Feb 022023
 

Calvin Tomkins, who later wrote extensively for Newsweek and the New Yorker, completed his first novel Intermission while staying at Lake Chapala. The autobiographical novel was first published by Viking Press, New York, in 1951. The book is not set at the lake; its locales are Santa Fe, New York and New Jersey. It explores the tricky and sometimes difficult relationships between two brothers, one of whom is the narrator, and one of their oldest friends and his wife.

Tomkins was born in Orange, New Jersey, on 17 December 1925. After graduating from Berkshire School, he served two years in the US Navy, and then completed a degree program at Princeton University in 1948. Still in his early twenties, and newly married with an urge to write, he got lucky: Tomkins’ father, a New Jersey businessman, offered to finance an entire year for him to focus on trying to become a writer. Calvin and his wife rented a place in Santa Fe, and Calvin began drafting the story which turned into Intermission.

After some months in Santa Fe, the young couple decided to visit Mexico where they:

“ended up in a place outside of Guadalajara, at a pretty little inn by Lake Chapala. . . We were there three or four months, and I wrote there, too. It was a kind of Hemingway-esque experience for me. I remember finishing the manuscript there and sending it to my agent. I heard back a few weeks later that it had been accepted by Viking Press!”

Tomkins - IntermissionOn their return to the US, Tomkins struggled to write a second novel, but did get several short stories published. To make ends meet, he became a journalist, working first for Radio Free Europe (1953-1957) and then Newsweek. He had a freelance contribution to the New Yorker accepted in 1958, and joined the magazine two years later as a staff writer. In addition to short stories and humor pieces, he branched out into nonfiction. Over two decades, he focused on chronicling the rapidly evolving New York City art scene. He was the New Yorker’s official art critic in the early 1980s, and responsible for hundreds of art reviews and profiles for the magazine’s “Art World” column.

Besides Intermission, Tomkins’ major published works include: The bride & the bachelors: the heretical courtship in modern art (1965); The Lewis and Clark Trail (1965); The world of Marcel Duchamp (1966); Eric Hoffer: An American Odyssey (1969); Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1970); Living Well Is the Best Revenge: The Life of Gerald and Sara Murphy (1971); The Scene: Reports on Post-Modern Art (1976); Off the Wall : A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg (1980); Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews (2013); and The Lives of Artists (2019).

In retirement, Tomkins donated his papers to the Museum of Modern Art and his art-book archive to the Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport, Rhode Island.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to artist Peter Holden for bringing Calvin Tomkins’ important link to Lake Chapala to my attention.

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

To learn more about the literary history of Lake Chapala, see the relevant chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

The Lake Chapala-Santa Fe literary-art nexus has had many distinguished members over the years, including D. H. LawrenceWitter Bynner, “Spud” Johnson, Betty Binkley, Josefa (the “mother of Mexican fashion design”), Jorge Fick, Clinton King and his (first) wife Lady Twysden, Clark Hulings, John Liggett Meigs, Alfred Rogoway, Don Shaw, photographer Ernest Walter Knee,  poet and painter John Brandi, musicologist Charles BogertBob Hunt, Arthur Davison Ficke and Gladys Brown Ficke. Instrumental in fomenting the links in the 1940s was Santa Fe journalist Brian Ború Dunne.

Sources

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

Jan 192023
 

Multilingual playwright Samuel McCulloch (1921-1991) and his wife, Jennie, lived in an old adobe house in Ajijic for six years from 1956 to 1962. In a 1958 press interview, McCulloch told a reporter that in Ajijic he was writing plays, working daily from 11 am to 7 pm, with a break for lunch, and that “When we first went there two years ago, we had electricity only at night. Now we’ve got it round the clock, except when the plant is broken down, which is every few days.” McCulloch named the plant operator as “Pancho de la Luz” and added that there were “about 75 Americans in Ajijic, many of them retired business and professional men and their wives.”

Sam and Jennie McCulloch, 1972. Credit: Concordia Sentinel.

Sam and Jennie McCulloch, 1972. Credit: Concordia Sentinel.

Born on 9 February 1921 in Memphis, Tennessee, McCulloch was educated at Central High School, Memphis, and Choate School in Connecticut. (Coincidentally, a former teacher at the Choate School—novelist Christopher Veiel—had lived in Ajijic a few years earlier.) McCulloch then studied at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, before graduating with a degree in English and Greek from Southwestern (now Rhodes College) in his hometown.

During the second world war, McCulloch served with the US Army as an interpreter and interrogator of prisoners of war in Africa, Italy and France, work which improved his command of German, Italian, French and Spanish.

After the war ended, McCulloch took classes at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Perugia, Italy, before completing an MA in drama at Syracuse. In 1947 he registered the copyright of a film script, apparently never published, titled “The Turning Point.”

In 1952 he returned to Memphis and helped found the Arena Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee; McCulloch also operated a summer theater in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Arena lasted only a couple of years, but attracted stars such as John Carradine and Eva Gabor to perform in its plays. The theatre ran into censorship problems in 1953 when McCulloch adapted Erskine Caldwell’s novel Tragic Ground, which features a young man and woman in bed, but clothed. The performances were duly moved to a nightclub in West Memphis.

It was at the Arena that McCuloch met his wife, Jennie Keeter, who had majored in English at Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina, and took a part-time gig as a volunteer usher. Not long after the Arena folded, the couple couple moved to Ajijic. In his 1958 interview, McCulloch claimed to have been writing most of the time; in a later interview he claimed that in Ajijic the couple “did absolutely nothing for six years.”

What did McCulloch and his wife think of Ajijic. When they returned briefly to Memphis in 1959, Sam told a local newspaper that He had just put a manuscript in the mail, that “Harper’s is bringing out a novel soon by one of our people” and that “The Golden Fleecing,” written by another Ajijican, Lorenzo Semple Jr, had recently received good notices on Broadway. (Note that it is unclear which Harper’s novel was being referred to; Willard Marsh’s Week With No Friday, set in Ajijic, was not released by Harper’s until 1965.)

However, even if McCulloch was optimistic about his writing career, he reported that Ajijic was “now crawling with Americans so Jennie and I are sneaking around at night, putting up “Yankee Go Home” signs.” Goodness only knows what McCulloch might say if he were able to visit Ajijic today!

After their extended vacation in Mexico, McCulloch joined the US Information Service and the couple spent three years in Paraguay, followed by stints in Chile, Guatemala and Washington DC, where McCulloch was cultural coordinator for Latin America.

Sam and Jenny McCulloch retired to Jonesville, Lousiana, in 1972, shortly after buying a home, sight unseen, on Horseshoe Lake. Mementos from their time in Mexico and their travels were proudly displayed in their lakeside home.

McCulloch died in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 17 March 1991, shortly after his 70th birthday.

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

To read more about life in Ajijic in the 1950s, and the many authors who lived there, see the 13 chapters that comprise Part C of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

Sources

  • The Commercial Appeal (Memphis): 9 Dec 1965, 68; 20 March 1991.
  • The Memphis Press-Scimitar: 25 Dec 1958, 16; 30 Dec 1959, 11.
  • Bea Nathanson. 1972. “They came on a Visit – and Returned here to live.” The Concordia Sentinel, 15 Nov 1972

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

Jan 122023
 

Of all the notable artists associated with Lake Chapala, the one who made the most waves in international art circles in the latter part of the twentieth century was Feliciano Béjar.

Feliciano (‘Chano’) Béjar was born on 14 July 1920 in Jiquilpan, Michoacán. Jiquilpan had been in close proximity to Lake Chapala for centuries until the eastern third of the lake was drained for agriculture a decade before Béjar was born.

A self-taught artist, who overcame polio as a child, Béjar was revered for his inspired sculptures, painting and weaving. His most famous series of works, dubbed ‘magiscopes,’ imaginatively combined glass with metals, plastics and other recycled materials; they stimulate viewers awareness of the unlimited power of the human eye to see and interpret abstract sculptures.

Feliciano Bejar. Boat seller.

Feliciano Bejar. Boat seller.

Béjar attended the Colegio Salesiano of Guadalajara (1932-1934) and his childhood interest in art was stimulated by meeting José Clemente Orozco when that great artist was painting his remarkable murals in Jiquilpan in 1940.

There is little point in me rehashing all the details of Béjar’s life, which are readily available online, including in this Wikipedia article.

If it had not been for serendipity, Béjar might never have become an acclaimed artist. He had traveled widely in Mexico before leaving for New York in 1945 to work, paint and buy himself a Chevrolet. Béjar painted during the day and worked nights in a department store.

Feliciano Bejar. Posada del niño

Feliciano Bejar. Posada del niño

In 1947 he left some paintings at a frame shop which, by chance, was patronized by gallery owner Ward Eggleston. Helped by Nathaniel Coleman and his wife, a wealthy art-loving couple who had struck up a friendship with Béjar in the department store, Eggleston made arrangements to hold a solo show of Béjar’s work at his gallery the following year.

Meanwhile, Béjar had bought a car (despite not knowing how to drive) and persuaded a friend to drive him and the car back to Jiquilpan. Shortly after their safe arrival, his friend borrowed the vehicle to visit his own family; unfortunately he then totaled the automobile in an accident.

Béjar returned to New York for his solo show, the first of several he would hold at the Ward Eggleston Galleries. Nathaniel Coleman remained his chief promoter and sponsor; he purchased some two hundred of Béjar’s works over the years; the terms of his will meant that more than half of them eventually returned to the artist.

Feliciano Bejar.Sunset at Lake Chapala

Feliciano Bejar.Sunset at Lake Chapala

According to a contemporary review of the first New York show, at the Ward Eggleston Galleries in 1948:

“It was difficult to leave the Ward Eggleston Galleries after viewing the paintings of Chano Bejar without being haunted long afterwards by the pinks and yellows and greens in his “Fiery Horse,” a dream creature out of Mexican Indian mythology who flamed and quivered with motion that threatened to shatter the very canvas which held him.”

Béjar’s art remained unrecognized in Mexico, until after he was sponsored by UNESCO to travel to Europe in 1949 for a group show of Latin-American artists which included several of his works. On his return, the Instituto Mexicano Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales took a keen interest and arranged several shows over the next few years. A retrospective exhibit of his works in Los Angeles in 1956 was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. These shows helped establish Béjar’s reputation and resulted in dozens more solo shows. UNESCO produced a film in 1964, “The world of Feliciano Béjar,” and Béjar’s work featured in the Mexican pavilion at the New York World Fair in 1965. During his long artistic career, Béjar held more than 150 solo shows in Mexico, the US and Europe.

Two early Chapala-related paintings deserve a special mention. Béjar’s solo show at the Galeria José María Velasco in Mexico City in 1962 included “Tuxcueca.” Completed in 1947, this painting of a humble village on the south shore of Lake Chapala is probably the only time the village has ever been painted by a major artist. A second 1947 oil on canvas was included in Béjar’s 1965 show at Galeria Mer-kup, also in Mexico City: it was titled ‘Chapala.’

Feliciano Bejar. Three magiscopes.

Feliciano Bejar. Three magiscopes.

Magiscopes were first shown in 1966 at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and at Mappin Art Gallery in London, UK. Inspired by childhood toys and games, Béjar’s magiscopios are somewhat reminiscent of Renaissance clocks, astrolobes and other scientific instruments, coupled with the visual allure of kaleidoscopes.

During this highly productive period of his life, Béjar also prepared designs for several European ceramics makers, including Spode, and designed stage sets. The artist held strong opinions about all manner of social and environmental concerns, and shared them via a weekly column in the 1980s in Mexico City daily El Universal.

Francisco Béjar, one of the more remarkable self-taught artists to emerge in Mexico during the second half of the twentieth century, died in Mexico City on 1 February 2007. His work continues to be highly sought after by collectors.

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

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

Sources

  • Modern Mexico: March-April 1949 (Vol 22 #2); July-August 1950 (Vol 23 #4)
  • Justino Fernández. (multiple years) Catálogos de las Exposiciones de Arte, Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.

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

Jan 052023
 

One of the modern myths of Lakeside is that long term American resident and benefactor Neill James, author of Dust on my Heart, was the originator of the phrase “When once the dust of Mexico has settled upon your heart, you cannot then find peace in any other land.”

Dust on my Heart, published in 1946, was James’ final book, the only published work she wrote in Ajijic, and the only one of her books to include descriptions of life in the village. However, you only have to read the first page of the book to realize that James never claimed any credit for the “dust of Mexico” quote; she fully acknowledged that it was an existing saying and not an original line. What James actually wrote on the first page of Dust on my Heart was:

There is a saying, ‘When once the dust of Mexico has settled upon your heart, you cannot then find peace in any other land.’”

In several modern accounts, this has been modified to:

Neill James wrote, “Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart, you can never go home again.””

In the years since James, several other authors utilized versions of the same saying. The most famous of these authors is Malcolm Lowry, who writes in Under the Volcano, that “He upon whose heart the dust of Mexico has lain, will find no peace in any other land.”

In recent years, Carolena Torres chose Dust on Their Hearts as the title of her debut novel, which is partially set at Lake Chapala. She paraphrases the original proverb as, “When the dust of Mexico falls upon your heart, you will never be the same.”

How or where did Neill James first encounter the proverb? Immediately prior to her arrival in Ajijic in 1943, James had spent several months in and out of a Mexico City hospital following a climbing accident and a volcanic eruption. It is entirely possible that it was in the hospital or shortly afterwards, during her convalescence  in the spa town of Ixtapan de la Sal, that she read Dust of Mexico , a romance novel by Ruth Comfort Mitchell. Embedded in the story line of this novel, first published in 1941, is this version of the saying: “Once the dust of Mexico has settled on your heart, never can you rest in any other land.”

On first hearing it, the central character in Dust of Mexico—Priscilla Carpenter, a staid, single New York librarian—laughs at the idea. However, she changes her opinion after being taken on a trip to Mexico by a married, frivolous aunt, who promises Priscilla’s mother that there will be no men on the study tour of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women. But there are men, including a famous radio comedian and an ambitious American doctor, and in the process of choosing between several men, Priscilla “gains a knowledge of the romance and lure of Mexico.” Prior to publication as a novel, Dust of Mexico had been serialized in Women’s Home Companion.

Or perhaps James had read Anita Brenner? A decade earlier, renowned Mexican author and art critic Anita Brenner (1905-1974) quoted an almost identical version of the same proverb on the very first page of her Your Mexican Holiday: A Modern Guide, published in 1932: “Once the dust of Mexico has settled on your heart, you have no rest in any other land.”

And, going back ten years before that, in 1923, reporter, artist and screenwriter Wallace Smith used yet another extremely similar version in The little tigress; tales out of the dust of Mexico, a collection of stories set during the Revolution. The chapter titled “Dust of Mexico” opens as follows:

“Once the dust of Mexico has settled on your heart there can be no rest for you in any other land. That is a saying in Mexico. It is spoken proudly and sometimes hopelessly. The truth of it is in the empty, seeking eyes of exiles in other countries- in places far away from the land of golden lights and purple shadows.” Smith was a talented cartoonist and “these tales of love, treachery, courage, and adventure are illustrated by the author’s atmospheric drawings from his field sketchbook.”

If you can add other instances of the use of versions of the “Dust on my Heart” saying in mainstream works (particularly in early ones), please get in touch!

References in reverse chronological order

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

To read more about Neill James and her life in Ajijic, see chapters 13, 14, 21, 26, 34 and 39 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

Sources

  • Roberta C Gilman. 1941. “Lure of Mexico Gets in Blood.” Detroit Free Press, 14 September 1941.
  • New York Times. “Dust of Mexico. By Ruth Comfort Mitchell.” New York Times, 16 Feb 1941.
  • Mexican Life, June 1941, p 39.

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

Dec 292022
 

Despite several popular art sites listing Bert Pumphrey’s exhibitions as including three in Ajijic, I have yet to find any details for them. Pumphrey’s distinctive work is so highly collectible, that he would certainly deserve a place among the Lakeside greats (and in the Ajijic Museum of Art) if his association with Lake Chapala can be proven.

The three exhibitions listed for Bert Pumphrey in Ajijic are:

  • La Nueva Posada, Art Shows in the Garden, 1955
  • Casa de la Cultura, Ajijic, Plaza Principal 1978
  • Galeria AXIXICC, Ajijic, 1985

The 1955 entry clearly cannot be correct. Either this was an exhibit in the (Old) Posada Ajijic, or the year is inaccurate and it should be 1995. Either way, I have found no confirming evidence anywhere for this or the other two shows. If you can help, please get in touch!

Despite drawing a blank as regards the Ajijic exhibitions, my search for answers has enabled me to compile a more accurate account of Pumphrey’s life and work than those currently available on the web.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Un militar.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Un militar.

Bertrem (Bert) Pumphrey was born in Welby, Salt Lake City, Utah, on 30 January 1916. After graduating from Provo High School in 1936, Pumphrey took classes for a year at the Chicago Art Institute. From 1937 to 1941, he studied on a scholarship at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where he was strongly influenced by Henry Lee McFee and Tom Craig

At the second annual exhibit of Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity (organized by Los Angeles County Museum) in 1941, Pumphrey’s painting “Rainy Season” and a work by famous Japanese-American modernist Sueo Serisawa received honorable mentions for painting.

In 1940, while still a student, Pumphrey had registered for military service, and after completing his studies the following year he enlisted in the army. He served as a surgical technician in the Army Medical Corps in Asia and the Far East

His first major group show after the war was at the Los Angeles Art Association in 1946, in a collective exhibition titled “They Have Returned,” with one critic writing that “Bertram Pumphrey’s oils of India convey that land’s rich decoration and vegetation and the accompanying poverty.”

Later that year in September Pumphrey held his first solo show (of 47 oil paintings) at the prestigious Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

In 1947, Pumphrey had the first of at least two solo shows at the American Contemporary Gallery in Los Angeles. His 22 canvases were described by Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier as “rich in color and human interest.” Millier also recorded that Pumphrey had “recently worked” with Tom Craig on a large mural or murals at the San Antonio Hospital, Claremont, and had completed a large 40′ by 12′ mural commission in a private Hollywood home.

In 1947-1948 Pumphrey taught art part-time at the Art Barn School of Arts in Salt Lake City, giving himself ample time to develop his own art while still having a reliable income.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Hasidic Rabbis Dancing. (oil on board)

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Hasidic Rabbis Dancing.

Pumphrey moved to Mexico in 1948, and exhibited relatively infrequently in the US after that date, though he retained links with California, giving classes and participating in group shows in Lafayette and Oakland in 1954. By this time he had married Isabel. The couple apparently kept homes in both Tlalpan, a suburb of Mexico City and in California, dividing their time between the two places. Isabel became a naturalized US citizen in 1984 on her 54th birthday.

In 1955, Pumphrey painted murals depicting typical scenes from Bavarian villages on the walls of Sam’s Hof Brau in the historic Kost building in Sacramento. Four years later, he completed a large mural for the Seagulll Motel in Salt Lake City, assisted by his twin brother, Joe, who was also an artist.

His first major solo show in Mexico was at the Galería Pemex in Mexico City in January 1960. It included 106 works, in a variety of media, from oils on masonite and linoleum to watercolors and ink drawings, and of varied subjects, demonstrating the artist’s impressive versatility.

Pumphrey’s smaller solo show the following year at the Mexican-Northamerican Cultural Institute in Mexico City featured 19 oils and 17 watercolors; it included a self portrait alongside animal, coastal and jungle studies.

Pumphrey’s techniques and preferences changed markedly over the years. In 1971, the Oakland Museum showed a short film “Bert Pumphrey, Pleasanton Artist,” which depicted how Pumphrey liked to paint: using palette knives, including some of his own design, to cut through successive layers of paint to achieve the color, texture and form he wanted. (This technique was similar to that used for traditional lacquer work in Mexico). For these paintings, Pumphrey worked on masonite, rather than canvas, and on a table, rather than an easel.

Bert Pumphrey. 1969.

Bert Pumphrey. 1969.

Pumphrey completed murals for several public buildings, clubs, churches and private homes in Mexico (presumably mainly in 1950s), as well as murals in the Kost building, Sacramento (1955) and the Seagull Motel, Salt Lake City (1959).

Bert Pumphreys’s confirmed group shows include Los Angeles Art Association (1946, 1947); Chaffey, Ontario, California (1947); Biblioteca Cervantes, Mexico City (1952); Artists’ Market, Oakland, California (1954) and Valley Art Center, Contra Costa, California (1955).

In addition to the three possible shows in Ajijic and one (also unconfirmed) in the Virgin Islands, Pumphrey’s solo shows included Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1946); American Contemporary Gallery, Los Angeles (1947, 1948); Palette Club, Salt Lake City (1947); Galería Pemex, Mexico City (1960); lnstituto Mexicano-Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales, Mexico City (1961); Little Gallery, Philadelphia (1967); Cory Gallery, San Francisco (1969); and La Cienega Gallery, Los Angeles (1971).

The artist spent his final years in South Pasadena, where he died on 20 June 2002.

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

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

Sources

  • Bingham Bulletin 12 Sep 1941, 5; 3 Sep 1954, 3
  • Contra Costa Gazette 11 Feb 1954, 5; 22 Jul 1955, 4
  • Contra Costa Times 25 Feb 1954, 5
  • Daily Herald 08 May 1936, 3
  • Justino Fernández. (a) 1953 (b) 1961 (c) 1962. Catálogos de las Exposiciones de Arte en los años 1952, 1960 and 1961. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.
  • Los Angeles Times 16 March 1941, 21; 16 March 1941, 21; 23 Mar 1941; 24 March 1946, 26; 6 Jul 1947, 26; 21 Sep 1947, 28; 04 Jul 1948, 45; 25 Jul 1971, 425
  • Oakland Tribune 14 Feb 1954, 91; 31 Jan 1971, 125
  • Pasadena Star-News. 2002. Bertrem Pumphrey (obituary). 29 June 2002.
  • Philadelphia Inquirer 04 Jun 1967, 141
  • Sacramento Bee 22 Jan 1955, 52
  • Salt Lake Tribune 02 Nov 1947, 64; 10 Aug 1947, 48; 14 Dec 1947, 72; 12 Jul 1959, 29; 18 Oct 1964, 78
  • San Francisco Examiner 29 Sep 1946, 135; 28 Dec 1969, 142

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 222022
 

As explained in a previous post, my on-going fascination with the history of Lake Chapala was stimulated, in part, by the chance discovery many years ago of a copy of Antonio de Alba‘s 1954 book, Chapala.

Antonio de Alba. Chapala, p 115

Antonio de Alba. Chapala, p 115 (Click to enlarge)

The online claim (made only a few years ago) that Chapala is “the most accurate book to date about the local history” may have been true many decades ago, but has certainly not been true since the turn of this century.

The focus of my personal interest has been on when, how and why Chapala first became a center for international tourists. The ‘when’ is the easy part, given that the town’s first major hotel, the Hotel Arzapalo, opened its doors in 1898. The ‘how’ and ‘why’ are trickier to answer, and have led me down innumerable ‘rabbit holes’ related to the lives of early foreign settlers in Chapala.

What has emerged from years of research, and new online friendships with the descendants of many of these early settlers, is that the story of Lake Chapala is far more complex (and interesting) than I had ever imagined. Many of the details in de Alba’s account of the “principal promoters of tourism in Chapala” (page 115) need to be reconsidered, and in some cases rejected.

Please note that I am not, by publishing this critique, trying to disparage or discredit Antonio de Alba, his research or his book. On the contrary, it was his book that got me started down this road! But, like all accounts of history, over time new facts come to light, alternative interpretations are proposed—some of which become accepted—and a new, revised (and hopefully more accurate) version of the story is developed.

Let’s take a close look at de Alba’s account of the principal promoters of tourism in Chapala. It did not take me long to realize that ‘Séptimo Crow’ was Septimus Crowe (with an ‘e’ at the end), who was, as de Alba stated, of English origin, though he was actually born in northern Norway, where his father had a massive copper mine. It took me a lot longer to realize that the “Mr. Leonel Garden,” who built Villa Tlalocan, was Mr (later Sir) Lionel Carden (with a ‘C’), and even longer before I identified ‘Sr. D. Carlos Eissman” as Karl (Carlos) Eisenmann. Once I had their real names, it was relatively easy to find out a lot more about these individuals and their lives, and their connections to Chapala.

It turned out that Septimus Crowe, for example, had abandoned his wife and young son in Europe when he moved to Mexico. His son was informed that his father had died, and never lived to learn the truth; members of the succeeding generation were totally astonished to find a brief reference in one of my articles about Septimus’ life in Mexico.

De Alba writes that Crowe arrived in about 1895. While I can’t prove precisely when the eccentric Mr Crowe first came to Chapala, it was certainly several years earlier than that, as I have pointed out repeatedly over the past two decades. This is known because there is a clear reference to Crowe by Mexican diplomat-author Eduardo A. Gibbon in a book published in 1893. Gibbon’s account refers both to Crowe having built a “very lovely estate that can be seen from the lake on a hill, a quarter of a league from the village of Chapala” (now the site of Hotel Montecarlo) and to Crowe having “stimulated others to build holiday homes and with them give life and civilization to this very beautiful region.”

In the past several years, as I delved ever deeper into the lives of Crowe and others, I have been able to prove that Crowe built all the three houses mentioned by de Alba (Villa Montecarlo, Villa Bell, Villa Josefina), though not in the order he suggested. Before he built Villa Bell, Crowe had built Casa Albión, renamed Villa Josefina after it was bought by American-born beer magnate Joseph Maximilian Schnaider.

In the case of Villa Tlalocan, de Alba is correct that the house was built in about 1896: construction began in 1895 and the Cardens were able to move in the following year, in time to invite President Díaz for breakfast one morning in early November. De Alba is also correct that Carden sold Villa Tlalocan to Carlos Eisenmann. However, de Alba’s claims that the house was then bought by Manuel Cuesta Gallardo ‘after Eisenmann’s death’, and that the new owner built a home there intended as a gift for President Díaz, which the President never received because the Mexican Revolution broke out (1910), are inaccurate.

First, I have never found any contemporary newspaper accounts supporting the idea that Manuel Cuesta Gallardo built any home intended for President Díaz. There are, though, several references to a home being prepared for the President by his inlaws at El Manglar. Secondly, Eisenmann died in 1920 (in Germany), three years after Manuel Cuesta Gallardo had already transferred the title of Villa Tlalocan to a younger sister.

I repeat—for those who have read this far—that none of this post is intended in any way to disparage Antonio de Alba, his research or his book. It was my chance find of Chapala back in the 1980s that led me to become so passionate about exploring the history of how the small fishing village of Chapala became such an important international tourist destination.

Reading the book

Copies of Chapala, which has never been reprinted, are difficult to find. Fortunately for readers, Javier Raygoza Munguía, the publisher of the weekly PÁGINA Que sí se lee! has uploaded the entire text as a series of digital files which can be accessed via the link.

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

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

Sources and references

  • Antonio de Alba. 1954. Chapala. Guadalajara: Banco Industrial de Jalisco.
  • Eduardo A Gibbon. 1893. Guadalajara, (La Florencia Mexicana). El salto de Juanacatlán y El Mar Chapálico. 1992 reprint Guadalajara: Presidencia Municipal de Guadalajara.

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

Dec 012022
 

Robert Clutton (1932-2016) lived in Ajijic from about 1959 to 1961. His time in Mexico introduced him to the pantheon of ancient Aztec and Maya gods which so strongly influenced much of his later art. He revisited Ajijic several times after this initial extended stay in the village.

“Bob” Clutton, “Roberto” to his Mexican friends, was born in England on 5 June 1932, brought up in Wales, and passed away in San Francisco on 15 August 2016 at the age of 84.

He left Wales in 1949 to cross the Atlantic on the Mauretania. (Until late in life he much preferred ocean liners to aircraft.) He settled in Baltimore where he became the Art Director for Black & Decker. In October 1955, he was one of numerous artists exhibiting in the The Artists’ Union of Baltimore annual show.

By 1959 Clutton was living and working in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Several of his paintings from this time can be seen on this Facebook page of the San Francisco Senior Center. This painting of the Posada Ajijic in 1959 (below) is a fine example of Clutton’s style during his first months at Lake Chapala.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Untitled painting of Posada Ajijic. Reproduced by kind permissoin of the artist's family

Robert Clutton. 1959. Untitled painting of Posada Ajijic. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist’s family

Former Ajijic gallery owner Katherine Goodridge Ingram remembers Bob Clutton as a lovely man, who was well-liked by everyone in the community. During his time in Mexico, Clutton became increasingly fascinated by the “gods of ancient Mexico” and images of these gods became a frequent theme in his later paintings.

When he decided to leave Ajijic in 1961, he chose to move to San Francisco because that was where “all the interesting people he met in Mexico” were from. He continued to make his living as a professional artist in that city for more than fifty years. He retained some close ties to Mexican friends in Ajijic, and revisited the village several times.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic. (Image from San Francisco Senior Center page)

A newspaper feature in 1968, entitled “Art by the Foot” described how Clutton, “a bronzed, bearded, no-nonsense British artist” was making “made-to-measure bas-reliefs” in his Divisadero Street studio. The bas-reliefs, “designed to be decorative indoors and architectural assets outdoors”, used Aztec symbols and colors, and relied on the interplay of sun and shade to emphasize the materials, relief and texture.

Clutton was still producing “formal paintings” which also showed the influence of Mexico, and was represented by the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco. A solo show of his oils and acrylics at that gallery in 1969 brought a wider audience for his work. Shortly after Clutton petitioned for US citizenship in 1971, the Vorpal Gallery also included examples of his work in its 1971 Christmas Show, which also featured paintings by John Denning, Muldoon Elder, Roy Glover, Stephen Haines Hall, Bruce Sherratt (who had previously lived for several years at Lake Chapala) and Gary Smith.

Clutton also exhibited in Los Angeles and in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where a show of his oil paintings opened at Galeria Uno (Morelos 561) in Puerto Vallarta on 23 March 1993.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli. (Vorpal Gallery)

In 1988, Clutton designed the poster for the 1988 Haight Ashbury Street Fair. He enjoyed social events, garden parties and dinners and surrounded himself with creative people, making for lively and entertaining discussions. In his final years, Clutton was active as an artist at the San Francisco Senior Center.

This is an updated version of a profile first published 1 December 2016.

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

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

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Jane Clutton for sharing memories of her husband, and for graciously permitting me to share images of paintings belonging to his family.

Sources

  • Jane Clutton; personal communication, October 2016.
  • Peninsula Times Tribune, 1 Jan 1972, 42.
  • San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, California Living, Week of March 31, 1968: “Art by the Foot” [copy supplied by Jane Clutton]
  • San Francisco Chronicle. 2016. Robert Clutton – obituary, San Francisco Chronicle from Oct. 2 to Oct. 7, 2016.
  • Vorpal Galleries. Robert Clutton. 1969. San Francisco: Vorpal Galleries.

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 242022
 

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

Antonio de Alba. Chapala (1954)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this separate post – How history progresses: Antonio de Alba and “Chapala”  – I clarify and correct statements made on one particular page of Chapala, in the hope that this will offer some small but significant steps towards a revised history of the town.

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

Reading the book

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Sep 222022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

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

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

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

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

luis-sahagun-cover

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jun 302022
 

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

Vida Shepard, 1955

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Apr 212022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note

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

Sources

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

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

Feb 242022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Dec 162021
 

Oscar Collier was born 26 February 1924 in Mumford, Texas, and died 3 July 1998. He and his second wife, Gladys, lived in Ajijic for six months sometime in the late 1950s, while he was still actively painting.

Oscar Collier. Self-portrait, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Oscar Collier. Self-portrait, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

In this oral history interview in 1994 by Stephen Polcari, Collier talks about his childhood in Texas, his education at Baylor University (where he studied English), the University of Iowa (where he took his first art classes with Philip Guston), and the Art Students League in New York, and his links to many other artists, including Will Barnet, Peter Busa, Robert Barrell, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. Collier describes how he became involved in the 1940s with the style known as Indian Space Painting (named for its links to Pre-Columbian American Indian art), before giving up painting in 1959 to concentrate on publishing as a career.

Collier met his first wife, Gertrude Barrer (1921-1997), while they were both students; they married in about 1942 and separated shortly after the second world war. Gertrude was also a well-known Indian Space Painter, and the couple’s daughter, Greer Fitting (1943-2017), also became an artist and writer.

Collier married Gladys (Whitridge), his second wife, in 1949. That marriage lasted 20 years, and the couple had two children: Lisa Collier Cool, journalist and author who has written for dozens of magazines including Cosmopolitan, Penthouse and Good Housekeeping, and Sophia Collier, entrepreneur (the originator of Soho Soda), investor and artist. Oscar subsequently married Dianna Meerwarth and had a son, Christopher Collier.

Typical Oscar Collier abstract. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Typical Oscar Collier abstract. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Oscar Collier was active as an artist in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. He became a close friend of poet Kenneth Beaudoin (1913-1995) who then owned the Galerie Neuf on East 79th Street, in Greenwich Village, New York. Possibly the single most famous exhibit of Indian Space Painting was a show, held at Galerie Neuf in April-May 1946, called “8 and a totem pole” which featured the work of eight Indian Space Painters (Robert Barrell, Gertrude Barrer, Peter Busa, Oscar Collier, Howard Daum, Ruth Lewin, Lillian Orloff and Robert Smith) together with a Haida totem pole. This show had the alternative name of Semeiology. However, Collier’s first one man show at Galerie Neuf in 1947 was not a success.

collier-oscar-book-cover-2From 1946-1947, Collier, Gertrude Barrer and Kenneth Beaudoin collaborated to produce an art and literature quarterly, called Iconograph. Beaudoin was editor, Collier associate editor, and Barrer the art director. Sadly, financial difficulties meant that the quarterly did not last long.

In 1959, Collier abandoned painting for publishing. He became a successful literary agent, managing the publication of such best-sellers as Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment; My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House (by Lillian Rogers Parks, with Frances Spatz Leighton, later turned into a TV series); My Life with Jacqueline Kennedy, by Mary Barelli Gallagher; Barry Goldwater’s first set of memoirs; Harry Browne’s You Can Profit from a Monetary Crisis; The Scripps, the Divided Dynasty, by Jack Casserly; and Joseph P. Kennedy: Life and Times, by David Koscoff.

Collier was also the co-author, with Frances Spatz Leighton, of How to Write & Sell Your First Novel (1986) and How to Write and Sell Your First Nonfiction Book (1990).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Lisa Collier for making valuable corrections and additions to the original post, and for permission to reproduce photographs of her father’s artwork.

Note: This is an updated version of a post originally published on 13 March 2015.

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.

Dec 022021
 

Watercolorist and art educator Ben Shute enjoyed extended trips in Mexico on several occasions and visited Ajijic in 1951. Two watercolors from that visit are now in the permanent collections of art institutions in the US.

Benjamin Edgar Shute was born in Altoona, Wisconsin on 13 July 1905, and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, where his teachers included Allen Philbrick and George Oberteuffer from 1922-1928. He left Chicago in 1928 to take a six-week teaching job at the newly established High Museum School of Art (later Atlanta Art Institute) in Atlanta, Georgia. This temporary assignment was the start of an entire career teaching art in Atlanta, and he lived there for the rest of his life. Shute was dean-director of the High Museum from 1948-1950, and dean of the Atlanta Art Institute from 1950-52. The school established a scholarship in Shute’s honor in 1984.

Shute’s first trip to Mexico, partly funded by a Carnegie Travel grant, was in 1948. He and his first wife, Nell Choate (Jones) Shute (also a talented artist) held a joint exhibit afterwards at the High Museum, Atlanta. The show, featuring 45 or so watercolors,  was a great success. Doris Lockerman praised the artists for “retelling the tumultuous, violent and ancient story of Mexico through the vibrant strokes of their paintings made spontaneously and impulsively throughout a three-month vacation this Summer in Mexico.” Lockerman urged readers to visit the show and see for themselves how the two artists “have caught a headline history of current Mexico through which the thoughtful observer might begin to understand his neighbor south of the border.” The exhibit did not only show the bright side of Mexico: “The message of mismanagement and graft show in the muddy streets, cobblestone aqueducts, leaking roofs…”

The Shutes returned to Mexico for a month in 1950, driving to Guanajuato and Mexico City. The following year, Shute was on another Carnegie Travel grant when he and his wife visited Lake Chapala. Two watercolors from that visit are now in the Betty Plummer Woodruff Collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Ben Shute. 1951. Ajijic.

Ben Shute. 1951. Ajiji. (sic)

The first painting is a watercolor and ink on paper titled “Ajiji” (sic) and dated 13 August 1951. Set against the church bell tower and dark mountains, a woman and an infant stand next to a village wall, with a dog to the right of them. The museum website lists a second watercolor titled “View of Lake Chapala,” though sadly it is neither on display in the museum nor does the website have any image of it.

Shute is best known for his portraits, still lifes and evocative landscapes, often using casein and ink on paper. He delighted in painting plein air, and enjoyed having his creative and painting process watched by kids, animals and onlookers. His work was included in numerous group shows, the most noteworthy of which were the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, New York.  He was a co-founder in 1945 of the Southeastern Annual Art Exhibition (a juried competition with over 2000 entries from nine southern states) which he chaired until 1961.

Shute, who was a member of the Salmagundi Club in New York, died in Atlanta on 15 July 1986. A retrospective exhibition of his works, organized by the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, toured the state in 2002-2003.

Sources

  • The Atlanta Constitution, 1 Sep 1940, 37; 30 Jul 1948, 17; 14 Nov 1948, 52; 4 Aug 1950, 21.
  • Laufer, Marilyn. “Ben Shute.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Aug 14, 2013.
  • Doris Lockerman. 1948. “Let’s See Now: The Shutes Painted an Idea.” The Atlanta Constitution, 8 Dec 1948, 18.

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 042021
 

A chance find in a New Mexico newspaper mentions that artist Arthur Merrill and his wife visited Phoenix, Arizona, in February 1952, with plans to continue on to Lake Chapala. Arthur (“Art”) Joseph Merrill (1885-1973) took up art later than most, but forged a successful career in commercial art and as a watercolorist.

Arthur Merrill. Painting auctioned in 2016.

Arthur Merrill. Painting. Credit: J Levine Auction, Scottsdale, 2016.

Merrill certainly completed watercolors of Guanajuato and other parts of Mexico. But, so far, no paintings have surfaced that are directly related to Lake Chapala.

Merrill was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 11 April 1885, and graduated as a registered pharmacist, before deciding to study chemistry and geology. It was during a tour of European galleries and museums that he became determined to pursue art as a career. In 1911 he completed a Bachelor of Arts and Science degree at McGill University in Montreal, and took early color photographs for the French government during a Canadian geological survey.

Arthur Merrill. Mexican Street Scene.

Arthur Merrill. Mexican Street Scene.

He took art classes with A. J. Musgrove of Winnipeg and Franz Johnston of Toronto (a member of the Group of Seven), and then headed for New York, where he studied at the Art Students League with Edmund Yaghjian. He also took private classes with Julius Delbos. Merrill established his studio in Greenwich Village and supplemented his art income by teaching at a private school.

He traveled widely over the next several years filling his notebooks with pencil sketches.

After 18 years in New York he moved to the American west, where he fell in love with the stunning rock formations that characterize the region, and with pueblo life. Merrill settled in Taos in 1946 and proceeded to open an art gallery and a studio while volunteering to give art classes in several local educational institutions. The Merrills were very active members of the Taos artist community.

Merrill, who held several solo shows of his paintings and lithographs in the US, Canada and Mexico, died in Taos on 21 April 1973.

If you have a work by Merrill that may be of Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

Merrill was not the only artist or author that connected Taos to Lake Chapala. Other members of the Taos-Lake Chapala nexus included D. H. LawrenceWitter Bynner, “Spud” Johnson, Jorge Fick, John Brandi, Irma René Koen, Jorge Fick, Richard Frush, Lee F. Hersch, Pema Chödrön, Jim Levy, Walden Swank, and Kai Gøtzsche.

Sources

  • The New Mexican Sun, 3 Feb 1952, 16
  • The Taos News. “Arthur Merrill, artist, dead at 88.” Taos News, 25 April 1973.

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

Sep 232021
 

Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994), who coined the term ‘identity crisis’, spent several weeks in Ajijic in 1957 while writing Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalyses and History, published the following year.

Cover of Young Man LutherErikson had been persuaded that Ajijic was a quiet place in which to write by Helen Kirtland and her husband Dr Larry Hartmus. After an exchange of letters, Erikson ended up renting the “cottage” on Calle Independencia belonging to the Sendis family, whose son, Gustavo, was a super talented painter and guitarist.

Erikson, born in Germany to Danish parents, had become a US citizen after moving across the Atlantic. He became world famous for his ideas on identity and his contributions to the field of psychoanalysis and human development. Among Erikson’s best-known books are Observations on the Yurok: Childhood and World Image (1943), Childhood and Society  (1950), Identity and the Life Cycle (1959), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence (1969).

There are two references to Ajijic in Young Man Luther, one right at the beginning and the other at the end. In the preface, Erikson acknowledges the help of Larry Hartmus, who “read some of the medieval Latin with me in Ajijic.” In the epilogue, this paragraph serves to sum up how Erikson saw the village, and the impossible-to-ignore influence of religion:

“I wrote this book in Mexico, on a mirador overlooking a fishing village on Lake Chapala. What remains of this village’s primeval inner order goes back to pre-Christian times. But at odd times, urgent church bells call the populace to remembrance. The church is now secular property, only lent to the Cura; and the priest’s garb is legally now a uniform to be worn only in church or when engaged in such business as bringing the host to the dying. Yet, at night, with defensive affront, the cross on the church tower is the only neon light in town. The vast majority of the priest’s customers are women, indulging themselves fervently in the veneration of the diminutive local Madonna statue, which, like those in other communities, is a small idol representing little-girlishness and pure motherhood, rather that the tragic parent of the Savior, who, in fact is little seen. The men for the most part look on, willing to let the women have their religion as part of women’s world, but themselves bound on secular activity. The young ones tend toward the not too distant city of Guadalajara, where the churches and cathedrals are increasingly matched in height and quiet splendor by apartment houses and business buildings.”  [266]

Source

  • Erik Erikson. 1958. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalyses and History. New York: W.W. Norton.

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

 

Aug 262021
 

Edgar Mitchell Ellinger junior was in his mid-forties in 1953 when he wrote about “the small, captivating town of Ajijic” for the Arizona Republic under the title, “Mexican Town Offers Peaceful Way of Life.”

Edgar Ellinger. 1953. Ajijic church. Credit: Arizona Republic.

Edgar Ellinger. 1953. Ajijic church. Credit: Arizona Republic.

Ellinger was born in New York on Christmas Day 1906. After attending Horace Mann School for Boys, he became a Wall Street securities analyst and financial executive. His (first) wife was the NBC vocal star Sarah Schermerhorn, better known by her performing name of Sally Singer. The couple married at Ellinger’s home in New York City on 27 March 1936.

In 1945, Ellinger was the executive vice-president of the Jefferson-Travis Corporation, which specialized in radio equipment and the continuous sound recording field.

To quote The New York Times, Ellinger “left Wall Street in 1947 to live in Sedona, Arizona, where he raised quarter-horses and became a writer and photographer.” Ellinger published articles in several publications, including Desert Magazine in Palm Desert, California.

Here are two excerpts from his piece about Ajijic for the Arizona Republic:

Today, this small fishing village throbs with the interesting and varied activities of a growing international population—attracted by a satisfying climate, inexpensive living, and an atmosphere of “mañana.” The “urgency of life,” so well known to Americans, is strangely lacking.
Artists, writers, musicians, and just “plain folks” have settled in this picturesque haven. Accommodations are available in the two hotels in addition to about 40 renovated old houses owned or rented by non-Mexican.

After commenting on the diverse foreign population, which included “an attractive red-haired ex-violinist and his beautiful wife” and “a world-traveled and world-weary Englishman named H. B. Thompson,” Ellinger explained that:

Ajijic has achieved its popularity in part through the efforts of two Englishmen who… wrote a widely-read book called “Village in the Sun,” which extols the naive simplicity of this harmonious settlement. Neill James has also written extensively on the same subject and occupies a delightful home which encloses wide patios outlined by myriads of brilliant flowers. She grows Japanese silkworms and weaves the silk into blouses beautifully hand-embroidered by a handful of native women who work on the premises.”

Ellinger died at his home in Mountain View, California, on 10 June 1974.

Sources

  • Daily News (New York City), 28 March 1936, 174.
  • Edgar Ellinger, Jr. 1953. “Mexican Town Offers Peaceful Way of Life.” Arizona Republic, 2 August 1953, Section 2, 8.
  • New York Times. “Edgar Ellinger Jr.” (obituary). New York Times, 12 June 1974, 48.

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

Aug 052021
 

Little is known about Albert Alfredson’s visit to Lake Chapala, though a realist oil and crayon painting by him entitled “Humble Homes” with the notation “At Lake Chapala Mex,” and believed to date from about 1950, was offered for sale on eBay in July 2021.

Albert Alfredson. c 1950. "Humble Homes." Image from EBay.

Albert Alfredson. c 1950. “Humble Homes.” Image from eBay.

Alfredson was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1907 and died in 1977.

He studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts, and studied portraiture with Wellington J. Reynolds.

Alfredson was a member of numerous art groups, including the Brown County Art Guild Gallery of Nashville, Indiana; the Brownsville Art League in Texas; the American Artists Professional League; and the Oak Park Art League.

He was President of the Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts from 1962-64, and was the Artist Director of the Municipal Art League of Chicago.

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.

Apr 292021
 

Gerald van de Wiele was 19 years old when he visited Ajijic briefly with his good friend and fellow artist George “Jorge” Fick in 1951. Sixty-six years later, and despite never having returned to the area, van de Wiele completed an abstract painting entitled “Chapala.”

What were the circumstances of van de Wiele’s original visit, and why was it so long before he painted “Chapala”?

Born in Detroit in 1932, van de Wiele and Fick (1932-2004) visited Mexico more or less on a whim. After studying for a few months at the Art institute of Chicago on a national scholarship, van de Wiele had applied to Black Mountain College. The same day he received his acceptance letter, he also received his draft notice.

Gerald van de Wiele. 2017. Chapala (artist-made-frame). Credit: Artist Estate Studio.

Gerald van de Wiele. 2016-17. Chapala. (Acrylic on panel with artist’s handmade frame.) Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Before turning up for training, van de Wiele and his good friend Fick took a road trip out to California, where they spotted Lake Chapala while looking at a map of Mexico, and decided to catch the train to Guadalajara to see the lake for themselves.

It was November 1951. During the day or two they spent in Guadalajara, before catching the bus to Chapala, the two young men explored the city on foot. Beautiful classical piano music coming from a house they passed led them to knock on the door to thank the occupant. They were invited inside and introduced to a female pianist who was—said their host—“one of Mexico’s most famous pianists.” To this day, van de Wiele has no idea who the pianist was, but the young men were amazed by the hospitality and enthralled by the music. The magic of Mexico had struck again.

When Fick and van de Wiele got off the bus in Chapala they entered a hotel (possibly the Hotel Nido) where they met an American journalist who invited them to stay at his chalet overlooking the lake.

Even though van de Wiele stayed only two weeks at Lake Chapala, the visit was memorable and remained “every vivid” in his mind. (Fick stayed on in Chapala for a few months.)

On van de Wiele’s return to the US, he did his basic military training in San Diego. By lucky coincidence, he was then posted to join the 2nd Marine Division in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from where he was able to use a couple of weekend passes for quick visits to Fick who was now studying at Black Mountain College. Having been forced to postpone his own studies, Van de Wiele, with funding from the G.I. Bill, attended the college from 1954 to 1956.

In addition to van de Wiele and Fick, other artists and writers linking Black Mountain College to Lake Chapala include painter Nicolas Muzenic (1919-1976) and writer Elaine Gottlieb (1916-2004).

The year after leaving Black Mountain College, van de Wiele, now married, joined with several friends to open Wells Street Gallery in Chicago. This gallery was partly financed by Stanley Sourelis (1925-2006), who later lived and painted in Ajijic for many years.

Van de Wiele held his first solo show at the Wells Street Gallery in October 1957. Two years later, van de Wiele moved to the much larger and more competitive art scene in New York City, which has been his home ever since.

Van de Wiele has exhibited regularly in New York, and his works can be found in numerous major private and institutional collections.

And van de Wiele’s painting, “Chapala”? Well, it turns out—the artist told me— that it has absolutely nothing to do with Chapala apart from the title! After completing the painting in 2017, van de Wiele was pondering the best title and “Chapala” popped into his head at just the right moment. “Chapala” was first exhibited in 2018 at a major retrospective of van de Wiele’s work, covering seven decades of painting and sculpture, at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

For more about Gerald van de Wiele and his amazing art, please visit his website.

[Note: Fick’s biography, as submitted to art websites by his widow, Judy Perlman, shows Fick as attending a “Mexican Art school Ajijic, Guadalajara” in 1951. However, van de Wiele has confirmed to me that Fick had not been in Ajijic previously, that they arrived in late November or early December 1951, and that their trip did not involve any formal art classes. There are no records of any winter art classes in Ajijic at that time.]

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to the artist for sharing his memories of his trip to Mexico with me, and for allowing me to reproduce “Chapala.”

Sources

  • Jason Andrew. 2018. “Gerald van de Wiele: Ever the Dreamer.” Introduction in the catalog of “Gerald van de Wiele: Variations Seven Decades of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture”, exhibition curated by Jason Andrew at Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center, 19 January to 19 May 2018.

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.

Apr 082021
 

When I first wrote about Salomón Zepeda several years ago, I confessed that my research had failed to unearth anything of substance about him, despite the fact that he published a Spanish-language novel set at Lake Chapala in 1951.

Salomón Zepeda was the author of La Ondina de Chapala (“The Water Nymph of Chapala”), a 149-page Spanish-language novel published by Imprenta Ruíz in Mexico City. The cover art appears to be by “Magallón.”

Several subsequent attempts to find out more about the author met with equally dispiriting results. Knowing nothing beyond the cover of the novel, I had always assumed, based on the cover art, that it was almost certainly a pocket romance of relatively limited artistic merit.

zepeda-la-ondina-de-chapalaHowever, I was forced to revise my opinion after my able and indefatigable research assistant in Mexico, Sra. Maricruz Ibarra, managed to acquire scans of the entire book. Realizing that the novel was not simply a throw-away romance prompted me to try once again to seek more details of its elusive author.

I can finally offer a few tantalizing clues about the author’s life and work. Salomón Zepeda was born in Tala, Jalisco, on 5 May 1917. His parents were Juan Zepeda Lara (then aged 32) and Gregoria Mariscal (29). He apparently had at least two brothers: Feliciano and Jorge. A close reading of his novel strongly suggests that he had a privileged upbringing. He was certainly familiar with European literature, art and history.

Zepeda appears to have lived most of his life in Mexico City, where he died on 26 May 1985. His death certificate lists him as “single” and gives his occupation as “writer.” His home was at Privada Avena 7, Granjas Esmeralda, Tlalpan.

If you are interested in reading La Ondina de Chapala, you may be able to borrow, via inter-library loan, one of the copies held in a number of academic libraries in the U.S. These libraries include the “Southern Regional Library Facility” of the University of California Los Angeles.

While I have yet to find any evidence that he published a second book, the back page of La Ondina de Chapala refers to two works in progress: a collection of stories entitled Los Rostros Alucinados (“The Hallucinating Faces”) and a novel titled La Ciudad Doliente (“The Suffering City”). If you know anything about either of these works, please get in touch!

I take a closer look at La Ondina de Chapala in a separate post.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published 12 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 use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Mar 182021
 

Several photographs of Ajijic by Jacques Van Belle (ca 1924-2012) are captioned “Hotel Laguna.” They are believed to date from the late 1950s.

Jacques Van Belle. ca. 1960. Hotel Laguna, Ajijic.

Jacques Van Belle. ca. 1960. Hotel Laguna, Ajijic.

The main hotels in Ajijic at about the time of the photos were:

  1. Casa Heuer, a rustic lakefront property run by siblings Paul and Liesel Heuer west of the pier in Ajijic. ‘Pablo’ Heuer died in 1957. The architectural style of Casa Heuer does not match the photographs.
  2. Posada Ajijic, the centrally-located hotel, had its main entrance on Calle 16 de Septiembre and extended to the lakeshore. It had been operating an an hotel for more than thirty years before the Eager family ran it from 1976 to 1990. The Eagers closed Posada Ajijic in 1990 and immediately opened their own new hotel, La Nueva Posada, a few blocks further east.
  3. Quinta Mi Retiro (aka Hotel del General). This hotel was most active in the 1950s and 1960s.
  4. Hotel Anita. This small hotel was on Calle Juárez, and is the “Hotel Laguna” shown in these photographs. In 1967 it was renamed Hotel Villa del Lago.
Jacques Van Belle. ca. 1960. Hotel Laguna, Ajijic.

Jacques Van Belle. ca. 1960. Hotel Laguna, Ajijic.

The Hotel Villa del Lago (Hotel Laguna) was originally owned by Anita Chávez de Basulto; the business was later owned by Luis de Alba and his wife, Margaret.

Please get in touch if you can tell me any more about “Hotel Laguna” / Hotel Anita.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter, 24 June 1967; 8 July 1967.

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.

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 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.

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

Sources:

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

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.

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.

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.

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 [Toby] 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.

Aug 132020
 

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

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

Raphael Greno. "Don Elpidio"

Raphael Greno. “Don Elpidio”

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

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

Update

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

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