Mar 142016
 

I was surprised when I first read Barbara Compton‘s To The Isthmus (1964). The only review I had seen made it sound like a lightweight romantic novel in which the inclusion of scenes at Lake Chapala was largely incidental to the main plot. In fact …

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Mar 072016
 

Barbara Joan Keppel-Compton (1902-1999), also later known as Barbara Keppel-Compton Witt, and Barbara Moravec, used the name Barbara Compton for a novel partially set at Lake Chapala in the 1940s…

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Mar 032016
 

Leonet (“Leo”) Matiz Espinoza was a Colombian photographer and caricaturist who lived and worked in Mexico in the 1940s. In 2011, eight gelatin silver prints in a series called “Fishing on Lake Chapala” came up at auction with an estimate of 8000 Euros; one of these eight images appears below.

Matiz was born on 1 April 1917 in Aracataca, Colombia, coincidentally the birthplace of novelist Gabriel García Marquez. He left his native Colombia for Mexico City in 1939, hoping that his artistic talents would enable him to find success there. He traveled overland from Panama via Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

It was in Central America that Matiz met and immediately proposed to Celia Nichols, the daughter of a British diplomat; he was 23, she was 40. They were only able to marry after Matiz had seen off a rival in a dawn shooting duel. According to La metáfora del ojo, Matiz claims he responded to Celia’s concern about the age difference by pointing out that, “I don’t see your age. I’m as interested in you, as you are in me.”

Matiz, whose long black hair, and gangster-like mustache complemented his mischievous sense of humor and absurdly colored jackets, would eventually have seven marriages in all.

Leo and Celia arrived in Mexico in 1941 as newly-weds and Leo quickly established himself as a caricaturist and photographer, claiming to have chosen the latter more for its economic rewards than because it was his first love as an artist.

Leo Matiz: Fishing on Lake Chapala (ca 1940)

Leo Matiz: Fishing on Lake Chapala (ca 1942)

Matiz held several exhibitions of his work in Mexico City in the early 1940s. The first, entitled “Fotos y Dibujos” (“Photographs and drawings”), opened at the Museo de Bellas Artes (Opera House Museum) in Mexico City in 1941 with a speech by the Chilean poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda.

In June of the following year, “El Pueblo de México” (“The People of Mexico”) in Mexico City’s Galería de Arte y Decoración showcased 59 photographs taken in Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico. The Mexican images included portraits, scenes of everyday life and artistic shots taken in Veracruz and elsewhere. Photograph #6 in the catalog was “Cabezas, Chapala” (“Heads, Chapala”).

In 1943, Matiz arranged another exhibit, entitled ““Tipos y Costumbres de México” (“Characters and Customs of Mexico), at own photo studio on Avenida Juárez in downtown Mexico City.

Leo Matiz: Lake Chapala (ca 1942). Reproduced by courtesy of Leo Matiz Foundation.

Leo Matiz: Lake Chapala (ca 1942). Reproduced by courtesy of Leo Matiz Foundation.

While the precise dates of his visit, or visits, to Lake Chapala are unknown, Matiz sent a special photo-report on the lake to the magazine Así. The report, entitled “Chapala, mar jaliciense” (“Chapala, Jalisco’s Sea), was based on several outstanding examples of Matiz’s photos, and was published in Así on Valentine’s Day in 1942 (Así # 66, 14 February 1942: 31-35). One photo in that article shows the main church and beach in Chapala as viewed from the lake, but most depict fishermen going about their work. Several views of fishermen tending their nets are taken close to the lake shore and show masses of lirio (water hyacinth), though this is not commented on in the accompanying text which focuses, instead, on the superior eating quality of the lake’s fish, especially the highly prized whitefish.

Matiz was not only a photographer. In Mexico, he also honed his skills as a caricaturist, influenced by the work of Guadalupe Posada and others, transferring these same skills of keen observation and astute choice of angles to his photography. As a result, his work regularly featured in the pages of magazines such as Así, Life, Reader’s Digest, Harpers Magazine, Look and Norte. He was also active in the world of cinematography.

As Matiz’s fame grew, so did the invitations and commission he received. In 1944, he held a solo show of “Watercolors and Paintings” at the Advertising Club of New York in New York City, and, in 1947, his work was included in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Solo shows of his work have since been held in numerous countries, from Switzerland, France, Italy, and Austria to Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Australia.

Leo Matiz was completely enamored with the extraordinary diversity of Mexican geography:

“The magazine Así launched me as a graphic reporter in Mexico. I began to look for themes and discovered the old and deep Mexico, eternal and fleeting. There before my eyes was the baroque architecture, the paintings, the murals, the Maria islands and the poignant histories of its presidents, the starving coyotes in the desert, the day of the dead, the sacred temples and the purity of Yucatan, the red ants in the desert, the women of Pancho Villa, the dead trees, the divas in the movies, the cemeteries, the colour of the folk crafts, the peasants and the remote hope of their redemption.” [quoted in Leo Matiz: The Eyes of Time]

The indefatigable Matiz traveled widely across the country. In the mid-1940s he accompanied Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl) to watch the birth of Paricutín, the volcano that erupted in a farmer’s field in Michoacán. On another occasion, he visited the infamous Islas Maria penitentiary, off the coast of Nayarit, documenting the lives of its prisoners.

Throughout the 1940s, Matiz was in great demand in Mexico City. He  considered José Clemente Orozco to be his mentor and father figure. At one time or another, all the major celebrities of the day, from stars of stage and screen such as Mario Moreno (“Cantinflas”), Dolores del Río, Agustin Lara and María Félix (with whom he had an amorous relationship) to artists such as Orozco, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and David Alfaro Siqueiros, looked into the lens of Matiz’s Rolleiflex. Matiz also photographed Janice Logan, Luis Buñuel, Marc Chagall, Louis Armstrong, Álvaro Mutis, Pablo Neruda and Walt Disney. His portraits show sensitivity, intimacy, the product of what one admirer called a “profound psychological penetration”.

He collaborated with Siqueiros to document his murals, though the two men later had a very public disagreement. When Siqueiros mounted an exhibition of paintings derived from his photographs in 1947, Matiz claimed some of the works were plagiarized. Siqueiros retaliated by calling Matiz an enemy of muralism and a North American imperialist. Things really escalated out of control when Siqueiros arranged for Matiz’s studio to be set on fire, forcing the photographer, concerned for his safety, to flee with his family to Venezuela. It would be almost fifty years before he returned to Mexico.

Matiz lived the remainder of his life in various countries, dividing most of his time between Colombia and Venezuela. Besides his art, he also started newspapers and opened art galleries. In 1951, a gallery he owned in Bogota staged the first exhibition of the Colombian painter Fernando Botero.

Matiz regularly claimed to miss Mexico, but did not return there until 1995, and was then profoundly shocked when he learned that the building that had housed his studio had been totally destroyed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. He remained active, despite failing eyesight, traveling through Mexico in 1997 taking pictures of rural workers for “Los hijos del campo”, the last book he illustrated.

Matiz’s photographic work is considered to be some of the finest of the twentieth century, demonstrating remarkable versatility, composition and technical ability. In 1948, he was named one of the world’s 10 best photographers. Examples of his work can be found in many major museums, including the Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Tate Gallery in London, U.K.

Leo Matiz died in Bogota, Colombia, on 24 October 1998. His images and artistic legacy are conserved and promoted by the Leo Matiz Foundation.

Acknowledgment:

  • Sincere thanks to Alejandra Matiz, the photographer’s daughter, and President of the Leo Matiz Foundation, for providing details of her father’s photo-account of Lake Chapala.

Sources:

  • Sergio Blanco. 2010. Leo Matiz regresa a México.[Gato Pardo, N° 110 / Abril 2010] http://info.upc.edu.pe/hemeroteca/tablas/actualidad/gatopardo/gatopardo110.htm [3 March 2016]
  • Miguel Angel Flóres Góngora. 2005. “Leo Matiz: The Eyes of Time” in ReVista (Harvard Review of Latin America).
  • Miguel Ángel Flórez Góngora. “Leo Matiz, fotógrafo universal.” (was at http://www.leomatiz.org/ at time of writing)
  • Leo Matiz. 1942. “Chapala, mar jaliciense” in Así # 66, 14 February 1942: 31-35.

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Feb 292016
 

Santa Fe poet Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964) visited Chapala regularly with poet Witter Bynner (1881-1968) for about thirty years, starting in the early 1930s.

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Feb 222016
 

Elaine Gottlieb (1916-2004) was a novelist, author and teacher who lived for several months in Ajijic in the second half of 1946. She traveled to Mexico shortly after completing her first novel, Darkling, which was published the following year. She used her experiences in Ajijic as the basis for a short story, “Passage Through Stars”, published many years later, in Noonday #2, 1959.

Gottlieb’s decision to visit Mexico was apparently at the suggestion of Robert Motherwell, her art teacher one summer at Black Mountain College. (By coincidence, another former Black Mountain College art student, Nicolas Muzenic, lived in Ajijic shortly afterwards, from about 1948 to 1950).

noonday-2-coverIn Ajijic, Gottlieb stayed at the collection of small cottages on the water’s edge known as Casa Heuer, run by a German brother and sister (Pablo and Liesel), where communal dinner was the norm. At mealtimes, Gottlieb found herself drawn to a handsome, smartly-dressed, charismatic older man, Elliot Chess, a flying ace from the first world war whose stories and anecdotes kept his mealtime companions spellbound.

She was 30 years of age, he was 46; within two weeks they were engaged. To celebrate, on 15 September 1946, they caught a bus to Guadalajara. Gunmen attacked the bus and Gottlieb credited Chess with saving her life. Their precipitous, but short-lived, relationship led to the birth of Nola Elian Chess (her middle name is a combination of Elliot and Elaine) in New York in July 1947, which turned out to have life-changing consequences for Gottlieb and her future family.

[Nola, conceived in Mexico and born in New York, developed a brilliant mind, but died at the tragically-young age of twenty-five after a prolonged struggle with schizophrenia. Gottlieb’s younger son, Robin Hemley, has written an absorbing account of the life of his older half-sister: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness.]

In Gottlieb’s “Passage Through Stars”, Casa Heuer is transformed into Casa Unger, with Elaine becoming Emma and Elliot renamed Claude. The fictional names of the inn’s owners are Don Ernesto and Donna [sic] Sophía. The autobiographical story is a powerfully-told and moving account of her brief fling with Chess, exploring her personal doubts before, during and after.

She recalls her lover’s daily ritual swim in the lake:

“She would see him in the mornings, going down to the lake for his pre-breakfast swim; a shiny maroon robe flapped around his narrow legs. He would walk briskly, towel in hand, remove his robe in two swift movements, step out of his slippers, and, chin erect, approach the lake. Deliberately, he would plunge his head in, shake it vigorously, stand waiting a moment, and then plunge boldly. A little later, he would return, hand passing through his wet, mahogany-colored hair. Frowning against the light, he would continue to walk, martially erect, his head high and handsome, the face still young, eyes like the eyes of tigers.” [Passage Through Stars,  82]

According to Gottlieb, she and Elliot Chess lived together as man and wife there for two months, from mid-September (following the attack on the bus) to mid-November, at which point Chess returned to El Paso, promising to sell some of the land he owned there and rejoin her in New York in two weeks. Gottlieb, meanwhile, traveled by train to Mexico City and then to New York. Chess never made it to New York, and the two never met again.

In “Passage Through Stars”, Gottlieb says that Emma (herself) had “come to the pension alone, a widow, and had never fully recovered from her widowhood. Claude had happened on the scene…” but I have yet to find any mention elsewhere of Gottlieb’s former spouse.

Elaine Gottlieb. Credit: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, by Robin Hemley

Photo credit: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, by Robin Hemley

Gottlieb was born in New York City in 1916. Her mother, Ida, was a teacher in the New York Public Schools and eventually established the family home on Long Island. She gained a degree in journalism from New York University and studied art at the Art Students League of New York and at Columbia University. When Gottlieb was 25 years of age, she moved to Manhattan, determined to become a successful writer. During the summer of 1941, she studied at the Cummington School for the Arts.

During the second world war, Gottlieb had a job inspecting radios for the Signal Corps and also trained to teach photography to Army Air Corps recruits in Denver, Colorado.

In 1946, her short story “The Norm”, about an affair between a couple of college students, was chosen for inclusion in Martha Foley’s annual anthology The Best American Short Stories. The biographies attached to that and later stories say she had once sold books at Macy’s and written cables for The Office of War Information, as well as written book reviews for The New Republic, the New York Herald Tribune, Poetry, Accent, and Decision.

Her first (and only) published novel, Darkling (1947), tells the story of Cristabel, a young woman who yearned to become an artist, but was alienated from family and peers, and “lost in her own insecurities”. The book’s subject matter was ahead of its time and contemporary reviews were generally not favorable.

Prior to marrying poet and novelist Cecil Hemley (1914-1966) in 1953, on Nola’s fifth birthday, Elaine Gottlieb had been raising her daughter as a single parent. Despite a succession of family tragedies, Gottlieb continued to write short stories for publications such as The Kenyon Review, Chimera, New Directions, Chelsea Review, Noonday and Commentary, and also wrote “The writer’s signature: idea” in Story and Essay (1972). By the time of her death in 2004, she had still not completed two more novels that she had started many years earlier, including a mystery story based on a trip to England.

The Hemleys socialized with a glittering array of literary and artistic friends (including Robert Motherwell, Joseph Heller, Louise Bogan, Weldon Kees, Conrad Aiken, John Crowe Ransom and Delmore Schwartz) and became particularly close friends with poet and novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. The Hemleys helped translate and edit, several of Singer’s works from their original Yiddish, including The Manor (Penguin Books, 1975); Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories (Peter Owen Limited, 1958); The Magician of Lublin (Bantam Books 1965); and The Estate (Jonathan Ball, 1970).

Gottlieb taught creative writing, literature and film at Indiana University (South Bend) in the 1970s. Several former students of Gottlieb have acknowledged her role in helping them develop their craft. They include Gloria Anzaldúa, a foremost Chicano feminist thinker and activist, and author of This Bridge Called My Back (1981); Borderlands/La Frontera (1987); and Interviews/Entrevistas (2000).

Elaine Gottlieb was also known as Elaine S. Gottlieb, Elaine Gottlieb Hemley, Elaine S. Gottlieb Hemley and Elaine S. Hemley.

Sources:

  • Elaine Gottlieb, 1959. “Passage Through Stars”, in Noonday #2, edited by Cecil Hemley and Dwight W. Webb, p 80-93. (New York: the Noonday Press)
  • Robin Hemley, 1998. Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness. (Graywolf Press).

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Jan 302016
 

Charmin Schlossman lived in Mexico, mostly at Ajijic on Lake Chapala, from 1942 to 1945, while her first husband Marc Levy (they married in 1939) was on military service during the second world war. In Ajijic, she shared a house with Guadalajara-born artist Ernesto Butterlin (better known as “Lin”) and renowned surrealist painter Sylvia Fein. While in Mexico, Schlossman exchanged correspondence with Frida Kahlo.

Sylvia Fein and Charmin Schlossman

Sylvia Fein (left) and Charmin Schlossman. Photo courtesy Sylvia Fein.

Charmin Schlossman was born 24 October 1917 in Waukesha, Wisconsin and attended Riverside High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She then studied at the Community College in Milwaukee (1935–36), the University of Wisconsin (1936–37) and the Chicago Art Institute (1938–39) prior to living in Mexico. Schlossman initially visited Mexico on a tour, but remained there for several years. A chance meeting in Mexico City with fellow Wisconsin artist Sylvia Fein, who had attended the same high school, led to the two women living in Ajijic.

From 1946 to 1947, Schlossman traveled in Central and South America, collecting and studying hand-woven fabrics.

Shortly after her return to the U.S., a report from a meeting of the Brazos (Texas) chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, held on 3 April 1948, says that “Miss S. L. Charmin (sic) exhibited some of her paintings and discussed the unusual technique which she developed using Duco as a medium. Her subjects were the Indians of the remote Mexican village of Ajaijic [Ajijic] on Lake Chapala, where she lived for several years.”

At about the same time, the Ninth Texas General Exhibition, 1947-48, included one of her oil paintings, entitled, “Sunset on the City”, priced in the catalog at $300.

Soon afterwards, and now known as Charmin Lanier, she took summer classes (1950 and 1951) at the School of Crafts in New Brunswick, Canada. Daughter Danielle Lanier was born in about 1950, and son Christopher two years later.

From 1951 to 1957, she was founding president and designer for Charmin Lanier Handwoven Originals, which made custom fabrics for draperies, upholstery, and clothing. Her design work was recognized in 1955 when she attended the International Conference of Design in Helsingborg, Sweden, as the American representative. The fair ran from 10 June to 28 August 1955.

Charmin’s daughter, Danielle Lanier Shelley (herself a professional artist) remembers a family trip to Ajijic in about 1958, when her mother introduced her to “Lin” Butterlin and to the Johnsons, an English couple who were long-time permanent residents of Ajijic.

Lanier continued to paint, and besides some earlier group exhibits in Mexico, she also exhibited (between 1947 and 1961) at the Kraushaar Galleries (New York), Chicago Art Institute, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Contemporary Arts Museum (which she co-founded), New Orleans National Exhibition, and Texas State National Exhibitions.

The Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, was established in 1948 to showcase new art and to document its role in modern life through exhibitions, lectures and other activities. Lanier had works added to the Museum’s Rental Collection in 1956 and 1957.

Lanier completed a formal art education degree at the University of Houston (1957–59) and started an art teaching career with a spell in the Houston Public Schools (1958–61). The Laniers then moved to California, where Charmin continued her art teaching career at the Palo Alto School District (1964–69) and the San Diego Community College District (1973–74).

After she met and married David Knock in 1974, she retired from art teaching to dedicate herself full time to painting. In the mid-1970s, she exhibited at the rental gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla.

Lanier had begun painting in what she referred to as her “hard-edge realism” style in 1954. Her son, Christopher Lanier, says proudly that “Charmin loved striking, vibrant colors and chose to paint only beauty. She said, “there’s enough ugliness in this world–I don’t have to immortalize it.”” She was largely self-taught in this style, and completed about 400 “hard edge realism” paintings between the mid-1960s and 1993, when ill health meant she could no longer continue to paint.

Charmin Lanier Knock passed away on 23 January 2002. In her memory, husband David Knock established the Charmin and David Knock Grove as a permanent memorial in the Navarro River Redwoods State Park, near Fort Bragg, north of San Francisco.

Her early experiences living in Ajijic on Lake Chapala, led Charmin Schlossman (later Charmin Levy, Charmin Lanier and Charmin Knock, as well as S. L. Charmin, Charmin S. Levy, Charmin Lanier Knock, and other variants) to lead a rich and expressive artistic life.

Acknowledgements

My sincere thanks to Charmin’s husband David Knock, daughter Danielle Lanier, and son Christopher Lanier, for generously sharing invaluable information about Charmin’s personal and artistic life, via emails. (March 2015).

This is an expanded and updated version of a post from 22 March 2012.

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Dec 282015
 

Author and poet Harold Witter Bynner (1881-1968), known as “Hal” to his friends, had a lengthy connection to Lake Chapala extending over more than forty years. He first visited the lake and the village in 1923, when he and then companion Willard Johnson were traveling with D.H. Lawrence and his wife.

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Dec 172015
 

Painter, lecturer and art critic Stanley Belden Lothrop (1881–1944) lived the last two years of his life in Chapala. Lothrop, the younger of two brothers, was born in Newton, Massachusetts on 6 July 1881.

He graduated from Harvard in 1905, having studied architecture and fine art, completed a Grand Tour of Europe and was assistant curator of paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Lothrop spent several years in Rome, Italy, working at the American Academy as a lecturer on Renaissance and Medieval art. During the first world war, he became an official with the Red Cross, and was later decorated for this work by the Italian government.

Soon after his return to the U.S., he was hand-picked by famous American artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) and appointed as the first executive director of the Tiffany Foundation on Long Island, New York, in October 1919. This foundation had been established in 1918 when Tiffany donated his home, Laurelton Hall, at Cold Spring Harbor, on Long Island, together with eighty acres of land, buildings and an endowment of more than a million dollars, as the basis for an art institution.

Lothrop was the liaison between the foundation’s Board of Trustees, Tiffany, and the visiting “fellows”. Lothrop lived at Laurelton Hall in “an apartment above the fellows’ section”. “He monitored their work, managed the housekeeper, kept the budget, and enforced the three limitations placed on the fellows: no models, no finished pictures, and, during the life of the founder, no entrance to the main house without permission.” [1]

Lothrop, 1929

Tiffany, Miss Hanley and Lothrop leaving Laurelton Hall, 1929. (Source: Raymond Baxter and Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden papers, 1937-1996. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Photographer unknown.)

Shortly after Tiffany’s death in 1933, Lothrop left the Tiffany Foundation, and later moved to Colorado Springs, where he was director of the Colorado Springs Art Center for two years. In 1942 he retired to Chapala, where he lived the last two years of his life. He died in Chapala in March 1944.

It is unclear precisely why he chose to retire to Chapala or what prior connections he had to Mexico, but it should be noted that in the 1940s (unlike today), it was quite an unusual thing to do.

Lothrop authored several works on art, including A bibliographical guide to Cavallini and the Florentine painters before 1450: including lists of documents and the more important pictures (American Academy in Rome, 1917); Bartolomeo Caporali (American Academy in Rome. With Albert William Van Buren, he co-wrote Classification of the Library (American Academy in Rome, 1915).

Lothrop also wrote an article about the Tiffany Foundation: “Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation,” in American Magazine of Art, Vol. 11: 49, Nov 1919.

Sources:

  • [1] Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen and Elizabeth Hutchinson. 2006. Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
  • Stanley B Lothrop. Obituary in New York Times, 18 March 1944

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Nov 232015
 

Author, playwright and flying ace Elliot William Chess was in his late-forties when he spent several months in Ajijic at the small hotel Casa Heuer in 1946, but had already experienced far more than most people can manage in twice as many years.

Born in El Paso, Texas, at the turn of the century, Chess left El Paso High School when the first world war broke out and emigrated to Toronto, Canada, to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. His RFC papers give his birth date as 25 Oct 1898, though it is entirely possible that the teenage Chess inflated his age by a year or two to boost his chances of  acceptance.

He served overseas from age 18. After the end of the war (1918) he was the youngest American pilot to join the Kosciusko Squadron in Poland. He fought with them for two years in the Polish-Soviet War (1919-21), for which he was awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military award.

Chess-elliot-Koskiuszko-squadron-insigniaEarly on, when the Squadron still lacked suitable insignia, Chess suggested a design (see image), apparently first sketched on a menu of the Hotel George in Lwów. With only minor variations, this insignia remained in use until after the second world war. According to Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud in A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II, the insignia includes “the red, four-cornered military cap that Kosciuszko wore in the uprising of 1794, plus two crossed scythes, representing the Polish peasants who had followed him into battle… superimposed on a background of red, white and blue stars and stripes representing the U.S. flag.”

In the Second World War the “Kosciuszko” Polish Fighter Squadron No. 303 was the highest scoring of all RAF squadrons in the Battle of Britain.

Captain Elliot Chess, who served in WWII in the “A” Troop Carrier Group of the Ninth Air Force, was presented with his “Polish Pilot’s Wings” at a special ceremony in June 1944.

In the 1920s, after the end of the Polish-Soviet War, Chess returned to El Paso and worked as an advertising manager with the El Paso Times. The biography of him on his 1941 novel’s inside back cover says that, since the first world war, “he has been a miner, an editor, a newspaperman, an advertising copy writer, a professional wrestler, a stunt flyer, a short story writer and a dramatist.”

Chess had fulfilled a childhood dream by becoming a published writer. He wrote numerous short stories and novelettes, published between 1929 and 1932, in magazines such as Sky Birds, Sky Riders, Aces, War Birds, War Aces, Flying Aces and Air Stories. He also worked for Liberty magazine.

chess-coverIn 1941, his first and only novel, Walk Away From ‘Em, was published by Coward-McCann. Nick Wayne, the hero of his novel is (no real surprise here!) a transatlantic pilot, who “tangles with three women – his ex-wife, Jo, a neurotic dipsomaniac, Fran, and Toddy Fate, young and untouched”. (Kirkus Review, which summarized it as “pop stuff” but “better than usual of its kind”).

The Elliot Chess papers, in the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of The University of Texas at El Paso Library, include drafts of two plays, Passport to Heaven, and Call it Comic Strip, as well as notes, photographs and other material.

It is unclear why Chess chose to spend the latter part of 1946 in Ajijic, but his sojourn there had several unexpected consequences. Already in residence at Casa Heuer (a small, rather primitive guest house on the lakefront run by a German brother and sister) was an attractive, more serious, younger writer, Elaine Gottlieb.

Despite their sixteen-year difference in age and their contrasting backgrounds (or maybe because of them?), the two hit it off almost immediately, with Gottlieb spellbound by Chess’s magnetism and captivating story-telling. According to Gottlieb, they lived together as man and wife for two months, from mid-September (when they were on a bus to Guadalajara that was attacked by gunmen) to mid-November, at which point Elliot Chess returned to El Paso, claiming he would sell some land he owned there and rejoin her in New York in two weeks. Gottlieb, meanwhile, traveled by train to Mexico City and then to New York. Chess never made it to New York, and the two never met again, but Gottlieb gave birth to their daughter, Nola Elian Chess, in New York City on 3 July 1947. (Nola’s middle name is a combination of Elliot and Elaine).

We can only speculate as to whether Elliot Chess’s aversion to moving to New York was in any way connected to his prior marriage there in 1930 to a “Jean B. Wallace”. It is equally plausible that Chess had no desire to be a father, having never known his own father.

chess-elliot-portrait-from-cover-2Chess died in El Paso, Texas, on 27 December 1962, at the age of 63, but left no will. When his aunt claimed to be the sole beneficiary, Elaine Gottlieb sought to establish that her daughter (whose birth certificate listed Elliot Chess as father) was entitled to a share of his estate. The case hinged on whether or not Nola was Chess’s legitimate child. Had Gottlieb and Chess ever celebrated a legal marriage? In documents filed with the court, Gottlieb claimed that she believed they had been legally married, though she had no marriage certificate. The somewhat convoluted story is retold by Robin Hemley in  Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness. Gottlieb, who by then had married Cecil Hemley, failed to convince the court which concluded, even after an appeal in 1967, that Nola had no right whatsoever to any part of her father’s estate.

Elaine Gottlieb Hemley… testified substantially as follows:
“I married Elliot Chess September 15, 1946, in Ajijic, Mexico, and lived with
him until on or about November 16, 1946. Elliot did not make an application for a marriage license in the Republic of Mexico. I have no written evidence that I was married to Elliot. It wasn’t that kind of marriage. I said to him, ‘I take the Elliot to be my lawful wedded husband’ and he said to me, ‘I take Elaine to be my lawful wedded wife.’ I did not sign a civil registry of our marriage in the Republic of Mexico. Neither Elliot nor I appeared before any public official, by proxy or otherwise, to be married. On November 17th I boarded a train for Mexico City. Elliot kissed me goodbye at the hotel early that morning and that was the last time I saw him. I returned to New York and the appellant was born on July 3rd, 1947. Elliot Chess is the father of Nola Elian Chess.” (Court of Civil Appeals of Texas, Eastland.416 S.W.2d 492 (Tex. Civ. App. 1967) BUNTING V. CHESS).

Robin Hemley’s Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness is a detailed account of his older, and brilliant, step-sister Nola’s life and descent into schizophrenia, and how it affected the entire family, including Elaine Gottlieb. It is an uplifting, if at times harrowing, read.

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.

Oct 222015
 

Sylvia Fein, one of America’s foremost surrealist painters, lived and worked in Ajijic from 1943 to 1946. She would love to learn the present whereabouts of one of her favorite paintings from that time.

Sylvia Fein: Three Ladies. ca 1945.

Sylvia Fein: Three Ladies. ca 1945.

Painted in Ajijic in about 1945, the painting shows three ladies chasing idols (see image). The model for all three ladies was the daughter of one of Fein’s close friends in the village. Fein lost touch with the painting years ago, but has always wondered what became of it.

It is probable that the painting was included in her first solo show in 1946, at Perls Galleries in New York, and it may have been sold at that time.

If anyone has any knowledge of where this painting is now, Fein would love to know! Please contact us!

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 6:00 am  Tagged with:
Oct 142015
 

Sylvia Fein, one of America’s top female surrealist painters, lived and painted in Ajijic from 1943-1946, and has fond memories of her time there. Now in her nineties, and living in California, she still paints every day, and says she will never run out of ideas or inspiration.

Fein has held relatively few shows, and her works are extremely rare at auction.

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

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

Several of her recent paintings, however, are included in “Cherchez la femme: Women and Surrealism“, a magnificent exhibition-sale being held by Southeby’s. The sale takes place in a few days, so hurry if you intend to bid!

Other artists, with strong Mexican connections, who also have works in this exhibition-sale, include Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, and Remedios Varo. The show opened on

 

 Posted by at 3:48 pm  Tagged with:
Aug 132015
 

Ernest Walter Knee was born in Montreal, Canada, on 15 May 1907 and died in Santa Fe, New Mexico on 7 October 1982.

He is most often associated with the Santa Fe art community, but also traveled widely on assignment. Knee was a talented photographer who first visited Santa Fe in 1931; he fell in love with the location, and eventually became part of the flourishing art community there. Knee’s friends included a wide circle of famous artists and photographers, including Edward Weston, Gustave Baumann, Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe and Laura Gilpin.

knee-mexico-coverOver 100 of his powerful black and white photographs were the subject-matter for Ernest Knee in New Mexico: Photographs, 1930s-1940s, by his third son Dana Knee, published by the Museum of New Mexico Press in 2005. One of these photographs, dated 1941, depicts a lone sail boat on Lake Chapala, though it is unclear how much time he spent in Chapala.

A photograph of Chapala is also included in his Mexico: Laredo to Guadalajara (Hastings, New York, 1951). This book showcases more than 100 of his photographs, documenting a pictorial tour from Laredo to Monterrey, Linares, Villagran, Tamazunchale, Jacala, Venta de Carpio, Toluca, Morelia, Patzcuaro, Zamora, Chapala and Guadalajara.

Three of his images of Chapala can be seen on artworld.

Among Knee’s many other claims to fame is that he was, for a time, Howard Hughes’ personal photographer. He was also the first cameraman to record Angel Falls in Venezuela. His landscape and documentary photographs appeared in Life and National Geographic.

Institutions which have displayed Knee’s work include The Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame; George Eastman House, Rochester New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Center For Creative Photography, Tucson; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; California Museum of Photography, Riverside; Princeton University of Art, Princeton; The Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis; Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence Kansas; New Orleans Museum of Art New Orleans; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee; University of Oklahoma Museum of Art; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; New Mexico State University, Las Cruces; Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe; The Harwood Foundation, Taos.

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.

Jul 202015
 

María de Jesús Magallón Pérez (1924–1957) was one of the seven poets included in De Esta Tierra Nuestra; Antología Poética (Colección Sahuayo No. I, 1972). Besides being an award-winning poet, she was a social activist and the founder of a piano school, a writing school and the “Diego José Abad” Literary Circle.

Born in Jiquilpan on 24 March, 1924, Magallón Pérez studied in Jiquilpan, Jacona and Morelia. She demonstrated poetic sensitivity as a child, and had verses published in provincial newspapers from an early age.

She subsequently entered a convent, trained as a teacher, and taught in the states of Mexico and Nuevo León. Magallón Pérez married Roberto Villaseñor Espinosa (“Ticolín”), a poet-songwriter-historian who was also an ardent promoter of cultural events in the town of Jiquilpan, and returned to Jiquilpan in 1953. She established herself as a member of the “Sahuayo literary group” and dedicated herself to writing.

Her first book was Cuadernillo poético (Sahuayo, Michoacán 1953), centered on descriptions of the landscapes of her native Michoacán. In 1955, her poem “Raíz de llanto”, dedicated to the memory of Alfonso Méndez Plancarte, won a poetry competition in San Luís Potosí. The following year, “Ciclo de Navidad” was awarded top honors in a poetry festival in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco. That poem became the basis for a theatrical work which was also televised.

Magallón Pérez was preparing her third collection of poetry, Silbo y luna, when she died in Jiquilpan, on 19 December 1957, while giving birth, at the tragically young age of thirty-three.

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

 Posted by at 6:42 am  Tagged with:
Jun 222015
 

Poet, writer and politician Honorato Barrera Buenrostro was born in the Lakeside town of Jamay (mid-way between Ocotlán and La Barca) in 1870 and died in Ocotlán in 1952.

He left his home town for Mexico City at a young age. In Mexico City, he studied and wrote alongside Amado Nervo (1870-1919) and Luis Gonzaga Urbina (1864-1934). Coincidentally, Urbina’s own collection of poetry, Puestas de sol, includes “El poema del lago” (“The Lake Poem”), a lengthy poem inspired by a visit to Chapala. Barrera Buenrostro was also a good friend of the poet and novelist Rubén M. Campos, who had many links to Chapala.

Barrera Buenrostro subsequently returned to Ocotlán where he worked in commerce and as a telegraphist for the railway company. He later moved to Chapala, and was the Mayor (Presidente Municipal) of Chapala in 1924, during the time when Lic. José Guadalupe Zuno was the state governor (1923-1926).

aquel-famoso-remingtonBarrera Buenrostro’s work won various literary prizes, including ones awarded in Aguascalientes, Morelia and Mexico City. His best known works are a book of poems, Andamio de Marfíl (1947), and a novel, El rémington sin funda (1947).

The novel El rémington sin funda (1947) is based on the life of Rodolfo Álvarez del Castillo. Nicknamed “El Remington”, Álvarez del Castillo was a famous pistol-packing womanizer of the 1930s, who eventually fought a duel with a soldier in which both men lost their lives. Álvarez del Castillo’s life story became the basis for at least two Mexican films: ¡Se la llevó el Rémington! (1948), starring charro singer Luis Aguilar, and Aquel famoso Remington (1982), directed by Gustavo Alatriste.

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

Jun 182015
 

Ann (sometimes Anna) Sonia Medalie (1896-1991) was a muralist early in her career before becoming an outstanding painter of flowers and landscapes. During her six years in Mexico (1942-1948), Medalie made occasional trips back to San Francisco, but was actively painting in Ajijic on Lake Chapala for six months in 1944. American surrealist painter Sylvia Fein, who was living in Ajiijc at that time, has fond memories of Medalie, and greatly admired her artistic drive which, even then, enabled her to live from the proceeds of her artwork.

Ann Medalie: Flowers (date unknown)

Ann Medalie: Flowers (date unknown)

Medalie, born in Latvia on 17 April 1896, was the youngest of six children of Jacob and Beila (née Gluckman) Medalie. The family was forced to move to Lithuania when she was young. In 1921, after the first world war, the family emigrated to Chicago, where she studied briefly at the Art Institute of Chicago. Medalie also worked as a furniture decorator for more than a decade, first in Chicago, and then subsequently in Los Angeles (1928-1932) and finally San Francisco.

Paintings by Medalie were included in the shows of San Francisco Society of Women Artists (1937-41) and the San Francisco Art Association (1938-41).

In San Francisco, under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, Medalie worked with sculptor Sargent Johnson (1888-1967) and was an assistant to Hilaire Hiler (1898-1966) on the colorful murals in the Maritime Museum. During San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition in 1940, Medalie assisted Diego Rivera (1886-1957) on a mural at “Art in Action”, becoming good friends with both Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), and was also an assistant to Miguel Covarrubias when he was completing his incredible series of six murals (maps), the “Pageant of the Pacific“.

In 1942, Medalie moved to Mexico. While her precise itinerary is unknown, she spent six months or so in Ajijic in the latter half of 1944.

Medalie was one of the participating artists in a group show at the Villa Montecarlo in 1944 in Chapala, along with Sylvia Fein, Jaime López Bermudez, Otto Butterlin, Ernesto Butterlin (“Linares”), and Betty Binkley.

In November 1944, she was one of the many distinguished guests at the opening (at the same venue) of an exhibition of paintings by Edythe (Edith) Wallach. According to the Guadalajara daily El Informador, the guests included: Mr and Mrs Jack Bennett; Nigel Stansbury Millett and his father; Miss Neill James; Sr. Pablo García Hernández, representative of Teatro Mexicano del Arte; Mr Otto Butterlin and his lovely daughter Rita; Mr Witter Bynner, famous American poet; Mr Charles Stigel; Dr and Mrs Charles Halmos; Mrs George de Huton (sic); Miss Ann Medalie; Sr. Herbert Johnson and his wife, “and many more.”

Ann Medalie: Ajijic washerwomen; illustration from Modern Mexico, 1945

Ann Medalie: “Washing Clothes – in Ajijic”; illustration from Modern Mexico, October 1945.

Two paintings by Medalie, “Net Fishermen (at Ajijic)” and “Washing Clothes – in Ajijic” were used as illustrations for Neill James’ article “I live in Ajijic!” in the October 1945 issue of Modern Mexico.

In early 1945, she held a solo exhibition in Mexico City at the Galeria de Arte Decoración (Venustiano Carranza #30). The list of works for that exhibition shows how significant her time painting in Ajijic had been, since several of the forty oils on show had clear links to Ajijic and Lake Chapala. For example she painted the garden at Quinta Johnson, as well as the view from Quinta Johnson. The Johnsons were long-time residents of Ajijic who had built their home and magnificent sub-tropical gardens on the lakefront. The originals of the two paintings used to illustrate Neill James’ article were also included in the show, along with a surrealist “Adam and Eve” and numerous realistic flower paintings. While Medalie did paint some surrealist works, she was best known for her exquisitely detailed and keenly observed flower paintings.

In 1948, Medalie left the Americas to live in South Africa. By 1951, she had moved to Israel, which became her home and studio for the remainder of her long, productive life. She was one of the founders of the artist community on Safed in Israel.

In her career as an artist, Ann Sonia Medalie held solo exhibitions in the U.S.A, Mexico, South Africa and Israel. She died in Tel Aviv, Israel, on 30 April 1991.

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 Posted by at 6:16 am  Tagged with:
May 182015
 

American artist and author Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990) was a frequent traveler to Mexico who developed an obsession with Mexico’s ancient haciendas. Bartlett devoted years of his life to studying and documenting these haciendas (the mainstay of the colonial-era economy), gradually compiling an artistic record covering more than 350 of them throughout the country.

While it is not entirely clear precisely when Bartlett lived in the Chapala region, during his time there he painted and drew exquisite pen and ink drawings, such as this one of the Hacienda de Zapotitán, a short distance north of Jocotepec.

bartlett-hacienda-zapotitan

Pen-and-ink drawing by Paul Bartlett of Hacienda de Zapotitán, Jalisco

Bartlett explored Mexico with his wife, poet and writer Elizabeth Bartlett (1911-1994). The couple first met in Guadalajara in 1941 and married two years later in Sayula. Their son Steven James Bartlett (born in Mexico City and now a widely published author in the fields of psychology and philosophy) subsequently accompanied them as they roamed all over Mexico looking for photogenic and noteworthy haciendas.

Steven Bartlett recalls that the family definitely lived for some months in the Chapala-Ajijic area in the early 1950s. He remembers that his father knew author Peter Lilley (who, with first one writing colleague and then another, used the pen-name of Dane Chandos to craft, among other works, Village in the Sun and House in the Sun, both set at Lake Chapala). The Bartlett family also revisited the Chapala area several times in the 1970s, during the time they were living in Comala, Colima. During these later trips, his father gave lectures about haciendas while his mother gave poetry readings.

Bartlett eventually compiled the beautifully-illustrated book The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, first published in 1990 and readily available now as a free Gutenburg pdf or Epub. The book has more than 100 photographs and illustrations made in the field from 1943 to 1985 and is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the history, economics, art and architecture of Mexico’s colonial haciendas. For a brief review of this book, see The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record on the Geo-Mexico website.

Bartlett’s hacienda art work has been displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum, the New York City Public Library, the University of Virginia, the University of Texas, the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City, and at the Bancroft Library, among other places.

An archive of Bartlett’s original pen-and-ink illustrations and several hundred photographs is held in the Benson Latin American Collection of the University of Texas in Austin. A second collection of hacienda photographs and other materials is maintained by the Western History Research Center of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990) attended Oberlin College and the University of Arizona, before studying art at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and in Guadalajara. He was an instructor in creative writing at Georgia State College and Editor of Publications at the University of California Santa Barbara (1964-70).

Bartlett had dozens of short stories and poems published in magazines such as Southwest Review, Crosscurrents, Antenna, Etc, Greyledge Review, Prospice, and Queen’s Quarterly, and also wrote the short novel Adios, mi México (1983), and the novel When the Owl Cries (1960). Free online editions of several of his books are available via his author page on Project Gutenberg.

Acknowledgment

Sincere thanks to Steven Bartlett for sharing his memories of the family’s time in Mexico.

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

Apr 272015
 

Sylvia Fein, one of America’s foremost female surrealist painters, spent several formative years in Ajijic in the 1940s.

Born in Milwaukee in November 1919, she was only 19 when she met her future husband William “Bill” Scheuber. She studied at the University of Wisconsin, and the couple married on 30 May 1942. Even at that time, a contemporary newspaper described her as “Wisconsin’s foremost woman painter”. Fein was one of a group of six painters known as the Wisconsin group who exhibited together and remained life-long friends. The others were Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977), Marshall Glasier (1902-1988), Dudley Huppler (1917-1988), Karl Priebe (1914-1976) and John Wilde (b. 1919).

Sylvia Fein, Ajijic, c 1944

Sylvia Fein, Ajijic, c 1944. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Sylvia Fein.

While her husband was away on military service (as an Air Force cryptographer), she moved to Mexico in 1943 to recuperate from pneumonia. Initially, she visited her mother in Mexico City, but a casual encounter with a former high school classmate, Charmin Schlossman Levy, led to her traveling to Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala, where she lived and painted until 1946. Interviewed by the press more than sixty years later in Mexico City, Fein said that ever since that time, “I have loved Mexico and could cry on my return because I have the dust of Mexico on my heart”.

Her first show in Mexico was a group show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in 1944. Other artists exhibiting in that show included Jaime López Bermúdez, Otto Butterlin, Ernesto Butterlin (“Lin”), Ann Medalie and Betty Binkley.

During the years she lived in Ajijic, Fein was busy completing paintings for her first solo exhibition at the Perls Galleries in New York City in 1946. A sample of her works from this time can be seen at Work in Mexico, 1943-47, which includes images titled “Muchacha de Ajijic” (below) and “Insects that inhabit my studio in Ajijic.”

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

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

She recalls on her website that, while in Ajijic,

she helped rebuild the adobe house in which she had her studio, taught English to a few young people eager to go to work in Mexico City, and started an embroidered blouse industry for women who owned the two foot-pedaled sewing machines in the village. In exchange for exotic insects brought to her by the children for her own drawings, she provided paper, pencils and crayons and noted thoughtfully how spontaneously the children drew, and their meticulous observation, dexterity, humor and enjoyment.” (Elsewhere, she is said to have also worked with a local women’s cooperative and helped on a friend’s farm during her time in Ajijic.)

She knew, and worked with, Neill James (who first arrived in Ajijic in September 1943), and this quote means that Fein was already helping local children develop their artistic talents almost a decade before James began a more formal program for children’s art in 1954.

In Dust on my Heart (1946), Neill James describes how Sylvia Fein “worked out some original designs” for embroidery as her role in one of the first village enterprises that allowed local women and girls to earn some money at home during their spare time. In addition, Fein played a key role in marketing the embroidered blouses in Mexico City.

Victor Serge, a Russian exile in Mexico, visited Ajijic over the Christmas-New Year period, 1944-45, and describes Fein in his diaries as having an:

irregular face where the forehead is too big, anxious and frustrated: her husband has been a long time in the war somewhere in the islands of the Pacific. She’s afraid of bad news and is hard hit by being on her own. She has the first-rate drawing of a diligent beginner, gladly turns over the pages of old albums, knows water-color, treasures Persian miniatures. As she’s dominated by frustration and anxiety, the canvases of a very mournful young girl result, naive, delicate and falsely naive, with remarkable symbolics of cats, birds, eyes.”

After Ajijic, and when her husband returned from the war, the couple lived for a time in Mexico City before driving, with Fein’s paintings, back to the U.S.. Before leaving Mexico, Fein did some exporting of silver jewelry, seeking out fine pieces and shipping them to an uncle who had a shop in Milwaukee. Fein dealt with many of the most famous silversmiths of Taxco.

At the U.S. border crossing on their return, the customs agent asked about all the paintings. After a brief discussion, it was apparently agreed that they were “antiques” and therefore exempt from duty!

Fein’s first solo exhibition was a great success. Reviewing the show for The New Yorker, Robert M. Coates wrote that,  “The Perls has a first one-man exhibition by a young Milwaukee artist named Sylvia Fein… whose work somehow manages to suggest the German Gothic and the Oriental at practically the same moment… her technique—firm, precise, and clear—is always authoritative.”

Later that year, her work was included in the 1946–47 Whitney Annual exhibition, alongside paintings by Max Ernst, Roberto Matta, and Jackson Pollock.

When WW2 ended and her husband Bill Scheuber returned from military service, they made their home in the San Francisco Bay area where Fein completed her MFA at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1951. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1962, Alfred Frankenstein extolled the virtues of Fein’s art: “Clarity, finesse, and perfection of draftsmanship are other virtues Sylvia Fein possesses. She is one of the most highly individual painters in the Bay Region and one of the most accomplished”.

After their daughter Heidi was born, Fein kept a meticulous record of her early drawings and artwork, which prompted her to write two landmark books about children’s art: Heidi’s Horse (California: Exelrod Press, 1976) and First Drawings: Genesis of Visual Thinking (Exelrod, 1992). The books have had a major influence on child development specialists interested in the creative process of young children.

Like Carrington, Kahlo and other great women artists of the past century, Fein is a solitary genius who has created a rich world on her own terms.”                  – Michael Duncan, Art in America, April 2008

In the past decade or so, Fein has finally received the recognition due her as one of America’s foremost surrealists. A series of major shows have placed her art alongside that of other great painters such as Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Lee Miller and Dorothea Tanning:

Fein’s work also features in volume 2 of Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, 1860-1960, a four volume work by Maurine St. Gaudens (Schiffer Publishing, 2015).

Sylvia Fein’s other major solo exhibitions include: Perls Galleries, New York (1946); Feingarten Galleries, San Francisco (1957, 1959, 1961); Sagittarius Gallery, New York (1958); Lane Galleries, Los Angeles (1958); Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, California (1960); Kunstkabinett, Frankfurt, Germany (1960); Mills College Art Gallery, Oakland, California (1962); Ruthermore Galleries, Oakland, California (1962); Maxwell Art Galleries, San Francisco (1963); Nicole Gallery, Berkeley, California (1965); Bresler Galleries, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1966).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Sylvia Fein for her warm hospitality during a visit to her home and studio in February 2015, and for being kind enough to review a draft of this post.

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

 Posted by at 6:19 am  Tagged with:
Apr 232015
 

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was an African American playwright, artist and author of political speeches and essays. She studied art in Ajijic at Lake Chapala in the summer of 1949, mid-way through her studies at the University of Wisconsin, where she took classes in art, literature, drama and stage design.

Hansberry was born in Chicago on 19 May 1930 and died of cancer at the age of 34 in New York City on 12 January 1965.

Lorraine Hansberry (1959)

Her father, Carl Hansberry, was a prominent Chicago realtor who, in 1938, challenged the city’s racially segregated housing laws, by moving his family into a “restricted” area near the University of Chicago. The resulting violence, in which bricks and concrete slabs were thrown through their windows, prior to them losing their legal suit challenging the legality of restrictive covenants and being evicted from that home, subsequently inspired Lorraine Hansberry to write her best-known play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959).

A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. The 29-year-old author became the youngest American playwright to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play over Tennessee Williams‘s Sweet Bird of Youth. The play was translated into 35 languages. A movie version of A Raisin in the Sun was released in 1961, starring Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Ruby Dee. The movie was nominated “Best Screenplay of the Year” by the Screen Writers Guild and won a special award at Cannes Film Festival. Raisin, a musical based on the play, opened in New York in 1973.

Lorraine Hansberry was only 15 years old in 1945, when her father, “in a final desperate act to escape racial oppression in the U.S.”, moved to a suburb of Mexico City. Carl Hansberry was making arrangements to relocate his family to Mexico when he died there the following year from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Lorraine Hansberry spent the summer of 1949 in Ajijic studying art, at a University of Guadalajara extension Mexican Art Workshop in Ajijic run by Mrs. Irma Jonas. Teachers at the Mexican Art Workshop that year included Alexander Nicolas Muzenic, Ernesto Butterlin and Tobias Schneebaum.

The following summer she studied art at Roosevelt University in Chicago before moving to New York City, where she took courses in jewelry-making, photography and short story writing at the New School for Social Research. While living in New York, she became actively involved in peace and freedom movements.

Hansberry wrote several other plays, including The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, which played for 101 performances on Broadway and closed the night she died.

Hansberry’s life and achievements inspired her close friend Nina Simone to write the song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (lyrics by Weldon Irvine), first recorded in 1969.

At Hansberry’s funeral, a tribute message from Martin Luther King Jr. praised “her commitment of spirit” and “her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today.”

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was posthumously inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1999, and the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2013.

Reference:

  • Steven R. Carter. 1980. “Commitment amid Complexity: Lorraine Hansberry’s Life in Action”, in MELUS, Vol. 7, No. 3, Ethnic Women Writers I (Autumn, 1980), pp. 39-53.

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.

Apr 162015
 

Robert Penn Warren, the great American poet, novelist and literary critic, was born in Kentucky on 24 April 1905 and died in Vermont on 15 September 1989. Warren lived and wrote in Chapala for several months in the summer of 1941.

Owing to the unauthorized and uncredited use of material from this post on a third-party website, this article has been removed from public view.

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

Mar 232015
 

Norah Kennedy, later Norah (Kennedy) Barr was the younger sister of the culinary author Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher and elder sister of artist David Holbrook Kennedy.

Norah Kennedy was born 30 May 1917 in Whittier, California, and died at age 96 on 15 January 2014, in Santa Rosa, California.Norah Kennedy spent several months in Chapala, Mexico, in 1941. She traveled there with her brother David. In Mexico, they were joined by David’s girlfriend Sarah. David and Sarah married in Ajijic in early October 1941 and Norah shared a house with the newly weds for a month before they all returned to the U.S.

While in Chapala, Norah wrote about her experiences in Lanikai, Honolulu, and Molakai the previous year. (Reardon, p 134). Mary Frances (her eldest sister) visited the threesome and “advised Norah about marketing the stories she was writing in Mexico. In a letter written on October 14, she told her sister that she had arranged at least five of the stories into what she considered an appropriate sequence, and airmailed them to Mary Leonard Pritchett for submission to The New Yorker.” (Reardon, p 138-139) It is unclear if or when these stories were ever published.

Norah later worked as a psychiatric social worker for the Army during World War II, and for many years in the Berkeley school system. In 1993, the year after her sister’s death, Norah wrote the foreword for a book continuing the journals of Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, entitled Foreword to Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me: journals and stories, 1933–1941, M. F. K. Fisher.

Sources:

  • Joan Reardon, 2005. Poet of the Appetites: The Lives And Loves of M.F.K. Fisher (North Point Press)
  • M. F. K. Fisher, 1943. The Gastronomical Me (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York), reprinted in The Art of Eating (Macmillan 1979).

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