Aug 302018
 

Mexican-born Virginia Downs (1914-2005) was the third wife of William (“Bill”) Colfax Miller. After their marriage in November 1969, the Millers lived in Cuernavaca, where they co-owned an art gallery, before moving first to the U.S. for a year and then, in about 1982, to Lake Chapala, where Virginia Miller was a prolific writer of articles about Mexico for local English-language publications.

Virginia Downs was born into a wealthy American family in Guadalajara on 11 March 1914 and died in that same city on 16 November 2005. Her grandfather, Alfred Ryder Downs, had been a successful miner in Alaska before moving to Mexico, where he built up a business empire as owner of the American Bank of Guadalajara, a Ford Agency and (allegedly) the first gas station in Guadalajara. He bought land on the then northern outskirts of the city that he subsequently developed at the start of the 20th century as Colonia Seattle. Modeled on an American garden city, this area initially had 57 homes and its own electric and water plants.

Virginia was only nine days old when her family fled Guadalajara for the U.S., fearing for their lives as the Mexican Revolution engulfed the city and most Americans were forced to flee. Grandfather Downs returned a few years later and resumed his business interests. Virginia’s family also returned, and she attended school in Guadalajara before completing her high school education at Grey Castle (which later became San Diego High School) in California, after which she majored in foreign languages at the University of California Los Angeles.

After graduating, Downs worked in the U.S. Civil Service. She worked 5 years in Hawaii, two years in Japan and a year in Frankfurt before spending 15 years in Paris, where she worked as a researcher and writer for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff European Command. When NATO personnel were ordered out of France in 1967 by President Charles de Gaulle, she returned to the U.S.

Failing to find suitable work in Los Angeles, she moved back to Mexico, living first in Oaxaca, then San Miguel de Allende (where she took art classes), and then to the Cortés house in Cuernavaca. It was in Cuernavaca that she met and married Bill Miller.

During their time in Cuernavaca, Virginia was a columnist for the local daily El Diario de Morelos and the couple opened the Akari Art Gallery, the city’s first major art gallery. The couple were friends of many famous Mexican artists, including Alfaro David Siqueiros who gave them a personally-inscribed heliographic copy of a drawing entitled “La Niña Madre”. This drawing was used by Excelsior, the national daily, during its campaign to get Mother’s Day officially celebrated in Mexico.

The Atari Gallery was one of the venues for a group show by Clique Ajijic in February 1976. The Clique Ajijic was comprised of eight Ajijic artists: Tom FaloonHubert Harmon, Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, John Peterson, Synnove (Shaffer) PettersenAdolfo Riestra and Sidney Schwartzman.

Among the other “Ajijicans” attending the opening in Cuernavaca were Peggy Koll, Margo Thomas, and Bruce and Patricia Wightman.

In Ajijic, in addition to her regular contributions to El Ojo del Lago (The Eye of the Lake) and other local publications, Virginia Miller self-published South of Yesterday (2001), a family history, subsequently translated into Spanish as Al Sur del Ayer (2004). She described the book as “the story of my mother’s life as a bride coming to a strange land. The book flows through the charmed life of an American living in Guadalajara in the early nineteen hundreds into the violence of the Revolution, escape from and return to a much-beloved Mexico.”

Sources

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.

Aug 022018
 

As we saw in previous posts, the two writers behind the first two Dane Chandos books related to Lake Chapala – Village in the Sun and House in the Sun  – were Nigel Millett and Peter Lilley.

Whether by coincidence or not, less than 3 weeks after Nigel Millett‘s father died in Ajijic in 1947, Anthony Stansfeld set out from the U.K. to visit Peter Lilley in Mexico. This timing makes it perfectly conceivable that he helped Lilley in the final stages of preparing the manuscript of House in the Sun for publication.

Anthony Ralph Wolryche Stansfeld was born in Winchester, Hampshire, on 4 March 1913 and died in Macon, Georgia, on 7 March 1998. Stansfeld was at Oxford University from 1932 to about 1935. During World War II he served as a Temporary Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Service for two years from 4 March 1943 (his 30th birthday). The blond, blue-eyed Stansfeld, who spoke fluent English, French, Spanish and Italian, subsequently became a university lecturer, specializing in art history.

Cover of first edition (published by Michael Joseph)

Cover of first edition (published by Michael Joseph)

It is unclear how he and Peter Lilley first met, though they were very close in age. In about 1950, Stansfeld took a teaching position at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He lived the remainder of his life in Macon but became a regular visitor to Lake Chapala to collaborate with Lilley.

Continuing the pen name Dane Chandos, the duo wrote two travelogues: Journey in the Sun (a trip from Mexico to Spain) and The Trade Wind Islands (which takes the reader from Mexico to several Caribbean islands). The two men also created the huarache-wearing Mexican detective Don Pancho and wrote two well-constructed stories about his crime-solving exploits: Boiled Alive and Three Bad Nights, for which they used the pen name (or more accurately pen name of a pen name) Bruce Buckingham.

References

  • Bruce Buckingham. 1956. Three Bad Nights. London: Michael Joseph (Reissued as Penguin edition, 1961).
  • Bruce Buckingham. 1957. Boiled Alive. London: Michael Joseph (Reissued as Penguin edition, 1961).

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.

Jul 192018
 

The second strand of the pen name Dane Chandos, and indeed the originator of the name, was Peter Lilley. How, when and where Lilley first met Nigel Millett is currently unknown but they became literary collaborators and good friends during their time in Ajijic.

Peter Lilley, whose birth name was James Gilbert Lilley, was the only child of James Cecil Lilley (1878-1948) and Madeline Clare Angus Thomas (1890–1979). He was born in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, on 25 July 1913.

Lilley’s father was a director of Lilley and Skinner, a famous London shoe brand (manufacturing, wholesale and retail), founded by his great grandfather.

Peter Lilley attended Stowe School (in Buckinghamshire) from 1927 to 1932 and was captain of the school tennis team in 1931. He remained an avid tennis player throughout his life and built a grass court at his home in San Antonio Tlayacapan (mid-way between Ajijic and Chapala).

Lilley is not known to have published anything under his own name, or any nom de plume, prior to the books about Ajijic.

The name Dane Chandos was conjured up by Lilley himself, since it combined his nickname at Stowe – “Dane”, on account of his blond hair and square, Danish-looking jaw – with Chandos, the name of one of the school’s boarding houses. Interestingly, though, Lilley had actually spent his own school years in a different house, Grafton.

If shipping and immigration records accurately reflect his travels to North America, Peter Lilley first visited the U.S. in 1938, at the age of 24, traveling with an older cousin, Thomas. The following year, he revisited the U.S. en route to Toronto, Canada. In 1940, he again traveled to New York, arriving on 7 July 1940. It remains unclear precisely when Lilley first visited Lake Chapala.

The first Dane Chandos book, Village in the Sun, was written by Peter Lilley and Nigel Millett and published in the U.S. in the fall of 1945. Because Nigel Millett died the following year, it is often argued that the second Dane Chandos book – House in the Sun, first published in the U.S. in 1949 – must have been the result of a different collaboration, with Millett replaced by Anthony Stansfeld as Lilley’s writing partner. For a number of reasons, including similarities of style and subject matter, I do not consider this at all likely but believe that House in the Sun, like Village in the Sun, was co-written by Lilley and Millett.

This opinion is supported by the fact that Stansfeld himself, in a letter many years ago to the house’s current owner, laid no claim to authorship of either book, writing only that he and Lilley had collaborated from 1950 onwards.

Village in the Sun tells the story of building a house (located in real life in San Antonio Tlayacapan). The house was Peter Lilley’s home in Mexico. The book is an interesting, keenly observed and reflective account of life in Ajijic in the 1940s, full of curious tidbits alongside anecdotes about local superstitions and habits. When it was finally published in the U.K. in 1948, English author and linguist Rodney Gallop, who had visited Ajijic in the 1930s, praised its use of colorful characters to paint a picture of Ajijic that was sympathetic and “penetrated to the very heart of Mexico.” Among the central characters is Candelaria, the cook, who “seemed to delight in piling up obstacles and then making an enormous fuss surmounting them and then with a pleased tired smile viewing her achievement.”

In House in the Sun the author has added extra rooms for guests and taken on the role of amateur hotelier, “held hostage by maddening servants and equally unpredictable and maddening guests.”

The two books share many of the same characters, including Candelaria and the other household help. Some of the characters are based on real residents or visitors while others stem from the authors’ imaginations. A line near the start of House in the Sun – “An Englishman had built a long, low house fronted by a superb garden, which blazed with color the year round” – is a public nod to Herbert Johnson and his wife, Georgette, and their wonderful lakefront garden in Ajijic.

The final Dane Chandos book

Peter Lilley continued to live in his beautiful “house in the sun” in San Antonio Tlayacapan until well into the 1970s. He spent his final weeks in his native England where he died at the London Clinic in Westminster on 17 April 1980. Leslie Chater and his wife, Moreen, long-time friends of Lilley, subsequently became the new owners of the house in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

A chance find there in a desk drawer by Moreen Chater caused her to revive the Dane Chandos brand in 1997, long after all three original Dane Chandos authors had died. Chater stumbled across a “scruffy folder” containing a manuscript of recipes “faintly typed and badly eaten by mice.” Providentially, these proved to be Candelaria’s original recipes, with notes and anecdotes added by Lilley. Chater used them to compile Candelaria’s Cookbook, an unusual bilingual book of more than forty recipes (and related stories) sold as a fund-raiser to support projects benefiting children in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

References

  • Dane Chandos. 1945. Village in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  • Dane Chandos. 1949. House in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  • Rodney Gallop. 1948. “Rural Mexico: Village in the Sun. By Dane Chandos.” (Review), The Spectator, 17 June 1948, 22.
  • Catherine A. MacKenzie. 2011. “Three Authors in the Sun”, Lake Chapala Review, vol 13 #1, 15 January 2011.
  • Sophie Annan Jensen. 1999. “Candelaria’s Cookbook” (review) on MexConnect.com –
    [25 May 2018]

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 282018
 

Everett Gee Jackson (1900-1995), the renowned American painter, illustrator and art educator, lived at Lake Chapala, apart from some short breaks, from 1923 to 1926 (and returned there in 1950 and 1968). Jackson loved Mexico and during his first visit to Chapala he became intimately acquainted with the artistic creativity of Mexico’s ancient pre-Columbian civilizations, later teaching and writing on the subject.

Unlike so many other early foreign visiting artists who have left very little trace of their presence, Jackson wrote entertaining accounts of his experiences in Chapala and Ajijic in his two memoirs —Burros and Paintbrushes, A Mexican Adventure (1985) and It’s a Long Road to Comondú (1987), both published by Texas A&M University Press. Both memoirs are informative and beautifully illustrated.

Given the wealth of available material on Jackson’s life and art, this post will focus on the personal and wider significance of his earliest extended trip to Lake Chapala.

Cover painting is "Street in Ajijic", ca 1924

Cover painting is “Street in Ajijic”, ca 1924

Jackson was born in Mexia, Texas, on 8 October 1900. He enrolled at Texas A&M to study architecture but was persuaded by one of his instructors that his true talents lay in art. In 1921 Jackson moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute where impressionism was in vogue. At the end of the following year he eschewed another Chicago winter in favor of completing his art studies at the San Diego Academy of Art in sunnier California. He eventually completed a B.A. degree from San Diego State College (now San Diego State University) in 1929 and a Masters degree in art history from the University of Southern California in 1934.

As an educator, Jackson taught and directed the art department at San Diego State University (1930-1963) and was a visiting professor at the University of Costa Rica (1962).

Prior to his first visit to Chapala in 1923, Jackson had already undertaken a brief foray into Mexico, traveling just across the border from Texas into Coahuila with Lowell D. Houser (1902-1971), a friend from the Art Institute of Chicago. In summer 1923, the pair of artists decided to venture further into Mexico, to the city of Guadalajara. After a month in the city, they rented a house in Chapala and were among the earliest American artists to paint at Lake Chapala and Ajijic, though they were not the first, given that the Chicago artist Richard Robbins and Donald Cecil Totten (1903-1967), among others, had painted Lake Chapala much earlier, as had many artists of European origin.

Mexico, though, exerted a much more powerful influence over Houser’s and Jackson’s subsequent art than it did over any of these earlier visitors.

Jackson and Houser stayed in Chapala until the summer of 1925 when they decided to move to Guanajuato to experience a different side of Mexico. En route, they stopped off in Mexico City to view some of the famous Mexican murals, by Diego Rivera and others, that they had heard so much about.

After a few months in Guanajuato, the two young artists briefly parted ways when Jackson went back to El Paso to meet his girlfriend, Eileen Dwyer.

Everett Gee Jackson. ca 1923. Fisherman's Shacks, Chapala. (from Burros and Paintbrushes: A Mexican Adventure, 1985)

Everett Gee Jackson. ca 1923. Fisherman’s Shacks, Chapala. (from Burros and Paintbrushes: A Mexican Adventure, 1985)

Jackson returned to Mexico, newly engaged to Eileen, and discovered that Lowelito had decided to rent another house, not in Chapala but in the smaller, more isolated, village of Ajijic. Jackson is almost certainly correct in writing that they were the “first art students ever to live in Ajijic”, but there may be a hint of exaggeration in his claim that they were, “the only Americans living in Ajijic.”

After Jackson married Eileen in July 1926, the couple had an unconventional honeymoon, sharing a house in Chapala with Lowelito and a friend. In November the group moved to Mexico City, where they were welcomed by Anita Brenner and an elite circle of young artists and intellectuals that included Jean Charlot (1898–1979). They were also visited by the great muralist José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949). Early the following year, at Brenner’s insistence, Jackson and his wife visited the Zapotec Indian area of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec before returning home to San Diego.

Everett Gee Jackson. 1926. Lake Chapala. (Hirshl & Adler Galleries, New York)

Everett Gee Jackson. 1926. Lake Chapala. (Hirshl & Adler Galleries, New York)

Even before their return, fifty of Jackson’s Mexican paintings had been exhibited at the “The Little Gallery” in San Diego. The exhibit was warmly received by critics and art lovers and further showings of his “ultra-modern canvasses” were arranged for venues in Dallas and New York. Among the paintings that attracted most attention in The San Diego exhibition were “The Lake Village,” (Chapala), which had won first prize at the Texas State Fair in Dallas in October 1926, and “Straw Shacks in Chapala”.

There is no question that Jackson’s subsequent artistic trajectory owed much to his time in Chapala at the start of his career. His encounter with Mexican art — from pre-Columbian figurines to modern murals — transformed him from an impressionist to a post-impressionist painter. He was one of the first American artists to be so heavily influenced by Mexican modernism, with its stylized forms, blocks of color and hints of ancient motifs. Jackson’s work remained realist rather than abstract.

Jackson’s work was widely exhibited and won numerous awards. His major exhibitions included Art Institute of Chicago (1927); Corcoran Gallery (1928); Whitney Museum of American Art; School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1928; 1946); Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1929-30); San Francisco Art Association; San Diego Fine Arts Society; and the Laguna Beach Art Association (1934). Retrospectives of his work included a 1979 show at the Museo del Carmen in Mexico City, jointly organized by INBA (Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes and INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia); and an exhibit at San Diego Modern in 2007-2008.

Jackson’s wonderful illustrations enliven several books, including Max Miller’s Mexico Around Me (1937) and The Wonderful Adventures of Paul Bunyon (1945).

Everett Gee Jackson, Drying Nets, ca 1924., pen and ink. (from Burros and Paintbrushes: A Mexican Adventure, 1985)

Everett Gee Jackson, Drying Nets, ca 1924., pen and ink. (from Burros and Paintbrushes: A Mexican Adventure, 1985)

In addition to his two volumes of memoirs, Jackson also wrote and illustrated Goat tails and doodlebugs: a journey toward art (1993).

Jackson’s time in Mexico led to a lifelong interest in pre-Columbian art, as evidenced by his short paper, “The Pre-Columbian Figurines from Western Mexico”, published in 1941, and his book, Four Trips to Antiquity: Adventures of an Artist in Maya Ruined Cities (1991). In his 1941 paper, which included images of two figurines found at Lake Chapala, Jackson considered the varying degree of abstraction or expressionism in different figurines.

Everett Gee Jackson, author, pioneering artist, illustrator and much more besides, died in San Diego on 4 March 1995.

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to Texas art historian James Baker for his interest in this project and for sharing his research about Everett Gee Jackson.

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

Sources

  • Anon. 1927. “Talented Artist Of Mexia To Have Dallas Exhibition”, Corsicana Daily Sun, 29 Jan 1927, p 13.
  • Archives of American Art. 1964. Oral history interview (by Betty Hoag) with Everett Gee Jackson, 1964 July 31. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  • D. Scott Atkinson. 2007. Everett Gee Jackson: San Diego Modern, 1920-1955. San Diego Museum of Art.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1941. “The Pre-Columbian Ceramic Figurines from Western Mexico”, in Parnassus, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jan., 1941), pp. 17-20.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1985. Burros and Paintbrushes, A Mexican Adventure. Texas A&M University Press.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1987. It’s a Long Road to Comondú. Texas A&M University Press.
  • Jerry Williamson. 2000. Eileen: The Story Of Eileen Jackson As Told By Her Daughter. San Diego Historical Society.

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

 

May 292018
 

John Russell Clift wrote, and illustrated with original serigraphs, “Chapala-Mexico’s Shangri-La”, published in Ford Times, the monthly magazine of the Ford Motor Company in October 1953. The article was published in Ford Times,. Volume 45 # 10 (October 1953) pp 34-39. The article, with illustrations, was reprinted on Mexconnect.com in its October 2003 edition, to mark the 50th anniversary of the original publication date.

John Russell Clift: Chapala Market

John Russell Clift: Chapala Market (1953)

John Russell Clift: Lake Chapala (1953)

John Russell Clift: Lake Chapala (1953)

  • The full text of “Chapala-Mexico’s Shangri-la“, with accompanying illustrations, reprinted on Mexconnect.com by kind permission of Ford Motor Company.

John Russell Clift, American author and illustrator, was born in Taunton, Massachusetts in 1925 and at the peak of his career in the 1950s when he wrote this piece, one of the earliest to promote the attractions of the Chapala area as a retirement haven. His thoughtful prose and fine silkscreens paint a vivid picture of what life was like at Lakeside in the early 1950s.

After a stint in the U.S. Navy (1944-46), Clift studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and became an accomplished illustrator, painter, teacher, graphic artist, and successful commercial artist. Clift won his first fellowship at the Boston Museum School in 1952-53, which enabled him to spend six months painting in Chapala. He taught drawing and illustration at the institution for many years and was awarded a second fellowship in 1958-59.

John Russell Clift: Weaver's House in Jocotepec (1953)

John Russell Clift: Weaver’s House in Jocotepec (1953)

His commercial art career included spells working for Ford Motor Company, Alcan Aluminum Co. of Cleveland, the Lamp-Standard Oil Co. and the Bethlehem Steel Co. of Pennsylvania. In 1965, The Bridgeport Post lauded him as “an artist admired by the professionals for his technique in encaustic and by businessmen for his illustrations in business magazines.” (10 Oct 1965). Among Clift’s contributions to Ford Times, was “Riverside, Rhode Island”, a story illustrated by his paintings, in the July 1955 issue.

Clift held numerous exhibitions of his work in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the 1955-1965 period. His work was also exhibited at print shows throughout the U.S., including the Museum of Modern Art and the DeCordova & Dana Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. He held a solo show in 1963 in the Mirski Gallery, Boston.

In 1967, Clift was a member of the three-person jury for The Boston Printmakers 19th Annual Print Exhibition, held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 28 February to 2 April 1967. The exhibition featured more than 120 prints from the U.S. and Canada.

John Russell Clift passed away in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on 16 July 1999.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published on 22 March 2012.

Exhibits/collections:

  • A screenprint entitled “Long Wharf” is in the collection of the US National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C..
  • A painting, oil on canvas, entitled “Couple in the Park” (1961) is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
  • A color lithograph entitled “Market at Chapala” was sold at auction in 2007.

Sources/References:

  • John Russell Clift. 1953. “Chapala-Mexico’s Shangri-la”, Ford Times, Volume 45 # 10 (October 1953), 34-39.

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 152018
 

Canadian artist John Russell Richmond (1926–2013) began drawing and painting as a child, “around the time that he was learning to hold a crayon without eating it.” He was still producing highly original work at Lake Chapala well into his eighties.

John Richmond

John Richmond

Richmond was a painter, illustrator, muralist, educator and author. He was born in Toronto on 25 October 1926 and died in Lindsay, Ontario, on 17 January 2013.

He retired from his position at the Ontario College of Art & Design in 1991 to divide his time between Ontario and Ajijic. Richmond was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, the Ontario Society of Artists and the Arts and Letters Club.

Richmond wrote and/or illustrated numerous publications, including Gambit (1958); Around Toronto (1969); Discover Toronto (1976); and the “Discover Ontario” series of whimsical maps and columns, published in Toronto Calendar Magazine in the 1970s. Together with his wife, Lorraine Surcouf, he also published A Tearful Tour of Toronto’s Riviera of Yesteryear (1961).

John Richmond also undertook mural commissions and was responsible for works in the original Maple Leaf Gardens and the former Air Canada Centre (both in Toronto), and the Public Library in the township of Uxbridge where Richmond made his home and studio. Richmond was a founding member of the Uxbridge Celebration of the Arts.

Richmond’s art was exhibited widely during his lifetime in Canada, and later in Mexico, where he adopted the art name Juan Compo.

Juan Compo (John Richmond). Tree Goddess.

Juan Compo (John Richmond). Tree Goddess.

As Juan Compo, in Ajijic, he produced an impressive series of mixed-media images of imaginary ancient American goddesses as well as more traditional paintings.

Juan Compo (John Richmond). Moon Goddess.

Juan Compo (John Richmond). Moon Goddess.

This 5-minute YouTube video is a good introduction to his project.

Like many artists before and since, living at Lake Chapala jolted this artist of talent into an entirely fresh, creative phase of his career. His stated ambition was “to raise awareness of The Ancient American Goddess among all inhabitants of both American continents, North and South.”

Sources

  • Anon. 2013. John Russell Richmond (obituary). The Globe and Mail, 22 January 2013.
  • Anon. “Focus on Art.” Ojo del Lago, February 2003.
  • Anon. 2013. John Russell Richmond – Obituary. Toronto Star, 22 January 2013.
  • Juan Compo. “Ancient American Goddess Art by Juan Compo“, MexConnect. 1 August 2008.
  • Juan Compo. “Ancient American Imaginary Goddesses.” (artist’s former website)
  • Shelagh Damus. 2013. “Artist John Richmond dies at 86.” The Uxbridge Cosmos, 31 January 2013, p12.

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 082018
 

In a previous post, we offered an outline biography of Canadian writer Ross Parmenter, who first visited Mexico in 1946 and subsequently wrote several books related to Mexico.

One of these book, Stages in a Journey (1983), includes accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – the first by car, the second by boat – made on two consecutive days in March 1946. The following extracts come from chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey:

The author was traveling with Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher who owned “Aggie”, their vehicle. They met up with Miss Nadeyne Montgomery (aka The General), who lived in Guadalajara; Mrs Kay Beyer, who lived in Chapala; and two tourists: Mrs. Lola Kirkland and her traveling companion, Mary Alice Naden.

On 22 March 1946, the party returned to Ajijic, this time by boat, to collect a hat left the day before at Neill James’ home. They collected the hat, walked around the village, and then returned to the pier to set off back to Chapala. Part way back,

as Colombina rounded a point we saw a little fishing settlement in the bay beyond. We asked the boatman if he could take us near the shore for a closer look. Without a word, he turned the prow towards the land.

Near the water’s edge there were many small willows, with feathery showers of foliage and contorted trunks. Fishing nets, stretched to dry on posts, made diaphanous tents a little way back. A man was standing knee-deep in the water casting a circular net. And as we drew closer we saw other men were drawing water to irrigate the fields.

– – –

The water near the shore was shallow, but the fishermen had created artificial spits of land by setting out stones that made little walls to separate fishing areas. By bringing the bow to one of these the boatman apparently thought it would be possible for the women to cross to land without getting their feet wet. But a rasping sound before we reached the stones showed his miscalculation. But the ladies didn’t mind. Thyrza was in her seventies and Mrs. K. in her fifties, but wading was nothing in their young lives. So off came their shoes and stockings and they paddled to shore.

First we watched the fisherman casting his net. Its outer edges were weighted so that the net spread like a disk as it flew through the air. A cord was attached to the center of the net like the stem to the leaf of a waterlily, and as the disk plopped on the water the man let the cord fall slack. When the net had settled, he started to draw it slowly towards him. The cord pulled the net to a peak and one would have thought he was dragging a sack to the shore.

Once the weights were drawn together to close the bottom of the net, he lifted the whole thing up and emptied a slew of minnows into a round basket.

The tiny fish were silver with eyes like black buttons on disks of bright aluminum. Each fresh lot was lively as it was dumped into the basket. But mass activity soon ceased and then a few would flop a bit and some shivered before lying still.

Because of her fondness for fish, T was particularly fascinated by the minnows. Having seen their counterparts dried and piled on fibre mats in the market of Chapala, she asked the fisherman what they were called.

Her question, being in English, was incomprehensible to him. But I could help, because trying to find out about other things had led me to learn that nombre was the word for name..

El nombre?” I asked, pointing to the minnows.

Charales,” the man replied.

One of the reasons T liked our hotel in Chapala so well was because every lunch and dinner it served delicious pescado blanco. The fish were always cooked the same way, presenting a similar flat appearance with the structural outlines obscured by the batter in which they were fried a delicate brown. Having the attention of a man who knew something about the fish of the lake, she asked him if he had any pescado blanco.

He understood and went over to some moist sacking. Lifting back a flap, he exposed some small, but plump fish of conventional shape. T was surprised. Not realizing the hotel split them open to cook them, she had expected a sort of flounder.

Ross Parmenter: Canoa. . . [When the engine failed] I looked back on the shore. Being a short way out, we could see a wider stretch than when we had been right on the land. In addition to the people we had seen close up — the fisherman throwing his net, the woman cooking and the men working the hoist — we could see others on either side. At one little point there were women on their knees washing clothes. In the age-old grace of their activity, they were beautifully grouped and the bright garments they had laundered were lying around drying ¡n the sun. Near the women were brown children playing on a narrow beach and dashing calf-deep into the water from time to time. Further along some fishermen were pushing out one of their high-peaked canoas to fish where the water was deeper.

The animals were picturesque too. At the mouth of the inlet a chestnut horse and a gray burro were drinking, their muzzles almost touching. Different species though they were, they suggested a father and son. A black and white cow had waded right into the water to do her drinking. A few small ducks swam near her, tame as could be. On the shore a piglet rooted around near the woman with the charcoal fire. Some puppies frisked about and chickens were pecking.

Source:

  • Ross Parmenter. 1983. Stages in a Journey. New York: Profile Press.

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Jan 012018
 

Several Lake Chapala websites boast that the talented and multifaceted American author Norman Kingsley Mailer (1923-2007) is among those writers who found inspiration at the lake. But is their pride in his visits to the area misplaced? Mailer’s biography has been exhaustively documented in dozens of books and there is no doubt he is a great writer. However, this post concentrates on the less savory side of his visits to Ajijic and Lake Chapala. Is he really someone local residents should be proud of?

According to normally reliable sources, Mailer visited the area more than once in the course of his illustrious career. Mailer’s first visit to Lake Chapala was in the late 1940s with his first wife, Beatrice Silverman. Journalist Pete Hamill referred to this visit in his “In Memoriam” piece about Mailer:

“Moulded by Brooklyn and Harvard and the Army (he served as an infantryman in the Philippines in World War 2), he erupted onto the literary scene in 1948 with “The Naked and the Dead”, the first great American novel about the war. For the first time, he had money to travel and hide from his fame. He went to Paris where he succumbed to the spell of Jean Malaquais, the critic and novelist. He went to Lake Chapala, where he did not succumb to the charms of the American expatriates.”

This is presumably the occasion referred to by Michael Hargraves when he wrote dismissively that Mailer “only passed through Ajijic back in the late 1940s to have lunch”.

While Mailer may not have fallen immediately in love with Lake Chapala and its American expatriates, he certainly grew to love Mexico and spent several summers in Mexico City during the 1950s. In July 1953, and now with painter Adele Morales (who became his second wife the following year) in tow, Mailer was renting a “crazy round little house” a short distance outside Mexico City, in the Turf Club (later the Mexico City College). Mailer described the house in a letter that month to close friend Francis Irby Gwaltney :

“At the moment we’re living at a place called the Turf Club which is a couple of miles out of the city limits of Mexico City in a pretty little canyon. We got a weird house. It’s got a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room shaped like a semicircle with half the wall of glass, and a balcony bedroom. It looks out over a beautiful view and is furnished in modern. This is for fifty-five bucks a month.”

In another letter (dated 24 July 1953) from the Turf Club, Mailer was clearly referring to Ajijic when he wrote that “There are towns (Vance was in one) where you can rent a pretty good house for $25 a month and under.” Mailer was referring to novelist Vance Bourjaily, a long-time friend who lived and wrote in Ajijic in 1951.

In October 1953, Mailer was guest speaker at the Mexico City College (then in its Colonia Roma location) at the fall session opening of its Writing Center, along with Broadway producer Lewis Allen. Bourjaily also gave lectures at the Mexico City College.

Norman Mailer book cover

Norman Mailer book cover

By a not-entirely-surprising coincidence, one of the owners of Turf Club property at that time was John Langley, a former concert violinist living on insurance payouts following a shooting accident that had cost him the index finger of his left hand. During the 1950s, Langley spent most of his time at his lakefront home in Ajijic. (The 1957 Life Magazine article about the village includes a photograph of Langley, at his Ajijic home, relaxing with Jeonora Bartlet, who later became the partner of American artist Richard Reagan). Langley and Mailer definitely knew each other and more than likely shared the odd joint.

Struggling to complete a worthy follow-up novel to The Naked and the Dead, Mailer found that smoking pot gave him a sense of liberation. Biographer Mary V. Dearborn quotes Mailer as writing that, “In Mexico… pot gave me a sense of something new about the time I was convinced I had seen it all”.

She then connects this to Mailer’s cravings for sexual experimentation:

“But it was also bringing out a destructive, event violent side to his nature. Friends have recalled some ugly scenes in Mexico and hinted at sexual adventures that pressed the limits of convention as well as sanity.”

In 1955, Mailer co-founded The Village Voice (the Greenwich Village newspaper in New York on which long-time Lake Chapala literary icon and newspaper editor Allyn Hunt later worked) and in the late 1950s or very early 1960s, Mailer and Adele were back in Mexico, living for some months in Ajijic.

In his obituary column, Hunt described how Mailer “discovered weed when he lived in Greenwich Village” and then “began using marijuana seriously”, before asserting that when Mailer and Adele “landed in Ajijic, their consumption of grass and their sexual games continued.” This is supported by Mack Reynolds, another journalist and author living in Ajijic at about that time. In The Expatriates, Reynolds, who eventually settled in San Miguel de Allende, recounts a more-than-somewhat disturbing story told him by the aforementioned John Langley:

“A prominent young American writer, who produced possibly the best novel to come out of the Second World War, had moved to Ajijic with his wife. His intention was stretching out the some $20,000 he had netted from his best seller for a period of as much as ten years, during which time he expected to produce the Great American Novel. However, he ran into a challenge which greatly intrigued him. Their maid was an extremely pretty mestizo girl whose parents were afraid of her working for gringos. They had heard stories of pretty girls who worked for Americans, especially Americans in the prime of life, and our writer was still in his thirties. Still, the family needed the money she earned and couldn’t resist the job. After the first week or two, the maid revealed to the author’s hedonistically inclined wife that each night when she returned home her parents examined her to discover whether or not she remained a virgin.

To this point the author hadn’t particularly noticed the girl, but now he was piqued. The problem was how to seduce her without discovery and having the authorities put on him by the watchful Mexican parents. He and his wife consulted with friends and over many a rum and coke at long last came up with a solution.

The girl, evidently a nubile, sensuous little thing, which probably accounted for her parents’ fear, was all too willing to participate in any shenanigans, especially after she’d been induced to smoke a cigarette or two well-laced with marijuana. The American author and his wife procured an electrical massage outfit of the type used by the obese to massage extra pounds off their bodies. They then stretched the girl out on a table, nude, and used the device on her until she was brought to orgasm over and over again.”

These brief descriptions of Mailer’s visits to Lake Chapala suggest that websites may like to rethink his inclusion on their list of the great writers inspired by the lake and its friendly communities. Mailer clearly pushed the bounds of friendship well beyond the reasonable. (Perhaps a Mailer biographer reading this can pinpoint precise dates for Mailer’s visits, and suggest some of his more positive contributions to the area?)

Mailer does have at least one additional connection to Ajijic via the Scottish Beat novelist Alexander Trocchi (1925-1984), who worked on his controversial novel Cain’s Book (1960) in Ajijic in the late 1950s. Shortly after its publication, and live on camera in New York, Trocchi shot himself up with heroin during a television debate on drug abuse. Already on bail (for having supplied heroin to a minor), and with a jail term seemingly inevitable, Trocchi was smuggled across the border into Canada by a group of friends (Norman Mailer included), where he took refuge in Montreal with poet Irving Layton.

Mailer’s novels include The Naked and the Dead (1948); Barbary Shore (1951); The Deer Park (1955); An American Dream (1965); Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967); The Executioner’s Song (1979); Of Women and Their Elegance (1980); Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1984); Harlot’s Ghost (1991). He also wrote screenplays, short stories, poetry, letters (more than 40,000 in total), non-fiction works and several collections of essays, including The Prisoner of Sex (1971).

Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction with The Armies of the Night (1969) and a Pulitzer for Fiction with his novel The Executioner’s Song (1980).

Sources:

  • Anon. 1953. “Writers hear Mailer speak”, in Mexico City Collegian, Vol 7 #1, p1, 15 October 1953.
  • Mary V. Dearborn. 2001. Mailer: A Biography. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Pete Hamill. 2007. In Memoriam: Mailer y Norman. (Published, translated into Spanish in Letras Libres, December 2007, pp 42-44.
  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A literary survey (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).
  • Allyn Hunt. 2007. “Norman Mailer, Contentious Author And Provocateur Who Died A Death He’d Have Scoffed At…”, Guadalajara Reporter 23 November 2007
  • J. Michael Lennon (editor) 2014. Selected Letters of Norman Mailer. Random House.
  • Mack Reynolds. 1963. The Expatriates. (Regency Books, 1963)

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 232017
 

Eduardo A. Gibbon y Cárdenas (full name Eduardo Anacleto Jesus Maria Antonio Gibbon) was born in Mexico City on 13 July 1845 and was a 19th century Mexican art critic, journalist, writer and diplomat. His father was born in England, his mother was Mexican.

As a young man Gibbon was one of the private secretaries of the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian (who was Emperor of Mexico from 1864 to 1867).

In the 1870s, he made various contributions to El Artista, a Mexico City-based  “monthly review of literature, science and the aesthetical arts.” After the magazine ceased publication (due to lack of financial support) Gibbon resuscitated the title, with the first of the new series of El Artista appearing in October 1891. By all accounts, this was a well-produced magazine, the first issue of which included a translation of part of Hopkinson Smith’s White Umbrella in Mexico. Gibbon’s main contribution as a writer to the first issue of the new series was “a description of the Luray grottoes of Virginia in sprightly and unhackneyed phrase.”

In 1874, Gibbon was elected a Member of the Mexican Society for Geography and Statistics.

gibbon-title-pageHe wrote several books, including La catedral de México (1874) and Reflexiones sobre arte nacional (1892), and a Spanish translation of Felix Salm-Salm’s memoirs about the final days of Emperor Maximilian. Gibbon also translated Father John S. Vaughan’s work, “Life after Death”. According to the brief obituary of Gibbon in The Sun (published in New York), he was also “the author of various novels”.

While holding a diplomatic position in London, England, in the 1880s, Gibbon took the opportunity to write Nocturnal London, published by S. E. Stanley in 1890. He later also served as a diplomat in the United States.

In 1893, Gibbon published Guadalajara, (La Florencia Mexicana). This is essentially a popular guide to the author’s chosen trilogy of major attractions in Jalisco: Guadalajara, Juanacatlán Falls (the “Niagara of Mexico”) and Lake Chapala. Gibbon’s writing is poetic, verging on the flowery, but despite that many of his descriptions make for interesting reading.

Gibbon’s romantic, poetic prose about his trips to Lake Chapala, in 1893 or earlier, includes one of the earliest detailed accounts of a boat trip on the lake. He also mentions the fact that deposits of petroleum have been located under the lake, and that studies are being undertaken to see if the deposits are large enough to be worth exploiting.

Gibbon stayed in a simple hotel; this was at least five years before the famous Arzapalo hotel opened. The author also described the chalet built on the shore by an Englishman (possibly Septimus Crowe), and clearly recognized the tourist potential of the area. This is how he described the then-village of Chapala:

We entered along a straight and long road, like those that form the main street of every village. The houses were of a single story, with white or colored facades. The doors and windows of wood; the latter without bars or glass, showing that in the honored home of the fisherman, they are safe even without these luxuries. So it is just as easy to enter one of the homes here, through the windows, often obstructed by the pots full of flowers or the large cages of melodious birds, as it is through the doorway. A soporific silence, that in this village of fishermen! So quiet that, at mid-day, only the buzz of the clouds of gnats, and the beating wings of the gulls crossing the sky can be heard.

But the great luminous place was at the end of this street: Lake Chapala. A fishing boat, with its lateen sail, was approaching the port. Apart from that, nothing was in sight on the immense surface of the water, on which the afternoon sun shone, producing lights and shadows like those made by marcasite….

The bells of the poetic parish church that rang on the shores of the lake-sea, brought all the village’s inhabitants to their feet. On the rustic wharf, very close to the hotel, one of those regular-sized vessels, called here canoes, but which are really flat-bottomed launches, was already anchored. The unloading of the domestic merchandise that had been brought for sale, had begun; later these would be sold in the Sunday tianguis, [street market] so common in these villages. With a slight following wind, three canoes came through the small waves, which, with sails slightly filled, came towards the beach. The rowers were working to propel the slow advance of these such primitive vessels, which, in rough waters would tip over very easily, and which only progress in their race when the wind is really strong and favorable….”

Eduardo A. Gibbon, who was unmarried, died at the age of 51 in Mexico City on 19 May 1897 following a lengthy illness.

Note

Source

  • The Sun (New York, New York), 21 May 1897, p 5.

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Nov 132017
 

Famous American portraitist Everett Kinstler and his family spent the summer of 1971 in Ajijic on Lake Chapala.

While staying in the village, he and his family became close friends of Kulla Hogan (now Kulla Ostberg), wife of journalist Don Hogan. Kinstler painted portraits of their two children who became good friends with the Kinstler children. The timing of Kinstler’s visit to Ajijic is confirmed by Molly Leland (formerly Molly Heneghan) who first visited Ajijic with her architect husband George Heneghan in December 1970 and who remembers the Kinstlers arriving the following summer.

Kinstler’s life is well documented, so this short profile includes links to further reading for those interested in learning all about the amazing career of this talented artist.

Book cover by Everett Raymong Kinstler

Book cover by Everett Raymong Kinstler

Everett Raymond Kinstler was born in New York City on 5 August 1926. He studied briefly at the city’s High School of Music and Art before transferring to the High School of Industrial Art, where he acquired the skills to make his living in the field of commercial art. While still a teenager, he started working for a comic book publisher, Cinema Comics, but soon became a freelance illustrator for comics and pulp magazines featuring characters such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, Hawkman, Kit Carson and Zorro. He also designed book covers and undertook commissions for magazine illustrations.

In 1945, Kinstler returned to school and studied at the Art Students League of New York under American illustrator and impressionist painter Frank Vincent DuMond (1865–1961) whose mantra was “I won’t try to teach you to paint, but to see and observe.” Also in 1945, Kinstler was drafted into the U.S. Army to work on creating a comic strip for an Army newspaper.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Kinstler worked mainly as a pulp and comic book artist before transitioning to become one of America’s top portraitists, a calling he has pursued diligently ever since. He held his first major exhibition of portraits and landscapes at Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City in 1959.

Everett Raymong Kinstler. 2014. Portrait of Cliint Eastwood.

Everett Raymong Kinstler. 2014. Portrait of Cliint Eastwood.

Kinstler has painted portraits of over 1200 leading figures in business, entertainment and government, including eight U.S. Presidents: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Other portrait subjects include Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Gene Hackman, Katharine Hepburn, Carol Burnett, Peter O’Toole, James Cagney, Arthur Miller, Ayn Rand, Tennessee Williams, Tom Wolfe; and Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss).

This short video about Kinstler was produced by the Norman Rockwell Museum for its major exhibition of his work in 2012:

Kinstler was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1970 and, in 1999, the Copley Medal by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., which has more than fifty Kinstler portraits in its collection. He also won a Comic-Con International’s Inkpot Award in 2006.

There are several published works about Kinstler including Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr.’s Everett Raymond Kinstler – The Artist’s Journey Through Popular Culture (2005).

Kinstler taught at the Art Students League of New York from 1969 to 1974 and is the author of several books on art, including Painting Faces, Figures and Landscapes (1981) and Painting Portraits Hardcover (1987).

In addition to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Kinstler’s work can be admired in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Butler Institute of American Art, Brooklyn Museum, the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio; and the University of Delaware, Newark.

Want to read more?

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Nov 022017
 

Archaeologist Betty Bonita Bell and her husband William W. Winnie Jr. (1928-1988) lived at Calle Colón #36 in Ajijic for several years in the early 1970s. While the precise dates are unclear, the couple made many significant contributions to village life.

Bell gained a doctorate in archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and then worked for the Organization of American States in Washington D.C. She later returned to UCLA and established a regional development training program in Brazil.

She and her husband arrived in Jalisco in 1970 when he accepted a position as visiting professor in the Economics faculty of the University of Guadalajara.

Bell excavated Los Altos, near Teocaltiche in northeastern Jalisco for two months in 1970 before spending two months looking at shaft tombs near Etzatlán early the following year.

In February 1971, Bell gave a series of lectures in Guadalajara. The local newspaper described her at this time as “a temporary resident of Ajijic” and said she was a “former assistant professor of anthropology at Colorado State University (Fort Collins) and currently adjunct professor of anthropology of the University Museum, Southern Illinois University.” The following month, the same newspaper reports that she anticipates being in Ajijic “at least two years” and is considering settling in the village.

In that same year (1971), Bell and her husband were instrumental in founding the Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de México, A.C. (West Mexican Society for Advanced Study) in Ajijic. The prime purpose of this short-lived project, which closed in 1974, was to encourage the participation of foreign archaeologists in Mexican projects.

The society’s two main publications were Betty Bell’s El Gran Xalisco: La Historia Cultural del Occidente de Mexico (which had photos and design by  Wm. W. Winnie) in 1972 and The Archaeology of West Mexico, a collection of papers she edited in 1974.

Bell and her husband also organized a summer school for visiting students in 1974. According to the Guadalajara Reporter, 25 students from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, spent three weeks at Lake Chapala taking college-level classes for credit. The classes, coordinated by Winnie and his wife, were given by Angelo State faculty members Caroline Haley and Tony Dutton, and included Spanish-language classes connected to Mexican civilization and literature, as well as classes about the anthropology of pre-Columbian cultures in Western Mexico.

Further details of Betty Bell’s life have proved frustratingly difficult to find though, tragically, it seems that Betty Bell lost her life in a car accident in Ajijic.

Betty Bell: select bibliography

  • Betty Bell (ed). 1967. Indian Mexico Past and Present (Symposium papers). Latin America Center, University of California. 109 pp.
  • Betty Bell. 1972. El Gran Xalisco: La Historia Cultural del Occidente de Mexico. (with photos and design by  Wm. W. Winnie). 21 pp. Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico, A. C. / West Mexican Society for Advanced Studies.
  • Betty Bell. 1972. “Archeological Excavations in Jalisco, Mexico.” Science, New Series, Vol. 175, No. 4027 (Mar. 17, 1972), pp. 1238-1239.
  • Betty Bell (ed). 1974. The Archaeology of West Mexico. Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico, A. C. / West Mexican Society for Advanced Studies.
  • Hugo G. Nutini and Betty Bell. 1984. Ritual Kinship, Volume II: Ideological and Structural Integration of the Compadrazgo System in Rural Tlaxcala. Princeton University Press. (translated as Parentesco ritual. Estructura y evolución histórica del sistema de compadrazgo en la tlaxcala rural and published by Fondo de Cultura Económica, México, in 1989).

Sources:

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Oct 262017
 

Dr. William W. Winnie Jr. (1928-1988) was an American geographer who lived in Ajijic with his wife – the archaeologist Dr. Betty Bell – in the early 1970s. Winnie published several papers relating to Guadalajara and western Mexico and also produced a map of Lake Chapala towns. The map, which was widely-distributed, was the earliest attempt to show the entire Lakeside area in a general purpose map for the public that I have so far come across. Winnie and Bell were also instrumental in founding the short-lived Ajijic museum of archaeology and the Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de México, A.C. (The West Mexican Society for Advanced Study).

William Winnie Jr. Maps of Lake Chapala area, ca 1970

William Winnie Jr. Maps of Lake Chapala area, ca 1970

William W Winnie Jr., known simply as “Winnie” to his friends, was born in Pontiac, Michigan, on 27 January 1928. He moved to Alburquerque, New Mexico, at the age of 21 to undertake pre-medical studies but transferred to the University of Florida two years later to complete an undergraduate degree in geography. He remained in Florida to gain a masters in sociology and a doctorate in Latin American studies. His doctoral thesis (1956) was based on fieldwork in Mexico and entitled “The Lower Papaloapan Basin: Land and People”. It was the beginning of a long love affair with the country, its geography and its people.

Winnie subsequently published the results of his doctorate work as The Papaloapan Project: An Experiment in Tropical Development (1958) while working as a Social Science Analyst in the U.S. Census Bureau.

By 1960, he was back in Mexico, on the faculty of the University of Nuevo León. That year he published an interesting short article about the significance of Spanish surnames in the southwestern U.S. The following year he published an article about land tenure in the Papaloapan basin.

Winnie was a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Chile in 1963-4 and published an article in 1965 on “Communal Land Tenure in Chile”. He returned to the U.S. for the 1964-5 academic year as a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he worked on a project sponsored by the Organization of American States and the Peace Corps. This was the basis for his 1967 book entitled Latin American development; theoretical, sectoral, and operational approaches.

This stimulated his interest in population migration, a topic that would continue to hold his attention for many years. His first formal publication related to migration, published in 1965, was about inter-state migration in Mexico.

Sponsored by the Fulbright Program, Winnie took up a position as visiting professor in the Economics faculty of the University of Guadalajara in 1970. This more or less marked the start of the university’s interest in social science research. Long term goals for research were established in 1971 with the creation of the university’s Centro de Investigaciones Sociales y Económicas (CISE).

Early work at CISE was financed almost entirely by external grants. Winnie was a pioneer in the demographic study of western Mexico and with fellow university researchers Jesús Arroyo Alejandre, Enrique Rojas Díaz and Luis Arturo Velázquez established a successful program of social science teaching and research at the U. de G.’s Economics Faculty. After completing their undergraduate degree, many of the students undertook further studies, some in Mexico and others abroad.

Winnie established close links to other important academic institutions, including the Colegio de México, the Colegio de Michoacán, the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, and the University of Texas at Austin.

The precise dates of their residence in Ajijic (at Calle Colón #36) are unclear, but Winnie and his wife Betty Bell made many significant contributions to village life.

Recognizing that street maps of the local villages were almost impossible to find, Winnie drew his own maps of the Lake Chapala area. With their very simple, single line streets, they are very different to the style of the graphic map-poster of Ajijic designed by Molly Heneghan, though both maps were first printed at about the same time.

William Winnie Jr. Map of Ajijic, ca 1970

William Winnie Jr. Map of Ajijic, ca 1970

In 1971, Winnie and his wife helped start an Ajijic Museum of Archaeology and founded the Sociedad de Estudios Avanzados del Occidente de Mexico A.C. (West Mexican Society for Advanced Study). The museum was located on the highway, adjacent to where the Auditorio de la Ribera (Lake Chapala Auditorium) was later built. Following a change of law pertaining to archaeological investigations, the museum was closed by Mexican authorities in about 1974, and the West Mexican Society for Advanced Study, whose prime purpose was to encourage the participation of foreign archaeologists in Mexican projects, closed shortly afterwards.

Shortly before the Society closed, and under its auspices, Winnie and Bell organized a visiting group of students in 1974. The weekly English language newspaper in Guadalajara reported that 25 students from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, were spending three weeks at Lake Chapala taking college-level classes for credit. The classes, coordinated by Winnie and his wife, were given by Angelo State faculty members Caroline Haley and Tony Dutton. They included Spanish-language classes connected to Mexican civilization and literature, and classes about the anthropology of pre-Columbian cultures in Western Mexico. The program was well received by local people, with the Chapala mayor hosting a special dinner to celebrate the first program of its kind in the area.

Winnie’s contributions to Ajijic life were not only connected to his academic interests. In 1974, he was on the committee responsible for planning the construction of the Auditorio de la Ribera (Lake Chapala Auditorium) . Other members of the initial committee included Enid McDonald (the Canadian flying pioneer who spearheaded the local fund raising campaign), Hector Marquez, Manuel Pantoja, and Josephine Warren (mother of Chris Luhnow who founded the long-running Traveler’s Guide to Mexico).

According to his colleague Jesús Arroyo Alejandre, Winnie’s most productive period at the University of Guadalajara was between 1979 and 1982. His research during that period resulted in a landmark book about migration in western Mexico: La movilidad demográfica y su incidencia en una región de fuerte emigración: el caso del Occidente de México.

Winnie remained on the faculty of the University of Guadalajara until his death at the age of 59 on 17 January 1988. He was interred as a U.S. Veteran in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

William W. Winnie Jr. : Select Bibliography

  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1958. “The Papaloapan Project: An Experiment in Tropical Development”. Economic Geography, Vol. 34, #3, 1958.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1960. (May 1960). “The Spanish Surname Criterion for Identifying Hispanos in the Southwestern United States: A Preliminary Evaluation”, Social Forces, vol 38 #4, May 1960, pp. 363–366. Oxford University Press.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1961. “La tenencia de la tierra en la Cuenca del Bajo Papaloapan” in HUMANITAS: Anuario del Centro de Estudios Humanísticos. El Centro de Estudios Humanísticos de la Universidad de Nuevo León. 1961 #2, 601-616.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1965. “Communal Land Tenure in Chile”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Mar., 1965), pp. 67-86.
  • William W. Winnie, Jr. 1965. Estimates of Interstate Migration in Mexico, 1950-1960: Data and Methods. (Reprinted from Antropologica no. 14, Caracas, June 1965). Latin American Center, University of California, Los Angeles. 22 pp.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1967. Latin American development; theoretical, sectoral, and operational approaches. Latin American studies, vol 8. Los Angeles: Latin American Center, University of California. 255 pp.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1982. “Variaciones regionales en la fecundidad y la migración en el Estado de Michoacán.” Relaciones (Colegio de Michoacán), vol III, no 10, pp 29-52.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. 1984. La movilidad demográfica y su influencia en una región de fuerte emigración. El caso del Occidente de México. Universidad de Guadalajara, Jal.
  • William W. Winnie Jr., John F. Stegner and Joseph P. Kopachevsky. 1970. Persons of Mexican descent in the United States. Fort Collins: Center for Latin American Studies, Colorado State University. 78 pp.
  • William W. Winnie Jr. and Jesus Arroyo Alejandre (coords.) 1979. La migración en el estado de Jalisco y la zona metropolitana de Guadalajara. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara, Facultad de Economía, Centro de Investigaciones Sociales y Económicas. 181 pp.

Sources:

  • Jesús Arroyo Alejandre. 1988. “William W. Winnie Brown, pionero de la investigación demográfica en el Occidente de México” (Obituary), Relaciones 34, primavera 1988, vol. IX, pp 145-147. Colegio de Michoacán.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. 18 May 1974; 22 June 1974.
  • WorldCat. Winnie, William W. 

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.

Oct 192017
 

Following Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, a renewed emphasis was placed on the gathering of reliable statistics. Officials of the state of Jalisco made several attempts to gather relevant information, primarily in order to better monitor the state’s development. These efforts began with Victoriano Roa (1825) and were continued by Manuel López Cotilla (1843), Longinus Banda (1873) and Mariano Bárcena (1888). These statistical reports may not be as fun to read as travel accounts but are a veritable gold mine of valuable information.

Manuel López Cotilla (1800-1861) was born in Guadalajara. His father, a Spaniard who died in 1816, was a captain in the Royalist army, and hated the insurgents who were fighting for an independent Mexico. At age 18, Manuel López Cotilla contracted tuberculosis, following which he led a reclusive life for many years, dedicating himself to drawing and studying mathematics.

When he entered public life, he became a popular politician and successful educator. He occupied various posts on the city council and in the state government following Independence and was instrumental in reforming primary education. He founded several schools, including the first night school dedicated to adult education. López Cotilla was also responsible for producing noteworthy textbooks, including a handbook of practical geometry for schools. In 1851 he made a formal proposal for the creation of a teacher training college. This proposal was not carried out until long after his death.

Manuel López Cotilla’s statistical account, entitled Noticias geográficas y estadistísticas del Departamento de Jalisco, provides no details about the lake itself, but does include short descriptions, all following a set pattern, of each of the main villages on its shores. By this time, administrative reorganization had resulted in most of the northern shore of Lake Chapala falling into the Third Division – Tlajomulco – of the District of Jalisco. Apart from Tlajomulco itself, which boasted 3,066 inhabitants, the most important village in the district was Jocotepec, as these brief extracts reveal.

Jocotepec, a village located at the western end of Lake Chapala, is the seat of the curacy and receives payments. It has a justice of the peace, a municipal school and 2,742 inhabitants dedicated to farming, fishing and manufacturing. Its municipal fund produced in 1840 the sum of 456 pesos and 3 reales. It is 16 leagues from Guadalajara and 8½ leagues SSE of Tlajomulco.

San Cristóbal Zapotitlán, similarly situated on the shore of lake Chapala and belonging to the parish of Jocotepec, has a population of 735 inhabitants mainly working in farming, fishing and making mats (petates or esteras). It is 12 leagues SE, ¼ S. of Tlajomulco and 20 from Guadalajara.

San Juan Cosalá, situated like the previous villages, has 667 inhabitants dedicated to farming, fishing and the manufacture of equipales, which are low round seats, with or without high backs, and very commonly used in the country. Its climate is warm compared to its neighbors; it has a justice of the peace and belongs ecclesiastically to the parish of Jocotepec. It is 14 leagues from the capital of the District and 9 SE, ¼ S from Tlajomulco.

San Andrés Ajijic, with 954 inhabitants dedicated to the same jobs as the previous village and whose location and climate it shares, belongs to the curacy of Jocotepec and has a justice of the peace. Its distance from Guadalajara is 15 leagues and from Tlajomulco 11 SE, ¼ E leaning towards the SE

San Antonio Tlayacapan is in similar circumstances to the previous village, except for the occupation of its inhabitants, who number 423, and their dedication to only farming and fishing. It is 14 leagues from the District capital and 12 SE, ¼ E from Tlajomulco.

Chapala is the village that gives its name to the extensive lake that bathes the shores. It is the seat of a curacy, sub-office for payments, has a justice of the peace and 1,029 inhabitants employed mainly in fishing, farming and the cultivation of orchards. It is 14½ leagues from Guadalajara and 12½ ESE of Tlajomulco. Its municipal fund produced in 1840 the sum of 46 pesos 1 real.

Manuel López Cotilla retired in 1855 on the grounds of ill-health and died on 27 October 1861. His remains now repose in the Rotunda of Illustrious Jaliscienses in downtown Guadalajara, overlooked by a fine commemorative statue.

This profile is based on an extract from chapter 22 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.

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 122017
 

Horace Sutton (1919-1991), one of the most prolific and well-known American travel writers of all time, and the creator of the term “jet lag”, visited and reported on Chapala in 1970.

Sutton was a lifelong travel journalist and editor. He began his career, before the second world war, in the advertising department of The New York Post. During the war he worked in Army Intelligence and then returned to The Post as a reporter and travel writer.

He joined the Saturday Review in the late 1940s, and remained there for more than 30 years, first as travel editor and then as editorial director. He also founded travel sections for Sports Illustrated and McCall’s. In the 1980s he served as the editor of Citicorp’s Signature magazine (1981-1985) and editor-in-chief of Citicorp Publishing Company (1984-1987).

As author of a syndicated column, Sutton traveled more than 100,000 miles a year, not only to popular destinations and resorts but also to some of the most remote areas of the planet. His work was published in dozens of newspapers and magazines. In 1960, at the peak of his career, Sutton was profiled for Time magazine in “The Press: The Traveling Press”, shortly after returning from Tahiti:

In the musette bag of red-haired Horace Sutton are Dramamine tablets, bug spray, a ten-bladed Swiss army knife, cable cards, swimming trunks, traveler’s checks—and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of paregoric. These are the tools of Sutton’s profession: he is a travel writer, working for newspapers and magazines in an age when more and more of the world’s citizens are excursioning to more and more foreign countries.”

But perhaps his most enduring contribution to the world of travel was his coining of the term “jet lag”, which he first used in a 1966 piece in the Los Angeles Times when jet passenger service was barely 14 years old. Sutton explained that jet lag was “a debility not unakin to a hangover” and derived “from the simple fact that jets travel so fast they leave your body rhythms behind.” The phenomenon had previously been known as time zone syndrome.

Sutton won numerous accolades for his travel writing, as well an award from the Overseas Press Club for his coverage of a military counter-coup in Indonesia in 1965.

His eleven books included a series for Rinehart that included Footloose in France (1948); Footloose in Canada (1950); Footloose in Italy (1950); and Footloose in Switzerland (1952). In addition he wrote Confessions of a Grand Hotel: The Waldorf-Astoria (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1953); Sutton’s Places (Holt, 1954); Aloha, Hawaii;: The new United Air Lines guide to the Hawaiian Islands (Doubleday, 1967); Travelers, the American Tourist from Stagecoach to Space Shuttle (William Morrow, August, 1980); The Beverly Wilshire Hotel: Its Life and Times (1989).

In his 1970 article, “Chapala is Retiree’s Dream – Cost of Living Big Attraction” (sic), Sutton described the town of Chapala – “a settlement of 7,000, Mexicans and Americans included” – as “the heart of the hammock and siesta country, a prime center for lollers, yawners and retirees”, where “more than 10 per cent of all the residents are retired citizens down from the U.S. of A.”

He claimed that “nearly 20,000 American retirees are nesting along the fringes of Lake Chapala, a balmy pool that is 70 miles long, 20 miles wide and a mile high. The weather is peachy.”

Everyday prices were very favorable compared to prices back home since “shoeshines that now cost 50 cents in midtown urban centers up north, are 8 cents.” Haircuts were 48 cents (compared to $2.50 up north), a bottle of spirits was $1.25 and a cook-maid might cost $30 a month. The average rent was, according to Sutton, under $100 a month, with the highest $240.

In nearby Ajijic, “once selected by bands of hippies”, Sutton found that most- Americans stayed at the American-operated Posada Ajijic, where they could dine for $2, and shopped at El Angel for stonework, embroidery and other “hand-turned works of the native citizenry.”

Sutton’s other pieces related to Mexico include articles about Acapulco and Guadalajara.

After a lifetime of travel and reporting, Horace Sutton died at his home in Manhattan on 26 October 1991 at the age of 72.

Sources:

  • Hofstra University (Hempstead, New York). Sutton, Horace, 1919-1991. Papers, c. 1948-1991. Special Collections Department.
  • Rebecca Maksel. 2008.”When did the term “jet lag” come into use?“, airspacemag.com (Air & Space, Smithosonian), 17 June 2008.
  • Frank J. Prial. “Horace Sutton, 72, Magazine Columnist And Travel Author” (Obituary), in New York Times, 28 October 1991.
  • Horace Sutton. 1966. “Jet Set Living has its Perils”, Los Angeles Times, 13 Feburary 1966.
  • Horace Sutton. 1968. “Acapulco: Golden Nest for Tourists”, Chicago Tribune, 7 April 1968.
  • Horace Sutton. 1970. “Murals, Mariachis. Colorful Guadalajara.” Chicago Tribune, 15 November 1970.
  • Horace Sutton. 1970. “Chapala is Retiree’s Dream – Cost of Living Big Attraction”, in Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 15 November 1970, p 30
  • Time magazine. “The Press: The Traveling Press”, in Time, Monday, 4 July 1960.
Oct 052017
 

Author, playwright and lecturer Vance Bourjaily (1922-2010) lived in Ajijic during the summer of 1951. We know from Michael Hargraves that Bourjaily completed a play there, entitled The Quick Years that was performed off-Broadway two years later. But the most interesting of Bourjaily’s works from a Lake Chapala perspective is one that was never published. The Lions and the Tigers is a verse play about the Ajijic literary and artistic colony, written after he had left the area. This play, a copy of which is preserved in the library of Bourjaily’s alma mater – Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine – will be the subject of a future post.

Vance Nye Bourjaily was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on 17 September 1922. Writing was in his blood: his father was a journalist and his mother wrote feature articles and romance novels. After high school Bourjaily attended Bowdoin College in Maine, but his studies were interrupted by the second world war. Bourjaily enlisted in 1942 and served as an ambulance driver for the American Field Service in Syria, Egypt and Italy (1942-1944) and then as an infantryman in the U.S. Army in Japan (1944-1946).

He completed his B.A. degree and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1947. He had already been commissioned to write a novel about a young man coping with the experiences of war. This first novel, The End of My Life (1947), established Bourjaily’s reputation as a fine writer. In his influential book, After the Lost Generation: A Critical Study of the Writers of Two Wars, John Aldridge compared Bourjaily to Fitzgerald and Hemingway:

“No book since ‘This Side of Paradise’ has caught so well the flavor of youth in wartime, and no book since ‘A Farewell to Arms’ has contained so complete a record of the loss of that youth in war.”

Bourjaily’s later novels explored other great American themes, though none of them garnered the same degree of praise as his debut novel.

During the summer of 1951, Bourjaily stayed at “the now defunct Posada Navarro, run by Doña Feliz” in Ajijic (Hargraves). He also spent part of the summer in Mexico City. Bourjaily was a close friend of novelist and creative writing teacher Willard Marsh, who lived at Lake Chapala, on and off, for two decades.

Katie Goodridge Ingram, whose family lived in Ajijic at the time, remembers Bourjaily as an accomplished jazz musician who played his cornet alongside professional trumpet player Harry Cook. (The protagonist in his novel The Great Fake Book (1986) is an amateur jazz cornetist).

Vance Bourjaily in the 1960s. Credit: patricktreardon.com

Vance Bourjaily in the 1960s. Credit: patricktreardon.com

Immediately after Ajijic, Bourjaily and John W. Aldridge co-founded (and co-edited) Discovery, an anthology of “Outstanding Short Stories, Poems & Essays” published from 1952 to 1955. The first issue included a piece by Norman Mailer, as well as a story entitled “Confessions of an American Marijuana Smoker” by “U.S.D. Quincy” (Ulysses Snow Davids Quincy), a pen name adopted by Bourjaily after the name he had given the story’s protagonist. Bourjaily later wrote several stories under his own name about Quincy for The New Yorker, including “The Fractional Man: A Confession of U.S.D. Quincy” (August 1960) and “Quincy At Yale; A Confession” (October 1960).

An article by Allyn Hunt alerted me to the fact that the fourth issue (1954) of Discovery included “The only beast: an essay”, a story about Jocotepec by poet and translator Lysander Kemp, who had moved to that Lake Chapala town the previous year and lived there until the mid-1960s.

Front cover of Girl in the Abstract Bed

Front cover of Girl in the Abstract Bed

It was also in 1954 when a curious limited edition children’s book by Bourjaily entitled The Girl in the Abstract Bed (New York: Tiber Press) was published. Tobias Schneebaum (an artist-explorer who had been in Ajijic at the same time as Bourjaily) contributed the illustrations, which were real silkscreen prints of watercolors that were tipped in to the unbound book.The book’s title came from the name of an abstract painting that Schneebaum had done for Vance and his first wife, Tina, to beautify the headboard of their daughter Anna’s crib.

Bourjaily’s text is delightfully whimsical. The book opens as follows:

“There once was a girl
named Nicole Pennsylvania Snow
who, when she was ten months old,
slept in an abstract bed
designed and decorated for her by a famous artist.”

Double-page spread from Girl in the Abstract Bed

Double-page spread from Girl in the Abstract Bed

The book ends when “Reactionary Grandmother” (above, right) drags Nicole away from the Danish tableware, Mother Proust stories, and Lait au lait and into the sunshine, where “DADA” and “jane” learn that “our baby is primitive, after all.”

Bourjaily’s summer in Ajijic was not the only time he was in Mexico. He returned several years later to work on archaeological digs in Mexico City and Oaxaca with Ignacio Bernal and John Paddock. This experience became the backdrop for his novel Brill Among the Ruins (1970), which is about how Vietnam-era turmoil affects a middle-aged Midwestern lawyer.

When he lived in San Francisco, Bourjaily was a feature writer for The San Francisco Chronicle. When he moved to New York, he wrote stage reviews for The Village Voice.

He left New York in 1957 to become an instructor at the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. He was an associate professor at that institution 1960-1964, 1966-1967, 1971-1972. He was also on the faculty of the University of Arizona in Tucson, as a visiting professor, 1977-78, and then as a full professor, 1980-85. Bourjaily was also the founding director of the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at Louisiana State University.

Bourjaily’s works of fiction, mostly published by Dial Press in New York, include: The End of My Life (1947); The Hound of the Earth (1955); The Violated (1958); Confessions of a Spent Youth (I960); The Man Who Knew Kennedy (1967); Now Playing at Canterbury (1976); A Game Men Play (1980); The Great Fake Book (1986) and Old Soldier (1990).

His non-fiction books include The Unnatural Enemy (1963) and Country Matters: Collected Reports from the Fields and Streams of Iowa and Other Places (1973).

Bourjaily’s first marriage, in 1947 to Bettina Yensen, with whom he had three children, ended in divorce. In 1985, he married Yasmin Mogul, a former student, with whom he had a son.

Bourjaily died in Greenbrae, California, on 31 August 2010 at the age of 87.

Acknowledgments

  • My thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing her memories of Vance Bourjaily.

Sources:

  • John W. Aldridge. 1951. After the Lost Generation: A Critical Study of the Writers of Two Wars.
  • Vance Bourkaily. 1954. The Girl in the Abstract Bed. (New York: Tiber Press) Illustrations by Tobias Schneebaum.
  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A literary survey; plus an historical overview with some personal observations and reflections of this lakeside area of Jalisco, Mexico. (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).
  • Allyn Hunt. 2008. “Writers On The Lam In Mexico: For Many, Ken Kesey Came Late And A Bit Too Noisily, But For Totally U.” Guadalajara Reporter, 29 March 2008.
  • Tobias Schneebaum. 2000. Secret Places. My life in New York and New Guinea. University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Bruce Weber. 2010. “Vance Bourjaily, Novelist Exploring Postwar America, Dies at 87” New York Times, 3 September 2010.

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 142017
 

Journalist-adventurer Don Hogan was one of the more extraordinary characters who lived in Ajijic in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While there is no evidence he wrote anything of significance while living in the village, several people certainly later wrote about him, not always in a very complimentary manner. Stories about Hogan’s life are commonplace but hard facts difficult to find. Inevitably, therefore, this brief profile of him begs as many questions as it answers.

Hogan arrived in Ajijic with his wife and two children in the late 1960s and lived in the village for about two years. In May 1971, he was one of the organizers, along with Beth Avary and Peter Huf, of a large group art show, Fiesta de Arte, held at the residence of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic). None of the 30 or so artists [1] who took part in this show, or the 500 or so viewers, could have guessed that barely three months later Hogan’s life would end in tragedy.

Donald William Hogan was born in New York City to William Anthony and Marie (Joule) Hogan of Greenwich, Connecticut, on 20 September 1928.

Hogan married Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris (1932-1985) in Farmington, Connecticut on 14 November 1953. “Betsy” Hogan had graduated from Vassar College that year and was an active feminist. As a writer, producer, and broadcaster, she specialized in themes related to the status of women and women’s equity and later founded Betsy Hogan Associates which arranged equal employment opportunity seminars for public and private sector organizations.

Don and Betsy Hogan had at least one child, a daughter, born in about 1956. They later divorced and Don Hogan married Kulla Kuusk. Kuusk, born in Estonia, graduated from Vassar in 1955. Don and Kulla Hogan had two children: a daughter born in about 1960 and a son in about 1962.

Early in his career, Don Hogan worked as a journalist for The Boston Post before taking a job as assistant city editor of the New York Herald Tribune. While at The Boston Post, Hogan, ever an adventurer, had uncovered a story about an unknown soldier trapped in a hospital with amnesia, which became the basis for an NBC “Big Story” dramatization in 1956.

At the New York Herald Tribune, Hogan reported on a variety of significant events, including the arrest on a vagrancy charge in 1958 of someone “identified by the cognoscenti as a racketeer of international importance”: Meyer Lansky. [Coincidentally, Meyer Lansky’s grandson later married the granddaughter of American artist John K. Peterson, who was living in Ajijic at the same time as Hogan and undoubtedly knew him quite well.]

Not long afterwards, Hogan and fellow journalist Peter Braestrup investigated New York’s clothing industry and were shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for their series exposing racketeering in the New York garment industry.

Peter Huf recalls how Hogan told him that in pursuit of another story – one about a society murder – he had arranged for a fireman’s ladder to be positioned so he could reach the cell window of a woman being held in police custody to get an exclusive interview with her about the crime.

Hogan’s family had links to sugar estates in pre-Castro Cuba, and his brother, Tony Hogan, was a sugar broker with offices at 120 Wall Street, New York.

In the later stages of the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959), Don Hogan therefore found himself ideally placed to write about events on the island and used his press credentials to gain access to Fidel Castro and the rebels fighting Batista. In 1957, Hogan spent 12 days living with the rebels, much of the time with Castro’s troops, and wrote about his experiences for the U.S. and foreign press. New York lawyer and investment banker Richard Coulson visited Hogan in Havana and later wrote that Hogan, “had covered Fidel’s campaign from the guerrilla skirmishes in the Sierra Maestre to victory in the streets of Havana.”

Once Castro’s government was in power in January 1959, Hogan accepted a job as the public relations manager for Cuba’s Sugar Stabilization Institute, working alongside its head, Alberto Fernández. A year later, Hogan’s position was abolished and he returned to New York.

During his time in Havana, Hogan had made contacts with an FBI informant and had also developed CIA connections. Joan Mellen, the author of The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution (2016) writes that Hogan was a CIA informant from mid-1960. The CIA were especially interested in the activities of Alberto Fernández, and encouraged Hogan to make regular reports on his activities, while later recognizing, according to one source quoted by Mellen, that Hogan was “somewhat unscrupulous and hazardous from a security standpoint.”

A year later, back in New York, Hogan was regarded by the CIA’s Bernard Reichhardt as an “undesirable hanger-on”. Mellen says that Reichhardt received a full biography of Hogan in May 1961 and “knew that Hogan had been “thrice married”, had been suspended from the New York Herald Tribune at the time it faced a strike and had taken on a job to write a history of Castro’s 26th of July Movement.”

By all accounts, Hogan did complete his book which, according to Peter Huf, was anti-Castro. However, he was unable to find a willing publisher.

After his Cuban adventures, Hogan does not appear to have remained in New York for very long. According to the various versions of his life he shared with acquaintances in Ajijic, he spent several years in South America, dividing his time between the sophisticated social elite in Buenos Aires (a city he loved) and trying to make a fortune from a sawmill he owned in Peru.

Hogan was still convinced his book about Cuba would one day make him rich but in the meantime appears to have lived on a modest monthly remittance – $700 according to Jerry Murray – from his father in the U.S. and had to borrow additional funds to maintain his accustomed lifestyle, while hoping his luck would change. His wife, Kulla (usually known in Ajijic as “Kulale” and thought by locals to be Hawaiian), took a job with Helen Kirtland in her loom business to help make ends meet.

In his thinly disguised autobiographical account of life in Ajijic at this time, Henry Edwards describes “John Hamilton” (Hogan) as arriving in the village with his wife and their two youngsters after losing all his money in a logging venture in Peru expropriated by the government. Hamilton, over six feet tall with a “boxer’s frame”, had thick blonde hair and blue eyes. He “habitually wore a hunting jacket (tan with shell pockets), big leather lace-up boots, tan jungle pants and a leather belt.” He also regularly carried a gun and hunted in the mountains.

As family finances collapsed, Hogan became more desperate and decided to risk drug dealing. He borrowed money to buy a substantial stash of marijuana but had several guns pulled on him once he handed over the cash and never did get any weed. A few weeks later, after borrowing another $20,000, Hogan tried again, this time taking a weapon with him, prepared to use it to enforce the deal. This attempt went horribly wrong. No sooner did he reach for his gun than the drug dealers shot him dead. It was 21 August 1971.

This is the version of his death as recalled by several people who were in Ajijic at the time, who say he died “across the lake”, with some mentioning the states of Michoacán and Guerrero. Jerry Murray, for example, has written that Hogan died in the state of Guerrero while trying to make a deal for “a strain of mota renowned as Acapulco gold.”

The true story may be less prosaic. According to a brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter, Hogan had died “in his pick-up car near Tequila… Police said that he had apparently suffered a bullet wound in one arm but that was not the cause of death.”

Even after his death, controversy dogged Hogan. He was buried in the southern section of Ajijic cemetery in grave marked by a “five-feet-tall crucifix made of black marble” (Murray), paid for by his father. Unfortunately, the following year, a hotel developer’s bulldozer plowed through the area, desecrating many graves, including those of novelist Willard Marsh and journalist and adventurer Donald Hogan.

Note:

[1] The list of exhibitors who took part in the Fiesta de Art in 1971 reads like a Who’s Who of artists in Ajijic at the time. It includes 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; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Acknowledgement

  • My sincere thanks to Peter Huf and Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing their memories of Donald Hogan with me.

Sources:

  • Richard Coulson. 2014. A Corkscrew Life. iUniverse.
  • Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), 18 October 1956, p 57.
  • Henry F. Edwards. 2008. Sweet Bird of Youth. BookSurge Publishing.
  • Heinz-D Fischer and Erika J. Fischer, 2003. Complete Historical Handbook of the Pulitzer Prize System 1917-2000. Walter de Gruyter.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 22 May 1971; 28 August 1971
  • Harvard University Library. Papers of Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris Hogan, 1971-1976: A Finding Aid.
  • Don Hogan. 1958. “Watchdogs Call Lansky for Quiz on Apalachin”, New York Herald Tribune, 13 February 1958, p 17.
  • Don Hogan. 1957. “The Rebellion in Cuba”, Kingston Gleaner (Jamaica), 16 December 1957, p 12.
  • Don Hogan and Peter Braestrup. 1959. “Dress Union Shares in Blame for Rackets.” New York Herald Tribune, 30 June 1958, p 1.
  • Joan Mellen. 2016. The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution. Skyhorse Publishing.
  • Jerry Murray. 2002. “The Devil’s Weed, Orgasmic Days, y Laguna Lust“. -e*I*3- (Vol. 1 No. 3) July 2002.
  • Jerry Murray. 2008. “Slodge“. e*I*40 (Vol. 7 No. 5), October 2008.
  • Stephen Woodbridge. “Woodbridge Family Tree.” [http://swoodbridge.com/family/Woodbridge/index.php?indi=I1500, 14 Sep 2017]

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.

Aug 172017
 

Michael Hargraves is a writer of screenplays, literary surveys, bibliographies and literary criticism. He was a frequent visitor to Lake Chapala in the 1970s and 1980s, usually staying for two or three months at a time.

He is included in this on-going series of profiles because in 1992, he self-published a 48-page booklet entitled Lake Chapala: A literary survey; plus an historical overview with some personal observations and reflections of this lakeside area of Jalisco, Mexico. The book was dedicated to Robert and Eileen Bassing. Hargraves included brief biographies of about forty different authors and artists who lived and worked at Lake Chapala. Most of the characters mentioned were active in the 1950s or 1960s.

The book has proved to be a valuable starting point for my own attempts to document the history of the artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala. Curiously, however, I have failed to find out much about Michael Hargraves himself beyond what can be gleaned from his book about Lake Chapala.

According to the bio in the book, Michael Hargraves was born on 29 February 1952 at Jacksonville, Florida. His mother died when he was only eleven years old. He registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam conflict, attended the University of Florida, and graduated in 1974 with a B.S. in broadcast journalism/cinema.

The story behind Hargraves’ first visit to Mexico, believed to be the summer before he entered the University of Florida, involves a personal tragedy. As he tells it,

“My introduction to the South of the Border came about due to a busted, never-to-be-consummated marriage to a Japanese woman, whom I had met years earlier in San Francisco and reconnected with in Paris during a much needed sojourn. She did herself in after I caught her in the sack with her Japanese boss. I returned home to ponder my life, my future.”

On his return to the U.S., he was asked by a friend, the famed Scottish novelist and screenwriter Alan Sharp (1934-2013), if he would fly down to Mexico, go to Tlaquepaque, and collect some handicrafts Sharp had purchased while visiting Mexico in 1970 for the soccer World Cup.

The lure of a round-trip ticket and expenses was sufficient to convince Hargraves to accept the offer. He stayed a few days in Guadalajara, but took an almost instant dislike to the city. After he had made arrangement to collect the handicrafts, he still had a few days to relax and explore. While viewing the Orozco murals in the Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara, he met an American couple who extolled the virtues of Lake Chapala, so Hargraves took a bus down to Chapala and stayed there for a day or two. He enjoyed this initial visit and returned several times over the next decade, usually for two or three months at a time.

“The best thing about my times at Chapala has been the solitude. Naturally you can be with people there, with good options: all Americans, all Mexicans, or a combination of the two. However, my biggest pleasure comes from being anonymous. Over the years I have befriended all types. But not having lived there for a true extended period, say for a year or so, I can come and go as I please, do what I want, think what I will, see what I want. I don’t know if my love for Chapala would be the same if I felt like a “prisoner” there, like many of the retired Americans or the poverty-stricken Mexicans.”

Hargraves has written numerous books and screenplays and has catalogued several major collections of rare books and photographs.

His published works include: Henry Miller Bibliography with Discography (1980); Triple-Decker Kiosk (poetry) (1981); Harry Crews: A First Bibliography (1981); The Hamlet Additions: The Unpublishing of The Henry Miller-Michael Fraenkel Book of Correspondence called Hamiet (1981); Times, Things Change (poetry) (1983); Eight Obscure Literary Autographs (1983); Harry Crews: A Bibliography (revised edition) (1986); Robert Gover: A Descriptive Bibliography (1987); Henry Miller’s Hamiet Letters (1988).

Hargraves’ screenplays include Kiki of Montpamasse (with Frederick Kohner) (1977); Confusión (with Jacques Tati) (1978); The Man Who Thought He Was Groucho (based upon the novel Madder Music by Peter De Vries) (1980); Overkill [1982); Love in the Ruins (based upon the novel by Walker Percy) [1983); Murder City (based upon the novel by Oakley Hall) (1984); Coming Into Focus (1985); Restaurant: The Motion Picture (1992).

Hargraves also published some limited edition works, including Ishmaelite Scrolls by Benjamin Barry Hollander (1979); The Cagliostro Arcane by Jack Hirschman (1981); Bring Me the Head of Rona Barrett by Robert Gover (1981); A Chapter from Blind Tongues by Sterling Watson (1983); Tropico, the City Beautiful. Photographs by Edward Weston (Facsimile edition) (1986).

Source:

  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A literary survey; plus an historical overview with some personal observations and reflections of this lakeside area of Jalisco, Mexico. (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves). 48 pp.

As always, 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.

Jul 312017
 

Watercolorist, etcher and illustrator Elbridge Gerry Peirce Jr., more usually known simply as Gerry Peirce, was born in Jamestown, New York on 3 June 1900 and died in Tucson, Arizona, on 16 March 1969.

Peirce visited Ajijic in the mid-1940s, and may have been there more than once since he is known to have made several trips to Mexico. His visit to Ajijic, believed to be in 1945, was recorded by American author Neill James who had settled in the village a year or two previously: “Gary Pierce [sic], director of an art school in New Mexico, visited our village and executed many delicate water colors and engravings.” (Modern Mexico, October 1945). Despite the misspelling, and the fact that the art school that he directed was actually in Arizona, there is absolutely no doubt that James was writing about Gerry Peirce. Sadly, the whereabouts of his paintings and engravings of Ajijic remain a mystery.

Peirce graduated from the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) in 1925, and also studied at the Art Student’s League in New York City. He married his childhood sweetheart, Priscilla, and the couple moved to Nova Scotia, Canada, where Peirce began to execute etchings and engravings.

Gerry Peirce. Desert Rock. Undated.

Gerry Peirce. Desert Rock. Undated.

After Canada, Peirce and his wife lived and worked in New Orleans. His time in New Orleans is particularly noteworthy because he was one of the co-organizers and charter members of the New Orleans Art League in December 1929. The other organizers were Harry Armstrong Nolan (1891-1929), Gideon Townsend Stanton (1885-1964), William Weeks Hall (1895-1958) and Henry Costello. By coincidence, Gideon Townsend Stanton also had close family links to Chapala: his maternal grandparents had a holiday home there for several years at the very end of the nineteenth century.

This early dry point, The Cat, is one of several dry points gifted by Peirce to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1934:

Gerry Peirce. The Cat. 1932. Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art.

Gerry Peirce. The Cat. 1932. Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art.

In the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, Peirce and his wife lived in various places, including Florida, Cuba, Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, where Peirce established a commercial art studio, producing cards for Cartier and Tiffany & Co. Later, the Peirces moved to Colorado and began to spend winters in Arizona, eventually making their home in Tucson, Arizona, in the mid-1930s. Peirce opened an atelier (“The Print Room”) in Tucson in 1934 and continued to produce wonderful dry point engravings. He also turned his hand to books.

Writing as “Percival Stutters”, Peirce wrote and illustrated at least two children’s books: How Percival Caught the Tiger (1936) and How Percival Caught the Python (1937), both published by Holiday House. Peirce also drew the black and white illustrations for Plants of Sun and Sand: The Desert Growth of Arizona, which had short texts by Stanford Stevens and was published by The Print Room, Tucson, in 1939. The original edition of that particular book is highly distinctive since it had a plywood cover.

Gerry Peirce. Untitled watercolor. Unknown date.

Gerry Peirce. Untitled watercolor. Unknown date.

At about this time, a sketching trip with Stevens turned out to have a momentous impact on Peirce’s subsequent art career. As Peirce later recalled:

One day I was looking at a scene Stan was doing and wondered why he had picked out that particular spot. Why paint that I asked? His reply, “Because it has such a beautiful color,” jolted me right out of everything I’d been doing for the past twelve years. I realized that I was no longer seeing a landscape with its colors, but in terms of the black and white of etchings. I saw that even my etchings were becoming flat no longer suggesting the color of things.”

Though he never stopped producing his exquisite engravings, after Peirce picked up a brush and watercolors, he never looked back. He soon gained recognition as one of the country’s leading watercolorists. He was also a fine teacher and his studio-classroom attracted students from all across the country. In 1947, the Tucson Watercolor Guild was organized to provide a permanent studio and classroom space for Peirce to continue his work. His teaching career was curtailed by a heart attach in 1967.

In later life, Peirce wrote two non-fiction works: Creative You (The Print Room, 1954) and Painting the southwest landscape in watercolor (Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1961).

Peirce’s timeless portrayals of the Arizona desert and his tireless efforts to help others see the beauty he saw helped shape Tucson into the artistic center of Arizona.

From Arizona, Peirce made several sorties into Mexico. The wonderful collection of prints, published by The Print Room in 1969 as The drawings of Mexico, included images of San Miguel de Allende; Marfil and La Valenciana (both in Guanajuato); and of Tzintzuntzan (Michoacán). By this time, Peirce was no longer completing watercolors en plein air but was making quick pencil sketches or rapid watercolor impressions in the field to serve as memory aids for his final paintings done back in the studio.

A contemporary reviewer described the collection as “a portfolio of reproductions of pencil drawings made by Gerry Peirce in Mexico, a country he visits frequently and understands. This understanding and his affection for the country and its people are reflected in every sensitive line and shading of these outstanding drawings.”

Gerry Peirce. Nogales hillside. Undated.

Gerry Peirce. Nogales hillside. Undated.

Peirce was a frequent exhibitor wherever he lived and a member of the Society of American Etchers, the Chicago Society of Etchers, and the California Print Makers. Note that the oft-repeated claim in contemporary newspaper accounts that Peirce had been awarded an honorary doctorate in art by “St. Andrews University College in London” can not be substantiated since there is no record of any institution of that name, though it is possible that Peirce was granted an honorary degree by St. Andrew’s University in Scotland.

Peirce’s work is in numerous museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harvard’s Fogg Museum; the Boston Museum of Fine Art; the Library of Congress; Joslyn Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; the J.P. Speed Memorial Museum (now Speed Art Museum) in Louisville, Kentucky; Denver Art Museum; Arizona Museum of Art; Tucson Museum of Art; the Mobile Museum of Art; Cleveland Museum of Art; University of Arizona Art Museum; and the New Mexico Museum of Art.

In 1980, more than a decade after Peirce’s death, a retrospective exhibition of his watercolors and etchings was held at the Kay Bonfoey Studio and Gallery in Tucson. Bonfoey, one of his former students, had purchased the adobe-and-redwood building that had formerly been Peirce’s studio and classroom space after his death to run her own gallery, and to continue the legacy of the Tucson Watercolor Guild. Interviewed at the time, Bonfoey said that Peirce was:

… a unique human being. He wasn’t just a teacher of art, he was a philosopher, a thinker. No two classes were ever the same, the explorations were always different, always … well, awesome. He constantly looked into the relationship between nature and art. Nature was the base for everything he saw in his paintings, in other people’s work, in life around him.”

A fitting tribute to one of America’s great twentieth-century watercolorists.

Sources:

  • Arizona Highways Magazine. 1945. “Gerry Peirce”. Volume 21, 1945.
  • Art Life magazine. “Biography of Gerry Peirce”. Art Life magazine.
  • Arnold Elliott. 1951. Tucson Festival of the Arts, Exhibition Catalogue, March 25-April 8, 1951.
  • Judith H. Bonner. 2011. “New Orleans Art League.” Article dated 23 May 2011 in Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities).
  • Peter H. Falk (ed). 1985. Who was who in American art, 1564-1975.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • John Peck. 1980. “Late artist Peirce comes home.” Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), 11 May 1980, p 75.
  • Peggy and Harold Samuels. 1985. Encyclopedia of Artists of The American West. Castle Books.
  • Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona). 15 October 1960, p 12; 1 September 1965, p 15; 13 August 1966, p 29; 17 March 1969, p 22 (obituary).
  • Warren Times Mirror (Warren, Pennsylvania), 11 December 1934, p 5; 11 March 1939, p 2; 1 August 1939, p 8; 16 March 1949, p 4.

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.

Jul 272017
 

Dr. George Carpenter Barker (1912-1958) was an anthropologist, author, editor and translator.

What makes Barker a worthy inclusion in our series of mini-biographies of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala is his editing and translation of a performance of a nativity play or pastorela in the village churchyard that he saw on Christmas morning 1948.

Barker was visiting Chapala in the company of Hugh S. Lowther, Professor Emeritus of Classical Languages at Occidental College, Los Angeles, and his wife, María López de Lowther, Assistant Professor of Spanish, Emeritus, at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The trio of academics witnessed the play which was performed outdoors, with no platform, stage or curtain and lasted about two and a half hours. The cast of about twenty performers, mostly teenage boys and girls, was “surrounded by a crowd of spectators, all but a handful of whom were Mexican people. Some of the men in the audience sat or stood on top of a high wall enclosing the churchyard, and small boys perched on branches of a tree overlooking the performers. Several women stood throughout the performance with infants strapped to their backs. To prevent the audience from pressing in too close upon the cast, the hermit periodically patrolled the circle with his flagelot poised to swat any overbold onlooker.”

The shepherds and shepherdesses “were beautifully dressed in flowing white robes and carried long staves or crooks brilliantly festooned with ribbons, bells, and paper flowers.”

Excluding short choral interludes, “the only break in the performance occurred when the bells in the church towers directly overhead pealed out the call to High Mass. The noise was so deafening that even the chorus could not be heard. To fill the gap, the hermit improvised a clever pantomime, alternately sopping his ears and shaking his fists at the bells, much to the delight of the audience.”

After the performance, Barker was able to obtain “the old copybook containing the long-hand Spanish text… from the play’s ensayador, or rehearser, Aristeo Flores, who also played the part of Lucifer in the production. Flores was a shopkeeper about forty-five years of age who lived in the neighboring village of El Salto. He told Mrs. Lowther and me that he had transcribed the text [in about 1914] when he was a schoolboy in the village of Ocotlán, Jalisco. He said he was aided by his schoolmaster and by old people in the village in writing down the lines of the play.”

Barker’s 167-page translation and analysis was published as The shepherds’ play of the prodigal son: A folk drama of Old Mexico (University of California Publications: Folklore Studies, No. 2, Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. California Press, 1953).

This work was described in a review by Frank Goodwyn in Western Folklore (1954, p 220):

This is an unusually full and well-written version of the nativity play traditionally given on Christmas morning in Spanish-speaking countries…. Barker has made a close translation of the play and presented it in parallel text, thus making it intelligible to the English-speaking reader without losing the flavor of the original tongue. Barker concludes that “this version is more Mexican than Spanish”. “There is also a description of the play’s presentation on Christmas morning, 1948, at Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, from the manuscript which Barker subsequently obtained and reproduced.”

Publicity material accompanying the book’s release described it as, “containing the text of an old Mexican folk drama”… [that] “belongs to class of religious folk dramas introduced into Mexico in the sixteenth century. They were patterned after the Miracle Plays produced in western Europe during the Middle Ages”.

Barker’s account of the nativity play at Chapala is far from the earliest reference to the peculiarities of Christmas festivities in Chapala. For example, celebrated anthropologist Frederick Starr, who visited Chapala several times, described what he termed a “Passion Play”, the Pastores (Shepherds), that he had witnessed in December 1895. Starr considered the performance to be “probably entirely foreign” compared to Tastoanes and Conquista which combined Indian and imported elements. According to Starr, “The play is fairly recent at Chapala. Only a few years ago a young fellow from the village saw it at some other town; he learned it by heart and trained his band of actors. This illustrates the way in which dramas travel – even in Mexico – from town to town.”

In 1947, the year before Barker visited Chapala, Norman Pelham Wright had published Mexican Kaleidoscope, in which he argued that the words of what he called the Chapala Christmas dance were “sheer gibberish”:

“The traditional dances themselves are in most cases hopelessly corrupt. The formal Spanish blank verse which is orated at the Chapala Christmas dance, for instance, is sheer gibberish, which has been passed on verbally from one generation to another, and never entrusted to writing; in the dance, Malinche is confused with the Virgin Mary, Moctezuma with Pontius Pilate, and Hernán Cortés with Christ, in a weird jumble of ideas relating both to the Conquest and to the life of our Lord. There is no reason to suppose that the music has not suffered similarly.”

carpenter-george-c

It is tempting to speculate that perhaps Barker wanted to judge the authenticity of the play in Chapala for himself after reading Wright’s words which surely would have made any anthropologist interested in Mexican traditions curious to learn more.

Barker concluded from his detailed textual analysis that the pastorela he had seen and analyzed incorporated numerous elements from Europe and was among the least corrupt of the thirteen pastorelas previously recorded from Mexico or the southwestern part of the U.S. Even so, it was “largely of Mexican origin”, as evidenced by references in the play to such things as pulque, tacos, baúles de colaciones (Christmas sweetmeats), coyote, tepejuage, birria and panela.

Barker’s parents were California artist and art teacher George Barker (1882-1965) and his wife Olive Carpenter. George Carpenter Barker gained a degree in history from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and an MS degree in journalism from Columbia University, before completing his masters and doctorate degrees in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

He received his PhD in 1947 and then worked as a research associate in the Department of Anthropology, at the University of Arizona from 1947 to 1948. From 1950, until his death, he was a research associate in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at UCLA.

At UCLA, his research focused on Mexican-American youths in the Los Angeles area, though he never lost his interests in folklore and the religious ceremonies of various Southwest Indian tribes, including the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico.

Barker was the author of a number of articles in scholarly journals, and of the short studies entitled Pachuco: An American-Spanish Argot and its Social Functions in Tucson, Arizona (Univ. of Arizona Social Science Bulletin (1950) and Social Functions of Language in a Mexican American Community (Univ. of Arizona Press, 1972).

He was a member of various professional societies in several fields, including the American Anthropological Association and the Asociación Española de Etnología y Folklore (Madrid).

The Papers of George C. Barker now reside in the Special Collections at the University of Arizona Libraries.

This is an update of a post first published on 27 July 2015.

Sources:

  • George C. Barker. 1953. The shepherds’ play of the prodigal son: A folk drama of Old Mexico (University of California Publications: Folklore Studies, No. 2, Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. California Press, 1953).
  • M. S. Edmonson. 1954. Review of “The Shepherd’s Play of the Prodigal Son: A Folk Drama of Old Mexico”, American Anthropologist, Volume 56, Issue 5, 1954, p 924-5.
  • Frederick Starr. 1896. “Celebrations in Mexico” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol 9 #34 (Jul-Sep 1896) pp 161-169.
  • University Bulletin: A Weekly Bulletin for the Staff of the University of California, Volume 2, University of California, 1954.
  • Norman Pelham Wright. 1947. Mexican Kaleidoscope (Heinemann).

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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