Oct 042018
 

Texas-born artist Clinton Blair King (1901-1979) lived in Chapala for about three years in the early 1930s.

King was born in Fort Worth in 1901 and studied at the Virginia Military Institute, the University of Texas and Princeton University. He also attended the Grand Central School of Art, the National Academy of Design in New York and Broadmoor Art Academy. His art teachers included Sallie Blythe Mummert, Charles Webster Hawthorne, Robert Reid and Randall Davey. Over his 40-year artistic career, King mastered several distinct styles including Realism, Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism at different times. He was also a talented pianist.

Clinton King. 1930s. Still life. (Sold at Heritage Auctions, 2006)

Clinton King. 1930s. Still life. (Sold at Heritage Auctions, 2006)

King first gained recognition in the art work when his oil portrait of “Spud” Johnson (who had just returned from visiting Chapala with D. H. Lawrence and Witter Bynner) was exhibited at the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York (1926-27); the portrait was praised by critics.

After moving to Mexico, King developed his talent for portraiture and his early modernist portraits have been favorably compared by critics to those by Diego Rivera.

Clinton King. 1933. The Jarabe. (Credit: The Owings Gallery)

Clinton King. 1933. The Jarabe. (Credit: The Owings Gallery)

The great American poet Witter Bynner, a long time resident of Chapala, knew King and his wife well and his double sonnet about them, entitled “Expatriates”, was published in Guest Book (1935), his collection of masterful sonnets about his friends and acquaintances.

King held his first solo show at the State Museum in Guadalajara in 1933. Reviewing that exhibition, Oto Lear, a Guadalajara art critic, said that all the paintings were completed during King’s time in Chapala where he had been living for the past three years. Lear summed up King as a “practical dreamer who had adapted to modern times without abandoning the idealism of great works.”

Lear was especially impressed by King’s portraits which included a “psychological study” of Carol Navarro, a classical portrait of Maria Pacheco (widow of hotelier Ignacio Arzapalo) and several portraits of the “native inhabitants of Chapala.” More abstract works included some colorful “regional cubists” of Chapala. King also exhibited several “vernacular, colorful watercolors.” His oil paintings almost certainly included one entitled “Roofs of Chapala,” a photograph of which was later chosen for inclusion in a 1939 issue of Mexican Life, Mexico’s Monthly Review.

In summer 1933, the Kings left Mexico for New York, before settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

King remained in New Mexico and was later introduced to Narcissa Swift (1911-1998), heiress to the eponymous meat-packing company, by mutual friends, Georgia O’Keeffe and Mabel Dodge Luhan. In 1941, Swift became King’s second wife. They divided their time between Chicago, Paris and Mexico (where they owned a home in Taxco, Guerrero). O’Keeffe’s painting “Narcissa’s Last Orchid” (1941) was a tribute to Swift. (O’Keeffe has her own vicarious connection to Lake Chapala via sculptor Mym Tuma, who had a studio in San Pedro Tesistan, near Jocotepec, from 1968 to 1973)).

Clinton King and Narcissa Swift King - self portrait.

Clinton King and Narcissa Swift King – self portrait.

In 1950, King and his wife joined Witter Bynner and his partner Bob Hunt on a six month trip to 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.

King was one of the most prominent of all early Texas artists. His work was widely exhibited in Europe and North America. According to one biography, his solo shows included Guadalajara Regional Museum (1933); Galeria Excelsior in Mexico City (1933); Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio (1934 and 1955); Passadoit Gallery, New York (1935); Fort Worth Artists Guild (1937); North Texas State Teachers College in Denton (1937); Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin (1938); Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (1939); Alice Roullier Art Galleries, Chicago (1941); Corpus Christi Memorial Museum (1947); Feragil Art Galleries, New York (1949, 1950); Elizabeth Nelson Galleries, Chicago (1951, 1953); Fairweather-Hardin Gallery, Chicago (1958); William Findlay Gallery, Chicago (1964, 1965); and Chicago Public Library (1966) as well as seven one-person shows elsewhere (London, Paris, Stockholm, Lisbon and Casablanca).

The 1937 exhibition at the North Texas Teachers College was a selection of watercolors and drawings, mostly produced in Mexico. It included several portrait studies, for which King was particularly well known, and a number of landscapes painted in Taxco and Cuernavaca.

Among the many public collections that hold paintings by King are those of the the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Library of Congress; the National Collection of Fine Art, Washington D.C.; the New York Public Library; the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe; the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art; the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth; California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco; the Indianapolis Museum of Art; and Baltimore Museum of Art.

King died while on vacation in Cuernavaca in 1979. In the mid-1980s, two retrospective exhibitions were held in Santa Fe: at the Armory for the Arts (1985) and Fogelson Library Center, College of Santa Fe (1986).

Sources

  • Witter Bynner. 1935. Guest Book. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Peter Falk, editor. Who Was Who in American Art. Sound View Press, 1985.
  • El Informador, 11 May 1930, 8; 18 March 1933, 5; 19 March 1933, 4.
  • John and Deborah Powers, Editors. Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists: A Biographical Dictionary of Artists in Texas before 1942. Woodmont Books, 2000.

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.

 Posted by at 5:47 am  Tagged with:
Sep 272018
 

Despite claims to the contrary, Ernest Hemingway never visited or wrote at Lake Chapala. (see Did Ernest Hemingway ever visit Lake Chapala?)

However, there is at least one vicarious Ernest Hemingway connection to Lake Chapala via Mary Duff Stirling (Lady Twysden) who lived in Chapala with her husband, the American artist Clinton King (1901-1979), for about three years in the early 1930s.

The British-born Twysden had first met King, her third (and final) husband, in Paris in 1927, where their mutual friends included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso. King was nine years her junior. Born in Texas, he was heir to his family’s candy company fortune. Shortly after they first met, Twysden moved in to live with King at his studio.

Before meeting King, Twysden had had a troubled time as regards relationships. Born Dorothy Smurthwaite in Yorkshire on 22 May 1892, she had changed her name to Mary Duff after her parents divorced, using her mother’s maiden name (Stirling) as her surname. Her first, brief, marriage, to Edward Luttrell Grimston Byrom, ended acrimoniously when she was unfaithful. A couple of years later she became Lady Twysden when she married Sir Roger Thomas Twysden, a naval officer and Baronet. When this marriage also ran into trouble, she moved to Paris with a cousin to live the high life, surrounded by the literary and artistic creme de la creme.

Twysden “embraced the new liberated woman role of the 1920s and pictures show a tall, thin boyish woman with hair cropped close to her skull, wearing rakishly tilted hats.” (Parker) She was the archetypal Paris flapper according to contemporary press reports and Hemingway was very much part of her social circle. It was a circle that drank hard and partied hard. Twysden liked men, especially if they paid her bar tab.

Hemingway lusted after Twysden but, since she was friends with his wife (Hadley), she refused to reciprocate his feelings. She did have a fling with writer Harold Loeb and they accompanied Hemingway, his wife and a group of friends to Pamplona in 1925 to see the Running of the Bulls. The characters and experiences on this trip became the subject matter of Hemingway’s first major novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), in which Twysden was immortalized as the character Lady Brett Ashley.

Twysden divorced Sir Roger in 1926 and married King, in secret, in London in August 1928. King’s family disapproved and King lost both his allowance and his inheritance.

The couple lived briefly in New Mexico before opting to move to Mexico in about 1930. They lived in Mexico for the next three years, mainly at Lake Chapala but also, briefly, in Pátzcuaro.

Bernice Kert quotes King as describing their time in Chapala as more purposeful than their life in Paris: “We lived a different life from the rather senseless Montparnasse days. I worked all day at painting while Duff drew her amusing sketches in watercolor, or posed for me, or read a great deal.” They became good friends with economist-author Stuart Chase and his wife who visited Lake Chapala for a vacation.

The great American poet Witter Bynner, a long time resident of Chapala, knew the Kings well and his double sonnet about them, entitled “Expatriates”, was published in Guest Book (1935), his collection of masterful sonnets about his friends and acquaintances.

In summer 1933, the Kings left Mexico for New York, and then settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Twysden died of tuberculosis on 27 June 1938, barely 46 years of age. Despite Hemingway’s claims that her casket had been carried by all her former lovers, there was no funeral; Twysden’s body was cremated and the ashes given to her loyal and devoted husband, Clinton King.

Twysden was portrayed by Ava Gardner in the 1956 film version of The Sun Also Rises and by Fiona Fullerton in the 1988 miniseries, Hemingway.

Sources

  • Lesley M.M. Blume. 2016. Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises. Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Witter Bynner. 1935. Guest Book. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Bernice Kert, 1983. Hemingway’s women. W.W. Norton & Co.
  • James Kraft. 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? University of New Mexico Press.
  • Mrs. Parker. 2004. “Great Novels of the 1920s: The Sun Also Rises,” by Mrs. Parker (copyright Michele Gouveia).

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.

 Posted by at 5:11 am  Tagged with:
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.

 Posted by at 3:06 pm  Tagged with:
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.

Dane Chandos was not a real person but a pen name 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.

Stansbury Girtin Millett was born in London, England, on 23 October 1904.. .

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

If you have a genuine interest in the subject matter, please contact us via the comments section and we can discuss terms and conditions.

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.

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

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

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

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

Degollado Theater program, 1936.

Zara and Holger. Degollado Theater program, 1936.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

Acknowledgment:

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

Dec 142017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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Dec 282015
 

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

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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!

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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…

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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.

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ficke-book-cover-2

Frontispiece of Mrs. Morton of Mexico

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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..

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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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