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Oct 212021
 

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

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

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

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

The accompanying text reads:

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – o – –

Source

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

This article is reproduced here in the belief that it is no longer enjoys any copyright protection.

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

Oct 072021
 

The first English-language short story about Lake Chapala?

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

Gwendolen Overton, c 1903 [Ancestry]

Gwendolen Overton, c 1903 [Ancestry]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Sep 302021
 

Hungarian-Canadian artist Michael Fischer visited Lake Chapala several times in the early 1990s, including a lengthy stay one winter at San Juan Cosalá. He was in the final stages of planning to bring a group of artists and art students from Canada for a three-week stay at Lake Chapala when his wife was taken seriously ill. Her subsequent passing derailed all Fischer’s plans for the three-week workshop, which had the endorsement of the Northumberland Art Gallery in Cobourg, Toronto. The workshop was to have included classes taught by Fischer and by Jocotepec-based Austrian artist Georg Rauch.

Michael Fischer was born in Budapest, Hungary, and educated in that city at the City College, Academy of Art and the Orkenyi Strasser School of Art. His most influential teacher was Ödön Márffy, one of Hungary’s leading expressionist painters, a founder member of the group of Eight, and credited with introducing cubism, Fauvism and expressionism to the country.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Ajijic. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Ajijic. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Alongside his own painting, and regular exhibits at art shows in Hungary, Fischer was the art director for the Budapest City Theatre, where he specialized in set design. Fischer was multi-talented and also produced graphic panels and advertising art for trade shows and the movie industry.

A year after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, Fischer moved to Toronto, Canada. He quickly found his feet, becoming involved in creating advertising, editorial and book illustrations, as well as undertaking commissions, both for private individuals and for institutions such as the Canadian Red Cross, Toronto Dominion Bank, and major insurance firms. He also painted numerous murals for restaurants and private homes. He was represented by Studio 737 Art Gallery (now closed) which was located a short distance north of Tweed, Ontario.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Laundry in Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Laundry in Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

From 1975 to 1987, Fischer taught illustration and composition at George Brown College.

His works are represented in many private and public collections in Canada, the USA and several European countries. “Proficient in all media… his landscapes, still life, figurative compositions and portraits are unique in their execution and excellence.”

Fischer undertook extensive research trips to Latin America and he painted many portraits of native people in Canada and Mexico. He particularly liked Mexico, and the Lake Chapala region, saying that “In Mexico it’s inspiring, the way people live so simply in religious and national customs.”

Fischer died in Toronto in about 2007.

If anyone can supply more details about Michael Fischer’s life and work, 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 5:26 am  Tagged with:
Sep 232021
 

Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994), who coined the term ‘identity crisis’ spent several weeks in Ajijic in 1957 while writing Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalyses and History, published the following year.

Cover of Young Man LutherErikson had been persuaded that Ajijic was a quiet place in which to write by Helen Kirtland and her husband Dr Larry Hartmus. After an exchange of letters, Erikson ended up renting the “cottage” on Calle Independencia belonging to the Sendis family, whose son, Gustavo, was a super talented painter and guitarist.

Erikson, born in Germany to Danish parents, had become a US citizen after moving across the Atlantic. He became world famous for his ideas on identity and his contributions to the field of psychoanalysis and human development. Among Erikson’s best-known books are Observations on the Yurok: Childhood and World Image (1943), Childhood and Society  (1950), Identity and the Life Cycle (1959), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence (1969).

There are two references to Ajijic in Young Man Luther, one right at the beginning and the other at the end. In the preface, Erikson acknowledges the help of Larry Hartmus, who “read some of the medieval Latin with me in Ajijic.” In the epilogue, this paragraph serves to sum up how Erikson saw the village, and the impossible-to-ignore influence of religion:

“I wrote this book in Mexico, on a mirador overlooking a fishing village on Lake Chapala. What remains of this village’s primeval inner order goes back to pre-Christian times. But at odd times, urgent church bells call the populace to remembrance. The church is now secular property, only lent to the Cura; and the priest’s garb is legally now a uniform to be worn only in church or when engaged in such business as bringing the host to the dying. Yet, at night, with defensive affront, the cross on the church tower is the only neon light in town. The vast majority of the priest’s customers are women, indulging themselves fervently in the veneration of the diminutive local Madonna statue, which, like those in other communities, is a small idol representing little-girlishness and pure motherhood, rather that the tragic parent of the Savior, who, in fact is little seen. The men for the most part look on, willing to let the women have their religion as part of women’s world, but themselves bound on secular activity. The young ones tend toward the not too distant city of Guadalajara, where the churches and cathedrals are increasingly matched in height and quiet splendor by apartment houses and business buildings.”  [266]

Source

  • Erik Erikson. 1958. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalyses and History. New York: W.W. Norton.

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 162021
 

Noted American artist Hazel Hannell was already in her eighties when she chose to spend the winter months in Ajijic. Hannell became a regular visitor for several years in the 1980s. This charming costumbrista woodblock from those years was sold on eBay. Hannell continued to paint and produce artworks until she was 103 years old.

Hazel Hannell. c 1985. By Lake Chapala. Woodblock.

Hazel Hannell. c 1985. “By Lake Chapala.” Woodblock.

Mary Hazel Johnson (later Hannel) was born on 31 December 1895 in LaGrange, Illinois, trained as a secretary, and studied art at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and the Emma Church School of Art in Chicago. She was an extraordinarily versatile artist. In her lengthy career she had success in a variety of media, from watercolor painting, woodblocks and red clay pottery, to tiles, murals and commercial fabric and wallpaper designs for Marshall Field.

Hazel celebrated her 28th birthday in 1923 by marrying Finnish-American artist Vinol Hannell (1896-1964). After visiting artist friends in Furnessville, Indiana, the couple built a summer home there, before moving there permanently in the 1930s.

[Coincidentally, Furnessville has a particularly strong connection to Lake Chapala. Dwight Furness, a member of the family after whom Furnessville is named, settled in Mexico in the late nineteenth century and built the famous Hotel Ribera Castellanos on a lakeside estate between Ocotlán and Jamay in the early 1900s.]

Hazel Hannell was an activist in the suffragette movement, and she and her husband were both active environmentalists and instrumental in the 1950s in helping to preserve the Indiana Dunes. The Hannells also served as leaders in the No-Jury Society and the Chicago Society of Artists, and helped found the Association of Artists and Craftsmen of Porter County.

Hannell was accompanied on her trips to Ajijic by several other noteworthy artists, including Harriet Rex Smith (1921-2017), Elizabeth Murray and Jan Sullivan (1921-2016). She moved to Oregon in 1988 to live and work with Rex Smith, and died there on 6 February 2002 at the age of 106.

Hannell often chose not to sign her work. At about the time of her final visit to Lake Chapala, she was quoted in a newspaper interview as saying: “Hamada, a Japanese master potter, says you really ought not have to sign things, your works should be recognizably yours.”

Hannell’s woodblock art was featured in the Chicago Society of Artists annual calendar, and her varied works have been shown in major exhibits at the Brauer Museum of Art (Valparaiso University), Dankook University, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Northern Indiana Art Salon, Gary Southern Shores Exhibit, Dunes Art Foundation, and South Bend Art Center. The Valparaiso University has numerous works by Hannell and her husband in its permanent collection.

Sources

  • Biography from Brauer Museum Of Art
  • Dani Dodge. 1996. “While the Light is Good, Hazel Hannell, 100, Paints.” Seattle Times, 21 January 1996.
  • Margaret L Willis. 1987 “Artist’s Story Is a Tale of the Dunes.” The Chesterton Tribune, 14 August 1987, 4.

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

Sep 092021
 

The accomplished and enigmatic artist John Thompson (1929-1988) lived in Jocotepec from about 1963 to 1968.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 20 July 1929, Thompson landed in Jocotepec by chance, having accepted a ride to Mexico with Miriam Bisbee, who was on her way to visit friends there: Peter and Nancy Spencer then managing the La Quinta hotel. (Apparently, Miriam was completely besotted with Nancy and hoped to tear her away from Peter! She was only partially successful; the Spencers later ran Posada Ajijic for a short time before returning to the US “for personal reasons” in September 1965.)

John Thompson. (Coll. Gayle Thompson)

John Thompson.

When photographer John Frost and his wife, novelist Joan Van Every Frost, first arrived in Jocotepec in 1966, they learned that John Thompson was considered the painter in the town. Thompson had left working for the defense industry in southern California, and his wife, to live in Jocotepec, where he rented a place across the street from the historic La Quinta Inn.

Thompson became a good friend of the Frosts and of several other artistic Jocotepec residents, including painter and muralist Tom Brudenell, and photographer Helmuth Wellenhoffer and his wife, Antonia. Thompson was also good friends with Peter Paul Huf and his wife, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, who lived in Ajijic from 1967 to 1972.

Thompson was able to subsist in Jocotepec only because he had two small trust funds which gave him a combined $40 a month to live on. This was supplemented by the occasional check from the US: before he left, he had sold several paintings by offering purchasers the chance to pay in installments, provided they sent the funds to Mexico.

Quoting John Frost, Thompson—and his then girlfriend, Gertha—were “pillars of the underground community.” Thompson was slight of build with a full red beard. He dressed in khaki, and his menu was structured around a typical Mexican working man’s diet. Beer in hand, he would rail at length against the evils of plastics and the modern world; he was a regular at Ramon’s bar on the north side of the plaza, the focal point of Jocotepec social life at the time.

Artist and Andreas Wellenhoffer with Jocotepec painting dated 1965.

Artist (rt) and Andreas Wellenhoffer with Jocotepec painting dated 1965.

Gayle Thompson was a 17-year-old student at the six-week University of Arizona summer school in Guadalajara when she first met Thompson through a mutual friend, Marilyn Hodges. Hodges was opening an art gallery in Guadalajara and offered Thompson free room and board if he helped paint and decorate the building (8 de Julio #878). Among the prominent Lakeside artists who held solo exhibits at the 8 de Julio gallery during its short lifespan were John Frost, Tom Brudenell, Joe Vines, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, Robert Neathery and Georg Rauch.

Gayle’s enrollment in summer school was her pretext for having a full year in Mexico. Having a Mexican boyfriend, she rebuffed Thompson’s initial advances. The charismatic, intelligent and stubborn Thompson, however, was persistent and determined. When Gayle returned to the US, preparing to enter college in New York, Thompson left his belongings in Mexico and hastened north in pursuit. He traveled north in the company of Dave Bennett, another Jocotepec resident, who, coincidentally, was from Monterey, California, and knew Gayle’s parents. Gayle again spurned his advances, so Thompson retreated to Mexico. But he reappeared again a few months later and this time, finally, Gayle conceded defeat.

John Thompson. Untitled. Jocotepec, 1965.

John Thompson. Untitled. Jocotepec, 1965.

Resistance overcome, Thompson still had the problem of getting all his paintings and possessions back from Mexico. Bennett stepped in and persuaded Thompson to buy and convert an old school bus for this mission. The school bus made two trips to Mexico before being rear-ended somewhere in the US and written off.

After John and Gayle married, they lived for five years on the coast of Croatia (then known as Yugoslavia), and another decade in Europe, before they returned to the US. During this time Thompson was able to visit his old friends, Peter Paul Huf and his wife, Eunice Hunt, at their home in Bavaria, southern Germany.

Thompson was a self-taught artist. Tom Brudenell, who met Thompson in the late 1960s, told me that Thompson’s local artistic patron at Lake Chapala had been Marian Powell, a wealthy American who owned a lakefront home in Ajijic. Gayle Thompson told me how Powell would sometimes lend John her huge Cadillac, but that she (Gayle) felt overly conspicuous and self-conscious whenever he took her for a drive.

As for Thompson’s art, Joan Frost considered that Thompson “promoted himself as a painter of the Miro school. His works were colorful with lots of mysterious figures floating about in the air above towns like Joco.” [1]

John Thompson. Untitled.

John Thompson. Untitled.

However, as Gayle explained to me, and judging by those paintings that have survived (while living in France the artist built a bonfire and destroyed most of his work), his paintings were far more akin to Chagall than Miro. The paintings are darker in tone and subject matter than those of Chagall, more brooding, with elements of the macabre and surrealism.

Thompson was never very enthusiastic about holding exhibitions, believing that artists did what they did out of a sense of purpose not financial needs, just as those who held down regular jobs did so out of necessity not enjoyment.

The only solo show he is known to have held while in Mexico was a two-week show at Posada Ajijic in the summer of 1965. He was in illustrious company. The three other artists exhibiting there that summer were Charles Littler (who exhibited widely and taught at the University of Arizona), Dick Poole (professor of art in Pasadena), and the Black American Beat artist Arthur Monroe. [2]

Thompson died in San Bernardino, California, on 3 September 1988.

References

  • [1] Joan Frost, writing in Ajijic, 500 years of adventures (Thomas Paine Chapter NSDAR, 2011).
  • [2] Guadalajara Reporter, 5 August 1965.

Acknowledgments

This is a greatly revised version of a post first published 6 August 2015. My heartfelt thanks to Gayle Thompson for sharing details of her former husband’s life and photos of his work. Images reproduced courtesy of Gayle Thompson and Andreas Wellenhoffer.

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

 Posted by at 6:47 am  Tagged with:
Sep 092021
 

The following excerpts come from the detailed account written by Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) after visiting Lake Chapala in October 1937. (For ease of reading, accents and italics have been added and spelling standardized.)

Note that early descriptions (in English or Spanish) of the villages on the south shore of the lake are exceedingly rare, making Stanley’s account especially valuable.

San Luis Soyatlán

Our next objective was San Luis Soyatlán, the Cathedral spires of which town we could see at a long distance. In the flat Mexican villages, the church always stands out prominently. There were a number of smaller vi11ages, at which we stopped for a few moments, and at one place we were able to get some beer. The Mexican girl who served us was a rather pretty senorita, and evidently a friend of Ramón’s. She had not seen him for several weeks, and greeted him in a very friendly manner. As Ramón was not married, Alonzo and I began to josh him a little and accused him of liking the girls. This seemed to please him very much.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Post Office on south shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Post Office on south shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

In going through one vi1lage, we saw the post office. On a blackboard in front of it were the names of those for whom a letter was waiting. This did not seem to be a very bad idea.

Far out in the country we came across a young Mexican who was hunting. He was looking for doves, or pa1omas. He had a muzzle-loading shotgun, and carried his powder and caps in a container made of a cow’s horn. It was an interesting old weapon, and was made in 1850. The date was on the barrel. He offered to sell it to me for ten pesos, which is about three dollars, but it would have been difficult to transport, and I had to refuse this old relic. [56-57]

At this point, Stanley realized that his original plan to ride all the way around Lake Chapala was impossible in the time he had available. He decided to stay overnight in San Luis Soyatlán and then ride on the next morning to Tuxcueca in time to catch the daily boat to Chapala, leaving Ramón to ” retrace our steps with the animals.”

They reached San Luis by mid-afternoon and found somewhere to stay. While the others finished their meal in a fonda which had “large quantities of flies,” Stanley strolled down to the lake shore:

It was a very pretty afternoon, and off in the distance across the lake toward San Juan could be seen a peculiar phenomenon. By landslides and erosions in the mountains, the natural form of a spread eagle was displayed in brown against the green verdure. This marking could be seen very distinctly from the southern shore of the lake.

Because of road building activities around San Luis there are a number of new trucks being used. One of the drivers had directed his new Chevrolet truck into the water along the shallow margins of the lake, and was giving it a very thorough cleaning. He took as much care of his truck as the ordinary private chauffeur of his owner’s limousine. As he polished, he sang, and seemed to enjoy the occupation very much. [58-59]

Upon returning, I stopped at a number of the Spanish houses along the street, and there saw the women and some of the children weaving material for hats, or sombreros. A very tough reed is used. It is woven into strips about half and inch wide, the women work very deftly with their fingers, and area able to braid the reeds without even looking at them. These strips are then rolled up as much as one would roll a tape, and are then sent to a central shop where the hat maker forms them into the sombreros. This headgear is very durable, and serves the purpose of keeping off the rain as well as the tropical sun.

The following morning(13 October 1937) they rode on towards Tuxcueca:

We rode on out through the town, and toward the east… During the middle of the forenoon, we arrived at an adobe school house which overlooked the lake. We went in and found the maestra, or teacher, quite friendly and highly pleased that anyone should care to visit her school. She apologized for the appearance of the place, but it really was quite tidy and comfortable. The children were delighted to line up for their pictures. One child had absolutely no clothing on at all, but the others had enough to cover their nakedness. [63]

Leo Stanley. 1937. Shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

When they reached Tuxcueca, Stanley was asked if he would see two girls who were quite ill:

It was about two cuadras, or blocks, away. The captain of the boat said that he would hold the launch for me. This house was a make-shift hospital, and run by a practical nurse.

There were two girls in a very dark room, one aged seventeen, and the other about eleven. Both were ill with pneumonia, and the small one’s lungs were almost entirely congested. She was comatose, and I felt that the end was not far away. There was very little that I could do under the circumstances, but I gave them some instructions, which they seemed to appreciate. They asked for a bill for my services, but of course I told them that there was no charge.

While we were waiting on the stone pier for the departure of the boar, four or five burros were driven to the eater’s edge to unload their burdens. These little animals each had four or five immense planks which they had carried from forests across the mountains. Each load must have weighed between three and four hundred pounds.

A few minutes later, Stanley and Alonzo took the gasoline boat, described as “about forty feet long, fairly narrow, and made of metal,” back to Chapala, arriving just in time to enjoy a late lunch.

Source

Acknowledgments

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

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

Aug 262021
 

Edgar Mitchell Ellinger junior was in his mid-forties in 1953 when he wrote about “the small, captivating town of Ajijic” for the Arizona Republic under the title, “Mexican Town Offers Peaceful Way of Life.”

Edgar Ellinger. 1953. Ajijic church. Credit: Arizona Republic.

Edgar Ellinger. 1953. Ajijic church. Credit: Arizona Republic.

Ellinger was born in New York on Christmas Day 1906. After attending Horace Mann School for Boys, he became a Wall Street securities analyst and financial executive. His (first) wife was the NBC vocal star Sarah Schermerhorn, better known by her performing name of Sally Singer. The couple married at Ellinger’s home in New York City on 27 March 1936.

In 1945, Ellinger was the executive vice-president of the Jefferson-Travis Corporation, which specialized in radio equipment and the continuous sound recording field.

To quote The New York Times, Ellinger “left Wall Street in 1947 to live in Sedona, Arizona, where he raised quarter-horses and became a writer and photographer.” Ellinger published articles in several publications, including Desert Magazine in Palm Desert, California.

Here are two excerpts from his piece about Ajijic for the Arizona Republic:

Today, this small fishing village throbs with the interesting and varied activities of a growing international population—attracted by a satisfying climate, inexpensive living, and an atmosphere of “mañana.” The “urgency of life,” so well known to Americans, is strangely lacking.
Artists, writers, musicians, and just “plain folks” have settled in this picturesque haven. Accommodations are available in the two hotels in addition to about 40 renovated old houses owned or rented by non-Mexican.

After commenting on the diverse foreign population, which included “an attractive red-haired ex-violinist and his beautiful wife” and “a world-traveled and world-weary Englishman named H. B. Thompson,” Ellinger explained that:

Ajijic has achieved its popularity in part through the efforts of two Englishmen who… wrote a widely-read book called “Village in the Sun,” which extols the naive simplicity of this harmonious settlement. Neill James has also written extensively on the same subject and occupies a delightful home which encloses wide patios outlined by myriads of brilliant flowers. She grows Japanese silkworms and weaves the silk into blouses beautifully hand-embroidered by a handful of native women who work on the premises.”

Ellinger died at his home in Mountain View, California, on 10 June 1974.

Sources

  • Daily News (New York City), 28 March 1936, 174.
  • Edgar Ellinger, Jr. 1953. “Mexican Town Offers Peaceful Way of Life.” Arizona Republic, 2 August 1953, Section 2, 8.
  • New York Times. “Edgar Ellinger Jr.” (obituary). New York Times, 12 June 1974, 48.

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

Aug 192021
 

I would love to learn more about Charlotte Speight, aka “Mrs Melvin S. Wax,” who held an exhibit of paintings and drawings of Ajijic at the Carpenter Art galleries at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in July 1947.

The exhibition included “six oils, several pen and ink sketches and a gouache, depicting scenes in Ajijic, a primitive Tarascan Indian village bordering Lake Chapala, where Mr and Mrs Wax lived last winter.”

Charlotte Frances Speight (of British heritage) had married Melvin Sumner Wax the previous year and the couple had spent several months in Mexico as a wedding trip.

Charlotte Wax and her painting "Desolation". Chicago Tribune

Charlotte Wax and her painting “Desolation”. Chicago Tribune, 9 September 1956

Born in Berkeley, California, on 15 April 1919, Charlotte graduated from George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and then attended Swarthmore for a couple of years, before studying art in Paris, France. She also studied art at the Yale School of Fine Arts and the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills.

She married Melvin Wax, a journalist, on on 29 September 1946, and their daughter Martha Anne was born on 25 July the following year.

By the 1960s the family was living in Sausalito, California, where Charlotte taught art at Dominican Upper School for about four years and did set design and costumes for Sausalito Little Theater and the Marin Shakespeare Festival. At about the time her husband was elected mayor of Sausalito, Charlotte began studying sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute, from where she graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpture in 1967.

Please get in touch if you have any more information about this artist or examples of her work.

Sources

  • Daily Independent Journal, San Rafael, California, 5 June 1967, 13.
  • Rutland Daily Herald (Rutland, Vermont), 26 July 1947, 7.

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

 Posted by at 5:16 am  Tagged with:
Aug 122021
 

The following excerpts come from the detailed account written by Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) after visiting Lake Chapala in October 1937. (For ease of reading, accents and italics have been added and spelling standardized.)

On 11 October, Stanley and his two Mexican companions, José Alonzo and Ramón, rode from Chapala to Jocotepec, where they found somewhere to stay overnight and then went out for a walk:

It was only a block to the plaza, with its bandstand and garden. There was quite a crowd of people walking about, and in front of a building, evidently a show piece, the nondescript band was playing. Around the edges of the plaza were numerous small stands where oranges, bananas, and various fruit, together with soft drinks, were being vended. We went to a corner restaurant, or fonda. It was far from clean, but was the best that the town furnished, flies were in preponderance, but after our long ride of about twenty miles the first day, we were fairly hungry. Alonzo and Ramón ate the full bill of fare, but I was satisfied with some tortillas, hot beans, a little stewed meat, and plenty of water which I ordered to be boiled. The boys evidently were satisfied with their repasts.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Presidencia, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Presidencia, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

On this night there was a show in town, and on the street corner was a little Mexican who, through a megaphone, announced to the assembled groups in the plaza that this great spectacle was to take place, that in the show was a renowned professor who could read the past, present and future, that this show was one which no one could afford to miss. Its spieler advised that, instead of spending their money for fruit and sweets in the plaza, they should spend it going to this world renowned show. The little fellow really put in a great deal of effort persuading the townspeople to come. In the meantime, the band gave forth its music. [49-50]

The following morning (12 October 1937) the three men were up and about even before it got light:

We went out into the starlight toward the plaza, in order to buy some feed for the horses. A few people were already on the streets, but the feed store did not open until six—thirty. We spent the next half an hour in our room by candlelight, adjusting the stirrups and making the saddles more comfortable. Upon going to the plaza again just before daylight we met some Mexicans who told us that a man had been killed the night before, and that his body was lying in the patio of the jail.

We went over to the Presidencia, and there we met the Comandante. Alonzo told him who we were, and that we would like to see the defunto or dead man. There was a squad of about ten Mexicans in the patio, dressed in their broad sombreros, and covered by serapes. They each had a rifle and really looked quite dangerous, and none too careful with their firearms….

Leo Stanley. 1937. Jail, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Jail, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

… we went into the patio of the jail, and there found sprawled out on his back, the blood—covered body of a short, middle-aged Mexican. His large sombrero, covered with blood, lay on the flagstones near him. He wore white soiled pantaloons rolled to his knees, and a soiled shirt open at the front. He had a large cut over his left wrist which had almost disarticulated the joint. Over his breastbone and through it was a deep stab wound which had gone entirely through the breastplate and entered the heart. In addition to this, he had been shot through the head. His assailant wanted to be sure that he was dead…..

With this rather auspicious, and perhaps awe-inspiring beginning of our second day in the country, we felt it would be well to go over to the fonda and have a bite of breakfast. [51-52]

Stanley also describes the family who had been their overnight hosts:

All of the family at the home of Señora Theresa Medina at Calle Matamoros No. 6, were awake and interested in talking to us. There were three very bright and alert girls, and four or five boys of school age. I took a number of pictures of them, and talked with them for some time. Having been told that I was a doctor, almost all of them wished to have me prescribe or examine…. The three pretty girls had finished all the schooling which they could acquire, and were waiting until some village youth might claim them in marriage. One of them, a rather tall and intelligent señorita, said, however, that she was not at all interested in marriage, that she did not like children, and that she hoped to get away from Jocotepec at her first opportunity. They were all quite happy, and were greatly entertained by talking with the gringo from Los Estados Unidos. [53-54]

Source

Acknowledgments

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

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

Aug 052021
 

Little is known about Albert Alfredson’s visit to Lake Chapala, though a realist oil and crayon painting by him entitled “Humble Homes” with the notation “At Lake Chapala Mex,” and believed to date from about 1950, was offered for sale on eBay in July 2021.

Albert Alfredson. c 1950. "Humble Homes." Image from EBay.

Albert Alfredson. c 1950. “Humble Homes.” Image from eBay.

Alfredson was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1907 and died in 1977.

He studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts, and studied portraiture with Wellington J. Reynolds.

Alfredson was a member of numerous art groups, including the Brown County Art Guild Gallery of Nashville, Indiana; the Brownsville Art League in Texas; the American Artists Professional League; and the Oak Park Art League.

He was President of the Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts from 1962-64, and was the Artist Director of the Municipal Art League of Chicago.

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

 Posted by at 6:55 am  Tagged with:
Jul 292021
 

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

Who was “A Gringo”?

In a previous version of this post “A Gringo” was identified as Arthur St. Hill. This identification echoed my introductory comments to a short extract of his work published in Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales (2008).

The attribution of the pen name “A Gringo” to Arthur St. Hill was based on the bibliographic details given for Through The Land of the Aztecs in the catalogue of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford (and subsequently used by several booksellers offering secondhand copies of the book).

I am now certain that this attribution is incorrect. Digging into genealogical databases reveals only two individuals named “Arthur St. Hill” living at about the right time. One was born in Barbados in the West Indies, and the other in the UK.

The Barbados-born Arthur St. Hill (Arthur Bertram St Hill) lived from 1872 to 1911. He was a cricketer and the author of a report on the Barbados health system published in 1896; he has no obvious connection to Mexico.

As an adult, the other Arthur St. Hill (1878-1969) lived in Bristol, UK, and worked as a structural engineer specializing in the use of steel. In any event, given that Through The Land of the Aztecs is a book based on several years of residence in Mexico in the 1880s, when Arthur was only a child, he clearly could not have been its author.

However, his father—Charles Manwell St Hill, born in Trinidad in 1849—does have provable connections to Mexico. At the time of the 1881 UK census, Charles, then aged 32, lived in London and worked as a commercial clerk. He had married Louisa Le Maitre de Rabodanges in March 1871 and the couple had five children. Their eldest child, Mabel, was born in Sevilla, Spain. Her siblings were Eva, born in Calais, France; Hilda and Arthur, both born in Mortlake, Surrey; and Houghton Oliver, born in Middlesex.

The 1891 UK census lists Louisa St. Hill as head of the household; she is living in Bristol with her five children and her mother. This census describes Luisa as “married” and does not mention Charles, who was presumably living in Mexico at the time. The next census, a decade later, lists Louisa as “widowed,” so Charles must have died between 1891 and 1901. The notice of Arthur’s marriage in 1911 lists his father as “the late Charles Manwell St. Hill, banker, of Mexico.” [Western Daily Press, 16 June 1911] A family tree on Ancestry.com, which states that Charles died in Mexico, provides no further details or sources.

Based on these admittedly scant details, I believe that the likely author of Through The Land of the Aztecs was Charles Manwell St. Hill. The misattribution of authorship to Arthur St. Hill in the Bodleian Library and elsewhere may have come about because Arthur registered his inherited rights to the book after his father’s death.

Through the Land of the Aztecs

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

“A Gringo”‘s visit to Chapala definitely took place prior to 1889, though it was not published until a few years later (1892). The author starts by summarizing his trip to Chapala, which would have taken close to 12 hours:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Gringo” also noted that efforts had been made to exploit an underwater petroleum deposit at Lake Chapala:

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

“A Gringo” disembarked from the Libertad at La Barca, from where he continued his wanderings around Mexico.

If anyone can supply any additional biographical details about “A Gringo”, please get in touch!

Note

Source

  • “A Gringo.” 1892. Through The Land of the Aztecs Or Life and Travel In Mexico. London: Sampson, Low, Marston & Company.

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

Jul 222021
 

Austrian sculptor Leonie Trager lived and worked in the Lake Chapala area in the early 1970s. She held a solo exhibition in the Galería del Lago, Ajijic, in 1973, when she was living in Chula Vista (mid-way between Ajijic and Chapala).

Leonie Trager: Exhibit invitation, 1973

Leonie Trager: Exhibit invitation, 1973

The catalog for that exhibition includes a brief biography stating that she had graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria and had “worked with great sculptor Ivan Mestrovic” in Dubrovnik (Croatia, then Yugoslavia). She apparently held several solo shows in London, UK, and also exhibited in the New York area, while her works were prized by private collectors in the USA and elsewhere.

Very few of her pieces have appeared at auction.

Her solo exhibit in Ajijic opened on 22 April 1973 and was comprised of 32 works, mainly sculpted in clay, but also using willow, jacaranda, pink alabaster, yellow Carrara marble, Indian jade, mimosa and mahogany. Titles of pieces exhibited on that occasion include “Moondance”, “Snowflake”, “Sensuousness”, “Sleeping Boy”, “Flower Girl”, “Tzaddik”, “Satyr”, “Cleopatra”, “Flight” and “Despair”.

Her “Mothers and Daughters” limestone sculpture (see image below), reported to be 14″ in height, was also shown in that show.

Leonie Trager: Mothers and daughters

Leonie Trager: Mothers and daughters. Limestone. Exhibited in 1973.

Very little is currently known about Leonie Trager’s personal life. According to her gravestone in Tucson, Trager was born in 1922 (presumably in Vienna, Austria) and died in 1984.

Her husband was Hanns Trager (1900-1989). Hanns was born in Vienna on 25 April 1900 and was living in London, UK, in 1939, where he was working as a textile salesman.

In June 1940, shortly after the start of the second world war, Hanns was subject to an internment hearing . He declined the offer of repatriation and, to avoid internment, was shipped off to Australia on the SS Dunera. He appears to have remained in Australia until the end of the war in 1945, when he returned to London to be temporarily interned on arrival.

The following year he married Leopoldine (“Leonie”) Trager in Hampstead. In August 1948 the couple left the UK for New York, on board the Queen Elizabeth, with 2 trunks and 13 suitcases between them, to start a new life in the USA. By then Hanns was describing himself as a designer.

It is unclear whether or not Hanns accompanied Leonie during her time living in Mexico. The couple were certainly traveling together when they returned from Venezuela to the port of Baltimore in 1960. Hanns’ last known address was in Tucson, Arizona.

This is an updated version of a post first published on 16 July 2015.

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

Jul 152021
 

Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) visited Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in October 1937 and kept a detailed diary of his trip. Stanley was the physician for the California State Prison at San Quentin from 1913 to 1951, and was a meticulous observer. Fortunately for us, his detailed typewritten account of his trip, illustrated by dozens of superb photographs, survives to this day in the archives of the California Historical Society.

Stanley was attending the annual conference of the Pacific Association of Railway Surgeons, held that year in Guadalajara. While in the city he met up with José Alonzo, a former San Quentin inmate who had worked as his medical assistant during his incarceration. The two men had exchanged letters after Alonzo’s parole in 1932. Alonzo had returned to Mexico and settled with his wife in San Juan de los Lagos. After the conference, Alonzo accompanied Stanley on his trip to Lake Chapala.

Just getting to the lake posed its own challenges in 1937. One photograph shows part of a timetable for buses from Guadalajara to Chapala. The first truly regular bus service to Chapala had only just been established by the Cooperativa Autotransportes Guadalajara Chapala y Anexas, S.C.L. (now Autotransportes Guadalajara Chapala, S.A. de C.V.). The company ran hourly buses each way from 7.00am to 8.00pm. Passengers paid $1.50 (pesos) one-way, $2.50 return. [1]

Leo Stanley. 1937. Guadalajara-Chapala bus timetable. Photo reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Guadalajara-Chapala bus timetable. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Alonzo and Stanley caught the 9.00am bus for Chapala. The crowded, ramshackle, bus broke down part-way there and the passengers were asked to get out and push. Eventually the next bus arrived and everyone was able to get to Chapala in time for lunch.

Alonzo and Stanley hired a guide (Ramón), a horse and two mules so that they could ride west to Jocotepec and then explore part of the lake’s southern shore. Stanley quickly realized that,

“The road, or trail, around the lake was very rough and narrow, and evidently was used only for burros and oxen. It certainly could not have been used for any vehicle.” Stanley did not have time to stop in Ajijic as he rode along the track that skirted the lake, from village to village, to stay overnight in Jocotepec. He did remark, however, on the many groves of papaya, and mangoes, fields of corn, and small plots of beans and garbanzas (chickpeas) that he saw near Ajijic, and the number of campesinos who were cultivating their plots with animal-drawn wooden ploughs.” [2]

We will look more closely at selected portions of Stanley’s trip in later posts.

But just who was Leo Stanley? Born in Oregon, Stanley was raised in San Luis Obispo County, California. He was awarded his bachelor’s degree at Stanford University in 1903, and during later studies at Cooper Medical College, he served his residency at San Quentin State Prison. In 1913, he was appointed the prison’s Chief Physician and Surgeon, a position he held —with the exception of the war years— until 1951. Stanley’s experiments on prisoners at San Quentin, especially those involving testicular transplants, were highly controversial and attracted national media attention. [3]

Stanley was an inveterate traveler and saw, and wrote about, many parts of the world. In the mid-1950s he was the ship’s doctor for various luxury cruises. Wherever he went, Stanley took a keen interest in the local prisons and work camps.

Stanley wrote several books, including Men at Their Worst (1940), My Most Unforgettable Convicts (1967), and San Miguel at the Turn of the Century (1976).

He spent the final years of his life writing and working on his farm in Marin County, California.

References

  • [1] Javier Medina Loera. 1991. “Camino a Chapala: del trazo de carretas a la autopista.” El Informador, 17 March 1991, 37.
  • [2] Leo L. Stanley. “Mixing in Mexico”, 1937, two volumes. Leo L. Stanley Papers, MS 2061, California Historical Society. Vol 1, 46.
  • [3] Google “The Buck Kelly case” and see Ethan Blue, “The Strange Career of Leo Stanley: Remaking Manhood and Medicine at San Quentin State Penitentiary, 1913–1951″ in Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 78, No. 2 (May 2009), 210-241.

Acknowledgments

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

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.

Jul 082021
 

German painter Paul “Pablo” Fischer lived in Mexico for many years and painted at least two watercolors of Lake Chapala. Fischer (1864-1932) was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and earned a medical degree at the University of Munich in 1884.

He traveled to Mexico in about 1890 to administer an inheritance in the northern Mexico state of Durango. From 1890 to 1895, Fischer worked was the resident doctor in the Mina del Promontorio mine in that state.

During those years he became known as Pablo Fischer. He went into private practice in the City of Durango in 1895, the same year he married a local Mexican girl, Gertrudis; they had a son and two daughters.

The family later moved to Lerdo and still later to Torreón (Coahuila) where Paul Fischer died in 1932.

Fischer painted watercolors for pleasure and was completely self-taught. Painting was clearly his passion, He made preliminary sketches for his paintings during the family’s vacation trips to various parts of Mexico. Fischer rarely dated his paintings, but is known to have painted scenes in numerous states, including Durango, Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Cuautla (dated 1897), Puebla, Oaxaca, and Chapala.

Pablo Fischer: Chapala (date unknown)

Pablo Fischer: Chapala (date unknown)

It is not known for sure when Fischer painted his small watercolors of Chapala, though they were probably all painted at roughly the same time. The first is a view of the lakeshore and fishing boats, as seen from west of Chapala, looking back towards the main church.  [Note: This painting is incorrectly attributed on several art websites–presumably because of the coincidence of name–to Danish painter Paul Gustave Fischer (1860-1934), though there is zero evidence that the Danish Paul Fischer ever visited Mexico.]

Pablo Fischer’s second view is from a boat on the lake, looking back towards the town of Chapala, the church, and the Hotel Arzapalo. Since the Hotel Arzapalo is shown as complete (with its second story), we know that this painting was completed after 1898, the year when the hotel opened.

Pablo Fischer: Chapala (date unknown)

Pablo Fischer: Chapala (date unknown)

Art researcher Juan Manuel Campo has informed me that a third painting of Chapala by Fischer is also known.

Fischer’s landscapes are keenly observed and painstakingly executed, with exquisite details and a wonderful grasp of color. Fischer signed most of his paintings simply “PF” though on occasion he used “P. Fischer”. He often gave his paintings as gifts, and there appears to be little evidence that he sold any of his works, but his outstanding watercolors became quite well known.

I was mistaken to claim (in an earlier version of this post) that Fischer never held an exhibition of his works in Mexico. It is now known that he definitely held an exhibit of watercolor paintings at the retail store of the Sonora News Company (Gante #4, Mexico City) in December 1914. (Mexican Herald) The fact that the store received “a new collection of Paul Fischer water colors of Mexican scenes” in March 1915 suggests that Fischer maintained an ever-changing selection of his paintings for sale at the store, one of the main locations where tourists could purchase artwork and souvenirs while visiting Mexico.

It is quite likely that Fischer would have known fellow artist August Lohr (1842-1920), who was also living in Mexico City at that time.

Fischer had close links to El Paso, Texas. In June 1906 he declared he was carrying $1000 with him—a considerable sum of money for the time—when he entered the US via El Paso. Fischer held more than one showing of his works in El Paso.

A Fischer painting in the SURA (formerly ING) collection in Mexico was included in a touring exhibition entitled “Horizontes. Pasión por el paisaje,” which showed in Guadalajara and several other cities, from 2005 to 2010. The biography of Fischer attached to the SURA collection in Mexico says that he held his first exhibition in El Paso in 1910. The precise location is unclear. In April 1926 an exhibition of his work was held in the Woman’s Club of El Paso.

The El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, has amassed a significant collection of his works, and hosted a showing, with catalog, in September-October 1963, entitled: An Exhibition of Watercolors by Pablo Fischer, 1864-1932. Several members of the artist’s family attended the opening reception. Prior to the exhibition, the museum asked local residents for the loan of any Pablo Fischer paintings in their possession, since “The painter was very popular in this area about 50 years ago.” It is believed that some of his paintings were brought to the El Paso area by his son.

Painting must run in the family since two direct descendants – Lilia Fischer-Ruiz, who paints under the pseudonym Rhiux A. and her daughter Liliana – have also both become successful professional artists.

Note – This is an updated version of a post first published 15 January 2015.

Sources

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.

 Posted by at 6:27 am  Tagged with:
Jun 302021
 

For those Canadians who celebrate 1 July as Canada Day, here is a list of Canadian artists and authors who have historical connections to Lake Chapala and who have already been profiled on this blog. Enjoy!

Visual artists

Henry Sandham (1842-1910), a well-known Canadian illustrator of the time, illustrated Charles Embree‘s historical novel, A Dream of a Throne, the Story of a Mexican Revolt (1900), the earliest English-language novel set at Lake Chapala. Embree, who published several novels and numerous short stories, was a genuine Mexicophile if ever there was one, but died in his early thirties.

Way back in the 1940s, painter Hari Kidd (1899-1964), who had served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, lived in Chapala. This is when he first met and fell in love with fellow artist Edythe Wallach, his future wife, who was then living in Ajijic.

Love was in the air at Lake Chapala in the 1940s. In Ajijic in 1949, Canadian writer Harold Masson (1915-2011) met and married English nurse Helen Rigall, who was in Ajijic visiting her uncle, Herbert Johnson, and his wife, Georgette.

American artist Gerry Pierce (1900-1969), who painted several watercolors in Ajijic in the mid-1940s, began his art career in Nova Scotia, Canada, in the late 1920s.

Canadian artist Clarence Ainslie Loomis painted Ajijic in the early 1990s. I would love to learn more about this elusive character whose paintings are very distinctive.

Loomis was following in the footsteps, so to speak, of Canadian artist Eunice Hunt and her husband Paul Huf who spent many years working in Ajijic in the 1960s and 1970s. The couple married in Ajijic and their two sons were both born in Mexico. The family subsequently moved to Paul’s native Germany to continue their artistic careers.

In the 1950s, a young Canadian woman, Dorothy Whelan, became the partner of artist and photographer Ernest Alexander (1921-1974) who ran the  Scorpion Club in Ajijic. “Alex” led an extraordinary life but, sadly, things spiraled out of control after the couple left Ajijic and moved to San Francisco.

Swedish-American visual artist Carlo Wahlbeck (born in 1933) studied at the Winnipeg School of Art in Canada and lived in Chapala for two or three years in the mid-1970s.

Multi-talented Mexican guitarist and artist Gustavo Sendis (1941-1989) lived many years in Ajijic and had an exhibition on Vancouver Island at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in Nanaimo, B.C., in July 1980. If anyone knows any details of this exhibit, then please get in touch!

Toronto muralist and painter John Russell Richmond (1926-2013) lived and painted in Ajijic for several years in the 1990s. In Ajijic, he became known (and signed his work) as Juan Compo.

Margaret Van Gurp (1926-2020), a well known artist from eastern Canada, sketched and painted in Jocotepec in 1983, while living with her daughter Susan, then working at the Lakeside School for the Deaf.

Poets, authors, writers and playwrights

Several Canadian poets have been inspired by Lake Chapala. For example, Earle Birney visited Ajijic in the 1950s and Canadian performance poet Canadian performance poet Leanne Averbach visited the lake many years later. The great Al Purdy first visited Chapala on a quest to explore the haunts of D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) and later produced a limited edition book based on his trip. [Lawrence wrote his novel “The Plumed Serpent” while staying in Chapala in 1923.] Purdy also wrote a travel piece about Ajijic.

Canadian historian and non-fiction writer Ross Parmenter (1912-1999) only ever spent a few days at Lake Chapala, in 1946, but has left us detailed descriptions of the local villages and of what life was like at the time. His accounts of the difficulties of traveling from Chapala to Ajijic,  first by car, and then by boat, in the 1940s are interesting reading.

The enigmatic Maxwell Desmond Poyntz, who was born in British Columbia on 4 January 1918 and died in Canada, at the age of 81, on 29 November 1999, is known to have visited Jocotepec while working on a “proposed trilogy”. It is unclear if he ever finished this magnum opus; there is no record of its publication.

Former CBC war correspondent and author Captain William (“Bill”) Strange (1902-1983) and his wife Jean Strange, one of Canada’s earliest female architects, lived in Chapala for decades and, in the 1960s, produced several radio documentaries about Mexico.

The famous Canadian playwright and novelist George Ryga (1932-1987) had a holiday home in San Antonio Tlayacapan for many years in the 1970s and 1980s and frequently visited and wrote while staying there. His play “Portrait of Angelica” is set in Ajijic. Several literary friends and relatives of Ryga also visited or used his holiday home. They include Ryga’s daughter Tanya (a drama teacher) and her husband Larry Reece, a musician, artist and drama professor; Brian Paisley, and the multi-talented Ken Smedley and his wife, the actress, artist and model, Dorian Smedley-Kohl. Ken and Dorian Smedley were instrumental in mounting the first (and only) Ajijic Fringe Theatre – “El Fringe” – in 1988.

Canada was a safe haven for Scottish Beat novelist Alexander Trocchi (1925-1984), who worked on his controversial novel Cain’s Book (1960) in Ajijic in the late 1950s. The group of friends that helped smuggle Trocchi into Canada to escape prosecution in the U.S. included American novelist Norman Mailer (who first visited Ajijic in the late-1940s).

American Buddhist author Pema Chödrön, known at the time as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown, lived with her then husband, the poet and writer Jim Levy, for about a year in Ajijic from mid-1968 until May 1969. Chödrön moved to Canada in 1984 to establish Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. She became the Abbey’s director in 1986 and still holds that position today.

Additional profiles of Canadian artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala are added periodically. This post was last updated on 30 June 2021.

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 5:37 am  Tagged with:
Jun 242021
 

Prior to becoming a noted abstract expressionist painter, Stanley Twardowicz (1917-2008) lived in Ajijic in about 1948. Three years later, he exhibited about twenty photographs from that visit in New York, and won instant acclaim as a talented fine arts photographer.

Remarkably, Twardowicz had only taken up photography a short time before arriving in Ajijic, and he only took a camera with him to help supplement the preliminary sketches he needed to compose paintings on canvas. When the photos were developed, Twardowicz realized that the images he had captured were artistically satisfying in, and of, themselves. This began a lifelong love of photography, alongside his passion for painting.

Stanley Twardowicz. c.1948. Fishing nets, Ajijic. (Credit unknown)

Stanley Twardowicz. c.1948. Fishing nets, Ajijic. (Credit unknown)

Stanley Jon Leginsky was born to Polish parents in Detroit on 8 July 1917 and grew up with his godfather; he formally adopted his godfather’s surname in his early twenties, shortly before marrying Pauline (aka Apolonia) Jaszek (1921-2012) in October 1940. The marriage did not last and the couple divorced after six years.

Twardowicz attended summer school programs at the Chicago Art Institute and studied photo-retouching at the Meinzinger Art School.

He held his first exhibition of paintings in Detroit in 1944. Two years later he won a scholarship to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

Despite having no formal qualifications, Twardowicz was then offered a teaching position at Ohio State University. He taught there for about five years and became close friends with another instructor, Roy Lichtenstein—they were later best man for each other on their respective wedding days.

Twardowicz won a $1500 fellowship in 1948 in Pepsi-Cola’s Fifth Annual Paintings of the Year Competition; his work was included in a show at the National Academy of Design in New York City.

Stanley Twardowicz. c.1948. Fishing nets, Ajijic. (Credit unknown)

Stanley Twardowicz. c.1948. Fishing nets, Ajijic. (Credit unknown)

It is unclear how he came to learn about Ajijic but he traveled there in 1948-49, seeking inspiration for more paintings; while there he took a series of eye-catching photographs of fishermen and their nets. His “stunning photographic journal of the Mexican people” (New York Times) was the basis for his Mexican series of paintings, completed between 1948 and 1951.

Safely back in the US in 1949, Twardowicz held the first of several annual solo shows at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in New York, and married an Ohio State student, Ruth Ann Mendel (1929–1973). Mendel (the spelling used on the marriage certificate is given as “Mandel” in Twardowicz’s obituary and elsewhere online) later became known for her wood-cut prints. According to one source, the couple lived for a time “near Guadalajara” (presumably in Ajijic), though I have yet to find any hard evidence for this assertion.

Twardowicz’s photographs of Ajijic went on show at Wittenborn & Co., 38 East Fifty-seventh Street, New York, in October 1951, shortly after Ann graduated from Ohio State and he resigned his teaching position there. The New York Times included one of the photos—of fishing nets in Ajijic—alongside its very positive review:
“The show… consists mainly of poetic impressions of fishing nets billowed by the wind and photographed about two years ago, a year after Mr. Twartowicz began to use a camera…. The pictures convey an artist’s emotional response to the mood of a situation rather than a literal rendering of material.”

Stanley Twardowicz. 1951. (Oil on canvas) Fish Nets (Ajijic). Credit: Berner's Auction Gallery, Ohio

Stanley Twardowicz. 1951. (Oil on canvas) Fish Nets (Ajijic). Credit: Berner’s Auction Gallery, Ohio

Twardowicz’s paintings based on these photographs include an oil on canvas entitled “Fish-Nets”, completed in 1951, which was auctioned in 2015 at Berner’s Auction Gallery in Donnelsville, Ohio.

Twardowicz and Ann left for Europe on 23 November, bound for Le Havre.  When they returned to the US six months later, in June 1952, they lived in Plainfield, New Jersey, near enough to New York to enjoy its vibrant arts scene. From late-1952, the couple were Saturday evening regulars at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village, where they became friends with Jack Kerouac and a group of artists (later recognized as Abstract Expressionists) including Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and others.

By 1953, Twardowicz’s own painting had shifted away from semi-abstraction to full abstraction. The following year he was introduced to Zen philosophy and began a series of bio-morphic paintings, developing a technique to pour household paint onto canvasses stretched flat on the ground.

Twardowicz’s innovative artworks brought him major success with numerous solo shows, including annual one-person shows in the Peridot Gallery for twelve consecutive years.

In the 1960s, Twardowicz moved to Northport on Long Island. While visiting Twardowicz there, Kerouac wrote “The Northport Haiku” (1964), which first appeared in print in Street in Spring 1975. By this time, Twardowicz had been married to artist Lillian Dodson for four years.

Twardowicz continued to work also in photography. His best known later photographs are the portraits of Jack Kerouac he took in June 1967, a few months before his good friend died. The friendship was mutual: Kerouac considered Twardowicz “the most compassionate man I’ve ever met.” Despite their long friendship, the portraits were the first photographs of Kerouac that Twardowicz had ever taken.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Twardowicz became fascinated by color field theory and its relationship to visual perception; this led to him painting a series called “Disappearing Ovals.” He kept developing and experimenting as an artist. His style during the 1990s was aptly dubbed “Moving Color” by the Phoenix Museum when it held the a retrospective of Twardowicz’s work in 2001. The artist had three other retrospectives during his lifetime, all in New York: Heckscher Museum (1974), Nassau Community College (1987) and Hofstra University Museum (2007)

After a prolific career spanning 65 years, Twardowicz retired from painting in 2005 and died in Huntington, New York, on 12 June 2008.

Main sources

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

Jun 172021
 

Born on 18 January 1924 in Berlin, Germany, artist Renée George (birth name Renate Judith Georg) emigrated to the US as a stateless fifteen-year-old in August 1939, just as the second world war broke out in Europe.

George visited Ajijic during her three month trip to Mexico in the summer of 1947. When she returned to New York she was employed by the public relations magazine Modern Mexico, which published a short article she wrote and illustrated about her experiences in Mexico. The title illustration for her article is a street scene in Ajijic.

Renée George. 1947. Street scene in Ajijic. (Modern Mexico)

Renée George. 1947. Street scene in Ajijic. (Modern Mexico)

George had studied at Hunter College and taken courses in watercolor painting with William Starkweather, as well as attended night classes at the Art Students League with William McNulty, John Groth, and Howard Trafton. At the Art Students League she met her future husband Thomas O’Sullivan; they married in 1952. From 1959 onward the couple had a summer home in Martha’s Vineyard, where George was a founder member of the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association.

George later undertook illustration assignments for several books, including The River Horse by Nina Ames Frey (1953); Here come the trucks by Henry B Lent (1954); Inside the Ark and other stories by Caryll Houselander (1956); and Sixty Saints for Girls by Joan Windham (1979). She also contributed humorous drawings to the New York Times Book Review and several other publications.

Her article in Modern Mexico was written as a series of letters home to her parents.

George explains that the title of her article, “Ay Naranjas!” is the same title she would use if she ever wrote a book about all her adventures in Mexico:

– “Ay Naranjas! as I was told by a helpful Mexican has a spicy double meaning. When someone calls out Ay Naranjas! at you, and he is not selling oranges at the time, you better beware, for it is the call of the Mexican wolf.”

While in Mexico City she had the good fortune to see Diego Rivera and Siqueiros at work, and also saw paintings by Tamayo, which subsequently inspired her in the use of color.

Adjusting to Mexico brought some challenges:

“I am just beginning to understand the meanings on signs and boxes. Mexico City is particularly devoid of mail boxes, and I, being used to one at every corner, have probably mailed many a letter hopefully in a garbage can.”

Two later letters in the article are written from Ajijic, where she is staying with a friend named Hanna.

In the first, she sums up her thoughts about Ajijic:

“Am writing you this from my cot by the light of a flickering candle… Ajijic seems to the hideout for authors who have written books on Mexico (“Little Villages in the Sun,” etc) and those who are in the act of doing so. Without electric light and plumbing they get the feel of the primitive, and when they get tired of that they can always slosh through the mud to somebody’s cocktail party.

Don’t ever tell anybody you are going to Ajijic, unless of course you are talking to an artist, because you will be classed as demented. Have found no cause here for such prejudiced classification. This is one of the most charming, uninhibited places, where man and beast run around loose, enjoying their life on the shores of the lake.”

In her second letter from Ajijic, George describes the rainy season and a frustrated burglary attempt:

“It has been raining quite steadily lately, and a knee-deep river is flowing in front of our door step. Am unhappy because… all the mangos around here are spoiled because of some fly that must have sneaked through.

A few robberies have been committed lately, and our neighbor was practically paralyzed when she saw a man in a black sarape jump over her wall. When he saw here he got so scared that he climbed right back over again without touching anything. No one is wearing black sarapes around town today.

The grapevine is whispering that the charming young man who escorted Hanna and me home from the costume party last night is one of the ring leaders. I guess time will tell if no one else will.”

From Ajijic, George carried on to Cordoba and then Veracruz on the Gulf Coast, where, as she was about to return home, she was serenaded at dawn by mariachis hired by two traveling Campbell’s Soup salesmen!

George died in New York on 10 October 2010. A posthumous retrospective exhibit of her art was held at the Old Sculpin Gallery in Martha’s Vineyard in 2011.

Sources

  • Renée George. 1949. “Ay Naranjos.” Modern Mexico, Vol 22, #2, Mar-Apr 1949, 16-17, 28-29.
  • Ask art. Entry for Renee George O’Sullivan.

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

Jun 102021
 

This scenic view was painted in 1911 by Austrian artist August Lohr (1842-1920).

Lohr lived in Mexico City for almost thirty years. He undertook commissions, including interior decorations and murals, and is known to have traveled to many other locations to paint.

August Lohr. 1911. (Unknown location in Mexico)

August Lohr. 1911. (Unknown location in Mexico) Photo courtesy Juan Manuel Campo.

This painting (above) was sold at auction in the US, at which time it was described as a view of Lake Chapala.

Doubts have been raised about this description. Please get in touch if you recognize this view or can suggest a likely location.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to researcher Juan Manuel Campo for bringing this painting to my attention.

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

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