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Sep 192019
 

Accomplished amateur artist Sid Miller painted and sculpted in Ajijic from 1982 to shortly before his death in 1998. His work was included in numerous local exhibitions, alongside that of friends such as Georg Rauch and Peter and Carole D’Addio.

Miller was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1912 to a Lithuanian Jewish couple who had met in New York; he was the youngest of six children. To help pay his tuition while studying politics and history at Brooklyn College, he made stained glass vent covers. When revisiting Brooklyn almost thirty years later in 1961, he was delighted to see that many of his decorative vents were still in place.

He was also a fine musician who, in his youth, played the clarinet and saxophone in jazz bands. While still in his twenties, Miller had played in bands on Hudson River boats, as well as in the Catskills and the Caribbean.

Miller met his future wife on a blind date in San Francisco in 1944, while awaiting being shipped out to Japan. She was a teacher, born in Detroit to parents of Hungarian heritage. They married three weeks later, barely a week before he left San Francisco to serve in Japan for 18 months.

The departure for the Far East was somewhat unexpected given that Miller had been preparing originally for a mission in Spain by taking intensive Spanish classes. The Spanish he acquired at this time proved to be extremely useful later in his life when he created a life in Mexico.

During his time in Asia, Miller sent regular letters back home, decorated with informal drawings. (This brings to mind the charming decorated envelopes used by Tink Strother when writing to her husband, Vane, while he was serving in the U.S. military.)

It was while serving with the U.S. Air Corps in the Pacific, in New Guinea, that Miller first began to carve wooden sculptures, selecting the female form as his preferred subject matter. Some of these sculptures, especially the ones of mother and child, are beautifully observed and executed.

After is safe return from the war, Miller and his wife settled in the San Fernando Valley, where he slowly built up a career, graduating from selling vacuum cleaners to marketing furniture and interior decorative items. Miller eventually established his own independent interior design business. Among his more noteworthy clients were the singer June Wayne (very popular at the time) and O. J. Simpson when he was married to his first wife.

Miller and his wife first visited Mexico in the 1950s, sightseeing in Mexico City and Acapulco. In the early 1970s, they visited Europe. Miller lost his wife, who worked as a teacher at private schools for emotionally disturbed children, owing to an unfortunate accident. A diabetic, she stepped on a tack while barefoot, acquired a serious infection, and died less than a year later in 1978.

Sid Miller and his wife at home in Ajijic.( Courtesy Judy Miller)

Photo of Sid Miller at his home in Ajijic. (courtesy Judy Miller)

Four years losing his wife, Miller moved to Mexico. He lived first in Vista del Lago, the subdivision east of Chapala that attracted a disproportionate number of retired military, before moving to Canacinta, just west of Ajijic. In 1988 he bought a house at the entrance to Villa Nova which he remodeled almost immediately to include a second bedroom and a casita. This home provided a wonderful backdrop for his art and was the perfect place for entertaining.

Sid Miller. Home in Ajijic. (courtesy Judy Miller)

Sid Miller’s own painting of his home in Ajijic. (courtesy Judy Miller)

A short man, Miller had something of the air of a distracted Einstein about him in his later years, an impression only heightened by his disheveled white hair; family photos support this uncanny resemblance.

Miller was an incredibly talented and creative individual. He was never made any effort to commercialize his art and gave away many of his original pieces as gifts to friends and family. Because he used what materials were at hand, including cardboard and off-cuts of wood, some of his work has not aged well. Nowhere is his propensity to use surplus materials more evident than in his highly-original irregular polygonal shapes and frames. Miller never had any formal art training and it took him about six weeks on average to complete one of his sculptures.

Sid Miller. UNtitled abstract. (Courtesy Ricardo Santana)

Sid Miller. Untitled abstract. (Courtesy Ricardo Santana)

Given the choice, he preferred sculpture to painting, saying in an interview in 1986 that he couldn’t paint but had “a natural inclination for the three dimensional figure.” “Sculpting”, he said, “relaxes me, it keeps me alive and young.”

His sculpture exhibits at Lake Chapala included a solo show at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan in March 1989. The accompanying promotional blurb praised his originality: “Sidney is as colorful as his work.”

Miller’s daughter, Judy Miller, retired to Ajijic a few years ago. She is also a distinguished artist whose preferred medium in retirement is pastels. Judy is a Master Circle Pastelist with the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS). Her artistic career, however, was as a ceramicist. After studying at U.C.L.A. and U.C. Berkeley in the early 1970s, she began working as a professional ceramicist, eventually making more than 50,000 hand-colored plates – depicting emotionally-engaged scenes from life – before retiring in 2002. This career stemmed from necessity and serendipity. When she moved into her first apartment, she had no tableware and decided to make her own plates, decorated with scenes from her past.

Both her ceramics and her superb pastels have been featured in numerous exhibits in the U.S. and elsewhere.

For more about her work, please visit her website.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Judy Miller for graciously sharing family memories with me and showing me many examples of her father’s varied work. My thanks, too, to Ricardo Santana for showing me several works by Sid Miller that are in his private collection.

Sources

  • Anon. “Portrait of the Artist”, El Ojo del Lago, April 1986.
  • El Ojo del Lago, March 1989.

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

Sep 122019
 

American lecturer and journalist Mable F. Knight wrote two travel articles about Ajijic in the 1950s. In the first, published in the magazine of the Pemex Travel Club in 1952, Knight concluded that,

“Ajijic is not a tourist resort and never will be for many years to come, but for those who want to see the real Mexico it is adorable. It is just a narrow strip of land between mountains and lake with more mountains across the lake and burros everywhere.”

Times, of course, have changed, and Ajijic has moved on, though not necessarily for the better in the eyes of many old-timers.

So, just what did Knight report on in her first article? She mentioned the books about Ajijic by Dane Chandos and Neill James and described two hotels in Chapala: the Nido and the Montecarlo. Knight reported that there were three places to stay in Ajijic: the “private home” of the Heuers with its bungalows, the Posada Ajijic “which has recently changed hands” and the General’s House (or Quinta Mi Retiro) with its “elegant bungalows, designed for Mexican families with maids”, each of which had views of the lake.

Knight decided that one of the main attractions in Ajijic was Neill James, the American authoress who had settled there a decade earlier. Her hagiographic portrait of James suggests that perhaps Knight was visiting Ajijic at her behest. Knight described how James had 80 workers sewing blouses (and this in a village of barely 2500 residents) and was adored by her two maids: María Perales and Consuelo Gómez. The article is illustrated with several photos including one of James and her dog, Pluto. Another member of the menagerie that lived in James’ tropical gardens was Paco, a parrot that had formerly lived at Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

Mabel F. Knight, 1929.

Mabel F. Knight, 1929.

Knight’s second article about Ajijic, published in the Mexican American Review in 1955, is focused solely on James, with chapter and verse about how she had introduced silkworms to Ajijic and started a successful silk business. According to Knight, James had first tried to start a knitting business, which failed, and then cross-stitch embroidery which had become such a success that one room of James’s house was “piled with blouses, skirts, towels, and cocktail napkins.” Now she was diversifying and had a “room where more than 60,000 silk worms were at work nibbling the mulberry leaves which grow on the estate.”

Just who was Mabel F. Knight? She was a really colorful character who billed herself as Ta-de-win (“Maiden of the Winds”), the ceremonial name she was given by the Omaha tribe of Indians in Nebraska in the summer of 1923.

Knight was born in Boston on 29 November 1879 and graduated from Everett High School. She completed a degree at Tufts College and studied French and German in Europe for two years. On her return to the U.S. she gave lectures on European travel and taught modern languages in a series of high schools, including Wayland and Peterboro in New Hampshire and Augusta in Maine.

The Boston native donned traditional dress when lecturing. Attired in full Indian regalia, she kept audiences spellbound with tales and performances of the music, legends and dances of the Omaha. Knight used her extensive knowledge of the Omaha to write a two-act play Wild Rose and Swift Arrow about a young Indian, Swift Arrow, and his love for an Indian maiden, Wild Rose. Other characters in the play include Chief Wild Eagle (“an old, wise Indian Chief”), Stalwart Joe (“a World War Veteran”), Black Hawk (“An irrepressible Indian”) and a trader and his wife.

Her repertoire of lectures, all illustrated by colored lantern slides, had such titles as “In Camp with the Omahas”, “Our New England Indians”, “The Six Nations of N. Y. State” and “The Art, Life and Lore of the American Indian”.

The Special Collections Department in the library of the University of Iowa Libraries holds various papers relating to Mabel F. Knight and her lecture career.

Sources

  • Mabel F Knight. 1952. “Ajijic – The Gem of Jalisco”, Pemex Travel Club magazine, 1 Feb 1952: 2-4
  • Mabel F Knight. 1955. “The Silkworm returns to Mexico”. Mexican American Review (Mexico City: American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico), Vol XXIII #8 (August 1955) 16, 33.

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.

Sep 052019
 

This post looks at the small number of early stereoscopic photo pairs of Chapala that have come to light. A stereoscopic pair of photos is obtained by taking the same picture twice, but from slightly different positions, akin to the two slightly different views from your left eye and right eye, respectively. When a stereo pair of photos is printed side by side and viewed through the two lenses of a stereoscope, the brain can combine the two slightly different images into a vivid 3-dimensional image, with depth and perspective.

Taking stereoscopic views was much more expensive and time-consuming than taking regular postcard photographs, so the paucity of images is no surprise. What is a surprise is the subject matter of some of the photo pairs.

I only know of two stereo pairs that definitely show Lake Chapala. The first (below) was apparently taken privately (ie for his own use, not for commercial use) by a French mining engineer, L. Legrand.

L. Legrand. 1907. Stereo pair showing Chapala.

L. Legrand. 1907. Stereo pair showing Chapala.

Dated 14 April 1907 it shows the view looking west from Playa Chacaltita, the beach originally to the east of the church in Chapala. In the distance, at the foot of Cerro San Miguel, is the distinctive holiday house of the Capetillo family.

Several small fishing boats occupy the foreground, making for a pleasing composition, similar to the bottom left photo appearing on this Juan Kaiser triple-view postcard.

Juan Kaiser postcard

The second known Chapala-related stereo pair of photos (uncredited and undated) shows a sunset as seen from the pier at El Fuerte, near Ocotlán.

Uncredited photo of Lake Chapala from Hotel Ribera near Ocotlán.

There is a a third stereo pair (below), also uncredited and undated, that purportedly has a connection to Lake Chapala. This pair, not published commercially, has a handwritten caption on the back: “Pueblo de Chapala.” It is an unusual view looking down on rustic single-story homes and buildings surrounding a crowded central square. The inclusion of an animal-drawn cart headed for the “jardín” makes for an interesting and compelling composition.

Uncredited photo from stereo pair. Location unknown.

Unfortunately, the profile of the hills in the background does not appear to match any location near the settlement of Chapala itself. It is possible that the “Pueblo de Chapala” was shorthand for “Pueblo del Lago de Chapala” and that the photo actually shows some other lakeside village. If you can suggest where this photograph was taken, then please let me know!

At least two other stereo pairs are indirectly related to Lake Chapala. Visitors traveling from Guadalajara to Lake Chapala in the early part of the 20th century often stopped off in Juanacatlán in order to admire the beautiful waterfalls there: “The Niagara of Mexico.”

The Keystone View Company, of Meadville, Pennsylvania, and St. Louis, Missouri, published two stereo pairs of the Juanacatlán Falls. The earliest, dated 1900 and copyrighted by B. L. Singley, shows a group of men and women on a ferryboat on the River Grande (Santiago) immediately above the falls. A second, later, Keystone stereo pair shows the falls themselves in all their glory. Whether or not Keystone also published a stereo pair of Lake Chapala is unknown but it would seem very likely given the company’s immense output.

Are there any more stereoscopic images of Lake Chapala out there? If so, please let me know!

Acknowledgment

My thanks to the members of the “Imágenes históricas de Guadalajara, México” Facebook group for their valuable comments on the “Pueblos de Chapala” image.

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

Aug 292019
 

James Patterson, whose books have sold more than 300,000,000 copies worldwide, incorporated a mention of Lake Chapala into his very first novel, The Thomas Berryman Affair, published in 1976, when he was 29 years of age.

James Brendan Patterson was born in Newburgh, New York, on 22 March 1947. He graduated with a B.A. in English from Manhattan College and an M.A. in English from Vanderbilt University. He was studying for a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt when he took a job in advertising. He became an advertising executive at J. Walter Thompson (and the firm’s North American CEO from 1988) and combined this career with writing until 1996 when he finally retired from advertising to focus all his energies on writing and the promotion of reading. As an ardent philanthropist, Patterson has given away millions of books to schools and the military and funded dozens of reading programs, university grants and scholarships.

The multi-award winning author has written more than 140 books, ranging from thrillers, comedy, mystery and romance to young adult fiction. Among his noteworthy series are Alex Cross, Women’s Murder Club, Maximum Ride, Daniel X, NYPD Red, Michael Bennett, Witch and Wizard, Middle School, and I Funny. Patterson has the enviable record of having written 114 novels that have appeared on the New York Times bestselling list and 67 that made it to the #1 spot. Many of his more recent books have co-authors.

The Thomas Berryman Affair, his first novel, was released in 1976 when Patterson was working for the J Walter Thompson advertising agency. It was rejected by 31 publishers before finally being accepted. In later releases, the book was renamed The Thomas Berryman Number.

Thomas Berryman is a Texan-born contract killer hiding out in Mexico. Berryman accepts an invitation to stay for a few days at an hacienda 90 miles west of Mexico City belonging to Sr. Jorge Amado Marquez. The hacienda “was situated on a deep blue lake like Italy’s Como, looking straight up at a small volcano.”

Berryman had several days of leisure:

“He’d slept in a third-floor suite equipped with a wraparound terrace some seventy-five feet over the lake. The front windows looked over at the volcano. A large back window looked out on bush country: brazil-wood and palms, streaming with parrots.

In the early morning, dark-haired thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls would be out on his terrace from sometime before sunrise. They were pretty little girls with dusty brown legs. They played silent barefoot games until Berryman came to the door leading out onto the terrace. Then, giggling, blushing, curtsying like the maids in American novels, the pubescent señoritas would bring him bananas, papaya, mangos, bacon, whitefish from Lake Chapala.

His afternoons could be peaceful sailing out and around the volcano, swimming in lake water clear enough to see bottom whenever it hadn’t rained; hunting deer with or without Marquez, who was gentleman enough to give Berryman his choice.”

As travel writer Sydney Clark wrote in the 1940s, whitefish was notoriously difficult to transport:

“A popular story relates that President Díaz once sent a tankful of live pescados blancos to King Edward VII and Edward liked them so very much, and said so, that the Mexican dictator felt obliged to send him a fresh tankful each year. It was so extraordinarily difficult to achieve this with success that it caused something like an annual crisis in Mexican foreign policy, but perhaps it did at least offer a practical and interesting problem to the dictator’s Científicos. I did not blame King Edward when I sampled this fish….”

Whitefish may have been readily available to the wealthy elite in the 1970s, when Patterson was writing The Thomas Berryman Affair, but is now rarely encountered by Lake Chapala fishermen.

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.

Aug 222019
 

French-born photographer Frédèric Faideau (1880-1954) took some remarkable photos of Lake Chapala in the early 1920s. Unlike the commercial postcard photographers and publishers who portrayed the Chapala area and its inhabitants at that time, Faideau was an unpaid amateur. It is precisely because his photographs had no commercial or monetary motivation that they are so interesting.

F. Faideau. ca 1920. Truck on road to Chapala. (Delcampe image)

F. Faideau. ca 1920. Truck on road to Chapala. (Delcampe image)

Faideau was not the only talented and skilled amateur photographer portraying the Chapala area and its inhabitants in the first half of the 20th century. For example, two local photographers, architect Guillermo de Alba and hotelier Antonio Mólgora, are known to have published a limited number of their images as postcards, with Mólgora apparently giving away or selling his own photos to guests of the various hotels he managed as a means of garnering publicity and clientele.

A very small number of fine photographers appear never to have made any attempt to formally publish their photos, and only ever shared them with family and friends. Faideau is probably the most noteworthy member of this group.

F. Faideau. ca 1920. Local children near Chapala. (Delcampe image)

F. Faideau. ca 1920. Local children near Chapala. (Delcampe image)

Faideau was born in Bouresse, Vienne, Francia in 1880. He left France in 1905 to join his cousin, Dr. Adolphe Faideau, who was living in Guadalajara. Faideau began working for Las Fábricas de Francia, and later became a representative and shareholder of the company.

In 1914, Faideau returned to Europe to serve as a nurse during the first world war and married Lucie Muzard, a girl from his home village. The couple had two children: Suzanne and Pierre. After the war ended, the family settled in Guadalajara where they lived until 1925, the year they returned permanently to Europe.

While living in Guadalajara Faideau indulged his serious passion for photography. His techniques were sound and his subject matter varied from pictures of his workplace, co-workers, family and friends to urban and rural landscapes, including some views of Chapala and its eponymous lake.

Faideau’s photos of children are especially charming and his portraits of local people are valuable ethnographic images, revealing the wide disparities in the social, economic and cultural life of the time.

The Musée de la Vallée in Barcelonnette, France, has a collection of Faideau’s photographs, donated in 2009 by Cristian and Catherine Dejoie, two of Faideau’s descendants. Faideau’s photographs were showcased in an exhibition entitled “Frédèric Faideau and Charlotte Lions-Plisson: views of Mexico” hosted by the museum from 10 August to 30 October 2011.

Main source (biographical details)

  • Sergio Valerio Ulloa. 2014. “Tras las huellas luminosas. Fotógrafos e imágenes, la construcción de la memoria de los barcelonnettesen Guadalajara, 1880-1930.” Letras Históricas (Universidad de Guadalajara), No 10 (2014).

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

Aug 152019
 

Edna Mae Stark, who was a travel author and publicity agent in Mexico and elsewhere for Grace Line, described Lake Chapala in the 1930s.

Little is known about Edna Mae Stark beyond the fact that she was born in Chicago. Her date of birth is given as 10 May 1905 on some ship manifests and as the same day in 1908 on others. She worked for Grace Line from the 1930s to the late 1950s, including stints on the Santa Lucia, Santa Paula and Santa Elena, three of the four passenger and cargo ocean liners ordered by Grace Line in 1930 from the U.S. Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Kearny, N.J. In 1957 Stark was listed as “Grace Line Cruise Director”.

Stark wrote dozens of articles for popular magazines about Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America and about the joys of cruise ship travel. In her article “Discovering Mexico”, published in Modern Mexico in July 1937, she lauded Lake Chapala eighty years ago as:

the largest lake in Mexico – 70 miles long and 20 miles wide – a gem of sapphire blue, set in a crescent of emerald green formed by surrounding hills. The climate here all year round is that of Indian summer – the surrounding fields are continuously carpeted with flowers which drench the air with perfume, and woodlands are crowded with sweetly singing birds of every hue attracted to the lake in countless thousands by the warm temperature.”

The article included an image of a “Water Boy” credited to “Grace Line Photo.” The photographer responsible for this image, a colorized postcard version of which was later published by Publicaciones Fischgrund of Mexico City, was Luis Márquez.

Water Boy, Lake Chapala. (Grace Line Photo)

Water Boy, Lake Chapala. (Grace Line Photo) The original photo is by Luis Márquez.

Stark was particularly captivated by the daily rhythm of fishing:

The lake is teeming with fish which provide the natives with food for their tables and visiting sportsmen with ample material for tall tales to recount to friends back home. The natives catch the fish in nets which they weave themselves – many of them more than three hundred feet long. These native fishermen, as they follow the day’s routine, present a series of novel sights to the visitor.

Early morning unfolds a shadow picture of men hastening to the waterfront, scrambling into their battered boats and setting out for the catch. Mid-day lights up a scene in which mounds of fish appear along the shore glinting in the sun like piles of gleaming armour, and village streets are walled with nets stretched on poles like giant cobwebs hung with dew drops. And day fades out on interesting close-ups of the villagers repairing old nets, or making new, their hands flying like shuttles over the shapeless mass of cords.”

It is unclear if Stark ever visited the town of Chapala. She considered that:

The most modern town on the shores of Lake Chapala is Ribera Castellanos, which is destined for popularity as a vacation resort. With a good hotel as headquarters, guests may fish, or hunt, swim or ride horseback, go motoring or sailing.”

Among the aspects of everyday life that she described for would-be visitors was the fact that:

Women still weave and dye the fabrics from which they make the family wardrobe – using designs and color combinations handed down from mother to daughter for countless generations. In open air kitchens the housewife rolls out cornmeal tortillas on the same type of stone metate which the Aztec women used. And corn still is as popular an item of diet as it was back in prehistoric days when the planting and harvesting were attended by elaborate and very weird celebrations through which the Indians hoped to win the goodwill of the maize goddess.”

Oh… the good old days!

Sources

  • Edna Mae Stark. “Discovering Mexico”, Modern Mexico Vol 9 #2, July 1937, 19-23.

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

Aug 082019
 

Among the many non-professional artists who found creativity while living in Ajijic, Raphael Greno deserves a special mention. Greno completed several striking woodcuts of subjects rarely depicted by other artists. How he acquired his skill is unclear but the end results are high quality and speak for themselves.

To date, four woodcuts by Greno have come to light, two on bluish paper and two on yellowish paper.

One on those on bluish paper is a portrait of American author Neill James who wrote Dust on My Heart and lived in Ajijic from the 1940s to her death there in 1994. Greno’s landscape-format woodcut shows James sitting in an equipal in front of her typewriter. The typewriter is on a rustic wooden table and James is cradling a pet parrot in her left hand. A second pet parrot is looking on from the tree branches that frame the central image.

Undated. Women washing clothes, Lake Chapala.

Raphael Greno. Undated. Women washing clothes, Lake Chapala.

This second woodcut, of similar format, shows two women kneeling as they wash clothes on the shore of the lake. Distant mountains help frame the scene.

The two woodcuts on a yellowish paper show two distinct stages in the production of silk, an industry begun by Neill James in Ajijic in the 1950s. A landscape format woodcut, entitled “Deshilando los capullos”, depicts three women unraveling the silk from the cocoons. A portrait format woodcut, “Hilando con malacate,” shows an older woman using a spindle to spin the silk thread.

Raphael Greno. Undated. Unraveling silk cocoons, Ajijic.

Raphael Greno. Undated. Unraveling silk cocoons, Ajijic.

All the woodcuts are signed “Rafael G.”, the Spanish spelling adopted by Raphael while he and his wife were living in Mexico. Although none of the woodcuts are dated, the two silk-related works must predate 1960 since they are mentioned by Neill James in a letter dated 22 May 1960. Clearly, the Grenos had personal knowledge of Ajijic well before they moved there to live in the late 1960s.

Raphael Valentino Greno was born in Lisbon, Ohio, on 30 January 1909; his father was Italian, his mother American. He died in San Bernadino, California, on 31 December 1982. By 1920 his father was out of the picture and he (and possibly his mother) were living with an aunt in Arnold, Pennsylvania. The family later moved to Los Angeles where Raphael graduated from the Manual Arts High School in 1927. He then spent four years (1927-1931) at Oregon State College in Corvallis, Oregon. During his time there, he spent part of one year as one of several “cadets” on board the President Jefferson on a round-trip from San Francisco to Yokohama, Japan.

At college, Greno was as interested in writing as in art. In 1930, he had “What Price Cleanliness”, a short piece about the interior workings of a commercial laundry, published in the State College magazine. Greno was a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

After college he returned to Los Angeles where he worked as a clerk. For the 1940 census, he gave his occupation as a writer of fiction, working from his home at 1547 N Sierra Bonita. Later that year he was working in advertising.

In 1941, he married Violet E. Evans, originally from Colorado and then resident in Hollywood, California. Violet, known as Vee in Ajijic, was born on 4 August 1917 in Joycoy, Colorado, and died 16 November 1990 in San Bernardino, California.

By 1944, the Grenos were living at 1404 N Gardner St and Greno was working as an “investigator.” Greno trained as a census crew leader for the 1950 U.S. census.

Fifteen years later, the family was living in Redlands at 525 Esther Way, where Violet (Vee) taught school. In the mid-1960s Vee taught art and crafts at Cope Junior High School in Redlands, California. She occasionally exhibited her own work, examples of which were included in two group shows at the Lyon Art Gallery in Redlands – one of works by teachers of art (March 1965) and another of flower-related art the following month. Greno also had a “modern oil” painting – “Mexican Market – accepted into the All-California Art Exhibit held in San Bernardino in March 1966.

While living in Ajijic in the mid-1970s, Vee gave regular Friday morning art classes for a couple of years at the Galería del Lago. Katie Goodridge Ingram, who was director of the Galería del Lago at the time, recalls that Vee Greno also made beautiful necklaces.

The Grenos were still living in the village in the late 1970s when the informal cultural group known as TLAC (Todas las Artes Combinadas) arranged a Self Portrait Show, held at the Posada Ajijic on 1 April 1978. Both Raphael and Vee Greno participated in the show.  Other Ajijic artists taking part in that show included included Jean Caragonne, Grace Castle, Bee Dunham, Hubert Harmon, Lisa Hilton, Lona Isoard, Sheldon Lychek, Ramiro Magaña, Jim Marthai, Robert Neathery, John Kenneth Peterson, Howard Skulnick and Robert Snodgrass.

Raphael Greno also wrote several short plays for TLAC, including Cushions, presented at a Dinner Theater event at Posada Ajijic in October 1977 and Buttons, on the bill to be performed there the following August.

After living in Mexico in the 1970s, the Grenos moved back to the U.S., to Yucaipa, a short distance from San Bernardino, California.

Raphael and Vee Greno had two children: Anthony and Eugenia. Anthony Evans Greno (1943-2009) completed a degree in Latin American History at Berkeley and a Masters in Journalism at Columbia before becoming Mexico correspondent for several newspapers including the San Francisco Examiner and the Chicago Tribune. Tony Greno’s first wife, Lucretia Leduc Zenteno, was a Mexican society news reporter from the state of Tabasco working in Mexico City. Tony’s sister, Eugenia Vee Greno (1945-2008), lived the latter stages of her life in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Rafael’s lively woodcuts of Ajijic are just one of the Grenos’ many and varied contributions to the lively artistic scene in the village in the 1960s and 1970s.

Acknowledgments

My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram and Dale Palfrey for sharing their memories and knowledge of the Grenos and to the Lake Chapala Society for allowing me access to its Neill James Archive.

Sources

  • Raphael Greno. 1930. “What Price Cleanliness”, The Manuscript, Vol 3, #2 (Winter Edition, 1930), Oregon State College, 6.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 19 July 1975; 7 February 1976; 1 May 1976, 22; 24 September 1977, 19; 1 October 1977, 7; 19 August 1978, 15.
  • Neill James. 1960. Letter, dated 22 May 1960, from Neill James to “El Director, Museo Nacional De Cosas Regional” (sic). Neill James Archive of the Lake Chapala Society.
  • Redlands Daily Facts, 5 March 1965, 3; 2 April 1965, 4; 31 January 1966, 6; 27 February 1966, 50.
  • Times-Advocate (Escondido, California) 09 Mar 1950, 8.

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

Aug 012019
 

The novel El gran Chapa, by Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán, was awarded the first ever Premio Jalisco for literature in 1950 and was published the following year. The distinguished jury that selected El Gran Chapa was comprised of Mariano Azuela, Enrique González Martínez, Agustín Yáñez, José Cornejo Franco, José R. Benítez and José Ruiz Medrano.

The only reviews in the U.S. of El Gran Chapa were by Winston Allin Reynolds, a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who subsequently wrote the introduction to the author’s second novel, Llaga viva.

In his short review of El gran Chapa for Books Abroad, Reynolds wrote that the 290-page “prize-winning novel departs from the traditional pattern in many respects.” The emphasis lay “on deep psychological probing into the emotional drives of the Mexican.” Reynolds argued that it was well constructed artistically and imprisoned “the reader in the characters’ awful little world of violence and ‘love-hatred.'”

Cover-El-Gran-Chapo

In a lengthier and more analytical review in Spanish for Revista Iberoamericana, Reynolds explained that the book was a significant work of provincial fiction because its “talented author” had resisted the allure of moving to the capital city, preferring “the quiet and anonymous life of his native region,” where he could live and work “away from ambition.”

As Reynolds pointed out, provincial fiction is too-often regarded as somehow inherently inferior to the works produced in a country’s capital city. Capital cities were thought to offer a “propitious and stimulating environment for artistic creation” and far more “pecuniary and professional opportunities”.

However, Reynolds argued that El gran Chapa was not a traditional regionalist novel, where the emphasis was on a solid plot and realistic depiction of life, but was more modernist. The book was an artistic creation whose “pages that vibrate with emotive power” sought to capture the “spiritual and sensitive depth” of the Mexican.

Reynolds summarized the plot:
– “A young Indian seminarist returns to his people in the Chapala Lake region, which groans under the most brutal caciquismo. This deep-rooted social disease is the heritage of the despotic pre-Cortesian chieftain Chapa, ruler of the ancient kingdom called Chapalac. The seminarist is gradually and painfully drawn back into the environment, and after a series of emotional crises his mystical character finds an outlet in a wild dream of liberating his race from themselves and uniting them in a movement of great brotherly love. The drama is climaxed by his inevitable destruction at the hands of his own people, still incapable of throwing off their inherent barbarism.”

The book opens with about a dozen people on horseback, including the seminarian, riding down from the hills towards Chapala:

Now the views rolled down the slopes until they bounced off the bottom of the ravines divided into geometric cultivated plots. The beasts trampled their hooves in the stony path that widened with premeditated plan to allow for the wheels of carts and cars. This road was a novelty that contrasted with the old anonymous tracks that the muleteers had made and it was like the door that Chapala opened to the world so that tourists and merchants began to plague its beach, its streets, its indigenous heart. A rough route, but many automobiles (small Fords) had already begun a flow of traffic that covered the distance at incredible speeds (from twenty to thirty kilometers an hour) to bring the bourgeois and foreigners who misused the near-virginity of the region.” [9-10]

This adept paragraph not only provides a setting for the action but sets up one of the central conflicts of the novel, the differences between old ways and new. It more than hints at class differences, environmental changes and the adverse impacts of tourism.

In terms of plot, the seminarian eventually “begins to fall under the mysterious influence of the great gods that inhabit the lake” and decides that the only way forward from his “tremendous spiritual chaos” is to concoct a plan to free his people. In Reynolds’ words, “[He] believes himself called by divine inspiration to unite the fishermen in a great movement of brotherly love. He will be their redeemer and will save them, despite their own resistance.” Unfortunately, his plan has an air of doomed inevitability about it. When it fails, “the seminarian, raptured by violent psychological currents in a state of perpetual crisis, ends up being cruelly destroyed by his own people.”

Reynolds felt that the novel “affords a valuable insight into the Mexican’s enigmatic reaction to life, subjectively interpreted by the author’s own intensity of feeling and artistic skill” and that El gran Chapa was “a novel that although it is unlikely to acquire great renown, will remain as an interesting effort, of great literary quality. Its pages are a magnificent example of what an author from the provinces can achieve.”

I would go significantly further than Reynolds in applauding the genius of this book, which is remarkable for its psychological insights into the mixed feelings of Lake Chapala’s indigenous residents as they responded to the massive influx of outsiders, tourists and foreigners during the 20th century.

It is both ironic and tragic that this beautifully-crafted novel, El gran Chapa, with its perceptive examination of how the area’s indigenous people perceived outsiders and foreigners, is no longer in print and no longer readily available.

Source

  • Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán. 1951. El gran Chapa. Guadalajara: Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco. (Translations by TB; all rights reserved)
  • Winston A. Reynolds. 1951. “Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán. El Gran Chapa” (review), in Revista Iberoamericana, Vol. XVII, Núm. 33, Julio 1951, 121-124. (Translations by TB)
  • Winston A. Reynolds. 1952. “Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán. El Gran Chapa” (review), Books Abroad, v 26, #2 (Spring 1952), 161.

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

Jul 252019
 

Lucius Seymour Bigelow Jr. (1900-1978), an artist known for his fine watercolors, spent part of his three years roaming Mexico in the 1960s at Lake Chapala. While in Mexico, he held solo exhibitions at the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City and at the Casa de Cultura in Guadalajara, which included paintings of Lake Chapala.

Remarkably, about the only visual evidence related to Bigelow, aside from the press photo reproduced in this post, is a postcard of Chapala sent by his wife in 1967 to a close friend, Mrs Louise Hallowell, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Hallowell was the daughter of pioneer photographer Joseph E. Stimson, and helped a few years later to ensure that Cheyenne’s Atlas Theatre was included on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The postcard is a typical view of the beach just west of the pier, looking toward Ajijic. The photograph was taken by Manuel Garay and the card was published in Mexico City by Ediciones FEMA.

Postcard of Lake Chapala sent by Bigelow's wife (front)

Postcard of Lake Chapala sent by Bigelow’s wife in 1967

Bigelow’s wife, Hermine, wrote on the card that, “This has been such a busy winter in Mexico. Two big one man shows for Seymour, Mexico City and Guadalajara and another in May (22-29) perhaps at the Univ. of Conn[ecticut].” She apologized that they would be unable to visit Cheyenne in the near future and hoped that Hallowell could meet them in Europe the following winter.

Bigelow was born on 11 October 1900 in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania into a well-to-do New England family. His father, Seymour Bigelow, had close links to Mexico that dated back to well before the Revolution (1910-1920). He had toured Mexico in 1901 following a mining conference. When giving a lecture in the Mansfield Men’s Club in Connecticut in 1921, he was described as having had “unusual opportunities of acquaintance with the president of the republic and other high officials.”

Lucius Seymour Bigelow Jr. studied art on a scholarship at Albright Art Gallery School in Buffalo, New York, and then began classes at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts in 1919 where he studied under Fred Wagner (an early impressionist) and Henry McCarter. He continued to study there there at least until July 1920. hat year Bigelow showed “half a dozen pictures of the modern type” at the annual thumb-box exhibition of the Buffalo Society of Artists at Albright Art Gallery.

Bigelow also studied at the Art Students League in New York (1921-22) under the direction of John French Sloan, American painter Robert Henri and Canadian-American artist Boardman Robinson and at the Yale School of Fine Arts.

On 19 December 1925, Bigelow married Hermine von Rarrell (1900-2000). Their only son, Lucius Storrs Bigelow, was born 26 Sept 1926 in Buffalo, New York.

The family traveled in Europe in the early 1930s. According to press interviews Bigelow gave later, this was when he decided to focus exclusively on watercolor painting. The Bigelows returned from Europe in August 1934, returning to New York on 9 August from Trieste, Italy.

When Bigelow lectured about modern art to the Pencraft literary society of the University of Connecticut in March 1935, he illustrated the lecture with examples of his own watercolors, arguing that “the best art must necessarily be impressionistic.” The lecture was accompanied by an exhibition of his watercolors. This exhibition was one of several solo exhibitions he held in the years following his trip to Europe and this particular collection had previously been shown in Baltimore, where a reviewer praised his work: “Mr Bigelow is a master of color, his work possesses a quality rarely encountered in watercolors.”

In July 1937, he took part in a group show at the Central Connecticut Art Gallery. By this time the Bigelows were dividing their time between their main home in Mansfield Center, Connecticut, and a summer residence in Sebasco Estates, Maine. (I am still hoping to find more details of his show at the Maine Art Gallery.)

Unfortunately, art alone could not support his family, so Bigelow earned his living working as a draftsman, doing technical plans and drawings, and later in engineering.

In 1942, when he was drafted into the U.S. armed forces, Bigelow – 5′ 11″ tall with blue eyes and brown hair – gave his last residence as Conneaut Lake in Pennsylvania, and said he worked for Frazier Bruce Co.

Seymour Bigelow continued to paint and hold solo shows during the 1950s. It is unclear when he first traveled to Mexico to paint. However, his one-person show of watercolors at Community House, Storrs, Connecticut, in 1952 included “scenes from Mexico, New Mexico, Maine and a few from Europe.” The following year he held a solo show of watercolors at the Present Day Club, Princeton, New Jersey, and he had another show at the University of Connecticut in 1958.

Bigelow wrote to the New York Times on 30 August 1959 to say he was in full agreement with the paper’s art editor’s suggestion that galleries and museums be encouraged to sell off old paintings that had been donated to them year before in order to make space for newer works.

Jay Stokes (left) and Seymour Bigelow. Credit: The Palm Beach Post, 2 April 1968.

Jay Stokes (left) and Seymour Bigelow. Credit: The Palm Beach Post, 2 April 1968.

Shortly after Bigelow retired to dedicate himself full-time to his painting, he and his wife spent most of three years (1964-67) roaming around Mexico. At the end of 1966 or early 1967, Bigelow held a solo show of his watercolor paintings at the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City. Shortly afterwards, he and his wife stayed for several weeks at the Hotel Chapala Haciendas. While more details of his time in Mexico have proved elusive, it was in March 1967 that his one person show opened at the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara, an exhibition that featured more than 30 watercolors of Mexican scenes, including paintings of Chapala, Ajijic, Guadalajara, Manzanillo, Cuautla, Cuyutlan and Oaxtepec.

In 1968, Bigelow was back in the U.S. and held a showing of some of his work in Baltimore, followed by a joint show with Jay Stokes at the home of Mr and Mrs Robert Plimpton in Palau Beach Ile, Singer Island, Florida.

Examples of Bigelow’s work can be seen in the collections of the Patten Free Library, Bath, Maine; the Instituto Cultural Hispano-Mexicano in Mexico City; and La Casa de la Cultura Jaliciense in Guadalajara.

Bigelow died in Windham, Connecticut, on 21 March 1978.

Sources

  • Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, New York), 21 Dec 1919, 7.
  • Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express (Buffalo, New York), 4 Jun 1919, 9.
  • The Buffalo Times, 17 Jan 1920, 5; 16 Dec 1925, 24.
  • The Daily Campus (University of Connecticut), Volume XXI, No 22 (26 March 1935), 2; Volume CXII, No 45 (20 November 1958), 3.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 11 Mar 1967.
  • Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 27 Jul 1937, 9; 2 May 1952, 33; 31 Oct 1953, 4.
  • New York Times, Letter to the editor. 30 August 1959, X-10.
  • Norwich Bulletin, 12 Jul 1920, 2; 27 Aug 1921, 7.
  • The Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach, Florida, 2 April 1968, 9.

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

Jul 182019
 

Martín Casillas de Alba‘s second novel, Las batallas del general, was published in 2002 as the second in a proposed trilogy about Lake Chapala. The first novel in the series was Confesiones de Maclovia (1995), the third novel remains unpublished.

Inspired by the life of General Ramón Corona, born near Tuxcueca on the southern shore of the lake, Casillas examines Corona’s actions, motives and achievements as he moved from the humble family into which he was born into the military and political elite.

Ramón Corona Madrigal (1837-1889) was born on 18 October 1837 in Puruagua, a small settlement east of Tuxcueca, Jalisco. Corona, a liberal, joined the army and fought on the winning side against the conservatives during the War of Reform (1857-1861). During the Second French intervention (1861-1867), Corona commanded the 8000-strong, pro-Republic, Army of the west, which played an important part in finally defeating the French. When Maximilian finally surrendered in May 1867, he did so to Corona, formally handing over his sword.

At about this time, Corona met and married Mary Anne McEntee. McEntee, born in New York in 1844 to Irish immigrants, had been previously married to a much older wealthy Californian and was a woman of independent means. Corona and his wife had seven children.

Even after Maximilian’s execution in 1867 and the expulsion of French troops, guerilla warfare continued in the west with opportunist Manuel Lozada, the “Tiger of Álica,” fighting to gain territorial control over the region west of Guadalajara. Corona and Lozada battled each other for months before Corona finally defeated Lozada at the bloody Battle of La Mojonera (near Guadalajara) on 28 January 1873. More than 3000 of Lozada’s men died on the battlefield that day; the rest fled for the hills. Lozada was eventually captured and executed a few months later.

The following year, President Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada appointed Corona as the head of Mexico’s diplomatic mission to Spain. Corona and his wife remained in Madrid for a decade before returning to Guadalajara.

In 1887, Corona was elected governor of the state of Jalisco, on a progressive, modernist agenda. During his time in office, prominent local businessmen funded the opening of a state pawn shop (Monte de Piedad), a Chamber of Commerce was established and a system of state (as opposed to municipal) primary schools put in place. Corona presided over the celebrations when the railroad finally reached Guadalajara for the first time in 1888. Corona’s governorship came to an abrupt end when he was attacked in the street on 10 November 1889 by mentally-unstable Primitivo Ron. Corona died the following day.

In Casillas’ novel, José María Reyes, a modern-day writer, has decided to make General Ramón Corona the subject of his next historical novel. Reyes sets out from Mexico City to spend some time in Guadalajara, Lake Chapala and surrounding places to follow in Corona’s footsteps and try to get himself inside the general’s head.

By chance, while admiring the Orozco frescoes in the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, Reyes bumps into Alma Mahler. He is enchanted, immediately gives her a French nickname, Peau Douce (“soft skin”), and they quickly become friends and, not long afterwards – at La Nueva Posada in Ajijic – lovers.

[Reyes] knew that Chapala inevitably produces the desired effect: on the shore, on the edge of the lake, nobody knows why, but women – and men as well – let themselves be more easily seduced. No one knows why, but that is what happens.”

The novel interweaves the love story of Reyes and Mahler with the lives of Ramón Corona and his American wife with great skill and dexterity, as the pairs of protagonists fight their (very varied) battles. Certain parallels can be drawn between the two couples, including their move from Mexico to Spain and back.

There are some excellent descriptive passages about Lake Chapala and Ramón Corona’s life story is told with impressive historical accuracy. Readers who lack any background in Mexican history need not worry. The motives, actions and events described in this book stay close to the established historical versions of what transpired.

The links between this novel and Confesiones de Maclovia (the first volume in the intended trilogy) are readily apparent. Both novels have many connections to Lake Chapala. In addition, in both books it becomes evident that Maclovia was something of a clairvoyant. She reads tarot cards for Ramón Corona in Guadalajara at a fair to benefit the orphans of the Hospicio Cabañas (now the Instituto Cultural Cabañas) and foretells that he will be the subject of treachery. Not long afterwards, Primitivo Ron attacks and fatally wounds the general as he is on his way to the theater.

One trivial anomaly between the books is that the date of the tarot card reading is given as August 1889 in Confesiones de Maclovia and as one month later in Las batallas del general.

This well-produced book is an educational, entertaining and thought-provoking read.

Sources

  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 1995. Confesiones de Maclovia. Mexico City: Ediciones del Equilibrista.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 2002. Las batallas del general. Mexico City: Editorial Planeta.

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 5:31 am  Tagged with:
Jul 112019
 

Lake Chapala – the lake itself – played an important bit part in the filming of the 1965 movie In Harm’s Way. The movie, an epic Panavision war film, was John Wayne’s last black-and-white film. The movie’s cast, besides John Wayne, included Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Henry Fonda, Stanley Holloway and Larry Hagman, among many others.

The screenplay by Wendell Mayes and based on the 1962 novel Harm’s Way, by James Bassett, looks at the lives of several US Navy officers in Hawaii, and their wives and lovers, during the first year of U.S. involvement in the second world war.

In October 1964, the movie’s producer-director, Otto Preminger, and several members of the film crew visited Lake Chapala to film some special effects. They stayed at what was then the Holiday Inn in Chula Vista. A brief note about their stay, in the Guadalajara Reporter, claimed that the crew was “filming explosions in the lake for the movie” and that the explosions were of compressed air only and would reportedly would not harm local wildlife.

Among the youthful audience watching the crew filming of In Harm’s Way were the children of Marcella Crump, a keen amateur photographer. Dennis recently wrote about his memories of watching the filming in a catchily-titled piece, “The Time the U.S. Navy Came to Lake Chapala” published in El Ojo del Lago. He recalled “when a US Navy battleship, destroyer, and submarine appeared on Lake Chapala to engage in battles against the Japanese.” The vessels were “perfect scaled down Navy vessels… complete with their big guns firing heavy projectiles, destroyer firing its guns… and the submarine cruising in stealth mode.”

As Dennis explains, Lake Chapala was the perfect setting for small models to be filmed in a variety of wave heights. They could appear to be on the calmest of waters or fighting against the fierce waves of Pacific storms.

His brother, Raymond, remembers how about six replicas of PT (patrol torpedo) boats, each about 8 feet long and remote controlled, were “hand crafted right there on the beach under the umbrellas.” He vividly recalls the small explosions generated during the filming to simulate bombs hitting the water.

Sources:

  • Dennis Crump. 2019. “The Time the U.S. Navy Came to Lake Chapala.”. El Ojo del Lago, May 2019, 30.
  • Raymond Crump, personal communication.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 22 October 1964

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 5:22 am  Tagged with:
Jul 042019
 

Confesiones de Maclovia, Martín Casillas de Alba‘s first novel, was inspired by the life of his grandmother who lived much of her adult life in Chapala, including several years in the Hotel Nido, prior to her death in October 1933.

Some seventy years later, the novel’s author-narrator travels to Chapala in the hopes of unraveling more about the life of his long-departed grandmother. In the process he uncovers a cache of documents in a storage room at the Hotel Nido. It includes three notebooks recording the details of an extended series of interviews Maclovia (“Cova”) had given to Juan Bautista (who was planning to write a book about her) in the period February-September 1933, her last months before he accompanied her to Mexico City where she died. The majority of the novel is based on these fictional notebooks.

There are many poignant descriptions of Chapala as it used to be, and of significant events in Cova’s life. Cova, born in Tapalpa in 1859, grew up in a distinguished Guadalajara family, the Cañedos, and flitted between the family’s town house in the center of Guadalajara and their hacienda, the Hacienda El Cabezón, near Ameca.

At the time Cova was growing up in Guadalajara the city was developing a vibrant cultural scene. Among the leaders of the artistic and literary circles in which Cova moved was Brazilian violinist and painter Felix Bernadelli (1862-1908). Prior to the Mexican Revolution, with Bernardelli leading the way, Guadalajara was Mexico’s artistic frontier, significantly ahead of Mexico City in terms of experimentation and creativity, leading contemporary Mexican writer and diplomat Eduardo Gibbon to christen the city the “Florence of Mexico”.

Other members of the intellectual and artist elite in Guadalajara at the time included Gerardo Murillo (better known as Dr. Atl), Roberto Montenegro, Luis de la Torre, Jorge Enciso, Rafael Ponce de León and José María Lupercio, who became one of Mexico’s best-known photographers.

Poet José Juan Tablada visited Guadalajara in 1894. He stayed initially at the Hotel Francés before being invited to stay at the home of Rafael de Alba, a brother of Guillermo de Alba (who later married Cova). When Cova first met Tablada, she was struck by his eccentricity. Tablada, for his part, was awe struck by her beauty. (Tablada, incidentally, returned many times to Jalisco and some years later, in 1914, lamented the ruination of Chapala in an opinion piece in El Mundo Ilustrado.)

Guillermo de Alba, short, slim and mustachioed, had also been captivated by Cova’s beauty. When he moved to Chicago to advance his knowledge of architecture under the leading lights of the Chicago School, such as Frank Sullivan, he began a lengthy correspondence with Cova. By the time he returned to Mexico in about 1897, he had already proposed marriage to her, and she had accepted.

The timeline in the novel at this point appears to conflict with the known historical time frame for when de Alba designed and built the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala. The hotel opened in 1898; it was therefore presumably designed and built no later than 1896-1897. Casillas’ fictional version has de Alba still living in Chicago in 1897. In the novel, Cova recalls how she had finally said “yes” in 1899, and that, at that time, Guillermo “still had to return to Chicago to complete his career.”

Guillermo and Cova married in Chapala on 27 January 1900; she was 40 years old at the time, he was 25. The couple’s only daughter, Guillermina {“Mina”} de Alba y Cañedo (Martín Casillas’ mother), was born in Guadalajara on 9 January 1902.

Guillermo and Cova were married for more than thirty years. Guillermo built a modest but architecturally stunning family home, Mi Pullman, in the heart of Chapala. The housewarming was held in 1906. The building, lovingly and faithfully restored a century later by an English owner, remains an important part of the town’s cultural heritage. (The story of the restoration is told in detail on MexConnect.com).

Guillermo’s final building project was his crowning achievement as an architect. The imposing, impressive Chapala Railroad Station (now the Centro Cultural González Gallo) opened in 1920 but proved to be Guillermo’s downfall. His debts were mounting and his sources of income were drying up.

Guillermo and Cova lived their final decade far apart: Guillermo sold the family home in Chapala in 1924 and moved to Mexico City in 1926 leaving Cova and their daughter in Chapala. Cova tried to make ends meet by turning Villa Guillermina, the family’s Guadalajara residence, into a boarding house but ended up living the final years of her life in the Hotel Nido. She died in Mexico City (where she had gone to seek medical treatment) in 1933, only a few months after her daughter, Mina, had married José Luis Casillas y Cruz in Chapala.

Confesiones de Maclovia is a fascinating read on several levels. It includes some noteworthy descriptive passages relating to life in Chapala at the start of the 20th century. The novel’s exploration of the possible motives behind the slow breakdown of their relationship, Cova’s withdrawal from her previously active social life towards an almost reclusive existence in the Hotel Nido, and of the reasons why Guillermo de Alba fled for Mexico City, are all especially interesting and thought-provoking. They hold messages that are timeless and all too often ignored.

Sources

  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 1994. La Villa de Chapala (1895-1933). Mexico City: Banca Promex; Martín Casillas de Alba, 2004. ¡Salvemos a Chapala! Mexico City: Editorial Diana.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 1995. Confesiones de Maclovia. Mexico City: Ediciones del Equilibrista.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 2002. Las batallas del general. Mexico City: Editorial Planeta.
  • José Juan Tablada. 1914. “La ruina de Chapala”. El Mundo Ilustrado, 8 March 1914, 6.

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 5:31 am  Tagged with:
Jun 272019
 

The Clique Ajijic was a group of eight varied and talented artists who formed a loosely-organized collective for three or four years in the mid-1970s. One of the members, Synnove Pettersen, recalls that “We never painted together as a group, just had shows.” Another member, the late Tom Faloon, once commented to me that Kate Karns, the wife of Todd Karns, sometimes posed for the artists in Clique Ajijic.

Image courtesy of Gail Michel.

The eight artists in the Clique Ajijic were (below, left to right): Sidney SchwartzmanAdolfo Riestra, Gail Michel (aka Gail Michaels), Hubert Harmon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Tom FaloonTodd (“Rocky”) Karns, and John Peterson (the only member of Clique Ajijic who had been a member of the earlier Grupo 68).

Pettersen-Synnove-Clique-Ajijic-photo-ca-1974

See also: Photo of Clique Ajijic and friends at Galería OM, 24 October 1975.

The group’s first shows were organized by Katie Goodridge Ingram who ran the Galería del Lago art gallery, located at that time on the main highway in Ajijic.  The shows of Clique Ajijic included:

1975

  • Chapala: Villa Monte Carlo, opened 16 March 1975
  • Ajijic: Galería del Lago (Colón #6, Ajijic), 15 August 1975
  • Ajijic: Hotel Camino Real, 13-16 September 1975
  • Guadalajara: Galería OM, 24 October 1975
  • Manzanillo: Club Santiago, 29 October 1975

1976

  • Cuernavaca: Akari Gallery,  7 February 1976
  • Guadalajara: American Society of Jalisco, 21 February 1976
  • Ajijic: El Angel boutique, 10 June 1976 (dinner and studio sale)

By the end of the year, two of the original 8 artists of Clique Ajijic had left the village – Pettersen to the U.S. and Riestra to Tepoztlán (Morelos) – and the remaining members had added Richard Frush to their number. David Olof is also mentioned in one list of artists at the following show:

  • Ajijic: The Old Gold Mill, 15 December 1976 (a wine and cheese ($50 pesos a person) to benefit “Deaf Children of Ajijic”).
Image courtesy of Gail Michel

Image courtesy of Gail Michel

1977

  • Ajijic: Posada Ajijic, February/March 1977 (exhibition, auction, charity fundraiser, precise date unknown)
  • Ajijic: Posada Ajijic, 18 December 1977

The Clique Ajijic auction of artwork held at Posada Ajijic in February 1977 included works by Richard Frush, Tod Karns, John Peterson, Gail Michel and Hubert Harmon raised $24,000 pesos, “of which 10% went to help children in treatment and training at the Hearing Improvement Center in Jocotepec.” The auctioneer was popular Posada Ajijic hotelier Morley Eager, who gave 10% of all the pesos paid for drinks to the same cause.

In December 1977, another art exhibit of Clique Ajijic work, which proved to be the final throw of the dice for the group, was presented at the Posada Ajijic. The advert for this exhibit stated that the Clique had 9 members, presumably still including Pettersen and Riestro who had left the previous year.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published on 4 May 2015.

Credits

  • My sincere thanks to Synnove Pettersen (via email), Tom Faloon (interviewed in Ajijic in February 2014), Katie Goodridge Ingram (emails and telephone), and Gail Michel and her daughter Angelina Guzmán (emails and telephone) for generously sharing their knowledge and memories of Clique Ajijic.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter, 19 Feb 1977; 5 March 1977, 10 December 1977
  • Martha Fregoso. 1975. “‘La Galería OM’ y el Buen Gusto en Exposiciones, Esta vez Ocho Pintores de Ajijic.” El Diario de Guadalajara, 24 Oct 1975.
  • Mexico City News: 13 Feb 1977.

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

Jun 202019
 

Martín Casillas de Alba, whose published works range from journalism and non-fiction to Shakespearean analysis, has published several Spanish language books related to Chapala, including two outstanding full-length novels. His family has lengthy and important connections to Chapala.

His grandfather was the architect Guillermo de Alba (1874-1935). Between 1895 and 1920, de Alba designed numerous fine buildings in Chapala, including the Hotel Arzapalo, the town’s first modern hotel, which opened its doors in 1898, a second hotel, the Palmera (part of which is now the Presidencia Municipal) in 1907, several private residences, and the iconic Chapala Railroad Station (now the Instituto Cultural González Gallo), completed in 1920. He also completed numerous commissions in Guadalajara, including the city’s first high-rise hotel, the Hotel Fenix (1912), and several fine homes for the city’s elite.

In 1900, Guillermo de Alba married Maclovia (“Cova”) Cañedo y González Hermosillo. The couple’s only daughter, Guillermina (“Mina”) de Alba y Cañedo (Martín Casillas’ mother), was born in Guadalajara on 9 January 1902. She married José Luis Casillas y Cruz in Chapala in 1933. Their civil ceremony was held aboard a boat, Bremen, in the middle of the lake.

Mina and José Luis had three children, including architect Andrés Casillas de Alba (who clearly inherited his grandfather’s genes and won the Premio Jalisco Arquitectura, 2017) and author and publisher Martín Luis Casillas de Alba, who was born in Mexico City in 1941.

Martín Casillas de Alba. Credit: El Informador.

Martín Casillas completed his high school education in Colegio Cervantes Costa Rica (despite its name, a Marist school in Guadalajara) and then studied chemical engineering at ITESO, the Jesuit university in Guadalajara. He admitted later in life that he had chosen the wrong subject for his degree and should have chosen to study English literature. He graduated in 1963 and then took postgraduate courses in applied mathematics at the University of Freiburg, Germany (1964-65).

After returning to Mexico he worked for IBM de México for 12 years as head of public relations and assistant to the company’s president. In 1974, Casillas was the founding editor of Nonotza, the in-house magazine of IBM de México. Nonotza, published until 1994, was a quarterly magazine disseminating the latest scientific, technological and cultural developments. Casillas relinquished his editorship in 1976 to pursue other interests.

In 1976, Casillas took a storytelling workshop with innovative Guatemalan writer Augusto Monterroso (1921-2003) who was born in Honduras but lived most of his adult life in exile in Mexico City.

Casillas returned to the world of scientific publishing in 1978 when he was made editorial director for Ciencia y Desarrollo, the magazine of Conacyt, the National Science and Technology Council, a post he retained until 1980.

In 1980, Casillas founded his own publishing company, Martín Casillas Editores. Within the next five years he published more than 100 titles of Mexican literature. In 1986, he began publishing La Plaza and El Inversionista. La Plaza, published in Guadalajara, was a literary and cultural monthly subtitled “Crónicas de la Vida Cultural de Guadalajara.” One of the many fascinating articles in this sadly short-lived publication was a transcription by Martín Casillas of his mother’s account of her own wedding. In the previous issue, Casillas’ sister, Mina Casillas, had reviewed the Posada Ajijic.

El Inversionista was a Mexico City business publication. In 1988, Casillas was one of the founders of the national financial daily El Economista; he began a regular column, “Juego de espejos”, and remained the paper’s managing editor until May 1994.

In the next decade he focused on writing several books, starting with La Villa de Chapala (1895-1933), published in 1994, a non-fiction account of some of the personalities and stories associated with Chapala’s transformation into a tourist destination. Much of the same material was incorporated into his later work, ¡Salvemos a Chapala! (2004).

In 1995 he published his first novel, Confesiones de Maclovia (Confessions of Maclovia). Inspired by the life of his grandmother, Cova, this was planned as the first book in a trilogy related to Lake Chapala. The second volume in the proposed trilogy was released in 2002. In Las batallas del general, Casillas spins a fictionalized account of the life, loves and actions of General Ramón Corona. Corona was born in Puruagua, near Tuxcueca on the south shore of the lake, and was governor of the state of Jalisco at the time of his assassination in 1889. The final volume in the trilogy, which was never published, was provisionally entitled Los invitados de honor and was to be based on the events surrounding the gala opening of the Chapala railroad station (designed by the author’s grandfather) on 8 April 1920.

In 2008, after taking a workshop in England with Richard Olivier, the son of famous British actor Sir Laurence Olivier, about Transformational Leadership (based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest), Casillas began teaching at ITAM (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México), a private university with an outstanding business school and widely regarded as one of Mexico’s top “think tanks”. Casillas taught an Executive Development course there about leadership, based on lessons from Shakespeare. He has since given dozens of similar courses, workshops and lectures looking at the leadership lessons that can be learned from studying works such as Henry V, The Tempest and Julius Caesar. Casillas has also written, edited and published more than 40 works on Shakespeare and his plays.

In 2015, the Fondo de Cultura Económica (FCE), a Spanish language non-profit publishing group partly funded by the Mexican government, appointed Casillas as the head of its subsidiary in Spain.

Martín Casillas de Alba’s autobiographical Fe de erratas en la vida de un editor was published in 2017.

We will take a closer look, in later posts, at the two Spanish language novels written by Martín Casillas de Alba that are related to Lake Chapala.

Sources

  • Marcela Alejandra Duharte Solís. 2017. “Divulgación y tecnología en México: la revista Nonotza” in Reflexiones Marginales, Año 6, #41 (Oct-Nov 2017).
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 1994. La Villa de Chapala (1895-1933). Mexico City: Banca Promex; Martín Casillas de Alba, 2004. ¡Salvemos a Chapala! Mexico City: Editorial Diana.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 1995. Confesiones de Maclovia. Mexico City: Ediciones del Equilibrista.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 2002. Las batallas del general. Mexico City: Editorial Planeta.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 2017. Fe de erratas en la vida de un editor (Mexico City: Bonilla Artigas Editores).

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 132019
 

Pioneering lithographer Richard Frush (1951-2008) painted in Ajijic in the 1970s.

Richard Wayne Frush, associated with Tucson, Arizona, and Taos, New Mexico, was born in Colorado on 17 February 1951. His parents, Donald W. and Virginia Frush, owned and operated the Trinidad Coca-Cola Bottling Company in that state for many years. Richard was one of four siblings.

Frush studied at the College of Santa Fe and graduated in Fine Arts from the University of New Mexico in 1974 before traveling to Madrid, Spain, to study at the University of Madrid. While in Madrid, he was chosen to paint a mural at the university and traveled extensively in Europe.

Richard Frush. 1973. Untitled. Limited edition, 3/12.

Richard Frush. 1973. Untitled. Limited edition, 3/12. (EBay)

He returned to North America in about 1976. With Peter Holmes, a fellow student who had also taken classes at the University of New Mexico’s Tamarind Institute, Frush established the Arizona Origins Press in Tubac, Arizona, that year. One of their first commissions came from famous Taos-based Native American Navajo artist Rudolph Carl Gorman (1931-2005). About five years later, Frush established Origins Press Taos, a branch of the Tubac operation, better positioned to serve the growing demand from artists there. Frush’s partner in the Taos branch was Dave Trujillo.

Frush spent much of the time between establishing Arizona Origins Press and Origins Press Taos in Mexico, where he developed a love for Spanish and Mexican culture that had a strong influence on his later artwork.

Richard Wayne Frush (Photo from Ancestry.com)

Richard Wayne Frush (Photo from Ancestry.com)

Frush first exhibited in Mexico in July 1976 when Katie Goodridge Ingram’s Galeria del Lago sponsored a two person show – of works by Frush and native Ajijic artist Antonio López Vega – at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

Later that year, Ingram organized a group show, also featuring “fantastic realism” works by Frush in Puerto Vallarta. That show, for the “Jalisco Department of Bellas Artes and Tourism,” was held at the resort city’s Plaza de la Hermandad (IMPI building) and ran from 4-21 December. Other exhibitors in the group show included Jean Caragonne; Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Richard Frush; Hubert Harmon; Rocky Karns; Jim Marthai; Gail Michel; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; Georg Rauch; and Sylvia Salmi.

Richard Frush. 1974. Untitled. Limited edition, 8/12.

Richard Frush. 1974. Untitled. Limited edition, 8/12. (EBay)

In 1977, Frush joined Clique Ajijic, a loose cooperative of artists that had begun exhibiting together in 1975. The original eight artists comprising Clique Ajijic were Sidney SchwartzmanAdolfo Riestra, Gail Michel (aka Gail Michaels), Hubert Harmon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Tom FaloonTodd (“Rocky”) Karns, and John Peterson. .

By 1977, two of the original members of Clique Ajijic had left: the previous year, Petterson had returned to the U.S. and Riestra left Ajijic for Tepoztlán (Morelos). Faloon and Schwartzman were still in Ajijic but are not listed as exhibiting in the Clique Ajijic auction of artwork that was held at Posada Ajijic in February 1977.

At the auction, sales of works by Richard Frush, Tod Karns, John Peterson, Gail Michel and Hubert Harmon raised $24,000 pesos, “of which 10% went to help children in treatment and training at the Hearing Improvement Center in Jocotepec.” The auctioneer was popular Posada Ajijic hotelier Morley Eager, who gave 10% of all the pesos paid for drinks to the same cause.

In December 1977, another art exhibit of Clique Ajijic work was presented at the Posada Ajijic. The advert for this exhibit stated that the Clique had 9 members, presumably still including Pettersen and Riestro who had left a year earlier.

After Ajijic, Frush returned to the U.S. where he established Origins Press Taos in about 1981. An account of the new lithography operation in the local press reported that, “To Frush lithography is the only way to go because of its versatility. Plates of limestone, marble or aluminum impart various textures to the work, while grease crayon or liquid emulsion allow a wide range of technique, from sharp accents to flat washes. The desired picture can be drawn or sprayed on with an air brush.”

In the early 1990s, Frush held a series of showings of his work at the Impressions II Gallery in Tucson, Arizona. A solo show “celebrating the Mexican heritage of the southwest in a muralist style filled with personal imagery by Richard Frush” opened there in September 1990. Frush’s work was included in a group show held in December 1992 at the gallery, a show that also featuring works by Jean Richardson, Richard Frush, Angus MacPherson, Kurt Tallis, A.C. Gorman and Steve Bergthold. In April 1993, Frush and Carol Steffgen held a two-person show of their oils and acrylics at the gallery,

Frush died in Tucson on 7 January 2008.

If you have a painting or lithograph by Richard Frush, please get in touch! I’d  love to see more images of his work.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Jeff Snow for bringing to my attention the listing on eBay in July 2019 of several works by Richard Frush.

Sources

  • Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona): 7 Sep 1990 54; 4 Dec 1992, 66; 9 Apr 1993, 88.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 24 July 1976, 20; 19 Feb 1977; 18; 5 March 1977, 17; 10 Dec 1977, 19.
  • The Taos News (Taos, New Mexico), 5 Mar 1981, 20.
  • Trinidad Times Independent (Colorado). 2008. Richard Frush (Obituary) 10 January 2008.

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 062019
 

Juan Pablo Guzmán, a renowned Guadalajara physician, wrote several books, including a novel – El gran Chapa – set at Lake Chapala. We will take a closer look at the novel, which won the inaugural Premio Jalisco for literature in 1950, and offers valuable insights into lakeside communities and culture, in a separate post.

In this post, we consider the life and work of its author, Juan Pablo Guzmán.

Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán was born in Guadalajara on 26 June 1909. His father died when Juan Pablo was still in his teens. At the time of the 1930 census, Juan Pablo’s mother, María Jesús Alemán viuda de Guzman, was head of a large household which included four children older than Juan Pablo (then almost 19 years of age) and three younger children.

The previous year, having just entered university to study medicine, Juan Pablo had won a statewide oratory competition, held in the Degollado Theater in Guadalajara, before going to on place second in a national competition in Mexico City. His younger brother, Victor, who also became a doctor, accompanied him on his trip to the capital.

Juan Pablo had completed his medical training and was practicing in Guadalajara when, at the age of 31, he married María Dolores Serratos on 29 October 1940. The couple’s son, Juan Bernardo Guzmán Serratos, born in 1945, also entered the medical profession, training as a medical surgeon and odontologist (forensic dentist) and teaching at the University of Guadalajara.

Juan Pablo Guzmán was a multi-talented individual who combined his professional life as a gynecologist with active involvement in the arts as a poet, musician, painter, writer and dramatist. He published three books, the first of which – El gran Chapa, was set at Lake Chapala.

Cover-Llaga viva

His second novel, a decade later was Llaga viva (“Open Sore”). It also won a Premio Jalisco. Guzmán’s third book, Tres voces en tres cuentos, was published in 1997.

The two early novels are extremely difficult to find though copies are held by several U.S. university libraries and the Biblioteca Pública del Estado de Jalisco Juan José Arreola in Guadalajara.

When Llaga viva was published, in 1961, Winston Allin Reynolds, a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California at Santa Barbara, supplied the introduction. The 181-page novel was enthusiastically reviewed by Dr. Alfonso Manuel Castañeda in El Informador who praised the author’s “penetrating and scrupulous observation of people”.

Castañeda described the succession of everyday characters that populates the pages of Llaga Viva as “pilgrims without a destination and migrants without a direction in the constant wanderings of life.”

For a sense of the style of Llaga Viva, here is a loose translation of a short passage lamenting the fact that it has become money not knowledge that establishes a person’s position in society:

“In the city you learn the urgency of money; the main thing in choosing a profession is to work out which one can most easily bring you wealth. People with experience, and all of society, had constantly yelled at him: Gold! It takes gold for you to live among us! It’s no use if you stuff your head with books while your pockets are empty. The old days, when a man was considered a man on account of his knowledge and virtue, have passed. Do you have the gold? With that you will buy a place in society; you will buy the sensuality of all women; you will buy valuable friends; you will buy the glories that cultured citizens pursue; you will buy life….”

A sentiment that is surely even more true today than it was in the 1950s.

Source

  • Alfonso Manuel Castañeda. 1961. “Llaga Viva.” El Informador, 24 September 1961, 14.
  • Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán. 1951. El gran Chapa. Guadalajara: Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco.
  • Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán. 1961. Llaga viva. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara.
  • Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán. 1997. Tres voces en tres cuentos. Guadalajara: Secretaría de Cultura, Gobierno de Jalisco.
  • El Informador, 25 May 1929, 6; 20 June 1929, 6.

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 302019
 

La invasión de los vampiros (1963) is a Mexican film in which a doctor and his assistant hunt down a vampire named Count Frankenhausen, who is terrorizing the local populace. Written and directed by Miguel Morayta, it starred Erna Martha Bauman, Rafael del Río and Tito Junco. The film was released two years later in an English version as The Invasion of the Vampires.

Kudos to historian and author Richard Grabman for suggesting to me that, “A good part of La invasión de los vampiros (1963) was filmed in Ajijic.” He added that the movie is “something of a classic in its genre, especially for its creepy atmosphere.” Unfortunately, he’s unsure where he picked up these interesting snippets of movie trivia.

The movie is, indeed, regarded as one of the finest horror films to emerge from Mexico and, after watching it, I have to agree that it’s entirely possible that parts of the movie were shot at Lake Chapala, though I have yet to find any supporting documentary evidence for this.

So, dear reader, if you can tell me any more about the connection between La invasión de los vampiros and Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

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:
May 232019
 

John Elbert Upton was born on 10 September 1917 and died aged 88, in Monterey, California, on 9 October 2005. He was a multi-talented individual who earned his living as a translator and teacher. Upton lived in Ajijic for over a decade, from 1949 to 1959, and then returned to live in the village several times (for varying lengths of time) from the 1960s through to the early 1990s.

Upton’s circle of friends in the Lake Chapala area included fellow translator Lysander Kemp, who lived in Jocotepec, and poet and literary figure Witter Bynner, who had a home in Chapala.

Upton majored in music and Spanish at college, becoming an extremely proficient classical guitarist. In 1966, he gained a Masters in Spanish Language and Literature from the University of Madrid in Spain.

John Upton, 1957. Photo credit: Leonard McCombe, Life Magazine

John Upton, 1957. Photo credit: Leonard McCombe, Life Magazine

During his early days living in Ajijic, in the 1950s, Upton wrote several colorful pieces about the area for the San Francisco Chronicle, but made his living not by writing but as a teacher to the children of expatriate families. These students included a young Katharine Goodridge Ingram, who went on to run a very successful art gallery in the village. She has particularly fond memories of Upton: “He was my tutor when I was a young girl. Truly a Renaissance man: played guitar, bass fiddle, brought solar-heated water to his Ajijic house, accompanied his wife as she sang hot old cabaret oldies, built a telescope, etc.”

This photo by Leonard McCombe shows a youthful and sartorially-elegant John Upton setting up a telescope he had built in his garden in Ajijic. It appeared in the 23 December 1957 Life Magazine article, “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.”

Upton wrote a short piece, “Maya Today” (a linguistic study of the Mayan language Yucateco in Yucatán), published in the December 1962 issue of The Modern Language Journal, but was far better known as a Spanish-English translator. Upton’s fine translations introduced generations of English-speaking readers to the extraordinary diversity and creativity of Spanish-language literature.

Besides translations of poems by the likes of Pablo Neruda and Miguel de Unamuno, his published translations include:

  • Cumboto, by Ramón Díaz Sánchez (University of Texas Press, 1969);
  • Pueblo en vilo: Microhistoria de San José de Gracia (“San José de Gracía, Mexican Village in Transition”), by Luis González (University of Texas, Austin, 1974).
  • Jarano, by Ramón Beteta (University of Texas, Austin:, 1975);
  • In the Magic Land of Peyote, (Texas Pan American Series) by Fernando Benitez (University of Texas, Austin, 1975);
  • Polifemo, a narrative poem by Luis De Góngora (The Fireweed Press, 1977)
  • La feria (“The Fair”), by Juan José Arreola (University of Texas, Austin, 1977). This work is chock-full of local idioms, curses, etc., and, as Upton says in his translator’s note, “There are passages in “The Fair” that can confound even a well-informed Mexican”.

In the early 1990s, he worked as staff translator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and for Latin American Art magazine. Selections of Upton’s translations were included in the book Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries, with an Introduction by Octavio Paz (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990), and he translated some essays and catalog entries for The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain (1992). In 2004 he was a finalist in the Barnstone Translators’ Competition.

John Upton was one of the many extraordinarily gifted individuals who have shaped the long artistic and literary history of Lake Chapala. He will long be remembered for the supreme quality of his translations, whether of poems, literature or non-fiction.

Note: This post was first published 30 March 2015.

Related posts:

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 162019
 

Edward Percy Moran was born in Philadelphia in 1862 and died in New York City in 1935. He was born into an extremely artistic family. His father, Edward Moran was one of three siblings – Edward, Thomas and Peter – who were all born in the U.K. and became well-known artists in their time, as did Thomas’s wife, Mary, and various other relatives.

Edward Percy Moran studied with his father and took formal art classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design. He also studied in Europe (London and Paris) before returning to New York, where he eventually established his studio at East Hampton on Long Island.

Moran painted in the realist style and tended to specialize in historical subjects but also painted portraits and landscapes and became known for his etchings. His work was shown frequently at the National Academy of Design and the Brooklyn Art Association from 1861 to 1899. In 1886, he won a prize at the National Academy of Design and in 1888 he received a gold medal for a work shown at the American Artists Association in New York City.

Among the works shown in exhibition were at least two paintings of Chapala. A watercolor entitled “The Market Place, Chapala” was shown at the 1905 Boston Art Club fine arts exhibition and another watercolor, “Old Church, Chapala, Mexico,” was included in the catalogues of both the Forty-Ninth and Fiftieth Annual Exhibitions of the American Water Color Society (held in 1916 and 1917 respectively) at the Galleries of the National Arts Club. That particular painting was priced at $125.

Edward Percy Moran (1916). On The Beach, East Hampton. (Doyle-Auctions 2014)

Edward Percy Moran (1916). On The Beach, East Hampton. (Doyle Auctions, 2014)

This image of the beach at East Hampton, dating from 1916, gives a good idea of Moran’s realist style, strength of composition and sense of color.

It is unknown precisely when Moran visited Chapala or whether he visited on more than one occasion. If anyone has an image of any of Moran’s paintings of Chapala, please get in touch!

Moran was a member of the American Water Color Society from 1885 until his death. Examples of his work can be found in many prominent collections in the U.S., including the Wilstach Gallery in Philadelphia, the Masonic Hall in Chicago, Plymouth Museum, and at Hamilton Club in Brooklyn.

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 5:43 am  Tagged with:
May 092019
 

Leonora Baccante had published two novels prior to living in Ajijic in the 1950s, at the same time as Eileen and Robert (Bob) Bassing.

Source: New York Evening Post, 7 March 1931

Source: New York Evening Post, 7 March 1931

Baccante’s novels are not set in Ajijic, but Baccante herself was the basis for the character of novelist Victoria Beacon, the central character in Eileen Bassing‘s novel, Where’s Annie?

Little is known about Baccante, who is reported to have hated publicity, children and pets.

According to a short profile of her by Selma Robinson in the New York Evening Post (7 March 1931),  “Mrs Baccante,” who was born in London, England, “has lived for the past few years in New York, part of the time in Woodstock, part of the time with her sister in Manhattan.” Robinson added that even Baccante’s publishers “know nothing about her. She is a dark-haired, dark-eyed girl who looks Latin, although her Italian name is hers only by marriage.” Baccante was born in about 1905.

A 1928 Kingston, New York, newspaper account describes Baccante as a “former New York World staff writer” (The New York World ceased publication three years later.)

Baccante’s two novels are

  • Johnny Bogan: A Realistic Novel Of Violent Young Love (New York: Vanguard, 1931) and
  • Women Must Love (New York: Vanguard, 1932).

Baccante-JohnnyBoganJohnny Brogan is set in a small town and is a character study and love story rolled into one. The striking cover art by Puerto Rican artist Raphael Desoto shows a young brunette undressing in front of a handsome guy in a bedroom. The novel is about a ladies’ man Johnny Brogan, the son of a murderer, who falls in love with Cathy Willis, a girl who initiated their relationship at school. According to Baccante’s friends, the character of Cathy is autobiographical.

A short piece by Baccante, “Can’t we be Friends?”, with illustrations by Ty Mahon, was published in the October 1931 issue of the College Humor magazine. Baccante also wrote an unpublished play, Making the man; a play in 3 acts, recorded as written in 1929 when she was living in New York City.

Baccante renewed the copyrights of her two novels in 1958 and 1960 respectively.

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

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

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