Tony Burton

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

Feb 272024
 

“The Sorceress: How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.”

by Edwin Hall Warner. 1894.

The calzada principal in La Barca runs a meandering course easterly through the town to the garita. The houses on each side are of the usual Mexican type, the more pretentious of stone, others of adobe, with barred windows and heavily doored zaguan, where the idle porter sits lazily, incessantly rolling and smoking his cigarillo, arousing himself sufficiently at times to salute a passer-by or to answer a question, and relapsing at once into his former dreamy condition. Children imperfectly clothed play solemnly in the gutter; their dark-brown bodies, shining dully through the incrusting dirt, are proof against the darkening effect of the sun’s rays; a solitary lagartija clings lizard-like to the curb and feebly resists a boy’s effort to goad him into action. The sereno leans sleepily against a corner in the shade, loosely holding his carbine, and muses on the unhappy lot of a policeman forced to keep up a semblance of watchfulness.

Suddenly, as a woman’s figure appears on the street, there is a chorus of shrieks from the group in the gutter and a skittering of childish feet as they disappear, panting with fright, in a dozen different directions. The porters, stirred into action, hurriedly close the doors and piously whisper an ave, the sereno draws himself erect, furtively crosses himself, and murmurs “La bruja! Dios me guarde!” as the woman passes. She moves quickly down the street, looking neither to the right nor to the left, passing the garita where the solitary customs official likewise crosses himself and asks divine protection from the wiles of the sorceress; nevertheless, he follows the sinuous, graceful movement of the young woman and notes the perfection of face and figure, which appeals to him in spite of his persuasion that her beauty is of origin diabolic and lent by Lucifer himself to snare men’s souls. She wore a piece of dark-green stuff”, folded around the hips and falling to the ankle; a jacket of red gauze clothed the upper part of her person, veiling her bosom, upon which lay a chain of gold in the form of a serpent. Her black hair, parted at the forehead and drawn back in two splendid tresses, intensified the pure white of her brow.; her eyes, shaded by long lashes, were the greenish-black of obsidian. Continuing her walk to a small adobe house some hundred yards beyond the gate, she disappeared within the doorway. The customs official gave a sigh of relief and returned to his desk.

Once within the house, she lost her firmness of bearing, tottered to the center of the room, and sank in a heap on a rush-mat. Her form suddenly grew rigid, her face took on the gray pallor of death; the eyes became set and stared fixedly at the wall opposite; the golden serpent on her bosom seemed in the half-light of the dying fire to writhe and twist, instinct with life.

– –

At the fire sat a little, shriveled-up old man, brown and wrinkled, stirring with skinny claw the contents of an olla. Of her entrance he had taken no notice, continuing his employment as if waiting for her to speak. At length he looked around and sprang to his feet; a pallor almost as deep as her own overspread his face. “Maria!” he whispered; “Maria!” Meeting with no response, he hastily moved to the door, barred it, and, returning to his place by the fire, crouched down and shrouded his face in his arms.

Soon the woman’s body lost its rigidity, her eyes turned toward the doubled-up figure of the old man and shone with such a basilisk glare that he moved uneasily; the eyelids drooped, and she sank back upon the floor, apparently asleep; her respiration, at first harsh and labored, became quiet and regular.

The old man now raised his head for the first time, and fixed his bright, beady eyes on the woman’s face.

“A prophecy,” he said — “a prophecy! Let the high priest of the gods know their will!”

As if in response, the woman began an inarticulate murmur. Soon her voice rose to distinctness :

“The darkness of earth is in the temple; the altar of the lire-god is black with ashes, the serpent lies dead before Quetzalcoatl; the grinning skulls at the feet of Xipe-totec mock the power that is gone forever; the snake-skin drum is beat in vain; the victim is slain; the sound of thunder fills the temple, the priests fall dead, and the foot of the white man desecrates the house of the gods.”

Her voice fell, and, with a fluttering sigh, she awoke. The light of expectancy which had illuminated the old man’s face gradually died out as the woman’s words fell on his ear, and, at their conclusion, he seemed shrunken to half his size.

“‘Tis false!” he said — “false! The power of the gods can never fail. For seven years have we awaited the sign, and to-morrow Xipe-totec, gladdened once more by the sight of blood on the sacrificial stone, will make answer to his children’s prayers. Saw you the white stranger again today, Maria?” he asked.

“Yes; I have but now left him.”

“And he will be in the barranquilla to-morrow at sunset?”

The woman’s voice faltered as she answered: “Yes; if—”

“If!” hastily returned the old man; “if? What does this mean?”

“He will come if I send him word, but — but I cannot — oh, papa mío, don’t ask it. Forego the sacrifice to Xipe-totec, and content the people with the sacred mask-dances.”

He looked at her with astonishment: “Seven years have we waited, and the daughter of El Viejito, the high priest, asks that the sacrifice be omitted! What woman’s whim is this?” he said, fiercely. “Why should the god, upon whose awful power we must depend, be denied his due?”

“He loves me, father.”

“Loves you! And if he did not, could he ever be lured within the reach of the Nagual priesthood? Suppose he does, he will pay the penalty of his folly.”

The woman rose to her feet. “He shall not,” she said, firmly: “for I love him, and no priestly knife shall ever harm him. At first, I believed all you had taught me; believed that my duty to the gods made all things good, no matter how cruel and horrible they otherwise seem. But now I know better. The ancient religion shall die out and the worshipers perish from off the face of the earth ere harm shall come to him I love.”

The fierce glitter in the old man’s eyes gave way to a look of crafty cunning. “Well, well! so be it,” he said; “the sacred dances must answer.”

– –

When the “Golden Ass” — as his La Barca neighbors unpleasantly called him — developed a taste for mural decoration, his case was a serious one; the casa pintada was the result, and a most marvelous one it is. His zeal in the cause of art was intense, but not discriminating : primary colors alone seemed to fill the requirements; minor details of perspective, truth to nature, and the like, were absorbed in a wild hunger for color, and plenty of it. Impossible
landscapes and oddly constructed animals ran riot on the walls.

He is long since dead; but his house remains, and made very comfortable engineering head- quarters. In one of the least violent rooms, overlooking the miniature fountain in the patio, the engineer in charge, Vincent Colby, had his office. He was a good type of the American engineer : tall and well built, he gave the impression of staying qualities rather than of muscular power. The warmth of a tropical sun had but slightly deepened a naturally fair complexion; his dark hair and good eyes, with a softness of intonation and engaging manner, stamped him at once with the Mexicans as muy simpático, and revealed to them the possibility that all Americans might not be barbaros, an impression unfortunately yet not unnaturally prevalent.

Just now Vincent was in an unpleasant frame of mind, and his musings ran somewhat as follows: “I may be an idiot, but I can’t help it. Idiocy may be congenital or acquired — mine must be acquired, for, up to date, I’ve been reasonably conventional. The mater will rave, I know, when I take home a native wife; the sisters will make matters unpleasant for a day or two; and the governor will probably cut up rather rough. But if I’m suited, they will have to be; if a man can’t make his own choice when it comes to marrying, when can he? I’ve made mine — if she’ll have me, that is. There’s the rub. She says she’ll give me an answer on the seventh — why not the sixth or eighth, I don’t know. I’ve asked her a dozen times in the last ten days, but it is always the same : she neither says yes nor no. It can’t be coquetry, for she smiles sadly, yet with a wistful look which can mean but one thing.”

Here a rattle of hoofs in the patio interrupted him, and he looked out to see the company’s doctor dismount.

“Hello, doc,” he called out, “come in here; I want to talk to you. There’s not a soul about the place, and I’m too lazy or nervous to work. Throw your saddle-bags over there on the table and have a drop of toddy. No? You don’t usually let a good thing go by. What’s up? Patients dying or getting well, or have you been rowing it again with the padre at Penjamo, because you differ as to the use of water? You’re all wrong. Be satisfied to cure the poor beggars without lecturing them on the advantages of an occasional bath. To clean them is so radical a measure that you’ll be run out of the country as a pernicious foreigner attempting to demolish a most cherished idea.”

The doctor made no reply.

“Well, out with it, doc. You needn’t look at me like that.”

“Vince, we’ve known each other as boys and men for a good many years ”

“All right, doc; you always begin with gentle boyhood days when you’ve anything particularly damned unpleasant to say. But I suppose I must submit. I don’t know what’s up, but if it’s as serious as you look, old man, it’s pretty bad.”

“It’s serious or not, as you choose to make it,” answered the doctor. “An ambition to acquire the Mixe language may be a laudable one; folk-lore, ancient religion, and all that sort of rubbish learned on the spot are a kind of relief in this hot, dusty hole, though I don’t care for it myself.
Even Nagualism and other high-class sorcery may be amusing to you, if not to me. But when you get spoony on the sorceress herself, it’s time for some one to open your eyes.”

“Sorceress! ” responded the other. “What rot you are talking. That sort of thing is played out in these days.”

“I tell you it isn’t played out,” rejoined the doctor; “the natives keep it dark and say there’s nothing in it, but half the Indians in this town hold to the old faith, and every time a child is baptized, they set up a little incantation business on the sly and do the trick over again in their own way, with an extra curse or two on the white man and his god. I scared the story out of old Sebastiano, and got the whole programme. The Eleusinian mysteries aren’t in it with this accursed Nagualism, which includes human sacrifices and other pleasant little ceremonies which, though no doubt highly gratifying to the worshipers, must be somewhat unpleasant to the victim, I fancy. El Viejito is the high priest, and Maria Candelaria is his daughter. They are a dangerous, fanatical lot, and if you’ll take my advice, you’ll leave them alone. They bitterly hate the whole white race, and an offering from it is not only an act distinctly pleasant in itself, but it is a religious duty as well. The government has only been partly successful in keeping it down, for, as an organization, Tammany Hall is chaos compared with it. They practice their devilish rites once in so often, and some one disappears.”

To hear one’s best beloved spoken of as a sorceress, and as one to whom wading in human gore was a usual and agreeable employment, was, to say the least, irritating; but the doctor’s earnestness and evident belief in what he had said roused in Vincent a strong desire to laugh.

“You’ve been imposed upon, old man,” he said. “Haven’t you learned yet that the one delight of the native is to impose on the credulous with creepy stories? Moreover, you have allowed yourself to listen to gossip about the
woman whom I intend to marry.”

“Marry! My God!”

“Yes, marry — if she’ll have me. I intended speaking of it, when you commenced with your infernal nonsense. It’s my affair anyhow, and if I’m satisfied, you can’t complain.”

To be told, even indirectly, to mind one’s own business is particularly hard, when one has tried to do a friend a kindness, so the doctor left the room, offended at the manner in which his efforts had been received.

The sun was low in the west on the following afternoon when the doctor rode into the patio of the casa pintada. His progress through the town had been delayed. First the alcalde had stopped him, and the usual salutation had extended into a conversation in which the alcalde was set aright in a problem which had occupied his mind for some time. He gave the Americans credit for exceeding ingenuity, but was as yet unadvised as to how even they could dig holes and set telegraph-poles in the bottom of the sea, upon which to string the submarine cable. The sea, he was aware, was, in places, much deeper than Lake Chapala. The simplicity of the method increased largely his admiration for the race whose resources of mind enabled them to cut loose alike from precedent and telegraph-poles. The padre next invited his attention to the beauty of a pair of kittens playing in a doorway, and was anxious in his inquiry as to whether a benignant Providence had vouchsafed to the land beyond the Rio Grande the blessing of cats. Having gently assured him that impartiality had been shown in the matter, although there were points about Mexican cats which other nations might envy, the doctor was free to make his way to head-quarters.

A nameless fear had oppressed him and could not be shaken off. He went hastily to Vincent’s room, but found it vacant. He was about to call a servant and inquire as to the whereabouts of his friend, when he saw a small scrap of paper on the floor. Idly picking it up, he read what aroused again his fears of the previous evening. In green ink, on paper none too clean, with vs and bs used interchangeably and double l doing service for y, was written: “Meet me in the Barranquilla de Homos at sunset. Maria.”

Hastily calling for Julio, he was told Vincent had left at five. Julio had been ordered to unsaddle his own horse, as his services would not be required. Returning to his room, the doctor consoled himself with the idea that, although a tryst ten miles away was unusual, danger was not necessarily impending; the roads were fairly free from bad characters, and a lonesome ride was probably the worst to be expected.

He had brought himself to this state of mind when a woman staggered into the room.

“Save him! Save him, doctor/” she cried. “Save him! ”

Her hair fell in a tangled mass about her face, her clothing was torn and disarranged, and her wrists cut and bleeding. He recognized Maria, but her presence made the meaning of what he had read unintelligible.

“I refused to send for him,” she continued, hastily, “so they bound me in the casita and sent him a message in my name. They left me powerless, as they supposed, but I escaped.”

“They? Who are they? ”

“The priests of the Nagual; they who cling to the old faith, and who, even now, would sacrifice on their altar the man I love. Ah! doctor, make haste or we shall be too late; an hour at most is all we have.”

Ordering Julio to follow him with the horses, the doctor made his way to the barracks.

Don Juan Gomez, Captain in the Fourth, was a model cavalry officer and a warm friend of. the engineer’s. The doctor had scarcely commenced his story, when Don Juan gave a brief order to his orderly at the door. A bugle call rang out, a clatter of hoofs on the pavement and the rattle of sabre and carbine in answer, gave proof of the discipline of the troop. A sergeant entered and saluted.

“Listo, señor! A caballo, doctor!”

With Maria as guide, they dashed out into the night. In the service of a friend, Juan Gomez spared neither man nor beast. The breath of the horses came hard and fast, and spur was freely used before Maria said : ” The entrance is between the two bowlders to the right of the stunted pine.”

Sunset found Vincent in the barranquilla. He had given no thought to the strangeness of such a place of meeting; he was to see again the woman he loved, and that was sufficient. No idea of danger had presented itself. Strong and well armed, he was confident of his ability to take care of himself. The place was dark and dismal, and he was too absorbed in his own fancies to note even casually his surroundings.

The trail had narrowed to barely a sufficient width for his horse, when he saw three men approaching on foot. They stood aside as he came up, and, as he attempted to pass, one seized him by the foot and threw him out of the saddle. Before he recovered from the shock, he was pinioned, blind-folded, and helpless. He felt himself lifted up, carried some little distance, and placed on the ground again.

He remained thus for an hour or more, when the bandage was removed from his eyes. He had felt no especial fear at his treatment, believing it to be a question of a small ransom and liberty as soon as he could communicate with his friends. He opened his eyes, and with the first glance around, all idea of liberty by purchase departed at once. As his eyes became accustomed to the semi-darkness, he saw he was in a cave-temple. On his right was a wooden idol, standing on a low stool. It was black and shining, as if charred and polished; its look was grim, and it had a wrinkled forehead and broad, staring eyes. He had read of the Black King, and now saw himself face to face with him. On the left was a coiled serpent, with head erect, shining eyes of jet, and fancifully painted scales, which he knew represented Quetzalcoatl. Immediately before him stood Xipe-totec, “the flayer of men,” the representative of all that was vile and horrible in the hidous cult whose victim he was. In front of the idol stood the sacrificial stone, humped in the centre, the better to present to the knife the chest of the victim.

His heart sank within him as he read his awful position in the signs around him. The wealth of the world would not save his life from the fanatical faithful of the Nagual sect. But last night he had declared the practice of their rites obsolete; now he had full proof of his error, and was about to pay the penalty.

By this time the cavern had filled with people. Half-naked priests began a low chant in a minor key, circling in front of the idols and swinging terra-cotta censers, from which were emitted the pungent fumes of copal.

The movement became faster, their voices rose in their excitement, while, in their frenzy, they gashed themselves with knives until the blood flowed freely. Seizing Vincent, they placed him, face upward, on the sacrificial stone.

The high priest stepped forward to the side of the victim. Raising his knife of green obsidian above his head, he began : “Xipe-totec, the all powerful.”

A woman’s shriek rang out, a flying form reached the altar as the knife descended, and a roar of musketry reverberated through the cavern.

A woman lay dead at the side of the sacrificial stone, on which rested the body of a man, an obsidian knife driven home in his heart.

Edwin Hall Warner.
San Francisco, July, 1894.

First published in The Argonaut (San Francisco), 9 July 1894.

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

Lake Chapala: A Postcard History (2022) uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala first became an international tourist and retirement center.

Source

  • Edwin Hall Warner. 1894. “The Sorceress : How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.” The Argonaut (San Francisco), Vol. XXXV. No. 2 (July, 1894), 4.

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

Feb 222024
 

Two young US artists—Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser—who had first met at art school in Chicago, arrived in Chapala in 1923. Apart from short trips elsewhere they spent the next three and a half years at Lake Chapala—living first in Chapala, then in Ajijic, and then returning once again to Chapala—before continuing their highly successful art careers elsewhere. They are two of the earliest US painters to spend any significant amount of time sketching and painting at Lake Chapala.

Painted about one hundred years ago, this painting by Everett Gee Jackson was one of several early paintings included in a major retrospective of his work held at the San Diego Art Museum in 2007. According to the catalog of that exhibition, the painting (in a private collection) is titled “Church in Chapala.”

Everett Gee Jackson. c 1924. Church in Chapala. Credit: "Everett Gee Jackson/San Diego Modern, 1920-1955.

Everett Gee Jackson. c 1924. Church in Chapala. Credit: “Everett Gee Jackson/San Diego Modern, 1920-1955.”

But is this title accurate? To the best of my knowledge, the only church in Chapala in the 1920s was the parish church of San Francisco (La Parroquía de San Francisco), which has distinctive twin towers. This painting does not appear to match that church. Nor does it look like the churches in neighboring San Antonio Tlayacapan or Ajijic. So, the question is, does anyone recognize the church in Jackson’s painting? Is it really one of the churches at Lake Chapala, or does it depict a church elsewhere, perhaps in Guanajuato?

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

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic. For the history of numerous buildings in Chapala, including the main church, see If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants, translated into Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes.

Source

    • D. Scott Atkinson. 2007. Everett Gee Jackson: San Diego Modern, 1920-1955. San Diego Museum of Art.

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

Feb 152024
 

In a departure from our normal style, this post looks at a 1925 editorial in the long-running Guadalajara daily El Informador titled “La Villa Veraniega de Chapala” (The Summer Resort of Chapala). Quotes used throughout this post are informal translations of the original Spanish. The most likely candidate for the editorial’s authorship is the newspaper’s then Editor-in-Chief, Agustín Santoscoy. The editorial compared Chapala to holiday resorts and spa towns in South America.

It opened by claiming that illustrated magazines from Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina showed their coastal resort towns as having a level of elegance—in their “palaces, hotels, theaters, casinos and private residences”— equivalent to the best holiday locations in Europe. The author attributed their success to their function as ports, with good links to Europe, and the nature of the adjoining coast:

The coast in those places is not unhealthy, there are no Indians, and the bulk of the civilized population lives on the coast; and, finally, a long period of peace and prosperity allows these towns to have the luxury of wonderful spas.”

The writer then drew a sharp (and nowadays politically incorrect) contrast with Mexico:

In Mexico, the opposite is true: the coasts are wild, sick, full of pests, almost uninhabited and very inaccessible due to a lack of communication routes. On these coasts, the indigenous population, very dark in color, lives indolently in the orchards or in the small towns, and stamps them with its style, offering tourists the shade of palm and petate, thatched lean-tos and shingle-roofed huts on the burning sands of the beach.”

El Informador, 10 April 1925

After dismissing Cuyutlán—“the only beach in the Pacific that can be reached by train after a frightful journey full of discomforts”—and Veracruz—where the nortes [strong storms] scare people and blow away awnings, latticework, pergolas, branches and roofs every year—the writer asks where “the rich, the elegant people of the capital, top officials and diplomats” spend their summers in Mexico?

And his answer? Chapala — which is where “you can go without fear and in relative comfort” to find enchanting water and scenery, without having to experience “the hell of the coast.”

The author then described what Chapala was like ‘today’ and suggested steps that the federal government might take to improve the town for the benefit of all visitors, famous and otherwise.

J. E. Sánchez (phot). Postcard mailed 1924

J. E. Sánchez (photographer). Postcard mailed 1924

Chapala in 1925

Apart from the natural beauty of the place, with its lovely views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and the picturesque stretch of beach suitable for a magnificent resort, Chapala is a very poor and very ugly indigenous village, without any attraction or comforts for travelers. A modern spa cannot be formed there…. There is a lack of walks, squares, space, amusements, bathing facilities, gardens, parks and kiosks for visitors, and nowhere to stay to escape the sun…. while the elegant crowd jostles to crowd together in two small hotels and to occupy a limited part of the beach or in a few chalets that will later be abandoned for most of the year.
The village is made up of shacks, adobe walls, and yards where, during the season, natives swarm to sell fruits, vegetables, and other horribly expensive provisions to earn a year’s income in a week, causing middle-class visitors to leave quickly and never return.”

In order to improve Chapala, the author of the editorial proposed that the federal government should take over certain works, and also stimulate companies and individuals to make improvements. Among the potential improvements suggested were “a direct rail service to Chapala,” “a magnificent paved road for automobiles”, and a “new and modern settlement on the lakeshore” with government-built docks, boardwalks, and bathing areas, along with a “large and sumptuous presidential residence,” all of which would bring advantages that would benefit the town and the general public. These steps were urgent, “since Chapala is frequented by foreign diplomats and tourists,” and because the government should keep “the promises made so many times by officials who, during their stay, have realized the misery and inconveniences of the town.”

Question for readers who have made it this far:

  • 99 years on, how much progress has really been made?
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

Lake Chapala: A Postcard History (2022) uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to unravel the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Source

  • El Informador: 10 April 1925, 3.

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

Feb 082024
 

Several popular curio shops in downtown Mexico City at the start of the twentieth century stocked all manner of wares to sell to tourists and travelers, and some even published their own postcards of Mexico.

An 1898 list in The Mexican Herald of stores selling “Opals and Mexican Curiosities” included Granat & Horwitz (in the San Carlos Hotel); La Joyita (owned by F. Pardal & Co., and located very close to the Iturbide Hotel); La Compaciente; Sonora News Company; and The Art & Curio Co. Stores founded slightly later include the Iturbide Curio Store (in the basement of the Hotel Iturbide), Jacob Granat; Casa Miret; W. G. Walz Co; and American Stamps Works.

La Joyita started life in about 1898 at 1a de San Francisco #16 before moving to larger premises along the street at 1ra de San Francisco #13-14. In addition to postcards, it sold opals, drawn work, silver filigree, plus “ancient French and Spanish fans and silk shawls.”

La Joyita published at least two series of postcards. The earlier series, dating from around 1904-1905, is comprised of more than 50 black and white cards. The second series, believed to include around 230 cards, is in color and thought to date from around 1906. The relatively poor quality of both series suggests that they were printed locally.

Of local interest, in addition to at least half a dozen cards of Guadalajara, is this interesting card showing the Ocotlán Railroad Station in about 1905.

Ocotlán Railroad Station, c. 1905. Published by La Joyita.

Photographer unknown (Scott?). Ocotlán Railroad Station, c. 1905. Published by La Joyita.

Ocotlán was one of the main stations on the Mexican Central Railway’s branch line from Irapuato to Guadalajara. This branch line, completed in 1888, reduced the travel time between Mexico City and Guadalajara to under a day, and passengers could finally travel between Mexico’s two largest cities in relative comfort. On this new line, Ocotlán was the nearest station to Lake Chapala; visitors could disembark in Ocotlán and then take the steamboat that made regular trips to several ports on the lake, including Chapala. Many tourists preferred this way of reaching Chapala, since it obviated the need for any bumpy, rickety and sometimes dangerous stagecoach ride. Ocotlán Station became a major transit point for visitors to Lake Chapala’s new hotels.

Ocotlán Station is an important part of the region’s cultural heritage; part of the historic station was severely damaged by fire in early February 2024.

La Joyita published photographs taken by some of the most distinguished photographers of the time, including Charles Betts Waite, Winfield Scott, La Rochester, Guillermo Kahlo and R J Carmichael. While we can’t be 100% sure of who took the picture of the Ocotlán Railroad Station, it may have well have been American photographer Winfield Scott, who lived close to Ocotlán at the time, and often undertook commissions for the Mexican Central Railway.

His first visit to Ocotlán station left a vivid and lasting impression on Mexican author José Ruben Romero. In 1897, when he was about seven years of age, his family crossed the lake by steamer from La Palma to catch the train in Ocotlán for Mexico City. Romero later wrote about his experience:

The train that I thought was a precious toy turned out to be something heavy and ugly, full of smoke, with an intolerable odor…. I had no alternative but to entertain myself with the movement about the station: well-dressed travelers from Guadalajara who strolled in the sun; others buying jugs of plum wine, fresh cheeses, or fruits. Groups of farmers arrived, the men with valises of striped chintz on their shoulders and full baskets in their hands; the women dressed in brightly colored percales, with squeaky new shoes that caused them to walk as if on thorns.”

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 11 August 2023.

Sources

  • The Mexican Herald: 5 Oct 1898, 3; 13 Nov 1898, 11.
  • L. Eaton Smith. 1903. The Massey-Gilbert blue book of Mexico for 1903. Mexico City, Mexico : Massey-Gilbert Co.
  • Ricardo Pelz Marín and Karla Pelz Serrano. 2013. “Las joyas de ‘La Joyita.'” Presentation at 6th. Mexican Congress on Postcards, Museo Francisco Cossío, San Luis Potosí, August 2013.
  • José Rubén Romero. 1932. Apuntes de un lugareño, 148. Translated by John Mitchell and Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar as Notes of a Villager: A Mexican Poet’s Youth and Revolution 1988 Kaneohe, Hawaii: Plover Press. Translation quoted by kind permission of Ms. Margo C. Mitchell of Plover Press.

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

Feb 012024
 

Author Bart McDowell (1923-2009), who later became a senior editor of National Geographic magazine, first visited Ajijic in 1952. Born in Texas on 10 September 1923, Hobart (‘Bart’) K. McDowell Jr. graduated with a degree in political science from the University of California before completing a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri.

McDowell worked for the Rotarian magazine for several years, did some freelance writing and photography, served as an officer in the US Navy (1943-1946), and traveled widely in Europe and South America before marrying Martha Louise Shea (1925-2005), a fellow graduate of the University of Missouri, in March 1951.

The following year, the couple visited Ajijic, which they claimed had, at that time, “a population of some 2000 Indians, 40 American families, and one British family,” and was “the place to do some writing and relaxing.” [McDowell’s claim is broadly consistent with the findings of the 1950 Mexican census that Ajijic had a population of 2313, with 42 recorded as foreign-born.]

McDowell family, San Angelo Evening Standard, 1953 (Photo: Franklin)

McDowell family, San Angelo Evening Standard, 1953 (Photo: Franklin)

In February 1953 the McDowells, together with their three-month-old baby, Kelly, left Chicago, where they were then living and returned to Ajijic for a six month stay, during which McDowell hoped to complete a book about his travels in South America. His wife planned to do some freelance writing and improve her Spanish, and was “looking forward… to escaping that little black monster which is almost a necessity in the States-the telephone. There is only one in the entire village and it’s not in their home.”

Aside: Martha McDowell’s own writing was published in McCall’s, the Washington Post and elsewhere, and she wrote a book on American Indian jewelry. She later founded her own public relations and political consulting firm.

On their return north, Bart McDowell began working for the National Geographic, subsequently serving as one of the magazine’s senior editors for more than thirty years, during which time he traveled to dozens of countries, and met numerous world leaders.

The little we know about the McDowells’ residence in Ajijic in 1953 comes from Bart’s article about Guadalajara for National Geographic based on a visit to the city in 1966. Bart and his son Kelly revisited Ajijic, to look for María, who “figured large in our family folklore as Kelly’s first nursemaid” and who had “fed Kelly bananas from our own garden, bathed him in an earthen tub and called him ‘Baby Mío.’” After seeing a snapshot of María, a group of women sitting in the church immediately identified her as María Vásquez, who lived nearby with her mother and worked for an American family in the village. A delightful and unexpected reunion followed.

The Guadalajara article includes excellent photographs,including some of the lake, by Volkmar Wentzel.

McDowell’s own books include Theodore Roosevelt (1958); Great Adventures with National Geographic: exploring land, sea, and sky (1963); Revolutionary War (1967); Gypsies: Wanderers of the World (1970); The American Cowboy in Life and Legend (1972); Inside The Vatican (1991); and, jointly with Martha McDowell, I was a career girl’s consort (1960).

Bart McDowell died at his home in Forest Heights, Maryland, at the age of 85 on 17 January 2009, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

And Kelly, the infant in Ajijic? Stanford-educated Hobart Kelliston McDowell III (1952-2017) became a business attorney, consultant and politician, and was mayor of El Segundo, California, from 2004 to 2010.

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

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

Sources

  • San Angelo Evening Standard (San Angelo, Texas) 17 Feb 1953, 4:
  • Bart McDowell. 1967. “The Most Mexican City, Guadalajara.” National Geographic, March 1967, 412-441.
  • The Washington Times. 2009. “National Geographic writer Bart McDowell dies.” (obituary) 25 January 2009.

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

Feb 012024
 

In 1901, José de Olivares—author, poet and US diplomat—wrote a newspaper column about his adventures when visiting Lake Chapala. The column has several geographical inconsistencies which suggest that the author may have slightly embellished his real life experiences for dramatic effect. And an unfortunate editing typo resulted in the title of the piece being printed as “Mexico’s Beautiful Island Sea,” instead of “Mexico’s Beautiful Inland Sea,” the sentiment expressed in its final sentence.

Jose-de-Olivares-Title

Olivares opens his column by explaining how he first saw Lake Chapala after a week riding in the mountains south of Guadalajara hunting for wild goats, assisted by an invaluable but thieving mozo to look after their pack animals. Uncertain of their location, late one afternoon, as the sun was setting, they gained the crest of a high ridge and spotted “a vast sheet of water which stretched away from the range of hills… like a placid, billowless sea.”

Olivares is pleasantly surprised: “I had heard of this lake before… [but] my most generous ideas had pictured it as little more than a duck pond, and now it was revealed to me as a majestic inland sea.”

The two men rode down to the shore and bivouaced for the night near where the River Lerma empties into the lake. Olivares learns from his mozo that “at Chapala… some 60 miles to the westward, I could secure marine transportation facilities in any form from a canoe to a modern steamboat.” The following morning, Olivares set off at a gallop for the village of Chapala, leaving the mozo to follow at a more leisurely pace. He finally reached Chapala, after an enjoyable and scenic ride through beautiful agricultural country:

Just at dusk the picturesque little pueblo of Chapala came into view, the tall, white spires of its ancient cathedral silhouetted against the green foothills in the background. This quaint hamlet contains but a few hundred inhabitants, yet its magnificent sanctuary would be a credit to a city many times its size. There is no public inn at the place, and I availed myself for the night of the hospitality proffered me by one of the native residents.”

As a Navy man, Olivares very much wanted to hire a boat to explore the lake, but discovered that all the local boats were on the other side of the lake in Tizapan el Alto, which was celebrating a fiesta. Walking along the shore, he discovered:

“a dilapidated old shallop, long since consigned to “rotton row,” as naval parlance goes, but which I immediately set about to make sea-worthy. I calked her many seams as best I could, stepped a mast forward in her bow, and fashioned a rude pair of oars and broad sweep aft, in lieu of the regulation steering-gear.”

As soon as the mozo and cargo arrived and the boat was loaded, they set sail for Tizapan, where they spent the night. The following morning they set out for Jiquilpan. (Following the embankment and draining of the easternmost third of the lake in the first decade of the twentieth century, Jiquilpan is now far removed from the lakeshore.)

The first few hours of their trip towards Jiquilpan went smoothly, but in the early afternoon the wind suddenly changed direction, whipped up the waves, and threatened to blow them miles off course. “The mozo had completely lost his head and was upon his knees in the bow wildly crossing himself and calling upon his patron saint for deliverance,” when the boat capsized, throwing both men into the water. They managed to scramble onto the overturned keel of their vessel, but were well out of sight of any land.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, “a shrill whistle sounded close at hand” and they saw that a “small steamer was wallowing and diving toward us.” They were welcomed aboard and generously cared for by the captain, “who had sighted us by accident,” and a mere two hours later were safely back in Chapala, setting foot once again on terra firma.

The column is illustrated by three photographs, with the captions “On the river bank,” “Ancient Cathedral by the lakeside,” and “A country seat on Lake Chapala.” These photos are not known to have ever been published elsewhere, so they may well have been taken by Olivares himself.

"A country seat on Lake Chapala"

“A country seat on Lake Chapala”

José de Olivares

The writer and Spanish-American War veteran best known as José de Olivares was born as Jesse Scott Oliver in Oxford, Ohio, on 26 November 1867. Olivares himself, much later in life, claimed on a passport application to have been born as José de Olivares (with the same November birth date) on his father’s estate in southern California.

According to Prabook (an unreferenced online Wiki for biographies), Olivares’s education included classes at the Liceo de Varones (Boys’ High School) in Guadalajara, as well as in business college and at the Berlitz School of Modern Languages.

As Jesse Scott Oliver, he enlisted in the US Navy at Mare Island in California in 1886, at the age of 18, while still technically a minor, and without “the consent of his parents or guardians,” an enlistment was contested unsuccessfully in a legal action the following year. Oliver (Olivares) was a member of the California National Guard (1884-1886), the United States Navy (1886-1893, and in the Spanish-American War of 1898), and the California Naval Reserve (1894-1896).

In 1897, “Jesse Scott Oliver… Los Angeles, Cal. deputy sheriff” was indicted in New York for attempted assault on a 15-year-old girl whom he had met at Coney Island. His counsel argued that he had done so while intoxicated, had since lost his job (and according to one account attempted to take his own life), and asked the judge for clemency. Oliver got off lightly with a fine of $150.

This event may have been the impetus to change his name and make a fresh start. From about this time, he used the name José de Olivares, perhaps to suggest a more personal Latin American background for his writing than the truth.

Olivares married Bertha Lillian Owen in Los Angeles on 2 November 1895, with whom he had two children, both born in California: Leonore Constance de Olivares (born in 1897) and Caspar Louis de Olivares (1901). His wife died when Caspar was only 3 years old, a few weeks after returning to San Francisco from Panama in October 1906. The following January, Olivares (stationed in Panama at the time) gave his marital status as “widower” when he applied for a passport for himself and his children. The following month he married Nicaraguan-born Maria Teresa Ramírez y Jerez.

All of Olivares’ writing for US newspapers was either non-fiction or poetry. The subjects of his columns, some of them syndicated, included “California’s Curio Industry,” “Mescal. A Story of the Southwest,” Mexico’s War with the Yaqui Indians,” and “Daniel Boone’s Western “Palatinate.”

His best known work by far was Our Islands and Their People, published in two large format volumes by Thompson Publishing Company in 1899. This book, lavishly illustrated with hundreds of photographs and numerous color plates, gave readers detailed accounts of the lifestyles, customs and landscapes of the islands ‘acquired’ by the US following the war of 1898, including Cuba, Hawaii, and the Philippines.

Olivares was a correspondent for the 1900 Paris Exposition, and was made an official representative of the Saint Louis Exposition at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo (1901). He won medals for his work as Commissioner of the Saint Louis Exposition to Spain, Portugal and Latin-American countries (1902-1903) and as Commissioner to the Argentine Republic for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904).

In 1906, Olivares was appointed US consul at Managua, Nicaragua; he also served in consular positions at Madras, India (1911-1914), Hamilton, Ontario, Canada (1915-1924), Kingston, Jamaica (1924-1929), and Leghorn, Italy (1929-1932).

Olivares retired on 30 November 1932, and died a decade later in Santa Barbara, California, on 30 September 1942.

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

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

Sources

  • José de Olivares. 1901. “California’s Curio Industry.” The San Francisco Call, 7 March 1901, 4.
  • José de Olivares. 1901. “Mexico’s Beautiful Island Sea” (Typo for Inland Sea). Atlanta Constitution, 2 June 1901, 9.
  • Los Angeles Herald: 17 April 1901, 11.
  • Nebraska Legal News: 2 September 1905.
  • Santa Barbara News Press: 1 October 1942, 1.
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle: 5 August 1897.
  • The San Francisco Call, 6 August 1897.

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

Jan 262024
 

Every now and again my research into the photographers who captured images of Lake Chapala used on vintage postcards draws a near-complete blank. This post considers two striking images taken by “Andrade.”

The only reference I have so far found to Andrade comes in the unpublished journal (now in the archives of the California Historical Society) kept by Dr Leo Stanley, a prison doctor from California, when he visited Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in 1937. Near the end of his trip, Stanley decided to take a boat from Chapala to Mezcala Island to see for himself the ruins of the nineteenth century jail that had given rise to the island’s nickname, Prison Island. Just as Stanley is setting sail, Andrade asks if he can join him:

15 October 1937: I engaged the launch “Corona” to take us to the island, and invited Ysidoro [Ysidoro Pulido] and the two little Mexican boys of the day before to go with us. As we were about ready to shove off, a Mexican came to me and asked how much I would charge to let him go along with us to the island. He said he was a photographer and wanted to take some pictures there. I told him there would be no charge, and asked him to come along. He said his name was Andrade, and that he had taken a number of pictures about the lake, some of which he showed to me. With him was another boy of about fourteen years of age. This lad carried on his back a large gourd with a hinged door. In this gourd, he carried some of his photographic supplies.”

Unfortunately, no additional biographical information about Andrade is currently known. His two known postcards of Lake Chapala, presumed to date from the 1930s, are both views from the pier in Chapala looking towards the Widow’s Bar, Parroquía de San Francisco (the main church in Chapala) and the Casa Braniff. (For details about these buildings, see If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants, also available in Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes.)

Andrade. c 1935. En la playa del lago de Chapala.

Andrade. c 1935. En la playa del lago de Chapala.

The first image (above) reminds us that during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the lake was a vital link in the regional transportation network connecting central Mexico to Guadalajara. Local craft crisscrossed the lake every day ferrying all manner of goods and provisions, as well as people, from one small port to the next.

The vessels in use included paddle steamers, fishing skiffs, flat-bottomed launches (canoas) and large sail canoes (canoas de vela), like the one shown in the photograph. Paddle steamers (vapores) were faster, and could carry more cargo, but required more investment and were more expensive to operate than sail canoes.

Almost every village, however small, had its own pier or jetty. Larger towns, like Chapala, had several small piers, some for public use, others built privately by local property owners. The largest piers, like the one in the photograph offered sufficient depth of water that even large cargo-carrying vessels could safely tie up to load and unload.

Andrade. c 1935. En el muro, embarcadero. lago de Chapala.

Andrade. c 1935. En el muro, embarcadero. Lago de Chapala.

The second postcard photograph is more unusual. The large throng of people occupying the pier and lakeshore wall must presumably have been for some very special occasion or event. But what is the occasion? There are no obvious clues on the image. If you can suggest a reason or occasion for this large crowd to gather by the pier, please get in touch!

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Acknowledgments

My heartfelt thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, for supplying photos of Stanley’s account of his time at Lake Chapala. I am very grateful to Ms Kaplan and the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the excerpt used in this post.

Source

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

Jan 252024
 

Sculptor Lesley I. Jervis (born Oct 1943, in Stoke-on-Trent, UK) and her then husband Bruce Robert Sherratt, an artist and art educator, lived in Jocotepec at the western end of Lake Chapala from 1968 to 1970. Prior to their arrival in Mexico, they had lived and traveled for some time in the USA.

Jervis and her husband studied at the Newcastle School of Art in Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, before moving to London where they married in 1963. Jervis, the secretary of the school’s Art Sketch Club, was in a collective exhibit at the school in 1962.

When they traveled to Mexico, the couple fulfilled one of Bruce Sherratt’s youthful ambitions to explore different cultures; and it was in Mexico where Sherratt gradually established his own identity as a surrealist painter, “hypnotized by the Aztec, Mayan and Toltec mythology.”

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

While I’m not entirely certain, I suspect that this acrylic on canvas painting signed “L. Sherratt”, titled “Blue Nude,” which sold in 2013 at Schwenke Auctioneers in Woodbury, Connecticut, may be an example of her work:

L Sherratt. Date unknown. "Blue Nude." Credit: Schwenke Auctioneers.

L Sherratt. Date unknown. “Blue Nude.” Credit: Schwenke Auctioneers.

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

In June 1970, as Lesley Jervis Maddock (‘Maddock’ was her mother’s maiden name), her work was in a group exhibit at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. Other artists participating in this show, besides her husband, included Peter Paul Huf, John Frost, Mario Aluta, Daphne Aluta, Chester Vincent, Gustave Aranguren, Hector Navarro, and Willi Hartung.

The following month (July 1970) the Anglo Mexican Institute in Mexico City held a joint show of paintings by Bruce Sherratt and sculptures by ‘Maddock.’ This show in Mexico City was apparently at the encouragement of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jan 182024
 

Of the many journalists who have reported on Lake Chapala over the years, one of those with the most distinctive individual viewpoint was Mary Hampton, a long-time fashion editor based in California.

Mary Hampton. Credit: Ancestry.com

Mary Hampton. Credit: Ancestry.com

Born on 14 September 1899 in Nogales, Arizona (at a time when there was no border wall separating the town from Nogales, Sonora), Mary McDuffie Hampton traveled extensively before she began her 30-year career as a writer while still in college. Her first formal position, in about 1923, was with the San Francisco Chronicle, overseeing a children’s page using the pen name “Aunt Dolly.” It was in 1923 when Hampton married UK-born Edward L Leonard (1894-1975) in San Francisco; the couple subsequently had two daughters, Denise and Barbara, born in 1924 and 1926 respectively.

Hampton was one of the first female reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle, and quickly became the paper’s fashion reporter. She continued in that role, writing under the pseudonym Ninon, for more than a decade and established herself as California’s top fashion authority. In 1937, now divorced, she left the San Francisco Chronicle to start a daily column for The Modesto Bee. Now writing using her own name, she was an independent syndicated columnist, with her writing appearing for more than two decades in numerous California newspapers.

It was during her period writing as an independent columnist that she made several visits to Lake Chapala and other parts of Mexico. Her first report from the lake, in the first half of 1949, was titled “Mexico Loves Lake Chapala As We Do Our Lake Tahoe.”

Below the village of Chapala are fabulous homes set in huge gardens and wonderful to even look at—all along the water’s edge. Each has its own piece of private beach. And one of these—the largest with the largest grounds is now a Pension. And it here at Monte Carlo that I am luxuriating. My tall French windows open to a little balcony with a thick stone balustrade. And I look through towering palms over the garden to the lake whose gentle lapping puts me to sleep at night.”

She was taken with the fashion sense of the owner:

Señor Hermosillo, who owns this place and is a blond aristocrat from old Spain in former generations, dresses as if he were on the Riviera for supper. Last night he wore white flannels and a dark brown tweed sport jacket with bow tie and looked delightful.”

At the Villa Montecarlo, dining—year-round—was on a tiled veranda, with lunch served from 1.30 to 3.30, and supper from 8.00 to 9.00.

Hampton, noting that the area had “a growing colony of writers and artists,” met ‘Dane Chandos’ (Peter Lilley) and was invited to visit him at his home in San Antonio Tlayacapan. [Dane Chandos was the pen name used by Lilley, in partnership first with Nigel Millett and then with Anthony Stansfeld, for Village in the Sun and House in the Sun.]

She also wrote a lengthy column at this time about fashion and country club life in Guadalajara, noting that the city’s women “are noted for their beauty and it is no exaggeration,” and that she saw “young women by the dozen each more beautiful than our movie stars.”

Fresno Bee, 1949

In a separate column, Hampton described how she took a boat ride one morning to Ajijic to visit Neill James:

Ajijic is truly a Village in the Sun, a cluster of adobe houses near the lake’s edge with a little plaza and church. Since the Indians fear the air from the water at night, the land along the beach itself was conveniently left for the many writers, artists, and zestful mortals who have quietly trickled into Ajijic and built sprawly Shangri-La houses for themselves. Some are smaller like the casa of writer Neill James.”

Given her knowledge of fashion, it is no surprise that Hampton reported on how Neill James was teaching villagers how to make “beautiful little tailored blouses,” as “a hobby between herself and the Indians whom she loves.” Neill James herself was wearing “navy slacks, huaraches and a plaid cotton shirt. Her curly hair is unruly and her brown eyes warm and zestful.”

Four years later, in 1953, Hampton wrote a column titled “Mexican Resort is Scenic Spot,” in which she explained that “Chapala is bulging with Americans,” and that “it is almost impossible to rent any more,” despite the fact that “The lake’s edge has receded from the fabulous stone piers and jetties which once edged the beaches in front of the hotel-size homes surrounded by park gardens.”

Hampton also announced plans for a month-long summer vacation writers’ workshop later that year at the Villa Montecarlo. Besides herself, the instructors were Dane Chandos (“the brilliant English author who lives just beyond Chapala and whose books made nearby Ajijic famous”) and short story author A. Marshall Harbinson, a long-time instructor in English at the University of California. The workshop consisted of afternoon classes five days a week and a weekly round table discussion with Dane Chandos. An optional post-conference tour included visits to Pátzcuaro, Janitzio, Morelia, Mexico City, Taxco, Hacienda Vista Hermosa and Puebla. The workshop (or conference as it was called elsewhere) attracted writers “from many Bay area cities as well as Southern California.

Attendees were entertained at the homes of Neill James, Peter Lilley and Walter Schnaider (“the American millionaire who makes his home at Chapala”). In addition, “young Berkeley author” Willard Marsh, then living in Ajijic, gets a passing mention.

Hampton wrote two more interesting reports on Chapala during a visit in 1955. In between comments about the fashion choices of Mexican and American residents and visitors, she writes about:

the muchly advertised Ajicjic [sic] which this winter is causing something of a road congestion and human aggravation. Book in hand (they say they paid $2 for it) tourists come seeking Paradise for a dollar a day and don’t find it. Paradise is here for those who know the password but inflation has come to Mexico also—a sort of spillover from our own amazing affairs—and the pesos won’t buy quite everything.”

In a second piece, titled “Parties are an epidemic in the US Colony in Mexico,” Hampton lamented the fact that:

The Americans here are forever giving parties. They talk parties, some live for the parties; a few sigh wearily over the monotony of so much….
In the village of Chapala are all sorts of Taxco-like houses–Mexican versions of Carmel picturesqueness and many of these the Americans have now taken over. The decoration at times is daringly modern and always brilliantly interesting. As in Carmel, writers and painters gravitate this way. But it really began after Dane Chandos published “Village in the Sun”. Today the adjoining and famous village of Ajijic seethes with artists and pseudo-artists and would-be hangers-on, while a colony of well over 200 retired officers and doctors are finding a sun-drenched haven Chapala way. It is these, the members of the colony, who fill their nights with parties.”

By then, according to another US journalist, Vida Shepard (who spent several winters at Lake Chapala in the 1950s), Hampton had built herself a casita somewhere near the Capilla de Lourdes, on the hillside overlooking the Villa Montecarlo.

After retiring from journalism in January 1958, Hampton sold houses for a time in Apple Valley, gained a masters degree in English, and taught in public schools and at the University of Redlands. In the 1960s she also worked on a radio program for the elderly.

Mary Hampton lived her final years in Riverside, California, where she died at the age of 87 on 11 May 1987.

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

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the literary community in Ajijic. The history of the Villa Montecarlo is told in chapter 28 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants (translated into Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes).

Sources

  • Berkeley Daily Gazette: 21 May 1949; 31 May 1949, 6; 30 April 1953; 22 July 1953; 26 Jan 1955.
  • Riverside Daily Press: 25 May 1949.
  • The Chico Enterprise Record: 28 Jan 1955.
  • The Fresno Bee: 28 Jan 1955.
  • The Modesto Bee: 24 Apr 1937, 9.
  • Times-Advocate (Escondido, California): 13 May 1987, 26.

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

Jan 112024
 

The first two art exhibitions of note in the Lake Chapala area were held at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in 1944.

The first was a solo show of works by Edythe Wallach in November 1944; a year later, she was exhibiting many of the same paintings in a New York gallery.

The second, a month later, was the area’s earliest documented group art show. And—at least in my view—no subsequent show in the region has ever matched the extraordinary range of artistic talent that was on display in that particular group exhibit.

Group of artists at 1944 artshow at Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein. (reproduced with permission)

Artists at the December 1944 art show at Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. From left to right: Sylvia Fein, Otto Butterlin, Betty Binkley, Muriel Lytton-Bernard, Ernesto Butterlin, Ann Medalie, Neill James, Jaime López Bermúdez, Frieda Hauswirth Das (?), Hari Kidd (?). Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission).

The show, announced in the Guadalajara daily El Informador as the founding of the Chapala Art Center, opened on 10 December 1944. The ribbon cutting was preceded by a short introductory speech by American poet Witter Bynner, who first visited Chapala in the company of English novelist D H Lawrence in 1923 and later bought a home in the town.

Confusingly, contemporaneous reports name only ten of the eleven artists reportedly displaying their work there. The artists named are Betty Binkley, Ernesto Butterlin, Otto Butterlin, Sylvia Fein, Frieda Hauswirth Das, Hari Kidd, Irma René Koen, Jaime López BermúdezMuriel Lytton-Bernard and Ann Medalie. The elusive eleventh artist may have been Edythe Wallach, whose own solo show was a month earlier and who eighteen months later married Hari Kidd.

With the benefit of hindsight it is now apparent that this was a star-studded group of artists. Collectively, they represented a wide variety of countries and varying levels of art education, ranging from the purely self taught to formal instruction in some world-class institutions by world-class artists. Many of the group were young, with few if any prior exhibitions of significance; others had already established their artistic reputation by exhibiting internationally, in major institutions and art galleries.

Their art careers after this Villa Montecarlo show would prove to be equally varied, with some gaining far more success than others. But, taken as whole, this was surely one of the most supremely talented groups ever to hold a joint exhibition at Lake Chapala (or in Guadalajara for that matter).

Artwork at 1944 group show, Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission)

Artwork at the December 1944 group show, Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission).

Betty Binkley (1914-1978) was a precociously talented young artist, born in California, but primarily associated with Santa Fe, New Mexico. Betty was married (briefly) to the very famous Catalan-born sculptor, painter and art educator  Urbici Soler i Manonelles. She exhibited widely in the US, as well as in Mexico. In Chapala, she “presented several notable canvases in something of a sub-realistic American style but characteristically her own. Her painting of “Three Children” is particularly delightful and “Her Dogs” (no. 23) has real charm.” She lived the latter part of her life in San Miguel de Allende.

Ernesto Butterlin (1917-1964) was born in Guadalajara to German parents who had relocated to Mexico. Still in his twenties at the time of the Chapala exhibition, his abstract works had already achieved “great success both in Mexico and the United States.” Ernesto lived, painted and taught art in Ajijic for his entire adult life.

Otto Butterlin (1900-1956), born in Germany, and one of Ernesto’s two older brothers, studied art formally in Germany. By 1944 he “was already a well-respected expressionist painter” in Mexico. After living in Mexico City, next door to the studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Otto lived the last twenty years of his life in Ajijic, during which time he held several solo shows at the Galería de Arte Mexicano in Mexico City, taught at the National Academy of Fine Arts, was commissioned to paint in the US and in Haiti, and had a strong positive influence on the next generation of Mexican artists. Otto and Ernesto joined forces to open Ajijic’s first formal art gallery in about 1948.

Sylvia Fein (born 1919), now widely regarded as one of America’s foremost surrealist painters of all time, was preparing for her first solo show. Her paintings in the Chapala show demonstrated “her remarkable drawing skill, execution and expression,” and she has openly loved Mexico ever since. Her works, painted in egg tempera, have been shown in numerous major exhibitions, and are in a class of their own.

Frieda Hauswirth Das (1886-1974), born in Switzerland and best known for an early portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, studied art in Switzerland, the US and France. Her frescoes, portraits and other works won prizes in Paris art shows, and were exhibited in France, the UK, the US, and India. In the Chapala show, her “Cosecha Lagunera” was praised as a “an outstanding work of splendid technique and beauty.”

Hari Kidd (1899-1964) of El Paso, was already well-known for his illustrations of Mexican architecture, folk life and social realism, many of them reproduced in Mexico Magazine. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Atlanta Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the Chapala exhibit, Kidd showed “some very interesting floral scenes, a beautiful nude, and a very expressive canvas of two swimmers, all very good examples of his painting skills, and some lovely scenes from Ajijic.”

Irma René Koen (1893-1975) trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, and studied and painted in various art centers in Europe and elsewhere. She traveled the world, from Nepal to North Africa, and exhibited widely. Even as early as the 1920s, she was considered one of America’s leading female artists. After living in Ajijic and exhibiting in Chapala, Koen decided to make Mexico her permanent home. Among the paintings displayed at Villa Montecarlo was her “very impressive rendering of the Paricutín Volcano, apparently taken in the early morning.”

Jaime López Bermúdez (1916-?) trained as an architect but hoped to pursue a career in art. He is best known today for designing and building one of Mexico’s first ‘tiny homes,’ a one bedroom modernist home which could be built for under 1500 dollars. He later owned and ran an art gallery in upscale Coyoacán. A reviewer of the Chapala show wrote that the artist “distinguished himself with several expressive sub-realisms.”

Muriel Lytton-Bernard (1896-1974) was the ‘dark horse’ of the group. Though a reviewer praised her “pleasant and realistic portraits” and “beautifully painted Chapala watercolors,” I have so far learned nothing of significance about her earlier or subsequent art career.

Ann Medalie (1896-1991), born in Latvia, studied briefly in Chicago before working in interior design in California, and then as an assistant on murals in the Maritime Museum in San Francisco, and at the Golden Gate Exposition, where she worked alongside—and became good friends with—Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The paintings she exhibited in Chapala were “immaculate decorative oil flowers.” Several of her paintings of Ajijic, including depictions of the Johnsons’ home (see below) were accepted for national exhibitions in Mexico City. In the 1950s, Medalie moved to Israel, where she was a co-founder of the artist community in Safed.

Edythe Wallach, who may be the eleventh artist in the Chapala show, had held a solo show at the Montecarlo a month earlier. Her work is beautifully executed and very distinctive but she exhibited only rarely. She married Hari Kidd in March 1946.

Otto Butterlin. 1943. Portrait of Herbert Johnson. Image courtesy of Milagros Sendis.

Otto Butterlin. 1943. Portrait of Herbert Johnson. Image courtesy of Milagros Sendis.

After the closing of the Villa Montecarlo show in Chapala, many of the artists showed their works a few days later at an afternoon exhibition and sale in Ajijic on Wednesday 20 December at the home of Herbert and Georgette Johnson. The sale included embroidery done by village women in a ‘revival’ of a village craft spearheaded by author and village philanthropist Neill James.

The Guadalajara daily El Informador published an invitation (written by Neill James) which listed some of the artistic and literary people then residing in Ajijic, including Zara ‘La Rusa,’ and her mother; Paul ‘Pablo’ Heuer and his sister, Luisa, an author, who jointly ran a rustic lakefront hostelry known as Casa Heuer; visual artists Jaime López Bermúdez, Ernesto Butterlin, Otto Butterlin, Sylvia Fein, Frieda Hauswirth Das, and Irene René Koen; and authors Nigel Millett and Peter Lilley who adopted the joint pen name Dane Chandos to write Village in the Sun, published a few months later.

By 1944 the artistic and literary community in Ajijic and Chapala was clearly thriving!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.
My history of Ajijic – Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village – has several chapters about the individuals, artists and patrons who helped cement Ajijic’s reputation as a center for artistic creativity and excellence.

Sources

  • El Informador: 3 Dec 1944, 11; 16 Dec 1944, 16; 19 Dec 1944; 24 Jan 1947, 6.

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

Jan 042024
 

Newspaper correspondent and intrepid traveler Fanny H. Ward (née Brigham) was born in Monroe, Michigan, on 27 January 1843 and died in Kent, Ohio, on 4 October 1913. Little is known about her early education and upbringing. She married in 1862 and moved to Washington DC about a decade later. The couple had three children, the youngest of which accompanied her on some of her later long-distance travels.

Ward had begun writing for newspapers, including the Cleveland Leader and the Portage County Republican-Democrat, in the 1870s and in 1884, now divorced, traveled for the first time to Mexico and Central America where she explored and wrote travel and lifestyle pieces for the next two and a half years. During that time, she climbed Mt Popocatepetl, the volcano overlooking Mexico City, contracted yellow fever and crossed the Andes on muleback.

A few years later Ward visited Guatemala and British Honduras (now Belize) before continuing south to Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. In 1898, Ward visited Cuba on humanitarian missions with her good friend Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, and in the following year she spent time in Europe. By that time more than 40 newspapers were publishing her work. Ward’s writing career came to an abrupt end in 1905 after a stroke left her blind in one eye.

Among the articles written by Ward that relate to Mexico is a report of a three-day horse ride to Chapala, titled “Picnicking in Mexico: An Excursion to Lake Chapala,” published in April 1887.

Mrs Fannie Ward. 1887. Picnicking in Mexico.

Mrs Fannie Ward. 1887. Picnicking in Mexico.

Day 1 – Riding towards the lake

A Día de Campo (“day in the country”) as a Mexican picnic is called, is a favorite amusement here, especially in the vicinity of any body of water… We were invited to join an excursion to Lake Chapala, forty miles distant from Guadalajara—a “picnic” which occupied three days spent mostly on horseback.

Our party of eighteen started from Guadalajara in the twilight of an early morning, eating breakfast and lunch from well filled hampers al fresco by the wayside, and arriving in good time for six o’clock dinner at the hacienda of Señor Alzuyeta, ten miles this side of the lake.

I have failed to find any record of an influential family named Alzuyeta in Jalisco at the time, and it is unclear which hacienda is being referred to, though it may have been Atequiza. The hacienda is described as:

unique in its way, with little furniture (like all Mexican country houses) but what there is being very handsome, most of it having been brought from Spain nearly two centuries ago by a titled ancestor. The dining hall—a noble room, capable of seating thee hundred persons, opens into a garden which is kept in beautiful order, with fine trees, clear tanks, sparkling fountains and a profusion of roses of extraordinary beauty even in this land of flowers… the fountains tiled around in Moorish style, ornamented with Chinese figures and enormous China vases of great value.”

Day 2 – Visit to Lake Chapala

The next morning they left the hacienda early for Chapala, where they “spent a long day upon its peaceful waters and among its many islands.”

A small steamboat makes a daily tour of Lake Chapala, stopping at various points of interest; and everywhere along its shores Indian boatmen may be hired to paddle you about in canoes, dug-outs and rafts. Some of the latter have benches and awnings—much like those on the Vija canal, near the City of Mexico—and each barge, with three bare-legged boatmen to propel it, will easily carry a dozen people.
In the lake are many islands, upon one or two of which extensive ruins have been found. Some of the islands are absolutely unexplorable, on account of the innumerable number and variety of serpents that infest them, and appear to be entirely given over to these reptiles. No wonder those early Indians considered a skirt of woven snakes the most appropriate garment for the goddess of the earth!”

In attempting to explore some of the islands of Lake Chapala it seemed as if the earth literally wore ‘a skirt of serpents.’ The ground seemed alive with them, swaying and writhing from every bush, hissing and squirming on every fallen tree and rippling the water in all directions. It was a question as to which was most numerous, the birds above or snakes below. Among the islands are numerous shoals which barely project their pebbly heads above the water. These shoals are inhabited by millions of terns, gulls and other water fowl, and when approached the birds rise up in swarms, darkening the air, uttering deafening cries and darting about the intruder in a threatening manner…. the scene on the shoals, after the birds have deserted them, is most astonishing. Gulls and terns make no nests, and do not even take pains to hollow out a place in the gravel; but to every pebble there seems to be a dozen eggs.”

According to Ward, the annual spring hatching of birds’ eggs led to a frenzy of snakes below and hawks above.

The group returned to the hacienda in time for a late dinner, comprised of mole, boiled nopales, fried bananas, green chili in various sauces, frijoles, tortillas, cured goat’s milk cheese and guava jelly.

Both evenings at the hacienda we were sumptuously entertained by music, dancing and feasting, all the good people of the vicinage having been invited to meet us. The orange trees in the patio, beneath which the feast was spread, were hung with Chinese lanterns and the farther grounds illuminated with blazing torches of fir…. One evening we played at juegos de prendas—games with forfeits—which was made very amusing by the lively imagination of the ladies in inventing punishments for their caballeros.”

The following day, they rode back to Guadalajara.

Fannie Ward was just one of several pioneering female travelers who made important contributions to travel writing in the nineteenth century. Among the other early female travelers who wrote important accounts of Lake Chapala are Rose Georgina Kingsley; (Selina) Maud Pauncefote; Frances Christine Fisher (aka Christian Reid); and Mrs Alec Tweedie.

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Roger J. Di Paolo. 2013. “Portage Pathways: Globe-trotting Fannie B. Ward came home to Ravenna.” Record-Courier, 6 Oct 2013.
  • El Informador: 3 Dec 1944, 11; 16 Dec 1944, 16; 24 Jan 1947, 6.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1886. ““The Scorpions of Mexico.” The Newnan Herald (Georgia), 19 October, 1.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1884. “Monterrey—the Metropolis of Northern Mexico.” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, March 1884.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1887. “How the “Old, Old Story” Is Told in Mexico. Love-making and Marriage among the Aristocracy of Spanish-America.” The Cambridge Press, Volume XXI, Number 48, 19 February 1887.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1887. “In Southern Mexico. Picnicking at Lake Chapala.” The Sacramento Union, 30 April 1887, 4.

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

Dec 282023
 

Antonio Mólgora was an Italian businessman and hotelier who ran various hotels in Chapala from about 1907 to his death in 1927. Both he and one of his sons, also named Antonio, were accomplished amateur photographers and published a number of postcards, the son generally preferring pictures of boats and people to pictures of buildings. They were almost certainly the first local residents to produce real photographic postcards of Chapala.

At least three postcards must be the work of Antonio Mólgora Sr. (“El Muelle,” “La Plalla” [sic] and “La Reynera”) while many more can definitely be attributed to his son, Antonio Mólgora Jr. There is no evidence that either Mólgora ever tried to commercialize any photographs of other places; their Chapala postcards were presumably given or sold to visitors in the hotels owned or managed by Antonio Sr.

The numbering on some of the father’s postcards suggests there are likely to be many more photos of Chapala still waiting to be found and attributed to him!

Antonio Mólgora Sr. ca 1911. El Muelle.

Antonio Mólgora Sr. ca 1911. El Muelle.

Antonio Mólgora Sr.

Antonio Mólgora (Sr.) was born at Novara, Italy, in 1877. He was one of at least eight children born there to Clemente Mólgora Declerechi (1841-1900), a pork butcher, and his wife, Paulina de Ferrari (1852-1931). One of Antonio’s uncles, Enrique Mólgora (ca 1840-1900), had established himself and his family in Mexico in the 1870s, and Enrique’s brother—Antonio’s father—followed him to Mexico with his family in the 1890s.

In 1900, Antonio married 19-year-old María Espinosa Gómez in Chihuahua. The couple had two sons: Clemente Mólgora Espinosa (1901-1981) and Antonio Héctor Mólgora Espinosa (1903-1980). Clemente, who married a local Chapala girl in about 1927, is mentioned in Journey with Genius, the account by poet Witter Bynner of visiting Chapala in 1923 in the company of D. H. Lawrence. (Bynner later bought a house in the village and was a regular visitor for decades.)

It is unclear what Antonio Mólgora (father) did before becoming manager of the Gran Hotel Victor Huber in Chapala in about 1906. But, roughly three years later, he bought this hotel, originally named for its owner, and renamed it the Hotel Francés. Located immediately opposite the church, it was demolished at the end of the 1940s when the wide main boulevard (Avenida Francisco I. Madero) was created.

In 1919, Mólgora also took over the management of the Hotel Palmera. Part of this building, designed by Guillermo de Alba and completed in 1907, later became the Hotel Nido, and is now the Presidencia, housing Chapala municipal offices.

In March 1921 a vacationer wrote on a Mólgora postcard to friends in New Orleans that, besides having a good time, they had felt their first earthquake – “We all dressed and went down stairs. Thought the next shake would bring down the building.” a reference, presumably, to the 6.4 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Colima on 1 May 1921, an event fortunately without any casualties.

In about 1924, Mólgora bought and took over the running of the Hotel Arzapalo; it was promptly renamed the Hotel Mólgora. The Arzapalo had opened in 1898 as the town’s first major hotel, but had operated only intermittently during the Mexican Revolution before reopening in the 1920s.

Antonio Mólgora Sr., photographer, hotelier and ardent supporter of the Italian community in Guadalajara, died in his adopted home of Chapala on 9 October 1927.

Antonio Mólgora Jr.

Antonio Hector Mólgora (1903-1980) married in 1931 and had at least three children, including Jorge Enrique Mólgora Gil, an artist and architect who has designed or co-designed several projects in Chapala and Ajijic since the 1980s.

Antonio Hector Jr took numerous fine photographs of Chapala from about 1920 onward, at least 20 of which were published as postcards. His father promoted his hotels by offering special rates for excursion groups, and this photo of a passenger boat (below) may have been taken to document a special excursion group from Guadalajara.

Antonio Mólgora. Date unknown. Passenger boat, Lake Chapala.

Antonio Hector Mólgora. ca 1922? Passenger boat, Lake Chapala.

Antonio Mólgora Jr. also documented the huts used by fishermen at Chapala, including one on Isla de los Alacranes. It is unclear if this example (below) was taken on the island or somewhere closer to the town of Chapala:

Antonio Mólgora. Date unknown. Fisherman's hut, Lake Chapala.

Antonio Hector Mólgora. ca 1922? Fisherman’s hut, Lake Chapala.

This Mólgora postcard (with “MOLGORA” in block letters) of typical freight-carrying “sail canoes” or canoas (below) is evocative of the era in which D. H. Lawrence and his friends visited in 1923.

Antonio Mólgora. Date unknown. Boats on Lake Chapala.

Antonio Hector Mólgora (probably). Date unknown. Boats on Lake Chapala.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Jorge Enrique Mólgora Gil for helping clarify which photographs were the work of his father, Antonio Hector Mólgora Espinosa.

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 3 August 2019.

Sources:

  • El Correo de Jalisco: 9 January 1907.
  • El Informador: 15 September 1918, 2; 30 November 1919; 7 March 1920, 10; 1 July 1921, 7; 12 March 1926.

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

Dec 212023
 

Carl Sophus Lumholtz (1851–1922), born in Lillehammer, Norway, was a scientist, traveler and anthropologist in the generalist Humboldtian tradition. After graduating from the Theology department of the University of Christianía in Oslo, Lumholtz went to Australia as a naturalist. While living with cannibalistic aborigines in northern Queensland, he became fascinated by the study of primitive peoples, and spent the rest of his life enthralled by the anthropology and ethnology of native tribes in many different parts of the world.

Lumholtz-CoverLumholtz made six separate trips to Mexico, with the express purpose of studying indigenous people and their beliefs and customs. This approach was in stark contrast to that adopted by previous travelers, who had tended to regard the contributions of native Indians to the overall picture of life and work in Mexico as relatively insignificant.

His visits were supported by generous, wealthy patrons, as well as by the American Geographical Society and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Helped by letters of introduction from politicians in Washington, Lumholtz was able to obtain logistical support from President Porfirio Díaz, who Lumholtz considered to be “not only a great man on this continent, but one of the great men of our time.” Díaz helped organize a translation of Lumholtz’s work into Spanish. This was published, in 1904, only two years after the original English edition.

Lumholtz first entered Mexico with a team of some thirty scientists, with specializations ranging from geography to physics and from botany to mineralogy, and 100 horses. By the fourth trip, he had abandoned the team approach in favor of traveling alone, since this allowed him to explore some of the remotest parts of north and west Mexico, and live for extended periods of time with isolated Indian tribes. His respectful, patient attitude allowed him to gain the confidence of his hosts, and be permitted to take some of the earliest known photographs of them and their activities.

He was particularly impressed by the Indians’ practical skills:

“In all kinds of handicraft, for instance, in carving on stone, wood, and so forth, the ancient people of Mexico have no equal today for accuracy of execution and beauty of outline.” His sense of priorities is perhaps summed up best by his statement that he felt he had to protect the “Indians from the Mexicans, the Mexicans from the Americans”.

To his eternal regret, Lumholtz’s work in Mexico was interrupted by the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, and he felt forced to turn his attentions to other parts of the world, including India, Borneo and south-east Asia.

A prolific author, with dozens of works to his credit, Lumholtz died in 1922 while planning a research trip to New Guinea.

Unknown Mexico is an account of Lumholtz’s first four trips to Mexico, representing a total of five years in the country between 1890 and 1900. Even today, it remains a classic of anthropological literature. Illustrated with dozens of drawings and photographs, it provides a wealth of detail about the lifestyles, customs, native remedies, music and beliefs of some of the indigenous tribes.

This illustration from Unknown Mexico shows the excavation of ancient jars near Atoyac (a short distance west of Lake Chapala):

Lumholtz. Unknown Mexico, vol 2, opposite page 318

Lumholtz. Unknown Mexico, vol 2, opposite page 318.

The book includes drawings of two ceremonial hatchets “used at sacred sites” and found in the “neighbourhood of Chapala”:

Lumholtz: Two ceremonial hatchets found near Chapala

Lumholtz: Two ceremonial hatchets found near Chapala

I made also an excursion to the beautiful lake of Chapala, the largest sheet of fresh water in Mexico, fifty miles long and from fifteen to eighteen broad. Its name is Nahuatl, which should really be Chapalal, in onomatopoetic imitation of the sound of the waves playing on the beach. The stage runs to a small village of the same name, lying on the shore, where some pretty country houses have been built.

In this lake, especially at its western end, are found great quantities of ancient, roughly made, diminutive jars, and a number of other objects. Near the village of Axixic (Nahuatl, “Where water [atl] pours forth”) the people make a business of diving for them, threading them on strings, and selling them to visitors to the village of Chapala. I gathered several hundreds of them, and the supply seemed inexhaustible. No one knows when or why they were thrown into the lake. Most likely they were votive offerings to the deity of this water, to secure luck and health and other material benefits.

Lumholtz. Unknown Mexico, Illustration from Vol 2, page 357

Lumholtz. Unknown Mexico. Illustration from Vol 2, page 357

Note: This is based on chapter 48 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: An Anthology of Travelers’ Tales.

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

Sources

  • Carl Sophus Lumholtz. 1902. Unknown Mexico. 2 vols. 1973 reprint: New Mexico: Rio Grande Press.
  • Luis Romo Cedano. “Carl Lumholtz y el México desconocido.” Ch. 13 of Ferrer Muñoz, Manuel (coordinator) La Imagen del México Decimonónico de los Visitantes Extranjeros: ¿Un Estado nación o un Mosaico Plurinacional? Mexico: UNAM, Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, Serie Doctrina Jurídica, Núm. 56.

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

Dec 192023
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In California, two Lake Chapala-related artists—Bruce Sherratt and Robert Clutton—had works in the 1971 Christmas Show at the prestigious Vorpal Gallery.

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

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

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian

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

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

Enterprising Hollywood actor and artist Todd “Rocky” Karns retired to Ajijic with his wife and family in 1971 to paint, and produce and direct shows at the Lakeside Little Theater. Karns’ best-known movie role was as “Harry Bailey” in the classic Christmas holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

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

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

Also born on Christmas Day (but in 1906) was American journalist Edgar Ellinger, who wrote about “the small, captivating town of Ajijic” in 1953 for the Arizona Republic under the title, “Mexican Town Offers Peaceful Way of Life.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – – – –

Happy Christmas! – ¡Feliz Navidad!

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

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

Dec 142023
 

Among the many mystery artists related to Lake Chapala is Muriel Lytton-Bernard, née Robinson (1890-1974). She was the second wife of Dr Bernard Lytton Bernard (1890-1975), who ran a health spa in Ajijic for many years, and later founded the Rio Caliente spa in the Primavera Forest near Guadalajara.

Muriel Robinson was born in the UK on 10 August 1890. Still single, she accompanied Dr Lytton Bernard when he left the UK in 1935 with his young son, Peter, for Australia, after his attempt to gain a seat in the British parliament failed. When she married Dr Bernard Lytton Bernard in Guadalajara in 1940, both bride and groom stated they were living in Ajijic.

Though no details have yet come to light concerning Muriel’s early life or art training, and no examples of her work have yet surfaced, she exhibited paintings in two group shows at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in the 1940s, and apparently had considerable artistic skill.

Group of artists at 1944 artshow at Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein. (reproduced with permission)

Artists at the December 1944 art show at Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. From left to right: Sylvia Fein, Otto Butterlin, Betty Binkley, Muriel Lytton-Bernard, Ernesto Butterlin, Ann Medalie, Neill James, Jaime López Bermúdez, Frieda Hauswirth Das (?), Hari Kidd (?). Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission).

The first, in December 1944, was billed as celebrating the founding of the Chapala Art Center. A short piece in the Guadalajara daily El Informador about its founding and first exhibition, held at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala from 10-17 December, names only three artists—Hari Kidd, Betty Binkley of Santa Fe, and English artist Muriel Lytton-Bernard—but also comments that the other artists included two Mexicans, a Russian, an American and a Swiss, all of high quality. According to a follow-up piece, the show was the work of eleven artists, though it names only ten. The other artists named are the famous American surrealist Sylvia Fein, Ann Medalie, Otto Butterlin, Ernesto Linares (Ernesto Butterlin), and Jaime López Bermúdez, Frieda Hauswirth Das, and Irma René Koen. The elusive eleventh artist may have been Edythe Wallach, who had a solo show at the Villa Montecarlo a month earlier and who later married Hari Kidd.

Artwork at 1944 group show, Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission)

Artwork at the December 1944 group show, Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission).

The exhibition opened with a short speech by American poet Witter Bynner, who first visited Chapala in the company of English novelist D H Lawrence in 1923 and later bought a home in the town. Muriel’s work in this exhibition was comprised of “pleasant and realistic portraits.” A reviewer wrote that her “realistic fantasies, along with her beautifully painted Chapala watercolors, formed a very beautiful centerpiece in the great hall. Her painting of the garden of Dr. Salazar’s house in Chapala is particularly attractive.”

The second show where Muriel exhibited, also at the Villa Montecarlo, was in January 1947. This group show of “work by visitors to this region” also featured works by Richard Kitchin, Linares (Ernesto Butterlin), Charmin Schlossman, Charlotte Wax and several unnamed Spanish artists, as well as a selection of earthenware sculptures by Robert Houdek.

Muriel Lytton-Bernard died in Sussex, UK, on 24 May 1974.

If you know anything more about Muriel Lytton-Bernard, please get in touch!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.
My history of Ajijic – Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village – has several chapters about the individuals, artists and patrons who helped cement Ajijic’s reputation as a center for artistic creativity and excellence.

Sources

  • El Informador: 3 Dec 1944, 11; 16 Dec 1944, 16; 24 Jan 1947, 6.

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

Dec 072023
 

We have looked previously at several excerpts from the journal written by Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) about his multi-day visit to Lake Chapala in October 1937.

On the morning of 15 October 1937—his final day before returning to Guadalajara—Stanley decided to take a two-hour launch trip with Alonzo, his traveling companion, to Mezcala Island, “six leagues from Chapala Village, and one of the points usually visited by tourists.”

Prior to being transformed into a penal settlement “for the captured criminals of Michoacán and Jalisco,” the island had witnessed the “first faint cry for Independence… [when] it was the theatre of many deadly conflicts between the harassed patriots and the royalists.”

Mezcala Island is the larger and more photographed of the two historically important islands in Lake Chapala. American photographer Winfield Scott took the first photos of the island that we know of, and was also responsible for the first organized tourist trips to Mezcala, advertised at the end of the nineteenth century.

Winfield Scott. c 1905. Prison Island (Mezcala Island). Credit: Fototeca Nacional INAH.

Winfield Scott. c 1900. Prison Island (Mezcala Island). Credit: Fototeca Nacional INAH.

When he visited the island in 1937, Stanley found that:

The immense prison (presidio, a name often applied to the island), which dominates the lake for miles around, is falling into decay. An old care-taker and his decrepit wife are the sole occupants of the castle-like pile – which is perched on the crest of a commanding hill. The visitor may like to bear in mind that Mezcala has an unsavory reputation for alacranes [scorpions], the bite of which is often fatal. The fishermen say there is an alacran for every stone on the rocky island, and they usually warn visitors against these venomous pests.”

Stanley hired the boat “Corona” to take them to the island, and invited three newly found friends—Ysidoro Pulido and a couple of young boys—to accompany them. At the last minute, they were joined by a photographer, Andrade, and a “another boy of about fourteen years of age. This lad carried on his back a large gourd with a hinged door. In this gourd, he carried some of his photographic supplies.”

A strong wind was blowing from the east, and waves were dashing over our boat. The captain was a fat Mexican, about forty years of age, who wore a felt hat, but his two sailors looked like brigands, and wore their sombreros. The boat was about thirty feet long, and built of metal. The seats were some which had been removed at some previous time from an abandoned street car. They were covered with plush which had been badly torn.”

Leo Stanley. Excerpt, page 75 of 1937 journal. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. Excerpt from journal, page 75. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

We arrived at the island about noon. It was a steep ascent through underbrush to the old presidio. The walls were intact but the roof had entirely disappeared, On one corner of the old jail was a modern faro, or lighthouse, which served as a beacon for the sailors on the lake. Inside the courtyard was a heavy growth of tropical vegetation, and it was difficult to work our way through…. There was much volcanic rock on the island, and in places there grew a very tough grass which was even too hard for animals to eat. It served for thatch on the building of the only inhabitants of the place, a Mexican and his wife with two young children. Inside the presidio was a small burro, the only animal, with the exception of a pig, which we saw. The old church near the northern end of the island was without a roof, and was so overgrown with vegetation that we were entirely unable to enter it.”

After returning to Chapala and partaking of an excellent lunch, Stanley caught the 4.00 pm bus to Guadalajara and reached his hotel, the Imperial, about two hours later.

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center. For a selection of earlier accounts of Mezcala Island and its history, see Lake Chapala Through the Ages.

Acknowledgments

My heartfelt thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, for supplying photos of Stanley’s account of his time at Lake Chapala. I am very grateful to Ms Kaplan and the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the extracts and photos used in this post.

Source

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.

Nov 302023
 

This is the second in a mini series identifying some examples of photo identification errors which pertain to the Lake Chapala area.

Estampas de Chapala by Manuel Galindo Gaitan is an outstanding two-volume collection of mainly vintage photographs of Chapala and other places around the lake. Some of the historical details in the text are outdated but the photographs are an absolute treasure. The volumes were published in 2003 and 2005 respectively. Long out-of-print, they occasionally show up for sale on mercadolibre and similar sites.

Included in volume 1 (page 89) is this image, captioned “Los jóvenes que gustaban de remar en canoas por el Lago de Chapala eran turistas que con suma frecuencia visitablan el lugar.” (“The young people who liked to row small boats on Lake Chapala were tourists who visited the place very frequently.”)

Estampas de Chaplaa page 89

I admit to doing a double-take when I first saw this image many years ago. The pitched roofs of some of the buildings are quite reminiscent of some of the early villas of Chapala, including Casa Albión (later Villa Josefina), built by Septimus Crowe at the end of the nineteenth century. But my eye was drawn more to the much taller, four or five story building further back, mainly because there were no buildings this tall anywhere at Lake Chapala until relatively recently.

A quick reverse image search with the help of Señor Google brought up this strikingly similar image from more recent times:

Waikiki postcard

Waikiki postcard

It is apparent that this is the same location. The difference in date between the two images is shown by the very different leisure attire, but does nothing to mask the fact that the major buildings are the same in both photos.

Chapala or Hawaii? You be the judge!

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

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

Nov 232023
 

Bertha Kaiser was the third wife of Swiss printer and shopkeeper Juan Kaiser, who—in addition to selling accounting books and ledgers via his store “Al Libro de Caja” in Guadalajara—also published beautiful early postcards of Chapala and Guadalajara featuring the work of such distinguished photographers as José María Lupercio and Winfield Scott.

Front cover of "Mein Rind. Tagebuch der Mutter" (Bertha Kaiser's diary)

Bertha’s diary, written in German in the first quarter of the twentieth century, was unknown outside her immediate family until relatively recently. Excerpts of the diary were published in 2012 as Tagebuch Von Bertha Kaiser-Peter Fur Ihren sohn Hans Paul Kaiser.

The diary contains frequent references to the members of the small Swiss community in Guadalajara, most of whom had close friendships and ties to the much larger German community in the city.

While the diary is mostly about the family’s experiences in Guadalajara and an extended trip to the US (via train to Manzanillo and steamer to California), there are some significant Chapala links scattered through the diary.

The excerpts begin in mid-1912 when Bertha and Juan’s son, Hans-Paul, was born in Guadalajara. Following his baptism, a celebration for family and friends was held at the Hotel Cosmopolita, before the Kaisers returned to their home in Jardines Seattle.

The Hotel Cosmopolita had been owned until a few years previously by German-born Francisco Fredenhagen (1849-1932), a close friend of the Kaisers, who, in about 1900, built one of the earliest weekend ‘cottages’ in Chapala at (or very near) the property which now has the address of Avenida Hidalgo #260.

Fredenhagen was a partner in a Mexico City brewery (“La Compañia Cervecera Limitada”) when he bought the Hotel Cosmopolita in 1885 and moved to Guadalajara. One of Fredenhagen’s grandchildren later married into the Seimandi family, which included one of the early managers of Chapala’s emblematic hotel—the Hotel Arzapalo—which opened in 1898. This marriage was very much in the tradition of the time that influential families consolidated their status and wealth through intermarriage.

In the mid 1890s, Fredenhagen drew anthropologist Frederick Starr’s attention to the many little pottery objects found in and around Lake Chapala, about which Starr subsequently wrote a short monograph. Fredenhagen also informed Starr about a “dwarf race” living in the hills near Ajijic, which the anthropologist planned to investigate with the assistance of Archbishop Gillow. Gillow is a particularly interesting figure in Mexican history; his story is told in Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique.

After Fredenhagen sold the Hotel Cosmopolita in 1909, he announced plans to move to Chapala where he and his wife owned a cottage, before retiring to Germany. Events in Europe apparently caused them to rethink that idea; Fredenhagen died in Guadalajara in 1932, and his wife died there eight years later.

Members of Kaiser family in Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Members of Kaiser family in Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Bertha’s diary records a visit to stay with the Fredenhagens in Chapala in April 1915. Paraphrasing Bertha’s text, on February 17th the family celebrated Juan’s birthday quietly at home. Juan was not feeling well (he had a chronic illness), and they were invited to visit the Fredenhagens at Lake Chapala. They left Guadalajara on April 15th in a privately hired stagecoach (diligencia), pulled by “five lively mules” over the “sometimes very bumpy roads.” It took seven hours, but “the beautiful journey” was a “reminder of how people made long journeys in stagecoaches before the coming of the railroad.”

They spent a month with the Fredenhagen family. Bertha and Juan took a pleasant walk in the mountains every morning, before having a swim, a leisurely lunch and a siesta. They took a row boat out in the late afternoon. After dinner, they entertained themselves playing jazz.

Hans-Paul (“Juanito”) and his nanny also had a good time at Chapala. Juanito played every day on the sandy beach, bathed, and loved his time in Chapala, especially after one of his Guadalajara friends arrived with her parents.

Group at Casa Nigg, Chapala, August 1922. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Group at Casa Nigg, Chapala, August 1922. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Bertha recognized that Chapala was facing a difficult time. While the lake and its shores were as beautiful as ever, the unrest in the country had led to everything being neglected: “The beautiful private villas are mostly uninhabited, the hotels are poorly maintained. In former quiet times people flocked to Chapala from everywhere.” When the trip came to an end, they returned to Guadalajara by stagecoach, “taking the most beautiful memories home with us. Mr. & Mrs. Fredenhagen were such dear hosts.”

In the summer of 1915, the Kaisers undertook an arduous journey to California to combine having a family holiday with seeking specialist medical advice.

“It was a terrible journey to Colima…. It is one of the most dangerous routes in the world, wonderfully romantic in quiet times, but in revolutionary times the line was usually out of order, the trains in terrible condition, it was a horrible ride and ridiculed any description.”

Manzanillo was even worse: “The heat was unbearable, the mosquitoes plagued the children, particularly, day & night, bad food, nothing to drink.” About 40 people from Guadalajara were waiting in the port for the steamer “Peru” to San Francisco. After several days, the steamer finally arrived and the nine day journey to San Francisco was underway.

Bertha’s diary covers their California trip in considerable detail, including Juan’s chance meeting at a German music festival in Los Angeles with a fellow postcard publisher, “Mr Ruhland, an old friend whom he hadn’t seen in 12 years.” Emil Ruhland and his partner, Max Ahlschier, founded Ruhland & Ahlschier, the first company in Mexico permitted to publish and market illustrated postcards, in 1897. After selling the company in about 1903, Ruhland had moved to the US.

The Kaisers’ return home to Guadalajara is also described in great detail in Bertha’s diary. From Manzanillo, the “extra train” which arrived to take them to Guadalajara, “didn’t have passenger wagons but only freight wagons. Awful was the ride on this old railroad train that was fueled by wood… [with] the biggest rain of sparks, which was especially bad for the eyes when going fast.” To add insult to injury, Juan’s personal suitcase, containing clothes, cash and business notes, was stolen.

The dangerous stretch between Colima and Guadalajara lasted two days and a night. All too visible in the barranca below at one point were the wrecked locomotives and passenger cars from a train accident in which hundreds of people had died.

Unfortunately, Juan never recovered from his illness and died early the following year (1916). Given the uncertain future for the business, most employees resigned. Fortunately, with the assistance of a business administrator, Emil Keller, the company remained in operation while Bertha negotiated its sale to Juan’s brother, Arnoldo.

The following year, Keller asked Bertha to marry him. Bertha, greatly conflicted but wanting the best for her 5-year-old son, said ‘Yes” and the couple were married in a small civil ceremony at Bertha’s home on 24 October 1917. The newly weds left Juanito with his nanny, and drove to Chapala for a two week honeymoon.

After a week of wondering every day how Juanito was doing, “my husband decided to go back to Guadalajara and bring the little one to me as a surprise, which of course made me very happy… Now we could stay peacefully another week and enjoy the beautiful place.”

Bertha and her husband became accustomed to spending part of every summer in Chapala. Several photos in the diary provide glimpses into the social life of Bertha and her friends. In 1922, for example, Bertha was at the farewell party for the retiring Swiss consul, Juan Nigg. Nigg invited the entire Swiss community for a steamer ride on the lake and lunch at his lakeside home. (Nigg’s successor as consul was Dr Sutter, director of the Faculty of Medicine at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara, who also had a home in Chapala.)

Silver wedding of Sres Jochimsen, Chapala, November 1922. Photo by José Edmundo Sánchez. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Silver wedding of Sres Jochimsen, Chapala, November 1922. Photo by José Edmundo Sánchez. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

In that same year, Bertha and Emil attended the silver wedding celebration in Chapala of Mr and Mrs Jochimsen. The group photo showing the invitees was taken by Chapala-born photographer José Edmundo Sánchez, whose postcards of Chapala are an invaluable source of social history.

The diary also includes this photo of the Lehmann family posing on the beach at Chapala.

The Lehmann family at Chapala. c 1925. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

The Lehmann family at Chapala. c 1925. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Not long after the period described in the diary, Bertha and her family left Guadalajara to live in Switzerland.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Hans-Martin Kaiser and Verena Kaiser-Ernst for bringing this valuable diary to my attention, and for graciously allowing me to reproduce the photos used in this post.

Help needed

Verena Kaiser-Ernst, editor of Bertha Kaiser’s diary, is interested in having the diary translated from German to Spanish for possible publication in Guadalajara. The book has approximately 20,500 words of text and about 40 photo captions. Please contact me if this is a project that appeals to you!

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards, including several published by Juan Kaiser,  to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Verena Kaiser-Ernst. 2012. Tagebuch Von Bertha Kaiser-Peter Fur Ihren sohn Hans Paul Kaiser. Stuttgart: T H Schetter.
  • La Tierra: 1 June 1901, 125.
  • The Mexican Herald: 28 June 1909, 11.
  • The Two Republics: 13 Jan 1885, 4.

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

Nov 162023
 

Mauricio Yáñez was a Mexican photographer and one of the more prolific producers of postcards in Mexico during the 1930s. He took thousands of tourist photos of Mexico, showing towns, cities and people, including at least 20 related to Lake Chapala.

This view of Chapala and its lakeshore (below)  includes a lakefront cantina mid-way between the Arzapalo hotel building (on the left) and the twin towers of San Francisco church. The cantina was demolished during the construction of the main avenue to Chapala pier (Avenida Francisco I Madero) at the very start of the 1950s.

Mauricio Yáñez. Date unknown. Chapala waterfront.

Mauricio Yáñez. c 1935? Chapala waterfront.

Yáñez’s photographs of Lake Chapala include several beautifully-composed images of fishermen and their fishing techniques. Fishing at Lake Chapala was described by travel writer Edna Mae Stark at about the same time as Yáñez took these photos.

Mauricio Yáñez. c 1935?. Lake Chapala fishermen.

    Mauricio Yáñez. c 1935? Lake Chapala fishermen.

The photo above shows a timeless scene of local fishermen, including young men, deftly working a net to catch fish right next to the shore; the waterfront is covered by water hyacinth (lirio), first introduced to Lake Chapala at the end of the nineteenth century.

Fishermen constantly needed to repair their nets, a task depicted on the following postcard. “Drying large nets required the use of an extensive area of beach. Among the many significant adverse impacts of the rash of shoreline invasions that have occurred in the past century is the great reduction in the area available to fishermen for drying and mending their nets. Missing floats or weights and tears in the mesh, however small, require rapid replacement or repair. However long the nets, their drying, checking and repairing is an essential daily task.” (Lake Chapala: A Postcard History).

Maurico Yáñez. c 1935. Fishermen mending nets, Chapala. (Fig 8.7 of Lake Chapala: A Postcard History)

Maurico Yáñez. c 1935? Fishermen mending nets, Chapala. (Fig 8.7 of Lake Chapala: A Postcard History)

According to photography researcher Miguel Ángel Morales, Mauricio Yáñez was born in Jalisco in 1882 and died in an aviation accident in Tamazunchale, San Luis Potosí, on 1 April 1939. As a youth, Yáñez apparently used a do-it-yourself manual to build his own camera and began to take portraits. He moved to Guadalajara where he continued his career under the well-established and locally-renowned photographer Ignacio Gómez Gallardo.

During the Mexican Revolution, Yáñez became a correspondent for La Ilustración Semanal and also had numerous photos published in La Semana Ilustrada. He had a studio for a time in Culiacán, Sinaloa, where he took portraits of several leading Maderistas, and then opened a studio in Mazatlán in partnership with J. M. Guillen, before finally branching out on his own.

Yáñez moved to Monterrey, Nuevo León, in 1917 where, in partnership with Jesús R. Sandoval, he ran the “El Bello Arte” studio which specialized in marriage photography and portraits. While living in Monterrey, Yáñez and local author and politician David Alberto Cossio co-founded a literary magazine, Azteca.

From Monterrey, Yáñez is known to have visited the U.S. on at least two occasions, in 1918 and again in 1924-25. The latter visit may have been to meet Kodak executives. In 1925 he was named as the “representative of Kodak Mexicana” in Monterrey, where he hosted a dinner party to which numerous local photographers were invited. According to one source, Yanez had been asked by Kodak to re-organize the “Sociedad Fotográfica de Monterrey.”

Based afterwards in Mexico City, Yáñez amassed an impressive collection of photos, and in December 1928 began selling many of them as postcards. They depicted cities and sites of tourist interest across the entire country. According to one estimate, more than 5 million photographic postcards with Yáñez’s name were printed during his lifetime!

In 1935, with Hugo Brehme, Yáñez illustrated a bilingual guide to the Teotihuacán Archaeological Zone, and in 1937 the D.A.P.P. (Departamento Autónomo de Prensa y Propaganda) published his photographs in El Valle de México.

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 1 August 2019.

Sources

  • Arturo Guevara Escobar. 2012. “Mauricio Yáñez“. Blog entry, dated 14 July 2011.
  • Lynda Klich. 2018. “Circulating lo mexicano in Mauricio Yañez’s Postcards,” chapter 10 of Tara Zanardi and Lynda Klich. 2018. Visual Typologies from the Early Modern to the Contemporary: Local Contexts and Global Practices (Routledge).
  • Miguel Ángel Morales. 2017. “Mauricio Yáñez (1882-1939)“. Blog post dated 22 February 2017.

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

Nov 092023
 

We have looked previously at several excerpts from the journal written by Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) about his multi-day visit to Lake Chapala in October 1937.

Stanley and Alonzo (his traveling companion) had ridden on horseback around the western end of the lake to Tuxcueca; they crossed the lake back to Chapala on Wednesday 13 October 1937 aboard a gasoline-powered boat—“about forty feet long, fairly narrow, and made of metal.” During the trip, “One Mexican woman… busied herself with searching for little animals, or piojos, in the hair of her small infant. These, she would crack between her thumb nails.”

Leo Stanley. 1937 Hotel Arzapalo, Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937 Hotel Arzapalo, Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

They checked into the Hotel Nido at about 2.30pm. “It was just around the corner from the Hotel Nido to the hot mineral baths. Here, we cleaned ourselves of the dusts of travel, and went back to the hotel, where comida, or lunch, was being served.”

After a siesta, they decided to walk to the top of Cerro San Miguel before their evening meal:

One narrow street led up a very steep incline to a table-land, and ascending this street was a small burro loaded with heavy adobe bricks. The animal was urged along by a dirty little Mexican boy, who appeared to be not more than eleven years of age, but who, in reality, was sixteen. His father was building a house on the mesa, and this lad was, with his burro, bringing up the material. On top of the level table-land, we searched the ground, and found many pieces of obsidian, or volcanic glass. It was from this material that the Ancients made their arrowheads and spears.”
. . .
We asked him about finding any idols, spearheads, or monos, as the Mexicans call the relics of the ancient Aztecs and Toltecs… We told the lad that if he could find some monos for us, we would give him money for them. Another Mexican, who came along while we were there, told us that down a little canyon at the base of the cerro, was a Mexican, named Ysidoro [Ed: correct spelling is Isidoro], who had found many of these idols.”
This night we did not go on top of the extinct volcano, which some of the natives said was haunted, or enchanted, but went clear around its base, and finally came to the hut of Ysidiro. This lad, perhaps twenty-five years of age, was a bright and intelligent Mexican, who was extremely cordial and friendly. He brought out to us a big box of heavy, stone idols, which he displayed with great joy. These idols were for the most part, figures of squatting deities, rather ugly and grotesque. Some were in the shape of turtles, horned toads, bears, and cattle.
Ysidoro was quite proud of the fact that numerous tourists had visited him and had written him letters which he displayed to me. One was from a poet, named Brynner [Bynner] Witter, a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. [Ed: Some years later, after Witter Bynner bought a house in Chapala, he employed Isidoro as his housekeeper”] He also had a letter from Mrs W. F. Anderson, who lived in the Carmel Valley in Monterey, California. These people had all spent happy days in Chapala, and had been entertained by Ysidoro.
Mrs. Pulida [Pulido], Ysidoro’s wife, had, several weeks previously, given birth to a new baby, the fourth in the family, but she had developed a very severe inflammation of the bladder, and was lying quite ill in the hut. I promised Ysidoro that I would examine her the following day.”

After dinner, Stanley and Alonzo walked to the plaza:

This was well filled with people, who enjoyed spending the evening in the cool air. About the plaza were several cantinas and billiard halls. We visited some of these, and found that many of the Mexicans were playing and enjoying the evening…. Upon our return, we found that Maria, the chambermaid, had turned down our beds, and that the electric lights, which were supplied to the hotel by a gasoline dynamo, had been shut off and the motor quieted. We had to go to bed by candle light.”

The following morning, Thursday 14 October 1937, Stanley and Alonzo attended Mass before breakfast:

We heard the church bell ringing for Mass, and, looking into the tower, saw a youth ringing the heavy bell. We went into the church and stayed for Mass. Numerous women were walking on their knees from the entrance up to the altar, and every woman had on her mantilla, or head-covering. The church was highly decorated, and was well lighted with candles. The music and chanting was really very impressive.”

After breakfast they walked round to Ysidoro’s to ask him to help them search for idols. When they reached his home, they found that his wife was being cared for by a nurse, and that one of his friends was busy, “boiling, in a copper kettle over the wood fire, a mixture of cane sugar and milk. He was the candy-maker, and each night vended his wares in the plaza. He gave us some of his candy, which was really quite good.”

Ysidoro led them off, out of town, to hunt for idols:

With a crow-bar, pick and shovel, we started up around the base of the cerro…. Not far from the enchanted hill is a large mound which might prove to be an Aztec pyramid. There were numerous stones which had been brought in by the Ancients. These were probably foundations for some of their Temples.”
. . .
The plain up to the foot of the mountains was furrowed by small gullies and streams, some of which had flowing water. Almost all of this plain was under cultivation, growing crops of tomatoes, onions, chili, or corn. A few of the fields were ready for planting again. We encountered quite a number of Mexicans farming in the fields. To our inquiry regarding the human bones and idols, they usua1ly replied that they were “mas alla,” which means farther on. There were quite a number of out-croppings of limestone and shale. In some of these we found petrified wood, and in others perfectly preserved fossils of small ferns.

By noontime we had walked about three miles, and decided that we would rest under a mesquite bush. Here, we made a noonday meal of green onions and raw tomatoes. Ysidoro had brought along a few tortillas in his bolsa, or knapsack. … In another field… we found a number of scattered boulders, which evidently had been the markings of a grave. Ysidoro thought this was a likely place to dig. He and Alonzo worked like Trojans, and dug a hole in which one could have buried an ox, but the search was unproductive.”

On their walk back to Chapala they took a different route, looking for more likely digging places and found a number of human bones, two dozen beads and numerous pieces of ancient pottery, concluding that, “All through the hills were places where human beings had been buried, some of them perhaps hundreds of years ago, and others more recently.”

Stanley and Alonzo got back to town at about six o’clock and enjoyed a refreshing thermal bath before dinner. Among the other guests at the Hotel Nido were a couple with their two nieces: “young ladies of about twenty years of age.”

Stanley suggested that the nieces walk with them to the band concert in the plaza:

Of course, I asked the aunt and uncle first. They approved. One of the girls had come from Mexico City and there had studied English in a private school. As we walked about the plaza, she and I agreed that she should speak with me in English, and I would talk to her in Spanish, and in that way we would both get practica, or practice, in the language we desired. This was very excellent training for both of us, and we discussed many subjects. She spoke English slowly but correctly. There were many people in the plaza on this night. There was no light in the bandstand but the musicians played their instruments in the dark and really rendered very good music. Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening. There were a few girls on the loose. The Mexican boys, with their sombreros and serapes over their shoulders, would ogle them at times, and occasionally in passing would drop a few pinches of confetti on the girls’ heads. This, they all seemed to enjoy. Promptly at ten o’clock, tío and tía, or uncle and auntie, appeared on the plaza and told us that it was time for the girls to come in. This was, of course, entirely agreeable.”

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Acknowledgments

My heartfelt thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, for supplying photos of Stanley’s account of his time at Lake Chapala. I am very grateful to Ms Kaplan and the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the excerpts and photo used in this post.

Source

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.

Nov 022023
 

Alexander Nicolas (“Nick”) Muzenic was born 25 September 1919 in Kansas, and died in Los Angeles 12 March 1976. His first names are variously listed as Nicolas, Nicholas, Nikolas, A. Nicolas or simply Nick. His family, of Austro-Croatian heritage, also used the anglicized surname Muzenich.

He lived and worked in Ajijic from about 1948 to 1953.

Muzenic graduated from the University of Kansas at the age of 19 before studying on a scholarship at the Art Center School of Los Angeles. After serving in the US Naval Intelligence Service for a year, from 22 June 1944 to 23 May 1945, he continued his art education at Black Mountain College.

Black Mountain College was a liberal arts college in North Carolina; its faculty members at one time or another included such luminaries as Josef Albers and Anni Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller and Aaron Siskind.

Portrait of Nick Muzenik by Hazel Larsen Archer, fellow student at Black Mountain College

Portrait of Nick Muzenik by Hazel Larsen Archer, fellow student at Black Mountain College

This portrait of him, in his time at Black Mountain College, was taken by Hazel Larsen Archer, a fellow student. American sculptor Ruth Asawa, famous for her intricate and mesmerizing wire baskets and wire bushes, was also one of Muzenic’s fellow students. Asawa studied Spanish and art in Mexico City in 1945 and first encountered the technique of crocheting wire in Toluca in 1947. She may have influenced Muzenic in his decision to move to Mexico. Muzenic and Asawa both gifted books on Mexican art to the Black Mountain College library.

In November 1946, one of Muzenic’s paintings, “Introspection”, was included in an exhibit for a Children’s Fair at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

After college, Muzenic’s first solo exhibition was at the American British Art Center in New York. This show, which opened on 6 January 1948, featured at least 24 works; the introduction to the catalog was written by Anni Albers. Later that year, the same collection was hung in Chicago. According to The New Yorker, this was “A first one-man show of abstractions that indicate a perceptive sense of color and pattern.”

We know more about Muzenic’s next few years, when he moved to Mexico and lived in Ajijic for at several years from about 1948 to 1953. During that time, he was employed—along with Tobias Schneebaum and Ernesto Butterlin—by Irma Jonas to teach students attending her summer painting schools in Ajijic.

According to Schneebaum, an ill-fated love triangle developed between the three artists at this time, complicated by the arrival of “haughty and radiantly beautiful” Zoe Kernick, the “fourth member of our group”, who had previously been living with Henry Miller in Big Sur.

Nicolas Muzenic. ca 1953. Escalera.

Nicolas Muzenic. ca 1953. Escalera.

Schneebaum, who shared a house with Muzenic for part of his time in Ajijic, described Muzenic as tall, “cold, haughty and grand.” As for his paintings, “Nicolas’s paintings were as tight, involuted and hard-edged as his body, and were somber with browns and dirtied yellows, unlike the clarity, brilliance and simplicity of his teacher.” (Schneebaum, Wild Man 13).

The teacher Schneebaum is referring to is Josef Albers. In his Secret Places, Schneebaum recalls that Muzenic “had been a student of Josef Albers at Black Mountain College. Albers himself arrived one afternoon, accompanied by his wife, Anni. They spent a couple of nights in Ajijic.” (Secret Places, 7)

According to Schneebaum, Ernesto Butterlin (aka Lin) and Muzenic had “a frenzied, volcanic affair that lasted two years.” “Lynn’s casual ways bewitched and irritated Nicolas, just as Nicolas’s arrogant, snobbish manner attracted and mortified Lynn. Nicolas moved into Lynn’s house.” Muzenic eventually bought the property and forced Lynn to move out. (Wild Man 13)

Nicolas Muzenic. Red Forms. Date unknown. Photo courtesy of Bill Sinyard.

Nicolas Muzenic. Red Forms. Date unknown. Photo courtesy of Bill Sinyard.

Muzenic’s work was included in two group shows in 1949. The first, in March at the State Museum in Guadalajara featured works by the four artists of the “Ajijic group” (Muzenic, Louise Gauthiers, Ernesto Linares and Tobias Schneebaum), along with works by Guadalajara-based abstract-surrealist artist, Alfredo Navarro España. The second exhibit—at the Villa Montecarlo in August 1949, and billed as the 4th Annual Painting Exhibition—showcased works by Muzenic, Tobias Schneebaum, Alfredo Navarro España, Shirley Wurtzel, Ann Woolfolk and Mel Schuler.

Muzenic’s work found its way into some very significant private collections. For instance, when a small selection of the Fred Olson Collection was shown at the Artists Guild in St. Louis, Missouri, in March 1952, Muzenic’s work was hung alongside works by Picasso, Klee, Albers and other internationally renowned artists.

In 1953, Muzenic held a solo exhibition which opened on 23 September and closed on 16 October at the Galería San Ángel (Dr. Gálvez 25), in the southern part of Mexico City. The small printed program of that exhibit included an introduction by Anni Albers praising the artist’s use of form, color and composition. Among the 18 paintings and 6 constructions in the show was “Valentine para Zoe,” lent by Zoe Kernick. Other works had been lent by Margaret Mason, Rémy Bastien and Berenice Cortelle. Mason, Muzenic’s sister, and her husband, Kenneth Mason (the basis for the character Lawrence Creighton in Eileen Bassing’s novel Where’s Annie?), were both living in Ajijic at the time.

The constructions, “created with simple materials such as string, colored lacquer and nails on small black panels” were especially admired by Carlos Merida, who remarked “it is astonishing to consider the limited elements which have sufficed the artist to instill life into these beautiful architectural structures, windows into cosmic worlds.”

Muzenic had his fourth solo show at the Santa Barbara Museum in November 1953. By this time examples of his paintings were already in various prestigious private collections, including those of Fred Olsen, Henry P. McIlhenny, Joseph Pulitzer Jr., and Mrs Huttleston Rogers. A review of this show was illustrated by “Posada” which had previously been displayed in Mexico City.

While living in Ajijic, Muzenic became a close friend of Eileen and Bob Bassing. After the Bassings returned to California and one of Eileen’s novels was turned into a screenplay, they used the resulting windfall to commission Muzenic to design them a home on  Carbon Beach, Malibu, a home later featured on the cover of Time magazine.

Muzenic was also living in California by that time, and working mainly as an interior designer. His employer for many years was the Welton-Beckett architectural firm in Los Angeles. Schneebaum says that Muzenic “lived alone in Los Angeles, rich, isolated, and introspective.” (Wild Man, 18). In 1976, only a few days after losing his job, he died in his own home.

Note: this is an updated version (November 2023) of a post first published 8 January 2015.

Sources:

  • Bob Bassing, personal communication, January 2023.
  • Galería San Ángel. 1953 Catalog for Muzenic exhibit, 1953.
  • Tobias Schneebaum. 1979. Wild Man.
  • Tobias Schneebaum. 2000. Secret places: my life in New York and New Guinea.
  • Henry J Seldis. 1953. “Muzenic Show Reveals Skill in Decorative Art Field.” Santa Barbara News Press, 22 November 1953.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

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

Oct 262023
 

As we saw in previous posts, science fiction fans everywhere should be eternally grateful that Frank Herbert (author of Dune) accompanied his friend Jack Vance to Chapala in 1953.

Frank Herbert, 1952. Photo by Jack Vance. (Jorgensen. 2014)

Frank Herbert, 1952. Photo by Jack Vance. (from Jorgensen, 2014)

They arrived in September and rented a house in Chapala for a couple of months. Several aspects of their joint trip to Mexico are endearingly told by Herbert’s elder son, Brian, in Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert.

While the writers did cooperate on some “joint ventures” while in Chapala, they also wrote independently, hoping to sell some short stories to magazines north of the border and thereby extend their stay in Mexico. Herbert also completed a humorous short piece entitled “Life with Animalitos”, submitted to Reader’s Digest but never published, and worked on a psychological thriller set in a submarine, serialized in Astounding magazine as “Under Pressure”, and later turned into the book The Dragon in the Sea (1956).

What fans of Herbert’s writing did not learn until about a decade ago is that he also wrote an 18,000-word novella set entirely at Lake Chapala . The work remained unpublished during his lifetime (he died in 1986) but an ebook version was eventually published by his estate in 2014.

The story is entitled A Thorn in the Bush. According to the publicity blurb:

“Everything of beauty must have at least one flaw in it. Otherwise people do not realize how beautiful it truly is.

Mrs. Ross is an expatriate American who has found a quiet life in the small Mexican village of San Juan, a place where she can be content, a place where no one knows the secrets of her shadowy past life. Until an ambitious American painter takes up residence in San Juan, attempting to depict — and expose — everything about the sleepy Mexican town. But he may have underestimated the lengths a seemingly harmless old woman will go to protect her secrets.”

Mrs. Emma Ross is a streetwise and conniving 71-year-old who has amassed a property portfolio in the village since arriving there more than a decade ago in 1937. Mrs. Ross’ maid, Serena, is the hub of an extensive gossip network that ensures her mistress stays well appraised of local events and scandals.

When Mrs. Ross looks out from her balcony over the lake:

Toward the near shore the water held a deep ultramarine tone shading to cobalt. But farther out, the color faded into grey, then white—reflecting a fleecy billow of cumulus clouds piled over the distant hills: the first storm gathering of the season.”

The cast of characters includes the local mayor Don Jaime Cervelles y Madera, a former suitor of Ross, as well as his nephew, the local police chief, Roberto García y Machada, usually known as “Beto”.

Paulita Romera, who lives across the street from Mrs. Ross, is a beautiful, coquettish young lady who spends her time by a ground floor window sewing punta de cruz (cross-stitch) floral designs. In the morning light, she looks particularly captivating and is chosen by a young American visiting artist as the subject for his next painting.

The artist, Francis Andrew Hoblitt, is single, 28-years-old and drinks too much. He reminds Ross, uncomfortably, of someone who caused problems in her former (secret) life. Much of the novel revolves around the growing antagonism between Ross, the incumbent, and Hoblitt, the interloper. Eventually they agree an uneasy truce, despite their different motives for seeking a degree of reconciliation.

Early in the story, Herbert describes how:

Mrs. Ross studied Hoblitt: the intensity of the man at his work—slashing strokes of pencil, blots of black on the paper. The artist was a blond, athletic type with corded muscles showing at the shoulders beneath a white shirt. His features, as Mrs. Ross recalled, were stern, full of angular abruptness. He had been in San Juan only a month, but already was tanned a rich shade of golden oak.”

Frank Herbert (1920-1986) was a keen observer of local scenes, customs, sayings and cultural norms. During his relatively short time (about two months) in Chapala, he was clearly a particularly astute student of the different kinds of interactions between Americans and Mexicans. Skillful writing and his astute choice of telling details move this story along at a comfortable pace with plenty of perceptive insights into the complexities of expatriate life in Mexico.

Sources:

  • Brian Herbert. 2003. Dreamer of Dune: the biography of Frank Herbert. (New York: Tom Doherty Associates).
  • Frank Herbert. A Thorn in the Bush (Wordfire Press, 2014).

Note: this post was first published 2 September 2017.

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

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

Oct 192023
 

At least two postcards of Lake Chapala from the late 1920s bear the imprint on their reverse side of “F. Martín. Mexico, D.F.” and a stylized “FM” circular logo. According to researcher Arturo Guevara Escobar, the “F. Martín” name was registered as a trade name and used for about 50 years for several distinct series of postcards, which makes it likely that the estimated 1000+ postcards produced by the firm represented the work of more than one individual.

The main “F. Martín” series has bilingual captions in red numbered from 1 to at least 628. This series includes the two cards illustrated here. It is unknown whether these photographs, which date from the 1920s, were taken by Martín himself or were the bought-in work of other photographers.

Felix Martin. Date unknown. Lago de Chapala.

F. Martin. c 1928 (?). “Lago de Chapala.”

The card above (#158) shows a view of Chapala from the west towards the town and jetty of Chapala. The twin towers of the Church of San Francisco are especially prominent.

The card below (#154) is one the very few postcards showing Villa Virginia, one of the numerous elegant villas built along the lakeshore in the period 1890-1930. This particular villa, west of the jetty, and still standing, was built after 1905 by the Hunton family. The matriarch of the family was the basis for the title character of Arthur Davison Ficke’s 1939 novel “Mrs Morton of Mexico.” (See chapter 31 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.)

Felix Martin. Date unknown. "Un challet a orillas del Lago de Chapala"

F. Martin. c 1928 (?). “Un challet a orillas del Lago de Chapala”

The images on both postcards have five-digit numbers—97899 and 97900 respectively—in tiny white font in the lower left corner. These numbers appear to be identical in style to the five-digit numbers found on cards published (at approximately the same time) by “S. Altamirano” of Guadalajara, so it is likely that the two publishers had a commercial relationship.

The mystery of F. Martín

Arturo Guevara Escobar decided that postcards marked “F. M.” or “F. Martín” were almost certainly the work of Félix Martín Espinoza, who lived in Mexico City, and was a member of the committee responsible for overseeing Mexican participation in the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893. The address of this individual in the first decade of the 20th century was 1er Callejón de López #416.

Display adverts in the Mexico City press from 1901 to 1913 tie that address (and a series of others) to the “Yucatán Medicine Co.” a company selling patent medicines, including a vegetable oil for hair color restoration made by the doctor. At least one of the hair restorer ads gives the doctor’s full name as “Félix Martín Espinoza L.” This would mean that “Martín” was not the doctor’s paternal surname (as the name “F. Martín” would suggest) but was actually his second name, and that his paternal surname was Espinoza. It would have been very unusual at the start of the twentieth century to use two forenames as an advertising/company name, so I believe we need to find a stronger candidate for the “F. Martín” who published postcards.

A much more likely candidate, in my opinion, though no further biographical details are known, is the “Felix Martín” who lived at “5a Capuchinas 89, Mexico City,” and placed regular advertisements in The Mexican Herald from October 1913 to April 1914 claiming to be “The best place in the city to buy postal cards at wholesale prices.” A subsequent F. Martín campaign, in El Pueblo from 1915 to 1919, offered “postcards of every type and style.” The Capuchinas address was a commercial premises which had previously belonged to Bordenave & Coryn, “General Agents for Scotch Whisky Perfection, American Whiskey, Ceylon Tea, etc.”

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 30 July 2019.

Source

  • El Imparcial: diario ilustrado de la mañana,12 April 1913, 6.
  • El Pueblo: 12 Nov 1915, 5; 19 Jan 1919, 6.
  • El Siglo Diez y Nueve, 30 April 1884, 4.
  • Arturo Guevara Escobar. 2011. Letra: M. “Fotógrafos y prodcutores de postales.” Originally published 19 November 2011.
  • The Mexican Herald: 14 October 1913, 6; 7 April 1914, 6.
  • Semanario Literario Ilustrado, 1 July 1901.

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

Oct 122023
 

One of the earliest literary mentions of Lake Chapala comes in “Ixotle,” a story by Andrew Jackson Grayson published in 1870. Here is the full text of the original article:

IXOTLE

During a sojourn in Tepic of some six weeks, for the purpose of making collections of Ornithology, I went into the almost impenetrable mountains of San Juan Guaya, and came to the old Mission of San Luis.

The little village was ensconced among the mountains, with bold and magnificent scenery. Cultivation of maize and beans in small patches abounded everywhere. The village consisted of some adobe houses, and numerous jacals; the population, of half-civilized Indians. In the centre of the village was a very ancient, but small church, built of stone. The roof and its rough walls were overgrown with plants, giving it an air of age and decay. In the adjoining building I was shown the venerable Cura, whose form, that had been once tall, seemed to be as ancient as the dilapidated building that sheltered him. Though age told upon him, as his gray hairs and care-worn visage fully attested, he yet possessed that vigor of mind and keen memory we often find in the persons of those enthusiastic ecclesiastical recluses who have wandered into the very depth of the wilderness, to subdue the savage to Christianity and civilization.

The old man had dwelt in this spot for forty-eight years, endeavoring to tame these wild Indians, and induce them to adopt that partial civilization and Christianity to which most of the native Mexicans have been brought, but in vain; they still retained their ancient customs to a considerable degree, and were known as Sozado’s wild Indians, who scorned to associate with their neighbors of the lowlands. They venerated the old Cura, and many attended his church on Sundays; but they cared very little for Christianity, and nothing for civilization.

I found the Cura to be a very intelligent man, and a Spaniard by birth. He appeared to take much interest in my collections of Natural History, upon which subject I found him better informed than most people in that region. He told me of the different species I would find in those mountains: of birds of resplendent plumage —of birds that sang, and those without song —and he knew all their Indian names. At length he said: “You ought to visit the islands of the Tres Marias. There you will find the forest full of birds, and so tame as to be taken by the hand.” I replied that I had already been there, and what he said was true; for I had discovered some rare birds, and made a fine collection.

After some conversation upon these Islands, of which be had heard much, but had never seen, I at length asked him why so beautiful a spot should have never been populated, either by native aborigines or modern Mexicans? In reply he then told me the following tradition, which was related to him by an old Cacique of the tribe that once inhabited these mountains, but long since dead:

Señor,” said he, “these islands were held sacred by the ancient Mexicans of the west, or coast region, and dedicated as a place of worship to the God of the Storms of the Sea, Tlaxicoltetl: here he dwelt, and here he governed the whirlwind and the storm.

“One human victim—a virgin or youth —was offered as a sacrifice upon the rough-hewn coral altar annually, on St. John’s day, the 24th of June, which is about the commencement of the stormy, or rainy season. This offering was made to appease the wrath of Tlaxicoltetl and supplicate protection to the fishing canoes that supplied the vast interior with fish and pearls, camarones and oysters, of which the coast tribe held independent possession. The pearls obtained in various localities of the Gulf of California, together with other beautiful shells for ornaments, were carried even to the great Aztec city of the lakes, Mexico. This was long before the White Man was known. Many well-trodden foot-paths penetrated to the interior from the seashores in the vicinity of Tepic; and where San Blas now stands (then called Jualtelotepec)—where is a precipitous cliff, which now forms the background of San Blas, and where once stood the old Spanish town and fortifications—was the principal rendezvous of the fishermen. From this locality a large, well-beaten trail extended through Tepic on to where Guadalajara now stands, and where then stood a large city, which was called Chapala.

“The lake near Guadalajara is still known by that name; and the Indians found near its borders, who yet live in a semi-barbarous state, are called to this day Chapalo Indians, and are a very degraded, thieving race. But previous to the conquest, they were a numerous and industrious people—well skilled in the manufacture of articles of utility. Cotton cloths, both coarse and fine, were largely manufactured by them, as also various kinds of pottery; and their dressed deer-skins were of a superior quality. These kinds of goods were bartered with the Tepic Indians for fish, pearls, etc.

“Their principal town was where the beautiful city of Guadalajara now lifts its numerous church-spires proudly over the once heathen temples of human sacrifice. It was then a large city, and continues to be second only to the Capital.

“Just before the corning of the White Man, or conquistador, there lived in the city a beautiful young girl of sixteen. She was called Ixotle (‘the drooping flower’). She was remarkable for her intelligence, and the sad and melancholy expression of her face; and was chosen by the idolatrous priests as one of the sacred virgins of the many to assist at the disgusting fêtes of human sacrifice. But when the time came for her attendance, together with her sister virgins, upon one of these cruel displays of human depravity, she refused: no persuasions or threats could induce her to join the others in ceremonies over the torments and sufferings of her fellow-creatures. But she was forced by the priests to follow in their procession, and go through the performances around the altar allotted to them. She was looked upon as strange for refusing so high an honor; but she felt the disgrace, wrong, and dark religion of her people, whose ritual of polytheism and their revolting worship would sooner or later be avenged by the great and true God. On her part, she went through the performance with the other virgins, with a saddened heart and dejected mien, until the priest, with gory hands, had pronounced it finished.

“She then stepped forth from the platform near the bloody altar, and with her hand raised toward heaven, said, in a tender, but distinct voice, ‘Behold, 0 thou priest of this hated temple! The Great God and Father of all looks with anger upon these bloody sacrifices, and the worship of these ugly stones which ye call gods. 0, ye priests and worshipers! I warn ye: let this be the last of your bloody sacrifices; for toward the rising sun a people with white faces and long, red beards are coming — they are already on the march. They carry in their hands the lightning and the thunder, with which they will demolish your
great temples. They are sent by the true God. Not a stone will be left; and on their sites will be erected white temples—the pure temples of the true and only God. Beware, then, and let this be the last of human sacrifice!’

“It may be imagined,” said the Cura, “with what awe these wicked priests gazed upon that divine figure who dared make such prophecy even in presence of their stony gods. She was regarded as a false prophetess, or witch, and sold to the Tepic nation, to be sacrificed upon the burning altar of Tlaxicoltetl, the God of Storms.

“The day at length arrived for the voyage to the islands. It was the 20th of June: on the 24th of that month the sacrificial offering was to take place.

“Twenty large canoes, ornamented with pearls and other beautiful shells of the gulf, contained the priests and virgins: they were the sacred canoes, and in one of these sat the beautiful Ixotle, gorgeously dressed In native costume, and adorned with the brightest of pearls. A drooping flower indeed, but with the look of an angel amid her rough attendants! As the sun disappeared below the calm and glistening sea, these canoes departed in the direction where the sun had gone down, followed by a numerous assemblage of other canoes. At the expiration of two nights and one day they reached the place of the temple dedicated to their storm-god. It was in a secluded little cove upon the eastern portion of the most northerly island, now called Maria Madre.

“The temple, or altar, was of rude construction, pyramidical in form; upon which stood the idol, huge and uncouth, in the shape of a human being. It was hollowed out, in order that the flames kindled within might give a more hideous expression to the face, by lighting up the round holes for the eyes and open mouth.

“It was a gloomy-looking spot, overshadowed by the large trees that abound on these islands. Darkness had closed the day, and the silence of the hour was only broken by the dull moaning of the sea and distant murmuring of thunder.

“The time had come for the sacrifice. Torches were lit around the altar, and, as the dull light of the idol grew into flames of fire, the victim was led to the top of the altar, in front of the idol, where she was permitted to stand, that all might gaze for the last time upon her lovely form.

“While thus standing, she turned to the audience, and again related her prophecy of the coming of the White Man, and reiterated her belief in the true and only God of all. She deprecated the foul and disgusting worship of her people, and said the time was near at hand when the Great Creator would terminate this evil practice. When she had finished, there was a deep silence—nothing was heard but the roar of the sea and the approaching tornado. Suddenly, it burst upon the spot with a terrific crash of thunder and lightning, accompanied with furious rain, while the overpowering wind caused the great trees to bend and sway like reeds, the very earth to tremble, and the forest to howl.

“The lights were soon extinguished by the wind and rain, all save that within the hollow idol, which, shining through the eye-holes and distended mouth, gave to the scene an indescribably weird aspect. Ixotle, still standing upon the altar, turned her face up to the mountain, where she beheld a singular apparition of vapory light, amid which the lightnings played and the thunder deafened— and thought she saw the figures of pale-faced men with long beards. Turning to the people, at the same time pointing in that direction, she cried aloud, ‘Behold! there they are! they have already come!’ At that instant, a flash of lightning struck the tree near which stood the idol, shivering tree and idol into atoms. The girl bounded from the altar, and fled into the dark forest.

“The priests and panic-stricken worshipers took to their canoes, amid the raging storm and angry sea. After they had departed from the shore, they looked back upon the island. The mountain seemed to be lit up in ablaze of ghastly, unearthly light; those vapory clouds presenting to their affrighted minds a strange phantasmagoria as of men and beasts, among which they thought they saw the form of their victim, ‘the drooping flower.’

“The storm raged all night; but two of the canoes reached the main-land, the occupants having undergone for several days much suffering. After their rescue they related what had happened, and heard with amazement that the girl’s prophecy had already come to pass! The White Man had arrived in Mexico. From that time forth no more sacrificial offerings were attempted on the island: ‘the God of the Sea-Storm’ was destroyed. Henceforth, according to the tradition of the locality, these attractive shores bore the ominous appellation of ‘the Haunted Isles,’ and were ever after shunned by every Indian with superstitious dread.

“The vapory, or phosphorescent, light which so frightened the idolaters from their intended sacrificial offering of the unhappy virgin, still makes its appearance when the first storms after the long, dry season moisten the earth and exuberant, decaying vegetation, in which, according to Indian superstition, the spirit of Ixotle still dwells.”

Such was the strange legend, deeply dyed with romance, as told me by the aged Padre of the Mission of San Luis. It may have been much exaggerated through its long repetition, but at the same time there would appear to be some foundation for its truthfulness.

I have myself seen the phosphorescent vapors. On returning from my first visit to the Socorro Island, in the month of June, three years before, we passed between the two main islands, and during the night of the 24th were overtaken by a chubasco, or tornado, which threatened our destruction. We were drenched with the rain and spray, and the ocean was white with foam, the wind furious, and the lightning awfully vivid. We could not carry sail, yet we were driven before the wind like a feather—our little craft plunging madly through the surge. I was holding the light, and the compass on my lap, down In the little cabin, and calling out the course to the Captain, that be might know how to steer. He suddenly called to me, and said the island was in a blaze of light. I looked out, and saw the strange phenomenon. It appeared in many places as if enshrouded in a pale, ghastly light of mist, which, swayed and moved by the wind, produced curious and fantastic figures of unearthly appearance. The storm was of short duration. The sea became again quiet, and the clouds less lowering, but the vapors still hovered over the island.

– – –

Source

  • Andrew J. Grayson. 1870. “Ixotle.” Overland Monthly, vol. V, #3, (Sept 1870), 258-261.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

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

Oct 122023
 

With the exception of Bernardo de Balbuena’s mention of Chapala in his epic poem “El Bernardo,” (written between 1592 and 1602 and published in Madrid in 1624), one of the earliest literary mentions of Lake Chapala is in a story by Andrew Grayson published in 1870. Grayson, an ornithologist, rarely wrote fictional pieces and is far better known for his non-fiction natural history articles, published in numerous US magazines and newspapers in the first half of the nineteenth century.

William Jewett. 1850. Portrait of Andrew and Frances Grayson, and their son, in California. (Terra Foundation for American Art).

In “Ixotle,” posthumously published, the author made good use of his knowledge of Western Mexico, and describes how he is making “collections of Ornithology” when he encounters an elderly local priest who turns out to have an extensive knowledge of the birds of Western Mexico. The priest recounts a local legend explaining why the Tres Marias islands, a birding hotspot, were never settled. The legend revolves around the God of the Storms of the Sea, Tlaxicoltetl, and a beautiful, intelligent 16-year-old girl, Ixotle (“blooming flower”), who has been chosen by her people to be sacrificed to their ancient gods. The girl refuses and prophesies that:

a people with white faces and long, red beards are coming — they are already on the march. They carry in their hands the lightning and the thunder, with which they will demolish your great temples. They are sent by the true God. Not a stone will be left; and on their sites will be erected white temples—the pure temples of the true and only God. Beware, then, and let this be the last of human sacrifice!”

One short section of the story relates directly to Lake Chapala:

From this locality [San Blas] a large, well-beaten trail extended through Tepic on to where Guadalajara now stands, and where then stood a large city, which was called Chapala.

The lake near Guadalajara is still known by that name; and the Indians found near its borders, who yet live in a semi-barbarous state, are called to this day Chapalo Indians, and are a very degraded, thieving race. But previous to the conquest, they were a numerous and industrious people—well skilled in the manufacture of articles of utility. Cotton cloths, both coarse and fine, were largely manufactured by them, as also various kinds of pottery; and their dressed deer-skins were of a superior quality. These kinds of goods were bartered with the Tepic Indians for fish, pearls, etc.

Their principal town was where the beautiful city of Guadalajara now lifts its numerous church-spires proudly over the once heathen temples of human sacrifice. It was then a large city, and continues to be second only to the Capital.”

Click here for the full text of “Ixotle.”

Andrew Grayson. Green Parakeet. (Image believed to be in public domain)

Andrew Grayson. Green Parakeet (a Mexican endemic). Image believed to be in public domain.

Andrew Jackson Grayson was born in Louisiana in 1819 and died in Mazatlan in 1869. A sickly child, he spent most of his childhood roaming the countryside, watching and drawing local birds and other wildlife. As an adult, after failing to run a store profitably in Louisiana, he married Frances Jane Timmons in 1842 and two years later the couple moved to St. Louis, in preparation for the overland trek west to California. They arrived in California in October 1846, where Grayson bought several lots in San Francisco and the surrounding area.

Seeing an exhibition of bird paintings by James John Audubon in San Francisco in 1853 reignited Grayson’s childhood passion for drawing birds. Grayson became a self-taught painter and taxidermist, working first in San Jose, then Tehuantepec, Mexico (1857), and the Napa Valley (1859) before moving to Mazatlán where he owned a general store and began working towards a book he envisaged titled “Birds of the Pacific Slope.”

Grayson spent the next decade submitting articles, mostly about natural history, to a number of newspapers and magazines in California and Mexico. He also supplied the Smithsonian Institution with birds and bird biographies. Despite making exhaustive efforts to find a sponsor for his book on Pacific Slope birds, the work remained unfinished when Grayson died of “coast fever” in Mazatlán in 1869. Shortly after, his wife returned to California, where she later remarried.

156 of Grayson’s stunning bird paintings were eventually published in a collectors’ edition by Arion Press in 1986, accompanied by a detailed biography of the ornithologist-artist.

An archive of Andrew Jackson Grayson papers and paintings is held by The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Sources

  • Andrew J. Grayson. 1870. “Ixotle.” Overland Monthly, vol. V, #3, (Sept 1870), 258-261.
  • Anon. Guide to the Andrew Jackson Grayson Papers, 1844-1901. The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Robert J. Chandler. 2011.”Andrew Jackson Grayson: The Birdman was a traitor.” The California Territorial Quarterly. #88 (Winter 2011), 46-51.
  • Lois Chambers Stone. 1986. Andrew Jackson Grayson: Birds of the Pacific Slope: A Biography of the Artist and Naturalist, 1818-1869. Arion Press.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

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

Oct 052023
 

When cataloguing extensive photo archives, it is inevitable that errors are occasionally made. This mini series identifies some examples of photo identification errors which pertain to the Lake Chapala area.

Mexico’s National Photo Archive (Fototeca Nacional INAH) includes this image, titled “Multitud en la ribera del lago de Chapala” (Multitude on the shore of Lake Chapala). The image is credited to Winfield Scott, with a date of about 1920.

Winfield Scott-foto-allegedly of Chapala

“Multitud en la ribera del lago de Chapala” ?? (Winfield Scott, c 1920) Fototeca Nacional INAH.

I have no idea whether or not this photo was taken by photographer and hotelier Winfield Scott (1863-1942), whose close ties to Lake Chapala are explained in “Photographer and hotelier Winfield Scott (1863–1942).” Nor do I have any idea how accurate the date might be.

However, the photograph was certainly not taken at Lake Chapala. Indeed, I think it unlikely to have been taken anywhere in Mexico! The group of multistory buildings (right-hand side of the image) does not correspond in any way to the architecture of any town at Lake Chapala, whether at the end of the nineteenth century or at any point since.

Surely, this photo must show a place in the US? Perhaps an eagle-eyed reader can suggest a likely location? All suggestions welcomed!

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

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

Sep 282023
 

Serenata de Chapala was first performed at the Padua Hills Theatre, California, on 2 August 1939 and had a highly successful one-month run. This makes it the earliest Chapala-linked play I have so far come across! Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that a script still exists, since its author and director, Charles Alvah Dickinson, was a strong proponent of improvisation.

Dickinson was born in Corona, California, on 26 December 1910 and died from a heart attack in Claremont, California, on 3 December 1950. He graduated from Pomona College in 1932 and gained a master’s degree from Caremont Graduate School in 1934, by which time he was already working with the Padua Hills Theatre, located three miles north of Claremont, a city on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County. In 1940, Dickinson married Kathryn Estelle Welch (1909-1984).

Dickinson’s 18 years with the Padua Hills Theatre was interrupted only by his service in the US Army from 1943 to 1945. At the theatre, he was the art and dance director of the Mexican Players, an acting group that was the mainstay of the Padua Hills Theatre, which began in the early 1930s and lasted until 1974.

Dickinson wrote more than 100 plays produced at Padua Hills, and acted in or directed many others. All the plays had close ties either to Mexico or to Mexico-California connections, and Dickinson’s in-depth knowledge of Mexico was ever-apparent. In 1936, for example, he took the part of an American entomologist in It rained in Ixtlán del Río, “a riotous comedy” about a bandit who tried to take advantage of a group of train passengers stranded in a crowded inn after their journey north was interrupted owing to a blockage on the railroad line.

The theatre, built in 1930, had struggled through the Great Depression. But Mr and Mrs Herman H Garner recognized the potential of the many young Mexican boys and girls who worked there and founded, in 1935, the Padua Institute. The institute arranged classes, some with guest teachers from Mexico, in music, dance, dramatics, languages and arts and crafts, all with the aim of promoting friendly relations between the US and Mexico.

Ad for "Serenata de Chapala (Redlands Daily Facts, 2 Aug 1939)

Ad for “Serenata de Chapala (Redlands Daily Facts, 2 Aug 1939)

At the time Serenata de Chapala was running, the Mexican Players consisted of a group of about 30 young people of Mexican or Spanish Californian descent, some of whom were born in Mexico, and most of whom had lived in California for some time.

Serenata de Chapala was a rollicking romantic comedy in two acts. Performances were followed by a “Jamaica” or outdoor carnival of songs, dances and festive Mexican games. Presented in Spanish, Serenata de Chapala was about the serio-comic tribulations of a sextet of ardent young lovers. The “conversation of the play frequently introduces English, and the action is so arranged that it is easily followed by those who do not understand Spanish.” Chapala, the setting for the play, was described in publicity materials as “Mexico’s famed vacation resort.”

According to one review, “Serenata de Chapala told a merry and exciting story of how an Americanized Mexican lad unwittingly solved a romantic quadrangle through defying time-honored customs to give the señoritas a thrill.” Another reviewer wrote how “Serenading a señorita in Mexico at 4 o’clock in the morning is a hazardous pastime that may provoke a pistol barrage from an irate papa, to judge by the startling and hilarious climax of Serenata de Chapala.’”

"Serenata de Chapala" (Redlands Daily Facts, 14 Aug 1939)

“Serenata de Chapala” (Redlands Daily Facts, 14 Aug 1939)

The Padua Hills Theatre won national and international recognition as a unique cultural project, with the Stage magazine including them on their list of the ten best little theatre groups in the US. According to Wikipeda, Padua Hills Theatre was the longest running theater featuring Mexican-theme musicals in the US. The dinner theatre group called the “Mexican Players” lasted until 1974. Several former players continued their careers on stage; others, such as Natividad Vacío, made their name in movies.

The Padua Hills property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, and is used today primarily for weddings and special events.

This website has many evocative images of the Padua Hills Theatre in its heyday.

Papers, flyers, photos and other material associated with Padua Hills Theatre are housed in a special collection at the Claremont Colleges Library.

Sources

  • Anon. “‘Padua Hills’ – Unusual Institution.” Pacific Electric Magazine, August 1939, 3-4.
  • Redlands Daily Facts: 25 Jul 1939; 2 Aug 1939; 14 Aug 1939; 23 Aug 1939.
  • South Pasadena Review: 1 Sep 1939, 2.
  • The Pomona Progress Bulletin: 12 Feb 1936, 5; 4 Dec 1950, 13.
  • Santa Barbara News-Press: 4 Dec 1950, 3.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

Sep 222023
 

Among the many early postcards of Lake Chapala that were published in Mexico City are several labeled with a caption and stylized “MF” logo. These cards were produced and distributed by México Fotográfico, a Mexico City firm founded by Demetrio Sánchez Ortega. Sánchez Ortega himself took many of the photographs used for the company’s early cards and may have taken this view of the shoreline in Chapala with its distinctive “chalets”. The three most prominent buildings nestled beneath Cerro San Miguel in this image are (from left to right) Villa Elena, Villa Niza and Villa Josefina.

México Fotográfico. Date unknown. Chapala chalets.

México Fotográfico. c 1930. (l to r) Villa Elena, Villa Niza and Villa Josefina.

Demetrio Sánchez Ortega was born in Huatusco, Veracruz, on 22 December 1898. He moved to Mexico City in search of work as a young man and took a job selling paper before finding work as a traveling agent for the Cervecería Moctezuma brewery. This position involved traveling to bars (cantinas) all over the country, where he would perform simple sleight-of-hand and magic tricks, using cards, bottles and simple props, all designed to boost the sales of the brewery’s XX beer brand.

During these trips he must have come across (and maybe relied on) existing illustrated tourist guides, just as he surely encountered postcards published earlier by the likes of Hugo Brehme, Alfred Briquet, William Henry Jackson and Charles B. Waite.

The knowledge, experience and connections that he built up during his travels served him well when he decided to become a photographer. Introduced to photography by a friend, and almost entirely self-taught, Sánchez Ortega founded México Fotográfico, located on Calzada de Guadalupe in Villa de Guadalupe in Mexico City, in 1925, a year after Plutarco Elías Calles became president. Some sources suggest he had government support. México Fotográfico, like several other postcard publishers, became an important pillar of Mexico’s promotion of tourism.

México Fotográfico. ca 1940s. Chapala plaza and ex-presidencia.

México Fotográfico. c 1945 (?). Former Chapala plaza and Presidencia Municipal.

The view of downtown Chapala (above) shows the plaza in its pre-1950s location and the former Presidencia Municipal.

México Fotográfico was very much a family business. Sánchez Ortega and his wife, Tomasita Pedrero, had five children—Alfredo, Eustolia, Teresa, Demetrio and Alfonso—all of whom worked at one time or another in the laboratory and printing side of the business.

Later, the sons became traveling photographers. The company employed a number of “traveling agents”, responsible for photographing the places they visited while promoting the company, taking orders and arranging the distribution of postcards.

México Fotográfico. Date unknown. Chapala lakeshore.

México Fotográfico. c 1950. Chapala lakeshore.

This card (above), showing the lakeshore, trees and fishing nets, and believed to date from the 1950s, was a popular choice as a memento of a trip to Lake Chapala.

Over the years, México Fotográfico amassed an extensive and culturally-rich collection of landscapes and towns large and small all over the country. The collection includes more than 25 cards related to Chapala, and an additional 10 cards of Ocotlán. Several of the cards were reissued in a colorized edition with crenulated edges, and the firm published at least one multi-view card of Chapala, with small reproductions of six photographs in the series.

México Fotográfico. c. 1935? Main beach, Chapala.

México Fotográfico. c. 1935? Main beach, Chapala.

The company’s longevity (it was still producing cards into the 1970s) meant that its corpus of work provides a valuable visual record of the changes in towns, people and customs across post-revolutionary Mexico.

The Mexico City daily, Excelsior, had introduced a weekly supplement—Jueves en Excelsior—in 1923. Photographs published by México Fotográfico were used occasionally as illustrations in 1926. In 1927, the two companies began a much closer relationship, with México Fotográfico supplying many of the photos used in the supplement, perhaps in exchange for small display ads. The earliest such ad, in May 1927, had a portrait of Sánchez Ortega and the text “Fundador gerente de la negociación México Fotográfico, establecida en Guadalupe Hidalgo, México, DF”.

México Fotográfico was active from the 1920s into the 1970s. Its founder, the beer-parlor magician Demetrio Sánchez Ortega, master of postcard illustration, gradually lost his sight and had become completely blind by the time of his death on 27 January 1979.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Manuel Ramirez for responding to a query posted on Facebook asking which postcard publisher utilized the MF logo.

This profile is based almost entirely on the extensive research by Mayra N. Uribe Eguiluz for her 2011 thesis on the company for a Masters degree in Art History at the National University (UNAM) and her related article in Alquimia, referenced below.

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 29 July 2019.

Sources

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

Sep 142023
 

Pedro Magallanes López was a Guadalajara photographer, active from the mid-1880s until the start of the 1920s, whose studio was initially located in the city center at Santuario #1, and then at Pedro Loza 17. This latter location was advertised in 1922 as for sale or rent, suggesting that this may be when Magallanes retired.

Best known for his superb portrait work, Magallanes also took several very interesting photographs of Lake Chapala, colorized versions of which were published by the Guadalajara firm of Editores Alba y Fernández. (Among those credited for other postcards of the region in the Alba y Fernández series are J. de Obeso and Manuel Hernández.)

Pedro Magallanes. Undated. Fuerte de Ocotlán.

Pedro Magallanes. Undated. Fuerte de Ocotlán.

At the start of Magallanes’ career, the town of Ocotlán, on the main railroad line between Mexico City and Guadalajara, was still one of the major routes via which visitors reached the town of Chapala. Near Ocotlán, the resort known as Ribera Castellanos, built in the first decade of the twentieth century, attracted lots of tourists, especially those looking to hunt or fish.

Relatively little is known about the life of Pedro Magallanes López. He was born on 23 August 1863, the son of Pedro Magallanes and Petra López, and married Herminia del Castillo, then aged 20, in January 1887. The couple had four children. Sadly, his first wife died in December 1894.

Four years later, Magallanes took Clotilde Castellanos as his second wife. Clotilde, 30 years old at the time of their marriage in Guadalajara on 24 August 1898, gave birth to a daughter, also named Clotilde, on 4 March 1900, and to a son, José Manuel, on 1 April 1902.

Magallanes’ marriage to Clotilde, who had been present as a guest at his first marriage, clearly cemented his ties to the extensive and influential Castellanos clan, and Magallanes became the family’s official portraitist (see the article by Beatriz Bastarrica Mora). He took numerous formal portraits of family members and groups, as well as many unusually informal photos of the family vacationing at Lake Chapala. Some of these show the family’s domestic workers and several include local residents in the background.

Pedro Magallanes. Undated. View of Chapala from Villa Carmen.

Pedro Magallanes. c 1910. View of Chapala from Villa Carmen.

Magallanes’ studio in Guadalajara was only one of several photo studios that thrived in Guadalajara at the time. The reverse of his photos included an elaborately drawn logo of an arch, bright rays of light, flower pots and flowers emblazoned with the photographer’s name. Many prints also included a statement saying that the negatives were kept on file to allow for future repeat orders. As Alberto Gómez Barbosa has pointed out, this is indicative of the importance Magallanes attached to marketing and maintaining clients.

Magallanes died in Guadalajara on 6 September 1928. In 1930 his widow, Clotilde (aged 63), was living in the city with several unmarried relatives, including Clotilde Magallanes (30), Manuel Magallanes (28), M. Maria Magallanes (20) and Beatriz Magallanes (15).

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became such an important international center for tourism and retirement.

Note: This post was first published 4 July 2019.

Sources:

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

Sep 072023
 

Librería Ruhland & Ahlschier, publisher of the earliest illustrated postcards of Mexico, was a bookstore in Mexico City owned by Emil Ruhland and Max Ahlschier. The store advertised as “Libreria Internacional de Ruhland & Ahlschier” and was located at Coliseo Viejo #16. The company published at least seven different postcards of Lake Chapala, including views of the shoreline, boats, church, plaza (jardín) and a stagecoach. Two of the photographs were also published, at about the same time, by Juan Kaiser in Guadalajara. Kaiser and Ruhland were apparently close friends.

Ruhland & Ahlschier were commissioned to provide the first ever series of illustrated postcards for the Mexican Post Office in 1897. All previous postcards (which at that time were postage paid and purchased in a post office) had one side for correspondence and the other side pre-stamped and reserved for the address. As illustrated cards became popular in Europe and then in the U.S., the Mexican government saw the advantages of issuing its own illustrated cards, which required the purchaser to purchase postage stamps separately and affix them to the card prior to mailing.

These beautifully-produced and inexpensive souvenir postcards soon spurred a new market for collectors; many of the art cards, especially, were far too pretty to entrust to the vagaries of being sent through the mail without an envelope to protect them. In consequence, relatively few postally-used examples exist of many of the more attractive cards.

Demand for illustrated postcards grew rapidly. When the postal service relaxed its regulations, several private firms entered the market, each producing their own illustrated cards and selling them through hotels and a wide variety of stores and other outlets.

Illustrated cards still reserved, prior to 1906, one entire side for the address and stamp, meaning that any message or correspondence had to be written on the same side as the image. The first postcards to have divided backs, allowing for both correspondence and address on the reverse, thereby leaving the entire front side of the card for the image, were released in the UK (1902), then mainland Europe and Mexico (1905), and the U.S. (1907); they were legal to mail in the U.S. from 1 March 1907.

The two men who owned Ruhland & Ahlschier are something of an enigma. Emil Ruhland and Max Ahlschier were both born in Germany. Ruhland, born in about 1847, left Germany in about 1869 and was certainly established in Mexico City by 1883 when he is named as the editor of Deutsche Zeitung von Mexiko, a newspaper for the German-speaking community in the city. In 1888 he partnered with Isidoro Epstein to found (and co-edit) another German newspaper, Germania. Ruhland’s name continued to be associated with Deutsche Zeitung von Mexiko until at least 1897, by which time Max Ahlschier was his co-editor.

In 1888, Ruhland edited and published the Directorio General de la Ciudad de México, a forerunner of the telephone directory and later commonly referred to simply as Directorio Ruhland. City directories were especially important following the introduction of the telephone to Mexico in the 1880s. By 1893 telephone services existed in 14 cities even though intercity lines would not become available until much later.

The first edition of Directorio General de la Ciudad de México in 1888 cost $1.60 (paper cover) or $2.00 (cloth cover). New editions of the directory appeared more or less annually thereafter for more than twenty years. The 500-page 1892 version, “more complete than ever,” and costing $3.00 had four parts: the names of residents and industries and their place of residence; a listing of professional men, merchants and manufacturers; contact details for all government offices and heads of departments; and listings for railroads, the press, societies and ecclesiastical figures. Ruhland published a similar volume for Guadalajara in 1894.

Ruhland’s directories proved to be extremely popular and a commercial success. At the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, Ruhland won an award for his guides to the Mexican republic. The following year, the 1896-1897 edition of his directories went on sale in Mexico City at his own store (Avenida Cinco de Mayo #4) and at the bookstore of F. P. Hoeck (San Francisco #12) as well as in New York (E. Steiger & Co., 25, Park Place) and London (Dulan & Co, 37, Soho Square).

Emil Ruhland’s association with Max Ahlschier seems to have begun in 1897. We know little about Ahlschier beyond the fact that he was born in Germany in 1867 and married Anna Vogt, also from Germany, in Mexico City on 4 June 1903. The Lutheran service was held at the Casino Alemán.

The two men opened their joint bookstore, Librería Ruhland & Ahlschier, and also began to publish pictorial postcards. Publicity for their store in 1897 shows that it sold, among other items, American books, literature, American and German paper, pencils, pens, inks, maps of Mexico and illustrated postal cards with views of Mexico.

The earliest Ruhland & Ahlschier cards were black and white or sepia collotypes; later cards were produced by chromolithography. Though their postcards do not identify the photographer, their stable of photographers included some important names in Mexican photography, including German-born Guillermo Kahlo (the father of Frida Kahlo), Guadalajara-native José María Lupercio, and American photographers Winfield Scott and Charles B. Waite.

Guillermo Kahlo (born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo) (1872-1941), who first arrived in Mexico City in 1891, at the age of 19, learned his craft in Mexico and was mainly known as a commercial photographer; his photos were first turned into postcards by “Ruhland & Ahlschier” in about 1903.

Charles Betts Waite (1861-1927) set up shop as a photographer in Mexico City in 1896 and amassed a vast collection of thousands of images taken all over Mexico. In 1908 he bought all the “photographic view negatives” of Winfield Scott, and advertised that he now had “the largest assortment of views of any one country in the world.”

Charles B. Waite. Beach, Chapala.

Winfield Scott. c 1897 (published c 1902). Beach, Chapala.

Winfield Scott was responsible for the photograph on this Ruhland & Ahlschier postcard (above), a photograph now in the collection of Mexico’s National Photo Archive. The photo shows fishermen sitting on a boat in front of the beach, with the Casa Capetillo in the middle background. To the right, only the first story of the Hotel Arzapalo has been built, dating this particular image (though not the card) to 1896-1897. The two-story hotel opened in 1898, and Winfield Scott was its manager when D. H Lawrence visited Chapala in 1923.

Charles B. Waite. Carden's garden, Chapala.

José María Lupercio. c. 1900 (published c 1904). Carden’s garden, Chapala.

The National Photo Archive also has this Lupercio photo of the garden of Villa Tlalocan, the vacation home in Chapala of British consul Lionel Carden and his wife. The home was completed in 1896 and this postcard shows ornamental flower vases in the front garden, with the lake behind and Chapala’s San Francisco church in the distance.

Early cards published by Ruhland & Ahlschier have the imprint “Librería Ruhland y Ahlschier, México, Coliseo Viejo 16.” In about 1903, the two men sold their business, and later postcards (published from 1904 on) have a different imprint: “Ruhland & Ahlschier Sucr. Calle Espiritu Santo 1½, México.” This was the address of La Sociedad Müller y Cia, owners of a competing bookstore, Librería Internacional.

By 1909, Müller and Company had also acquired ownership of, and the rights to publish, Ruhland’s Directorio general de la ciudad de México. The 1909-1910 edition was published in two volumes, one for Mexico City and one for the rest of the country. Müller and Company continued to publish the directory until at least 1913.

What became of Emil Ruhland and Max Ahlschier, pioneers of the Mexican illustrated postcard?

Ruhland revisited Germany in 1899 after an absence of 30 years, before returning to Mexico. Four years later (1903) he appears to have moved to the U.S., at about the time the postcard publishing company was sold. He was a good friend of Juan Kaiser, and Kaiser’s wife, Bertha, records the two men meeting for the first time in twelve years in Los Angeles in 1915.

Ahlschier and his wife visited Europe in 1906. Two years later, he was elected secretary of the Sociedad Alemana de Beneficencia (German Benevolent Society) in Mexico City. In 1912 he lost a civil action brought by a Martin G Ribon and was ordered to pay $3371.08 plus costs.

It seems likely that he and his wife subsequently returned to live in Germany, given that a Max Ahlschier is listed in trade directories there as a publisher between 1928 and 1933. Support for the idea that he returned to Germany also comes from an unusual source. In the Library of Congress’s vast collection of German documents, captured by American military forces after World War II, is a record of one by Max Ahlschier entitled “German colonies in Mexico, 1890-1910.”

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My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 9 August 2019.

Sources

  • Atlanta Constitution, 22 Nov 1895, 1.
  • El Continental, 13 May 1894, 3.
  • El Diario del Hogar, 3 Feb 1912, 3.
  • Diario Oficial Estados Unidos Mexicanos, 19 Jan 1905; 13 June 1908; 16 July 1909; 17 Oct 1912.
  • El Imparcial, 7 June 1903, 2.
  • Jalisco Times, 10 Apr 1908.
  • Verena Kaiser-Ernst. 2012. Tagebuch Von Bertha Kaiser-Peter Fur Ihren sohn Hans Paul Kaiser. Stuttgart: T H Schetter, 45.
  • The Mexican Herald: 6 Sep 1896, 9; 6 July 1897, 8; 3 May 1899, 8.
  • El Mundo, 1 April 1897.
  • La Patria, 28 Aug 1883, 8.
  • El Partido Liberal, 7 June 1888, 2.
  • The Two Republics, 31 Oct 1888, 2; 20 Feb 1892, 1.

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