Tony Burton

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

Feb 022023
 

Calvin Tomkins, who later wrote extensively for Newsweek and the New Yorker, completed his first novel Intermission while staying at Lake Chapala. The autobiographical novel was first published by Viking Press, New York, in 1951. The book is not set at the lake; its locales are Santa Fe, New York and New Jersey. It explores the tricky and sometimes difficult relationships between two brothers, one of whom is the narrator, and one of their oldest friends and his wife.

Tomkins was born in Orange, New Jersey, on 17 December 1925. After graduating from Berkshire School, he served two years in the US Navy, and then completed a degree program at Princeton University in 1948. Still in his early twenties, and newly married with an urge to write, he got lucky: Tomkins’ father, a New Jersey businessman, offered to finance an entire year for him to focus on trying to become a writer. Calvin and his wife rented a place in Santa Fe, and Calvin began drafting the story which turned into Intermission.

After some months in Santa Fe, the young couple decided to visit Mexico where they:

“ended up in a place outside of Guadalajara, at a pretty little inn by Lake Chapala. . . We were there three or four months, and I wrote there, too. It was a kind of Hemingway-esque experience for me. I remember finishing the manuscript there and sending it to my agent. I heard back a few weeks later that it had been accepted by Viking Press!”

Tomkins - IntermissionOn their return to the US, Tomkins struggled to write a second novel, but did get several short stories published. To make ends meet, he became a journalist, working first for Radio Free Europe (1953-1957) and then Newsweek. He had a freelance contribution to the New Yorker accepted in 1958, and joined the magazine two years later as a staff writer. In addition to short stories and humor pieces, he branched out into nonfiction. Over two decades, he focused on chronicling the rapidly evolving New York City art scene. He was the New Yorker’s official art critic in the early 1980s, and responsible for hundreds of art reviews and profiles for the magazine’s “Art World” column.

Besides Intermission, Tomkins’ major published works include: The bride & the bachelors: the heretical courtship in modern art (1965); The Lewis and Clark Trail (1965); The world of Marcel Duchamp (1966); Eric Hoffer: An American Odyssey (1969); Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1970); Living Well Is the Best Revenge: The Life of Gerald and Sara Murphy (1971); The Scene: Reports on Post-Modern Art (1976); Off the Wall : A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg (1980); Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews (2013); and The Lives of Artists (2019).

In retirement, Tomkins donated his papers to the Museum of Modern Art and his art-book archive to the Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport, Rhode Island.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to artist Peter Holden for bringing Calvin Tomkins’ important link to Lake Chapala to my attention.

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

To learn more about the literary history of Lake Chapala, see the relevant chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

The Lake Chapala-Santa Fe literary-art nexus has had many distinguished members over the years, including 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. Instrumental in fomenting the links in the 1940s was Santa Fe journalist Brian Ború Dunne.

Sources

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

Jan 262023
 

Does anyone recognize the artist who painted this attractive gouache of a village scene? It is dated ’62. The indistinct signature is currently illegible; we have an expert attempting to decipher it. The signature appears to include the letters “PET” in block capitals, which may be the start of “PETER.”

Anon.Village Scene. 1962.

Meanwhile, any and all suggestions welcomed! Other Art Mysteries related to Lake Chapala can be found via our index page for artists.

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

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village describe the history of the thriving artistic community in Ajijic.

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.

Jan 192023
 

Multilingual playwright Samuel McCulloch (1921-1991) and his wife, Jennie, lived in an old adobe house in Ajijic for six years from 1956 to 1962. In a 1958 press interview, McCulloch told a reporter that in Ajijic he was writing plays, working daily from 11 am to 7 pm, with a break for lunch, and that “When we first went there two years ago, we had electricity only at night. Now we’ve got it round the clock, except when the plant is broken down, which is every few days.” McCulloch named the plant operator as “Pancho de la Luz” and added that there were “about 75 Americans in Ajijic, many of them retired business and professional men and their wives.”

Sam and Jennie McCulloch, 1972. Credit: Concordia Sentinel.

Sam and Jennie McCulloch, 1972. Credit: Concordia Sentinel.

Born on 9 February 1921 in Memphis, Tennessee, McCulloch was educated at Central High School, Memphis, and Choate School in Connecticut. (Coincidentally, a former teacher at the Choate School—novelist Christopher Veiel—had lived in Ajijic a few years earlier.) McCulloch then studied at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, before graduating with a degree in English and Greek from Southwestern (now Rhodes College) in his hometown.

During the second world war, McCulloch served with the US Army as an interpreter and interrogator of prisoners of war in Africa, Italy and France, work which improved his command of German, Italian, French and Spanish.

After the war ended, McCulloch took classes at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Perugia, Italy, before completing an MA in drama at Syracuse. In 1947 he registered the copyright of a film script, apparently never published, titled “The Turning Point.”

In 1952 he returned to Memphis and helped found the Arena Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee; McCulloch also operated a summer theater in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Arena lasted only a couple of years, but attracted stars such as John Carradine and Eva Gabor to perform in its plays. The theatre ran into censorship problems in 1953 when McCulloch adapted Erskine Caldwell’s novel Tragic Ground, which features a young man and woman in bed, but clothed. The performances were duly moved to a nightclub in West Memphis.

It was at the Arena that McCuloch met his wife, Jennie Keeter, who had majored in English at Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina, and took a part-time gig as a volunteer usher. Not long after the Arena folded, the couple couple moved to Ajijic. In his 1958 interview, McCulloch claimed to have been writing most of the time; in a later interview he claimed that in Ajijic the couple “did absolutely nothing for six years.”

What did McCulloch and his wife think of Ajijic. When they returned briefly to Memphis in 1959, Sam told a local newspaper that He had just put a manuscript in the mail, that “Harper’s is bringing out a novel soon by one of our people” and that “The Golden Fleecing,” written by another Ajijican, Lorenzo Semple Jr, had recently received good notices on Broadway. (Note that it is unclear which Harper’s novel was being referred to; Willard Marsh’s Week With No Friday, set in Ajijic, was not released by Harper’s until 1965.)

However, even if McCulloch was optimistic about his writing career, he reported that Ajijic was “now crawling with Americans so Jennie and I are sneaking around at night, putting up “Yankee Go Home” signs.” Goodness only knows what McCulloch might say if he were able to visit Ajijic today!

After their extended vacation in Mexico, McCulloch joined the US Information Service and the couple spent three years in Paraguay, followed by stints in Chile, Guatemala and Washington DC, where McCulloch was cultural coordinator for Latin America.

Sam and Jenny McCulloch retired to Jonesville, Lousiana, in 1972, shortly after buying a home, sight unseen, on Horseshoe Lake. Mementos from their time in Mexico and their travels were proudly displayed in their lakeside home.

McCulloch died in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 17 March 1991, shortly after his 70th birthday.

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

To read more about life in Ajijic in the 1950s, and the many authors who lived there, see the 13 chapters that comprise Part C of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

Sources

  • The Commercial Appeal (Memphis): 9 Dec 1965, 68; 20 March 1991.
  • The Memphis Press-Scimitar: 25 Dec 1958, 16; 30 Dec 1959, 11.
  • Bea Nathanson. 1972. “They came on a Visit – and Returned here to live.” The Concordia Sentinel, 15 Nov 1972

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

Jan 122023
 

Of all the notable artists associated with Lake Chapala, the one who made the most waves in international art circles in the latter part of the twentieth century was Feliciano Béjar.

Feliciano (‘Chano’) Béjar was born on 14 July 1920 in Jiquilpan, Michoacán. Jiquilpan had been in close proximity to Lake Chapala for centuries until the eastern third of the lake was drained for agriculture a decade before Béjar was born.

A self-taught artist, who overcame polio as a child, Béjar was revered for his inspired sculptures, painting and weaving. His most famous series of works, dubbed ‘magiscopes,’ imaginatively combined glass with metals, plastics and other recycled materials; they stimulate viewers awareness of the unlimited power of the human eye to see and interpret abstract sculptures.

Feliciano Bejar. Boat seller.

Feliciano Bejar. Boat seller.

Béjar attended the Colegio Salesiano of Guadalajara (1932-1934) and his childhood interest in art was stimulated by meeting José Clemente Orozco when that great artist was painting his remarkable murals in Jiquilpan in 1940.

There is little point in me rehashing all the details of Béjar’s life, which are readily available online, including in this Wikipedia article.

If it had not been for serendipity, Béjar might never have become an acclaimed artist. He had traveled widely in Mexico before leaving for New York in 1945 to work, paint and buy himself a Chevrolet. Béjar painted during the day and worked nights in a department store.

Feliciano Bejar. Posada del niño

Feliciano Bejar. Posada del niño

In 1947 he left some paintings at a frame shop which, by chance, was patronized by gallery owner Ward Eggleston. Helped by Nathaniel Coleman and his wife, a wealthy art-loving couple who had struck up a friendship with Béjar in the department store, Eggleston made arrangements to hold a solo show of Béjar’s work at his gallery the following year.

Meanwhile, Béjar had bought a car (despite not knowing how to drive) and persuaded a friend to drive him and the car back to Jiquilpan. Shortly after their safe arrival, his friend borrowed the vehicle to visit his own family; unfortunately he then totaled the automobile in an accident.

Béjar returned to New York for his solo show, the first of several he would hold at the Ward Eggleston Galleries. Nathaniel Coleman remained his chief promoter and sponsor; he purchased some two hundred of Béjar’s works over the years; the terms of his will meant that more than half of them eventually returned to the artist.

Feliciano Bejar.Sunset at Lake Chapala

Feliciano Bejar.Sunset at Lake Chapala

According to a contemporary review of the first New York show, at the Ward Eggleston Galleries in 1948:

“It was difficult to leave the Ward Eggleston Galleries after viewing the paintings of Chano Bejar without being haunted long afterwards by the pinks and yellows and greens in his “Fiery Horse,” a dream creature out of Mexican Indian mythology who flamed and quivered with motion that threatened to shatter the very canvas which held him.”

Béjar’s art remained unrecognized in Mexico, until after he was sponsored by UNESCO to travel to Europe in 1949 for a group show of Latin-American artists which included several of his works. On his return, the Instituto Mexicano Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales took a keen interest and arranged several shows over the next few years. A retrospective exhibit of his works in Los Angeles in 1956 was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. These shows helped establish Béjar’s reputation and resulted in dozens more solo shows. UNESCO produced a film in 1964, “The world of Feliciano Béjar,” and Béjar’s work featured in the Mexican pavilion at the New York World Fair in 1965. During his long artistic career, Béjar held more than 150 solo shows in Mexico, the US and Europe.

Two early Chapala-related paintings deserve a special mention. Béjar’s solo show at the Galeria José María Velasco in Mexico City in 1962 included “Tuxcueca.” Completed in 1947, this painting of a humble village on the south shore of Lake Chapala is probably the only time the village has ever been painted by a major artist. A second 1947 oil on canvas was included in Béjar’s 1965 show at Galeria Mer-kup, also in Mexico City: it was titled ‘Chapala.’

Feliciano Bejar. Three magiscopes.

Feliciano Bejar. Three magiscopes.

Magiscopes were first shown in 1966 at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and at Mappin Art Gallery in London, UK. Inspired by childhood toys and games, Béjar’s magiscopios are somewhat reminiscent of Renaissance clocks, astrolobes and other scientific instruments, coupled with the visual allure of kaleidoscopes.

During this highly productive period of his life, Béjar also prepared designs for several European ceramics makers, including Spode, and designed stage sets. The artist held strong opinions about all manner of social and environmental concerns, and shared them via a weekly column in the 1980s in Mexico City daily El Universal.

Francisco Béjar, one of the more remarkable self-taught artists to emerge in Mexico during the second half of the twentieth century, died in Mexico City on 1 February 2007. His work continues to be highly sought after by collectors.

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

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

Sources

  • Modern Mexico: March-April 1949 (Vol 22 #2); July-August 1950 (Vol 23 #4)
  • Justino Fernández. (multiple years) Catálogos de las Exposiciones de Arte, Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.

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.

Jan 052023
 

One of the modern myths of Lakeside is that long term American resident and benefactor Neill James, author of Dust on my Heart, was the originator of the phrase “When once the dust of Mexico has settled upon your heart, you cannot then find peace in any other land.”

Dust on my Heart, published in 1946, was James’ final book, the only published work she wrote in Ajijic, and the only one of her books to include descriptions of life in the village. However, you only have to read the first page of the book to realize that James never claimed any credit for the “dust of Mexico” quote; she fully acknowledged that it was an existing saying and not an original line. What James actually wrote on the first page of Dust on my Heart was:

There is a saying, ‘When once the dust of Mexico has settled upon your heart, you cannot then find peace in any other land.’”

In several modern accounts, this has been modified to:

Neill James wrote, “Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart, you can never go home again.””

In the years since James, several other authors utilized versions of the same saying. The most famous of these authors is Malcolm Lowry, who writes in Under the Volcano, that “He upon whose heart the dust of Mexico has lain, will find no peace in any other land.”

In recent years, Carolena Torres chose Dust on Their Hearts as the title of her debut novel, which is partially set at Lake Chapala. She paraphrases the original proverb as, “When the dust of Mexico falls upon your heart, you will never be the same.”

How or where did Neill James first encounter the proverb? Immediately prior to her arrival in Ajijic in 1943, James had spent several months in and out of a Mexico City hospital following a climbing accident and a volcanic eruption. It is entirely possible that it was in the hospital or shortly afterwards, during her convalescence  in the spa town of Ixtapan de la Sal, that she read Dust of Mexico , a romance novel by Ruth Comfort Mitchell. Embedded in the story line of this novel, first published in 1941, is this version of the saying: “Once the dust of Mexico has settled on your heart, never can you rest in any other land.”

On first hearing it, the central character in Dust of Mexico—Priscilla Carpenter, a staid, single New York librarian—laughs at the idea. However, she changes her opinion after being taken on a trip to Mexico by a married, frivolous aunt, who promises Priscilla’s mother that there will be no men on the study tour of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women. But there are men, including a famous radio comedian and an ambitious American doctor, and in the process of choosing between several men, Priscilla “gains a knowledge of the romance and lure of Mexico.” Prior to publication as a novel, Dust of Mexico had been serialized in Women’s Home Companion.

Or perhaps James had read Anita Brenner? A decade earlier, renowned Mexican author and art critic Anita Brenner (1905-1974) quoted an almost identical version of the same proverb on the very first page of her Your Mexican Holiday: A Modern Guide, published in 1932: “Once the dust of Mexico has settled on your heart, you have no rest in any other land.”

And, going back ten years before that, in 1923, reporter, artist and screenwriter Wallace Smith used yet another extremely similar version in The little tigress; tales out of the dust of Mexico, a collection of stories set during the Revolution. The chapter titled “Dust of Mexico” opens as follows:

“Once the dust of Mexico has settled on your heart there can be no rest for you in any other land. That is a saying in Mexico. It is spoken proudly and sometimes hopelessly. The truth of it is in the empty, seeking eyes of exiles in other countries- in places far away from the land of golden lights and purple shadows.” Smith was a talented cartoonist and “these tales of love, treachery, courage, and adventure are illustrated by the author’s atmospheric drawings from his field sketchbook.”

If you can add other instances of the use of versions of the “Dust on my Heart” saying in mainstream works (particularly in early ones), please get in touch!

References in reverse chronological order

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

To read more about Neill James and her life in Ajijic, see chapters 13, 14, 21, 26, 34 and 39 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

Sources

  • Roberta C Gilman. 1941. “Lure of Mexico Gets in Blood.” Detroit Free Press, 14 September 1941.
  • New York Times. “Dust of Mexico. By Ruth Comfort Mitchell.” New York Times, 16 Feb 1941.
  • Mexican Life, June 1941, p 39.

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

Dec 292022
 

Despite several popular art sites listing Bert Pumphrey’s exhibitions as including three in Ajijic, I have yet to find any details for them. Pumphrey’s distinctive work is so highly collectible, that he would certainly deserve a place among the Lakeside greats (and in the Ajijic Museum of Art) if his association with Lake Chapala can be proven.

The three exhibitions listed for Bert Pumphrey in Ajijic are:

  • La Nueva Posada, Art Shows in the Garden, 1955
  • Casa de la Cultura, Ajijic, Plaza Principal 1978
  • Galeria AXIXICC, Ajijic, 1985

The 1955 entry clearly cannot be correct. Either this was an exhibit in the (Old) Posada Ajijic, or the year is inaccurate and it should be 1995. Either way, I have found no confirming evidence anywhere for this or the other two shows. If you can help, please get in touch!

Despite drawing a blank as regards the Ajijic exhibitions, my search for answers has enabled me to compile a more accurate account of Pumphrey’s life and work than those currently available on the web.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Un militar.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Un militar.

Bertrem (Bert) Pumphrey was born in Welby, Salt Lake City, Utah, on 30 January 1916. After graduating from Provo High School in 1936, Pumphrey took classes for a year at the Chicago Art Institute. From 1937 to 1941, he studied on a scholarship at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where he was strongly influenced by Henry Lee McFee and Tom Craig

At the second annual exhibit of Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity (organized by Los Angeles County Museum) in 1941, Pumphrey’s painting “Rainy Season” and a work by famous Japanese-American modernist Sueo Serisawa received honorable mentions for painting.

In 1940, while still a student, Pumphrey had registered for military service, and after completing his studies the following year he enlisted in the army. He served as a surgical technician in the Army Medical Corps in Asia and the Far East

His first major group show after the war was at the Los Angeles Art Association in 1946, in a collective exhibition titled “They Have Returned,” with one critic writing that “Bertram Pumphrey’s oils of India convey that land’s rich decoration and vegetation and the accompanying poverty.”

Later that year in September Pumphrey held his first solo show (of 47 oil paintings) at the prestigious Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

In 1947, Pumphrey had the first of at least two solo shows at the American Contemporary Gallery in Los Angeles. His 22 canvases were described by Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier as “rich in color and human interest.” Millier also recorded that Pumphrey had “recently worked” with Tom Craig on a large mural or murals at the San Antonio Hospital, Claremont, and had completed a large 40′ by 12′ mural commission in a private Hollywood home.

In 1947-1948 Pumphrey taught art part-time at the Art Barn School of Arts in Salt Lake City, giving himself ample time to develop his own art while still having a reliable income.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Hasidic Rabbis Dancing. (oil on board)

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Hasidic Rabbis Dancing.

Pumphrey moved to Mexico in 1948, and exhibited relatively infrequently in the US after that date, though he retained links with California, giving classes and participating in group shows in Lafayette and Oakland in 1954. By this time he had married Isabel. The couple apparently kept homes in both Tlalpan, a suburb of Mexico City and in California, dividing their time between the two places. Isabel became a naturalized US citizen in 1984 on her 54th birthday.

In 1955, Pumphrey painted murals depicting typical scenes from Bavarian villages on the walls of Sam’s Hof Brau in the historic Kost building in Sacramento. Four years later, he completed a large mural for the Seagulll Motel in Salt Lake City, assisted by his twin brother, Joe, who was also an artist.

His first major solo show in Mexico was at the Galería Pemex in Mexico City in January 1960. It included 106 works, in a variety of media, from oils on masonite and linoleum to watercolors and ink drawings, and of varied subjects, demonstrating the artist’s impressive versatility.

Pumphrey’s smaller solo show the following year at the Mexican-Northamerican Cultural Institute in Mexico City featured 19 oils and 17 watercolors; it included a self portrait alongside animal, coastal and jungle studies.

Pumphrey’s techniques and preferences changed markedly over the years. In 1971, the Oakland Museum showed a short film “Bert Pumphrey, Pleasanton Artist,” which depicted how Pumphrey liked to paint: using palette knives, including some of his own design, to cut through successive layers of paint to achieve the color, texture and form he wanted. (This technique was similar to that used for traditional lacquer work in Mexico). For these paintings, Pumphrey worked on masonite, rather than canvas, and on a table, rather than an easel.

Bert Pumphrey. 1969.

Bert Pumphrey. 1969.

Pumphrey completed murals for several public buildings, clubs, churches and private homes in Mexico (presumably mainly in 1950s), as well as murals in the Kost building, Sacramento (1955) and the Seagull Motel, Salt Lake City (1959).

Bert Pumphreys’s confirmed group shows include Los Angeles Art Association (1946, 1947); Chaffey, Ontario, California (1947); Biblioteca Cervantes, Mexico City (1952); Artists’ Market, Oakland, California (1954) and Valley Art Center, Contra Costa, California (1955).

In addition to the three possible shows in Ajijic and one (also unconfirmed) in the Virgin Islands, Pumphrey’s solo shows included Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1946); American Contemporary Gallery, Los Angeles (1947, 1948); Palette Club, Salt Lake City (1947); Galería Pemex, Mexico City (1960); lnstituto Mexicano-Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales, Mexico City (1961); Little Gallery, Philadelphia (1967); Cory Gallery, San Francisco (1969); and La Cienega Gallery, Los Angeles (1971).

The artist spent his final years in South Pasadena, where he died on 20 June 2002.

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

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

Sources

  • Bingham Bulletin 12 Sep 1941, 5; 3 Sep 1954, 3
  • Contra Costa Gazette 11 Feb 1954, 5; 22 Jul 1955, 4
  • Contra Costa Times 25 Feb 1954, 5
  • Daily Herald 08 May 1936, 3
  • Justino Fernández. (a) 1953 (b) 1961 (c) 1962. Catálogos de las Exposiciones de Arte en los años 1952, 1960 and 1961. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.
  • Los Angeles Times 16 March 1941, 21; 16 March 1941, 21; 23 Mar 1941; 24 March 1946, 26; 6 Jul 1947, 26; 21 Sep 1947, 28; 04 Jul 1948, 45; 25 Jul 1971, 425
  • Oakland Tribune 14 Feb 1954, 91; 31 Jan 1971, 125
  • Pasadena Star-News. 2002. Bertrem Pumphrey (obituary). 29 June 2002.
  • Philadelphia Inquirer 04 Jun 1967, 141
  • Sacramento Bee 22 Jan 1955, 52
  • Salt Lake Tribune 02 Nov 1947, 64; 10 Aug 1947, 48; 14 Dec 1947, 72; 12 Jul 1959, 29; 18 Oct 1964, 78
  • San Francisco Examiner 29 Sep 1946, 135; 28 Dec 1969, 142

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.

 

 

Dec 222022
 

As explained in a previous post, my on-going fascination with the history of Lake Chapala was stimulated, in part, by the chance discovery many years ago of a copy of Antonio de Alba‘s 1954 book, Chapala.

Antonio de Alba. Chapala, p 115

Antonio de Alba. Chapala, p 115 (Click to enlarge)

The online claim (made only a few years ago) that Chapala is “the most accurate book to date about the local history” may have been true many decades ago, but has certainly not been true since the turn of this century.

The focus of my personal interest has been on when, how and why Chapala first became a center for international tourists. The ‘when’ is the easy part, given that the town’s first major hotel, the Hotel Arzapalo, opened its doors in 1898. The ‘how’ and ‘why’ are trickier to answer, and have led me down innumerable ‘rabbit holes’ related to the lives of early foreign settlers in Chapala.

What has emerged from years of research, and new online friendships with the descendants of many of these early settlers, is that the story of Lake Chapala is far more complex (and interesting) than I had ever imagined. Many of the details in de Alba’s account of the “principal promoters of tourism in Chapala” (page 115) need to be reconsidered, and in some cases rejected.

Please note that I am not, by publishing this critique, trying to disparage or discredit Antonio de Alba, his research or his book. On the contrary, it was his book that got me started down this road! But, like all accounts of history, over time new facts come to light, alternative interpretations are proposed—some of which become accepted—and a new, revised (and hopefully more accurate) version of the story is developed.

Let’s take a close look at de Alba’s account of the principal promoters of tourism in Chapala. It did not take me long to realize that ‘Séptimo Crow’ was Septimus Crowe (with an ‘e’ at the end), who was, as de Alba stated, of English origin, though he was actually born in northern Norway, where his father had a massive copper mine. It took me a lot longer to realize that the “Mr. Leonel Garden,” who built Villa Tlalocan, was Mr (later Sir) Lionel Carden (with a ‘C’), and even longer before I identified ‘Sr. D. Carlos Eissman” as Karl (Carlos) Eisenmann. Once I had their real names, it was relatively easy to find out a lot more about these individuals and their lives, and their connections to Chapala.

It turned out that Septimus Crowe, for example, had abandoned his wife and young son in Europe when he moved to Mexico. His son was informed that his father had died, and never lived to learn the truth; members of the succeeding generation were totally astonished to find a brief reference in one of my articles about Septimus’ life in Mexico.

De Alba writes that Crowe arrived in about 1895. While I can’t prove precisely when the eccentric Mr Crowe first came to Chapala, it was certainly several years earlier than that, as I have pointed out repeatedly over the past two decades. This is known because there is a clear reference to Crowe by Mexican diplomat-author Eduardo A. Gibbon in a book published in 1893. Gibbon’s account refers both to Crowe having built a “very lovely estate that can be seen from the lake on a hill, a quarter of a league from the village of Chapala” (now the site of Hotel Montecarlo) and to Crowe having “stimulated others to build holiday homes and with them give life and civilization to this very beautiful region.”

In the past several years, as I delved ever deeper into the lives of Crowe and others, I have been able to prove that Crowe built all the three houses mentioned by de Alba (Villa Montecarlo, Villa Bell, Villa Josefina), though not in the order he suggested. Before he built Villa Bell, Crowe had built Casa Albión, renamed Villa Josefina after it was bought by American-born beer magnate Joseph Maximilian Schnaider.

In the case of Villa Tlalocan, de Alba is correct that the house was built in about 1896: construction began in 1895 and the Cardens were able to move in the following year, in time to invite President Díaz for breakfast one morning in early November. De Alba is also correct that Carden sold Villa Tlalocan to Carlos Eisenmann. However, de Alba’s claims that the house was then bought by Manuel Cuesta Gallardo ‘after Eisenmann’s death’, and that the new owner built a home there intended as a gift for President Díaz, which the President never received because the Mexican Revolution broke out (1910), are inaccurate.

First, I have never found any contemporary newspaper accounts supporting the idea that Manuel Cuesta Gallardo built any home intended for President Díaz. There are, though, several references to a home being prepared for the President by his inlaws at El Manglar. Secondly, Eisenmann died in 1920 (in Germany), three years after Manuel Cuesta Gallardo had already transferred the title of Villa Tlalocan to a younger sister.

I repeat—for those who have read this far—that none of this post is intended in any way to disparage Antonio de Alba, his research or his book. It was my chance find of Chapala back in the 1980s that led me to become so passionate about exploring the history of how the small fishing village of Chapala became such an important international tourist destination.

Reading the book

Copies of Chapala, which has never been reprinted, are difficult to find. Fortunately for readers, Javier Raygoza Munguía, the publisher of the weekly PÁGINA Que sí se lee! has uploaded the entire text as a series of digital files which can be accessed via the link.

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

Several chapters of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants – available in Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes – offer more details about the history of Chapala.

Sources and references

  • Antonio de Alba. 1954. Chapala. Guadalajara: Banco Industrial de Jalisco.
  • Eduardo A Gibbon. 1893. Guadalajara, (La Florencia Mexicana). El salto de Juanacatlán y El Mar Chapálico. 1992 reprint Guadalajara: Presidencia Municipal de Guadalajara.

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.

Dec 152022
 

Japanese artist Masaharu Shimada, who specializes in sumi-e pen and ink drawings and has held dozens of acclaimed exhibitions in Mexico and his native Japan, lived for several months each year in San Antonio Tlayacapan from 1986 onwards. His exquisite works include numerous evocative monochrome impressionist landscapes of Ajijic and San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Sumi-e, which means black ink painting, developed over several centuries in Japan, after Zen Buddhist monks from China first introduced their deceptively simple techniques and style back in the fourteenth century. Chinese ink is applied to paper using brushes traditionally made of hair, bamboo or feathers.

Born in Nakagyo, Kyoto, in 1931, Shimada graduated from the calligraphy department of Tokyo Gakugei University in 1953 before teaching himself the techniques of sumi-e. He held his first solo show of sumi-e at the Chuokoron-sha Gallery, Tokyo, in 1961.

Masaharu Shimada. 2000. Cerro y lago de Chulavista.

Masaharu Shimada. 2000. Cerro y lago de Chulavista.

In 1967, he visited Mexico for the first time and stayed six months. Two years later, he produced his first book, México en Sumi-e, published by Mokuji-sha, Tokyo.

He returned to Mexico in 1970 and held a solo show at the University of Guanajuato. In 1972, during his third visit to Mexico, he had a one-person show in Valle de Bravo, in the State of México.

Over the next decade, he revisited Mexico almost every year, before deciding in 1986 to establish a seasonal home in San Antonio Tlayacapan on Lake Chapala.

Masaharu Shimada. 1999. Casa antigua de San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Masaharu Shimada. 1999. Casa antigua de San Antonio Tlayacapan.

During the course of his long love affair with Mexico, Shimada has produced several more books, including México Pintado en Tinta China and Colección de Pinturas en San Antonio (both published by Editorial Work House, Tokyo) and México Pintado en Tinta China, published in 2003 by Editorial Artes Gráficas Panorama S.A. de C.V. in Mexico City.

Shimada’s major solo exhibitions in Mexico include: University of Guanajuato (1970); Valle de Bravo (1972); Museo Alhondiga de Granaditas, Guanajuato (1978); Galería Arvil, Mexico City (1977, 1979); Casa de Cultura, Guadalajara (1988); Instituto Cabañas, Guadalajara (1989); Museo Pueblo de Guanajuato (1980, 1983, 1988, 1995); Colegio de Michoacán, Zamora (1996); Televisa, Guadalajara (1998); Nikkei Cultural Center, Mexico City (1999); Museo Casa de Arte Olga Costa-José Chávez Morado, Guanajuato (2001); Yakult Cultural Center, Guadalajara (1994, 2002); and Galería Ramón Alva de la Canal, Xalapa, Veracruz (2016).

The 48 sumi-e works Shimada displayed at the last named show included Lago y casa de San Antonio Tlayacapan, Chapala, Jalisco (1995); Fantasía de árbol de nopal (1996); Nopales (1997); and Panorámica de Guanajuato (2000).

The catalog of images from this exhibition can be viewed on issuu.com.

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

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

Comments, corrections 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.

Dec 082022
 

By the 1970s the Ajijic retirement community was sufficiently established that it attracted academic attention. The earliest study, never formally published, was by Dr Edwin G Flittie, a professor of sociology at the University of Wyoming. Flittie visited in 1973 and subsequently presented copies of “Retirement in the Sun,” his analysis of the retirement community, to the Lake Chapala Society Library. Like several later studies of foreign migrants, Flittie considered the Chapala-Ajijic region as a single unit, and not as two communities with their distinct histories as regards tourism and retirement. Flittie interviewed more than 100 retirees and found that many had failed to appreciate the substantial cultural differences between the US and Mexico, or recognized that the emphasis for many local residents was “not on material gain but rather on the attainment of a satisfying existence traditionally based upon agrarian economic self-sufficiency.”

Flittie estimated that about 60% of retirees were aged 60 to 74, and 14% were 75 or older. Very few were fluent in Spanish and 88% reported that their social life centered on fellow expatriates and other English-speaking individuals. Flittie found that most retirees lived much as they would have lived in the US. The main problems they faced were related to excessive drinking, marital and family discord (men adapted better than women), boredom, bribery, interactions with the local community, domestic help and old age. Flittie returned briefly in December 1977 to research the impacts of the massive 1976 devaluation of the peso from 12.5 pesos to a dollar to about 22.5 pesos to a dollar.

Juan José Medeles Romero, in his 1975 thesis proposing an urban development plan for Ajijic, detailed how the village had approximately tripled in size between 1900 and 1950, and then doubled in size the following decade. And this was even before the addition of numerous subdivisions such as Rancho del Oro and La Floresta. Curiously, Medeles ignored the impacts of foreigners and only mentioned them in passing.

academic-studies-titles

A few years later, Mexican sociologist Francisco Talavera Salgado focused solely on Ajijic when, in Lago Chapala, turismo residencial y campesinado, he examined the varied impacts of foreign residents on the local community. His important findings are described in detail in several chapters of Foreign Footprints.

At the end of the 1970s anthropologist Eleanore Moran Stokes also homed in on Ajijic. She divided the evolution of the village after ‘Discovery’ into three phases: Founder (1940s to mid 1950s), Expansionary (mid 1950s to mid 1970s) and Established Colony (mid 1970s through the 1980s).

Several of her informants considered the representation of Ajijic in the Dane Chandos novels (Founder phase) to be non-fiction; to Stokes, this was “the local equivalent to a creation myth.” The nature of migrants changed in each stage. During the Founder phase, Ajijic served, in her view, largely as an artists’ colony. These “young single well-traveled” artists were resourceful and independent individuals who had little impact on the village beyond the employment of domestic help; most of them learned the language, liked the cuisine, and blended into the local community.

Later (Expansionary phase) arrivals tended to be members of the affluent and retired middle class, many of whom had traveled widely, either in the military or working for international corporations. These newer arrivals did materially change the village. By infusing cash into the local economy and starting businesses they created “a new wage labor class in the village.” By upgrading village homes they distinguished their residences from those of local families. By retaining their language, food and lifestyle preferences, these incomers established a social distance from their host community, even forming “privileged associations for recreation, friendship and religion.” In essence, many of these migrants wanted to make many aspects of life in Ajijic more like the US.

Such tendencies continued into the Established Colony phase. Vacant houses became increasingly scarce and agricultural land was parceled for vacation and retirement homes. The foreign community greatly boosted philanthropic activities, especially those helping children, though this stage also saw a marked social stratification develop within the foreign community.

Stokes estimated that foreigners occupied about 300 of the 950 houses in the village in 1979, but comprised less than 8% of the population. Like Talavera, she viewed retirees as agents of change, not merely spectators of ongoing social processes, though they felt a sense of powerlessness in regards to what they saw as deficiencies in the provision of such services as water, electricity, telephone, garbage collection and police.

Sociologist Charlotte Wolf, who moved to Ajijic with husband Rene in the early 1990s, was interested in how individual retirees adapted and constructed a new life for themselves in Ajijic.

Among the conclusions in 1997 of Lorena Melton Young Otero, who looked specifically at US retirees, was that they created new jobs, donated to charities and hastened “modernization,” but that their presence was driving up the cost of living for local people. In a later paper, she examined in detail the mourning ritual and other customs in Ajijic following the death of a child (angelito).

The evolutionary framework developed by Stokes was used by geographer David Truly to examine how the type of migrant has changed over the years and to develop a matrix of retirement migration behavior. Like Stokes, Truly concluded in 2002 that newer visitors (including retirees), and unlike earlier migrants, had less desire to adapt to the local culture and were more keen on ‘importing a lifestyle’ to the area.

Stephen Banks, author of Kokio: A Novel Based on the Life of Neill James, conducted dozens of interviews to study the identity narratives of retirees while living in Ajijic in 2002-2003. All respondents depicted Mexicans, both generally and individually, as “happy, warm and friendly, polite and courteous, helpful and resourceful.” However, at the same time, many shared instances in which they thought Mexicans had been untrustworthy, inaccessible, lazy and incompetent. Banks concluded that the responses revealed:

a struggle to conserve cultural identities in the face of a resistant host culture that has been colonized…. The Lakeside economy is dominated by expatriate consumer demand; indigenous commerce in fishing has disappeared as new employment opportunities opened up in the services sector; local prices for real estate (routinely listed in US dollars), restaurant dining, hotel lodging and most consumer goods are higher than in comparable non-retirement areas; traditional Mexican community life centered around the family has been supplemented, and in some cases supplanted, by expatriate community life centered around public assistance and volunteer programs… and the uniform use of Spanish in public life is displaced by the use of English.”

Lucía González Terreros is the lead author of two recent papers that explore the complexity of defining residential tourism and how alternative definitions relate to property rights, transaction costs and common goods. The research arose from her personal concerns about the rapid increase in the number of foreigners in Ajijic since 1990.

Equally interesting is the work of Francisco Díaz Copado, who looked at how Ajijic is being shaped by both local and foreign “rituals,” such as the annual Fiesta of San Andrés and the Chili Cookoff respectively. In his 2013 report, Díaz Copado also examined “the different ways in which people describe and name the different zones of Ajijic… [which] reflect some historical conflicts.” Two annotated maps sharply contrast traditional locations and names with those used by retirees.

Marisa Raditsch investigated the impacts of international migrants settling in the municipality of Chapala “based on the perceptions of Mexican people in the receiving context.” This 2015 study found that these perceptions tended “to be favorable in terms of generating employment and contributing to the community; and unfavorable in terms of rising costs of living and some changes in local culture.”

Social anthropologist Vaira Avota, writing in 2016, also looked at the relations between foreigners and locals in Ajijic. She drew a sharp distinction between “traditional immigrants,” who wanted to truly understand Mexico’s culture, traditions,… [learn] Spanish and willingly participate in local activities,” and “new immigrants,” who wanted to live in a version of the US transplanted to Lake Chapala.

The impacts of this shift in migrant type were further explored by Mexican researcher Mariana Ceja Bojorge, who focused squarely on the relationships and interactions between local Ajijitecos and foreigners. She concluded in 2021 that the shift “endangers the acceptance of the presence of the other” and that “Although the presence of foreigners has generated economic well-being in the area, it has also been responsible for the reconfiguration of space, where locals have been forced to leave their territory.”

This is a lightly edited excerpt from the concluding chapter of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village, which offers a comprehensive history of Ajijic including the bibliographic details of all the studies mentioned.

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

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.

Dec 012022
 

Robert Clutton (1932-2016) lived in Ajijic from about 1959 to 1961. His time in Mexico introduced him to the pantheon of ancient Aztec and Maya gods which so strongly influenced much of his later art. He revisited Ajijic several times after this initial extended stay in the village.

“Bob” Clutton, “Roberto” to his Mexican friends, was born in England on 5 June 1932, brought up in Wales, and passed away in San Francisco on 15 August 2016 at the age of 84.

He left Wales in 1949 to cross the Atlantic on the Mauretania. (Until late in life he much preferred ocean liners to aircraft.) He settled in Baltimore where he became the Art Director for Black & Decker. In October 1955, he was one of numerous artists exhibiting in the The Artists’ Union of Baltimore annual show.

By 1959 Clutton was living and working in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Several of his paintings from this time can be seen on this Facebook page of the San Francisco Senior Center. This painting of the Posada Ajijic in 1959 (below) is a fine example of Clutton’s style during his first months at Lake Chapala.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Untitled painting of Posada Ajijic. Reproduced by kind permissoin of the artist's family

Robert Clutton. 1959. Untitled painting of Posada Ajijic. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist’s family

Former Ajijic gallery owner Katherine Goodridge Ingram remembers Bob Clutton as a lovely man, who was well-liked by everyone in the community. During his time in Mexico, Clutton became increasingly fascinated by the “gods of ancient Mexico” and images of these gods became a frequent theme in his later paintings.

When he decided to leave Ajijic in 1961, he chose to move to San Francisco because that was where “all the interesting people he met in Mexico” were from. He continued to make his living as a professional artist in that city for more than fifty years. He retained some close ties to Mexican friends in Ajijic, and revisited the village several times.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic. (Image from San Francisco Senior Center page)

A newspaper feature in 1968, entitled “Art by the Foot” described how Clutton, “a bronzed, bearded, no-nonsense British artist” was making “made-to-measure bas-reliefs” in his Divisadero Street studio. The bas-reliefs, “designed to be decorative indoors and architectural assets outdoors”, used Aztec symbols and colors, and relied on the interplay of sun and shade to emphasize the materials, relief and texture.

Clutton was still producing “formal paintings” which also showed the influence of Mexico, and was represented by the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco. A solo show of his oils and acrylics at that gallery in 1969 brought a wider audience for his work. Shortly after Clutton petitioned for US citizenship in 1971, the Vorpal Gallery also included examples of his work in its 1971 Christmas Show, which also featured paintings by John Denning, Muldoon Elder, Roy Glover, Stephen Haines Hall, Bruce Sherratt (who had previously lived for several years at Lake Chapala) and Gary Smith.

Clutton also exhibited in Los Angeles and in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where a show of his oil paintings opened at Galeria Uno (Morelos 561) in Puerto Vallarta on 23 March 1993.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli. (Vorpal Gallery)

In 1988, Clutton designed the poster for the 1988 Haight Ashbury Street Fair. He enjoyed social events, garden parties and dinners and surrounded himself with creative people, making for lively and entertaining discussions. In his final years, Clutton was active as an artist at the San Francisco Senior Center.

This is an updated version of a profile first published 1 December 2016.

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

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

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Jane Clutton for sharing memories of her husband, and for graciously permitting me to share images of paintings belonging to his family.

Sources

  • Jane Clutton; personal communication, October 2016.
  • Peninsula Times Tribune, 1 Jan 1972, 42.
  • San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, California Living, Week of March 31, 1968: “Art by the Foot” [copy supplied by Jane Clutton]
  • San Francisco Chronicle. 2016. Robert Clutton – obituary, San Francisco Chronicle from Oct. 2 to Oct. 7, 2016.
  • Vorpal Galleries. Robert Clutton. 1969. San Francisco: Vorpal Galleries.

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 242022
 

Among the chance events back in the 1980s that stimulated my curiosity about the history of Chapala was finding a book titled Chapala in a used bookstore in Ajijic. While the bookstore lasted only a few months, Chapala has been in a pride of place on my book shelves ever since.

Antonio de Alba. Chapala (1954)

Written by Antonio de Alba, Chapala was published by the Banco Industrial de Jalisco in 1954 in an edition of 2000 copies. The 177-page book was published as de Alba was nearing the end of more than two decades of service as parish priest of Chapala.

Chapala is an impressive achievement for its time, and the earliest book to be devoted to a single town or village at Lake Chapala. The first book-length histories of other settlements—including Ocotlán, Jocotepec, Ajijic, Tizapán el Alto and La Palma—all came many years later.

Antonio Guadalupe de Alba was born on 12 December (Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe) 1900 in San Juan de los Lagos. Antonio was several months shy of his third birthday when he lost his father, Jesús Alba Alba (1856-1903), and was raised by his mother, Lucía Rodríguez Murguía de Alba (born in 1859), who died in Chapala in 1946.

Antonio de Alba served as parish priest in Chapala from 1937 to 1954. His initial appointment was not without its critics; a group of parishioners wrote to the Archbishop supporting an alternative candidate. De Alba quickly demonstrated his ability to unite the faithful and gain their respect. Shortly after arriving in Chapala (from Cocula), he helped lead the effort to build a chapel to Our Lady of Lourdes (Nuestra Señora de Lourdes) on the hillside above the Villa Montecarlo. The first stone of this chapel was laid on 18 March 1940 and the dedication service was held on 14 August 1941.

Throughout his time in Chapala, de Alba was held in high regard by his parishioners. In April 1954, de Alba was appointed Canon of the Collegiate Church of San Juan de los Lagos. He died in León, Guanajuato, on 25 December 1958.

De Alba explains in the preface to Chapala that his own interest in the town’s history had been prompted by meeting José Ramírez Flores, the author of an article titled “Chapala y su curato hasta el Siglo XVIII” in the first issue of Estudios Históricos (a Guadalajara-based magazine). In response to some queries from Ramírez, de Alba began to explore the parish archive for answers:

I discovered treasures of true greatness, hidden under the dust of the years and the carelessness of our Mexican character (which does not know how to judge the greatness of our heroes, and is not accustomed to recounting their feats).”

De Alba then devoted a lot of his time to finding and collating historical material. Though he openly acknowledges in his book that he was not a historian and did not write like a historian, he explains that he felt compelled to share “what I had discovered, which is unknown to most people.”

He singled out the need to preserve the memory of clerics, such as Friar Miguel de Bolonia who lived his final years in Chapala, and of the “heroism of our aboriginal Indians, as well as the fine nobility of almost all the Spaniards who conquered these lands and stayed here”, as well as of the “many beautiful and very honorable events in our history, such as the great actions of our local insurgents and the defense of the Island of Mezcala.”

The early chapters of Chapala are based on excerpts from, and summaries of, the early accounts of the region written by Franciscan chroniclers such as friars Antonio Tello, Antonio de Ciudad Real and others, combined with the more formal syntheses written by historians of Jalisco.

De Alba acknowledges that the second part of the book, which focuses on the twentieth century history of the town, is “taken from tradition or personal knowledge.” Some of “the interesting and instructive news related to our town” that de Alba includes is based on the recollections of some older members of his parish. These recollections, which pertain to memories from half a century earlier, are neither comprehensive in coverage nor, with the benefit of hindsight, entirely accurate.

I am quite certain, after reading and rereading de Alba, that he never intended Chapala to be the final word on the town’s history. He acknowledged its limitations but wanted to share the findings of his research, not compile a formal, comprehensive, historical account.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that so many later writers have relied almost exclusively on de Alba’s writing. Tracing the origins of what I’ve come to call the “modern myths” of Chapala’s history—such as President Díaz spending Holy Week there every year from 1904 to 1909—has led me time and time again back to Chapala. The claim about President Díaz, for example, stems from a single sentence (page 117) which we now know is not supported by contemporary documents.

In this separate post – How history progresses: Antonio de Alba and “Chapala”  – I clarify and correct statements made on one particular page of Chapala, in the hope that this will offer some small but significant steps towards a revised history of the town.

For its time, Antonio de Alba’s book is a true tour-de-force, and an invaluable source and inspiration for later authors, including myself. I have the highest esteem for both Antonio de Alba and Chapala. However, this does not mean that everything he wrote should be accepted uncritically and without comment or, where possible, correction. And I am hopeful that this is precisely what future authors and researchers will do in relation to my own work.

Reading the book

Chapala has never been reprinted, and copies are difficult to find. Fortunately for readers, Javier Raygoza Munguía, the publisher of the weekly PÁGINA Que sí se lee! has uploaded the entire text as a series of digital files (access via link).

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

Several chapters of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants – available in Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes – offer more details about the history of Chapala.

Sources

  • Antonio de Alba. 1954. Chapala. Guadalajara: Banco Industrial de Jalisco.
  • Peter Bello, personal communications via FB, November 2022.
  • Luis Enrique Orozco. 1958. Nuestra Señora de Lourdes de Chapala. Reseña histórica ordenada por el Sr. Cura D. Raúl Navarro… Guadalajara.

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 172022
 

Artist and international art educator Bruce Robert Sherratt and his first wife, Lesley Jervis, a British sculptor, lived in Jocotepec at the western end of Lake Chapala, from 1968 to 1970. Prior to their arrival in Mexico, they had lived and traveled for some time in the USA.

Bruce Robert Sherratt was born in Biddulph, Derbyshire on 31 May 1944. Both Sherratt and his wife studied at the Newcastle School of Art in Newcastle on Tyne, Staffordshire, before moving to London where they married in 1963, and where Sherratt gained his degree in drawing and painting from the Camberwell College of Arts. Many years later, as a mature student, he also completed a degree in Art Education from the University of Wales in Cardiff, U.K.

Sherratt has written of fulfilling a youthful ambition by traveling (with his wife) to Mexico, where he gradually established his own identity as a surrealist painter, “hypnotized by the Aztec, Mayan and Toltec mythology” and “drawn to the giants of Mexican revolutionary muralism such as Orozco, Rivera, Tamayo and Siquieros.”

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

During his time in Mexico, Sherratt held several exhibitions of his work , including a solo show at the Galería Municipal in Guadalajara in 1969.

Bruce Sherratt. 1970. Silent Cataclysm (oil on canvas). Credit: Bruce Sherratt Gallery.

Bruce Sherratt. 1970. Silent Cataclysm (oil on canvas). Credit: Bruce Sherratt Gallery.

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

In June 1970, Bruce Sherratt’s work was in a group exhibit in Guadalajara at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense. Other artists participating in this show, included Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, John Frost, Mario Aluta, Daphne Aluta, Chester Vincent, Lesley Jervis Maddock (aka Lesley Sherratt), Gustave Aranguren, Hector Navarro, and Willi Hartung. According to the Guadalajara Reporter, the three works by Sherratt, titled “Victims,” showed “imaginative fluidity,”

Bruce Sherratt - 1971 exhibit

Bruce Sherratt – 1971 exhibit

The following month (July 1970) the Anglo Mexican Institute in Mexico City held a joint show of Sherratt’s paintings and sculptures by ‘Madock’ (the art name used by Lesley, his wife). This show in Mexico City was apparently at the encouragement of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.

After his time in Jocotepec, Sherratt traveled to California, where he painted for a year in San Francisco. His work was exhibited in a group show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1970) and in an exhibit entitled “Surrealist Painters in San Francisco”, in the Vorpal Gallery, San Francisco (also 1970).

The following year, he had another exhibit of oils and drawings in Guadalajara, in the Galeria Municipal. In his review for El Informador, John Frost called it “a passionate description of a trip to another world”, writing that Sherratt, “guides us through regions that could alarm and depress us if it was not for his vision and artistic discipline”. El Informador‘s regular art columnist, J. Luis Meza Ina, however, viewed the show as the work of a painter, not an artist.

At the end of 1971, Sherratt’s work was included in the San Francisco Vorpal Gallery Christmas Show, alongside works by Robert Clutton (who had also lived for several years at Lake Chapala), John Denning, Muldoon Elder, Roy Glover, Stephen Haines Hall, and Gary Smith.

After his time in San Francisco, Sherratt decided to travel the world and spent several years meandering through Latin America. He became sufficiently interested in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, and color theory, to return to the UK to take a degree in Art Education, before becoming a respected international art educator, whose teaching career has taken him to international schools in Germany, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sherratt’s studio is currently in Ubud on the island of Bali in Indonesia, where he is the founder and CEO of the Bali Center for Artistic Creativity (BCAC). The powerful and colorful images on his website show there are few limits to his imagination and artistic abilities. In the past twenty years or so, he has exhibited in numerous countries, including several shows in Jakarta, Indonesia: a retrospective at the Duta Fine Arts Foundation (1998), a show entitled “Synthesis and Abstraction” at the British Council (2001) and an exhibition at the ExpatriArt Gallery (2005).

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

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

Acknowledgment

Sincere thanks to Bruce Sherratt for sharing, via email, some of his memories from his time in Mexico. To see more of his work, please visit his website.

This is a revised version of a profile first published 25 June 2015.

Sources

  • El Informador, 5 June 1970; 10 May 1971; 16 May 1971.
  • Evening Sentinel (Stoke on Trent), 21 Sep 1963, 8.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970.
  • The Peninsula Times Tribune, 1 Jan 1972, 42.
  • Justino Fernández. 1971. Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en el año 1970. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.

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 102022
 

Inveterate world traveler Norman D Ford (1921-2009) described Lake Chapala and Ajijic in several of his books, including in Bargain Paradises of the World (1952). By 1970, he had decided that Lake Chapala was “no longer the cheapest place in Mexico. Since 1950, about 1,500 American couples have moved into its two dreamy villages of Chapala and Ajijic. Prices have inevitably risen. But building costs still average only $4 per square foot, and you can hire a maid for $12 or a cook for $16 a month.”

“You can have a modern home built for under $5,000…. For two, you can budget about $70 for food and $30 for utilities and your maid per month. The rest is for high living–golf, riding or swimming by day, followed by some of the most fabulous parties on this continent.”

Ford was born in the UK on 8 January 1921, the only child of Frederick William John Matthew and Jessie Shortland Ford. He grew up in Wales, and became a lifelong adventurer, especially keen on cycling, hiking and kayaking. During six years service as a radio operator in the Merchant Navy during the second world war, Ford traveled as far as the U.S., Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Ford-cover

A few days after the war ended, Ford declared himself president of the Globetrotters Club, a then loose-knit organization which produced “a monthly newsletter describing how to travel the world at rock bottom cost, plus a list of other members.” This helped popularize low budget adventure travel to all manner of unlikely destinations.

In early 1947 he moved permanently to the US where he worked as an editor and began to write travel and retirement books, starting with Where to Retire on a Small Income (1950). The success of this book, and several later books, enabled Ford to quit his day job, move to Florida, and focus on freelance writing. By 1980 travel writing had become increasingly competitive, so Ford moved to Boulder, Colorado, and switched to writing popular books about health issues. He spent the last years of his life in Kerville, Texas, where he died on 19 June 2009 at the age of 88.

Ford wrote a more detailed account of Ajijic in Fabulous Mexico where everything costs less. The following excerpts are from the 10th edition (1970).

AJIJIC. Alt 5,030′, pop 3,500. An ancient Tarascan fishing village, Ajijic nestles on the lush shores of Lake Chapala beneath a steep, green and aesthetically contoured mountain range…. You notice the neat, trim plaza with its well painted bandstand, the picturesque fishing nets strung along the shore. What lies behind those bare adobe walls? Inside are white patios lush with flowers, well equipped art studios and the comfortable homes and apartments of Ajijic’s 300 permanent American residents.”

Ford summarizes how foreigners ‘discovered’ Ajijic and began to change it:

Years ago, a retired British engineer seeking a Utopia discovered this garden spot and built himself an impressive lakeshore home fronted by an acre of color-splashed blooms. After World War II, veterans studying in Guadalajara found they could live well here on their G.I. Bill payments. Artists moved in, led by several well known modern painters. Several writers and musicians followed together with a group of enterprising ladies who reorganized Ajijic’s dwindling handlooms crafts into a thriving industry. With a few exceptions, this group still forms Ajijic’s Old Guard. Getting in early, they bought up the choicest lots and homes, secured long term leases on the lowest rentals and today, most of these old timers offer outstanding examples of the way in which the good life can be enjoyed in Mexico on little.”

Ford explains that while some of these incomers were still paying “fantastically low rents” [$7.50 to $15.00 a month] “and living well on very small budgets,” some were “constructing lavish homes costing up to $14,000 and $15,000. New homes are sprouting all around the village and to the west, ultra modern homes are studding a new hillside subdivision.”

He concluded that “Ajijic today is a slightly raffish, slightly bohemian rustic village where retirees outnumber the artists five to one.” The foreign community was changing: “Ajijic is still no place for suburban conformists but neither is its nonconformity disquieting. Drinks and gossip are still favorite pastimes but criticism today centers on the unstable electricity, the water supply which sometimes runs dry in May, and the water hyacinths which clog the lake rather than on eccentric people.”

Besides writing about Mexico, Ford wrote dozens of other books, including Florida: A Complete Guide to Finding What You Seek in Florida (1953); How to travel without being rich (1955); America’s 50 best cities in which to live, work, and retire (1956); America by car : planned routings to all that’s worth seeing (1957); Where to retire on a small income (1966); Good night : the easy and natural way to sleep the whole night through (1983); Keep on pedaling : the complete guide to adult bicycling (1990); 50 Healthiest Places to Live & Retire in the United States (1991); The sleep Rx: 75 proven ways to get a good night’s sleep (1994); and Natural remedies: techniques for preventing headaches and the common cold (1994).

When Ford looked back on his varied experiences on several continents, including cycling trips in 38 countries, he concluded that:

travel half a century ago was much more rewarding and much more fun…. Overall, the world was much safer then with far less risk of being robbed or mugged. In fact, every year since 1945 I’ve witnessed a world-wide deterioration in the quality of life and the quality of the travel experience. Each year, more Coca-Cola signs appear and almost every country is rapidly losing its national character while it fuses into a faceless industrial monoculture.”

That is so true! The world has changed, and is continuing to change, though not always for the better.
Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022) explains the changes that have taken place in Ajijic since 1940 in far more detail.

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

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.

Nov 032022
 

Alice de Boton (1906-2010) started an art school in California, painted in Ajijic in the early 1970s, and continued to paint regularly until well after celebrating her 100th birthday.

Born in Jaffa, Palestine, on 25 December 1906, de Boton painted from childhood. After her family moved to France, she took painting classes in Paris and gained a law degree, as well as a certificate in chemistry.

In 1939 she married Jean Robert Bernard, a French biochemist. When the second world began, the couple fled Paris for the relative safety of southern France.

Alice de Boton. River Course (EBay).

Alice de Boton. River Course (EBay).

The disruptions of the second world war ended the family’s ambitions for a secure life in France. In the turmoil of the war, Alice, who spoke five languages-English, Spanish, French, Italian and Hebrew—also picked up a smattering of German. Very near the end of the war, she and her husband found themselves having to care for her young niece, Aline, whose father (Alice’s brother, Yves) had been captured and killed while participating in the French resistance. Alice and Robert later formally adopted Aline, and the blended family left Europe in 1947 for a new beginning in the U.S.

Alice de Boton. Guitar Player. (EBay).

Alice de Boton. Guitar Player. (EBay).

They boarded a liberty boat in Antwerp, Belgium, on 29 May 1947 and landed in Houston on 14 June. Mistakenly, the ship’s passenger manifest listed Aline, then 9 years old, as the “granddaughter” of Alice Bernard (chemist, aged 40) and Jean Robert Bernard (44-year-old biologist). They settled in San Francisco, where they had friends. Robert found employment as a biochemist and Alice pursued her interest in art, teaching and painting. In 1953, Alice began the Peninsula Arts and Crafts school in San Mateo, California, staffed by a number of noteworthy Bay Area artists. She sold the school four years later in order to move to Berkeley and open her own gallery.

After Robert retired in 1969, he and Alice lived for several years in Ajijic. Robert (1903-1993) took up carving and sculpture, a decision which had unusual consequences for Ajijic native Fernando García, who worked for him. After watching his employer at work, García expressed an interest in learning how to carve. He then worked by candlelight late into the night for several weeks to complete several “small primitives of extraordinary beauty and sensitivity.” When shown at the grand 1971 Fiesta de Arte, held at the home of art patrons Frances and Ned Windham, all of García’s sculptures sold within minutes.

Alice de Boton. Portrait of Mrs Russell.

Alice de Boton. Portrait of Gloria Marthai, a longtime resident at Lake Chapala. Coll: Sunny Russell.

Within months of moving to Ajijic, Alice had three of her works—two oils and an acrylic—selected by a four-person jury for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana (American Artists’ Exhibit) at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco, A.C. in Guadalajara. The exhibit was comprised of more than 70 works in total by 42 US artists (working in Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende and at Lake Chapala) and opened on 27 June 1969.

A list of Lake Chapala artists in 1971 gave Alice de Boton’s address as Aquiles Serdán #1, Ajijic. The following year, she held a solo show at the Museo de Historia (now the Centro Cultural Patio de Los Ángeles) at Cuitlauhuac 305 in Guadalajara. Her “social commentaries” and abstracts in oils, acrylics, collages and assemblages, were praised for their “imagination, originality and artistic skill.”

In February 1973, Alice held an exhibit of “recent paintings” and tapestries at the Hotel Camino Real (now Hotel Real de Chapala) in Ajijic. Allyn Hunt considered that the artists was “at her very best in this show when executing scenes with a pallet knife, casting a deep mosaic of blade strokes to form a face of a figure.”

Robert and Alice de Boton sold their Ajijic home in 1974, and were about to move to the state of Guanajuato, when they changed their minds and opted to rent a residence-with-studio in Ajijic. The de Botons did leave Ajijic permanently not long after that, to live first in the Yucca Valley in Southern California, and then in Israel. They returned to the US in 1989 to live in Columbia, Missouri, close to their adopted daughter, Aline.

De Boton continued to paint and exhibit, and held several solo shows in Columbia. Even moving to a retirement home did little to reduce her artistic creativity or productivity, and the home devoted one entire third-floor wall to her paintings.

During her long and prolific career, Alice solo shows in several countries. Working in a variety of media, she utilized her specialist knowledge of chemistry to develop innovative techniques in encaustics, where a heated mixture of pigment and molten beeswax is applied to a suitable surface, such as prepared wood.

Alice de Boton’s works have found their way into many private collections in Mexico, the U.S. and Israel. Among her many awards was a Degree of Honor awarded by the Society of Western Artists.

Alice de Boton died in Columbia on 10 April 2010 at the age of 103.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Sunny Russell for permission to use the photograph of Alice de Boton’s portrait of Gloria Marthai.

Sources

  • Columbia Tribune. 2010. “Alice de Boton, 1906-2010” (obituary), Columbia Tribune, 15 April 2010.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 3 Apr 1971; 4 March 1972; 18 Mar 1972; 17 Feb 1973; 22 June 1974.
  • Mark Humpal. 2017. Ray Stanford Strong, West Coast Landscape Artist. University of Oklahoma Press. Note 25, p 190.
  • Pamela A. Mulumby. 2006. “Centenarian’s art doubles as visual diary.” Columbia Missourian, 24 December 2006.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

Comments, corrections 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.

Oct 202022
 

Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Philip Rosheger (1950-2013) began his musical career with childhood piano lessons before taking up the guitar in 1962. His progression as a guitarist was exceptionally rapid. By his mid-teens, he was taking master classes in Spain with José Tomás and the legendary Andrés Segovia, and his protégés, José Tomás and José Luis Rodrigo. He subsequently performed in the master classes given by Venezuelan virtuoso Alirio Diaz in Alessandria, Italy.

His guitar playing earned him many awards during his stay in Europe from 1966 to 1974, and he became the first American ever to win First Prize at the International Guitar Competition in Santiago de Compostela.

Philip Rosheger

Philip Rosheger. Credit: unknown

At a lifetime of concerts and recitals in Spain, Canada and throughout the US, Rosheger displayed “his flawless technique, his tone of very best quality, his responsive personality and his exquisite sensitivity,” at venues such as Carnegie Recital Hall, Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and Bovard Auditorium at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Rosheger was on the faculty of San Francisco Conservatory of Music from 1975 to 1978 and Sonoma State University in Northern California from 1979 to 1989. In addition to playing, he became an acclaimed composer who performed many of his original compositions in public.

Rosheger was visiting a former student, Jim Byers, in Chapala in 2008 when he composed “Clear Southern Sky,” which he dedicated to his host. “Clear Southern Sky” was first recorded by Eddie Lara on his disc titled “840″ and first performed in public in 2021 at the Centro Cultural González Gallo en Chapala.

Sources

  • Julio Garcia Casas, El Correo de Andalucia, Seville, Spain.
  • Program notes for a South Bay Guitar Society 1994 concert
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

The musical history of Ajijic is the subject of chapter 38 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

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.

 

Oct 132022
 

Thurston Wells Munson was in his eighties when he decided to have a winter studio in Chapala in 1988. Munson had already enjoyed an extraordinarily varied artistic career since first studying art in his teens.

“Tee” Munson was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on 24 April 1906 and died there at the age of 92 on 7 October 1998.

In 1923 he used funds earned as a deckhand on a ship to Guatemala to take art courses at the Museum School of Art in Philadelphia. Then, a prize for an early work paid for a trip to Paris where he met Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. [link] Poker winnings and the sale of a portrait enabled Munson to travel to North Africa. In 1928 he traveled to Bombay (Mumbai), India, crossed through the Khyber Pass and was commissioned to paint life-sized portraits of the British commissioner in Srinagar and his three predecessors. (Munson published a booklet of some of his portraits in 1991.)

Back in Paris in 1929 he opened his first studio and held a solo show in the city before moving back to the US later that year. The following year Munson and his brother, Calude, held a joint show at the Artist’s Guild of Springfield, described by one reviewer as “a varied and pleasant show of paintings in oil and water-color.”

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian's restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian’s restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

After his plans to turn a stone mill in Greenfield into an art school failed during the Depression, Munson stayed afloat financially by boxing professionally, hustling at pool, and painting large canvass ‘murals’ for the walls of hotels and restaurants. These included an exotic painting (more of which later) for Adajian’s restaurant on Asylum Street in Hartford, Connecticut.Munson held a solo show of artworks in New York in 1934, before turning his attention to architecture and designing nightclubs from New York to Maine.

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian's restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian’s restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

In the early 1950s, Munson had two studios in Massachusetts (in Springfield and Rockport) and was a member of the Rockport Art Association. By 1952 he had become a partner in the Springfield architectural and engineering firm of Munson & Mallis. He remodeled a two-family Victorian house in Springfield in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. The “Thurston Munson home” at 60 Byers Street now features prominently on the walking tour of the Springfield Preservation Trust. Featured in architecture magazines, people either loved it or hated it.

In this productive period, Munson designed sets for Berkshire Ballet productions and completed numerous portraits of players inducted into the original Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. He also designed churches throughout New England, became president of the Society of American Registered Architects, and created a magnificent 92-foot mosaic for the Church of the Holy Cross in Portland, Maine, comprised of more than 235,000 pieces of Venetian glass.

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian's restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian’s restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

He told a journalist in 1988 that he had purchased a winter home on Lake Chapala where he planned to spend five months each year “doing nothing but paint…. There will be no telephone. It is my answer to the many who have criticized me for not producing more of the sort of thing that was my early intent. But the Depression came along, together with three children and a complete collection of economic problems.”

At about this time Munson asked for help in locating the various canvass murals he had done for Greenfield Schools, pointing out that they now had a significant economic value since his wall-sized canvasses were priced at $200 a square foot. He offered to maintain them (unrolled) in his Chapala studio until Greenfield found a suitable place to display them.

The fourteen ‘murals’ in Adajian’s restaurant, an upmarket restaurant which opened in 1947, remained on show for almost forty years; they continued to interest patrons and art classes used to go there to study them. Described variously as fantasy or surrealistic, they depicted tales from the Arabian Nights. After the restaurant closed in 1986, Munson restored them for display in a gallery in Greenfield. Since 2004 they have been held in storage at National Library Relocations in Three Rivers.

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

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village explore the history of the vibrant art community of Ajijic.

If you have a painting by Thurston Munson or can offer more details about his time in Chapala, please get in touch!

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.

Oct 062022
 

Painter, print maker and sculptor Stanley (“Stan”) Fullerton (1935-2018) lived in Chapala in the early 1960s and subsequently became a successful painter in the Santa Cruz area, California.

Born in Portland, Oregon, on 19 January 1935, Fullerton had already exhibited at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco (one of the favorite venues of Beat era poets and artists) and held a solo show at the Telegraph Hill Gallery, in that city in 1958 before he moved to New York where he studied at the Art Students League (1959-60), became friends with George Grosz, and held solo shows at the European Gallery (1959) and the Hilda Carmel Gallery (1960).

After a short period of service in Korea and Japan with the US Marines, Fullerton spent a year or two at Lake Chapala, before settling in the Santa Cruz area of California in the mid-1960s. His wife, Gail Putney, was the first female president of San Jose State University. The couple moved to Coos Bay, Oregon, in the 1990s.

Stan Fullerton. 1969. Man Playing Cello Outdoors.

Stan Fullerton. 1969. Man Playing Cello Outdoors

According to former “Merry Prankster” Lee Quarnstrom, Fullerton “inspired both the stoic American Indian character, “Chief” Bromden, and recidivist criminal, Randle McMurphy, in Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

In the words of journalist Mark Marinovich:

Fullerton’s expressionistic paintings, prints and drawings are populated by improbable characters juxtaposed in even more improbable circumstances.”
– “ “I paint human folly. I paint authority figures as fools, and fools as authority figures.” Fullerton champions self-expression, which, he asserted, is generally lacking in American art.”

Despite not liking to exhibit his art, Fullerton held several one-man shows, including exhibitions at The Cupola Gallery, Santa Cruz (1966), The Downstairs Gallery, Los Gatos (1970), Pacific Grove Art Center, Pacific Grove (1982), Bruce Velick Gallery, San Francisco (1987) and Southwestern Oregon City College, North Bend, Oregon (2016).

Exhibit of works by Stan Fullerton, 2017

Exhibit of work by Stan Fullerton, 2017.

His group shows included Nova I in Berkeley, California (1969), The Great Montgrove Craft Guild, Pacific Grove (1970), 1971- 1973 The Forge in the Forest, Carmel (1971, 1972, 1973), Corn Roast, Davenport (1972), and Bruce Velick Gallery, San Francisco (1987) and Untitled 2.0 Gallery, Grants Pass, Oregon (2017).

Fullerton’s friends during his time in Chapala included guitarist Jim Byers. Byers and Fullerton were also close buddies in Santa Cruz. Fullerton was bartender at The Catalyst, where Byers—dubbed “The First King of Lompico” by one regular—often played classical guitar for tips.

Stan Fullerton had been widowed two years when he died in Coos Bay, Oregon, in 2018.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village explore the history of the vibrant art community of Ajijic.

Sources

  • Jim Byers, personal communication, August 2015.
  • Mark Marinovich. 1984. “Improbable world of Stan Fullerton.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 30 March 1984, 68.
  • Mark Marinovich. Undated. “Online Biography of Stanley Fullerton.”
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, California, 7 July 1970, 4;
  • Anonymous comment dated 30 September 2015 at Hip Santa Cruz History Project.

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 292022
 

In the early 1960s, Grant Risdon, a student at San Francisco Art Institute, lived in Chapala for some time. Risdon, a larger than life character, became friends with guitarist Jim Byers, and the two men rented rooms in El Manglar, the extensive lakeside estate in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Scott Hampson, who visited his half-sister Beverly Johnson in Ajijic over the winter of 1963-64, shared his tales of his own adventures with Grant Risdon:

By that time I had two close friends who kept me company out at Manglar. One, the one I was closest to, was Tony Bateman…. He and I and a friend named Grant stole two very expensive early era inflatable boats from two explorer tourists who were en-route back from South America. They were staying at a lakefront hotel in town and had the boats out on their deck. We stored them at Manglar and took midnight floats out on the lake, which was the only time one could float stolen boats…. One late night in the graveyard we unbuckled the crypt of an important ancient citizen, a priest perhaps. When we got the lid off and shone our flashlight inside we saw the skeleton, screamed, and took off running like contestants in a 100 yard dash.”

A year earlier, an encounter with Risdon and Byers had left an indelible impression on Doctor Avis, as recounted by Dayton Lummis in Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. According to Lummis: “Ajijic was then, 1962, just barely beginning to be discovered, mostly by a few beatniks and adventurers” when Doctor Avis got out of the army and decided to stay there a few days:

Not long after getting off the bus in Ajijic he fell in with two American chaps, Jim Byers and Grant Risdon from Chicago, who playfully called himself “Pancho Napoleon Anaya… These two chaps directed the Doctor to some cheap lodging and then suggested they buy some of the locally available and very cheap marijuana, or mota, to assist them in getting through the afternoon…”

Risdon’s moniker reflected the fact that he had been informally adopted by the prominent Anaya family in Chapala.

Grant Risdon. Credit: Monterey County Weekly.

Grant Risdon. Credit: Monterey County Weekly.

Risdon, who was born in Monterey, California, in about 1943, started life with an abusive father and, while still a child, lost his mother to a heroin overdose. Brought up by his grandfather in Jamesburg, near Cachagua, RIsdon eventually graduated from Carmel High and served briefly in the US Marines before moving to Lake Chapala.

His art education had begun with Monterey painter Buck Warshawsky, and his early works were sufficiently original to be greatly admired by Jack Swanson, a renowned cowboy painter living in Carmel Valley. Swanson awarded him the top prize in an art contest at the Trail & Saddle Club for a painted three-panel door.

The only Risdon artworks known to have been published are the “brilliant illustrations (Aztec Design)” linoleum block prints he produced for a hand bound book of poems by Richard Denner, published in 1968.

Risdon sold pastel drawings of ships in local galleries, and often painted scenes of the Civil War, the Old West and Native Americans. Adorning the Cachagua General Store for years was one of his “Indian Surrealism” pieces: an image of a canoe under a full moon, with its Native American rower only visible as a reflection in the water.

In 1981, following a violent altercation with a naked man, Risdon fled police to hide out in a cave in Los Padres National Forest for the next three years, before returning to the scene of the crime to turn himself in. Or did he? Risdon was a brilliant raconteur but, according to many friends and journalists, was liberal with the truth and often embellished his stories for dramatic effect. Years later, Conall Jones, a New York filmmaker, produced a 20-minute documentary short, An Unwanted Man (2014), about Risdon’s years on the lam. [link is to trailer]

Friends considered Risdon “a sensitive soul who loved horses, painted Western-style art and pursued history and culture with almost as much passion as he did pretty women.” He always retained very fond memories of Lake Chapala and Mexico. In the words of one journalist:

Reliving those memories behind the General Store, Risdon clacks his castanets and sings “El Lechero,” a Mexican folk song about a handsome milkman. The nostalgia begins to flow like tequila: how he tangoed with beautiful women in the Guadalajara dance halls, received a presidential smile during Jonn F. Kennedy’s visit to Mexico, and learned spirituality from the Huichol Indians of Jalisco.
– “Honey, that place – ” he says with a dreamy smile, “that is the most beautiful time in my life.”

Risdon, who returned briefly to Chapala in about 2014, died in Cachagua, California, in 2018.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village look at Ajijic’s vibrant art community and its 1960s’ drugs scene.

Sources

  • Kera Abraham. 2010. “The improbable and irresistible saga of Cachagua’s living legend, Grant Risdon.” Monterey County Weekly, 29 April 2010.
  • Jim Byers, personal communications, August 2015.
  • Richard Denner. 1968. Poemes. D-Press (Ketchikan, Alaska).
  • Scott Hampson. 2016. Unpublished document dated December 2016 titled “BEVERLY AND MEXICO 63-64″, sent to me December 2020:
  • Dayton Lummis. 2011. Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. iUniverse, 159-160.

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 222022
 

According to his birth certificate, painter and art educator Luis Sahagún Cortés was born in the town of Sahuayo, Michoacán, on 20 November 1900 (and not on 20 May as stated in some online biographies). His parents were well educated: his mother (Petra Cortés, or Cortéz as on his birth certificate) was a teacher and his father (Pascual Sahagún) a doctor. In 1900, Sahuayo was situated on the southern shore of Lake Chapala; during the artist’s childhood, the eastern third of the lake was drained and ‘reclaimed’ for agriculture, causing Sahuayo to lose its proximity to the lake.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Autoretrato. Credit: Morton Casa de Subastas, 2017.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Autoretrato. Credit: Morton Casa de Subastas, 2017.

Luis Sahagún studied art in Guadalajara from the age of 18 with José Vizcarra (1868-1956) and then at the Escuela Libre de Bellas Artes in Mexico City before moving to Rome, Italy, in 1925 to study at the Academy Libre de Desnudo, where his teachers included Rómulo Bernardini. Sahagún also attended art classes and workshops in Turkey, Palestine, Egypt and Morocco.

Sahagún returned from Europe in 1932 and married Italian-born Adela Appiani Panozzi (c.1907-1964) in Mexico City on 5 November 1936; the couple never had children.

Sahagún dedicated his life to his art and art education. As an educator, he was Professor of Art at the National Fine Arts School (Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas) in Mexico City, where he had a studio in the colonia Postal, from 1932 to 1976. He also led the Departamento de Restauración Artística del Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) for more than 20 years.

Among the many students of his who went on to enjoy distinguished careers as professional artists were Raul Anguiano, José Luis Cuevas, Humberto Peraza, Luis Nichizawa and Martha Chapa.

Sahagún held more than 40 one-person exhibitions, in locations from France, Spain and Cuba to New York and Philadelphia, and was commissioned to complete official portraits of numerous ex-Presidents. During the presidency (1934-1940) of Lázaro Cárdenas, Sahagún was appointed official painter to the president, commissioned to complete official portraits of numerous former presidents and asked to paint several murals, including some in Los Pinos (formerly the official residence of the president), and the Palacio Nacional (National Palace).

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

In addition to his oil paintings, his charming well-executed drawings are much sought after by collectors. Drawings and paintings by Sahagún are on permanent display in the Gallery of the Società Dante Alighieri in Rome, Italy, and can be found in collections in New York, London, the Dutch Royal Academy, Denmark, Monaco, the Oval Office of the U.S., Cuba, and many other places, including, now, the Ajijic Museum of Art.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Personajes en el autobus. Credoit: Morton casa de subastas.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Personajes en el autobus. Credit: Morton Casa de subastas.

Sahagún never relinquished his attachment to Sahauyo and moved back there in 1975 to live out his final years. His paintings can be admired in the city’s Santuario de Guadalupe, and in the Museo Luis Sahagún museum (part of the Casa de la Cultura Petrita Cortés de Sahagún).

luis-sahagun-cover

His most well known works in Sahuayo are the fourteen unique stations of the cross, using Venetial mosaics and commemorating the Cristero martyrs, embedded in niches beside the stairway leading up to the Cristo Rey monument. Sahagún’s depictions feature Purepecha Indians; this is perhaps the only Way of the Cross in the world to have truly indigenous motifs.

Sahagún died in Sahuayo on 24 February 1978. In his memory, Mexico’s Lotería Nacional issued tickets bearing his portrait, and (in 1999) a series of Ladatel phone cards with illustrations of his paintings was issued.

A short book about his life and work was published in 2006 by the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA).

Several fine examples of drawings by Luis Sahagún Cortés are in the permanent collection of the Ajijic Museum of Art (AMA).

Sources

  • Ma. del Carmen Alberú Gómez. 2006. Luis Sahagún Cortés : pincel del equilibrio. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA).
  • 2-minute Facebook video: Via Crucis de Cristo Rey en Sahuayo, Michoacán.
  • El Informador: 12 November 1998, 53.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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 152022
 

Sometimes amateur artists paint something close to unique. Jim Byers, born in about 1940, first visited Lake Chapala in 1960 after graduating from Berkeley High School, California. He remained in Mexico for three years before returning north to study for a degree in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

For part of this first extended visit to Mexico, Byers lived at the extensive property in San Antonio Tlayacapan, known as El Manglar, where President Díaz stayed on several occasions in the 1900s, paying the princely sum of $18 a month for room and board.

Jim Byers. 1961. Photograph of El Manglar.

Jim Byers. 1961. Photograph of El Manglar.

It was at El Manglar that Byers took this photograph of where he was living and completed a painting of the same scene. While Byers had no pretensions as a visual artist, his 1961 painting of El Manglar is the only one I’m currently aware of. Byers explained to me that,

“It’s a one of a kind. I painted it when I was young and had had a couple of art classes as a teenager. I am glad you like it. It was here in Ajijic when I was maybe 19 years old.” He then went on to point out that “the guy on the bench is Montgomery Clift playing Freud in a movie, the skeleton is the Mona Lisa… the guy flying is of course the artist.”

Jim Byers. 1961. El Manglar.

Jim Byers. 1961. El Manglar, San Antonio, Ajijic.

El Manglar is also associated with American artist Everett Gee Jackson. Shortly after their marriage in 1926, Jackson and his wife, Eileen, rented it and lived their with a couple of friends for several months. Jackson described El Manglar’s extensive grounds and idiosyncratic decorations:

Eileen and I took the large music room, with its shining tile floor, for our bedroom. We thought it must have been the old dictator’s music room, since it had cupids playing musical instruments painting on the ceiling.

Staying at El Manglar for at least part of the time Byers was there, was Grant Risdon, a student at the San Francisco Art Institute who was a frequent visitor to Chapala. An encounter with Risdon and Byers in 1962 left an indelible impression on Doctor Avis, as recounted by Dayton Lummis in Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. According to Lummis: “Ajijic was then, 1962, just barely beginning to be discovered, mostly by a few beatniks and adventurers” when Doctor Avis got out of the army and decided to stay there a few days:

“Not long after getting off the bus in Ajijic he fell in with two American chaps, Jim Byers and Grant Risdon from Chicago, who playfully called himself “Pancho Napoleon Anaya… These two chaps directed the Doctor to some cheap lodging and then suggested they buy some of the locally available and very cheap marijuana, or mota, to assist them in getting through the afternoon…”

Jim’s drug of choice, however, was not mota or painting but playing classical guitar. In his own words,

“I came here in 1960 when I got out of high school. I decided to hitchhike South and kept going. I’m a classical guitarist and was very very good friends with Gustavo Sendis and Geoffrey Goodridge. Gustavo lived with my family for maybe a year in Berkeley and I knew Geoffrey because he was a student at Cal as well although I met him down here in Ajijic. So we were all very tight for some years. Beautiful beautiful men.”

Byers performed internationally as a classical guitarist, after studying with David Mozqueda in Mexico and taking master classes with Oscar Ghiglia, counter-tenor Alfred Deller, Paul O’Dette and the great American guitarist and composer Philip Rosheger (1950-2013).

During his later years living in Chapala (Jim Byers died in 2018), he continued to perform, often as an accompanist to singers, and acted as mentor to the next generation of musicians, including guitarist Ernie Lara. When Rosheger, Byer’s own mentor, visited him in Chapala in 2008, he composed a short piece titled “Clear Southern Sky,” which he dedicated to his host. Lara subsequently gave the world première performance of this piece at the Centro Cultural González Gallo in Chapala in 2021.

Note

Like Jim Byers, both Gustavo Sendis and Geoffrey Goodridge were exceptionally talented guitarists. Sendis studied in Spain and combined guitar playing with his love for visual arts, often holding joint recital-exhibitions. As an adult, Goodridge moved to Europe, adopted the name Azul and gained renown as a professional flamenco guitarist.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

The musical history of Ajijic is the subject of chapter 38 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

Sources

  • Jim Byers, personal communications, August 2015.
  • Dayton Lummis. 2011. Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. iUniverse, 159-160.
  • Ojo del Lago, December 2013.

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 082022
 

Sarah Hunt Shearer was born on 30 November 1919 and raised in Buffalo, New York. Her parents—Dr. Augustus Shearer, the director of the Grosvenor Library in Buffalo, and Inez Shearer, an artist—lived in Buffalo but also had a summer home in the village of South Wales, New York.

Sarah graduated from The Park School in Buffalo and also studied at Bradford Junior College in Massachusetts. In the summer of 1939, she was in Europe with her sister Mary Ardelle (1917-2013). Mary, who had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, was about to start teaching there, and Sarah planned to study art at the University of Grenoble. Their plans were thwarted by the start of the second world war. Fortunately, they were able to secure passage in November 1939 on one of the last passenger ships leaving Europe for the US.

Sarah continued her art education with two years at the Colorado College of Fine Arts in Colorado Springs. Her fellow students included David Holbrook Kennedy, who, in 1941, received a commission paint a mural in Chapala. David’s sister Norah, a writer, accompanied him to Chapala, where they rented a house. What David’s parents did not realize at the time was that David “intended to invite his girlfriend, Sarah Shearer, to join him in Mexico, and that they planned to marry there in late September.” (Reardon, 134)

David and Sarah, “a petite, blond, affable girl,” married on 11 October 1941 in Casa Casimiro Ramirez in Ajijic, described in one newspaper as the residence of author Nigel Stansbury-Millett and his father, Harry Millett. This must be one of the earliest all-American marriages in the area.

“The bride, who was given away by her mother, wore an afternoon dress of navy blue crepe, with a collar and peplum of white lace in an orange-blossom pattern. Her hat was of white feathers, and she carried a small bouquet of orange blossoms.” (The Whittier News)

Guests at the wedding, and reception which followed, included Sarah’s mother—artist Inez Rogers Shearer; David’s two sisters—Norah and Mary Frances; Nigel Stansbury-Millett and his father; Swedish artist Nils Dardel and his partner Edita Morris; Mr and Mrs Francisco Nicolau of Guadalajara and their son Sergio; Mr and Mrs Casimiro Ramírez and two children; and the Honorable Mr Maurice Stafford (US Consul). Following the civil wedding in Ajijic, an Episcopal ceremony was performed by the Rev. José Robredo in St Marks Chapel in Guadalajara.

The young couple lived in Chapala in a “small house, where the whitewashed walls, tile floors, serapes, and minimal furnishings were enhanced by David’s pictures on the walls”. (Reardon, 140)

“The little house in the fishing village was fairly new, built to rent to summer-people who came for the lake and the quiet. It has a bathroom upstairs, fed from a tank on the roof which a man came every night to fill by the hand-pump in the tiny patio.” (Fisher, 545)

David’s murals in the municipal baths in Chapala must have been among the earliest, if not the earliest, murals in the Lake Chapala region. Sadly, neither the murals nor the building that housed them still exist.

The murals were painted by the entire group (David, Sarah, Norah and Mary Frances) under David’s direction. The group worked on them every day for several weeks: “Norah and Sarah and I were helping David paint murals in the municipal baths, and spent several hours every day neck-deep in the clear running water of the pools, walking cautiously on the sandy bottoms with pie-plates full of tempera held up, and paint-brushes stuck in our hair.” (Fisher, 545)

After the murals were finished in November 1941, David and Sarah returned to California by car. Tragically, David took his own life the following year, leaving Sarah a widow while pregnant with their first child; their daughter, Sarah Holbrook Kennedy, was born in August 1942.

Animal pots. (Chicago Tribune)

Five years later, in 1947, Sarah Shearer Kennedy remarried. She and her new husband, Charles Livermore, added two more children, Rebecca and Jonathan, to the family, and lived in various cities over the next few decades, including Washington, D.C. (1953), Westchester (1956-59) and Chicago, Illinois. Following their retirement in 1979, Sarah and her husband moved permanently to their summer home in he village of South Wales, New York.

In her obituary Sarah was described as “a talented artist whose work was once exhibited at the East Aurora Library” and who “was particularly known for her clay animal sculptures and her inventive woodcuts.”

The author of a short piece in the Chicago Tribune in 1974 about an artsy gift store named “Mercury and the Moon,” owned by Terry Morse-Red and her husband, Ross, loved Sarah’s work: “My favorite was the animal potter, shown here by Sarah Livermore. There was a lovable gorilla holding a low pot ($50), two nuzzling giraffes ($40 including the plant), three cavorting lions on the rim of a shallow bowl ($40).”

Charles Livermore died in 1999 and Sarah died at home on 25 April 2005, at the age of 85.

Please get in touch if you own any artwork by Sarah Hunt Shearer (Kennedy) Livermore!

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

Notes

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022) discuss the history of the Ajijic art community.

Sources

  • East Aurora Advertiser, 27 April 2005. “Sarah “Sally” Shearer” (obituary).
  • Chicago Tribune, 19 April 1974, 38.
  • M. F. K. Fisher, 1943. The Gastronomical Me (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York), reprinted in The Art of Eating (Macmillan 1979).
  • Joan Reardon, 2005. Poet of the Appetites: The Lives And Loves of M.F.K. Fisher (North Point Press)
  • Buffalo Evening News (New York): 15 Oct 1941, 38; 24 Dec 1941, 3.
  • The Whittier News: 21 Oct 1941, 2.

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

Aug 252022
 

Six small (postcard size) pen and ink drawings of Lake Chapala came into my possession a year or two ago. Their quality is undeniable (see the two shown below), but I have yet to identify the artist. They are believed to date from 1968.

‘Daniel.’ ca. 1968. Line drawings.

All six line drawings are signed ‘daniel’ (all lower case):

daniel-signature

If you recognize this signature or this artist, please get in touch!

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

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

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

Aug 182022
 

US artist Inez Rogers Shearer (1889-1981) painted at Lake Chapala in 1941, only a few months after the death of her husband. Shearer was in Ajijic to attend the marriage of her daughter, Sarah Hunt Shearer, to David Holbrook Kennedy, who painted the earliest known mural at Lake Chapala. Sarah was also an artist and the young couple had met while studying art at the Colorado Springs Art Center.

Also at the wedding were David’s two sisters: the food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, and author Norah Oliver Kennedy, who wrote several stories while in Mexico for submission to The New Yorker, as well as Swedish artist Nils Dardel, his partner Edita Morris, Nigel Stansbury-Millett and his father, Harry Millett; Mr and Mrs Francisco Nicolau of Guadalajara and their son Sergio; Mr and Mrs Casimiro Ramírez and two children; and the Honorable Mr Maurice Stafford (US Consul).

Shearer is noteworthy in the context of Lake Chapala for having donated a painting titled “Lake Chapala, Mexico” in 1942 to help promote the sale of War Savings Bonds and Stamps in her home city of Buffalo, New York. The city’s competition to publicize and sell these bonds, was won by a young unnamed student who, despite being too young to enroll in the US Navy, was determined to make a contribution to the war effort. His prize was the painting, which had been on show in the lobby of the Amherst Theater. (If you know the current whereabouts of Shearer’s painting of Lake Chapala, please get in touch!)

Inez Ardelle Rogers was born on 30 July 1889 in Chaumont, Jefferson, New York. After graduating from Wheaton Academy in West Chicago and Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, she married Dr Augustus Hunt Shearer on 4 December 1915. Her husband was Librarian of the Grosvenor Library in Buffalo, New York from 1917 to the time of his death; the couple had four children.

Inez Shearer. 1945. Yucatan transport.

Inez Shearer. 1944. “Pulpit Carriages of Yucatan.”

After she was widowed, Inez devoted more time to her art, and her work was included in numerous group exhibitions in the Buffalo area in the mid-1940s. A painting titled “Hollow Men”, shown at the Albright Art Gallery in December 1943, was described as “something forebodingly prophetic.” In March 1944 her painting “Convent at Morelia” was included in a group show organized by the Buffalo Junior League. The following month, “Mountain Road,” hung in the Patteran Society show at the Albright Art Gallery, was praised for its “feeling of vernal exuberance: a peasant drives a cart up a narrow path under a lush umbrella of jungle trees.”

She also had works in shows at the Garrett Club in Buffalo, and in an exhibition of works by the faculty and advanced students of the Art Institute of Buffalo. In January 1945, Shearer held a solo show of oils and watercolors at the Art Institute of paintings done “in Mexico and Yucatan.” These paintings included “Pulpit Carriages of Yucatan,” a study in lemon yellows and subtle pale greens.

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

Notes

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022) discuss the history of the Ajijic art community.

Sources

  • Buffalo Evening News (New York). “Student Winner of Lake Canvas.” 3 December 1942, 18.
  • Buffalo Evening News: 15 October 1941, 38; 24 December 1941, 3; 20 January 1945, 18.
  • The Whittier News: 21 Oct 1941, 2.

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

Aug 042022
 

Painter Herbert (Herb) Rhodes, the fourth husband of calendar artist and illustrator Zoe Mozert, lived in Ajijic in the early 1960s. Rhodes, who had been married previously, married Mozert in 1958; the couple divorced two years later, but remained good friends and art companions.

Little is known about Rhodes’ background, early life or education. Six feet tall, with black hair, he served in the US Navy, and had attained the rank of Captain by the time he was discharged.

According to his son, Rhodes held art shows in New York, Rome and several other European cities. His work rarely comes up at auction, though this pastel titled “Navajo Indian” was sold at auction in New York in 2017.

Herbert E Rhodes. 1963. Navajo Indian. Credit: Roland Auctions, New York.

Rhodes lived most of the 1960s and 1970s in Taos, where, amongst other things, he gained fame for drawing 127 life-sized caricatures of local residents on the walls of La Cocina de Taos, the town’s night life and live music center. Sadly, the mural was destroyed after the building was sold in the late 1970s and converted into a novelty shop and clothing store.

In 1963, Rhodes’ work was exhibited in Taos at a new art gallery owned by Zoe Mozert. Mozert’s “portrait and figure paintings with Indian subjects” were shown alongside Rhodes’ caricatures, and landscapes by Verne Matheny.

In the mid-1960s, he lived for a time in Ajijic. as shown by this briefest of notes in the Guadalajara Reporter in January 1965: “Artist Herb Rhodes and Margaret Wasson are on a trip to the States.”

If anyone can supply any additional information about Rhodes’ time at Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

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

Notes

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022) discuss the history of the Ajijic art community.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 28 Jan 1965.
  • The Taos News: 28 March 1963, 9.
  • “Diamond” Jim Halter. 2012. Liz, Inc. iUniverse, 79-80.

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

Jul 282022
 

Do you recognize the two children who are the subjects of this charming painting by Florentino Padilla? Padilla (who lived from about 1943 to 2010) was one of several young artists whose talent was recognized by Neill James, the American writer who resided in Ajijic from the mid-1940s. James helped Padilla obtain a scholarship to study art in San Miguel de Allende from 1960 to 1962.

Florentino Padilla. c 1975. Untitled.

Florentino Padilla. c 1975. Untitled.

The painting—believed to date from the mid-1970s, when Padilla was giving classes for the Children’s Art Program (CAP) organized by the Lake Chapala Society—was owned by acclaimed American photographer Sylvia Salmi, who resided in Ajijic at that time and was an active supporter of CAP.

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

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

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Bruce Wilcox for sharing a photograph of this painting with me and for allowing its reproduction in this post.

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

Jul 212022
 

American pin-up girl and painter Zoë Mozert (1907-1993) lived and exhibited her artwork at Lake Chapala in the 1960s.

Mozert (birth name Alice Adelaide Moser) was born in Colorado Springs on 27 April 1907 and began painting at the age of four. After the family moved to Pennsylvania, Zoë attended Fairfax Hall, a prestigious private girl’s boarding school in Waynesboro, Virginia. After graduation, she moved back to live with her family and take art lessons at the LaFrance Art School.

From 1925 to 1928 she studied at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, where she took advanced classes with Thorton Oakley. The “petite, pert and practical” young woman (who was just under five feet tall) paid for her tuition by modeling at the school. After her studies, she established her own window display business, and in 1932 she moved to New York City to seek freelance work as an independent designer, using ‘Zoë Mozert’ as her art name. The following year she won a scholarship to study at the Art Students League.

Bernard Hoffman. 1943. Portrait of “Zoë Mozert, Artist” for Life Magazine.

Mozert sold her first cover portrait (for which her sister modeled) to True Confessions in 1933. During the next five years, she painted and sold more than 400 cover illustrations. Mozert was her own model for many of her magazine covers and movie posters, using mirrors, cameras and an assistant to help create the desired pose. Seven color photos by Mozert, titled “Glorious Beauty of America’s Women as seen through a Woman’s Eyes,” were published in American Weekly in 1936. Her sensual and glamorous work appeared on the covers of numerous pulp magazines, including Smart Love Stories, Love Revels, and Night Life Tales, and glamor magazines such as Romantic Movie Stories, Romantic Stories, and Screen Stories. Mozert also painted artwork for advertisements, some based on her pastel portraits of famous movie stars.

While working on a cruise ship to South America in 1939, Mozert used a photo of a friend to paint her first nude. When the painting was shown in Mendelssohns Gallery in New York two years later,  it was seen by the art director of Brown & Bigelow, the largest US calendar company, based in California. He immediately offered Mozert an exclusive contract to produce calendar illustrations, the start of her lucrative twenty-plus-year career with the company. Mozert’s annual pin-up calendars called Victory Girls became immensely popular during the second world war.

Zoë Mozert artwork for Brown and Bigelow

Mozert also designed movie posters and her career received another huge boost when she was commissioned by billionaire Howard Hughes to paint a publicity poster of Jane Russell for The Outlaw (1943).

Zoë Mozert “The Outlaw”

The year the film was released, the 36-year-old Mozert and her husband (the second of her four short-lived marriages) moved to Hollywood. Shortly after, Paramount Pictures produced a short about Zoë, “the pin up girl who paints ’em too” in its series “Unusual Occupations.”

In the 1950s, Mozert was at the peak of her career, reputedly the highest paid calendar artist of all time. According to one news article, between 1940 and 1960, more than 35 million reproductions of her paintings had been sold around the world.

In 1958 she married Herbert E Rhodes, “a well-known painter (of Indians, murals, and portraits) from Taos.” The marriage only lasted two years but the couple remained friends and continued to work together. When Mozert opened a gallery in Taos in 1963, the first show combined her portrait and figure paintings, with Indian subjects and caricatures by Herb Rhodes, and landscapes by Verne Matheny.

Zoe Mozert. 1970s. Reproduced by kind permission of Iván González Barón and family.

Zoë Mozert. Cat. 1970s. Reproduced by kind permission of Iván González Barón and family.

In 1965, Mozert and Rhodes visited Lake Chapala, where the “famous, vivacious artist” was reported to be getting the “feel of the village, taking a walk on our cobblestone streets.” Rhodes did not apparently stay long in Mexico, but Mozert spent four months in the country, taking in Guadalajara, San Blas, Mazatlán and Monterrey.

According to the Taos News: “At Ajijic she stayed with Mr. and Mrs. William Stallard (the former Lady Rivers), who have moved there from Canada,” and exhibited her pictures in the village. Zoë told the paper that she was impressed everywhere in Mexico with the cleanliness, since street littering wasn’t allowed. Mozert’s painting of a cat may have been a gift to the Stallards. It was later owned by photographer and linguist Friedrich Butterlin, one of the four pall-bearers at Mrs Stallard’s funeral in September 1965.

In 1978 Mozert retired to Sedona, Arizona, where she continued to produce pastel drawings and portraits, many of which were sold in fine art galleries. A shoulder injury in 1985 brought an end to her painting career. Zoë Mozert, pin-up girl, commercial calendar illustrator and artist extraordinaire, died on 1 February 1993 in Flagstaff, Arizona.

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

For more details of the history of Ajijic artists, art programs and hotels, see Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: decades of change in a Mexican village (2022).

Sources

  • Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff): 28 September 1960.
  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix). 1993. “Film, calendar artist Zoe Mozert” (obituary). Arizona Republic, 12 Feb 1993, 30.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 7 Jan 1965.
  • Marianne Ohl Phillips. 1995. “Zoë Mozert: Pin-Up’s Leading Lady. A loving profile,” Tease! Magazine, #3, p 30-38.
  • The Pittsburgh Press: 22 Jan 1964.
  • The Taos News: 28 March 1963, 9; 29 April 1965, 8.

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

Jul 142022
 

The renowned Hollywood portraitist Richard Kitchen lived in San Antonio Tlayacapan in the 1970s.

Born in England, the details of Kitchen’s early upbringing and education are currently unknown. But by the 1940s he was already well known as a portrait painter in California. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported in December 1943 that Mrs J Howard Hales had held a cocktail party for friends in her Beverly Hills apartment to show off Kitchen’s portrait of her.

Richard Kitchen at work. Photograph in possession of Moreen Chater.

Richard Kitchen at work. Photograph in possession of Moreen Chater; reproduced with permission.

Two years later, in October 1945, the paper remarked on the unveiling of Kitchen’s portrait of Peggy Wood: the portrait “was charming, and was admired by Ronald Colman and wife, Admiral Ike Johnson and wife, Charley Brackett and Lester Donahue, among others.”

Richard Kitchen. Portrait of a lady. Date unknown.

Richard Kitchen. Portrait of a lady. 1940s. Credit: Fine Estate, San Rafael, California.

Later that same month, the paper’s society columnist described how another Kitchen portrait had been less well received: “Mrs Smart was showing everyone her son Gillie’s new portrait, just completed by artist Richard Kitchen. After a number of “ohs” and “ahs” Nelson Eddy discovered that young Gillie was clutching an American Flag with only 11 stripes in it! Mr. Kitchen is being paged to DO something about this!”

Kitchen painted portraits of dozens of well-known theater personages, including Ilka Chase, Ronald Colman and Richard Barthelmess.

Movie makers in the 1940s also sought Kitchen’s expertise. For example, the makers of “The Uninvited,” released in 1944, commissioned Kitchen to paint “two huge paintings of Mary Meredith.” According to a blog post by film buff Remy Dean, “the two huge paintings of Mary Meredith deserve a mention. One takes up a wall of Stella’s bedroom at her grandfather’s house. The other is equally huge and dominates Miss Holloway’s office at The Mary Meredith Retreat—a kind of polite asylum for overwrought women. It’s all we see of this supposedly perfect woman, painted in the style of Thomas Gainsborough by the hugely talented Richard Kitchen. Although uncredited, the sitter for those portraits was Elizabeth Russell, who had bit parts in many of Val Lewton’s RKO horror films.”

A portrait by Kitchen also featured prominently in another film, the 20th Century Fox crime drama “The Dark Corner” (1946), starring Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix and Mark Stevens. Clifton Webb played a suave art connoisseur named Hardy Cathcart, and Kitchen was commissioned to paint “an ‘old master’ type oil portrait” of Hardy’s wife, Mari, played by Cathy Downs.

A contemporary account explained why this was one of the most challenging assignments the artist had ever had: “The 17th century-type portrait had to be true to the period, yet be a perfect likeness of dimpled brunette Cathy. The picture explains the possessive love of art connoisseur Webb who falls in love with his young bride because she is the living reincarnation of the portrait.”

In 1947, Kitchen explained in The Honolulu Advertiser how he thought the second world war had changed “the American face.” Whereas the old face, “like the British face… was showing the droopy-mustached, mild-eyed tremble-chinned symptoms of weakness”, the post-war face had “deeper-set eyes, stronger constructions of the jaw, larger noses and heavier muscles.” Kitchen backed up his assertion that “One war can change the faces of people more than 100 years of evolution,” by referring to movie star Tyrone Power: “Even though he was 32 when he put on a marine uniform, the war molded his face into a stronger cast, even to the bone structure. And as a result he is handsomer than ever.”

Precisely why, when and how Kitchen came to live with Peter Lilley (one half of writing duo Dane Chandos) in San Antonio Tlayacapan remains unclear but he was certainly resident in the village by 1971. In October 1971 he held a “Magnificent exhibition of paintings,” in two rooms of the Palacio Federal. The show, which attracted a great number of visitors, included about 100 oil paintings, mainly portraits of persons well-known in Guadalajara society, and a reviewer praised Kitchen’s technique and choice of subjects.

Kitchen held a solo show in Guadalajara’s Centro de Arte Moderno (Av. Mariano Otero 375) in May 1976 of works described as “magic realism.” If anyone has knowledge of, or a catalog from, this exhibit, please get in touch!

A few months later, a selection of Kitchen’s portraits, in oil, pastel and charcoal, was included in a group show titled “Panorama del Arte en Jalisco”, held in three rooms of the DIF building in the small village of Teuchitlán, the closest village to the Guachimontones archaeological site. Other artists also exhibiting on that occasion, and with close links to Lake Chapala, included Sabina Foust, Gustel Foust and Ellis Credle Townsend.

Portraits by Kitchen rarely come up at auction, presumably because they are still treasured by the subjects or their families. One exception, described only as “Portrait of Lady” and dating from the 1940s, was auctioned by Fine Estate in San Rafael, California, in 2018.

Kitchen completed portraits of many residents of San Antonio Tlayacapan, and local artist and cultural promoter María Victoria Corona Vega, kindly asked local villagers, on my behalf, what they could recall about Richard Kitchen. Their most dramatic collective memory concerned how the strong feelings between two of Peter Lilley’s employees had led to a terrible tragedy, in which the two workers, who “could no longer bear working together for Don Pedro” killed each other in a personal confrontation. At Lilley’s request, Richard Kitchen subsequently painted a mural of the two men together on the living room wall.

Please get in touch if you have a portrait by Richard Kitchen, or can supply more details about his life.

Note

  • My gratitude to Binky Chater for sharing with me her memories and the photograph of Richard Kitchen, and to María Victoria Corona Vega for her research assistance.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.
My history of Ajijic – Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village – has several chapters about the individuals, artists and patrons who helped cement Ajijic’s reputation as a center for artistic creativity and excellence.

Sources

  • Remy Dean. 2018. “Film Review THE UNINVITED (1944).” Blog post dated 15th October 2018.
  • El Informador: 24 Oct 1971, 4-A; 25 Oct 1971, 11.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 15 May 1976, 11; 23 Sep 1978, 6.
  • Los Angeles Times: 1 Dec 1943, 23; 2 Oct 1945, 11; 23 Oct 1945, 17.
  • The Honolulu Advertiser: 2 Feb 1947, 44.
  • Shamokin News-Dispatch (Shamokin, Pennsylvania): 26 Jun 1946, 9.

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

Jul 072022
 

Art instructor Vera Wise brought students from the Art Class of the College of Mines in El Paso, Texas, to Mexico for five weeks in summer 1946; their trip included a few days in Ajijic. Her accompanying students included Mrs N L Casner, Mrs Sara B Foote, Mrs Florence Koebrich, Bruce Anderson, George Brown and Misses Lela Roy Williams, Alfinia Kowelevski, Toni Snyder, Robin Norton and Martha Martinez. After visiting Guadalajara, where they painted pottery craftsmen, they moved to Chapala to paint fishermen mending their nets.

From there, according to the newspaper report, “A launch trip brought them to Ajijic, where they stayed in the Virrein[a]l Hotel a 17th century building steeped in old Spanish atmosphere.” The only hotels of note operating in Ajijic in 1946 were Posada Ajijic and Quinta Mi Retiro. There was, however, a hotel named the Virreinal in Guadalajara, which probably accounts for the mix-up.

This 1946 account is the earliest record of an organized art class visit to Ajijic. There had been art students living and working independently in Ajijic previously, the earliest and best-known being Lowell Houser (1902-1971) and Everett Gee Jackson (1900-1995), who spent several months in Ajijic in 1926, between extended stays in Chapala.

After Ajijic, the El Paso group traveled to Mexico City and Taxco, where they met, by chance, fellow US students at the Hotel Victoria studying at the International School of Art with renowned Guatemalan-born artist Carlos Mérida.

The International School of Art was overseen by Elma Pratt, who had designed a stunning silkscreen of Chapala, and brought students to Guadalajara a few years earlier. Carlos Mérida later assisted Irma Jonas, when she organized a summer Mexican Art Workshop in Ajijic from 1947 to 1949 inclusive.

Vera Wise (1892-1978) was an artist, lithographer, painter and watercolorist who taught art and chaired the art department at the Texas College of Mines (subsequently Texas Western College, subsequently the University of Texas at El Paso) from 1939 to 1962.

Vera Wise. 1950. Windmill. Credit: MissouriArtists.org

Vera Wise. 1950. Windmill. Credit: MissouriArtists.org

Born in Iola, Kansas on 26 July 1892, Wise grew up in Sunnyside, Washington. After graduating from high school, Wise gained a bachelor’s degree of art in 1920 from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and then taught for a few years at high schools in Washington and Montana. Wise then moved to Chicago, where she studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and became a designer (1925-1929) in the interior decoration department of Marshall Field and Company. In 1929, Wise moved to Kansas City, Missouri to work for the Robert Keith Company (1929-1938) and Bradley Studios (1938-1939).

While living in Kansas City, she painted murals in private homes, and studied under Thomas Hart Benson in 1931 and later at the Kansas City Art Institute (1928-1939). In 1940 she also studied under Thomas Craig at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

When Wise moved to teach at the Texas College of Mines in 1939, she began by teaching design and decoration before offering painting courses alongside art history and other art classes.

Vera Wise. Undated. Garden Scene. Credit: MissouriArtists.org

Vera Wise. Undated. Garden Scene. Credit: MissouriArtists.org

Also on the faculty at the Texas School of Mines was Catalan-born sculptor, painter and art educator Urbici Soler (1890–1953), who had been married (briefly) to painter Betty Binkley (1914-1978). After the marriage ended, Binkley lived and painted at Lake Chapala.

Another close friend of Soler—artist Hari Kidd (1899-1964)—was also at Lake Chapala at that time. It was at Lake Chapala that Kidd met and fell in love with (and later married) talented painter Edythe Wallach (1909-2001), who had held a solo show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in November 1944. Together with English artist Muriel Lytton-Bernard, Kidd and Binkley were named in El Informador as founders of a “Chapala Art Center.” The center’s first exhibition, held at the Villa Montecarlo in December 1944, included works by all three artists, as well as works by the famous American surrealist Sylvia Fein, Ann Medalie, Otto Butterlin, Ernesto Linares (Lyn Butterlin), and Jaime López Bermúdez.

For her part, Wise exhibited her artwork regularly and held several solo exhibitions, most of them in Texas. Her work often portrayed the landscapes of the south-west US, with one art critic, Arthur Miller, professing that her watercolors expressed “a real love of the visible world.” She also exhibited at least once in Mexico, in a four-woman show in Mexico City in September 1950, alongside Polly Howerton, Alice Naylor and Helen Bilger. That exhibition was organized by the Departamento de Extensión Universitaria of the National University (UNAM) and was held in the Galeria Universitaria, in the vestibule of the National Library.

Wise continued to lead art groups to Mexico. In 1957, for example, she organized a 30-day summer school art program for Texas Western students in San Blas, Nayarit, which included instruction in painting, design, photography and art education. Five years later, Wise retired and moved to California.

Wise was an active member of the National Association of Women Artists, Southern States Art League, Texas Fine Arts Association, Texas Printmakers’ Guild, Texas Watercolor Society, Pomona Valley Art Association, and the California National Watercolor Society.

Works by Wise can be found in the permanent collections of Idaho State College, Texas Fine Arts Association, and Southern Methodist University.

Wise died in Stockton, California, on 6 June 1978. A Vera Wise Scholarship fund was established in her memory to be awarded annually to a promising art student.

Note

For more details of the history of Ajijic artists, art programs and hotels, see Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: decades of change in a Mexican village (2022).

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

Sources

  • El Paso Herald-Post: 11 July 1946, 6.
  • Nova Quarterly: March 1989, 6-7.
  • Texas Trends in Art Education: March 1957, 24.

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

Jun 302022
 

Vida Hills Shepard (1885-1972) was a journalist who spent several winters in Chapala in the mid-1950s. Shepard was a regular columnist for The Chico Enterprise-Record in California, and several of her columns make reference to her multiple visits to Chapala.

Vida Shepard, 1955

She first visited in late 1954, writing in an early column how she had rented a cottage in the Nido Hotel. The cottage had windows that overlooked a pleasant patio. Though the cottage had no kitchen, the hotel offered to provide three meals a day for 50 pesos ($4). Shepard remarked that the garden was enlivened by the antics of a parrot—“Sra Nido’s best loved pet”—and two mockingbirds in cages. Shepard encouraged readers to consider visiting Chapala, and rent one of the “numerous homes rented by La Señora Nido, who has owned a large slice of the town since her husband’s death four years ago.” (In fact, Ramón Nido had died in 1945, fully a decade before Shepard’s visit.)

In her column the following week, Shepard explained that Chapala had no TV reception, very few radios, and only limited phone service, with the hotel having one of the very few lines available. She also commented on the corncobs used as fuel for most water heaters (“except for the very new ones”), saying that it was a very inexpensive method since a “huge gunny sack of corncobs costs about 16 cents and lasts a few months.”

When Shepard returned to Lake Chapala the following winter, this time renting accommodation in Ajijic, she first had a few days in Guadalajara, where she enjoyed “a very good lunch in the Ajijic restaurant in Hotel Guadalajara.” This is the first and only reference I have ever seen to an “Ajijic restaurant” in the big city.

Her column the following week is about visiting Neill James at her home, Quinta Tzintzuntzan, in Ajijic. Shepard opens by quoting an inscription—“Little by little, drop by drop, one can empty the sea”—carved on one of the hand-hewn beams of the living room ceiling, which “could well be the inspiration which, little by little, has brought this remarkable woman health, a sound business and such contentment in Mexico that she feels no compulsion to leave her picturesque village, Ajijic.”

Other beams were carved with designs from “Aztec codices”, and one had an inscription in Spanish reading “The pen is the tongue of the soul.” Shepard summarized James’ early business enterprises (embroidery and weaving) before focusing on her silkworm operation, claiming that each year James “has a new dress for her traditional Christmas egg-nog party made from threads spun by her own silk worms.” Shepard was charmed by the verdant orchard around James’ home, especially its “15 varieties of bananas” and the massed “scarlet flowers” of “an espaliered poinsettia.”

The following year (1956), when Shepard was staying at Lake Chapala, she described how she had taken visiting friends to explore Ajijic, where they met ‘Stephen.’ Stephen turned out to be the son of artist Alfred Rogoway, and persuaded them to walk with him to the gallery where his father’s works were on show. They arrived to find that Stephen’s mother was busy cooking supper there: the gallery-restaurant had only opened the previous day.

Shepard had a short story, “The Merry-Go-Round,” published in Mexican Life in 1957. The merry-go-round apparently never works properly, and its owner is constantly tinkering with the machinery in a valiant and never-ending effort to get it to work as intended. Shepard had previously co-authored a cook book with Mary Dunbar Lemcke titled Four ‘n Twenty Blackbirds: A Book on Game Cookery With Other Recipes Based Upon Products of Northern California (1949).

In 1958, Shepard apparently spent the summer rainy season in Chapala. In a column written several years later she recalled having watched a dramatic thunderstorm in Chapala from the front porch of a house near Villa Lourdes which “a group of UFO hunters had rented.”

Like so many other visitors in the 1950s, Vida Shepard was clearly captivated by what she found. Her personal accounts of staying at Lake Chapala only serve to show just how much the area has changed since.

Sources

  • The Chico Enterprise-Record (Chico, California) 7 Jan 1955, 6; 15 Jan 1955, 4; 13 Sep 1955, 10; 28 Nov 1955, 10; 5 Dec 1955, 10; 3 March 1956, 5; 2 Jan 1958.
  • Vida Shepard. 1957. “The Merry-Go-Round.” Mexican Life, October 1957.

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

Jun 232022
 

Is it right for someone who only ever produced a single artwork related to Lake Chapala to be included in this on-going series? My usual answer has been ‘No!’ but I make no apologies for this exception.

This superb silkscreen design of Chapala by Elma Pratt from the 1940s is so striking that it more than merits close attention.

Elma Pratt. Chapala. Silkscreen, published 1947.

Elma Pratt. Chapala. Silkscreen, published 1947. Border design by ‘Clemente’ of Tlaquepaque.

Cora Elma Pratt (she dropped the Cora in childhood) was born on 5 May 1888 in Chicago, Illinois, and died in Oxford, Ohio on 30 December 1977. Pratt grew up in an affluent family and accompanied her parents on trips to Europe. She graduated from Oberlin High School in Ohio in 1906, and then gained a bachelor’s degree in education from Oberlin College in 1912, majoring in music and social science. After a year in Europe with her mother, Pratt attended the New School of Design in Boston.

In 1918, as the first world war finally came to its end, Pratt—describing herself as an interior decorator—applied for a passport to travel to Great Britain and France to work with the American Red Cross. The diminutive Pratt (5’1″ tall with grey-green eyes) left the US shortly before Christmas and arrived in France on 6 January 1919. She worked initially with the YMCA in Paris, before applying for a new passport so that she could carry out “War relief work with the Christian Science Society of Italy.”

On her return from two years in Europe, Pratt completed a Master in Arts from Columbia University Teacher’s College (1922) and subsequently completed her formal education with a degree in art from the Vienna School of Art in Austria (1928).

In the course of her multiple trips to Europe, Pratt had encountered, and fallen in love with, Polish folk art. Determined to introduce it to other Americans, she organized the International School of Art. The first art program she ran was in Zakopane, Poland, in 1928. The International School of Art became the main focus of her working life, and she ran programs in Europe, Mexico and the US for more than thirty years.

Pratt was an avid promoter of Polish folk art in the US, working closely with the Brooklyn Museum, where she supplied artwork to their gift shop and organized folk art exhibitions, including the Polish Exhibition (1933-1934), the first ever exhibit of Polish folk art in the US.

Pratt returned to New York from a summer trip in Europe on 5 September 1939, only days before the second world war broke out. For the next few years travel to Europe was impossible, so Pratt turned her attention to folk art nearer home, including that of Mexico and Guatemala.

In the 1940s, Pratt began offering a summer school in Mexico, where her “students worked in Tlaquepaque, studying pottery designs under the shade of banana trees” and then continued on to take some classes in Taxco. The teachers hired by Pratt included Mexican printmaker Alfredo Zalce and Guatemalan-born painter Carlos Merida, and students were able to gain credit for the courses from the National University (UNAM).

While the precise dates and times of these programs in Mexico remain unclear, we can place Pratt in Guadalajara in 1944 and 1945. In February 1944, she gave a lecture to the Associación Cristiana Feminina in Guadalajara (Calle Tolsa #324) titled “Contribución de México al desorrollo artístico mundial” (Mexico’s contribution to world artistic development). By then her International School of Art was reported to have 14 locations in Europe and the Americas, including Mexico and Guatemala. The following summer, the Guadalajara daily El Informador devoted a column to Miss Mildred Pietschman, a member of the student group Pratt brought to Guadalajara. Pietschman, a music teacher, had previously taken art classes at the Universidad de Guadalajara and at the International School of Art in Rome, Italy. (Tragically, she died in an automobile accident while vacationing in Mexico in 1990.)

One significant by-product of Pratt’s numerous art school visits to Mexico (which included time in some quite remote areas) was her portfolio Mexico in Color. The portfolio, published in 1947 in an edition of 2000 copies, contained ten separate two-page folios with text and silkscreens: Lake Chapala of Jalisco, Shoppers in Ixtepec, Salt Boys of Chiapas, Traveling Salesman, Etla’s Market, Fisherfolk of Janitzio, Market in Uruapan, August 15th in Taxco, Tehuanas of Oaxaca, and From the Mountains of Oaxaca. The silkscreens, which are printed on silk and measure (including the decorative border) 44.5 x 30.5 cm (17.5″ by 12″), were designed by Pratt and printed by Adrian Duran in Mexico City.

When Pratt’s Mexican silkscreens were exhibited at the Misericordia University Pauly Friedman Art Gallery in Dallas in 2009, viewers were informed that the vibrant colors and bold designs chosen by the artist “place the viewers at the time and place of their creation… [and] allow the viewer to see what Pratt saw and experienced.”

The silkscreen of Chapala, dating from the 1940s, depicts La Capilla de Lourdes, with the steep, palm tree-lined street leading up to its entrance and a typical Chapala sail boat. Pratt explains in the accompanying text why she chose those elements for her design:

I have included in my “Mexico in Color” the picture of the little blue and white chapel just outside the town of Chapala, mainly because of my interest in the many people I see passing by. No matter how burdened with baskets, no matter how inconvenienced by the jog-jog of the donkey, off comes the sombrero as they pass the palm-bordered road running up to the chapel. Now that the little church is being enlarged, I wonder if the Indian who loves his diminutives will not share my regret at this change.”

The decorative design around the silkscreen “was painted by one of our Tlaquepaque boys, Clemente, with his dog-hair brush.”

Pratt emphasized the contrast between Chapala, “the playground of Jalisco” and Ajijic. In Chapala, many people:

make their living by merely adding to your pleasure: the mariachis whom you hire to play for you as you skim the surface of the beautiful lake in a launch or one of the more romantic rowboats, with their varied-colored awnings; the cheerful little men who rent you beach chairs, bright umbrellas or old tires; the ever-increasing group of men who make delicious home-made candies.”

On the other hand:

the tiny village of Ajijic… is no playground: days pass slowly or swiftly, as motivated by the daily routine of necessary tasks. There, as elsewhere in Mexico, the pat-pat of the tortilla symbolizes the narrow limits of the women’s lives; as does the constant net-mending symbolize the men’s devotion to the water. How they love to feel the tug of the big nets as their bronzed bodies bend with the pull of haul!”

Pratt refers to Witter Bynner “our own American poet… [who] has awakened in us still greater sensitiveness to the beauties of Lake Chapala” and to Neil JamesDust on my Heart (1946), and Dane ChandosVillage in the Sun (1945). In the context of Ajijic, Pratt explains that the village has been the scene for “not only good writing, but good painting.”

A decade later, Pratt produced a similar volume, Guatemala in Color (1958). She continued to be fascinated by folk art and, in her seventies, lived and taught in Egypt for four years.

Elma Pratt, educator, collector, artist, and philanthropist, never married and had no children. In 1970 she donated her extensive collection of international folk art, more than 2500 items in total, to the Miami University Art Museum in Oxford, Ohio. She moved to Oxford the following year and lived there the remainder of her life.

Note

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

Sources

  • Cardassilaris, Nicole Ruth. 2008. “Bringing cultures together: Elma Pratt, her International School of Art, and her collection of International Folk Art at the Miami University Art Museum.” Thesis for M.A. in Art History, University of Cincinnati.
  • Taylor, Millicent. 1954. “On Tour With a Paintbrush: Elma Pratt and Her Art School,” Christian Science Monitor, 27 March 1954, 14.
  • Desert Sun (Palm Springs, California) 7 July 1950.
  • El Informador: 8 February 1944, 11; 10 February 1944, 7; 22 July 1945.

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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