Apr 122018
 

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

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

Gail Hayes. 1955. (University Yearbook photo)

Gail Hayes. 1955. (University Yearbook photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not surprisingly, Gail’s art was included in the large group show, Fiesta de Arte, in May 1971 at the private home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic), along with paintings and sculptures by Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass and Agustín Velarde.

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments

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

Sources

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

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

Apr 052018
 

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Kent. Siesta.

Frank Ward Kent. Siesta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Mar 222018
 

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

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

Tom Faloon, 1965 (Univ. of Mississippi Yearbook)

Tom Faloon, 1965 (Univ. of Mississippi Yearbook)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Faloon. ca 1972. "La Mujer"

Tom Faloon. ca 1972. “La Mujer”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

  • Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi) 16 April 1965, 44.
  • La Galería del Lago de Chapala. 1972. A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería. 1972. (Ajijic, Mexico: La Galería del Lago de Chapala).
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 6 March 1971.
  • Lake Chapala Society, Oral History project: “Tom Faloon” (video).
  • Dale Hoyt Palfrey. 2014. “Remembering Tomás Faloon, icon of Ajijic’s expat community”, Guadalajara Reporter, 29 November 2014
  • Poughkeepsie Journal (Poughkeepsie, New York) 26 June 1960, 4B.

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

Mar 082018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Feb 212018
 

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

Jean Caragonne. Flower at window.

Jean Caragonne. Flower at window.

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

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

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

Jean Caragonne. Quiet Hill.

Jean Caragonne. Quiet Hill.

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

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

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

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

Jean Caragonne. Market.

Jean Caragonne. Market.

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

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

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

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

Jean Caragonne. Tulips and ebony.

Jean Caragonne. Tulips and ebony.

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

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

When interviewed in the 1980s, Caragonne claimed that there was more color in Mexico but better light in Greece. With the exception of the Lake Chapala panting, all artwork illustrating this profile were all completed between 1982 and 1990.

Acknowledgment:

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

Sources:

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

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

Feb 152018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

While in Europe, Zara met a young Danish dancer, Holger 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 292018
 

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

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

Rocky Karns as Harry Bailey

Todd Karns as Harry Bailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Jan 222018
 

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

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

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

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

Illustration by Robert B. Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

Illustration by Robert Baird Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

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

Illustration by Baird Snodgrass for The broken Promise

Illustration by Robert Baird Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments

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

Sources:

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

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

Jan 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.

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 182017
 

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

Lake Chapala. Photographer unidentified.

Lake Chapala. Photographer unidentified.

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

Monogram of unidentified photographer

Monogram of unidentified photographer

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

Acknowledgment

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

Other photographers related to Lake Chapala:

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

Dec 112017
 

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

Ray Rigby, ca 1970

Ray Rigby, ca 1970

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

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

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

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

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

The-Hill-1965

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

Sources:

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

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

Dec 042017
 

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

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

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

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

Carlo Wahlbeck. Mother and Child.

Carlo Wahlbeck. Mother and Child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

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

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

 Posted by at 6:07 am  Tagged with:
Nov 132017
 

Famous American portraitist Everett Kinstler and his family spent the summer of 1971 in Ajijic on Lake Chapala.

While staying in the village, he and his family became close friends of Kulla Hogan (now Kulla Ostberg), wife of journalist Don Hogan. Kinstler painted portraits of their two children who became good friends with the Kinstler children. The timing of Kinstler’s visit to Ajijic is confirmed by Molly Leland (formerly Molly Heneghan) who first visited Ajijic with her architect husband George Heneghan in December 1970 and who remembers the Kinstlers arriving the following summer.

Kinstler’s life is well documented, so this short profile includes links to further reading for those interested in learning all about the amazing career of this talented artist.

Book cover by Everett Raymong Kinstler

Book cover by Everett Raymong Kinstler

Everett Raymond Kinstler was born in New York City on 5 August 1926. He studied briefly at the city’s High School of Music and Art before transferring to the High School of Industrial Art, where he acquired the skills to make his living in the field of commercial art. While still a teenager, he started working for a comic book publisher, Cinema Comics, but soon became a freelance illustrator for comics and pulp magazines featuring characters such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, Hawkman, Kit Carson and Zorro. He also designed book covers and undertook commissions for magazine illustrations.

In 1945, Kinstler returned to school and studied at the Art Students League of New York under American illustrator and impressionist painter Frank Vincent DuMond (1865–1961) whose mantra was “I won’t try to teach you to paint, but to see and observe.” Also in 1945, Kinstler was drafted into the U.S. Army to work on creating a comic strip for an Army newspaper.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Kinstler worked mainly as a pulp and comic book artist before transitioning to become one of America’s top portraitists, a calling he has pursued diligently ever since. He held his first major exhibition of portraits and landscapes at Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City in 1959.

Everett Raymong Kinstler. 2014. Portrait of Cliint Eastwood.

Everett Raymong Kinstler. 2014. Portrait of Cliint Eastwood.

Kinstler has painted portraits of over 1200 leading figures in business, entertainment and government, including eight U.S. Presidents: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Other portrait subjects include Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Gene Hackman, Katharine Hepburn, Carol Burnett, Peter O’Toole, James Cagney, Arthur Miller, Ayn Rand, Tennessee Williams, Tom Wolfe; and Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss).

This short video about Kinstler was produced by the Norman Rockwell Museum for its major exhibition of his work in 2012:

Kinstler was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1970 and, in 1999, the Copley Medal by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., which has more than fifty Kinstler portraits in its collection. He also won a Comic-Con International’s Inkpot Award in 2006.

There are several published works about Kinstler including Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr.’s Everett Raymond Kinstler – The Artist’s Journey Through Popular Culture (2005).

Kinstler taught at the Art Students League of New York from 1969 to 1974 and is the author of several books on art, including Painting Faces, Figures and Landscapes (1981) and Painting Portraits Hardcover (1987).

In addition to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Kinstler’s work can be admired in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Butler Institute of American Art, Brooklyn Museum, the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio; and the University of Delaware, Newark.

Want to read more?

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 092017
 

In the 1970s, Ajijic was the center, for a few years at least, of a higher education organization that specialized in archaeology, anthropology and history.

An Ajijic couple – geographer Dr. William W. Winnie Jr. and his wife, archaeologist Dr. Betty Bell – were the driving force behind the creation in 1971 of the Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico (West Mexican Society for Advanced Study). In its formal constitution as a Mexican civil association (A.C.), the society listed the following aims:

  • 1. To promote research on West Mexico, principally in the following fields: (a) anthropology and related fields; (b) history; (c) the urbanization process;
  • 2. To facilitate study by Mexican and foreign institutions or individuals interested in the fields in which the Society is active, and to promote collaboration among them.
  • 3. To facilitate post-graduate study by people from this region in universities outside the country, and vice versa.
  • 4. To serve as liaison and a means of coordination between institutions and researchers working in this region, and those elsewhere who have the same objectives.
  • 5. To organize and operate an information center relative to the proposed subject matter and region.
  • 6. To create a center for advanced study of West Mexico, with the participation of national and foreign institutions interested in the professional fields proposed by the Society.

Its physical location in Ajijic, grandly titled The West Mexican Center for Advanced Study, was provided by the Government of the State of Jalisco in a building that had formerly been the Escuela Regional de Artesanias (Regional School for Handicrafts).

The society planned to offer courses for the benefit of the local community as well as to arrange a fellowship program and orientation for graduate study in U.S. institutions; a publication program; library; exhibits; field courses; seminars and symposia; anthropological research; historical research; and research on the urbanization process.

The Honorary President of the West Mexican Society for Advanced Study was the Hon. Lic. Alberto Orozco Romero, the then Governor of the State of Jalisco. Board members included Dr. Ramon Naranjo Jimenez, Arq. Luis Ortiz Macedo, Lic. Jose Parres Arias, Ing. Federico Solorzano Barreto and Arq. Daniel Vazquez Aguilar. The society’s General Executive Coordinator was Dr. William W. Winnie Jr.

Signed-up members of the society included some very distinguished archaeologists, anthropologists and historians, including Ignacio Bernal, Donald D. Brand, Beatriz Braniff, Pedro Carrasco, Michael D. Coe, George M. Foster, Robert E. Greengo, Wigberto Jiménez Moreno, J. Charles Kelley, José Luis Lorenzo, Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, H. B. Nicholson, Otto Schöndube, Stuart D. Scott and Phil C. Weigand.

Ajijic's Escuela Regional de Artesanías building

Ajijic’s Escuela Regional de Artesanías building

The society quickly organized a local museum, the Ajijic Museum of Anthropology, inaugurated on 9 October 1972 in one of the state-owned buildings of the former Handicrafts School, adjacent to where the Auditorio de la Ribera (Lake Chapala Auditorium) is today. Following a change of federal law pertaining to archaeological investigations in Mexico, the museum was closed by Mexican authorities in July 1974. The West Mexican Society for Advanced Study, whose prime purpose was to encourage the participation of foreign archaeologists in Mexican projects, ceased operations shortly afterwards.

Shortly before the society came to an end (and under its auspices), Winnie and Bell organized a summer school for visiting students. The weekly English language newspaper in Guadalajara reported that 25 students from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, were spending three weeks at Lake Chapala taking college-level classes for credit in the summer of 1974.

The students were housed, 2 or 3 to a room, in the Hotel Chula Vista which had its own small pool and restaurant. The classes, coordinated by Winnie and his wife, were given by Angelo State faculty members Caroline Haley and Tony Dutton. They included Spanish-language classes connected to Mexican civilization and literature, and classes about the anthropology of pre-Columbian cultures in Western Mexico. The program was well received by local people, with the Chapala mayor hosting a special dinner to celebrate the first program of its kind in the area.

Despite its laudable aims, the society had functioned, as pointed out by three University of Guadalajara researchers in their joint 2014 paper “Distant Neighbours: Different Visions about Mexican Archaeology”, “as an American institution in Mexico”. Even though the society had many Mexican archaeologists as members, they did not play a large part in its activities, with a handful of notable exceptions, such as the significant chapters they provided for The Archaeology of West Mexico (1974), a collection of papers edited by Betty Bell and published by the society.

The society had previously published Betty Bell’s short booklet El Gran Xalisco: La Historia Cultural del Occidente de Mexico, which had photographs taken by her husband.

During its brief lifetime, the society helped organize several archaeological projects in western Mexico including studies of the Marismas Nacionales (Nayarit), directed by Scott D. Stuart; Ahualulco (Jalisco) led by Joseph B. Mountjoy; investigations in the states of Durango, Jalisco, and Zacatecas supervised by J. Charles Kelley; and at Teocaltiche (Jalisco) and El Grillo (Zapopan Jalisco), both directed by Betty Bell.

Unfortunately, the society’s willingness to coordinate research projects did not mesh well with the more nationalistic direction being taken by INAH, Mexico’s national institute for anthropology and history, which wanted to train more Mexican archaeologists and preferred archaeological projects to be led by Mexican researchers wherever possible.

In August 1972, leading foreign members of the society wrote to INAH to discuss the contributions the society could make with regard to archaeological studies in Mexico. Their letter sought clarification on such issues as the granting of permits, collaboration between Mexican and foreign archaeologists, project selection, funding and field schools in Mexico for foreign students,

INAH’s formal response in 1973 suggests it perceived the Ajijic society as a direct threat to its own role. While INAH has continued to issue permits for individual foreign archaeologists to lead projects in Mexico, it apparently believed that the Ajijic society had gone too far in organizing foreign archaeologists into a cohesive group.

The Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico (West Mexican Society for Advanced Study) ceased operations in 1974.

Sources:

  • American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. Hispania, March 1975.
  • Betty Bell. 1972. El Gran Xalisco: La Historia Cultural del Occidente de Mexico. (with photos and design by  Wm. W. Winnie). 21 pp. Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico, A. C. / West Mexican Society for Advanced Studies.
  • Betty Bell (ed). 1974. The Archaeology of West Mexico. Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico, A. C. / West Mexican Society for Advanced Studies.
  • Luis Gómez Gastélum, Cristina Ramírez Munguía and Mayela Guzmán Becerra. 2014. “Distant Neighbours: Different Visions about Mexican Archaeology” in Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, 2014.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 18 May 1974; 22 June 1974.
  • Pecos Enterprise (Texas): 8 April 1974, p 2.

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

 Posted by at 5:54 am  Tagged with:
Nov 022017
 

Archaeologist Betty Bonita Bell and her husband William W. Winnie Jr. (1928-1988) lived at Calle Colón #36 in Ajijic for several years in the early 1970s. While the precise dates are unclear, the couple made many significant contributions to village life.

Bell gained a doctorate in archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and then worked for the Organization of American States in Washington D.C. She later returned to UCLA and established a regional development training program in Brazil.

She and her husband arrived in Jalisco in 1970 when he accepted a position as visiting professor in the Economics faculty of the University of Guadalajara.

Bell excavated Los Altos, near Teocaltiche in northeastern Jalisco for two months in 1970 before spending two months looking at shaft tombs near Etzatlán early the following year.

In February 1971, Bell gave a series of lectures in Guadalajara. The local newspaper described her at this time as “a temporary resident of Ajijic” and said she was a “former assistant professor of anthropology at Colorado State University (Fort Collins) and currently adjunct professor of anthropology of the University Museum, Southern Illinois University.” The following month, the same newspaper reports that she anticipates being in Ajijic “at least two years” and is considering settling in the village.

In that same year (1971), Bell and her husband were instrumental in founding the Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de México, A.C. (West Mexican Society for Advanced Study) in Ajijic. The prime purpose of this short-lived project, which closed in 1974, was to encourage the participation of foreign archaeologists in Mexican projects.

The society’s two main publications were Betty Bell’s El Gran Xalisco: La Historia Cultural del Occidente de Mexico (which had photos and design by  Wm. W. Winnie) in 1972 and The Archaeology of West Mexico, a collection of papers she edited in 1974.

Bell and her husband also organized a summer school for visiting students in 1974. According to the Guadalajara Reporter, 25 students from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, spent three weeks at Lake Chapala taking college-level classes for credit. The classes, coordinated by Winnie and his wife, were given by Angelo State faculty members Caroline Haley and Tony Dutton, and included Spanish-language classes connected to Mexican civilization and literature, as well as classes about the anthropology of pre-Columbian cultures in Western Mexico.

Further details of Betty Bell’s life have proved frustratingly difficult to find though, tragically, it seems that Betty Bell lost her life in a car accident in Ajijic.

Betty Bell: select bibliography

  • Betty Bell (ed). 1967. Indian Mexico Past and Present (Symposium papers). Latin America Center, University of California. 109 pp.
  • Betty Bell. 1972. El Gran Xalisco: La Historia Cultural del Occidente de Mexico. (with photos and design by  Wm. W. Winnie). 21 pp. Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico, A. C. / West Mexican Society for Advanced Studies.
  • Betty Bell. 1972. “Archeological Excavations in Jalisco, Mexico.” Science, New Series, Vol. 175, No. 4027 (Mar. 17, 1972), pp. 1238-1239.
  • Betty Bell (ed). 1974. The Archaeology of West Mexico. Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico, A. C. / West Mexican Society for Advanced Studies.
  • Hugo G. Nutini and Betty Bell. 1984. Ritual Kinship, Volume II: Ideological and Structural Integration of the Compadrazgo System in Rural Tlaxcala. Princeton University Press. (translated as Parentesco ritual. Estructura y evolución histórica del sistema de compadrazgo en la tlaxcala rural and published by Fondo de Cultura Económica, México, in 1989).

Sources:

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

Oct 262017
 

Dr. William W. Winnie Jr. (1928-1988) was an American geographer who lived in Ajijic with his wife – the archaeologist Dr. Betty Bell – in the early 1970s. Winnie published several papers relating to Guadalajara and western Mexico and also produced a map of Lake Chapala towns. The map, which was widely-distributed, was the earliest attempt to show the entire Lakeside area in a general purpose map for the public that I have so far come across. Winnie and Bell were also instrumental in founding the short-lived Ajijic museum of archaeology and the Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de México, A.C. (The West Mexican Society for Advanced Study).

William Winnie Jr. Maps of Lake Chapala area, ca 1970

William Winnie Jr. Maps of Lake Chapala area, ca 1970

William W Winnie Jr., known simply as “Winnie” to his friends, was born in Pontiac, Michigan, on 27 January 1928. He moved to Alburquerque, New Mexico, at the age of 21 to undertake pre-medical studies but transferred to the University of Florida two years later to complete an undergraduate degree in geography. He remained in Florida to gain a masters in sociology and a doctorate in Latin American studies. His doctoral thesis (1956) was based on fieldwork in Mexico and entitled “The Lower Papaloapan Basin: Land and People”. It was the beginning of a long love affair with the country, its geography and its people.

Winnie subsequently published the results of his doctorate work as The Papaloapan Project: An Experiment in Tropical Development (1958) while working as a Social Science Analyst in the U.S. Census Bureau.

By 1960, he was back in Mexico, on the faculty of the University of Nuevo León. That year he published an interesting short article about the significance of Spanish surnames in the southwestern U.S. The following year he published an article about land tenure in the Papaloapan basin.

Winnie was a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Chile in 1963-4 and published an article in 1965 on “Communal Land Tenure in Chile”. He returned to the U.S. for the 1964-5 academic year as a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he worked on a project sponsored by the Organization of American States and the Peace Corps. This was the basis for his 1967 book entitled Latin American development; theoretical, sectoral, and operational approaches.

This stimulated his interest in population migration, a topic that would continue to hold his attention for many years. His first formal publication related to migration, published in 1965, was about inter-state migration in Mexico.

Sponsored by the Fulbright Program, Winnie took up a position as visiting professor in the Economics faculty of the University of Guadalajara in 1970. This more or less marked the start of the university’s interest in social science research. Long term goals for research were established in 1971 with the creation of the university’s Centro de Investigaciones Sociales y Económicas (CISE).

Early work at CISE was financed almost entirely by external grants. Winnie was a pioneer in the demographic study of western Mexico and with fellow university researchers Jesús Arroyo Alejandre, Enrique Rojas Díaz and Luis Arturo Velázquez established a successful program of social science teaching and research at the U. de G.’s Economics Faculty. After completing their undergraduate degree, many of the students undertook further studies, some in Mexico and others abroad.

Winnie established close links to other important academic institutions, including the Colegio de México, the Colegio de Michoacán, the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, and the University of Texas at Austin.

The precise dates of their residence in Ajijic (at Calle Colón #36) are unclear, but Winnie and his wife Betty Bell made many significant contributions to village life.

Recognizing that street maps of the local villages were almost impossible to find, Winnie drew his own maps of the Lake Chapala area. With their very simple, single line streets, they are very different to the style of the graphic map-poster of Ajijic designed by Molly Heneghan, though both maps were first printed at about the same time.

William Winnie Jr. Map of Ajijic, ca 1970

William Winnie Jr. Map of Ajijic, ca 1970

In 1971, Winnie and his wife helped start an Ajijic Museum of Archaeology and founded the Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico A.C. (West Mexican Society for Advanced Study). The museum was located on the highway, adjacent to where the Auditorio de la Ribera (Lake Chapala Auditorium) was later built. Following a change of law pertaining to archaeological investigations, the museum was closed by Mexican authorities in about 1974, and the West Mexican Society for Advanced Study, whose prime purpose was to encourage the participation of foreign archaeologists in Mexican projects, closed shortly afterwards.

Shortly before the Society closed, and under its auspices, Winnie and Bell organized a visiting group of students in 1974. The weekly English language newspaper in Guadalajara reported that 25 students from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, were spending three weeks at Lake Chapala taking college-level classes for credit. The classes, coordinated by Winnie and his wife, were given by Angelo State faculty members Caroline Haley and Tony Dutton. They included Spanish-language classes connected to Mexican civilization and literature, and classes about the anthropology of pre-Columbian cultures in Western Mexico. The program was well received by local people, with the Chapala mayor hosting a special dinner to celebrate the first program of its kind in the area.

Winnie’s contributions to Ajijic life were not only connected to his academic interests. In 1974, he was on the committee responsible for planning the construction of the Auditorio de la Ribera (Lake Chapala Auditorium) . Other members of the initial committee included Enid McDonald (the Canadian flying pioneer who spearheaded the local fund raising campaign), Hector Marquez, Manuel Pantoja, and Josephine Warren (mother of Chris Luhnow who founded the long-running Traveler’s Guide to Mexico).

According to his colleague Jesús Arroyo Alejandre, Winnie’s most productive period at the University of Guadalajara was between 1979 and 1982. His research during that period resulted in a landmark book about migration in western Mexico: La movilidad demográfica y su incidencia en una región de fuerte emigración: el caso del Occidente de México.

Winnie remained on the faculty of the University of Guadalajara until his death at the age of 59 on 17 January 1988. He was interred as a U.S. Veteran in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

William W. Winnie Jr. : Select Bibliography

  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1958. “The Papaloapan Project: An Experiment in Tropical Development”. Economic Geography, Vol. 34, #3, 1958.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1960. (May 1960). “The Spanish Surname Criterion for Identifying Hispanos in the Southwestern United States: A Preliminary Evaluation”, Social Forces, vol 38 #4, May 1960, pp. 363–366. Oxford University Press.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1961. “La tenencia de la tierra en la Cuenca del Bajo Papaloapan” in HUMANITAS: Anuario del Centro de Estudios Humanísticos. El Centro de Estudios Humanísticos de la Universidad de Nuevo León. 1961 #2, 601-616.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1965. “Communal Land Tenure in Chile”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Mar., 1965), pp. 67-86.
  • William W. Winnie, Jr. 1965. Estimates of Interstate Migration in Mexico, 1950-1960: Data and Methods. (Reprinted from Antropologica no. 14, Caracas, June 1965). Latin American Center, University of California, Los Angeles. 22 pp.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1967. Latin American development; theoretical, sectoral, and operational approaches. Latin American studies, vol 8. Los Angeles: Latin American Center, University of California. 255 pp.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1982. “Variaciones regionales en la fecundidad y la migración en el Estado de Michoacán.” Relaciones (Colegio de Michoacán), vol III, no 10, pp 29-52.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1984. La movilidad demográfica y su influencia en una región de fuerte emigración. El caso del Occidente de México. Universidad de Guadalajara, Jal.
  • William W. Winnie Jr., John F. Stegner and Joseph P. Kopachevsky. 1970. Persons of Mexican descent in the United States. Fort Collins: Center for Latin American Studies, Colorado State University. 78 pp.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. and Jesus Arroyo Alejandre (coords.) 1979. La migración en el estado de Jalisco y la zona metropolitana de Guadalajara. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara, Facultad de Economía, Centro de Investigaciones Sociales y Económicas. 181 pp.

Sources:

  • Jesús Arroyo Alejandre. 1988. “William W. Winnie Brown, pionero de la investigación demográfica en el Occidente de México” (Obituary), Relaciones 34, primavera 1988, vol. IX, pp 145-147. Colegio de Michoacán.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. 18 May 1974; 22 June 1974.
  • WorldCat. Winnie, William W. 

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

Oct 232017
 

Molly Duane Heneghan (now Molly Leland) is an artist and graphic designer whose husband, George Heneghan, the architect of the Danza del Sol hotel in Ajijic, was the subject of a previous post.

Molly Heneghan was born into a society family in 1942. She graduated from Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts and attended Manhattanville College where she majored in art history and gained a teaching qualification. She then taught in Aspen, Colorado, where she first met her husband.

The Heneghans lived in Aspen for several years with their two young sons – Eric and Adam – before visiting Ajijic for the first time in December 1970. The liked it so much that they decided to make it their base for several years. Molly and the children lived in Ajijic from mid-1971 to 1975. Husband George commuted back and forth to Aspen for the first six months before opting for full-time residence at Lake Chapala.

Molly Heneghan. Map "Sunny Ajijic", ca 1973.

Molly Heneghan. Map entitled “Sunny Ajijic”, ca 1973.

Molly Heneghan’s graphic map-poster of Ajijic, entitled “Sunny Ajijic”, with its wealth of details of the location of individual stores and services, is a valuable social history document today, and is almost certainly the earliest document of its kind. It was printed in the U.S. and first went on sale in about 1973. When the Heneghans left Ajijic in 1975, the remaining copies of the map were left on consignment at Gail Michaels’ store – Bazar El Angel – which was located near the (Old) Posada Ajijic.

Molly Heneghan, Ajijic, ca 1972. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz).

Molly Heneghan, Ajijic, ca 1972. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz).

During their time in Ajijic, the Heneghans were very active in community events, especially the Lakeside Little Theater. They and their children became very good friends of many of the notable artists and authors in the area, including Beverly Johnson and her family, Gerda and James (“Jim”) Kelly, Lorenzo Semple Jr. and his family, and with Allyn Hunt and his wife, Beverly.

Acknowledgments

  • My sincere thanks to Molly Leland for sharing memories of her time with her family in Mexico. I am also grateful to Tamara Janúz for permission to reproduce the photograph taken by her mother, Beverly Johnson.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 8 May 1971; 22 Sep 1973; 29 Nov 1975.

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

Oct 162017
 

Architect George Heneghan lived in Ajijic with his wife, Molly, and their two young sons – Eric and Adam – from 1971 to 1975.

George Edward Heneghan Jr. was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 30 April 1934 and died on 6 August 1999. He graduated from St. Louis University High School, studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and received his B. Arch from Washington University in St. Louis in 1962. Heneghan was an active member of several athletics and sports-related clubs.

In the 1960s he worked alongside his childhood friend (and later partner) Daniel Gale in Fritz Benedict’s practice. Benedict had been a gardener at Frank Lloyd Wright’s estates – Taliesin Easdt and Taliesen West – prior to training as an architect. The two young men were considered “Benedict’s protégés”. Heneghen was greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright (as was another long-time Lake Chapala resident, Russell Seely Bayly). As a result, Heneghan’s architectural style is best described (to borrow a phrase from his son, Eric) as Wrightian/Organic.

When George Heneghan married Molly Duane at St. Mary’s Church in Aspen, Colorado, on 12 June 1965, Dan Gale was his best man. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon in Mexico and then returned to live in Aspen.

In 1966 Heneghan and Gale joined forces in an architectural partnership, which lasted until 1969. During that time they designed many of the larger buildings in Aspen, including the Hannah Dustin commercial building (300 S. Spring), the Aspen Interfaith Chapel of the Prince of Peace on Meadowood Drive, and the Cottonwoods Condominium. They also designed homes for the Guggenheim, Horowitz and many other families. The partnership ended when Gale left Aspen for California in 1969.

George Heneghan, Ajijic, ca 1972. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz).

George Heneghan, Ajijic, ca 1972. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz).

The Heneghans first visited Ajijic in 1970 to spend Christmas with Molly’s parents who usually spent the winter there. They liked what they saw and rented a house in Rancho del Oro for several months. George commuted back and forth to Aspen until mid-1971 when, with the assistance of Gerda and Jim Kelly, they bought property on Calle Zaragoza to remodel as their family home. (In May of 1971, according to the Guadalajara Reporter, George Heneghan is planning to build his retirement home in Ajijic.) According to local legend, because the architect was not a very tall man, the home, now known as Casa Flores, was designed with relatively low ceiling heights.

Danza del Sol hotel, Ajijic. Credit: TripAdvisor.

Danza del Sol hotel, Ajijic. Credit: TripAdvisor.

The architecture of the family home was admired to such an extent that the architect retained by the wealthy and influential Leaño family to build the Danza del Sol hotel in Ajijic asked George Heneghan to collaborate on the design. The hotel, about ten blocks west of the village plaza, has remained a landmark ever since. The international promotion of the new hotel, shortly after it was completed, featured photographs taken by village photographer Beverly Johnson. Local sales for Danza del Sol were handled by realtor Mary Bishop, wife of Dick Bishop.

[Dick Bishop was one of Ajijic’s more colorful characters in the 1960s and 1970s, forever associated with riding his large Arabian horse through the village. Loy Strother, as a child, was the jockey on Bishop’s horse in a race along the dirt road between San Antonio Tlayacapan and Ajijic. He recalls that Bishop “bought a saddle for that horse that had a bar in it. Yep, the pommel of that saddle was raised on a square structure (covered in carved leather as part of the saddle) that opened and held glasses, small bottles of booze and even a little ice bucket… and a tiny martini shaker.” Those were the days!]

While living in Ajijic, Molly Heneghan put her graphical design talents to work. She drew and published the first edition of “Sunny Ajijic”, an informative poster-map of Ajijic, in about 1973.

The couple was active in local theater and in November 1973 acted together in a show at the Little Lakeside Theater.

The family took some exciting vacations during their time in Mexico. For example, in 1973, the local press reported that Molly Heneghan had left for Disneyland with both sons, and that George would soon join them for “a chartered sail in the Atlantic.”

The Heneghans did not occupy their “retirement” home on Calle Zaragoza in Ajijic for very long. By 1975, their former home, described for a House and Garden Tour as “an architect’s fantasy dream home” had become a  vacation home jointly owned by Dr. Bob Peyton, chief surgeon of Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu, Dr. Harry Huffaker, “the swimming dentist” who made many spectacular long distance swims, and Tom Held, founder of Aloha Hawaii Travel.

When they returned north in 1975, the Heneghans spent a few months in New Mexico before relocating to Hawaii, where Heneghan established an award-winning architectural practice. He specialized in designing private residences, but his commercial work included building his own offices, designed to obviate the need for air conditioning, relying instead purely on air movements resulting from the natural diurnal breezes.

Heneghan was not only an architect on Hawaii but “an accomplished athlete, teacher and coach” who coached cross-country and track at Parker School from 1992-1998. After he died in Hawaii in 1999, a fun run was established in his memory in Kamuela, Hawaii.

Acknowledgments

  • My sincere thanks to Molly Leland for sharing memories of her time with her family in Mexico. I am also grateful to Tamara Janúz for permission to reproduce the photograph taken by her mother, Beverly Johnson.

Sources:

  • AspenModern website. George Edward Heneghan, Jr. (1934-1999).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 8 May 1971; 22 Sep 1973; 29 Nov 1975.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri): 13 June 1965, page 113.
  • Monica Geran. 1986. “In Hawaii: the design offices for and by George Heneghan Architects in Kailu-Kona”, in Interior Design, 1 August 1986.

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

error: Content is protected !!