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Nov 262020
 

Jesus Acal Ilisaliturri (sometimes “Ilizaliturri”) was born in Guadalajara on 16 August 1856 and died in the city on 25 September 1902. Acal’s parents were Ignacio Acal Ilizaliturri and Josefa Ilizaliturri. Acal left school after secundaria and was a founding member of two literary circles: “La Aurora Literaria” and “La Bohemia Jalisciense.”

Acal, who married Magdalena Mejia, became a renowned poet, narrator, journalist and playwright. According to Gabriel Agraz García de Alba, Acal reached the summit of the bohemian poetry world of his time and was the peak exponent of that literary form.

Acal’s most significant link to Lake Chapala is a poem dated 5 August 1889 entitled “El Chapala.” Dedicated to Catalina Villaseñor y Peredo, the poem was published in La República Literaria. The owner-editors of La República Literaria were Esther Tapia de Castellanos, Manuel Puga y Acal, Antonio Zaragoza and José López Portillo y Rojas.

This lengthy poem is more than 150 lines long in total. Some idea of its style is provided by this loose translation of an early section:

I come to seek your laughing beaches.
A roving pariah of no fixed abode, I walk
Without direction or path;
My only encouragement: a divine ideal,
And the starry vault, my awning.

A sanctuary on your beaches I guess
In the midst of severe storms;
In sympathy you will give me calm;
Because we are the two immensities:
You create immense loneliness. … and my soul
It also has immense solitude.

A play of Acal’s authorship, entitled “¿Qué quiere decir cristiano?” (“What does Christian mean?”) was performed at the Teatro Alarcón (now known as the Teatro Degollado) in Guadalajara on 31 August 1882.

Ilisaliturri

Acal was a professional poet, accepting paid commissions to write poetry on any topic and for any occasion. By 1894, after the demise of La República Literaria, Acal directed La Mariposa, a publication where all the contents, even including advertisements and letters to the editor, were in verse.

In 1895, Acal, a liberal, was the secretary for the inaugural meeting of “Grupo Reformista y Constitucional Jalisciense,” a group of like-minded residents of Guadalajara. The provisional president at the meeting, held in the Hotel Humboldt, was Ing. Salvador Pérez Arce, who also had close connections to Chapala.

Works authored by Jesús Acal Ilizaliturri, all published in Guadalajara, included: El ángel de la caridad (1892), Corona de Guadalupe (1892), El segundo Fray Antonio (1899), Romancero de Jalisco (1901), and Recitaciones escolares (1908). In El Romancero de Jalisco, Acal recounted the history of his native state, Jalisco, in verse.

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to Jorge Varela Martínez Negrete for sharing scans of the poem as it was originally published.

Sources

  • Jesús Acal Ilisaliturri. 1889. “El Chapala.” (Poem). La República Literaria, Año 4, Vol 5 (Marzo 89- Marzo 90), 428-432.
  • Ángel Muñoz Fernández. 1995. Fichero bio-bibliográfico de la literatura mexicana del siglo XIX. Mexico: Factoría Ediciones.
  • Celia del Palacio. 2019. “Las publicaciones satíricas y literarias de Guadalajara (siglo xix)” Estudios jaliscienses 116, Mayo de 2019.
  • El hijo del Ahuizote: August, 1895, Volume 10 (Issues 454-504).

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 192020
 

English visual artist Eleanor Mason, a cousin of the British writer E. A. W. Mason, was born in the U.K. in about 1895 and studied art in France, Germany and Italy. Eleanor, variously known as Eleanore, Leonore, Evylin or Evelyn, lived for several months in Ajijic with her second husband, the German cellist Alex von Mauch.

Eleanor Armstrong-Mauch, 1935

Eleanor von Mauch, 1935

Prior to this marriage, Mason had lived in Pasadena, California, from 1917 to 1931, where she ran an art school for a time. She was a co-founder of the Laguna Beach Art Association in 1918 and belonged to the Pasadena Society of Women Painters & Sculptors, serving as its president in 1928. Her work was exhibited at the Laguna Beach Art Association (1921, 1924), West Coast Arts, Incorporated (1923), the Pasadena Women Painters & Sculptors (1928) and the Santa Cruz Art League (1929). She was also a member of the British Water Color Society.

After marrying Alex von Mauch in 1935, the couple settled in Ajijic. Unfortunately, Alex died later that year. Eleanor then seems to have divided her time between Pasadena and Mexico. In January 1937, for example, her participation in the Pasadena New Year’s Day parade was noted in the Los Angeles Times because she was dressed as a giant butterfly, alongside a giant 20-foot rose, on the “Roses of Romance” float.

Romance must certainly have been in the air that year (1937) since a few months later Eleanor was in Guadalajara to marry Leif Clausen, a Danish-born and educated artist and writer based in New York. After this marriage to Clausen, Eleanor’s trail goes cold and nothing further has yet come to light about her life and legacy.

  • If you have any works, or photos of works, by this artist, please share!

Sources:

  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • El Informador, 3 May 1936, 4; 8 May 1936, 4.
  • Los Angeles Times, 25 Dec 1921, 36; 31 July 1935, 30; 26 Sep 1937, 66.
  • Santa Ana Register, 10 Mar 1923, 14; 12 January 1924, 5.

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 122020
 

Educator, writer and musician Joseph (“Joe”) Cottler and his wife, Betty, first drove south from Philadelphia to Ajijic in about 1957. They returned to the village several times. About 20 years later, following Betty’s death, Joe brought his second wife, Harriet Linton Barr, to Lake Chapala.

Cottler, a high school teacher, mostly wrote biographies of several scientists, inventors and other famous individuals, designed to appeal to his youthful audience. Cottler wrote, or co-wrote, Heroes of Civilization (1932); Map-Makers (1936); The Arch Rebel, Thomas Jefferson (1936); Champions Of Democracy (1936); Heroes of Science (1940); Careers ahead (1941); Ten years, a study in progress (Philadelphia Waist and Dressmakers’ Union, 1943); Man with Wings: The Story of Leonardo da Vinci (1945); Real People: Roger Williams (1950); Real People: Marconi (1953); The printer and the riddle : the story of Henry George (1955); Alfred Wallace Explorer-Naturalist (1966); and More Heroes of Civilization (1969).

Several of these books were translated into other languages. Translations into Spanish included El hombre con alas : la vida de Leonardo da Vinci (Buenos Aires, 1945), Héroes de la civilización (Mexico, 1956), and 34 biografías de científicos y exploradores (Mexico, 1981).

Cottler, an accomplished guitarist and violinist, was also co-credited (with Nicola A. Montani) for a musical score entitled “Lovely babe : Christmas carol for three-part chorus of women’s voices with piano or organ accompaniment” (1946).

Joseph Cottler was born in Kiev, Russia, on 26 October 1899. The family emigrated to the U.S. when Joseph was an infant and became naturalized American citizens in 1915, by which time they were living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Joe was a student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1921 when he applied for a passport to study in France and travel in Europe. He returned to the U.S. nine months later, in March 1922. By the time he next visited Europe to study in Germany, Austria and France during the summer of 1923, he was a qualified teacher. During one or more of these trips to Europe, Joe played violin with a musical combo called the American Jazz Babies in cafes in Paris and elsewhere.

Joe’s first wife, Elizabeth, was born on 4 November 1898 and was also a teacher. The couple traveled to Italy together on a joint passport in 1929. Both Joe and Betty were still teaching (and working as high school counselors) in Philadelphia into the mid-1950s.

While Joe and Betty had no children of their own, they took in a young Harold Weisberg and made him one of the family. Weisberg, who spent much of his life investigating the most notorious assassinations of the twentieth century, paid handsome tribute to the Cottlers in chapter 3 of his final (unpublished) book, Inside the Assassination Industry. Volume 1.

Joe’s second wife, Dr. Harriet Linton Barr, was co-author, with Robert Langs, of LSD: Personality and Experience (1972).

Joe Cottler, educator, author and musician, died on 23 June 1996, having done everything he could to make the world a better place.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Joe Cottler’s nephew Jerry Forman (a jazz musician who lived in Ajijic 2008-2011) for bringing his uncle’s visits to Lake Chapala to my attention, and for supplying valuable biographical details. Click here for samples of Jerry’s music.

Please feel free to comment or suggest corrections or additional material related to any post, via our comments feature or email.

Nov 052020
 

Herbert Johnson (1877-1960) and his wife, Georgette (1893-1975), settled in Ajijic in December 1939. Shortly after Herbert died in Ajijic in 1960, Georgette returned to live in the UK.

These photographs come from a photo album that once belonged to Georgette. For the story of its rediscovery by historian Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi in an estate sale in New York, see

The photos in the album are in no particular order and have no captions or dates. The photos in the album date from 1940-1945.

This gallery focuses on three individual archaeological sites:

  • Tenayuca
  • Teotihuacan
  • Xochicalco

Note

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi for recognizing the importance of this photo album and for kindly entrusting it to my care.

Comments welcomed via email or via comments feature on this post.

Nov 052020
 

Herbert Johnson (1877-1960) and his wife, Georgette (1893-1975), settled in Ajijic in December 1939. Shortly after Herbert died in Ajijic in 1960, Georgette returned to live in the UK.

These photographs come from a photo album that once belonged to Georgette. For the story of its rediscovery by historian Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi in an estate sale in New York, see

The photos in the album are in no particular order and have no captions or dates. The photos in the album date from 1940-1945.

This gallery focuses on Xochimilco and its trajineras.

For more information about Xochimilco, see:

Note

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi for recognizing the importance of this photo album and for kindly entrusting it to my care.

Comments welcomed via email or via comments feature on this post.

Nov 052020
 

One of the delights of writing this blog has been the number of readers who have reached out to me with further information about the artists and writers I’ve written about. This has greatly improved the blog and resulted in some valuable virtual friendships.

A case in point. A year ago, a chance find at an estate sale by Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi, an adjunct instructor of history at Siena College in New York, and author of Remembering World War I in America (University of Nebraska Press, 2018), led to her contacting me to ask if I knew anything about “Georgette and Herbert Johnson” of Ajijic. 

I was barely able to contain my excitement. The Johnsons were an English couple who settled in Ajijic in 1939, and I’ve been researching them for a chapter in a forthcoming book. Kimberly had rescued a photo album containing more than 250 photographs which fortuitously included a copy of a greetings card sent by the Johnsons. Long story short, Kimberly has entrusted me with the album’s future.

The album almost certainly belonged to Georgette Johnson. Apart from a copy of their own greetings card, it also includes several postcards sent to the Johnsons and one or two photos with inscriptions on the back that make it clear they were gifts to the couple. The fact that the photos are in no particular order and have no captions or dates makes me confident that the album was Georgette’s rather than Herbert’s. (Herbert’s hardcover “weather log,” given to me many years ago by Jocotepec author Joan Frost, has meticulous notes and weather records from the 1940s, making me confident that Herbert would have added neat captions and dates if the album had been his.)

Herbert Johnson was an engineer and loved his gadgets, including his camera. He is depicted in a few of the photographs (presumably taken by someone else), but both subject matter and style make me confident that he was the photographer responsible for the vast majority of the photos in the album. Almost all the photos date from 1940-1945; a few loose photos are slightly later.

A small number of Herbert Johnson’s photos were included as illustrations in June Summers’ Villages in the Sun. In that slim volume the photos were misleadingly captioned and poorly reproduced. The original of one of those photos is in the photo album; the quality of the original clearly reveals the technical skills of Herbert Johnson as a photographer.

Apart from the Johnsons’ photo album, very few photos of Ajijic in the early 1940s (or earlier) are currently known. This makes the photo album particularly valuable in documenting the village’s history.

The following posts are photo galleries revealing the scope and quality of Johnson’s work:

More photo galleries will be added in due course, including:

  • Quinta Johnson (house and garden), Ajijic
  • Horsemanship and bullfights (locations unknown)
  • Trips in central and west Mexico

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Dr Kimberly Lamay Licursi for recognizing the importance of this photo album and for so kindly entrusting it to my care.

Comments welcomed via email or via comments feature on this post.

Oct 292020
 

François de Brouillette was an accomplished artist, art restorer and poet. Born in Vermont on 22 April 1906, de Brouillette died in Santa Barbara, California, on 12 February 1972.

De Brouillette was especially well known during his lifetime for his sensitive and striking portraits.

This painting was shared with us by a reader who found it among the effects of her grandfather, Arthur D. Dahl, after he died earlier this year at the age of 102. It is a classic de Brouilette portrait (16″ x  20″ on canvas). The date is indistinct but could perhaps be either 1935 or 1955?

Dahl, who took an art class at Pacific Union College, was born in Alberta, Canada, but lived much of his life in California, residing in Lodi, Stockton and Delano from the early 1940s through the early 1960s.

The portrait is unlikely to have any direct connection to Lake Chapala but if any reader recognizes the young man in the painting, please get in touch!

De Brouillete is known to have visited Lake Chapala numerous times over a period spanning more than forty years, and definitely painted the lake, probably on numerous occasions:

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to Dana Jordan for sharing images of this painting, found in the collection of her grandfather.

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

 Posted by at 6:03 am  Tagged with:
Oct 222020
 

Josefa, the fashion designer credited with showcasing Mexican styles on the world haute couture stage, lived and worked for many years at Lake Chapala. She successfully melded indigenous Mexican colors and elements with functional design to produce elegant and original dresses and blouses. Josefa designs were never mass-produced but made by local women in small villages near Guadalajara.

Josefa Ibarra and her business partner, Ana Villa, built up a brand known as El Aguila Descalza (The Barefoot Eagle). Based in Tlaquepaque, The Barefoot Eagle opened retail stores in several major Mexican cities and one in Boston, while simultaneously supplying numerous high-end department and fashion stores in the USA and elsewhere.

Design by Josefa

Design by Josefa

Josefa followed her own intuition as regards fashion and her success resulted from a series of serendipitous encounters. Her first lucky break came while she was living in Puerto Vallarta in the late 1950s. Josefa and her husband, Jim Heltzel, lived near the beach in a thatched hut, from where Josefa sold jewelry made of coconuts and seashells. The couple’s hippie lifestyle extended to Josefa designing and making her own dresses and beachwear. Walking along the beach one day in 1959, Josefa struck up a conversation with Chris and Lois Portilla who ran the Mexican concession at Disneyland. They were far more interested in the clothes she was wearing than her jewelry and suggested that they help her market her dress designs.

Josefa began to make more designs and sell her creations to visiting tourists. Her second big break, in 1963, involved American superstar Elizabeth Taylor, who was visiting Puerto Vallarta, then only a small village, while Richard Burton was filming The Night of the Iguana, directed by John Huston and co-starring Ava Gardner.

One afternoon, in a break from filming, Taylor was with the cast and crew exploring the village when they came across a selection of beautiful dresses hanging from the branches of a tree outside a typical small hut. The visitors bought every last one of Josefa’s dresses and the famous American movie star subsequently added numerous additional Josefa designs to her wardrobe during her repeat visits to Puerto Vallarta over the next decade.

Even with Taylor’s support, it is unlikely that Josefa would have become as famous as she did had it not been for a third lucky break. This came when she was introduced by a friend, Lou Foote, to Boston-born Ana Konstandin Villa, who worked in Tlaquepaque alongside her husband, Edmondo Villa, for Arthur Kent, owner of El Palomar, the famous stoneware factory. Ana and her husband wanted to open their own retail store. Ana, a graduate of the Academy Moderne of Fashion in Boston, had an eye for style and was a buyer for the city’s Filene’s Department Store. Ana loved Josefa’s designs and realized that they presented a unique business opportunity. The two ladies got on famously together and their complementary skill sets ensured the success of The Barefoot Eagle, the Villas’ store in Tlaquepaque.

Journalist Sheryl Kornman who interviewed Josefa in 1970 found her just “as exciting, as articulate, as vivid as the costumes she designs.” Kornman described Josefa as casually dressed, wearing a “flimsy blue and red short shift” with her “long brown hair in a braid tossed forward over one shoulder,” and sandals on her feet. The designer said she had started by making jewelry in Puerto Vallarta a little more than a decade earlier before beginning to sew her own clothes and making some for friends. She then taught her “house girl” and others how to sew, and began to produce designs inspired by indigenous Huichol and Oaxacan handicrafts and art. At the time of Kornman’s interview, Josefa and her husband were living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from where Josefa returned to Guadalajara at least twice a year, timing the visits to prepare for a summer line released in April and a fall/winter line released a few months later.

The Barefoot Eagle grew rapidly and became Mexico’s leading producer of internationally famous high fashion women’s apparel. Chris Adams (Ana Villa’s brother-in-law) provides a detailed case study of The Barefoot Eagle in his book, Up Your Sales in Any Economy. At its peak, the company employed several hundred women in three outlying villages near Guadalajara to undertake all the embroidery and decoration, with everything done by hand to maintain the artesanal quality. Most of the cotton fabric used came from Mexico City; the steadfast dyes were imported.

The Barefoot Eagle opened retail stores in several major Mexican cities: Acapulco, Cancún, Manzanillo, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Monterrey, San Miguel de Allende, Tijuana, and Zihuatanejo. It also opened one in Boston’s famed Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Overseas stores that stocked Josefa designs included Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Macy’s, in addition to specialist boutiques in Denmark, England, the Netherlands and France.

The celebrity effect was contagious. Besides Elizabeth Taylor, those photographed wearing Josefa dresses or blouses included Lady Bird Johnson (who wore a Josefa dress for the cover of McCall’s magazine in August 1974), Glenda Jackson (in the movie A Touch of Class), Sophia Loren, Diana Ross, Loretta Young, Princess Grace of Monaco, Nancy Reagan, Deborah Kerr and Farah Diba, the wife of the former Shah of Iran. A Josefa-designed shirt was worn by Bo Derek’s onscreen husband in the Movie 10, which was filmed at Las Hadas in Manzanillo.

Josefa was, according to various sources, the first Mexican dress designer to have her work grace the cover of Vogue Paris. Interestingly, not long afterwards, another designer—Gail Michel de Guzmán—who lived at Lake Chapala at the same time as Josefa, had her own work featured in Vogue Paris.

According to Adams, Josefa considered it a compliment that she was the most copied designer in Mexico. Adams played a part in the commercialization of The Barefoot Eagle brand, producing a factsheet and sales pointers for all the salespeople in the various retail stores. Among other things, salespeople were instructed to ensure that prospective clients understood that even if they thought the items were pricey, they were definitely worth every centavo because they were hand-embroidered designer creations and works of art.

The Barefoot Eagle and Josefa’s brand continued to grow. Josefa was one of the first designers in Mexico to export on a large-scale. The extraordinary export success of Josefa was recognized by Mexico’s federal government which awarded her company a National Export Prize seven years in a row. With the sponsorship and support of the Mexican Embassy in the US, Josefa held a special Mexican fashion show in 1974 in Washington D.C. for all the ambassadors stationed there.

Exhibition of designs by Josefa

2004 exhibition of Mexican textiles and designs by Josefa

The extraordinary quality of Josefa’s designs and workmanship led to her work being the focus of a major exhibition in Mexico City at the Museo de la Indumentaria Luis Marquez Romay in 2004. A stunning display (250 designs in all) showcased Josefa’s manta kaftans in their distinctive Mexican textures and colors (turquoise, green, fuchsia, rose and yellow). Decorated with embroidered flowers, designs influenced by Mexico’s indigenous peoples, butterflies and geometric patterns, the exhibit was a kaleidoscope of color. Josefa had cemented her reputation as “an icon of national fashion design.”

Josefa’s designs were also included in 2009 in a second major Mexico City exhibition at the Mexico City Popular Art Museum (Museo de Arte Popular de la Ciudad de México). Curated by Mario Méndez, “México de autor, historia en color” juxtaposed Josefa’s “modern” designs alongside indigenous textile items from the Mapelli collection, emphasizing what they had in common and how one influenced the other. Josefa’s “Mexicanized” designs, celebrating bright colors, owed much to, and simultaneously increased the appeal of, indigenous textile patterns and clothing.

Josefa retired from designing clothing in the late 1980s.

While several earlier designers, such as Jim and Rita Tillet, had successfully established smaller operations and exported Mexican fashions, they had never succeeded in scaling up production to the levels reached by The Barefoot Eagle. Others, such as American Charmin Schlossman, who lived in Ajijic in the 1940s, took their creativity back home and established successful firms north of the border.

Mysterious early life

Relatively little is known for sure about her life story outside fashion. Adams described Josefa as Mexican born and residing in Tlaquepaque and the state of Oregon. According to a 2004 news piece, Josefa claimed to have been born in Chihuahua more than 80 years ago, while friends claimed she had arrived in Puerto Vallarta 30 years ago from the state of Oregon.

Label in Josefa blouse

Label in Josefa blouse

According to the registration of her birth, Josefa Ibarra García was born on 12 April 1919 in Ciudad Sabinas Hidalgo in the state of Nuevo León. However, her birth was only registered in that city on 10 March 1928 when she was 9 years old! Her parents were Rafael Ibarra Valle (Rafael Ybarra-Valle in the USA) and Isidra García. The plaque on the grave of Josefa’s parents in a Fort Worth, Texas, cemetery, reads “Rafael Ybarra-Valle (1883-1968) / Isidra (1889-1981).” Both of Josefa’s parents were born in Mexico. The couple had at least four children: three girls and a boy. Even before the arrival of Josefa, the family had apparently been living on-and-off in Fort Worth, where their only son, Ray, was born in 1915.

According to Rubén Díaz, a friend of Josefa’s and now the editor of Mexico City-based Fashion News, Josefa returned to Mexico at age 18 (ie in about 1937) and traveled all over the country as a flight attendant with Mexicana de Aviación. After meeting and marrying Jim Heltzel (previously married to Eleanor Reed), the newly weds lived among the indigenous communities of various states in Mexico, including Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz and Guerrero, before settling in Puerto Vallarta.

During the 1980s and 1990s, The Barefoot Eagle’s prime years, Josefa lived at Lake Chapala. Her home (with one room devoted to a working studio) was designed by her good friend Jorge Wilmot, the famous potter. Wilmot added many personal touches to the home, located in El Limón, just west of San Juan Cosalá, including a special hand-made foot bath in the ensuite since Josefa, as her company name suggested, was accustomed to going barefoot most of the day.

Josefa’s success enabled her to travel more widely and she was particularly inspired by a trip to China. Unfortunately, in retirement, she experienced both health and financial problems. She came out of retirement to work for a while, offering designs for others to produce and market. Eventually, though, her declining health meant she could no longer focus on her passion. In a letter to a friend in May 2002, Josefa complained about three terrible months of ill health while waiting to have cataract surgery on the IMSS (Mexican Social Security) and admitted she was “getting fed up at waiting and not knowing a date.” Meanwhile, she wrote, she had accepted a job with

“a couple who will make up dresses from my designs…. I never thought I’d go back to those working days EVER – they were great days (while it lasted) but egods this is not the time to try and start up ANYTHING – it’s insane, that’s what it is but the peso isn’t worth a damn and with the bottom having fallen to NADA – things couldn’t be worse. (At least here in Chapala).”

Exhibition of designs by Josefa

Exhibition of Mexican textiles and designs by Josefa

In about 2006, as her health and finances continued to decline, Josefa sold her house and moved into a nursing home. When she abandoned her home, she left behind a decorated trunk full of personal photos, documents and design memorabilia. The new owner, a Canadian woman, left the trunk in the house for years in homage to Josefa. When the house was resold about a year ago, the trunk was removed for safekeeping; a suitable permanent home is now being sought for it.

Among Josefa’s effects in the trunk was a clearly-treasured, much folded and faded handwritten extract from Witter Bynner’s translation of Lao Tzu “The Way of Life”. It is unclear how well Josefa knew Bynner, who had a house in Chapala from 1940 to his death in 1968.

Before it move, hold it,
Before it go wrong, mould it,
Drain off water in winter before it freeze,
Before weeds grow, sow them to the breeze.
You can deal with what has not happened, can foresee
Harmful events and not allow them to be.
Though– as naturally as a seed becomes a tree of arm-wide girth-
There can rise a nine-tiered tower from a man’s handful of earth
Or here at your feet a thousand-mile journey have birth,
Quick action bruises,
Quick grasping loses.
Therefore a sane man’s care is not to exert
One move that can miss, one move that can hurt.
Most people who miss, after almost winning,
Should have ‘known the end from the beginning.’
A sane man is sane in knowing what things he can spare,
In not wishing what most people wish,
In not reaching for things that seem rare.
The cultured might call him heathenish,
This man of few words, because his one care
Is not to interfere but to let nature renew
The sense of direction men undo.

By 2008, Josefa was confined to a wheelchair while waiting for a hip replacement operation. A fashion fund raiser was held that year in Ajijic to help pay for her medical treatment.

Josefa Ibarra, artist, entrepreneur and mother of Mexican fashion, died in about 2010. Her decision to develop designs incorporating folkloric motifs and her insistence on incorporating artisanal workmanship prodded Mexican fashion design into a direction still evident today.

Her continued influence on young Mexican designers was highlighted by an exhibit in Guadalajara in 2016. Examples of Josefa’s work formed the backdrop to an end of course display of work by young students graduating from UTEG (Universidad Tecnológica Empresarial de Guadalajara).

Several Josefa designs were chosen for inclusion in “El Arte de la Indumentaria y la Moda en México (1940-2015),” a Mexico City show held in 2016 at the Palacio de Cultura Banamex (Palacio de Iturbide) to commemorate 75 years of Mexican fashion design.

International interest in Josefa’s designs has also continued unabated. For example, her work was showcased north of the border in a December 2016 exhibit, “La Familia”, at Friends of Georgetown History (6206 Carleton Ave S) in Seattle, Washington. The show was of selected pieces from the collection of Allan Phillips, a grandson of Josefa’s sister, Olivia.

In 2017, Mexico was the featured country at the VII Congreso Bienal Latinoamericano de Moda in Cartagena, Colombia. An accompanying exhibit—“México Mágico”— took a retrospective look at the history of Mexico’s fashion industry, and how Josefa had set what had been only a nascent industry on the path to global success. The exhibit included contemporary work by students from the Universidad de Guadalajara that echoed the path laid down by Josefa.

Josefa’s legacy lives on. Her story has been shared with succeeding generations of fashion students in Mexico and she is justly referred to as “the mother of Mexican fashion” or as “Mexico’s Coco Chanel”. Students are taught that it is perfectly possible—indeed fashionably current and profitable—to bring elements of indigenous, local design to the global fashion scene.

Note: This is an expanded (and corrected) version of a post first published on 12 September 2018.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Sherry Hudson for her assistance with compiling this profile.

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.

Oct 152020
 

Educator, translator and all-round good guy John Upton had been living in Ajijic for about a year when he submitted an article about the village in 1951 to the  San Francisco Chronicle. The article focuses especially on the impact of the summer Ajijic Art Workshop, marketed in US colleges and universities.

Upton-Ajijic article

Upton opens by describing Ajijic as “a peaceful Mexican fishing village where life goes on much as it did before the time of Cortes-for 46 weeks of the year.” The bulk of his article is about the remaining six weeks, when — during the rainy season in this “stone and adobe pueblo… almost untouched by the twentieth century” — “Modern Art comes to Ajijic- along with portable radios and falsies.”

Buses from Guadalajara lumber through the burro-clogged streets and discharge members of the Mexican Art Workshop, blinking in the hard, white sunshine.” These art students stay in “La Posada, Ajijic’s only hotel,” which “echoes with the harsh accents of Los Angeles and Chicago.

On the broken brick sidewalks, in the corner store, and under the flame trees in the square, there are little knots of Americans in plaid shirts and blue jeans, carrying paints and canvas and smelling of Dior.”

The workshop was organized by Irma Jonas; its art teachers, headed by Ernesto Linares, included Carlos Mérida, Nicolas Muzenic and Tobias Schneebaum. The workshop’s social secretary was Zoe Kernick. The students, mostly women, paid “$275 for a summer of art, inspiration and small adventures.”

Classes are held in one of the town’s largest houses, a sprawling pink adobe with doors eight feet high that open with a key about as large and portable as a pipe wrench. Easels are set up in the luxuriant garden of banana and mango trees until 4.15 in the afternoon, when the daily rainstorm promptly begins. Its downpour lasts little more than half an hour, but after brushes are cleaned and canvases stacked there’s barely time for a rum and water before dinner.

Extra-curricular entertainment is continued largely in gatherings at the inn or in Linares’ cool, high-ceilinged sala, since townspeople frown on women who smoke or drink in public. The cantina has no “table for ladies,” and discourages their attendance-mostly because the showpiece of the establishment is a large, white urinal installed just inside the door.

Music for these evenings is provided by mariachis, local minstrels whose ragged esprit de corps is nicely balanced by their willingness to play anything…. A single evening’s repertoire may include “Quizas” (Number One on the Ajijic hit parade), “Night and Day,” and “Los Blues de San Luis.””

The parties were suitably rowdy, fueled by local tequila, which was “35 cents a liter if you bring your own bottle.”

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for bringing this Upton article to my attention.

Source

  • John Upton. 1950. “Ah-hee-heek: A Place to Loaf in Mexico.” San Francisco Chronicle, 7 May 1950.

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 082020
 

Roy Vincent MacNicol (1889-1970), “Paintbrush Ambassador of Goodwill”, had an extraordinary artistic career, even if his personal life was sometimes confrontational.

The American painter, designer, writer and lecturer had close ties to Chapala for many years: in 1954, he bought and remodeled the house in Chapala that had been rented in 1923 by English author D. H. Lawrence, and then, according to artist Everett Gee Jackson, by himself and Lowell Houser.

After MacNicol and his fourth wife Mary Blanche Starr bought the house, they divided their time between Chapala and New York, with occasional trips elsewhere, including Europe. Their New York home, from 1956 (possibly earlier) was at 100 Sullivan Street.

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

Roy MacNicol was a prolific painter and numerous MacNicol paintings of Lake Chapala are known. Romantically and artistically, he lived an especially colorful life and was involved in several high profile scandals and lawsuits.

Born in New York City on 27 November 1889, MacNicol left home as a teenager to take acting classes and work on the stage, appearing in the farces Twin Beds and Where’s Your Wife? on Broadway in 1919.

MacNicol’s first marriage lasted less than four years. In 1920, MacNicol took vaudeville singer and performer Fay Courtney as his second wife. With the backing of his new wife, MacNicol left the stage to concentrate on his painting career.

Best known for his watercolors and elaborate decorative screens, MacNicol’s work embraced a number of different styles over the years before he developed (in the 1940s) a unique style he termed “geo-segmatic.”

MacNicol’s first solo exhibit was in November 1921 at the Anderson Galleries, New York. His bird and animal motifs on large screens were admired on opening night by more than 800 guests. However, this led to a serious professional clash with a fellow artist, Robert W. Chanler, who called him a “copyist” who had stolen his designs. MacNicol was outraged and took Chanler to court, seeking $50,000 for the alleged libel.

His second solo show was in Palm Beach, Florida, the start of the artist’s long connection with the Palm Beach area.

After visiting France and Spain, MacNicol held a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in April 1926, which included many abstract paintings of fauna such as cranes, herons, Australian squirrels and penguins. In the program notes, A. G. Warshawsky praised the abstract compositions that “still hold a human and essentially humorous effect, which adds both to the charm and naiveté of the subject”.

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

In the 1930s, his wife’s singing career took the couple to Europe, Asia and South America. Between these trips MacNicol held many more solo shows, including one at the Everglades Club in Palm Beach (1931) and at the A Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago (1933–34).

In about 1937, the MacNicols, on an impulse, decided to drive down to Mexico to seek more of the “Spanish flavor” that had inspired some of MacNicol’s best work to date. In Mexico City, Thomas Gore, the owner-manager of the Hotel Geneve in the Zona Rosa, commissioned MacNicol to paint two Xochimilco-related murals for the dining room.

Tragically, Fay became ill on their tour of South America and died, at home in New York, in February 1941.

MacNicol’s frequent travels had inspired him to compile a “good-neighbor” show of Mexican-inspired works as a means of improving the ties between Mexico and the U.S. He returned to Mexico City and devoted nine months to painting a series of large (22 x 30″) watercolors, which were the basis of numerous “Good Neighbor Exhibits” shown in galleries across Mexico and the U.S. and in coast-to-coast television coverage.

MacNicol was dismissive of critics who argues his work was influenced by Diego Rivera, though he admitted that perhaps he had been influenced by the “entire Mexican school of art.” In particular, he admired the work of Siqueiros and of Rufino Tamayo, “the most charming, imaginative, and amusing painter in Mexico.”

Eleanor Roosevelt visited the artist’s 33rd solo show in March 1943 at the Pan American Union in Washington, D.C. and eagerly recommended it to others:

“On leaving the club, I went to the Pan American Building to see an exhibition of paintings done in Mexico by Mr. Roy MacNicol. They were perfectly charming, and I was particularly interested in the Indian types. Some showed the hardships of the life they and their forefathers had lived. Others had a gentleness and sweetness which seemed to draw you to them through the canvas. The color in every picture was fascinating and I feel sure that this is the predominant note in Mexico which attracts everyone in this country who goes there.”

Mrs. Roosevelt sponsored subsequent “Good Neighbor” exhibits, as did several prominent Mexican officials, including Mexican president Miguel Alemán.

MacNicol divided his time over the next few years between Mexico and the U.S. with solo shows in Los Angeles and at the Galería de Arte Decoración (1943) and the Palacio de Bellas Artes (1945), both in Mexico City.

In what MacNicol terms “My great folly” in his autobiography, he married Mrs. Helen Stevick, “wealthy publisher of the Champaign, Illinois, News Gazette,” in Chicago in September 1945. Newly-married, the couple went to Mexico City for their honeymoon, where Stevick’s daughter joined them. This marriage quickly became a complete disaster, leading to ample fodder for the newspapers of the time, who had a field day describing the plight (and possible motives) of the prominent painter. The Steviks accused MacNicol of fraud and had him (briefly) imprisoned in a Mexican jail. In retaliation, MacNicol sued the daughter for $500,000 for her part in wrecking his marriage.

MacNicol may have wanted $500,000, but he certainly did not get it; the case was dismissed on technical grounds. The divorce was finalized in July 1946.

Roy MacNicol. The Lily Vendor. c. 1946.

Roy MacNicol. The Lily Vendor. c. 1946.

That winter, MacNicol returned to Palm Beach for the first time in 15 years, and made arrangements to hold his 50th solo show there in the State Suite of the Biltmore Hotel. When Mrs Bassett Mitchell (the former Mary Blanche Starr) walked in the room he was instantly smitten. It turned out that Mary was the widow of a Florida financier and was equally enthralled. She bought “The Lily Vendor,” and then they had dinner together. They married in Palm Beach on 27 March 1947, and honeymooned in Nassau. Their love for each other never diminished.

In 1948, MacNiol held the first major exhibition of his “geo-segmatic” paintings in Paris, France. The following year, after a successful show at Penthouse Galleries in New York City, the MacNicols decided to move from Palm Beach to Mexico City. They drove down in their Lincoln convertible (with four truck loads of furniture following behind) and bought a 3,000-square-meter property in Coyoacan. It took them two years to convert it into a house, studio and gallery.

Health issues forced them to sell their Mexico City home and seek a home at a lower elevation.

“We took three months motoring around before we discovered the enchanting little fishing village of Chapala, tucked on the banks of a sparkling lake, set among emerald mountains and violet haze. There was a blessed tranquillity in the low rooftops and the plaza overshadowed by giant laurel trees. But it also had the advantage of a modem four-lane highway leading through rolling green hills from Guadalajara, the second largest, and the cleanest, city in Mexico, a drive of only thirty-five minutes. (Paintbrush Ambassador, 226-7)

They drove into Chapala in January 1954 and, within days, bought the house, at Zaragoza #307, which British novelist D. H. Lawrence had rented in 1923.

The MacNicols restored the house and added a swimming pool. They also added a memorial plaque on the street wall to Lawrence: “In this house D. H. Lawrence lived and wrote ‘The Plumed Serpent’ in the year 1923.” A second wall plaque had a quote from another of MacNicol’s boyhood heroes, Robert Louis Stevenson.

A “list of foreign residents in Chapala” from June 1955, and now in the archive of the Lake Chapala Society (LCS), includes Roy and Mary MacNicol among the 55 total foreign residents in the town at that time, though they were not LCS members. According to MacNicol, “Chapala has its retired American naval and military brass, business men, delightful English, some good writers and myself as the only painter.”

Roy MacNicol. 1956. Poolroom, Chapala, Mexico. B/W photo of oil in tones of red and green. (Plate 11 of Paintbrush Ambassador)

Roy MacNicol. 1956. Poolroom, Chapala, Mexico. B/W photo of oil in tones of red and green. (Plate 11 of Paintbrush Ambassador)

In 1956, MacNicol was persuaded to hold an exhibit in Copenhagen, Denmark. He and Mary flew from Mexico City to New York, carrying 52 paintings and then sailed on the MS Kungsholm across the Atlantic. The show was an unmitigated disaster, largely owing (according to MacNicol) to the complete absence of any help or support from the local U.S. Embassy. The MacNicols returned home to Chapala in November.

It is unclear precisely when the MacNicols sold their house in Chapala, but according to columnist Kenneth McCaleb, MacNicol was disposing of the contents of his Chapala home in the early 1960s, prior to selling it and moving to New York.

The exhibition catalog dating from late 1968 or early 1969 for MacNicol’s “Faces and Places of Nations” exhibit says it was the artist’s 59th (and last) solo exhibit. The catalog describes the “Paintbrush Ambassador of Goodwill”:

“He believes in the universal diplomacy of art as a means to world understanding. His “Faces and Places of Nations” series was begun in 1943. The exhibit has been shown in Mexico City, Spain, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, British West Indies, Cuba, South America, as well as in key cities in U.S.A. The 1949 exhibition was televised coast-to-coast by NBC.”

Of the sixteen works listed in the catalog, six are from Mexico, including two directly linked to Lake Chapala: “Old Fisherman & Boy (Lake Chapala)” and “Mary & Duke, Casa MacNicol (Lake Chapala).” Duke was MacNicol’s Dalmation.

In addition to painting, MacNicol frequently lectured on art and his formal jobs as a young man included a spell as associate editor at the American Historical Company in New York City. He was a contributor to several newspapers including the Christian Science Monitor, Atlanta Journal, The Times Herald, Mexico City News and The Havana Post.

His autobiography – Paintbrush Ambassador – mentions dozens of notable personalities including the likes of Ernest Hemingway, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jack Warner, Danny Kaye, Gloria Swanson and Mr. and Mrs. Nelson D. Rockefeller.

MacNicol died in New York in November 1970.

Examples of his artwork are in the permanent collections of the University of Illinois; Randolph-Macon Woman’s College; University of Havana, Cuba, and the Reporter’s Club, Havana.

Despite enjoying considerable success (and some notoriety) during his lifetime, Roy MacNicol is among the many larger-than-life artists to have lived and worked at Lake Chapala whose artistic contributions to the area’s cultural heritage have, sadly, been largely forgotten.

Sources

  • Irving Johnson. 1946. “Honeymoon for Three.” San Antonio Light, 24 November 1946, 59.
  • Roy MacNicol. 1957. Paintbrush Ambassador. New York: Vantage Press.
  • Kenneth McCaleb. 1968. “Conversation Piece: How To Be an Art Collector,” The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 15 February 1968, 17.
  • New York Times, 26 May 1925.
  • The Palm Beach Post, 20 March 1947.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt. “My Day,” Kansas City Star, 5 March 1943, 23.

Note: This is an expanded version of a post first published on 18 February 2016.

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

 Posted by at 6:34 am  Tagged with:
Oct 012020
 

A lakefront home in Ajijic was the setting in 1949 for the marriage of a Canadian author and an English nurse. The story of how they met and fell in love is one of the most endearing tales to emerge from my research into the authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala.

The venue for the wedding was Quinta Johnson, the home built by Herbert and Georgette Johnson, a British couple who had left France just as the second world war broke out and who first arrived in Mexico in 1939. The magnificent garden they created separating their residence from the lake was sufficiently famous that it featured, years later, in Elizabeth Schuler’s Gardens of the World (1962).

The groom at the ceremony in Ajijic was Harold Walter Masson, who was born in St. Raphael’s in South Glengarry County, Ontario, Canada, on 29 June 1915 and died in Hawaii at age 95 on 26 March 2011.

Prior to joining the Royal Canadian Air Force in October 1939 at the outbreak of the second world war, Masson had lived in Toronto and worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In 1945, at the end of the war, “Hal” Masson, as he was known, joined the staff of Maclean’s magazine as the magazine’s assignments editor, with special responsibility for short fiction.

Over the next eighteen months the magazine published several of his short stories, starting with “These thy gifts” in November 1945 which has the memorable opening, “Black Joe and Little Joe sat at the worn kitchen table, elbows resting on the scrubbed pine boards, their faces shining in the uncertain light of the flickering kerosene lamp.”

By 1947, tired of the extreme winters in Ontario, Masson decided to emigrate to sunnier climes in the US. He crossed the border at Niagara Falls in June 1947 and, after a brief stay in California in September that year, continued driving south in pursuit of a warm winter.

Masson eventually landed in Ajijic where, in 1949, he rented the guest bungalow at Quinta Johnson and continued to write. A short story entitled “He knew what was wrong with her, and how to cure it” appeared in Collier’s Weekly in 1948, and another story—”The Worm’s Eye View”—was published in Argosy.

+ + +

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Herbert Johnson’s 29-year-old niece was making plans to visit her uncle in Ajijic. Helen Eunice Riggall (pronounced “Regal”), born in Langton, Spilsby, Lincolnshire, on 24 April 1919, was the daughter of Herbert’s younger sister. During the war, Helen studied for three years at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, where she passed her exams to become a registered nurse in 1942. By the time the war ended, like many of her contemporaries, she longed to forget the worst of her war-time nursing experiences and begin a new chapter in her life in new surroundings.

She left Southampton for New York on 20 January 1949 aboard the SS America of the United States Lines. According to her US immigration form, Helen was unaccompanied and named the US as her country of “intended future permanent residence,” indicating that she had little or no intention of returning to the UK. However, before settling in the US, she wanted to visit her uncle and his wife in Ajijic.

While some details remain unclear, it appears most likely that from New York she traveled first by train across to California and then took a steamer south, to disembark in Mexico at either Manzanillo or (less likely) Mazatlán.

At this point, it is best if Helen’s daughter takes up her mother’s story:

Her uncle and his chiropractic friend met her… and planned to drive her to Lake Chapala. Unfortunately, the sun was setting and uncle Herbert was not able to see the road well and ended up driving over a cliff. My mother’s back was broken to the point the doctors fused it. Poor thing, she spoke no Spanish [and] was in a Mexican hospital [presumably in Guadalajara] sharing a room with a woman bullfighter! It was there that my father met her and began spending time with her while she recovered. As he had been there awhile he had picked up some Spanish, while she had none. The day she was released from the hospital, he proposed.”

Ann Medalie. Ajijic Landscape (oil). ca 1945

Ann Medalie. c. 1945. Ajijic Landscape (oil). The Quinta Johnson garden.

Harold Walter Masson and Helen Eunice Riggall were married in the Quinta Johnson garden on 31 August 1949. Guests at their wedding included the Langley, Riggall, Masson, Butterlin, Johnson, Bauer and Stephens families, as well as Mrs Grace Wilcox, Miss Neill James and Miss Madeline Miedema. The witnesses to their union were Herbert B. Johnson and Guillermo Gonzalez Hermosillo (owner of the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala) for the bride and, for the groom, German businessman Kurt Weinmann and Peter Lilley, the English writer behind the “Dane Chandos” books.

Interestingly, the formal registration of the wedding states that Hal was in Mexico as a tourist (normally valid for no longer than six months) while Helen was in possession of a “tarjeta especial para turistas forma 5B.” Never having heard of this category previously, I assume that her regular tourist card had expired while she was in hospital and that this was an “exceptional case” extension for a period of time—perhaps three months—which would have been about to expire by the time the newlyweds left Mexico for California in November.

When the couple crossed the border at Laredo, Helen stated her intention to become a permanent resident. Her entry paper lists a large scar on her left palm as a distinguishing feature.

The Massons revisited Mexico briefly in 1951.

While residing in Laguna Beach, Masson joined the staff of the Indian Valley Record in Greenville. When he contributed “The Sea Raiders” to that paper in 1951, it reported proudly that their new contributor had “recently crashed the American “big time” with a story in the Saturday Evening Post.” That story was entitled “Trouble Below the Border.”

Masson published several more short stories over the next few years, including “Fat Man’s Doom” in Cavalier (June 1953), “Señor, It Is a Pump”, in Bluebook Magazine (November 1953), which appeared alongside stories by John D. MacDonald, Leslie Charteris, Philip Ketchum and similarly famous writers; “The Last Quarrel” in Cosmopolitan, and “The Love Trap” in Canadian magazine Liberty.

Harold became a naturalized US citizen in April 1953; a few years later, Helen also took US citizenship. In 1958, they visited relatives in the UK to show off their young daughter. The family subsequently settled in Hawaii, where Helen died in May 1986 and Hal in 2011.

The Masson-Riggall wedding was not the first marriage between two foreign tourists in Ajijic, and certainly not the last. That between David Holbrook Kennedy and Sarah Shearer—who had married in Ajijic in 1941—sadly ended in tragedy within months.

The stars were better aligned for the union of Hal and Helen, who shared their lives and their happiness for more than 36 years. The romance of Lake Chapala and “The Love Trap” of Ajijic had struck again.

Acknowledgments

My sincere thanks to Colette Hirata for helping me piece together this profile of her parents, and to Katie Goodridge Ingram for an email sharing her memories of Hal and Helen, and of the Johnsons.

Sources

  • El Informador, 9 September 1949.
  • The Glengarry News. 1939. “Other Enlistments”, The Glengarry News, 6 October 1939, 1.
  • The Glengarry News. 1945. “On Editorial Staff of Maclean’s”, reprinted in The Glengarry News, 23 November 1955, 1.
  • Indian Valley Record (Greenville, California), 30 August 1951, 10.
  • Hal Masson, 1951. “For Sale Cheap – One Snow Shovel” Oakdale Leader (Oakdale, California), 27 September 1951, 21.

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

Sep 242020
 

In researching the artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala, I now have a long list of enigmatic references to lesser known artists, whose life and work remain very much a mystery.

One of the more intriguing is a “Miss Trude Neuhaus,” a German artist, who, according to the New York Times of 1 Nov 1925, brought “an exhibition of paintings, water colors and drawings of Mexican types and scenery” to the Anderson Galleries in New York. The show at the Anderson Galleries ran from 3-14 November 1925. The pieces had previously been exhibited at the National Art Gallery in Mexico City, and the exhibition also included “Aztec figurines and pottery recently excavated by the artist in Chapala, Mexico”. (Note that collecting ancient artifacts as souvenirs and removing them from the country was a common practice at the time, albeit one that is now subject to legal provisions and generally frowned upon.)

The only background offered about Miss Neuhaus is that she had “studied under Burmester in Munich” (possibly Georg Burmester, 1864–1936) and was a portrait painter in Germany. According to the short piece in the New York Times, she planned to return to Germany “after exhibiting her work in the large cities of the United States”, in order “to make several portraits, for which she has commissions.”

This Trude Neuhaus painting dates from 1919, before she visited Mexico.

Trude Neuhaus. 1919. Untitled, Credit: Willem Eppink.

Trude Neuhaus. 1919. Untitled, Credit: Willem Eppink.

A few more details have surfaced over the past few years about Trude Neuhaus, but none that explains why she visited Chapala.

According to U.S. immigration records, Neuhaus was born in early 1899 in Gottingen, Germany, and was 26 years and 7 months of age when she entered the U.S. for the exhibition in New York. The exhibit followed a stay of 14 months in Mexico from summer 1924 to September 1925, which means she was in Chapala shortly after D. H. Lawrence was there, and at exactly the same time as artist Everett Gee Jackson was living in the lakeside village.

Trude Neuhaus. c. 1925 "Florista Mexicana."

Trude Neuhaus. c. 1925 “Florista Mexicana.”

No details have yet emerged of her exhibition at the National Art Gallery in Mexico City. However, after New York, “the young and already renowned artist” returned to Germany and showed her drawings, paintings and collection of artifacts at the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) in Berlin in February 1925. A reviewer of the show described Miss Neuhaus as “an enthusiastic admirer” of Mexico, who “has dedicated her brush to reproducing popular types and customs of that country,” ranging from beggars and young people on the street to “a little Indian girl with a sad expression,” potters in their workshops and florists from Xochimilco.

Trude Neuhaus. c. 1925 "Remero de Xochimilco."

Trude Neuhaus. c. 1925 “Remero de Xochimilco.”

The watercolors in the show that attracted attention included paintings of “the picturesque streets of Aguascalientes and Zacatlán and a sunset by the sea.” The mention of Zacatlán (in the state of Puebla), which is rarely visited even today by tourists, is especially interesting and suggests that Trude Neuhaus was a very adventurous young lady.

In addition to her artwork, the Berlin exhibit included the objects Neuhaus had found at Chapala and elsewhere as well as “some samples of the artistic industries that currently exist in Mexico, such as yarns, fabrics and ceramics made by Galán [sic], the famous potter from Tlaquepaque.” This is likely to refer to Armando Galván Rodríguez, born in 1898, who was recognized as a preeminent potter in Tonalá.

The artist was accompanied by her mother, Toni Neuhaus, to the opening of the show, which attracted numerous German and Mexican dignitaries.

Only one month after the show in Berlin, Trude Neuhaus was on her way back to Mexico, this time as a married woman, the wife of Rudolf (Rodolfo) May. May was born on 17 June 1894 in Nuremberg, Germany, and served in a Germany artillery unit during the first world war. By the mid-1920s, he was living in Mexico City. While May was not in New York at the time of Neuhaus’ show there, he passed through the city en route to Germany at the end of November 1925.

In March 1926, the newly married couple returned to Mexico from Hamburg on board the SS Rio Bravo. The ship’s manifest lists them as Rudolf May, a merchant aged 32, and Trude May, aged 30. (Trude would actually have been 27 years old according to the US immigration document referred to earlier.)

A decade later, “Trude Neuhaus-May” was the co-applicant with Angel M. Diez for a patent and trade-mark for a “mechanism for veering the headlamps of automobiles”. This patent was granted in Mexico in 1936 and in the U.S. two years later.

Both Rodolfo and Trude became naturalized Mexican citizens at some point prior to when Rodolfo visited Germany for several weeks in 1937-1938. Rodolfo (unaccompanied by his wife) entered the U.S. on his way to Europe on 23 November 1937 and landed at New York on his return on 4 February 1938.

In May 1955, and again in May 1959, Rodolfo and Trude took an Air France flight from Mexico City to New York; it is unclear if New York was their final destination or whether they were in transit to Europe. These flights list the address of their Mexico City residence as Amores #211 (Colonia del Valle).

Rodolfo died in Mexico City in March 1961 and Trude died there seven months later.

Trude and Rodolfo had at least one child, Luis, who was born in Mexico City in about 1932 and died there in 1965.

Among the many questions still unanswered is whether or not Trude Neuhaus continued her art career after she married and returned to live in Mexico—the only known works of this artist all date back to before her exhibitions in 1925 and 1926.

The only auction record for Trude Neuhaus is for a painting entitled “Indian mother and child” (date unknown) which sold in the U.S. in 1984 for $500.

Can anyone help fill in some of the blanks about this “mystery artist”? If so, please get in touch!

Sources

  • Luis Kabikef. 1926. “Exposición de cuadros.” Berliner Tageblatt, Año 4, #2 (February 1926), 8.
  • New York Times. 1925. “Miss Neuhaus shows paintings.” New York Times, 1 Nov 1925, W20.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Willem Eppink (see comments) for allowing me the use of a photo of a Trude Neuhaus painting in his possession.

Note: This post is an extended version of a post first published 13 December 2015.

Other mysteries relating to Lake Chapala authors and artists:

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

Sep 172020
 

José López Portillo y Rojas (1850-1923) was born in Guadalajara. He graduated as a lawyer in Guadalajara in 1871, before spending three years traveling in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. On his return, he published his first book: Egypt and Palestine. Notes from a trip (1874).

portillo-y-rojas-jose-lopezHe began an illustrious political career as deputy for Jalisco to the national Congress from 1875-1877. Shortly after that first experience of national politics, he returned to Guadalajara and became a journalist, teacher of law, and member of that city’s literary circle.

The group included other young Jalisco writers such as Antonio Zaragoza and Manuel Álvarez del Castillo, one of whose relatives, Jesús, would later start the El Informador newspaper in Guadalajara, which remains one of the city’s most important dailies.

In 1880, López Portillo y Rojas returned to Mexico City as a deputy. In 1882, he became a state senator. In 1886, he joined with Manuel Álvarez del Castillo and Esther Tapia de Castellanos to start a new publication in Guadalajara. La República Literaria, a magazine of science, art and literature quickly became nationally famous, but only lasted until 1890.

In 1891, López Portillo published the first transcription, albeit partial, of Father Antonio Tello’s invaluable 17th century account relating to Lake Chapala. In 1892, he published his only book of verse Transitory harmonies. By 1902, López Portillo was living in Mexico City and had joined the Partido Científico (Scientific Party). After the fall of Díaz, he held various federal government posts before becoming Governor of the State of Jalisco (1912-1914). For a brief period in 1914, he was appointed as Foreign Relations Secretary in the government of Victoriano Huerta, during the time when the U.S. invaded the port of Veracruz.

He left politics shortly afterwards and dedicated himself to teaching and writing. He left a vast body of work, ranging from travel accounts, poems, and literary criticism to historical and legal essays, short stories and novels. His best known collection of short stories is Stories, tales and short stories (1918). His best known novel, The parcel (1898), relates the fight between two hacienda owners for a worthless parcel of land.

At the time of his death in Mexico City on 22 of May, 1923, he was director of the Academia Mexicana de la Lengua (Mexican Academy of Language). One of López Portillo’s grandsons, José López Portillo y Pacheco (1920-2004), served as President of Mexico between 1976 and 1982. In Guadalajara, the Casa-Museo López Portillo, a museum and exhibition space honoring the family, can be visited at Calle Liceo #177.

A short story about Lake Chapala, entitled “José la garza morena” (“José the Great Blue Heron”) was published in Cosmos (a monthly magazine published in Mexico City) in June 1912. It is a tale about someone finding a heron that has been shot and wounded, and trying in vain to cure it.

The story starts by remembering the times before Lake Chapala’s shores has been altered by civilization:

When I visited the lakeside hamlet of Chapala for the first time, now many years ago, I found everything in an almost primitive state, better than now from some points of view, but worse from others.

The author compares the Chapala of earlier times with the situation during the Porfiriato (when he was active in politics as a supporter of President Díaz):

Not a sign back then of the picturesque villas that today adorn and decorate these shores from the town to El Manglar, which is the house where Don Porfirio Díaz used to stay during the time, happy for him, of his all-embracing command; but everywhere was thick scrub, cheerful orchards with severe rocky places, which were in harmony with that rustic and unspoiled landscape.

The scene is set; the action begins with an evening trip in a rowboat on the lake. The beauty of the lake, as depicted by the author, creates an impression of decadence and morbidity, because there are no signs of life out on the water:

But that scene of glorification seemed dead and desolate, without any bird to make it cheerful; not a stork, nor a crane, nor a duck stained the burnished horizon with its graceful silhouette.

Further on, the author continues:

The lake appeared magnificent and solitary under that divine show, as if it were another asphalt lake, a new Dead Sea. But it was not always thus; and the recollections of better times engraved in my memory transformed this most unhappy spectacle because, before the rising tide of civilization invaded these places with platoons of armed hunters with shining rifles, flocks of ducks would rise suddenly into the air from the marshes as the boat approached.

The second part of the short story is about someone finding a heron that has been shot and wounded, and trying in vain to cure it.

Note: The translations included above are by the author of this post, which was first published 18 June 2014.

Credit and reference:

My sincere thanks to Dr. Wolfgang Vogt of the University of Guadalajara for bringing this short story (and his analysis of it) to my attention.

Vogt, Wolfgang (1989) “El lago de Chapala en la literatura” in Estudios sociales: revista cuatrimestral del Instituto de Estudios Sociales. Universidad de Guadalajara: Year 2, Number 5: 1989, 37-47. Republished in 1994 as pp 163-176 of Vogt (1994) La cultura jalisciense desde la colonia hasta la Revolución (Guadalajara: H. Ayuntamiento).

Please feel free to comment or suggest corrections or additional material related to any post via our comments feature or email.

Sep 092020
 

Priscilla (“Pris”) Frazer (1907-1973) was active in the Lake Chapala area in the 1960s and early 1970s. She made her home in Chapala Haciendas and spent several months every year at Lake Chapala between summers in Laguna Beach, southern California.

Priscilla Jane Frazer, known as “Percy” to her family, was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, on 14 May 1907 and died at the age of 66 on May 17, 1973. The family relocated to California when Frazer was a child and she graduated from the University of Southern California before gaining a Masters degree at Long Beach State College. She studied art at the Jepson Art Institute and Chouinard Art Institute.

Priscilla Frazer. Marine scene (undated, untitled).

Priscilla Frazer. Marine scene (undated, untitled). Photo courtesy of Tina Ravizza-Blumenfeld

As a child, Frazer’s parents encouraged her to develop wide interests, from archery, fishing and boating to music (she took violin lessons for nine years) and theater. As a teenager, she dreamed of becoming a great actress, and her first degree was in Speech and Drama, after which she worked for two years as Production Manager of the Laguna Beach Community Players.

In her own words, during that stage of her life,

“Interest in many things… led to night school courses in Radio Acting, Woodshop, Newspaper Feature Writing, Screenwriting, and three years of night and day school at Art Center, Chouinards, and Jepson Art Institute [in Los Angeles]. War Training courses include Aircraft Mechanical Drawing, Trigonometry and Slide Rule, and Electrical Wiring and Radio Assembly.”

Among her art teachers were Hester Lauman (South Pasadena High School art department), Eliot O’Hara, Rex Brandt, Phil Dike, and Lucille Douglas. In 1928-29, and accompanied by her younger brother, Edwin, Frazer spent eight months with famed art teacher Lucille Douglas on a world tour aboard the SS President Wilson—a “floating university”—painting wherever she went. Her family still owns a document in which Frazer lists her itinerary on that trip, an itinerary that makes me feel exhausted before even leaving home!

“We visited Cuba; Canal Zone; Hawaii; Japan: Kobe, Kyoto, Tokyo, Nikko, Kamakura; China: Shanghai, Kowloon, Hongkong, Canton – and up the Pearl River inland; Manila; Singapore; Federated Malay States; Siam; French Indo-China and Angkor; Penang; India – which we crossed twice – from Calcutta to Bombay and back to Madras; Ceylon; Red Sea to Port Said and Cairo – Upper Egypt, Karnak, Luxor, and the Valley of the Kings; Holy Land, Jerusalem; Beirut, Haifa; Adalia, Turkey; Limasol and Larnaca, Cyprue; Greece, Athens and Corinth. Corinth Canal to Brindisi, Italy. Naples, Sorrento, Rome, Florence, Venice. I flew through the Alps from Venice to Vienna, Austria. Prague, Czechoslovakia; Dresden, Berlin, Paris, Switzerland, Marseilles, New York.”

During the war, Frazer was a “Ruby Riveter.” She worked as a riveter, in a machine shop, and as a “Factory Layout Draftsman and Method’s Analyst for four years at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica.”

In 1948, Frazer and Anne Von were granted joint copyright of a printed paper cut-out toy named “Clipsies,” which apparently consisted of a farm with sets of cut-outs of chickens, cows, kitten, puppies, ducks and other animals. It appears that they designed, manufactured and marketed these kits themselves.

Frazer spent the summer of 1954 in Europe studying art in Oxford (U.K.) and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris.

Her first recorded trip to Mexico came in 1955 when she studied with James Pinto at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende.

Priscilla Frazer, who never married, spent most of her career in southern California, living in Laguna Beach and teaching at Orange Coast College. She traveled widely, including visits to Europe, India, the Far East, North Africa and Spain. Her painting entitled “Ebb Tide, Ireland” was included in a major exhibition of the Society of Watercolorists of California held at the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales (at Hamburgo #115, Mexico City) from 30 August to 14 September 1960.

Priscilla Frazer. c 1963. "Sunday Best"

Priscilla Frazer. c 1963. “Sunday Best”

Earlier that year, in April, Frazer had participated in a group show at a private home in Long Beach, California, exhibiting “Mosaic Gate”. Among the other artists included on that occasion was Eugene Nowlen who, with his wife Marjorie, had first visited Lake Chapala in 1950 and had also later lived there for several years.

Frazer managed the One Man Shows at the Laguna Art Gallery for two years. In 1963, an article in the June issue of Ford Times included a photograph of Frazer’s “Sunday best”, the prize-winning watercolor in the Laguna Beach Art Show.

Frazer was already very familiar with Mexico before she bought two lots and built a home in Chapala Haciendas—which advertised itself as the “World’s Best Subdivision” in the “World’s best Climate”—in 1963. She took possession of her new home late that year and is recorded as attending a party at the Posada Ajijic in January 1964, along with another Pasadena artist, Jonathan Scott.

Thereafter she spent several months each year in Chapala, painting and occasionally exhibiting her work in the area. For example in May 1966 she had a show at the Ruta 66 gallery in Guadalajara (located at the traffic circle where Niños Heroes met Lafayette.)

In November 1966, she held a solo exhibition and sale of 50 paintings at the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara as a benefit for Chest Clinic #4 of Mexico’s National Campaign against Tuberculosis (which was the only specialist chest clinic in Jalisco at that time). The show was formally opened by the Jalisco State Governor, Francisco Medina Ascensio. Frazer donated all fifty works (worth an estimated 200,000 pesos) to the campaign, and the organizers deliberately set modest prices to ensure rapid sales.

A contemporary reviewer praised “her latest oils and acrylics” for their “beautiful, glowing translucent colors reminiscent of stained glass (an original technique)”, as well as the “great strength and depth” of her watercolors.

Ajijic gallery owner Laura Bateman, who visited the show a week after it opened, reported that it looked as if would be a total sell out. She found that Frazer’s “history of assiduous study to become a major talent” shone through in “her lively drawings, her fresh representational water colors and in her giant abstract oils.” Frazer shared with Bateman an anecdote about why she had started to paint large abstracts. After winning first place for a watercolor in an early art show, Frazer had been disappointed as she “sat there with her blue ribbon watching the backs of prospective customers passing her work,” while the large, abstract works of another artist—who failed to win any prize—attracted all the public attention.

In January 1970, a few months before setting off with a friend (Luz Luna de Macias) on an extended trip to India (which she had visited 41 years earlier) and Kashmir, Frazer held a one-person exhibit of watercolors and collages at the American Legion in Chapala. Later that year, in August, Frazer was honored by the Board of the California National Water Color Society, which selected one of her works for a star-studded show at the National Academy in New York of 70 works (by 70 different artists) from across the entire country.

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

The illustration (above) comes from A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972) which unfortunately misspells her first name as “Prisdilla”.

Frazer was an active member of the California Watercolor Society, Long Beach Art Association and the Los Angeles Art Association. During her career, Frazer had more than a dozen solo exhibitions of her work, ranging from Washington D.C. across the country to Los Angeles and Laguna Beach in California. Her major shows included the California Watercolor Society (1930-33); the Laguna Beach Art Association (1930s); the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts (1939, 1961).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Tina Ravizza-Blumenfeld (a great niece of Frazer) for sharing the family’s knowledge of the artist and for locating the Ford Times issue which included “Sunday Best.”

Notes:

This is an updated and expanded version of a post first published 28 December 2017.

Other Laguna Beach artists associated with Lake Chapala include John A. Bruce, Felipe Castañeda, Eugene & Marjorie Nowlen, Georg Rauch and Phyllis Rauch.

Sources:

  • Battle Creek Enquirer (Battle Creek, Michigan), 26 May 1963, p 24.
  • Justino Fernandez. 1961. Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en 1960. Suplemento Num. 1 del Num. 30 de los Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico, 1961.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 23 Jan 1964, 24 Dec 1964, 30 Sep 1965, 2 Apr 1966, 14 May 1966, 5 Nov 1966, 10 Jan 1970, 18 April 1970, 22 Aug 1970
  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California, 10 April 1960, p 57.
  • La Galería del Lago de Chapala. 1972. A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería. 1972. (Ajijic, Mexico: La Galería del Lago de Chapala).
  • Laguna Beach Art Association. 1956. Laguna Beach Art Association catalogue, March 1956.
  • John C. Weigel. 1963. “Art in the Outdoors.” Ford Times, June 1963, 41-45.

Please feel free to comment or suggest corrections or additional material related to any post via our comments feature or email.

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Sep 032020
 

Gina Hildreth (who wrote under her maiden name Gina Dessart) and her husband, Phillip, lived in Ajijic in the mid-1960s. Gina wrote at least three suspense novels: A Man Died Here (1947), The Last House (1950) and Cry For The Lost (1959). All three works were published in New York by Harper & Brothers. The first two novels were set in New England, whereas her third novel was set in and around Tucson, Arizona.

Gina Hildreth. Credit: John Lee (Ajijic-Artists of 50 years ago)

Gina Hildreth. Credit: John Lee (Ajijic-Artists of 50 years ago)

Gina Hildreth also wrote a stageplay – By any other name, a comedy in three acts (1948) – and had a short story, “Counterpoint”, published in the Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine issue of November 1965.

Gina Dessart Hildreth (born Georgine Belle Dessart in Chicago, Illinois, on 16 March 1912) died in Nyack, New York, on 1 April 1979. Her husband, Phillip Nelson Hildreth, was born in East Hampton, New York, on 8 November 1898 and died in Guadalajara on 11 June 1968.

Gina Hildreth had grown up in New York and Europe, and gained a Masters degree in English, prior to marrying Phillip. Phillip had two failed marriages behind him. The first, when he was living in Manhattan and working in advertising, was to Lila Samantha Loper (1887–1958), a divorcee and mother of three. Phillip had a daughter with his second wife, Hilda Stone Tuzo (1902-1976), but that union did not last long. Phillip married Gina Dessart in about 1935. Five years later, the couple were still living in New York where they both gave their occupation in 1940 as working in “screen printing” for “display advertisements.”

In 1950, Gina and Phillip moved to Tucson, Arizona, following a two month vacation there. Tucson remained their US home for the remainder of their lives. Gina worked in real estate and was quoted in an advertisement in Tucson for Hammond organs in the late 1950s as saying that, “As a writer, a member of a real estate firm and housewife, I lead a busy life. Yet when things begin to overwhelm me, I can always find new stimulation and inspiration at the Hammond.”The precise timing, duration and motives for the couple’s decision to live in Mexico for a time in the mid-1960s—from about 1964 to 1968—are unclear.

Long-time Chapala resident Bill Atkinson recalled that Phillip, while not himself a writer, certainly moved in literary circles and was active in Ajijic social circles. In July 1964, the Guadalajara Reporter told its readers that Phillip Hildreth “hosted a supper for Martha and Volney Hildreth and their children who have taken a house here for the summer.” Six months later, the newspaper described how Philip Hildreth and his wife were in the middle of a 12-week-long competition organized by the “Ajijic chess club,” competing against John Mersereau, Dick Bishop, Larry Hartmus, Lou Wertheimer and Bob Somerlott.

The Hildreths were especially close to Dick (Dickinson) Bishop and his wife, Nina. When Nina passed away, Gina Hildreth penned a moving tribute to her friend, describing how Nina and Dick had moved to Ajijic “scarcely more than three years ago,” and how Nina, “an artist of great talent,” maintained a stable of fine horses.

Gina and Phillip still had a home in Ajijic—at Calle Zaragoza 19—at the time of Phillip’s death in June 1968 a Guadalajara hospital, at the age of 69.

Gina returned to live in Tucson and was a lecturer in English, teaching creative writing at the University of Arizona in the early and mid-1970s, at the same time that another Ajijic resident, John Lee, taught there.

hildreth-dessart-gina-Ajijic - Artists of 50 Years Ago-3

According to a Kirkus review, A Man Died Here (1947) tells the story of the Macklin family’s “attempts to piece out the happenings in the Williams family  when as the new owners of the Williams house, their curiosity is first aroused by the house itself, later by the hints of gossip, hatred, evasion, in the town. Bob and Liz fit together each small fact, each tiny segment of character, and write finis to a story of bondage, cruelty, dishonesty, lifting the shadow from the house.”

In The Last House (1950), according to one reviewer, a Connecticut gal “gets herself shot in village kitchen. Suspicion falls on various neighbors, male and female.” The reviewer, William C. Weber found the book to be an “absorbing and capitally written mystery-suspense tale with interesting psychological overtones.”

A review of Cry for the Lost describes it as “a murder story that poses no problem of who committed the crime. The interest and excitement in this suspense story lies in following the effect of the murder upon the characters and lives of the people who had been closely associated with the man who is killed. Miss Dessart reveals with considerable understanding and a searching sympathy the inner probings that torment both the guilty and the innocent when faced with the bitter knowledge that one among them has been driven to taking a human life.”

Note: this is an updated and expanded version of a post first published on 3 November 2014.

Sources:

  • Arizona Daily Star (Tucson): June 8, 1958, 18.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 1 Jul 1964; 10 Dec 1964; 14 Jan 1965; 23 Sep 1965.
  • Mecheline Keating, “Cry for the Lost – review”, Tucson Daily Citizen, 3 October 1959, p 13.
  • William C. Weber, “The Last House, by Gina Dessart” in Tucson Daily Citizen, August 28, 1950, p 12.
Aug 272020
 

Margaretha (Margaret) Van Gurp, a well known artist from eastern Canada, was born in Delft, Netherlands, 6 December 1926. She moved to Canada in 1953.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

In 1983, she spent three weeks with Susan Van Gurp, one of her daughters, in Jocotepec, Mexico. Susan Van Gurp was teaching at the Lakeside School for the Deaf, now the Centro de Atención Multiple Gallaudet (“Gallaudet Special Education Center”), from 1982 to 1984.

During Margaretha Van Gurp’s visit, she completed  a series of pen and ink drawings of the students at the school, as well as of other people in the town.

Margaret Van Gurp. Viviana.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Viviana.

Margaretha Van Gurp also painted several charming watercolors of life in the town.

Margaret Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

Margaretha Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

Van Gurp’s early art education (1945-1947) was under Gillis van Oosten in Delft, Netherlands. She also took courses at the College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, studied portrait sculpture in clay under Allison McNeil, and (1980) studied portraiture under David Leffel and Robert Philipp at the Art Students League of New York in the U.S. Her art has been widely shown in Eastern Canada.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaret Van Gurp has also illustrated books, such as Acadian Awakenings, and sculpted and painted mannequin heads for Parks Canada exhibits at several locations, including Castle Hill, Newfoundland; Citadel Hill Museum, Halifax; and Fort Anne, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

After a remarkable artistic career, Margaret Van Gurp died in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 14 August 2020. We extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends.

To learn more about this artist:

Note: the earliest version of this post was published on 18 December 2014.

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

Aug 202020
 

Author, poet and diplomat José Rubén Romero (1890-1952) was born in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán. Cotija de la Paz is about thirty kilometers from the village of La Palma on Lake Chapala’s south-eastern corner.

Romero’s father, an outspoken liberal, had been forced to leave the very conservative village of Cotija de la Paz, and the family home, and travel to Mexico City. Six months later, he sent for his wife and two children, Rubén (then aged seven) and his younger sister. Their journey, by horseback, steamer and train, is described in Romero’s Apuntes de un lugareño (trans: Notes of a Villager), published in 1932, by which time Romero was the Mexican Consul in Barcelona, Spain. He was later served as Mexican ambassador to Brazil (1937-1939) and Cuba (1939-1944).

romero-ruben-coverBesides his diplomatic career, Romero worked in a variety of fields, including journalism and as a university dean. He is best remembered, though, as a writer whose vivid depictions of the people and customs of his native state make him an outstanding exponent of the modern costumbrista novel. The costumbrista genre focuses on regional life, customs and manners.

Romero’s lasting legacy of fine works includes Desbandada (1936), El pueblo inocente (1934), Mi caballo, mi perro y mi rifle (1936), Viaje a Mazatlán (1946) and Rosenda (1946). But by far his best known book is the picaresque tale of a lovable rascal: La vida inútil de Pito Pérez (The Futile Life of Pito Pérez), first published in 1938. A best-seller in innumerable editions, this book was turned into a movie starring Ignacio López Tarso in the early 1970s. One of Mexico’s best-loved writers ever, Romero died on July 4, 1952, in Mexico City.

In his autobiographical novel Apuntes de un lugareño Romero describes Lake Chapala on two occasions. The first time he encounters the lake is in about 1897, on his way to Mexico City with his mother and sister at the age of seven. It includes Romero’s impressions of the steamer trip from La Palma to Ocotlán, a regular route at the time. Romero’s second encounter with Lake Chapala comes later, when he was living in Sahuayo between about 1907 and 1910.

The following extract from Apuntes de un lugareño, describing Romero’s impressions in 1897, is an excerpt of the much longer extract given, with commentary, in chapter 41 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travelers’ Tales:

At eight in the morning we got on the steamboat that would take us to Ocotlán.

I began to run around the boat without paying attention to the excessive cautions of my mother, who cried out for fear I would fall in the water.

The steamboat was large, with two decks and some cabins that on our voyage were occupied by the relatives of the owner, Don Diego Moreno, and some three or four nuns in black habits with white hoods.

During the crossing, the nuns never stopped praying and I twisted myself into every position to see if I could see their legs because I doubted that they had them like ordinary people.

Just past the halfway point in the lake a ruined tower appeared that was said to have been a prison in the old days. I straightened myself to see and began to pester all those within my reach with questions which when all was said and done, no one could answer.”

Translations of Romero’s works in English include:

  • Notes of a Villager: A Mexican Poet’s Youth and Revolution (Kaneohe, Hawaii: Plover Press, 1988) is a fine translation by John Mitchell and Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar of Apuntes de un lugareño.
  • The Futile Life of Pito Perez (Prentice-Hall, 1966), translation by William O. Cord.
  • A Translation of Jose Ruben Romero’s Mi Caballo, Mi Perro, Y Mi Rifle with a Study of His Life, Style and Works, by Carl Edgar Niles (University of Tennessee, 1947)

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published 21 May 2014.

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

Aug 132020
 

Ever since I first stumbled across two woodblock prints by Raphael Greno, I have wanted to see more examples of his work, characterized by a superb eye for detail and high-quality workmanship. So imagine my surprise and delight a week ago when I received an email from a collector with images of another Ajijic print by Greno. This one is especially intriguing.

The subjects of the four Greno prints I’ve seen previously—for details, see Raphael and Vee Greno, multi-talented artists who lived in Ajijic in the 1970s—are all readily identifiable. This latest Ajijic print, entitled “Don Elpidio,” is a powerful study of an elderly man, most likely a resident of Ajijic.

Raphael Greno. "Don Elpidio"

Raphael Greno. “Don Elpidio”

I know that at least two of Greno’s other prints date back to the 1950s; it is possible that he was still producing them as late as the 1970s.

Can anyone tell me more about this gentleman or his family? It would be fantastic to learn more about the subject of Raphael Greno’s masterful portrait.

Update

  • My sincere thanks to Ajijic artist Dionicio Morales for identifying Don Elpidio as Elpidio Rameño Pérez. Elpidio Rameño Pérez was born in Ajijic on 10 November 1914, married Maria Refugio Ramos in 1937, and was Secretary of Club Deportivo Unión de Ajijic, A.C., when it was founded in 1959.

Acknowledgment

  • I am very grateful to Jacob Hayman for bringing this work to my attention and for providing the excellent photograph.

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 062020
 

Verna Aardema (1911-2000) was an American author of dozens of children’s books.

She has no known connection to Lake Chapala beyond the fact that one of her books—The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (New York: Four Winds, 1979)—is connected with Tizapán [el Alto] on the southern shore of the lake.

aardema-coverThe story, illustrated by Tony Chen, is a translation and retelling of “El Aro de Hinojo y el Cuero de Piojo”, from Tales from Jalisco, Mexico, by Howard True Wheeler, American Folklore Society, 35, 1943. The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico can be viewed online via the website OpenLibrary.org: The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (free registration required).

The king of Tizapán has a beautiful daughter Princess Fruela. He asks a wizard to make her a special drum. The only man that will be allowed to marry his daughter must first guess what kind of black leather the drum head is made from. Prince Tuzán rises to the challenge, but knows he will forfeit his life if he fails. En route to victory, he gathers around him several unusual characters, all of whom contribute to his success.

Verna Aardema (full name Verna Norberg Aardema Vugteveen) was born in New Era, Michigan on 6 June 1911. Even as a child, she wanted to be a writer. She graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Journalism in 1934, before working as an elementary school teacher (1934-1973), later combined with being a local newspaper correspondent for the Muskegon Chronicle (1951-1972).

Aardema’s first set of children’s stories Tales from the Story Hat was published in 1960. She started writing for children mainly because her daughter wouldn’t eat until she’d heard one of her mother’s stories. In most stories, the setting was somewhere that Aardema had been recently reading about, such as Africa or Mexico.

Her children’s books, almost always based on adaptations of traditional folklore tales, won numerous awards. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (1975) received the Caldecott Medal and the Brooklyn Art Books for Children Award. Who’s in Rabbit’s House? (1977) was the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. The author herself received the Children’s Reading Round Table Award in 1981.

See also

This is an updated version of a post first published on 5 May 2014.

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.

Jul 302020
 

Portrait artist Betty Warren, later known as Betty Warren Herzog, was born in New York City on 6 January 1920. Her brightly colored portraits were in such demand that she became one of the highest paid female portraitists of the 20th century. In 1940, at age 20, she became the youngest woman in US History to hold a solo exhibit at a major US Museum (Berkshire Museum).

Betty Warren. Sketch of Seth Burgess.

Betty Warren. Sketch of Seth Burgess. Reproduced by kind permission of Seth Burgess.

Betty Warren first visited Lake Chapala in February 1974, when she and her husband (Jacob Herzog) visited a friend—Everett J. Parrys of Albany—who was staying at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala. Warren arranged to take the Helen Kirtland home in Ajijic for the following month to use as a studio. Two years later, Warren returned to Chapala, where she held a solo show of oils and drawings at the Villa Montecarlo in March. That show was sponsored by the Galeria del Lago (run by Helen Kirtland’s daughter, Katie Goodridge Ingram).

The following year, her third winter at the lake, Warren held another solo show of her works at the Galeria del Lago. That show ran from 26 February to 11 March.

In 1980, Warren was one of 11 painters whose work was shown in a group show in Guadalajara at the ex-Convento del Carmen. On that occasion, the other artists, almost all of whom had close ties to Lake Chapala, were Paul Fontaine, Daphne Aluta, Georg Rauch, Eleanor Smart, Richard Lapa, Stefan Lokos, Evelyne Boren, Digur Weber, Gustel Foust and Taffy Branham.

From the early 1980s, Warren and her husband spent her winters in Ajijic, where she maintained an art studio.

Betty Warren in Ajijic

Betty Warren in Ajijic

Betty Warren was the daughter of illustrator Jack A. Warren, cartoonist of Pecos Bill. She studied at the Art Students League in New York, the National Academy of Design, the Cape School of Art (summers, 1937-42) with Henry Hensche, Farnsworth School of Art, Sarasota, Florida, and the Reineke School in New Orleans. Warren was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts in 1991 by Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York.

Betty Warren taught at the Albany Institute of History and Art for seventeen years and co- founded The Palm Tree School of Art, in Sarasota, Florida, and The Malden Bridge School of Art, in Malden Bridge, New York.

She had more than 35 solo shows during her artistic career, and exhibited at Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, Allied Artists of America, American Water-Color Society, National Arts Club, Knickerbocker Artists, New York, and the Grand Central Art Galleries. Her last formal portrait was of Governor Hugh Carey for the State of New York in 1991. She died in Albany on 8 November 1993.

She one of the six wives of actor Stuart Lancaster (1920-2000). She had two sons: potter, sculptor and author Michael Dean Lancaster and landscape artist John Warren Lancaster. Following her divorce from Stuart Lancaster, Warren later married Jacob Herzog, a prominent attorney in upstate New York.

Betty Warren was a member of Grand Central Art Galleries, National Arts Club, American Artists Professional League,National League of American Pen Women, Pen & Brush.

Warren’s portraits can be found in the collections of the The University of Wisconsin; General Electric; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Albany Institute of History and Art, New York; the Malden Bridge School of Art; Hartwick College, New York; the New York State Supreme Court in Albany; and the Grand Lodge of New York.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published Oct 30, 2014

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 23 Feb 1974; 27 Mar 1976, 12 Feb 1977, 17.
  • El Informador: 28 Mar 1976; 26 Jan 1980.

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

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