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Sep 172020
 

José López Portillo y Rojas (1850-1923) was born in Guadalajara. He graduated as a lawyer in Guadalajara in 1871, before spending three years traveling in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. On his return, he published his first book: Egypt and Palestine. Notes from a trip (1874).

portillo-y-rojas-jose-lopezHe began an illustrious political career as deputy for Jalisco to the national Congress from 1875-1877. Shortly after that first experience of national politics, he returned to Guadalajara and became a journalist, teacher of law, and member of that city’s literary circle.

The group included other young Jalisco writers such as Antonio Zaragoza and Manuel Álvarez del Castillo, one of whose relatives, Jesús, would later start the El Informador newspaper in Guadalajara, which remains one of the city’s most important dailies.

In 1880, López Portillo y Rojas returned to Mexico City as a deputy. In 1882, he became a state senator. In 1886, he joined with Manuel Álvarez del Castillo and Esther Tapia de Castellanos to start a new publication in Guadalajara. La República Literaria, a magazine of science, art and literature quickly became nationally famous, but only lasted until 1890.

In 1891, López Portillo published the first transcription, albeit partial, of Father Antonio Tello’s invaluable 17th century account relating to Lake Chapala. In 1892, he published his only book of verse Transitory harmonies. By 1902, López Portillo was living in Mexico City and had joined the Partido Científico (Scientific Party). After the fall of Díaz, he held various federal government posts before becoming Governor of the State of Jalisco (1912-1914). For a brief period in 1914, he was appointed as Foreign Relations Secretary in the government of Victoriano Huerta, during the time when the U.S. invaded the port of Veracruz.

He left politics shortly afterwards and dedicated himself to teaching and writing. He left a vast body of work, ranging from travel accounts, poems, and literary criticism to historical and legal essays, short stories and novels. His best known collection of short stories is Stories, tales and short stories (1918). His best known novel, The parcel (1898), relates the fight between two hacienda owners for a worthless parcel of land.

At the time of his death in Mexico City on 22 of May, 1923, he was director of the Academia Mexicana de la Lengua (Mexican Academy of Language). One of López Portillo’s grandsons, José López Portillo y Pacheco (1920-2004), served as President of Mexico between 1976 and 1982. In Guadalajara, the Casa-Museo López Portillo, a museum and exhibition space honoring the family, can be visited at Calle Liceo #177.

A short story about Lake Chapala, entitled “José la garza morena” (“José the Great Blue Heron”) was published in Cosmos (a monthly magazine published in Mexico City) in June 1912. It is a tale about someone finding a heron that has been shot and wounded, and trying in vain to cure it.

The story starts by remembering the times before Lake Chapala’s shores has been altered by civilization:

When I visited the lakeside hamlet of Chapala for the first time, now many years ago, I found everything in an almost primitive state, better than now from some points of view, but worse from others.

The author compares the Chapala of earlier times with the situation during the Porfiriato (when he was active in politics as a supporter of President Díaz):

Not a sign back then of the picturesque villas that today adorn and decorate these shores from the town to El Manglar, which is the house where Don Porfirio Díaz used to stay during the time, happy for him, of his all-embracing command; but everywhere was thick scrub, cheerful orchards with severe rocky places, which were in harmony with that rustic and unspoiled landscape.

The scene is set; the action begins with an evening trip in a rowboat on the lake. The beauty of the lake, as depicted by the author, creates an impression of decadence and morbidity, because there are no signs of life out on the water:

But that scene of glorification seemed dead and desolate, without any bird to make it cheerful; not a stork, nor a crane, nor a duck stained the burnished horizon with its graceful silhouette.

Further on, the author continues:

The lake appeared magnificent and solitary under that divine show, as if it were another asphalt lake, a new Dead Sea. But it was not always thus; and the recollections of better times engraved in my memory transformed this most unhappy spectacle because, before the rising tide of civilization invaded these places with platoons of armed hunters with shining rifles, flocks of ducks would rise suddenly into the air from the marshes as the boat approached.

The second part of the short story is about someone finding a heron that has been shot and wounded, and trying in vain to cure it.

Note: The translations included above are by the author of this post, which was first published 18 June 2014.

Credit and reference:

My sincere thanks to Dr. Wolfgang Vogt of the University of Guadalajara for bringing this short story (and his analysis of it) to my attention.

Vogt, Wolfgang (1989) “El lago de Chapala en la literatura” in Estudios sociales: revista cuatrimestral del Instituto de Estudios Sociales. Universidad de Guadalajara: Year 2, Number 5: 1989, 37-47. Republished in 1994 as pp 163-176 of Vogt (1994) La cultura jalisciense desde la colonia hasta la Revolución (Guadalajara: H. Ayuntamiento).

Sep 092020
 

Priscilla (“Pris”) Frazer (1907-1973) was active in the Lake Chapala area in the 1960s and early 1970s. She made her home in Chapala Haciendas and spent several months every year at Lake Chapala between summers in Laguna Beach, southern California.

Priscilla Jane Frazer, known as “Percy” to her family, was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, on 14 May 1907 and died at the age of 66 on May 17, 1973. The family relocated to California when Frazer was a child and she graduated from the University of Southern California before gaining a Masters degree at Long Beach State College. She studied art at the Jepson Art Institute and Chouinard Art Institute.

Priscilla Frazer. Marine scene (undated, untitled).

Priscilla Frazer. Marine scene (undated, untitled). Photo courtesy of Tina Ravizza-Blumenfeld

As a child, Frazer’s parents encouraged her to develop wide interests, from archery, fishing and boating to music (she took violin lessons for nine years) and theater. As a teenager, she dreamed of becoming a great actress, and her first degree was in Speech and Drama, after which she worked for two years as Production Manager of the Laguna Beach Community Players.

In her own words, during that stage of her life,

“Interest in many things… led to night school courses in Radio Acting, Woodshop, Newspaper Feature Writing, Screenwriting, and three years of night and day school at Art Center, Chouinards, and Jepson Art Institute [in Los Angeles]. War Training courses include Aircraft Mechanical Drawing, Trigonometry and Slide Rule, and Electrical Wiring and Radio Assembly.”

Among her art teachers were Hester Lauman (South Pasadena High School art department), Eliot O’Hara, Rex Brandt, Phil Dike, and Lucille Douglas. In 1928-29, and accompanied by her younger brother, Edwin, Frazer spent eight months with famed art teacher Lucille Douglas on a world tour aboard the SS President Wilson—a “floating university”—painting wherever she went. Her family still owns a document in which Frazer lists her itinerary on that trip, an itinerary that makes me feel exhausted before even leaving home!

“We visited Cuba; Canal Zone; Hawaii; Japan: Kobe, Kyoto, Tokyo, Nikko, Kamakura; China: Shanghai, Kowloon, Hongkong, Canton – and up the Pearl River inland; Manila; Singapore; Federated Malay States; Siam; French Indo-China and Angkor; Penang; India – which we crossed twice – from Calcutta to Bombay and back to Madras; Ceylon; Red Sea to Port Said and Cairo – Upper Egypt, Karnak, Luxor, and the Valley of the Kings; Holy Land, Jerusalem; Beirut, Haifa; Adalia, Turkey; Limasol and Larnaca, Cyprue; Greece, Athens and Corinth. Corinth Canal to Brindisi, Italy. Naples, Sorrento, Rome, Florence, Venice. I flew through the Alps from Venice to Vienna, Austria. Prague, Czechoslovakia; Dresden, Berlin, Paris, Switzerland, Marseilles, New York.”

During the war, Frazer was a “Ruby Riveter.” She worked as a riveter, in a machine shop, and as a “Factory Layout Draftsman and Method’s Analyst for four years at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica.”

In 1948, Frazer and Anne Von were granted joint copyright of a printed paper cut-out toy named “Clipsies,” which apparently consisted of a farm with sets of cut-outs of chickens, cows, kitten, puppies, ducks and other animals. It appears that they designed, manufactured and marketed these kits themselves.

Frazer spent the summer of 1954 in Europe studying art in Oxford (U.K.) and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris.

Her first recorded trip to Mexico came in 1955 when she studied with James Pinto at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende.

Priscilla Frazer, who never married, spent most of her career in southern California, living in Laguna Beach and teaching at Orange Coast College. She traveled widely, including visits to Europe, India, the Far East, North Africa and Spain. Her painting entitled “Ebb Tide, Ireland” was included in a major exhibition of the Society of Watercolorists of California held at the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales (at Hamburgo #115, Mexico City) from 30 August to 14 September 1960.

Priscilla Frazer. c 1963. "Sunday Best"

Priscilla Frazer. c 1963. “Sunday Best”

Earlier that year, in April, Frazer had participated in a group show at a private home in Long Beach, California, exhibiting “Mosaic Gate”. Among the other artists included on that occasion was Eugene Nowlen who, with his wife Marjorie, had first visited Lake Chapala in 1950 and had also later lived there for several years.

Frazer managed the One Man Shows at the Laguna Art Gallery for two years. In 1963, an article in the June issue of Ford Times included a photograph of Frazer’s “Sunday best”, the prize-winning watercolor in the Laguna Beach Art Show.

Frazer was already very familiar with Mexico before she bought two lots and built a home in Chapala Haciendas—which advertised itself as the “World’s Best Subdivision” in the “World’s best Climate”—in 1963. She took possession of her new home late that year and is recorded as attending a party at the Posada Ajijic in January 1964, along with another Pasadena artist, Jonathan Scott.

Thereafter she spent several months each year in Chapala, painting and occasionally exhibiting her work in the area. For example in May 1966 she had a show at the Ruta 66 gallery in Guadalajara (located at the traffic circle where Niños Heroes met Lafayette.)

In November 1966, she held a solo exhibition and sale of 50 paintings at the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara as a benefit for Chest Clinic #4 of Mexico’s National Campaign against Tuberculosis (which was the only specialist chest clinic in Jalisco at that time). The show was formally opened by the Jalisco State Governor, Francisco Medina Ascensio. Frazer donated all fifty works (worth an estimated 200,000 pesos) to the campaign, and the organizers deliberately set modest prices to ensure rapid sales.

A contemporary reviewer praised “her latest oils and acrylics” for their “beautiful, glowing translucent colors reminiscent of stained glass (an original technique)”, as well as the “great strength and depth” of her watercolors.

Ajijic gallery owner Laura Bateman, who visited the show a week after it opened, reported that it looked as if would be a total sell out. She found that Frazer’s “history of assiduous study to become a major talent” shone through in “her lively drawings, her fresh representational water colors and in her giant abstract oils.” Frazer shared with Bateman an anecdote about why she had started to paint large abstracts. After winning first place for a watercolor in an early art show, Frazer had been disappointed as she “sat there with her blue ribbon watching the backs of prospective customers passing her work,” while the large, abstract works of another artist—who failed to win any prize—attracted all the public attention.

In January 1970, a few months before setting off with a friend (Luz Luna de Macias) on an extended trip to India (which she had visited 41 years earlier) and Kashmir, Frazer held a one-person exhibit of watercolors and collages at the American Legion in Chapala. Later that year, in August, Frazer was honored by the Board of the California National Water Color Society, which selected one of her works for a star-studded show at the National Academy in New York of 70 works (by 70 different artists) from across the entire country.

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

The illustration (above) comes from A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972) which unfortunately misspells her first name as “Prisdilla”.

Frazer was an active member of the California Watercolor Society, Long Beach Art Association and the Los Angeles Art Association. During her career, Frazer had more than a dozen solo exhibitions of her work, ranging from Washington D.C. across the country to Los Angeles and Laguna Beach in California. Her major shows included the California Watercolor Society (1930-33); the Laguna Beach Art Association (1930s); the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts (1939, 1961).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Tina Ravizza-Blumenfeld (a great niece of Frazer) for sharing the family’s knowledge of the artist and for locating the Ford Times issue which included “Sunday Best.”

Notes:

This is an updated and expanded version of a post first published 28 December 2017.

Other Laguna Beach artists associated with Lake Chapala include John A. Bruce, Felipe Castañeda, Eugene & Marjorie Nowlen, Georg Rauch and Phyllis Rauch.

Sources:

  • Battle Creek Enquirer (Battle Creek, Michigan), 26 May 1963, p 24.
  • Justino Fernandez. 1961. Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en 1960. Suplemento Num. 1 del Num. 30 de los Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico, 1961.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 23 Jan 1964, 24 Dec 1964, 30 Sep 1965, 2 Apr 1966, 14 May 1966, 5 Nov 1966, 10 Jan 1970, 18 April 1970, 22 Aug 1970
  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California, 10 April 1960, p 57.
  • La Galería del Lago de Chapala. 1972. A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería. 1972. (Ajijic, Mexico: La Galería del Lago de Chapala).
  • Laguna Beach Art Association. 1956. Laguna Beach Art Association catalogue, March 1956.
  • John C. Weigel. 1963. “Art in the Outdoors.” Ford Times, June 1963, 41-45.

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

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Sep 032020
 

Gina Hildreth (who wrote under her maiden name Gina Dessart) and her husband, Phillip, lived in Ajijic in the mid-1960s. Gina wrote at least three suspense novels: A Man Died Here (1947), The Last House (1950) and Cry For The Lost (1959). All three works were published in New York by Harper & Brothers. The first two novels were set in New England, whereas her third novel was set in and around Tucson, Arizona.

Gina Hildreth. Credit: John Lee (Ajijic-Artists of 50 years ago)

Gina Hildreth. Credit: John Lee (Ajijic-Artists of 50 years ago)

Gina Hildreth also wrote a stageplay – By any other name, a comedy in three acts (1948) – and had a short story, “Counterpoint”, published in the Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine issue of November 1965.

Gina Dessart Hildreth (born Georgine Belle Dessart in Chicago, Illinois, on 16 March 1912) died in Nyack, New York, on 1 April 1979. Her husband, Phillip Nelson Hildreth, was born in East Hampton, New York, on 8 November 1898 and died in Guadalajara on 11 June 1968.

Gina Hildreth had grown up in New York and Europe, and gained a Masters degree in English, prior to marrying Phillip. Phillip had two failed marriages behind him. The first, when he was living in Manhattan and working in advertising, was to Lila Samantha Loper (1887–1958), a divorcee and mother of three. Phillip had a daughter with his second wife, Hilda Stone Tuzo (1902-1976), but that union did not last long. Phillip married Gina Dessart in about 1935. Five years later, the couple were still living in New York where they both gave their occupation in 1940 as working in “screen printing” for “display advertisements.”

In 1950, Gina and Phillip moved to Tucson, Arizona, following a two month vacation there. Tucson remained their US home for the remainder of their lives. Gina worked in real estate and was quoted in an advertisement in Tucson for Hammond organs in the late 1950s as saying that, “As a writer, a member of a real estate firm and housewife, I lead a busy life. Yet when things begin to overwhelm me, I can always find new stimulation and inspiration at the Hammond.”The precise timing, duration and motives for the couple’s decision to live in Mexico for a time in the mid-1960s—from about 1964 to 1968—are unclear.

Long-time Chapala resident Bill Atkinson recalled that Phillip, while not himself a writer, certainly moved in literary circles and was active in Ajijic social circles. In July 1964, the Guadalajara Reporter told its readers that Phillip Hildreth “hosted a supper for Martha and Volney Hildreth and their children who have taken a house here for the summer.” Six months later, the newspaper described how Philip Hildreth and his wife were in the middle of a 12-week-long competition organized by the “Ajijic chess club,” competing against John Mersereau, Dick Bishop, Larry Hartmus, Lou Wertheimer and Bob Somerlott.

The Hildreths were especially close to Dick (Dickinson) Bishop and his wife, Nina. When Nina passed away, Gina Hildreth penned a moving tribute to her friend, describing how Nina and Dick had moved to Ajijic “scarcely more than three years ago,” and how Nina, “an artist of great talent,” maintained a stable of fine horses.

Gina and Phillip still had a home in Ajijic—at Calle Zaragoza 19—at the time of Phillip’s death in June 1968 a Guadalajara hospital, at the age of 69.

Gina returned to live in Tucson and was a lecturer in English, teaching creative writing at the University of Arizona in the early and mid-1970s, at the same time that another Ajijic resident, John Lee, taught there.

hildreth-dessart-gina-Ajijic - Artists of 50 Years Ago-3

According to a Kirkus review, A Man Died Here (1947) tells the story of the Macklin family’s “attempts to piece out the happenings in the Williams family  when as the new owners of the Williams house, their curiosity is first aroused by the house itself, later by the hints of gossip, hatred, evasion, in the town. Bob and Liz fit together each small fact, each tiny segment of character, and write finis to a story of bondage, cruelty, dishonesty, lifting the shadow from the house.”

In The Last House (1950), according to one reviewer, a Connecticut gal “gets herself shot in village kitchen. Suspicion falls on various neighbors, male and female.” The reviewer, William C. Weber found the book to be an “absorbing and capitally written mystery-suspense tale with interesting psychological overtones.”

A review of Cry for the Lost describes it as “a murder story that poses no problem of who committed the crime. The interest and excitement in this suspense story lies in following the effect of the murder upon the characters and lives of the people who had been closely associated with the man who is killed. Miss Dessart reveals with considerable understanding and a searching sympathy the inner probings that torment both the guilty and the innocent when faced with the bitter knowledge that one among them has been driven to taking a human life.”

Note: this is an updated and expanded version of a post first published on 3 November 2014.

Sources:

  • Arizona Daily Star (Tucson): June 8, 1958, 18.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 1 Jul 1964; 10 Dec 1964; 14 Jan 1965; 23 Sep 1965.
  • Mecheline Keating, “Cry for the Lost – review”, Tucson Daily Citizen, 3 October 1959, p 13.
  • William C. Weber, “The Last House, by Gina Dessart” in Tucson Daily Citizen, August 28, 1950, p 12.
Aug 272020
 

Margaretha (Margaret) Van Gurp, a well known artist from eastern Canada, was born in Delft, Netherlands, 6 December 1926. She moved to Canada in 1953.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

In 1983, she spent three weeks with Susan Van Gurp, one of her daughters, in Jocotepec, Mexico. Susan Van Gurp was teaching at the Lakeside School for the Deaf, now the Centro de Atención Multiple Gallaudet (“Gallaudet Special Education Center”), from 1982 to 1984.

During Margaretha Van Gurp’s visit, she completed  a series of pen and ink drawings of the students at the school, as well as of other people in the town.

Margaret Van Gurp. Viviana.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Viviana.

Margaretha Van Gurp also painted several charming watercolors of life in the town.

Margaret Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

Margaretha Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

Van Gurp’s early art education (1945-1947) was under Gillis van Oosten in Delft, Netherlands. She also took courses at the College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, studied portrait sculpture in clay under Allison McNeil, and (1980) studied portraiture under David Leffel and Robert Philipp at the Art Students League of New York in the U.S. Her art has been widely shown in Eastern Canada.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaret Van Gurp has also illustrated books, such as Acadian Awakenings, and sculpted and painted mannequin heads for Parks Canada exhibits at several locations, including Castle Hill, Newfoundland; Citadel Hill Museum, Halifax; and Fort Anne, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

After a remarkable artistic career, Margaret Van Gurp died in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 14 August 2020. We extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends.

To learn more about this artist:

Note: the earliest version of this post was published on 18 December 2014.

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

Aug 202020
 

Author, poet and diplomat José Rubén Romero (1890-1952) was born in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán. Cotija de la Paz is about thirty kilometers from the village of La Palma on Lake Chapala’s south-eastern corner.

Romero’s father, an outspoken liberal, had been forced to leave the very conservative village of Cotija de la Paz, and the family home, and travel to Mexico City. Six months later, he sent for his wife and two children, Rubén (then aged seven) and his younger sister. Their journey, by horseback, steamer and train, is described in Romero’s Apuntes de un lugareño (trans: Notes of a Villager), published in 1932, by which time Romero was the Mexican Consul in Barcelona, Spain. He was later served as Mexican ambassador to Brazil (1937-1939) and Cuba (1939-1944).

romero-ruben-coverBesides his diplomatic career, Romero worked in a variety of fields, including journalism and as a university dean. He is best remembered, though, as a writer whose vivid depictions of the people and customs of his native state make him an outstanding exponent of the modern costumbrista novel. The costumbrista genre focuses on regional life, customs and manners.

Romero’s lasting legacy of fine works includes Desbandada (1936), El pueblo inocente (1934), Mi caballo, mi perro y mi rifle (1936), Viaje a Mazatlán (1946) and Rosenda (1946). But by far his best known book is the picaresque tale of a lovable rascal: La vida inútil de Pito Pérez (The Futile Life of Pito Pérez), first published in 1938. A best-seller in innumerable editions, this book was turned into a movie starring Ignacio López Tarso in the early 1970s. One of Mexico’s best-loved writers ever, Romero died on July 4, 1952, in Mexico City.

In his autobiographical novel Apuntes de un lugareño Romero describes Lake Chapala on two occasions. The first time he encounters the lake is in about 1897, on his way to Mexico City with his mother and sister at the age of seven. It includes Romero’s impressions of the steamer trip from La Palma to Ocotlán, a regular route at the time. Romero’s second encounter with Lake Chapala comes later, when he was living in Sahuayo between about 1907 and 1910.

The following extract from Apuntes de un lugareño, describing Romero’s impressions in 1897, is an excerpt of the much longer extract given, with commentary, in chapter 41 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travelers’ Tales:

At eight in the morning we got on the steamboat that would take us to Ocotlán.

I began to run around the boat without paying attention to the excessive cautions of my mother, who cried out for fear I would fall in the water.

The steamboat was large, with two decks and some cabins that on our voyage were occupied by the relatives of the owner, Don Diego Moreno, and some three or four nuns in black habits with white hoods.

During the crossing, the nuns never stopped praying and I twisted myself into every position to see if I could see their legs because I doubted that they had them like ordinary people.

Just past the halfway point in the lake a ruined tower appeared that was said to have been a prison in the old days. I straightened myself to see and began to pester all those within my reach with questions which when all was said and done, no one could answer.”

Translations of Romero’s works in English include:

  • Notes of a Villager: A Mexican Poet’s Youth and Revolution (Kaneohe, Hawaii: Plover Press, 1988) is a fine translation by John Mitchell and Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar of Apuntes de un lugareño.
  • The Futile Life of Pito Perez (Prentice-Hall, 1966), translation by William O. Cord.
  • A Translation of Jose Ruben Romero’s Mi Caballo, Mi Perro, Y Mi Rifle with a Study of His Life, Style and Works, by Carl Edgar Niles (University of Tennessee, 1947)

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published 21 May 2014.

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

Aug 132020
 

Ever since I first stumbled across two woodblock prints by Raphael Greno, I have wanted to see more examples of his work, characterized by a superb eye for detail and high-quality workmanship. So imagine my surprise and delight a week ago when I received an email from a collector with images of another Ajijic print by Greno. This one is especially intriguing.

The subjects of the four Greno prints I’ve seen previously—for details, see Raphael and Vee Greno, multi-talented artists who lived in Ajijic in the 1970s—are all readily identifiable. This latest Ajijic print, entitled “Don Elpidio,” is a powerful study of an elderly man, most likely a resident of Ajijic.

Raphael Greno. "Don Elpidio"

Raphael Greno. “Don Elpidio”

I know that at least two of Greno’s other prints date back to the 1950s; it is possible that he was still producing them as late as the 1970s.

Can anyone tell me more about this gentleman or his family? It would be fantastic to learn more about the subject of Raphael Greno’s masterful portrait.

Acknowledgment

  • I am very grateful to Jacob Hayman for bringing this work to my attention and for providing the excellent photograph.

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

Aug 062020
 

Verna Aardema (1911-2000) was an American author of dozens of children’s books.

She has no known connection to Lake Chapala beyond the fact that one of her books—The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (New York: Four Winds, 1979)—is connected with Tizapán [el Alto] on the southern shore of the lake.

aardema-coverThe story, illustrated by Tony Chen, is a translation and retelling of “El Aro de Hinojo y el Cuero de Piojo”, from Tales from Jalisco, Mexico, by Howard True Wheeler, American Folklore Society, 35, 1943. The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico can be viewed online via the website OpenLibrary.org: The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (free registration required).

The king of Tizapán has a beautiful daughter Princess Fruela. He asks a wizard to make her a special drum. The only man that will be allowed to marry his daughter must first guess what kind of black leather the drum head is made from. Prince Tuzán rises to the challenge, but knows he will forfeit his life if he fails. En route to victory, he gathers around him several unusual characters, all of whom contribute to his success.

Verna Aardema (full name Verna Norberg Aardema Vugteveen) was born in New Era, Michigan on 6 June 1911. Even as a child, she wanted to be a writer. She graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Journalism in 1934, before working as an elementary school teacher (1934-1973), later combined with being a local newspaper correspondent for the Muskegon Chronicle (1951-1972).

Aardema’s first set of children’s stories Tales from the Story Hat was published in 1960. She started writing for children mainly because her daughter wouldn’t eat until she’d heard one of her mother’s stories. In most stories, the setting was somewhere that Aardema had been recently reading about, such as Africa or Mexico.

Her children’s books, almost always based on adaptations of traditional folklore tales, won numerous awards. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (1975) received the Caldecott Medal and the Brooklyn Art Books for Children Award. Who’s in Rabbit’s House? (1977) was the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. The author herself received the Children’s Reading Round Table Award in 1981.

See also

This is an updated version of a post first published on 5 May 2014.

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

Jul 302020
 

Portrait artist Betty Warren, later known as Betty Warren Herzog, was born in New York City on 6 January 1920. Her brightly colored portraits were in such demand that she became one of the highest paid female portraitists of the 20th century. In 1940, at age 20, she became the youngest woman in US History to hold a solo exhibit at a major US Museum (Berkshire Museum).

Betty Warren. Sketch of Seth Burgess.

Betty Warren. Sketch of Seth Burgess. Reproduced by kind permission of Seth Burgess.

Betty Warren first visited Lake Chapala in February 1974, when she and her husband (Jacob Herzog) visited a friend—Everett J. Parrys of Albany—who was staying at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala. Warren arranged to take the Helen Kirtland home in Ajijic for the following month to use as a studio. Two years later, Warren returned to Chapala, where she held a solo show of oils and drawings at the Villa Montecarlo in March. That show was sponsored by the Galeria del Lago (run by Helen Kirtland’s daughter, Katie Goodridge Ingram).

The following year, her third winter at the lake, Warren held another solo show of her works at the Galeria del Lago. That show ran from 26 February to 11 March.

In 1980, Warren was one of 11 painters whose work was shown in a group show in Guadalajara at the ex-Convento del Carmen. On that occasion, the other artists, almost all of whom had close ties to Lake Chapala, were Paul Fontaine, Daphne Aluta, Georg Rauch, Eleanor Smart, Richard Lapa, Stefan Lokos, Evelyne Boren, Digur Weber, Gustel Foust and Taffy Branham.

From the early 1980s, Warren and her husband spent her winters in Ajijic, where she maintained an art studio.

Betty Warren in Ajijic

Betty Warren in Ajijic

Betty Warren was the daughter of illustrator Jack A. Warren, cartoonist of Pecos Bill. She studied at the Art Students League in New York, the National Academy of Design, the Cape School of Art (summers, 1937-42) with Henry Hensche, Farnsworth School of Art, Sarasota, Florida, and the Reineke School in New Orleans. Warren was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts in 1991 by Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York.

Betty Warren taught at the Albany Institute of History and Art for seventeen years and co- founded The Palm Tree School of Art, in Sarasota, Florida, and The Malden Bridge School of Art, in Malden Bridge, New York.

She had more than 35 solo shows during her artistic career, and exhibited at Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, Allied Artists of America, American Water-Color Society, National Arts Club, Knickerbocker Artists, New York, and the Grand Central Art Galleries. Her last formal portrait was of Governor Hugh Carey for the State of New York in 1991. She died in Albany on 8 November 1993.

She one of the six wives of actor Stuart Lancaster (1920-2000). She had two sons: potter, sculptor and author Michael Dean Lancaster and landscape artist John Warren Lancaster. Following her divorce from Stuart Lancaster, Warren later married Jacob Herzog, a prominent attorney in upstate New York.

Betty Warren was a member of Grand Central Art Galleries, National Arts Club, American Artists Professional League,National League of American Pen Women, Pen & Brush.

Warren’s portraits can be found in the collections of the The University of Wisconsin; General Electric; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Albany Institute of History and Art, New York; the Malden Bridge School of Art; Hartwick College, New York; the New York State Supreme Court in Albany; and the Grand Lodge of New York.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published Oct 30, 2014

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 23 Feb 1974; 27 Mar 1976, 12 Feb 1977, 17.
  • El Informador: 28 Mar 1976; 26 Jan 1980.

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

Jul 232020
 

The great food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is one of the many well-known non-fiction writers to have spent time in Chapala.

Fisher wrote more than 20 food-related works and was considered by contemporaries as “the greatest food writer of our time”. The revered English poet W. H. Auden extolled the quality of her writing, saying “I do not know of anyone in the United States today who writes better prose.”

fisher-mary-frances-kennedyFisher was born on 3 July 1908 in Albion, Michigan. Her first book, Serve it Forth, was published in 1937. Her books, with titles such as How to Cook a Wolf, Consider the Oyster, and An Alphabet for Gourmets, consider food from multiple perspectives, including preparation, natural history, culture, and philosophy.

Fisher spent three weeks in Chapala from mid-October into November 1941, shortly after her second husband Dillwyn had taken his own life. [Dillwyn “was dying from a horribly painful and invariably fatal disease (and could not obtain the only medication that had any effect on the pain in the USA)” – see comments below.] Fisher visited Chapala to stay with her sister Norah and her brother David Holbrook Kennedy and his wife Sarah, who had rented a house there over the summer. David and Sarah were honeymooning in Chapala where David had a contract to paint murals in the municipal baths of Chapala, a task with which the others helped. The entire group (David, Sarah, Norah, and Mary Frances) helped paint the murals, working on them every day for several weeks. After the murals were finished toward the end of November 1941, Fisher and Norah flew back to Los Angeles, with David and Sarah following by car.

Many details and stories relating to Fisher’s visit are told in Reardon’s Poet of the Appetites and Fisher’s The Gastronomical  Me. According to Joan Reardon, her biographer, Fisher drafted some of The Gastronomical Me while staying in Chapala: “No doubt Mary Frances drafted those two chapters [of The Gastronomical Me] during the three weeks she stayed with Norah, David, and Sarah in their little rented house in the fishing village along the shore of Lake Chapala.” (Reardon, 141)

In The Gastronomical Me, Fisher describes what living in Chapala was like in 1941:

“Our house was about thirty steps from the little square, which was very correct, with a wooden bandstand in the middle and a double promenade around it under the thick green trees, so that the boys could walk one way to the music and the girls the other… until the boys found courage or centavos enough to buy flowers and join their loves.

The flower-women sat at one end of the plaza on concert nights, the dark end, and candles or little lamps shone like magic on the blossoms lying on clean cloths in front of them. There were camelias and tiny gardenias, and sometime spidery jewel-like orchids, and plainer garden flowers, all glowing in the soft light on the earth while the women crouched darkly behind, deep in their shawls, and the band wheezed bravely for the innocent concupiscent strollers on the paths.

There were two or three bars, with juke-boxes when the orchestra got tired, and a little kiosk sold bright pink and yellow ices and Coca-Cola.

In the other direction from our house, and around the corner was the market. It was a sprawling wandering collection of stands, some of them elaborate, with counters for eating and stoves in the center, and some of them a piece of cloth on the ground with two little heaps of dried peppers and a bruised yam or a pot of stew waiting to be bought. Of course there were serape merchants and sandal-makers on Sundays, and piles of thin pottery everywhere and always because it broke easily after it was bought.

There were hungry dogs and cats near the one meat-stand, where flies buzzed so thickly over the strange strips of hanging bony flesh that we could hear them before we even turned the corner.

Some days, and perhaps for a week at a time, there would be almost nothing to buy except one thing, like tomatoes, at every stand… little pungent tomatoes no bigger than pigeon eggs. It was the wrong season for avocados when I was there, but now and then we found string beans, or a rotting papaya.” (Fisher, 546)

In general, Fisher was not overly impressed with the quality of the food in Mexico, though she praised a meal in Mazatlán (where she had to overnight between flights on her way south to Guadalajara), brought from the “country” (non-American) kitchen where the waiters ate.

She was far less impressed with the culinary delights of Chapala where  “the meats were repulsive and poorly cooked; there were no salads and almost no vegetables; none of us liked the violently colored stiff sweet pastes that were called desserts.”

Even breakfast was an ordeal. She cooked scrambled eggs a few times, “but it was hard to find more than two or three at once, and there was no cream or cheese in the village.”

The family ate out most nights:

“At night we usually went to one of the little restaurants. They were very plain, and it was best to stop by in the afternoon and ask what there would be for four people. Most of the people ate in them or ordered food to be cooked there and taken home, even if they were quite poor. It was because the kitchens were so bad, I suppose, and charcoal and water and food so scarce. Always at meal times boys would be walking through the streets with food on their heads, from the little eating-places… pots of stew and beans, piles of tacos, sometimes a boiled chicken steaming naked on a platter if it was for a family feast-day.” (Fisher, 549)

Elsewhere, Fisher describes an evening spent in a bar run by a “fat widow”, “a white-faced woman with a shy flashing smile”. This description is almost certainly of the famous bar owned at that time by the Viuda Sánchez (Widow Sánchez), who popularized the tequila chaser known as sangrita.

Sources:

  • Joan Reardon, 2005. Poet of the Appetites: The Lives And Loves of M.F.K. Fisher (North Point Press)
  • M. F. K. Fisher, 1943. The Gastronomical Me (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York), reprinted in The Art of Eating (Macmillan 1979).

Note: This post was first published Oct 13, 2014.

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

Jul 152020
 

Canadian artist Clarence Ainslie Loomis was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1917. Loomis studied at the Northern Vocational School under S. S. Finlay, and at the Ontario College of Art under J. W. Beatty. After graduating with the degree of AOCA (Associate of the Ontario College of Art), Loomis was later (1940) elected a member of the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers (CPE), becoming its secretary in 1943.

Clarence Ainslie Loomis: Sunset at Lake Chapala (1991)

Clarence Ainslie Loomis: Sunset at Lake Chapala (1991)

Relatively little is known about Loomis, whose small oil painting entitled “Sunset, Lake Chapala” (see image) dates from 1991 and depicts a horse and rider by the lake at sunset.

Clarence Ainslie Loomis: Ajijic Mountains (1990)

Clarence Ainslie Loomis: The Mountains, Ajijic (1990)

In 1947, a colored print entitled “End of Run” by Loomis was included in the Annual exhibition of the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers at the Art Gallery of Winnipeg.

At least one of Loomis’ works is in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

In 1993, the National Art Gallery of Canada received a gift from “C. Ainslie Loomis” of Brantford, Ontario, of an album of photographs entitled The Antiquities of Cambodia, which had been published in 1867. Apparently Loomis bought this work for 75 cents in Britnell’s bookstore in Toronto when he was a university student in 1939. Today, the album is thought to be worth close to $10,000! (The Ottawa Citizen, 10 July 1994).

Loomis died in Brantford, Ontario on 24 June 1994.

Acknowledgment

  • Thanks to Thomas Ryerson for supplying the date and place of Loomis’ death (see comments below).

Sources

  • The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) 11 Dec 1948, 6.
  • The Ottawa Citizen, 10 July 1994.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published on 13 July 2014.

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

 Posted by at 6:21 am  Tagged with:
Jul 082020
 

Lysander Kemp (1920-1992) worked as a writer, professor, translator, and was head editor of the University of Texas Press from 1966 to 1975. During his tenure at UT Press, he collaborated with the Mexican writer Octavio Paz (1914-1998) on numerous translations, including the landmark book The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico. Kemp also oversaw the publication of two collections of Paz’s essays and criticism, and translated the work of several other important Mexican writers such as Juan Rulfo.

Lysander Schaffer Kemp Jr. was born 13 November 1920 in Randolph, Vermont, and died in January 1992 in Harwich Port, Massachusetts. He graduated from Canton High School, Canton, Massachusetts in 1938, where he had been active in tennis, music, and on the stage, in addition to being literary editor of the school magazine The Echo.

He graduated from Bates College, Maine, in 1942 (where he was “class poet” in his final year) and then enlisted in the Army. He served three years in the Caribbean Defense Command, in Panama, Ecuador and Puerto Rico, from 1942-1945. After his discharge, more than 40 poems he had submitted in partial fulfillment of his M.A. (1946) from Boston University were published as The Northern Stranger (Random House, 77 pp). His academic English teaching career included a spell at the University of Buffalo, and publications such as “Understanding “Hamlet”” in College English (Oct., 1951).

Lysander Kemp (at rt) playing the alto sax in The Jocotepec Penguins, mid-1950s

Lysander Kemp (at rt) playing the alto sax in The Jocotepec Penguins, mid-1950s

From 1953-1965, Kemp moved to Mexico and lived for many years in Jocotepec, at the western end of Lake Chapala. His published poems and short articles about the Lake Chapala area include:

  • 1954. “The only beast: Reflections on Not Attending the Bullfights”, pp 46-56 of Discovery #4 (New York).
  • 1955. “Gods: Jocotepec, Mexico” [poem] The New Yorker. Vol 31 (Sept 10, 1955) p 114.
  • 1957. “The Penguins Gather.” Saturday Review v 40 (May 11, 1957) p. 38. This short article, with photo, describes a dance-band in Jocotepec. Kemp was the first saxophone.
  • 1957. “Perils of Paradise.” Travel piece in House and Garden vol. 111 (April 1957) pp 172-4, 177.
  • 1958. “Travel: Tricks in Buying Pre-Columbian Art.” House and Garden, 113, #2, February 1958, p 22-24, 26

Kemp also translated Juan the Chamula: An Ethnological Recreation of the Life of a Mexican Indian by Ricardo Pozas (University of California Press); Selected Poems of Ruben Dario (University of Texas Press); The Time of the Hero, by Llosa Mario Vargas (Farrar Straus & Giroux); Pedro Paramo: A Novel of Mexico, by Juan Rulfo. (Grove/Atlantic, 1959).

In his career, Kemp published several poems and articles not directly related to Mexico. These include the poems “The Last Rose of Summer : Cape Cod” (The New Yorker, 1954), “Are We Then So Serious?” (New Mexico Quarterly, 1954-1955), and “Cat” (The New Yorker, 1958), and a short piece entitled “Krispie News” (The New Yorker, 1955), in which he wrote that, “”In Mexico Kellogg’s Rice Krispies do not say “Snap, crackle, pop,” as they do here. They say “Pim, pum, pam.”

He also wrote four science fiction stories: “The Airborne Baserunner” (1954), “Boil One Cat” (1954), “The Universal Solvent” (1955) and “Silent Night” (1955).

Related post:

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published 8 July 2014.

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

Jul 022020
 

After visiting Ajijic in the mid-1940s, Irma René Koen spent the remaining three decades of her life living and painting in Mexico.

Koen, whose birth name was Irma Julia Köhn, was born in Rock Island, Illinois, on 8 October 1883. She graduated from Rock Island High School before briefly attending Augustana College. Despite being an accomplished cellist, she opted to enroll at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) in 1903; she was a regular exhibitor in its exhibitions from 1907 to 1917.

Koen completed her studies at the Woodstock School of Landscape Painting, and also studied under C. F. Brown, W.L. Lathrop and John Johansen in Vermont before taking a trip to Europe in 1914, where she was studying with Henry B. Snell at St. Ives in England when the first world war erupted. Koen returned to the US After the war, Koen painted in southern France and North Africa.

Market scene (possibly Oaxaca) painted by Irma Koen

Market scene in Central America painted by Irma Koen

Koen, who never married, traveled very widely during her working life, studying and painting in numerous art colonies, including St. Ives, Cornwall, England (1914); Monterey/Carmel, California (1915); East Gloucester, Massachusetts (1917); New Hope, Pennsylvania (1928); Boothbay Harbor, Maine (1927, 1928); Taos, New Mexico (1929). She also visited Asia, including Nepal. Prior to 1923, she signed her paintings as “Irma Köhn.” Sometime after a trip to France and North Africa in 1923-24, she changed her professional name to “Irma René Koen”.

She was already an artist of considerable renown before visiting Mexico. For example, the Christian Science Monitor noted in 1927 that Koen was “often designated as America’s leading woman artist.”

Photo of Irma Koen from “The News,” Mexico D.F. , 1956

Photo of Koen from “The News,” Mexico D.F. , 1956

After the second world war, she spent the remainder of her life based in Mexico. Art historian and biographer Cynthia Wiedemann Empen writes that Koen traveled to Mexico in the early 1940s for two months, moved to San Miguel de Allende circa 1944, and resided briefly in Ajijic on Lake Chapala, Pátzcuaro and Mazatlán before establishing a permanent home and studio in Cuernavaca, in the central Mexican state of Morelos, near Mexico City.

Neill James, writing about Ajijic in 1945, described how a recent visitor “Irma René Koen, an impressionist painter from Chicago, found a rich source of material in the local landscape”, so presumably Koen most likely visited Ajijic in late 1944 or early in 1945.

A “Mrs Sam Shloss” of Des Moines visited Ajijic a few years later. Interviewed on her return home in February 1949, she reported how she had visited Neill James in “primitive Ajijic” and purchased “a blouse of Indian handiwork” from James’ small shop. Schloss claimed that the blouse had been designed by “Irma Rene Koen, whose work will be exhibited in March at the Des Moines Art Center” and that the blouses were “marketed by Miss James in an attempt to help the native Mexican women earn pesos with their embroidery.” (Sylvia Fein, the famous American surrealist artist who lived for several years in Ajijic in the mid-1940s, also contributed designs to Neill James, and helped market the blouses in Mexico City and beyond.)

According to a report in 1946 in The Dispatch, an Illinois daily, Koen had already spent two and a half years in Mexico, having spent “the first summer” in “the Indian village of Ajijic which is a mecca for artists and writers.” The report quoted Koen as explaining how she generally “stayed from 3 to 5 months in a town and then moved on.” At that time, Koen relied on her memory and impressions to complete all her paintings in her studio, having found that “painting on the scene was impossible as the natives would practically mob artists who attempted it.”

Her first major exhibition in Mexico was held in 1947 at the Circulo de Bellas Artes de México; this exhibit, of (25 oils and 18 watercolors) was later shown in Chicago. The following year, art critic Guillermo Rivas extolled the virtues of Koen for readers of Mexican Life, describing how her painting had “changed completely” since arriving in Mexico: “Her image of Mexico is that of people and landscape fused within a rhythmic movement of incandescent color…. Putting aside her brushes she works with a palette-knife, arranging her undiluted pigments over the canvas in heavy strokes…. It is very seldom indeed that a foreign painter working in Mexico does not yield to its influence and there are occasions when such influence is sufficiently powerful as to define a turning point in their creative course.”

Irma Rene Koen. c 1945. "Street in Ajijic."

Irma Rene Koen. c 1945. “Street in Ajijic.”

Koen sold almost all her paintings to collectors. The only image I have ever seen of any of her Lake Chapala paintings is of one entitled “Street in Ajijic,” which she presented to the Rock Island YMCA in 1948. (left) If you own, or have access to, any of her other Lake Chapala paintings, please get in touch!

During her thirty years in Mexico, Koen traveled and painted throughout the country, with extensive trips also to Central America (Guatemala), Spain, Japan, Hong Kong, Kashmir, Nepal, and Iran.

Her vivid oil paintings, watercolors and plein-air landscape scenes were widely exhibited during her lifetime, at galleries and museums in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., as well as in Paris (1923) and Mexico.

Koen was a prolific exhibitor throughout her life. In addition to dozens of shows in the US, her paintings were displayed in the Galeria de Arte Mexicano (Gallery of Mexican Art) in Mexico City in 1956, and, in 1968, a selection of her Mexican landscapes and markets was hung at the Galeria de Edith Quijano, also in Mexico City. The following year, an exhibit of her oil paintings was held in the Palacio de Cortés, the main museum in her adopted home of Cuernavaca.

Koen died in Cuernavaca in 1975.

A major retrospective of her work, entitled “Irma René Koen: An Artist Rediscovered,” was held in 2017 at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Note: This is an updated and expanded version of a post originally published on 14 July 2014.

Main sources:

 Posted by at 6:35 am  Tagged with:
Jun 252020
 

When enthusiastic British traveler William English Carson visited Chapala in 1908–1909, he liked what he found. His book about Mexico—Mexico, the Wonderland of the South—was based on four months’ residence in the country and published just before the start of the Mexican Revolution,

Carson arrived in Guadalajara in November 1908 and stayed over the New Year before staying at the Hotel Arzapalo in the village of Chapala for a few days. His description of a noxious weed infestation at Lake Chapala is one of the earliest detailed descriptions of its kind:

“All along the shores of the lake, and in the Lerma River which runs into it, hundreds of peons are employed in gathering and burning yellow water-lily which has invaded the waters. A few years ago, some imbecile planted a quantity of the lily in the river, thinking it would look pretty. In an incredibly short time it spread like wildfire; some of the streams were completely choked with it, and when I visited Chapala the river was covered in places with green masses of the plant. It had spread all along the lake when the Mexican government took the matter in hand and appropriated a large sum of money for its destruction. At night, fires can be seen blazing along the shores of the lake where the peons have collected and are burning large piles of the noxious weed.”

Either Carson’s sense of color was flawed or his description of the “yellow water-lily” was not intended to refer to the violet-flowered water hyacinth described at about the same time in Terry’s Mexico Handbook. More than a century later, the water hyacinth is still periodically a problem.

Commenting that “very few Americans have ever heard of Lake Chapala”, Carson described how “a number of pretty villas are dotted along the lake’s edge, embowered in bougainvillea and hibiscus, palms and orange trees. ” The popularity of the village had led to some land speculation:

“On a hill a short distance from the shore some land has been divided into building lots for villas, with the idea of starting a model American summer village; but the price of the ground is so high—about $1000 per lot—that very few purchasers had been found.”

After an eloquent description of the tourist life at Chapala, and the lake’s potential for fishing and hunting, Carson wrote that,

“A short distance along the shore, within sight of the beautiful electric-lighted villas, there is another of those queer contrasts so often met with in Mexico. Here is a little village of Indian fishermen who live in huts or wigwams of rushes and adobe, some of the fishing houses being built on piles in the lake like those of the prehistoric lake-dwellers in Switzerland…. To visit this place when the sun is setting, and see the weird figures flitting about beneath the semitropical foliage, conversing in low tones in their ancient dialect, living the most primitive of lives, makes it almost impossible to realize that hardly a mile away are comfortable hotels, a railway, Pullman cars and other adjuncts of latter-day civilization.”

Elsewhere in the book, many of his views about Mexicans will strike modern readers as stereotypical. For example, in an otherwise fascinating chapter about “The Mexican Woman”, he makes several outrageous over-generalizations, including:

—  “As a rule, the Mexican women are not beautiful”

—  “no foreigner, unless he be associated with diplomacy, is likely to have any chance of studying and judging the Mexican women

— “the Mexican girl has but two things in life to occupy her, love and religion”

According to Carson, “fevers and malaria are certain to result from exposure to the rains or the intense heat of the midday sun.” He attributed the progress (as evidenced by the bustling city and high costs of living) in Mexico City and elsewhere to American influence. Carson thought that “Americanization” was such a positive impact that Mexico might one day become “peacefully annexed to the United States.” (!)

Very little is known about his early life, but journalist and author William English Carson (1870-1940), apparently toured the Outer Hebrides in 1897 in the company of future tabloid pioneer Alfred Harmsworth (later Lord Northcliffe). Carson later made his home in New York and became a naturalized American citizen. He also wrote The marriage revolt; a study of marriage and divorce (Hearst’s International Library Co., 1915) and Northcliffe, Britain’s Man of Power (Dodge Publishing Co., 1918).

[This is a lightly edited excerpt from chapter 52 of my Lake Chapala through the ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.]

Source

  • William English Carson. 1909 Mexico: the wonderland of the south. New York:
    Macmillan.

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.

Jun 182020
 

Even my best efforts sometimes fail to turn up anything of note about certain artists that I know lived and worked at Lake Chapala.

Joe Vines is a case in point. Even though several artists I have interviewed in the past decade have mentioned him—and recall his work—I have managed to find out virtually nothing about this elusive artist who lived in the late 1960s in Jocotepec.

Vines-Joe-GR-1968-13-July-sJoe Vines, mistakenly spelled as either Jo Vines or Joe Vine in some contemporary news reports, was a male artist who signed his work “Jovines.” He held a solo show in March 1968 at the “Galería Ajijic Bellas Artes,” administered by Hudson and Mary Rose, that was located at Marcos Castellanos #15 (at the intersection with Constitución) in Ajijic. Reviewing the show, Allyn Hunt described his work as “sparkling, colorful silkscreen prints.”

Vines’ work was also included in a “collective fine crafts show” at the same gallery in May 1968, alongside examples of work by Mary Rose, Hudson Rose, Peter Huf and his wife, Eunice Hunt, Ben Crabbe, Gail Michel, Joe Rowe and Beverly Hunt. On that occasion, Vines, who was described as “an excellent serigrapher” contributed “several unpretentious sculptures.”

According to Peter Huf, Vines exhibited only rarely. Muralist Tom Brudenell, who lived in Jocotepec at the time, recalled that Vines was an older artist and “a long-time painter in oils”, who used his sound technique to produce commercial ‘pot boilers,’ shown by Marilyn Hodge in the Galería 8 de Julio in Guadalajara.

Reviewing another Vines exhibit in July 1968, where the artist showed “arabesque style” paintings and silkscreens, including “Wailing Wall”, “Birds in a Bush” and “Jocotepec Dancers,” Allyn Hunt wrote that Vines had studied at Pratt, in Boston, and with west coast artists Sueo Serisawa and Rico Lebrun.

If you can add to this all-too-brief account of Joe Vines, supply any biographical details, or have examples of his work, please get in touch!

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter 27 April 1968; 25 May 1968; 13 July 1968

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.

Jun 112020
 

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

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

Arthur St. Hill’s visit to Chapala definitely took place prior to 1889, though he did not publish anything about it until a few years later. He starts by summarizing his trip to Chapala, which would have taken close to 12 hours:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arthur St. Hill also noted that efforts had been made to exploit an underwater petroleum deposit at Lake Chapala:

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

Arthur St. Hill disembarked from the Libertad at La Barca, from where he continued his wanderings around Mexico.

If anyone can supply any biographical details about Arthur St. Hill, please get in touch!

[This is a lightly edited excerpt from chapter 35 of my Lake Chapala through the ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.]

Source

  • Arthur St. Hill (writing as “A Gringo”). 1892. Through The Land of the Aztecs Or Life and Travel In Mexico. London: Sampson, Low, Marston & Company.

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

Jun 042020
 

German-Mexican artist Hans Otto Butterlin (born Cologne, Germany, 26 December 1900) was only six years of age when the family emigrated from Europe to Mexico, living first in Mexico City and then Guadalajara.

During the Mexican Revolution, Otto and his younger brother, Friedrich, were sent back to live with relatives in Germany. Otto attended high school (Gymnasium) in Siegburg, but left school in about 1916 (mid-way through World War I) to join the German military as a one-year volunteer. After military service, Otto entered the University of Bonn in 1919 to study chemistry. The following year he continued his studies at Marburg University, before transferring to the University of Munich, where he was able to develop his passion for art.

Otto studied briefly at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1920 before moving to Berlin, where he was a member of the group of artists mentored by George Grosz, an influential artist and art educator, best known for his caricatures of Berlin life in the 1920s.

Otto returned to Mexico at the end of 1921 and began a career as an industrial chemist, working at several sugar mills in Jalisco, Sinaloa and the US. In about 1934, Otto moved to Mexico City, and joined the Mexican subsidiary of the German chemical company Bayer AG. While living in Mexico City, Otto was able to indulge his creative passion—painting—which led to him becoming close friends with a number of prominent Mexico City artists.

Otto Butterlin. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Monica Señoret.

Otto Butterlin. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Monique Señoret.

Otto and his family made their home in Mexico City in a second floor studio built by Mexican architect-artist Juan O’Gorman in the San Ángel Inn area, next door to the studio-home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. This connection to such dedicated and talented artists undoubtedly fueled Otto’s desire to take his own art more seriously.

In Mexico City, Otto developed his skills in engraving and the production of woodblocks. He also taught art. From 1944 to 1949, Otto taught courses on the materials and techniques of painting at the San Carlos National Academy of Fine Arts, where his students included José Chávez Morado, Luis Nishizawa, Ricardo Martínez and Gunther Gerzso. He also taught techniques of restoration and conservation at the National School of Anthropology and History (Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia, ENAH).

Otto Butterlin. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Monica Señoret.

Otto Butterlin. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Monique Señoret.

The first major article drawing public attention to Otto’s art appeared in 1939 on the eve of World War II in Mexican Life, where Albert Helman outlined Otto’s background and critiqued his portraits of indigenous women. Helman rightly concluded that Otto had “become a Mexican not only in nationality but also in his way of thinking and feeling,” and was “the one painter among us to mainly preoccupy himself with the depiction of Mexican folk-types and to pursue in such a depiction a deeper, a psychological as well as physical characterization of the native Indian face.”

Otto held three major solo shows in Mexico City—at the Galería de Arte Mexicano in November 1942, November 1946 and January 1951— all of which were widely praised by critics. A review of the first show called it a “transcendent exhibition” by an artist who had assimilated “all the magical expressionist thrust of modern German art…. makes his own colors, like any conscientious European, and then applies them, with feverish creative passion and haste, on his splendid canvases.” (Mada Ontañón in Hoy). An anonymous reviewer of the third show told readers that “The specialized technique of Butterlin, a king of impressionism with a tremendous strength… is absolutely unmistakable.”

Otto Butterlin. Untitled, 1930. Reproduced by kind permission of Tom Thompson; photo by Xill Fessenden.

Otto Butterlin. Untitled, 1930. Reproduced by kind permission of Tom Thompson; photo by Xill Fessenden.

Otto and his family lived in Mexico City until the mid-1940s when they moved to Ajijic on Lake Chapala. At that time Ajijic had no art supplies, no galleries, limited electricity, and only one phone line; it was as easy to reach by boat as by road.

Otto died in Ajijic on 2 April 1956, at the age of 55.

Otto’s legacy

Binational and bicultural, Otto Butterlin had a significant influence on Mexican art in the mid-20th century. Yet his life and work have been largely ignored by art historians. German by birth, he became Mexican by choice. Though he lived most of his adult life in Mexico, Mexican writers have ignored his achievements because he was not native-born; Germans have forgotten him because Butterlin, after training as an artist in Germany, left that country in his mid-twenties and never returned.

Otto’s significant contributions to the development of modern Mexican art have been undervalued. For example, his series of powerful portraits—several of them intimate—of indigenous girls and women reveal how Otto was at the forefront of the post-Revolution art movement, one that was finally concerning itself with the nation’s indigenous peoples, landscapes and cultural traditions. This movement, which spawned new artistic techniques and styles, while often linking back to ancient pre-Columbian motifs and designs, also revived modern muralism, which made Mexico world famous as a cradle of artistic creativity.

Otto Butterlin showed a generation of Mexican artists how old-world artistic styles could be applied to new-world subject matter, and how a deep knowledge of chemical processes, paints and materials enhanced an artist’s ability to portray ideas and emotions. Otto’s own art focused more on feelings and emotions than on calculated representational portrayals. His influence helped nudge Mexican art away from realism and towards abstract expressionism.

Otto was generous and perceptive, more interested in art for art’s sake than for remuneration, profit or fame. He worked alongside—and his work was admired by—the greatest artists of his time. Artist, chemist and much more besides, Otto Butterlin left Mexico an extraordinary artistic legacy, one to be treasured, admired and enjoyed.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Otto Butterlin’s granddaughter, Monique Señoret, for her hospitality and for giving me the opportunity to see her extensive private collection of his original works.

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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May 282020
 

The Canadian playwright and novelist George Ryga (1932-1987) lived and wrote in the village of San Antonio Tlayacapan, mid-way between Chapala and Ajijic, from November, 1972 to March 1973.

Ryga was sufficiently immersed in local life during his few months at Lake Chapala that it inspired him to write A Portrait of Angelica, a play set in Ajijic, that rings just as true today as it did when it was first written.

This is not some lighthearted romantic comedy, though Ryga does employ humor to good effect in examining the interaction, from a Canadian perspective, between a group of tourists and the Mexican townsfolk, who have “a culture that, unlike our own, ‘has withstood a thousand hurricanes.'”

Ryga introduces the play (in the published version) with the text of a talk he gave during a series of workshops of populist theatre in Thunder Bay in 1982. In the introduction, entitled “An Artist in Resistance,” Ryga proves to be a staunch advocate for the contribution that populist theatre can play to help audiences understand a world that is globalizing so rapidly—via changes in technology and communications—that it inevitably leads to conflicts and contradictions that expose widespread racism and inequalities. The themes of A Portrait of Angelica are no less serious.

My first surprise in reading the play was to discover that Angelica was the name of the small town (Santa Angelica) where the play is set, and not a person!

The basic plot is centered around frustrated lives and loves mixed with tales of lust, violence and drunkenness. The three principal characters are Danny, Jose and Elena. Danny is a well-educated young Canadian, who wants to parlay his masters degree in history and English into a writing career. He sits at a table on the town square writing letters to his mother—letters which, for one reason or another, never get sent. Jose is a local policeman, standing nearby, outside the town’s delegación. Elena is a “town girl”, an independent thinker, high spirited, sensuous and flirtatious.

The dialogue between these three and a host of minor characters (tourists, local residents, fishermen) varies from seemingly mundane conversations about daily life to quick-witted teasing, taunting and wisecracking about past and current events, occasionally interspersed by drinking and dancing. For the most part the dialogue is unfailingly entertaining, incisive and perceptive.

Here is Danny casting lighthearted aspersions on the newcomers who arrive with no Spanish:

Danny: I came to write a book in a town the new arrivals from Texas, Alabama and New York call Se Vende for a week or so. There are no markings on the highway to announce the entrance to Angelica, only “Se Vende” signs on fields, sheds, housing, shops and even refuse heaps now overgrown with banana palms sheltering scorpions who know nothing of inter-American economics… or the meaning of “For Sale” signs. [31]

Moments later, Padre Edwardo explains to Danny and Jose his own fears about how the town is changing:

You are both young… it is easy to impress you! You know nothing of this culture! Two thousand years of heritage sells for twenty pesos a square metre this very hour on the edge of town. I have a dream the people sold my church from underneath my feet for a parking lot… and I was reduced in my old age to herding goats upon the mountain for the milk and cheese consortium! When the price of land is high, history and culture is a dying calf with three legs! [31]

At one point Jose loses his patience with Danny and tells him what he thinks of the foreigners who have settled in the town:

They’ve all come here to die, or write a book! The taverns overflow with rotting poets and biographers who waste empty paper on their empty lives! Climb a mountain, or screw up a storm, amigo!… It will be better for your system than sitting at a table all day long! [33]

In a later part of the play, Danny and Jose continue to debate the relative merits of Canada and Mexico, Canadians and Mexicans:

Danny: In my homeland, we struggle six months of the year to keep ourselves from freezing during winter. Our children are well fed… the old have a living pension. You are as wealthy in resource as we, yet to boil soup takes a woman and two men!

Jose: But the soup gets made, even though we had to lose Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California to get to this!…” [36]

As the discussion proceeds, Jose is particularly anxious to impress on Danny that foreign visitors need to treat Mexicans as their equals:

Jose: . . No one, amigo, not a fool nor enemy of our people, will be allowed to starve or die forgotten in this country!

Danny: I understand that.

Jose: But do you understand that once you’ve taken of feeling that we have… you must accept us and our country as your equals… and not curiosities in your winter travels? [38]

The opening lines of Act 2 reiterate the long and rich history of Mexico by including this keenly observed reference to las cabañuelas:

Jose: In the month of January, we predict the temperatures and rainfall of each month within the coming year… what crops to plant and when… what water we shall have… according to a Mayan calendar of observations that has never failed us… and never will. [47]

Despite the play being set in Ajijic, there is only a single direct reference to Lake Chapala in the entire script, in this evocative description of a rider galloping along the shore:

Danny: A spray of sand and flecks of foam fly as Diablo and his rider become one – teeth bared, bent into the wind like arrows flying. Galloping over pale sands of Lake Chapala. Disappearing into eucalyptus groves and then reappearing. Galloping in water now… grey water beaten to a mist… by Diablo’s iron hooves. [55]

Elsewhere, Danny notes how:

Fishermen, silhouetted in the dying light, haul nets into boats designed ten thousand years ago. The women gather laundry left drying on the stones, their dusky faces and their eyes haunted by memories of long ago… of kings who rode this valley, their glowing helmets ablaze with quetzal plumes gathered from the places of the dead. [59]

One revealing exchange between Danny and Jose focuses on some of Santa Angelica’s other characters:

Danny: . . Mercedes Perez, doctora who invites an illness with her languid eyes, delicious thighs and septic hands… legendary healer of small dark children with dysentery… and white gentlemen with clap…

Jose: Antonio, the fixer… a hot lunch and four hundred pesos buys anything from Antonio – a two-year visa… marriage license… death certificate.

Danny: Blind Santo, who plays one note on his harmonica beside your open window until he’s paid to go away. Over coffee he listens for the addresses of all newcomers to the town, so he can serenade them at a later time.

Jose: The pimp, Augustino… hustling disease and brightly coloured woven shawls of finest mountain wool.

Danny: The solider, Gus… ancient remnant of an ancient war. [55]

Some of these minor characters are so timeless they have reappeared on numerous occasions scattered through Ajijic’s history.

This interesting and thought-provoking play was first performed at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Canada in summer 1973, with a cast of students, directed by Tom Peacocke. Somewhat surprisingly, it has never been performed at Lake Chapala.

Sources

  • George Ryga. 1982. “An Artist in Resistance,” Canadian Theatre Review, No 33 (Winter 1982).
  • George Ryga. 1984. A portrait of Angelica. A Letter to My Son. (Two plays) Winnipeg: Turnstone Press.

Note

The published version of the play could use some light editing. It is quite irritating (for any Spanish-speaking reader) to encounter such monstrosities as “el gatto” for “el gato” and “Como esta, senors?” for “Comó están, señores?” While the absence of accents is excusable in an English-language play, the absence of the letter ñ from words that require it is not. And as for “Padre Edwardo” [sic], he should definitely be Padre Eduardo, given that w is used in Spanish only in words of foreign origin.

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

May 212020
 

Eleanor Margarite Glover, who became an acclaimed portrait painter, and lived in Ajijic 1961-1963, was born on 1 October 1919 in Big Horn, Wyoming, to a Methodist minister, shortly before the family moved to Compton, Los Angeles, California. Eleanor was the second of five children in the family.

Her father nicknamed her “Tink” at an early age because she was always tinkering with things. Her son Loy recalls that his mother, “had an uncontrollable compulsion to touch things she found interesting. She and I were actually asked to leave the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena once because she couldn’t keep her hands off the Rodin.”

Tink Strother in her Ajijic studio, ca 1962

Tink Strother in her Ajijic studio, ca 1962

After graduating from Compton Junior College, Strother spent two years studying commercial art at Frank Wiggins Trade School.

She married Vane Strother in June 1942, shortly before he was posted overseas. In his absence, Strother worked as a draftsman for Douglas Aircraft. She began to add cheery, fun illustrations to the envelopes she used to mail letters to her husband. Her envelope art was first sketched in pencil, then carefully covered with ink or watercolor.

Wartime envelope decorated by Tink Strother

Wartime envelope decorated by Tink Strother

The New Yorker eventually ran a story about similar envelopes, coincidentally at the same time as a selection of Strother’s own wartime envelopes went on display in a highly successful exhibit at the Santa Paula Society of the Arts. When asked why she had started decorating envelopes, Strother replied, “Just to entertain the guys overseas fighting in the war; I put pretty girls on most of them, some movie stars. We were young and had just gotten married”

At the end of the war, Strother, a fiery, talkative red-head with a larger than life personality, started working as a commercial artist. She took the advice of a gallery owner and enrolled in portraiture classes at Orange Coast College.

Strother first visited Ajijic in 1960, by which time her marriage was in trouble. The following June she left her husband in California and settled with her two children in the lakeside village, renting what her son remembers as, “an incredible place with a guest house,  gardens and fountains, the kitchen was a separate building with a cook, a maid and a gardener for $110 a month.” The children stayed only a year, but Strother remained in Ajijic for the next two years, returning to California in 1964.

In 1962, an exhibition of Tink Strother’s paintings was held at the Alfredo Santos gallery in Guadalajara. (Other artists showing in that exhibition included Carlos López Ruíz, Ernesto Butterlin, Filipino artist Romeo Tabuena, American artist Peter Matosian,  French artist Diane Lane Root, and Mexican artists Jorge González Camarena and A. Galvez Suarez.)

In Ajijic, Tink worked as a portrait artist and taught art. Her son remembers that she,

always had a gaggle of ladies around her (and some serious art students) with their easels trudging around the fields doing landscapes in their sun hats, or in the studio learning portraiture,

While in Ajijic, she met a Colombian artist Carlos López Ruíz (1912-1972). Their relationship continued and he accompanied her to California, where they opened a joint studio and gallery, first in Pico Rivera and then in Whittier. Strother also taught adult education art courses. Her son Loy frequently watched her teach, and describes her as a “a virtuoso teacher of painting”. He recalls her particular “party piece”:

“Tink did many demonstrations of portrait painting to classes and groups”, in which “she would take the same subject she had just done a portrait of, and draw him/her as a baby, and then age the portrait in stages to the age of about 90. People would gasp and say my God that is exactly what she looked like at that age!… And Tink talking nonstop the entire time explaining every move.”

Tink Strother was also an enthusiastic fund-raiser and offered her services as a sketch artist and caricaturist to hundreds of charity events. She would draw rapid charcoal sketches at $15 a head, sign them “Tink”, and donate all the proceeds to the charity. Loy Strother watched in awe:

“She attracted a crowd very time. It was like watching a magic act as Tink produced perfect likenesses with a few masterful strokes holding nothing in her hand but a chunk of charcoal. It would appear as if she was just waving her hand at the easel and an ethereal likeness of the subject would seem to emerge from the blank white paper.”

strother-tinkWhile portrait painting was her great love, Strother also did copper enamel jewelry, sculpture, serigraphs and graphic designs.

When her relationship with Carlos broke down (in about 1968), Strother moved to Europe where she continued to enjoy moderate success, completing a prolific number of fine portraits, living mostly in Rome, Italy.

In 1976 (several years after Carlos’ death) Strother returned to California and became deeply involved in the Santa Paula Society of the Arts and an art columnist for the Santa Paula Times. Strother lived the last few years of her life with her daughter in Barcelona, Spain, and died there on 1 January 2007.

Peggy Kelly, who wrote Strother’s obituary for the Santa Paula News praised her portraits, saying that they reflected “not only the physical likeness of the subject but also their personality and soul.”

Note This post was first published 24 December 2014.

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

May 142020
 

Thomas Philip Terry (1864-1945) was born in Georgetown, Kentucky. Terry first visited Mexico in his early twenties and spent 5 years working for The Mexican Financier, a Mexico City weekly, while writing a series of short stories and news reports for U.S. newspapers and completing a popular Spanish-English phrase book. Terry then lived briefly in New York before moving to Japan for a decade.

He had a flair for languages and this inveterate traveler and reporter witnessed first-hand the China-Japanese War, the Boxer outbreak, the Russo-Japanese war, and the Spanish-American war in the Philippines. He returned to Mexico, with his wife and their two young sons, in 1905 as manager (administrator) of the Sonora News Company, a position he held until 1910.

The Sonora News Company was a prominent publishing house, founded in Nogales, Arizona, in about 1884 by W. F. Layer. Layer established the company in order to control the news business along the Sonora railroad which ran from Guaymas to Nogales. In 1888, not long after the company opened a Mexico City office, it won the contract for supplying periodicals and other items on the Mexican National Railway (linking Mexico City to Nuevo Laredo), and for running news agents on its trains. As more and more railroad lines were built, the company continued to expand; by 1891 it had contracts with the Sonora, Central, International, National, Monterrey, and Mexican Gulf railroads.

In addition to its regular news gathering and disseminating activities, the Sonora News Company published two seminal guide books about Mexico. The first was Campbell’s new revised complete guide and descriptive book of Mexico, by Reau Campbell, published in 1899, and the second was Terry’s Mexico handbook for travellers, first published in 1909. This encyclopedic guide, thoroughly good reading, covers lots of ground that was, and still is, hard to find elsewhere.

Terry-map-Chapala

This map in Terry’s handbook, which helped persuade D. H. Lawrence to visit Chapala, shows the lake larger than it really was in 1909—the eastern swamps had been drained and reclaimed as farmland by that time.

Terry’s Mexico handbook was so well-received by President Díaz and his cabinet members that they ordered copies to be sent to every Mexican embassy, legation and trade office across the world. The guide quickly became the travel bible for Thomas Cook and Sons and other travel agencies and tourist organizations, and remained the tourist “bible” for decades.

Its description of Chapala is credited with convincing the English novelist D. H. Lawrence that he simply had to see the town and its eponymous lake for himself. During his residence at Lake Chapala, Lawrence wrote the first draft of The Plumed Serpent, using local settings and characters for inspiration.

Terry’s research was meticulous and his informative guide delves into the details of everything from history to hotels, and from shopping to excursions. It was expanded in numerous subsequent editions as Terry’s Guide to Mexico, with later editions revised by James Norman.

In 1914, Terry produced a second book on Mexico: Mexico: an outline sketch of the country, its people and their history from the earliest times to the present.

Thomas Philip Terry died in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1945.

In a curious twist of fate, Terry also has a much more recent connection to Lake Chapala in that Robert C. Terry (his grandson) retired with his wife, Judith, to Ajijic in 2007.

For more about Terry and his description of Lake Chapala, see chapter 53 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an anthology of travelers’ tales.

Sources include

  • Reau Campbell. 1899. Campbell’s new revised complete guide and descriptive book of Mexico. Mexico City: Sonora News Company, 1899.
  • The Jalisco Times, 22 August 1908.
  • The Mexican Herald, 31 March 1910, 3.
  • The Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, Illinois), 26 Mar 1910, 4.
  • Thomas Philip Terry. 1909. Terry’s Mexico Handbook for Travellers. México City: Sonora News Company and Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
  • James Tipton. 2011. “Peace Corps couple retire to their Mexico paradise.” Article on MexConnect.com
  • The Two Republics, 2 Sep 1888, 4; 2 Nov 1888, 4.

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

May 072020
 

The talented painter and musician Gustavo Sendis divided his time for much of his life between Guadalajara, where he was born in 1941, and his family’s second home in Ajijic.

Born on 8 July 1941, Sendis became interested in art at an early age and studied drawing with Juan Navarro and Ernesto Butterlin in 1958 and 1959. His father was a scientist and university lecturer who founded several important projects in the Guadalajara Hospital Civil and Sanatorio Guadalajara. Despite some parental pressure to pursue a conventional career (see comments), Gustavo chose to marry young and went to live in Europe. His father apparently supported this decision and his mother helped provide valuable contacts in regards to concerts and exhibitions.

His love of guitar music and painting took him first to the U.S., where he studied with Jack Buckingham at the University of California, Berkeley (where he lived with the family of Jim Byers), and then to Spain, where he studied with Alvaro Company (taught by Segovia) in Malaga, and with Emilio Pujol (1886-1980), the preeminent Spanish classical guitarist and composer.

Emilio Pujol (left) and Gustavo Sendis, 1965

Emilio Pujol (left) and Gustavo Sendis, 1965

On his return to Guadalajara, Sendis brought back a heartfelt open letter from Pujol, dated 1965, to “Mexican guitarists”, and began to exhibit his paintings and give public guitar recitals. In 1967 he gave a guitar recital and exhibited about 20 abstract works (painted during his time in Europe) at the Sociedad de Amigos de la Guitarra de Guadalajara on Calle Francia in Colonia Moderna. Sendis’s first formal exhibition was at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara in (1968).

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

During a second trip to Europe, he continued to exhibit his work and give guitar concerts. Practically self-taught as a painter, Sendis exhibited in several European countries, including Sociedad Cultural Ebusus in Ibiza, Spain (1970); 1970 Palacio Fox, Lisbon, Portugal (1970); University of Paris, France (1970); the Ibiza Bienal (1971); Galeria Varia, Berne, Switzerland (1974); Galeira Barsotti, Viareggion, Italy (1975); Galeria 18 de Septiembre, Prato, Italy (1976); 1977 Palacio de la Exposición, Milan, Italy (1977) and Galeria Monserrato, Monserrat Cagliari, Cerdeña, Italy (1977). He returned to Spain for a show in Málaga (1977) of paintings related to music, with titles like “Notes on the Flute”.

On his return to Mexico, Sendis lived for many years in Ajijic prior to moving first to Taxco, Guerrero (where he gave a concert in the city’s Santa Prisca church) and then to Tepoztlán, Morelos, where he suffered a fatal heart attack on 25 May 1989, while he was still in his 40s.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Throughout his life, Sendis entertained people with his sensitive guitar playing. For example in June 1972 he was performing nightly in Ajijic at the El Tejaban restaurant-gallery (then run by Jan Dunlap and Manuel Urzua). The following month, he had a month-long solo show at the gallery of paintings that had been shown previously in “Paris, Madrid, Lisbon and several other cities in Europe”.

Sendis recorded one record, Tras la huella de Sendis, and there is also a cassette tape, entitled Homenaje a Emilio Pujol, of a recital by Sendis in August 1987 in the Santa María church in Tepoztlan, Morelos, made by Victor Rapoport from an original recording belonging to Alice Mickelli. The cassette, released by the family in 1995, includes two pieces by Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), one by Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849) and two composed by the guitarist himself: “Danza Nahuatl” and “Paisajes”.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

In March 1974, he showed several paintings alongside works by his mother, Alicia Sendis, and Sheryl Stokes at  La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic. The inspiration for many of his paintings came from Jalisco scenes that he knew as a child. In fellow artist Tom Faloon’s words, Sendis “did some wonderful paintings, and pretty much lived in his own world.” In addition to conventional paintings on flat surfaces, Sendis is also known to have painted scenes on stoneware plates.

He continued to exhibit frequently into the early 1980s, showing works at the Salón de Octubre, Casa de la Cultura, Guadalajara (1978, 1979, 1980); Ex-convento del Carmen, Guadalajara (1980); Plástica Jalisco ’81, Casa de la Cultura, Guadalajara (1981); Galeria Atelier, Guadalajara (1981); Galería Uno, Puerto Vallarta (1982) and Collage, Galería de Arte, Monterrey, Nuevo León (1982).

Though the details remain a mystery, a selection of his works was exhibited at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada in July 1980, in a joint show with Zbigniew Olak and Aquatic Exotic.

In June 1984 Sendis exhibited at the Centro de Investigación y Difusión del Arte Exedra in Zapopan, Guadalajara (Paseo del Prado #387, Lomas del Valle).

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

In 2010 a major “Winter Collective” exhibition in Guadalajara at Galería Vértice included a Sendis painting, alongside originals by such renowned artists as Rufino Tamayo, Gustavo Aceves, José Clemente Orozco, Rafael Coronel, Gunther Gerzso, Leonora Carrington and Juan Soriano. Sendis’s work was also included in a similar exhibition the following year, alongside works by Georg Rauch, Jose Luis Cuevas, Juan Soriano and Francisco Toledo.

Sendis is included, deservedly, in Guillermo Ramírez Godoy’s book Cuatro Siglos de Pintura Jalisciense (“Four Centuries of Jaliscan Painting”).

When the Guadalajara newspaper El Informador reached its centenary in 2017, the paper’s director, Carlos Álvarez del Castillo, selected 100 pieces of art from the “Fundación J. Álvarez del Castillo” collection of horse-related paintings and sculptures to be displayed at the Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara. The exhibit, entitled “Equinos 100”, includes the very first painting acquired for the collection – a painting by Gustavo Sendis.

This is an updated version of a profile originally published on 26 February 2015 (and reprinted with additional material on 2 October 2017).

Acknowledgments

My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram, Jan Dunlap and the late Tom Faloon for sharing with me their memories of Gustavo Sendis, and for the valuable additions and clarifications by Gustavo’s niece Isabel Cristina de Sendis and by Adriana Rodríguez (see comments section). Special thanks are also due to Hilda Mendoza of Ajijic for her generous and treasured gift of the cassette tape, Homenaje a Emilio Pujol.

Sources:

  • Anon. 1979. “Madrona exposition centre – 1980 schedule of shows”. Staff Bulletin (Malaspina College, Nanaimo, B.C.), 21 December 1979 (Vol 1 #13).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 3 June 1972; 10 June 1972; 1 July 1972; 16 March 1974
  • Ramon Macias Mora. 2001. Las seis cuerdas de la guitarra (Editorial Conexión Gráfica).
  • Guillermo Ramírez Godoy. 2003. “La dualidad artística del pintor y guitarrista Gustavo Sendis”. El Informador (Guadalajara), 26 Oct 2003.
  • Guillermo Ramírez Godoy and Arturo Camacho Becerra. 1996. Cuatro Siglos de Pintura Jalisciense (Cámara Nacional de Comercio de Guadalajara).
  • Ramiro Torreblanco. 1981. “Pintor de Profundid”, El Informador, 14 June 1981.

Note: Galería Vértice catalogs were at http://www.verticegaleria.com/esp/antes_exp.asp?cve_exp=82

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

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