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Feb 202020
 

What was Ajijic like 70 years ago? Well, a recently-found article by Zoe Kernick  in Mexican Life gives us some tantalizing glimpses into life in the village back then.

A single overly-long sentence sets the scene and hints at some of the conflicts and contradictions that life in the village, even then, entailed:

For the pamphlet department, Ajijic is a quaint primitive village, full of fisherfolk; for Neill James, noted Petticoat Vagabond, it possesses the placidity of Paradise; for the tourist, it can be sometimes drab, though, if he becomes acquainted with certain of the residents, it can become an exultant drunken town; for the clergy of Guadalajara, an evil village, a place that Sunday parishioners must be warned against in scarlet words; for lovers, flowers trumpet against the patina of night-pink walls, remnants of rainfall glitter in the darkness, and from the Miradores, stately stars travel in ancient and tranquil paths over the lake; for some of us, who are formed by our own particular village vision, into a triple entente, Ajijic is a place of humor, a humor without logic, a witchcraft humor, where lights go on and off, where church bells ring for no apparent reason, where definitions can suddenly fly apart like a giant castillo with all its figures shooting off into the air.

Kernick lists several noted foreign residents, such as Pablo Heuer and his sister Louisa (“who run a pension which continues its primitive existence as though electricity and showers had never come to the village”), the ballerina La Russe, writer Neill James and the English couple, Herbert Johnson (“the village squire”) and his wife, Georgette.

She also writes a great deal about Mexican artist “Ernesto Linares” (real name Ernesto Butterlin) who, she informs readers,

“has known Ajijic since he was a small boy, week-ending with his family from Guadalajara…. A great deal of the spirit which guides the carnival gaiety of nightly fiestas, is due to Mr. Linares, for his competent hands are as deft with bottles as with brushes.”

Kernick offers a description of his recently opened store which “resembles a modern art gallery” and “sells hand-painted materials, pottery, leather goods” as well as paintings by village artists, including Linares, Nicolas Muzenic and Tobias Scheebaum.

The three artists are all involved in summer art classes for visitors from the US, and,

“As the bus with its twenty students and New York director, Mrs irma Jonas, rolled into Ajijic on the morning of July 10, 1949, it was met by the town lads in charro costume, pivoting about on their horses like Indians circling a caravan. The students were conducted to the Posada, rented for their stay, and then taken to a reception at the home of Mr. Linares. Everyone came to welcome them: the conglomerate foreign colonies of Ajijic and Chapala, the villagers, the charro lads. Martinis made music and mariachis made noise.”

Two oil paintings by Ann Medalie, the most striking of which is this unusual view across the lake (with the garden of Hubert and Georgette Johnson in the foreground) are used to illustrate Kernick’s article.

Ann Medalie. Ajijic Landscape (oil). ca 1945

Ann Medalie. Ajijic Landscape (oil). ca 1945

Kernick rhapsodises about the “spontaneous carnival spirit” of Ajijic, especially at fiesta time at the end of November when “castillos blaze at night in the plaza, spitting with great revolving wheels of silver sparks, golden fire; and dark Madonnas of parchment sail into the air.”

She is less enchanted with the local celebration of “Carnival,” when

“tired street oxen are herded into an arena where tequila-reeling men bite their tails to goad them into attitudes of fury; the whole town cheers on flimsy stands so crowded that both orchestra and audience are liable to imminent collapse. The Hero of each day is He Who Gets Gored, and each citizen contributes money to pay for the hero’s hospital bills, or for his funeral.”

On the other hand, she loves the Day of the Blessing of the Animals, when

“Every animal in the village, from bulls to pet doves, from pigs to cats to burros, to goats, are bathed and sprayed with perfume. Some of the animals are lovingly painted with color and always they are bowed in great satin pink and red ribbons. The animals are then led under the wall of the church where the priest stands, reading to them an imposing text, and scattering over their sweet heads his liquid dispensation. Things often get a trifle out of hand, as bulls start bellowing, armadillos run away, and spoiled cats climb up the priest’s robe.”

Things quietened down during the winter season, when

“Most of the entertaining is done en casa; supper parties on terraces beautiful with an arrangement of white flowers, white candles, women in long white gowns, silver sandals, and unfashionably long hair. The manner of living, graciously casual, inexpensive, yet fastidious, creates a fine fashion of its own.”

To avoid creating the wrong impression among her readers, Kernick takes pains to conclude that “All of this might be called a seed thrust of civilization; but Ajijic is not an art colony, and it is not a resort.”

Source

  • Zoe Kernick. 1951. “Ajijic.” Mexican Life, April 1951, 13-14, 58, 60, 62-63.

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

Feb 132020
 

Artists Violette Mège (1889-1968) and her husband, Michael Baxte (1900-1972), lived in Mexico City for decades and visited Ajijic several times during the 1940s.

Mège and her husband were near neighbors in Mexico City of Helen Kirtland and her family. After her marriage ended, Kirtland moved to Ajijic with her three young children and founded Telares Ajijic. Her only daughter, Katie Goodridge Ingram, author of According to Soledad, a memoir about her childhood in Mexico City and Ajijic, has clear memories of Mège and Baxte visiting Ajijic over the winters of 1945 and 1946, where they shared a “cottage” owned by Louis Stephens, a mutual Mexico City friend.

Violette Mege. Lavandera de Ajijic (El Nacional, 1954)

Violette Mege. Lavandera de Ajijic (El Nacional, 1954)

Violette Clarisse Mège (or variants Mege and Mége) was born in Algeria in 1889. When she became the first woman to win a prestigious Beaux Art competition in Algeria in 1914, the organizers only awarded her the scholarship after the French government intervened on her behalf.

Mège had work exhibited in a group show in Paris in 1916 at the Latin Quarter Association. After winning the Beaux Art scholarship for a second time, she decided to broaden her horizons and used the prize money to travel to New York with her younger sister, Emma, in 1916.

Her New York trip proved to be a pivotal moment in her life. She fell in love with Michael Posner Baxte, an up-and-coming violinist and composer. The couple briefly visited Mège’s homeland before settling in Manhattan, New York, where they married in 1920.

Mège held a solo show of her paintings at The Touchstone galleries in New York in 1917. A critic described this as “an exhibition of singular attraction by a very bold student of color, Violet Mege, an Algerian who paints her native land, showing rich color effects where light is not toned by shadow, her shadows being almost negligible in values. Her figure work is good, especially in the portrait of a woman and a violinist.” The violinist was, presumably, Michael Baxte.

Violette Mege. Still life. (Auctioned by Black Rock Galleries in 2013)

Violette Mège. Still life. (Auctioned by Black Rock Galleries in 2013)

Her work was also praised in a group show the following year at the Macdowell Club: “The spirit of the manners and customs, as well as the costumes of the strange people pictured by her is quaintly and withal pleasingly worked out. Sometimes her work halts before it should, but is particularly noteworthy in its freshness and excellent coloring. Miss Mege is not always so good in her rendering of flowers.”

Mège had paintings of Algeria and of a Cypress tree in New York included in the Third Annual Exhibition of The Society of Independent Artists at the Waldorf Astoria in New York in 1919.

Inspired by his wife, Baxte began to paint. Mège was his only teacher, and he was her only student. Her classes and encouragement paid off a decade later when Baxte was chosen as one of the two winners in the Dudensing National Competition for American Painters.

For the next decade, Mège devoted herself to teaching her husband to paint and helping him refine his techniques. According to a 1930 newspaper account, she rarely painted during this time, and it was only after her husband’s work was widely acclaimed that she “she picked up her palette and brushes where she had laid them down on marriage.”

In 1930 she held a solo exhibit at the Delphic Studios in Battle Creek, Michigan.

The couple lived in France during the 1930s. They left when the second world war began and, by 1941, had moved to Mexico, where Mège exhibited her paintings at “Decoración Gallieres” the following year. Mège and her husband had a home (later owned by Rufino Tamayo) in Coyoacán and traveled to various parts of Mexico. Many of their paintings show landscapes and people in Michoacán and western Mexico.

As in the case of her painting “Lavandera de Ajijic”, exhibited in Mexico City in 1954 and reproduced in El Nacional, Mège often signed paintings using only her surname. This painting was shown, alongside work of her husband, in an exhibition of 20 non-Mexican artists from 12 regions of Mexico at the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana in Mexico City. The El Nacional’s art critic was less than generous in his appreciation of the couple’s work, writing that though “the works of Mège and her husband display some well-observed Mexican aspects,” neither “had a strong sense of color.”

Mège died in Mexico City on 11 May 1968 at the age of 69.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing her memories of the artist with me.

Sources

  • American Art News. 1916. “Paris Letter.” American Art News, Vol. 14, #33 (10 May 1916).
  • Battle Creek Enquirer (Michigan). 1930. Battle Creek Enquirer 4 May 1930, 26.
  • Michael Baxte. 1942. “Violette Mége.” Mexican Life, v 18 (October 1942).
  • P. Fernandez Marquez. 1954. “La Exposicón de Artistas Huéspedes.” El Nacional,
    1954; Suplemento Dominical, 6.
  • The International Studio: an Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art. 1918. (November 1917-February 1918).
  • The Evening World (New York), 2 December 1918, 11.

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

Feb 062020
 

Language educator and writer Katharine (“Katie”) Goodridge Ingram was born in Mexico City on 23 June 1938 to American parents. Her father, Ezra Read Goodridge, was a rare book dealer and her mother, Helen Kirtland, a fashion designer.

Katie spent her early childhood in Mexico City. In the mid-1940s, when her parents’ marriage came to an end, her mother took Katie (then eight) and her two brothers (two- and ten-years-old, respectively) to live in Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala. Her very determined mother began this new phase of her life by becoming an entrepreneur, starting a weaving business and using her design skills to create fashionable clothes and accessories.

Katie’s creative non-fiction memoir of her childhood in Mexico City and Ajijic – According to Soledad: memories of a Mexican childhood – has just been published. It is a compelling read. Advance readers have described According to Soledad as a literary equivalent of the award-winning movie Roma (2018), written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. However, whereas Roma was set in 1970-71, According to Soledad is set earlier, in 1947-52.

Katie was born to write. At the urging of German poet Gustav Regler, a friend of the family, she began to write her autobiography at the age of 9! She still treasures the wonderful response she received after writing about this at the time to another family friend at the University of Michigan. In part, the reply reads: “I am delighted that you haven’t yet finished either your book or your life… the latter at any rate really ought to be a fascinating subject. You go ahead and finish the book, anyhow, and I’ll bet you can get it published. Certainly you can if your letter is any indication of your auctorial prowess!”

In Ajijic, Katie was educated by a series of private tutors. At the age of 14, after her mother remarried and her father died in a Mexico City nightclub fire, Katie was sent north to The Putney School, an independent high school in Vermont, to complete high school. A bright and precocious student, Katie subsequently graduated from Pomona College, a liberal arts college in Claremont, California, in 1959.

After Pomona, Katie taught at Hamlin School in San Francisco (1959–1961) and Wesley School, Cape Coast, Ghana (1963–1965).

While living in the US, Katie returned to Ajijic every summer. In 1973 she settled in the village full-time with her two children and managed the Galería del Lago art gallery from 1973 to 1978. She then opened her own Mi México gallery in Ajijic which she continued to own until 1992. During her time in Mexico, Katie co-founded the bilingual Oak Hill School at Lake Chapala in 1974. She was also the area’s regional correspondent for the Mexico City News, writing a regular weekly column covering local art, culture and current events.

In 1981, Katie moved back to California, where she ran Gallery Bazar El Paseo in Santa Barbara for the next eight years. Katie co-founded the Santa Barbara Poetry Festival in 1990 and was a scholar at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 2002 and 2003.

She returned to teaching in the 1990s. While working at Ojai Valley School (1992–1994), she gained a certificate in teaching English as a Second Language from the University California, Santa Barbara. Katie then moved to the Crane School in Santa Barbara, where she chaired the Spanish department from 1997 to 2002.

Katie has regularly contributed poems and stories to collections and anthologies, such as A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens, edited by Enid Osborn and Cynthia Anderson in 2011, and Solo Novo: Psalms of Cinder and Silt (2019).

Her short story “Swimming Under Salvador”, the basis for chapter 14 of According to Soledad, won the nonfiction prize in the New Millennium Awards 26 in 2008. It was summarized on that occasion as “the account of a torrid love affair in Central America from the perspective of a small child whose loyalties are torn when she is rescued from drowning by her mother’s lover, a famous sculptor.”

Katie lives with her husband, Jim, an artist and retired architect, in Ojai, California.

According to Soledad, Katie’s first full length published work, is available in both print and Kindle editions via Amazon. Print copies will also be available at select locations (Diane Pearl, La Nueva Posada, Mi México) in Ajijic by the end of February.

Buy your copy today: According to Soledad

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Katie for sharing her memories with me and for entrusting me with helping her publish According to Soledad.

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

Jan 302020
 

Acclaimed expressionist artist Abby Rubinstein (née Addis) and her second husband, Jules, also an accomplished artist, lived in Ajijic from 1966 to 1976.

Abby S Addis was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 6 August 1928.

In 1945, at age 15, Abby was accepted on a scholarship into the Brooklyn Museum Art School, where famous Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo was one of her tutors, alongside Joseph Presser, George Pippin, Frances Chris and John Bindrum.

Abby taught nursery school and married young. She had two children with her first husband, Arthur G. Kunkin, a colorful character who later (in Los Angeles) became the publisher of the hippie-oriented underground newspaper The Free Press. The couple had left New York in 1950 for Los Angeles, where Abby studied briefly with muralist Leonard Herbert at the Otis Art Institute and became director of Westwood Temple’s daily nursery.

Abby Rubinstein. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Abby Rubinstein. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

More than a decade later, and after the end of her first marriage, Abby married Jules Rubinstein in Los Angeles. Shortly after marrying, the newly-wed couple moved to Ajijic.

During their years in Ajijic, both Abby and Jules developed reputations as fine artists, attracting a steady stream of international visitors and art collectors to their home and studios.

Abby Rubinstein. ca 1970. The Just Man. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Abby Rubinstein. ca 1970. The Just Man. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

In 1967, not long after moving to Ajijic, some of Abby’s oil paintings were on show at an Open Studio of the “Harrington Collection” in Guadalajara.

During the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 the Rubinsteins served on the city of Guadalajara cultural team and held an inaugural joint exhibition of paintings at the Galeria Municipal (Chapultepec and España). The exhibit opened on 3 June 1968 and was sponsored by the Olympic Cultural Committee as part of their International Festival of the Arts. In nine days over 3000 people came to view this exhibition.

Abby Rubinstein. ca 1970. The Torah. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Abby Rubinstein. ca 1970. The Torah. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

The following year, two of Abby’s oils were chosen for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit, which opened at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco, A.C. (Tolsa #300) in late June. The juried group show featured 94 pieces by 42 US artists from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende. The four-man jury was comprised of Francisco Rodriguez Caracalla, Director of Escuela de Artes Plásticas, and three art critics; José Luis Meza Inda, Fernando Larroca, and Victor Hugo Lomeli.

In 1972, the Rubinsteins held another joint exhibition, of about 15 paintings each, at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco (Mexican-North American Cultural Institute). A reviewer (probably Allyn Hunt) asserted in the Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter that, “Abby has made a quietly profound and eloquent statement about the world we live in and those that people it,” while Jules’ works are “expressionism… with a feeling of allegorical mysticism.”

According to her resume, Abby showed several oil paintings and drawings in an exhibit at the Escuela de Artesanias (Handicrafts School) in Ajijic in 1975. If anyone can supply more information about this show, and the names of other artists involved, please get in touch.

Abby Rubinstein. 2016. Chef's School. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Abby Rubinstein. 2016. Chef’s School. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

After they left Ajijic in 1976, the couple lived for a year in Israel, where Abby lectured on Expressionist art and its philosophy, before re-crossing the Atlantic to settle in Visalia, California.

Abby and her husband held a special exhibition at Riverside Municipal Museum in 1981. Entitled “Rubinstein and Rubinstein: Myth and Religion in American Expressionism,” the show featured 31 paintings from their personal collection.

Abby studied at the University of San Francisco and gained her bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and Art in 1983 and her Masters degree in Fine Arts two years later.

Her solo exhibitions, of oil paintings unless otherwise indicated, include: Brooklyn Museum, New York (drawings and watercolors, 1948); Mariana Von Allesh Gallery, Manhattan (1949); University of Guadalajara Gallery (1967); Misrachi Gallery, Mexico City (1969); Beth Giora, Jerusalem, Israel (1976); Visalia Convention Center, California (oils, watercolors and pastels, 1993); Lawrence Collins Fine Art Gallery, Visalia (2000); Adamo Gallery, Las Vegas (2002); Addi Gallery, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii (2004); EaselHeads Gallery, Visalia (2004–2009).

Abby Rubinstein. 2019. The Street Singer. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Abby Rubinstein. 2019. The Street Singer. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

In addition to the various group shows in Mexico, Abby’s paintings and drawings have been chosen for shows in Santa Monica Library, California (1966); Swanson Food Co., Minneapolis (1974); Korenbrut Studio, Mexico City (1975); Temple Beth Israel, Fresno, California (1978) and Bowman Gallery, Visalia (1980).

A 2017 newspaper article labeled her work ‘humanist expressionism,’ explaining that when she started a painting, the artist began by looking for “movement, color or atmosphere that corresponds with my innermost emotions,” before “bending it and developing it until it speaks for me and meets others with whom it can have a conversation.”

The article quoted Abby’s belief that

a true work of art transcends time barriers and finds an indefinable element that touches a main spring of intuitive response within a viewer and affects a very intimate meeting. It’s that intimate meeting that I seek when I paint.”

Abby still lives in Visalia and continues to paint and exhibit. As she explained by email:

“I believe that a search for intimacy in my paintings is what distinguishes them as mine. Frequently, people refer to the color in my work, but I think that the colors that I use are only components in the construction of the idea. To begin with I seek the soul of the subject. Then without ever losing sight of this, I bring together my emotion and consciousness in the development of the painting until it satisfies me.”

As the great sculptor Saul Bazerman answered, when asked how he knew when he was finished with a piece, “When it is full and I am empty.”

Abby Rubinsteins’s paintings are in numerous private collections in several countries. Please visit her website for more details and many more images of her superb work.

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to Abby Rubinstein for her help via email in compiling this profile and to Katie Goodridge Ingram and Peter Huf for sharing with me their memories of Abby Rubinstein. Sincere thanks, too, to Ricardo Santana for showing me the untitled work by Abby Rubinstein in his private collection.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 15 June 1968; 6 Feb 1971; 3 Apr 1971; 18 March 1972; CR 21 Feb 1976;
  • Los Angeles Times: 26 Aug 1962, 282; 5 April 1967, 2; LAT 6 Dec 1968, 2; 29 Aug 1970, 6.
  • San Bernardino County Sun, 19 June 1981, 48.
  • The Sun-Gazette. March 22, 2017. “Renowned artist shows ‘humanist expressionism’ at Exeter gallery.”
  • Edward J Sylvester. 1975. “So you’d like to retire in Mexico?” Tucson Daily Citizen, 13 Sep 1975, 9-11.
  • Visalia Times-Delta: “Painter Abby Rubinstein reflects on her long career, art.”

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

 Posted by at 5:32 am  Tagged with:
Jan 232020
 

American journalist, poet and author Clifford Gessler included a chapter about Chapala in Pattern of Mexico, published in 1941. The chapter was reproduced, as “The Haunted Lake,” in Mexican Life the following year.

Relatively little is known about Gessler. He was born in Milton Junction, Wisconsin, on 9 November 1893 and died in Berkeley, California, in June 1979. He was raised in Bangor, Wisconsin, and educated at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, which he left in 1917 (with an M.A. and LittD) to take a teaching job in Elkhard, Indiana. He asked for (and apparently gained) exemption from the military in 1917 on the grounds that he was the sole supporter of his wife, Margaret Hull Gessler (1890-1986), and a parent.

Gessler book cover

The Gesslers’s son, named after his father, was born in 1920, and the family moved to Hawaii the following year. Sadly, Clifford Jr. died only five years later back in Wisconsin.

Clifford Gessler and his wife remained in Hawaii, where Clifford worked for the  Honolulu Star-Bulletin until well into the late 1930s.

By 1938, they had moved to Oakland, California, where Clifford worked for the Oakland Tribune.

Gessler’s works of poetry include Slants: Poems (1924) and Tropic Earth (1944). His non-fiction books include Kanaka Moon (1927), Road My Body Goes (1937), Hawaii: Isles of enchantment (1937), The Dangerous Islands (1937), Tropic Landfall: The port of Honolulu (1942), The Leaning Wind (1943) and The Reasonable Life: Some aspects of Polynesian life; what we may learn from it in developing in our own lives the strength of quietness (1950).

Gessler wrote numerous letters to Witter Bynner prior to the latter’s purchase of a house in Chapala in 1940. Bynner’s replies are held in the special collections of the University of Iowa Libraries.

Gessler was presumably also on good terms with Bynner’s friend and fellow poet Arthur Davison Ficke. Gessler reviewed Ficke’s Chapala-based novel, Mrs Morton of Mexico, very favorably for the Oakland Tribune, summarizing it as,

a pageant of Mexico: the past the present and hints of the future of that strange and beautiful and terrible land march across the neat black-lined page. It is a beautiful book, a poets book, revealing with infinite tenderness the beauty and sorrow and dignity of human life. The drawings by Gladys Brown reflect the varying facets of the Chapala scene.”

In “Haunted Lake”, Gessler describes how Chapala retains “the atmosphere of a world remote from the fevered haste of mechanized civilization,” but is changing:

The shining motor-cars and buses from Guadalajara looked out of place in the simple village clustered around a treeshaded plaza. Indeed, it is but a few years since an automobile was a rarity in Chapala, and the town itself is much as it was then. It is a famous resort for all the surrounding cities, and increasingly for all Mexico: a vacation retreat, a place of honeymoons.

There, as in other towns, we saw life dividing itself sharply. Smartly dressed men and women strolled in the gardens of modern villas along the lake shore to right and left of the village, while the humbler crowd milled around the beer-booths and roast-corn stands fronting the public beach. The foreign tourists at the hotels where a candle was set beside each bed at night for the hours when electric current was off—were, as in any land, a class apart from either.”

At that time, Chapala had no municipal water system:

All day shawled women, with earthen jars on their shoulders and one arm curved up in classic pose, passed to and fro from the well, and, professional watercarriers trotted under shoulder poles from each end of which hung a five-gallon can.”

And why did Gessler decide that Lake Chapala was a Haunted Lake?

For Chapala, residents told me, is haunted—all that valley, and the islands in the many-colored lake. “See that island?” said one. “It is the home of spirits of slain conquistadores.”

Spanish ghosts, and Indian… He told me, too, that the souls of the Aztecs lingered there when their god Méxitl bade the tribe move on in the migration that led them to the central valley of Mexico. “Those spirits glow by night in the form of fireflies in the marshes where the white egrets nest.” Their sacred images, it is said, are still fished from the water of the lake.”

Sources

  • Clifford F. Gessler. 1941. Pattern of Mexico. Appleton.
  • Clifford F. Gesler. 1942. “The Haunted Lake.” Mexican Life, June 1932, 13-14.

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

Jan 162020
 

Noted expressionist artist Jules Rubinstein and his wife Abby, also an accomplished artist, lived in Ajijic from 1966 to 1976.

Born in New York on 9 June 1908, Jules was the son of a Talmudic scholar who, according to a 1975 article in the Tucson Daily Citizen, gave him an empty suitcase on his 14th birthday, and told him, “You are a man now…. I give you the world. Do with it whatever you will.”

“Jules went to sea and spent the next 14 years as a sailor, seven in the South China Sea merchant lanes. He came back a carpenter, worked in construction on New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and the Empire State Building. Came back a painter. New York, L.A., Ajijic.”

Shortly before moving to Ajijic, Jules had married Abby Addis (37) on 9 April 1966 in Los Angeles. The couple first met in an art supply store; two weeks later, Jules presented Abby with “Meeting” (below), his depiction of their encounter.

Jules Rubinstein. 1965. Meeting. Reproduced by kind permission of Abby Rubinstein

Jules Rubinstein. 1965. Meeting. Reproduced by kind permission of Abby Rubinstein

During the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 the Rubinsteins served on the city of Guadalajara cultural team and held an inaugural joint exhibition of paintings at the Galeria Municipal (Chapultepec and España). The exhibit opened on 3 June 1968 and was sponsored by the Olympic Cultural Committee as part of their International Festival of the Arts. In nine days over 3000 people viewed this exhibition.

Jules Rubinstein. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Jules Rubinstein. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram

The following year, three of Jules’ oils were chosen for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit, which opened at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco, A.C. (Tolsa #300) in late June. The juried group show featured 94 pieces by 42 US artists from Guadalajara, the Lake Chapala area and San Miguel de Allende. The four-man jury was comprised of Francisco Rodriguez Caracalla, Director of Escuela de Artes Plásticas, and three art critics; José Luis Meza Inda, Fernando Larroca, and Victor Hugo Lomeli.

Jules Rubinstein is mentioned in the Colony Reporter in February 1971 as presenting a poem at a Sunday evening of music and poetry held at the home of Aileen Melby, a poet and children’s author, and her husband, Arthur. Jim Marthai and Katie Ingram also read poems at that informal soirée.

Jules Rubinstein. ca 1960 Fifteen Heads. Reproduced by kind permission of Abby Rubinstein

Jules Rubinstein. ca 1960 Fifteen Heads. Reproduced by kind permission of Abby Rubinstein

In 1972, the Rubinsteins held another joint exhibition, of about 15 paintings each, at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco (Mexican-North American Cultural Institute). A reviewer (probably Allyn Hunt) asserted in the Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter that, “Abby has made a quietly profound and eloquent statement about the world we live in and those that people it,” while Jules’ works are “expressionism… with a feeling of allegorical mysticism.”

Interviewed by a journalist in 1975 for a lengthy piece about American retirees in Mexico, Jules, then 68 years of age, was described as having “iron gray hair, iron gray mustache curled at the corners; a deep booming voice” and an intense dislike of bureaucrats.

Peter Huf, who lived with his wife, Eunice Hunt, in Ajijic at that time and knew the Rubinsteins well, reflected that “Jules was a very mystical and vital painter, many of his works I think were at home in the Jewish tradition mixed with this magic influence of Mexico around us.” Huf also recalled that Jules often talked about “his old friend Bill back in New York”, a reference to the great Willem de Kooning, with whom Jules “had shared some great times and many discussions about art.” (Kooning also had links to two other artists inspired by Lake Chapala: Stanley Sourelis and Black American artist Arthur Monroe.) In the 1930s, Jules had also been great friends with Yasuo Kuniyoshi , Max Weber and Saul Baizerman.

After they left Ajijic in 1976, the Rubinsteins lived for a year in Israel before settling in Visalia, California.

Jules and his wife held a special exhibition at Riverside Municipal Museum in 1981. Entitled “Rubinstein and Rubinstein: Myth and Religion in American Expressionism,” the show featured 31 paintings from their personal collection.

Jules Rubinstein died, at the age of 81, on 18 January 1990 in Visalia, California.

An expressionist triptych on board work entitled “Sabath Candles” by Jules Rubinstein exceeded its estimate at auction at Freeman’s in 2002.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Abby Rubinstein, Katie Goodridge Ingram and Peter Huf for sharing their memories of Jules Rubinstein with me.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 15 June 1968; 6 Feb 1971; 3 Apr 1971;
  • San Bernardino County Sun, 19 June 1981, 48.
  • Edward J Sylvester. 1975. “So you’d like to retire in Mexico?” Tucson Daily Citizen, 13 Sep 1975, 9-11.
  • Visalia Times-Delta: “Painter Abby Rubinstein reflects on her long career, art”

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

 Posted by at 5:32 am  Tagged with:
Jan 092020
 

Among the amorous beauties who enlivened the party scene in Ajijic in the early 1950s is one who is particularly noteworthy: Zoe Kernick (1915-2006).

Born on 21 May 1915 in Oakland, California, Dorothy Zoe Kernick was raised by her mother, Dorothy E Copeland, and stepfather, George Arthur Kernick. Zoe attended Occidental College, a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles.

Hoping to become a writer, Zoe had several poems and at least one story published in El Palenque, magazine produced by the Associated Students of the San Diego State College. Her short story, Interpretation, appeared in the Fall 1935 issue of El Palenque, followed in Spring 1936 by a poem, of which this is the opening stanza:

“What do you know of me
Whose lips meet mine,
Between the cool grass, in the dew?
I drink the wine
Of all this ecstasy
And still evade you.”

In 1939, and after spending some time in Hawaii, Zoe was one of four Chula Vista, California, poets whose work was chosen for “major poetry anthologies” issued by Henry Harrison, a New York poetry publisher.

By 1942, she had married, divorced, and was about to remarry. On 12 June 1942 she married Claude E. Smithers (a native of New York) in Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Zoe described herself as a journalist and resident of Chula Vista, California but spent much of the following year in Mexico, with a prolonged stay in Acapulco; it is unclear whether or not her husband accompanied her.

Early in 1948 Zoe was the Social Editor of the Carmel Pine Cone in California.

Late in 1948 or 1949, following an affair with Henry Miller, Zoe arrived in Ajijic looking for a good time. She quickly found it, becoming the glamorous female companion of three artists—Ernesto Butterlin, Toby Schneebaum and Nicolas Muzenic—entwined in their own complex love triangle. When Butterlin ran a summer art school (on behalf of Irma Jonas) in Ajijic in 1949, he employed the other two artists to help him.

According to Schneebaum, the ill-fated love triangle that developed between the three artists was greatly complicated by the arrival of “haughty and radiantly beautiful” Zoe, the “fourth member of our group”, who had previously been living with Henry Miller in Big Sur, when she heard about Lynn [Butterlin] and decided to visit Ajijic.

Katie Goodridge Ingram, who grew up in Ajijic at this time and later ran an art gallery in the village, recalls that ” Zoe was one of the stunningly beautiful woman you could ever see. She slathered coconut oil all over and then went down to the (then) wonderful old stone pier and tanned herself generously for hours.”

Zoe continued to write and her account of life in Ajijic at this time (which we will look at in a separate post) was published in Mexican Life in April 1951.

Leaving Ajijic, Zoe returned to California, where she lived in Sausalito and worked as “Marin Shopping Guide columnist.” She attended a cocktail opening of works by Jean Varda at the Tin Angel on the Embarcadero in San Francisco in June 1953 at which fellow guests included the “Ernie Alexanders.” Zoe would likely have known this couple—Black American artist Ernest Alexander and his Canadian wife, Dolly—very well from numerous prior raucous evenings in Alex’s Scorpion Club in Ajijic.

A couple of years later, on 18 May 1955, Zoe married a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, George Draper (son of designer Dorothy Draper). The couple made their home in Sausalito, but had parted company by the time George died in 1992.

According to author Carol Sklenicka, Zoe’s history included modelling for Salvador Dalí, and giving very poor suntanning advice to a friend – to use “baby oil mixed with iodine as skin lotion.”

Zoe Kernick, who had enjoyed a fuller and more exciting life than most, died in Salinas, California, on 14 March 2006.

Acknowledgment

My grateful thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram, author of According to Soledad: memories of a childhood in Mexico, for her recollections about Zoe Kernick and Ajijic.

Sources

  • Carmel Pine Cone, 30 January 1948.
  • The Chula Vista Star (Chula Vista, California): 2 February 1934, 3; 16 June 1939, 4; 20 August 1943, 3;
  • Zoe Kernick. 1951. “Ajijic.” Mexican Life, April 1951, 13-14, 58, 60, 62-63.
  • Sausalito News: 25 June 1953, 3; 27 May 1955, 3.
  • Carol Sklenicka. 2019. Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer. Scribner.

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

Jan 022020
 

German engineer and photographer Helmuth A. Wellenhofer lived with his wife, Antonia (“Toni”) in Jocotepec for many years in the 1970s.

Helmut (as he was known in Mexico) was born in Bavaria in 1935. After completing his studies, he worked in a fashion house, became interested in literature, modern art and music, and founded a jazz group. In 1960, he crossed the Atlantic to Canada where he worked in a sawmill, warehouses and mines.

He became a passionate and serious photographer, undertaking trips to Alaska, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Sumatra and India. He visited Mexico for the first time in 1962 and planned to return, but only after visiting Panama, Germany and several other European countries, as well as seeing more of the U.S. and Canada.

Poster for 1976 exhibition

Poster for 1976 exhibition

On 17 August 1965 he married Antonia Bruggner, then aged 23, in Santa Barbara, California. The couple settled in Santa Barbara for several years and had a son, Andreas. Helmuth managed the Coral Casino Beach Club and Antonia worked with a title insurance firm.

The Wellenhofers, with their young son, returned to live in Jocotepec on Lake Chapala in 1973. They became close friends with photographer John Frost and his novelist wife Joan Van Every Frost, whose son, John, was of similar age to Andreas. Both families spent Easter 1973 at the beach and in the surf at Tenacatita.

The Wellenhofers built a house in Nestipac and later sold the upper part of the property to another couple who eventually became long-time Jocotepec residents: Austrian artist Georg Rauch and his wife, Phyllis.

In 1975, Wellenhoffer embarked on a photographic railroad excursion to Los Mochis and the Copper Canyon and back. This was the basis for a fascinating exhibit which opened the following May at the Goethe Institute in Guadalajara.

That exhibition, entitled “Impresiones de un Viaje en México” featured photos from throughout Mexico, including Wellenhofer’s train trips along the west coast and through the Copper Canyon.

Wellenhofer summarized his railroad experiences for the local weekly newspaper, the Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter:

“Freight train 656 gets a “go” signal via shortwave radio and jerks slowly out of Guadalajara. After a few street crossings, the four-engine, 62-boxcar convoy picks up speed and we roll through the open countryside. I’m sitting in the third engine – my camera ready – and am happy to finally be on the track again.

Maybe it’s because I was born in a train station that I feel such an affinity for rail travel. I’ve ridden Japan’s “superfast”, spent three days inside a closed cattlecar in India and recall an unbelievable trip through Bolivia where male passengers were given reduced fare if they helped to chop wood for the engine.

My Mexican odyssey began when I approached the director of Ferrocarriles del Pacifico with a plan to travel the nation’s passenger and freight trains, documenting my journey with photographs. He approved and issued me a letter of introduction, instructing stationmasters and train personnel to help me along the way.

Armed with the letter I hopped aboard my first freight train in Guadalajara – bound for Tepic. En route, engineers and brakemen came by to talk, curious about my rail journey with a camera….”

At Tepic, Wellenhofer “switched to a freight train for a six-hour run to Mazatlán, riding alone in the last compartment of a 70-car convoy.” In Mazatlán he “hopped aboard a three-engine train barrelling 56 miles per hour to the railroad junction at Sufragio” where he boarded a second-class train through the Copper Canyon to Chihuahua.

From Chihuahua, he took the mid-night train to Zacatecas, in case full of “families, boxes, people sleeping on the floor, crying babies and moaning grandmothers.”

According to the poster for that show, he was then working on a collection of photos and poems about his impressions and perspectives.

The Wellenhofers were regular return visitors to Jocotepec for many years after moving from Mexico to Germany. Their son, Andreas Noar Wellenhofer is a professional saxophonist. (Enjoy his videos on Youtube)

Acknowledgments

  • My thanks to the late John Frost Sr, and to John Frost Jr., Phyllis Rauch and Peter Huf for sharing their memories of the Wellenhofers.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 14 April 1973; 6 Sep 1975; 24 April 1976, 14; CR 1 May 1976, 11, 14, 18.

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

Dec 262019
 

Volkmar Wentzel photographed Lake Chapala for a 1967 National Geographic article by Bart McDowell entitled “The Most Mexican City, Guadalajara.” Wentzel, a German-American photographer, took some striking photos.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Flying Dutchman race on Lake Chapala.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Flying Dutchman race on Lake Chapala. (National Geographic, March 1967)

Volkmar Kurt Wentzel was born on 8 February 1915 and died on 10 May 2006. After studying photography at the Corcoran School of Art he became a darkroom technician and photographer with National Geographic for almost 50 years. He was responsible for the photos in more than 30 articles and also wrote and illustrated several more.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Fishermen with net, Lake Chapala.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Fishermen with net, Lake Chapala. (National Geographic, March 1967)

Wentzel traveled widely on assignment and is remembered for having been one of the earliest people to photograph Tibet and Nepal, and for documenting the final years of several traditional tribal kingdoms of Africa.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966.Girl with catfish.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966.Girl with catfish. (National Geographic, March 1967)

Perhaps the most charming of Wentzel’s photos of Lake Chapala is this portrait of a young girl holding catfish.

Wentzell’s photographs were displayed in exhibitions at such illustrious institutions as the Royal Photographic Society, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Washington Center for Photography and the Smithsonian.

Wentzel is only one of several photographers whose images of Lake Chapala have graced the pages of National Geographic.

The earliest known images of Lake Chapala in the magazine were published in 1904. They were taken by E. W. Nelson and Winfield Scott. A 1916 issue of the magazine included a photo of Lake Chapala by Janet M Cummings, one of the first female photographers ever to have work published by National Geographic.

In addition, Dorothy Hosmer, a pioneering female photographer for the magazine most active in the late 1930s,  California photographer Horace Bristol, and Mexican photographer Luis Márquez all had work published in National Geographic—and all had close associations with Lake Chapala.

Note

Despite the claims made on many webpages, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that National Geographic ever ranked the Lake Chapala area as having the “second best climate in the world.” The climate of the area is certainly good, but it’s time to put that particular myth to bed once and for all.

Sources

  • Bart McDowell. 1967. “The Most Mexican City, Guadalajara.” National Geographic, March 1967, 412-441.
  • Volkmar Wentzel website.

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

 

Dec 192019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – – – –

Happy Christmas! – ¡Feliz Navidad!

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

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

 Posted by at 6:39 am  Tagged with:
Dec 122019
 

Bethel Young extolled the virtues of Chapala in 1941 in an article entitled “In Mexico”, published in Mexican Life.

In the article, she claimed to have fallen in love three times in the 37 days that she and her husband, Lafayette Young III, had spent in Mexico: first with the inscrutable Indian housemaid employed by a friend in Mexico City; then with José, “a slight little lad who… languorously sells coca colas, orange and lemonade on the beach at Lake Chapala”; and thirdly with Lake Chapala itself.

She struck up a friendship with José shortly after they first met on the beach:

During my first day on the beach, stretched luxuriously like a cat before the hearth, in my reclining chair in the sun, this boy in his big straw hat came trudging by, carrying a bucket filled with bottles, water, and an infinitesimal piece of ice… Toward sundown I was on the sand again lazily watching the mountains around the rim of the lake settle in to the shadows, when lo! from nowhere, apparently, José appeared.”

The Youngs were staying at the Hotel Arzapalo and José quickly became a frequent visitor to their room, to inspect some of their possessions—typewriter, sunglasses, letter knife, “scuffed house shoes that have fur trimming”, a cigarette case and a lighter—and to look at pictures and books. Before long, José was emptying their ashtray and taking their letters to the post office, in exchange for insignificant hand-outs and the occasional ice cream cone.

Lake Chapala, ca 1941. (Photo from Johnsons' photo album, in collection of author); all rights reserved.

Lake Chapala, ca 1941. (Photo believed to be by Herbert Johnson); all rights reserved.

As for her love affair with Lake Chapala, it’s probably best if Ms. Young speaks for herself:

My third love is a poem, a painting and a symphony, sometimes animated, sometimes quiet, always beautiful. I am in love with the Lago de Chapala, its picture frame of mountains to the south and roof of cobalt blue and snow-white cotton puff clouds. The lake’s milky blue-grey water smoothness is cut by ponderously moving launches, antedated, clumsy crafts that ply between our own Chapala village dock and other, more inaccessible Indian villages. Large rowboats with rigged up white awnings, and the small single oar lock boats, bob at the water’s edge tethered to a crude plank dock. Once or twice each day a graceful sailing canoa quietly slides past, quite far out from shore, The brown-black hulls, with high proud prows and the aged white sails, might well have sail ed right out of Greek mythology, or at least out of Columbus’s venturesome fleet. The canoas are fishing boats from which the fishermen throw their huge circular handwoven nets, to snare small schools of charales—edible fish only four or five inches long. Or they are used to transport “freight”, wood, melons and vegetables.”

Difficult to imagine a better description!

At that time, Chapala still had no municipal water supply:

Native women carry drinking water from a spring that has been piped, in red earthenware jars balanced on the right shoulder and lightly steadied by the right hand—a water-carrying pose that has gone unchanged for centuries.”

After doing the family laundry at “a small rocky cove,” these same Indian women took time for a leisurely bath:

The women set aside their dark petticoats and dresses and emerge in a modest white cotton camisole which reaches to the knees. With black braids swinging long, they wade slowly in the shallow water and at the desired depth, sit down, lather and rub as if the rockbound cove were a luxurious bath tub filled to the brim with warm water. With crude wooden dippers or dented tin pans they lift quantities of water above their heads and spill it like a shower.”

After washing themselves, they scrubbed and bathed their children.

Lake Chapala, ca 1941. (Photo from Johnsons' photo album, in collection of author); all rights reserved.

Lake Chapala, ca 1941. (Photo believed to be by Herbert Johnson); all rights reserved.

Ms Young ended her piece with a word of caution as regards the future.

Chapala is a new frontier. The single asphalt pavement ribbon that connects the village to civilization has only been completed for three years. For only one year has electricity been available. There is still no water system, no paving in the town other than the cobbles. However, I fear, Chapala’s pristine beauty will soon be tarnished by modernity, and her lovely slow life-tempo will be accelerated to accommodate American tourists.”

Just who was Bethel Young?

Bethel L. Young (née Johnson) was a former student of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. She married Lafayette Young III in 1939. “Lafe” Young III (1914-1981) owned the Bargain Bookstore, a hub for paintings, poets and artists of all kinds, in San Diego. Young was a close associate of Henry Miller, responsible for delivering books to him. The two men regularly corresponded and much of their correspondence from the period 1951–1976 is now held in the Jane Nelson and Lafayette Young Collection in the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California.

Following the trip with his wife to Chapala, Young produced two typescript 174-page copies of “Letters from Chapala” (1941). One, dedicated to Henry Miller— “These letters are written and dedicated with highest esteem to Henry Miller, a great writer, a greater man,”— now resides in the Henry Miller archives at UCLA; the other was given to the author’s mother.

Miller himself included “Letter to Lafayette” as a chapter in his The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. In the chapter, he recalled meeting “Young Lafe” just before he (Lafe) was about to depart for Mexico:

In a short while Lafe will pack his bag and go to Mexico, there to write a book on Norman Douglas or Henry Miller, of which he will publish just two copies, one for this subject and one for his family – just to prove that he is not altogether worthless.”

Writing genes were passed down in the Young family. Daughter Nicole is the author of “Child Caring” (2011) and her own daughter, Molly Young, is the author of “Charles Bukowski, Family Guy,” a fascinating essay about the famous German-American poet, novelist, and short story writer.

Sources

  • Kappa Alpha Theta Journal, Vol. 53 no. 3.
  • Henry Miller. 1945. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. New York: New Directions.
  • Bethel Young. 1941. “In Mexico.” Mexican Life, Sept 1941, p 15-17; reprinted in The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa), 19 October 1941, 37; and in Zlexiran Life magazine
  • Molly Young. 2010. “Charles Bukowski, Family Guy.” Essay on poetryfoundation.org

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

Dec 052019
 

At the beginning of his art career, Michael Boyd and his wife, Verlaine (a writer and poet), lived for several months in Ajijic.

Boyd was born in Waterloo, Iowa, on 27 November 1936 and died in Ithaca, New York, at the age of 78, on 29 September 2015. He and his wife moved to Ajijic shortly after he graduated with an honors degree in art from the University of Northern Iowa in 1959. Staying in Ajijic does not appear to have directly influenced his painting style, though living in relative solitude at Lake Chapala may have helped him decide to pursue simplicity in his paintings rather than over-elaboration.

Michael Boyd. Untitled.

Michael Boyd. Untitled.

From Ajijic, the couple moved to New York City and joined the city’s vibrant downtown artists’ community, where Boyd worked in graphic design, honed his skills as a jazz pianist and began producing abstract impressionist paintings.

In 1968 Boyd accepted a position on the faculty at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Thereafter, he divided his time between Ithaca and New York, where he maintained a loft studio. At Cornell he taught courses in basic design in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis in the College of Human Ecology. Boyd held a tenured professorship at Cornell from 1970 until his retirement in 1995.

Michael Boyd. 1995. Hood. Collection: UNI

Michael Boyd. 1995. Hood. Part of the Waterloo Series. Collection: UNI

Alongside his academic work, Boyd continued to paint. He became fascinated by the idea of minimalism, distilling paintings down to their core structure. His intense focus on form and color was much admired by critics and collectors. His first major solo exhibition was at the the Max Hutchinson Gallery in New York, where he held several one-person shows in the 1970s. Boyd had more than 40 solo exhibitions in his lifetime, including shows in Zurich and Milan.

Examples of his art can be found in the permanent collections of such prestigious institutions as the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The David Rockefeller Collection at Chase Manhattan Bank, The Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo, and The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia.

Michael Boyd. Exhibit at Eric Firestone Loft, 2017.

Michael Boyd. Exhibit at Eric Firestone Loft, 2017.

In 2017 the Eric Firestone Loft in New York held an exhibition of Boyd’s works from a particularly creative time in his life, 1970-1972. Entitled That’s How the Light Gets In the show was enthusiastically reviewed. Charles Riley II, for example, wrote that, “A visit to the stunning Michael Boyd show at Eric Firestone Gallery Loft in New York might make visitors wish they had been pupils in the artist’s design class at Cornell…. The collective impact of these brilliantly hued abstract works, all produced during a marvelous creative jag from 1970 through 1972, is both contemplative and joyful.”

I would love to learn more about Michael Boyd’s stay in Ajijic in 1959-60. Please contact me if you can supply more details.

Sources

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

 Posted by at 5:48 am  Tagged with:
Nov 282019
 

William Bentz Plagemann was a prolific American author, who was born in Springield, Ohio, in 1913 and died in New York in 1991. He wrote both fiction and non-fiction and his career as an author spanned half a century from 1941 to 1990.

Plagemann spent a year in Mexico in the mid-1960s, shortly before writing a young adult novel The heart of silence, published by William Morrow & Company in 1967. Ajijic and Chapala are mentioned in the novel which also refers to the Hotel Nido (a popular hotel in Chapala from 1930 to 1994). Plagemann takes some poetic license in the book by giving the Hotel Nido some “cottages.”

Cover of a Plagemann book

Cover of a Plagemann book

Plagemann was educated in Cleveland and worked as a bookseller prior to the outbreak of the second world war. He graduated from the U.S. Navy Hospital School in 1942 and served as a pharmacist’s mate. In 1944 he contracted polio while serving in the Mediterranean, an experience that was the basis for My Place to Stand, an account of his recovery. He was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1945. Much of his early writing was based on his experiences in the U.S. Navy during the second world war.

Plagemann’s published works include: William Walter (1941); All for the best (1946); Into the labyrinth (1948); Each night a black desire (1949); My Place to Stand (1949); This Is Goggle: Or The Education of a Father (1955); The steel cocoon (1958); Half the Fun (1961); Father to the man (1964); The Best is Yet to Be (1966); A World of Difference (1969); How to write a story (1971); The boxwood maze (1972); Wolfe’s cloister (1974); An American Past (1990).

Plagemann also published a story entitled “The Child’s Garden of Mexico”

An extensive collection of papers and documents relating to Plagemann is held at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

Sources

  • New York Times. 1991. “William Bentz Plagemann, Writer, 77” (obituary). New York Times, 13 Feb 1991.
  • Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. “Plagemann, Bentz (1913-1991)”.

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 212019
 

Francisco González Rubalcaba y Cabo wrote and illustrated a short book about Lake Chapala in the 1880s. His charming naïf illustrations may not be fine art but are some of the earliest paintings known of the lake. What is more, Rubalcaba did not paint only the village of Chapala (as so many other artists have done), he also painted several places that have rarely, if ever, been painted since! These include La Palma, La Angostura and Agua Caliente, all on the southern shore.

González Rubalcaba’s book – Geografía del territorio del lago de Chapala – was published in a facsimile edition in 2002 by ITESM in Guadalajara. The text is dated 29 May 1880 but the map in the manuscript was completed in Guadalajara and is dated 28 April 1882.

Francisco González Ruvalcaba. Chapala. c 1882.

Francisco González Ruvalcaba. Chapala. c 1882.

The color illustrations in the book were drawn in tinta china (India ink) with a wash of watercolor added.The image above shows far more buildings (and larger buildings) along the shoreline beneath Cerro de San Miguel in Chapala than most historians have claimed existed there at the time. Was this wishful thinking on  González Rubalcaba’s part or was he really depicting what he saw?

I have long argued that the commonly-repeated date of 1895 for the start of holiday homes in Chapala is demonstrably inaccurate, and this drawing serves to bolster my conviction. For more details, see chapter 37 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales.

Francisco González Ruvalcaba. Vista General, Chapala. c 1882.

Francisco González Ruvalcaba. General view of the lake at night from Chapala. c 1882.

This unusual nocturnal view of the lake, as seen from the village of Chapala, is especially interesting. It includes a typical square-sailed canoa, an island (presumably Isla de Mezcala, given its relief) and, in the distance, a steamship. Elsewhere in the book, González Ruvalcaba includes a drawing of the steamship Chapala approaching a port.

Virtually nothing is known about Francisco González Ruvalcaba. He is presumed to have been a lawyer. In 1853, as “juez de letras” (professional judge) in Sayula, he published a complaint “made by the Supreme Government of the State of Jalisco against the jefe politico of that place [Sayula], D. Claudio Gutiérrez, for the many excesses he had committed…”

If you know any more details about this interesting author-artist, please get in touch!

Source

  • Francisco González Ruvalcaba. 1882. Geografía del territorio del lago de Chapala. (edited by Ricardo Elizondo). Published in 2002 by ITESM, 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 142019
 

Among the very few early images of Chapala that depict village people going about their everyday lives, is this postcard from about 1910 entitled (on its reverse side) “Chapala. Un mercado en México – Mexican market.”

Photographer unknown. Postcard published by Juan Kaiser. “Chapala-Market in Mexico”. c 1910.

The postcard was published by Juan Kaiser. Given that Kaiser lived in Guadalajara, he was somewhat loose with his titles and his geography. The postcard actually shows an open-air market in the village of El Salto, much closer to Guadalajara than to Chapala! The building to the left of the open-air market in the image is the former tienda de raya (hacienda store) in El Salto, Jalisco, near Juanacatlán Falls; the building is now the town’s Centro Cultural.

In his defense, Kaiser was a savvy businessman and postcards such as this one were clearly designed to appeal to a much broader audience than only those visiting El Salto. The market vendors displaying their wares on the sidewalk and prospective purchasers inspecting the fresh produce made for a timeless scene.

Fortunately for Chapalaphiles, there are several early descriptions of the market in Chapala, including this one by Polish traveler Vitold de Szyszlo who witnessed the real Chapala market in 1910:

On the dusty road appeared groups of horsemen. They were selling milk, fruit and vegetables, trotting, loaded with baskets and containers of various sizes. Large cowboy hats completely masked their faces; a blue shirt with pants of the same color and leather huaraches completed their attire. Country girls with olive complexions and braids black as ebony, carefully tied on the nape of the neck, followed, sometimes sitting two on the same mule or donkey, like proud Amazons. Others, darker skinned, let the ivory of their pearly white teeth show through their gracious smiles and the blazing heat of the Andalusian gypsy show through their burning gaze while their silvery voices resounded in harmonious bursts of laughter.

The market, in the center of the village, is the meeting point of all these colourful people. Under multicoloured awnings are mounted pyramids of fruit and vegetables, bananas, oranges, lemons, watermelons, melons, papayas, mameyes, lettuces, sweet potatoes, red and hot peppers. Elsewhere, zealous merchants offer fresh tortillas and tamales of golden cooked corn, and pulque, the smell of which fills one with intense repulsion.

On the other side of the square, cluttered stalls display sombreros, wool sarapes and leather huaraches.”

More details of Vitold de Szyszlo and his visit to Chapala can be found in chapter 55 of  my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales.

Source

  • Szyszlo, Vitold de. 1913. Dix mille kilomètres à travers le Mexique, 1909-1910. Paris: Plon-Nourrit et Cie., pp 235-236; translation by Marie-Josée Bayeur.

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 062019
 

Rose Georgina Kingsley (1845-1925) was the oldest child of the Rev. Charles Kingsley, the celebrated English clergyman and novelist, who contributed the prologue to her book South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico.

Rose Kingsley had crossed the Atlantic to Colorado Springs in November 1871 to join her brother, Maurice, who was assistant treasurer of the company developing Colorado Springs. Even by 1872, there were less than 800 residents, so both Kingsleys were pioneer settlers.

The founder of Colorado Springs, General William Jackson Palmer, a railway entrepreneur, also owned a newspaper Out West which published several columns and sketches by Rose Kingsley. The Denver and Rio Grande train had been operating for only a week when Rose Kingsley boarded it en route to Colorado Springs. She quickly felt at home and rapidly made friends in the ever-changing community that she grew to love. She taught in the local school, begun by Palmer’s wife, Queen, for a short while, but did not enjoy the experience. Little did she realize at that time that she would, in 1884 – with the help of Dr. Joseph Wood, later Headmaster of Harrow – found The Kingsley School, in Leamington Spa, England. Rose Kingsley went on to write many more books, including A History of French Art, 1100-1899 (1899) and Roses and Rose Growing (1908).

When General Palmer decided in 1872 to examine possible routes for a railway linking Texas to Manzanillo, Rose Kingsley was invited to join his wife Queen and General William Rosencrans on the trip. The group landed in Manzanillo and then headed inland to Colima, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Querétaro and Mexico City.

Illustration from Georgina Kinsley's "South by West"

Illustration from Rose Georgina Kinsley’s South by West

In chapter XVII of South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico, Kingsley describes the route from Guadalajara past the northern shore of Lake Chapala on the way to Mexico City. Following a common convention of the time, she uses only initials to identify important people; several of the individuals referred to have been identified by historians. For instance, “Mrs. P.” is Mrs Queen Palmer, and Mr. C. is Mr. Duncan Cameron. Kingsley’s account of this route serves as an introduction to set the scene for so many other travelers, who would follow this exact same route from Guadalajara to Chapala in years to come. It is 1872…

“April 13.— Guadalajara to Ocotlan. At 6.15 A.M. we left hospitable Guadalajara, carrying away none but the pleasantest reminiscences of our stay of six days.

Pablo, a pleasant young fellow, who had been our cochero in Guadalajara, came with us as mozo, and was in a state of supreme delight at being armed with a Henry rifle and revolver. Mr. M. also came with us as far as La Barca.

The usual route from Guadalajara to the capital is by La Venta, Lagos, Leon, and Guanaguato; but for two reasons we chose the more southern route, past Lake Chapala and up the Rio Lerma. First, because the engineer’s party from the north (of whom we had heard nothing as yet, which made us very anxious) must pass along that route, and so be able to give a report on it. Secondly, because we were told the Chapala route was shorter and better, if there can be anything “better” in one Mexican road than another. Certainly, after the first few miles it was bad enough—rough and stony, and in the softer places there were clouds of dust.

At San Pedro [Tlaquepaque] we stopped and got three men as escort, and at 9.30 came to San Antonio, a hacienda where we changed mules, and had breakfast in a hut by the roadside. The women in the hut, which was only made of sticks and thatch, gave us eggs, frijoles, tortillas, and carne seca, in chilli colorado sauce, which for hotness almost beat the mole de guajalote at Atenquique. But besides these native viands we got capital chocolate, made from some cakes we had brought with us. So, on the whole, we fared well.

At 12.15 we came to the summit of a small pass (4850 feet), and there before us lay a splendid valley, rich with golden wheat-fields, with a fine river flowing through it on our left to the north-west; and we knew we had struck the great central valley of Mexico, commonly known as the Valley of the Lerma.

This valley is one of the richest portions of the Republic. Its length, between Guadalajara and Queretaro, is about 230 miles, and its greatest width (between Leon and the mountains of Michoacán), 60 miles. About one-tenth of the available land in it is under cultivation. Wheat, maize, and beans grow freely without irrigation, yielding good crops year after year without the slightest pains being taken to improve the soil. With irrigation and better farming two crops might be obtained; and when a market for the produce, and easy means of transportation are supplied, this tract will become one of the most important wheat-growing districts of the world. The amount of wheat which could be raised in this valley alone has been variously estimated from 500,000 to 1,000,000 tons yearly, equal to or surpassing the whole yearly yield of California.”

This is an extract from chapter 30 of “Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales”, available as either as a regular print book or a Kindle e-book.

Note: This post was first published 22 April 2012.

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

Oct 312019
 

Stanley George Sourelis, who was born in Chicago on 26 June 1925 and died in Dallas on 27 December 2006, was a chemical engineer and versatile artist who lived his final years in Ajijic. He was constantly experimenting. In his early artistic career he painted portraits, abstract oils and produced hundreds of charcoal drawings. During his time at Lake Chapala he used his scientific skills to become an expert practitioner of encaustic art.

Curiously, Sourelis’s artistic claim-to-fame as a co-founder of the landmark Wells Street Gallery in Chicago in the late 1950s has been almost forgotten. The Wells Street Gallery was THE avant-garde gallery in Chicago during its short spell in that city (from 1957 to 1959) before it relocated to New York, the then-hub of the U.S. modern art movement. Sourelis was far more than simply a financial backer of the gallery, as rather disparagingly described in most accounts; he also had a major artistic contribution to the gallery’s success.

Sourelis, the son of Greek immigrants, grew up in Chicago; he learned English only after starting kindergarten. His first name, originally Stelios, was changed to Stanley purely for convenience, as was quite common at the time.

A portrait by Stanley Sourelis.

A portrait by Stanley Sourelis. Credit: Dian Sourelis.

Sourelis was unemployed prior to serving in the U.S. military from 17 April 1944 to 7 May 1946. After the war, he studied chemical engineering in his native city at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was awarded his bachelor’s degree by that institution in June 1948.

As a chemical engineer, he helped install factories producing chemicals and foodstuffs for a variety of corporations, including Unilever, Cargill and Aarhus, a career that took him to several U.S. cities, Toronto in Canada, and to Guatemala and Mexico.

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Credit: Toomey & Co.

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Reproduced by kind permission of Dian Sourelis.

According to an article published when the vanguard Wells Street Gallery opened in 1957, Sourelis’ interest in painting began in the 1950s and what had “begun as a diversion” had become “a burning enthusiasm”. Several of his abstract paintings were in the group show that marked the gallery’s opening, along with works by 15 other painters. Examples of Sourelis’ paintings were also included in a group show at the gallery the following year, shortly before it celebrated its first anniversary with an exhibition of works, loaned from private collections in Chicago, of abstract expressionist art by such greats as Franz Kline, David Smith, Jackson Pollock, Ashile Gorky, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. In November 1958, the two co-founders of the gallery – Sourelis and Robert Natkin – held a joint show at the gallery.

In its short time in Chicago, the Wells Street Gallery boosted the careers of several other promising artists including Richard Bogart, Ernest Dieringer, Judith Dolnick, Ronald Slowinski, Naomi Tatum, Gerald van de Wiele, Donald Vlack, sculptor John Chamberlain and photographer Aaron Siskind.

The story of the Wells Street Gallery, and its humble beginnings, was the subject of an exhibition in New York in 2010, entitled “The Wells Street Gallery Revisited: Then and Now.”

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Credit: Toomey & Co.

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Reproduced by kind permission of Dian Sourelis.

In 1963, Sourelis had the distinction of having one of his works selected for inclusion in the 66th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity. It is unclear if his oil painting – “Changing Joy Nab”, priced in the catalog at $900 – actually sold or not. By coincidence, Harry Mintz, another artist with close connections to the Lake Chapala area, also had a work in that show.

During his time in Ajijic, Sourelis used his advanced knowledge of chemical processes to explore the possibilities offered by encaustic art. Sourelis himself explained in a short article how:

“Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which resins and colored pigments are added. This results in a paste-like medium which is applied to a surface such as prepared wood or canvas….

Electric hot plates, irons, heat lamps and even flame torches are used to fuse the encaustic mixture to the canvas and to allow the surface to be manipulated….

Encaustic is a demanding organic medium which engages the artist in a process of controlled accidents with unpredictable results that can be selectively enhanced. It is a medium that provides a seductive skin that is unusually malleable and changeable.
It can evoke sensations and emotions of transformation, religious ritual, history and the passage of time in the hands of an accomplished artist.”

An example of Stanley Sourelis' encaustic art.

An example of Stanley Sourelis’ encaustic art. Credit: Dian Sourelis.

While the precise years he spent in Ajijic are unclear, Stanley Sourelis was still exhibiting there the year he died. His work was included in a group show in Ajijic in 2006, held in the offices of Actinver (then A. W. Lloyd). The artists in this show also included Antonio Cárdenas, Efrén González, Gerry Krause, Julie Mignard, Daniel Noll, Diane Pearl, Cynthia Roberts and Ana Tolere.

Sourelis married five times. His third wife was noted painter and sculptor Barbara Chavous (1936-2008). The couple met in New York and married in the 1960s. Prior to the marriage (her second), Barbara had been teaching in the New York City Public School System. The newly-weds left the Big Apple to establish their home in her native city – Columbus, Ohio – where Barbara mentored artists, served as artist-in-residence at several colleges and universities and became recognized as “Columbus’ artistic mother.”

Best known for her Jazz Totems (tall layered-wood pieces often using found objects), her work has won numerous awards and can be seen at several locations in Columbus including Bicentennial Park, Kwanzaa Playground and Main Library. She attributed the sense of color that characterizes her work to the influence of Stanley Sourelis. The artistic couple were mentors to numerous Columbus artists – Queen Brooks, Terry Logan, Pheoris West, Candy Watkins, Stephen Canneto, Walt Neal and Sandy Aska, among others.

Stanley Sourelis’s fifth wife was Sheryl Ann Stokes Sourelis (1944-2001). Born in Carlsbad, New Mexico and raised in southern California, Sheryl had moved to Guadalajara in her teens to live with her father and stepmother. After finishing her education in Guadalajara she studied art in Europe, including classes at the Sorbonne. Examples of her paintings were included in a 1974 group show in La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic, alongside works by the multi-talented artist and guitarist Gustavo Sendis and his mother, Alicia Sendis. That show opened in March 1974.

Sheryl Sourelis was a talented impressionist artist; cards featuring her lively Mexican village scenes and landscapes, marketed in Ajijic and Puerto Vallarta, sold well. Sheryl also worked in real estate and at one time had a bakery in Puerto Vallarta. She lived year-round in Ajijic from about 1996 until her death in 2001. She was a great supporter of local charities and had major parts in two Lakeside Little Theatre productions: “The Little Foxes” (October 1999) and “Shadowbox” (October 2001).

Stanley Sourelis’ daughter, Dian Sourelis, based in Chicago, has also become an exceptionally accomplished artist and has inherited her father’s passion for encaustic art.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Lorraine Farrow, owner of the delightful Galeria Sol Mexicano in Ajijic, for first bringing to my attention Stanley Sourelis’ long-time connection with Ajijic, and to Dian Sourelis for kindly sharing memories of her father’s life and photos of his work with me.

Sources

  • Arnett Howard. 2012. “Barbara Chavous: Arts Mother.” Columbus Bicentennial, 1 March 2012.
  • Chicago Tribune, 19 September 1958, 27; 28 Nov 1958, 38.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 16 March 1974.
  • Mexconnect.com Forum post, 2006, by David McLaughlin.
  • Stanley Sourelis. “An Almost Lost Art Form Makes a Return. Waxing Poetic.”
    Reprinted by Eileen Bergen, 2014, in “Encaustic Art”,
  • Edith Weigle. 1957. “Here’s hope for the unknown of the avante garde”. Chicago Tribune, 29 September 1957, 168.

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

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Oct 242019
 

Marie Robinson Wright (1853-1914) was the author of two non-fiction books about Mexico, the first published in 1897 and the second in 1911. The later book includes a short description of Lake Chapala and an early photo of the shoreline villas as seen from the lake.

Born in Newnan, Georgia, on 4 May 1853 to a wealthy plantation owner and his wife, Wright grew up in privileged surroundings. She was disinherited after running away from home at age 16 to marry Hinton P. Wright, the son of a prominent lawyer.

Both her family and her husband lost everything in the Civil War and in 1886, now in her early thirties, she divorced her husband and, in order to support her two children, turned her hand to journalism and travel writing. She became a correspondent for the New York World and wrote a series of well-illustrated and keenly observed articles and books on Mexico, Central America, and South America.

In 1891, she visited Mexico and in 1892 she penned an eight-page article about the country for the New York World, supplemented by illustrations. The newspaper was paid 20,000 dollar in gold by the Mexican government for this supplement, a record price for a newspaper article at the time.

The following year, Wright was commissioned to write an illustrated booklet about the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Shortly afterwards, Wright decided she could do better on her own.

Accompanied by her daughter, Ida Dent Wright, she returned to Mexico in 1895 and received official approval for a book about the country. President Porfirio Díaz and Foreign Secretary Ignacio Mariscal gave her letters of introduction to every governor in the country and arranged for her to have access to steamboats and private trains, with military escort if required, wherever she wished to travel.

The two women spent the next year traveling throughout the country, covering thousands of miles by mule, railroad and steamboat. Few women tourists had ever visited some of the remote areas that Wright and her daughter explored. (One notable exception was Englishwoman Adela Breton, who, in 1893, began her own odyssey exploring unlikely parts of Mexico on horseback, accompanied only by a local guide.)

Frontispiece of Marie Robinson Wright, Picturesque Mexico (1897).

Frontispiece of Marie Robinson Wright, Picturesque Mexico (1897).

The result of Wright’s travels was her first book on Mexico – Picturesque Mexico – published in 1897. It was “the most comprehensive and beautiful book on Mexico ever written in any language” and 8,000 copies were ordered by the Mexican government in advance for distribution to government officials and representatives at home and abroad. It included only this brief description of Lake Chapala:

Among the lakes which stud with beauty this prosperous state [Jalisco] is Lake Chapala, larger than Lake Geneva, and the largest and most beautiful in the republic. This lake, by reason of its area of eight hundred and ten square miles, is sometimes known by the name of the Chapalan Sea. Lake Chapala is a summer resort of the highest grade, and is frequented by the most prominent residents of Guadalajara and other large towns. There has recently been discovered a large deposit of petroleum discharging from the bottom of the lake.”

Wright was invited back to Mexico in 1910 and her second book, produced in 1911, commemorated Mexico’s centennial. This book, entitled Mexico – A history of its progress and development in one hundred years, includes, on page 418, this photograph of the shoreline villas at Lake Chapala.

 

Photograph of Chapala from Marie Wright (1911), p 418.

Photograph of Chapala from Marie Robinson Wright (1911), p 418.

During this trip, Wright learned about the Hotel Ribera Castellanos, on the lakeshore near Ocotlán. The hotel had opened a few years earlier, in 1906, and Wright clearly appreciated its delights:

Chapala, where they are some famous hot springs and a fine new hotel of modern equipment called the Ribera Castellanos. This resort is very convenient to Guadalajara. No more charming excursion for a lover of beautiful scenery can be found in all Mexico that around this beautiful lake. For water-fowl shooting during the fall and winter months and for sailing and bathing during the entire year, these shores are delightful. Most all the members of Mexican society find themselves there during Holy Week and other holidays. The President goes on his yearly hunting trip to these parts, accompanied by his son and some members of his cabinet and intimates. He is noted for his powers of endurance, often outstripping the others in his ardent quest for game.”

While this description is not entirely accurate (President Díaz did not actually hunt at Lake Chapala every year) the essence of her account was spot-on.

Among other books, Wright also wrote Salvador (1893); The New Brazil (1901); The Republic of Chile (1904); The Brazilian National Exposition of 1908 (1908); Bolivia, the central highway of South America (1907); and The old and the new Peru (1908).

Wright was an elected member of several learned societies and served as a special delegate to international expositions. She made her home in New York City and died there on 1 February 1914.

Sources

  • Atlanta Constitution. 1914. Marie Robinson Wright (obituary). Atlanta Constitution, 3 February 1914, 1.
  • Frances Elizabeth Willard and Mary Ashton Rice Livermore. 1893. A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred Seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life. Moulton.
  • Frances Elizabeth Willard; Helen Maria Winslow and Sallie Elizabeth Joy White. 1897. Occupations for Women: A Book of Practical Suggestions for the Material Advancement, the Mental and Physical Development, and the Moral and Spiritual Uplift of Women. Success Company.
  • Marie Robinson Wright. 1897. Picturesque Mexico. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co.
  • Marie Robinson Wright. 1911. Mexico – A history of its progress and development in one hundred years. Lipincott.

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

Oct 102019
 

Hungarian-born natural living experimenter Edmond Szekely (1905-1979), founder of the International Biogenic Society, lived and wrote at Lake Chapala during the 1970s. He was the author of more than 80 books, some in Hungarian, some in English, some translated into Spanish, and sometimes using the name Edmond S. Bordeaux.

Szekely was born in Máramarossziget in what was then Hungary (now Romania) on 5 March 1905 and died in 1979 in Costa Rica.

As a young man he was sent by his parents to study in Rome. He later claimed to have discovered a document in the Vatican Archives, while studying at the Vatican in 1923, that was purportedly an obscure Aramaic text that allegedly proved the Essenes were vegetarians, and that vegetarianism was prescribed by Jesus.

He published a translation of the first part of this as The Essene Gospel of John (1937); this work was later re-titled The Essene Gospel of Peace. No one has ever been able to locate the originals of any of the documents that Szekely claimed to have discovered and translated.

Nevertheless, Szekely made his living by promoting the values – including vegetarianism, healthy living and respect for all God’s creatures – that he claimed were contained within these ancient documents. In the late 1920s, Szekely founded several communes in France to spread his ideas and in 1928 he founded the International Biogenic Society, with Nobel Prize-winning novelist Romain Rolland.

According to the publications of the International Biogenic Society, Szekely had degrees from universities in Vienna and Leipzig and held a doctorate from the University of Paris; he had been a professor of philosophy and experimental psychology at the Bolyai University in Kolozsvár, Hungary (now Cluj-Napoca, Romania).

For Biogenic living, Szekely argued that people’s daily diet should consist of 25% biogenic foods (life renewing; eg germinated cereal seeds, nuts; sprouted baby greens); 50% bioactive foods (life sustaining; eg organic, natural vegetables, fruit) and 25% biostatic (life slowing; eg cooked and “stale” foods). They should avoid biocidic foods, such as processed and irradiated foods and drinks, since these were “life destroying.” In addition to this diet, Biogenic living also includes meditation, simple living, and respect for the earth in all its forms.

Most people can agree with the basic tenets of the International Biogenic Society which includes a belief that our most precious possession is Life, that Peace is the only way of survival for mankind, that we should preserve the vegetation of our planet, and that the improvement of life and mankind on our planet must start with individual efforts, as the whole depends on the atoms composing it.

When Hitler rose to power, Szekely left Europe for the Americas, where in 1939 he married Brooklyn-born Deborah Shainman, the 17-year-old daughter of Jewish immigrants. (The couple had first met in Tahiti six years earlier). The following year, when his U.S.-issued residence papers expired, the couple settled in the Mexican town of Tecate in Baja California, where they opened a retreat – Rancho la Puerta – where they could explore and espouse their ideas.

Early visitors paid $18.75 a week for the privilege of pitching their own tent, chopping wood and milking goats, while benefiting from Szekely wisdom and beliefs. As the spa grew, the strict vegetarian diet on offer attracted those seeking to lose weight. Today the 3,000-acre property is a holistic health spa and eco-resort with 87 rooms, 11 gyms, library and extensive art collection. It is owned and managed by Szekely’s daughter, Sara Livia Brightwood.

After he divorced Deborah in 1970 and retired from Rancho La Puerta, Szekely married 30-year-old Norma Nilsson, an actress and pianist who had been his long-time assistant at the spa, and moved to Lake Chapala to focus on his writing and teaching.

While at Lake Chapala, Szekely developed his long-time interest in the pre-Columbian ball game and “reconstructed” how the Toltec version of the ball game had been played.

Szekely described the game as “a fiendishly clever and physically demanding
one, utilizing the movements of soccer, basketball and hockey” and considered it “highly symbolic and full of hidden meaning.” While Mexican archaeologists agree with that overall assessment, Szekely’s “reconstruction” of how it was played – which he claimed involved traversing 20 wooden idols placed in the form of a large X journeying from a symbol of good to a symbol of evil – does not match any of the versions postulated by academic archaeologists.

Szekely was a prolific writer, whose books include: Cosmos, Man and Society: A Paneubiotic Synthesis (1936); Cosmotherapy, the Medicine of the Future (1938); The Soul Of Ancient Mexico (1968); The Game of Gods, Archaeological Reconstruction of the Ancient Religion of the Americas (1970); Culturas Antiguas, Mexico (1971); Los Pastorcitos, la salvación del niño campesino, alimentación – higiene – cultura física (1971); The Dialectical Method of Thinking (1973); Messengers from Ancient Civilizations: The Fascinating Story of Canine Archeology (1974); Sexual Harmony (1977); The Ecological Health Garden and the Book of Survival (1978).

He and his second wife, Norma (whose photographs illustrated Culturas Antiguas), also produced a joint book of poetry: Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf (1974).

Sources

  • Iris Engstrand. 2017. “Rancho La Puerta: Where the Fitness Revolution Began” in The Journal of San Diego History. Vol 63. 2017. Pp 1-34.
  • June Nay Summers. 1972. Buenos Días, Tecate. Lakeside, California: Sunlight Press, Inc.
  • Szekely, Edmond Bordeaux. The Gospel of Peace by the Apostle John. London: C. H. Daniels, 1937. Reprinted as The Essene Gospel of Peace. San Diego: Academy of Creative Living, 1971.

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

Oct 032019
 

Sylvia Fein, one of America’s foremost surrealist painters, lived and painted in Ajijic from 1943 to 1946 and is celebrating her 100th birthday this year. Fein has been  an enthusiastic supporter of my efforts to document the history of the artistic community of Lake Chapala, and her encouragement for this project is very much appreciated.

Beginning in November, in celebration of her birthday, and in honor of her amazing artistic career, the Berkeley Museum of Art & Pacific Film Archive in California is holding a major retrospective of her work.

The exhibition opens on 13 November 2013 and will run to 1 March 2020.

It affords a rare opportunity to see a wide selection of works by this super-talented and visionary surrealist painter whose first major solo exhibition – in New York in 1946 – was comprised of works completed while she was living in Ajijic on Lake Chapala between 1943 and 1946 (years when her husband was serving overseas with the U.S. military).

Sylvia Fein: Muchacha de Ajijic (1945). Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Sylvia Fein: Muchacha de Ajijic (1945). Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Like many others before and since, Fein fell in love with Mexico. Interviewed by the press in Mexico City more than sixty years after she left Ajijic, Fein said that ever since then, “I have loved Mexico and could cry on my return because I have the dust of Mexico on my heart”. Her sentiment precisely echoes that of American travel writer Neill James who recuperated in Ajijic in 1943 to complete her final book, “Dust on my Heart.”

The two women knew each other. In her book, James describes how Sylvia Fein “worked out some original designs” for embroidery as her role in one of the first village enterprises that allowed local women and girls to earn some money at home during their spare time. In addition, Fein played a key role in marketing the embroidered blouses in Mexico City.

For more about Sylvia Fein, especially her time in Mexico, please see:

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

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