Jun 212018
 

Ajijic has certainly attracted more than its fair share of strange and colorful characters over the years but perhaps nobody with quite so many true tales to spin as serial prankster Jim Moran.

By the time Moran “retired” to Ajijic, he was almost 80 years old and had put his pranks behind him. Tall, rotund, with a flowing white beard and a deliberate walk, he focused on his photography, art, writing and classical guitar playing.

James Sterling Moran (1908-1999) was one of the most original publicists and press agents in the U.S., pulling one stunt after another to boost the products, services or politicians he sought to promote. Moran never attended college but held a wide variety of jobs from tour guide to airline executive and radio studio manager. In 1989, Time called him, “the supreme master of that most singular marketing device–the publicity stunt.”

In chronological order, Moran’s most noteworthy pranks, many based on acting out old sayings, included selling a refrigerator to an Inuit in Alaska on behalf of General Electric (1938); spending 10 days to find a needle in a haystack to promote a real estate development (1939); leading a bull through a china shop on 5th Avenue in New York City (1940); changing horses mid-stream in the Truckee River, Nevada, during the 1944 US Presidential election; sitting on an ostrich egg for 19 days, until it hatched, to promote the film The Egg and I (1946); and opening an embassy in Washington D.C. for the fictitious country of Grand Duchy of Fenwick to advertise The Mouse That Roared (1959).

His best-known outright hoax was to paint an abstract – “the worst thing I could think of” – and get a friend to submit it to a Los Angeles Art Association show in November 1946 as the work of a previously-unknown artist, “Naromji”. The work, entitled “Three out of Five”, was accepted for an exhibition of abstract art.

Woman holding Naromji's "Three out of Five". (Life archive)

Woman holding Naromji’s “Three out of Five”. (Life archive)

The Los Angeles Times described it as “an astonishing conglomeration of paint, chalk, magazine cut-outs and carmine fingernail polish.” At the end of the month, Moran stepped forward to claim authorship, pointing out that Naromji was Moran spelled backwards, with a ‘ji’ added for confusion and that “Three out of Five” was the name of a hair restorer, since abstract painting always made him want to tear out his hair.

Moran wrote several books, including Sophocles, the Hyena: a fable (1954). The first edition was illustrated by Roger Duvoisin, but a later edition featured illustrations by Andy Warhol. Moran also wrote Why Men Shouldn’t Marry (1969); How I became an authority on Sex (1973) and The Wonders of Magic Squares (1982).

Jim Moran. Sophocles the Hyena. 1954. Illustrated by Andy Warhol.

Jim Moran. Sophocles the Hyena. Illustrated by Andy Warhol.

In Ajijic, the multi-talented and highly imaginative Moran was known as a writer, artist and photographer, as well as a skilled classical guitar player.

In 1986, the Galeria Gentes, run by master lithographer Bill Gentes, held a one-person exhibit of Moran’s artwork. The show was comprised of about 100 works by “Naromji”. A contemporary reviewer found that, “His use of brilliant color gives the works an alluring touch. His birds and other serious subjects are strikingly beautiful, while most of the rest convey something of the cosmic giggle to be expected from Jim Moran the prankster.”

Ajijic watercolorist Enrique Velázquez remembers Jim Moran with great affection. He recalls Moran as having lived in Ajijic for several years from the mid-1980s into the 1990s. Velázquez prepared a series of stunningly beautiful illustrations for a children’s book by Moran entitled Linda and the Magic Dream Bubble, a work that was apparently never published.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Ajijic watercolorist Enrique Velasquez for first bringing Jim Moran’s artistic side to my attention.

Sources

  • Anon. 1986. “Portrait of the Artist” (Jim Moran). El Ojo del Lago, March 1986.
  • Ezra Goodman. “High Priest of Hoopla.” The New York Times, 14 December 1947.
  • Los Angeles Times. 1946. “Gagster’s masterpiece hung as authentic art.” Los Angeles Times, 30 Nov 1946.
  • Douglas Martin. 1999. “James S. Moran Dies at 91; Master of the Publicity Stunt” (Obituary), New York Times, 24 October 1999.
  • Christopher Reed. 1999. “Jim Moran” (obituary), The Guardian, 1 December 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.

May 022018
 

Painter, jeweler, and accessory designer Hubert Pickering Harmon Jr. (1913-2004) was born into a wealthy family in Evanston, Illinois, on 23 October 1913. The family home was in the Highland Park district and the whole family spent time in Europe even during Harmon’s childhood.

After high school, Harmon chose to study design at the Parsons School of Design in Paris. He lived in Europe, with regular holiday trips back to New York, from 1934 to about 1939, when he returned to the US before the outbreak of World War II.

On 2 January 1940, Harmon married a fellow artist, Louise Katharine (De Mocher) Frazier, who was eleven years his senior, in Greenwich, Connecticut. The marriage to Louise, a divorcée, appears to have been largely one of convenience, given that, according to those who knew him, Harmon was openly gay. Louise was born in 1901 and graduated from East High School in Rochester, New York, in the class of 1919, before attending Columbia University, where, part of her yearbook entry read,

“The boys think “Weezie” is a dear;
She does, too, don’t you fear!”

The newly weds made their home at 51 East 51st Street in New York City, but planned to return to Paris after the war. They regularly traveled overseas. Within weeks of marrying, they traveled to the Caribbean, they returned to New York in May 1940 for a quick visit before heading for Hawaii, where they stayed several months.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, in a letter from Hawaii in January 1941, wrote:

“Have met a young couple at the Niumalu who drop in for Contract [Bridge] or conversation quite often – Louise and Hubert Harmon. He has spent much of his life in France and England and consorted with royalty, nobility, and aristocracy; so he is very interesting. He is so well connected that he had the entree to the palaces, castles, and chateaux of many interesting people.”

Late in 1941 or early the following year, Harmon and his wife moved to Mexico to pursue their artistic careers. Harmon and his high-society wife breezed into Taxco in 1942, with more than two dozen items of luggage and accompanied by their two brown standard poodles.

Harmon worked briefly in jewelry design in Taxco before moving to Mexico City, following an incident involving a gun in a bar. He continued to visit Taxco regularly for several years in order to oversee his designs, mostly of silver jewelry but also of copper or brass accessories. His silver designs are often described as “whimsical” and are much sought after by collectors. His silver pieces include feet, angels and dogs (especially poodles) as well as stars, mermaids and dolphins. Harmon is recognized today as one of the several outstanding designers who contributed to the popularity (and success) of Mexican silverworking.

Synnove (Shaffer) Petterson and Hubert Harmon at Galeria OM in Guadalajara in November 1975

Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen and Hubert Harmon at Galeria OM in Guadalajara in October 1975

Harmon’s designs were worn not only by his wife but also by such illustrious stars as Hollywood glamor icon Dolores del Rio (whose Great Dane sported matching Harmon-designed accessories).

In the early 1950s Harmon and his wife enjoyed a playboy lifestyle jetting between Europe and North America. Harmon established design studios in various cities as his wanderlust carried him in search of artistic inspiration. Despite leaving New York in January 1949 with the avowed intention of planning to stay abroad indefinitely, Harmon and Louise returned to the US from a spell in Cannes twenty months later in October 1950. They left again in 1953, planning to spend the next two years abroad.

Harmon was definitely painting during much of this time, as shown by plans for a December 1951 showing of his paintings of poodles in a New York City gallery, and an account of him spending six months painting every day in Rome “on his way back to America.” (Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 11 Dec 1957, 28)

In the 1950s, a Mexico City jewelry firm, Casa Maya, produced less expensive copies for the tourist market of many of Harmon’s original designs, using brass and copper in place of silver and precious stones.

After his wife died in 1970, Harmon moved to Ajijic. By the early 1970s, he was a bright light on the Ajijic social scene and active in the local art community. He was a founding member of the Clique Ajijic art group that arranged group exhibitions in several cities in Mexico for 3 or 4 years in the mid 1970s. The group also included Tom Faloon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, Sidney (“Sid”) Schwartzman, John K. Peterson and Adolfo Riestra.

A Clique Ajijic exhibition in Guadalajara at the Galería OM was reviewed by Martha Fregoso, who described Harmon as having gained international fame as a designer of fashion, jewelry, and paintings, by working with fashion designers such as Christian Dior, Shiaparelli and Tina Lessa, and designing jewelry for Paul Flato and Bronzini. The list of those who had acquired Harmon’s works included King Carol of Rumania, Dolores del Rio and Edgar Rice Burroughs. According to Fregoso, his paintings showed some influence from the classes he had taken with Diego Rivera and Rodriguez Lozana.

A decade later, Harmon was one of a number of Lakeside artists whose work was included in a group exhibit at Club Campestre La Hacienda (km 30, Guadalajara-Chapala highway). Other artists in the “Pintores de la Ribera” exhibition, which opened on 4 May 1985, included Laura Goeglein; Carla W. Manger; Jo Kreig; Donald Demerest; B.R. Kline; Daphne Aluta; De Nyse Turner Pinkerton; Eugenia Bolduc; Emily Meeker; Eleanor Smart; Jean Caragonne; Tiu Pessa; Sydney Moehlman; and Xavier Pérez.

Some of Harmon’s paintings in the early 1970s were overtly homoerotic; others were amusing, revealing a keen sense of humor and fun. Synnove Pettersen, a fellow member of Clique Ajijic, remembers Harmon as a “very sensitive, somewhat flamboyant” man who was an elegant dresser and loved to have parties.

Tragically, in the 1990s a fraudster tricked Harmon out of his valuable personal collection of silver and he lived the last few years of his life in extreme poverty in an old folks’ home in Chapala. Harmon died destitute on 1 February 2004 at the age of 90.

[Note: This is an updated and expanded version of an article originally published on 22 March 2012.]

Acknowledgments

  • My thanks to Tom Thomson of Ajijic for sharing some of the details of Harmon’s later life, and to Alan Bowers, the late Tom Faloon, Synnove Pettersen and Enrique Velázquez for sharing their memories of Harmon.

Sources / references

  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 11 Dec 1957, 28.
  • Chicago Tribune: 3 Aug 1936, 19; 27 Nov 1936, 19; 06 Jan 1940, 13.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs. 1941. Letter to his daughter, dated 27 January 1941, published at ERBZine (Collated by Bill Hillman)
  • Martha Fregoso. 1975. “La Galeria OM y el Buen Gusto en Exposiciones, Esta Vez Ocho Pintores de Ajijic.” El Diario de Guadalajara, 24 Oct 1975.
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 4 May 1985
  • Kingston Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica): 25 January 1940
  • Penny C. Morrill. 1997. “Hubert Harmon -Whimsy and Humor in Mexican Silver”, in Jewelry (Journal of the American Society of Jewelry Historians.) 1 (1996-97): 64-77.
  • Penny C. Morrill and Carole A. Berk. 2001. Mexican Silver, 20th Century. Handwrought Jewelry & Metalwork. Revised 3rd edition. Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
  • Maggie Savoy. “Designer Chooses Valley for Wintertime Working,” Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 11 Dec 1957, 28.

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.

Apr 122018
 

Gail Michel, as she was then known, arrived in Ajijic in 1961. Her talents as a businesswoman and dress designer, enabled her to start a store, El Ángel, close to the Posada Ajijic, that became so successful it was featured in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue Paris. Alongside her boutique, Gail continued to develop her own art and was a regular exhibitor in local group shows. Seventeen years and four children later, she moved back to the U.S.

Born Julia Gail Hayes on 3 March 1935 in the small South Dakota town of Wasta, her university education at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, was interrupted by falling in love with a fellow student, Frank Clifford Michel, a psychology major. The young couple were married in Pullman on 12 December 1955 and had a son, David, but the relationship did not last. Gail, a competitive swimmer, gave swimming lessons to help finance university, completed her degree, obtained a divorce and, in 1961, after receiving a letter from a Colorado friend about the beauties of Ajijic, traveled to Mexico with David to start a new life.

Gail Hayes. 1955. (University Yearbook photo)

Gail Hayes. 1955. (University Yearbook photo)

In Ajijic, she quickly found employment at Los Telares, Helen Kirtland’s handlooms business which had begun operations in the late 1940s. She also soon made many very good friends and decided to stay in the village, starting a serious, long-term relationship with a local contractor, Marcos Guzman, with whom she had four children.

During her time in Mexico, Gail was usually known as Gail Michel or Gail Michael (sometimes Michaels) before she opted for Gail Michel de Guzmán.

Gail credits Jane and Sherm Harris, the then managers of the Posada Ajijic, with persuading her to branch out on her own in 1964 and open a store selling her embroidered, hand-loomed dresses, original jewelry, paintings, and select Mexican handicrafts. The Harrises even provided the fashion boutique’s first venue: a room in the Posada. Its name, El Ángel, was in honor of her oldest daughter, Angelina. (The title of Al Young‘s 1975 novel Who is Angelina?, set partly in Ajijic, is apparently purely coincidental.)

Periodic fashion shows ensured that the El Ángel boutique quickly outgrew its temporary residence in the Posada. In April 1966, it moved a short distance away to the building (occupied later by La Flor de la Laguna) at the south-west corner of the Morelos/Independencia intersection. The boutique’s opening was attended by more than 250 people, an impressive turn-out given the size of Ajijic at that time. The store remained in that property for more than a decade before returning to its roots in the Posada Ajijic shortly before Gail returned north.

Veteran journalist Jack McDonald opened his informative and enthusiastic profile of Gail Michel in 1968 for the Guadalajara Reporter by describing her as “One of most creative, versatile gals in all Ajijic.”

“Her enchanting place offers passing tourists and permanent residents a variety of items such as art works, jewelry, rugs, bright hand-woven mantas, colonial furniture and antiques in stone, wood and metal.

And dresses. As an outlet for her creative energies, which include her own paintings on rice paper with ink, she employs a dozen seamstresses and a staff of wood and stone carvers who cut anything from small figurines to water fountains.”

The El Ángel boutique, described later by long-time Ajijic resident Kate Karns as “the most beautiful of Ajijic’s three shops” at the time, was featured in Vogue Paris and recommended in the August 1970 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

By December 1969, Gail, now described as “a well known expert on Mexican arts and crafts” was also managing the gift shop at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

In 1974, Gail was one of only four “members of the Ajijic business community” invited to participate in a program for Guadalajara TV Channel 6 to celebrate the first anniversary of the state’s “Conozco Jalisco” (“Know Jalisco”) campaign. (The other invitees were Jan and Manuel Ursúa of the Tejabán Restaurant and Boutique, and Antonio Cardenas, the owner of La Canoa boutique.)

[Aside: Jan Ursúa, better known as Jan Dunlap, recently published her first novel, Dilemma, set in 1970s Ajijic.]

Everyone I’ve interviewed who knew Gail Michel de Guzmán in Ajijic has expressed their fond memories of her. Many have also shared favorite anecdotes. Eunice Huf, for example, recalled Gail as a young blonde girl with freckles who designed both jewelry and dresses with simple, elegant, lines. She chuckled as she told me how Gail had once dressed her up in a crocheted top that was so sexy it made even their fellow artist Abby Rubenstein jealous!

The late Tom Faloon openly expressed his admiration for Gail’s art, and then laughed as he remembered how on one occasion Gail, on learning that Marcos had a new girlfriend, had once deliberately driven her car into the girlfriend’s vehicle. The next day, a contrite Gail went to the police station to admit her wrong-doing but found, to her pleasant surprise, that the police had no interest whatsoever in this or any other “crime of passion”!

As an artist, Gail participated in numerous shows during her time in Ajijic. One of the earliest was the Posada Ajijic’s Easter exhibit in April 1966. Other artists on that occasion included Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Allyn Hunt; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge (wife of author David Dodge); Mr and Mrs Moriaty and Marigold Wandell.

In January 1968 Gail’s paintings were shown in an exhibition at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque, alongside works by Hector Navarro, Gustavo Aranguren, Coffeen Suhl, John K. Peterson, Don Shaw, Peter Huf, Rodolfo Lozano and Eunice Hunt. The following month, a group of Ajijic artists (Gail Michel and the members of “Grupo 68” – John K. Peterson, Eunice Hunt, Peter Huf, and Don Shaw) were reported to be exhibiting weekly, every Friday, at El Palomar, and also most Sunday afternoons at the Camino Real hotel in Guadalajara.

Gail Michaels. ca 1971. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado)

Gail Michaels. ca 1971. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.)

An appliqued wall-hanging by Gail was shown in a collective fine crafts show at Galeria Ajijic (Marcos Castellanos #15) in May 1968. Among the other artists at that show were Mary Rose, Hudson Rose, Peter Huf and Eunice Hunt (with their miniature toy-like landscapes complete with tiny figures and accompanying easels), Ben Crabbe, Joe Rowe, Beverly Hunt and Joe Vine.

Not surprisingly, Gail’s art was included in the large group show, Fiesta de Arte, in May 1971 at the private home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic), along with paintings and sculptures by Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass and Agustín Velarde.

In March 1975, three Ajijic painters – Gail Michel, Rocky Karns and Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen – held a group show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

These three artists joined with Tom FaloonHubert Harmon, John K. Peterson, Adolfo Riestra, Sidney Schwartzman, to form a new group known as Clique Ajijic, a group of eight artists who formed a loosely-organized collective for three or four years in the mid-1970s. The group’s exhibitions included two in Ajijic – at the Galería del Lago (Colón #6, Ajijic) in August and at the Hotel Camino Real in September – as well as shows at Galeria OM in Guadalajara (October 1975); Club Santiago in Manzanillo (October 1975), the Akari Gallery in Cuernavaca (February 1976) and at the American Society of Jalisco in Guadalajara (also February 1976).

Gail’s first solo show of artwork was at Ajijic’s Galeria del Lago in April 1975. In February of the following year, the same gallery hosted an invitational group show – the so-called “Nude Show” – with works by Gail Michel, Guillermo Guzmán, John Frost, Jonathan Aparicio, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Dionicio Morales, John K. Peterson, Georg Rauch, Robert Neathery and others.

Gail’s work also formed part of a Jalisco state-sponsored show entitled “Arte-Artesania de la Ribera del Lago de Chapala” in October 1976 at the ex-Convento del Carmen. In addition to Gail, exhibitors on that occasion were Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionicio Morales; Gustel Faust; Bert Miller; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai and Jim Marthai.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and copies of Gail Michel de Guzmán’s original dress designs can still be found in some Ajijic stores.

Acknowledgments

Sincere thanks to Gail Michel de Guzmán for her help compiling this profile of her time in Ajijic, and to Judy Eager, the late Tom Faloon, Katie Goodridge Ingram, Peter and Eunice Huf, and Enrique Velasquez for sharing with me their personal memories from that time.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 2 Dec 1964; 2 April 1966; 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968; 25 May 1968; 22 Jun 1968; 6 Dec 1969; 12 Sep 1970; 24 April 1971; 15 May 1971; 18 May 1974; 20 July 1974; 14 Dec 1974; 15 Mar 1975; 12 Apr 1975; 12 Apr 1975; 31 Jan 1976.
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 25 Oct 1976.
  • Kate Karns. 2010. “Old Ajijic”, Lake Chapala Review, Volume 12 #1, February 14, 2010.
  • Jack McDonald. 1968. “Ajijic Woman Carved out Business for Herself …” (a profile of Gail Michel), Guadalajara Reporter 22 June 1968, p 15.

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 5:15 am  Tagged with:
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.

Nov 062017
 

American artist Marion Greenwood (1909-1970) was definitely in Chapala at least once, as evidenced by a water-damaged drawing entitled “Chapala girl”, dated 1969 and offered for sale on EBay in 2017.

Greenwood traveled south of the border for the first time in December 1932 and spent several years in Mexico, where she is best known as a muralist.

Born in Brooklyn on 6 April 1909, Greenwood displayed artistic talent from childhood. She left high school at age 15 to attend the Art Students League in New York where she studied under John French Sloan and George Bridgman. She also studied lithography with Emil Ganso and mosaic with Alexander Archipenko.

While still only a teenager, she made several visits to Yaddo, an artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York, to meet fellow artists and paint portraits of visiting intellectuals. A portrait of a wealthy financier gave her the funds to travel to Europe where she studied briefly at the Academie Colarossi in Paris.

In 1930 she was back in New York and drawing theater-related sketches for The New York Times.

The following year she made the first of several trips to the Southwest to paint Navajo Indians. From there she drove to Mexico City where she met artists Leopoldo Mendez, Alfredo Zalce and Pablo O’Higgins, who had worked with Diego Rivera and introduced her to fresco painting.

Marion Greenwood. Archives of American Art.

Marion Greenwood. Archives of American Art.

Greenwood spent some time experimenting in Taxco in 1932, where she completed a fresco of native life on the stairwell at the Hotel Taxqueño. After returning to Mexico City, she was introduced to Gustavo Corona Figueroa, the rector of the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo (in Morelia, Michoacán), the oldest institution of higher education in the Americas. Milan commissioned Greenwood to paint some frescos in the university and Greenwood decided to portray the everyday lives of the local Tarascan people.

Mexican students at the university initially ignored Greenwood’s work but began to take a serious interest after presidential candidate Lázaro Cárdenas visited, met Greenwood and praised her work-in-progress. Greenwood’s final work, known as Paisaje y economía de Michoacán (Landscape and economy of Michoacán), painted in 1933-1934, still adorns the second story of the university’s main patio.

Marion’s older sister, Grace Greenwood, also an artist, had joined her in Mexico City and both women had become members of the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists) to which Diego Rivera and many other famous artists belonged. In 1934, a group of Liga artists was commissioned to decorate the newly-constructed Mercado Abelardo L. Rodríguez in downtown Mexico City. The artists involved were Pablo O’Higgins, Ramón Alva Guadarrama, Antonio Pujol, Pedro Rendón, Miguel Tzab Trejo and Angel Bracho. O’Higgins used his influence to have Grace and Marion Greenwood added to the group. The murals were completed by early 1936. In April 1936, shortly after the Greenwood sisters had returned to the U.S., the Washington Post reported that Diego Rivera had named them “the greatest living women mural painters.” [quoted in Oles]

Marion Greenwood. Mexican Fishing Village.

Marion Greenwood. Mexican Fishing Village.

In the late 1930s, Greenwood taught fresco painting at Columbia University and completed murals for the social hall of the Westfield Acres Housing Project in Camden, New Jersey, and for the post office in Crossville, Tennessee. In 1940, she received a WPA commission to paint frescoes for the low-income Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn.

After 1940, Greenwood focused more on easel painting and printmaking than on frescos and murals. During the second world war she was one of only two women appointed as an artist war-correspondent. Her paintings, drawings and etchings of wounded and recovering soldiers are housed in the official archives of the U.S. War Department.

From 1944-46 Greenwood lived and worked in China. She continued to travel widely after her return to the U.S. Towards the end of the 1940s, Greenwood moved away from New York City and settled in Woodstock in upstate New York.

The context and details of her visit to Chapala in 1969 are unknown. Despite some water damage, her drawing entitled “Chapala Girl” dating from that visit is wonderfully evocative.

Marion Greenwood. 1969. Chapala girl. (damaged drawing - best available illustration)

Marion Greenwood. 1969. Chapala girl. (damaged drawing – best available illustration)

If anyone can fill in the details of Greenwood’s visit to Chapala, please get in touch!

Marion Greenwood. 1969. Chapala girl (detail). (damaged drawing - best available illustration)

Marion Greenwood. 1969. Chapala girl (detail). (damaged drawing – best available illustration)

Greenwood’s solo shows include Associated American Artists (Hong Kong) (1946, 1947, 1948); American Contemporary Artists Gallery; Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C.; Whitney Museum, New York; Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, New York); and the New York World’s Fair.

Greenwood won numerous awards for her art including the Lithography Prize from John Herron Art Institute, Lippincott Figure Prize at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, both the Altmann Figure Prize and the Lillian Cotton Award at the National Academy of Design, and The Grumbacher Prize.

In addition to her many murals on public buildings, examples of Greenwood’s works can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale in France, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Tel Aviv Museum, Yale Museum, Boston University, the Butler Art Institute, Newark Museum, Mint Museum, Montclair Art Museum, Norfolk Museum, National Academy of Design, New Britain Art Institute, John Herron Art Institute and Smith College.

Marion Greenwood died on 20 August 1970 at the age of 61.

Sources:

  • Manuel Aguilar-Moreno and Erika Cabrera. 2011. Diego Rivera: A Biography. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood biographies.
  • Angelica Martinez-Sulvaran. 2017. Marion Greenwood: A Modern Woman in Modern Mexico. Docomomo US. 9 January 2017.
  • James Oles. 2004. “The Mexican Murals of Marion and Grace Greenwood.” chapter 7 in Laura Rachel Felleman Fattal and Carol Salus (eds) Out of Context: American Artists Abroad. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • Charlotte Rubinstein. 1982. American Women Artists. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall & Co. pp. 217–220.
  • Washington Post. 1936. “Marion Greenwood Applauded for Steady Rise to Mural Fame,” Washington Post, 12 April 1936.

Other artists and authors linked to both Lake Chapala and Woodstock, New York, include:

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

 Posted by at 6:24 am  Tagged with:
Aug 242017
 

Bet Lamoureux was a writer and artist with close links to Los Angeles and to Desert Hot Springs in California. A short news item in the Palm Springs-based Desert Sun newspaper in 1951 says that Lamoureux was flying to Mexico City and Guadalajara in order to spend several months in Ajijic, where “Once settled in her Mexican paradise, she will write the book for which she has been gathering bright and humorous material for the past four years.”

Audrey Bernice (sometimes “Bettina”, usually known as “Bet”) Martin (her maiden name) was born in Riverside, California on 14 May 1909. She married Howard Lamoureux; the couple’s only son, Albert Howard Lamoureux, was born in 1939.

In the early 1940s, Howard Lamoureux was among the first to purchase lots when the new town of Desert Hot Springs was founded. According to a later newspaper report, Lamoureux “had enough faith In Desert Hot Springs to purchase the first two lots.” By 1949, Bet and Howard Lamoureux were hosts at Miracle Isle in Desert Hot Springs, but tragedy struck in April of that year when Howard became critically ill and passed away shortly afterwards.

In November of 1949, Bet is mentioned as being the owner of the Village Store but the family’s run of bad luck continued and she decided to sell the store the following year in order to spend more time with her son Albert who had fallen ill. During Bet’s ownership of the Village Store, it occasionally held art exhibits, including one in November 1949 of paintings by Marie Ropp, a “Grande Dame of Art” in California and the West.

As a writer, Bet Lamoureux had contributed a “very clever and refreshing column” about Desert Hot Springs to The Palm Springs News “for over two years”, coining the phrase “the friendly village on the sunny slope” as the most appropriate epithet for her home town.

In February 1951, now working on a book, Bet flew from California to Mexico intending to spend several months in Ajijic. Things did not work out quite as planned. While she had originally planned to return to the U.S. in June, she remained in Mexico a little longer and married John Addington in Mexico City on 11 August 1951. Addington was an electrician in Desert Hot Springs. The couple apparently met at the Writing Center of the Mexico City College.

Over the next few years, Bet Addington as she was now known, featured prominently in numerous arts and crafts fairs in Desert hot Springs, turning her hand to flower arrangements and opening, with her husband, a restaurant-gallery named Addington’s. The gallery held weekly shows during the winter season and the restaurant gained an enviable reputation for fine food. Details are sketchy but it appears that Bet Addington visited Mexico again in the summer of 1953.

In 1956, Bet Addington was instrumental in founding an artists’ group known as The Sand Witches. According to a local newspaper, the group was founded after Addington remarked that, “We are famous for our water and our wind. Let’s get in and feature our desert sand!” The sand paintings by members of the group were exhibited in clubs and art galleries all over California, sometimes as fund raisers for local charities. The other members of the group, active until at least 1960, included Dorothy Chester, Kay Farnum, Enola Hulbert, Betty Lukomski, Sally Sweet, Karen Thompson, Ginna Walker, Lillian Woods, Helen Young and Rae Taylor.

Grave marker for Bet Lamoureux. Photo courtesy of CRob (findagrave.com)

Grave marker for Bet Lamoureux. Photo courtesy of CRob (findagrave.com)

Bet Addington died in Orange County, California, on 29 March 1989. Sadly, we may never know whether or not this pioneering writer and artist of Desert Hot Springs ever completed the book she was working on when she visited Ajijic in 1951.

Sources:

  • Desert Sentinel (Desert Hot Springs, California): 10 February 1949, p4; 1 April 1949; 8 April 1949; 17 November 1949, p6; December 8, 1949, p6; 30 November 1950, p5; 14 December 1950, p9; 22 February 1951, p2; 23 August 1951, p1; 26 February 1953: p4; 16 April 1953, p1; 28 May 1953: p2; 13 August 1953, p5; 21 October 1954, p6; 20 November 1958, p 15.
  • Desert Sun: Number 30, 23 February 1951 p 8; Number 78, 19 May 1955; Number 234, 4 May 1967.
  • Independent Press-Telegram (Long Beach), 17 April 1960, p 87.
  • Mexico City Collegian, 14 Jan 1954 – vol7 #6.

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.

Sep 152016
 

Artist William (“Bill”) Gentes (1917-2000), who specialized in lithographs and linocuts, lived and worked at Lake Chapala for thirty years.

William George Gentes was born in Brooklyn, New York on 21 June 1917 and died in Chapala on 26 July 2000. Gentes graduated from Hobart College in 1938 and then studied at the Art Students League of New York. He later gained masters degrees from New York State University and from the University of Guanajuato.

Williaml Gentes. Estrella azul. Undated.

William Gentes. Estrella azul. Undated.

He worked for a time as editor of the Suffolk-Nassau Labor News, and began a lengthy career as a sign painter and an art teacher. With time, he became a sensitive and accomplished printmaker (lithographer) who found in Mexico and its working people the perfect subjects through which to express his exceptionally warm and affectionate outlook.

Gentes first visited Mexico in the summer of 1966 when he drove overland with his wife Adele and their two children (Gaye and Bill Jr.) from New York to Mérida and back. In 1968, the artist took a sabbatical year. The family lived in San Miguel de Allende and Gentes studied at the Instituto San Miguel.

In 1970, at the age of 55, Gentes retired after thirty years teaching in New York and two months after he had been injured while cycling to work. The family moved to Mexico the following year and settled in Colonia Seattle, Guadalajara, where the children went to local schools, while Gentes devoted himself to his art, taking regular trips to unlikely places on the extensive network of local buses to sketch and find inspiration for his drawings, paintings, woodblocks and (later) linoprints.

William Gentes. Posada Ajijic. 1982.

William Gentes. Posada Ajijic. 1982.

Gentes’ links to Lake Chapala started at this time. From about 1974, the family spent most summers in San Pedro Soyutlán on the south side of the lake.

In 1979, with both children now studying in the U.S., Gentes and his wife sold the family home in Guadalajara and moved to Lake Chapala. They lived near the former railway station in Chapala for about four years, then moved to a house overlooking Ajijic and later to Calle Manglar in Las Redes. With each move, Gentes acquired bigger and better presses, allowing him to make larger print runs without sacrificing quality, and enabling him to employ up to eight colors in his work.

Gentes’ genre art was regularly included in group exhibits in Ajijic. His solo shows included an exhibit in February 1989 at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan. In the 1990s, Gentes was one of the founder members of the group of Ajijic artists who helped launch the Centro Ajijic de Bellas Artes (CABA).

His impish sense of humor is evident in many of his linocuts, but Gentes also had an intensely serious side and used his art to engage with social and political injustices. Some of his strongest works feature characters he had encountered while traveling around western Mexico. It is always worthwhile to look carefully at the wording on a Gentes linocut. The one below translates literally to “The old woman who dances raises lots of dust”, meaning that people who do age-inappropriate things can make themselves look ridiculous.

William Gentes. Untitled. 1982. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

William Gentes. Untitled. 1982. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Each of the Gentes family homes in Mexico had a sauna, and it is no coincidence that many of Gentes’ prints depict nudes having a sauna. Having been excused military service during the second world war on account of his poor eyesight, the artist quickly put younger, attractive sauna guests to his home at Lake Chapala at ease by declaring he was so blind he couldn’t see anything. His Mexican-themed parties for fellow artists and art lovers were well-attended and legendary. Generous and fun-loving, Gentes lived life to the full. His son, Bill Jr, recalls that his father was especially delighted when he realized that his years enjoying retirement had exceeded the length of time he had worked in New York.

The 1980s was Gentes’ most prolific period as a printmaker. In 1992, the loss of his wife of 27 years was a severe blow, but Gentes eventually overcame his grief by producing a series of prints depicting his loneliness before restarting his long series of humorous prints. His local solo shows at Lake Chapala included one at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan in March 1989.

Portrait of Bill Gentes. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Portrait of Bill Gentes. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Gentes was especially generous to many fellow artists, not only in terms of encouragement, but also in conducting workshops and allowing them to use his printing presses. When painter Pat Apt first arrived in Ajijic in 1992, Gentes invited her to share his studio at Calle Independencia #5. Apt worked alongside him for six years and the two remained close friends thereafter.

Apt’s abiding impression of Gentes is how he refused to let his deteriorating eyesight prevent him from completing some of his finest work, work that was more colorful than earlier, with bolder, thicker lines. As his sight failed, Gentes relied on his extraordinary spatial memory to painstakingly draw pictures, one square inch at a time, despite being unable to see virtually anything of the piece he was creating.

Gentes’ work is in private collections all over the world. His children inherited more than 700 original artworks and several thousand lithographs. Several linocuts by Gentes were used as illustrations in Don Adams’s book, Head for Mexico: The Renegade Guide (Trafford, 2003).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Bill Gentes Jr. for information about his parents’ life in Mexico and his father’s career, and to Pat Apt.

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.

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