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Jan 132022
 

Charles Kaufman, who went on to become an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, lived for several months in Ajijic in 1929. A decade later, he dedicated his first and only novel — Fiesta in Manhattan — “To the good people of Ajijic.” We will look at this novel in a future post, but this was not his only important link to Ajijic.

Kaufman’s trip to Mexico was to celebrate selling an article to the New York Herald for $75. Accompanied by his girlfriend, Edith Huntsman, Kaufman took off for Mexico in 1929. Among other adventures, they visited Acapulco, took a boat from there to Puerto Angel (on the Oaxaca coast) and rode mules for 10 days over the mountains to Oaxaca City, as well as spending several months in Ajijic.

In 1933, Kaufman spent five months traveling in Spain with a businessman friend, Louis E. Stephens. During this trip, Kaufman was apparently so enthusiastic about Mexico in general, and Ajijic in particular, that he persuaded Stephens that he should stop off in Mexico before returning to New York.

Stephens liked Mexico so much, he settled in Mexico City, started a family and acquired holiday property in Ajijic in 1937. Stephens and his wife, Annette Margolis (later Nancarrow), offered the use of this property to their friend Helen Beth Kirtland when she sought a suitable place to take her young children after splitting up (not for the first time) from her husband Read Goodridge, a Mexico City rare books dealer.

Kirtland took her two young children to Ajijic and never looked back. She founded Telares Ajijic, employed weavers and, through enterprise, good fortune and hard work, built up a highly successful business. Both her children grew up in the village. After attending college in California, her daughter, Katie Goodridge Ingram, returned to Ajijic and ran an art gallery there for many years.

Had it not been for Kaufman’s powers of persuasion, none of this might have happened.

Kaufman meanwhile had stories published in the New Yorker and Esquire and was well on his way to becoming a successful screenwriter. He moved to Los Angeles in 1936 and already had several screenplays to his credit by the time his novel, Fiesta in Manhattan, was published in 1939. Sections of the novel were subsequently published (beginning in June 1940) in Mexican Life.

His screenplay credits include: Saturday’s Heroes (1937), Breakfast for Two (1937), The Saint in New York (1938), When Tomorrow Comes (1939), Model Wife (1941), Paris Calling (1941), Let There Be Light (1946), Cynthia (1947), Return to Paradise (1953), The Racers (1955), The Story of Esther Costello (1957), South Seas Adventure (1958), Bridge to the Sun (1961) and Freud (1962).

Return to Paradise was based on the Michener work and starred Gary Cooper. Kaufman’s screenplay for The Story of Esther Costello was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay. In 1962, the screenplay of Freud, directed and produced by John Huston, won an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Kaufman and his co-writer Wolfgang Reinhart. In 2010, Let There Be Light, written by Kaufman and John Huston, was chosen for inclusion in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Kaufman, who was born 20 October 1904 in Paterson, New Jersey, died of pneumonia in Los Angeles on 2 May 1991, at the age of 86.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for bringing Charles Kaufman’s connections to Ajijic to my attention.

Sources

  • Mike Barnes. 2010. “‘Empire Strikes Back,’ ‘Airplane!’ Among 25 Movies Named to National Film Registry”. The Hollywood Reporter, 28 December 2010.
  • Los Angeles Times. 1991. “Charles A. Kaufman; Screenwriter Honored for Freud Biography” (obituary). Los Angeles Times, 9 May 1991, page 32.
  • Charles J. Stephens. 1999. Louis E. Stephens: His Life in Letters. New York: Jay Street Publishers.

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

Dec 192021
 

A number of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala have clear links to Christmas. Admittedly, some links are more tenuous than others. Here, in no particular order, are a few of those that come to mind:

German-born photographer Hugo Brehme, who  photographed Lake Chapala, and many of whose superb black-and-white postcard images are hauntingly beautiful, is credited with having introduced the first photographic Christmas cards into Mexico.

Toni Beatty. Christmas Cheer, Mesquite, NM. Print on metal.

Toni Beatty. Christmas Cheer, Mesquite, NM. Print on metal.

Another photographer, Toni Beatty, found creative freedom while living in Ajijic in 1976. The image above (reproduced with her kind permission) is an example of her more recent, extraordinary, work involving digitally-enhanced photographs printed onto metal to emphasize their vivid colors and luminescence.

Both Eunice (Hunt) Huf and Peter Huf, who met and married in Ajijic in the 1960s, were regular exhibitors for many years at Munich’s Schwabing Christmas Market. In 1994, Peter Huf founded the market’s Art Tent, and oversaw its operation until 2014.

The work of several Lakeside artists was included in a December 1968 exhibition – the Collective Christmas Exhibition – at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728) in Guadalajara. These artists included Gustel Foust, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf and José María Servín and Guillermo Chávez Vega.

Architect George Heneghan and his wife Molly Heneghan, a graphic designer, first visited Ajijic in 1970 to spend Christmas with Molly’s parents. They liked what they saw, stayed for several years and George designed the Danza del Sol hotel in the village.

Prolific non-fiction author Joseph Cottler (1899-1996), an accomplished guitarist and violinist who visited Ajijic on numerous occasions, co-wrote (with Nicola A. Montani) a musical score entitled “Lovely babe : Christmas carol for three-part chorus of women’s voices with piano or organ accompaniment” (1946).

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian from A Book of Christmas Carols.

More Christmas carols came from Regina Tor (deCormier) Shekerjian and her husband, photographer Haig Shekerjian, who were frequent visitors to Ajijic from the early 1950s to the 1980s. They co-wrote A Book of Christmas Carols (1963) and illustrated Nancy Willard’s book The merry history of a Christmas pie: with a delicious description of a Christmas soup (1974).

American author Garland Franklin Clifton lived in the Chapala area in the 1960s. He wrote Wooden Leg John. Satire on Americans living in Mexico, a series of 20 letters dated from Christmas Day 1967 to Christmas Day 1968.

Charles Pollock was born in Denver, Colorado, on Christmas Day 1902. He painted for a year in Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala in 1955-56, producing his Chapala Series, exhibited in New York in 2007. Charles’s younger brother Jackson Pollock became an icon of the American abstract art movement in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Frieda Hauswirth Das (1886-1974) painted in Ajijic in the mid-1940s and spent Christmas 1945 in Monterrey, Mexico.

American anthropologist Frederick Starr (1858-1933) attended a performance of the Pastores (Shepherds), a Passion Play, in Chapala in December 1895 and wrote the experience up for an article published in The Journal of American Folklore.

Anthropologist George Carpenter Barker is noteworthy for his editing and translation of a copy of a manuscript found in Chapala in 1948 after a performance of a nativity play on Christmas morning in the village churchyard. The manuscript was apparently committed to paper, from older oral sources, by Aristeo Flores of El Salto, Jalisco, around 1914.

Dudley Kuzell, husband of Betty Kuzell, was a baritone in the Ken Lane Singers and The Guardsmen quartet. The Kuzells lived at Lake Chapala for many years, from the early 1950s. The Ken Lane Singers accompanied Frank Sinatra on his 1945 recording of America the Beautiful; Silent Night, Holy Night; The Moon was Yellow; and I only Have Eyes for You, and on his 1947 recording that included It Came Upon the Midnight Clear; O little Town of Bethlehem; and the iconic White Christmas.

John Maybra Kilpatrick who painted a WPA mural in Chicago in 1947, retired to Ajijic with his wife Lucy in 1964 and lived there until his death in 1972. Kilpatrick had been a commercial artist for the H. D. Catty Corporation of Huntly, Illinois. In 1952, the corporation copyrighted colored Christmas wrapping paper designed by Kilpatrick, entitled “Merry Christmas (Snow scene with 3 figures in front of houses)”.

Novelist, playwright and travel writer David Dodge settled in Ajijic with his wife Elva in 1966. Early in his career, Dodge co-wrote (with Loyall McLaren) Christmas Eve at the Mermaid, which was first performed as the Bohemian Club’s Christmas play of 1940.

Award-winning novelist Glendon Swarthout, whose short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala, was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart, spent six months in Ajijic with his wife and son in 1951. Among his many successful novels was A Christmas Gift (also known as The Melodeon), published in 1977.

Guadalajara poet Idella Purnell frequently visited Lake Chapala, where her dentist father owned a small home, in the 1920s and 1930s. Her short story “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala“, which we have used as our Christmas post some years, was first published in the December 1936 issue of American Junior Red Cross News and reprinted in 2001 in El Ojo del Lago.

– – – – – – –

Happy Christmas! – ¡Feliz Navidad!

Note: This is a revised version of a post first published in December 2016.

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

 Posted by at 6:39 am  Tagged with:
Dec 162021
 

Oscar Collier was born 26 February 1924 in Mumford, Texas, and died 3 July 1998. He and his second wife, Gladys, lived in Ajijic for six months sometime in the late 1950s, while he was still actively painting.

Oscar Collier. Self-portrait, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Oscar Collier. Self-portrait, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

In this oral history interview in 1994 by Stephen Polcari, Collier talks about his childhood in Texas, his education at Baylor University (where he studied English), the University of Iowa (where he took his first art classes with Philip Guston), and the Art Students League in New York, and his links to many other artists, including Will Barnet, Peter Busa, Robert Barrell, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. Collier describes how he became involved in the 1940s with the style known as Indian Space Painting (named for its links to Pre-Columbian American Indian art), before giving up painting in 1959 to concentrate on publishing as a career.

Collier met his first wife, Gertrude Barrer (1921-1997), while they were both students; they married in about 1942 and separated shortly after the second world war. Gertrude was also a well-known Indian Space Painter, and the couple’s daughter, Greer Fitting (1943-2017), also became an artist and writer.

Collier married Gladys (Whitridge), his second wife, in 1949. That marriage lasted 20 years, and the couple had two children: Lisa Collier Cool, journalist and author who has written for dozens of magazines including Cosmopolitan, Penthouse and Good Housekeeping, and Sophia Collier, entrepreneur (the originator of Soho Soda), investor and artist. Oscar subsequently married Dianna Meerwarth and had a son, Christopher Collier.

Typical Oscar Collier abstract. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Typical Oscar Collier abstract. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Oscar Collier was active as an artist in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. He became a close friend of poet Kenneth Beaudoin (1913-1995) who then owned the Galerie Neuf on East 79th Street, in Greenwich Village, New York. Possibly the single most famous exhibit of Indian Space Painting was a show, held at Galerie Neuf in April-May 1946, called “8 and a totem pole” which featured the work of eight Indian Space Painters (Robert Barrell, Gertrude Barrer, Peter Busa, Oscar Collier, Howard Daum, Ruth Lewin, Lillian Orloff and Robert Smith) together with a Haida totem pole. This show had the alternative name of Semeiology. However, Collier’s first one man show at Galerie Neuf in 1947 was not a success.

collier-oscar-book-cover-2From 1946-1947, Collier, Gertrude Barrer and Kenneth Beaudoin collaborated to produce an art and literature quarterly, called Iconograph. Beaudoin was editor, Collier associate editor, and Barrer the art director. Sadly, financial difficulties meant that the quarterly did not last long.

In 1959, Collier abandoned painting for publishing. He became a successful literary agent, managing the publication of such best-sellers as Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment; My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House (by Lillian Rogers Parks, with Frances Spatz Leighton, later turned into a TV series); My Life with Jacqueline Kennedy, by Mary Barelli Gallagher; Barry Goldwater’s first set of memoirs; Harry Browne’s You Can Profit from a Monetary Crisis; The Scripps, the Divided Dynasty, by Jack Casserly; and Joseph P. Kennedy: Life and Times, by David Koscoff.

Collier was also the co-author, with Frances Spatz Leighton, of How to Write & Sell Your First Novel (1986) and How to Write and Sell Your First Nonfiction Book (1990).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Lisa Collier for making valuable corrections and additions to the original post, and for permission to reproduce photographs of her father’s artwork.

Note: This is an updated version of a post originally published on 13 March 2015.

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

Dec 022021
 

Watercolorist and art educator Ben Shute enjoyed extended trips in Mexico on several occasions and visited Ajijic in 1951. Two watercolors from that visit are now in the permanent collections of art institutions in the US.

Benjamin Edgar Shute was born in Altoona, Wisconsin on 13 July 1905, and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, where his teachers included Allen Philbrick and George Oberteuffer from 1922-1928. He left Chicago in 1928 to take a six-week teaching job at the newly established High Museum School of Art (later Atlanta Art Institute) in Atlanta, Georgia. This temporary assignment was the start of an entire career teaching art in Atlanta, and he lived there for the rest of his life. Shute was dean-director of the High Museum from 1948-1950, and dean of the Atlanta Art Institute from 1950-52. The school established a scholarship in Shute’s honor in 1984.

Shute’s first trip to Mexico, partly funded by a Carnegie Travel grant, was in 1948. He and his first wife, Nell Choate (Jones) Shute (also a talented artist) held a joint exhibit afterwards at the High Museum, Atlanta. The show, featuring 45 or so watercolors,  was a great success. Doris Lockerman praised the artists for “retelling the tumultuous, violent and ancient story of Mexico through the vibrant strokes of their paintings made spontaneously and impulsively throughout a three-month vacation this Summer in Mexico.” Lockerman urged readers to visit the show and see for themselves how the two artists “have caught a headline history of current Mexico through which the thoughtful observer might begin to understand his neighbor south of the border.” The exhibit did not only show the bright side of Mexico: “The message of mismanagement and graft show in the muddy streets, cobblestone aqueducts, leaking roofs…”

The Shutes returned to Mexico for a month in 1950, driving to Guanajuato and Mexico City. The following year, Shute was on another Carnegie Travel grant when he and his wife visited Lake Chapala. Two watercolors from that visit are now in the Betty Plummer Woodruff Collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Ben Shute. 1951. Ajijic.

Ben Shute. 1951. Ajiji. (sic)

The first painting is a watercolor and ink on paper titled “Ajiji” (sic) and dated 13 August 1951. Set against the church bell tower and dark mountains, a woman and an infant stand next to a village wall, with a dog to the right of them. The museum website lists a second watercolor titled “View of Lake Chapala,” though sadly it is neither on display in the museum nor does the website have any image of it.

Shute is best known for his portraits, still lifes and evocative landscapes, often using casein and ink on paper. He delighted in painting plein air, and enjoyed having his creative and painting process watched by kids, animals and onlookers. His work was included in numerous group shows, the most noteworthy of which were the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, New York.  He was a co-founder in 1945 of the Southeastern Annual Art Exhibition (a juried competition with over 2000 entries from nine southern states) which he chaired until 1961.

Shute, who was a member of the Salmagundi Club in New York, died in Atlanta on 15 July 1986. A retrospective exhibition of his works, organized by the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, toured the state in 2002-2003.

Sources

  • The Atlanta Constitution, 1 Sep 1940, 37; 30 Jul 1948, 17; 14 Nov 1948, 52; 4 Aug 1950, 21.
  • Laufer, Marilyn. “Ben Shute.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Aug 14, 2013.
  • Doris Lockerman. 1948. “Let’s See Now: The Shutes Painted an Idea.” The Atlanta Constitution, 8 Dec 1948, 18.

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

Nov 182021
 

Anthony Ostroff (1923-1978) was born in Gary, Indiana and educated at Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, the Sorbonne, and the University of Grenoble. Ostroff wrote a short poem entitled: “Lake Chapala” which was published in 1977 in his A Fall in Mexico (Garden City, New York: Doubleday).

ostroff-anthony-1977

Ostroff traveled widely in Mexico (the date of his visit to Chapala is unclear) but was clearly not impressed by the lake, as evidenced by the last stanza of his poem, which reads:

Farther on
the road descends
to us & ends,
a lake-edge mess
of roots, mud,
tubers. A sludge
moccasin
swims the soup,
his writhing lost
to a straight V.
His arrow head
held lip high,
his nostrils try
the line of cess.

In his notes to the poem, in the back of the book, Ostroff writes:

“The lake, a part of which extends into Michoacán, lies mainly in Jalisco and is, at a distance, quite beautiful. It was once a popular resort area for wealthy Mexicans. Pollution of the lake, however, proceeded at such a rate that by the time of the poem bearing its name it had become a broth of typhoid and amebic dysentery, and the town of Chapala was all but deserted. The village of Ajijic, also on the shores of the lake, had a small, expatriate American colony.”

The collection A Fall in Mexico also includes poems titled “In Puerta Vallarta,” “Near San Miguel,” “The Altar at Teotihuacan,” “Monte Alban” and “To Barra de Navidad.”

Working mainly in the 1950s and 1960s, his poetry and short fiction was published in such magazines as Harper’s, The Paris Review, Atlantic Monthly, Kenyon Review, and Poetry. Ostroff was also the recipient of a grant from the National Association of Educational Broadcasting to produce a series of broadcasts on American Poetry.

Ostroff, whose literary and academic career included spells teaching at the University of California at Berkley (1949-1969) and at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon (1969-1978), edited The contemporary poet as artist and critic: Eight symposia (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964) and also wrote:

  • Imperatives (Harcourt Brace & World, 1962)
  • Islander, selected poems of Anthony Ostroff (Ash Creek Press, 2000)
  • To build a House; the short stories of Anthony Ostroff (Portland, Ash Creek Press, 2003)

Anthony Ostroff was friends with various poets in the San Francisco region, including Robert Duncan, Thom Gunn, Josephine Miles and Richard Everhart.

Ostroff died in 1978 from a heart attack suffered after hang-gliding on the coast of Oregon.

The Poetry Collection of the State University of New York at Buffalo houses the Anthony Ostroff Collection, 1955-1978, which contains  all of the poet’s published and unpublished poems, plays, short stories and articles in manuscript and published form, with thousands of corrections in the poet’s hand, as well as tape recordings prepared by Ostroff, including the series of 20 broadcasts about American poetry he directed for the National Association of Educational Broadcasting.

Note: This profile was first published 30 June 2014.

Sources

  • Anthony Ostroff Collection, 1955-1978
  • Anthony Ostroff. 1977. A Fall in Mexico. New York: Doubleday.

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

 Posted by at 7:38 am  Tagged with:
Nov 042021
 

A chance find in a New Mexico newspaper mentions that artist Arthur Merrill and his wife visited Phoenix, Arizona, in February 1952, with plans to continue on to Lake Chapala. Arthur (“Art”) Joseph Merrill (1885-1973) took up art later than most, but forged a successful career in commercial art and as a watercolorist.

Arthur Merrill. Painting auctioned in 2016.

Arthur Merrill. Painting. Credit: J Levine Auction, Scottsdale, 2016.

Merrill certainly completed watercolors of Guanajuato and other parts of Mexico. But, so far, no paintings have surfaced that are directly related to Lake Chapala.

Merrill was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 11 April 1885, and graduated as a registered pharmacist, before deciding to study chemistry and geology. It was during a tour of European galleries and museums that he became determined to pursue art as a career. In 1911 he completed a Bachelor of Arts and Science degree at McGill University in Montreal, and took early color photographs for the French government during a Canadian geological survey.

Arthur Merrill. Mexican Street Scene.

Arthur Merrill. Mexican Street Scene.

He took art classes with A. J. Musgrove of Winnipeg and Franz Johnston of Toronto (a member of the Group of Seven), and then headed for New York, where he studied at the Art Students League with Edmund Yaghjian. He also took private classes with Julius Delbos. Merrill established his studio in Greenwich Village and supplemented his art income by teaching at a private school.

He traveled widely over the next several years filling his notebooks with pencil sketches.

After 18 years in New York he moved to the American west, where he fell in love with the stunning rock formations that characterize the region, and with pueblo life. Merrill settled in Taos in 1946 and proceeded to open an art gallery and a studio while volunteering to give art classes in several local educational institutions. The Merrills were very active members of the Taos artist community.

Merrill, who held several solo shows of his paintings and lithographs in the US, Canada and Mexico, died in Taos on 21 April 1973.

If you have a work by Merrill that may be of Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

Merrill was not the only artist or author that connected Taos to Lake Chapala. Other members of the Taos-Lake Chapala nexus included D. H. LawrenceWitter Bynner, “Spud” Johnson, Jorge Fick, John Brandi, Irma René Koen, Jorge Fick, Richard Frush, Lee F. Hersch, Pema Chödrön, Jim Levy, Walden Swank, and Kai Gøtzsche.

Sources

  • The New Mexican Sun, 3 Feb 1952, 16
  • The Taos News. “Arthur Merrill, artist, dead at 88.” Taos News, 25 April 1973.

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

Oct 282021
 

The Lake Chapala-Santa Fe literary-art nexus has had many distinguished members over the years:

D. H. LawrenceWitter Bynner, “Spud” Johnson, Betty Binkley , Josefa (the “mother of Mexican fashion design”), Jorge Fick, Clinton King and his (first) wife Lady Twysden, Clark Hulings, John Liggett Meigs, Alfred Rogoway, Don Shaw, photographer Ernest Walter Knee,  poet and painter John Brandi, musicologist Charles BogertBob Hunt, Arthur Davison Ficke and Gladys Brown Ficke.

Brian Boru Dunne (credit: unknown)

Brian Ború Dunne (credit: unknown)

Instrumental in fomenting the links in the 1940s was Santa Fe journalist Brian Ború Dunne who wrote a regular column for the Santa Fe New Mexican titled “Village Gossip.” There is no evidence that Dunne ever visited Lake Chapala. But in 1946 he reported that a “Rogelio M Chávez” had just returned from Ajijic and told him that the village of Ajijic was a colony of artists and writers with fourteen “white” people. These included two “rich women with palaces or castles… a fascinating Russian ballerina… [and] an Englishman who wears a Persian robe, a hat and motorcycle goggles.”

This article about Ajijic was instrumental in helping to persuade Santa Fe author John Sinclair to travel to Lake Chapala in December 1946 to write his novel Death in the Claimshack.

What else did Chávez tell Dunne about Ajijic?

Well, there were no door bells, electricity was limited to three hours daily—starting at sunset—and most people bathed “au naturel” in the lake. Ordinary mail was delivered occasionally “but air mail gets attention.” For nightlife—music, dancing and drinking—there was a bus to Chapala.

The foreign residents of Ajijic included Mrs Neill James, and Herr Heurer [sic] a refugee from Germany, who escaped World War I, and who had built “cubicles of mud, plaster and bamboo thatching for rent.” The heroine of Mrs Morton of Mexico also, according to Chávez, lived in Ajijic. In fact, Mrs Hunton, the real-life basis for the fictional Mrs Morton, lived in Villa Virginia in Chapala.

And who was Brian Ború Dunne? Relatively little is known about his education and life. He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 13 July 1878 and died in Santa Fe at the age of 84 in December 1962. Dunne was an aspiring journalist when he chanced to meet English novelist George Gissing in Europe in 1897. His account of their time in Italy is the subject of a book published in 1999. Dunne was awarded a A.B. degree by St. Mary’s Benedictine College in North Carolina in 1906.

Dunne was the author of Cured! The 70 Adventures of a Dyspeptic, published in 1914, in which he tells, with great good humor, the story of his search for a cure for dyspepsia. After eight years of travails and visits to dozens of different specialists, Dunne’s odyssey culminated when he met an eye specialist who prescribed new lenses for his glasses. In his foreword to the book, H G Wells called it “ a manuscript shining with cheerfulness and telling of years of ill health” and “a real contribution to the difficult art of living!”

Dunne moved to New Mexico in about 1940, after working for a Washington D.C. newspaper and for the Baltimore Sun. He became a well-known figure in Santa Fe and his gossip column was deservedly popular. According to his obituary, Dunne wore gold-rimmed glasses, was a friend of H. L. Mencken, and lectured throughout the US on the importance of the Spanish language.

A decade ago, Rob Dean (also a Santa Fe New Mexican journalist) wrote about Dunne’s legendary status in Santa Fe:

“No one in town could fail to notice him. Hummingbirdlike with a bony frame and sharp nose, Dunne wore a showy wide-brimmed hat with a silver band — famous locally for touching off a contest among people who claimed the hat after his death. He planted himself in the middle of the Santa Fe social scene, wrote a newspaper gossip column and hung out for years in the lobby doing ambush interviews of La Fonda guests. For years, Dunne… wrote articles light in substance but heavy on sensation. Likewise, when he spoke, his dramatic delivery puffed up his empty rhetoric and made it seem profound.”

Dunne married Edith Hart Mason (1894–1974) in 1920. Their son, Brian Ború Dunne II, was the chief experimental scientist on Project Orion, the futuristic nuclear propulsion project.

And were there really only fourteen foreign residents in Ajijic in 1946? Well, no, the number is a slight undercount – but this profile, in the spirit of Dunne, is about more than just facts.

Sources

  • Brian Ború Dunne. 1914. Cured! The 70 Adventures of a Dyspeptic. Foreword by H.G. Wells. Cartoons by Hugh Doyel, cover design by Enrico Monetti. Philadelphia: The John C Winston Company.
  • Brian Ború Dunne. 1946. “Village Gossip,” Santa Fe New Mexican, 3 October 1946, 9.
  • Brian Ború Dunne. 1999. With Gissing in Italy: The Memoirs of Brian Ború Dunne. Co-edited by Paul F. Mattheisen, Arthur C. Young and Pierre Coustillas. Ohio University Press.
  • Rob Dean. 2010. “Families, Fiestas and Fun” in The New Mexican, 4 December 2010.
  • Santa Fe New Mexican. “B. B. Dunne of Santa Fe dead at 84.” (obituary), Santa Fe New Mexican, 31 December 1962, 1-2.

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

Oct 212021
 

Jan Sullivan (1921-2016) was a regular visitor to Ajijic and the surrounding area for more than 35 years. She accompanied noted American artist Hazel Hannell, who chose to spend the winter months in Ajijic for several years in the 1980s. Other members of this small loose-knit group included the noteworthy artists Harriet Rex Smith (1921-2017) and Elizabeth Murray. Sullivan was only a child when she first met Hannell; on a trip to Europe in 1928, Hannell and her husband, Vin, visited Paris and called on Sullivan’s parents, Nels and Myrtle (Bachli) Malmquist.

Jan Sullivan. d.u. "Lakeside Life" (oil).

Jan Sullivan. date unknown. “Lakeside Life” (oil).

Fifty years later, Sullivan founded the Art Barn and school in rural Valparaiso, Indiana. Currently for sale at the Art Barn is this lovely oil painting of a scene near Ajijic by Sullivan titled “Lakeside Life.”

The accompanying text reads:

Janet spent over 35 years in and around Ajijic, Mexico, going to the villages surrounding Lake Chapala with the mountains keeping the towns small and up against the lake. Lakeside life enthralled Janet who loved the old adobe structures, the bushes and trees climbing the hills. She chose a plein air painting spot to view the houses against the azure mountains, the lake to her back, sitting on the roadside engrossed in the color and texture of buildings along the shore.”

Janet (“Jan”) Malmquist Sullivan was born in Chicago on 5 June 1921 and died at her home in Valparaiso on 19 April 2016, predeceased by her husband, Maurice “Bud” Sullivan, who had passed away in May 1979. Jan seta side time to develop her own art throughout her career as a supervisor of art education for the Chicago Schools. She later taught art at Valparaiso University.

The Sullivans established the Art Barn—a project encompassing art education, exhibitions and events—in 1977 with the help of a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. The location was a nineteenth-century farm near Valparaiso the couple had purchased in 1969.

Sullivan amassed a significant art collection, both to support local artists and to serve as an investment to provide a lasting legacy to support the Art Barn. She bequeathed her entire collection – more than 2000 items – to the Art Barn School of Art to ensure that it would have the means to continue its important mission.

Sources

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

 Posted by at 5:30 am  Tagged with:
Oct 142021
 

The earliest known English-language short story related to Lake Chapala is “The White Rebozo: A Vision of the Night on the Mystic Waters of Lake Chapala,” written by Gwendolen Overton and first published in The Argonaut in July 1900. The story was subsequently reprinted in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. In the following transcription, accents have been added and the letter ñ used where appropriate in order to facilitate reading.

The White Rebozo: A Vision of the Night on the Mystic Waters of Lake Chapala

“She is white, yes.” Nuñez spoke English with ease and a charming accent, and he never lost the opportunity of doing so. He was practising now on Lingard, as they stood together at the water’s edge.

Linguard continued to look after the woman who had just gone by them, toward the village. She wore the blue rebozo of the Indian woman, but underneath it you could see that she was fair – fair and of a less classic build than the women of the land.

“She is white, yes. It is because that she is an American, like yourself.”

“An American?” said Lingard, “in that dress?”

He doubted; but the Mexican nodded his head. “An American, yes. I do not know her name. They call her ‘La Gringa,’ only. She is your countrywoman, and she lives in the village there. She loved a man of the people, an Indio, many years ago – and it is like this now. She lives in a small house with two chambers, and she is very poor. She has one daughter who is a little mad. It is because that La Gringa tried to drown herself in this lake before the child was born.”

“And the man?” asked Lingard; “where is he?”

Nuñez shrugged his shoulders, which would have been a little sloping had it not been for the best English tailor of the capital. “Ah! The man. Who knows? He is gone. It is always like that.”

The woman had passed out of sight up the little street, and Lingard turned away, looking thoughtfully up to one of the mountain peaks that rose above the lake. “Am American,” he said, half to himself; “she must have led the life of the dammed. And her eyes were so child-like and blue.”

The Mexican laughed, the laugh of a breed which does not believe in woman except for purpose of poetry and patron saints. “Child-like and blue,” he echoed; “the eyes of women do not show the things which are under them. They are like this lake, I think. It is so blue and beautiful. You would never know that there is a city far down beneath the water, eh?”

Lingard forgot the woman. “A city – under this lake?”

The Mexican was delighted with his effect and the still further chance of more display of English. “You do not know the story of Lake Chapala, then?” Truly. Under it, so deep, deep under it – it is very profound – there is a city, an Aztec city, perhaps. The lake came, I think, maybe, by an earthquake. It was like Pompeii, but that it was buried by water and not by cinders. Some times, when there is a storm, after it you can find on the shore little things which the water bring up; carved stones, little gods, little spools, like for the embroidery and the sewing; little cups, always of stone, and always very small, so that they shall not be too heavy.”

They called to him from the balcony of the hotel and he went away, with a princely sweep of his begilt and besilver sombrero.

Lingard watched him absently for a moment, then he turned his back to the bright waters of the lake, and to fancying the city underneath, somewhere far down, down in the cool, deep blue. The sun of the south might rise over the encircling peaks in the west, and sink behind them in the west; the shadows of the mountains might quiver on the waters’ face, and the flowers of the garden-land wave and bend upon their very edge; but there would always be that ancient city down below, the same cold swing of shore-bound tide. And where butterflies and sweet-throated sanatitas [New World blackbirds] had been, there was now only the little white Lake Chapala fish. It took possession of him, the thought, and also the wise, to find for himself one of the relics of carved stone that the waves moved up from the depths. He wandered on and on along the shore, looking down at the pebbles and the sand.

It was dusk when he came back to the hotel. The señoritas, too modest to bathe in the dull light of day and the sight of man, were splashing about, vague, shapeless shapes at the shore’s edge. Lingard was only a gringo, and he did no know that the beach was sacred to the feminine just then, and that if one wished to watch one should do so from a hotel window with a pair of opera glasses. He did not care to watch, indeed. He considered these maidens who boasted Spanish blood inferior in every respect to the fine dark women of the lower class. And their figures looked execrable in the bathing suits! So he went by almost unheeding, and on into the hotel.

Nuñez was there, killing time in the cantina after the manner of his kind. He seized upon Lingard as a diversion.

“You have dreamed all day by the lake. The ghost of the lake will take you one time.”

“Is there a ghost?” asked Lingard; “I was looking for a stone.”

“One of the carved stones? I will buy one for you, if you will accept it, señor.” The Mexican rejoices to give. “I know where one is to be bought. But there is many that are not genuine – not good – which the Indios make to sell to the excursionists. The one I will give to you shall be genuine.”

Lingard did not want one that was bought, but he felt that he could hardly say so. He told Nuñez that he was very kind, and forthwith discouraged further talk about the lake. Nuñez was a Latin, and it was Lingard’s experience of his sort that there is a strain of deadly bathos in their conversation which grates on the Anglo-Saxon, who is more consistently poetical when he chooses to be a poet, as he is more thoroughly a trader when he elects to trade.

When the moon had begun to rise in a sky that was blowing over with heavy, white-edged clouds, he went out on the lake shore again. There was a whine of wind now, and the slap of the wavelets on the sand was sharper, and sometimes the moon would sail behind a cloud and leave the world in darkness.

Lingard walked on until he was too far from the hotel to hear the shrill chatter of Nuñez and his friends. Then he stood still and looked across the lake. He was thinking yet of the city below the gold-tipped ripples. And as he looked the gold vanished and left the waters black. The moon was behind a cloud. It stayed so for a while, and then came drifting forth, and Lingard, staring straight before him, with glassy eyes, felt the blood running cold in his heart. For there in front of him, not twenty feet away, a woman’s figure stood, slight and frail against the path of moonlight, at the edge of the shore – a figure white-shrouded from head to feet, indistinct against the shimmer, pale-faced and pale-eyed. It held a sheaf of the white flowers of the field clasped in transparent hands against the breast; but they dripped bright drops of water to the ground. “Qué quiere?” Lingard demanded and tried hard to make it firm.

“Tu alma, tu vida,” moaned a voice that whispered with the lapping of the waves and the whistle of the rising wind. “His soul, his life!”

He tried to reason back his fear. It was born of the fancies that he had dreamed over all day, of the tequila he had drunk with Nuñez before dinner, of the fever of the country perhaps. He might be getting the fever now. But the slight boldness that came to him was born of sheer terror, and he fell back on the harshness of his own tongue to break the spell. “Go to the dickens.” he said, crossly, and yet with awe, and took a step nearer to the vague thing.

“Come with me, come with me. The water is calling. The water is deep.” The English that answered was as sure as his own.

He was losing his mind, surely it was the fever. Did spirits speak in every tongue? “Who are you?”

She laughed sweetly, uncannily, and kept on. “There is no more sorrow in the lake, deep down in the lake. I can go to it now. We can go together. Come with me, come.”

“Who are you?” he insisted still. “Tell me who you are.”

One of the hand left her breast and waved toward the water behind her. The light was glowing faint again, and the voice came out of the darkness soon. “We can go in the water now.” And it shouted the words of the song, “Venga conmigo, adonde vivo you.” The shrill, unreal laugh once more, “Que sí señor, que sí señor!” Then it changed to a minor wail and the words of a language Lingard guessed to be that which the Indians of the far recesses of the country still sometimes speak – the language of those who had lived in the lake city, perhaps.

He was stiff, half helpless with fear. The clouds were thicker every minute, and the rifts were smaller and farther between. The song came breathing out of the blackness, sounding first close to him, and then far over upon the lake. He started forward with a sudden resolve to shake it into silence or bring it to a more earthly tone. But he touched something so cold and wet that his fingers were left empty and quite as cold. The waves licked around his feet.

Then the moon came out and he saw the thing, still standing in the path of its rays, but further out in the water that rose even to his knees. Her hands were outstretched in the sign of the cross, as the peons pray, and a white scarf floated over them from her head. The sheaf of flowers had fallen and was drifting softly to the shore. “Quién está?” he repeated helplessly. “Who are you?”

There was no reply; but the pale eyes were looking into his, and they seemed to draw him on.

“Venga conmigo adonde, vovo yo-o-o-o-o.” The sound kept on, drawn out until it was like the faint, far-away cry of a fog-horn at sea. “Come with me, where I live,” she sang, weirdly; and he went, following step by step, drawn on by fear and uncertainty, and the light unwavering eyes. The waters were at her waist now, and the scattered flowers floated against his own knees. The voice took up the wailing Indian song again, and it seemed to come from the waters, as they mounted up to her chin. The arms were still stretched out and the scarf lay on the waves. But the moon was hiding itself yet once more, and the wind was beginning to howl.

Then suddenly the chant stopped and Lingard heard a gasp, a cry, a horribly human cry, choked off in the midst. He was awake now, only too much awake. He remembered that he had been told how the bottom of the lake shelved abruptly, in places, to a great depth, and he remembered, too, that he could not swim. But just out there, beyond him, he could hear the beating and splashing of arms and the frantic struggle with a breathless death, and though there were no strange eyes to lead him now, he went on.

Te next day at morning, when the storm had raised, but the winds and the waves were not yet still, a group of peons were huddled upon the beach. And a woman on the outskirts was screaming as two mozos held her back. “Is it my child?” she cried, not in English, now in Spanish.

“No, it is not your child,” they told her; “It is the gringo. Come away.”

Nuñez left them and strolled over to a moza who stood hugging her arms with grief. “What is the matter with La Gringa?” he asked, “has she lost her child?”

The woman gulped down her sobs. “Yes, señor. The child was mad for many years – only a little mad, in one thing. She wished always to throw herself into the lake. She said that it called to her. It was because her mother was almost drowned once in there before la niña was born. Last night she went away, la niña, when the mother did not know. We searched for her all the night. And now she is dead, señor.”

“Dead?” said Nuñez . “But how do you know?”

She raised her head from her hands and nodded toward the group below. “She did not dress like us, señor, but always all in white; even her rebozo was white like the snow. And you have seen what the gringo holds in his hand, señor – a white rebozo?”

– – o – –

Source

  • Gwendolen Overton. 1900. “The White Rebozo.” The Argonaut (San Francisco), 23 July 1900, 4.

This article is reproduced here in the belief that it is no longer enjoys any copyright protection.

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

Oct 072021
 

Is this the first English-language short story about Lake Chapala?

More by luck than judgment, I recently happened upon a short story titled “The White Rebozo,” which turned out to be set at Lake Chapala. The story was written by Gwendolen Overton and first published more than 120 years ago in 1900.

Gwendolen Overton, c 1903 [Ancestry]

Gwendolen Overton, c 1903 [Ancestry]

Research into the author’s life showed that she wrote this story when she was just 26 years old. Now forgotten, Overton was something of a literary prodigy, whose short stories had been accepted by major magazines from when she was a mere teenager.

The precise timing and circumstances of her visit to Chapala are unknown. But she certainly made good use of the local knowledge she acquired while there.

In Overton’s story, Nuñez, a Mexican man who likes to practice his English, is chatting with an American acquaintance Lingard about a woman and explains to him that,

… the eyes of women do not show the things which are under them. They are like this lake, I think. It is so blue and beautiful. You would never know that there is a city far down beneath the water, eh?”

Lingard forgot the woman. “A city – under this lake?”

“The Mexican was delighted with his effect and the still further chance of more display of English. “You do not know the story of Lake Chapala, then?” Truly. Under it, so deep, deep under it – it is very profound – there is a city, an Aztec city, perhaps. The lake came, I think, maybe, by an earthquake. It was like Pompeii, but that it was buried by water and not by cinders. Some times, when there is a storm, after it you can find on the shore little things which the water bring up; carved stones, little gods, little spools, like for the embroidery and the sewing; little cups, always of stone, and always very small, so that they shall not be too heavy.

They called to him [Lingard] from the balcony of the hotel and he went away, with a princely sweep of his begilt and besilver sombrero….”

This excerpt is interesting from a number of perspectives. At the end of the nineteenth century, rumors of a submerged city in Lake Chapala were taken sufficiently seriously by distinguished anthropologist Frederick Starr that he undertook a three-month visit to Guadalajara and Lake Chapala over the winter of 1895-1896 to investigate.

The rumors were presumably based in part on the large number of pottery fragments recovered from the lake bed every time the water level was low. Starr was unable to find any additional evidence. But the romantic idea of a lost city (and lost idols) was sufficiently attractive that it brought lots of attention to the lake.

In addition, the reference to a hotel balcony must refer to the Hotel Arzapalo, the only hotel that had a balcony in the region at the end of the nineteenth century. Built by Ignacio Arzapalo, it was the first purpose-built hotel in Chapala. Opened in 1898, and designed for foreign travelers, it was the catalyst that helped transform the village into an important international tourist destination.

Just who was Gwendolen Overton? Born in Kansas on 19 February 1874, Overton was the daughter of a retired US Army captain, Gilbert Edmond Overton (1845–1907), and his wife, Jane Dyson Watkins (1849–1905). Overton had a younger brother, Eugene Overton (1880–1970), with whom she was very close. As a child, she lived at a succession of army posts throughout Arizona and New Mexico; these experiences had a strong influence on her later writing. When Overton was a teenager, the family lived for several years in France. Even before her 21st birthday, Overton had been published regularly in The Argonaut and was described as having a “marvelous memory and industry,” who “rarely spends over an hour and a half on a story and never rewrites.”

Her first short stories about Mexico were published several years earlier than “The White Rebozo.” It is distinctly possible that an anonymous short story, published in 1894 and set in La Barca, with references to José Velarde (“The Golden Ass”), was also her work. The newspaper reprint of this story, which concerns superstition, religion and sacrifice, has no byline, and I have thus far failed to find the relevant issue of The Argonaut.

According to her author biography in her novel The Golden Chain (1903):

… when Miss Overton was about twenty-one or twenty-two the family came to live in Los Angeles, California. Here Miss Overton lives when she is not on one of her long periodical trips to the East, to Mexico, to Canada, or elsewhere. She has picked up a good deal of Spanish, as well as an exceptionally fine and accurate knowledge of the French language, of French life, and of the best French literature….

Miss Overton is at her desk by 8.30 every morning, and works until luncheon. She spends her afternoons in recreation. In particular she likes sailing, and much of her playtime is spent on the water in company with her younger brother.”

In addition to her short stories in magazines such as The Argonaut and Harper’s, Gwendolyn Overton was the author of a number of popular novels, all published by MacMillan, including The Heritage Of Unrest (1901), The Golden Chain (1903), The Captain’s Daughter (1903), Anne Carmel (1903) and Captains of the World (1904).

Overton, who married Melville Wilkinson in Los Angeles on 10 February 1910, was an active speaker and campaigner for gender equality and women’s right to vote. Gwendolyn Overton died in Los Angeles on 15 October 1958.

Sources

    • Author bio in The Golden Chain (1903).
    • Gwendolyn Overton. 1900. “The White Rebozo.” The Argonaut, 23 July 1900, 4.
    • The Los Angeles Herald, 11 February 1910.
    • Anon. “Los Angeles’ Authoress.” The San Francisco Call, 10 July 1895, 3.

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

Sep 302021
 

Hungarian-Canadian artist Michael Fischer visited Lake Chapala several times in the early 1990s, including a lengthy stay one winter at San Juan Cosalá. He was in the final stages of planning to bring a group of artists and art students from Canada for a three-week stay at Lake Chapala when his wife was taken seriously ill. Her subsequent passing derailed all Fischer’s plans for the three-week workshop, which had the endorsement of the Northumberland Art Gallery in Cobourg, Toronto. The workshop was to have included classes taught by Fischer and by Jocotepec-based Austrian artist Georg Rauch.

Michael Fischer was born in Budapest, Hungary, and educated in that city at the City College, Academy of Art and the Orkenyi Strasser School of Art. His most influential teacher was Ödön Márffy, one of Hungary’s leading expressionist painters, a founder member of the group of Eight, and credited with introducing cubism, Fauvism and expressionism to the country.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Ajijic. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Ajijic. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Alongside his own painting, and regular exhibits at art shows in Hungary, Fischer was the art director for the Budapest City Theatre, where he specialized in set design. Fischer was multi-talented and also produced graphic panels and advertising art for trade shows and the movie industry.

A year after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, Fischer moved to Toronto, Canada. He quickly found his feet, becoming involved in creating advertising, editorial and book illustrations, as well as undertaking commissions, both for private individuals and for institutions such as the Canadian Red Cross, Toronto Dominion Bank, and major insurance firms. He also painted numerous murals for restaurants and private homes. He was represented by Studio 737 Art Gallery (now closed) which was located a short distance north of Tweed, Ontario.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Laundry in Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Laundry in Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

From 1975 to 1987, Fischer taught illustration and composition at George Brown College.

His works are represented in many private and public collections in Canada, the USA and several European countries. “Proficient in all media… his landscapes, still life, figurative compositions and portraits are unique in their execution and excellence.”

Fischer undertook extensive research trips to Latin America and he painted many portraits of native people in Canada and Mexico. He particularly liked Mexico, and the Lake Chapala region, saying that “In Mexico it’s inspiring, the way people live so simply in religious and national customs.”

Fischer died in Toronto in about 2007.

If anyone can supply more details about Michael Fischer’s life and work, please get in touch.

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

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Sep 232021
 

Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994), who coined the term ‘identity crisis’, spent several weeks in Ajijic in 1957 while writing Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalyses and History, published the following year.

Cover of Young Man LutherErikson had been persuaded that Ajijic was a quiet place in which to write by Helen Kirtland and her husband Dr Larry Hartmus. After an exchange of letters, Erikson ended up renting the “cottage” on Calle Independencia belonging to the Sendis family, whose son, Gustavo, was a super talented painter and guitarist.

Erikson, born in Germany to Danish parents, had become a US citizen after moving across the Atlantic. He became world famous for his ideas on identity and his contributions to the field of psychoanalysis and human development. Among Erikson’s best-known books are Observations on the Yurok: Childhood and World Image (1943), Childhood and Society  (1950), Identity and the Life Cycle (1959), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence (1969).

There are two references to Ajijic in Young Man Luther, one right at the beginning and the other at the end. In the preface, Erikson acknowledges the help of Larry Hartmus, who “read some of the medieval Latin with me in Ajijic.” In the epilogue, this paragraph serves to sum up how Erikson saw the village, and the impossible-to-ignore influence of religion:

“I wrote this book in Mexico, on a mirador overlooking a fishing village on Lake Chapala. What remains of this village’s primeval inner order goes back to pre-Christian times. But at odd times, urgent church bells call the populace to remembrance. The church is now secular property, only lent to the Cura; and the priest’s garb is legally now a uniform to be worn only in church or when engaged in such business as bringing the host to the dying. Yet, at night, with defensive affront, the cross on the church tower is the only neon light in town. The vast majority of the priest’s customers are women, indulging themselves fervently in the veneration of the diminutive local Madonna statue, which, like those in other communities, is a small idol representing little-girlishness and pure motherhood, rather that the tragic parent of the Savior, who, in fact is little seen. The men for the most part look on, willing to let the women have their religion as part of women’s world, but themselves bound on secular activity. The young ones tend toward the not too distant city of Guadalajara, where the churches and cathedrals are increasingly matched in height and quiet splendor by apartment houses and business buildings.”  [266]

Source

  • Erik Erikson. 1958. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalyses and History. New York: W.W. Norton.

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

 

Sep 162021
 

Noted American artist Hazel Hannell was already in her eighties when she chose to spend the winter months in Ajijic. Hannell became a regular visitor for several years in the 1980s. This charming costumbrista woodblock from those years was sold on eBay. Hannell continued to paint and produce artworks until she was 103 years old.

Hazel Hannell. c 1985. By Lake Chapala. Woodblock.

Hazel Hannell. c 1985. “By Lake Chapala.” Woodblock.

Mary Hazel Johnson (later Hannel) was born on 31 December 1895 in LaGrange, Illinois, trained as a secretary, and studied art at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and the Emma Church School of Art in Chicago. She was an extraordinarily versatile artist. In her lengthy career she had success in a variety of media, from watercolor painting, woodblocks and red clay pottery, to tiles, murals and commercial fabric and wallpaper designs for Marshall Field.

Hazel celebrated her 28th birthday in 1923 by marrying Finnish-American artist Vinol Hannell (1896-1964). After visiting artist friends in Furnessville, Indiana, the couple built a summer home there, before moving there permanently in the 1930s.

[Coincidentally, Furnessville has a particularly strong connection to Lake Chapala. Dwight Furness, a member of the family after whom Furnessville is named, settled in Mexico in the late nineteenth century and built the famous Hotel Ribera Castellanos on a lakeside estate between Ocotlán and Jamay in the early 1900s.]

Hazel Hannell was an activist in the suffragette movement, and she and her husband were both active environmentalists and instrumental in the 1950s in helping to preserve the Indiana Dunes. The Hannells also served as leaders in the No-Jury Society and the Chicago Society of Artists, and helped found the Association of Artists and Craftsmen of Porter County.

Hannell was accompanied on her trips to Ajijic by several other noteworthy artists, including Harriet Rex Smith (1921-2017), Elizabeth Murray and Jan Sullivan (1921-2016). She moved to Oregon in 1988 to live and work with Rex Smith, and died there on 6 February 2002 at the age of 106.

Hannell often chose not to sign her work. At about the time of her final visit to Lake Chapala, she was quoted in a newspaper interview as saying: “Hamada, a Japanese master potter, says you really ought not have to sign things, your works should be recognizably yours.”

Hannell’s woodblock art was featured in the Chicago Society of Artists annual calendar, and her varied works have been shown in major exhibits at the Brauer Museum of Art (Valparaiso University), Dankook University, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Northern Indiana Art Salon, Gary Southern Shores Exhibit, Dunes Art Foundation, and South Bend Art Center. The Valparaiso University has numerous works by Hannell and her husband in its permanent collection.

Sources

  • Biography from Brauer Museum Of Art
  • Dani Dodge. 1996. “While the Light is Good, Hazel Hannell, 100, Paints.” Seattle Times, 21 January 1996.
  • Margaret L Willis. 1987 “Artist’s Story Is a Tale of the Dunes.” The Chesterton Tribune, 14 August 1987, 4.

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

Sep 092021
 

The accomplished and enigmatic artist John Thompson (1929-1988) lived in Jocotepec from about 1963 to 1968.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 20 July 1929, Thompson landed in Jocotepec by chance, having accepted a ride to Mexico with Miriam Bisbee, who was on her way to visit friends there: Peter and Nancy Spencer then managing the La Quinta hotel. (Apparently, Miriam was completely besotted with Nancy and hoped to tear her away from Peter! She was only partially successful; the Spencers later ran Posada Ajijic for a short time before returning to the US “for personal reasons” in September 1965.)

John Thompson. (Coll. Gayle Thompson)

John Thompson.

When photographer John Frost and his wife, novelist Joan Van Every Frost, first arrived in Jocotepec in 1966, they learned that John Thompson was considered the painter in the town. Thompson had left working for the defense industry in southern California, and his wife, to live in Jocotepec, where he rented a place across the street from the historic La Quinta Inn.

Thompson became a good friend of the Frosts and of several other artistic Jocotepec residents, including painter and muralist Tom Brudenell, and photographer Helmuth Wellenhoffer and his wife, Antonia. Thompson was also good friends with Peter Paul Huf and his wife, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, who lived in Ajijic from 1967 to 1972.

Thompson was able to subsist in Jocotepec only because he had two small trust funds which gave him a combined $40 a month to live on. This was supplemented by the occasional check from the US: before he left, he had sold several paintings by offering purchasers the chance to pay in installments, provided they sent the funds to Mexico.

Quoting John Frost, Thompson—and his then girlfriend, Gertha—were “pillars of the underground community.” Thompson was slight of build with a full red beard. He dressed in khaki, and his menu was structured around a typical Mexican working man’s diet. Beer in hand, he would rail at length against the evils of plastics and the modern world; he was a regular at Ramon’s bar on the north side of the plaza, the focal point of Jocotepec social life at the time.

Artist and Andreas Wellenhoffer with Jocotepec painting dated 1965.

Artist (rt) and Andreas Wellenhoffer with Jocotepec painting dated 1965.

Gayle Thompson was a 17-year-old student at the six-week University of Arizona summer school in Guadalajara when she first met Thompson through a mutual friend, Marilyn Hodges. Hodges was opening an art gallery in Guadalajara and offered Thompson free room and board if he helped paint and decorate the building (8 de Julio #878). Among the prominent Lakeside artists who held solo exhibits at the 8 de Julio gallery during its short lifespan were John Frost, Tom Brudenell, Joe Vines, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, Robert Neathery and Georg Rauch.

Gayle’s enrollment in summer school was her pretext for having a full year in Mexico. Having a Mexican boyfriend, she rebuffed Thompson’s initial advances. The charismatic, intelligent and stubborn Thompson, however, was persistent and determined. When Gayle returned to the US, preparing to enter college in New York, Thompson left his belongings in Mexico and hastened north in pursuit. He traveled north in the company of Dave Bennett, another Jocotepec resident, who, coincidentally, was from Monterey, California, and knew Gayle’s parents. Gayle again spurned his advances, so Thompson retreated to Mexico. But he reappeared again a few months later and this time, finally, Gayle conceded defeat.

John Thompson. Untitled. Jocotepec, 1965.

John Thompson. Untitled. Jocotepec, 1965.

Resistance overcome, Thompson still had the problem of getting all his paintings and possessions back from Mexico. Bennett stepped in and persuaded Thompson to buy and convert an old school bus for this mission. The school bus made two trips to Mexico before being rear-ended somewhere in the US and written off.

After John and Gayle married, they lived for five years on the coast of Croatia (then known as Yugoslavia), and another decade in Europe, before they returned to the US. During this time Thompson was able to visit his old friends, Peter Paul Huf and his wife, Eunice Hunt, at their home in Bavaria, southern Germany.

Thompson was a self-taught artist. Tom Brudenell, who met Thompson in the late 1960s, told me that Thompson’s local artistic patron at Lake Chapala had been Marian Powell, a wealthy American who owned a lakefront home in Ajijic. Gayle Thompson told me how Powell would sometimes lend John her huge Cadillac, but that she (Gayle) felt overly conspicuous and self-conscious whenever he took her for a drive.

As for Thompson’s art, Joan Frost considered that Thompson “promoted himself as a painter of the Miro school. His works were colorful with lots of mysterious figures floating about in the air above towns like Joco.” [1]

John Thompson. Untitled.

John Thompson. Untitled.

However, as Gayle explained to me, and judging by those paintings that have survived (while living in France the artist built a bonfire and destroyed most of his work), his paintings were far more akin to Chagall than Miro. The paintings are darker in tone and subject matter than those of Chagall, more brooding, with elements of the macabre and surrealism.

Thompson was never very enthusiastic about holding exhibitions, believing that artists did what they did out of a sense of purpose not financial needs, just as those who held down regular jobs did so out of necessity not enjoyment.

The only solo show he is known to have held while in Mexico was a two-week show at Posada Ajijic in the summer of 1965. He was in illustrious company. The three other artists exhibiting there that summer were Charles Littler (who exhibited widely and taught at the University of Arizona), Dick Poole (professor of art in Pasadena), and the Black American Beat artist Arthur Monroe. [2]

Thompson died in San Bernardino, California, on 3 September 1988.

References

  • [1] Joan Frost, writing in Ajijic, 500 years of adventures (Thomas Paine Chapter NSDAR, 2011).
  • [2] Guadalajara Reporter, 5 August 1965.

Acknowledgments

This is a greatly revised version of a post first published 6 August 2015. My heartfelt thanks to Gayle Thompson for sharing details of her former husband’s life and photos of his work. Images reproduced courtesy of Gayle Thompson and Andreas Wellenhoffer.

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

 Posted by at 6:47 am  Tagged with:
Sep 092021
 

The following excerpts come from the detailed account written by Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) after visiting Lake Chapala in October 1937. (For ease of reading, accents and italics have been added and spelling standardized.)

Note that early descriptions (in English or Spanish) of the villages on the south shore of the lake are exceedingly rare, making Stanley’s account especially valuable.

San Luis Soyatlán

Our next objective was San Luis Soyatlán, the Cathedral spires of which town we could see at a long distance. In the flat Mexican villages, the church always stands out prominently. There were a number of smaller vi11ages, at which we stopped for a few moments, and at one place we were able to get some beer. The Mexican girl who served us was a rather pretty senorita, and evidently a friend of Ramón’s. She had not seen him for several weeks, and greeted him in a very friendly manner. As Ramón was not married, Alonzo and I began to josh him a little and accused him of liking the girls. This seemed to please him very much.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Post Office on south shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Post Office on south shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

In going through one vi1lage, we saw the post office. On a blackboard in front of it were the names of those for whom a letter was waiting. This did not seem to be a very bad idea.

Far out in the country we came across a young Mexican who was hunting. He was looking for doves, or pa1omas. He had a muzzle-loading shotgun, and carried his powder and caps in a container made of a cow’s horn. It was an interesting old weapon, and was made in 1850. The date was on the barrel. He offered to sell it to me for ten pesos, which is about three dollars, but it would have been difficult to transport, and I had to refuse this old relic. [56-57]

At this point, Stanley realized that his original plan to ride all the way around Lake Chapala was impossible in the time he had available. He decided to stay overnight in San Luis Soyatlán and then ride on the next morning to Tuxcueca in time to catch the daily boat to Chapala, leaving Ramón to ” retrace our steps with the animals.”

They reached San Luis by mid-afternoon and found somewhere to stay. While the others finished their meal in a fonda which had “large quantities of flies,” 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.

Because of road building activities around San Luis there are a number of new trucks being used. One of the drivers had directed his new Chevrolet truck into the water along the shallow margins of the lake, and was giving it a very thorough cleaning. He took as much care of his truck as the ordinary private chauffeur of his owner’s limousine. As he polished, he sang, and seemed to enjoy the occupation very much. [58-59]

Upon returning, I stopped at a number of the Spanish houses along the street, and there saw the women and some of the children weaving material for hats, or sombreros. A very tough reed is used. It is woven into strips about half and inch wide, the women work very deftly with their fingers, and area able to braid the reeds without even looking at them. These strips are then rolled up as much as one would roll a tape, and are then sent to a central shop where the hat maker forms them into the sombreros. This headgear is very durable, and serves the purpose of keeping off the rain as well as the tropical sun.

The following morning(13 October 1937) they rode on towards Tuxcueca:

We rode on out through the town, and toward the east… During the middle of the forenoon, we arrived at an adobe school house which overlooked the lake. We went in and found the maestra, or teacher, quite friendly and highly pleased that anyone should care to visit her school. She apologized for the appearance of the place, but it really was quite tidy and comfortable. The children were delighted to line up for their pictures. One child had absolutely no clothing on at all, but the others had enough to cover their nakedness. [63]

Leo Stanley. 1937. Shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

When they reached Tuxcueca, Stanley was asked if he would see two girls who were quite ill:

It was about two cuadras, or blocks, away. The captain of the boat said that he would hold the launch for me. This house was a make-shift hospital, and run by a practical nurse.

There were two girls in a very dark room, one aged seventeen, and the other about eleven. Both were ill with pneumonia, and the small one’s lungs were almost entirely congested. She was comatose, and I felt that the end was not far away. There was very little that I could do under the circumstances, but I gave them some instructions, which they seemed to appreciate. They asked for a bill for my services, but of course I told them that there was no charge.

While we were waiting on the stone pier for the departure of the boar, four or five burros were driven to the eater’s edge to unload their burdens. These little animals each had four or five immense planks which they had carried from forests across the mountains. Each load must have weighed between three and four hundred pounds.

A few minutes later, Stanley and Alonzo took the gasoline boat, described as “about forty feet long, fairly narrow, and made of metal,” back to Chapala, arriving just in time to enjoy a late lunch.

Source

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 extracts and photos used in this post.

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

Aug 262021
 

Edgar Mitchell Ellinger junior was in his mid-forties in 1953 when he wrote about “the small, captivating town of Ajijic” for the Arizona Republic under the title, “Mexican Town Offers Peaceful Way of Life.”

Edgar Ellinger. 1953. Ajijic church. Credit: Arizona Republic.

Edgar Ellinger. 1953. Ajijic church. Credit: Arizona Republic.

Ellinger was born in New York on Christmas Day 1906. After attending Horace Mann School for Boys, he became a Wall Street securities analyst and financial executive. His (first) wife was the NBC vocal star Sarah Schermerhorn, better known by her performing name of Sally Singer. The couple married at Ellinger’s home in New York City on 27 March 1936.

In 1945, Ellinger was the executive vice-president of the Jefferson-Travis Corporation, which specialized in radio equipment and the continuous sound recording field.

To quote The New York Times, Ellinger “left Wall Street in 1947 to live in Sedona, Arizona, where he raised quarter-horses and became a writer and photographer.” Ellinger published articles in several publications, including Desert Magazine in Palm Desert, California.

Here are two excerpts from his piece about Ajijic for the Arizona Republic:

Today, this small fishing village throbs with the interesting and varied activities of a growing international population—attracted by a satisfying climate, inexpensive living, and an atmosphere of “mañana.” The “urgency of life,” so well known to Americans, is strangely lacking.
Artists, writers, musicians, and just “plain folks” have settled in this picturesque haven. Accommodations are available in the two hotels in addition to about 40 renovated old houses owned or rented by non-Mexican.

After commenting on the diverse foreign population, which included “an attractive red-haired ex-violinist and his beautiful wife” and “a world-traveled and world-weary Englishman named H. B. Thompson,” Ellinger explained that:

Ajijic has achieved its popularity in part through the efforts of two Englishmen who… wrote a widely-read book called “Village in the Sun,” which extols the naive simplicity of this harmonious settlement. Neill James has also written extensively on the same subject and occupies a delightful home which encloses wide patios outlined by myriads of brilliant flowers. She grows Japanese silkworms and weaves the silk into blouses beautifully hand-embroidered by a handful of native women who work on the premises.”

Ellinger died at his home in Mountain View, California, on 10 June 1974.

Sources

  • Daily News (New York City), 28 March 1936, 174.
  • Edgar Ellinger, Jr. 1953. “Mexican Town Offers Peaceful Way of Life.” Arizona Republic, 2 August 1953, Section 2, 8.
  • New York Times. “Edgar Ellinger Jr.” (obituary). New York Times, 12 June 1974, 48.

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

Aug 192021
 

I would love to learn more about Charlotte Speight, aka “Mrs Melvin S. Wax,” who held an exhibit of paintings and drawings of Ajijic at the Carpenter Art galleries at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in July 1947.

The exhibition included “six oils, several pen and ink sketches and a gouache, depicting scenes in Ajijic, a primitive Tarascan Indian village bordering Lake Chapala, where Mr and Mrs Wax lived last winter.”

Charlotte Frances Speight (of British heritage) had married Melvin Sumner Wax the previous year and the couple had spent several months in Mexico as a wedding trip.

Charlotte Wax and her painting "Desolation". Chicago Tribune

Charlotte Wax and her painting “Desolation”. Chicago Tribune, 9 September 1956

Born in Berkeley, California, on 15 April 1919, Charlotte graduated from George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and then attended Swarthmore for a couple of years, before studying art in Paris, France. She also studied art at the Yale School of Fine Arts and the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills.

She married Melvin Wax, a journalist, on on 29 September 1946, and their daughter Martha Anne was born on 25 July the following year.

By the 1960s the family was living in Sausalito, California, where Charlotte taught art at Dominican Upper School for about four years and did set design and costumes for Sausalito Little Theater and the Marin Shakespeare Festival. At about the time her husband was elected mayor of Sausalito, Charlotte began studying sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute, from where she graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpture in 1967.

Please get in touch if you have any more information about this artist or examples of her work.

Sources

  • Daily Independent Journal, San Rafael, California, 5 June 1967, 13.
  • Rutland Daily Herald (Rutland, Vermont), 26 July 1947, 7.

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

 Posted by at 5:16 am  Tagged with:
Aug 122021
 

The following excerpts come from the detailed account written by Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) after visiting Lake Chapala in October 1937. (For ease of reading, accents and italics have been added and spelling standardized.)

On 11 October, Stanley and his two Mexican companions, José Alonzo and Ramón, rode from Chapala to Jocotepec, where they found somewhere to stay overnight and then went out for a walk:

It was only a block to the plaza, with its bandstand and garden. There was quite a crowd of people walking about, and in front of a building, evidently a show piece, the nondescript band was playing. Around the edges of the plaza were numerous small stands where oranges, bananas, and various fruit, together with soft drinks, were being vended. We went to a corner restaurant, or fonda. It was far from clean, but was the best that the town furnished, flies were in preponderance, but after our long ride of about twenty miles the first day, we were fairly hungry. Alonzo and Ramón ate the full bill of fare, but I was satisfied with some tortillas, hot beans, a little stewed meat, and plenty of water which I ordered to be boiled. The boys evidently were satisfied with their repasts.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Presidencia, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Presidencia, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

On this night there was a show in town, and on the street corner was a little Mexican who, through a megaphone, announced to the assembled groups in the plaza that this great spectacle was to take place, that in the show was a renowned professor who could read the past, present and future, that this show was one which no one could afford to miss. Its spieler advised that, instead of spending their money for fruit and sweets in the plaza, they should spend it going to this world renowned show. The little fellow really put in a great deal of effort persuading the townspeople to come. In the meantime, the band gave forth its music. [49-50]

The following morning (12 October 1937) the three men were up and about even before it got light:

We went out into the starlight toward the plaza, in order to buy some feed for the horses. A few people were already on the streets, but the feed store did not open until six—thirty. We spent the next half an hour in our room by candlelight, adjusting the stirrups and making the saddles more comfortable. Upon going to the plaza again just before daylight we met some Mexicans who told us that a man had been killed the night before, and that his body was lying in the patio of the jail.

We went over to the Presidencia, and there we met the Comandante. Alonzo told him who we were, and that we would like to see the defunto or dead man. There was a squad of about ten Mexicans in the patio, dressed in their broad sombreros, and covered by serapes. They each had a rifle and really looked quite dangerous, and none too careful with their firearms….

Leo Stanley. 1937. Jail, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Jail, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

… we went into the patio of the jail, and there found sprawled out on his back, the blood—covered body of a short, middle-aged Mexican. His large sombrero, covered with blood, lay on the flagstones near him. He wore white soiled pantaloons rolled to his knees, and a soiled shirt open at the front. He had a large cut over his left wrist which had almost disarticulated the joint. Over his breastbone and through it was a deep stab wound which had gone entirely through the breastplate and entered the heart. In addition to this, he had been shot through the head. His assailant wanted to be sure that he was dead…..

With this rather auspicious, and perhaps awe-inspiring beginning of our second day in the country, we felt it would be well to go over to the fonda and have a bite of breakfast. [51-52]

Stanley also describes the family who had been their overnight hosts:

All of the family at the home of Señora Theresa Medina at Calle Matamoros No. 6, were awake and interested in talking to us. There were three very bright and alert girls, and four or five boys of school age. I took a number of pictures of them, and talked with them for some time. Having been told that I was a doctor, almost all of them wished to have me prescribe or examine…. The three pretty girls had finished all the schooling which they could acquire, and were waiting until some village youth might claim them in marriage. One of them, a rather tall and intelligent señorita, said, however, that she was not at all interested in marriage, that she did not like children, and that she hoped to get away from Jocotepec at her first opportunity. They were all quite happy, and were greatly entertained by talking with the gringo from Los Estados Unidos. [53-54]

Source

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 extracts and photos used in this post.

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

Aug 052021
 

Little is known about Albert Alfredson’s visit to Lake Chapala, though a realist oil and crayon painting by him entitled “Humble Homes” with the notation “At Lake Chapala Mex,” and believed to date from about 1950, was offered for sale on eBay in July 2021.

Albert Alfredson. c 1950. "Humble Homes." Image from EBay.

Albert Alfredson. c 1950. “Humble Homes.” Image from eBay.

Alfredson was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1907 and died in 1977.

He studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts, and studied portraiture with Wellington J. Reynolds.

Alfredson was a member of numerous art groups, including the Brown County Art Guild Gallery of Nashville, Indiana; the Brownsville Art League in Texas; the American Artists Professional League; and the Oak Park Art League.

He was President of the Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts from 1962-64, and was the Artist Director of the Municipal Art League of Chicago.

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

 Posted by at 6:55 am  Tagged with:
Jul 292021
 

“A Gringo”—an English-speaking traveler about whom very little is known—arrived in Mexico in 1883. He was an observant and enthusiastic visitor. In the preface to his book Through The Land of the Aztecs or Life and Travel in Mexico (published in 1892), “A Gringo” states that his objective “is simply to give a plain account of several years experience in the country, to show its recent progress and to enable the reader to judge the future,” based on “prolonged periods of travel over the greater part of its territory, by rail, stagecoach and steamer, on horseback and in canoes [which] have afforded me exceptional facilities for studying the country and all classes of the people.” Contemporary adverts for the book claimed it was based on “seven years’ life and travel in Mexico.”

Who was “A Gringo”?

In a previous version of this post “A Gringo” was identified as Arthur St. Hill. This identification echoed my introductory comments to a short extract of his work published in Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (2008).

The attribution of the pen name “A Gringo” to Arthur St. Hill was based on the bibliographic details given for Through The Land of the Aztecs in the catalogue of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford (and subsequently used by several booksellers offering secondhand copies of the book).

I am now certain that this attribution is incorrect. Digging into genealogical databases reveals only two individuals named “Arthur St. Hill” living at about the right time. One was born in Barbados in the West Indies, and the other in the UK.

The Barbados-born Arthur St. Hill (Arthur Bertram St Hill) lived from 1872 to 1911. He was a cricketer and the author of a report on the Barbados health system published in 1896; he has no obvious connection to Mexico.

As an adult, the other Arthur St. Hill (1878-1969) lived in Bristol, UK, and worked as a structural engineer specializing in the use of steel. In any event, given that Through The Land of the Aztecs is a book based on several years of residence in Mexico in the 1880s, when Arthur was only a child, he clearly could not have been its author.

However, his father—Charles Manwell St Hill, born in Trinidad in 1849—does have provable connections to Mexico. At the time of the 1881 UK census, Charles, then aged 32, lived in London and worked as a commercial clerk. He had married Louisa Le Maitre de Rabodanges in March 1871 and the couple had five children. Their eldest child, Mabel, was born in Sevilla, Spain. Her siblings were Eva, born in Calais, France; Hilda and Arthur, both born in Mortlake, Surrey; and Houghton Oliver, born in Middlesex.

The 1891 UK census lists Louisa St. Hill as head of the household; she is living in Bristol with her five children and her mother. This census describes Luisa as “married” and does not mention Charles, who was presumably living in Mexico at the time. The next census, a decade later, lists Louisa as “widowed,” so Charles must have died between 1891 and 1901. The notice of Arthur’s marriage in 1911 lists his father as “the late Charles Manwell St. Hill, banker, of Mexico.” [Western Daily Press, 16 June 1911] A family tree on Ancestry.com, which states that Charles died in Mexico, provides no further details or sources.

Based on these admittedly scant details, I believe that the likely author of Through The Land of the Aztecs was Charles Manwell St. Hill. The misattribution of authorship to Arthur St. Hill in the Bodleian Library and elsewhere may have come about because Arthur registered his inherited rights to the book after his father’s death.

Through the Land of the Aztecs

One contemporary review called the work an “interesting little book descriptive of life and travel in Mexico from 1883 until a recent date,” and congratulated the author “on the felicitous manner in which he has performed his task.” The reviewer found that the book was “a pleasantly written handbook” though it lacked a map, an omission that “is really unpardonable.”

“A Gringo”‘s visit to Chapala definitely took place prior to 1889, though it was not published until a few years later (1892). The author starts by summarizing his trip to Chapala, which would have taken close to 12 hours:

Taking a carriage, which ran weekly between Guadalajara and Chapala, a town on the border of the lake of that name, I set forth one morning, and, after climbing a hill, from which a grand view of the city and surrounding countryside was obtained, I reached Chapala.”

He provides only the briefest of descriptions of the village of Chapala, commenting on the inn where he stayed and the moonlight on the lake:

Chapala lies at the foot of a hill, overlooking the lake, the waters of which lapped the little garden of the inn where I put up. After a supper, with the agreeable addition of a bottle of lager beer, I spent the evening chatting with the pleasant old people who kept the inn, and enjoying the still night as I watched the moonbeams playing on the lake, on which loomed the black shape of the paddle steamer that was to take me tomorrow across its waters.”

“A Gringo” gives us a rare description of taking a trip aboard the Libertad (“Freedom”) paddle steamer around the lake to the various lakeshore villages. The San Francisco-built Libertad had been brought to Lake Chapala in 1868 by the Compañía de Navegación por Vapor en el Lago de Chapala (Lake Chapala Steamboat Company), whose managing director was a transplanted Scotsman, Mr. Duncan Cameron.

It was a wonderful old tub, evidently built in the days when shipbuilding was “in its infancy, judging from its uncouth shape and old timbers, that creaked at every movement of the paddles. Our voyage took in several villages round the lake. At each stopping place we would land on the little mud jetties to suck a piece of sugar-cane or quaff a festive glass of tequila. At one of the villages a sad accident has since occurred; the crazy old steamer toppled over with her living freight of over two hundred passengers just as she reached the landing-stage, nearly all being drowned… One heroic American, employed on the Central Railroad, who was on board at the time, succeeded in saving the lives of sixteen by his pluck and great swimming powers.”

The tragic accident referred to by “A Gringo” occurred on Sunday 24 March 1889 when the steamship capsized at Ocotlán. Even though this took place only six meters from the shore, 28 people were drowned. The American referred to by “A Gringo” was the Railway Superintendent, Mr. C. E. Halbert.

“A Gringo” also noted that efforts had been made to exploit an underwater petroleum deposit at Lake Chapala:

At one place the captain called my attention to a spot where the water was bubbling, and told me that at the bottom of the lake there was a petroleum well. Although efforts had been made to utilize it, they had hitherto been unsuccessful.”

“A Gringo” disembarked from the Libertad at La Barca, from where he continued his wanderings around Mexico.

If anyone can supply any additional biographical details about “A Gringo”, please get in touch!

Note

Source

  • “A Gringo.” 1892. Through The Land of the Aztecs Or Life and Travel In Mexico. London: Sampson, Low, Marston & Company.

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

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