Jul 122018
 

Mexican actor and photographer Luis Márquez Romay (1899-1978) was born in Mexico City on 25 September 1899. The family fled to the father’s homeland of Cuba in the midst of the Mexican Revolution and Luis began his art studies there at the Feliú studio in Havana. Alongside his studying, he worked as an actor, with starring roles in Dios existe (1920), Mamá Zenobia (1921) and Aves de paso (1921).

He returned to Mexico City in 1921 to study photography at the Public Education Secretariat’s Photography and Cinematography Workshop. He also continued his acting career, with major roles in Bolchevikismo (1923), El Cristo de oro (1926) and Conspiración (1927).

His photographic assignments at the workshop included documenting traditional religious celebrations in Chalma (State of México) and in Janitzio, the island-village in Lake Pátzcuaro renowned for its Day of the Dead festivities. This began a life-long interest in indigenous Mexico. Márquez later wrote the screenplay for the romantic drama movie Janitzio (1935) – the earliest all-Mexican sound film – which starred Emilio Fernández and María Teresa Orozco.

Poster for Janitzio (1935)

Poster for Janitzio (1935).

As Márquez pursued his photographic career during the 1920s and early 1930s he was working during one of the most creative periods in Mexican photography. The photographic opportunities offered by Mexico were being used to good effect by several talented foreign-born photographers including Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand and Josef Albers among others.

Márquez was a key member of what he later called Modern Mexican Photography as it gradually emerged, evident in the body of work of photographers such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Agustín Jiménez, Emilio Amero, Lola Álvarez Bravo and Aurora Eugenia Latapí. This group eschewed conventional pictorialism in favor of subjects that allowed them to edge towards surrealism and abstractionism. The light, patterns and shadows of urban and industrial landscapes gained favor, as did artistic images of the human form.

This postcard view of Lake Chapala was taken on a trip to the lake sponsored by the Carta Blanca beer company in November 1930.

Luis Márquez. Chapala (November 1930).

Luis Márquez. Chapala (November 1930).

This colorized postcard of a Lake Chapala aguador (watercarrier) was published by Publicaciones Fishgrund in Mexico City in about 1939.

Luis Márquez. Aguador en el Lago de Chapala. (1939)

Luis Márquez. Aguador en el Lago de Chapala. (1939)

Márquez traveled widely across Mexico for decades and combined his ever-evolving photography with collecting and exhibiting ethnic Mexican clothing. His photographic work was popular as illustrations in newspapers and magazines, as well as for postcards, calendars and books. His work won numerous awards, including a coveted first prize at the Exposición Iberoamericana (1930) in Seville, Spain, and a first prize at the International Photography Exhibition at the New York World’s Fair (1939-40).

Four of his photographs were published in the May 1937 issue of National Geographic which brought his work to an international audience.

Mexican Folklore: 100 Photographs by Luis Marquez, a book that showcased a selection of 100 of his magnificent black and white photos, accompanied by text by Justino Fernandez, was published by Eugenio Fischgrund in Mexico City in about 1954. In the 1970s, Mobil Oil sponsored the publication of El México de Luis Márquez and its English version, Luis Marquez’ Timeless Mexico.

In 1997, a previously unknown side of Márquez’s portfolio as a photographer emerged when 53 artistic photos of nudes (40 male and 13 female) were discovered. The photographs date from the mid-1930s and are some of the earliest photographs of the male form ever taken in Mexico.

The extraordinarily gifted photographer Luis Márquez Romay died in Mexico City on December 11, 1978.

Sources:

  • Alquimia. 2000. El imaginario de Luis Marquez” – The major source for this post is this special issue of Alquimia, año 4, núm. 10, Sep-Dec 2000, which has numerous essays about Márquez and his work.
  • Susan Toomey Frost. Undated. “Postcards of Luis Marquez“. Blog post.
  • Arturo Guevara Escobar. 2011. “Letra M. Fotógrafos y productores de postales.” Blog post.
  • Ernesto Peñaloza Méndez. Undated. “Luis Márquez Romay.” Kean University.

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

Jun 132018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee Hersch: Lake Chapala (ca 1930)

Lee Hersch: Lake Chapala (ca 1930)

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

Hersch catalog

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

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

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

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

Credits / references

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

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

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Jun 072018
 

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

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

This post looks at the life of the first of these three men; we will consider the other two in future posts.

Stansbury Girtin Millett was born in London, England, on 23 October 1904 and died (of tuberculosis) in Guadalajara in the early hours of 25 March 1946.

Millett’s parents were Mary Frances Barnard (1867-1935) and Henry Stansbury Millett (1867-1947). When Stansbury was in his teens, his father was appointed district auditor for the Ministry of Health in Oxfordshire and the family moved from London to Oxford.

Millett attended Oxford University in the mid-1920s, traveled widely in Europe and spoke several languages fluently. His first novel, written with the pseudonym of Richard Oke, was Frolic Wind, published in London in 1929. The setting was an English house party at the stately pile of Pagnell Bois. Young lovers were cavorting naked in the pond when a flash of lightning killed the mysterious Lady Athaliah in her tower. The resulting revelations entangled young and old alike. A Canadian reviewer gushed that “There have been novels written in the past that are just as brilliant as this, but not many. Between the covers amazing genius has been compressed.”

Millett’s follow-up books established his reputation as a brilliant young novelist known for his biting, edgy satire. However, he also wrote The Boy From Apulia, a biography of Frederick II, Emperor of Germany.

Like many young men of his time, Millett was also very interested in the stage. He designed the sets and costumes for Hassan, a play performed by the Oxford University Dramatic Society in 1931 and also illustrated the accompanying program.

In 1935, Millett’s first novel was adapted by novelist and dramatist Richard Pryce (1864-1942) for the London stage. A made-for-TV version aired in 1955.

In 1937, for reasons unknown, Millett and his father left the U.K. for Mexico. They arrived in Los Angeles on 29 March 1937 and traveled to Ajijic. When they first arrived in the village, they lodged at the small inn run by the Heuer siblings but later stayed at what eventually became known as the Posada Ajijic.

Nigel Millett died in Guadalajara in 1946 and, a year later, on 6 June 1947 his father died in Ajijic. The Milletts have adjoining gravestones in Ajijic cemetery.

Cover artist

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

Signature of cover artist, Village in the Sun.

Signature of cover artist, Village in the Sun.

References

  • Dane Chandos. 1945. Village in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Published in London, U.K., with same title by Michael Joseph in 1948. Reissued in London by Country Book Club in 1953. Reissued in Mexico (Tlayacapan Press) in 1998.
  • Dane Chandos. 1949. House in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. U.K. edition in 1950 by Michael Joseph. Reissued in Mexico (Tlayacapan Press) in 1999.
  • The Gazette (Montreal, Canada), 25 Jan 1930, 13.
  • Richard Pryce. 1935. Frolic Wind. A play in three acts. (Adapted by Richard Pryce from the novel by Richard Oke.) London: Victor Gollancz.

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 012018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Feb 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.

Dec 142017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Oct 302017
 

Pedro Castellanos Lambley is one of several distinguished Mexican architects who designed and built the fine old homes in Chapala that now give the town its architecturally-eclectic appeal.

Castellanos was the architect of Villa Ferrara, at Hidalgo 240, in Chapala. This elegant dwelling was photographed in the mid-1930s by American photographer-architect Esther Baum Born during her travels across Mexico documenting the rise of Mexican modernist architecture.

Castellanos was born in Guadalajara on 15 January 1902 into a high society family that excelled in literature and politics. His grandmother was the poet Esther Tapia de Castellanos. His father was Luis Castellanos Tapia who was governor of the state of Jalisco, 1919-1920, and his mother was Carolina Lambley Magaña.

The young Castellanos completed his basic education in the U.K. and at a military school in the U.S. before returning to Guadalajara to enter the city’s Escuela Libre de Ingenieros, then run by Ambrosio Ulloa. Fellow students in the engineering school included several other noteworthy Guadalajara architects including the internationally renowned Luis Barragán Morfín.

By the time Castellanos graduated in 1924, Barragán was working on projects with his brother, Juan José Barragán, who was a prominent builder. When Luis Barragán left the partnership to start his own architectural practice, Castellanos succeeded him as Juan José Barragán’s lead designer.

Several years later, in about 1931, Castellanos and fellow architect Luis Martinez Negrete started their own practice – Castellanos and Negrete – which quickly gained a enviable reputation for appealing and successful designs representative of early Modernism.

Villa Ferrara, Chapala. ca 1950. Architect: Pedro Castellanos Lambley. Postcard: González.

Villa Ferrara, Chapala. ca 1950. Architect: Pedro Castellanos Lambley. Postcard: J. González.

Among Castellanos’ most famous designs from this time are Villa Ferrara in Chapala and several stately family homes in Guadalajara, as well as the city’s old San Juan de Dios market (which was replaced in the 1950s).

Between 1935 and 1940, Castellanos partnered with Juan Palomar y Arias to propose an ambitious plan they referred to as “El Plano Loco” (“The Mad Plan”) for a utopian, visionary and futuristic Guadalajara. It called for the creation of a 120-meter-wide ring of circulation around the city. Districts would be divided by broad boulevards and linear parks and walkways would link to a massive green space in the center to produce a genuinely ecological city. On the city’s northern edge, they proposed the creation of a Parque de la Barranca.

Castellanos had become one of Guadalajara’s most successful and highly respected architects when he switched tracks in 1938 and entered the Franciscan order in Aguascalientes, after which he focused exclusively on designing ecclesiastical buildings. Castellanos was on the diocesan Art Commission from 1940 and designed the chapel at Ciudad Granja, the Templo de Nuestra Señora del Sagrado Rosario in Guadalajara and several other temples in small towns. He also designed the tower and entrance to the church of San Miguel Arcángel in La Manzanilla de la Paz south of Lake Chapala.

Pedro Castellanos Lambley died in his native Guadalajara on 25 September 1961.

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.

Oct 092017
 

The American photographer-architect Esther Baum Born is known to have visited Chapala in the mid-1930s in order to photograph the modernist architecture of Villa Ferrara.

Esther Baum was born in Palo Alto, California, in 1902. She attended the Oakland Technical High School before entering the University of California, Berkeley, in 1920 to study architecture under John Galen Howard. After graduating in 1924, she began graduate studies, spent a year in Europe studying languages and art history, and then (in 1926) married fellow architect Ernest Born. The couple visited Europe before settling in New York City.

Portrait of Esther Born

Portrait of Esther Born

During the Great Depression, Esther Born studied photography. She took an intensive course in architectural photography with photographer Ben Rabinovitch in 1933 and later showed her work in a group exhibition and solo shows at the Rabinovitch Gallery.

While living in New York, Born and her husband had become friends of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. This friendship piqued their curiosity about Mexican art and architecture and Esther Born traveled to Mexico for about ten months in 1935-1936, primarily in order to compile a portfolio of photographs related to Mexico’s modernist architecture. Rivera and Kahlo accompanied her on many of her visits to see the latest examples of buildings designed by Mexico’s cutting-edge architects: Juan O’Gorman, Luis Barragán Morfín, José Villagrán García and others.

Photo by Esther Born.

The Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Huipulco, Mexico City. Architect: José Villagrán García. Photograph ca 1935 by Esther Born.

Born’s archives related to this trip now reside in the Center for Creative Photography at The University of Arizona. They include a photograph entitled “Castellanos and Negreste–House at Lake Chapala”. This picture shows the Villa Ferrara at Hidalgo 240 in Chapala. The villa’s architect was Pedro Castellanos Lambley (1901-1961), whose career and links to Lake Chapala we will consider in a future post. Castellanos formed an architectural partnership in the early 1930s with Luis Martinez Negrete. Born’s portfolio of Mexican photographs includes several of Luis Martinez Negrete and Francisco Martinez Negrete and the ‘Negreste’ in the title of the Chapala photo in her archives is clearly a typo for Negrete.

Following the trip, and now living in San Francisco, Born (with help from her husband and the Mexican art critic Justino Fernández) wrote The New Architecture in Mexico. This was initially published in Architectural Record in April 1937 but subsequently expanded and turned into a book of the same name. This book is now a highly-prized collectible volume about Mexico’s modernist art and architecture. It helped draw global attention to developments in Mexican design and architecture.

Diego Rivera's studio. Architect: Juan O'Gorman. Photo by Esther Born.

Diego Rivera’s studio, ca 1935. Architect: Juan O’Gorman. Photo by Esther Born.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Born documented the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940), which was held on Treasure Island near San Francisco, and photographed homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other famous architects.

Note that other artists associated with both the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940) and Lake Chapala include Orville Goldner (of “King Kong” fame); John Langley Howard; painter and muralist Louis Ernest Lenshaw (1892-1988); abstract painter Robert Pearson McChesney (1913-2008); painter and muralist Ann Sonia Medalie (1896-1991); etcher Max Pollak (1886-1970); and print maker Charles Frederick Surendorf (1906-1979).

During the second world war, Esther Born worked for the San Francisco Housing Authority on the acquisition of properties for housing war industry workers. She continued to have photographs published in several architectural journals throughout her career.

In 1945, immediately after the war, Ernest Born founded his own architecture practice in San Francisco. Esther helped run this firm for almost thirty years until her health began to deteriorate in 1971. Among the firm’s major projects were a plan for Fisherman’s Wharf, housing in North Beach, signage for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system and the couple’s own oceanfront house at 2020 Great Highway.

In the mid-1980s, they moved to San Diego to live closer to their daughter. Esther Baum Born died in that city in 1987.

Sources:

  • Esther Born and Justino Fernandez. 1937. “The New Architecture in Mexico,” in Architectural Record, April 1937, V. 81, pp. 1–86.
  • Esther Born and Justino Fernandez. 1937. The New Architecture in Mexico. New York: W. Morrow and Co.
  • Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, Tucson. Finding aid for the Esther Born collection, 1935-1937.
  • Nicholas Olsberg. 2015. Architects and artists: the work of Ernest and Esther Born. San Francisco: Book Club of California.
  • Kathryn E. O’Rourke. 2012. “Guardians of Their Own Health: Tuberculosis, Rationalism, and Reform in Modern Mexico”, in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 71 No. 1, March 2012; (pp. 60-77)

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.

Oct 172016
 

Howard True Wheeler (ca 1896-1968) wrote Tales from Jalisco, Mexico, a 562-page tome of more than 200 folk tales collected from all over Jalisco, including many from Chapala, published by the The American Folklore Society in 1943. It is clear from the introduction of this book that Wheeler conducted fieldwork in Jalisco “during three months of the summer of 1930”, ignoring the “purely literary tales” in favor of collecting genuine folk tales from all over the state. Wheeler thanks the pioneering feminist Dr. Elsie Crews Parsons “whose assistance made possible the expedition”. Parsons herself definitely visited Chapala in 1932, and it is possible she had been there earlier.

Wheeler was born in California in about 1896 and served, while still a young man, with U.S. forces during the first world war. He gained an A.B. from the University of California and, in 1928, an M.A. from Stanford University. He then taught for a year at Mountain View High School before beginning his doctorate studies, also at Stanford. The 1930 fieldwork in Jalisco, “as a representative of the American Folklore Society”, was intended as the basis for his doctorate dissertation.

At the time of the 1930 U.S. census, Wheeler was living with his wife Geneva in Mountain View, Santa Clara, California. He was appointed to the faculty of the Romanic Languages department at Stanford in October 1930 and was awarded his doctorate in 1935.

Wheeler started work as a language teacher in 1934 at the Santa Rosa Junior College and remained at that institution until 1942 when he was dismissed (or at least his contract was not renewed) as a result of a much-publicized staff-room brawl involving a coffee cup. According to newspaper reports at the time, Wheeler threw a cup of coffee at a fellow instructor, Otto Carl Ross, because Ross referred to President Roosevelt as a communist. Ross denied this and claimed he was only “criticizing the Administration’s farm policy” when “the next thing I knew a coffee cup came flying through the air.” According to Wheeler, the coffee cup missed Ross by four feet; according to Ross, it hit him in the head. News reports said that Wheeler was prepared to go to court to obtain reinstatement, but it is unclear if he ever actually did so.

Wheeler’s summer in Jalisco collecting folk tales in 1930 proved to be a valuable one, not only for Wheeler’s own doctorate studies, but also for a number of other authors. His impressive collection of Jalisco folk tales has been the basis for several works by the children’s author Verna Aardema (1911-2000). Aardema’s stories, based directly on Wheeler’s collection, include The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (1979), the beautifully-illustrated story set on the south side of Lake Chapala, and Borreguita and the Coyote: A Tale from Ayutla, Mexico (1991).

Tales from Wheeler’s book were also woven into Michael Mejia’s short story “Coyote Takes Us Home”, included in Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith’s anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (2010). Mejia teaches creative writing at the University of Utah, is the Editor-in-chief of Western Humanities Review and the author of the novel Forgetfulness. He discussed the genesis of this story in this interview.

Wheeler collected at least 13 folktales in or near Chapala and 11 near Tizapan el Alto. His contribution to documenting and preserving Jalisco’s oral history and folklore deserves to be more widely remembered.

Sources:

  • The Stanford Daily. 1930. Research Worker Back from Mexico to Join Faculty. The Stanford Daily. Volume 78, Issue 2, 2 October 1930.
  • Healdsburg Tribune. 1934. Instructors at Junior College Are Scattered. Healdsburg Tribune, Number 212, 11 July 1934.
  • Oakland Tribune. 1942. “Professor Claims His Victim Called F. R. a Communist.”  Oakland Tribune, May 13, 1942, p 13.
  • Clovis News-Journal, New Mexico. 1942. May 13, 1942.

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.

Jun 202016
 

American anthropologist Ralph Beals was traveling with fellow anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons (1875-1941), when they visited Chapala and Ajijic in December 1932.

The two anthropologists had been working with the Cora and Huichol Indians at Tepic, Nayarit, and were on their way south towards Oaxaca. Years later, Beals would adopt Parsons’ fieldwork methods and follow up on her pioneering work at Mitla, Oaxaca, subsequently publishing his findings as The Peasant Marketing System of Oaxaca, Mexico (1975).

Parsons and Beals arrived in Guadalajara by train from Tepic, but Parsons decided that  the city had little to offer ethnologically, so they chartered a car and drove to Chapala.

“There they settled into the inn, where Beals’s room looked out across an arm of the lake to a tree-embowered house where D. H. Lawrence had stayed a few years before.” “I have never been in such an enchanting place in my life,” Beals wrote Dorothy [his wife]. “If I had to pick just one place to go with you I’d certainly pick this.” (quoted in Deacon) They stayed in Chapala for about ten days.

beals-ralphParsons had heard that the villages around the lake performed an interesting version of the dance called La Conquista (The Conquest) in the multi-day celebrations for 12 December, Guadalupe Day. She and Beals took a boat to Ajijic on 15 December to watch events unfold, discovering that there were so few other spectators that the procession and dances were clearly held for the participants’ own pleasure.

Leaving Chapala, they took a two-hour launch ride to Ocotlán, before catching the train to Mexico City, where they arrived just in time for the social whirlwind of Christmas.

Ralph Beals, born in Pasadena, California on 19 July 1901, gained his doctorate in 1930 from the University of California at Berkeley, and after a brief stint in the National Park Service, taught at UCLA for 33 years, from 1936 to 1969. He founded the UCLA Department of Anthropology and Sociology, and served as its chairman in 1941-1948. He was later chairman of the UCLA Department of Anthropology, 1964-1965. Beals served as president of the American Anthropological Association, and was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Grant.

beals-cheranBeals first visited Mexico in 1918-19 when he spent time in Sonora and Sinaloa. In 1932, he worked with the Yaqui and Mayo. Later, with Elsie Clews Parsons, he studied the Cora and Huichol in Nayarit, as well as the Mixe in Oaxaca. In 1938, he was a member of the multidisciplinary team that made a comprehensive study of the Tarascan Indians in Michoacán, to help formulate government policies and programs. During this project, Beals and various collaborators and assistants carried out extensive fieldwork in the town of Cherán.

His academic writings related to Mexico include: The Comparative Ethnology of Northern Mexico before 1750 (1932); The contemporary culture of the Cáhita Indians (1943); The aboriginal culture of the Cáhita Indians (1943); Houses and House Use of the Sierra Tarascans (1944); Cheran: A Sierra Tarascan Village (1946); No Frontier to Learning; the Mexican Student in the United States (1957); Ethnology of the Western Mixe (1973); The peasant marketing system of Oaxaca, Mexico (1975).

Ralph Beals died at his Los Angeles home on 24 February 1985, having made a truly distinguished contribution to the anthropology of indigenous groups in Mexico.

His brother Carleton Beals (1893-1979) also had a deep and long-term interest in Mexico, though no direct link to Lake Chapala. Carleton Beals was a journalist, historian, social activist and author, who founded the English Preparatory Institute in Mexico City in about 1920, and taught at the American High School. Following studies in Europe, Carleton returned to Mexico City as correspondent for The Nation. After separating from his wife, Carleton became romantically involved with Mercedes, the sister of renowned photographer and model Tina Modotti. Carleton Beals wrote more than 45 books, including biographies of Porfirio Díaz and Leon Trotsky. In 1938, Time Magazine called Carleton Beals, “the best informed and the most awkward living writer on Latin America.”

Sources:

  • Desley Deacon. 1999. Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life (Univ. of Chicago Press)
  • Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt. 1992. Wealth and Rebellion: Elsie Clews Parsons, anthropologist and folklorist. 360 pages.

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.

 

  • 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.
Feb 292016
 

Santa Fe poet Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964) visited Chapala regularly with poet Witter Bynner (1881-1968) for about thirty years, starting in the early 1930s. Hunt, whose full name was Robert Nichols Montague Hunt, was Bynner’s long-time partner, as well as being a poet in his own right.

Born in Pasadena, California, on 19 May 1906, Hunt’s parents were Harriette Boardman Hunt (1868-1913) and Pasadena architect Myron Hunt. Myron Hunt was a prominent architect in southern California, and designed the Hollywood Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Huntington Library in San Marino.

Bob Hunt worked briefly for his father’s firm, and is said to have had some talent as a designer, but like so many facets of his life, he never quite achieved what others thought he might, as he moved from one interest to another. Hunt’s design skills enabled him to add a wing to Bynner’s adobe home in Santa Fe, and to make significant alterations to their home in Chapala, as well as redesigning the living room of Peter Hurd‘s ranch in New Mexico.

Hunt was first introduced to Witter Bynner in 1924 by author and historian Paul Horgan.

[Horgan twice won the Pulitzer Prize for History: in 1955 for Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History and in 1976 for Lamy of Santa Fe. He was a childhood friend of artist Peter Hurd, and wrote, “Peter Hurd : A Portrait Sketch from Life”, for the catalog of the artist’s 1965 retrospective. ]

Hunt and Bynner’s paths crossed again in Santa Fe in 1926, and in Los Angeles in 1928. In November 1930 Hunt visited Bynner in Santa Fe to recuperate from a stress-related illness, following six months of long days working as Assistant Manager and Treasurer of the Paramount Public Theatres in Portland, Oregon.

James Kraft, Bynner’s biographer, describes the young Hunt:

“Bob, Bobby, sometimes called Monté, was twenty-four when he came to Bynner’s house. Tall, lean, elegantly handsome in the way of Robert Taylor or Robert Montgomery, with a brisk, debonair walk and an easy way of dressing, wearing clothes so well they seemed insignificant, he had a fine, clear voice, excellent manners, little formal education but a crackling sharp mind, and was well read and intelligent about history, art, and literature. He had tried all kinds of schools and jobs but could “do” nothing, and his patient father, the well-known California architect Myron Hunt, had attempted everything he could think of to help him.”

This 1930 visit began a partnership which lasted until Hunt’s sudden death from a heart attack in 1964. Hunt became not only Bynner’s partner, but his business manager, editor and, when the much-older poet struggled with serious health issues in his later life, his primary care-giver.

In 1931, Hunt and Bynner visited Taxco and Chapala. A few years later, they rented a house in Chapala (from late November 1934 to late April 1935) with poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke and his second wife Gladys, an artist.

l to r: Robert Hunt, Galdys Ficke, Arthur Ficke, ca 1935. [Source: Kraft: "Who is Witter Bynner"?]

Robert Hunt (left), Gladys Ficke, Arthur Ficke, ca 1935. [Source: Kraft: “Who is Witter Bynner”?]

In December 1936, Bynner and Hunt collected Bynner’s mother at Mexico City airport and toured around with her, including a stay at the Arzapalo Hotel in Chapala. Bynner’s mother, who did not get on well with Hunt, died in November 1937.

In 1940, Bynner bought a home in Chapala, close to the square at Galeana #441 (the street name was later changed to Francisco I. Madero).

Hunt’s health issues caused him to be rejected by both the army and navy when the U.S. entered the second world war, but he served on the local draft board for a year. After a short break in Chapala in early 1943, Hunt left Bynner in Chapala and returned to the U.S. to further assist the war effort by working on the docks in San Francisco. Hunt rejoined Bynner in Chapala in September 1944; they did not return to Santa Fe until August of the following year.

In February 1949, Bynner had his first slight heart attack, but still visited Chapala with Hunt for part of the year.The following year, the two men, together with artist Clinton King and his wife Narcissa, spent six months traveling in Europe and North Africa, visiting, among others, Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin in Paris, and George Santayana and Sybille Bedford (author of a travelogue-novel about Lake Chapala) in Rome.

In the 1950s, as Bynner’s health declined, he continued to visit Chapala, but Hunt took increasing refuge in the bottle, becoming angry and belligerent when drunk.

Hunt’s death in 1964 came as he was about to leave for Chapala to bring back more possessions from their winter home. Hunt had arranged for Bynner to be cared for in his absence by artist John Liggett Meigs. Meigs, in partnership with fellow artist Peter Hurd, later purchased the Bynner house in Chapala, complete with all its remaining contents.

Hunt wrote one collection of eighteen poems, The Early World and other poems, dedicated to Witter Bynner (Santa Fe: The Villagra Bookshop, 1936), and also compiled the collection of poems that became Bynner’s Selected Poems, with an introduction by Paul Horgan (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936]

Sources:

  • Lynn Cline. 2007. Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers’ Colonies, 1917-1950. (Univ. New Mexico Press)
  • Mark S. Fuller, 2015. Never a Dull Moment: The Life of John Liggett Meigs (Sunstone Press)
  • James Kraft, 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? (Univ. New Mexico Press)

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

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Feb 082016
 

Elsie Worthington Clews Parsons (1875-1941) was a woman way ahead of her time. Variously described as a “relentlessly modern woman”, “a pioneering feminist” and “eminent anthropologist”, she was all of these and so much more.

parsons-elsie-clewsParsons, born to a wealthy family in New York City on 27 November 1875, became one of America’s foremost anthropologists, but also made significant contributions as a sociologist and folklorist. She is best known for pioneering work among the Native American tribes in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico, including the Tewa and Hopi.

Parsons visited Mexico numerous times, and had spent extended periods in Mexico prior to her visit to Chapala in December 1932. On that occasion, she spent at least 10 days there; it is unclear if she revisited the lake area at any point after that.

She gained her bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in 1896, and then switched to Columbia University to study history and sociology for her master’s degree (1897) and Ph.D. (1899).

The following year, on 1 September 1900, she married lawyer and future Republican congressman Herbert Parsons, a political ally of President Roosevelt, in Newport, Rhode Island. She lectured in sociology at Barnard from 1902 to 1905, resigning to accompany her husband to Washington.

Her first book, The Family (1906) was a feminist tract founded on sociological research and analysis. Its discussion of trial marriage became both popular and notorious, leading Parsons to adopt the pseudonym “John Main” for her next two books: Religious Chastity (1913) and The Old Fashioned Woman (1913). She reverted to her own name for Fear and Conventionality (1914), Social Freedom (1915) and Social Rule (1916).

parsons-elsie-clews-2In 1919, she helped found The New School for Social Research in New York City and became a lecturer there. In that same year, Mabel Dodge Sterne (later Mabel Luhan), a wealthy American patron of the arts, moved to Taos, with her then husband Maurice, to start a literary colony there. Luhan sponsored D.H. Lawrence‘s initial visit to Taos in 1922-23 and helped Parsons with her research into local Native American culture and beliefs.

For more than 25 years, Parsons conducted methodical fieldwork and collected a vast amount of data from the Caribbean, U.S., Ecuador, Mexico and Peru, much of which she would eventually synthesize into major academic works. These include the widely acclaimed works about Zapotec Indians in Mexico: Mitla: Town of the Souls (1936), Native Americans in Pueblo Indian Religion(2 volumes, 1939), and Andean cultures in Peguche, Canton of Otavalo (1945).

She also published a number of works on West Indian and African American folklore, including Folk-Tales of Andros Island, Bahamas (1918); Folk-Lore from the Cape Verde Islands (1923); Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina (1923); and Folk-Lore of the Antilles, French and English (3 volumes, 1933–43).

Parsons served as associate editor for The Journal of American Folklore (1918-1941), president of the American Folklore Society (1919-1920) and president of the American Ethnological Society (1923-1925). At the time of her death, she had just been elected the first female president of the American Anthropological Association (1941).

Parsons’ visit to Lake Chapala in December 1932 is noteworthy for several reasons.

She was traveling with fellow anthropologist Ralph Beals (1901-1985). They had been working with the Cora and Huichol Indians at Tepic, Nayarit, and were on their way south towards Oaxaca. [Parsons, incidentally, was responsible for introducing Beals, who founded the anthropology and sociology departments at UCLA, to her anthropological fieldwork techniques. He employed similar techniques to great effect when he built on Parsons’ prior work at Mitla, and expanded it into his 1975 work, The Peasant Marketing System of Oaxaca, Mexico.]

Parsons and Beals arrived in Guadalajara by train from Tepic, but Parsons decided that  the city had little to offer ethnologically, so they chartered a car and drove to Chapala.

“There they settled into the inn, where Beals’s room looked out across an arm of the lake to a tree-embowered house where D. H. Lawrence had stayed a few years before.” “I have never been in such an enchanting place in my life,” Beals wrote Dorothy [his wife]. “If I had to pick just one place to go with you I’d certainly pick this.” (quoted in Deacon)

Parsons had heard that the villages around the lake performed an interesting version of the dance called La Conquista (The Conquest) in the multi-day celebrations for 12 December, Guadalupe Day. She and Beals took a boat to Ajijic on 15 December to watch events unfold, discovering that there were so few other spectators that the procession and dances were clearly held for the participants’ own pleasure. Parsons was not favorably impressed by Lake Chapala’s small villages, calling them “unattractive, as squalid as Spanish towns”, and concluding that, “They must have been settled by Spanish fishermen, and god knows what became of the Zacateca population.” [quoted in Deacon]

They spent ten days at Lake Chapala, during which time, according to Zumwalt, Parsons worked on an early draft of Pueblo Indian Religion.

Leaving Chapala, they took a two-hour launch ride to Ocotlán, before catching the train to Mexico City, where they arrived just in time for the social whirlwind of Christmas.

Several years later, Parsons published a short paper entitled “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore”, in the May 1937 issue of The Scientific Monthly. This article included several mentions of Lake Chapala, with Parsons casting doubt on the authenticity of the stone ídolos (idols) collected there by some previous anthropologists and ethnographers.

Parsons describes how ever since the 1890s, there has been,

“at this little Lakeside resort a traffic in the ídolos which have been washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town, in ancient Indian cemeteries, or faked by the townspeople. An English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago quotes Mr. Crow as saying that the ídolos sold Lumholtz were faked, information that the somewhat malicious Mr. Crow did not impart to the ethnologist.”

While Parsons is not sure what became of Lumholtz’s collection, she says that the items collected at about the same time by Frederick Starr, and which are now in the Peabody Museum in Cambridge (Harvard University), are definitely genuine and not faked.

The “Mr. Crow” referred to by Parsons is Septimus Crowe (1842-1903). [For more about Septimus Crowe and about the Lumholtz and Starr trips to Lake Chapala in the 1890s, see my Lake Chapala Through The Ages, an Anthology of Travellers’ Tales.]

One real mystery stemming from Parsons’ description above is the identity of the “English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago”. Just who was she? Clearly, she must have visited Chapala in the period 1895-1898. There seem to be two likely candidates. The first is The Honorable Selina Maud Pauncefote, daughter of the British Ambassador in Washington, who returned from a trip to Mexico in March 1896, coincidentally on the same train as Lumholtz. The only known article by Pauncefote relating to Chapala is “Chapala the Beautiful”, published in Harper’s Bazar (1900). It is very likely that she may met and knew Crowe, since he had been a British Vice Consul in Norway, though she makes no mention of him in her article. The second candidate is Adela Breton, a British artist who visited (and painted) several archaeological sites in Mexico in the years after 1894, though her connection to Septimus Crowe is less clear.

The bulk of Parsons’ paper is devoted to her argument that the Lake Chapala miniatures are prayer-images, similar to those used in Oaxaca and elsewhere:

“All the Chapala offerings are either perforated or of a form to which string could be tied. They may have been hung on a stick, a prayer-stick, just as the Huichol Indians hang their miniature prayer-images to-day.”

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Parsons describes how some figurines of a dog (she actually had a faked copy of such a dog on her table at Chapala) had something in their mouth and a container on their back. The container, Parsons argues, was to carry humans across the river after death. Pet-lovers everywhere will rejoice to learn that:

“The dog ferryman belief is that if you treat dogs well a dog will carry you across the big river you have to cross in your journey after death… but if you have maltreated dogs, beating them or refusing them food, you will be left stranded on the river. The river dogs are black for an Indian, and the Zapotecs, and white for a Spaniard; white dogs will not carry an Indian lest they soil their coats – unless you have a piece of soap with you and promise to wash your ferryman on the other side. The burden or carrying basket of the Chapala Lake region, the ancient basket carried in the ancient way, by tumpline, is the exact shape of the object on the back of the dog figurine, narrow and deep and flaring toward the top.”

On 19 December 1941, after an amazingly productive and full life, Elsie Crews Parsons left New York City and was ferried across the river into the after-world.

Sources:

  • Desley Deacon. 1999. Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life (Univ. of Chicago Press)
  • Catherine Lavender. 1998. Elsie Clews Parsons, The Journal of a Feminist (accessed 16 Dec 2015)
  • Elsie Clews Parsons. 1937. “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore”, The Scientific Monthly, May 1937.
  • Frederick Starr. 1897. The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala. (Univ. of Chicago)
  • Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt. 1992. Wealth and Rebellion: Elsie Clews Parsons, anthropologist and folklorist. 360 pages.

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 282015
 

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

Bynner returned to Chapala in 1925, and later (1940) bought a house there, which became his second home, his primary residence remaining in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bynner spent two and a half years in Chapala during the second world war, and the equivalent of ten years of his life there in total.

Poet, mimic and raconteur Witter Bynner was born into a wealthy family. Apparently, he liked to recount stories about his mother, who, he claimed, kept $500,000 in cash in one of her closets.

He graduated from Harvard in 1902, having been on the staff of the Harvard Advocate.

Bynner published his first volume of verse, Young Harvard and Other Poems, in 1907. Other early works included Tiger (1913), The New World (1915), The Beloved Stranger (1919), A Canticle of Pan and Other Poems (1920), Pins for Wings (1920) and A Book of Love (1923).

In 1916, in an extended prank aimed at deflating the self-important poetry commentators of the time, Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke collaborated to perpetrate what has often been called “the literary hoax of the twentieth century”. Bynner and Ficke had met at Harvard and were to become lifelong friends. Ficke and his wife Gladys accompanied Bynner on a trip to the Far East in 1916-17. In 1916, Bynner writing under the pen name “Emanuel Morgan” and Ficke, writing as “Anne Knish” published a joint work, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments. Intended as a satire on modern poetry, the work was enthusiastically reviewed as a serious contribution to poetry, before the deception was revealed in 1918. (Ficke, incidentally, later spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala, with Bynner, and wrote a novel set there: Mrs Morton of Mexico.)

Even though Bynner still became President of the Poetry Society of America from 1920 to 1922, the Spectra hoax was not well received by the poetry establishment, and Bynner’s later poetry received less attention than deserved.

Bynner traveled extensively in the Orient, and compiled and translated an anthology of Chinese poetry: The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology, Being Three Hundred Poems of the T’ang Dynasty 618–906 (1929) as well as The Way of Life According to Laotzu (1944). He also amassed an impressive collection of Chinese artifacts.

In 1919, he accepted a teaching post at the University of California at Berkeley. Students in his poetry class there included both Idella Purnell and Willard “Spud” Johnson. When Bynner left academia and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1922, to concentrate on his own writing, Johnson followed to become his secretary-companion. D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda stayed overnight with them on their way to Taos. Bynner, Johnson and the Lawrences traveled together to Mexico in the spring of 1923. After a short time in Mexico City, they settled in Chapala, where the Lawrences rented a house while Bynner and Johnson stayed at the Hotel Arzapalo.

bynner-coverChapala with the Lawrences

Bynner’s memoir of this trip and the group’s time in Chapala is told in his engagingly-written Journey with Genius (1951), which is full of anecdotes and analysis. Among the former, for example, is the story told them by Winfield Scott, manager of the Arzapalo, who a few years earlier had been kidnapped by bandits who attacked the Hotel Rivera in El Fuente.

Bynner, who seems to have had near-perfect recall, describes Chapala and their trips together in loving detail, as well as providing insights into Lawrence’s work habits and mood swings. For his part, Lawrence appears to have been less than impressed, since in The Plumed Serpent he used Bynner as the basis for the unflattering character of Owen, the American at the bullfight.

Bynner’s poem about Lawrence in Chapala, “The Foreigner”, is short and sweet:

Chapala still remembers the foreigner
Who came with a pale red beard and pale blue eyes
And a pale white skin that covered a dark soul;
They remember the night when he thought he saw a hand
Reach through a broken window and fumble at a lock;
They remember a tree on the beach where he used to sit
And ask the burros questions about peace;
They remember him walking, walking away from something.

The Lawrences left Chapala in early July 1923, but Bynner and Johnson stayed a few months more, so that Bynner could continue working on his book of verse, Caravan (1925).

bynner-1961Bynner returned to Chapala in 1925, and a letter from that time shows how he thinks the town has changed, in part due to tourists: “Too much elegancia now, constant shrill clatter, no calzones, not so many guaraches, no plaza-market.” Among the changes, Bynner noted several other American writers and a painter in Chapala, making up “a real little colony” (quoted in Delpar).

Elsewhere, diary entries and other letters reveal why he liked Chapala: “The Mind clears at Chapala. Questions answer themselves. Tasks become easy”, and how he felt at home there: “Me for Chapala. I doubt if I shall find another place in Mexico so simpatico.”

Poems related to these first two visits to Chapala (1923 and 1925) include “On a Mexican Lake” (New Republic, 1923); “The Foreigner” (The Nation, 1926); “Chapala Poems” (Poetry, 1927); “To my mother concerning a Mexican sunset / Mescala etc.” (Poetry, 1927); “Indian Earth” [Owls; Tule; Volcano; A Sunset on Lake Chapala; Men of Music; A Weaver from Jocotepec] (The Yale Review, 1928); and “Six Mexican Poems” [A Mexican Wind; A Beautiful Mexican; From Chapala to a San Franciscan; The Cross on Tunapec; Conflict; The Web] (Bookman, 1929).

Bynner included many of these poems in the collection Indian Earth (1929), which he dedicated to Lawrence, and which many consider some of Bynner’s finest work. A reviewer for Pacific Affairs (a journal of the University of British Columbia, Canada), wrote that “Chapala, a sequence occupying over half the seventy-seven pages of the book, is a poignant revelation to one in quest of the essence of an alien spirit, that alien spirit being in this case the simple, passionate Indian soul of old Mexico.”

Among my personal favorites (though I admit to bias) is

A Weaver From Jocotepec

Sundays he comes to me with new zarapes
Woven especial ways to please us both:
The Indian key and many-coloured flowers
And lines called rays and stars called little doves.
I order a design; he tells me yes
And, looking down across his Asian beard,
Foresees a good zarape. Other time
I order a design; he tells me no.

Since weavers of Jocotepec are the best in Jalisco,
And no weaver in Jocotepec is more expert than mine,
I watched the zarapes of strangers who came to the plaza
For the Sunday evening processions around the band,
And I showed him once, on a stranger, a tattered blanket
Patterned no better than his but better blent––
Only to find it had taken three weavers to weave it:
My weaver first and then the sun and rain.

Later Chapala-related poems by Bynner include “Chapala Moon and The Conquest of Mexico” (two poems; Forum and Century, 1936) and “Beach at Chapala” (Southwest Review, 1947).

Bynner’s third trip to Chapala, with partner Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964), came in 1931. The pair visited Taxco and Chapala, but Bynner preferred Chapala, claiming (somewhat in contradiction to his earlier letter about a “real little colony”) that, “Chapala survives without a single foreigner living there and, despite its hotels and shabby mansions, continues to be primitive and feel remote.” Of course, this was by no means true; there certainly were foreigners living in Chapala in 1931, including some who had been there since the start of the century.

When Bynner returned to Chapala for a longer stay in January 1940, he first stayed at the Hotel Nido, but not finding it much to his liking soon purchased a house almost directly across the street. The original address was Galeana #441, but the street name today is Francisco I. Madero. We will consider the history of this house in a separate post, but Bynner and Hunt regularly vacationed here thereafter.

At some point in mid-1944, Bynner had been joined at Chapala by a young American painter Charles Stigall, whose ill health at the time had caused him not to be drafted. He lived with Bynner while he recuperated. Certainly he was there in November 1944, as the Guadalajara daily El Informador (19 November 1944) records both “Mr Witter Bynner, famous American poet” and “Mr Charles Stigel” attending an exhibition of Mexican paintings by Edith Wallach, at the Villa Montecarlo. Among the other guests, at the opening were Nigel Stansbury Millett (one half of the Dane Chandos writing duo); Miss Neill James; Mr Otto Butterlin and his daughter Rita; Miss Ann Medalie; and Mr. Herbert Johnson and wife. (The newspaper makes no mention of Bob Hunt, who was also in Chapala at that time).

In November 1945, Bynner lost his oldest and closest friend, Arthur Ficke. The following month, he returned to Chapala for the winter.

Bynner and Hunt continued to visit Chapala regularly for many years, into the early 1960s. He was well aware of how much the town had changed since his first visit in 1923. For example in a letter to Edward Nehls in the 1950s, Bynner wrote,

“The “beach” where Lawrence used to sit, is now a severe boulevard [Ramon Corona] which gives me a pang when I remember the simple village we lived in. The tree under which he sat and wrote is gone long since and the beach close to it where fishermen cast nets and women washed clothes has receded a quarter of a mile. But the mountains still surround what is left of the lake and, as a village somewhat inland, Chapala would still have charmed us had we come upon it in its present state.”

In February 1949, Bynner had his first slight heart attack, but still visited Chapala for part of the year. At about this time, his eyesight began to deteriorate. Bynner and Hunt, in the company of artist Clinton King and his wife Narcissa, traveled to Europe and North Africa for the first six months of 1950, visiting, among others, Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin in Paris, and George Santayana and Sybille Bedford (author of a fictionalized travelogue about Lake Chapala) in Rome.

Bynner’s final years were spent in ill-health. Bynner had almost completely lost his sight by January 1964, when he unexpectedly lost his long-time partner, Bob Hunt, who had a fatal heart attach just as he was setting out for Chapala, having made arrangements for Bynner to be cared for in his absence by John Liggett Meigs.

The following year, Bynner suffered a severe stroke. While friends looked after him for the remainder of his life (he died in 1968), Bynner’s doctors ordered that the famous poet was not well enough to receive visitors for more than one minute at a time.

Bynner left his Santa Fe home to St. John’s College, together with the funds to create a foundation that supports poetry. The house and grounds are now the Inn of the Turquoise Bear.

His passing marked the loss of one of the many literary greats who had found inspiration at Lake Chapala.

Sources:

  • Bushby, D. Maitland. 1931. “Poets of Our Southern Frontier”, Out West Magazine, Feb 1931, p 41-42.
  • Bynner, Witter. 1951. Joumey with Genius: Recollection and Reflections Concerning The D.H. Lawrences (New York: The John Day Company).
  • Bynner, Witter. 1981. Selected Letters (edited by James Kraft). The Works of Witter Bynner. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Delpar, Helen. 1992. The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican : Cultural Relations between the United States and Mexico, 1920-1935. (University of Alabama Press)
  • Kraft, James 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? (UNM Press)
  • Nehls, Edward (ed). 1958. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume Two, 1919-1925. (University of Wisconsin Press).
  • Sze, Corinne P. 1992. “The Witter Bynner House” [Santa Fe], Bulletin of the Historic Santa Fe Association, Vol 20, No 2, September 1992.

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 232015
 

Guadalajara poet Idella Purnell‘s “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala” was first published in the December 1936 issue of American Junior Red Cross News. The story was reprinted in El Ojo del Lago, December 2001. Purnell’s father owned a small home in Ajijic and Purnell regularly visited Lake Chapala.

American-Junior-Red-Cross-News-Dec-1936

The little Indian village of Ajijic in Mexico nestles between high green mountains and a thin strip of white beach along a lovely lake. Its name is pronounced Ahee-heec, and it sounds more like a hiccup than a name. Ajijic has one long main street, and a few other streets, a tiny town square, or plaza with trees and flowers, and a small high-steepled church, built in 1740 – a quarter of a century before the American Revolution. Around the tiny church cluster the houses of the people, mud brick houses with red tiled roofs. Nearly every house has a patio, or flower garden in the center, and has behind it another garden, in which grow pomegranates, bananas, and trees bearing papayas, which are green melons like cantaloupes. Nearly everyone has birds in cages, and chickens and pigs. The pigs go into the streets and lie grunting in the mud puddles, rooting them up with their snouts.
      In this toy-like village lived a boy and his grandmother. His name was José Contreras. They had a grocery store so small and with so few groceries that we would wonder why they called it a store. A dozen paraffin candles, a few pounds of coffee, beans, corn, sugar, ropes, green peppers, soap, onions, ten bottles of soda pop, half a dozen cans of sardines and of hot green peppers, perhaps one egg or two, were for sale.
      His grandmother could no longer read the numbers on money or on the weights, and José would show her: “These two weights you put on this side of the scales when anyone wants to buy ten centavos of coffee.” He kept store for her most of the time, and always while she went to the mill to have the corn ground for their corn cakes, or while she washed their clothes up at the spring. But after all, he was a boy, and his grandmother often shooed him out and told him to run along and have a good time.
      One Sunday José and his friend Paco decided to go up in the mountains. Paco’s father lent Paco his burro. Climbing out of the town they soon left behind them cobblestone streets and small mud-brick houses with fences of cobblestones piled on each other, and gardens of fruit and flowers. In the mountains they climbed until they reached the rich black fields where wild flowers grow. Here the two boys picked big bunches of St. John’s roses to take home.
      Paco wanted his flowers for rice pudding but José thought maybe his grandmother could use his for her eyes. The boys tied their big bouquets to the high-peaked crowns of their hats, climbed on the burro again and started home. On their way they met Cholé driving home her father’s big black ox, which had been grazing in the upland pastures all day. Cholé was a ragged-looking girl of fourteen, much poorer even than José. She had two dresses and one pair of shoes and a pair of stockings worn out at the feet. Mostly she went barefoot to save her shoes and stockings for church.
      Cholé told them that more than anything in the world she wanted to earn some money to go in the bus to Guadalajara to find work, so that she could wear nice clothes and help her family. Her father and mother were willing, but she didn’t have even two pennies.
When José told her what his flowers were for, she shook her head. “It will take more than St. John’s roses to cure your grandmother’s eyes. It is not sickness, but old age that makes her sight dim, and for old age, there is no cure. What she needs is a good pair of glasses. In Guadalajara, they say there are all kinds of spectacles for two and three pesos.”
      That night as José lay on the straw mat that was his bed, he wondered how he could earn two or three pesos. He had not told his grandmother the real reason he had brought her St. John’s roses, and she had cooked rice pudding with them. While José ate it, he nearly choked with his secret disappointment.
      The next day someone told him how he might earn some money. “Why don’t you go to San Juan on San Juan’s Day? They say that on that day, the idols come out of the lake, and if you can find a few and sell them, you can earn money!”
      The village of San Juan was only five miles away so that in a few hours José could walk there. He decided that if he found any idols he would sell them in his grandmother’s store. That would make the foreigners come to buy, and maybe they would purchase some soap, or candles, or an egg, after they once came in for an idol.
      He remembered what their school teacher had told them about the history of the lake. “Once upon a time,” The school teacher had said, “a long time ago, San Juan was the capital of the Indian Kingdom of Cutzalan. There were a great many people there. The people worshipped many gods. One of them, called the unknown God, had no name. The Indians used to make idols and images of stone and throw them into the lake for the Unknown God. They also made tiny jars with three handles. They pierced their ears or noses and let drops of blood fall into these tiny jars, and when after a few weeks or months, the jars were full, they threw them into the lake as sacrifices to him.” José decided that he must tell Cholé about this, too. Perhaps she could find enough idols and carved jars to earn money to go to Guadalajara!
      On San Juan’s Day, José and Cholé set out for the lake. They got up earlier than the earliest fisherman and walked and walked in the dark, on their way so San Juan. About daylight they arrived. They went at once to the beach and sat down, to wait for the idols to come out of the lake.
      A boat from Chapala came in, with its big square sail, bringing a load of cow peas and rope to trade for papayas. The bus to Jocotepec went by. Fisherman put out with empty nets and came back with full baskets and boats. The men were up in the mountains working in the corn. And the idols had not come out of the lake!
      Cholé began to cry and José wanted to, but he was nearly a man, so he whistled instead, a thin, unsteady tune. Suddenly José gave Cholé a great clap on the back that nearly upset her.
      “Cholé!” he cried. “I bet that about the idols coming out of the lake an San Juan’s Day is what our teacher would call a superstition! I bet it isn’t even so. It is the end of the dry season, though, so the lake waters are at their lowest and that’s why they say the idols come out. I’m going in!”
      “But you’ll get your clothes all wet!”
      “Who cares?” cried José. He took off his hat and his blanket, and his overalls, and red waist sash. He rolled his white cotton trousers up as high as they would go, and waded in. Then he stubbed his toe on something hard, felt for it, and pulled it up out of the water. Only a stone. This happened three times. But the fourth time the object was carved. An idol! Cholé was so exited and happy that her tears dried up. Slipping off her dress and wearing the white cotton slip that all the women of Ajijic use as a bathing suit, she waded in, too.
In an hour or so they had all that they could carry: idols, little jars for blood sacrifices, and stands for the jars, ugly small objects called naguales – witches who change themselves into animals whenever they willed.
      José and Cholé sat in the hot sun until they dried off, and then put on the rest of their clothes and started home. On their way the bus picked them up and gave them a ride to Ajijic. The driver knew José because his bus always brought coffee out from Guadalajara to the grandmother’s store.
      Nearly a month later Cholé climbed onto the same bus on her way to Guadalajara. She was wearing her best dress and her shoes and stockings. Folded in her handkerchief she had ten pesos to buy new clothes and pay her expenses until she found work. José and his grandmother came out to wave good-bye to her.
      Jose’s grandmother looked proud and happy in her new spectacles which, as Cholé rode away, sparkled and flashed in the bright sunshine.

– – – – – – –

Happy Christmas! – ¡Feliz Navidad!

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 032015
 

Gladys Brown Ficke (1890-1973), the second wife of poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke (1883-1945) was a painter (oils and watercolors) and illustrator. The Fickes spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala. From late November 1934 to late April 1935, they rented a house with poet Witter Bynner and his partner Robert Hunt.

Under her maiden name, she drew the line drawings illustrating each chapter of her husband’s novel, Mrs Morton of Mexico (1939), including this one of Chapala:

ficke-ch-1-illustraion-gladys-brown

Mrs Morton’s mature garden leading down to the lakeshore is the setting for several of the dramatic moments in the novel:

ficke--chapala-gladys-brownOne chapter look at events in Jocotepec, where the mountains form an impressive backdrop to the then-village in this fictionalized view:

ficke-jocotepec-gladys-brownChapter 11 is about a religious procession to the cemetery (campo santo) on the hillside:

ficke--campo-santo-gladys-brownGladys Brown Ficke was born on 29 August 1890 and died 14 May 1973. After her husband’s death in 1945, she ran their estate at Hardhack, New York, as a sanctuary and retreat for artists.

Gladys Brown Ficke wrote a four-volume biography of her husband, and a novel, initially entitled The Bird in the Ice-box, but later renamed The Final Beauty. “The major characters of the novel are Nathalia Bradford (based on Phyllis Playter), Daxton Sillis (based on John Cowper Powys), and Edward Lucas (whose character seems suggested by Evans Rodgers).” [1] Neither book was ever published; both are in the Arthur Davison Ficke Papers at Yale University in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Reference:

[1] Melvon L Lankeny. “Gladys Brown Ficke and The Final Beauty“, Powys Journal, 2003, Vol. 13, pp.95-119.

Related posts:

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Nov 162015
 

Poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke (1883-1945) and his second wife Gladys, an artist, spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala. From late November 1934 to late April 1935, they rented a house with fellow poet Witter Bynner and his partner Robert Hunt.

Ficke subsequently penned a novel, Mrs Morton of Mexico, set at the lake and published in 1939 by Reynal & Hitchcock, New York. It is Ficke’s only novel. One of the stories told in the novel, about “The Burro of Chapala”,  had been published previously, with an illustration by Eric Lundgren, the December 1937 edition of Esquire.

ficke-book-cover-2

Frontispiece of Mrs. Morton of Mexico

The novel was illustrated at the heading and end of each chapter with interesting and attractive drawings by Ficke’s wife, Gladys Brown.

Like many novelists, Ficke based many of his characters on real people.

The title character is an octogenarian American expatriate, based in real-life (as Neill James pointed out in Dust on My Heart), on the persona of Mrs. Hunton, originally from Virginia, the matriarch of a family that first settled in Chapala at the start of the twentieth century. Many of the details of Mrs. Morton’s family given in the book tally with what is known of Mrs. Hunton’s own family. Both, for example, are named Elizabeth, and both had husbands that were mining engineers. The descriptions of Mrs. Morton’s home, “Villa Colima”, could easily apply to the former Hunton residence in Chapala, and so on.

The British Vice-Consul, who (in the novel) used to visit Sir John Murdoch twenty-odd years ago, and had family in Devon, could well be a nod to former British Vice-Consul for Norway, Septimus Crowe, who “retired” to Chapala at the end of the nineteenth century, and whose wife had family in Tavistock, Devon.

Ficke does not even bother to disguise “Widow Sanchez” of the Hotel Universal, praised as a “very famous cook”. She is clearly the novelistic twin of La Viuda Sanchez, owner (for many a long year) of a popular restaurant-bar in Chapala.

The extraordinary character Professor Arzici in chapter VII is surely based on the artist Gerardo Murillo, better known as Dr. Atl. They share an interest in “curvilinear perspective” (Atl’s “aerial” landscapes), both experimented with new pigments (Atlcolors are still used today), both loved to paint volcanoes, both were “a combination of scientist and painter” and “eccentric but gifted”, and both went by pseudonyms: while Dr. Atl means Dr. Water, Professor Arzici means, according to the novel, Professor Terrible Mountain of Fire. “Only about eighty years of age”, “ugly as a goat”, “long snow-white beard”, “bald head”, “pipe ” – that’s Atl! (p 171-2)

There may well be real-life equivalents for some of the other characters in this novel, such as the poet and dramatist Señor Enrique Devargas Castellano, or the former politician General “Antonio” Hernando Gonzales. Suggestions welcomed!

Ficke also includes descriptions of lakeside geography, from Chapala west to Ajijic and Jocotepec. One passage that sings comes where Mrs. Morton is sitting in her garden contemplating the lake and wondering why she loves it, “with an intensely personal feeling, just as if it were a very small and private lake of one’s own”:

Perhaps because it had the intense reality of a dream-lake: because it comprised so much  mysterious variety of shore, with pointed mountains, harsh cliffs, sloping plains and rounded hills; because of its hidden little villages and its small rocky islands, its wide sea-like expanses and its narrow reedy inlets, its acre-broad drifting masses of water-hyacinths and its square-rigged fishing boats with prows high and sharp as a blackbird’s beak; because of its golden days of sun and its grey days of rain, its blue noonday skies and its black-and-starry- midnight dome.” (167)
. . .
Quiet dark-eyed fishermen sailed over these waters; their returning boats were outlined against the western gold, and at night their nets, hung on poles along the beach, were turned by the moonlight to spider-webs of silver. (168)

Mrs Morton of Mexico was reviewed positively by Kirkus:

“A sentimental story of an 80 year old Englishwoman’s last adventure in Mexico. Having lived some forty years on the shores of Lake Chapala, after the death of her husband, Mrs. Morton cultivates her garden and the friendship of the Mexicans, and intensifies her legendary qualities by hiding a political refugee, buying the tail of a burro, acquiring a holy picture, having her hair bobbed, inspiring a poet, and preventing a mass killing. There are nice touches of the Mexican servants and townspeople, there are some charming scenes, there is a certain authenticity, and the whole is pleasant, intelligent reading.”

Esther Brown, reviewing the book for the El Paso Herald Post, however, was less convinced:

“OF the many ways to write a book about Mexico Arthur Davison Ficke has found a new one. In Mrs Morton of Mexico he combines an interesting character study of an eccentric old Englishwoman with descriptions of people and places in a little town on the edge of Lake Chapala near Guadalajara. For those who prefer fiction set in Mexico to fact about Mexico this book will be welcome. The author has doubtless spent a summer on Lake Chapala and enjoys writing about it. He feels the spell of Mexico and its people but he fails somehow to be very convincing about it. Perhaps it is because his main character is a foreigner in Mexico. On the other hand he just misses making a thorough study of her because he is too concerned about the setting and minor characters in his story. These are stereotyped – the revolting general the inscrutable Indian woman, the Spanish gentleman of the old school and the inevitable artist. The decorations of Gladys Brown at the heading and end of each chapter are very interesting and attractive.” – (El Paso Herald Post, 18 November 1939, p6)

Related reading:

Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:

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

Nov 092015
 

Poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke (1883-1945) and his second wife Gladys, an artist, spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala. From late November 1934 to late April 1935, they rented a house with fellow poet Witter Bynner and his partner Robert Hunt.

ficke-book-cover-2Ficke subsequently wrote a novel, Mrs Morton of Mexico, set at the lake and published in 1939 by Reynal & Hitchcock, New York. It is Ficke’s only novel. The novel was illustrated at the heading and end of each chapter with interesting and attractive drawings by Ficke’s wife, Gladys Brown.

We take a closer look at the novel in a separate post, but the title character is an octogenarian American expatriate, based in real-life (as Neill James pointed out in her Dust on My Heart), on the persona of Mrs. Hunton, originally from Virginia, the matriarch of a family that first settled in Chapala at the start of the twentieth century.

A poem by Ficke entitled “Lake Chapala” and many of the stories told in the novel, including “The Burro of Chapala”, had been published previously, in Esquire. (The poem, illustrated by John Groth, in May 1936, and the short story, with an illustration by Eric Lundgren, in December 1937.)

Portrait of Ficke (Iowa Post)

Portrait of Ficke (Iowa Post)

Arthur Davison Ficke was born on 10 November 1883 in Davenport, Iowa, the son of a lawyer, and died in Hudson, New York, on 30 November 1945. During his childhood, the family traveled to Europe and the Orient, the start of a lifelong interest in Japanese art.

Ficke entered Harvard College in 1900, where he first met Witter Bynner, who became a lifelong friend. After graduating from Harvard in 1904, Ficke then gained a law degree at Iowa State University (1908) while teaching some English classes at the university and having married Evelyn Bethune Blunt in 1907.

He was a prolific poet. Ficke published From the Isles his first collection of poetry in 1907. This was quickly followed by The Happy Princess and Other Poems (1907), The Earth Passion (1908), The Breaking of Bonds (1910), Twelve Japanese Painters (1913), Mr. Faust (1913), Sonnets of a Portrait Painter (1914), The Man on the Hilltop and Other Poems (1915), Chats on Japanese Prints (1915), and An April Elegy (1917).

Ficke was close friends with Bynner, who accompanied the Fickes on a trip to the Far East in 1916-17. This close friendship led to the two poets perpetrating what has often been called “the literary hoax of the twentieth century” in 1916, when they published a joint work, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments, purportedly written by Anne Knish (Ficke) and Emanuel Morgan (Bynner). Intended as a satire on modern poetry, the work was enthusiastically reviewed as a serious contribution to poetry, before the deception was revealed in 1918.

During the first world war, Ficke served in France with the U.S. Army from 1917 to 1919. For a short time in 1922, Ficke accepted a post as curator of Japanese prints and lecturer in Japanese art at the Fogg Art Museum in Boston.

On 8 December 1923, a year after his divorce from Evelyn, Ficke married Gladys Brown, a painter. The couple settled first in New York City but then moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, until 1928. He published four books in the 1920s: Out of Silence and Other Poems (1924); Selected Poems (1926); Christ in China (1927); Mountain Against Mountain (1929), followed by The Road to the Mountain (1930). Later works include The Secret and Other Poems (1936) and Tumultuous Shore and Other Poems (1942).

A brush with tuberculosis took him to North Carolina and Texas for treatment, after which, in the early 1930s, he traveled to Jamaica and Florida before his visit to Chapala in 1934-35.

“University of Iowa researcher William H. Roba said many writers thought of him as a “poet’s poet.” Tall, debonair, always impeccably dressed and with perfect manners, he stood out from others. He used traditional forms for most of his poetry — odes, elegies, sonnets — but had a humorous side that sometimes emerged in his writings.” – Tom Longden in Desmoines Register.

Source:

  • Tom Longden. 2017. Famous Iowans: Arthur Davison Ficke: Poet, art critic, lecturer. Des Moines Register 2017

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

Oct 122015
 

In about 1937, English author Rodney Alexander Gallop (1901-1948) visited Ajijic, where he met Nigel Stansbury Millett  and another (unnamed) young Englishman. Gallop recalled this chance encounter in 1948, shortly before his death when he reviewed the book Village in the Sun for The Spectator.

Gallop recognized that the book’s supposed author – Dane Chandos – was actually a pen name, but ascribed it to Millett alone. It is now accepted that the Dane Chandos name was a joint partnership between Millett and Peter Lilley, who may have been the other young Englishman Gallop met in Ajijic, though no proof has yet emerged placing Lilley there prior to the early 1940s.

Gallop was born in Folkestone, England, in 1901, and died on 25 September 1947. He was an accomplished ethnomusicologist and linguist, fluent in several languages, including Spanish and German. In 1922-23, while studying at King’s College, Cambridge, he attended classes given in Spain by German basque expert Hermann Urtel, the beginning of a lifelong interest in Basque culture. After university, Gallop entered the U.K. diplomatic service, which led to successive postings in Belgrade, Athens, Lisbon, Mexico and Copenhagen.

gallop-mexican-mosaic-1939Wherever he served, he sought local traditional folklore in dances, poetry, song, and art. He made important collections of items relating to local culture in Greece, Portugal and Mexico. These collection were later donated by his widow, Marjorie Gallop, to the Horniman Museum and Gardens, in south London. The first part of the collection, items from Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Portugal and Mexico was donated in 1960, followed by several Mexican dancing masks in 1967, and a pair of earrings from Pahuatlán, Puebla, Mexico, in 1977.

Gallop wrote extensively about his findings and experiences. As a result of his diplomatic assignment to Portugal, Gallop wrote the well-received A Book of the Basques (1930), Six Basque Folksongs, with adaptation in English verses (1931) and Portugal, a Book of Folk Ways (1936). Gallop was also a frequent contributor to the journal Folklore. He helped revive an interest in international dancing in the U.K., organizing, with the help of Violet Alford, the International Folk Dance Festival in 1935. This led, indirectly, to the founding of The International Council for Traditional Music in 1947.

Marjorie Gallop: Untitled sketch of Lake Chapala from Mexican Mosaic (1939)

Marjorie Gallop: Untitled sketch of Lake Chapala (Mexican Mosaic, 1939)

Gallop illustrated his major work about Mexico, Mexican Mosaic: Folklore and Tradition (London: Faber and Faber, 1939), with his own photographs, together with drawings by Marjorie, his wife. The following short extracts relate to Ajijic and Chapala:

An hour’s drive to the south-east brings one to Lake Chapala, a great stretch of opaque water, glinting with opalescent light, sixty miles long and from eight to twelve wide. Here D. H. Lawrence chose to set some of the scenes of The Plumed Serpent. Cloud-topped mountains slope down to its western and southern shores, some of them in Jalisco, others in Michoacan, where one hears stories, never properly investigated, of Indian tribes with fair skins and grey eyes.

In Ajijic, at least, we found no lighter colouring, but golden skins and the features which one would expert in Indians who, though they have lost their language, belong to the great Nahua family. They fish with seines in long dug-out canoes, cultivate the slopes rising steeply from the shore and carry merchandise across the lake in heavy square-sailed craft well able to ride the seas whipped up by Chapala’s sudden storms. From Spain by way of Guadalajara, they have borrowed the custom of el coloquio en la reja, the lover’s tryst at the barred window. The young man who wishes to honour both the custom and the lady of his choice is required to present himself at the Presidencia Municipal an hour before his tryst and at the cost of a peso to take out a license showing that he is sober. This does not mean that the Mayor thinks he must be drunk to wish to serenade any girl in Ajijic. On the contrary, it is a practical measure aimed at preventing brawls, and the high charge not only brings money into the municipal coffers but increases the value of the compliment to the lady.”

Gallop returned to Europe as the second world war was starting and devoted himself to making broadcasts in Danish for the BBC, aimed at boosting the morale of Danish resistance against the occupying forces. For this work, he was later made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

[A minor rewrite of the introduction of this profile was made in July 2018]

Sources:

  • Philippe Veyrin: “Rodney A. Gallop (1901-1948)”, in Eusko Jakintza, 3 (1949), 79-88.
  • Rodney Gallop: “Rural Mexico: Village in the Sun. By Dane Chandos”, review in The Spectator, 17 June 1948, 22.

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Sep 242015
 

Max Pollak (aka Max Pollack) lived from 1886 to 1970 and is best known for his portrait etchings. It is unclear precisely when, or how often, he visited Lake Chapala, though it appears to have been in the 1930s. Several of his etchings of the Lake Chapala area have come up for auction in the past few years.

Pollak was born in Prague (in then-Czechoslovakia) on 27 February 1886 and grew up in Vienna. He studied at the Vienna Academy of Art under Ferdinand Schmutzer, a renowned portraitist.

In 1910, Pollak spent some time in Italy and won the Prix de Rome for his etchings. Prior to the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, he also visited France and the Netherlands.

Pollak’s single best-known work, widely reproduced, is his “singular and penetrating” portrait of Sigmund Freud (1913). Pollak created portraits of many noteworthy individuals in Europe (and later in the U.S.), along with genre scenes and landscapes.

In 1914, Pollak began a series of etchings depicting Jewish refugees from Russia and Bohemia who were arriving in Vienna. During the war, he served as an artist for the Austrian Army, sketching in the field before completing etchings back in Vienna.

Max Pollak: Etching of Lake Chapala.

Max Pollak. Mexico: Papayas on Lake Chapala. Etching.

By the mid 1920s, Pollak was living in Paris, where he made etchings of street scenes and portraits of several celebrated actors and dancers.

In 1927, he emigrated to the U.S., where he lived in New York City for a few years. As a result, his etching listed as “Marfil (Church on the Hill)”, and presumably resulting from a visit to Guanajuato in Mexico, may be slightly later than its usually ascribed date of about 1926.

Pollak traveled quite widely in the 1930s, including spells in Europe, Palestine, and Mexico.

His etchings of Lake Chapala are believed to date from the mid-1930s. The image above is entitled “Mexico: Papayas on Lake Chapala”; the image below is labeled “Mexico: Weeping Willow on Lake Chapala”.

Max_Pollak_etching_Willow_1_c-1930s

Max Pollak. Mexico: Weeping Willow on Lake Chapala. c 1933

Pollak settled in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1937, where he remained active in the local art scene for many years until his death in Sausalito, California, on 29 May 1970.

His major exhibitions include Gump’s, San Francisco (1934); Cincinnati Museum (1939); Golden Gate International Exposition (1939); California Palace of the Legion of Honor (1940, solo); California Society of Etchers (1942, 1944, 1945), and Chicago Society of Etchers (1942).

His work is in the collections of the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts in San Francisco; British Museum, London; De Young Museum, San Francisco; Freud Museum, London; Judah L. Magnes Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York Public Library; Oakland Museum; Princeton University, and Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Source: Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.

Other Sausalito artists associated with Lake Chapala:

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Jun 222015
 

Poet, writer and politician Honorato Barrera Buenrostro was born in the Lakeside town of Jamay (mid-way between Ocotlán and La Barca) in 1870 and died in Ocotlán in 1952.

He left his home town for Mexico City at a young age. In Mexico City, he studied and wrote alongside Amado Nervo (1870-1919) and Luis Gonzaga Urbina (1864-1934). Coincidentally, Urbina’s own collection of poetry, Puestas de sol, includes “El poema del lago” (“The Lake Poem”), a lengthy poem inspired by a visit to Chapala. Barrera Buenrostro was also a good friend of the poet and novelist Rubén M. Campos, who had many links to Chapala.

Barrera Buenrostro subsequently returned to Ocotlán where he worked in commerce and as a telegraphist for the railway company. He later moved to Chapala, and was the Mayor (Presidente Municipal) of Chapala in 1924, during the time when Lic. José Guadalupe Zuno was the state governor (1923-1926).

aquel-famoso-remingtonBarrera Buenrostro’s work won various literary prizes, including ones awarded in Aguascalientes, Morelia and Mexico City. His best known works are a book of poems, Andamio de Marfíl (1947), and a novel, El rémington sin funda (1947).

The novel El rémington sin funda (1947) is based on the life of Rodolfo Álvarez del Castillo. Nicknamed “El Remington”, Álvarez del Castillo was a famous pistol-packing womanizer of the 1930s, who eventually fought a duel with a soldier in which both men lost their lives. Álvarez del Castillo was the brother-in-law of famous Mexican movie star María Félix and his life story became the basis for at least two Mexican films: ¡Se la llevó el Rémington! (1948), starring charro singer Luis Aguilar, and Aquel famoso Remington (1982), directed by Gustavo Alatriste.

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