (2001); and The Spanish-American War: “Remember the Maine” (2002).

Sources:

  • Drewey Wayne Gunn. Gay American Novels, 1870-1970: A Reader’s Guide. (McFarlane, 2016).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 10 Dec 1964; GR 14 Jan 1965
  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).

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

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