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Nov 242022
 

Among the chance events back in the 1980s that stimulated my curiosity about the history of Chapala was finding a book titled Chapala in a used bookstore in Ajijic. While the bookstore lasted only a few months, Chapala has been in a pride of place on my book shelves ever since.

Antonio de Alba. Chapala (1954)

Written by Antonio de Alba, Chapala was published by the Banco Industrial de Jalisco in 1954 in an edition of 2000 copies. The 177-page book was published as de Alba was nearing the end of more than two decades of service as parish priest of Chapala.

Chapala is an impressive achievement for its time, and the earliest book to be devoted to a single town or village at Lake Chapala. The first book-length histories of other settlements—including Ocotlán, Jocotepec, Ajijic, Tizapán el Alto and La Palma—all came many years later.

Antonio Guadalupe de Alba was born on 12 December (Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe) 1900 in San Juan de los Lagos. Antonio was several months shy of his third birthday when he lost his father, Jesús Alba Alba (1856-1903), and was raised by his mother, Lucía Rodríguez Murguía de Alba (born in 1859), who died in Chapala in 1946.

Antonio de Alba served as parish priest in Chapala from 1937 to 1954. His initial appointment was not without its critics; a group of parishioners wrote to the Archbishop supporting an alternative candidate. De Alba quickly demonstrated his ability to unite the faithful and gain their respect. Shortly after arriving in Chapala (from Cocula), he helped lead the effort to build a chapel to Our Lady of Lourdes (Nuestra Señora de Lourdes) on the hillside above the Villa Montecarlo. The first stone of this chapel was laid on 18 March 1940 and the dedication service was held on 14 August 1941.

Throughout his time in Chapala, de Alba was held in high regard by his parishioners. In April 1954, de Alba was appointed Canon of the Collegiate Church of San Juan de los Lagos. He died in León, Guanajuato, on 25 December 1958.

De Alba explains in the preface to Chapala that his own interest in the town’s history had been prompted by meeting José Ramírez Flores, the author of an article titled “Chapala y su curato hasta el Siglo XVIII” in the first issue of Estudios Históricos (a Guadalajara-based magazine). In response to some queries from Ramírez, de Alba began to explore the parish archive for answers:

I discovered treasures of true greatness, hidden under the dust of the years and the carelessness of our Mexican character (which does not know how to judge the greatness of our heroes, and is not accustomed to recounting their feats).”

De Alba then devoted a lot of his time to finding and collating historical material. Though he openly acknowledges in his book that he was not a historian and did not write like a historian, he explains that he felt compelled to share “what I had discovered, which is unknown to most people.”

He singled out the need to preserve the memory of clerics, such as Friar Miguel de Bolonia who lived his final years in Chapala, and of the “heroism of our aboriginal Indians, as well as the fine nobility of almost all the Spaniards who conquered these lands and stayed here”, as well as of the “many beautiful and very honorable events in our history, such as the great actions of our local insurgents and the defense of the Island of Mezcala.”

The early chapters of Chapala are based on excerpts from, and summaries of, the early accounts of the region written by Franciscan chroniclers such as friars Antonio Tello, Antonio de Ciudad Real and others, combined with the more formal syntheses written by historians of Jalisco.

De Alba acknowledges that the second part of the book, which focuses on the twentieth century history of the town, is “taken from tradition or personal knowledge.” Some of “the interesting and instructive news related to our town” that de Alba includes is based on the recollections of some older members of his parish. These recollections, which pertain to memories from half a century earlier, are neither comprehensive in coverage nor, with the benefit of hindsight, entirely accurate.

I am quite certain, after reading and rereading de Alba, that he never intended Chapala to be the final word on the town’s history. He acknowledged its limitations but wanted to share the findings of his research, not compile a formal, comprehensive, historical account.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that so many later writers have relied almost exclusively on de Alba’s writing. Tracing the origins of what I’ve come to call the “modern myths” of Chapala’s history—such as President Díaz spending Holy Week there every year from 1904 to 1909—has led me time and time again back to Chapala. The claim about President Díaz, for example, stems from a single sentence (page 117) which we now know is not supported by contemporary documents.

In a separate post, I will clarify and correct statements made on one particular page of Chapala, in the hope that this will offer some small but significant steps towards a revised history of the town.

For its time, Antonio de Alba’s book is a true tour-de-force, and an invaluable source and inspiration for later authors, including myself. I have the highest esteem for both Antonio de Alba and Chapala. However, this does not mean that everything he wrote should be accepted uncritically and without comment or, where possible, correction. And I am hopeful that this is precisely what future authors and researchers will do in relation to my own work.

Reading the book

Chapala has never been reprinted, and copies are difficult to find. Fortunately for readers, Javier Raygoza Munguía, the publisher of the weekly PÁGINA Que sí se lee! has uploaded the entire text as a series of digital files (access via link).

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

Several chapters of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants – available in Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes – offer more details about the history of Chapala.

Sources

  • Antonio de Alba. 1954. Chapala. Guadalajara: Banco Industrial de Jalisco.
  • Peter Bello, personal communications via FB, November 2022.
  • Luis Enrique Orozco. 1958. Nuestra Señora de Lourdes de Chapala. Reseña histórica ordenada por el Sr. Cura D. Raúl Navarro… Guadalajara.

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

Nov 172022
 

Artist and international art educator Bruce Robert Sherratt and his first wife, Lesley Jervis, a British sculptor, lived in Jocotepec at the western end of Lake Chapala, from 1968 to 1970. Prior to their arrival in Mexico, they had lived and traveled for some time in the USA.

Bruce Robert Sherratt was born in Biddulph, Derbyshire on 31 May 1944. Both Sherratt and his wife studied at the Newcastle School of Art in Newcastle on Tyne, Staffordshire, before moving to London where they married in 1963, and where Sherratt gained his degree in drawing and painting from the Camberwell College of Arts. Many years later, as a mature student, he also completed a degree in Art Education from the University of Wales in Cardiff, U.K.

Sherratt has written of fulfilling a youthful ambition by traveling (with his wife) to Mexico, where he gradually established his own identity as a surrealist painter, “hypnotized by the Aztec, Mayan and Toltec mythology” and “drawn to the giants of Mexican revolutionary muralism such as Orozco, Rivera, Tamayo and Siquieros.”

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

During his time in Mexico, Sherratt held several exhibitions of his work , including a solo show at the Galería Municipal in Guadalajara in 1969.

Bruce Sherratt. 1970. Silent Cataclysm (oil on canvas). Credit: Bruce Sherratt Gallery.

Bruce Sherratt. 1970. Silent Cataclysm (oil on canvas). Credit: Bruce Sherratt Gallery.

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

In June 1970, Bruce Sherratt’s work was in a group exhibit in Guadalajara at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense. Other artists participating in this show, included Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, John Frost, Mario Aluta, Daphne Aluta, Chester Vincent, Lesley Jervis Maddock (aka Lesley Sherratt), Gustave Aranguren, Hector Navarro, and Willi Hartung. According to the Guadalajara Reporter, the three works by Sherratt, titled “Victims,” showed “imaginative fluidity,”

Bruce Sherratt - 1971 exhibit

Bruce Sherratt – 1971 exhibit

The following month (July 1970) the Anglo Mexican Institute in Mexico City held a joint show of Sherratt’s paintings and sculptures by ‘Madock’ (the art name used by Lesley, his wife). This show in Mexico City was apparently at the encouragement of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.

After his time in Jocotepec, Sherratt traveled to California, where he painted for a year in San Francisco. His work was exhibited in a group show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1970) and in an exhibit entitled “Surrealist Painters in San Francisco”, in the Vorpal Gallery, San Francisco (also 1970).

The following year, he had another exhibit of oils and drawings in Guadalajara, in the Galeria Municipal. In his review for El Informador, John Frost called it “a passionate description of a trip to another world”, writing that Sherratt, “guides us through regions that could alarm and depress us if it was not for his vision and artistic discipline”. El Informador‘s regular art columnist, J. Luis Meza Ina, however, viewed the show as the work of a painter, not an artist.

At the end of 1971, Sherratt’s work was included in the San Francisco Vorpal Gallery Christmas Show, alongside works by Robert Clutton (who had also lived for several years at Lake Chapala), John Denning, Muldoon Elder, Roy Glover, Stephen Haines Hall, and Gary Smith.

After his time in San Francisco, Sherratt decided to travel the world and spent several years meandering through Latin America. He became sufficiently interested in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, and color theory, to return to the UK to take a degree in Art Education, before becoming a respected international art educator, whose teaching career has taken him to international schools in Germany, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sherratt’s studio is currently in Ubud on the island of Bali in Indonesia, where he is the founder and CEO of the Bali Center for Artistic Creativity (BCAC). The powerful and colorful images on his website show there are few limits to his imagination and artistic abilities. In the past twenty years or so, he has exhibited in numerous countries, including several shows in Jakarta, Indonesia: a retrospective at the Duta Fine Arts Foundation (1998), a show entitled “Synthesis and Abstraction” at the British Council (2001) and an exhibition at the ExpatriArt Gallery (2005).

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

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

Acknowledgment

Sincere thanks to Bruce Sherratt for sharing, via email, some of his memories from his time in Mexico. To see more of his work, please visit his website.

This is a revised version of a profile first published 25 June 2015.

Sources

  • El Informador, 5 June 1970; 10 May 1971; 16 May 1971.
  • Evening Sentinel (Stoke on Trent), 21 Sep 1963, 8.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970.
  • The Peninsula Times Tribune, 1 Jan 1972, 42.
  • Justino Fernández. 1971. Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en el año 1970. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.

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

 Posted by at 6:06 am  Tagged with:
Nov 102022
 

Inveterate world traveler Norman D Ford (1921-2009) described Lake Chapala and Ajijic in several of his books, including in Bargain Paradises of the World (1952). By 1970, he had decided that Lake Chapala was “no longer the cheapest place in Mexico. Since 1950, about 1,500 American couples have moved into its two dreamy villages of Chapala and Ajijic. Prices have inevitably risen. But building costs still average only $4 per square foot, and you can hire a maid for $12 or a cook for $16 a month.”

“You can have a modern home built for under $5,000…. For two, you can budget about $70 for food and $30 for utilities and your maid per month. The rest is for high living–golf, riding or swimming by day, followed by some of the most fabulous parties on this continent.”

Ford was born in the UK on 8 January 1921, the only child of Frederick William John Matthew and Jessie Shortland Ford. He grew up in Wales, and became a lifelong adventurer, especially keen on cycling, hiking and kayaking. During six years service as a radio operator in the Merchant Navy during the second world war, Ford traveled as far as the U.S., Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Ford-cover

A few days after the war ended, Ford declared himself president of the Globetrotters Club, a then loose-knit organization which produced “a monthly newsletter describing how to travel the world at rock bottom cost, plus a list of other members.” This helped popularize low budget adventure travel to all manner of unlikely destinations.

In early 1947 he moved permanently to the US where he worked as an editor and began to write travel and retirement books, starting with Where to Retire on a Small Income (1950). The success of this book, and several later books, enabled Ford to quit his day job, move to Florida, and focus on freelance writing. By 1980 travel writing had become increasingly competitive, so Ford moved to Boulder, Colorado, and switched to writing popular books about health issues. He spent the last years of his life in Kerville, Texas, where he died on 19 June 2009 at the age of 88.

Ford wrote a more detailed account of Ajijic in Fabulous Mexico where everything costs less. The following excerpts are from the 10th edition (1970).

AJIJIC. Alt 5,030′, pop 3,500. An ancient Tarascan fishing village, Ajijic nestles on the lush shores of Lake Chapala beneath a steep, green and aesthetically contoured mountain range…. You notice the neat, trim plaza with its well painted bandstand, the picturesque fishing nets strung along the shore. What lies behind those bare adobe walls? Inside are white patios lush with flowers, well equipped art studios and the comfortable homes and apartments of Ajijic’s 300 permanent American residents.”

Ford summarizes how foreigners ‘discovered’ Ajijic and began to change it:

Years ago, a retired British engineer seeking a Utopia discovered this garden spot and built himself an impressive lakeshore home fronted by an acre of color-splashed blooms. After World War II, veterans studying in Guadalajara found they could live well here on their G.I. Bill payments. Artists moved in, led by several well known modern painters. Several writers and musicians followed together with a group of enterprising ladies who reorganized Ajijic’s dwindling handlooms crafts into a thriving industry. With a few exceptions, this group still forms Ajijic’s Old Guard. Getting in early, they bought up the choicest lots and homes, secured long term leases on the lowest rentals and today, most of these old timers offer outstanding examples of the way in which the good life can be enjoyed in Mexico on little.”

Ford explains that while some of these incomers were still paying “fantastically low rents” [$7.50 to $15.00 a month] “and living well on very small budgets,” some were “constructing lavish homes costing up to $14,000 and $15,000. New homes are sprouting all around the village and to the west, ultra modern homes are studding a new hillside subdivision.”

He concluded that “Ajijic today is a slightly raffish, slightly bohemian rustic village where retirees outnumber the artists five to one.” The foreign community was changing: “Ajijic is still no place for suburban conformists but neither is its nonconformity disquieting. Drinks and gossip are still favorite pastimes but criticism today centers on the unstable electricity, the water supply which sometimes runs dry in May, and the water hyacinths which clog the lake rather than on eccentric people.”

Besides writing about Mexico, Ford wrote dozens of other books, including Florida: A Complete Guide to Finding What You Seek in Florida (1953); How to travel without being rich (1955); America’s 50 best cities in which to live, work, and retire (1956); America by car : planned routings to all that’s worth seeing (1957); Where to retire on a small income (1966); Good night : the easy and natural way to sleep the whole night through (1983); Keep on pedaling : the complete guide to adult bicycling (1990); 50 Healthiest Places to Live & Retire in the United States (1991); The sleep Rx: 75 proven ways to get a good night’s sleep (1994); and Natural remedies: techniques for preventing headaches and the common cold (1994).

When Ford looked back on his varied experiences on several continents, including cycling trips in 38 countries, he concluded that:

travel half a century ago was much more rewarding and much more fun…. Overall, the world was much safer then with far less risk of being robbed or mugged. In fact, every year since 1945 I’ve witnessed a world-wide deterioration in the quality of life and the quality of the travel experience. Each year, more Coca-Cola signs appear and almost every country is rapidly losing its national character while it fuses into a faceless industrial monoculture.”

That is so true! The world has changed, and is continuing to change, though not always for the better.
Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022) explains the changes that have taken place in Ajijic since 1940 in far more detail.

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

Sources

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

Nov 032022
 

Alice de Boton (1906-2010) started an art school in California, painted in Ajijic in the early 1970s, and continued to paint regularly until well after celebrating her 100th birthday.

Born in Jaffa, Palestine, on 25 December 1906, de Boton painted from childhood. After her family moved to France, she took painting classes in Paris and gained a law degree, as well as a certificate in chemistry.

In 1939 she married Jean Robert Bernard, a French biochemist. When the second world began, the couple fled Paris for the relative safety of southern France.

Alice de Boton. River Course (EBay).

Alice de Boton. River Course (EBay).

The disruptions of the second world war ended the family’s ambitions for a secure life in France. In the turmoil of the war, Alice, who spoke five languages-English, Spanish, French, Italian and Hebrew—also picked up a smattering of German. Very near the end of the war, she and her husband found themselves having to care for her young niece, Aline, whose father (Alice’s brother, Yves) had been captured and killed while participating in the French resistance. Alice and Robert later formally adopted Aline, and the blended family left Europe in 1947 for a new beginning in the U.S.

Alice de Boton. Guitar Player. (EBay).

Alice de Boton. Guitar Player. (EBay).

They boarded a liberty boat in Antwerp, Belgium, on 29 May 1947 and landed in Houston on 14 June. Mistakenly, the ship’s passenger manifest listed Aline, then 9 years old, as the “granddaughter” of Alice Bernard (chemist, aged 40) and Jean Robert Bernard (44-year-old biologist). They settled in San Francisco, where they had friends. Robert found employment as a biochemist and Alice pursued her interest in art, teaching and painting. In 1953, Alice began the Peninsula Arts and Crafts school in San Mateo, California, staffed by a number of noteworthy Bay Area artists. She sold the school four years later in order to move to Berkeley and open her own gallery.

After Robert retired in 1969, he and Alice lived for several years in Ajijic. Robert (1903-1993) took up carving and sculpture, a decision which had unusual consequences for Ajijic native Fernando García, who worked for him. After watching his employer at work, García expressed an interest in learning how to carve. He then worked by candlelight late into the night for several weeks to complete several “small primitives of extraordinary beauty and sensitivity.” When shown at the grand 1971 Fiesta de Arte, held at the home of art patrons Frances and Ned Windham, all of García’s sculptures sold within minutes.

Alice de Boton. Portrait of Mrs Russell.

Alice de Boton. Portrait of Gloria Marthai, a longtime resident at Lake Chapala. Coll: Sunny Russell.

Within months of moving to Ajijic, Alice had three of her works—two oils and an acrylic—selected by a four-person jury for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana (American Artists’ Exhibit) at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco, A.C. in Guadalajara. The exhibit was comprised of more than 70 works in total by 42 US artists (working in Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende and at Lake Chapala) and opened on 27 June 1969.

A list of Lake Chapala artists in 1971 gave Alice de Boton’s address as Aquiles Serdán #1, Ajijic. The following year, she held a solo show at the Museo de Historia (now the Centro Cultural Patio de Los Ángeles) at Cuitlauhuac 305 in Guadalajara. Her “social commentaries” and abstracts in oils, acrylics, collages and assemblages, were praised for their “imagination, originality and artistic skill.”

In February 1973, Alice held an exhibit of “recent paintings” and tapestries at the Hotel Camino Real (now Hotel Real de Chapala) in Ajijic. Allyn Hunt considered that the artists was “at her very best in this show when executing scenes with a pallet knife, casting a deep mosaic of blade strokes to form a face of a figure.”

Robert and Alice de Boton sold their Ajijic home in 1974, and were about to move to the state of Guanajuato, when they changed their minds and opted to rent a residence-with-studio in Ajijic. The de Botons did leave Ajijic permanently not long after that, to live first in the Yucca Valley in Southern California, and then in Israel. They returned to the US in 1989 to live in Columbia, Missouri, close to their adopted daughter, Aline.

De Boton continued to paint and exhibit, and held several solo shows in Columbia. Even moving to a retirement home did little to reduce her artistic creativity or productivity, and the home devoted one entire third-floor wall to her paintings.

During her long and prolific career, Alice solo shows in several countries. Working in a variety of media, she utilized her specialist knowledge of chemistry to develop innovative techniques in encaustics, where a heated mixture of pigment and molten beeswax is applied to a suitable surface, such as prepared wood.

Alice de Boton’s works have found their way into many private collections in Mexico, the U.S. and Israel. Among her many awards was a Degree of Honor awarded by the Society of Western Artists.

Alice de Boton died in Columbia on 10 April 2010 at the age of 103.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Sunny Russell for permission to use the photograph of Alice de Boton’s portrait of Gloria Marthai.

Sources

  • Columbia Tribune. 2010. “Alice de Boton, 1906-2010” (obituary), Columbia Tribune, 15 April 2010.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 3 Apr 1971; 4 March 1972; 18 Mar 1972; 17 Feb 1973; 22 June 1974.
  • Mark Humpal. 2017. Ray Stanford Strong, West Coast Landscape Artist. University of Oklahoma Press. Note 25, p 190.
  • Pamela A. Mulumby. 2006. “Centenarian’s art doubles as visual diary.” Columbia Missourian, 24 December 2006.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

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

 Posted by at 5:42 am  Tagged with:
Oct 202022
 

Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Philip Rosheger (1950-2013) began his musical career with childhood piano lessons before taking up the guitar in 1962. His progression as a guitarist was exceptionally rapid. By his mid-teens, he was taking master classes in Spain with José Tomás and the legendary Andrés Segovia, and his protégés, José Tomás and José Luis Rodrigo. He subsequently performed in the master classes given by Venezuelan virtuoso Alirio Diaz in Alessandria, Italy.

His guitar playing earned him many awards during his stay in Europe from 1966 to 1974, and he became the first American ever to win First Prize at the International Guitar Competition in Santiago de Compostela.

Philip Rosheger

Philip Rosheger. Credit: unknown

At a lifetime of concerts and recitals in Spain, Canada and throughout the US, Rosheger displayed “his flawless technique, his tone of very best quality, his responsive personality and his exquisite sensitivity,” at venues such as Carnegie Recital Hall, Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and Bovard Auditorium at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Rosheger was on the faculty of San Francisco Conservatory of Music from 1975 to 1978 and Sonoma State University in Northern California from 1979 to 1989. In addition to playing, he became an acclaimed composer who performed many of his original compositions in public.

Rosheger was visiting a former student, Jim Byers, in Chapala in 2008 when he composed “Clear Southern Sky,” which he dedicated to his host. “Clear Southern Sky” was first recorded by Eddie Lara on his disc titled “840″ and first performed in public in 2021 at the Centro Cultural González Gallo en Chapala.

Sources

  • Julio Garcia Casas, El Correo de Andalucia, Seville, Spain.
  • Program notes for a South Bay Guitar Society 1994 concert
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

The musical history of Ajijic is the subject of chapter 38 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

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

 

Oct 132022
 

Thurston Wells Munson was in his eighties when he decided to have a winter studio in Chapala in 1988. Munson had already enjoyed an extraordinarily varied artistic career since first studying art in his teens.

“Tee” Munson was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on 24 April 1906 and died there at the age of 92 on 7 October 1998.

In 1923 he used funds earned as a deckhand on a ship to Guatemala to take art courses at the Museum School of Art in Philadelphia. Then, a prize for an early work paid for a trip to Paris where he met Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. [link] Poker winnings and the sale of a portrait enabled Munson to travel to North Africa. In 1928 he traveled to Bombay (Mumbai), India, crossed through the Khyber Pass and was commissioned to paint life-sized portraits of the British commissioner in Srinagar and his three predecessors. (Munson published a booklet of some of his portraits in 1991.)

Back in Paris in 1929 he opened his first studio and held a solo show in the city before moving back to the US later that year. The following year Munson and his brother, Calude, held a joint show at the Artist’s Guild of Springfield, described by one reviewer as “a varied and pleasant show of paintings in oil and water-color.”

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian's restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian’s restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

After his plans to turn a stone mill in Greenfield into an art school failed during the Depression, Munson stayed afloat financially by boxing professionally, hustling at pool, and painting large canvass ‘murals’ for the walls of hotels and restaurants. These included an exotic painting (more of which later) for Adajian’s restaurant on Asylum Street in Hartford, Connecticut.Munson held a solo show of artworks in New York in 1934, before turning his attention to architecture and designing nightclubs from New York to Maine.

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian's restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian’s restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

In the early 1950s, Munson had two studios in Massachusetts (in Springfield and Rockport) and was a member of the Rockport Art Association. By 1952 he had become a partner in the Springfield architectural and engineering firm of Munson & Mallis. He remodeled a two-family Victorian house in Springfield in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. The “Thurston Munson home” at 60 Byers Street now features prominently on the walking tour of the Springfield Preservation Trust. Featured in architecture magazines, people either loved it or hated it.

In this productive period, Munson designed sets for Berkshire Ballet productions and completed numerous portraits of players inducted into the original Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. He also designed churches throughout New England, became president of the Society of American Registered Architects, and created a magnificent 92-foot mosaic for the Church of the Holy Cross in Portland, Maine, comprised of more than 235,000 pieces of Venetian glass.

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian's restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian’s restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

He told a journalist in 1988 that he had purchased a winter home on Lake Chapala where he planned to spend five months each year “doing nothing but paint…. There will be no telephone. It is my answer to the many who have criticized me for not producing more of the sort of thing that was my early intent. But the Depression came along, together with three children and a complete collection of economic problems.”

At about this time Munson asked for help in locating the various canvass murals he had done for Greenfield Schools, pointing out that they now had a significant economic value since his wall-sized canvasses were priced at $200 a square foot. He offered to maintain them (unrolled) in his Chapala studio until Greenfield found a suitable place to display them.

The fourteen ‘murals’ in Adajian’s restaurant, an upmarket restaurant which opened in 1947, remained on show for almost forty years; they continued to interest patrons and art classes used to go there to study them. Described variously as fantasy or surrealistic, they depicted tales from the Arabian Nights. After the restaurant closed in 1986, Munson restored them for display in a gallery in Greenfield. Since 2004 they have been held in storage at National Library Relocations in Three Rivers.

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

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village explore the history of the vibrant art community of Ajijic.

If you have a painting by Thurston Munson or can offer more details about his time in Chapala, please get in touch!

Sources

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

 Posted by at 5:52 am
Oct 062022
 

Painter, print maker and sculptor Stanley (“Stan”) Fullerton (1935-2018) lived in Chapala in the early 1960s and subsequently became a successful painter in the Santa Cruz area, California.

Born in Portland, Oregon, on 19 January 1935, Fullerton had already exhibited at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco (one of the favorite venues of Beat era poets and artists) and held a solo show at the Telegraph Hill Gallery, in that city in 1958 before he moved to New York where he studied at the Art Students League (1959-60), became friends with George Grosz, and held solo shows at the European Gallery (1959) and the Hilda Carmel Gallery (1960).

After a short period of service in Korea and Japan with the US Marines, Fullerton spent a year or two at Lake Chapala, before settling in the Santa Cruz area of California in the mid-1960s. His wife, Gail Putney, was the first female president of San Jose State University. The couple moved to Coos Bay, Oregon, in the 1990s.

Stan Fullerton. 1969. Man Playing Cello Outdoors.

Stan Fullerton. 1969. Man Playing Cello Outdoors

According to former “Merry Prankster” Lee Quarnstrom, Fullerton “inspired both the stoic American Indian character, “Chief” Bromden, and recidivist criminal, Randle McMurphy, in Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

In the words of journalist Mark Marinovich:

Fullerton’s expressionistic paintings, prints and drawings are populated by improbable characters juxtaposed in even more improbable circumstances.”
– “ “I paint human folly. I paint authority figures as fools, and fools as authority figures.” Fullerton champions self-expression, which, he asserted, is generally lacking in American art.”

Despite not liking to exhibit his art, Fullerton held several one-man shows, including exhibitions at The Cupola Gallery, Santa Cruz (1966), The Downstairs Gallery, Los Gatos (1970), Pacific Grove Art Center, Pacific Grove (1982), Bruce Velick Gallery, San Francisco (1987) and Southwestern Oregon City College, North Bend, Oregon (2016).

Exhibit of works by Stan Fullerton, 2017

Exhibit of work by Stan Fullerton, 2017.

His group shows included Nova I in Berkeley, California (1969), The Great Montgrove Craft Guild, Pacific Grove (1970), 1971- 1973 The Forge in the Forest, Carmel (1971, 1972, 1973), Corn Roast, Davenport (1972), and Bruce Velick Gallery, San Francisco (1987) and Untitled 2.0 Gallery, Grants Pass, Oregon (2017).

Fullerton’s friends during his time in Chapala included guitarist Jim Byers. Byers and Fullerton were also close buddies in Santa Cruz. Fullerton was bartender at The Catalyst, where Byers—dubbed “The First King of Lompico” by one regular—often played classical guitar for tips.

Stan Fullerton had been widowed two years when he died in Coos Bay, Oregon, in 2018.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village explore the history of the vibrant art community of Ajijic.

Sources

  • Jim Byers, personal communication, August 2015.
  • Mark Marinovich. 1984. “Improbable world of Stan Fullerton.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 30 March 1984, 68.
  • Mark Marinovich. Undated. “Online Biography of Stanley Fullerton.”
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, California, 7 July 1970, 4;
  • Anonymous comment dated 30 September 2015 at Hip Santa Cruz History Project.

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 5:46 am  Tagged with:
Sep 292022
 

In the early 1960s, Grant Risdon, a student at San Francisco Art Institute, lived in Chapala for some time. Risdon, a larger than life character, became friends with guitarist Jim Byers, and the two men rented rooms in El Manglar, the extensive lakeside estate in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Scott Hampson, who visited his half-sister Beverly Johnson in Ajijic over the winter of 1963-64, shared his tales of his own adventures with Grant Risdon:

By that time I had two close friends who kept me company out at Manglar. One, the one I was closest to, was Tony Bateman…. He and I and a friend named Grant stole two very expensive early era inflatable boats from two explorer tourists who were en-route back from South America. They were staying at a lakefront hotel in town and had the boats out on their deck. We stored them at Manglar and took midnight floats out on the lake, which was the only time one could float stolen boats…. One late night in the graveyard we unbuckled the crypt of an important ancient citizen, a priest perhaps. When we got the lid off and shone our flashlight inside we saw the skeleton, screamed, and took off running like contestants in a 100 yard dash.”

A year earlier, an encounter with Risdon and Byers had left an indelible impression on Doctor Avis, as recounted by Dayton Lummis in Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. According to Lummis: “Ajijic was then, 1962, just barely beginning to be discovered, mostly by a few beatniks and adventurers” when Doctor Avis got out of the army and decided to stay there a few days:

Not long after getting off the bus in Ajijic he fell in with two American chaps, Jim Byers and Grant Risdon from Chicago, who playfully called himself “Pancho Napoleon Anaya… These two chaps directed the Doctor to some cheap lodging and then suggested they buy some of the locally available and very cheap marijuana, or mota, to assist them in getting through the afternoon…”

Risdon’s moniker reflected the fact that he had been informally adopted by the prominent Anaya family in Chapala.

Grant Risdon. Credit: Monterey County Weekly.

Grant Risdon. Credit: Monterey County Weekly.

Risdon, who was born in Monterey, California, in about 1943, started life with an abusive father and, while still a child, lost his mother to a heroin overdose. Brought up by his grandfather in Jamesburg, near Cachagua, RIsdon eventually graduated from Carmel High and served briefly in the US Marines before moving to Lake Chapala.

His art education had begun with Monterey painter Buck Warshawsky, and his early works were sufficiently original to be greatly admired by Jack Swanson, a renowned cowboy painter living in Carmel Valley. Swanson awarded him the top prize in an art contest at the Trail & Saddle Club for a painted three-panel door.

The only Risdon artworks known to have been published are the “brilliant illustrations (Aztec Design)” linoleum block prints he produced for a hand bound book of poems by Richard Denner, published in 1968.

Risdon sold pastel drawings of ships in local galleries, and often painted scenes of the Civil War, the Old West and Native Americans. Adorning the Cachagua General Store for years was one of his “Indian Surrealism” pieces: an image of a canoe under a full moon, with its Native American rower only visible as a reflection in the water.

In 1981, following a violent altercation with a naked man, Risdon fled police to hide out in a cave in Los Padres National Forest for the next three years, before returning to the scene of the crime to turn himself in. Or did he? Risdon was a brilliant raconteur but, according to many friends and journalists, was liberal with the truth and often embellished his stories for dramatic effect. Years later, Conall Jones, a New York filmmaker, produced a 20-minute documentary short, An Unwanted Man (2014), about Risdon’s years on the lam. [link is to trailer]

Friends considered Risdon “a sensitive soul who loved horses, painted Western-style art and pursued history and culture with almost as much passion as he did pretty women.” He always retained very fond memories of Lake Chapala and Mexico. In the words of one journalist:

Reliving those memories behind the General Store, Risdon clacks his castanets and sings “El Lechero,” a Mexican folk song about a handsome milkman. The nostalgia begins to flow like tequila: how he tangoed with beautiful women in the Guadalajara dance halls, received a presidential smile during Jonn F. Kennedy’s visit to Mexico, and learned spirituality from the Huichol Indians of Jalisco.
– “Honey, that place – ” he says with a dreamy smile, “that is the most beautiful time in my life.”

Risdon, who returned briefly to Chapala in about 2014, died in Cachagua, California, in 2018.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village look at Ajijic’s vibrant art community and its 1960s’ drugs scene.

Sources

  • Kera Abraham. 2010. “The improbable and irresistible saga of Cachagua’s living legend, Grant Risdon.” Monterey County Weekly, 29 April 2010.
  • Jim Byers, personal communications, August 2015.
  • Richard Denner. 1968. Poemes. D-Press (Ketchikan, Alaska).
  • Scott Hampson. 2016. Unpublished document dated December 2016 titled “BEVERLY AND MEXICO 63-64″, sent to me December 2020:
  • Dayton Lummis. 2011. Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. iUniverse, 159-160.

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 5:49 am  Tagged with:
Sep 222022
 

According to his birth certificate, painter and art educator Luis Sahagún Cortés was born in the town of Sahuayo, Michoacán, on 20 November 1900 (and not on 20 May as stated in some online biographies). His parents were well educated: his mother (Petra Cortés, or Cortéz as on his birth certificate) was a teacher and his father (Pascual Sahagún) a doctor. In 1900, Sahuayo was situated on the southern shore of Lake Chapala; during the artist’s childhood, the eastern third of the lake was drained and ‘reclaimed’ for agriculture, causing Sahuayo to lose its proximity to the lake.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Autoretrato. Credit: Morton Casa de Subastas, 2017.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Autoretrato. Credit: Morton Casa de Subastas, 2017.

Luis Sahagún studied art in Guadalajara from the age of 18 with José Vizcarra (1868-1956) and then at the Escuela Libre de Bellas Artes in Mexico City before moving to Rome, Italy, in 1925 to study at the Academy Libre de Desnudo, where his teachers included Rómulo Bernardini. Sahagún also attended art classes and workshops in Turkey, Palestine, Egypt and Morocco.

Sahagún returned from Europe in 1932 and married Italian-born Adela Appiani Panozzi (c.1907-1964) in Mexico City on 5 November 1936; the couple never had children.

Sahagún dedicated his life to his art and art education. As an educator, he was Professor of Art at the National Fine Arts School (Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas) in Mexico City, where he had a studio in the colonia Postal, from 1932 to 1976. He also led the Departamento de Restauración Artística del Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) for more than 20 years.

Among the many students of his who went on to enjoy distinguished careers as professional artists were Raul Anguiano, José Luis Cuevas, Humberto Peraza, Luis Nichizawa and Martha Chapa.

Sahagún held more than 40 one-person exhibitions, in locations from France, Spain and Cuba to New York and Philadelphia, and was commissioned to complete official portraits of numerous ex-Presidents. During the presidency (1934-1940) of Lázaro Cárdenas, Sahagún was appointed official painter to the president, commissioned to complete official portraits of numerous former presidents and asked to paint several murals, including some in Los Pinos (formerly the official residence of the president), and the Palacio Nacional (National Palace).

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

In addition to his oil paintings, his charming well-executed drawings are much sought after by collectors. Drawings and paintings by Sahagún are on permanent display in the Gallery of the Società Dante Alighieri in Rome, Italy, and can be found in collections in New York, London, the Dutch Royal Academy, Denmark, Monaco, the Oval Office of the U.S., Cuba, and many other places, including, now, the Ajijic Museum of Art.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Personajes en el autobus. Credoit: Morton casa de subastas.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Personajes en el autobus. Credit: Morton Casa de subastas.

Sahagún never relinquished his attachment to Sahauyo and moved back there in 1975 to live out his final years. His paintings can be admired in the city’s Santuario de Guadalupe, and in the Museo Luis Sahagún museum (part of the Casa de la Cultura Petrita Cortés de Sahagún).

luis-sahagun-cover

His most well known works in Sahuayo are the fourteen unique stations of the cross, using Venetial mosaics and commemorating the Cristero martyrs, embedded in niches beside the stairway leading up to the Cristo Rey monument. Sahagún’s depictions feature Purepecha Indians; this is perhaps the only Way of the Cross in the world to have truly indigenous motifs.

Sahagún died in Sahuayo on 24 February 1978. In his memory, Mexico’s Lotería Nacional issued tickets bearing his portrait, and (in 1999) a series of Ladatel phone cards with illustrations of his paintings was issued.

A short book about his life and work was published in 2006 by the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA).

Several fine examples of drawings by Luis Sahagún Cortés are in the permanent collection of the Ajijic Museum of Art (AMA).

Sources

  • Ma. del Carmen Alberú Gómez. 2006. Luis Sahagún Cortés : pincel del equilibrio. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA).
  • 2-minute Facebook video: Via Crucis de Cristo Rey en Sahuayo, Michoacán.
  • El Informador: 12 November 1998, 53.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

Sep 152022
 

Sometimes amateur artists paint something close to unique. Jim Byers, born in about 1940, first visited Lake Chapala in 1960 after graduating from Berkeley High School, California. He remained in Mexico for three years before returning north to study for a degree in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

For part of this first extended visit to Mexico, Byers lived at the extensive property in San Antonio Tlayacapan, known as El Manglar, where President Díaz stayed on several occasions in the 1900s, paying the princely sum of $18 a month for room and board.

Jim Byers. 1961. Photograph of El Manglar.

Jim Byers. 1961. Photograph of El Manglar.

It was at El Manglar that Byers took this photograph of where he was living and completed a painting of the same scene. While Byers had no pretensions as a visual artist, his 1961 painting of El Manglar is the only one I’m currently aware of. Byers explained to me that,

“It’s a one of a kind. I painted it when I was young and had had a couple of art classes as a teenager. I am glad you like it. It was here in Ajijic when I was maybe 19 years old.” He then went on to point out that “the guy on the bench is Montgomery Clift playing Freud in a movie, the skeleton is the Mona Lisa… the guy flying is of course the artist.”

Jim Byers. 1961. El Manglar.

Jim Byers. 1961. El Manglar, San Antonio, Ajijic.

El Manglar is also associated with American artist Everett Gee Jackson. Shortly after their marriage in 1926, Jackson and his wife, Eileen, rented it and lived their with a couple of friends for several months. Jackson described El Manglar’s extensive grounds and idiosyncratic decorations:

Eileen and I took the large music room, with its shining tile floor, for our bedroom. We thought it must have been the old dictator’s music room, since it had cupids playing musical instruments painting on the ceiling.

Staying at El Manglar for at least part of the time Byers was there, was Grant Risdon, a student at the San Francisco Art Institute who was a frequent visitor to Chapala. An encounter with Risdon and Byers in 1962 left an indelible impression on Doctor Avis, as recounted by Dayton Lummis in Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. According to Lummis: “Ajijic was then, 1962, just barely beginning to be discovered, mostly by a few beatniks and adventurers” when Doctor Avis got out of the army and decided to stay there a few days:

“Not long after getting off the bus in Ajijic he fell in with two American chaps, Jim Byers and Grant Risdon from Chicago, who playfully called himself “Pancho Napoleon Anaya… These two chaps directed the Doctor to some cheap lodging and then suggested they buy some of the locally available and very cheap marijuana, or mota, to assist them in getting through the afternoon…”

Jim’s drug of choice, however, was not mota or painting but playing classical guitar. In his own words,

“I came here in 1960 when I got out of high school. I decided to hitchhike South and kept going. I’m a classical guitarist and was very very good friends with Gustavo Sendis and Geoffrey Goodridge. Gustavo lived with my family for maybe a year in Berkeley and I knew Geoffrey because he was a student at Cal as well although I met him down here in Ajijic. So we were all very tight for some years. Beautiful beautiful men.”

Byers performed internationally as a classical guitarist, after studying with David Mozqueda in Mexico and taking master classes with Oscar Ghiglia, counter-tenor Alfred Deller, Paul O’Dette and the great American guitarist and composer Philip Rosheger (1950-2013).

During his later years living in Chapala (Jim Byers died in 2018), he continued to perform, often as an accompanist to singers, and acted as mentor to the next generation of musicians, including guitarist Ernie Lara. When Rosheger, Byer’s own mentor, visited him in Chapala in 2008, he composed a short piece titled “Clear Southern Sky,” which he dedicated to his host. Lara subsequently gave the world première performance of this piece at the Centro Cultural González Gallo in Chapala in 2021.

Note

Like Jim Byers, both Gustavo Sendis and Geoffrey Goodridge were exceptionally talented guitarists. Sendis studied in Spain and combined guitar playing with his love for visual arts, often holding joint recital-exhibitions. As an adult, Goodridge moved to Europe, adopted the name Azul and gained renown as a professional flamenco guitarist.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

The musical history of Ajijic is the subject of chapter 38 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

Sources

  • Jim Byers, personal communications, August 2015.
  • Dayton Lummis. 2011. Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. iUniverse, 159-160.
  • Ojo del Lago, December 2013.

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 082022
 

Sarah Hunt Shearer was born on 30 November 1919 and raised in Buffalo, New York. Her parents—Dr. Augustus Shearer, the director of the Grosvenor Library in Buffalo, and Inez Shearer, an artist—lived in Buffalo but also had a summer home in the village of South Wales, New York.

Sarah graduated from The Park School in Buffalo and also studied at Bradford Junior College in Massachusetts. In the summer of 1939, she was in Europe with her sister Mary Ardelle (1917-2013). Mary, who had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, was about to start teaching there, and Sarah planned to study art at the University of Grenoble. Their plans were thwarted by the start of the second world war. Fortunately, they were able to secure passage in November 1939 on one of the last passenger ships leaving Europe for the US.

Sarah continued her art education with two years at the Colorado College of Fine Arts in Colorado Springs. Her fellow students included David Holbrook Kennedy, who, in 1941, received a commission paint a mural in Chapala. David’s sister Norah, a writer, accompanied him to Chapala, where they rented a house. What David’s parents did not realize at the time was that David “intended to invite his girlfriend, Sarah Shearer, to join him in Mexico, and that they planned to marry there in late September.” (Reardon, 134)

David and Sarah, “a petite, blond, affable girl,” married on 11 October 1941 in Casa Casimiro Ramirez in Ajijic, described in one newspaper as the residence of author Nigel Stansbury-Millett and his father, Harry Millett. This must be one of the earliest all-American marriages in the area.

“The bride, who was given away by her mother, wore an afternoon dress of navy blue crepe, with a collar and peplum of white lace in an orange-blossom pattern. Her hat was of white feathers, and she carried a small bouquet of orange blossoms.” (The Whittier News)

Guests at the wedding, and reception which followed, included Sarah’s mother—artist Inez Rogers Shearer; David’s two sisters—Norah and Mary Frances; Nigel Stansbury-Millett and his father; Swedish artist Nils Dardel and his partner Edita Morris; Mr and Mrs Francisco Nicolau of Guadalajara and their son Sergio; Mr and Mrs Casimiro Ramírez and two children; and the Honorable Mr Maurice Stafford (US Consul). Following the civil wedding in Ajijic, an Episcopal ceremony was performed by the Rev. José Robredo in St Marks Chapel in Guadalajara.

The young couple lived in Chapala in a “small house, where the whitewashed walls, tile floors, serapes, and minimal furnishings were enhanced by David’s pictures on the walls”. (Reardon, 140)

“The little house in the fishing village was fairly new, built to rent to summer-people who came for the lake and the quiet. It has a bathroom upstairs, fed from a tank on the roof which a man came every night to fill by the hand-pump in the tiny patio.” (Fisher, 545)

David’s murals in the municipal baths in Chapala must have been among the earliest, if not the earliest, murals in the Lake Chapala region. Sadly, neither the murals nor the building that housed them still exist.

The murals were painted by the entire group (David, Sarah, Norah and Mary Frances) under David’s direction. The group worked on them every day for several weeks: “Norah and Sarah and I were helping David paint murals in the municipal baths, and spent several hours every day neck-deep in the clear running water of the pools, walking cautiously on the sandy bottoms with pie-plates full of tempera held up, and paint-brushes stuck in our hair.” (Fisher, 545)

After the murals were finished in November 1941, David and Sarah returned to California by car. Tragically, David took his own life the following year, leaving Sarah a widow while pregnant with their first child; their daughter, Sarah Holbrook Kennedy, was born in August 1942.

Animal pots. (Chicago Tribune)

Five years later, in 1947, Sarah Shearer Kennedy remarried. She and her new husband, Charles Livermore, added two more children, Rebecca and Jonathan, to the family, and lived in various cities over the next few decades, including Washington, D.C. (1953), Westchester (1956-59) and Chicago, Illinois. Following their retirement in 1979, Sarah and her husband moved permanently to their summer home in he village of South Wales, New York.

In her obituary Sarah was described as “a talented artist whose work was once exhibited at the East Aurora Library” and who “was particularly known for her clay animal sculptures and her inventive woodcuts.”

The author of a short piece in the Chicago Tribune in 1974 about an artsy gift store named “Mercury and the Moon,” owned by Terry Morse-Red and her husband, Ross, loved Sarah’s work: “My favorite was the animal potter, shown here by Sarah Livermore. There was a lovable gorilla holding a low pot ($50), two nuzzling giraffes ($40 including the plant), three cavorting lions on the rim of a shallow bowl ($40).”

Charles Livermore died in 1999 and Sarah died at home on 25 April 2005, at the age of 85.

Please get in touch if you own any artwork by Sarah Hunt Shearer (Kennedy) Livermore!

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

Notes

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

Sources

  • East Aurora Advertiser, 27 April 2005. “Sarah “Sally” Shearer” (obituary).
  • Chicago Tribune, 19 April 1974, 38.
  • M. F. K. Fisher, 1943. The Gastronomical Me (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York), reprinted in The Art of Eating (Macmillan 1979).
  • Joan Reardon, 2005. Poet of the Appetites: The Lives And Loves of M.F.K. Fisher (North Point Press)
  • Buffalo Evening News (New York): 15 Oct 1941, 38; 24 Dec 1941, 3.
  • The Whittier News: 21 Oct 1941, 2.

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

 Posted by at 7:35 am  Tagged with:
Aug 252022
 

Six small (postcard size) pen and ink drawings of Lake Chapala came into my possession a year or two ago. Their quality is undeniable (see the two shown below), but I have yet to identify the artist. They are believed to date from 1968.

‘Daniel.’ ca. 1968. Line drawings.

All six line drawings are signed ‘daniel’ (all lower case):

daniel-signature

If you recognize this signature or this artist, please get in touch!

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

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

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 182022
 

US artist Inez Rogers Shearer (1889-1981) painted at Lake Chapala in 1941, only a few months after the death of her husband. Shearer was in Ajijic to attend the marriage of her daughter, Sarah Hunt Shearer, to David Holbrook Kennedy, who painted the earliest known mural at Lake Chapala. Sarah was also an artist and the young couple had met while studying art at the Colorado Springs Art Center.

Also at the wedding were David’s two sisters: the food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, and author Norah Oliver Kennedy, who wrote several stories while in Mexico for submission to The New Yorker, as well as Swedish artist Nils Dardel, his partner Edita Morris, Nigel Stansbury-Millett and his father, Harry Millett; Mr and Mrs Francisco Nicolau of Guadalajara and their son Sergio; Mr and Mrs Casimiro Ramírez and two children; and the Honorable Mr Maurice Stafford (US Consul).

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

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

Inez Shearer. 1945. Yucatan transport.

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

Florentino Padilla. c 1975. Untitled.

Florentino Padilla. c 1975. Untitled.

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

 Posted by at 5:18 am
Jul 212022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoë Mozert artwork for Brown and Bigelow

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

Zoë Mozert “The Outlaw”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jul 142022
 

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Kitchen. Portrait of a lady. Date unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note

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

Sources

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

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

Jul 072022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jun 302022
 

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

Vida Shepard, 1955

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jun 232022
 

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

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

Elma Pratt. Chapala. Silkscreen, published 1947.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the other hand:

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

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

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

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

Note

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

Sources

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

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

Jun 162022
 

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

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

Mona Jordan and 'Tarascos'. 1961.

Mona Jordan and ‘Tarascans, Ajijic’. 1961.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jun 092022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

May 262022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another reviewer, Joan Bucklew, called Rowena:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her remains were interred in the Chapala municipal cemetery.

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Undated. Untitled. AMA (Ajijic Museum of Art)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

May 052022
 

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

Eva Lange. Photo: Nancty Bundt. Creative Commons 4.0

Eva Lange. Photo: Nancty Bundt. Creative Commons 4.0

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

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

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

Eva Lange. Øyer. Credit: Fineart.no

Eva Lange. Øyer. Credit: Fineart.no

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

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

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

Eva Lange. Dragsug. Credit: Fineart.no

Eva Lange. Dragsug. Credit: Fineart.no

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

Eva Lange. 1979. Svermere. Collection AMA.

Eva Lange. 1979. Svermere. Collection AMA.

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

Eva Lange. 1979. Untitled. Collection AMA.

Eva Lange. 1979. Untitled. Collection AMA.

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

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

Note

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

Acknowledgment

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

Main Source

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

Who was Howard Fryer?

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

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

Fryer-El-Nitty-Gritty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did Howard Fryer write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tobias Schneebaum. 1970s. (New York Observer)

Tobias Schneebaum. 1970s. (New York Observer)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schneebaum recalls in Wild Man that, “Lynn’s casual ways bewitched and irritated Nicolas, just as Nicolas’s arrogant, snobbish manner attracted and mortified Lynn. Nicolas moved into Lynn’s house and began a frenzied, volcanic affair that lasted two years”, ending (according to Schneebaum, though it sounds somewhat fanciful) with Nicolas buying the property and forcing Lynn to move out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1950. Multi-media abstract (DallasModerne)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments

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

Sources

This profile was first published 5 January 2017.

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

Mar 102022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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