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Aug 182022
 

US artist Inez Rogers Shearer (1889-1981) painted at Lake Chapala in 1941, only a few months after the death of her husband. Shearer was in Ajijic to attend the marriage of her daughter, Sarah Hunt Shearer, to David Holbrook Kennedy, who painted the earliest known mural at Lake Chapala. Sarah was also an artist and the young couple had met while studying art at the Colorado Springs Art Center. Also at the wedding were David’s two sisters: the food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, and author Norah Oliver Kennedy, who wrote several stories while in Mexico for submission to The New Yorker, as well as Swedish artist Nils Dardel, his partner Edita Morris, Nigel Stansbury-Millett and his father, Harry Millett; Mr and Mrs Francisco Nicolau of Guadalajara and their son Sergio; Mr and Mrs Casimiro Ramírez and two children; and the Honorable Mr Maurice Stafford (US Consul).

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

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

Inez Shearer. 1945. Yucatan transport.

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

Sources

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

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

 Posted by at 5:48 am  Tagged with:
Aug 042022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

Sources

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

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

 Posted by at 5:10 am  Tagged with:
Jul 282022
 

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

Florentino Padilla. c 1975. Untitled.

Florentino Padilla. c 1975. Untitled.

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

We would love to learn more about this artist’s life and work. Please get in touch!

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

 Posted by at 5:18 am
Jul 212022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoë Mozert artwork for Brown and Bigelow

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

Zoë Mozert “The Outlaw”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jul 142022
 

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Kitchen. Portrait of a lady. Date unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note

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

Sources

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

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

Jul 072022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jun 302022
 

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

Vida Shepard, 1955

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jun 232022
 

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

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

Elma Pratt. Chapala. Silkscreen, published 1947.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the other hand:

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

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

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

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

Note

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Sources

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

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

Jun 162022
 

Mona Jordan (1908-1995), a multi-talented and much traveled artist, exhibited a painting titled “Tarascans, Ajijic” in Florida in 1961.

Gladys “Mona” Lynch Jordan was born on 12 November 1908 at West Point, Orange County, New York, and died at the age of 86 on 28 September 1995 in Annandale, Fairfax County, Virginia. Her remains are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Mona Jordan and 'Tarascos'. 1961.

Mona Jordan and ‘Tarascans, Ajijic’. 1961.

Jordan was a professional artist, who had taken classes at the Corcoran Museum of Art.

At age 21, on Christmas Day 1929, she married Howell Hopson Jordan (1905-1994) in Washington D.C. Her husband served all his working life in the military, gained promotion to Colonel, and retired from the Army in January 1957. The couple had three children, the eldest born in Hawaii and the middle child in Maryland.

In the early part of her adult life, Mona Jordan was an army wife, continuing to paint whenever possible. The family traveled extensively. During several years in Japan, Jordan became an accomplished portraitist, completing numerous portraits, working in pastels, of household helpers and Japanese people they knew. A pastel from her time in Japan (titled Tokyo 1947) is in the permanent collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

After her husband’s retirement in 1957, the family moved to Florida, where Mona Jordan could finally devote more time to her art. In 1961, then living in Cocoa Beach, she exhibited several paintings at the annual show of the Central Brevard Art Association. They included a painting titled “Tarascans, Ajijic.” Jordan was a teacher at the Association’s art school, and at Brevard Art Center and Museum. Her focus while living in Florida (1957-1990) was on abstract, intuitive paintings and portraits; her subjects included several Florida noteworthies.

The details of her visit to Ajijic are unknown. Please get in touch if you can supply any additional information about when and why she visited Lake Chapala.

Mona Jordan. The Digs. Sold at auction in 2015.

Mona Jordan. The Digs. Sold at auction in 2015.

Mona Jordan remained in Florida after she and husband divorced, after more than forty years of marriage, in 1971.

Jordan continued to paint and had work included in the 24th Annual Exhibition organized by the Florida Artists Group at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, in 1973.

Mona Jordan occasionally wrote about art for local publications. In one column she lamented the fact that U.S. women artists won such little recognition for their efforts and success. At that time, Jordan was living in Indian Harbour Beach, and working in oil, acrylic, pastels and charcoal.

Jordan also registered, as author, the copyright to Come to the Garden Party, a book illustrated by Bernadene L Jurgens. It is unclear if this work was ever actually published.

During her lengthy career as a professional artist and art educator, Jordan was a member of the Fifth Avenue Art Gallery, Florida Artists Group, Brevard Artists’ Forum, and The Ten: Ten Women in Art.

Jordan’s daughter Gladys Seaward and granddaughter Wendy Seaward are both well-known bead and jewelry designers. When Wendy was interviewed in 2015 for an article about her own work—after winning Best of Show in the Tennessee Craft Fair—she described how her grandmother had been “a very well known intuitive painter in Cocoa Beach, Florida.”

On her own website, Wendy remembers, as a child, watching her grandmother demonstrate intuitive painting: “She would close her eyes and scribble all over the canvas and then spend the next several hours coaxing forms and images out of the tangle.”

Sources

  • Stephanie Stewart-Howard. 2015. “Face to face with Wendy Seaward.” Nashville Arts Magazine, July 2015.
  • Gladys Seaward webpage.
  • Wendy Seaward website.
  • The Evening Tribune (Cocoa, Florida): 20 June 1961, 4.
  • Mona Jordan. 1986. “Nation’s women artists win little recognition.” Florida Today, 29 June 1986, 49.
  • Florida Today: 5 October 1995, 21.

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

Jun 092022
 

Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985), a prolific author of best-selling novels, spent two weeks at the Touch of Eden health spa in the Hotel Real de Chapala in 1978. At the time of her visit, Janet Miriam Holland Taylor Caldwell (her birth name) was married to Robert Prestie and going by her married name.

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.

[A brief history of the Touch of Eden health spa is included in chapter 42 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of change in a Mexican village (2022)]

Caldwell was born in Manchester, UK, on 7 September 1900. Her family moved to the US when she was a child, and she died in the US on 30 August 1985.

Many of Caldwell’s fiction works were historical and incorporated the idea that the world was secretly run by a cabal of wealthy men. Numerous of her books were translated, and several were adapted for TV series.

She was a prolific writer from childhood, despite a number of family problems and long-term health issues. After a brief period of service in the US Navy Reserve, Caldwell married William Combs in 1919. She graduated from the University of Buffalo in 1931 and divorced him the same year to marry Marcus Reback. That marriage lasted 40 years to his death in 1971. Shortly before she lost her husband, Caldwell had become fascinated by the idea of reincarnation. Under hypnosis she recalled eleven past lives, including one on the lost continent of Lemuria.

After the death of her second husband, Caldwell had a brief marriage with William Stancell before marrying Canadian William Robert Prestie in 1978.

Caldwell’s writing talents were ‘discovered’ by Max Perkins, the iconic Scribner’s editor responsible for publishing the travel books of Petticoat Vagabond Neill James, who had settled in Ajijic in the 1940s. It is unclear if the two women ever met.

Caldwell’s first major literary success was Dynasty of Death, written in collaboration with her husband and published in 1938. Early in her career, most readers assumed that Taylor Caldwell was a man. By the time she died, she had published more than 40 other novels, many of which made the New York Times Fiction Best Seller list. According to Time, her husband burned the manuscripts of a further 140 unpublished novels.

Her best-known works include Dynasty of Death (1938) and its sequels The Eagles Gather (1940) and The Final Hour (1944); The Balance Wheel (1951), The Wide House (1945), Let Love Come Last (1949), A Prologue to Love (1962), Captains and the Kings (1972), and Bright Flows the River (1978).

Her 1952 novel The Devil’s Advocate was set in a dystopia where North America had become a Communist dictatorship. In a prophetic article about a fictitious country named “Honoria” she ended by writing: “It is a stern fact of history that no nation that rushed to the abyss ever turned back. Not ever, in the long history of the world. We are now on the edge of the abyss. Can we, for the first time in history, turn back? It is up to you.”

Less than a year after visiting Ajijic, Caldwell (who had lost her hearing following an accident in the mid-1960s) signed a two-novel deal with G.P. Putnam and Sons worth almost 4 million dollars. Unfortunately, she then suffered a stroke which left her also unable to speak, though she could still write.

Caldwell won several major writing awards, including a gold medal from The National League of American Pen Women.

Sources

  • Time. “Books: What the People Want.” Time, 19 May 1947.
  • New York Times. 1985. “Taylor Caldwell, prolific author, dies.” New York Times, 2 September 1985.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 29 July 1978, 19.
  • Nellie Blagden. 1980. “Silenced by a Stroke, Author Taylor Caldwell Becomes the Focus of a Bitter Family Feud.” People Magazine, 21 July 1980.
  • Peter B. Gemma. 2019. “Of Love, Hate, and Book Reviewers: A Tale of Taylor Caldwell.” Medium.com, 25 March 2019.

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.

May 262022
 

Rowena Girault was a prolific painter and sculptor. Multi-faceted, multi-talented, and almost entirely self-taught, she moved to San Antonio Tlayacapan (with her husband, Frank) in the late 1960s and spent the remainder of her life there.

Rowena Katherine Girault was born to Peter Girault and Catherine Price in Chicago on 24 December 1914. The 1920 US census lists her ethnicity as Canadian. Her father died in 1929, when Rowena was barely in her teens, and she had completed only three years of high school when, aged 21, she married John Walter “Jack” Augustin (1912–1964), with whom she had a son, John. The family shared a residence with Rowena’s mother and younger sister in North Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, until at least 1940, when John Walter joined the US military.

After this first marriage broke down, Rowena married William Lee Richards (1901–1983) in Chicago in 1944. As shown by the birth of their three children in, respectively, Chicago, Glens Falls (New York) and Hato Bay (Puerto Rico), they moved several times before establishing themselves in Puerto Rico. That marriage lasted about a decade.

By 1958, Rowena had taken her third husband and become Mrs Frank Kirkpatrick. In the early 1960s the couple were living on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, California. Rowena had spent much of her time and energy over the past two decades developing her art, and was determined to make a living from it. However, the art-loving public was having to pay far too much for original art, in Rowena’s eyes, after the various commissions and sales fees charged by agents, galleries and retail stores were taken into account. Rowena, who never signed artwork with any of her married surnames, decided to try a more direct way to reach potential purchasers, so she opened her studio to the public. According to one reporter, Rowena painted because she loved to paint, but wanted homes to have real oils, not prints, on their walls.

Rowena Kirkpatrick. c 1980. Untitled. Ballpoint pen and watercolor.

Rowena Kirkpatrick. c 1974. Untitled. Ballpoint pen and watercolor. Photo courtesy Dale Palfrey.

Her work gradually gained greater recognition, and Kirkpatrick held a one person exhibit of oil paintings in May 1966 at the International Fine Arts Gallery in St. Louis. A few months later, “Rowena Girault Kirkpatrick, known for her work with murals, portraitist, heavy palette knife works, stippled impressionist works and sable paintings” donated a painting titled “Passion Week” to La Rambla Presbyterian Church in San Pedro, California.

At about this time, the Kirkpatricks moved to Scottsdale, on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona, and Rowena joined the Scottsdale Artists League. There, pursuing her ambition to make original art more affordable, Rowena teamed up with other artists (apparently including her daughter Alix) in 1967 to offer “Original Oil Paintings by American Artists, complete with beautiful hand-carved frames” at various stores in Phoenix including Woolco, where shoppers could watch the artists at work. The paintings, in a variety of styles, were priced by size: $19.95 for an 8″ x 10″, $29.95 for 16″ x 20,” and $125.00 for 24″ by 36.”

Kirkpatrick held her second solo show that same year: a theater lobby art show at Phoenix Little Theater in September 1967.

The following year, she held a month-long solo show at La Petite Gallery and Studio in Phoenix. Kirkpatrick was one of several artists represented by the gallery, and her association continued even after the gallery became “The Rosenzweig Center Galleries” in 1969. One reviewer of her solo show at La Petite Gallery (September-October 1968) explained how:

Looking at one of Rowena Girault’s acrylics is like taking a step back into childhood. Remember those pictures that had animal heads, faces or toys hidden in tree branches, under rocks or a part of the sky?

Her paintings are like that. A painting of a western sky? Yes. But suddenly the clouds become a throng of wild stampeding horses. Look at the red rocks of Sedona and you realize that the rocky columns are also people.

The artist’s vivid imagination and pixie sense of humor were a delight to all who met her at the opening of her show.”

Another reviewer, Joan Bucklew, called Rowena:

a sort of Phyllis Diller of the visual arts, being, seemingly, about equal parts housewife and artist with a streak of aesthetic madness…. Rowena Girault may whisk the old ham and turkey bones out of the soup stock to incorporate them in a sculpture as she whumps up her own peculiar recipe of modeling paste, marble dust, and a touch of broken glass.”

While I have not yet found evidence supporting Bucklew’s claim that Rowena had “taught at the Chicago Art Institute,” Bucklew offered a fulsome account of the varied styles and techniques on display, which ranged from broad palette knife to fine sable brush, from collage to ink, from abstract to representational. She was in awe of Rowena’s creativity:

The most amazing aspect of her work is a child-like abandon and enthusiasm that keeps it unaffected and loaded with surprises…. Throughout the works are spirited and uninhibited.”

After moving with her husband to San Antonio Tlayacapan in about 1968, the irrepressible Rowena (sometimes mistakenly called Rowene in local newspapers) Kirkpatrick gave art workshops and continued to paint. She also designed several stage sets for the Lakeside Little Theater and was an active supporter of local cultural events and charities, including the Ajijic Breakfast Fund.

Kirkpatrick held a solo show in August 1974 at the Galería del Lago when it moved from its original location on Ajijic plaza to Colon #6. She displayed 24 works, in a mix of styles, some in acrylics, others in oils or watercolors, and the show was an instant hit, with Allyn Hunt writing of “Buyers standing in line hoping to outbid one another for certain works.”

In December 1974, Rowena and her husband, Frank, held a very successful art auction for local charities at their home in San Antonio Tlayacapan. The four artists donating works were Kirkpatrick, Rocky Karns, Sid Schwartzman and Antonio Santibañez.

Plans were hatched to hold a similar charity art auction a few months later at the Ajijic home of Marion Carpenter. Fate intervened, however, and, at the age of 60, Rowena died on 1 April 1975 following surgery in Guadalajara.

Her remains were interred in the Chapala municipal cemetery.

Sources

  • Allyn Hunt. 1974. “Lively Art Audience at Lake.” Guadalajara Reporter: 28 Sep 1974, 3-4.
  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix): 14 April 1967, 5; 16 Sep 1967, 43; 22 Oct 1967, 106; 25 Oct 1967, 10; 1 Oct 1968, 44.
  • Joan Bucklew. 1968. “Phyllis Diller of Visual Arts. Acrylic Paintings, Sculptures and Drawings Shown by Rowena Girault.” Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 29 September 1968, 134.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 26 Jan 1974; 4 Jan 1975; 26 April 1975.
  • Palos Verdes Peninsula News (California): 23 May 1963 :
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri): 8 May 1966, 45:

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.

 Posted by at 6:33 am  Tagged with:
May 122022
 

Julián Pulido Pedrosa was one of the group of talented artists who formed the Jovenes Pintores de Ajijic (Young Painters of Ajijic) in 1977.

Tragically, a decade later, Ajijic-born Pulido died on the highway between Tuxcueca and Tizapán el Alto in mysterious circumstances, while still a young man, not yet thirty years of age. He had already proved himself to be an outstanding artist, one of the first generation of local Ajijic artists to impress art critics with their extraordinary talents and creativity. Who knows how far Pulido might have taken his art had he only lived longer. Julián Pulido left behind his wife, Delma, and their three young children. In the wake of the tragedy, local and foreign artists organized an art sale (at the home of David Finn) as a benefit for his widow and children.

Like most other members of the Young Painters of Ajijic, Pulido first developed an interest in art during classes at the Children’s Art Program, organized by Neill James.

Undated. Untitled. AMA (Ajijic Museum of Art)

Julian Pulido. Undated. Untitled. AMA (Ajijic Museum of Art)

Pulido was one of several young students chosen by Neill James to receive a scholarship to further their art education either in San Miguel de Allende or Guadalajara. After studying at the Escuela de Artesanías in Ajijic, Pulido completed his formal art studies with five years at the Escuela de Artes Plásticos of the University of Guadalajara.

Detail from Julian Pulido painting. Reproduced courtesy of Georgette Richmond.

Detail from Julian Pulido painting. Reproduced courtesy of Georgette Richmond.

Pulido, who subsequently taught at the Escuela de Artesanías, worked in a variety of media and at a variety of scales, from small drawings and watercolors to large murals, including one at the Escuela de Artesanías in Ajijic and several others in public buildings in Guadalajara. [Does anyone have details to share?]

Studying alongside Pulido at the University of Guadalajara was another young local artist, Dionicio Morales. The two students held a joint exhibition of their watercolors, paintings and drawings at the Galería del Lago in Ajijic from 29 August to 11 September 1975. (The news was relayed to the English-speaking community in Joan Frost’s very first column for the weekly Guadalajara Reporter; Frost went on to become one of the paper’s most regular and dependable contributors.)

The following year, a new gallery, the “José Clemente Orozco Gallery” opened in March 1976 in Ajijic, with Dionicio Morales as director. In addition to Morales and Pulido, the gallery’s members—all exhibiting artists—were Jonathan Aparicio, Antonio Cárdenas, Antonio López Vega, Havano Tadeo, Henry Edwards, Sid Schwartzman and Frank Barton.

In 1977 the Guadalajara Reporter informed readers that Morales and Pulido had won the top two prizes in a Latin America-wide competition held to select artwork for the 1977 calendar of The International Federation of Family Planning. [If anyone has a copy of this calendar, please share!]

An exhibit which opened at the Instituto Anglo-Mexicana de Cultura in Guadalajara in October 1980 featured the works of Pulido and Morales alongside the work of a third Ajijic artist, Jesús Real.

Pulido held solo shows at the Centro de Artesanías de Ajijic (1980-81), the Presidencia Municipal de Yahualica (March 1981), and one entitled “Mi Pueblo” at Galería Universitaria in Guadalajara (November 1981). He also held a two-person show with Ernesto Flores G. at the Presidencia Municipal of Ciudad Guzmán (March-April 1981).

Work by Julian Pulido Pedrosa (c. 1958-1987) is deservedly included in the permanent collection of the Ajijic Museum of Art.

Sources

  • Ojo del Lago, April 1985; June 1987.
  • El Informador, 21 October 1980; 8 December 1980; 2 March 1981; 6 April 1981; 5 November 1981.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 30 Aug 1975; 13 March 1976, 21; 16 Apr 1977, 19: 2 May 1987, 24.
  • Regina Potenza, personal communication.

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.

May 052022
 

Norwegian illustrator, printmaker and painter Eva Lange (1944-2017) traveled widely, held more than 30 solo shows and exhibited works in more than 200 group shows worldwide. Lange drew and produced lithographs in Ajijic in 1979-80, and held a solo show in the village in 1980 at the gallery in Mi México.

Eva Lange. Photo: Nancty Bundt. Creative Commons 4.0

Eva Lange. Photo: Nancty Bundt. Creative Commons 4.0

Lange was born in Arendal, Norway, on 15 June 1944 and died in Hvaler on 12 May 2017.

After studying art in Oslo at the Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Art Industry (1963-1965) and at the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts (1965-1969), Lange’s exhibition debut came while she was still a student. Lange later spent two years (1977-79) working at the lithograph workshop of the Norwegian School of Crafts and Design.

In the early 1970s, Lange was a member of the artist collective Gras, and became leader of the Young Artists Society (UKS) in 1974, and the initiator of the Artists’ Action-74. She later served on the board of NBFO (Norwegian Visual Artists) and on the supervisory board of Kunstnernes Hus.

Eva Lange. Øyer. Credit: Fineart.no

Eva Lange. Øyer. Credit: Fineart.no

Lange was married to painter and sculptor Victor Lind from 1963-1974. She lived the last years of her life with partner Erik Frisch, an author, at Hvaler, where she established the Hvaler Art Association, led the international sculpture project “Stone Art Whales” in Ytre Hvaler National Park, and ran the annual visual art, poetry and music event, “Pentecostal exhibition at Knatten.”

Lange held more than thirty solo shows in addition to her show in Ajijic, including exhibitions in Norway, several other European countries, and Egypt.

Lange won numerous major awards and was the recipient of the 2001 Prince Eugen Medal for Sculpture (Norway’s highest artistic honor).

Eva Lange. Dragsug. Credit: Fineart.no

Eva Lange. Dragsug. Credit: Fineart.no

Her art is well represented in major public collections, including those of the National Gallery of Norway, Norwegian Cultural Council, Oslo Municipality, Fredrikstad Municipality, Bibliothéque Nationale des Éstampes (Paris), The National Museum of Fine Arts (Malta), Woburn Fine Arts (England), Alexandria Center of Arts (Egypt), Silpakorn University Collection (Bangkok, Thailand) and L’Universita di Pavias Art Collection (Italy).

Eva Lange. 1979. Svermere. Collection AMA.

Eva Lange. 1979. Svermere. Collection AMA.

A collection of Eva Lange lithographs from her time in Ajijic has been loaned by Katie Goodridge Ingram to the Ajijic Museum of Art (AMA), which opened 1 June 2022.

Eva Lange. 1979. Untitled. Collection AMA.

Eva Lange. 1979. Untitled. Collection AMA.

Lange is quoted on the website of the gallery that represents her work as explaining that,

“You can probably say that my pictures are a bit strange and melancholy. I have no goal of meeting everyone, but I want to reach those who recognize themselves and find closeness in the “story.” I do not speak primarily to the mind, but more to the heart. There is something beneath in my pictures, you have to open up to find this.”

Note

Another Norwegian-born artist has links to Ajijic: the portraitist Synnove Pettersen lived in the village in the mid-1970s.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for bringing this artist and her connection to Ajijic to my attention.

Main Source

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.

 Posted by at 5:47 am  Tagged with:
Apr 212022
 

A brief note in the Albuquerque Journal alerted me to the fact that two US visual artists of note—Lez Haas (1911-2001) and his wife, Eleanor Haas (1919-2001)—and their two young children spent the summer of 1957 in Ajijic. The note refers to them having “devoted several weeks” of their trip to painting. The timing is significant because it came shortly after his first solo show in Santa Barbara, California.

Lez Haas. Untitled watercolor. Credit: https://haasart.webs.com

Lez Haas. Untitled watercolor. Credit: https://haasart.webs.com

Lez L Haas was born in Berkeley, California, on 10 March 1911. He studied at San Francisco State College and at the Hans Hofmann School of Art, and earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees from UC Berkeley.

He married Eleanor Pauling French on 11 June 1941; the couple’s two children were Averill (born circa 1942) and Jonathan (born 1949).

The family moved to New Mexico in 1947, where Haas was head of the art department until 1963. In 1963, the family then moved to Tucson, Arizona, when Haas became Chairman of the art department at the University of Arizona, a position which he held until retiring in 1977. In retirement, Haas and his wife moved to the small town of El Rito in northern New Mexico, where Haas died on 31 July 2001.

Haas worked in a variety of media, including oils, watercolors and photography, and had solo shows at the Santa Barbara Museum (1956) and the University of Arizona (1963). His work was also exhibited at the San Francisco Art Association (1938-40), the Museum of New Mexico (1957, when he won a prize), Stanford University (1958) and California Palace of the Legion of Honor (1959).

Haas was the co-author with Reginald Fisher of A Retrospective Exhibition of Painting by Raymond Jonson (University of New Mexico Art Gallery, Santa Fe, 1956).

Eleanor Haas. Untitled oil on masonite. Credit: https://haasart.webs.com

Eleanor Haas. Untitled oil on masonite. Credit: https://haasart.webs.com

Eleanor Haas was born on 11 September 1919 in Bay City, Michigan. After completing high school in the Midwest, she moved to California to study for her B.A. at Stanford. She gained a MFA at the Art Center in Pasadena, California. She continued to develop her art while raising the couple’s two children, and after she and her husband moved to El Rito. Her preferred media were oils, pen and ink, and charcoal.

Note

I am now in contact with the Haas family (see comments) and hope to expand this post in the near future.

Sources

  • Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, New Mexico) 25 Aug 1957, 15:
  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • Who’s Who in American Art 1956-82.
  • Art of Lez and Eleanor Haas. Website.

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

 Posted by at 5:30 am  Tagged with:
Apr 072022
 

Howard Fryer’s memoir, El Nitty Gritty, published in 2010, is perhaps the most deliberately provocative account of life at Lake Chapala ever written. Who was Howard Fryer, and what did he write?

Who was Howard Fryer?

Born in Reading, UK, on 11 March 1941, Fryer was only a young child when he moved with his mother to Toronto in 1947. His mother and stepfather subsequently renovated the historic Aberfoyle Mill into a fine restaurant. Howard’s half brother, Peter Owens, was a hot air balloon pilot who held several ballooning world records.

Fryer trained as an industrial engineer, and worked for Continental Can Company, before starting his own company, Howard Fry and Associates, to invent and market products. The numerous patents registered to Fryer and his company include one for lightweight, washable, “inflatable, double-walled resilient sleeves for use in forming surgical casts,” and for a wearable “game playing apparatus.”

Fryer-El-Nitty-Gritty

According to an article in El Ojo del Lago, Fryer was an amateur sculptor and held three solo exhibits of works in stone and steel in Toronto. (If anyone can supply further details of any of these exhibitions, please get in touch!)

Fryer first arrived in Mexico, driving a new Honda, in early 1977, and headed straight for Roca Azul, near Jocotepec, where his mother had retired and built a house a few years earlier.

Fryer fell in love with Mexico, and with a beautiful mexicana: Thelma Yolanda (Yoly) Esqueda Aguilar (1945-2007). When the couple married in Texas in September 1981, their witnesses were Jocotepec-based artists Georg and Phyllis Rauch.

Fryer and his wife joined with Morley Eager (of Posada Ajijic fame) to help run the La Quinta hotel in Jocotepec. When Eager decided to focus exclusively on Posada Ajijic, the Fryers took over managing La Quinta. Fryer then had a specialist pizza oven made in Guadalajara so that he could introduce pizzas to Jocotepec.

After five years, La Quinta closed its doors in December 1984, when the building’s owners were only prepared to renew the rental contract at a significantly higher rent. A few years later, the same owners first destroyed the architectural integrity of the historic building, and then demolished it.

La Quinta, Jocotepec, January 1983. Credit: Susan Van Gurp; all rights reserved.

La Quinta, Jocotepec, January 1983. Credit: Susan Van Gurp; all rights reserved.

Shortly after leaving La Quinta, the Fryers opened “Los Naranjitos” restaurant at Calle Hidalgo #10 in Ajijic, where the main entrance door had previously served as a jail door in Jocotepec. The restaurant became deservedly popular, famed for the best pizzas in the region. Fryer’s third foray into restaurants was to run (briefly) the El Faro restaurant at the sports club subdivision in Roca Azul.

After leaving the restaurant business, Fryer was prompted by the then nascent raspberry-growing craze in Jocotepec to start a jam-making business using the fruit that was rejected for export. Fryer and his associates, with their four full-time staff, developed a range of gourmet products under the Jacaranda brand. Fryer became one of the first local businesses to be awarded a contract to supply a major international retailer that had just entered the Guadalajara market: Wal-Mart.

Howard and Yoly were generous givers to the local community in Jocotepec. Their most lasting contribution was to hold a Christmas lunch for the town’s old folks, a tradition which continues to this day. They prepared and served a full festive meal to 20 Jocotepec seniors the first year, 100 the following year, and 350 in year three.

What did Howard Fryer write?

El Nitty Gritty is a colorful collection of 66 short pieces—most of them anecdotal, some verging on the bizarre—written with affection and good humor.

Among Fryer’s many business cards was one for the (fictitious) “International Society of Freelance Journalists” which named him as a writer for National Geographic! This helped him gain access to some unlikely people and places.

Several characters who would otherwise be forgotten grace the pages of this book. They include Carla Manger, described by Fryer as a former ballet dancer, who had been “one of Hitler’s favorites and danced for him on numerous occasions,” and “Pipeline” Jimmy, an American who installed the water system in Yelapa and died of a heart attack while driving his Cadillac convertible past Piedra Barrenada. And then there is the tale of an honorary Canadian consul, who, when his wife was out of town, accompanied Fryer for a raucous evening with several young ladies at the infamous Kiko’s bar in San Juan Cosalá.

One particularly interesting story explains how the Reina Guadalupe, a faux-paddlesteamer large enough to ferry 350 people and 6 cars across the lake, ended up abandoned on Jocotepec beach. It was still there, rusting away, when I first visited in 1980.

In addition to several stories relating to La Quinta, Fryer includes some self-effacing stories about his numerous business ventures in Mexico, such as making jewelry, preserving insects in gold and silver, hoarding peso coins post-devaluation (hoping to make a fortune out of their metal value), and trading anything from which he thought he might turn a profit—from Mexican orchids, handicrafts and antiquities to Nayarit opals and Chiapas amber.

Howard Fryer, one of Lakeside’s more enterprising, talented and extraordinary characters, died in Penticton, BC, on 14 November 2013.

Sources:

  • El Ojo del Lago, October 1985.
  • Howard Fryer. 2010. El Nitty Gritty. Thirty years in Mexico. Self published.

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

 Posted by at 5:33 am  Tagged with:
Mar 242022
 

Tobias (“Toby”) Schneebaum (1922-2005) was a gay artist, author, adventurer and activist, best known for living among, and documenting, the Amarakaeri people of Amazonian Peru and the Asmat people of the southwestern part of the island of New Guinea.

Before these trips into the tropical jungle, Schneebaum had lived in Ajijic for several years, and had experienced his first taste of tropical jungle by visiting the reclusive Lacandón people in Chiapas.

Schneebaum’s life and legacy to anthropology have been analyzed at length by later writers who have placed most emphasis, quite rightly, on his adventurous exploits in distant jungles, and on his humanitarian, activist work in New York City in connection with HIV/AIDS.

Tobias Schneebaum. 1970s. (New York Observer)

Tobias Schneebaum. 1970s. (New York Observer)

This post focuses on Schneebaum’s formative years in Ajijic, immediately before he began his major travels. His three years at Lake Chapala undoubtedly left their mark on the young man. Schneebaum later wrote at some length about his time in Ajijic in two of his memoirs: Wild Man (1979) and Secret places: my life in New York and New Guinea (2000). Unfortunately, these two accounts contain some factual inaccuracies and sometimes conflict with one another, making it difficult to reconstruct with certainty the details of his time in the village.

Theodore Schneebaum (his birth name) was born to Polish immigrants in New York on 25 March 1922 and raised in the Jewish faith in Brooklyn. After attending Stuyvesant High School, he studied at the City College of New York, where he gained a B.A in Mathematics and Art.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Schnnebaum joined the U.S. army and became a radar mechanic. After the war, he took evening painting classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School with Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo. Schneebaum was underwhelmed by Tamayo’s teaching but did follow his advice to pursue his artistic dreams in Mexico rather than Paris.

In either 1947 or 1948, Schneebaum headed for Mexico City. In Wild Man, Schneebaum recalls living for a time at a pension called Paris Siete, where political painters such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros (who “liked my paintings”) met every week.

Schneebaum first visited Ajijic in the company of “Madame Sonja”, an elderly “Rumanian osteopath” who he accompanied when she traveled from Mexico City to Lake Chapala to treat Zara Alexeyeva Ayenara, who had recently lost her “adopted brother, a Russian who had been a great dancer”. (New York-born Zara and her Danish dance partner, Holger Mehner, lived at Lake Chapala for years and were known locally as the “Russian dancers”.) In Wild Man, Schneebaum claims that Sonja’s patient was Zara, but in Secret Places he mistakenly says it was “Holga Menha” (which is impossible since Holger had died in 1944).

Schneebaum landed on his feet in Ajijic and it became his base for the remainder of his time in Mexico, including trips to southern Mexico and the one in 1950 to visit the Lacandón Maya in Chiapas. Like many other artists who have visited Ajijic, Schneebaum’s own artistic output during his stay in the village was greatly influenced by his discovery of pre-Columbian motifs and statues.

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

Schneebaum also taught art for several weeks each summer and encountered a variety of local and international artists in the village, who formed the nucleus of an active social circle. Moreover, as David Bergman, in his foreword to Secret Places, writes, “Schneebaum had refrained from sex after some adolescent experiences; now in the Mexican town of Ajijic, his homosexual desires were reawakened.”

In fact, these three main facets of his life in Ajijic – art, friends and sexual reawakening – were intimately intertwined shortly after being employed by Irma Jonas to teach students attending her summer painting schools in Ajijic (which were held from 1947 to 1949 inclusive). Jonas also appointed a second American artist, Nicolas Muzenic, and a Mexican artist, Ernesto Butterlin (who adopted the surname Linares), to share the classes. The three became fast friends.

In his memoirs, Schneebaum describes Ernesto (whom he refers to as “Lynn”) in glowing detail: “A young blond painter, born in Guadalajara of German parents, also lived in Ajijic. He was twenty-seven, blue-eyed, four inches over six feet, and very handsome, and was subject to the attentions of both the men and the women who later passed through town… He was engaging and irresistible; he was slender and deeply tanned and had just the right amount of softness to his body and mind so that he threatened no one.”

According to Schneebaum, an ill-fated love triangle developed between the three artists. Schneebaum fell in love with Nicolas Muzenic, who fell in love with Lynn. Matters were complicated by the arrival of “haughty and radiantly beautiful” Zoe, the “fourth member of our group”, who had been living with Henry Miller in Big Sur when she heard about Lynn and decided to visit Ajijic. Zoe “wore sheath dresses of black or white and penciled dark lines around her eyes to shape them into almonds, and enlarge the black pupils. Her skin was pale, the color of pearls.”

To further complicate their relationships, Zoe became obsessed with Nicolas who “arranged her hair in various styles and coated her face with makeup and sequins”. After dinner, “they would dance with their slender bodies tightly together, moving to slow foxtrots and tangos, dipping deeply, and turning with grace.”

Schneebaum recalls in Wild Man that, “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 and began a frenzied, volcanic affair that lasted two years”, ending (according to Schneebaum, though it sounds somewhat fanciful) with Nicolas buying the property and forcing Lynn to move out.

Katie Goodridge Ingram was living in Ajijic at the time and knew this quartet of extraordinary individuals. She remembers Zoe as “one of the most stunningly beautiful woman you could ever see. She slathered coconut oil all over and then went down to the (then) wonderful old stone pier and tanned herself generously for hours. Toby joined her, and Lin and sometimes Nick Muzenik. All of them gorgeous. Well, Toby was quiet, shy, introverted, and stooped, so was not so dramatically attractive.”

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

Recalling one of the summer schools he taught at, Schnnebaum writes in Wild Man that, “Irma [Jonas] sat with her twenty-six students, only two of whom were male. They stayed in Ajijic six weeks, loved it all, and were very generous with everyone. I received an offer from the aged wife of a Hollywood producer to live with her and two swimming pools in Bel Air.” This number of students does not tally with that provided by Jonas in an article written much closer to the time, but Schneebaum’s description presumably applied to the 1949 workshop, the last of Jonas’ painting schools to be held in Ajijic. The following year, she moved the classes to Taxco. (Incidentally, the students at the summer 1949 workshop in Ajijic included the African American playwright, artist and author Lorraine Hansberry.)

In his two memoirs, Schneebaum mentions various other residents of Ajijic, including authoress Neill James, the Johnsons (Herbert and Georgette), “an elderly British couple” who “had a splendid garden with hundreds of blossoming hibiscus”, and “Herr Müller and Fräulein Müller”, a German brother and sister who ran the village’s only small pension, though “They were nondescript and almost never talked to each other or to any of the guests.” Despite staying at their pension for several months, Schneebaum has recalled their names inaccurately since he is clearly describing Pablo and Liesel Heuer.

While he was in Mexico, Schneebaum (in Secret Places) claims to have had “one-man shows in Mexico City and Guadalajara with the help of Carlos Mérida” but I have been unable to find any supporting evidence or details for these in the local press or elsewhere.

He did, however, participate in at least two group shows in Jalisco. The first, held at the Museo del Estado (Regional Museum) in Guadalajara in March 1949, was of abstract works by “four Ajijic artists”: Schneebaum, Louise Gauthier, Ernesto Linares (Ernesto Butterlin) and Nicolas Muzenic and Guadalajara-based Alfredo Navarro España. Later that year, in August, a group show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala featured works by Schneebaum, Muzenic, Alfredo Navarro España, Shirley Wurtzel, Ann Woolfolk and Mel Schuler.

This abstract multi-media (pastel, watercolor, ink and pencil) drawing (below) by Schneebaum dates back to his time in Mexico and is currently listed for sale at DallasModerne.

1950. Multi-media abstract (DallasModerne)

Tobias Schneebaum. 1950. Multi-media abstract (DallasModerne)

After Ajijic and his trip to the Lacandón in 1950, Schneebaum returned to the U.S. where, in 1953, he held his first one-man art show at the Ganso Gallery in New York. After that gallery closed, Schneebaum was taken on by the Peridot Gallery which staged solo shows of his work in 1955, 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1970.

Between about 1954 and 1970, Schneebaum was alternating travel to distant places with a job as designer at Tiber Press, a silk-screen greeting-card company in New York that also occasionally published books. This was when, according to journalist Robin Cembalest, Schneebaum moved into an apartment next door to Norman Mailer. The two became good friends. Mailer and Adele (soon to become his second wife) had also spent some time in Ajijic. After they returned from Mexico and became engaged, “Schneebaum made an accordion-shaped announcement for the engagement… when unfolded, it revealed a long penis.”

In 1954, Tiber Press published a curious limited edition children’s book entitled The Girl in the Abstract Bed. This has delightfully whimsical text by Vance Bourjaily, accompanied by genuine silkscreen prints of watercolors by Schneebaum that were tipped in before the book was bound. Clearly the two men were close friends (Bourjaily himself spent most of 1951 in Ajijic) and the book’s title came from the name of an abstract painting that Schneebaum had done for Vance and his first wife, Tina, to beautify the headboard of their daughter Anna’s crib.

In 1955, Schneebaum was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to travel and paint in Peru, an epic journey recounted in his 1969 memoir Keep the River on Your Right. The book, which became a cult classic, included the sensational story of how, while in the Amazon, he had been forced to participate in cannibalism.

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

On other extended trips, Schneebaum explored Europe, crossed the Sahara desert, and ventured into the Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia before completing an overland crossing of Asia from Istanbul to Singapore, Borneo and the Philippines. In 1973, he lived for months with the Asmat people on the southwestern coast of New Guinea. This indigenous group became the focus for the next 25 years of his life. He helped establish the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress, went back to school to complete an M.A. degree in Cultural Anthropology from Goddard College in 1977, and was a lecturer on cruise ships to the region.

In 1999, Schneebaum was persuaded by film-makers Laura and David Shapiro to revisit New Guinea and Peru for a documentary film, entitled Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale, released in 2000. He spent the final years of his life in Westbeth Artists Community in Greenwich Village, New York City, and died, after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s, in Great Neck, New York, on 20 September 2005.

Schneebaum left his collection of Asmat art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and his personal papers to the University of Minnesota, where they are part of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies. His written legacy includes Keep the River on Your Right (1969); Wild Man (1979); Asmat Images, The Asmat Museum of Culture & Progress (1985); Where the Spirits Dwell (1989); Embodied Spirits (1990) and Secret Places: My life in New York and New Guinea (2000).

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Gail Eiloart and Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing with me their personal memories of Tobias Schneebaum.

Sources

This profile was first published 5 January 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.

Mar 102022
 

The distinguished American screenplay writer Charles Kaufman (1904-1991) was in his mid-twenties when he lived for several months in Ajijic in 1929, with his girlfriend, Edith Huntsman. A decade later, he dedicated his first and only novel – Fiesta in Manhattan – “To the good people of Ajijíc.” (Note that Ajijic is normally written without any accent.)

The novel is about Juan Perez and his wife who live on the shores of Lake Chapala. This extract from the dust jacket blurb sets the scene: “They were young and their color was the color of warm brown earth – black-haired Indian Juan Perez and his wife Elena, from the village of San Andrés, with the sunlit plaza and the sleepy burros and the mango and papaya trees. And now there, who had never before been more than a few miles from home, were in a huge, plunging boat bound for the United States.”

The couple live on the lakeshore: “From their doorway, through the mango and papaya trees they could see the lake sparkling in the morning sun or darkening to indigo under angry skies when the rains came, or lavender and win-colored and hushed when the wind died at sunset.” (14-15)

Juan is a musician. While playing his guitar to accompany a group portraying the Conquest of Mexico at the Three Kings’ festival at Cajititlan, he is spotted by a wealthy American author, Miss Carolyn Crane, who lures him to the U.S., telling him, “You must come to the United States and play your guitar.” Miss Crane, the author, “collects” artists and musicians to help amuse guests at her book-publicizing soirées and pays their passage to New York.

Kaufman includes interesting details of the Cajititlán event (still one of the largest annual fiestas in western Mexico), saying that it celebrated the recovery of statuettes of the Three Kings that had been buried for five years. This presumably refers to them having been hidden from view during the Cristeros years (1926-1929), just prior to his visit to Ajijic. In similar religious vein, Kaufman mentions that Juan once undertook a 7-day pilgrimage to Talpa, and knew the “El Señor del Guaje” church (in Jocotepec). (Details of these important religious events and their significance can be found in chapters 4, 8 and 11 of my Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury.)

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The fictional village of San Andrés is described as six hours by canoa from Chapala. When Juan and Elena leave their village for the U.S., they take this boat ride to Chapala, then a bus to Guadalajara, followed by the overnight train to Mexico City. They have a day to get their bearing before catching the overnight train to Vera Cruz (sic) for the ocean-going steamer to Progreso (Yucatán) and onward to New York.

Once in New York, Juan and Elena end up living in a teeming, Spanish-speaking section of Manhattan, alongside Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Spaniards and Filipinos. They become acutely aware of what they have left behind.

When Crane’s patronage eventually runs out, Juan and Elena struggle to survive. They miss Lake Chapala but can’t save enough to return. Given their limited options and worsening financial situation, Juan resorts to working for a drugs dealer.

There are many memorable and well-drawn characters in this entertaining and thought-provoking novel. Kaufman’s intimate knowledge of Lake Chapala and local folklore shine through, making his examination of Juan and Elena’s motives and thoughts a far more searching and accurate portrayal than the vast majority of English-language novels about Mexico.

All in all, I find myself completely agreeing with the last paragraph on the dust jacket that Kaufman was “a new talent, with a fresh point of view, working in an untouched scene, and producing a book of light and shadow, comedy and pathos, that will leave the reader a little breathless of the beauty and terror of life.”

Sadly, plans for a big-screen adaptation of the book, starring John Garfield and directed by Vincent Sherman, never came to fruition. Shooting was supposed to start in the summer of 1940. There is no question that this book would still make a great movie. (If you sell this idea to Netflix, please remember my finder’s fee!)

Sources

  • Charles Kaufman. 1939. Fiesta in Manhattan. New York: William Morrow & Company. 311 pp.
  • Patrick J. McGrath. 1993. John Garfield: The Illustrated Career in Films and on Stage. McFarland, 1993.
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10 June 1940, 7; 14 Jun 1940, 11.
  • The Pittsburgh Press, 14 Sep 1940, 10.

For more about early foreigners in Ajijic, see Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: decades of change in a Mexican village (2022).

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

 Posted by at 5:37 am  Tagged with:
Feb 242022
 

Peg Kittinger is one of the mystery artists associated with Lake Chapala. “Mrs L B (Peg) Kittinger” was an artist and art teacher who lived in Chapala for about nine years, from 1955 to 1964. Her address in Chapala in 1955 was Morelos #181, though she apparently later had a home in Chula Vista.

Hazel Peg (aka Peggy) Philips was born in Evansville, Indiana, on 23 September 1895. She married Louis Blacklock Kittinger (1892-1935) on 24 December 1919. The couple had two sons (George and Harold) and a daughter (Patricia Lou). On the marriage certificate her occupation is given as “decorator.”

Peg Kittinger. Still Life. Credit: K.C. Auction

Peg Kittinger. Still Life. Credit: K.C. Auction

The family lived in Kansas City, Missouri, where Kittinger was a founder member of the Kansas City Society of Artists, which began in about 1921 and lasted into the 1940s. Kittinger was especially active in the Society after it moved its headquarters to 1718 Holly Street, a formerly abandoned hotel in about 1930. Several members of the Society, including Kittinger, had studios in the building. The Society’s great claim to fame was having Thomas Hart Benson as a member; the Society held the first solo exhibition of his work in 1934, by which time the artist was teaching in New York City.

In 1932, Kittinger held a solo show at the Kansas City Athletic Club, displaying 24 paintings, including landscapes of Colorado, still lifes and portraits of her houseman, cook and children. Her studio at that time was in the “Old Westport Studios.” The following year she held an exhibit of oils, mainly landscapes, at Women’s City Club in Kansas City, and in 1934 thirty of her paintings were exhibited in the Museum of her birthplace, Evansville. Kittinger had been almost totally deaf for several years by the time of this exhibition and an Evansville newspaper printed a poignant poem she had written entitled “Compensation” about her positive experiences after losing her hearing.

Her husband died in 1935. Kittinger then lived for some years in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she taught art in Santa Fe and Alburquerque and spent summers painting in a Taos Canyon cabin. In 1952, Kittinger held a one person show of her paintings, weaving and metal work at the Botts Memorial Hall of the Albuquerque Public Library. The following year she participated in a joint show of recent work by female artists held at the Santa Fe Museum.

A year after moving to Chapala, Kittinger drove an artist friend, Mrs A Anway, back to the US when her friend decided to settle in Albuquerque.

Peg Kittinger died in Kansas City, Missouri, on 6 June 1964. Only two months previously, the Guadalajara Reporter had said that Peg Kittinger “of Chula Vista” was now “painting again” following a recent illness.

If you have any artwork by Peg Kittinger, especially any related to Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

Sources

  • Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, New Mexico) 19 Jan 1956, 6.
  • Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 1 Jul 1934.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 23 April 1964.
  • The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), 8 Jun 1964, 11.
  • Kansas City Society of Artists – website.
  • The Taos News, 19 Jun 1969, 9.

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

 Posted by at 5:00 am  Tagged with:
Feb 102022
 

Mary Helen Creighton, usually known simply as Helen Creighton, was born into an upper-class family in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, on 5 September 1899, and became one of Canada’s most prominent folklorists. Her career spanned sixty years, and she gained an international reputation in the field.

After gaining a diploma in music from McGill University in 1915, and graduating from the Halifax Ladies’ College in 1916, Creighton worked as a driver with the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto, and as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross Caravan in Nova Scotia. After completing a course in social work at the University of Toronto, Creighton then traveled to Mexico for a year, where she visited her brother, living in Mexico City, and taught at the American School of Guadalajara.

Helen Creighton and friends, Chapala, 1923

Helen Creighton and friends, Chapala, 1923: Robert Pierce, Margaret Pierce, Lily, Pauchi, Betty, Mrs Bremer, Mrs Neal, Helen Creighton, Dora. Credit: Nova Scotia Archives.

Creighton arrived in Mexico from Cuba in 1922 and taught most of 1923 at the American School of Guadalajara. A keen photographer, Creighton’s snapshots from her time in Mexico can be viewed on the website of Nova Scotia Archives. In early April 1923, the local Guadalajara daily noted that “Miss Helen Creighton has returned to Guadalajara after spending a very pleasant week with her brother, Dr Creighton of Mexico City.” Two weeks later, she was listed among attendees at the large Rotary Club party in the city.

The exact dates of her visit (or visits) to Lake Chapala are unknown, but all her photographs of Chapala are dated 1923, and they were almost certainly taken within a few weeks of when D H Lawrence arrived at the beginning of May. Photographs taken by Creighton at Chapala show her friends, boats the beach, and a view of the Villa Montecarlo from the lake. Her captions name various people, including a second Helen, Dora, Josie, Lily, Betty, Robert Pierce, Margaret Pierce, Lily, Pauchi, Mrs Bremer and Mrs Neal, most of whom are presumed to have been administrators or fellow teachers at the American School.

Helen Creighton. Villa Montecarlo, 1923

Helen Creighton. Villa Montecarlo, 1923. Credit: Nova Scotia Archives.

On returning to Canada, she began a broadcasting career as “Aunt Helen” and read children’s stories on radio CHNS Halifax. In 1928, Dr Henry Munro, the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia, urged her to find and record more local stories and songs. This was the start of her passion as a folklorist. Creighton became an intrepid traveler, hiking or sailing, carrying her melodeon (button accordion) to the remotest parts of the province, in search of new material. Before the development of audio tapes, she used wax cylinders and acetate disks to record music and songs in situ. She also investigated and wrote about ghosts, superstitions, witchcraft and buried treasure.

Though Creighton was awarded numerous honorary doctorates and the Order of Canada, her work was not without its critics. Some claimed that her song selections and editing were flawed; others argued that she could never escape her privileged background, and that her collections helped commodify Nova Scotia tourism literature which highlighted its ‘Scottishness’ and the myth of ‘hardy fisherfolk.’

Creighton’s books include Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia (1932), Bluenose Ghosts (1957), Maritime Folk Songs (1962), Gaelic Songs in Nova Scotia (1964), Bluenose Magic (1968), Folksongs from Southern New Brunswick (1971), A Life in Folklore (1975), Eight Ethnic Songs for Young Children (1977), Nine Ethnic songs for Older Children (1977), With a Heigh-Heigh-Ho (1986) and La Fleur du Rosier (1989). Published recordings included Folk Music from Nova Scotia (1956) and Maritime Folk Songs (1962).

Helen Creighton, author and pioneering folklorist, and subject in her lifetime of three documentaries—Songs of Nova Scotia (1957), Land of Old Songs (1960) and Lady of the Legends (1966)—died in her native town of Dartmouth on 12 December 1989.

An extensive collection of materials related to Creighton’s personal life, and her career as an outstanding author and folklorist, is held by the Nova Scotia Archives.

Acknowledgment

  • I am grateful to the Nova Scotia Archives for permission to reproduce these images.

Sources

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

Jan 272022
 

This fun and vibrant painting titled “Chapala” was offered at auction in New York in August 2021. The painting, an oil on canvas measuring 30 x 24 inches, signed “Ellen” and dated 1967, was attributed in the auction listing to Ellen Black, with the additional details that “Ellen Black (20th Century) was active/lived in California. Ellen Black is known for Watercolor painting.”

Ellen Black. 1967. "Chapala." (Auction: Doyle New York)

“Ellen.” 1967. “Chapala.” (Auctioned 2021 at Doyle New York)

My curiosity aroused, I looked into the only artist named “Ellen Black” that I could locate. She turned out to  be a noted watercolorist (with earlier links to California) and art educator now living in Wyoming. When I spoke with her briefly by phone, it turned out that this particular painting was definitely not her work. She had never been to Lake Chapala and normally signs her works “E. Black,” not “Ellen.”

Given that it appears the auction house was probably mistaken in its attribution, can any alert reader suggest who this Lake Chapala-related “Ellen” might be?

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

Jan 132022
 

Charles Kaufman, who went on to become an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, lived for several months in Ajijic in 1929. A decade later, he dedicated his first and only novel — Fiesta in Manhattan — “To the good people of Ajijic.” We will look at this novel in a future post, but this was not his only important link to Ajijic.

Kaufman’s trip to Mexico was to celebrate selling an article to the New York Herald for $75. Accompanied by his girlfriend, Edith Huntsman, Kaufman took off for Mexico in 1929. Among other adventures, they visited Acapulco, took a boat from there to Puerto Angel (on the Oaxaca coast) and rode mules for 10 days over the mountains to Oaxaca City, as well as spending several months in Ajijic.

In 1933, Kaufman spent five months traveling in Spain with a businessman friend, Louis E. Stephens. During this trip, Kaufman was apparently so enthusiastic about Mexico in general, and Ajijic in particular, that he persuaded Stephens that he should stop off in Mexico before returning to New York.

Stephens liked Mexico so much, he settled in Mexico City, started a family and acquired holiday property in Ajijic in 1937. Stephens and his wife, Annette Margolis (later Nancarrow), offered the use of this property to their friend Helen Beth Kirtland when she sought a suitable place to take her young children after splitting up (not for the first time) from her husband Read Goodridge, a Mexico City rare books dealer.

Kirtland took her two young children to Ajijic and never looked back. She founded Telares Ajijic, employed weavers and, through enterprise, good fortune and hard work, built up a highly successful business. Both her children grew up in the village. After attending college in California, her daughter, Katie Goodridge Ingram, returned to Ajijic and ran an art gallery there for many years.

Had it not been for Kaufman’s powers of persuasion, none of this might have happened.

Kaufman meanwhile had stories published in the New Yorker and Esquire and was well on his way to becoming a successful screenwriter. He moved to Los Angeles in 1936 and already had several screenplays to his credit by the time his novel, Fiesta in Manhattan, was published in 1939. Sections of the novel were subsequently published (beginning in June 1940) in Mexican Life.

His screenplay credits include: Saturday’s Heroes (1937), Breakfast for Two (1937), The Saint in New York (1938), When Tomorrow Comes (1939), Model Wife (1941), Paris Calling (1941), Let There Be Light (1946), Cynthia (1947), Return to Paradise (1953), The Racers (1955), The Story of Esther Costello (1957), South Seas Adventure (1958), Bridge to the Sun (1961) and Freud (1962).

Return to Paradise was based on the Michener work and starred Gary Cooper. Kaufman’s screenplay for The Story of Esther Costello was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay. In 1962, the screenplay of Freud, directed and produced by John Huston, won an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Kaufman and his co-writer Wolfgang Reinhart. In 2010, Let There Be Light, written by Kaufman and John Huston, was chosen for inclusion in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Kaufman, who was born 20 October 1904 in Paterson, New Jersey, died of pneumonia in Los Angeles on 2 May 1991, at the age of 86.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for bringing Charles Kaufman’s connections to Ajijic to my attention.

Sources

  • Mike Barnes. 2010. “‘Empire Strikes Back,’ ‘Airplane!’ Among 25 Movies Named to National Film Registry”. The Hollywood Reporter, 28 December 2010.
  • Los Angeles Times. 1991. “Charles A. Kaufman; Screenwriter Honored for Freud Biography” (obituary). Los Angeles Times, 9 May 1991, page 32.
  • Charles J. Stephens. 1999. Louis E. Stephens: His Life in Letters. New York: Jay Street Publishers.

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

Dec 192021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

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

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

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

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.

 Posted by at 6:39 am  Tagged with:
Dec 162021
 

Oscar Collier was born 26 February 1924 in Mumford, Texas, and died 3 July 1998. He and his second wife, Gladys, lived in Ajijic for six months sometime in the late 1950s, while he was still actively painting.

Oscar Collier. Self-portrait, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Oscar Collier. Self-portrait, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

In this oral history interview in 1994 by Stephen Polcari, Collier talks about his childhood in Texas, his education at Baylor University (where he studied English), the University of Iowa (where he took his first art classes with Philip Guston), and the Art Students League in New York, and his links to many other artists, including Will Barnet, Peter Busa, Robert Barrell, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. Collier describes how he became involved in the 1940s with the style known as Indian Space Painting (named for its links to Pre-Columbian American Indian art), before giving up painting in 1959 to concentrate on publishing as a career.

Collier met his first wife, Gertrude Barrer (1921-1997), while they were both students; they married in about 1942 and separated shortly after the second world war. Gertrude was also a well-known Indian Space Painter, and the couple’s daughter, Greer Fitting (1943-2017), also became an artist and writer.

Collier married Gladys (Whitridge), his second wife, in 1949. That marriage lasted 20 years, and the couple had two children: Lisa Collier Cool, journalist and author who has written for dozens of magazines including Cosmopolitan, Penthouse and Good Housekeeping, and Sophia Collier, entrepreneur (the originator of Soho Soda), investor and artist. Oscar subsequently married Dianna Meerwarth and had a son, Christopher Collier.

Typical Oscar Collier abstract. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Typical Oscar Collier abstract. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Oscar Collier was active as an artist in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. He became a close friend of poet Kenneth Beaudoin (1913-1995) who then owned the Galerie Neuf on East 79th Street, in Greenwich Village, New York. Possibly the single most famous exhibit of Indian Space Painting was a show, held at Galerie Neuf in April-May 1946, called “8 and a totem pole” which featured the work of eight Indian Space Painters (Robert Barrell, Gertrude Barrer, Peter Busa, Oscar Collier, Howard Daum, Ruth Lewin, Lillian Orloff and Robert Smith) together with a Haida totem pole. This show had the alternative name of Semeiology. However, Collier’s first one man show at Galerie Neuf in 1947 was not a success.

collier-oscar-book-cover-2From 1946-1947, Collier, Gertrude Barrer and Kenneth Beaudoin collaborated to produce an art and literature quarterly, called Iconograph. Beaudoin was editor, Collier associate editor, and Barrer the art director. Sadly, financial difficulties meant that the quarterly did not last long.

In 1959, Collier abandoned painting for publishing. He became a successful literary agent, managing the publication of such best-sellers as Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment; My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House (by Lillian Rogers Parks, with Frances Spatz Leighton, later turned into a TV series); My Life with Jacqueline Kennedy, by Mary Barelli Gallagher; Barry Goldwater’s first set of memoirs; Harry Browne’s You Can Profit from a Monetary Crisis; The Scripps, the Divided Dynasty, by Jack Casserly; and Joseph P. Kennedy: Life and Times, by David Koscoff.

Collier was also the co-author, with Frances Spatz Leighton, of How to Write & Sell Your First Novel (1986) and How to Write and Sell Your First Nonfiction Book (1990).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Lisa Collier for making valuable corrections and additions to the original post, and for permission to reproduce photographs of her father’s artwork.

Note: This is an updated version of a post originally published on 13 March 2015.

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

Dec 022021
 

Watercolorist and art educator Ben Shute enjoyed extended trips in Mexico on several occasions and visited Ajijic in 1951. Two watercolors from that visit are now in the permanent collections of art institutions in the US.

Benjamin Edgar Shute was born in Altoona, Wisconsin on 13 July 1905, and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, where his teachers included Allen Philbrick and George Oberteuffer from 1922-1928. He left Chicago in 1928 to take a six-week teaching job at the newly established High Museum School of Art (later Atlanta Art Institute) in Atlanta, Georgia. This temporary assignment was the start of an entire career teaching art in Atlanta, and he lived there for the rest of his life. Shute was dean-director of the High Museum from 1948-1950, and dean of the Atlanta Art Institute from 1950-52. The school established a scholarship in Shute’s honor in 1984.

Shute’s first trip to Mexico, partly funded by a Carnegie Travel grant, was in 1948. He and his first wife, Nell Choate (Jones) Shute (also a talented artist) held a joint exhibit afterwards at the High Museum, Atlanta. The show, featuring 45 or so watercolors,  was a great success. Doris Lockerman praised the artists for “retelling the tumultuous, violent and ancient story of Mexico through the vibrant strokes of their paintings made spontaneously and impulsively throughout a three-month vacation this Summer in Mexico.” Lockerman urged readers to visit the show and see for themselves how the two artists “have caught a headline history of current Mexico through which the thoughtful observer might begin to understand his neighbor south of the border.” The exhibit did not only show the bright side of Mexico: “The message of mismanagement and graft show in the muddy streets, cobblestone aqueducts, leaking roofs…”

The Shutes returned to Mexico for a month in 1950, driving to Guanajuato and Mexico City. The following year, Shute was on another Carnegie Travel grant when he and his wife visited Lake Chapala. Two watercolors from that visit are now in the Betty Plummer Woodruff Collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Ben Shute. 1951. Ajijic.

Ben Shute. 1951. Ajiji. (sic)

The first painting is a watercolor and ink on paper titled “Ajiji” (sic) and dated 13 August 1951. Set against the church bell tower and dark mountains, a woman and an infant stand next to a village wall, with a dog to the right of them. The museum website lists a second watercolor titled “View of Lake Chapala,” though sadly it is neither on display in the museum nor does the website have any image of it.

Shute is best known for his portraits, still lifes and evocative landscapes, often using casein and ink on paper. He delighted in painting plein air, and enjoyed having his creative and painting process watched by kids, animals and onlookers. His work was included in numerous group shows, the most noteworthy of which were the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, New York.  He was a co-founder in 1945 of the Southeastern Annual Art Exhibition (a juried competition with over 2000 entries from nine southern states) which he chaired until 1961.

Shute, who was a member of the Salmagundi Club in New York, died in Atlanta on 15 July 1986. A retrospective exhibition of his works, organized by the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, toured the state in 2002-2003.

Sources

  • The Atlanta Constitution, 1 Sep 1940, 37; 30 Jul 1948, 17; 14 Nov 1948, 52; 4 Aug 1950, 21.
  • Laufer, Marilyn. “Ben Shute.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Aug 14, 2013.
  • Doris Lockerman. 1948. “Let’s See Now: The Shutes Painted an Idea.” The Atlanta Constitution, 8 Dec 1948, 18.

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 182021
 

Anthony Ostroff (1923-1978) was born in Gary, Indiana and educated at Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, the Sorbonne, and the University of Grenoble. Ostroff wrote a short poem entitled: “Lake Chapala” which was published in 1977 in his A Fall in Mexico (Garden City, New York: Doubleday).

ostroff-anthony-1977

Ostroff traveled widely in Mexico (the date of his visit to Chapala is unclear) but was clearly not impressed by the lake, as evidenced by the last stanza of his poem, which reads:

Farther on
the road descends
to us & ends,
a lake-edge mess
of roots, mud,
tubers. A sludge
moccasin
swims the soup,
his writhing lost
to a straight V.
His arrow head
held lip high,
his nostrils try
the line of cess.

In his notes to the poem, in the back of the book, Ostroff writes:

“The lake, a part of which extends into Michoacán, lies mainly in Jalisco and is, at a distance, quite beautiful. It was once a popular resort area for wealthy Mexicans. Pollution of the lake, however, proceeded at such a rate that by the time of the poem bearing its name it had become a broth of typhoid and amebic dysentery, and the town of Chapala was all but deserted. The village of Ajijic, also on the shores of the lake, had a small, expatriate American colony.”

The collection A Fall in Mexico also includes poems titled “In Puerta Vallarta,” “Near San Miguel,” “The Altar at Teotihuacan,” “Monte Alban” and “To Barra de Navidad.”

Working mainly in the 1950s and 1960s, his poetry and short fiction was published in such magazines as Harper’s, The Paris Review, Atlantic Monthly, Kenyon Review, and Poetry. Ostroff was also the recipient of a grant from the National Association of Educational Broadcasting to produce a series of broadcasts on American Poetry.

Ostroff, whose literary and academic career included spells teaching at the University of California at Berkley (1949-1969) and at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon (1969-1978), edited The contemporary poet as artist and critic: Eight symposia (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964) and also wrote:

  • Imperatives (Harcourt Brace & World, 1962)
  • Islander, selected poems of Anthony Ostroff (Ash Creek Press, 2000)
  • To build a House; the short stories of Anthony Ostroff (Portland, Ash Creek Press, 2003)

Anthony Ostroff was friends with various poets in the San Francisco region, including Robert Duncan, Thom Gunn, Josephine Miles and Richard Everhart.

Ostroff died in 1978 from a heart attack suffered after hang-gliding on the coast of Oregon.

The Poetry Collection of the State University of New York at Buffalo houses the Anthony Ostroff Collection, 1955-1978, which contains  all of the poet’s published and unpublished poems, plays, short stories and articles in manuscript and published form, with thousands of corrections in the poet’s hand, as well as tape recordings prepared by Ostroff, including the series of 20 broadcasts about American poetry he directed for the National Association of Educational Broadcasting.

Note: This profile was first published 30 June 2014.

Sources

  • Anthony Ostroff Collection, 1955-1978
  • Anthony Ostroff. 1977. A Fall in Mexico. New York: Doubleday.

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

 Posted by at 7:38 am  Tagged with:
Nov 042021
 

A chance find in a New Mexico newspaper mentions that artist Arthur Merrill and his wife visited Phoenix, Arizona, in February 1952, with plans to continue on to Lake Chapala. Arthur (“Art”) Joseph Merrill (1885-1973) took up art later than most, but forged a successful career in commercial art and as a watercolorist.

Arthur Merrill. Painting auctioned in 2016.

Arthur Merrill. Painting. Credit: J Levine Auction, Scottsdale, 2016.

Merrill certainly completed watercolors of Guanajuato and other parts of Mexico. But, so far, no paintings have surfaced that are directly related to Lake Chapala.

Merrill was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 11 April 1885, and graduated as a registered pharmacist, before deciding to study chemistry and geology. It was during a tour of European galleries and museums that he became determined to pursue art as a career. In 1911 he completed a Bachelor of Arts and Science degree at McGill University in Montreal, and took early color photographs for the French government during a Canadian geological survey.

Arthur Merrill. Mexican Street Scene.

Arthur Merrill. Mexican Street Scene.

He took art classes with A. J. Musgrove of Winnipeg and Franz Johnston of Toronto (a member of the Group of Seven), and then headed for New York, where he studied at the Art Students League with Edmund Yaghjian. He also took private classes with Julius Delbos. Merrill established his studio in Greenwich Village and supplemented his art income by teaching at a private school.

He traveled widely over the next several years filling his notebooks with pencil sketches.

After 18 years in New York he moved to the American west, where he fell in love with the stunning rock formations that characterize the region, and with pueblo life. Merrill settled in Taos in 1946 and proceeded to open an art gallery and a studio while volunteering to give art classes in several local educational institutions. The Merrills were very active members of the Taos artist community.

Merrill, who held several solo shows of his paintings and lithographs in the US, Canada and Mexico, died in Taos on 21 April 1973.

If you have a work by Merrill that may be of Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

Merrill was not the only artist or author that connected Taos to Lake Chapala. Other members of the Taos-Lake Chapala nexus included D. H. LawrenceWitter Bynner, “Spud” Johnson, Jorge Fick, John Brandi, Irma René Koen, Jorge Fick, Richard Frush, Lee F. Hersch, Pema Chödrön, Jim Levy, Walden Swank, and Kai Gøtzsche.

Sources

  • The New Mexican Sun, 3 Feb 1952, 16
  • The Taos News. “Arthur Merrill, artist, dead at 88.” Taos News, 25 April 1973.

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

Oct 282021
 

The Lake Chapala-Santa Fe literary-art nexus has had many distinguished members over the years:

D. H. LawrenceWitter Bynner, “Spud” Johnson, Betty Binkley , Josefa (the “mother of Mexican fashion design”), Jorge Fick, Clinton King and his (first) wife Lady Twysden, Clark Hulings, John Liggett Meigs, Alfred Rogoway, Don Shaw, photographer Ernest Walter Knee,  poet and painter John Brandi, musicologist Charles BogertBob Hunt, Arthur Davison Ficke and Gladys Brown Ficke.

Brian Boru Dunne (credit: unknown)

Brian Ború Dunne (credit: unknown)

Instrumental in fomenting the links in the 1940s was Santa Fe journalist Brian Ború Dunne who wrote a regular column for the Santa Fe New Mexican titled “Village Gossip.” There is no evidence that Dunne ever visited Lake Chapala. But in 1946 he reported that a “Rogelio M Chávez” had just returned from Ajijic and told him that the village of Ajijic was a colony of artists and writers with fourteen “white” people. These included two “rich women with palaces or castles… a fascinating Russian ballerina… [and] an Englishman who wears a Persian robe, a hat and motorcycle goggles.”

This article about Ajijic was instrumental in helping to persuade Santa Fe author John Sinclair to travel to Lake Chapala in December 1946 to write his novel Death in the Claimshack.

What else did Chávez tell Dunne about Ajijic?

Well, there were no door bells, electricity was limited to three hours daily—starting at sunset—and most people bathed “au naturel” in the lake. Ordinary mail was delivered occasionally “but air mail gets attention.” For nightlife—music, dancing and drinking—there was a bus to Chapala.

The foreign residents of Ajijic included Mrs Neill James, and Herr Heurer [sic] a refugee from Germany, who escaped World War I, and who had built “cubicles of mud, plaster and bamboo thatching for rent.” The heroine of Mrs Morton of Mexico also, according to Chávez, lived in Ajijic. In fact, Mrs Hunton, the real-life basis for the fictional Mrs Morton, lived in Villa Virginia in Chapala.

And who was Brian Ború Dunne? Relatively little is known about his education and life. He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 13 July 1878 and died in Santa Fe at the age of 84 in December 1962. Dunne was an aspiring journalist when he chanced to meet English novelist George Gissing in Europe in 1897. His account of their time in Italy is the subject of a book published in 1999. Dunne was awarded a A.B. degree by St. Mary’s Benedictine College in North Carolina in 1906.

Dunne was the author of Cured! The 70 Adventures of a Dyspeptic, published in 1914, in which he tells, with great good humor, the story of his search for a cure for dyspepsia. After eight years of travails and visits to dozens of different specialists, Dunne’s odyssey culminated when he met an eye specialist who prescribed new lenses for his glasses. In his foreword to the book, H G Wells called it “ a manuscript shining with cheerfulness and telling of years of ill health” and “a real contribution to the difficult art of living!”

Dunne moved to New Mexico in about 1940, after working for a Washington D.C. newspaper and for the Baltimore Sun. He became a well-known figure in Santa Fe and his gossip column was deservedly popular. According to his obituary, Dunne wore gold-rimmed glasses, was a friend of H. L. Mencken, and lectured throughout the US on the importance of the Spanish language.

A decade ago, Rob Dean (also a Santa Fe New Mexican journalist) wrote about Dunne’s legendary status in Santa Fe:

“No one in town could fail to notice him. Hummingbirdlike with a bony frame and sharp nose, Dunne wore a showy wide-brimmed hat with a silver band — famous locally for touching off a contest among people who claimed the hat after his death. He planted himself in the middle of the Santa Fe social scene, wrote a newspaper gossip column and hung out for years in the lobby doing ambush interviews of La Fonda guests. For years, Dunne… wrote articles light in substance but heavy on sensation. Likewise, when he spoke, his dramatic delivery puffed up his empty rhetoric and made it seem profound.”

Dunne married Edith Hart Mason (1894–1974) in 1920. Their son, Brian Ború Dunne II, was the chief experimental scientist on Project Orion, the futuristic nuclear propulsion project.

And were there really only fourteen foreign residents in Ajijic in 1946? Well, no, the number is a slight undercount – but this profile, in the spirit of Dunne, is about more than just facts.

Sources

  • Brian Ború Dunne. 1914. Cured! The 70 Adventures of a Dyspeptic. Foreword by H.G. Wells. Cartoons by Hugh Doyel, cover design by Enrico Monetti. Philadelphia: The John C Winston Company.
  • Brian Ború Dunne. 1946. “Village Gossip,” Santa Fe New Mexican, 3 October 1946, 9.
  • Brian Ború Dunne. 1999. With Gissing in Italy: The Memoirs of Brian Ború Dunne. Co-edited by Paul F. Mattheisen, Arthur C. Young and Pierre Coustillas. Ohio University Press.
  • Rob Dean. 2010. “Families, Fiestas and Fun” in The New Mexican, 4 December 2010.
  • Santa Fe New Mexican. “B. B. Dunne of Santa Fe dead at 84.” (obituary), Santa Fe New Mexican, 31 December 1962, 1-2.

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

Oct 212021
 

Jan Sullivan (1921-2016) was a regular visitor to Ajijic and the surrounding area for more than 35 years. She accompanied noted American artist Hazel Hannell, who chose to spend the winter months in Ajijic for several years in the 1980s. Other members of this small loose-knit group included the noteworthy artists Harriet Rex Smith (1921-2017) and Elizabeth Murray. Sullivan was only a child when she first met Hannell; on a trip to Europe in 1928, Hannell and her husband, Vin, visited Paris and called on Sullivan’s parents, Nels and Myrtle (Bachli) Malmquist.

Jan Sullivan. d.u. "Lakeside Life" (oil).

Jan Sullivan. date unknown. “Lakeside Life” (oil).

Fifty years later, Sullivan founded the Art Barn and school in rural Valparaiso, Indiana. Currently for sale at the Art Barn is this lovely oil painting of a scene near Ajijic by Sullivan titled “Lakeside Life.”

The accompanying text reads:

Janet spent over 35 years in and around Ajijic, Mexico, going to the villages surrounding Lake Chapala with the mountains keeping the towns small and up against the lake. Lakeside life enthralled Janet who loved the old adobe structures, the bushes and trees climbing the hills. She chose a plein air painting spot to view the houses against the azure mountains, the lake to her back, sitting on the roadside engrossed in the color and texture of buildings along the shore.”

Janet (“Jan”) Malmquist Sullivan was born in Chicago on 5 June 1921 and died at her home in Valparaiso on 19 April 2016, predeceased by her husband, Maurice “Bud” Sullivan, who had passed away in May 1979. Jan seta side time to develop her own art throughout her career as a supervisor of art education for the Chicago Schools. She later taught art at Valparaiso University.

The Sullivans established the Art Barn—a project encompassing art education, exhibitions and events—in 1977 with the help of a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. The location was a nineteenth-century farm near Valparaiso the couple had purchased in 1969.

Sullivan amassed a significant art collection, both to support local artists and to serve as an investment to provide a lasting legacy to support the Art Barn. She bequeathed her entire collection – more than 2000 items – to the Art Barn School of Art to ensure that it would have the means to continue its important mission.

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.

 Posted by at 5:30 am  Tagged with:
Oct 142021
 

The earliest known English-language short story related to Lake Chapala is “The White Rebozo: A Vision of the Night on the Mystic Waters of Lake Chapala,” written by Gwendolen Overton and first published in The Argonaut in July 1900. The story was subsequently reprinted in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. In the following transcription, accents have been added and the letter ñ used where appropriate in order to facilitate reading.

The White Rebozo: A Vision of the Night on the Mystic Waters of Lake Chapala

“She is white, yes.” Nuñez spoke English with ease and a charming accent, and he never lost the opportunity of doing so. He was practising now on Lingard, as they stood together at the water’s edge.

Linguard continued to look after the woman who had just gone by them, toward the village. She wore the blue rebozo of the Indian woman, but underneath it you could see that she was fair – fair and of a less classic build than the women of the land.

“She is white, yes. It is because that she is an American, like yourself.”

“An American?” said Lingard, “in that dress?”

He doubted; but the Mexican nodded his head. “An American, yes. I do not know her name. They call her ‘La Gringa,’ only. She is your countrywoman, and she lives in the village there. She loved a man of the people, an Indio, many years ago – and it is like this now. She lives in a small house with two chambers, and she is very poor. She has one daughter who is a little mad. It is because that La Gringa tried to drown herself in this lake before the child was born.”

“And the man?” asked Lingard; “where is he?”

Nuñez shrugged his shoulders, which would have been a little sloping had it not been for the best English tailor of the capital. “Ah! The man. Who knows? He is gone. It is always like that.”

The woman had passed out of sight up the little street, and Lingard turned away, looking thoughtfully up to one of the mountain peaks that rose above the lake. “Am American,” he said, half to himself; “she must have led the life of the dammed. And her eyes were so child-like and blue.”

The Mexican laughed, the laugh of a breed which does not believe in woman except for purpose of poetry and patron saints. “Child-like and blue,” he echoed; “the eyes of women do not show the things which are under them. They are like this lake, I think. It is so blue and beautiful. You would never know that there is a city far down beneath the water, eh?”

Lingard forgot the woman. “A city – under this lake?”

The Mexican was delighted with his effect and the still further chance of more display of English. “You do not know the story of Lake Chapala, then?” Truly. Under it, so deep, deep under it – it is very profound – there is a city, an Aztec city, perhaps. The lake came, I think, maybe, by an earthquake. It was like Pompeii, but that it was buried by water and not by cinders. Some times, when there is a storm, after it you can find on the shore little things which the water bring up; carved stones, little gods, little spools, like for the embroidery and the sewing; little cups, always of stone, and always very small, so that they shall not be too heavy.”

They called to him from the balcony of the hotel and he went away, with a princely sweep of his begilt and besilver sombrero.

Lingard watched him absently for a moment, then he turned his back to the bright waters of the lake, and to fancying the city underneath, somewhere far down, down in the cool, deep blue. The sun of the south might rise over the encircling peaks in the west, and sink behind them in the west; the shadows of the mountains might quiver on the waters’ face, and the flowers of the garden-land wave and bend upon their very edge; but there would always be that ancient city down below, the same cold swing of shore-bound tide. And where butterflies and sweet-throated sanatitas [New World blackbirds] had been, there was now only the little white Lake Chapala fish. It took possession of him, the thought, and also the wise, to find for himself one of the relics of carved stone that the waves moved up from the depths. He wandered on and on along the shore, looking down at the pebbles and the sand.

It was dusk when he came back to the hotel. The señoritas, too modest to bathe in the dull light of day and the sight of man, were splashing about, vague, shapeless shapes at the shore’s edge. Lingard was only a gringo, and he did no know that the beach was sacred to the feminine just then, and that if one wished to watch one should do so from a hotel window with a pair of opera glasses. He did not care to watch, indeed. He considered these maidens who boasted Spanish blood inferior in every respect to the fine dark women of the lower class. And their figures looked execrable in the bathing suits! So he went by almost unheeding, and on into the hotel.

Nuñez was there, killing time in the cantina after the manner of his kind. He seized upon Lingard as a diversion.

“You have dreamed all day by the lake. The ghost of the lake will take you one time.”

“Is there a ghost?” asked Lingard; “I was looking for a stone.”

“One of the carved stones? I will buy one for you, if you will accept it, señor.” The Mexican rejoices to give. “I know where one is to be bought. But there is many that are not genuine – not good – which the Indios make to sell to the excursionists. The one I will give to you shall be genuine.”

Lingard did not want one that was bought, but he felt that he could hardly say so. He told Nuñez that he was very kind, and forthwith discouraged further talk about the lake. Nuñez was a Latin, and it was Lingard’s experience of his sort that there is a strain of deadly bathos in their conversation which grates on the Anglo-Saxon, who is more consistently poetical when he chooses to be a poet, as he is more thoroughly a trader when he elects to trade.

When the moon had begun to rise in a sky that was blowing over with heavy, white-edged clouds, he went out on the lake shore again. There was a whine of wind now, and the slap of the wavelets on the sand was sharper, and sometimes the moon would sail behind a cloud and leave the world in darkness.

Lingard walked on until he was too far from the hotel to hear the shrill chatter of Nuñez and his friends. Then he stood still and looked across the lake. He was thinking yet of the city below the gold-tipped ripples. And as he looked the gold vanished and left the waters black. The moon was behind a cloud. It stayed so for a while, and then came drifting forth, and Lingard, staring straight before him, with glassy eyes, felt the blood running cold in his heart. For there in front of him, not twenty feet away, a woman’s figure stood, slight and frail against the path of moonlight, at the edge of the shore – a figure white-shrouded from head to feet, indistinct against the shimmer, pale-faced and pale-eyed. It held a sheaf of the white flowers of the field clasped in transparent hands against the breast; but they dripped bright drops of water to the ground. “Qué quiere?” Lingard demanded and tried hard to make it firm.

“Tu alma, tu vida,” moaned a voice that whispered with the lapping of the waves and the whistle of the rising wind. “His soul, his life!”

He tried to reason back his fear. It was born of the fancies that he had dreamed over all day, of the tequila he had drunk with Nuñez before dinner, of the fever of the country perhaps. He might be getting the fever now. But the slight boldness that came to him was born of sheer terror, and he fell back on the harshness of his own tongue to break the spell. “Go to the dickens.” he said, crossly, and yet with awe, and took a step nearer to the vague thing.

“Come with me, come with me. The water is calling. The water is deep.” The English that answered was as sure as his own.

He was losing his mind, surely it was the fever. Did spirits speak in every tongue? “Who are you?”

She laughed sweetly, uncannily, and kept on. “There is no more sorrow in the lake, deep down in the lake. I can go to it now. We can go together. Come with me, come.”

“Who are you?” he insisted still. “Tell me who you are.”

One of the hand left her breast and waved toward the water behind her. The light was glowing faint again, and the voice came out of the darkness soon. “We can go in the water now.” And it shouted the words of the song, “Venga conmigo, adonde vivo you.” The shrill, unreal laugh once more, “Que sí señor, que sí señor!” Then it changed to a minor wail and the words of a language Lingard guessed to be that which the Indians of the far recesses of the country still sometimes speak – the language of those who had lived in the lake city, perhaps.

He was stiff, half helpless with fear. The clouds were thicker every minute, and the rifts were smaller and farther between. The song came breathing out of the blackness, sounding first close to him, and then far over upon the lake. He started forward with a sudden resolve to shake it into silence or bring it to a more earthly tone. But he touched something so cold and wet that his fingers were left empty and quite as cold. The waves licked around his feet.

Then the moon came out and he saw the thing, still standing in the path of its rays, but further out in the water that rose even to his knees. Her hands were outstretched in the sign of the cross, as the peons pray, and a white scarf floated over them from her head. The sheaf of flowers had fallen and was drifting softly to the shore. “Quién está?” he repeated helplessly. “Who are you?”

There was no reply; but the pale eyes were looking into his, and they seemed to draw him on.

“Venga conmigo adonde, vovo yo-o-o-o-o.” The sound kept on, drawn out until it was like the faint, far-away cry of a fog-horn at sea. “Come with me, where I live,” she sang, weirdly; and he went, following step by step, drawn on by fear and uncertainty, and the light unwavering eyes. The waters were at her waist now, and the scattered flowers floated against his own knees. The voice took up the wailing Indian song again, and it seemed to come from the waters, as they mounted up to her chin. The arms were still stretched out and the scarf lay on the waves. But the moon was hiding itself yet once more, and the wind was beginning to howl.

Then suddenly the chant stopped and Lingard heard a gasp, a cry, a horribly human cry, choked off in the midst. He was awake now, only too much awake. He remembered that he had been told how the bottom of the lake shelved abruptly, in places, to a great depth, and he remembered, too, that he could not swim. But just out there, beyond him, he could hear the beating and splashing of arms and the frantic struggle with a breathless death, and though there were no strange eyes to lead him now, he went on.

Te next day at morning, when the storm had raised, but the winds and the waves were not yet still, a group of peons were huddled upon the beach. And a woman on the outskirts was screaming as two mozos held her back. “Is it my child?” she cried, not in English, now in Spanish.

“No, it is not your child,” they told her; “It is the gringo. Come away.”

Nuñez left them and strolled over to a moza who stood hugging her arms with grief. “What is the matter with La Gringa?” he asked, “has she lost her child?”

The woman gulped down her sobs. “Yes, señor. The child was mad for many years – only a little mad, in one thing. She wished always to throw herself into the lake. She said that it called to her. It was because her mother was almost drowned once in there before la niña was born. Last night she went away, la niña, when the mother did not know. We searched for her all the night. And now she is dead, señor.”

“Dead?” said Nuñez . “But how do you know?”

She raised her head from her hands and nodded toward the group below. “She did not dress like us, señor, but always all in white; even her rebozo was white like the snow. And you have seen what the gringo holds in his hand, señor – a white rebozo?”

– – o – –

Source

  • Gwendolen Overton. 1900. “The White Rebozo.” The Argonaut (San Francisco), 23 July 1900, 4.

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

Oct 072021
 

Is this the first English-language short story about Lake Chapala?

More by luck than judgment, I recently happened upon a short story titled “The White Rebozo,” which turned out to be set at Lake Chapala. The story was written by Gwendolen Overton and first published more than 120 years ago in 1900.

Gwendolen Overton, c 1903 [Ancestry]

Gwendolen Overton, c 1903 [Ancestry]

Research into the author’s life showed that she wrote this story when she was just 26 years old. Now forgotten, Overton was something of a literary prodigy, whose short stories had been accepted by major magazines from when she was a mere teenager.

The precise timing and circumstances of her visit to Chapala are unknown. But she certainly made good use of the local knowledge she acquired while there.

In Overton’s story, Nuñez, a Mexican man who likes to practice his English, is chatting with an American acquaintance Lingard about a woman and explains to him that,

… the eyes of women do not show the things which are under them. They are like this lake, I think. It is so blue and beautiful. You would never know that there is a city far down beneath the water, eh?”

Lingard forgot the woman. “A city – under this lake?”

“The Mexican was delighted with his effect and the still further chance of more display of English. “You do not know the story of Lake Chapala, then?” Truly. Under it, so deep, deep under it – it is very profound – there is a city, an Aztec city, perhaps. The lake came, I think, maybe, by an earthquake. It was like Pompeii, but that it was buried by water and not by cinders. Some times, when there is a storm, after it you can find on the shore little things which the water bring up; carved stones, little gods, little spools, like for the embroidery and the sewing; little cups, always of stone, and always very small, so that they shall not be too heavy.

They called to him [Lingard] from the balcony of the hotel and he went away, with a princely sweep of his begilt and besilver sombrero….”

This excerpt is interesting from a number of perspectives. At the end of the nineteenth century, rumors of a submerged city in Lake Chapala were taken sufficiently seriously by distinguished anthropologist Frederick Starr that he undertook a three-month visit to Guadalajara and Lake Chapala over the winter of 1895-1896 to investigate.

The rumors were presumably based in part on the large number of pottery fragments recovered from the lake bed every time the water level was low. Starr was unable to find any additional evidence. But the romantic idea of a lost city (and lost idols) was sufficiently attractive that it brought lots of attention to the lake.

In addition, the reference to a hotel balcony must refer to the Hotel Arzapalo, the only hotel that had a balcony in the region at the end of the nineteenth century. Built by Ignacio Arzapalo, it was the first purpose-built hotel in Chapala. Opened in 1898, and designed for foreign travelers, it was the catalyst that helped transform the village into an important international tourist destination.

Just who was Gwendolen Overton? Born in Kansas on 19 February 1874, Overton was the daughter of a retired US Army captain, Gilbert Edmond Overton (1845–1907), and his wife, Jane Dyson Watkins (1849–1905). Overton had a younger brother, Eugene Overton (1880–1970), with whom she was very close. As a child, she lived at a succession of army posts throughout Arizona and New Mexico; these experiences had a strong influence on her later writing. When Overton was a teenager, the family lived for several years in France. Even before her 21st birthday, Overton had been published regularly in The Argonaut and was described as having a “marvelous memory and industry,” who “rarely spends over an hour and a half on a story and never rewrites.”

Her first short stories about Mexico were published several years earlier than “The White Rebozo.” It is distinctly possible that an anonymous short story, published in 1894 and set in La Barca, with references to José Velarde (“The Golden Ass”), was also her work. The newspaper reprint of this story, which concerns superstition, religion and sacrifice, has no byline, and I have thus far failed to find the relevant issue of The Argonaut.

According to her author biography in her novel The Golden Chain (1903):

… when Miss Overton was about twenty-one or twenty-two the family came to live in Los Angeles, California. Here Miss Overton lives when she is not on one of her long periodical trips to the East, to Mexico, to Canada, or elsewhere. She has picked up a good deal of Spanish, as well as an exceptionally fine and accurate knowledge of the French language, of French life, and of the best French literature….

Miss Overton is at her desk by 8.30 every morning, and works until luncheon. She spends her afternoons in recreation. In particular she likes sailing, and much of her playtime is spent on the water in company with her younger brother.”

In addition to her short stories in magazines such as The Argonaut and Harper’s, Gwendolyn Overton was the author of a number of popular novels, all published by MacMillan, including The Heritage Of Unrest (1901), The Golden Chain (1903), The Captain’s Daughter (1903), Anne Carmel (1903) and Captains of the World (1904).

Overton, who married Melville Wilkinson in Los Angeles on 10 February 1910, was an active speaker and campaigner for gender equality and women’s right to vote. Gwendolyn Overton died in Los Angeles on 15 October 1958.

Sources

    • Author bio in The Golden Chain (1903).
    • Gwendolyn Overton. 1900. “The White Rebozo.” The Argonaut, 23 July 1900, 4.
    • The Los Angeles Herald, 11 February 1910.
    • Anon. “Los Angeles’ Authoress.” The San Francisco Call, 10 July 1895, 3.

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

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