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Nov 062019
 

Rose Georgina Kingsley (1845-1925) was the oldest child of the Rev. Charles Kingsley, the celebrated English clergyman and novelist, who contributed the prologue to her book South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico.

Rose Kingsley had crossed the Atlantic to Colorado Springs in November 1871 to join her brother, Maurice, who was assistant treasurer of the company developing Colorado Springs. Even by 1872, there were less than 800 residents, so both Kingsleys were pioneer settlers.

The founder of Colorado Springs, General William Jackson Palmer, a railway entrepreneur, also owned a newspaper Out West which published several columns and sketches by Rose Kingsley. The Denver and Rio Grande train had been operating for only a week when Rose Kingsley boarded it en route to Colorado Springs. She quickly felt at home and rapidly made friends in the ever-changing community that she grew to love. She taught in the local school, begun by Palmer’s wife, Queen, for a short while, but did not enjoy the experience. Little did she realize at that time that she would, in 1884 – with the help of Dr. Joseph Wood, later Headmaster of Harrow – found The Kingsley School, in Leamington Spa, England. Rose Kingsley went on to write many more books, including A History of French Art, 1100-1899 (1899) and Roses and Rose Growing (1908).

When General Palmer decided in 1872 to examine possible routes for a railway linking Texas to Manzanillo, Rose Kingsley was invited to join his wife Queen and General William Rosencrans on the trip. The group landed in Manzanillo and then headed inland to Colima, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Querétaro and Mexico City.

Illustration from Georgina Kinsley's "South by West"

Illustration from Rose Georgina Kinsley’s South by West

In chapter XVII of South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico, Kingsley describes the route from Guadalajara past the northern shore of Lake Chapala on the way to Mexico City. Following a common convention of the time, she uses only initials to identify important people; several of the individuals referred to have been identified by historians. For instance, “Mrs. P.” is Mrs Queen Palmer, and Mr. C. is Mr. Duncan Cameron. Kingsley’s account of this route serves as an introduction to set the scene for so many other travelers, who would follow this exact same route from Guadalajara to Chapala in years to come. It is 1872…

“April 13.— Guadalajara to Ocotlan. At 6.15 A.M. we left hospitable Guadalajara, carrying away none but the pleasantest reminiscences of our stay of six days.

Pablo, a pleasant young fellow, who had been our cochero in Guadalajara, came with us as mozo, and was in a state of supreme delight at being armed with a Henry rifle and revolver. Mr. M. also came with us as far as La Barca.

The usual route from Guadalajara to the capital is by La Venta, Lagos, Leon, and Guanaguato; but for two reasons we chose the more southern route, past Lake Chapala and up the Rio Lerma. First, because the engineer’s party from the north (of whom we had heard nothing as yet, which made us very anxious) must pass along that route, and so be able to give a report on it. Secondly, because we were told the Chapala route was shorter and better, if there can be anything “better” in one Mexican road than another. Certainly, after the first few miles it was bad enough—rough and stony, and in the softer places there were clouds of dust.

At San Pedro [Tlaquepaque] we stopped and got three men as escort, and at 9.30 came to San Antonio, a hacienda where we changed mules, and had breakfast in a hut by the roadside. The women in the hut, which was only made of sticks and thatch, gave us eggs, frijoles, tortillas, and carne seca, in chilli colorado sauce, which for hotness almost beat the mole de guajalote at Atenquique. But besides these native viands we got capital chocolate, made from some cakes we had brought with us. So, on the whole, we fared well.

At 12.15 we came to the summit of a small pass (4850 feet), and there before us lay a splendid valley, rich with golden wheat-fields, with a fine river flowing through it on our left to the north-west; and we knew we had struck the great central valley of Mexico, commonly known as the Valley of the Lerma.

This valley is one of the richest portions of the Republic. Its length, between Guadalajara and Queretaro, is about 230 miles, and its greatest width (between Leon and the mountains of Michoacán), 60 miles. About one-tenth of the available land in it is under cultivation. Wheat, maize, and beans grow freely without irrigation, yielding good crops year after year without the slightest pains being taken to improve the soil. With irrigation and better farming two crops might be obtained; and when a market for the produce, and easy means of transportation are supplied, this tract will become one of the most important wheat-growing districts of the world. The amount of wheat which could be raised in this valley alone has been variously estimated from 500,000 to 1,000,000 tons yearly, equal to or surpassing the whole yearly yield of California.”

This is an extract from chapter 30 of “Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales”, available as either as a regular print book or a Kindle e-book.

Note: This post was first published 22 April 2012.

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 312019
 

Stanley George Sourelis, who was born in Chicago on 26 June 1925 and died in Dallas on 27 December 2006, was a chemical engineer and versatile artist who lived his final years in Ajijic. He was constantly experimenting. In his early artistic career he painted portraits, abstract oils and produced hundreds of charcoal drawings. During his time at Lake Chapala he used his scientific skills to become an expert practitioner of encaustic art.

Curiously, Sourelis’s artistic claim-to-fame as a co-founder of the landmark Wells Street Gallery in Chicago in the late 1950s has been almost forgotten. The Wells Street Gallery was THE avant-garde gallery in Chicago during its short spell in that city (from 1957 to 1959) before it relocated to New York, the then-hub of the U.S. modern art movement. Sourelis was far more than simply a financial backer of the gallery, as rather disparagingly described in most accounts; he also had a major artistic contribution to the gallery’s success.

Sourelis, the son of Greek immigrants, grew up in Chicago; he learned English only after starting kindergarten. His first name, originally Stelios, was changed to Stanley purely for convenience, as was quite common at the time.

Sourelis was unemployed prior to serving in the U.S. military from 17 April 1944 to 7 May 1946. After the war, he studied chemical engineering in his native city at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was awarded his bachelor’s degree by that institution in June 1948.

As a chemical engineer, he helped install factories producing chemicals and foodstuffs for a variety of corporations, including Unilever, Cargill and Aarhus, a career that took him to several U.S. cities, Toronto in Canada, and to Guatemala and Mexico.

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Credit: Toomey & Co.

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Reproduced by kind permission of Dian Sourelis.

According to an article published when the vanguard Wells Street Gallery opened in 1957, Sourelis’ interest in painting began in the 1950s and what had “begun as a diversion” had become “a burning enthusiasm”. Several of his abstract paintings were in the group show that marked the gallery’s opening, along with works by 15 other painters. Examples of Sourelis’ paintings were also included in a group show at the gallery the following year, shortly before it celebrated its first anniversary with an exhibition of works, loaned from private collections in Chicago, of abstract expressionist art by such greats as Franz Kline, David Smith, Jackson Pollock, Ashile Gorky, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. In November 1958, the two co-founders of the gallery – Sourelis and Robert Natkin – held a joint show at the gallery.

In its short time in Chicago, the Wells Street Gallery boosted the careers of several other promising artists including Richard Bogart, Ernest Dieringer, Judith Dolnick, Ronald Slowinski, Naomi Tatum, Gerald van de Wiele, Donald Vlack, sculptor John Chamberlain and photographer Aaron Siskind.

The story of the Wells Street Gallery, and its humble beginnings, was the subject of an exhibition in New York in 2010, entitled “The Wells Street Gallery Revisited: Then and Now.”

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Credit: Toomey & Co.

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Reproduced by kind permission of Dian Sourelis.

In 1963, Sourelis had the distinction of having one of his works selected for inclusion in the 66th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity. It is unclear if his oil painting – “Changing Joy Nab”, priced in the catalog at $900 – actually sold or not. By coincidence, Harry Mintz, another artist with close connections to the Lake Chapala area, also had a work in that show.

Sourelis used his advanced knowledge of chemical processes to explore the possibilities offered by encaustic art. Sourelis himself explained in a short article how:

“Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which resins and colored pigments are added. This results in a paste-like medium which is applied to a surface such as prepared wood or canvas….

Electric hot plates, irons, heat lamps and even flame torches are used to fuse the encaustic mixture to the canvas and to allow the surface to be manipulated….

Encaustic is a demanding organic medium which engages the artist in a process of controlled accidents with unpredictable results that can be selectively enhanced. It is a medium that provides a seductive skin that is unusually malleable and changeable.
It can evoke sensations and emotions of transformation, religious ritual, history and the passage of time in the hands of an accomplished artist.”

While the precise years he spent in Ajijic are unclear, Stanley Sourelis was still exhibiting there the year he died. His work was included in a group show in Ajijic in 2006, held in the offices of Actinver (then A. W. Lloyd). The artists in this show also included Antonio Cárdenas, Efrén González, Gerry Krause, Julie Mignard, Daniel Noll, Diane Pearl, Cynthia Roberts and Ana Tolere.

Sourelis married five times. His third wife was noted painter and sculptor Barbara Chavous (1936-2008). The couple met in New York and married in the 1960s. Prior to the marriage (her second), Barbara had been teaching in the New York City Public School System. The newly-weds left the Big Apple to establish their home in her native city – Columbus, Ohio – where Barbara mentored artists, served as artist-in-residence at several colleges and universities and became recognized as “Columbus’ artistic mother.”

Best known for her Jazz Totems (tall layered-wood pieces often using found objects), her work has won numerous awards and can be seen at several locations in Columbus including Bicentennial Park, Kwanzaa Playground and Main Library. She attributed the sense of color that characterizes her work to the influence of Stanley Sourelis. The artistic couple were mentors to numerous Columbus artists – Queen Brooks, Terry Logan, Pheoris West, Candy Watkins, Stephen Canneto, Walt Neal and Sandy Aska, among others.

Stanley Sourelis’s fifth wife was Sheryl Ann Stokes Sourelis (1944-2001). Born in Carlsbad, New Mexico and raised in southern California, Sheryl had moved to Guadalajara in her teens to live with her father and stepmother. After finishing her education in Guadalajara she studied art in Europe, including classes at the Sorbonne. Examples of her paintings were included in a 1974 group show in La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic, alongside works by the multi-talented artist and guitarist Gustavo Sendis and his mother, Alicia Sendis. That show opened in March 1974.

Sheryl Sourelis was a talented impressionist artist; cards featuring her lively Mexican village scenes and landscapes, marketed in Ajijic and Puerto Vallarta, sold well. Sheryl also worked in real estate and at one time had a bakery in Puerto Vallarta. She lived year-round in Ajijic from about 1996 until her death in 2001. She was a great supporter of local charities and had major parts in two Lakeside Little Theatre productions: “The Little Foxes” (October 1999) and “Shadowbox” (October 2001).

Stanley Sourelis’ daughter, Dian Sourelis, based in Chicago, has also become an exceptionally accomplished artist and has inherited her father’s passion for encaustic art.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Lorraine Farrow, owner of the delightful Galeria Sol Mexicano in Ajijic, for first bringing to my attention Stanley Sourelis’ long-time connection with Ajijic, and to Dian Sourelis for kindly sharing memories of her father’s life and work with me.

Sources

  • Arnett Howard. 2012. “Barbara Chavous: Arts Mother.” Columbus Bicentennial, 1 March 2012.
  • Chicago Tribune, 19 September 1958, 27; 28 Nov 1958, 38.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 16 March 1974.
  • Mexconnect.com Forum post, 2006, by David McLaughlin.
  • Stanley Sourelis. “An Almost Lost Art Form Makes a Return. Waxing Poetic.”
    Reprinted by Eileen Bergen, 2014, in “Encaustic Art”,
  • Edith Weigle. 1957. “Here’s hope for the unknown of the avante garde”. Chicago Tribune, 29 September 1957, 168.

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 6:02 am  Tagged with:
Oct 242019
 

Marie Robinson Wright (1853-1914) was the author of two non-fiction books about Mexico, the first published in 1897 and the second in 1911. The later book includes a short description of Lake Chapala and an early photo of the shoreline villas as seen from the lake.

Born in Newnan, Georgia, on 4 May 1853 to a wealthy plantation owner and his wife, Wright grew up in privileged surroundings. She was disinherited after running away from home at age 16 to marry Hinton P. Wright, the son of a prominent lawyer.

Both her family and her husband lost everything in the Civil War and in 1886, now in her early thirties, she divorced her husband and, in order to support her two children, turned her hand to journalism and travel writing. She became a correspondent for the New York World and wrote a series of well-illustrated and keenly observed articles and books on Mexico, Central America, and South America.

In 1891, she visited Mexico and in 1892 she penned an eight-page article about the country for the New York World, supplemented by illustrations. The newspaper was paid 20,000 dollar in gold by the Mexican government for this supplement, a record price for a newspaper article at the time.

The following year, Wright was commissioned to write an illustrated booklet about the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Shortly afterwards, Wright decided she could do better on her own.

Accompanied by her daughter, Ida Dent Wright, she returned to Mexico in 1895 and received official approval for a book about the country. President Porfirio Díaz and Foreign Secretary Ignacio Mariscal gave her letters of introduction to every governor in the country and arranged for her to have access to steamboats and private trains, with military escort if required, wherever she wished to travel.

The two women spent the next year traveling throughout the country, covering thousands of miles by mule, railroad and steamboat. Few women tourists had ever visited some of the remote areas that Wright and her daughter explored. (One notable exception was Englishwoman Adela Breton, who, in 1893, began her own odyssey exploring unlikely parts of Mexico on horseback, accompanied only by a local guide.)

Frontispiece of Marie Robinson Wright, Picturesque Mexico (1897).

Frontispiece of Marie Robinson Wright, Picturesque Mexico (1897).

The result of Wright’s travels was her first book on Mexico – Picturesque Mexico – published in 1897. It was “the most comprehensive and beautiful book on Mexico ever written in any language” and 8,000 copies were ordered by the Mexican government in advance for distribution to government officials and representatives at home and abroad. It included only this brief description of Lake Chapala:

Among the lakes which stud with beauty this prosperous state [Jalisco] is Lake Chapala, larger than Lake Geneva, and the largest and most beautiful in the republic. This lake, by reason of its area of eight hundred and ten square miles, is sometimes known by the name of the Chapalan Sea. Lake Chapala is a summer resort of the highest grade, and is frequented by the most prominent residents of Guadalajara and other large towns. There has recently been discovered a large deposit of petroleum discharging from the bottom of the lake.”

Wright was invited back to Mexico in 1910 and her second book, produced in 1911, commemorated Mexico’s centennial. This book, entitled Mexico – A history of its progress and development in one hundred years, includes, on page 418, this photograph of the shoreline villas at Lake Chapala.

 

Photograph of Chapala from Marie Wright (1911), p 418.

Photograph of Chapala from Marie Robinson Wright (1911), p 418.

During this trip, Wright learned about the Hotel Ribera Castellanos, on the lakeshore near Ocotlán. The hotel had opened a few years earlier, in 1906, and Wright clearly appreciated its delights:

Chapala, where they are some famous hot springs and a fine new hotel of modern equipment called the Ribera Castellanos. This resort is very convenient to Guadalajara. No more charming excursion for a lover of beautiful scenery can be found in all Mexico that around this beautiful lake. For water-fowl shooting during the fall and winter months and for sailing and bathing during the entire year, these shores are delightful. Most all the members of Mexican society find themselves there during Holy Week and other holidays. The President goes on his yearly hunting trip to these parts, accompanied by his son and some members of his cabinet and intimates. He is noted for his powers of endurance, often outstripping the others in his ardent quest for game.”

While this description is not entirely accurate (President Díaz did not actually hunt at Lake Chapala every year) the essence of her account was spot-on.

Among other books, Wright also wrote Salvador (1893); The New Brazil (1901); The Republic of Chile (1904); The Brazilian National Exposition of 1908 (1908); Bolivia, the central highway of South America (1907); and The old and the new Peru (1908).

Wright was an elected member of several learned societies and served as a special delegate to international expositions. She made her home in New York City and died there on 1 February 1914.

Sources

  • Atlanta Constitution. 1914. Marie Robinson Wright (obituary). Atlanta Constitution, 3 February 1914, 1.
  • Frances Elizabeth Willard and Mary Ashton Rice Livermore. 1893. A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred Seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life. Moulton.
  • Frances Elizabeth Willard; Helen Maria Winslow and Sallie Elizabeth Joy White. 1897. Occupations for Women: A Book of Practical Suggestions for the Material Advancement, the Mental and Physical Development, and the Moral and Spiritual Uplift of Women. Success Company.
  • Marie Robinson Wright. 1897. Picturesque Mexico. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co.
  • Marie Robinson Wright. 1911. Mexico – A history of its progress and development in one hundred years. Lipincott.

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 102019
 

Hungarian-born natural living experimenter Edmond Szekely (1905-1979), founder of the International Biogenic Society, lived and wrote at Lake Chapala during the 1970s. He was the author of more than 80 books, some in Hungarian, some in English, some translated into Spanish, and sometimes using the name Edmond S. Bordeaux.

Szekely was born in Máramarossziget in what was then Hungary (now Romania) on 5 March 1905 and died in 1979 in Costa Rica.

As a young man he was sent by his parents to study in Rome. He later claimed to have discovered a document in the Vatican Archives, while studying at the Vatican in 1923, that was purportedly an obscure Aramaic text that allegedly proved the Essenes were vegetarians, and that vegetarianism was prescribed by Jesus.

He published a translation of the first part of this as The Essene Gospel of John (1937); this work was later re-titled The Essene Gospel of Peace. No one has ever been able to locate the originals of any of the documents that Szekely claimed to have discovered and translated.

Nevertheless, Szekely made his living by promoting the values – including vegetarianism, healthy living and respect for all God’s creatures – that he claimed were contained within these ancient documents. In the late 1920s, Szekely founded several communes in France to spread his ideas and in 1928 he founded the International Biogenic Society, with Nobel Prize-winning novelist Romain Rolland.

According to the publications of the International Biogenic Society, Szekely had degrees from universities in Vienna and Leipzig and held a doctorate from the University of Paris; he had been a professor of philosophy and experimental psychology at the Bolyai University in Kolozsvár, Hungary (now Cluj-Napoca, Romania).

For Biogenic living, Szekely argued that people’s daily diet should consist of 25% biogenic foods (life renewing; eg germinated cereal seeds, nuts; sprouted baby greens); 50% bioactive foods (life sustaining; eg organic, natural vegetables, fruit) and 25% biostatic (life slowing; eg cooked and “stale” foods). They should avoid biocidic foods, such as processed and irradiated foods and drinks, since these were “life destroying.” In addition to this diet, Biogenic living also includes meditation, simple living, and respect for the earth in all its forms.

Most people can agree with the basic tenets of the International Biogenic Society which includes a belief that our most precious possession is Life, that Peace is the only way of survival for mankind, that we should preserve the vegetation of our planet, and that the improvement of life and mankind on our planet must start with individual efforts, as the whole depends on the atoms composing it.

When Hitler rose to power, Szekely left Europe for the Americas, where in 1939 he married Brooklyn-born Deborah Shainman, the 17-year-old daughter of Jewish immigrants. (The couple had first met in Tahiti six years earlier). The following year, when his U.S.-issued residence papers expired, the couple settled in the Mexican town of Tecate in Baja California, where they opened a retreat – Rancho la Puerta – where they could explore and espouse their ideas.

Early visitors paid $18.75 a week for the privilege of pitching their own tent, chopping wood and milking goats, while benefiting from Szekely wisdom and beliefs. As the spa grew, the strict vegetarian diet on offer attracted those seeking to lose weight. Today the 3,000-acre property is a holistic health spa and eco-resort with 87 rooms, 11 gyms, library and extensive art collection. It is owned and managed by Szekely’s daughter, Sara Livia Brightwood.

After he divorced Deborah in 1970 and retired from Rancho La Puerta, Szekely married 30-year-old Norma Nilsson, an actress and pianist who had been his long-time assistant at the spa, and moved to Lake Chapala to focus on his writing and teaching.

While at Lake Chapala, Szekely developed his long-time interest in the pre-Columbian ball game and “reconstructed” how the Toltec version of the ball game had been played.

Szekely described the game as “a fiendishly clever and physically demanding
one, utilizing the movements of soccer, basketball and hockey” and considered it “highly symbolic and full of hidden meaning.” While Mexican archaeologists agree with that overall assessment, Szekely’s “reconstruction” of how it was played – which he claimed involved traversing 20 wooden idols placed in the form of a large X journeying from a symbol of good to a symbol of evil – does not match any of the versions postulated by academic archaeologists.

Szekely was a prolific writer, whose books include: Cosmos, Man and Society: A Paneubiotic Synthesis (1936); Cosmotherapy, the Medicine of the Future (1938); The Soul Of Ancient Mexico (1968); The Game of Gods, Archaeological Reconstruction of the Ancient Religion of the Americas (1970); Culturas Antiguas, Mexico (1971); Los Pastorcitos, la salvación del niño campesino, alimentación – higiene – cultura física (1971); The Dialectical Method of Thinking (1973); Messengers from Ancient Civilizations: The Fascinating Story of Canine Archeology (1974); Sexual Harmony (1977); The Ecological Health Garden and the Book of Survival (1978).

He and his second wife, Norma (whose photographs illustrated Culturas Antiguas), also produced a joint book of poetry: Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf (1974).

Sources

  • Iris Engstrand. 2017. “Rancho La Puerta: Where the Fitness Revolution Began” in The Journal of San Diego History. Vol 63. 2017. Pp 1-34.
  • June Nay Summers. 1972. Buenos Días, Tecate. Lakeside, California: Sunlight Press, Inc.
  • Szekely, Edmond Bordeaux. The Gospel of Peace by the Apostle John. London: C. H. Daniels, 1937. Reprinted as The Essene Gospel of Peace. San Diego: Academy of Creative Living, 1971.

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 032019
 

Sylvia Fein, one of America’s foremost surrealist painters, lived and painted in Ajijic from 1943 to 1946 and is celebrating her 100th birthday this year. Fein has been  an enthusiastic supporter of my efforts to document the history of the artistic community of Lake Chapala, and her encouragement for this project is very much appreciated.

Beginning in November, in celebration of her birthday, and in honor of her amazing artistic career, the Berkeley Museum of Art & Pacific Film Archive in California is holding a major retrospective of her work.

The exhibition opens on 13 November 2013 and will run to 1 March 2020.

It affords a rare opportunity to see a wide selection of works by this super-talented and visionary surrealist painter whose first major solo exhibition – in New York in 1946 – was comprised of works completed while she was living in Ajijic on Lake Chapala between 1943 and 1946 (years when her husband was serving overseas with the U.S. military).

Sylvia Fein: Muchacha de Ajijic (1945). Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Sylvia Fein: Muchacha de Ajijic (1945). Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Like many others before and since, Fein fell in love with Mexico. Interviewed by the press in Mexico City more than sixty years after she left Ajijic, Fein said that ever since then, “I have loved Mexico and could cry on my return because I have the dust of Mexico on my heart”. Her sentiment precisely echoes that of American travel writer Neill James who recuperated in Ajijic in 1943 to complete her final book, “Dust on my Heart.”

The two women knew each other. In her book, James describes how Sylvia Fein “worked out some original designs” for embroidery as her role in one of the first village enterprises that allowed local women and girls to earn some money at home during their spare time. In addition, Fein played a key role in marketing the embroidered blouses in Mexico City.

For more about Sylvia Fein, especially her time in Mexico, please see:

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 262019
 

Prior to 1908, when the south-eastern part of Lake Chapala was drained for agriculture, the town of Sahuayo was very close to the shore of the lake. Sahuayo is where Mexican poet Luis Arceo Preciado was born on 24 January 1926. Arceo, one of eight siblings, died there in 2018.

According to his biography in Enciclopedia de la literatura en México, Arceo studied at Montezuma College in New Mexico (then a Jesuit seminary) before completing postgraduate degrees in Hispanic literature from La Universidad del Altiplano and the Centro de Estudios Superiores Dante Alighieri.

Arceo combined poetry writing with a teaching career, which included working at the Escuela Normal Superior Juana de Asbaje (in Zamora, Michoacán) and supervising teachers in the telesecundaria system for the Ciénaga region at the eastern end of Lake Chapala.

Arceo won more than thirty poetry awards in Mexico. He wrote more than a dozen books of poems, including Huellas en el Tiempo (1964); El Llamado Inútil; Poemas de Alguna Vez; La Tierra de los Paisajes Doloridos; El Cid y el Juglar; Poemas Mayores; ¿Qué hacen mis raíces en la Tierra?; De Paso por la Mancha; Décimas Sacramentales; Cantos Testimoniales para una Amiga (2004); Itinerario del Amor y de la Ausencia.

He is one of the seven poets whose work featured in De Esta Tierra Nuestra; Antología Poética (Colección Sahuayo No. I, 1972) and his poems were also included in Antología del Primer Festival Internacional de Poesía Morelia 1981 (1982, selected and edited by Homero Aridjis), Juegos Florales (V) (1991) and El viaje y sus rituales (2016).

Arceo, who was the first Cronista of the City of Sahuayo, from 1984-1986, was the founding director of the literary group “Cero Al Poniente” and an organizer of the national “Sahuayo Prize for Literature”, held in Sahuayo the first Friday in December each year. He also founded three literary magazines: Pórtico, Caracol and Aristas.

Examples of his work have been translated into English, Catalan and P’urépecha, the language of the indigenous inhabitants of Michoacán.

Source

  • Anon. “Luis Arceo Preciado“. Enciclopedia de la literatura en México ELEM (Fundación para las Letras Mexicanas).

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 5:08 am  Tagged with:
Sep 192019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sid Miller. UNtitled abstract. (Courtesy Ricardo Santana)

Sid Miller. Untitled abstract. (Courtesy Ricardo Santana)

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

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

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

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

For more about her work, please visit her website.

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

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

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

Sep 122019
 

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

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

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

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

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

Mabel F. Knight, 1929.

Mabel F. Knight, 1929.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Sep 052019
 

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

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

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

L. Legrand. 1907. Stereo pair showing Chapala.

L. Legrand. 1907. Stereo pair showing Chapala.

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

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

Juan Kaiser postcard

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

Uncredited photo of Lake Chapala from Hotel Ribera near Ocotlán.

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

Uncredited photo from stereo pair. Location unknown.

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Aug 292019
 

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

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

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

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

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

Berryman had several days of leisure:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Aug 222019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main source (biographical details)

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

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

Aug 152019
 

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

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

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

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

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

Water Boy, Lake Chapala. (Grace Line Photo)

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

Stark was particularly captivated by the daily rhythm of fishing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh… the good old days!

Sources

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

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

Aug 082019
 

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

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

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

Undated. Women washing clothes, Lake Chapala.

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

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

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

Raphael Greno. Undated. Unraveling silk cocoons, Ajijic.

Raphael Greno. Undated. Unraveling silk cocoons, Ajijic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments

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

Sources

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

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

Aug 012019
 

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

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

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

Cover-El-Gran-Chapo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source

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

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

Jul 252019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jul 182019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

 Posted by at 5:31 am  Tagged with:
Jul 112019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

 Posted by at 5:22 am  Tagged with:
Jul 042019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

 Posted by at 5:31 am  Tagged with:
Jun 272019
 

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

Image courtesy of Gail Michel.

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

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

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

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

1975

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

1976

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Gail Michel

1977

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

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

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

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

Credits

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

Sources

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

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

Jun 202019
 

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

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

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

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

Martín Casillas de Alba. Credit: El Informador.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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