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Feb 032021
 

Chester (“Chet”) P. Hewitt (1923-1980) lived in Ajijic for a time in the early to middle 1950s, according to Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet, Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey. Hewitt wrote The Gilded Hideaway, a novel set in Mexico (though not at Lakeside) published in New York by Ace Books in 1955, under the pseudonym of Peter Twist. The novel appears to be Hewitt’s only published work.

The front cover of the book proclaims that “He sought solace in the arms of a murderess!” A publicity quote says that the protagonist “longed for easy money, beautiful women and lush living. All he needed was one big haul.” The cover art is thought to be by Robert Maguire.

Chester Peter Hewitt was born in New York City on 4 November 1923 and grew up in Manhattan. After graduating from Lawrence High School, he completed only one year of college, and was still unmarried when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Corps on 18 March 1943.

Hewitt-Cover-Gilded-Hideaway

It seems likely that Hewitt was only in Ajijic for a relatively short time, before relocating to the US Virgin Islands. By 1967, according to a Waco-Times article, Hewitt was a “slender, mustachioed”, 43-year-old, “retired civil engineer”, who had saved enough money from working in construction in St. Thomas for many years to move to Mexico City. After nine months there, he and his wife, Lucy, moved to Acapulco, where they “took over a four bedroom house overlooking the ocean, with a swimming pool in the front yard.”

The focus of the Waco-Times article was Hewitt’s humanitarian role in assisting American and Canadian prisoners locked up in the Acapulco jail. Apparently, Hewitt had been detained overnight following a vehicle accident outside a prominent hotel, and while there compiled a list of foreign prisoners, the charges they faced, and contact details for their families. On his release, he set about contacting families and trying to arrange for some of the prisoners to have fines or other debts paid and thereby gain their release. In many cases, his efforts proved successful. Hewitt visited the prisoners regularly, twice a week, with “books, food and hope”.

Even though The Gilded Hideaway is not set at Lake Chapala, it was almost certainly written in Ajijic. Hewitt’s links to Ajijic were strengthened by his marriage to Jane Twist (1914-2011) in the early 1950s, shortly after she divorced her second husband, the “9-fingered” violinist John Langley, who also had close ties to Ajijic.

“Peter Twist”—the pseudonym used for his only novel—combined Hewitt’s middle name with his wife’s maiden name.

After Hewitt’s marriage to Jane Twist also ended in divorce, she reportedly moved to Florida.

In 1961, Hewitt married Lucy Hamilton Prendergast (1923-1980); that marriage lasted until 1974. Chester Hewitt died in the U.S. Virgin Islands on 15 December 1980 at the age of 57.

Please contact us if you are able to add any more details about the life and work of this noble novelist.

[Note: This is an updated version of a post first published 2 May 2016]

Sources

Kevin M. Kelleghan. 1967. “Brings Them Hope: He may not be a “do-gooder” but those in Acapulco jail think so.” Waco-Times, 20 July 1967, 11.

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

Jan 282021
 

Xavier Pérez Aguilar became well known in Ajijic in the 1980s and 1990s for his fine watercolor landscapes and portraits.

According to a “Profile of the Artist” in El Ojo del Lago, Pérez was born in Ocotlán (near the eastern end of Lake Chapala) but was raised and educated in Southern California. He worked in industrial design before entering Los Angeles City College to study a liberal arts program. He then attended the Art Center College of Design, and studied painting under Leon Franks, Sergei Bongart and Constance Marlow.

Xavier Perez Aguilar. Undated. Reproduced courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

Xavier Pérez Aguilar. Untitled, undated. Reproduced courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

With Marlow, he started the Valley Branch of the Art League of Los Angeles in 1968, under whose auspices he taught and gave painting demonstrations for 15 years. In August 1968 he exhibited ”Pico Adobe” in an invitational group show at the San Fernando Mission in Los Angeles. Both Sergei Bongart and Constance Marlow also had works in that show.

At the Art League, Pérez gave life and drawing classes. Elsewhere, he gave a demonstration of palette knife techniques at an art society meeting in Los Angeles, in September 1968, and conducted flower painting classes in Chino. In January 1975, Pérez, billed as a  “renowned artist and sculptor,” gave a demonstration in sculpturing at the San Fernando Valley Art Club. By that time, Pérez had founded the Xavier Pérez Studio.

According to the biographical profile in El Ojo, “Xavier’s works brought on a degree of notoriety and an accumulation of awards which ultimately led to personality conflicts within the League. He stopped showing his paintings in public.”

After this Pérez moved back into the design business and combined the restoration of antiques with designing and making reproduction furniture.

Xavier Perez Aguilar. 1979. Lake Chapala. Courtesy of Richard Tingen.

Xavier Pérez Aguilar. 1989. Lake Chapala. Reproduced courtesy of Richard Tingen.

Pérez visited Lake Chapala in 1979 and returned to live at Lake Chapala in 1984, establishing his home in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos. He opened the Galeria P. Bonnard, at Calle 16 de Septiembre #7 in Ajijic, the building where Enrique and Belva Velázquez have their joint studio today.

Xavier Pérez was one of the large group of “Pintores de la Ribera” who held a group exhibit in May 1985 at the Club Campestre La Hacienda (km 30, Guadalajara-Chapala highway). Other artists represented in that show included Daphne Aluta, Eugenia Bolduc, Jean Caragonne, Donald Demerest, Laura Goeglein, Hubert Harmon, B. R. Kline, Jo Kreig, Carla W. Manger, Emily Meeker, Sydney Moehlman, Tiu Pessa, De Nyse Turner Pinkerton and Eleanor Smart.

In 1986, Pérez was elected the first president of the Ajijic Society of the Arts (ASA). He saw his mission as forging greater unity among all the local artists. In addition, he began a project to restore and maintain the collection of archaeological finds started by the late Dr. Betty Bell.

Pérez was also a co-founder (with Tod Jonson, Ektor Carranza, Florence Pritikin and Pat Tanaka) in 1986 of the Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic (CASA).

Acknowledgments

  • My sincere thanks to Ricardo Santana for first bringing this artist to my attention, and to Richard Tingen and Judy Eager for sharing their memories of the artist.

Sources

  • El Ojo del Lago, September 1986
  • Valley News (Van Nuys, California): 1 February 1968, 74; 27 Aug 1968, 14; 24 Sep 1968, 24; 14 June 1973, 77; 14 January 1975, 26.

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

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Jan 212021
 

La Ondina de Chapala (“The Water Nymph of Chapala”) is a 149-page Spanish-language novel, set in the 1940s, by Salomón Zepeda. It was published in Mexico City by Imprenta Ruíz in 1951. Very little is known about the author.

Until I had the chance to read this novel, I had always assumed—based on the cover art—that it was a pocket romance of relatively limited artistic merit. I was wrong. La Ondina de Chapala is a skillfully-constructed and well-written story which, while it has romance as a central theme, reflects on such timeless considerations in relationships as trust, fidelity, communication, sacrifice and betrayal.

The author was clearly a very well-educated individual, as evidenced by the many literary and artistic references in this book to the likes of Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Rousseau, Gauguin, Edgar Allen Poe, Rembrandt, Shakespeare and Arnold Böcklin, as well as to a number of Hindi poets.

Charles Betts Waite. ca. 1900. Hotel Arzapalo

Charles Betts Waite. ca. 1900. Hotel Arzapalo. – By coincidence, “La Ondina” is the name of the boat in the foreground of this very early image of the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala.

The title turns out to be particularly apt. An Ondine (also spelled Undine) is a mythological water-spirit or water-nymph that can obtain a human soul when she falls in a love with a man. However, the man is doomed to die if he is unfaithful to her.

The protagonist in Zepeda’s novel is 27-year-old Erasmo Sada, a tall, muscular, college-educated author who has borrowed a car from a friend to drive out from Mexico City (where he is a newspaper editor) to Lake Chapala for a respite from his job and the city.

Erasmo took a room at the “Hotel de Oriente” and planned to work on his first novel, “Marfil de Luna.”

— “The resort was overflowing with Yanqui tourists of both sexes…. Towards the top of a hill, one could see the country houses, the chalets, the castles, the rustic cabins, the recreational villas and the palatial residences of the nouveaux riches, summering all year round…. Erasmo was content in that tourist emporium of yesteryear, where the rancid aristocracy of the age of General Porfirio Díaz whiled away their prolonged leisure time.”

Like all good authors, Erasmo always has his notebook to hand to record random thoughts, feelings, impressions and ideas.

The morning after his arrival, he is relaxing in a deckchair on the beach amidst the multi-colored sunshades and watching the world go by, when a group of four girls arrives. They stake a place on the beach and then race into the water to swim. He cannot help but overhear their shouts as they cavort in the water and learns their names: Vera, Susana, Angelina and Adelaida.

He is instantly smitten with Adelaida who seems somehow different and more self-confident than the others. He sneaks glimpses of the stunning and shapely dark-haired girl until, at one point, she not only notices him but calmly returns his gaze.

After the girls dry off, change and leave the beach, Erasmo enjoys a lunch of whitefish at the Beer Garden and makes a journal entry—equal parts lust and curiosity—about “the Ondine of Chapala who had swum in the lake.”

The following morning, the girls are back; Erasmo watches Adelaida but does not approach her. That evening, when he goes for dinner to “Salon Chapala,” he finds that Adelaida is already there, drinking and dancing with friends, one of whom, an older-looking man, has a proprietorial air about him. After they’ve left, the bartender explains to Erasmo that the man is a Guadalajara lawyer and is Adelaida’s husband. The couple regularly visit his family’s villa in Chapala and are friends of the local mayor (presidente municipal).

In the course of the novel, as Erasmo ponders the meaning of what he feels and how he should act, his inner musings often veer off into topics that are quintessentially Mexican. For example, after sitting in a rocky field looking out over the lake, he suddenly realizes that he is uncomfortably close to a group of rattlesnakes making love. They trigger thoughts of the serpent cult in ancient Mexico, of Quetzalcoatl (the Feathered Serpent), and of the founding of Mexico City. As his mind wanders to the conflict between snakes and eagles, good versus bad, he recalls the archaeological evidence related to snakes and mythology elsewhere in the world, before snapping back to Lake Chapala as the weather worsens and a culebra (“water snake” – the local word for a waterspout) forms over the lake.

zepeda-la-ondina-de-chapala

Cover art by “Magallón”

Safely back in his hotel, he watches the rain from his balcony. When the storm has subsided, the fresh earthy smell emanating from the ground prompts Erasmo to take a nighttime stroll through the village. He sees someone headed in his direction. The vaguely-defined distant shape gradually becomes more feminine and as the woman draws closer he recognizes Adelaida.

In the conversation that ensues, Adelaida makes it clear that she is fully prepared to accompany him back to his hotel room, but only on condition that he asks no questions and promises to have no further contact with her thereafter.

Erasmo can’t quite believe what is happening but agrees. They have a passionate one-night stand in his hotel room. Before she leaves in the early morning, she shares some of her life story with him to explain why she was wandering the streets at night… Long story short, she had barely left university when she married a much older man, Conrado Rubiera, who turned out to be an impotent alcoholic. Her husband became abusive and on one occasion attacked her with a knife. When Adelaida asked for a divorce, Conrado threatened to kill her.

In an effort to reconcile their differences they were spending several weeks in Chapala at his parents’ villa, Villa Solariega (“Ancestral Home”). However, their first attempt in months to make love ended in abject failure. Conrado had called her a whore and thrown her out; frustrated in more ways than one, she had stormed off and was wandering the streets in anguish prior to meeting Erasmo.

As Adelaida is about to leave the hotel, Erasmo suggests she leave her husband once and for all and that they drive away together back to Mexico City. She refuses, reminds him of his promise, and walks back to Villa Solariega.

Erasmo, as he tries to make sense of events, ponders the “fragility of human destiny” and begins to reread his journal entries for the trip. The first entry, dated 15 May 1943, reflects on his feelings when he stopped at the viewpoint known as Mil Cumbres to look out over the forest towards the distant mountains.

“My life is a dream in pursuit of your footprint …”

Snapping back to the present, Erasmo composes a lengthy poem to Adelaida in which he expresses his eternal love. He fantasizes about what he calls the “Lake of Love,” which “will tell your heart of my insane anxiety until once again, in a distant world, we love each other in Eternity.”

On her way home, Adelaida’s interior monologue revolves around her feelings of guilt and remorse. She decides that she will ignore her husband’s threats and seek a divorce. However, when she arrives home, she discovers her husband dead in bed, pistol in hand. She screams for help and moves the pistol to the nightstand. After the local judge arrives, reports are filled out and Adelaida is placed in temporary custody at the house of the mayor, Ramiro Requena, while further investigations are carried out.

Adelaida’s fingerprints on the pistol, her ready admission of having had a serious argument with her husband only hours before his death, and her unexplained walk into the village at night, as well as the absence of any suicide note, all suggest she may have been implicated in her husband’s death.

Fortunately for Adelaida, her father-in-law arrives from Guadalajara. Confident that Adelaida must be completely innocent, he looks round the house and discovers a suicide note signed by his son. The note completely vindicates Adelaida who is released. Conrado’s body is taken by ambulance to Guadalajara for burial in the family crypt.

In the meantime, Erasmo Sada has arrived in Guadalajara, not knowing any of this, to stay overnight before driving back to Mexico City. At the downtown Hotel Metrópoli he is idly leafing through the newspapers lying on the table in the hotel lobby when he reads about the suicide and the funeral. His heart skips a beat. The article even includes Adelaida’s address.

For the next couple of days, unsure what he should do, he tries to distract himself by wandering the city streets to visit tourist sites such as the Museo del Estado, Los Colomos and Tlaquepaque. In the process, he muses about the origin and importance of Jalisco’s many contributions to Mexico such as mariachi music and tequila.

Eventually, he comes to a decision and enters a silver shop to purchase some earrings as a suitable gift for Adelaida. When he knocks on her door, there is no answer. Erasmo turns away dejected, wondering about love and destiny. Then, by chance, her maid arrives and explains that Adelaida is staying with her aunt Elisa in the colonial Agua Azul.

At the aunt’s house, Erasmo talks with Adelaida and they go for a walk. She loves the earrings but makes it clear that she is sticking to the “no more contact or explanation” agreement and is going to stay with a cousin in Chicago and start a new life. She agrees that Erasmo can see her off at the airport the following Saturday.

Erasmo paces the city streets trying to clear his head, desperate to work out how to convince her to change her mind and come to live with him in Mexico City. At the airport, Adelaida arrives alone, having made excuses as to why none of her friends or her aunt should see her off. She and Erasmo meet in the departure hall and start chatting. They hug and share a passionate kiss.

And… will she go to Chicago or will she marry Erasmo?…

Apology:

Sorry, but if you want to know the ending, you’ll either have to find and read a copy of this interesting book or email me a link to a rating, comment or review you have made on Goodreads, Amazon or elsewhere of any of my books.

Copies of La Ondina de Chapala are held in several libraries in Mexico City and the U.S., including the University of California Los Angeles and Southern Illinois University. Depending where you live, they may be available via inter-library loan.

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.

Jan 142021
 

Herb McLaughlin was a prolific commercial photographer who began his career in Illinois before moving to Arizona. These images of the church and waterfront in Chapala were published in Arizona Highways in November 1950.

Herbert (“Herb”) McLaughlin was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 30 July 1918 and died in Phoenix on 19 February 1991. He first became fascinated by photography after receiving a gift as a teenager of a Voightlander folding camera. McLaughlin studied safety engineering at Purdue University and then completed a double major at Indiana University in business administration and journalism. Even before graduating, he had established his own business, Mercury Pictures, in Hammond, Indiana. On graduating in 1940, McLaughlin married Barbara Cartwright (1920-1996); the couple had two children, but divorced in about 1949.

While running Mercury Pictures, McLaughlin undertook commissions for several newspapers as well as for wartime factories and other companies. In 1945 he sold this company and, following medical advice, moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in the hope that his asthma would improve. The new company he began, McLaughlin and Co. did well and in 1947 he bought a rival company, McCulloch Brothers Inc., together with their extensive photographic collection.

It is unclear whether his photographs of Chapala were taken on commission for Arizona Highways, or whether the lake was where he chose to spend his honeymoon following his second marriage – to Dorothy Ann “Dot” (Jensen) Jolley (1912-2005) – in the summer of 1950. Or perhaps both reasons were true?

Herb McLaughlin. c. 1950. Chapala.

Herb McLaughlin. c. 1950. Chapala.

The photo above shows the Chapala waterfront as seen from the end of the pier. At the time of McLaughlin’s visit, the large-scale remodeling of the town center to create Avenida Francisco I. Madero and Paseo Ramón Corona was almost complete. Villa Tlalocan (built in the 1890s by George Edward King for British consul Lionel Carden) and Villa Ferrara are visible on the right hand side of the photo.

The image below, of the San Francisco church in Chapala, shows what the church looked like prior to a major (and never fully completed) renovation of its facade and bell towers (or spires) in the 1960s, which left the towers at different heights.

The clock visible above the main entrance dates from about 1897 and was a gift of Eduard Collignon, owner of the nearby Villa Ana Victoria (which was demolished during the updating of the town center). This imposing parroquia (parish church) gets several mentions in D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent, and is only a short stroll from the house Lawrence rented in Chapala in 1923 while composing the first draft of his famous novel. That house, greatly expanded since Lawrence’s visit, is now a boutique hotel known as the Hotel Villa QQ.

Herb McLaughlin. c. 1950. Church at Chapala.

Herb McLaughlin. c. 1950. Church at Chapala.

McLaughlin’s second wife, Dot, had previously been married to Marion Doval Jolley, with whom she co-owned Jolley Turkey Company in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. After her first husband died, and she remarried, Jolley sold that company to become co-owner of McLaughlin & Co. She organized the company’s photographic library and began her own photographic career, specializing in portraits of children. The ownership structure of the firm was changed in 1955 in order to grant their staff a stake in the company, now relaunched as Arizona Photographic Associates.

The McLaughlins published two books of photographs: Phoenix 1870-1970 in Photographs (1972) and Arizona the Beautiful (with Don Dedera, 1974). They donated an extensive collection of their photographs to Arizona State University.

For more about the many historic buildings in Chapala, please see my recent book If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants.

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.

Jan 072021
 

It’s not often that obstetrics makes it into my random musings about the artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala. But there’s a first time for everything! Starting in the 1960s, Carol Shepherd McClain, a young California researcher, visited Ajijic several times in order to investigate “traditional” birthing practices in the village.

McClain-textMcClain’s supervisor at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), suggested she undertake research in Guadalajara and/or Lake Chapala. When McClain visited Ajijic in 1965, she knew she had found an ideal place for her work.

In September 1965 the Guadalajara Reporter noted that McClain was visiting Ajijic to gather material for a PhD. Accompanying her during that first visit to Ajijic was her older brother, Spencer Owen Shepherd, who was said to be “adding the finishing touches to a book he wrote in Spain.”

A follow-up in the Guadalajara Reporter in November reminded readers that McClain still hoped that more questionnaires would be returned. Failing to collect sufficient data, McClain was forced to abandon her initial idea of a community study. Instead, on an extended return visit to Ajijic (January 1967 to June 1968) she gathered information for her PhD in Cultural Anthropology (awarded in 1975), which was entitled “Systems of medical beliefs and practices in a West Mexican community.” One of her major findings was that “Ajijicans were more than willing to incorporate modern medical practices as they could easily see that many were effective (e.g. surgery, antibiotics) but that they retained very traditional beliefs about the causes of illness (e.g. witchcraft, fright).”

McClain spent another two months of field work at Lake Chapala from August to September 1973, collecting additional data for an academic article focused specifically on childbirth and midwifery. Published in 1975, when McClain was working at Oregon State University, her ethno-obstetrics research paper looked at the indigenous or “traditional” forms of “obstetrical perceptions” and “the intersection of traditional and modern obstetrical practices,” including the roles played by mothers, grandmothers, curanderas (native healers), parteras (midwives) and espiritistas (spiritualists).

In addition to informal conversations, Carol McClain interviewed 41 mothers at some length about their beliefs and practices, and spent time getting to know four of the local parteras. Doña Carmen was “a popular curandera” who had studied under a hierbero (herbalist) for five years and had “traveled as far as Mexico City to bring patients back to Ajijic for extended treatment.” Her daughter, Josefina, had first become a partera at the age of 25. Doña Josefa, born in Ajijic in 1904, worked both as a partera and as a curandera; she had retired by the time of Shepherd’s second field visit. Doña Petra, born in San Juan Cosalá in 1900, had begun practicing as a partera in 1920 and had spent nine months working under a doctor in Guadalajara; she was the most “modern” (and expensive) of the four.

And what did McClain find out during her research into ethno-obstetrics in Ajijic?

Among other things, that local women believed that four “external factors” affected the fetus: food taboos, sibling jealousy, eclipses of the sun and the moon, and a father who drinks to excess. In the case of food taboos, it was widely believed that “cold” foods might cause illness in the newborn child. McClain quite rightly traced the belief in the potential impact of eclipses back to pre-Conquest times. In Ajijic, it was believed that, “a lunar eclipse will cause an excess of parts, such as fingers or toes, while a solar eclipse will cause incomplete development, and parts of the body which may be affected, such as the nose or the ears, are “eaten by the sun”…. Women who are pregnant will wear a metal object such as a safety pin beneath their clothing to absorb the effects of an eclipse. For protection at night a metal object will be placed beneath the bed.”

McClain’s conclusion was that “Whatever advantages traditional obstetrical care offers women and their children in Ajijic (and these may be considerable), they will be lost if it is completely displaced by modern hospital services. A partial compromise may be the alternative method of home delivery under the care of a physician.”

In 1986, McClain completed a Masters in Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. She then worked for almost twenty years in the President’s Office at the University of California, becoming the university’s administrative director of multicampus research. McClain retired from this position in 2003.

Other academic papers authored by Carol Shepherd McClain include “Adaptation in health behavior in a west Mexican pueblo,” published in Social Science and Medicine (1977); “Women’s choice of home or hospital birth” in Journal of Family Practice (1981); “Traditional midwives and family planning” in Medical Anthropology (1981); “Social network differences between women choosing home and hospital birth” in Human Organization (1987); “A new look at an old disease: smallpox and biotechnology” in Perspectives in Biology  and Medicine (1995); and “Family Stories: Black/White Marriage During the 1960s,” published in the Journal of Black Studies (2011). Shepherd was also the editor of the book Women as Healers: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, published by Rutgers University Press in 1989.

McClain has returned to Ajijic several times in the past twenty years and has conducted additional, less formally structured, research into folk medicine beliefs and practices. This was the basis for a paper she presented at the 2012 meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco entitled “The Persistence of Traditional Medicine: A Mexican Case Study.”

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Dr. Carol Shepherd McClain for sharing details of her visits to Mexico and her research findings.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 30 Sep 1965; 25 Nov 1965
  • Carol Shepherd McClain. 1975. “Ethno-obstetrics in Ajijic,” in Anthropological Quarterly, 40: 38-56.
  • San Francisco Examiner: 16 January 1965

Other artists and authors who connect Berkeley/Oakland to Lake Chapala include:

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.

Dec 312020
 

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 have no captions or dates and date from 1940-1945.

This gallery (many locations unknown) focuses on places in central and western Mexico.

Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Tzararacua Falls, near Uruapan?
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Tzararacua Falls, near Uruapan?
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Tzararacua Falls, near Uruapan?
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Tzararacua Falls, near Uruapan?
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Tzararacua Falls, near Uruapan?
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Tzararacua Falls, near Uruapan?
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Tzararacua Falls, near Uruapan
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Tzararacua Falls, near Uruapan
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Tzararacua Falls, near Uruapan
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Camecuaro park (near Zamora)
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Camecuaro park (near Zamora)
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Camecuaro park (near Zamora)
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Camecuaro park (near Zamora)
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Camecuaro park (near Zamora)
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Camecuaro park (near Zamora)
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Taxco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Taxco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Taxco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Taxco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Taxco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Taxco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Taxco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Central Mexico
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Morelia.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Morelia.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Morelia.

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.

Dec 222020
 

A number of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala have clear links to Christmas. Admittedly, some links are more tenuous than others. Here, in no particular order, are a few of those that come to mind:

German-born photographer Hugo Brehme, who  photographed Lake Chapala, and many of whose superb black-and-white postcard images are hauntingly beautiful, is credited with having introduced the first photographic Christmas cards into Mexico.

Toni Beatty. Christmas Cheer, Mesquite, NM. Print on metal.

Toni Beatty. Christmas Cheer, Mesquite, NM. Print on metal.

Another photographer, Toni Beatty, found creative freedom while living in Ajijic in 1976. The image above (reproduced with her kind permission) is an example of her more recent, extraordinary, work involving digitally-enhanced photographs printed onto metal to emphasize their vivid colors and luminescence.

Both Eunice (Hunt) Huf and Peter Huf, who met and married in Ajijic in the 1960s, were regular exhibitors for many years at Munich’s Schwabing Christmas Market. In 1994, Peter Huf founded the market’s Art Tent, and oversaw its operation until 2014.

The work of several Lakeside artists was included in a December 1968 exhibition – the Collective Christmas Exhibition – at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728) in Guadalajara. These artists included Gustel Foust, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf and José María Servín and Guillermo Chávez Vega.

Architect George Heneghan and his wife Molly Heneghan, a graphic designer, first visited Ajijic in 1970 to spend Christmas with Molly’s parents. They liked what they saw, stayed for several years and George designed the Danza del Sol hotel in the village.

Prolific non-fiction author Joseph Cottler (1899-1996), an accomplished guitarist and violinist who visited Ajijic on numerous occasions, co-wrote (with Nicola A. Montani) a musical score entitled “Lovely babe : Christmas carol for three-part chorus of women’s voices with piano or organ accompaniment” (1946).

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian

Illustration by Regina and Haig Shekerjian from A Book of Christmas Carols.

More Christmas carols came from Regina Tor (deCormier) Shekerjian and her husband, photographer Haig Shekerjian, who were frequent visitors to Ajijic from the early 1950s to the 1980s. They co-wrote A Book of Christmas Carols (1963) and illustrated Nancy Willard’s book The merry history of a Christmas pie: with a delicious description of a Christmas soup (1974).

American author Garland Franklin Clifton lived in the Chapala area in the 1960s. He wrote Wooden Leg John. Satire on Americans living in Mexico, a series of 20 letters dated from Christmas Day 1967 to Christmas Day 1968.

Charles Pollock was born in Denver, Colorado, on Christmas Day 1902. He painted for a year in Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala in 1955-56, producing his Chapala Series, exhibited in New York in 2007. Charles’s younger brother Jackson Pollock became an icon of the American abstract art movement in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Frieda Hauswirth Das (1886-1974) painted in Ajijic in the mid-1940s and spent Christmas 1945 in Monterrey, Mexico.

American anthropologist Frederick Starr (1858-1933) attended a performance of the Pastores (Shepherds), a Passion Play, in Chapala in December 1895 and wrote the experience up for an article published in The Journal of American Folklore.

Anthropologist George Carpenter Barker is noteworthy for his editing and translation of a copy of a manuscript found in Chapala in 1948 after a performance of a nativity play on Christmas morning in the village churchyard. The manuscript was apparently committed to paper, from older oral sources, by Aristeo Flores of El Salto, Jalisco, around 1914.

Dudley Kuzell, husband of Betty Kuzell, was a baritone in the Ken Lane Singers and The Guardsmen quartet. The Kuzells lived at Lake Chapala for many years, from the early 1950s. The Ken Lane Singers accompanied Frank Sinatra on his 1945 recording of America the Beautiful; Silent Night, Holy Night; The Moon was Yellow; and I only Have Eyes for You, and on his 1947 recording that included It Came Upon the Midnight Clear; O little Town of Bethlehem; and the iconic White Christmas.

John Maybra Kilpatrick who painted a WPA mural in Chicago in 1947, retired to Ajijic with his wife Lucy in 1964 and lived there until his death in 1972. Kilpatrick had been a commercial artist for the H. D. Catty Corporation of Huntly, Illinois. In 1952, the corporation copyrighted colored Christmas wrapping paper designed by Kilpatrick, entitled “Merry Christmas (Snow scene with 3 figures in front of houses)”.

Novelist, playwright and travel writer David Dodge settled in Ajijic with his wife Elva in 1966. Early in his career, Dodge co-wrote (with Loyall McLaren) Christmas Eve at the Mermaid, which was first performed as the Bohemian Club’s Christmas play of 1940.

Award-winning novelist Glendon Swarthout, whose short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala, was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart, spent six months in Ajijic with his wife and son in 1951. Among his many successful novels was A Christmas Gift (also known as The Melodeon), published in 1977.

Guadalajara poet Idella Purnell frequently visited Lake Chapala, where her dentist father owned a small home, in the 1920s and 1930s. Her short story “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala“, which we have used as our Christmas post some years, was first published in the December 1936 issue of American Junior Red Cross News and reprinted in 2001 in El Ojo del Lago.

– – – – – – –

Happy Christmas! – ¡Feliz Navidad!

Note: This is a revised version of a post first published in December 2016.

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

 Posted by at 6:39 am  Tagged with:
Dec 172020
 

The talented and versatile artist Alfredo Navarro España was a photographer and painter who first exhibited in Chapala in 1948 and was most active during the 1950s. One of his photographs of fishing nets at Lake Chapala was published by Arizona Highways in 1950, along with several of his drawings and paintings related to Mexican places and themes.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Photograph of fishing nets at Lake Chapala.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Photograph of fishing nets at Lake Chapala.

Guillermo Alfredo Navarro España was born on 27 June 1921 into a socially-prominent family in Guadalajara. His mother was Sara España Araujo. His father, Alfredo Navarro Branca, was a well-known architect who, among other things, designed and built the family home at Vallarta 1581, as well as the El Banco Industrial building, La Casa del Estudiante, and several schools in Guadalajara.

It is unclear how Alfredo acquired his artistic education but he became proficient in several media. Relatively little is known about his life beyond the details of some of the group exhibitions that featured his work.

The earliest of these is the “Third Annual Painting Exhibition” held at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala from 21 August to 1 September 1948. Others exhibiting on that occasion included Rubén Mora Gálvez, Tom[ás] Coffeen, José [María de] Servín, F. Martínez Lois [? Lols?], Dolores de la Mora, Sterling Poindexter, E. Linares [Ernesto Butterlin] and Ruth Dunn.]

In March the following year, five artists held a joint exhibition at the Museo del Estado in Guadalajara. Alfredo showed his “abstract-surrealist” works alongside four artists of “the Ajijic group”: Louise Gauthiers, Ernesto Linares [Butterlin], Nicolás Muzenic and Tobias [Toby] Schneebaum.

Alfredo was also part of the “Fourth Annual Painting Exhibition” at the Villa Montecarlo in August 1949. Other exhibitors on that occasion included Nicolás Muzenic, Tobias Schneebaum, Shirley Wurtzel, Ann Woolfolk and Mel Schuler.

The November 1950 issue of Arizona Highways included various of his photos and paintings of Mexico. Perhaps in celebration, Alfredo took a flight from Guadalajara to Manzanillo that month in the company of Dorothea Wharton, Ernesto Butterlin, Nicolás Muzenic and John Garrell. The following images are a sample of those published by Arizona Highways.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled. (Fishing nets at beach)

Also included in the Arizona Highways magazine are several much simpler, but equally striking, paintings showing typical Mexican scenes (which may or may not be directly related to Jalisco or Lake Chapala).

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled. (Street decorations)

The strong, geometric, composition of these works is very effective in conveying the essence of these festive occasions.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled. (Fería mexicana)

In December 1950, Alfredo was accorded the honor of a solo show at the Galeria de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. On display were 23 paintings, several of them on loan from the private collections of Sigi Weissenberg (a famous Bulgarian pianist), Daniel K. Davis and Ernesto Javelly. The paintings included one entitled “Chapala,” as well as others that may be related to the lake, such as “La pesca.”

Alfredo was sufficiently close to the painters teaching at the Ajijic Art Workshop that he is mentioned in Zoe Kernick‘s 1951 article about Ajijic, as one of the options for those looking for a lively social scene: – “Or one goes into Guadalajara for a party at the gay penthouse studio of surrealist painter, Alfredo Navarro.”

A critique of his work by Alfredo Leal appeared that year in Ariel, a literary broadsheet published in Guadalajara by Emmanuel Carballo, alongside monochrome reproductions of two of his paintings: “La Pesca” and “La Catedral Sumergida.”

Alfredo Navarro held a second one-man show in Mexico City in July 1957, at the Galeria Proteo in the Zona Rosa.

Almost exactly a decade later, at least two of his abstract works were included in a group show of contemporary Jaliscan artists at the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, alongside paintings by Xavier Guerrero, J. Jesus Serna, Gabriel Flores and Guillermo Chavez Vega.

Alfredo Navarro España died in Guadalajara on 18 November 2003.

Sources

  • Arizona Highways, Nov 1950.
  • Arizona Republic, 14 May 1967, 154.
  • Boletín de música y artes visuales, Issues 11-12; Issues 14-22, Departamento de Asuntos Culturales, Unión Panamericana, 1951.
  • El Informador: 27 Nov 1926, 22 Aug 1948, 13 Aug 1949, 24 Oct 1950, 3 Nov 1950, 19 Nov 2003.
  • Zoe Kernick. 1951. Ajijic. Mexican Life, April 1951, 13-14, 58, 60, 62-63.

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

 Posted by at 5:03 am  Tagged with:
Dec 102020
 

John Upton, the translator of poets such as Pablo Neruda and Miguel de Unamuno, and of several seminal works of Spanish literature, lived (off and on) in Ajijic from 1949 to the early 1990s.

In the early 1950s, Upton submitted several colorful pieces about Ajijic and Mexico for the San Francisco Chronicle, including one about the seasonal summer influx of art students:

I had the good fortune to spend an afternoon with Upton at his home in Ajijic in 1990. He was a most gracious host and very supportive of my efforts to document the life of “Zara”— “La Rusa”—the famous ballerina, a longtime resident of Ajijic, who had died in the village a few months earlier.

A couple of years ago, after I’d written a profile of Upton for this blog, I was visiting with journalist and good friend Dale Hoyt Palfrey. I don’t recall how the topic of Upton came up. But she suddenly broke off the conversation and left the room for a few minutes. She returned clutching a small blue notebook which she handed to me. To my surprise it was one of Upton’s notebooks, written and illustrated in his own hand. She insisted on me taking the notebook (I consider myself its custodian rather than its owner) so that I could see what gems it contained.

The pages offer a sneak peek into Upton’s many interests. Scattered notes suggest that it accompanied him on a trip to Mexico City and the Maya region of the Yucatán Peninsula and Guatemala. Page after page contains notes—usually illustrated with informal sketches—regarding the reading of Maya glyphs and numbers.

Extract from p 23 of John Upton's notebook; all rights reserved.

Extract from p 23 of John Upton’s notebook; all rights reserved.

Other pages of the notebook record vocabulary that Upton, for one reason or another, found interesting. Upton, a highly skilled translator, was considered an expert in the idiomatic and colloquial usage and translation of Spanish, with all its regional differences. These pages shed some insight into how Upton acquired his extraordinary linguistic proficiency.

Extract from p 37 of John Upton's notebook; all rights reserved.

Extract from p 37 of John Upton’s notebook; all rights reserved.

Upton was a keen observer as he traveled. The notebook includes this short piece of prose, headed “Extraneous page,” apparently written to share later with a writing colleague:

Could you make a story of this scene in Mexico City?

Couple at the next table: woman of about 45, too much make up, clothes too loud, obviously a whore, sitting with a very shy young man. He is wolfing food as fast as she can order it (she eats nothing – just sits and watches him eat) and as fast as the waitress can bring it: soup, sandwich, order of enchiladas, milk, coffee, large piece of cake – all these are on the table and she orders something else when it occurs to her. She smokes a cigarette and never takes her eyes from his face. (On second look, there are TWO glasses of milk.)

“But, chico! Why didn’t you tell me? Sure you needed a woman, but you can’t spend your last twenty pesos that way. You have to eat, niño!”

He looks up at her from his soup and smiles, shyly; whereupon her battered face lights up and she seems quite pretty.     — [pages 71-72 of notebook]

I would love to know whether this scene was ever incorporated into a short story or book.

Even at the best of times, traveling is sometimes stressful. One evening in San Miguel de Allende, Upton used his notebook (pages 81-82) to vent his frustration at events earlier that day.

Mexicans at their most maddening:

Upon getting off the train at San Miguel A., we were met by two porters who latched on to the suitcases. The women wanted to buy return tickets before leaving the station, as it is some distance from town.

—“Where is the ticket office?”

—“This way.” Men pick up suitcases and we follow them for 300 yards to the far end of the station building. We reach the door and he puts down the bags. “Only it isn’t open right now.”

—“Well, when does it open?”

—“In the morning.”

—“At what time?”

—“In the morning – about noon.”

This information didn’t satisfy me. I walked around the grounds until I found a man who looked knowing. —“When does the ticket office open, please?”

—“The ticket agent just left a couple of minutes ago. It’s closed now.”

—“Yes, I know it’s closed. What I want to know is when it opens.”

—“It’s closed for the rest of the day. The man just left. He went to Celaya.”

—“Well, what about tomorrow? When will he be here?”

—“He won’t open tomorrow, because it is Sunday. Not until Monday.”

—“And when will he open Monday?”

—“Oh! His office hours? From 8:30 a.m. to 4:.00 p.m. every day except Sunday.”

Upton’s deep love of Mexico—enhanced by his study of its people, language and cultures—led to an understanding of the country, and an appreciation for its history and achievements, that is surely a model for all of us.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Dale Hoyt Palfrey for so generously allowing me custody of John Upton’s notebook.

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.

Dec 032020
 

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 have no captions or dates and date from 1940-1945.

This gallery (locations unknown) focuses on horsemanship and bullfights.

Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Horsemanship and bullfight.

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 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
Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Tenayuca
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Tenayuca
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Teotihuacan
Xochicalco
Xochicalco
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Xochicalco
Xochicalco
Xochicalco
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Xochicalco
Xochicalco
Xochicalco
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Xochicalco
Xochicalco
Xochicalco
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. Xochicalco
Xochicalco
Xochicalco
Herbert Johnson. c 1943. 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.

Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.
Herbert Johnson. c. 1943. Xochimilco.

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:

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

  • Quinta Johnson (house and garden), Ajijic

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 1950 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.

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