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:

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 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.

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

Nov 202014
 

Frederick (sometimes Federico/Fritz/Fredrick/Friedrich) Wilhelm Butterlin was born in Cologne, Germany, in about January 1905, and was the middle of three brothers (Otto was older, Ernesto younger).

Frederick was a well-known photographer and seems to have been the owner of what was almost certainly one of the first art galleries in Ajijic.

Girls belonging to the Old Colony (Saskatchewan) Mennonites moving to Mexico. Photo by Frederick Butterlin ca 1948

Girls belonging to the Old Colony (Saskatchewan) Mennonites moving to Mexico. Photo by Frederick Butterlin ca 1948

In November 1935, “Fritz Butterlin” gave a keynote address on pictorial art in photography, based on observations made on “his long trips”, at the Club Literario de Inglés in Guadalajara.

Frederick seems to have continued his photographic career for several decades. His published photos include some evocative portrait photographs of Mennonites in Mexico published in the Mennonite Life editions of October 1949 and January 1952.

In 1956, Butterlin, working for “Exclusivas Jimenez SA de CV” placed a series of advertisements in El Informador recommending the use of “ADOX” film for photography.

[Last update: 1 May 2016]

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

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Nov 132014
 

Han(n)s Otto Butterlin (or Otto Butterlin as he was usually known, at least in Mexico) was born in Cologne, Germany, 26 Dec 1900 and became an abstract and impressionist painter of some renown.

He was the oldest of the three Butterlin brothers. Otto moved with his middle brother Frederick and their parents (Johannes and Amelie) from Germany to Mexico in 1907. (Otto’s youngest brother Ernesto would be born a decade later in Guadalajara.)

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

U.S. immigration records show that Otto Butterlin (5’9″ tall with blond hair and blue eyes) was resident there between August 1924 and October 1929, though he probably made trips to visit family in Mexico during that time.

Otto made his living as a chemist and supervisor of operations in various industrial plants for at least 15 years. At the time of the 1930 Mexican census (held on 15 May), he and his wife were living in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, where he was working at the sugar refinery.

The following year, in 1931 Margaret gave birth to their daughter Rita Elaine in Los Mochis. Rita went on to marry four times. Her first marriage (1951-58) was to one of Otto’s friends – textile artist and silkscreen innovator Jim Tillett (1913-1996) – and her second (1959-1963) to Chilean film star Octavio Señoret Guevara (1924-1990). She was subsequently briefly married (1967-69) to Haskel Bratter, before falling in love with and marrying (1971-his passing) Howard Perkins Taylor (1916-1993).

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

While Rita was still an infant, Otto decided to formalize his permanent right to residence in Mexico and became a naturalized Mexican citizen in October 1935. Immigration records show that he continued to visit the U.S. several times a year.

It appears to be at about this time that Otto decided to spend more time on his art.

By the early 1940s, Otto Butterlin was based in Mexico City and working as an executive in the Bayer chemical company, a position which enabled him to supply several well-known artists of the time, such as A. Amador Lugo (who was epileptic) with needed medications, at a time when they were very hard to obtain.

During this period, Butterlin taught art with, or to, numerous well-known Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera, Ricardo Martinez, José Chávez Morado, Ricardo Martínez and Gunther Gerzso.

Butterlin-Hanns-Otto-The-Funeral-ca1942

Hanns Otto Butterlin. The Funeral (ca 1942)

In September 1945, Otto and his wife Peggy, together with daughter Rita, relocated to live in Ajijic. In a 1945 article, Neill James, who had arrived in Ajijic a couple of years earlier, described Otto Butterlin as a “well known expressionist and abstract painter who owns a huerta in Ajijic where he lives with his wife, Peggy, and daughter, Rita.”

Otto Butterlin: Modern Figure Study. 1949

Otto Butterlin: Modern Figure Study. 1949

The group of artists exhibiting watercolors in May 1954 in “Galería Arturo Pani D.” in Calle Niza in Mexico City includes a Butterlin (probably Otto) alongside such famous contemporary artists as Raúl Anguiano, Fererico Cantú, Leonora Carrington, Carlos Mérida, Roberto Montenegro, Juan Soriano, Rufino Tamayo and Alfredo Zalce.

Otto Butterlin died in Ajijic on 2 April 1956.

Note (April 2016): We thank the Registro Civil in Chapala which kindly emailed us a copy of the official death certificate of Otto Butterlin.

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

Partial list of sources:

  • Monica Señoret (Otto Butterlin’s granddaughter), personal communications via email. April 2015.
  • María Cristina Hernández Escobar. “Gunther Gerzso, The Appearance of the Invisible”. Voices of Mexico. UNAM. n.d. [formerly at http://www.revistascisan.unam.mx/Voices/pdfs/5323.pdf]
  • Robert L. Pincus, “WPA captures the soul of a nation”, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 February 2006, page F-1.
  • Robert Hilton (ed). Who’s Who In Latin America A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women Of Latin America. Part I – Mexico. (1946)

As always, we would love to receive any comments, corrections or additional information.

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Nov 102014
 

Bruce Douglas was the pen-name of Theodore Wayland Douglas, who was born in Indianapolis 29 May 1897 and died in Mexico in about 1961.

Bruce Douglas is reported to have been a recent visitor to Ajijic in Neill James’ article about life in Ajijic published in 1945, so we can safely assume he visited in 1944 or very early in 1945. It is unknown if Douglas returned later to the Lake Chapala region, though he  resided full-time in Mexico City from at least as early as 1943 until his death.

douglas-bruce-cover-2Douglas served in the U.S. Navy during the first world war. Shortly after the war, he was awarded his bachelor’s degree from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, in 1918. In 1922, he received his Masters degree in English from the University of Illinois. He worked as a reporter on the Indianapolis Star 1919-20.

Douglas began his writing career after many years teaching in universities. From 1920 to 1932, he undertook postgraduate work while also teaching English at a series of universities, including Indiana University, the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, and the University of Oregon. He also taught at the University of Texas and the State College of Washington.

Douglas married twice. His first marriage was in 1922 to Lucretia Lowe in Champaign, Illinois. His second marriage, in about 1929, was to a Mexican girl, Lee Patricia Bohan, born in 1906. The couple had one son. It appears likely that Bohan was a student, or university colleague of Douglas. She gained a B.A. in French from the Southern Methodist University in Texas in 1927, and then presented her Master’s Thesis the following year at the University of Chicago. (Her thesis was entitled: “Fielding’s Portrayal of the Country Squire (Henry Fielding)”. Bohan died in California in 1984.

Douglas was a prolific writer of short stories during the 1930s and 1940s. His first success in getting stories published was in May 1930 when Ace-High Magazine accepted “The Ghost of Oro Gulch”. That same year, he also saw at least three other short stories in print: “Code of the Range” in Western Rangers, “The Cowpoke from Coyote” in Western Trails and “For Love of a Bandit” in Ranch Romances.

After 1932, Douglas dedicated himself full-time to his fiction writing. Between 1930 and 1954, he had more than sixty short stories and several short novels published in the U.S., Canada and U.K.

His books include Border Range (1942) and The Strong Shall Hold (1943), in which “Wes Marshall fights for his father’s spread” (both western novels) as well as a thriller Tropical maze, published in the U.K. in 1948.

In 1934, one of his stories, “Holdup at Dry Wells” appeared in the same issue of Cowboy stories (vol. 26, no. 3) as “Off the westbound freight”, by John Mersereau, another author associated with Ajijic.

Main Source:

  • Ronald Hilton (ed) Who’s Who In Latin America: Part I Mexico (1946)
Nov 062014
 

While researching the history of the artists associated with the Lake Chapala region, I came across more and more references to the “two Butterlin brothers”. The problem was that different sources, including otherwise reputable art history sites, gave them quite different first names: Ernesto and Hans? Hans and Frederick? Linares and Otto?

There was very little evidence and it seemed impossible to tell which source was accurate, and why different accounts gave such different names, ages and details. They were usually described as “German”, but it was unclear whether they had been born in Germany or were the sons of German immigrants to Mexico.

Eventually, I compiled enough evidence to prove conclusively that there were not two Butterlin brothers, but three! Two had been born in Germany and were brought by their parents to Mexico. Safely ensconced in Guadalajara, the parents then had a third son, several years younger than his siblings.

The picture was complicated by the fact that two of the brothers used different names at different stages of their life, with the older brother rarely using his first name on his art once he arrived in Mexico, while the youngest brother adopted a surname for much of his artistic career that had no obvious connection to his family name.

Small wonder, then, that confusion reigned about the Butterlin brothers on many art history sites, some of which even failed to identify correctly the country of birth of each of the three brothers.

The three brothers (in order of birth) are:

There are still great gaps in my knowledge of this family, but the picture that finally began to emerge showed that the Butterlins deserved wider recognition as an artistic family of some consequence.

In future posts, I will show how all three Butterlin brothers contributed significantly to the development of the artist colony in the Lake Chapala area, albeit it in rather different ways.

Sep 012014
 

The son of a physician, writer and poet R. Jere Black Jr. was born 27 June 1892 at McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He would also live at different times in Chautauqua, New York; Washington, D.C.; Long Beach and Santa Monica, California; and Byron Center in Michigan, as well as in Mexico.

R Jere Black's passport photo, 1922

R Jere Black’s passport photo, 1922

During World War I, Black served as a machine gunner with the American Expeditionary Force in France from May 1918 to May 1919. He was gassed by the Germans, which left him in ill health for the remainder of his life, with numerous spells in hospital. He married Josephine Elizabeth Best (1894-1976) in 1920. By 1937, the couple had divorced and his former wife had remarried.

It is unclear when he first visited Lake Chapala, but R. Jere Black died of a heart attack at the home of Paul “Pablo” Heuer, in the village of Ajijic, on 7 September 1953, and was buried in the Ajijic Municipal Cemetery the following day.

Black made his living from writing stories and short pieces for a number of popular magazines, both “slicks” and “pulps”, including The Smart Set, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Breezy Stories, Battle Stories, Sweetheart Stories and College Life. His brother described him as “a brilliant, fascinating person.”

His most productive period in terms of published writings was the period 1928 to 1934. This period included three poems published in Weird Tales: “Lyonesse” (December 1928), “Masquerade” (March 1930) and “The Pirate” (August 1930), a non-fiction piece, “The Pseudo-Scientific Field,” for Author and Journalist (May 1930) which took a look at “science fiction” (a term still in its infancy at the time), and a novel, The Killing of the Golden Goose: A Christopher King Mystery Story (New York: Loring & Mussey, 1934).

Black’s wife, born as Josephine Elizabeth Best but better known as E. Best Black, was also a writer of genre fiction. Born in 1894 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, she and Jere Black married there in 1920, before traveling widely. Mrs Black wrote a story with the title “Flaming Ruth” (a pun) for Young’s Realistic Stories Magazine in February 1928 and also published two hardback novels featuring detective Peter Strangley: The Ravenelle Riddle (New York: Loring & Mussey, 1933) and The Crime of the Chromium Bowl (London: George Newnes, 1937). By 1937, however, she had divorced R. Jere Black and become the wife of Theron Lowden Kelley (1899-1967). Josephine Elizabeth Best Kelley died in 1976 in Monterey, California.

Source:

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.

May 212014
 

Author, poet and diplomat José Rubén Romero (1890-1952) was born in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán. Cotija de la Paz is about thirty kilometers from the village of La Palma on Lake Chapala’s south-eastern corner.

Romero’s father, an outspoken liberal, had been forced to leave the very conservative village of Cotija de la Paz, and the family home, and travel to Mexico City. Six months later, he sent for his wife and two children, Rubén (then aged seven) and his younger sister. Their journey, by horseback, steamer and train, is described in Romero’s Apuntes de un lugareño (trans: Notes of a Villager), published in 1932, by which time Romero was the Mexican Consul in Barcelona, Spain. He was later served as Mexican ambassador to Brazil (1937-1939) and Cuba (1939-1944).

romero-ruben-coverBesides his diplomatic career, Romero worked in a variety of fields, including journalism and as a university dean. He is best remembered, though, as a writer whose vivid depictions of the people and customs of his native state make him an outstanding exponent of the modern costumbrista novel. The costumbrista genre focuses on regional life, customs and manners.

Romero’s lasting legacy of fine works includes Desbandada (1936), El pueblo inocente (1934), Mi caballo, mi perro y mi rifle (1936), Viaje a Mazatlán (1946) and Rosenda (1946). But by far his best known book is the picaresque tale of a lovable rascal: La vida inútil de Pito Pérez (The Futile Life of Pito Pérez), first published in 1938. A best-seller in innumerable editions, this book was turned into a movie starring Ignacio López Tarso in the early 1970s. One of Mexico’s best-loved writers ever, Romero died on July 4, 1952, in Mexico City.

In his autobiographical novel Apuntes de un lugareño Romero describes Lake Chapala on two occasions. The first time he encounters the lake is in about 1897, on his way to Mexico City with his mother and sister at the age of seven. It includes Romero’s impressions of the steamer trip from La Palma to Ocotlán, a regular route at the time. Romero’s second encounter with Lake Chapala comes later, when he was living in Sahuayo between about 1907 and 1910.

The relevant extract from Apuntes de un lugareño describing Romero’s impressions in 1897, is given, with commentary in chapter 41 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travelers’ Tales.

Translations of Romero’s works in English include:

  • Notes of a Villager: A Mexican Poet’s Youth and Revolution (Kaneohe, Hawaii: Plover Press, 1988) is a fine translation by John Mitchell and Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar of Apuntes de un lugareño.
  • The Futile Life of Pito Perez (Prentice-Hall, 1966), translation by William O. Cord.
  • A Translation of Jose Ruben Romero’s Mi Caballo, Mi Perro, Y Mi Rifle with a Study of His Life, Style and Works, by Carl Edgar Niles (University of Tennessee, 1947)

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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