Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen (born in Norway in 1944) is a much sought-after portrait painter who lived in the Lake Chapala area from early 1973 to August 1976.
In 1956, while Pettersen was still a young girl, her family moved to Canada, to Victoria, B.C.. Four years later, they moved on to Los Angeles, though Pettersen remained in Victoria, where she was crowned Miss Victoria in 1962, and graduated from high school in 1963. She has fond memories of her high school art teacher, Mrs Francis Cameron, saying, “She was the best. I’ve since talked with fellow art students and we all agree what a treasure she was and how we really had a college type art program.”
Pettersen then won a scholarship to the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. She remains unconvinced by the education she received there, because it stressed the abstract movements, rather than the realism that she has made her specialty.
In 1973, her then husband took early retirement and decided to move south of the border. They had heard about Ajijic, “the largest retirement community outside the U.S.”, the year before while visiting Puerto Angel on the coast of Oaxaca. At Lake Chapala, the couple lived for a short time in Jocotepec before moving to Ajijic when they met, by chance, in the Ajijic post office, a couple about to relinquish their lease on a home in the village.
Pettersen’s Facebook page includes three videos of her work in Ajijic:
Her artistic talents, and the promise of her later success, are clearly evident in the charcoal drawings and paintings she completed during her three years in Mexico (see short videos).
In Ajijic, Pettersen was an integral member of the Clique Ajijic group of artists, along with Tom Faloon, Hubert Harmon, Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, John Peterson, Adolfo Riestra and Sidney Schwartzman.
The shows of Clique Ajijic included:
- Chapala: Villa Monte Carlo, opened 16 March 1975
- Ajijic: Galería del Lago, 15 August 1975
- Ajijic: Hotel Camino Real, 13-16 September 1975
- Guadalajara: Galería OM, 24 October 1975
- Manzanillo: Club Santiago, 29 October 1975
- Cuernavaca: Akari Gallery, 7 February 1976
- Guadalajara: American Society of Jalisco, 21 February 1976
Pettersen says that the Clique Ajijic group, “never painted together as a group, just had shows.” She added that one additional benefit of the drawing sessions she had at her house, where she able to persuade neighboring ladies to pose for her, was that they helped her learn Spanish.
In April 1976, Synnove (Shaffer) had a solo exhibit of works done in Mexico – oils, pastels and drawings – in the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala. The show opened on 25 April.
In this early stage of her artistic career, Pettersen was greatly encouraged by fellow Clique Ajijic member Sidney (“Sid”) Schwartzman, and by artist-photographer John Frost, who was not a member of the Clique Ajijic but took their publicity photos. In an email, she wrote that, “John Frost was a big inspiration. So willing to share his knowledge. When I returned to L.A., I did several silkscreen (serigraph) pieces. He had refreshed my interest with his enthusiasm for a photo/sun process but I was not successful with that technique, so returned to the touche and glue method.”
Synnove Pettersen is now based in Shelton, Washington state, where she continues to undertake portrait commissions. Her Facebook page, with numerous examples of her powerful, evocative portraits, is Synnove Fine Art. Prints and originals can be purchased direct from the artist’s website.
Sincere thanks to Synnove Pettersen for her willingness to share memories, knowledge and mementos from her time in Mexico.
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.
Tony Burton’s books include “Lake Chapala: A Postcard History” (2022), “Foreign Footprints in Ajijic” (2022), “If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants” (2020), (available in translation as “Si Las Paredes Hablaran”), “Mexican Kaleidoscope” (2016), and “Lake Chapala Through the Ages” (2008).