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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.

Apr 302020
 

Given its underlying theme, it seems eerily appropriate—given the current Covid-19 lockdown at Lake Chapala—to take a quick look at William S. Stone’s short story entitled “La Soñadora” (“The Dreamer), published in Mexican Life in 1947.

Stone-story

The illustration is by Valentín Vidaurreta, better known as one of the greatest silver designers in 20th century Mexico

The protagonist is a young doctor who has arrived with a group of American miners looking for gold in the hills behind the village:

It was in the year 1918 that a group of Americans came to the Mexican village of Ajijic to mine gold in the mountains a bare two kilometers away. A truly white face had rarely before been seen and now, all at once, there was a score of them. It came nearer to stirring the village from its apathy than any other event of the last half century. But, after a brief period of mutely staring inspection, the foreigners would have been forgotten, would have aroused no more interest that the lizards which swarmed the adobe walls or the porkers wandering the muddy lanes, had it not been for the young doctor who came with them.

Dr Mason had a way of going into their hovels where he could not be entirely ignored. For that was the year of the plague. Dog-tired after ministering to those who were sick among his own party at the mine, he would stumble down the trail to the village. There, without being told, he seemed to know in which houses were the stricken and without a word he would stalk almost as though sleep-walking to the mat-side, with his medicine case in hand.

During the early days of the epidemic, before fatigue had dulled his faculties, he had been surprised and curious at the reception that his visit met. The circle of silent watchers about the afflicted one would part reluctantly. Eyes which had been fixed in sodden helplessness on the victim would turn upon him, burning dully with hostility. And, so he thought, with fear.”

As the epidemic rages around him, Mason continues trying to help the local people but becomes more and more pulled in to the villagers’ world of intrigue, sorcery, and witchcraft. Mason repeatedly overhears them repeating three names in particular:

Carlota, the bruja, the ancient village witch and healer. María, the young cantinera, the operator of a small saloon—she who was literate, her head raised nearly free above the others, but her feet still enmeshed in rank weeds of superstition. Finally Juan, the medico, the outsider who had laughed at witches’ spells and cured with white man’s magic.”

Before long, Mason is drawn back into events that happened eighteen years earlier, in 1900, and his imagination works overtime as the present becomes blurred with the past.

Stone had an enviable talent with words and wrote dozens of short stories and, in a lengthy career, several books, mostly set in Hawaii. These include Teri Taro from Bora Bora (1940); Thunder island (1942); Pépé was the saddest bird (1944); The ship of flame, a saga of the South seas (1945); Tahiti landfall (1948); Two came by sea (1953); Castles in the sand (1955); The coral tower (1959) and Idylls of the South Seas (1970).

William Standish Stone was born to Captain Arthur W. Stone, a US naval officer, and his wife in Santa Barbara, California, in 1905 and died in Hawaii on 13 January 1970.

While completing a liberal arts degree at Harvard, Stone became very familiar with Mexico, making numerous trips into the interior during vacations before living and traveling there for several years, learning Spanish and “nursing an ambition to write.” When he returned to the US, Stone settled in Tucson and completed a law degree at the University of Arizona. He continued his writing career alongside learning to fly and running a legal practice in Tucson for many years. Stone married Virginia Moss Haydon (1909-1972) in May 1931.

If you know more about William Standish Stone’s time in Mexico, please get in touch!

I’m sure that Dr. Mason’s dreamy spirit lives on in Ajijic and fully expect to see him sitting on his bench in the plaza next time I visit…

Sources

  • Arizona Daily Star, 24 Dec 1935.
  • Honolulu Advertiser, 16 Jan 1970, 49.
  • William S. Stone. “La Soñadora,” Mexican Life, March 1947, p 13-14, 74-84.
  • Vanity Fair, January 1936.

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.

Apr 232020
 

At first glance this may not seem to be the most exciting photograph of Lake Chapala ever used for a postcard. However, “Casa Abitia” – the card’s publisher – was the business name for one of Mexico’s most interesting, pioneering and remarkable photographers.

Casa Abitia: Chapala postcard

Casa Abitia. “Orillas del lago, Chapala, Jal.” ca 1920.

Jesús Hermenegildo Abitia Garcés, commonly known simply as Chucho Abitia, was born in Batuchic, Chihuahua, on 13 April 1881, spent his early years in Sonora, and died in Mexico City in 1960.

He took his first photographs at the age of 12, after spending his savings – all US$2.50 of them – on an American camera. In 1905, in his twenties, he set up a photography business in Hermosillo, Sonora, named Abitia Hermanos Fotógrafos, that specialized in the distribution of Eastman Kodak products and materials. He was also a pioneer of moving pictures in Mexico, shooting such reels as El mata mujeres (“He kills women”), Los amores de Novelty (“The loves of Novelty”), Los dos reclutas (“The two recruits”) and El robo del perico (“Theft of the parakeet”), all released in 1913.

During the Mexican Revolution, Abitia joined the Ejército del Noroeste (Constitutional Army of the Northwest) commanded by his former school friend, Álvaro Obregón. As a propaganda officer, Abitia recorded the advance of Obregón’s constitutionalist troops as they took control of Culiacán, Mazatlán and Guadalajara before entering Mexico City in August 1914. Obregón was joined in Mexico City a few days later by Venustiano Carranza who established a new government.

In about 1914, and in cooperation with other family members, he established a photographic business – Abitia Hermanos Fotógrafos – in Guadalajara. He was commissioned by then president, Venustiano Carranza, to travel throughout Mexico, shooting documentaries to be shown across Latin America as a means of promoting the country’s progress.

Abitia’s family photography business in Guadalajara continued to operate until 1926. The family store, operating initially as “Abitia Hnos y Cia” and later as “La Casa del Fotógrafo”, was located at Avenida 16 de Septiembre #160. It advertised its products – all sizes and formats of Kodak film “direct from the factory” – and services sporadically over the next few years, occasionally offering discounts such as “10% off all films, plates, papers and postcards”.

This mention of postcards strongly suggests that the Abitia view of Chapala, illustrating this post, dates from about this time. In 1921, a display advert in El Informador boasted that Casa Abitia offered “Tarjetas Postales de Guadalajara y Chapala. Hermosa colección, única en la ciudad.” (“Postcards of Guadalajara and Chapala. Beautiful collection. Unique in the city.”)

Abitia also continued to make movies and, in 1922, with a budget of $300,000 pesos, he founded the Estudios Chapultepec in Mexico City. The earliest Mexican movie with sound was Santa, filmed here in 1931.

At some point, Abitia acquired the Hacienda San Gaspar in Jiutepec, just outside the city of Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos. In the late 1940s, he built a trout farm on part of the property.

In addition to his career as a photographer, Abitia was an accomplished violinist and built several innovative stringed instruments. He first made string instruments in about 1900. His instruments were of high acoustic quality and craftsmanship and included a viola, a violeta (between a viola and a violin) and a violetín (a fifth sharper than a violin) as well as an ultrabajo (five tones below a doublebass). He collaborated with the notable Mexican musical inventor, Julián Carillo in the development and perfection of Sonido 13. (For more about this unusual musical system, see chapter 25 of my Mexican Kaleidoscope.)

For a sample of Abitia’s documentary work, this short silent documentary – “Los combates de Celaya (Abril 1915)” – is viewable on Youtube. Abitia filmed this in April 1915 as General Alvaro Obregón and his forces took the city of Celaya, Guanajuato. (The music accompanying the film on Youtube is by the Hermanos Záizar.)

Sources

  • Anon. 2018. “Jesús Hermenegildo Abitia Garcés“, post dated 17 April 2019 on Facebook page, Jesus H. Abitia (1881-1960).  [4 June 2019]
  • El Constitucionalista, Diario Oficial. 3 September 1914, 2.
  • El Informador: 23 Dec 1917, 2; 7 June 1918, 3; 21 February 1920, 8; 20 June 1920, 6; 4 August 1920; 8 January 1921, 7; 24 June 1922; 12 Feb 1923, 3; 14 March 1926, 8.
  • Angel Miguel. Undated. Jesús Hermenegildo Abitia Garcés: Biografía. Fundación Carmen Toscano, archivo histórico cinematográfico. [4 June 2019]
  • Periódico Oficial del Estado de Morelos. 18 June 1939, 1; 27 September 1942, 2; 26 Nov 1947, 1.
  • El Pueblo, 25 Feb 1918, 1.

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.

Apr 162020
 

Ajijic first bloomed into a center for art and artists in the 1940s. By the end of that decade, the village boasted at least one gallery, and several entrepreneurial artists were involved in offering seasonal art classes, initially for summer visitors from the U.S.

During the 1950s, word-of-mouth gradually spread Ajijic’s “fame” as an artistic center. One of the many attractions offered by Ajijic for artists was that it was inexpensive, especially compared to prices north of the border.

Photo by Haig Shekerjian.

Portrait by Haig Shekerjian.

Among the couples attracted in part by Ajijic’s affordability were Regina de Cormier Shekerjian (1923-2000), a well-known poet, author, translator and illustrator of children’s books, and her husband, Haig Shekerjian (1922-2002), a photographer.

They first visited Ajijic when Haig took a sabbatical over the winter of 1950-51 and they spent several months living in the village. They returned frequently thereafter, including numerous times in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Regina contributed to boosting Ajijic’s popularity as an arts center by writing one of the earliest articles dedicated to extolling its virtues to the art-loving public north of the border. In 1952, when one U.S. dollar was worth 8.65 pesos, in an article entitled “You can Afford a Mexican Summer,” she explained why Ajijic was the ideal location for an inexpensive art-themed summer break:

Nine times out of ten, an artist pinches pennies. Nowhere in the world can a penny be pinched as hard as it can today in Mexico, a land intended for the artist.

Mexico is filled with color. Purples, pinks, red and orange. Color in a high key, layered through with dun-colored space and fingered with tall blue mountains. A checkerboard of tonal dissonance and silence. A strange land. Every era of civilization co-exists, side by side, Aztec temples, pyramids and medieval cities, beautifully preserved. Pre-Columbian idols can be unearthed along the lake shore or mud edge. Its rural villages are much as they were before the Conquest. Ancient superstitions tangle with Catholicism, producing a pageantry that begs to be painted.

– – –
Having lived on a strict peso budget for four months now in the tiny town of Ajijic (pronounced Ah-hee-heek) we have discovered it is possible for two people to live comfortably in a five-room-with-patio-and-garden house; buy food, ice, kerosene for the stove, gas for the car, art and photographic supplies, postage, cigarettes, have lunch once a week in Guadalajara (forty miles way) and even indulge in a bit of entertaining for about $70 a month! Ajijic, I must point out, is more expensive than many other small villages. It is perfectly possible to get both board and room for eight or twelve pesos a day. Many people do it, for there are many places still where the Mexican is as yet unaware of what the present ration means. Even the houses in Ajijic (big, cool, adobe houses with gardens of tropical flowers and all kinds of fruit trees) rent from six to twelve dollars a month. And a servant who will cook, clean, shop, and wash and iron your clothes (leaving you free to paint) can be had for the standard wage of $5 a month. We spend eight pesos a day – a trifle less than a dollar for food, ice and kerosene. And this includes meat everyday for three hearty appetites, ours and a big Airedale’s.

For companionship in our particular village you will find an assortment of writers, artists and musicians, that reminds you, naturally, of Greenwich Village. Some have been here two or three years, returning at the end of each six months to renew their tourist cards, then hurrying back to finish a project. Others are teachers on summer vacation.”

Source:

  • Regina Shekerjian. 1952. “You can Afford a Mexican Summer: Complete Details on how to Stretch your Dollars During an Art Trek South of the Border” in Design, Volume 53, 1952, Issue 8, pp 182-183, 197.

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.

Apr 092020
 

Accompanied by his family, multilingual Polish-born artist and educator Harry Mintz (1907-2002) was a frequent visitor to Lake Chapala from the 1970s into the 1990s. His first recorded visit was in 1974, when the local paper reported that the family was spending the summer in Chula Vista and that it was a working vacation for Harry who “hopes to complete a series of water colors while in this lakeside community.” On that occasion, the family stayed about a month before returning to Chicago with plans to revisit Lake Chapala the following summer.

The family eventually based themselves in a house/studio on the western outskirts of Ajijic at Linda Vista #14 where Harry’s large, bright studio reverberated to the sound of classical music as he worked on his oil paintings and various series of prints. In later years, he produced a series of vivid abstracts, known by his family as Paint Pours.

While in Mexico, Harry Mintz became a good friend of talented photographer Bert Miller.
Mintz’s daughter, Sari, recalls how much her father loved Mexico:

My father found the country and culture to be alive and real and exciting and could hardly wait for my school teacher mother to finish teaching in June so they could load the car and drive to Lake Chapala. Dad loved the markets, the streets, the people, the colors, the trees, the villages. He couldn’t get enough.”

According to his U.S. naturalization papers (filed in 1941), Mintz was born in Ostrowiec, Poland, on 27 September 1904. He is thought to have studied at Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts before crossing the Atlantic to start a fellowship in Brazil. From Brazil Mintz moved to the U.S., arriving in New York aboard the SS Southern Cross on 12 May 1924. In the U.S., Mintz studied at the Chicago Art Institute and, during the 1930s, was a registered artist for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project.

Mintz was certainly living in Chicago by 1932 and was still living there when he applied for naturalization in 1941. His decision to seek naturalization appears to have been motivated by his marriage to Marjory Elizabeth Carter in Chicago the previous year, on 10 February 1940. That marriage lasted about a decade.

Mintz taught art at the Evanston Art Center (1940-1970), the North Shore Art League (1950-1959) and was on the faculty of the Art Institute of Chicago (1955-1970). He was also a visiting professor of art at Washington University, St. Louis (1954-1955). He took early retirement from his teaching positions to focus exclusively on his art, which became increasingly abstract.

Mintz was a regular visitor to Mexico from the 1940s onwards, spending time in a number of places but mostly in the city of Guanajuato and the art center of San Miguel de Allende. Mintz was teaching at the Bellas Artes school in San Miguel de Allende in 1958 when he met and fell in love with Rosabelle Vita Truglio, a visiting summer student. After the briefest of courtships, they married on 1 September 1958 and subsequently had two children. Their daughter, Sari Rachel Mintz, in an interview for a Chicago style magazine, summarized her father’s reaction on meeting his soulmate:

He looked like Picasso, spoke 12 languages, met my mother in Mexico when she was 23 and he was 57, swept her off her feet, convinced her to dump a fiancé back home and married her in a month. I have one brother, and both of our birth certificates say he was 57 when we were born, so we really never knew his age.”

The article (about Sari’s very stylish Chicago home) includes a photo of a Mintz Monotype (a single print from an original painted on glass) entitled “Tree in Ajijic, Mexico” painted in 1983.

Harry Mintz. Mexican street. 1952. (Auctioned by Hindman, Chicago, in 2007)

Harry Mintz. Mexican street. 1952. (Auctioned by Hindman, Chicago, in 2007)

Mintz held more than 40 one-man shows, mainly in the Chicago area. Venues included the Art Institute of Chicago; Evanston Arts Center and the Ruth Volid Gallery. He also had solo shows in Heller Gallery, New York City; John Heller Gallery, New York City; Feingarten Galleries, Chicago, and Beverly Hills, California (1961); the University of Judaism, Los Angeles and the Galeria Escondida in Taos, New Mexico.

Mintz’s curriculum also lists two solo shows in Mexico: at the Galería del Arte, Guadalajara (1987) and at ARTestudio in Ajijic (date unknown).

His works were also included in more than 300 group shows, including the New York World’s Fair (1940); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; Carnegie International, Pittsburgh; Venice Biennale in Italy; Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco; Corcoran Gallery of Art; Washington, D.C.; Museum of Cincinnati, Cincinnati; the Milwaukee Art Institute; and Denver Art Museum.

Mintz had a work selected for the 66th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity in 1963. By coincidence, Stanley Sourelis, another artist with close connections to Chicago and the Lake Chapala area, also had a work in that show.

Examples of Mintz’s fine paintings can be found in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Whitney Museum; Warsaw Academy Fine Arts; Museum of Art in Tel-Aviv, Israel; Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro; Evansville (Indiana) Museum; Notre Dame University; Northwestern University; Columbus University (Ohio).

A large collection of documents and photographs relating to Mintz and his art are held in the Ryerson and Burnham Archives of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Acknowledgments

My sincere thanks to Sari Mintz, for her help in compiling this profile of her father, and to Jenni Mykrantz, who manages Mintz’s art estate.

Sources

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

 Posted by at 5:40 am  Tagged with:
Apr 022020
 

Winifred Martin, a journalist working for the The San Bernardino Sun in California, spent six weeks in Mexico in 1909 and has left us a first-hand account of staying at the Hotel Ribera Castellanos (located mid-way between Jamay and Ocotlán near the eastern end of the lake), one of Mexico’s most fashionable resorts at the time.

Extolling the virtues of “the delightful balminess,” perfect temperature and “gentle lapping of the waves,” Martin labeled the Hotel Ribera Castellanos “a place unique in all the great republic of Mexico.”

The hotel is picturesque and charming with lawns sloping steeply to the water’s edge… the long rambling building with its tiled roof fits well into the setting. Song birds fill the trees and birds of brilliant scarlet plumage, mingle with their kin of the silver voices. Mesquite trees with foliage like a species of acacia, are among those which dot the lawn, with banana plants, palms, bougainvillea, geraniums and other plants with gorgeous blooms in unstudied arrangement.”

She praised the hotel management:

Mr. and Mrs Sumrow, formerly of the Kenilworth Inn at Asheville, North Carolina, are managing the Ribera now, and give Americans a warm welcome. The chef is Chinese and the other servants as a matter of course are Mexicans. Horseback and coach rides are very popular and a number of interesting trips may be made, that to the old Indian village of Jamay, being one of the most popular.”

Martin also comments on how native boats with square sails plied the waters of the picturesque lake, which was a “hunters paradise during October, November and December, 22 species of game birds being found thereabouts.”

When Martin visited in 1909, the hotel was building an “addition with 58 rooms and baths.” The hacienda, of which the hotel was part, employed 230 men and produced “wheat, corn, and garbanzas.”

During her Mexico trip in 1909, Martin also made “delightful visits to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, and a score of other places of interest in the mañana land.” She concludes in her article that she shares “the experience of every traveler there, in that she was loath to leave and longs to enjoy the trip again.”

Winifred Martin, who never married, was born on 6 February 1869 in Cloverdale, Indiana, and died in San Bernardino, at the age of 92, on 22 June 1961. She began her career by working on The Transcript, a newspaper started in San Bernardino by her father in 1898. Her brother, Ernest Martin, who later became the San Bernardino postmaster, also worked there. At that time, San Bernardino was little more than “a harsh frontier town of muddy streets and drab buildings.” When her father sold The Transcript, Martin moved to the Daily Sun, beginning a long career with that paper (and its later iterations) that extended almost 60 years.

Martin was the paper’s social correspondent and chronicled social activities, births, marriages and deaths of three generations of San Bernardino families, always insisting on checking out key facts in person and never relying only on telephone conversations. She would work late into the night writing and checking material that would appear in the following morning’s edition.

Even as her health declined, Martin refused to slow down or retire. Even though needing a wheelchair in her later years, she still attended the annual Sun Company Christmas party, where she would be introduced as the “Grand Lady of the Sun Company”. In memory of her outstanding contributions, the paper established a Winifred Martin Scholarship which was awarded annually to the outstanding female journalism student in San Bernardino high schools.

Sources

  • Anon. “Personal”. The San Bernardino County Sun, 9 Dec 1909, 5.
  • Robert L Harrison. 1961. Winifred Martin Taken by Death. San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, 23 June 1961, C12, C17.
  • Winifrid Martin. 1909. “Astray in Mexico: South Republic Exiles Give Thanks.” The San Bernardino Sun, 4 Dec 1909, 5.

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.

Mar 262020
 

German artist Peter Woltze is primarily known as a watercolorist who specialized in street scenes and architectural studies. He lived in the U.S. for many years at the end of the 19th century and his beautiful painting of Chapala, dated 1899, is among the earliest watercolors known of the region.

Friedrich Karl Peter Berthold Woltze was born in Halberstadt, Germany, on 1 April 1860, the son of portrait painter Berthold Woltze (1829-1896) and his wife, Anna. Peter Woltze studied in Weimar, Karlsruhe, Munich, Venice and Rome.

At the age of 26, he left Germany on 29 August 1886 for the U.S., where he lived for most of the next 14 years. His decision to emigrate may have been at the encouragement or invitation of Austrian artist August Löhr (1843-1919) or German artist Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1845–1921) who had partnered to establish the American Panorama Company (APC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, two years earlier. They commissioned as many as twenty German artists to work on large panoramic paintings for the APC. Löhr later moved to Mexico, where he painted Lake Chapala in about 1905.

Woltze certainly worked with the APC and the timing of his decision to cross the Atlantic to Milwaukee appears to confirm that he knew he would find employment there. During his years in Milwaukee, Woltze studied art with Heine (who set up the Heine School of Art in 1888) and contributed to several German language publications.

Peter Woltze. 1899. Chapala. (Credit: Auktionshaus Angerland, Germany)

Peter Woltze. 1899. Chapala. (Credit: Auktionshaus Angerland, Germany)

The permanent collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum has several Woltze paintings, including one of his few known portraits. In style, Woltze, influenced by the Grand-Ducal Saxon Art School in Weimar, moved away from classical composition towards more natural “genre” paintings based on an appreciation of nature. Among the other prominent artists of this School was Max Beckmann, who also moved to the U.S., where he taught creative American artist Barbara Zacheisz Elstob, who painted in Ajijic in the early 1950s.

Woltze became a member of the influential Salmagundi Club of New York, which holds regular art exhibitions and has amassed its own permanent collection, which includes a work by Gerald Collins Gleeson (1915-1986) who also painted in Chapala. Alan Horton Crane (1901-1969), also a member of the Salmagundi Club, visited Chapala in 1949 to produce some striking lithographs.

In addition to painting scenes in the Milwaukee region, Woltze also spent time in New Orleans and the south, where he painted numerous street and genre scenes.

Woltze visited Chapala in 1899, only a year after the opening of the town’s first international hotel, the Hotel Arzapalo. (Chicago-based artist Richard Smith Robbins (1863-1908) had visited Chapala the year before.) Woltze’s lovely watercolor of Chapala, sold at auction in Germany in 2019, is unusual in that it does not show the lake but focuses on the essential elements of rural life.

In 1900, Woltze returned to live in Germany, settling initially in Frankfurt am Main. Three years later, on 27 March 1903, he married Helene Meurer in Weimar in central Germany. The couple moved to Weimar in 1907, the same year Woltze published a portfolio of watercolor views of the city’s historic buildings.

Peter and Helene Woltze visited the U.S. in October 1909. Four years later, his wife returned to New York to mount an exhibition of almost 100 of her husband’s superb watercolors at the Waldorf-Astoria. A news report of the time emphasized the quality of the works on display, which were all “painted on English water color paper in English-made colors.”

Peter Woltze died in Weimar on 4 April 1925, at the age of 65. Examples of his Milwaukee paintings have occasionally appeared in group shows, such as Wisconsin Artists 1855 Until Today (1963); A Century Plus of Wisconsin Watercolors (1976); Collecting the Art of Wisconsin – The Early Years (1996) and An Unfolding Story… Panorama Painting In Milwaukee (2008).

Sources

  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 6 December 1913, 7.
  • William Gerdts. 1990. Art Across America. Abbeville Pr, vol. 2: 333.
  • John A. Mahé, Rosanne McCaffrey (eds). 1987. Encyclopaedia of New Orleans Artists, 1718-1918, p 418.
  • Museum of Wisconsin Art. 2007. “Peter Woltze” (biography).
  • Estill C Pennington (Contributor), James C Kelly (Contributor). 1985. The South on Paper: Line, Color and Light. Saraland Pr/Robert M Hicklin Jr Inc.
  • The Post-Crescent (Appleton, Wisconsin) 29 January 1967, 22.

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

 Posted by at 5:39 am  Tagged with:
Mar 192020
 

Ken Smedley and his wife, Dorianne Smedley-Kohl, lived and performed at Lake Chapala from 1978 until 1989. Ken was a long-time friend of George Ryga, and the couple stayed initially at Ryga’s “cottage” in San Antonio Tlayacapan, before moving later to Ajijic, where they rented a house opposite “La Rusa” on Calle Independencia.

Image: Cover art of Smedley’s “Arrest That Naked Image”

Ken Smedley is an actor, director and dramatist who grew up in Kamloops, British Columbia. Smedley has presented one-man shows such as “Three of a Certain Kind” at Fringe festivals in Edmonton and Vancouver (both in 1986) and was a founding member of the Western Canada Theatre Company, now a professional theatre. He has directed plays at the Phoenix Theatre in the U.K. and several radio plays for CBC.

During his time in Ajijic, Smedley wrote Horn Swoggled, an over-the-top Pinteresque black comedy set in Mexico. The play was performed as a stage reading at several locations – Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and Armstrong – in the interior of British Columbia in 1994.

The setting for Horn Swoggled is a gathering of relatives mourning the family’s dead matriarch, whose body lies in a casket in the living room. As the assorted relatives – including the priceless family patriarch, “Don Porfidio”, who clutches a gallon jug of tequila throughout – interact, they recall past events, recount differing versions of past events and argue angrily and vehemently with each other.

While the Smedleys were living in Mexico, Smedley directed several productions at Lake Chapala, including plays by Joanna Glass, Jack Heifner, David Marnet and Harold Pinter. Perhaps the single most noteworthy production was Smedley’s dinner-theater offering, in 1979 at the (Old) Posada Ajijic, of Portrait of a Lady, a Tribute to Margaret Laurence. This work, based on George Ryga’s seminal adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s classic novel The Stone Angel, featured Dorian Kohl’s acclaimed portrayal of heroine Hagar Shipley, a role Kohl has reprised numerous times since, in theaters across British Columbia.

Smedley was later appointed director of the George Ryga Centre, a cultural venue occupying Ryga’s former home in Summerland, British Columbia, Canada. Due to funding problems, the center closed in 2013.

Dorianne Smedley-Kohl (also known as Dorian Kohl) is a Canadian model, actress and artist. Dorianne was a fashion model in Toronto, New York, Paris and London for more than a decade, before becoming a regular on the “Wayne & Shuster Hour” on television. She has also appeared in the CBC TV series “The Party Game”, “The Actioneer” and many other works. Her stage performances include roles at Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre, in “The King and I” and in “Pal Joey”.

In 1988, Ken and Dorianne Smedley were instrumental in mounting the first (and only) Ajijic Fringe Theatre – “El Fringe” – which included performances by Dorianne in “Circle of the Indian Year”, and by Ken in “Ringside Date with the Angel”, alongside various other events.

smedley-kohl-diego

Terence “Diego” Smedley-Kohl

The couple’s son Terence “Diego” Smedley-Kohl was born in Ajijic and spent the first ten years of his life in Mexico. Diego later became a member of “El Mariachi (Los Dorados)”, a Canadian mariachi band that had the honor of playing at the prestigious International Mariachi Festival in Guadalajara a few years ago.

Want to find the play?

  • Ken Smedley. 1983. Horn Swoggled. Canada: Rich Fog Micro Publishing (2019).

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.

Mar 122020
 

American couple Jim and Gloria Marthai took early retirement and moved to Ajijic in 1969. After 5 years there, they opted out of its bright lights in favor of the small village of San Pedro Tesistán on the south side of the lake. Very very few foreign residents have chosen to live in San Pedro; the Marthais lived there 15 years, enjoying the simple life and rural surroundings. Gloria, a keen rider, made regular forays on her horse to nearby villages and to the higher elevations behind their home, including the summit of the volcanic peak Cerro García, the highest point around the lake.

The Marthais’ lifestyle and willingness to learn Spanish enabled them to take an active part in village life and they quickly gained friends and became well integrated into their adopted community.

The couple later moved to the Roca Azul subdivision on the outskirts of Jocotepec.

James Louis Marthai (born in New York City on 22 November 1918) had first met Gloria (born in Canton, Ohio, on 7 September 1928) in California, where they both worked for General Dynamics Corporation, and married in Nevada on 28 June 1958.

The Marthais spent the first six years of their early retirement cruising the Bahamas and the U.S. east coast aboard their private 43-foot classic Elko cruiser.

After returning to live on land in Mexico in 1969, Jim Marthai developed his skills in poetry, sculpture, ivory carving and jewelry design.

He read some of his original poems at a Sunday evening of music and poetry held in 1971 at the home of Aileen Melby, a poet and children’s author, and her husband, Arthur. Jules Rubinstein and Katie Ingram also read poems at that informal soirée.

James Marthai. Drawing used for charity card in aid of Amigos de Salud.

James Marthai. 1977. Drawing used for charity card in aid of Amigos de Salud.

Jim was an accomplished sculptor, carver-especially of miniatures-and jeweler, using raw materials that varied from ebony and bone to walrus tusks and precious metals. He also made one-of-a-kind hunting knives.

Gloria immersed herself in Mexico and her experiences were the basis for a series of stories written for Mexconnect, El Ojo del Lago and the Lake Chapala Review. She contributed several pieces to Aguas Marías: Border Crossers, Boundary Breakers, a compilation of writings by 10 American and Canadian women living at Lake Chapala. Her one-paragraph bio in that book summed up her motivation to write:

“When I came to Mexico in 1969, I entered a time warp. It was the United States 100 years ago, a land of the horse. I was, and still am, intrigued and inspired by this country. I studied Spanish and bought my first horse early on, which led to easy assimilation into rural village life and an endless trail of adventure. How could I not write about it? Besides, I like tequila.”

In addition, she made made artistic shirts, mosaics and unusual decorative mobiles, frequently using bone and recycled materials.

Both Jim and Gloria Marthai had artwork exhibited in a show in October 1976 entitled “Arts and Crafts of Lake Chapala”, held at the ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara and organized by the Jalisco State government. Other Lakeside artists in that show included Antonio Cardenas; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Antonio López Vega; Julia Michel [Gail Michel]; Bert Miller; Dionisio Morales; and Georg Rauch.

The following month, Gloria’s “bone mobiles” and Jim’s “crafted jewelry” were on sale at an Art and Craft Bazaar organized in Ajijic by Galería del Lago. Gallery manager Katie Goodridge Ingram, subsequently included Jim’s work in a show she organized for the Jalisco Fine Arts and Tourism departments in Puerto Vallarta. (That show also included works by Jean Caragonne; Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Richard Frush; Hubert Harmon; Rocky Karns; Gail Michel; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; Georg Rauch; and Sylvia Salmi.)

In 1977, Jim Marthai’s drawing of a village scene (image) was used for the Amigos de Salud charity cards, available in either color or black and white. That same year Marthai illustrated The Before and After Dinner Cookbook, written by two Lakeside residents, Charlotte McNamara and Lenore Howell.

Jim Marthai died in Mexico on 14 March 2005; his wife, Gloria, passed away on 11 November 2011.

In a strange twist of horsehair, Jim Marthai’s legacy still lives on in the small town of Cajititlán, mid-way between Chapala and Guadalajara, where several families make hand-woven belts, sashes and bands for charro hats from long strands of horsehair. It was Marthai who first taught the techniques to a local woman, Consuelo Cervantes, and her son Diego in the early 1980s. She has since taught others. The unusual and ingenious handicrafts are sold at rodeos and charro events.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Phyllis Rauch for sharing her fond memories of Jim and Gloria Marthai.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 6 Feb 1971; 20 March 1971; 30 Oct 1976, 23; 8 Oct 1977, 18; 18 November 2011.
  • El Informador: 25 Oct 1976.
  • Charlotte McNamara and Lenore Howell. 1977. The Before and After Dinner Cookbook (illustrations by James L. Marthai). Atheneum.
  • Ojo del Lago: November 1987.
  • John Pint. 2012. “Mexican artisans of Lake Cajititlan.” MexConnect.com. 18 May 2012.  [25 March 2019]

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.

Mar 052020
 

German poet, author and journalist Gustav Regler lived for almost a year in Ajijic from late 1947 or early 1948. Regler had lived several years in Mexico City where he was a close friend of Ezra Read Goodridge, a rare book dealer, and his wife Helen Kirtland (who moved to Ajijic shortly before Regler’s visit and later founded the hand looms business, Telares Ajijic). Helen’s daughter, Katie Goodridge Ingram, a child at the time, has fond memories of Regler who encouraged her early efforts at writing. (Ingram’s fascinating memoir of her childhood in Mexico City and Ajijic, According to Soledad, has just been published.)

Regler was born on 25 May 1898 in Merzig (now in Saarland, Germany) and died in India in 1963.

After sustaining serious injuries served his native country in the first world war, he joined the Communist party and lived for a time in the Soviet Union. While working with the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War he became friends with Ernest Hemingway. He was seriously injured and spent several months in hospital before leaving Spain.

Back in Germany, he gained a reputation as a vocal critic of the Third Reich which banned his books and led to him having to leave the country and move to Mexico.

After living in Ajijic at the end of the 1940s, Regler returned to Mexico City and then established his home on a farm in the small village of Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos. He was traveling in India to receive an award when he died in 1963. (Several other artists associated with Lake Chapala had homes inTepoztlán in the 1970s and 1980s, including painter and guitarist Gustavo Sendis, sculptor and painter Adolfo Riestra and photographer Toni Beatty.)

Regler wrote several books, including one about the Spanish Civil War: Das große Beispiel (“The great example”), translated, with an introduction by Hemingway, as The Great Crusade (1940).

In Mexico, Regler composed Jungle Hut: a ballad, a 37-page booklet of poetry (in English), published in Mexico City by Ediciones “Fraile” in May 1946 in a limited edition of 2500 copies.

Various documents relating to Regler and Jungle Hut are held in the The New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division in their collection “Mary Maverick Lloyd Papers Gustav Regler Letters, 1939-1959”. They include a typescript manuscript entitled “Gandhi” and several pen and ink illustrations. Mary Maverick Lloyd helped Regler evade arrest by Nazi authorities and leave Germany for North America where he settled in Mexico.

In addition Regler authored Wolfgang Paalen (1946), a 69-page book about the German artist, his fellow German exile, also living in Mexico.

A land bewitched

Regler also wrote two books in German about Mexico: Vulkanisches Land (1947) and Verwunschenes Land Mexiko (1954). The latter was translated into English as A land bewitched; Mexico in the shadow of the centuries (1955). The English translation (which mistakenly states that the original title in German was “Verwunsches Land, Mexico”) was by Constantine Fitzgibbon. This error by the editor or publisher is pretty much in keeping with the strange use of Spanish throughout the book, with some very non-conventional Spanish spelling, the most glaring example of which is Kazike for cacique. In the book’s Spanish-English glossary, all Spanish words are capitalized and some words given in the singular form in Spanish are translated into plural forms in English and vice versa.

A Spanish edition of A land bewitched was released, as País volcánico, país hechizado, in Barcelona and Mexico City in 2003.

A land bewitched is an interesting read. Its five chapters look at Mexican attitudes (as evidenced by a mix of facts, Regler’s personal experiences and second-hand anecdotes) about water; death; beliefs and religion; love; and crime and punishment. It offers some excellent insights into the Mexican psyche, even if the quality of writing and level of analysis are inconsistent.

The book, dedicated to Tania and John Midgley does have one tangential link to Lake Chapala. Tania Midgley (1916-2000) was a British photographer who sometimes used her maiden name Tania Stanham professionally. Several of the photographs in Regler’s book are credited to her, as are two photos of Lake Chapala in the Folio Society edition of Sybille Bedford‘s classic A Visit to Don Otavio.

Regler also wrote his memoirs, published as The Owl of Minerva in 1959.

Regler and Hemingway

I have never found any evidence for the claim that Hemingway visited Chapala, a claim made, besides other places in International Living. Certainly, Lake Chapala never gets a mention in any of the many exhaustive biographies of the great writer. It appears that the only significant time Hemingway ventured into Mexico was a visit to Mexico City (from Cuba) in March 1942. This visit later came to the attention of the FBI because he apparently checked into the Reforma Hotel under an assumed name and then met up with Gustav Regler, a friend from his time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

Note re Chapala links to the Spanish Civil War

Several other authors and artists associated with Chapala were active in the Spanish Civil War. Members of the International Brigade, besides Regler, included Theodore Rose Cogswell, the second husband of George Marsh; Albert Helman (who wrote the first detailed account of Otto Butterlin’s paintings); and Conlon Nancarrow (the husband of artist Annette Nancarrow, whose previous husband, Louis Stephens had a vacation home in Ajijic). Mexican writer Ramón Rubín, author of a novel about Lake Chapala, was not formally a member of the International Brigade, but accompanied a shipment of arms to Spain in 1938. Cinematographer William Colfax Miller was a member of the 3,000-strong Abraham Lincoln Brigade of American volunteers, and Peter Elstob (who lived in Ajijic in the early 1950s) was a volunteer fighter pilot for the Republicans.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing her knowledge and memories of Gustav Regler.

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

Feb 272020
 

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

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

Michael Baxte. ca 1950. Lake Chapala. (Mexican Life, June 1952)

Michael Baxte. ca 1950. Lake Chapala. (Mexican Life, June 1952)

Michael Posner Baxte was born in Staroselje, Belarus. His family emigrated by parts to the US at the start of the 20th century. Michael and his mother joined his older brothers there in 1907. Michael later went to stay with an uncle, an accomplished violinist who lived in Mississippi. Recognizing his musical talents, the uncle sent Michael to violin classes in New Orleans. Michael then took master classes in Paris and later Berlin, where he was a student of the famed Hungarian violinist Joseph Joaquim.

After Europe, Baxte settled in New York City in 1914 to compose, perform and teach. His musical compositions were performed at the Tokyo Imperial Theater, and he was a prominent member of the American Jewish community.

It was in New York that he fell in love with painter Violette Mège. The couple briefly visited Mège’s homeland of Algeria before settling in Manhattan, New York, where they married in 1920.

Inspired by his wife, Baxte began to paint. Mège was his only teacher, and he was her only student. Her classes and encouragement paid off a decade later when Baxte was chosen as one of the two winners in the Dudensing National Competition for American Painters. Baxte also exhibited with the Society of Independent Artists, Salons of America and at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Michael Baxte. ca 1950. Village in Jalisco. (Mexican Life, June 1952)

Michael Baxte. ca 1950. Village in Jalisco. (Mexican Life, June 1952)

Lloyd Goodrich, a New York Times critic, wrote in 1929 that “Mr. Baxte… is an artist of considerable subtlety, not too strong perhaps, and sometimes a little uncertain, but always sensitive and interesting. One feels in each of his pictures an absorption in his subject and an individual manner of looking at it. He has a very attractive color sense, warm, sensuous, and unexpected, which seems natural and unforced.”

For the next decade, Mège devoted herself to teaching her husband to paint and helping him refine his techniques. According to a 1930 newspaper account, she rarely painted during this time.

During the 1930s, the couple lived in Paris, France, where Baxte exhibited his artwork at the government-sponsored Salon d’ Automme.

They left France when the second world war began and, by 1941, had moved to Mexico, where Mège and her husband had a home (later owned by Rufino Tamayo) in Coyoacán. They traveled to various parts of Mexico and many of Baxte’s paintings are of landscapes and people in Michoacán and elsewhere in western Mexico. For example the December 1942 issue of Mexican Life included images by Baxte entitled “Village in Michoacan”, “First communion (portrait)”, “Portrait of an Indian girl”, and “Pueblos Street”.

Michael Baxte. Portrait of a lady.

Michael Baxte. Redhead in plaid. (Auctioned by Treadway Tooney in 2015)

In 1946, Baxte’s oil painting “Paisaje de Tenancingo” was included in a major exhibition of paintings of flowers at Mexico’s 5th National Floriculture Exhibition and 4th Flower Show (“Salón de la Flor”). Also showing on that occasion was Otto Butterlin, who had moved that year with his family from Mexico City to Ajijic.

Another article in Mexican Life, in 1952, when Baxte was showing at Galeria de Arte Mexicano, included images entitled “Uruapan”, “Charo”, “Village in Jalisco”, “Valley of Mexico”, “Oaxaca landscape” and “Lake Chapala”. His paintings have been described as modernist-leaning landscapes and portraits.

In 1954, Baxte and Mège both had paintings included in an exhibition of 20 non-Mexican artists from 12 regions of Mexico at the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana in Mexico City. The El Nacional’s art critic was less than generous in his appreciation of the couple’s work, writing that though “the works of Mège and her husband display some well-observed Mexican aspects,” neither “had a strong sense of color.”

None of this deterred Baxte from describing himself as an “artist of international renown when announcing, via a display ad in Mexican Life,  “the opening of his new studios at Calzada Mexico-Tacuba No 16 (corner of Melchor Ocampo) where he will be pleased to accept a limited number of endowed pupils for guidance and technical reconstruction.”

In 1957, Baxte had a solo show, mainly of landscape paintings, at the Salon of International Friendship of Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Baxte died in Mexico City in 1972.

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

  • American Art News. 1916. “Paris Letter.” American Art News, Vol. 14, #33 (10 May 1916).
  • Battle Creek Enquirer (Michigan). 1930. Battle Creek Enquirer, 4 May 1930, 26.
  • Michael Baxte. 1942. “Mostly about myself.” Mexican Life, vol 18, Dec 1942, 27-30.
  • Michael Baxte. 1942. “Violette Mége.” Mexican Life, v 18 (October 1942).
  • Dorothy Dayton. 1929. “Musician Wins Painting Prize,” The New York Sun, 9 January 1929.
  • Howard Devree. 1941. “A Reviewer’s Notebook,” The New York Times, 30 March 1941.
  • The Evening World (New York), 2 December 1918, 11.
  • Lloyd Goodrich. 1929. “Reviewer’s Notebook,” The New York Times, 5 May 1929.
  • The International Studio: an Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art. 1918. (November 1917-February 1918).
  • Andrew Langston. 1952. “Michael Baxte”, Mexican Life, June 1952, 27-30.
  • Mexican Life. Feb 1954, 43. (Advert)
  • P. Fernandez Marquez. 1954. “La Exposicón de Artistas Huéspedes.” El Nacional,
    1954; Suplemento Dominical, 6.
  • Guillermo Rivas. 1957. “Michael Baxte.” Mexican Life, Vol 33 #3 (March 1957), 30-32.

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

Feb 202020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann Medalie. Ajijic Landscape (oil). ca 1945

Ann Medalie. Ajijic Landscape (oil). ca 1945

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

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

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

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

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

Things quietened down during the winter season, when

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

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

Source

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

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

Feb 132020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

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

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

Feb 062020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy your copy today: According to Soledad

Acknowledgment

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

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

Jan 302020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article quoted Abby’s belief that

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

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

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

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Jan 232020
 

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

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

Gessler book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At that time, Chapala had no municipal water system:

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jan 162020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

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

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

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