Painter and muralist Louis Ernest Lenshaw (1892-1988) was born in Esbjerg, Denmark, on 24 September, 1892. Lenshaw visited Chapala in the late 1940s or early 1950s while spending several months living and working in Guadalajara, though no details have yet emerged of his visit to Lakeside, or whether he painted whilst there. He does, however, have a connection to another European artist who spent some considerable time in Ajijic and whose paintings of the village were exhibited in Mexico City and elsewhere.
At age 14, Lenshaw was apprenticed to a local Danish artist. He also had considerable talent as a violinist and spent several years traveling across Europe (including Denmark, Norway and Germany), working as a decorative painter, but also playing the violin in cafes and movie houses. After a visit to Brazil he emigrated to the U.S. in 1921, landing at San Francisco. His first job was helping apply gold leaf to the sumptuous interior of the Fox Theater in Oakland.
While living in San Francisco, he took art classes at the the local Arts Students League and also spent time painting landscapes of northern California. During the 1930s Lenshaw fulfilled commissions for the Works Progress Administration (in the San Francisco County Hospital Children’s Ward and the Sunnyvale Housing Project Administration Building), and was one of the many painters who worked on murals for the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939-1940. He also painted murals in several commercial buildings in California.
Lenshaw married Hilma in 1924; the couple had two children: Vilma and Normand. In the 1940s and 1950s Lenshaw began to become seriously interested in Spanish dancing and flamenco guitar playing. The Lenshaws moved to San Diego in 1968. In 1978, at age 85, Lenshaw remained an enthusiastic member of the San Diego Folkdance Club and the San Diego Flamenco Association. In the words of the association’s newsletter for January 1978:
Ernest Lenshaw, a legend in San Diego… is a tall, outstandingly-featured man who radiates self-confidence with his erect posture and beret perched jauntily on his head. He speaks with a Danish accent, paints, plays flamenco guitar, dances, is famous for the castanets he makes, and attends as many flamenco events as possible.”
At one time or another, he met many of the world’s greatest flamencos. Louis Ernest Lenshaw remained active as a painter, dancer and musician up to the time of his death in Covina, California, on 1 February 1988.
In an oral history interview in 1964, Lenshaw recalled details of his time as a muralist in San Francisco, and his trip to Mexico, which he remembered as being in 1952*:
a Russian girl named Anna Medalie whom I know from… I worked with her before in a furniture shop …she was a flower painter… And when I went to Mexico, I was just about a month behind her. I went to Mexico in 1952 and wherever I went, we were talking about painters and what not and people said, “Do you know Ann Medalie?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, she’d just been here about a month ago or two months ago.” I was in Guadalajara and Taxco, Acapulco and I don’t know, Mexico City. I mean Sargent Johnson was also talking about her. He was acquainted with her at the same time.”
* In reality, Lenshaw must have visited Mexico much earlier than the 1952 he claimed in the interview, since Ann Medalie had definitely already moved to Israel by 1951. (See our post about the life and work of Ann Medalie).
- Oral history interview with Ernest Lenshaw, 1964 May 19, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
- Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.
- “La Luz”, by Rosala, Jaleo (Newsletter of the Flamenco Association of San Diego) Vol 1 #6, January 1978
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).