Tony Burton

Tony Burton's books include “Lake Chapala: A Postcard History” (2022), “Foreign Footprints in Ajijic” (2022), “If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants” (2020), (available in translation as “Si Las Paredes Hablaran"), "Mexican Kaleidoscope” (2016), and “Lake Chapala Through the Ages” (2008). Amazon Author Page                                          Facebook Page

Jun 202024
 

At the start of the twentieth century, Jacob Kalb, a Jewish immigrant of Austrian ancestry, owned and operated the Iturbide Curio Store in downtown Mexico City. The store, selling all manner of Mexican tourist souvenirs and mementoes, opened in 1903 on the ground floor of the Hotel Iturbide. The hotel occupied the historic Palacio de Iturbide (Iturbide Palace), a superb 18th century Mexican baroque building that survives to this day. It was bought and beautifully restored in 1965 by the Banco Nacional de México (Banamex) and is now the Banamex Cultural Foundation (Fomento Cultural Banamex).

The Iturbide Curio Store was one of several competing curio stores in that area at that time, including one run by Jakob Granat, one of Kalb’s nephews, across the street. (Granat also published at least one postcard of Chapala.)

No expense was spared when Kalb opened his store in 1903. Carefully selected wares were displayed in elegant showcases, all beautifully illuminated by electric lighting, a relatively recent innovation.

Iturbide Curio Store (publicity postcard image)

Iturbide Curio Store (publicity postcard image)

Soon afterwards, Kalb started to publish postcards (both monochrome and color), using various different imprints, ranging from ““Iturbide Curio Store” and “J.C.S” (typesetters of the time often used the letter J in place of the letter I) to “J.K.”

Kalb did not credit the photographer on his cards but at least one card utilizes a photograph taken by Charles Betts Waite, a noteworthy American photographer based in Mexico City at that time.

Kalb published dozens of cards of Guadalajara, some with undivided backs (and therefore pre-1906 in date). These early cards include the only known image of Lake Chapala published by Kalb. This attractive view of Casa Schnaider (Villa Josefina) with the Hotel Arzapalo in the background, was published in about 1904; a postally-used example was mailed the following year. The pretty, European-style ‘cottage’ was originally named Villa Albion, and had been built by the eccentric Norwegian-born Englishman Septimus Crowe in 1896, after he sold the Villa Montecarlo. In 1901, Crowe sold Villa Albion to the US-born Guadalajara beer magnate Joseph Maximilian Schnaider, who promptly renamed it Villa Josefina, in honor of his wife. More than a century later, the property continues to bear this name.

Lake Chapala. Postcard published by Iturbide Curio Store c. 1906

Photographer unknown. Lake Chapala. Iturbide Curio Store postcard #507. c. 1904.

Kalb published this image at least twice, with minor modifications. The “Iturbide Curio Store” version, numbered 228, had a wider white band along the bottom and a flag fluttering from the Villa Josefina flagpole. When Kalb reissued the photo as a “J.C.S.” edition, the image was slightly cropped and the flag removed.

Kalb produced several hundred postcards in total, covering the entire country and designed to appeal to the widest possible cross section of the rapidly increasing flow of tourists exploring Mexico.

In 1906, Kalb advertised in a Mexico City paper that he had the largest stock of picture postcards of Mexico. A collection of 100 views cost $2.00; the wholesale price was $16.00 for 1000.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Valentina Serrano & Ricardo Pelz. “Serie azul y roja de Jacobo Granat.” Presentation at 8th. Mexican Congress on Postcards, Palacio Postal, Mexico City. 16-18 July 2015.
  • Arturo Guevara Escobar, 2012. “Jacobo Kalb, una lectura diferente. Parte I“, blog post dated 1 March 2012

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Jun 132024
 

In the mid-1890s, New Orleans poet Mary Ashley Townsend, born in 1832, and her husband, Gideon, became, almost certainly, the first American couple to own property in the town of Chapala—and they didn’t even have to pay for it, because it was a gift from their eldest daughter, Cora.

Mary Ashley and Gideon lived in New Orleans, where she had established a reputation as a novelist and poet. She published under several pen names, including Xariffa (or Zariffa) for her serious poetry, and two “humorously masculine names”—Crab Crossbones and Michael O’Quillo—for satirical pieces. As “Poet Laureate of New Orleans,” she was commissioned to compose and recite a special poem for the opening of the New Orleans exposition in 1884.

Mary Ashley Townsend (American Women, 1897)

Mary Ashley Townsend (American Women, 1897)

Mary Ashley was widely traveled and first visited Mexico in 1875. During her extended visits in various parts of Mexico, Mary Ashley published regular columns in papers such as the New Orleans Picayune with astute and informative observations of natural history, architecture, people at work and play, fashion, society, food, etc. She was working on a book based on these columns at the time of her death. The book was only rediscovered and published many decades later, as Here and There in Mexico: The Travel Writings of Mary Ashley Townsend.

Mary Ashley’s daughter Cora Alice Townsend de Rascón (born in 1855) was the widow of wealthy hacienda owner and diplomat José Martín Rascón, the first Mexican minister to Japan, and a confidante of President Díaz. Rascón died unexpectedly in 1893 in San Francisco on his way home to Mexico. After his death, Cora inherited and administered his substantial estate, including several haciendas in San Luis Potosí.

In 1895, Cora bought the Villa Montecarlo from English eccentric Septimus Crowe and gave it to her parents as a Christmas present. A few weeks previously, Cora and her mother had both attended the 11th Congreso Internacional de Americanistas in Mexico City, as had British consul Lionel Carden, who had already started building Villa Tlalocan, his own well-appointed home in Chapala, designed by English architect George Edward King.

Cora’s parents loved Chapala and spent several months each winter there. Gideon Townsend, a financier, liked it for the sake of his health and planted dozens of coffee trees. The Townsend house—at that time the “furthest west of all the cottages”— was a prominent local landmark. According to The Mexican Herald in 1897, “On the highest peak one sees a bright red and white house with a tower which looks as if it came from the old baronial castles of the middle ages.”

Mary Ashley Townsend wrote several poems in Chapala, at least two of which are about the lake. The first, titled “On Lake Chapala” is typical of her lyrical style and offers a halcyon view of her winter home.

“On Lake Chapala”

Oh Nature! soother of the heart that bleeds
Thou, with the boundless beauty of thy skies.
And mountain shapes which improbably rise,
Dost preach thine own among a thousand creeds.

Amid conflicting ways, of words and deeds,
Bewildered man his tangled pathway plies
To clutch at truth where truth his grasp denies,
While thou, the unfailing trinity his soul unheeds!

‘Tis writ oh, Nature! on the veiled winds,
On voiceless planets that our planet nears,
In limpid brooks, in the unfathomed sea—
Writ on the pebble that the lone shore finds,
Writ on the foreheads of the flying years,
Thine was, thine is, thine man shall ever be.

+ + +

The second poem, titled simply “Lake Chapala,” is, in my opinion, far more interesting.

“Lake Chapala”

A sunken city in thy depths tis said,
Fair Lake Chapala, lieth hidden deep,
And water weeds across its casements creep,
Or bar the doors on its unburied dead.

Upon its domes and towers are never shed
The sun’s bright beams, its ancient gateways keep
Grim wardens sleeping an eternal sleep
While through its streets the marching ages tread.

But, in the night time when the moon is low,
The murmuring waves which touch thy tropic shore
The songs of Aztec maidens with them bring
And stronger voices of warriors in their woe
And lovers’ tender accents come once more
Up from the sunken city wandering.

+ + +

This poem relates directly to an idea then circling in the U.S. that an early town or city at Lake Chapala had been submerged and now lay under water. Distinguished American anthropologist Frederick Starr (1858-1933) spent the winter of 1895-1896 at Lake Chapala investigating the rumors of this submerged city, rumors based mainly on the large number of pottery fragments recovered from the lake bed whenever the water level fell. After collecting and studying 261 individual specimens of pottery, Starr concluded that they were likely to be “offerings made to the lake itself or some spirit resident there-in,” and not utilitarian household items. Starr also recognized that changes in lake level might explain why the pieces were now found at some distance from the current shoreline.

Townsend-book-coverIn “Lake Chapala,” Mary Ashley Townsend, looking across the waters of the lake from her stately residence, Villa Montecarlo, indulged her imagination and poetic talents.

Unfortunately, tragedy would soon befall her family. Her eldest daughter, Cora, married Bannister Smith Monro, a New Yorker living in Europe, in 1896, and moved to Paris. The Monros’ daughter (Cora Monro) was born the following year, and their son a year later. Tragically, on 28 March 1898, Cora died within days of giving birth to their son, who died only a few weeks later. As if this wasn’t enough ill-luck, Bannister died on 15 August 1899. Young Cora Monro, orphaned before she was three years old, inherited the massive land holdings in Mexico, and was taken in by her maternal aunt, Mrs George Lee, in Galveston, Texas. Mary Ashley’s husband, Gideon, also died in 1899, meaning that Mary Ashley had lost her eldest child, as well as a grandson, a son-in-law and her own husband within two years. The run of bad luck did not end there. Mary Ashley was severely injured in a train crash in Texas, and suffered months of ill health prior to her own death on 7 June 1901.

The Montecarlo property was eventually acquired—the conflicting versions of how this occurred are impossible to reconcile and leave several unanswered questions—by Aurelio González Hermosillo (1862–1927), a wealthy lawyer and financier who owned the Hacienda Santa Cruz del Valle near Guadalajara.

Note that American historian John Mason Hart’s account of Cora’s life in Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico Since the Civil War, is error-strewn. His claim, for example, that Rascón died in 1896 and that Cora Townsend then continued to run the hacienda, very successfully, for another decade, until her own death in 1906, is clearly wrong since Rascón died in 1893 and Cora in 1898.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Chapter 28 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants (translated into Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran) includes more discussion of the Townsends’ ownership of Villa Montecarlo.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Michael Olivas for investigating the Stanton-Townsend Papers in the Special Collections Division of the Howard-Tilton Library at Tulane University, New Orleans.

Sources

  • James Mason Hart. 2002. Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico Since the Civil War. University of California Press, page 398.
  • Mary Ashley Townsend. Undated, unpublished manuscripts, Box 3, Folder 17, Stanton-Townsend Papers, Special Collections Division, Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University, New Orleans.
  • Mary Ashley Townsend. 2001. Here and There in Mexico: The Travel Writings of Mary Ashley Townsend. (edited by Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr.) University of Alabama Press.
  • The Salt Lake Herald: 16 November 1895.
  • Starr, Frederick. 1897. “The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico.” Department of Anthropology Bulletin II. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via comments or email.

Jun 062024
 

Before the advent of trains and motor vehicles, the only way to get to Lake Chapala was to walk, ride or take a stagecoach (diligencia). The first regular Guadalajara–Chapala stagecoach service began in 1866. While the trip could be done in ten hours, it usually took twelve or more, and the mix of excitement, speed, fright, danger and uncertainty described by early travelers was certainly not for the faint-hearted.

After the completion of the Irapuato-Ocotlán-Atequiza-Guadalajara branch line of the Mexican Central Railway in 1888, demand for a Guadalajara–Chapala stagecoach service declined. Travelers from the city had a choice: they could take a train to Atequiza, followed by a relatively short stagecoach ride to Chapala, or they could take the train to Ocotlán, and then catch a steamboat to Chapala, avoiding having to ride the stagecoach at all.

I know of about ten early photos of stagecoaches taken in the town of Chapala. Some were used as book or magazine illustrations, and several were mass-produced as commercial picture postcards in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The images reproduced here are presented in approximate chronological order, based on evidence of publication dates and on details of buildings in the respective photos.

Postcard by Juan Kaiser

Fig 1. c 1900. Winfield Scott. Postcard by Juan Kaiser. The turreted building behind the stagecoach is Villa Ana Victoria. On the extreme right, a water carrier is walking towards the camera.

This photo (Fig 1) of a stagecoach on the eastern side of Calle del Muelle was uncredited when it was first published in 1900 to illustrate an article about Chapala by the Hon. Maud Pauncefote in Harper’s Bazar. The photo was also published in about 1901 on a triple-view postcard by Juan Kaiser, then based in San Luis Potosí. The other two photos on that postcard can be positively identified as the work of Winfield Scott, so there is little doubt that Scott also took this stagecoach photo.

A slightly cropped version of Fig 1 was included in Vitold de Szyszlo’s book, Dix mil kilometres a traverse le Mexique, 1909-1910, published in 1913, where the photo is credited to Charles B. Waite. This attribution is not as surprising as it sounds, given that Waite had purchased all Scott’s negatives and photo rights in April 1908.

Winfield Scott. Published in El Mundo, 2 June 1901.

Fig 2. c. 1900. Winfield Scott. Published in El Mundo Ilustrado, 2 June 1901.

Winfield Scott also took this photograph (Fig 2) of a stagecoach on the other side of Calle del Muelle, waiting outside the Hotel Arzapalo (which first opened in 1898). This image appeared in El Mundo Ilustrado in 1901, and in Four Track News in 1905.

Postcard by Juan Kaiser

Fig 3. c 1904. Photo by José María Lupercio (?). Postcard by Juan Kaiser.

Fig 3 is a somewhat similar image, which I believe was taken a year or two later, probably by Guadalajara-based photographer José María Lupercio. It was reproduced in about 1904 on postcards published both by Ruhland & Ahlschier and by Juan Kaiser, who by then had moved his publishing sideline from San Luis Potosí to Guadalajara. By that time, the Hotel Arzapalo owned two stagecoaches for daily service to and from Atequiza railroad station, as well as several carriages (guayines) for special trips.

Traveling by stagecoach was both uncomfortable and unreliable. Stagecoach service was often impossible during the rainy season, owing to the poor state of the wagon roads. In July 1904, Chapala hotel owners Victor Huber and Ignacio Arzapalo joined forces to finance repairs and reopen the road before October. At that time the stagecoach between Chapala and Atequiza cost one peso (US$0.50) each way.

Summer Matheson. 1907.

Fig 4. 1907. Photo by Summer W Matteson. (Courtesy Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.)

We can date this photograph (Fig 4) of another stagecoach outside the Hotel Arzapalo to 1907 with certainty, because it was taken by American photographer Sumner Matteson during his first trip to Mexico.

Postcard published by Schwidernoch, Austria.

Fig 5. c 1907. Photograph by José María Lupercio (?) Postcard published by T Schwidernoch, Austria.

This photo (Fig 5) must date from about the same time, and is believed to be another photograph taken by José María Lupercio. It was used by several postcard publishers, including Juan Kaiser (post-1906), Manuel Hernández (1907), and T. Schwidernoch of Vienna, Austria.

The postal service was efficient in those days. One of these cards, mailed in 1908 by guests at the Hotel Ribera Castellanos near Ocotlán, took only five days to reach Virginia! The card explained why the senders had chosen to stay near Ocotlán in preference to Chapala: “Would you like a souvenir of Mex? This is the coach they use to go from the R.R. [railroad] to the hotel on Lake Chapala fourteen miles. We are staying at a place on the same lake but only three miles from the R.R.”

Unknown photographer and publisher

Fig 6. c 1908. Unknown photographer. Believed to have been published by Juan Kaiser. (Courtesy of Ing. Manuel González García.)

In Fig 4 and Fig 5 there is no building abutting the Hotel Arzapalo, which proves they were taken prior to the second half of 1907, when construction began of the Guillermo de Alba-designed Hotel Palmera, completed in 1908. The Hotel Palmera does appear on the left side of this photo (Fig 6), a rare early image of a stagecoach in motion. The building on the right is the competing Gran Hotel Victor Huber (later Gran Hotel Chapala).

Unknown photographer

Fig 7. c 1908. Photographer and publisher unknown.

The Gran Hotel Victor Huber (later Gran Hotel Chapala) is shown in all its glory in Fig 7, which must date from about the same time.

By 1908, the days of stagecoaches were numbered, and the automobile was taking over. In 1906 prominent American dentist Dr. John W. Purnell drove his Reo from Guadalajara to Chapala in 3 hours 49 minutes, and made the return trip (including an 11-minute stop in Tlaquepaque) in 3 hours 39 minutes. The following year, Alfonso Fernández Somellera took just 63 minutes out to the lake and 65 minutes back to complete his round trip from the big city to Chapala (about 130 kilometers in total) in his 30-horsepower Packard.

Stagecoaches were unable to compete, in speed or comfort, and rapidly became a thing of the past.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via comments or email.

May 302024
 

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, a photo I took of Ajijic in 1980 (below) shows, almost precisely in the middle, the bare hillside known as Cerro del Aguila (“Hill of the Eagle”) or Cerro Colorado (“Colored Hill”). According to a local legend, the hillside was formed during the centuries-long migration of the Mexica people (the forerunners of the Aztecs) from their ancestral homeland, Aztlán, en route to founding their capital city, Tenochtitlan (where Mexico City stands today) in 1325.

The Mexica were looking for a sign—an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus—to tell them where to found their new capital and ceremonial center. Today, this sign, with the  addition of a serpent, which the eagle is devouring, is a national symbol and appears on the national flag.

Ajijic and its eagle. © Tony Burton, 1980.

Ajijic and its eagle. © Tony Burton, 1980.

The Ajijic version of the legend was summarized in 1988 by journalist Ruth Netherton, a long-time Ajijic resident. She explained to her readers that the Mexica saw their sign at Lake Chapala’s Isla de los Alacranes:

As the priests pondered the omen, a strong wind blew up and dashed the eagle against a barren hill, leaving its image there. The eagle is still visible today above Rancho del Oro, with wings outstretched, a shrub forming the eye. Why the priests were discouraged from founding Tenochtitlan at Lake Chapala is not explained. Perhaps the strong wind (called locally “el abajeño” or “el mexicano”) was considered a bad omen.”

This is an appealing legend, and one which directly links Ajijic to the rise of the Aztec Empire. But the unanswered question about this legend is just how old it might be. Did the legend start when Ajijic was founded in 1531? Is it possible to trace its origin back that far, or even further?

John Spillyards. 2023. Ajijic: Cerro del Aguila (cropped from original image)

Ajijic: Cerro del Aguila. © John Spillyards. 2023.  Image reproduced courtesy of the photographer.

In my thirty-plus years of research about Lake Chapala, I have come across remarkably few references to the Ajijic Eagle, and none of them date back very far. The earliest documentary evidence I’ve come across is a paragraph written by Dr Leo Stanley in October 1937, when he and and a friend rode horseback from Chapala to Jocotepec, and then continued along the southern shore of the lake to San Luis [Soyutlán], where they found lodgings for the night. In the early evening, Stanley strolled down to the lake shore:

It was a very pretty afternoon, and off in the distance across the lake toward San Juan could be seen a peculiar phenomenon. By landslides and erosions in the mountains, the natural form of a spread eagle was displayed in brown against the green verdure. This marking could be seen very distinctly from the southern shore of the lake.”

On the other hand, none of the three best-known books about the Ajijic area written a decade later—House in the Sun and Village in the Sun, both by ‘Dane Chandos (Peter Lilley and Nigel Millett), and Dust on my Heart, by Neill James— includes any mention or description of the Ajijic Eagle.

This leads me to believe that, even though the Mexica migration legend is ancient, its link to the Ajijic eagle is much more recent, perhaps dating from the beginning of the twentieth century, and associated with several decades of mining in the hills behind Ajijic. For example, just before the Mexican Revolution erupted in 1910, we know that the owners of one of the main mines were installing “a cyanide annex at the plant, which now consists of ten-stamp concentrators and amalgamating plates.” The use of cyanide on this scale would have killed off the immediate vegetation and destroyed soil organisms, creating a barren area that has remained infertile to this day: the unusual eagle-shaped hillside scar on Cerro Colorado.

If you know of other literary or documentary references to the Ajijic Eagle, please let me know!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of mining, artists and authors in Ajijic.

Sources

  • The Mexican Herald, 15 December 1909, 15.
  • Ruth Netherton. 1988. “Laguna Chapalac.” Guadalajara Reporter, 20 August 1988.
  • Leo L. Stanley. 1937. “Mixing in Mexico,” 1937, two volumes. Leo L. Stanley Papers, MS 2061, California Historical Society. Volume 2. (My sincere thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, and to the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the excerpt used in this post.)

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

May 232024
 

Canadian artist Frank Leonard Brooks (1911-2011), usually known simply as Leonard Brooks, was a painter and textile artist who made his home in San Miguel de Allende for more than fifty years.

He and his wife, Reva, a photographer, occasionally visited Chapala, but never for any extended period of time. It was something of a surprise to me, therefore, when this interesting collage acrylic on canvas painting titled “Chapala,” painted by Leonard in 1978, came up at auction in Los Angeles in 2020.

1978. Chapala. Credit: Abeil Auction.

Leonard Brooks. 1978. Chapala. Credit: Abeil Auction.

How did the Brookses come to live in San Miguel de Allende? They arrived in 1947 to teach at the city’s first school of Fine Arts, then being run by American artist Stirling Dickinson, who had established himself in the city a decade earlier. Leonard Brooks, born in England, had finished a stint as a war artist, and he and Riva only intended to stay for a year, while they worked out what to do next, but fell in love with Mexico and with San Miguel de Allende. For half a century, they helped San Miguel de Allende develop its vibrant art and music scene, now deservedly famous nationwide.

A series of exhibitions of Leonard’s paintings in the 1950s received favorable reviews. Paintings by Leonard and prints of Reva’s photos were bought by many famous visitors to San Miguel, including film director John Huston. While Leonard’s early paintings were usually representational, many of his later paintings were impressionist or abstract. They included collage acrylics, many inspired by his San Miguel studio and garden.

Reva was chosen by The San Francisco Museum of Art in 1975 as one of the top fifty female photographers of all time. Her work was recognized and admired by such famous exponents of her art as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

Leonard made periodic visits to Canada to exhibit and sell his paintings at galleries in Vancouver and Toronto. From the late 1960s onward, his paintings, tapestries and collages were featured in several hugely successful exhibitions. In 1998, both Leonard and Reva had hugely successful solo shows in Canada, in Toronto and Kingston, respectively.

Leonard also wrote several best-selling books on painting techniques, and found time to illustrate two articles in the popular monthly Ford Times, including an article about Mexico in December 1953.

Back in San Miguel, Leonard was not only an artist and one of the founding partners of the city’s first specialist art gallery, he was also a highly accomplished musician who played first violin with the Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra. In the 1960s, Leonard started offering free music lessons to local children, and subsequently headed the music program at the San Miguel Cultural Center for 25 years. Among the many local youngsters encouraged by Leonard to play the violin were Daniel Aguascalientes and his five brothers, who later formed Hermanos Aguascalientes y sus violines internacionales.

Leonard and Reva Brooks made a truly extraordinary contribution to San Miguel de Allende. Their joint art and photography collection is now managed by Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Other artists with strong ties to both Chapala and San Miguel de Allende

Californian Priscilla (“Pris”) Frazer (1907-1973) first traveled to Mexico in 1955 to study with James Pinto at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende.

William (“Bill”) Gentes (1917-2000) studied at the Instituto in 1968, before living for many years in Chapala.

Canadian artist Duncan de Kergommeaux (born 1927) won a Canada Council Grant in 1958 to travel in Mexico and study at the Instituto Allende.

Tully Judson Petty Jr. (1928-1992) attended San Miguel de Allende School of Fine Arts in 1948 and lived in Ajijic in the mid-1960s.

Chicago painter Harry Mintz (1907-2002) taught at the Bellas Artes school in San Miguel in 1958, where he met and fell in love with Rosabelle Vita Truglio, a visiting summer student; they later lived and painted in Chapala.

Betty Binkley (1914-1978) lived in Chapala in the 1940s and lived her later years in San Miguel.

George Rae Marsh (Williams), aka Georgia Cogswell (1925-1997), and her first husband, the novelist Willard Marsh, spent time in both Ajijic and San Miguel. After Willard’s death, George Rae married sci-fi writer Theodore Rose Cogswell (1918-1987) in San Miguel; they then divided their time between Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende and the U.S.

Bob Somerlott, a well-respected writer of both fiction and non-fiction, lived intermittently at Ajijic in the 1960s before moving to San Miguel de Allende, where he resided for almost forty years.

Auguste Killat Foust (1915-2010), better known as Gustel Foust, lived five years in San Miguel before moving to Guadalajara and then Ajijic, where she lived from 1978 to 1984.

At least four artists born in Ajijic—Florentino Padilla (c 1943-2010), Javier Zaragoza (born 1944), Antonio Cárdenas Perales (born 1945), and Antonio López Vega (born 1953)—studied in San Miguel de Allende. All four had started painting in the free art classes (now known as the Children’s Art Program) begun in Ajijic by Neill James in the 1950s; James recognized their talents, lobbied on their behalf, and—along with other sponsors—helped fund their studies.

Sources

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via comments or email.

May 162024
 

Many artists and authors have visited Lake Chapala in search of, or in homage to, their literary or artistic idols. But what about those who have also spent time collecting ancient stone and pottery idols and artifacts? There are far more members of this latter group than I first thought.

The first academic report of such artifacts in the international press was anthropologist Frederick Starr‘s short, illustrated booklet titled The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico, published in 1897. Starr, who visited Chapala over the winter of 1895-96, credited Francisco Fredenhagen with having introduced him to archaeological pieces from the western end of the lake, and suggested a simple typology for the different kinds of objects he had examined. Starr’s collection of ‘miniature pottery’ now resides in Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. Professor Starr’s handwriting may explain why several items are recorded as having been collected in “San Juan Coyala,” instead of San Juan Cosalá!

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

(Note that, while collecting ancient artifacts as souvenirs and removing them from Mexico was a common practice at the time, it can now result in severe legal consequences.)

Coincidentally, Starr’s visit to Chapala came only a few weeks after a major international conference of ‘Americanistas’ in Mexico City. Several of the attendees had close links to Lake Chapala, including:

  • Lionel Carden, the British consul to Mexico Lionel Carden, who was building a house (Villa Tlalocan) in Chapala.
  • New Orleans poet Mary Ashley Townsend and her daughter, Mrs Cora Townsend de Rascón: Cora bought Villa Montecarlo in Chapala for her mother that year (1895) as a Christmas gift.
  • Ethnographer Jeremiah Curtin, who left us an unforgettable description of meeting Septimus Crowe, the eccentric Englishman and pioneer foreign settler in Chapala, on the train home from the conference.
  • San Diego language teacher Eduardo H Coffey, who broke the first news in English of a giant whirlpool that struck the western end of Lake Chapala in January 1896.
  • Historian Luis Pérez Verdía, who (in 1904) began building the iconic Victorian-style house close to the church now commonly known as Casa Braniff.

The female English artist and amateur archaeologist Adela Breton, an intrepid traveler who presented papers at later Americanistas’ conferences, also visited Chapala in 1896 and collected a few pottery items. She is best remembered today for having recorded ancient Mayan murals and friezes; in some cases the originals no longer exist, and her magnificent drawings and watercolors are the best record we have of these artistic and cultural treasures.

Also visiting Lake Chapala in the 1890s was Norwegian anthropologist Carl Lumholtz, though his findings were not published until 1902. He recorded excavations near Chapala, and the finding of two ‘ceremonial hatchets.’ As we shall see shortly, Lumholtz also apparently bought several ancient artifacts, some or all of which may have been fake.

American journalist George W Baylor described in a 1902 article about Chapala how tourists staying at the Hotel Arzapalo would walk along the beach each morning,

examining the water’s edge closely for ollitas and various kinds of toys which are washed up every night from the lake. Some represent bake ovens, chairs, ducks or geese, volcanoes, and after a storm they are quite plentiful, and an early rise and race is made to get them. They can be bought quite cheap but most every visitor wants to say, ‘I found this on the beach at Lake Chapala.’ One [explanation] is that there was at one time an island in front of Chapala on which there was quite a populous city, and say that this is more than likely, as innumerable pieces of porous burnt rock keep washing ashore.

Another probable explanation is that those three million people that have lived on the borders of the lake since the year 1, threw those toys into the water to propitiate their god of water and rain, Tlaloc, and from the quantities that are carried off by tourists and others annually, each of the three millions of ancients must have put in a bushel apiece. They are made of yellow and blue clay, and burned, and occasionally of stone.

Horrible figures of idols come from the foothills, where in ages past were probably pueblos swarming with Indians. Others are dug from the banks of arroyos in a white cement. Others well, they are manufactured up to date and are sold to innocent parties as contemporaneous with Adam and Eve – nothing later than Montezuma.”

American artists Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser lived for several years in Chapala in the mid-1920s. Jackson amassed his own collection of figurines from Chapala, and published an analysis of them in 1941. In his 1987 memoir It’s a Long Road to Comondú, Jackson also explains how he taught a local boy, Isidoro Pulido (about whom more later), how to make reproductions of figurines! On a return visit to Chapala in 1950, Jackson was delighted to find that,

Isidoro had become a maker of candy and a dealer in pre-Columbian art in the patio of his house on Los Niños Héroes Street. I did not teach him to make candy, but when he was just a boy I had shown him how he could reproduce those figurines he and Eileen [Jackson’s wife] used to dig up back of Chapala. Now he not only made them well, but he would also take them out into the fields and gullies, bury them, and then dig them up in the company of American tourists, who were beginning to come to Chapala in increasing numbers. Isidoro did not feel guilty when the tourists bought his works; he believed his creations were just as good as the pre-Columbian ones.”

Whether or not the locals really needed Jackson’s help to produce ‘fake’ antiquities is debatable, given Baylor’s testimony that even at the very start of the twentieth century some people were already  making—and selling—genuine-looking artifacts to unsuspecting foreign visitors.

German-born artist Trude Neuhaus also first visited Chapala in the mid-1920s, as part of her preparations for a show in New York in 1925. The New York Times reported that the exhibition, previously shown at the National Art Gallery in Mexico City, included “paintings, water colors and drawings of Mexican types and scenery,” as well as “Aztec figurines and pottery recently excavated by the artist in Chapala, Mexico.”

Poet and novelist Idella Purnell, born in Guadalajara, had studied under American poet Witter Bynner at the University of California, and played a key role in the decision of English novelist D. H. Lawrence to visit Chapala in 1923. Purnell later penned a delightful, and moving, story, “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala,” for the American Junior Red Cross News.

Five years after American anthropologist Elsie Crews Parsons visited Chapala in 1932, she wrote a short paper entitled “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore.” She cast doubt on the authenticity of the stone ídolos (idols) collected by some previous anthropologists and ethnographers, writing that, ever since the 1890s there has been,

at this little Lakeside resort a traffic in the ídolos which have been washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town, in ancient Indian cemeteries, or faked by the townspeople. An English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago quotes Mr. Crow[e] as saying that the ídolos sold Lumholtz were faked, information that the somewhat malicious Mr. Crow[e] did not impart to the ethnologist.”

The identity of the ‘English lady’ referred to by Parsons is unclear. The most likely candidates are either the Honorable Selina Maud Pauncefote, daughter of the British Ambassador in Washington, or Adela Breton, both of whom visited in 1896.

While Parsons doubted the authenticity of Lumholtz’s collection, she was convinced that the items collected at about the same time by Frederick Starr were definitely genuine.

Californian prison doctor Leo Stanley visited Lake Chapala in 1937. He was sufficiently intrigued by the ancient artifacts he saw to seek out a local to help him find and excavate likely locations. In one of those coincidences that are seemingly inevitable in real life, the local was ‘Ysidoro’, the young man befriended years earlier by Everett Gee Jackson! Stanley’s account of the effort involved in hunting for idols with Isidoro Pulido—and of their eventual ‘success’—is well worth the read.

Leo Stanley. 1937. "Digging for Treasure." By kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. “Digging for Treasure.” By kind permission of California Historical Society.

English author Barbara Compton visited Lake Chapala in 1946. One of the main characters in her semi-autobiographical novel To The Isthmus is an idol hunter and fellow guest at Casa Heuer who regularly left Ajijic for a few days at a time to explore new sites. In real life, she later married the man who had given her the inspiration for this character.

In 1948, author Neill James, an avid treasure hunter, explained to a visiting reporter how:

When the water in Lake Chapala is low, you can sit in it waist deep, dig in the sand and bring up miniature idols, medallions, vases, kitchen utensils and other things that the Indians threw into the lake in their worship of the rain god hundreds of years ago.”

Journalist Kenneth McCaleb recalled in a Texas newspaper in 1965 how he had known a very good faker of antiquities in Chapala, who “specialized in the familiar pre-Columbian ‘primitive’ ceramic figurines of ancient Mexico.” McCaleb reported that the aging process was a secret, but that the maker would guide customers to “places where, after some healthful exercise, he dug up his own archaeological objects.” And the name of this faker? None other than our old friend Isidoro!

Unlike the collecting of ancient idols, with their often dubious provenance, there is—I am glad to report—no obvious drawback to my fixation on collecting and profiling the famous authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • George Wythe Baylor. 1902. “Lovely Lake Chapala.” El Paso Herald, 1 November 1902, 10.
  • Adele C. Breton. 1903. “Some Mexican portrait clay figures,” Man, vol 3, 130-133.
  • Barbara Compton. 1964. To The Isthmus. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Mary Hirscheld. 1948. “Author in Mexico.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10 April 1948, 8.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1941. “The Pre-Columbian Ceramic Figurines from Western Mexico.” Parnassus, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jan., 1941), 17-20.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1987. It’s a Long Road to Comondú. Texas A&M University Press.
  • Carl Lumholtz. 1902. Unknown Mexico (2 vols). 1973 reprint: Rio Grande Press.
  • Kenneth McCaleb. 1968. “Conversation Piece.” Corpus Christi Times, 27 January 1965, 14.
  • Elsie Clews Parsons. 1937. “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore”, The Scientific Monthly, May 1937.
  • Idella Purnell. 1936. “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala.” American Junior Red Cross News, December 1936.
  • Leo L. Stanley. 1937. “Mixing in Mexico.”(2 vols). Leo L. Stanley Papers, MS 2061, California Historical Society. Volume 2.
  • Frederick Starr. 1897. The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico, Bulletin II, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

May 092024
 

American photographer Sumner W Matteson has not received the attention he deserves for the thousands of outstanding images of landscapes and people in the US, Cuba and Mexico he took at the start of the twentieth century.

Sumner Warren Matteson Jr was born on 15 September 1867 in Decorah, Iowa, and died in Mexico City on 27 Oct 1920. Following his death, the American Consulate in Mexico City curtly reported: “ASSETS: Miscellaneous articles of clothing of no intrinsic value. Given away and destroyed. Suitcase.” Matteson had only just celebrated his 53rd birthday.

German-Mexican photographer Hugo Brehme (1882-1954), based in Mexico City, had seen some of Matteson’s work and bought some of Matteson’s Mexican negatives from his estate. Brehme later printed some of them under his own copyright, sometimes with a note that the negatives were the work of Matteson.

Sumner W Matheson. 1907. Native craft near outlet of Lake Chapala and water hyacinth drifting with the wind. Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

Sumner W Matteson. 1907. “Native craft near outlet of Lake Chapala and water hyacinth drifting with the wind.” Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

The photos in this post are reproduced by kind permission of the Milwaukee Public Museum in Wisconsin, which purchased them from the Matteson estate in 1922. Other Matteson negatives and prints can be found in the collections of the Science Museum of Minnesota in Saint Paul, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Matteson graduated with a B.S. degree from the University of Minnesota in 1888, and worked for a few years as a banking clerk before becoming an agent for a bicycle manufacturer, the Overman Wheel Company. By the end of the century, Matteson was calling himself an “amateur photographer” and a “traveling correspondent.”

In 1902 an album of his Hopi Indian photos was presented to the Smithsonian Institute, and Matteson documented several other indigenous groups in New Mexico and Arizona, as well as spending many months in Cuba.

The photos shown in this profile were all taken in 1907, during Matteson’s first trip to Mexico.

Sumner W Matheson. 1907. Tramp musicians who carry copper coins in sombrero and silver coins in their ears (note 25 cent in ear nearest tree) taken near Hotel Ribera, Lake Chapala. Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

Sumner W Matteson. 1907. “Tramp musicians who carry copper coins in sombrero and silver coins in their ears (note 25 cent in ear nearest tree) taken near Hotel Ribera, Lake Chapala.” Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

During this first visit to Mexico in 1907, Matteson spent 10 months climbing mountains and traveling around the Republic. A Mexico City daily described him as “the expert photographer who has traveled over a great portion of the world as the representative of a number of American newspapers, periodicals and magazines and whose work has evoked high commendation wherever it is known.”

Using Mexico City as his base, he climbed Popocatapetl and Orizaba volcanoes before succeeding in a 5-day ascent of “the most interesting and picturesque of them all”—Volcán de Fuego and Nevado de Colima, the twin volcanoes in Colima. Matteson succeeded in getting photos from inside the Nevado’s crater. From atop the Nevado, Matteson, and his small group—which included Samuel E Rogers of Ocotlán—could see from the Pacific Ocean to Lake Chapala.

On their way up the Volcán de Fuego, the climbing party happened across a “primitive ice plant,” where layers of hailstones were “gathered up in piles and placed in a layer—then with grass thrown on in, another layer is put on, and stamped down, and then wound in cloth and cut up in blocks of forty pounds each.”

Sumner W Matheson. 1907. Stagecoach from Lake Chapala. Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

Sumner W Matteson. 1907. “Stage coach from Lake Chapala.” Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

Matteson’s second trip to Mexico was in 1920. After another successful ascent of Mt. Popocatepetl with some American friends, he stayed too long at the high altitude near the summit and developed pulmonary edema. He barely made it back to his hotel in Mexico City before he collapsed and died.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Anja Müller, Gudrun Schumacher, Gregor Wolff. 2015. “Adventurer with Bike and Camera: Sumner W. Matteson (1867-1920),” pp 136-145 in Gregor Wolff (ed). 2015. Explorers and Entrepreneurs behind the Camera…. Berlin: Ibero-Amerikanisches Insitut.
  • Louis B. Casagrande and Phillips Bourns. 1983. Side Trips: The Photography of Sumner W. Matteson, 1898-1908. Milwaukee Public Museum.
  • The Mexican Herald: 23 June 1907, 12; 27 August 1907, 5.
  • Great Falls Tribune: 24 October 1902.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

May 022024
 

The text of “A Brief History of Ajijic,” by June Nay Summers (1916-2001), comes directly from her own 1993 booklet Lake Chapala Villages in the Sun. The full text of the article is on the web, and parts of it were paraphrased during a recent Open Circle presentation in Ajijic. But how accurate is her account of Ajijic’s history?

A Brief History of Ajijic (Ojo del Lago, December 2012)

A Brief History of Ajijic (Ojo del Lago, December 2012)

My critique of the article follows, with quotes from the original in red:

“Ajijic was settled by people who came from the north, and their origin is explained by a legend. There was a place far to the north called ‘Whiteness’, and, from its seven caves, seven tribes set out towards the south.”

Ajijic did not exist until 1531, when it was founded by Franciscan friar Martín de Jesús (or de la Coruña), who suggested to an indigenous group led by Xitomatl (later baptized Andrés Carlos) that they move their existing community to begin a new settlement, where water was more readily available, named Axixic [Ajijic].

Summers’ account echoes a local legend that these groups were descendants or offshoots of the Mexica people (forerunners of the Aztecs) who may have settled temporarily on the shores of Lake Chapala while en route from their ancestral homeland (Aztlan in the north) to found a new city, Tenochtitlan (where Mexico City stands today). The meaning of Aztlan is unknown, with ‘place of whiteness’ being only one of several possible alternative derivations. According to the legend, before living in Atzlan, the Mexica were one of the seven tribes occupying seven caves in a mythical place named Chicomoztoc.

Ethnoarchaeologist Dr Carolyn Baus Czitrom found that all the indigenous people living on the northern shore of Lake Chapala at the time of the conquest belonged to the Coca indigenous group, except for those living in San Juan Cosalá, Ajijic, San Antonio Tlayacapan and Chapala, who were Caxcan. The origin of both groups, and their kinship (if any) with the Mexica, is unknown.

“These primitives lived on Chapala’s vast shores with no thought of founding permanent pueblos. Nor were they curious about their own origins, their forefathers or their names. Their vision of the world was simple. They were completely absorbed with the rendering of tribute to their gods. It was through, they thought, the pleasing of these deities that the sun shone and the rains fell on their land. Obtaining their daily sustenance was their primary reason for being.”

This culturally insensitive claim is conjectural and overly simplistic. There is no evidence, to the best of my knowledge, that these early settlers (whether Coca or Caxcan) “established complex barricades on the shores of this immense lake.” According to Czitrom’s research, the Coca did have multiple deities, but they also had a social structure and settlements, comprised of homes built using adobe, stones and wood. The Coca also crafted several kinds of rafts and boats.

“In 1522, the Olid Expedition reached the eastern shores of Lake Chapala. When they arrived, Captain Avalos met with little resistance. A royal grant gave joint ownership of the area to Avalos and the Spanish Crown.”

This is another immense simplification. The Olid Expedition, which reached the southern shores of Lake Chapala in about 1522, involved Fernando (sometimes Hernando) de Saavedra, the older brother of Alonso de Ávalos. Alonso de Ávalos did not arrive in New Spain until 1523. The two brothers were cousins of Hernán Cortés, who granted them (and a third relative who died shortly afterwards) the encomienda (the right to collect tributes and labor from indigenous inhabitants) for a large area, which included the southern shore of Lake Chapala, and later also the northern shore. After their partner’s death, the two brothers shared tribute payments from the encomienda. After Fernando died in 1535, his half-share reverted to the Spanish Crown. The encomienda system did not, strictly speaking, constitute either solo or joint ownership. The tributes supplied by Ajijic every 80 days consisted of blankets and items of clothing, cotton, fish and provisions.

“Close in Avalos’ (a cousin of Cortez) wake came other relatives of Cortez. One, by the name of Saenz, acquired almost all of the property that is now Ajijic…. By 1530, the Saenz property was one big hacienda. The principal crop was mezcal for making tequila. The hillsides were covered with mezcal plants and their soft blue-green blanketed hill and dale.”

Summers’ timeline is wildly inaccurate. No haciendas had been established in this area by 1530; Spanish settlement had barely got underway. Construction of the first Franciscan friary in Ajijic began in 1531, and the earliest haciendas in the surrounding region date from about a century later. There is no record of anyone named ‘Saenz’ ever owning any hacienda near Ajijic, though a Sebastian Sainz (note spelling) acquired the Hacienda El Cuije (which included land in and around Ajijic) in about 1900, following the murder of its former owner, Hans (‘Juan’) Jaacks. Sainz had no known familial connection to Hernán Cortés. Both Sebastian Sainz Peña (ca 1851-1927) and his wife, María Dolores Stephenson Zambrano (1869-1958) were born in Spain. They arrived in Mexico in the 1890s and quickly amassed an extensive property portfolio in Ajijic and Chapala.

According to most historians, tequila was not produced commercially until the 1700s, and the first exports of tequila (from anywhere in Mexico) were not until the 1870s. Agaves (mezcal plants) are not mentioned in distinguished naturalist Henri Galeotti’s comprehensive description of Lake Chapala’s geology, flora and fauna after his visit in 1837, or in Mariano Bárcena’s meticulous statistical account of Ajijic in 1888. [English translations of excerpts from Galeotti and Bárcena can be found in Lake Chapala Through The Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.]

If either Jaacks and/or Sainz pioneered the commercial cultivation of agaves in the Ajijic area, it was probably in the 1890s, though contemporaneous descriptions of Jaack’s production at the time of his death in 1896 mention cattle, oranges, bananas and coffee, but not agaves. There is no evidence that agave was ever their principal crop, or that “the hillsides were covered with mezcal plants.”

“Later, Franciscan missionaries visited the village and gave it a patron saint, San Andres (Saint Andrew). Royal land grants included the Indians who lived there. Franciscan Fray Sebastian de Parrago introduced the first oranges to Ajijic in 1562. Henceforth, the village was called ‘San Andres de Axixic.’ Its cobblestone streets-laid down during the days of Spanish rule-are still used today.”

Chronologically, this paragraph belongs centuries before any talk of haciendas or tequila. It also contains two significant inaccuracies. First, Franciscan accounts show that friar Sebastian de Parrago introduced the first oranges to the area in 1562, but to Chapala, not Ajijic. Secondly, there is zero evidence that Ajijic had any cobblestone streets prior to the very end of the nineteenth century or early years of the twentieth century.

“After the border wars (1910-29), the Saenz hacienda was split into many small holdings and all Mezcal cultivation ceased, as each Mezcal plant needs seven years to mature and only large estates can devote such acreage solely to growing plants.”

Hacienda El Cuije was owned by Sebastian Sainz for only a relatively short time, and there was never any large-scale tequila production in the Ajijic area, even when Sainz was the hacendado. Summers contradicts her own account in a later paragraph when she claims that “In the early 1920s, Mr. Ramirez, Mayor of Chapala, purchased the Saenz Hacienda.”

“During the Porfirian Era (1875-1910), Ajijic was isolated from Chapala by land. Their commerce with the resort town of Chapala, which was five miles away, was confined to an occasional cargo canoe touching down at the Saenz Hacienda for a load of tequila or coffee beans.”

This emphasis on tequila and coffee completely ignores the important mining activity that was already occurring in Ajijic by the end of the nineteenth century. Overland transport prior to 1910 was poor, and principally by horseback, but Ajijic was not “isolated from Chapala by land.”

“In the early 1920s, Mr. Ramirez, Mayor of Chapala, purchased the Saenz Hacienda. He re-named it Hacienda Tlacuache (The Opossum). The property is still owned by the Ramirez family and has, over the years, been sublet to various people.”

The building referred to by Summers was never an hacienda. It was a taberna—a small, subsidiary building which was part of Hacienda El Cuije. El Cuije’s main residence and buildings (of which nothing now remains) were situated a short distance northwest of Chapala (between a building currently numbered as Prolongación Lázaro Cárdenas #145 and the Chapala libramiento). The taberna was bought by Casimiro Ramirez (who was never Mayor of Chapala) and renamed ‘Hacienda El Tlacuache,’ but this was an honorific title, which did not imply any functional or economic status. In the 1930s it became an inn named Posada Ajijic; the building still belongs to members of the Ramirez Family.

Postcard (published by E Esteban) of Posada Ajijic, mailed in 1974.

Postcard (published by E Esteban) of Posada Ajijic, mailed in 1974.

“In 1925, Ajijic was discovered by European intellectuals and became a refuge for those fleeing political persecution after World War I. Louisa Heuer, a writer, and her brother Paul, were German refugees. They owned Casa Particular—a small inn overlooking the lake. Zara Alexeyewa, the great-granddaughter of Gideon Wells, Secretary of the Navy under President Abraham Lincoln—first came to Guadalajara in 1925 to dance at the Teatro Degollado. She was accompanied by her mother and adopted brother, Holger Mehner.”

This is a mix of fact and fantasy. The Heuers’ arrival had nothing to do with World War I, and there is no evidence that they were refugees or in Ajijic prior to 1933. On the other hand, Austrian count Alex von Mauch did purchase a lakefront property in Ajijic in 1928 (and other non-Mexicans are known to have purchased property in the village even earlier). Zara Alexeyewa (aka ‘La Rusa’) had no familial connection of any kind to Gideon Wells. Her dance partner’s surname was Mehnen, not Mehner. Zara and Holger first arrived in Guadalajara in 1924, and first performed in the city in 1925. They did not live in Ajijic until 1940.

“The trio had just finished a tour of Europe and South America where Zara and Holger had introduced ballet to that continent.”

Zara’s mother did not accompany the dance duo on their impromptu tour of South America. And there had been many many ballet performances of note in South America long before Zara and Holger ever set foot on the continent. For example, European ballets had first performed in Buenos Aires in the 1860s.

Summers later turns her attention to what she terms the Ajijic gold rush, paraphrasing a passage in the penultimate chapter of Neill James’ Dust on my Heart, where James reports (without stating any clear time frame) what she had been told by Paul (‘Pablo’) Heuer:

“In the mid-30s, three engineers, their curiosity aroused as to why a certain red hill (variously called Bald Mountain, Gold Mountain, or simply Quarry) was without growth when all others in the area were wooded, discovered gold in the hill.
Almost overnight the gold rush was on. Corn mills were transformed into gold mines. The women of the village reverted to hand-operated metates to pulverize corn for family tortillas. Farmers left their fields, fishermen dropped their nets, and trouble beset Ajijic as food became scarce. Neighbors quarreled. Murders and mayhem were rife.
Leaders in the gold rush were the ballet dancers, Zara and Holger, for they owned the best mine. Zara found life as a dancer tame, compared with gold mining. Armed with her “treasure finder,” Zara looked for gold, but found only trouble. One associate after another cheated her. The dream of gold began to fade.
There was gold in the hills, but not in sufficient quantity. The gold fever cooled. Men returned to their tiendas. Gold mills went back to grinding corn. Fishermen spread their nets again, and farmers re-plowed their land. The Ajijic gold rush had ended.”

As I explain in Foreign Footprints in Ajijic, gold mining in the hills behind Ajijic began much earlier than the “mid-30s,” and by 1885 there were already thirty silver and gold mines in Ajijic. Production peaked in the first decade of the twentieth century, with occasional short-lived revivals thereafter. Zara’s first investment in a mine in Ajijic was in 1925. The story about the three engineers may well be true, but with the very significant caveat that the reason why “a certain red hill (variously called Bald Mountain, Gold Mountain, or simply Quarry) was without growth when all others in the area were wooded,” was probably because it was the precise site, many years earlier, of a cyanide processing plant, installed by the largest mining company, which had poisoned the soil.

The remainder of Summers’ account is far less contentious, though I’ve never found evidence that the “Dane Chandos” book Village in the Sun ever won an award, and the lengthy excerpt from Sybille Bedford’s book The Sudden View (which Bedford openly admitted was fictional, not factual) has minimal relevance to the history of Ajijic.

Conclusion? “A Brief History of Ajijic” may be short and easy to read, but—in terms of history—it is hopelessly inaccurate.

The time has come for someone to write a more realistic short history of Ajijic.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offers more details about the twentieth-century history of Ajijic.

References

  • Carolyn Baus de Czitrom. 1982. Tecuexes y Cocas. Dos grupos de la región de Jalisco en el siglo XVI. Mexico City: INAH.
  • Henri G Galeotti. 1839. “Coup d’oeil sur la Laguna de Chapala au Mexique, avec notes géognostiques.” Acad. Roy. Soc. Bruxelles, Bull., 6, pt 1: 14-19.
  • Mariano Bárcena. 1888. Ensayo estadístico del Estado de Jalisco. Gobierno de Jalisco.
  • June Nay Summers. “A Brief History of Ajijic.” El Ojo del Lago, December 2012.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Apr 252024
 

Unlike most of my writing, this is a very personal post. It was 1980—and I was in my mid-twenties—when I first saw Lake Chapala. I was only there a few hours, took a few photos, and was not overly impressed. It was to be several years before I revisited. What I hadn’t realized, until quite recently, was just how apropos the Kodachrome slides I took during that first brief visit would prove to be for most of my later life.

In 1980, I was on my way back to my teaching job in Mexico City from an Easter trip to the Copper Canyon, and was able to squeeze in two nights in a cheap hotel in Guadalajara before returning to the classroom. Given my limited time, and in the absence of a car, I decided the simplest way to see Mexico’s largest natural lake was to take a Panoramex day trip out to the lake.

Jocotepec. © Tony Burton, 1980.

Jocotepec. © Tony Burton, 1980.

The Panoramex bus took highway 15 out of Guadalajara and made its first brief stop in the center of Jocotepec. Little did I realize at the time that this unprepossessing village would later become my home.

Ajijic and its eagle. © Tony Burton, 1980.

Ajijic and its eagle. © Tony Burton, 1980.

The next stop on this tour was Ajijic. Given only limited time to explore the village, I set off east along the lakeshore to get a better view of the picturesque setting, not realizing at the time that the view I captured included the Ajijic Eagle (Cerro del Aguila or Cerro Colorado).

Ajijic beach. © Tony Burton, 1980.

Ajijic beach. © Tony Burton, 1980.

On the way back to the bus, I just had time to take three quick costumbrista snaps of the lakeshore: fishing nets, washerwomen and a fishing boat, with no idea that these subjects had been depicted by numerous serious artists and photographers for decades.

Washing clothes, Ajijic. © Tony Burton, 1980.

Washing clothes, Ajijic. © Tony Burton, 1980.

Ajijic fishing boat. © Tony Burton, 1980.

Ajijic fishing boat. © Tony Burton, 1980.

From Ajijic, the Panoramex bus stopped at the Chula Vista hotel for lunch, before the short drive to Chapala. Because it was only a few days after Easter, the town of Chapala was humming and buzzing, though we had such a short time there that I barely managed to snatch this quick photo from the pier.

Chapala waterfront. © Tony Burton, 1980.

Chapala waterfront and Cerro San Miguel. © Tony Burton, 1980.

It was another six years (by which time I was living in Guadalajara) before I saw Lake Chapala again. Within a year, I’d met my future wife, the director of the School for the Deaf in Jocotepec, and we’d had three weddings: civil, religious and a special service organized by the staff of the school for the students. The rest, as they say, is history!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic. The story of the School for the Deaf is told in my wife’s book New Worlds for the Deaf.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Apr 182024
 

When not writing about mariachi, historian Dr Álvaro Ochoa Serrano has dedicated much of his life to writing about Lake Chapala. His latest book, titled La Ciénega de Chapala, published in 2023, is an extraordinarily well-researched account of the history of the eastern end of Lake Chapala, told through four detailed and elegantly written case studies.

Alvaro-Ochoa-portada-1

The first, centered on the settlement near Jiquilpan named Tototlán (Totolán), walks readers through its development from early colonial times, with an accessible account of how the population, land tenure and economy were influenced by demographic factors, disease, banditry, land transfers and disputes, against a backdrop including the numerous political upheavals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The second part, about how the War of Independence played out in the wider region, provides an insightful analysis of the insurgents’ defense of Mezcala Island, and of how the war impacted the existing haciendas and settlements east and south of the lake.

Guaracha, the largest of these haciendas, is the subject of the book’s third part, which looks at the changing and sometimes violent relationships between the hacienda and its neighboring settlements from the mid-nineteenth century to modern times. Guaracha lost its proximity to the lakeshore after the first decade of the twentieth century, when the eastern end of the lake was drained for agricultural use.

The fourth part is a masterful account of the area around Briseñas, Buenavista, Cumuato and Maltaraña, haciendas on a deltaic area formed, over thousands of years, by the Río Lerma where it enters the lake. This section skillfully incorporates details of land transactions, ownership, and reclamation while explaining the significant influence of the Castellanos family in the nineteenth century, and the short-lived meteoric rise to political power of Manuel Cuesta Gallardo at the end of the Porfiriato.

Ochoa is a consummate, award-winning historian. His text includes detailed footnotes, a selection of photographs and maps, an extensive bibliography and a full index for names of people and places. His books are available via Spanish-language bookstores and online via http://www.libreriacolmich.com/ amazon.com.mx and bookstore sites such as https://www.gandhi.com.mx (tip: search using “Alvaro Ochoa Serrano”)

La Ciénega de Chapala: un cuarteto de textos a flote is currently available only in Jiquilpan and in Morelia:
– Jiquilpan: Librería del Portal frente a la Plaza; and from Tere Sánchez, Unidad Académica de Estudios Regionales de la UNAM (9 to 3, and 5 to 7).
– Morelia: Librería “La Galaxia de Gutenberg,” calle Ortega y Montañez, casi esquina con Martínez de Lejarza en el barrio de Capuchinas.

Book: Álvaro Ochoa Serrano. 2023. La Ciénega de Chapala: un cuarteto de textos a flote. Tlalpujahua: Editorial Morevalladolid.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Chapter 6 of Lake Chapala: A Postcard History is an English-language account of some of the major changes that occurred in this general area during the twentieth century.

Comments, corrections or additional material are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Apr 112024
 

Juan Aráuz Lomeli (ca 1887-1970) is known to have taken photos of Chapala from the 1920s onward. The somewhat unusual surname Aráuz or Arauz—the accent is optional—is of Basque origin. Though not a full-time professional photographer, Juan Aráuz Lomeli stamped “ARAUZ – FOT.” and an address in Guadalajara on the reverse of the photos he published as postcards, and sometimes added a small white circle containing a stylized JA (or JAL) alongside the caption.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli’s son, Juan Victor Aráuz Gutiérrez (1914-2000), was also a photographer who lived and worked in Guadalajara. Because they sometimes photographed the same subject at the same time, this has led to some uncertainty in the case of some images as to the true identity of the photographer. In addition, more than one edition of some images is known, distinguished by distinct styles of lettering for the captions.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli is known to have photographed and published more than a dozen different postcard views of Chapala.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. Chapala. ca 1926.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. “Chapala.” ca 1926.

This particular card (above), number 156, is entitled “Chapala – Jal” and has a handwritten notation dating it to 4 October 1926, leaving no doubt that it is the work of Juan Aráuz Lomeli rather than his son. The reverse of the card has a rectangular hand-stamped box reading (on three lines) “ARAUZ- FOT. / HGO 19, NUM 881, / GUADALAJARA, MEX.”

It shows (left to right), the Villas Elena, Niza and Josefina. (See If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants for the history of these interesting buildings.)

Some captions were probably added in haste, and occasionally are inaccurate. For example, this second card (below), which has an identical hand-written date, is mistakenly captioned “Villa Josefina;” the building in this photo is not Villa Josefina but the larger historic estate known as Villa Montecarlo.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. Villa Josefina, Chapala. ca 1926.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. Villa Montecarlo (despite the caption), Chapala. ca 1926.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli was born to Juan Aráuz and his wife, Austreberta Lomeli, in Guanajuato in about 1887 or 1888. He died in Guadalajara on 30 November 1970. Curiously, his death certificate mistakenly names his wife (who had died many years earlier) as Victoria Rodriguez in place of Victoria Gutiérrez. According to a contemporary newspaper, Victoria Gutiérrez de Arauz Lomeli had died on 15 July 1942, at the age of 52, though this age does not match the census data from 1930!

The household listed in 1930 comprised Juan Arauz Lomeli (aged 42), who gave his profession as photographer, his wife Victoria J de Arauz (36) and their four sons: Jorge (17), Juan Victor (15), Fernando (12) and Alfonzo (10). The name Fernando appears to have been an enumerator’s error for Francisco, since records show that Francisco Aráuz Gutiérrez (born ca 1918, and definitely the son of Juan Aráuz Lomeli and Victoria Gutiérrez) married twice in relatively quick succession in the 1940s, first in 1942, at the age of 25, and then in 1947.

Alberto Gómez Barbosa, in his multi-part series on photography in Jalisco for El Informador in 2004, recalled that Juan Aráuz Lomeli’s interest in photography began when he worked for the Compañia Eléctrica de Chapala, where one of the managers was Luis Gonzaga Castañeda. Gonzaga was a particularly keen photographer and inspired several colleagues, including Aráuz, to take up the hobby. Aráuz and Gonzaga both contributed photographs to illustrate Guadalajara Colonial, a book by José Cornejo Franco, as did a third photographer, Ignacio Gómez Gallardo.

Aráuz knew and was an admirer of José María Lupercio, another of the famous photographers of Guadalajara, whose timeless images of the city and of Lake Chapala have in many ways never been surpassed. Aráuz particularly admired the fact that Lupercio was a true artist, who eschewed timers and measuring scales in favor of mixing all his solutions for developing photographs by eye.

According to Gómez Barbosa, Aráuz became a good friend of José Clemente Orozco and took several singularly-striking portraits of the artist, including some reproduced in later biographies of the world-renowned muralist. As we saw in a previous post, Arauz’s son, Juan Victor Aráuz, also knew Orozco and later documented the progress of Orozco’s work on several murals in Guadalajara, including preliminary sketches that were later altered or never executed.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 9 August 2019.

Sources

  • Alberto Gómez Barbosa. 2004. “La fotografía en Jalisco.” El Informador, 1 August 2004, 14.
  • El Informador: 16 July 1942, 11.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Apr 042024
 

In the late 1930s the government of President Lázaro Cardenas financed the completion of a paved highway from Mexico City to Guadalajara via Toluca, Morelia and Jiquilpan (Cardenas’s birthplace). To commemorate the first part, Mexico City to Morelia, author and art historian Pedro Ceuleneer de Gante was commissioned to write a short guidebook illustrated by maps and photographs for motorists using the improved route. Written in Spanish, this was published in 1939 as La Ruta de Occidente.

Mexico's Western Highways. c 1940.

By 1940, the road (now federal Highway 15) had been completed all the way to Guadalajara, finally linking Mexico’s two largest cities by a ‘modern’ highway. The tourist potential of this route had long been recognized, since it included the southern shore of Lake Chapala. To celebrate the achievement, Mexico’s Western Highways, an English-language version of the book was released. Academic Kent Dickson’s assertion that this is a translation of La Ruta de Occidente is mistaken: Mexico’s Western Highways, “Presented by Pemex Travel Club” was an entirely rewritten guide, expanded to extend the route all the way to Guadalajara.

The simple, but effective road maps in both Spanish and English versions were drawn by Pablo C de Gante, who also supplied some of the photos. Other photos are credited to POSTAMEX, Mauricio Yáñez, Ruperto Martínez, and ‘Chávez.’

At least two editions of Mexico’s Western Highways are known. They have identical interiors, but different covers and are printed on different grades of paper. The cover of the edition with thicker paper shows a man looking towards an earthenware bowl, with a traditional butterfly fishing net typical of Lake Pátzcuaro in the background. The front cover of the edition on thinner (cheaper) paper—a tourist edition with the logo and imprint of the Asociación Mexicana de Turismo (founded in 1939) on the back cover—shows Janitzio, the Lake Pátzcuaro island associated with Noche de Muertos (Night of the Dead).

Some idea of how difficult transport had been in this region prior to this highway’s completion can be gleaned from Leo Stanley’s account of riding horseback around the western end of the lake in 1937.

Equally, it is no coincidence that among the first high quality photographs of the south side of the lake are those taken by an American couple, Esther Henderson and Chuck Abbott, in about 1942 for the the Arizona Highways magazine.

Illustrations in the book relating to Lake Chapala include a view of the south shore; a photograph of a sail canoe, described as a “curious type of sailboat… popular among the native fishermen of Lake Chapala;” and a general shot of the resort town itself.

Chapala was where “the people from the city flock to enjoy the excellent swimming, to rest and recuperate. Many people of Guadalajara have built summer homes at Chapala; others go there for week-ends or simply to spend the day.”

The book paints an exaggeratedly idyllic picture of Chapala at the time:

The atmosphere of Chapala is essentially festive and gay. The town is very attractive with its white-walled houses, its beautiful gardens and promenades, the chalets which dot the water’s edge and the many palm trees which suggest the tropics. The air is always full of the music played and sung by strolling groups of mariachis. Good hotels and restaurants answer the practical needs of enjoying a stay in this delightful vacation place.

Swimming at Chapala is grand sport. The beaches are of fine clean sand, and the balmy climate induces one to spend hour upon hour alternately sunbathing and dipping into the water of this lovely mountain lake. Launches are available for making trips on the lake, including excursions to the islands known as Presidio and Alacranes.”

One interesting side note. The final map in the book (shown above) has a “Brick Works” midway between the side road to the Juanacatlán Falls (“The Niagara of Mexico”) and Guadalajara. Historically, there have been several brick works in that general area, including the one owned by English architect George Edward King at the start of the twentieth century. Among other buildings, King designed and built—using bricks from his own yard—Chapala’s iconic “Casa Braniff,” completed in 1905.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury describe the fascinating villages and towns along Highway 15, which links Mexico City to Guadalajara and beyond.

Sources

  • Kent L Dickson. 2013. “Una excursión por México en auto. Guías turísticas, 1925-1940.” 2013, Annual Juan Bruce-Novoa Mexican Studies Conference, UC Irvine.
  • Pablo C. de Gante. 1939. La Ruta de Occidente. Mexico: D.A.P.P. (Departamento Autónomo de Prensa y Publicidad).
  • Pablo C. de Gante. 1940. Mexico’s Western Highways. Mexico: Pemex Travel Club.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Mar 282024
 

Juan Victor Aráuz Gutiérrez (1914-2000) and his father, Juan Aráuz Lomeli, were photographers who lived and worked in Guadalajara. Because they sometimes photographed the same subject at the same time, there is uncertainty in the case of some images as to which of the two men was the photographer.

Juan Victor Aráuz Gutiérrez (sometimes mistakenly named as Juan Victor Aráuz Martínez) was born in Guadalajara in November 1914 and died in the city on 4 October 2000.

Alberto Gómez Barbosa was a good friend of Juan Victor Aráuz. In his multi-part series on photography in Jalisco for El Informador in 2004, Gómez Barbosa recalled that Juan Victor Aráuz had learned photography from early childhood before pursuing a career as a professional photographer.

His father’s friendship with José Clemente Orozco meant that Juan Victor Aráuz also got to know the great muralist. Juan Victor Aráuz not only chronicled the growth of Guadalajara in photographs but also documented the progress of Orozco’s work on the murals in the city’s university, Government Palace and Hospicio Cabañas (now the Instituto Cultural Cabañas). His photos have proved especially valuable to Orozco scholars since they include images of preliminary sketches that were later altered or never executed.

Along with Orozco, Aráuz was among the founders in 1935 of the Jalisco Union of Painters and Sculptors (Unión de Pintores y Escultores de Jalisco), formed to respond to the call by the Revolutionary Writers and Artists League (Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarias) for a National Assembly of Artists. Other members of the Jalisco Union with links to Lake Chapala included Ixca Farías, José María Servín and Rubén Mora Gálvez..

At the end of the 1930s, when the University of Guadalajara established a School of Fine Arts (Escuela de Artes Plasticas), Aráuz was appointed as its first photography instructor even though there was then no formal career path for student photographers. He remained in that position for many years and taught successive generations of students, many of whom subsequently became well-known photographers.

In 1948, Juan Victor Aráuz partnered with Gabriel Camarena to open the Camarauz photo shop selling cameras and all manner of photographic equipment. Aráuz’s story-telling prowess and willingness to share his experiences and techniques quickly made his store a very popular meeting place for the city’s bohemian architects, painters, writers and would-be photographers.

This card, an interesting aerial view clearly marked Camarauz, dates from the early 1950s and was taken to document the near-completion of the wide avenue (Francisco I. Madero) in Chapala that leads to the town’s jetty and lakeside promenade. Like many other prominent Guadalajara families of the time, Juan Victor Aráuz had a vacation home in Chapala.

Juan Victor Aráuz. Aerial view of Chapala, ca 1950.

Juan Victor Aráuz. Aerial view of Chapala, ca 1950.

Author Katie Goodridge Ingram recalls Aráuz with fondness, saying that she, like her mother and brothers, took their films to him to be developed and printed, and always enjoyed the experience. She chatted with Aráuz several times in Chapala, and remembers him as “a tall lanky man, with thinning black hair, large features in mouth and nose and hands, and the long slumped look of an accomplished aristocrat.” She was so impressed with his photos that she took a selection with her when she attended a US boarding school and college.

In 1950, recognizing the shortage of gallery space in Guadalajara, Aráuz opened the Galeria Camarauz where shows featured the works of locally-resident artists such as Thomas Coffeen, Matias Goeritz and many others. The legendary Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo) held a solo exhibit there entitled “Como nace y crece un volcán” (How a volcano is born and grows), based on the eruptions of Paricutin Volcano in Michoacán in the previous decade. The Galería Camarauz also sponsored an exhibition of photographs taken by the distinguished Jaliscan writer Juan Rulfo (a personal friend of Victor’s) at the Casa de Cultura in Guadalajara in 1960.

Contemporaries praised Aráuz as a sensitive person with a great sense of humor. He was also an inveterate traveler. His time living with the indigenous Huichol Indians in their remote ancestral lands in the mountains of northern Jalisco and neighboring states proved to be his springboard to national fame. In 1959, an exhibit featuring a selection of his extraordinary Huichol photographs – “Los huicholes ante mi cámara” – opened at the Modern Art Museum in Mexico City in early February. It ran until the end of March. This was the very first time any photographer had been given a solo exhibit at the museum. The exhibit was a personal triumph. His sensitive and powerful Huichol images are now on permanent exhibition in the Sala Juan Víctor Aráuz of the Casa de la Moneda (former Mint), a museum in Zacatecas.

Juan Victor Aráuz was an avid and intelligent collector of early photography. His extensive and unrivaled collection of old photographic plates, daguerreotypes, negatives and prints of Guadalajara, many dating back to the 19th century, was bequeathed to the city. Aráuz researched early photography in Guadalajara and in 1988 a selection of his reproductions of early photographs, accompanied by texts by Francisco Ayón Zester, was published by the Unidad Editorial del Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco as Guadalajara, iconografía del siglo XIX y principios del XX.

The largest ever exhibition of photographs by Juan Víctor Aráuz was held in the Ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara from December 1993 to the following January. On display were 338 images spanning half a century, with examples of Aráuz’s best work from all over Mexico, as well as from New York and several countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, alongside several abstract compositions.

Juan Víctor Aráuz won numerous awards for his work, including the Premio Jalisco (Jalisco Prize)in 1957, awarded by then governor Agustín Yáñez, the Premio Ciudad de Guadalajara (City of Guadalajara Prize) in 1998 and the Premio Jalisco en Artes (Jalisco Arts Prize) in 1982.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 23 August 2019.

Sources:

  • Arturo Camacho. 2008. “La fotografía en Guadalajara”. Revista La Tarea (revista de la Sección 47 del Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación), #6, Oct 2008.
  • Justino Fernandez. 1960. “Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en 1959.” Suplemento del Num. 29 de los Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Esteticas, Mexico, 1960.
  • Alberto Gómez Barbosa. 2004. “La fotografía en Jalisco.” El Informador, 1 August 2004, 14.
  • Francisco Javier Ibarra. 2005. “Juan Víctor Arauz: espejo de la memoria III.” El Informador, 17 July 2005, 14-B.
  • El Informador: 5 October 2000.
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram, personal communication, July 2018.
  • Raquel Tibol. 1994. “Gran Exposicion Fotografica De Juan Victor Arauz”, Proceso, 22 January 1994.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Mar 212024
 

One curiosity in the permanent collection of Guadalajara’s Instituto Cultural Cabañas is this pretty painting by Ignacio Ramírez titled “Vista de Chapala.” The painting is dated 1986, even though the view it depicts is clearly from many decades earlier, as evidenced, for example, by the absence of Casa Braniff (completed in 1905) and of several other significant early landmarks along the lake’s shoreline.

Ignacio Ramírez. 1986. Vista de Chapala. Credit: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

Ignacio Ramírez. 1986. Vista de Chapala. Credit: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

What struck me when I first came across this painting is that is almost identical to (perhaps based on?) a much earlier painting by Paul (‘Pablo’) Fischer, which dates back to about 1900. Born in Germany, Fischer (1864-1932) trained as a doctor before moving to Mexico to administer an inheritance, where he worked in Durango for a few years before marrying a Mexican girl in 1895. Spending extended vacations dedicated to his art, Fischer traveled with his family widely across Mexico, painting as he went, and is known to have completed several paintings of Chapala.

Paul Fischer. c 1900. View of Chapala.

Paul Fischer. c 1900. View of Chapala.

I don’t know where the original Paul Fischer painting now is, but it was reproduced, with the artist’s permission, as a postcard—including Fischer’s near-invisible monogram embossed into its design—at the start of the twentieth century by Juan Kaiser, a Guadalajara-based publisher.

Did Ignacio Ramírez base his 1986 painting on Fischer’s original work or a Kaiser postcard of the painting? Or did he have some other source for his inspiration? If Ramírez’s work is derivative of Fischer’s much earlier painting, how does this affect its merit for inclusion in a museum’s permanent collection?

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Mar 142024
 

While trawling through the archives of the Guadalajara Reporter many years ago, I stumbled across a one-line reference to the German-born film producer Hans Oppenheimer. Anita Lomax, the weekly newspaper’s Ajijic correspondent, commented in 1964 that “Hans Oppenheimer, writer and poet” had just left Ajijic for a visit to Mexico City.

Oppenheimer-title-page

Earlier that year, Oppenheimer’s short story “The Value of the Ear” had been published in the Spring issue of the prestigious Southwest Review. In the introduction to that issue, the editor noted the wide range range of locations from which material had come, including Oppenheimer’s which had been submitted from “Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico.”

Interestingly, several other Lake Chapala-based authors had work published in Southwest Review, including Paul Alexander Bartlett, Willard “Butch” Marsh, and Witter Bynner, whose “Beach at Chapala” was published by the magazine in 1947.

Oppenheimer’s “The Value of the Ear” is a moralistic tale of a young shoeshine boy, Pedro, who is desperately striving to keep his family afloat in the face of poverty and deprivation. Pedro explains to his family that an eccentric ‘gringo’ has just given him five pesos to take the day off, and has promised that “if you will cut off your ear, so I can see it, I will give you a thousand pesos.”

The upside of this barbaric self-mutilation would be acquiring the means to buy a bicycle—enabling Pedro to sell newspapers—and also pay for his sister to get married and have “a good house, with room for pigs in the back.”

Before and after his decision, Pedro seeks advice from the local butcher and the local Padre. While the village is never named—and no clues offered about its location—the setting can readily be imagined as Ajijic or one of its neighboring lakeside communities.

According to an online movie database, Hans Oppenheimer was born in Berlin, Germany, on 25 April 1892, and died in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 19 August 1965. He produced several movies, including Wir Kellerkinder (1960), So toll wie anno dazumal (1962), Ich kann nicht länger schweigen (1962), Stop Train 349 (1963), Code Name: Jaguar (1965), and The Thief (1966).

As I tried to find out more about his life and writing career, I ran into an unexpected roadblock. Hans Oppenheimer is credited as a co-author of “An Evening With Robert Burns,” released by Columbia records in 1956, and featuring the Saltire Singers. According to a normally reliable music reference site, “The Saltire Music Group was a Scottish chamber music ensemble based in Edinburgh and co-founded in 1950 by composer and violinist Isobel Dunlop (1901—1975) and German opera conductor Hans Oppenheim (1892—1965).”

However, its biography of the distinguished musician and conductor Hans Oppenheim (not Oppenheimer) gives precisely the same birth and death dates as the movie database attributes to Hans Oppenheimer the producer.

Are Hans Oppenheim and Hans Oppenheimer one and the same person, or are they two different individuals whose biographical details have somehow become confused?

Please get in touch if you can help sort this out this mini-mystery!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 16 July 1964, 8.
  • Hans Oppenheimer. 1964. “The Value of the Ear,” Southwest Review, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Spring 1964), pp 174-178.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Mar 072024
 

A striking series of color-tinted postcards was published by S. Altamirano in the mid-1920s. The application of color on these cards was far more sophisticated than that used earlier by (among others) Alba y Fernández.

The reverse side of these cards carries the imprint, “Editor S. Altamirano, Av. Colon 165, Guadalajara.” The front of the cards includes a series number and caption, in black lettering as a single line, using both upper and lower case. The font used for the number is smaller than the font used for the caption.

Most Altamirano cards depict buildings in Guadalajara. But at least five cards in the series are related to Lake Chapala. They include (below) this carefully-composed view, from the lake, of Chapala’s majestic railroad station (now the Centro Cultural González Gallo). Carriages are visible behind a throng of excited passengers. Given that the railroad station was only in service from 1920 to 1926, this photograph must date from that period.

Romero / S. Altamirano. c 1925. Chapala Railroad Station.

Romero / S. Altamirano. c 1925. Chapala Railroad Station.

Another Altamirano card shows the Hotel Arzapalo, as viewed from the main pier. A third, taken from almost the same vantage point, focuses on the San Francisco church and Casa Braniff; it has a line of cargo boats in the foreground.

Romero ? / S. Altamirano. c 1925. San Francisco Church and Casa Braniff.

Romero ? / S. Altamirano. c 1925. San Francisco Church and Casa Braniff.

The fourth card in the series is an unusual view from the beach looking up to the castle-like Villa Montecarlo. The only other Altamirano card I have seen that relates to Chapala is a view of the famous trio of villas—Niza, Elena and Josefina—that caught the eye of so many different photographers over the years.

At least two of the photographs—the railroad station and the trio of villas— are definitely the work of a Guadalajara-based photographer named Romero. Romero took black and white photos and usually added “Romero Fot” and “Es propiedad” on them as a means of protecting his authorship. Presumably Altamirano and Romero had a commercial relationship, and it is more than possible that the other images published by Altamirano as color-tinted postcards were also originally by Romero.

One possible candidate for “S. Altamirano” is Guadalajara-born Salvador Altamirano Jiménez (1883-1939). He was a civil and electrical engineer, married first (in 1909) to Cecilia Martínez Cairo and then (1926) to Dolores Elizondo. Prior to the Mexican Revolution, he was an engineer in the Mexican armed forces. He also liked fast cars and was a member of the the Mexican Section of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Each image on Altamirano postcards has a unique 5-digit number in tiny print at the bottom, sometimes in white, sometimes in black, depending on the tones in the photograph. These numbers are identical in style to the 5-digit numbers used by publisher Felix Martín of Mexico City. Martín’s postcards include one of the historic Villa Virginia in Chapala, and it seems likely that the two publishers had some kind of commercial connection.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 7 August 2023.

Sources

  • La Iberia: diario de la mañana, 23 Jan 1910, 2.
  • The Mexican Herald: 8 Nov 1912, 8; 6 December 1912.
  • El Diario: 13 April 1914, 1.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 292024
 

Some years ago, I stumbled across an early, unattributed short story which mentioned Lake Chapala and made several references to the town of La Barca, and to José Velarde (“The Golden Ass”). The story, titled “The Sorceress” and published in 1894, was about the impacts of superstition, religion and sacrifice.

One version of "The Sorceress," Cincinnati Enquirer, 1894.

Warner’s “The Sorceress,” as printed in Cincinnati Enquirer, 1894.

Recently, while researching a short story by Gwendolen Overton, titled “The White Rebozo,” it occurred to me that she may also have written “The Sorceress.” However, after diving down several more rabbit holes, I now know that “The Sorceress” was the work of civil engineer Edwin Hall Warner (1858-1927), and that its original subtitle in The Argonaut was “How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.”

Edwin Hall Warner, born in New York on 21 February 1858, studied civil engineering at the Polytechnic Engineering Department of the University of the City of New York. From about 1884 to 1888, he worked for the Mexican Central Railway (which includes the Mexico City-Irapuato-Ocotlán-Guadalajara line) and the Union Pacific Railway, before taking a position as an engineer of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway.

On 21 August 1890, Warner married Frances Beatrice Genevieve Ferguson in Seattle, Washington. Her family lived in Seattle, though she had been born on 10 August 1868 in Tepic, then in Jalisco, now in Nayarit. The couple had no children.

Shortly after marrying, Warner resigned from his position with the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway, and announced plans to open an office with his brother, Joseph L Warner, for consultancy work in civil and mining engineering. The brothers were co-founders and shareholders of the Culver Gold Mining Company.

In May 1892, Warner initially declined an offer to be the Seattle city engineer, but he did briefly hold that position a couple of years later, before political infighting resulted in his removal.

Possibly soured by his experiences in Seattle, Warner began to publish short stories. Among those published in The Argonaut and similar high quality publications were “The Painted Statue” (1894); “Love in Mexico: An American Engineer’s Ride for Life that Followed a Fiesta” (1895); “The Torture of Doubt” (1895), about a poor Mexican flower-seller’s jealousy of a wealthy American lady; and “In a Mexican Plaza” (1895), which begins, “The state of Jalisco is the Andalusia of Mexico. Nearly in the centre lies Guadalajara, the garden city of….” In addition to his prose pieces, Warner published several poems in the Los Angeles Times, including “Only a Volunteer” (1917) and “The Spy” (1918).

In 1896, Warner gave specialist testimony, as a “civil engineer in Seattle” at the inquest into the Point Ellice Bridge disaster in Victoria, BC.

Alongside writing and private consultancy work, Warner worked several years at the turn of the century for the Republic Mining Company; his map of the City of Republic (c. 1899) is a collector’s item. Warner also worked as the principal assistant engineer for the Columbia Improvement Company at Electron, Washington.

Warner and his wife then moved to Venice, California, where he supervised engineering projects related to water, before being appointed chief engineer of the Tri-State Land Company in 1905.

In 1906, Warner returned to Mexico for a year as assistant chief engineer of the Necaxa Dam in Puebla for the Mexican Light and Power Company.

On his return to California, Warner settled in Los Angeles to design irrigation projects and piers, including the Santa Monica pier, “the first all-concrete self-supporting pleasure pier in the world.” He also undertook work for the Southern California Edison Company, and on early concrete dams, such as the Kerckhoff Dam and the Snow Mountain Dam.

In later life, Warner and his wife moved to Burlingame, California. Following his death on 17 June 1927, his obituary described him as “an Alaska pioneer” who had done “extensive work in Panama and Mexico.”

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Lake Chapala: A Postcard History (2022) uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala first became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Willi H. Hager. 2015. Hydraulicians in the USA 1800-2000: A biographical dictionary of leaders in hydraulic engineering and fluid mechanics, Vol 2, 2687. CRC Press.
  • Juneau Empire: 18 Jun 1927, 1.
  • Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLI, Number 258, 28 August 1915.
  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer: 22 Aug 1890, 6; 30 Nov 1890, 3; 27 Sep 1891, 5; 23 Jan 1894, 8;
  • The Victoria Daily Times: 9 Jun 1921, 4.
  • Edwin Hall Warner. 1894. “The Sorceress : How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.The Argonaut (San Francisco), Vol. XXXV. No. 2 (July, 1894), 4.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 272024
 

“The Sorceress: How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.”

by Edwin Hall Warner. 1894.

The calzada principal in La Barca runs a meandering course easterly through the town to the garita. The houses on each side are of the usual Mexican type, the more pretentious of stone, others of adobe, with barred windows and heavily doored zaguan, where the idle porter sits lazily, incessantly rolling and smoking his cigarillo, arousing himself sufficiently at times to salute a passer-by or to answer a question, and relapsing at once into his former dreamy condition. Children imperfectly clothed play solemnly in the gutter; their dark-brown bodies, shining dully through the incrusting dirt, are proof against the darkening effect of the sun’s rays; a solitary lagartija clings lizard-like to the curb and feebly resists a boy’s effort to goad him into action. The sereno leans sleepily against a corner in the shade, loosely holding his carbine, and muses on the unhappy lot of a policeman forced to keep up a semblance of watchfulness.

Suddenly, as a woman’s figure appears on the street, there is a chorus of shrieks from the group in the gutter and a skittering of childish feet as they disappear, panting with fright, in a dozen different directions. The porters, stirred into action, hurriedly close the doors and piously whisper an ave, the sereno draws himself erect, furtively crosses himself, and murmurs “La bruja! Dios me guarde!” as the woman passes. She moves quickly down the street, looking neither to the right nor to the left, passing the garita where the solitary customs official likewise crosses himself and asks divine protection from the wiles of the sorceress; nevertheless, he follows the sinuous, graceful movement of the young woman and notes the perfection of face and figure, which appeals to him in spite of his persuasion that her beauty is of origin diabolic and lent by Lucifer himself to snare men’s souls. She wore a piece of dark-green stuff”, folded around the hips and falling to the ankle; a jacket of red gauze clothed the upper part of her person, veiling her bosom, upon which lay a chain of gold in the form of a serpent. Her black hair, parted at the forehead and drawn back in two splendid tresses, intensified the pure white of her brow.; her eyes, shaded by long lashes, were the greenish-black of obsidian. Continuing her walk to a small adobe house some hundred yards beyond the gate, she disappeared within the doorway. The customs official gave a sigh of relief and returned to his desk.

Once within the house, she lost her firmness of bearing, tottered to the center of the room, and sank in a heap on a rush-mat. Her form suddenly grew rigid, her face took on the gray pallor of death; the eyes became set and stared fixedly at the wall opposite; the golden serpent on her bosom seemed in the half-light of the dying fire to writhe and twist, instinct with life.

– –

At the fire sat a little, shriveled-up old man, brown and wrinkled, stirring with skinny claw the contents of an olla. Of her entrance he had taken no notice, continuing his employment as if waiting for her to speak. At length he looked around and sprang to his feet; a pallor almost as deep as her own overspread his face. “Maria!” he whispered; “Maria!” Meeting with no response, he hastily moved to the door, barred it, and, returning to his place by the fire, crouched down and shrouded his face in his arms.

Soon the woman’s body lost its rigidity, her eyes turned toward the doubled-up figure of the old man and shone with such a basilisk glare that he moved uneasily; the eyelids drooped, and she sank back upon the floor, apparently asleep; her respiration, at first harsh and labored, became quiet and regular.

The old man now raised his head for the first time, and fixed his bright, beady eyes on the woman’s face.

“A prophecy,” he said — “a prophecy! Let the high priest of the gods know their will!”

As if in response, the woman began an inarticulate murmur. Soon her voice rose to distinctness :

“The darkness of earth is in the temple; the altar of the lire-god is black with ashes, the serpent lies dead before Quetzalcoatl; the grinning skulls at the feet of Xipe-totec mock the power that is gone forever; the snake-skin drum is beat in vain; the victim is slain; the sound of thunder fills the temple, the priests fall dead, and the foot of the white man desecrates the house of the gods.”

Her voice fell, and, with a fluttering sigh, she awoke. The light of expectancy which had illuminated the old man’s face gradually died out as the woman’s words fell on his ear, and, at their conclusion, he seemed shrunken to half his size.

“‘Tis false!” he said — “false! The power of the gods can never fail. For seven years have we awaited the sign, and to-morrow Xipe-totec, gladdened once more by the sight of blood on the sacrificial stone, will make answer to his children’s prayers. Saw you the white stranger again today, Maria?” he asked.

“Yes; I have but now left him.”

“And he will be in the barranquilla to-morrow at sunset?”

The woman’s voice faltered as she answered: “Yes; if—”

“If!” hastily returned the old man; “if? What does this mean?”

“He will come if I send him word, but — but I cannot — oh, papa mío, don’t ask it. Forego the sacrifice to Xipe-totec, and content the people with the sacred mask-dances.”

He looked at her with astonishment: “Seven years have we waited, and the daughter of El Viejito, the high priest, asks that the sacrifice be omitted! What woman’s whim is this?” he said, fiercely. “Why should the god, upon whose awful power we must depend, be denied his due?”

“He loves me, father.”

“Loves you! And if he did not, could he ever be lured within the reach of the Nagual priesthood? Suppose he does, he will pay the penalty of his folly.”

The woman rose to her feet. “He shall not,” she said, firmly: “for I love him, and no priestly knife shall ever harm him. At first, I believed all you had taught me; believed that my duty to the gods made all things good, no matter how cruel and horrible they otherwise seem. But now I know better. The ancient religion shall die out and the worshipers perish from off the face of the earth ere harm shall come to him I love.”

The fierce glitter in the old man’s eyes gave way to a look of crafty cunning. “Well, well! so be it,” he said; “the sacred dances must answer.”

– –

When the “Golden Ass” — as his La Barca neighbors unpleasantly called him — developed a taste for mural decoration, his case was a serious one; the casa pintada was the result, and a most marvelous one it is. His zeal in the cause of art was intense, but not discriminating : primary colors alone seemed to fill the requirements; minor details of perspective, truth to nature, and the like, were absorbed in a wild hunger for color, and plenty of it. Impossible
landscapes and oddly constructed animals ran riot on the walls.

He is long since dead; but his house remains, and made very comfortable engineering head- quarters. In one of the least violent rooms, overlooking the miniature fountain in the patio, the engineer in charge, Vincent Colby, had his office. He was a good type of the American engineer : tall and well built, he gave the impression of staying qualities rather than of muscular power. The warmth of a tropical sun had but slightly deepened a naturally fair complexion; his dark hair and good eyes, with a softness of intonation and engaging manner, stamped him at once with the Mexicans as muy simpático, and revealed to them the possibility that all Americans might not be barbaros, an impression unfortunately yet not unnaturally prevalent.

Just now Vincent was in an unpleasant frame of mind, and his musings ran somewhat as follows: “I may be an idiot, but I can’t help it. Idiocy may be congenital or acquired — mine must be acquired, for, up to date, I’ve been reasonably conventional. The mater will rave, I know, when I take home a native wife; the sisters will make matters unpleasant for a day or two; and the governor will probably cut up rather rough. But if I’m suited, they will have to be; if a man can’t make his own choice when it comes to marrying, when can he? I’ve made mine — if she’ll have me, that is. There’s the rub. She says she’ll give me an answer on the seventh — why not the sixth or eighth, I don’t know. I’ve asked her a dozen times in the last ten days, but it is always the same : she neither says yes nor no. It can’t be coquetry, for she smiles sadly, yet with a wistful look which can mean but one thing.”

Here a rattle of hoofs in the patio interrupted him, and he looked out to see the company’s doctor dismount.

“Hello, doc,” he called out, “come in here; I want to talk to you. There’s not a soul about the place, and I’m too lazy or nervous to work. Throw your saddle-bags over there on the table and have a drop of toddy. No? You don’t usually let a good thing go by. What’s up? Patients dying or getting well, or have you been rowing it again with the padre at Penjamo, because you differ as to the use of water? You’re all wrong. Be satisfied to cure the poor beggars without lecturing them on the advantages of an occasional bath. To clean them is so radical a measure that you’ll be run out of the country as a pernicious foreigner attempting to demolish a most cherished idea.”

The doctor made no reply.

“Well, out with it, doc. You needn’t look at me like that.”

“Vince, we’ve known each other as boys and men for a good many years ”

“All right, doc; you always begin with gentle boyhood days when you’ve anything particularly damned unpleasant to say. But I suppose I must submit. I don’t know what’s up, but if it’s as serious as you look, old man, it’s pretty bad.”

“It’s serious or not, as you choose to make it,” answered the doctor. “An ambition to acquire the Mixe language may be a laudable one; folk-lore, ancient religion, and all that sort of rubbish learned on the spot are a kind of relief in this hot, dusty hole, though I don’t care for it myself.
Even Nagualism and other high-class sorcery may be amusing to you, if not to me. But when you get spoony on the sorceress herself, it’s time for some one to open your eyes.”

“Sorceress! ” responded the other. “What rot you are talking. That sort of thing is played out in these days.”

“I tell you it isn’t played out,” rejoined the doctor; “the natives keep it dark and say there’s nothing in it, but half the Indians in this town hold to the old faith, and every time a child is baptized, they set up a little incantation business on the sly and do the trick over again in their own way, with an extra curse or two on the white man and his god. I scared the story out of old Sebastiano, and got the whole programme. The Eleusinian mysteries aren’t in it with this accursed Nagualism, which includes human sacrifices and other pleasant little ceremonies which, though no doubt highly gratifying to the worshipers, must be somewhat unpleasant to the victim, I fancy. El Viejito is the high priest, and Maria Candelaria is his daughter. They are a dangerous, fanatical lot, and if you’ll take my advice, you’ll leave them alone. They bitterly hate the whole white race, and an offering from it is not only an act distinctly pleasant in itself, but it is a religious duty as well. The government has only been partly successful in keeping it down, for, as an organization, Tammany Hall is chaos compared with it. They practice their devilish rites once in so often, and some one disappears.”

To hear one’s best beloved spoken of as a sorceress, and as one to whom wading in human gore was a usual and agreeable employment, was, to say the least, irritating; but the doctor’s earnestness and evident belief in what he had said roused in Vincent a strong desire to laugh.

“You’ve been imposed upon, old man,” he said. “Haven’t you learned yet that the one delight of the native is to impose on the credulous with creepy stories? Moreover, you have allowed yourself to listen to gossip about the
woman whom I intend to marry.”

“Marry! My God!”

“Yes, marry — if she’ll have me. I intended speaking of it, when you commenced with your infernal nonsense. It’s my affair anyhow, and if I’m satisfied, you can’t complain.”

To be told, even indirectly, to mind one’s own business is particularly hard, when one has tried to do a friend a kindness, so the doctor left the room, offended at the manner in which his efforts had been received.

The sun was low in the west on the following afternoon when the doctor rode into the patio of the casa pintada. His progress through the town had been delayed. First the alcalde had stopped him, and the usual salutation had extended into a conversation in which the alcalde was set aright in a problem which had occupied his mind for some time. He gave the Americans credit for exceeding ingenuity, but was as yet unadvised as to how even they could dig holes and set telegraph-poles in the bottom of the sea, upon which to string the submarine cable. The sea, he was aware, was, in places, much deeper than Lake Chapala. The simplicity of the method increased largely his admiration for the race whose resources of mind enabled them to cut loose alike from precedent and telegraph-poles. The padre next invited his attention to the beauty of a pair of kittens playing in a doorway, and was anxious in his inquiry as to whether a benignant Providence had vouchsafed to the land beyond the Rio Grande the blessing of cats. Having gently assured him that impartiality had been shown in the matter, although there were points about Mexican cats which other nations might envy, the doctor was free to make his way to head-quarters.

A nameless fear had oppressed him and could not be shaken off. He went hastily to Vincent’s room, but found it vacant. He was about to call a servant and inquire as to the whereabouts of his friend, when he saw a small scrap of paper on the floor. Idly picking it up, he read what aroused again his fears of the previous evening. In green ink, on paper none too clean, with vs and bs used interchangeably and double l doing service for y, was written: “Meet me in the Barranquilla de Homos at sunset. Maria.”

Hastily calling for Julio, he was told Vincent had left at five. Julio had been ordered to unsaddle his own horse, as his services would not be required. Returning to his room, the doctor consoled himself with the idea that, although a tryst ten miles away was unusual, danger was not necessarily impending; the roads were fairly free from bad characters, and a lonesome ride was probably the worst to be expected.

He had brought himself to this state of mind when a woman staggered into the room.

“Save him! Save him, doctor/” she cried. “Save him! ”

Her hair fell in a tangled mass about her face, her clothing was torn and disarranged, and her wrists cut and bleeding. He recognized Maria, but her presence made the meaning of what he had read unintelligible.

“I refused to send for him,” she continued, hastily, “so they bound me in the casita and sent him a message in my name. They left me powerless, as they supposed, but I escaped.”

“They? Who are they? ”

“The priests of the Nagual; they who cling to the old faith, and who, even now, would sacrifice on their altar the man I love. Ah! doctor, make haste or we shall be too late; an hour at most is all we have.”

Ordering Julio to follow him with the horses, the doctor made his way to the barracks.

Don Juan Gomez, Captain in the Fourth, was a model cavalry officer and a warm friend of. the engineer’s. The doctor had scarcely commenced his story, when Don Juan gave a brief order to his orderly at the door. A bugle call rang out, a clatter of hoofs on the pavement and the rattle of sabre and carbine in answer, gave proof of the discipline of the troop. A sergeant entered and saluted.

“Listo, señor! A caballo, doctor!”

With Maria as guide, they dashed out into the night. In the service of a friend, Juan Gomez spared neither man nor beast. The breath of the horses came hard and fast, and spur was freely used before Maria said : ” The entrance is between the two bowlders to the right of the stunted pine.”

Sunset found Vincent in the barranquilla. He had given no thought to the strangeness of such a place of meeting; he was to see again the woman he loved, and that was sufficient. No idea of danger had presented itself. Strong and well armed, he was confident of his ability to take care of himself. The place was dark and dismal, and he was too absorbed in his own fancies to note even casually his surroundings.

The trail had narrowed to barely a sufficient width for his horse, when he saw three men approaching on foot. They stood aside as he came up, and, as he attempted to pass, one seized him by the foot and threw him out of the saddle. Before he recovered from the shock, he was pinioned, blind-folded, and helpless. He felt himself lifted up, carried some little distance, and placed on the ground again.

He remained thus for an hour or more, when the bandage was removed from his eyes. He had felt no especial fear at his treatment, believing it to be a question of a small ransom and liberty as soon as he could communicate with his friends. He opened his eyes, and with the first glance around, all idea of liberty by purchase departed at once. As his eyes became accustomed to the semi-darkness, he saw he was in a cave-temple. On his right was a wooden idol, standing on a low stool. It was black and shining, as if charred and polished; its look was grim, and it had a wrinkled forehead and broad, staring eyes. He had read of the Black King, and now saw himself face to face with him. On the left was a coiled serpent, with head erect, shining eyes of jet, and fancifully painted scales, which he knew represented Quetzalcoatl. Immediately before him stood Xipe-totec, “the flayer of men,” the representative of all that was vile and horrible in the hidous cult whose victim he was. In front of the idol stood the sacrificial stone, humped in the centre, the better to present to the knife the chest of the victim.

His heart sank within him as he read his awful position in the signs around him. The wealth of the world would not save his life from the fanatical faithful of the Nagual sect. But last night he had declared the practice of their rites obsolete; now he had full proof of his error, and was about to pay the penalty.

By this time the cavern had filled with people. Half-naked priests began a low chant in a minor key, circling in front of the idols and swinging terra-cotta censers, from which were emitted the pungent fumes of copal.

The movement became faster, their voices rose in their excitement, while, in their frenzy, they gashed themselves with knives until the blood flowed freely. Seizing Vincent, they placed him, face upward, on the sacrificial stone.

The high priest stepped forward to the side of the victim. Raising his knife of green obsidian above his head, he began : “Xipe-totec, the all powerful.”

A woman’s shriek rang out, a flying form reached the altar as the knife descended, and a roar of musketry reverberated through the cavern.

A woman lay dead at the side of the sacrificial stone, on which rested the body of a man, an obsidian knife driven home in his heart.

Edwin Hall Warner.
San Francisco, July, 1894.

First published in The Argonaut (San Francisco), 9 July 1894.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Lake Chapala: A Postcard History (2022) uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala first became an international tourist and retirement center.

Source

  • Edwin Hall Warner. 1894. “The Sorceress : How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.” The Argonaut (San Francisco), Vol. XXXV. No. 2 (July, 1894), 4.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 222024
 

Two young US artists—Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser—who had first met at art school in Chicago, arrived in Chapala in 1923. Apart from short trips elsewhere they spent the next three and a half years at Lake Chapala—living first in Chapala, then in Ajijic, and then returning once again to Chapala—before continuing their highly successful art careers elsewhere. They are two of the earliest US painters to spend any significant amount of time sketching and painting at Lake Chapala.

Painted about one hundred years ago, this painting by Everett Gee Jackson was one of several early paintings included in a major retrospective of his work held at the San Diego Art Museum in 2007. According to the catalog of that exhibition, the painting (in a private collection) is titled “Church in Chapala.”

Everett Gee Jackson. c 1924. Church in Chapala. Credit: "Everett Gee Jackson/San Diego Modern, 1920-1955.

Everett Gee Jackson. c 1924. Church in Chapala. Credit: “Everett Gee Jackson/San Diego Modern, 1920-1955.”

But is this title accurate? The only church in Chapala in the 1920s was the parish church of San Francisco (La Parroquía de San Francisco), which has distinctive twin towers. My first thought was that this painting does not appear to match that church. Nor does it look like the churches in neighboring San Antonio Tlayacapan or Ajijic. So, is it really one of the churches at Lake Chapala, or does it depict a church elsewhere, perhaps in Guanajuato?

Dale Palfrey. View of San Francisco Church, Chapala, April 2024.

Dale Palfrey. View of San Francisco Church, Chapala, April 2024.

Asking this question online attracted a variety of responses, some supporting Chapala and others Guanajuato. Now, my good friend Dale Palfrey has kindly sent me photos taken from the presumed vantage point of the artist in Chapala, which establish beyond doubt that the painting does indeed depict the east end of San Francisco church in Chapala.

The foreground building in the photograph is modern, and obscures the original beautiful view enjoyed by D. H. Lawrence, Witter Bynner, Everett Gee Jackson and all the other famous visitors to Chapala in the 1920s.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic. For the history of numerous buildings in Chapala, including the main church, see If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants, translated into Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes.

Source

    • D. Scott Atkinson. 2007. Everett Gee Jackson: San Diego Modern, 1920-1955. San Diego Museum of Art.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 212024
 

Photographer and hotelier Winfield Scott was born in Galesburg, Michigan, on 15 July 1863 and died in Los Angeles, California, on 19 January 1942.

Scott spent six months in Mexico in 1888, and then lived in the country, with occasional breaks in California, from 1895 to 1924.

Scott-Chapala-Sonora-News-Co
From 1890 to 1894, he was working in Oakland, California. In 1894, he spent a weekend in jail when an aggrieved ex-colleague, unhappy about the terms of a business deal, denounced Scott for taking and possessing “indecent” photographs. A contemporary news report described them as “obscene photographs of semi-naked young Chinese girls” between 10 and 14 years of age. Scott was freed and exonerated because it proved impossible to find any such photos in his possession.

This may well have been the stimulus, if any was needed, that prompted Scott to move to Mexico in 1895 and settle in Silao, Guanajuato, where he undertook photographic commissions for the Mexican Central Railway (Ferrocarril Central Mexicano) and, from January 1897, for the National Railways (Ferrocarriles Nacionales). He is known to have photographed the famous Guanajuato mummies. He also sold some photos in 1896 to the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago.

His railway-related images include photos of canyons, stations, rural landscapes, and everyday life of the people living close to the tracks. By 1897, an advert in Modern Mexico (January 1897) claimed that he had amassed “the largest and most complete collection of scenes of Mexico and Mexican life”. In that same year, Wilson’s photographic magazine called him a pictorialist photographer and publicized his hundreds of images of Mexico and the U.S., with 5×8 prints on sale by mail order for $3 a dozen.

On 21 October 1898, now 35 years of age, Scott married 18-year-old Edna Browning Cody in the city of León, Guanajuato. Edna was from Lakeview, Michigan, but lived with her parents in the mining camp of Mineral de Cardones in Guanajuato.

By 1900, he and his wife (now known as Edna Cody Scott) lived in Ocotlán, Jalisco, on Lake Chapala, where he advertised the sale of “true portraits of the life and landscape of this country of unparalleled picturesqueness.”

Several of his photos, including a panoramic view of Chapala, were used to illustrate A tour in Mexico, written by Mrs James Edwin Morris (The Abbey Press, 1902).

A 1903 list of Scott’s Views of Mexico (published in Ocotlán, Jalisco) has 2486 numbered titles for Scott’s Mexican photographs, together with a testimonial attesting to their quality from Reau Campbell, of the American Tourist Association, author of Campbell’s New Revised Complete Guide and Descriptive Book of Mexico (1899).

scott-winfield-water-carrier-lake-chapala-1909-2

Scott: A Water Carrier (Lake Chapala) , 1909

In 1904, two of his photographs related to Lake Chapala—an Indian woman spinning and an Indian woman weaving—were published in National Geographic to illustrate an article by E. W. Nelson whose own photograph of a square-sailed boat on Lake Chapala was also included. These three images were the earliest photos of Lake Chapala to find their way into the pages of that august magazine.

Scott’s photographs were also used on numerous postcards, including several published by the Sonora News Company in Mexico City. In addition, three small photographs of Chapala, all by Scott, were used on one of the earliest postcards published by Juan Kaiser (with the imprint “Al Libro Mayor, S. Luis Potosí”) in about 1901.

scott-lake-chapala-ca-1908-

Scott: Lake Chapala, ca 1908

Scott’s specialty was the portrayal of women and children, as well as landscapes, and Mexico’s national photographic archive holds no fewer than 223 female portraits taken by Scott. Many of his portraits are exceptional in composition. Scott was one of the first of Mexico’s commercial photographers to pay as much attention to the context and surroundings as to the subject. His success in this regard is partly attributable to his rapid adoption of smaller and lighter cameras.

In 1908 Scott’s photographs were used to illustrate an account in Modern Mexico about the Colima-Manzanillo railway, then under construction but due to be completed in time for Mexico’s centenary celebrations in 1910.

During his time in Mexico, Scott collaborated with fellow American photographer Charles B. Waite. The two photographers offered, in the words of photographic historian Rosa Casanova, images specially chosen to appeal to an English-speaking audience: “a ‘costumbrista’ vision of the landscape, monuments, and people of the country, producing an imagery that was also adopted in Mexico, thanks to their widespread circulation in the form of postcards produced first by the Sonora News Company and later on by La Rochester.”

Scott. c 1900. Calle del Muelle, Chapala.

Winfield Scott. c 1900. Calle del Muelle, Chapala.

In April 1908, Charles B. Waite announced in the Jalisco Times that he had bought all of Scott’s negatives, and that any orders for Scott’s “Types and Views of Mexico” should now be addressed to him. Waite proudly proclaimed that he had “the largest assortment of views of any one country in the world.” Waite registered all the rights to the photographs with the relevant federal authorities. When republishing Scott’s work, Waite usually whited out (on the negatives) Scott’s numbers, captions and credit. This purchase and subsequent (re)registration has caused considerable uncertainty in some quarters (including Mexico’s National Fototeca) as to which photos should really be attributed to Scott, and which to Waite. Even one relatively recent INAH publication erroneously credited Waite for several photographs that are definitely the work of Scott.

After Winfield Scott separated, in about 1905, from his wife, Edna (who died in San Francisco in 1957), he began a relationship with Ramona Rodriguez. Their daughter, Margaret (Margarita), was born in Mexico in 1906. According to poet Witter Bynner and others, Ramona was Mexican and died (definitely before 1920) while Margaret was still young, leaving Scott to bring her up on his own.

When the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, Scott moved to California, but returned in 1912, and then divided his time between California and Mexico until 1924. When applying in 1921 (in the U.S.) for a new passport so that he can return to Ocotlán, he described himself as 5′ 5″ tall, with light blue eyes and brown hair.

scott-winfield-hotel-arzapalo-chapala-2

Scott: The Hotel Arzapalo, early 1900s.

From 1919 to about 1922, Scott was managing the Hotel Ribera near Ocotlán, the source of stories Scott shared with D. H. Lawrence, his wife Frieda, Witter Bynner and others in 1923.

By 1923, Scott was managing the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala, living there with his daughter Margaret in rooms on the west wing facing the lake. D. H. Lawrence used Scott as the basis for the hotel owner Bell in his novel The Plumed Serpent. Lawrence’s traveling companions Witter Bynner and Willard “Spud” Johnson stayed at the hotel, which was conveniently close to the house that Lawrence and his wife Frieda had rented.

In his memoir Journey with Genius (1951), Witter Bynner devotes chapter 16 to the Hotel Arzapalo and chapter 22 to Mr. Winfield Scott. He includes a detailed account of Scott telling them about how, while managing an hotel in Ocotlán, he and his guests narrowly escaped a run-in with gun-toting bandits. (Bynner, pp 110-114)

Elsewhere, Idella Purnell, a Guadalajara poet who spent time with Lawrence, has written about how she and Margarita Scott accompanied the Lawrences by boat to the railway station in mid-July 1923, when Lawrence and his wife Frieda left Chapala to return to Guadalajara and then New York.

Later that year, when Lawrence and Kai Gøtzsche visited Guadalajara in October 1923, they chose to stay at the Hotel García because Winfield Scott had now moved from Chapala and was managing that hotel. Scott did not remain at the Hotel García for long. By the end of the following year, he had moved back to California, where he lived until his death in 1942.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources:

  • Witter Bynner. 1951. Journey with Genius. New York: John Day.
  • Chapala (3 postcard shots) DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
  • Benigno Casas, “Charles B. Waite y Winfield Scott: lo documental y lo estético en su obra fotográfica”, in Dimensión Antropológica, vol. 48, 2010, pp. 221-244.
  • E. W. Nelson. 1904. “A Winter Expedition into Southwestern Mexico.” National Geographic, vol XV, #9 (September 1904), 341-357.
  • Jalisco Times, 10 April 1908, 24 April 1908.

Note: This is an expanded and updated version of a post first published in 2015.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards, including several by Scott, to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 152024
 

In a departure from our normal style, this post looks at a 1925 editorial in the long-running Guadalajara daily El Informador titled “La Villa Veraniega de Chapala” (The Summer Resort of Chapala). Quotes used throughout this post are informal translations of the original Spanish. The most likely candidate for the editorial’s authorship is the newspaper’s then Editor-in-Chief, Agustín Santoscoy. The editorial compared Chapala to holiday resorts and spa towns in South America.

It opened by claiming that illustrated magazines from Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina showed that their coastal resort towns had a level of elegance—in their “palaces, hotels, theaters, casinos and private residences”— equivalent to the best holiday locations in Europe. The author attributed this ‘success’ to their function as ports, with good links to Europe, and the nature of the adjoining coast:

The coast in those places is not unhealthy, there are no Indians, and the bulk of the civilized population lives on the coast; and, finally, a long period of peace and prosperity allows these towns to have the luxury of wonderful spas.”

The writer then drew a sharp (and nowadays politically incorrect) contrast with Mexico:

In Mexico, the opposite is true: the coasts are wild, sick, full of pests, almost uninhabited and very inaccessible due to a lack of communication routes. On these coasts, the indigenous population, very dark in color, lives indolently in the orchards or in the small towns, and stamps them with its style, offering tourists the shade of palm and petate, thatched lean-tos and shingle-roofed huts on the burning sands of the beach.”

El Informador, 10 April 1925

After dismissing Cuyutlán—“the only beach in the Pacific that can be reached by train after a frightful journey full of discomforts”—and Veracruz—where the nortes [strong storms] scare people and blow away awnings, latticework, pergolas, branches and roofs every year—the writer asks where “the rich, the elegant people of the capital, top officials and diplomats” spend their summers in Mexico?

And his answer? Chapala—which is where “you can go without fear and in relative comfort” to find enchanting water and scenery, without having to experience “the hell of the coast.”

The author then described what Chapala was like ‘today’ and suggested steps that the federal government might take to improve the town for the benefit of all visitors, famous and otherwise.

J. E. Sánchez (phot). Postcard mailed 1924

J. E. Sánchez (photographer). Postcard mailed 1924.

Chapala in 1925

Apart from the natural beauty of the place, with its lovely views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and the picturesque stretch of beach suitable for a magnificent resort, Chapala is a very poor and very ugly indigenous village, without any attraction or comforts for travelers. A modern spa cannot be formed there…. There is a lack of walks, squares, space, amusements, bathing facilities, gardens, parks and kiosks for visitors, and nowhere to stay to escape the sun…. while the elegant crowd jostles to crowd together in two small hotels and to occupy a limited part of the beach or in a few chalets that will later be abandoned for most of the year.
The village is made up of shacks, adobe walls, and yards where, during the season, natives swarm to sell fruits, vegetables, and other horribly expensive provisions to earn a year’s income in a week, causing middle-class visitors to leave quickly and never return.”

In order to improve Chapala, the author of the editorial proposed that the federal government should take over certain works, and also stimulate companies and individuals to make improvements. Among the potential improvements suggested were “a direct rail service to Chapala,” “a magnificent paved road for automobiles”, and a “new and modern settlement on the lakeshore” with government-built docks, boardwalks, and bathing areas, along with a “large and sumptuous presidential residence,” all of which would bring advantages that would benefit the town and the general public. These steps were urgent, “since Chapala is frequented by foreign diplomats and tourists,” and because the government should keep “the promises made so many times by officials who, during their stay, have realized the misery and inconveniences of the town.”

Question for readers who have made it this far:

  • 99 years on, how much progress has really been made?
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic.

Lake Chapala: A Postcard History (2022) uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to unravel the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Source

  • El Informador: 10 April 1925, 3.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 082024
 

Several popular curio shops in downtown Mexico City at the start of the twentieth century stocked all manner of wares to sell to tourists and travelers, and some even published their own postcards of Mexico.

An 1898 list in The Mexican Herald of stores selling “Opals and Mexican Curiosities” included Granat & Horwitz (in the San Carlos Hotel); La Joyita (owned by F. Pardal & Co., and located very close to the Iturbide Hotel); La Compaciente; Sonora News Company; and The Art & Curio Co. Stores founded slightly later include the Iturbide Curio Store (in the basement of the Hotel Iturbide), Jacob Granat; Casa Miret; W. G. Walz Co; and American Stamps Works.

La Joyita started life in about 1898 at 1a de San Francisco #16 before moving to larger premises along the street at 1ra de San Francisco #13-14. In addition to postcards, it sold opals, drawn work, silver filigree, plus “ancient French and Spanish fans and silk shawls.”

La Joyita published at least two series of postcards. The earlier series, dating from around 1904-1905, is comprised of more than 50 black and white cards. The second series, believed to include around 230 cards, is in color and thought to date from around 1906. The relatively poor quality of both series suggests that they were printed locally.

Of local interest, in addition to at least half a dozen cards of Guadalajara, is this interesting card showing the Ocotlán Railroad Station in about 1905.

Ocotlán Railroad Station, c. 1905. Published by La Joyita.

Photographer unknown (Scott?). Ocotlán Railroad Station, c. 1905. Published by La Joyita.

Ocotlán was one of the main stations on the Mexican Central Railway’s branch line from Irapuato to Guadalajara. This branch line, completed in 1888, reduced the travel time between Mexico City and Guadalajara to under a day, and passengers could finally travel between Mexico’s two largest cities in relative comfort. On this new line, Ocotlán was the nearest station to Lake Chapala; visitors could disembark in Ocotlán and then take the steamboat that made regular trips to several ports on the lake, including Chapala. Many tourists preferred this way of reaching Chapala, since it obviated the need for any bumpy, rickety and sometimes dangerous stagecoach ride. Ocotlán Station became a major transit point for visitors to Lake Chapala’s new hotels.

Ocotlán Station is an important part of the region’s cultural heritage; sadly, part of the historic station was severely damaged by fire in early February 2024.

La Joyita published photographs taken by some of the most distinguished photographers of the time, including Charles Betts Waite, Winfield Scott, La Rochester, Guillermo Kahlo and R J Carmichael. While we can’t be 100% sure of who took the picture of the Ocotlán Railroad Station, it may have well have been American photographer Winfield Scott, who lived close to Ocotlán at the time, and often undertook commissions for the Mexican Central Railway.

His first visit to Ocotlán station left a vivid and lasting impression on Mexican author José Ruben Romero. In 1897, when he was about seven years of age, his family crossed the lake by steamer from La Palma to catch the train in Ocotlán for Mexico City. Romero later wrote about his experience:

The train that I thought was a precious toy turned out to be something heavy and ugly, full of smoke, with an intolerable odor…. I had no alternative but to entertain myself with the movement about the station: well-dressed travelers from Guadalajara who strolled in the sun; others buying jugs of plum wine, fresh cheeses, or fruits. Groups of farmers arrived, the men with valises of striped chintz on their shoulders and full baskets in their hands; the women dressed in brightly colored percales, with squeaky new shoes that caused them to walk as if on thorns.”

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 11 August 2023.

Sources

  • The Mexican Herald: 5 Oct 1898, 3; 13 Nov 1898, 11.
  • L. Eaton Smith. 1903. The Massey-Gilbert blue book of Mexico for 1903. Mexico City, Mexico : Massey-Gilbert Co.
  • Ricardo Pelz Marín and Karla Pelz Serrano. 2013. “Las joyas de ‘La Joyita.'” Presentation at 6th. Mexican Congress on Postcards, Museo Francisco Cossío, San Luis Potosí, August 2013.
  • José Rubén Romero. 1932. Apuntes de un lugareño, 148. Translated by John Mitchell and Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar as Notes of a Villager: A Mexican Poet’s Youth and Revolution 1988 Kaneohe, Hawaii: Plover Press. Translation quoted by kind permission of Ms. Margo C. Mitchell of Plover Press.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 012024
 

Author Bart McDowell (1923-2009), who later became a senior editor of National Geographic magazine, first visited Ajijic in 1952. Born in Texas on 10 September 1923, Hobart (‘Bart’) K. McDowell Jr. graduated with a degree in political science from the University of California before completing a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri.

McDowell worked for the Rotarian magazine for several years, did some freelance writing and photography, served as an officer in the US Navy (1943-1946), and traveled widely in Europe and South America before marrying Martha Louise Shea (1925-2005), a fellow graduate of the University of Missouri, in March 1951.

The following year, the couple visited Ajijic, which they claimed had, at that time, “a population of some 2000 Indians, 40 American families, and one British family,” and was “the place to do some writing and relaxing.” [McDowell’s claim is broadly consistent with the findings of the 1950 Mexican census that Ajijic had a population of 2313, with 42 recorded as foreign-born.]

McDowell family, San Angelo Evening Standard, 1953 (Photo: Franklin)

McDowell family, San Angelo Evening Standard, 1953 (Photo: Franklin)

In February 1953 the McDowells, together with their three-month-old baby, Kelly, left Chicago, where they were then living and returned to Ajijic for a six month stay, during which McDowell hoped to complete a book about his travels in South America. His wife planned to do some freelance writing and improve her Spanish, and was “looking forward… to escaping that little black monster which is almost a necessity in the States-the telephone. There is only one in the entire village and it’s not in their home.”

Aside: Martha McDowell’s own writing was published in McCall’s, the Washington Post and elsewhere, and she wrote a book on American Indian jewelry. She later founded her own public relations and political consulting firm.

On their return north, Bart McDowell began working for the National Geographic, subsequently serving as one of the magazine’s senior editors for more than thirty years, during which time he traveled to dozens of countries, and met numerous world leaders.

The little we know about the McDowells’ residence in Ajijic in 1953 comes from Bart’s article about Guadalajara for National Geographic based on a visit to the city in 1966. Bart and his son Kelly revisited Ajijic, to look for María, who “figured large in our family folklore as Kelly’s first nursemaid” and who had “fed Kelly bananas from our own garden, bathed him in an earthen tub and called him ‘Baby Mío.’” After seeing a snapshot of María, a group of women sitting in the church immediately identified her as María Vásquez, who lived nearby with her mother and worked for an American family in the village. A delightful and unexpected reunion followed.

The Guadalajara article includes excellent photographs,including some of the lake, by Volkmar Wentzel.

McDowell’s own books include Theodore Roosevelt (1958); Great Adventures with National Geographic: exploring land, sea, and sky (1963); Revolutionary War (1967); Gypsies: Wanderers of the World (1970); The American Cowboy in Life and Legend (1972); Inside The Vatican (1991); and, jointly with Martha McDowell, I was a career girl’s consort (1960).

Bart McDowell died at his home in Forest Heights, Maryland, at the age of 85 on 17 January 2009, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

And Kelly, the infant in Ajijic? Stanford-educated Hobart Kelliston McDowell III (1952-2017) became a business attorney, consultant and politician, and was mayor of El Segundo, California, from 2004 to 2010.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the literary community in Ajijic.

Sources

  • San Angelo Evening Standard (San Angelo, Texas) 17 Feb 1953, 4:
  • Bart McDowell. 1967. “The Most Mexican City, Guadalajara.” National Geographic, March 1967, 412-441.
  • The Washington Times. 2009. “National Geographic writer Bart McDowell dies.” (obituary) 25 January 2009.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 012024
 

In 1901, José de Olivares—author, poet and US diplomat—wrote a newspaper column about his adventures when visiting Lake Chapala. The column has several geographical inconsistencies which suggest that the author may have slightly embellished his real life experiences for dramatic effect. And an unfortunate editing typo resulted in the title of the piece being printed as “Mexico’s Beautiful Island Sea,” instead of “Mexico’s Beautiful Inland Sea,” the sentiment expressed in its final sentence.

Jose-de-Olivares-Title

Olivares opens his column by explaining how he first saw Lake Chapala after a week riding in the mountains south of Guadalajara hunting for wild goats, assisted by an invaluable but thieving mozo to look after their pack animals. Uncertain of their location, late one afternoon, as the sun was setting, they gained the crest of a high ridge and spotted “a vast sheet of water which stretched away from the range of hills… like a placid, billowless sea.”

Olivares is pleasantly surprised: “I had heard of this lake before… [but] my most generous ideas had pictured it as little more than a duck pond, and now it was revealed to me as a majestic inland sea.”

The two men rode down to the shore and bivouaced for the night near where the River Lerma empties into the lake. Olivares learns from his mozo that “at Chapala… some 60 miles to the westward, I could secure marine transportation facilities in any form from a canoe to a modern steamboat.” The following morning, Olivares set off at a gallop for the village of Chapala, leaving the mozo to follow at a more leisurely pace. He finally reached Chapala, after an enjoyable and scenic ride through beautiful agricultural country:

Just at dusk the picturesque little pueblo of Chapala came into view, the tall, white spires of its ancient cathedral silhouetted against the green foothills in the background. This quaint hamlet contains but a few hundred inhabitants, yet its magnificent sanctuary would be a credit to a city many times its size. There is no public inn at the place, and I availed myself for the night of the hospitality proffered me by one of the native residents.”

As a Navy man, Olivares very much wanted to hire a boat to explore the lake, but discovered that all the local boats were on the other side of the lake in Tizapan el Alto, which was celebrating a fiesta. Walking along the shore, he discovered:

“a dilapidated old shallop, long since consigned to “rotton row,” as naval parlance goes, but which I immediately set about to make sea-worthy. I calked her many seams as best I could, stepped a mast forward in her bow, and fashioned a rude pair of oars and broad sweep aft, in lieu of the regulation steering-gear.”

As soon as the mozo and cargo arrived and the boat was loaded, they set sail for Tizapan, where they spent the night. The following morning they set out for Jiquilpan. (Following the embankment and draining of the easternmost third of the lake in the first decade of the twentieth century, Jiquilpan is now far removed from the lakeshore.)

The first few hours of their trip towards Jiquilpan went smoothly, but in the early afternoon the wind suddenly changed direction, whipped up the waves, and threatened to blow them miles off course. “The mozo had completely lost his head and was upon his knees in the bow wildly crossing himself and calling upon his patron saint for deliverance,” when the boat capsized, throwing both men into the water. They managed to scramble onto the overturned keel of their vessel, but were well out of sight of any land.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, “a shrill whistle sounded close at hand” and they saw that a “small steamer was wallowing and diving toward us.” They were welcomed aboard and generously cared for by the captain, “who had sighted us by accident,” and a mere two hours later were safely back in Chapala, setting foot once again on terra firma.

The column is illustrated by three photographs, with the captions “On the river bank,” “Ancient Cathedral by the lakeside,” and “A country seat on Lake Chapala.” These photos are not known to have ever been published elsewhere, so they may well have been taken by Olivares himself.

"A country seat on Lake Chapala"

“A country seat on Lake Chapala”

José de Olivares

The writer and Spanish-American War veteran best known as José de Olivares was born as Jesse Scott Oliver in Oxford, Ohio, on 26 November 1867. Olivares himself, much later in life, claimed on a passport application to have been born as José de Olivares (with the same November birth date) on his father’s estate in southern California.

According to Prabook (an unreferenced online Wiki for biographies), Olivares’s education included classes at the Liceo de Varones (Boys’ High School) in Guadalajara, as well as in business college and at the Berlitz School of Modern Languages.

As Jesse Scott Oliver, he enlisted in the US Navy at Mare Island in California in 1886, at the age of 18, while still technically a minor, and without “the consent of his parents or guardians,” an enlistment was contested unsuccessfully in a legal action the following year. Oliver (Olivares) was a member of the California National Guard (1884-1886), the United States Navy (1886-1893, and in the Spanish-American War of 1898), and the California Naval Reserve (1894-1896).

In 1897, “Jesse Scott Oliver… Los Angeles, Cal. deputy sheriff” was indicted in New York for attempted assault on a 15-year-old girl whom he had met at Coney Island. His counsel argued that he had done so while intoxicated, had since lost his job (and according to one account attempted to take his own life), and asked the judge for clemency. Oliver got off lightly with a fine of $150.

This event may have been the impetus to change his name and make a fresh start. From about this time, he used the name José de Olivares, perhaps to suggest a more personal Latin American background for his writing than the truth.

Olivares married Bertha Lillian Owen in Los Angeles on 2 November 1895, with whom he had two children, both born in California: Leonore Constance de Olivares (born in 1897) and Caspar Louis de Olivares (1901). His wife died when Caspar was only 3 years old, a few weeks after returning to San Francisco from Panama in October 1906. The following January, Olivares (stationed in Panama at the time) gave his marital status as “widower” when he applied for a passport for himself and his children. The following month he married Nicaraguan-born Maria Teresa Ramírez y Jerez.

All of Olivares’ writing for US newspapers was either non-fiction or poetry. The subjects of his columns, some of them syndicated, included “California’s Curio Industry,” “Mescal. A Story of the Southwest,” Mexico’s War with the Yaqui Indians,” and “Daniel Boone’s Western “Palatinate.”

His best known work by far was Our Islands and Their People, published in two large format volumes by Thompson Publishing Company in 1899. This book, lavishly illustrated with hundreds of photographs and numerous color plates, gave readers detailed accounts of the lifestyles, customs and landscapes of the islands ‘acquired’ by the US following the war of 1898, including Cuba, Hawaii, and the Philippines.

Olivares was a correspondent for the 1900 Paris Exposition, and was made an official representative of the Saint Louis Exposition at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo (1901). He won medals for his work as Commissioner of the Saint Louis Exposition to Spain, Portugal and Latin-American countries (1902-1903) and as Commissioner to the Argentine Republic for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904).

In 1906, Olivares was appointed US consul at Managua, Nicaragua; he also served in consular positions at Madras, India (1911-1914), Hamilton, Ontario, Canada (1915-1924), Kingston, Jamaica (1924-1929), and Leghorn, Italy (1929-1932).

Olivares retired on 30 November 1932, and died a decade later in Santa Barbara, California, on 30 September 1942.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic.

Sources

  • José de Olivares. 1901. “California’s Curio Industry.” The San Francisco Call, 7 March 1901, 4.
  • José de Olivares. 1901. “Mexico’s Beautiful Island Sea” (Typo for Inland Sea). Atlanta Constitution, 2 June 1901, 9.
  • Los Angeles Herald: 17 April 1901, 11.
  • Nebraska Legal News: 2 September 1905.
  • Santa Barbara News Press: 1 October 1942, 1.
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle: 5 August 1897.
  • The San Francisco Call, 6 August 1897.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Jan 262024
 

Every now and again my research into the photographers who captured images of Lake Chapala used on vintage postcards draws a near-complete blank. This post considers two striking images taken by “Andrade.”

The only reference I have so far found to Andrade comes in the unpublished journal (now in the archives of the California Historical Society) kept by Dr Leo Stanley, a prison doctor from California, when he visited Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in 1937. Near the end of his trip, Stanley decided to take a boat from Chapala to Mezcala Island to see for himself the ruins of the nineteenth century jail that had given rise to the island’s nickname, Prison Island. Just as Stanley is setting sail, Andrade asks if he can join him:

15 October 1937: I engaged the launch “Corona” to take us to the island, and invited Ysidoro [Ysidoro Pulido] and the two little Mexican boys of the day before to go with us. As we were about ready to shove off, a Mexican came to me and asked how much I would charge to let him go along with us to the island. He said he was a photographer and wanted to take some pictures there. I told him there would be no charge, and asked him to come along. He said his name was Andrade, and that he had taken a number of pictures about the lake, some of which he showed to me. With him was another boy of about fourteen years of age. This lad carried on his back a large gourd with a hinged door. In this gourd, he carried some of his photographic supplies.”

Unfortunately, no additional biographical information about Andrade is currently known. His two known postcards of Lake Chapala, presumed to date from the 1930s, are both views from the pier in Chapala looking towards the Widow’s Bar, Parroquía de San Francisco (the main church in Chapala) and the Casa Braniff. (For details about these buildings, see If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants, also available in Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes.)

Andrade. c 1935. En la playa del lago de Chapala.

Andrade. c 1935. En la playa del lago de Chapala.

The first image (above) reminds us that during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the lake was a vital link in the regional transportation network connecting central Mexico to Guadalajara. Local craft crisscrossed the lake every day ferrying all manner of goods and provisions, as well as people, from one small port to the next.

The vessels in use included paddle steamers, fishing skiffs, flat-bottomed launches (canoas) and large sail canoes (canoas de vela), like the one shown in the photograph. Paddle steamers (vapores) were faster, and could carry more cargo, but required more investment and were more expensive to operate than sail canoes.

Almost every village, however small, had its own pier or jetty. Larger towns, like Chapala, had several small piers, some for public use, others built privately by local property owners. The largest piers, like the one in the photograph offered sufficient depth of water that even large cargo-carrying vessels could safely tie up to load and unload.

Andrade. c 1935. En el muro, embarcadero. lago de Chapala.

Andrade. c 1935. En el muro, embarcadero. Lago de Chapala.

The second postcard photograph is more unusual. The large throng of people occupying the pier and lakeshore wall must presumably have been for some very special occasion or event. But what is the occasion? There are no obvious clues on the image. If you can suggest a reason or occasion for this large crowd to gather by the pier, please get in touch!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Acknowledgments

My heartfelt thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, for supplying photos of Stanley’s account of his time at Lake Chapala. I am very grateful to Ms Kaplan and the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the excerpt used in this post.

Source

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Jan 252024
 

Sculptor Lesley I. Jervis (born Oct 1943, in Stoke-on-Trent, UK) and her then husband Bruce Robert Sherratt, an artist and art educator, lived in Jocotepec at the western end of Lake Chapala from 1968 to 1970. Prior to their arrival in Mexico, they had lived and traveled for some time in the USA.

Jervis and her husband studied at the Newcastle School of Art in Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, before moving to London where they married in 1963. Jervis, the secretary of the school’s Art Sketch Club, was in a collective exhibit at the school in 1962.

When they traveled to Mexico, the couple fulfilled one of Bruce Sherratt’s youthful ambitions to explore different cultures; and it was in Mexico where Sherratt gradually established his own identity as a surrealist painter, “hypnotized by the Aztec, Mayan and Toltec mythology.”

In Jocotepec the young couple rented a huge house called “El Kiosko”, “with spectacular views of the entire lake”, set up their studio, and got to work. Sherratt describes them as “hermits”, obsessed by their work: “We were very serious, determined to develop our work and we were very ambitious.” They had relatively little connection to the Lakeside art scene of the time, though they did frequent Ramón’s bar on the plaza and got to know Jocotepec artists (Don) Shaw and John Frost.

While I’m not entirely certain, I suspect that this acrylic on canvas painting signed “L. Sherratt”, titled “Blue Nude,” which sold in 2013 at Schwenke Auctioneers in Woodbury, Connecticut, may be an example of her work:

L Sherratt. Date unknown. "Blue Nude." Credit: Schwenke Auctioneers.

L Sherratt. Date unknown. “Blue Nude.” Credit: Schwenke Auctioneers.

Lesley Sherratt and her then husband showed works at the Easter art show at Posada Ajijic in March 1970, alongside John K. Peterson, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, (Don) Shaw, and John Frost.

In June 1970, as Lesley Jervis Maddock (‘Maddock’ was her mother’s maiden name), her work was in a group exhibit at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. Other artists participating in this show, besides her husband, included Peter Paul Huf, John Frost, Mario Aluta, Daphne Aluta, Chester Vincent, Gustave Aranguren, Hector Navarro, and Willi Hartung.

The following month (July 1970) the Anglo Mexican Institute in Mexico City held a joint show of paintings by Bruce Sherratt and sculptures by ‘Maddock.’ This show in Mexico City was apparently at the encouragement of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic.

Sources

  • El Informador, 5 June 1970; 10 May 1971; 16 May 1971.
  • Evening Sentinel (Stoke on Trent), 21 Sep 1963, 8.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970.
  • Justino Fernández. 1971. Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en el año 1970. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Jan 182024
 

Of the many journalists who have reported on Lake Chapala over the years, one of those with the most distinctive individual viewpoint was Mary Hampton, a long-time fashion editor based in California.

Mary Hampton. Credit: Ancestry.com

Mary Hampton. Credit: Ancestry.com

Born on 14 September 1899 in Nogales, Arizona (at a time when there was no border wall separating the town from Nogales, Sonora), Mary McDuffie Hampton traveled extensively before she began her 30-year career as a writer while still in college. Her first formal position, in about 1923, was with the San Francisco Chronicle, overseeing a children’s page using the pen name “Aunt Dolly.” It was in 1923 when Hampton married UK-born Edward L Leonard (1894-1975) in San Francisco; the couple subsequently had two daughters, Denise and Barbara, born in 1924 and 1926 respectively.

Hampton was one of the first female reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle, and quickly became the paper’s fashion reporter. She continued in that role, writing under the pseudonym Ninon, for more than a decade and established herself as California’s top fashion authority. In 1937, now divorced, she left the San Francisco Chronicle to start a daily column for The Modesto Bee. Now writing using her own name, she was an independent syndicated columnist, with her writing appearing for more than two decades in numerous California newspapers.

It was during her period writing as an independent columnist that she made several visits to Lake Chapala and other parts of Mexico. Her first report from the lake, in the first half of 1949, was titled “Mexico Loves Lake Chapala As We Do Our Lake Tahoe.”

Below the village of Chapala are fabulous homes set in huge gardens and wonderful to even look at—all along the water’s edge. Each has its own piece of private beach. And one of these—the largest with the largest grounds is now a Pension. And it here at Monte Carlo that I am luxuriating. My tall French windows open to a little balcony with a thick stone balustrade. And I look through towering palms over the garden to the lake whose gentle lapping puts me to sleep at night.”

She was taken with the fashion sense of the owner:

Señor Hermosillo, who owns this place and is a blond aristocrat from old Spain in former generations, dresses as if he were on the Riviera for supper. Last night he wore white flannels and a dark brown tweed sport jacket with bow tie and looked delightful.”

At the Villa Montecarlo, dining—year-round—was on a tiled veranda, with lunch served from 1.30 to 3.30, and supper from 8.00 to 9.00.

Hampton, noting that the area had “a growing colony of writers and artists,” met ‘Dane Chandos’ (Peter Lilley) and was invited to visit him at his home in San Antonio Tlayacapan. [Dane Chandos was the pen name used by Lilley, in partnership first with Nigel Millett and then with Anthony Stansfeld, for Village in the Sun and House in the Sun.]

She also wrote a lengthy column at this time about fashion and country club life in Guadalajara, noting that the city’s women “are noted for their beauty and it is no exaggeration,” and that she saw “young women by the dozen each more beautiful than our movie stars.”

Fresno Bee, 1949

In a separate column, Hampton described how she took a boat ride one morning to Ajijic to visit Neill James:

Ajijic is truly a Village in the Sun, a cluster of adobe houses near the lake’s edge with a little plaza and church. Since the Indians fear the air from the water at night, the land along the beach itself was conveniently left for the many writers, artists, and zestful mortals who have quietly trickled into Ajijic and built sprawly Shangri-La houses for themselves. Some are smaller like the casa of writer Neill James.”

Given her knowledge of fashion, it is no surprise that Hampton reported on how Neill James was teaching villagers how to make “beautiful little tailored blouses,” as “a hobby between herself and the Indians whom she loves.” Neill James herself was wearing “navy slacks, huaraches and a plaid cotton shirt. Her curly hair is unruly and her brown eyes warm and zestful.”

Four years later, in 1953, Hampton wrote a column titled “Mexican Resort is Scenic Spot,” in which she explained that “Chapala is bulging with Americans,” and that “it is almost impossible to rent any more,” despite the fact that “The lake’s edge has receded from the fabulous stone piers and jetties which once edged the beaches in front of the hotel-size homes surrounded by park gardens.”

Hampton also announced plans for a month-long summer vacation writers’ workshop later that year at the Villa Montecarlo. Besides herself, the instructors were Dane Chandos (“the brilliant English author who lives just beyond Chapala and whose books made nearby Ajijic famous”) and short story author A. Marshall Harbinson, a long-time instructor in English at the University of California. The workshop consisted of afternoon classes five days a week and a weekly round table discussion with Dane Chandos. An optional post-conference tour included visits to Pátzcuaro, Janitzio, Morelia, Mexico City, Taxco, Hacienda Vista Hermosa and Puebla. The workshop (or conference as it was called elsewhere) attracted writers “from many Bay area cities as well as Southern California.

Attendees were entertained at the homes of Neill James, Peter Lilley and Walter Schnaider (“the American millionaire who makes his home at Chapala”). In addition, “young Berkeley author” Willard Marsh, then living in Ajijic, gets a passing mention.

Hampton wrote two more interesting reports on Chapala during a visit in 1955. In between comments about the fashion choices of Mexican and American residents and visitors, she writes about:

the muchly advertised Ajicjic [sic] which this winter is causing something of a road congestion and human aggravation. Book in hand (they say they paid $2 for it) tourists come seeking Paradise for a dollar a day and don’t find it. Paradise is here for those who know the password but inflation has come to Mexico also—a sort of spillover from our own amazing affairs—and the pesos won’t buy quite everything.”

In a second piece, titled “Parties are an epidemic in the US Colony in Mexico,” Hampton lamented the fact that:

The Americans here are forever giving parties. They talk parties, some live for the parties; a few sigh wearily over the monotony of so much….
In the village of Chapala are all sorts of Taxco-like houses–Mexican versions of Carmel picturesqueness and many of these the Americans have now taken over. The decoration at times is daringly modern and always brilliantly interesting. As in Carmel, writers and painters gravitate this way. But it really began after Dane Chandos published “Village in the Sun”. Today the adjoining and famous village of Ajijic seethes with artists and pseudo-artists and would-be hangers-on, while a colony of well over 200 retired officers and doctors are finding a sun-drenched haven Chapala way. It is these, the members of the colony, who fill their nights with parties.”

By then, according to another US journalist, Vida Shepard (who spent several winters at Lake Chapala in the 1950s), Hampton had built herself a casita somewhere near the Capilla de Lourdes, on the hillside overlooking the Villa Montecarlo.

After retiring from journalism in January 1958, Hampton sold houses for a time in Apple Valley, gained a masters degree in English, and taught in public schools and at the University of Redlands. In the 1960s she also worked on a radio program for the elderly.

Mary Hampton lived her final years in Riverside, California, where she died at the age of 87 on 11 May 1987.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the literary community in Ajijic. The history of the Villa Montecarlo is told in chapter 28 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants (translated into Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes).

Sources

  • Berkeley Daily Gazette: 21 May 1949; 31 May 1949, 6; 30 April 1953; 22 July 1953; 26 Jan 1955.
  • Riverside Daily Press: 25 May 1949.
  • The Chico Enterprise Record: 28 Jan 1955.
  • The Fresno Bee: 28 Jan 1955.
  • The Modesto Bee: 24 Apr 1937, 9.
  • Times-Advocate (Escondido, California): 13 May 1987, 26.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Jan 112024
 

The first two art exhibitions of note in the Lake Chapala area were held at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in 1944.

The first was a solo show of works by Edythe Wallach in November 1944; a year later, she was exhibiting many of the same paintings in a New York gallery.

The second, a month later, was the area’s earliest documented group art show. And—at least in my view—no subsequent show in the region has ever matched the extraordinary range of artistic talent that was on display in that particular group exhibit.

Group of artists at 1944 artshow at Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein. (reproduced with permission)

Artists at the December 1944 art show at Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. From left to right: Sylvia Fein, Otto Butterlin, Betty Binkley, Muriel Lytton-Bernard, Ernesto Butterlin, Ann Medalie, Neill James, Jaime López Bermúdez, Frieda Hauswirth Das (?), Hari Kidd (?). Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission).

The show, announced in the Guadalajara daily El Informador as the founding of the Chapala Art Center, opened on 10 December 1944. The ribbon cutting was preceded by a short introductory speech by American poet Witter Bynner, who first visited Chapala in the company of English novelist D H Lawrence in 1923 and later bought a home in the town.

Confusingly, contemporaneous reports name only ten of the eleven artists reportedly displaying their work there. The artists named are Betty Binkley, Ernesto Butterlin, Otto Butterlin, Sylvia Fein, Frieda Hauswirth Das, Hari Kidd, Irma René Koen, Jaime López BermúdezMuriel Lytton-Bernard and Ann Medalie. The elusive eleventh artist may have been Edythe Wallach, whose own solo show was a month earlier and who eighteen months later married Hari Kidd.

With the benefit of hindsight it is now apparent that this was a star-studded group of artists. Collectively, they represented a wide variety of countries and varying levels of art education, ranging from the purely self taught to formal instruction in some world-class institutions by world-class artists. Many of the group were young, with few if any prior exhibitions of significance; others had already established their artistic reputation by exhibiting internationally, in major institutions and art galleries.

Their art careers after this Villa Montecarlo show would prove to be equally varied, with some gaining far more success than others. But, taken as whole, this was surely one of the most supremely talented groups ever to hold a joint exhibition at Lake Chapala (or in Guadalajara for that matter).

Artwork at 1944 group show, Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission)

Artwork at the December 1944 group show, Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission).

Betty Binkley (1914-1978) was a precociously talented young artist, born in California, but primarily associated with Santa Fe, New Mexico. Betty was married (briefly) to the very famous Catalan-born sculptor, painter and art educator  Urbici Soler i Manonelles. She exhibited widely in the US, as well as in Mexico. In Chapala, she “presented several notable canvases in something of a sub-realistic American style but characteristically her own. Her painting of “Three Children” is particularly delightful and “Her Dogs” (no. 23) has real charm.” She lived the latter part of her life in San Miguel de Allende.

Ernesto Butterlin (1917-1964) was born in Guadalajara to German parents who had relocated to Mexico. Still in his twenties at the time of the Chapala exhibition, his abstract works had already achieved “great success both in Mexico and the United States.” Ernesto lived, painted and taught art in Ajijic for his entire adult life.

Otto Butterlin (1900-1956), born in Germany, and one of Ernesto’s two older brothers, studied art formally in Germany. By 1944 he “was already a well-respected expressionist painter” in Mexico. After living in Mexico City, next door to the studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Otto lived the last twenty years of his life in Ajijic, during which time he held several solo shows at the Galería de Arte Mexicano in Mexico City, taught at the National Academy of Fine Arts, was commissioned to paint in the US and in Haiti, and had a strong positive influence on the next generation of Mexican artists. Otto and Ernesto joined forces to open Ajijic’s first formal art gallery in about 1948.

Sylvia Fein (born 1919), now widely regarded as one of America’s foremost surrealist painters of all time, was preparing for her first solo show. Her paintings in the Chapala show demonstrated “her remarkable drawing skill, execution and expression,” and she has openly loved Mexico ever since. Her works, painted in egg tempera, have been shown in numerous major exhibitions, and are in a class of their own.

Frieda Hauswirth Das (1886-1974), born in Switzerland and best known for an early portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, studied art in Switzerland, the US and France. Her frescoes, portraits and other works won prizes in Paris art shows, and were exhibited in France, the UK, the US, and India. In the Chapala show, her “Cosecha Lagunera” was praised as a “an outstanding work of splendid technique and beauty.”

Hari Kidd (1899-1964) of El Paso, was already well-known for his illustrations of Mexican architecture, folk life and social realism, many of them reproduced in Mexico Magazine. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Atlanta Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the Chapala exhibit, Kidd showed “some very interesting floral scenes, a beautiful nude, and a very expressive canvas of two swimmers, all very good examples of his painting skills, and some lovely scenes from Ajijic.”

Irma René Koen (1893-1975) trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, and studied and painted in various art centers in Europe and elsewhere. She traveled the world, from Nepal to North Africa, and exhibited widely. Even as early as the 1920s, she was considered one of America’s leading female artists. After living in Ajijic and exhibiting in Chapala, Koen decided to make Mexico her permanent home. Among the paintings displayed at Villa Montecarlo was her “very impressive rendering of the Paricutín Volcano, apparently taken in the early morning.”

Jaime López Bermúdez (1916-?) trained as an architect but hoped to pursue a career in art. He is best known today for designing and building one of Mexico’s first ‘tiny homes,’ a one bedroom modernist home which could be built for under 1500 dollars. He later owned and ran an art gallery in upscale Coyoacán. A reviewer of the Chapala show wrote that the artist “distinguished himself with several expressive sub-realisms.”

Muriel Lytton-Bernard (1896-1974) was the ‘dark horse’ of the group. Though a reviewer praised her “pleasant and realistic portraits” and “beautifully painted Chapala watercolors,” I have so far learned nothing of significance about her earlier or subsequent art career.

Ann Medalie (1896-1991), born in Latvia, studied briefly in Chicago before working in interior design in California, and then as an assistant on murals in the Maritime Museum in San Francisco, and at the Golden Gate Exposition, where she worked alongside—and became good friends with—Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The paintings she exhibited in Chapala were “immaculate decorative oil flowers.” Several of her paintings of Ajijic, including depictions of the Johnsons’ home (see below) were accepted for national exhibitions in Mexico City. In the 1950s, Medalie moved to Israel, where she was a co-founder of the artist community in Safed.

Edythe Wallach, who may be the eleventh artist in the Chapala show, had held a solo show at the Montecarlo a month earlier. Her work is beautifully executed and very distinctive but she exhibited only rarely. She married Hari Kidd in March 1946.

Otto Butterlin. 1943. Portrait of Herbert Johnson. Image courtesy of Milagros Sendis.

Otto Butterlin. 1943. Portrait of Herbert Johnson. Image courtesy of Milagros Sendis.

After the closing of the Villa Montecarlo show in Chapala, many of the artists showed their works a few days later at an afternoon exhibition and sale in Ajijic on Wednesday 20 December at the home of Herbert and Georgette Johnson. The sale included embroidery done by village women in a ‘revival’ of a village craft spearheaded by author and village philanthropist Neill James.

The Guadalajara daily El Informador published an invitation (written by Neill James) which listed some of the artistic and literary people then residing in Ajijic, including Zara ‘La Rusa,’ and her mother; Paul ‘Pablo’ Heuer and his sister, Luisa, an author, who jointly ran a rustic lakefront hostelry known as Casa Heuer; visual artists Jaime López Bermúdez, Ernesto Butterlin, Otto Butterlin, Sylvia Fein, Frieda Hauswirth Das, and Irene René Koen; and authors Nigel Millett and Peter Lilley who adopted the joint pen name Dane Chandos to write Village in the Sun, published a few months later.

By 1944 the artistic and literary community in Ajijic and Chapala was clearly thriving!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.
My history of Ajijic – Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village – has several chapters about the individuals, artists and patrons who helped cement Ajijic’s reputation as a center for artistic creativity and excellence.

Sources

  • El Informador: 3 Dec 1944, 11; 16 Dec 1944, 16; 19 Dec 1944; 24 Jan 1947, 6.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Jan 042024
 

Newspaper correspondent and intrepid traveler Fanny H. Ward (née Brigham) was born in Monroe, Michigan, on 27 January 1843 and died in Kent, Ohio, on 4 October 1913. Little is known about her early education and upbringing. She married in 1862 and moved to Washington DC about a decade later. The couple had three children, the youngest of which accompanied her on some of her later long-distance travels.

Ward had begun writing for newspapers, including the Cleveland Leader and the Portage County Republican-Democrat, in the 1870s and in 1884, now divorced, traveled for the first time to Mexico and Central America where she explored and wrote travel and lifestyle pieces for the next two and a half years. During that time, she climbed Mt Popocatepetl, the volcano overlooking Mexico City, contracted yellow fever and crossed the Andes on muleback.

A few years later Ward visited Guatemala and British Honduras (now Belize) before continuing south to Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. In 1898, Ward visited Cuba on humanitarian missions with her good friend Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, and in the following year she spent time in Europe. By that time more than 40 newspapers were publishing her work. Ward’s writing career came to an abrupt end in 1905 after a stroke left her blind in one eye.

Among the articles written by Ward that relate to Mexico is a report of a three-day horse ride to Chapala, titled “Picnicking in Mexico: An Excursion to Lake Chapala,” published in April 1887.

Mrs Fannie Ward. 1887. Picnicking in Mexico.

Mrs Fannie Ward. 1887. Picnicking in Mexico.

Day 1 – Riding towards the lake

A Día de Campo (“day in the country”) as a Mexican picnic is called, is a favorite amusement here, especially in the vicinity of any body of water… We were invited to join an excursion to Lake Chapala, forty miles distant from Guadalajara—a “picnic” which occupied three days spent mostly on horseback.

Our party of eighteen started from Guadalajara in the twilight of an early morning, eating breakfast and lunch from well filled hampers al fresco by the wayside, and arriving in good time for six o’clock dinner at the hacienda of Señor Alzuyeta, ten miles this side of the lake.

I have failed to find any record of an influential family named Alzuyeta in Jalisco at the time, and it is unclear which hacienda is being referred to, though it may have been Atequiza. The hacienda is described as:

unique in its way, with little furniture (like all Mexican country houses) but what there is being very handsome, most of it having been brought from Spain nearly two centuries ago by a titled ancestor. The dining hall—a noble room, capable of seating thee hundred persons, opens into a garden which is kept in beautiful order, with fine trees, clear tanks, sparkling fountains and a profusion of roses of extraordinary beauty even in this land of flowers… the fountains tiled around in Moorish style, ornamented with Chinese figures and enormous China vases of great value.”

Day 2 – Visit to Lake Chapala

The next morning they left the hacienda early for Chapala, where they “spent a long day upon its peaceful waters and among its many islands.”

A small steamboat makes a daily tour of Lake Chapala, stopping at various points of interest; and everywhere along its shores Indian boatmen may be hired to paddle you about in canoes, dug-outs and rafts. Some of the latter have benches and awnings—much like those on the Vija canal, near the City of Mexico—and each barge, with three bare-legged boatmen to propel it, will easily carry a dozen people.
In the lake are many islands, upon one or two of which extensive ruins have been found. Some of the islands are absolutely unexplorable, on account of the innumerable number and variety of serpents that infest them, and appear to be entirely given over to these reptiles. No wonder those early Indians considered a skirt of woven snakes the most appropriate garment for the goddess of the earth!”

In attempting to explore some of the islands of Lake Chapala it seemed as if the earth literally wore ‘a skirt of serpents.’ The ground seemed alive with them, swaying and writhing from every bush, hissing and squirming on every fallen tree and rippling the water in all directions. It was a question as to which was most numerous, the birds above or snakes below. Among the islands are numerous shoals which barely project their pebbly heads above the water. These shoals are inhabited by millions of terns, gulls and other water fowl, and when approached the birds rise up in swarms, darkening the air, uttering deafening cries and darting about the intruder in a threatening manner…. the scene on the shoals, after the birds have deserted them, is most astonishing. Gulls and terns make no nests, and do not even take pains to hollow out a place in the gravel; but to every pebble there seems to be a dozen eggs.”

According to Ward, the annual spring hatching of birds’ eggs led to a frenzy of snakes below and hawks above.

The group returned to the hacienda in time for a late dinner, comprised of mole, boiled nopales, fried bananas, green chili in various sauces, frijoles, tortillas, cured goat’s milk cheese and guava jelly.

Both evenings at the hacienda we were sumptuously entertained by music, dancing and feasting, all the good people of the vicinage having been invited to meet us. The orange trees in the patio, beneath which the feast was spread, were hung with Chinese lanterns and the farther grounds illuminated with blazing torches of fir…. One evening we played at juegos de prendas—games with forfeits—which was made very amusing by the lively imagination of the ladies in inventing punishments for their caballeros.”

The following day, they rode back to Guadalajara.

Fannie Ward was just one of several pioneering female travelers who made important contributions to travel writing in the nineteenth century. Among the other early female travelers who wrote important accounts of Lake Chapala are Rose Georgina Kingsley; (Selina) Maud Pauncefote; Frances Christine Fisher (aka Christian Reid); and Mrs Alec Tweedie.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Roger J. Di Paolo. 2013. “Portage Pathways: Globe-trotting Fannie B. Ward came home to Ravenna.” Record-Courier, 6 Oct 2013.
  • El Informador: 3 Dec 1944, 11; 16 Dec 1944, 16; 24 Jan 1947, 6.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1886. ““The Scorpions of Mexico.” The Newnan Herald (Georgia), 19 October, 1.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1884. “Monterrey—the Metropolis of Northern Mexico.” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, March 1884.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1887. “How the “Old, Old Story” Is Told in Mexico. Love-making and Marriage among the Aristocracy of Spanish-America.” The Cambridge Press, Volume XXI, Number 48, 19 February 1887.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1887. “In Southern Mexico. Picnicking at Lake Chapala.” The Sacramento Union, 30 April 1887, 4.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Dec 282023
 

Antonio Mólgora was an Italian businessman and hotelier who ran various hotels in Chapala from about 1907 to his death in 1927. Both he and one of his sons, also named Antonio, were accomplished amateur photographers and published a number of postcards, the son generally preferring pictures of boats and people to pictures of buildings. They were almost certainly the first local residents to produce real photographic postcards of Chapala.

At least three postcards must be the work of Antonio Mólgora Sr. (“El Muelle,” “La Plalla” [sic] and “La Reynera”) while many more can definitely be attributed to his son, Antonio Mólgora Jr. There is no evidence that either Mólgora ever tried to commercialize any photographs of other places; their Chapala postcards were presumably given or sold to visitors in the hotels owned or managed by Antonio Sr.

The numbering on some of the father’s postcards suggests there are likely to be many more photos of Chapala still waiting to be found and attributed to him!

Antonio Mólgora Sr. ca 1911. El Muelle.

Antonio Mólgora Sr. ca 1911. El Muelle.

Antonio Mólgora Sr.

Antonio Mólgora (Sr.) was born at Novara, Italy, in 1877. He was one of at least eight children born there to Clemente Mólgora Declerechi (1841-1900), a pork butcher, and his wife, Paulina de Ferrari (1852-1931). One of Antonio’s uncles, Enrique Mólgora (ca 1840-1900), had established himself and his family in Mexico in the 1870s, and Enrique’s brother—Antonio’s father—followed him to Mexico with his family in the 1890s.

In 1900, Antonio married 19-year-old María Espinosa Gómez in Chihuahua. The couple had two sons: Clemente Mólgora Espinosa (1901-1981) and Antonio Héctor Mólgora Espinosa (1903-1980). Clemente, who married a local Chapala girl in about 1927, is mentioned in Journey with Genius, the account by poet Witter Bynner of visiting Chapala in 1923 in the company of D. H. Lawrence. (Bynner later bought a house in the village and was a regular visitor for decades.)

It is unclear what Antonio Mólgora (father) did before becoming manager of the Gran Hotel Victor Huber in Chapala in about 1906. But, roughly three years later, he bought this hotel, originally named for its owner, and renamed it the Hotel Francés. Located immediately opposite the church, it was demolished at the end of the 1940s when the wide main boulevard (Avenida Francisco I. Madero) was created.

In 1919, Mólgora also took over the management of the Hotel Palmera. Part of this building, designed by Guillermo de Alba and completed in 1907, later became the Hotel Nido, and is now the Presidencia, housing Chapala municipal offices.

In March 1921 a vacationer wrote on a Mólgora postcard to friends in New Orleans that, besides having a good time, they had felt their first earthquake – “We all dressed and went down stairs. Thought the next shake would bring down the building.” a reference, presumably, to the 6.4 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Colima on 1 May 1921, an event fortunately without any casualties.

In about 1924, Mólgora bought and took over the running of the Hotel Arzapalo; it was promptly renamed the Hotel Mólgora. The Arzapalo had opened in 1898 as the town’s first major hotel, but had operated only intermittently during the Mexican Revolution before reopening in the 1920s.

Antonio Mólgora Sr., photographer, hotelier and ardent supporter of the Italian community in Guadalajara, died in his adopted home of Chapala on 9 October 1927.

Antonio Mólgora Jr.

Antonio Hector Mólgora (1903-1980) married in 1931 and had at least three children, including Jorge Enrique Mólgora Gil, an artist and architect who has designed or co-designed several projects in Chapala and Ajijic since the 1980s.

Antonio Hector Jr took numerous fine photographs of Chapala from about 1920 onward, at least 20 of which were published as postcards. His father promoted his hotels by offering special rates for excursion groups, and this photo of a passenger boat (below) may have been taken to document a special excursion group from Guadalajara.

Antonio Mólgora. Date unknown. Passenger boat, Lake Chapala.

Antonio Hector Mólgora. ca 1922? Passenger boat, Lake Chapala.

Antonio Mólgora Jr. also documented the huts used by fishermen at Chapala, including one on Isla de los Alacranes. It is unclear if this example (below) was taken on the island or somewhere closer to the town of Chapala:

Antonio Mólgora. Date unknown. Fisherman's hut, Lake Chapala.

Antonio Hector Mólgora. ca 1922? Fisherman’s hut, Lake Chapala.

This Mólgora postcard (with “MOLGORA” in block letters) of typical freight-carrying “sail canoes” or canoas (below) is evocative of the era in which D. H. Lawrence and his friends visited in 1923.

Antonio Mólgora. Date unknown. Boats on Lake Chapala.

Antonio Hector Mólgora (probably). Date unknown. Boats on Lake Chapala.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Jorge Enrique Mólgora Gil for helping clarify which photographs were the work of his father, Antonio Hector Mólgora Espinosa.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 3 August 2019.

Sources:

  • El Correo de Jalisco: 9 January 1907.
  • El Informador: 15 September 1918, 2; 30 November 1919; 7 March 1920, 10; 1 July 1921, 7; 12 March 1926.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.