Oct 272016
 

Among the more innovative artists experimenting in Ajijic during the 1950s is one almost-forgotten American painter: Don Martin.

Don Martin in Mexico. (Credit: http://www.donmartinartist.com/)

Don Martin in Mexico. Reproduced by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

Donald Theodore Martin (1931-1989) lived in Ajijic from early in 1954 until late summer, 1961. As Joan Gilbert Martin points out, on the website she established as a tribute to her late husband, his “long stay” in Ajijic proved to be “a most creative period.”

Donald Theodore Martin was born in Akron, Ohio, on 17 June 1931 and died on 6 November 1989.

Martin studied at the Art Student’s League in New York City (1948), where his teachers included German-born abstract painter Carl Holty and Sidney Laufman, and at the Akron Art institute in Ohio (1949) with Leroy Flint. He also took classes in New Orleans, in 1953, with Charles Campbell.

It was during his time in New Orleans, that Martin met artist and folk singer Lori Fair, Beat poet and photographer Anne McKeever, and artist and jazz musician George Abend. McKeever left New Orleans to take up an English-teaching job in Guadalajara in 1953, and was instrumental in arranging several exhibits of Don Martin’s work shortly after he arrived the following year.

Martin moved from New Orleans early in 1954 to live with Lori Fair in Ajijic in a house she bought on Calle Nicolas Bravo/Galeana. He remained in the house even after the couple separated in about 1958, at which point Lori moved to Mexico City. Lori subsequently married and changed her name to Bhavani Escalante. Now well into her nineties, she lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Moving to Mexico brought Martin the self-confidence to experiment and explore different media. In the words of Joan Gilbert Martin, his widow,

“On arriving at the Mexican border, he told the authorities he was an artist and, to his surprise and delight, was treated with honor; in the states he would be told to get a job. He fell in love with the people, the animals (the bulls, the roosters, the stray dogs), the lake, and the mountains. And he found a home as an artist. His work was appreciated in the village, it was a productive time.”

By selling the occasional painting in the Posada Ajijic, he was able to keep afloat prior to his first major solo exhibition, held in Guadalajara, at the Casa del Arte (Av. Corona # 126) in August 1954. The show opened on 2 August and was a major success. Martin exhibited 35 works – 10 paintings and 25 engravings on paper – and sold 32 within half an hour, 31 of them to a single collector from California: Hollywood movie director Archie Mayo. (The other painting was bought by a local resident: U.S.-born interior decorator Alberto Dubin.)

Local critics applauded the originality of Martin’s work. The engravings demonstrated a “method of expression at once so modern and at the same time so primitive.” Guests at the opening included Lori Fair, Nicole Vaia Langley, Anne McKeever, Jose Maria Servin and Thomas Coffeen Suhl.

Later that year, Martin sent some of his engravings north to a restaurant-store in Sausalito. A note in the 31 December 1954 edition of the Sausalito News (California) says that “some unusual paintings by an artist named Don Martin” in Ajijic are about to go on show in the Glad Hand restaurant. They are described as “etchings on cardboard with colors ‘rubbed’ into the cardboard” that “realistically depict scenes in Mexico.”

For the first half of 1955, Martin’s friend Anne McKeever was the director of the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Nayarit, A.C. During her time there, she arranged two art shows featuring his work. The first, in April 1955, was held at the Institute (Lerdo Oriente #85) in the state capital of Tepic. Martin displayed crayon and ink rubbings over woodblock prints. The opening night included a folk singing concert by Lori Fair.

The following month, many of the same works were included in the “Third Painting Exhibition, Mexican and International Artists” at the “Traditional Spring Fair” in the Public Library of Santiago Ixcuintla, Nayarit. Works by several stellar Mexican artists were on display including lithographs by Clemente Orozco, José G. Zuno, Raul Anguiano and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and drawings by Dr. Atl and Diego Rivera. The international side of the exhibition was a painting by Anne McKeever entitled “The Women”, and about 20 works by Don Martin.

Many years later, Martin’s widow, Joan Gilbert Martin, reflected that Martin’s first show in Guadalajara turned out to have a significant negative impact on the artist’s desire to exhibit his work. Initially buoyed that his paintings and engravings had received such acclaim, Martin was devastated on hearing that an appraiser in Los Angeles had dismissed his work as derivative of Paul Klee. Martin did not know Klee’s work. Though he eventually found the comparison flattering, this critical appraisal gave the artist a decades-long aversion to exhibiting more of his work.

Joan Gilbert Martin has also drawn my attention to the photograph (above) used for the cover of the second issue of Climax, a Beat magazine published by Bob Cass in New Orleans and printed in Guadalajara. The photo, taken by Anne McKeever, shows Martin’s studio in Ajijic with one of his paintings hanging on the far wall. Lori Fair is sitting by the drums and George Abend is at the piano. This image neatly conveys the close friendship of these artistically-talented individuals before their paths, and lives, diverged.

In 1956, Don Martin spent about six months in the remote coastal village of Yelapa (near Puerto Vallarta) where he built a palapa house. The house itself no longer exists, but its foundations survived and are now used for the Yelapa Oasis resort‘s wellness center. Martin abandoned Yelapa when he realized that the climate was not conducive to works on paper.

Jeanora Bartlet, a mutual friend of Anne McKeever and Lori Fair, lived in Ajijic in 1957, as the partner of John Langley, and was photographed by Leonard McCombe for his December 1957 Life magazine article about Americans at Lake Chapala. While Bartlet was not part of the village art scene, she knew Martin and greatly admired his work. Bartlet, incidentally, later became the long-time partner of American pop artist Richard Hay Reagan (1929-2002) who disliked exhibitions just as much as Martin.

Coincidentally, this same Life magazine article was the reason why Joan Gilbert, Don Martin’s future wife, first visited Ajijic, and first met Martin. Gilbert and her first husband had been vacationing at the coast, “sweltering and miserable” in a “dank hotel”. On reading the article, they “immediately took off for the storied enticements of Ajijic.”

Don Martin. Untitled. 1960.

Don Martin with untitled painting. 1960. Reproduced by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

Martin left Ajijic in late summer, 1961, following a fall while painting a mural in a local gallery. The following year, an “International Exhibition”, a group show at the Alfredo Santos gallery in Guadalajara (Avenida Vallarta #1217) from 21 May to 20 June 1962 included some of his work. (Alfredo Santos himself lived in Ajijic for several years, but is best known for his evocative murals in the San Quentin prison in California: see Inside job: Alfredo Santos, muralist and painter.)

After leaving Ajijic, Martin moved first to New Orleans, where he was helped by gallery owner Larry Borenstein, and then to Venice, California. There, he re-met, and married, Joan Gilbert Martin and became friends with Beat artists Wallace Berman and George Herms.

He also renewed his friendship with author Steve Schneck, who had been living in Ajijic in the mid-1950s. In 1963, Schneck showed some of Martin’s artwork to artist Muldoon Elder, who had just opened the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco. Elder was sufficiently impressed to travel immediately to Venice to find out more about the artist. The reclusive artist eventually agreed to a solo exhibit at the Vorpal entitled “Magic – like art – is hoax redeemed by awe”, the title of a painting that Elder particularly admired.

Don Martin. "Magic-like art is hoax redeemed by awe". 1960.

Don Martin. “Magic – like art – is hoax redeemed by awe”. 1960. (Credit: Muldoon Elder).

“I particularly admired a strange little painting set in a wine-colored velvet mat tucked into what-should-have-been-a-garish (but wasn’t) deep orange thin frame, especially after he explained that it was the recreation of an architectural drawing he had seen in an ancient manuscript that delineated the cross section, both above and below the earth, of a sacrificial temple and the surrounding courtyard. The ancient priests that had built it had found a way to inspire awe and wonderment by having the temple doors attached to rotating poles that flung the doors open as if by magic as the result of an ingenious underground device that only functioned after a large brazier in the courtyard had been ignited. The heat of the fire was devised to enter a tube that then inflated a large animal skin into a balloon-like shape that in turn tightened the ropes attached to the rotating poles and thus, as if by some mysterious force, the temple doors opened on their own and the ceremony could then begin.”

Don Martin. "He." 1970. (Credit: http://www.donmartinartist.com/)

Don Martin. “He.” 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

That painting has an interesting story but another painting by Martin, called “He” (torched spray paint & acrylic on board), is among the most reproduced paintings of its time. It was used on the cover of What Book!?: Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop, edited by Gary Gach (Parallax Press, 1998), which won an American Book Award in 1999.

In the 1970s, the Martin family settled in Santa Cruz, California, where Martin continued to experiment with different media and techniques. He rarely used oils, preferring acrylics and spray paint. A series of lacquer paintings in the early 1970s depicted spiritual subjects including “Buddha shapes, mandalas, guardians, heaven above and earth below, and the river as an emblem of time.” They were made by applying up to thirty layers of lacquer on a base before scraping back the layers to reveal the final image, a technique Martin had perfected during his time in Ajijic.

Don Martin. Twin works. “The Fish Putter”. Original in collection of Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in Ogden, Utah. Image used by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

Influenced by his time in Mexico, Martin studied “the Codex Borbonicus, a pre-Columbian pictorial manuscript, and was inspired to produce one of his own”, in which he expressed his “personal cosmology” through a series of more than one hundred ink and wash drawings. At one time or another, Martin also explored collage, assemblage, found object art, wax rubbings, and producing “twin” pictures by blotting a painted image on another sheet before the colored ink dried.

In 1972, Don Martin’s drawing, “Magic – Like Art – is Hoax Redeemed by Awe”, was included in a group show at the College of Marin Fine Arts Gallery in Kentfield, California. Art critic Ada Garfinkel described the drawing as “irrepressible, Rube Goldberg-like”.

Don Martin also held a solo show in September 1975, “Don Martin Paintings and Drawings”, at the Cooper House Gallery in Santa Cruz, California.

Since his death in 1989, several one-person shows have highlighted this artist’s extraordinary talents. An exhibition entitled “Don Martin Memorial Exhibition” was held at the Santa Cruz Art League in November-December 1991, and also at the Canter Art Center in Healdsburg, California in March-April 1992. “Something to come home to”, a February 1995 show at the Pacific Grove Art Center, featured Martin’s paintings in lacquer and ink-wash drawings.

A major retrospective, “Don Martin: Chasing That Kite'”, was held at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, California, from May to August 1998. This show revealed the “eclectic, mystical and experimental” nature of this shy, “primarily self-taught”, artist who was reluctant to show or sell his work. “Chasing that kite” was Don Martin’s way of describing his lifelong artistic quest.

Several group shows have also included Martin’s work posthumously. These include The Pope Gallery, Santa Cruz (1994); the Pickard Smith Gallery at the University of California Santa Cruz (1994); the ReBeat Art Exhibit at the Somar Gallery, San Francisco (1996); San Francisco Center for the Book (1997); San Jose Museum of Art, California (2003-2004); the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah (2007-2011; 2015).

Martin’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the San Jose Museum of Art and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, both in California, and the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah.

For more images of Martin’s work, see Don Martin: Chasing that Kite, 1931-1989, the website that is a tribute to his life and work.

Acknowledgments:

My heartfelt thanks to Joan Gilbert Martin for so generously sharing her knowledge of her husband’s life and work. A special thanks, too, to Jeanora Bartlet, Geoffrey Dunn and Muldoon Elder for their helpful input to this profile.

Sources:

  • Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, California), 20 October 1972, p 20.
  • Don Martin: Chasing that Kite, 1931-1989 [website]
  • Julia Chiapella. 1998. “Catching ‘That Kite’ – a peek into the mind of the late Don Martin.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1 May 1998, p 53.
  • Prensa Libre, Tepic, 24 April 1855.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 3 February 1995, p 47
  • Sausalito News, Number 52, 31 December 1954, p 3

Note:

This Don Martin is not the same person as the cartoonist Don Martin (also born in 1931) who was closely associated with MAD magazine.

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

Oct 202016
 

Richard D. Yip is included in the large group of artists associated with Lake Chapala on the strength of a painting entitled “Facade, Chapala, Mexico” which he exhibited in the All Southern California Art Exhibit in Long Beach, California in 1952. Sadly, beyond that, I have managed to find nothing more relating to his visit or visits to Lake Chapala.

Yip was born in Canton, China, in 1919. He emigrated from China to the U.S. in 1931. After completing high school, he studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. After serving as a gunner and radioman on a B-24 in the U.S. Air Force during the second world war, he returned to California and settled in Stockton, where he studied at the College (later University) of the Pacific in Stockton for his B.A. and at the University of California at Berkeley for his Masters degree. Yip was the first Chinese person to receive American citizenship because of military service.

Richard Yip. San Rafael. 1944.

Richard Yip. San Rafael. 1944.

By early 1947, Yip was living and working with fellow artist Craig Sharp on a yacht, the Lassen, in Sausalito harbor. Yip was already working in watercolors and held solo shows which attracted positive reviews. Later that year he left California to return to China to see his family and study art there. He visited various cities and amassed a body of work that he brought back to California with him in 1948.

While in China, Yip married a girl named Lae. The couple’s first child, daughter Pak Mui (“White Blossom”), named after a boat Yip had admired in Sausalito harbor, was born aboard ship en route back to San Francisco. Perhaps not surprisingly, U.S. immigration officials initially denied entry to the mother, who spoke no English, and daughter, but they were eventually allowed to remain and were able to join Yip and other members of his family in Stockton.

Yip hoped to show some of his work at the state fair in Sacramento in September 1948.

Presumably, it is at this stage of his career that Yip spent some time in Mexico, including a visit to Chapala where he painted “Facade, Chapala, Mexico”.

Yip taught art at the University of the Pacific in Stockton for many years and led many plein air painting workshops. By 1955, the promotional material for one of these workshops describes Yip, the instructor, as a “California watercolorist who has studied, painted and exhibited throughout the United States, Mexico, Europe and China.”

Yip maintained links to Sausalito and spent many summers painting in Marin, where he was a member of, and gave talks to, the Marin Society of Artists. He was also a long-time member of the California Water Color Society.

By 1961, the build-up to a talk by Yip on “some of the trends in contemporary art” says that Yip “has conducted painting classes at the College of the Pacific, Stockton College, the annual Monterery Peninsula Painting Tours, Death Valley Tours, Marin County, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, the East Bay, Phoenix, Arizona, Sacramento, San Jose and other places for the past 12 years.” By that time, his work had appeared in several national publications, and his watercolors had won various national and international awards. Yip was also elected a Life Member of the International Institute of Arts and Letters of Switzerland.

It appears that Yip retired from college teaching at about this time, though he continued to lead painting tours, including at least one to Mexico in 1963. (In January 1964, another Stockton artist, Marjorie Tanner, gave a talk to Lodi Art Club about the tour, led by Richard Yip, she had undertaken in Mexico.

Richard Yip died in 1981. Several works by Yip have been sold at auction in recent years, including ‘The Red Church’ sold at Bonhams, Los Angeles, in 2011.

Sources:

  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California, 9 March 1952, Page 8.
  • Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last. “California Watercolors 1850-1970”.
  • CalART.com. Richard D. Yip (Biography from CalART.com), based on interview with Roy Yip, 1985.
  • Daily Independent Journal, San Rafael, California, 21 February 1955, Page 8
  • Sausalito News, 3 June 1948; 11 May 1957
  • Lodi News-Sentinel, 11 Feb 1961; 13 Jan 1964

Other Sausalito artists associated with Lake Chapala:

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

Oct 132016
 

Blanche Phillips Howard (1908-1976), the second wife of John Langley Howard (1902-1999), accompanied her husband in 1951 (the year they married) when they lived most of the year in Mexico, including a spell in Ajijic.

Blanche Phillips Howard. Untitled metal sculpture.

Blanche Phillips Howard. Untitled metal sculpture.

Blanche Phillips was born in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania and attended Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture, the Art Students League and the Steinhof Institute of Design, all in New York. She also studied at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), now called the San Francisco Art Institute. Blanche also studied with Ossip Zadkine.

She lived in the Bay Area 1942-1950, and again in the 1970s. She was best known for her sculptures, especially expressionist abstractions, made primarily in brass. Early in her career, she worked for a time with another, younger Bay area sculptor, Mary Fuller McChesney, who also has links to Ajijic. In an interview years afterwards, McChesney recounted how Blanche had later told her that “she just couldn’t stand my arrogance as an young artist because I said I could never work in stone… because I couldn’t have that much patience to work that long. So I worked in clay because it was a faster material.”

Blanche Phillips Howard exhibited regularly at Stable Gallery and a major retrospective of her work was held at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, University of California, Berkeley in 1981.

Her solo shows included the San Francisco Museum of Art (1944); E.B. Crocker Art Gallery, 66, Sacramento (1946); City of Paris Gallery, San Francisco (1949); Louvre Gallery, San Francisco (1950); Galeria Artes Contemporaneo, Mexico City (1952); Ariel Gallery, Guadalajara, Mexico (1952); Roko Gallery, New York (1954, 1957, 1959); New Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts (1961); Silvermine Guild, Connecticut (1962); The Place, London (1969); and Galeria La Branza, Freestone, California (1974).

She had at least two two-person shows with her husband, the abstract impressionist painter John Langley Howard. The first (“Capricorn Asunder”) was held at the San Francisco Art Commission Gallery in 1973 and the second at the Bank of America Center in San Francisco in 1975.

Examples of her work can be found in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and in the Chrysler Museum at Norfolk (formerly Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences) in Virginia.

Both Blanche and her friend Mary Fuller were among the ten sculptors commissioned to produce pieces for the San Francisco General Hospital when the building was under construction in the 1970s. Blanche’s “Fragmentation”, a bronze dating from 1976, was installed in the Out Patient Lobby of the hospital. – Note: Can anyone confirm whether or not this sculpture is still there?

Blanche Phillips Howard was also the author of Dance of the Self: Movements for Body, Mind, and Spirit. (Simon & Schuster, 1974) While one review of the book labeled it “a dance philosophy that was practiced back in the Thirties in a small, obscure Greenwich Village studio” (The Times of San Mateo), Miriam Borne, a close friend and disciple of Phillips, has pointed out that it is most definitely not a “dance philosophy” but is “essentially a more spiritually oriented/esoteric dance form which developed within the stream of modern dance.” Borne describes the book as, “a course of lessons in moving meditation.” The book’s 53 lessons “progressively align and strengthen the body” and each of the “specific movement patterns” in every chapter “is allied to a symbol such as waves breaking, trees in the wind, puppets, logs rolling, elephants moving through the forest.”

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Michael Agostino (see comments) for prompting me to update this profile in July 2019, and to Miriam Borne for her valuable and insightful comments on the life and work of Blanche Phillips.

Sources

  • Mexican Life, August 1952, 47.
  • San Francisco Art Commission. 1978. San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center Collection.
  • The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California). 1974. “City picks artists for hospital.” 20 Jun 1974, 28.
  • The Times (San Mateo, California), 21 February 1975.

Related post

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.

Oct 062016
 

The artist John Langley Howard (1902-1999), known to friends as “Lang”, is considered one of the finest painters of his time in the San Francisco Bay are.

In 1934, he was one of the group of artists commissioned as part of the New Deal Public Works Art Project to paint murals in the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill overlooking the city. Howard chose to depict his Marxist-inspired view of industrial society. While this was the only mural he ever painted, it became not only his most viewed work, but is also considered to be “one of the finest examples of social idealism in San Francisco art”.

John Langley Howard. Detail of mural in Coit Tower, San Francisco.

John Langley Howard. Detail of mural in Coit Tower, San Francisco.

Howard is one of several San Francisco artists with links to Ajijic. Allan Temko, author of an obituary of Howard on the SFGate website, writes that,

“Mr. Howard was a wanderer. He lived in more than 20 different places in the course of his long career, ranging from several periods in San Francisco, north and south of the Bay Area from Calistoga to Monterey, from Santa Fe, N.M., to Brownsville, Texas, from Ajijic in Mexico to Greece, as well as New York and London.”

While the duration and circumstances of his visit to Ajijic in 1951 are unclear, it was in the company of his second wife, the sculptor Blanche Phillips Howard (1908-1979), and marked a turning point in his career. “Mountain Air” (below) may have been painted at about this time.

John Langley Howard. Mountain Air. (Mexico) Date unknown.

John Langley Howard. Mountain Air. (Mexico?) Date unknown.

“Lang” was born into a family of architects and artists in Montclair, New Jersey, on 5 February 1902. He was only an infant when his family moved to California, where his father was the architect of the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, and many other major buildings in the state.

John Langley Howard studied engineering at Berkeley (1920-23) before taking art classes at the Art Students’ League in New York (1923-24) and in Paris, France. In 1924, he left art school and married Adeline Day. He held his first solo exhibition, at The Modern Gallery, San Francisco, in 1927.

During the second world war, Howard worked as a ship drafter and air raid warden. He divorced Adeline in 1949 and the following year was teaching at the California School of Fine Arts. He married Blanche Phillips, a sculptor, in 1951 and moved to Mexico that same year.

John Langley Howard. ca 1951. Trinity. Reproduced by kind permission of Michael Agostino.

John Langley Howard. ca 1951. Trinity. Reproduced by kind permission of Michael Agostino.

His acrylic on board “Trinity” was shown in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Annual of Contemporary American Painting in New York, open to the public from November 1951 to January 1952.

Prior to Mexico, Howard had experimented with Abstract Expressionism. Back in San Francisco by 1952, Howard’s art took on a much more eco-activist stance with a painting called The Rape of the Earth. The three panels of The Rape of the Earth “successively portray the stormy formation of the planet amid lightning flashes, its spoliation by machines in a tremendous scene of technocratic destruction, and, finally, the ravaged land returning to a natural state, still befouled by mechanical wreckage, but eventually to be healed and cleansed.” [Temko, 1999]

Howard’s massive triptych – “In the Beginning, “Rape of the Land” and “Back to Nature” – dating from 1976, is in the collection of the San Francisco General Hospital.

From 1953 to 1965, Howard illustrated numerous covers for Scientific American magazine, and also taught for a year at the Pratt Institute Art School in Brooklyn, New York. Howard lived in Europe during the late 1960s, returning to California in 1970. John Langley Howard passed away in 1999 at his home in San Francisco at the age of 97.

“I think of painting as poetry and I think of myself as a representational poet. I want to describe my subject minutely, but I also way to describe my emotional response to it… what I’m doing is making a self-portrait in a peculiar kind of way.” – John Langley Howard

Examples of Howard’s art, which won numerous awards, are in the collections of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor; the City of San Francisco; the IBM Building, New York; The Oakland Museum; The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Security Pacific National Bank Headquarters, Los Angeles; the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts; and the University of Utah.

His major exhibitions included Modern Gallery, San Francisco (1927); Beaux Arts Gallery and East-West Gallery, both in San Francisco (1928); the San Francisco Art Association (1928-1951); Paul Elder Gallery, San Francisco (1935); Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio (1936); Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (1936, 1939); 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Treasure Island (1939); Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (1941, 1952); Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C. (1943); M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA (1943); 1946-47 Whitney Museum, New York (1946-1947); Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1956); Capricorn Asunder Gallery, San Francisco (1973); Lawson Galleries, San Francisco (1974); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Rental Gallery (1982); California Academy of Sciences (1983); Monterey Museum of Art, California (1983); Martina Hamilton Gallery, New York (1987); Tobey C. Moss Gallery, California (1989, 1992, 1993); M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco (1991).

He had at least two two-person shows with his wife, Blanche Phillips Howard. The first (“Capricorn Asunder”) was held at the San Francisco Art Commission Gallery in 1973 and the second at the Bank of America Center in San Francisco in 1975.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Michael Agostino (see his valuable comments on Blanche Phillips Howard) for prompting me to update this profile in July 2019.

Note

The U.S.-born John Langley Howard described in this post should not be confused with the U.K.-born violinist, John Langley. The latter was a long-time resident of Ajijic and was photographed for Leonard McCombe’s 1957 Life magazine article about the village.

Sources

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 222016
 

Lothar Wuerslin and his wife, Ann, lived in Ajijic in the late 1950s, from 1956 to about 1959. They stayed until their savings ran out and then returned to New York.

Their time at Lake Chapala changed their lives in more ways than one. First, their eldest son, Christopher (who late in his life became a chef, writer and photographer) was born in Mexico on 21 March 1956. Then, Lothar, who had been busy preparing enough paintings for a solo show on his return to New York, discovered sculpting. Thus began an entirely new chapter in his artistic career. Ann was also an artist, as well as a poet.

Lothar Hellmut Wuerslin was born in Auggen, Germany, on 3 March 1927 to a French father and his German wife. Before Lothar’s third birthday, the family emigrated to the U.S. (1929). He served in the U.S. Army from July 1945 to November 1946. In 1951 he entered the University of New Hampshire to study art, and met Ann. Lothar also studied at the Boston Museum school of art. The young couple moved to New York where a succession of part-time jobs (including painting fire escapes) enabled them to save a few dollars and try their luck in Mexico.

Lothar Wuerslin. Frescoes on wall of Ajijic home, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Lothar Wuerslin. Frescoes on wall of Ajijic home, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

In 1956, they took up residence in Ajijic, paying the princely sum of $5 (dollars) a month for a 4-room adobe house that lacked a tub. Within months, Lothar had executed an interesting series of frescoes on the foyer walls (above) as well as begun to paint in earnest.

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin playing chess, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin playing chess, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

The Wuerslins were photographed by Leonard McCombe for his 1957 Life article about Americans at Lake Chapala. McCombe not only photographed their home (and murals), but also took pictures of the young couple playing chess and (their home lacking a tub) taking a bath, surrounded by flowering water hyacinths, in Lake Chapala.

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin taking a bath in Lake Chapala wster hyacinths, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin taking a bath in Lake Chapala water hyacinths, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Years later, this is how a local Vermont newspaper described how Mexico and Ajijic had changed the direction of Lothar’s art for ever:

“A chilly night in Ajijic, Mexico, changed artist-painter Lothar Wuerslin’s life. … Once a painter, Wuerslin switched arts when he was given some firewood on a chilly evening in Mexico where he and his wife had gone in 1956. He had by this time painted murals on most of the adobe walls of their small rented house. He picked up a piece of the redwood and began carving it.” – (Bennington Banner, 24 July 1965)

In about 1959, the Wuerslins moved back to New York. By April 1960, they were sufficiently well established there for Lothar to have already held an exhibition of his paintings on Madison Avenue and to be renting a loft studio on the Lower East Side to continue his new-found love: sculpting. About a year later, their second son, Hasso, was born. In 1963, the Wuerslins moved to a farmhouse in Sandgate, Vermont, where Lothar could have a larger studio and more room to develop his sculptures. Their third son, Tristan, was born in Vermont in May 1965. The Wuerslins also had a daughter, Joan, the eldest of their four children, who had been given up for adoption.

Lothar Wuerslin. 1957. Painting of wife and child. Digitally derived from photo by Leonard McCombe, Life.

Lothar Wuerslin. 1957. Painting of wife and child. Digitally derived from photo by Leonard McCombe, Life.

Lothar exhibited in local shows in Manchester and Bennington and examples of his work (in wood and cast cement) were included in a 1967 collective exhibition of Vermont Artists. In February 2005, both Lothar (by then deceased) and Ann were represented in an exhibition of Sandgate artists at The Canfield Gallery.

Several younger Vermont artists, including Anna Dribble and Chris Miller, took community college classes with Lothar and have paid public tribute to his influence on their art.

Lothar Wuerslin died at Sandgate, Vermont, at the age of 55, on 25 November 1982.

Ann “Bunny” Wuerslin (1930-2009)

Lothar’s wife, Ann “Bunny” Wuerslin was born in New Hampshire on 14 October 1930 and died in Sandgate in 2009. She had been the town clerk of Sandgate for 13 years prior to her retirement in 2008.

In addition to her art, Ann Wuerslin wrote poetry and was, after 1967, designed and made jewelry, sold not only locally, but also in “Primitive Artisans” on 5th Avenue in New York City.

Late in life, Ann became a published author with a book called In the Child’s Voice (Shire Press, 2008). The book is a poignant and expressive memoir, comprised of vignettes about living in a succession of foster homes in New Hampshire during her childhood.

To listen to Ann Wuerslin reciting one of her own poems (later used in her obituary notice), see this YouTube video clip. The poem starts at minute 2:00 of the video.

Sources:

  • Bennington Banner, Bennington, Vermont, 24 July 1965, p 5
  • Madeleine B. Karter. 1960. Undaunted and Un-beat (with photographs by Ted Russell). Pageant, April 1960, p 148 on.
  • Leonard McCombe (photographer). 1957. “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.” Life, 23 December 1957

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Sep 082016
 

The Lake Chapala Auditorium (Auditorio de la Ribera), now celebrating its 40th anniversary, was originally scheduled to be formally opened on 25 September 1976 with a piano concert by Manuel Delaflor from Mexico City, who had just played at New York’s Carnegie Hall. In Ajijic, Delaflor was to play a Baldwin grand piano that had been donated to the auditorium the year before by Hilary Campbell, in memory of her sister Elsa. (However, the concert was cancelled at the last minute due to concerns about acoustics).

Hilary Campbell, together with her two sisters, Elsa and Amy, and brother Alan, settled in Chapala in the early 1950s. They first visited Chapala in 1945 but did not retire to the town until 1951. They initially lived in the “Salazar house”, across the street from the plaza. This building, close to Banamex, later became the Allen W. Lloyd offices.

In 1956, the family moved into their own home in Chapala, designed and built by Amy and Alan, at Calle Niza #10, on the hill near the chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes. The family landscaped the grounds and within a few years, the gardens were considered “a showpiece of the area”.

The Campbells were at home on Calle Niza when Life magazine photographer Leonard McCombe arrived in 1957 to document the American community at Lake Chapala. A photo of the eldest sibling, Elsa Campbell, arranging zinnias in the patio, has a caption explaining that the “ex-piano teacher … helps her brother, two sisters and three servants run an elegant household in a home they designed and built for themselves.”

The Campbells were the children of a mining engineer and his wife, Anne, an excellent pianist. Newly-wed, and about to move to Colorado, Anne ordered a Steinway grand piano to be shipped from Germany to the U.S., and then carried up winding Rocky Mountain roads to Gilpin, where the couple planned to set up home. However, the only home they could afford turned out to be quite small. Daughter Hilary later recalled that her mother had chosen to keep the piano rather than have a dining room table. The piano was subsequently inherited by Elsa, who took the piano, her “shining jewelry and faithful ally” from Colorado to New York, Carmel (California) and finally Chapala.

Elsa Campbell, 1957, photographed by Leonard McCombe for Life.

Elsa Campbell, 1957, in patio of the family home in Calle Niza, Chapala. Credit: Leonard McCombe, Life.

Elsa, who had been born in Ontario, Canada, in 1887 died in a hospital in Guadalajara on 24 May 1971. Her remains were sent to Mexico City for cremation. The only snippet I have managed to locate about Elsa’s early piano playing was from the Boston Evening Transcript for 23 February 1907, when she was about 20 years of age. The newspapers reports that she played a Grieg minuet and Lavalée’s “Butterfly” at the Dorchester Social Club of Women, “pleasing the audience with the delicacy of her nuances and the perfection of her technique.”

Amy Campbell (ca 1889-1966) was born in Denver, Colorado and died in Chapala on 20 February 1966. She lived for several years in Kingston, Ontario, as a child before becoming a faculty member at Simmons College in Boston. When the family was living in New York, Amy became a well-known dress designer. Amy was also a musician and played the violin in several amateur orchestras. Before “retiring” to Chapala, she had lived several years in San Francisco (she is recorded in the 1940 U.S. Census as living in that city with her mother, Anne, then aged 87) and Carmel, California, where she had designed and built houses.

Not content to be retired, Amy went to Taxco and learned silversmithing. She then designed and made silver and gold jewelry, some set with ancient jade found in tombs. Her beautiful jewelry was displayed in galleries in New York and San Francisco. Amy was very active in Chapala social and civic affairs,  including the local Bridge Club and the Lakeside Little Theater.

Hilary Campbell was born in Colorado in about 1891 and lived at least into her mid-80s. At the time of the 1940 U.S. Census, she was living in Manhattan, New York City, where she was an editor in the social work sector. The census record suggests that the four siblings may have had an elder brother or half-brother named James Perkin, born in about 1882.

There is evidence that Hilary was also a poet. In 1956 Witter Bynner, the famous American poet who was a long-time Chapala resident from well before the arrival of the Campbell siblings, gifted Hilary one of his volumes of verse, published the year before, with the inscription “to poet Hilary Campbell”.

It was Hilary (who outlived her siblings) who decided that there was “no better way to honor the memory of her sisters and their part in the early cultural efforts around Lake Chapala than by donating a $10,000 dollars [Baldwin] grand piano to the new auditorium.” The first concert on the Baldwin grand was performed by Mexican pianist Manuel Delaflor on 25 September 1976.

Alan Campbell, 1957, photographed by Leonard McCombe for Life.

Alan Campbell, 1957, photographed by Leonard McCombe for Life.

The youngest of the four siblings was Alan Randolph Campbell (ca 1893-1967). Born in Colorado, Alan spent part of his youth in eastern Canada and California, where he was in the class of 1915 at Stanford University. He then worked in Boston and New York, but by 1940 had returned to live in Carmel, California, where he is listed in the U.S. Census as a “salesman in the travel industry”. From Carmel, he moved to Chapala. He traveled widely in Mexico and in Guatemala. He apparently made a documentary film for the Guatemalan government tourism department, though I have yet to find any details. Alan died in Chapala on 8 October 1967; his remains are interred in the municipal cemetery.

Like so many other foreign visitors, this multi-talented family clearly found a new lease of life after “retiring” to Chapala!

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 26 Feb 1966; 28 Oct 1967; 3 May 1975.
  • U.S. Census, 1940
  • Leonard McCombe (photographer). 1957. “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.” Life, 23 December 1957

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Aug 012016
 

The distinguished Canadian poet Earle Alfred Birney (1904–1995) traveled in Mexico in the 1950s and wrote several poems based on his experiences, including one entitled “Ajijíċ”.

birney-ice-cod-bell-stoneBirney was born in Calgary, Alberta, on Friday 13 May 1904 and raised on a farm near Creston in British Columbia. After short stints working on a farm, in a bank and as a park ranger, he attended university to study chemical engineering.

By the time he graduated, his academic interests had changed. Birney graduated with a degree in English from the University of British Columbia (1926). He also later studied at the University of Toronto (1926-27); University of California, Berkeley (1927); and at the University of London in the U.K. (1934).

During the second world war, he was a personnel officer in the Canadian Army, the basis for his 1949 novel Turvey, which won the Leacock medal for humor in 1950. Immediately after the war, Birney took a post at the University of British Columbia, where he was instrumental in founding and directing Canada’s first creative writing program. He retired from that university in 1965 to become the first Writer in Residence at the University of Toronto.

His poetry was widely acclaimed, published in more than hundred journals and regularly featured in anthologies. It also resulted in him becoming a two-time recipient of the Governor General’s Award, Canada’s top literary honor. Birney also wrote plays, novels and non-fiction, as well as working at different times as literary editor of Canadian Forum, editor of Canadian Poetry Magazine and supervisor of European foreign-language broadcasts for CBC.

Birney died of a heart attack on 3 September 1995 at the age of 91.

Birney’s poem “Ajijíċ” [sic] is one of a series of 12 Mexican poems that forms the second section of his Ice Cod Bell or Stone: A Collection of New Poems (1962). The other poems are entitled: “State of Sonora”, “Sinaloa”, “Njarit”, “Late Afternoon in Manzanillo”, “Irapuato”, “Pachucan Miners”, “Six-Sided Square: Actopan”, “Francisco Tresguerras”, “Beldams of Tepoztlán”, “Conducted Ritual: San Juan de Ulúa”, and “Sestina for Tehauntepec”. The place names in the titles clearly shows that Birney traveled quite widely during his time in Mexico, from Sonora and Sinaloa in the north to San Juan de Ulúa in Veracruz and Tehuantepec in the southern state of Oaxaca.

In Ajijíċ, Birney describes a “hip gringo” who, while enjoying a morning tequila, brings out “from under the bar”, “his six feet of representational nonart.”

The poem’s final section includes a description of sundown when,

“Outside the fishermen will pass /
and the blobs of pescada blanca in the nets /
swaying over their shoulders will flake /
their bare shanks with mica as they trudge” …

[Note that the correct Spanish spelling for Lake Chapala’s whitefish is pescado blanco.]

Birney’s Mexican poems were very favorably reviewed by other noted Canadian poets and literary figures. A.J.M. Smith, in his “A Unified Personality – Birney’s Poems”, praised this “brilliant series of Mexican poems. I don’t know where you’ll find anything better in modern North American poetry than the combination of wit and sentiment, pertinent observation and auricular, almost ventriloquistic precision than “Sinaloa”, “Ajijic”, or “Six-Sided Square: Actopan”.”

Mexican literary analysis of Birney’s poetry has been more critical. For instance, Claudia Lucotti, an academic at UNAM (Mexico’s National University),  argues that Earle Birney describes a Mexico of cliches, a simplistic country, one seen only through tourist eyes. She regards Birney’s attempt to record the typical speech patterns of a Mexican speaking English as patronizing and stereotypical. Incidentally, in the same chapter, which examines how various Canadian poets have looked at Mexico, Lucotti considers the same to be true for Al Purdy, another Canadian poet associated with Lake Chapala.

Birney’s poetry collections include David and Other Poems (1942), Now Is Time (1945), The Strait of Anian (1948), Trial of a City and Other Verse (1952), Ice Cod Bell or Stone (1962), Near False Creek Mouth (1964), Memory No Servant (1968), pnomes jukollages & other stunzas (1969), Rag & Bone Shop (1970), what’s so big about GREEN? (1973), Alphabeings and Other Seasyours (1976), The Rugging and the Moving Times (1976), Copernican Fix (1985) and Last Makings: Poems (1991).

Birney’s fiction works include Turvey: a military picaresque (1949), Down the Long Table (1955) and Big Bird in the Bush: Selected stories and sketches (1978), while his non-fiction writing includes The Creative Writer (1966), The Cow Jumped Over the Moon: The writing and reading of poetry (1972), and Essays on Chaucerian Irony (1985).

Sources / references

  • Wailan Low. Undated. Earle Birney : Biography.
  • Claudia Lucotti. 2000. “Nosotros en los otros: visiones de México en la literatura canadiense contemporánea de lengua inflesa”, in Canadá un estado posmoderno, coordinated by Teresa Gutiérrez-Haces (Plaza y Valdes, 2000).
  • A.J. M. Smith. 1966. “A Unified Personality: Birney’s Poems,” in Canadian Literature. (Vancouver, British Columbia, 1966), 30, 4-13

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.

Jun 132016
 

Miles Swarthout was the son of award-winning novelist Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) and his wife Kathryn Vaughn (1919-2015). Miles was born on 1 May 1946 and died on 2 March 2016.

As a five-year-old child, Miles spent six months in Ajijic in 1951 with his parents, while his father worked on a novel, Doyle Dorado, later consigned, in Miles’ words, to “the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.” His father’s short story “Ixion” was the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.” It was first published in New World Writing #13 (Mentor, 1958).

swarthout-milesMany years later, after Miles became a successful screenwriter, he turned his father’s short story into a screenplay called Convictions of the Heart. Miles Swarthout adapted a number of his father’s novels into films, among them A Christmas to Remember for CBS in 1978. Miles wrote a regular Hollywood Western film column for the Western Writers of America’s bi-monthly magazine, The Roundup, and contributed several articles to Persimmon Hill, the quarterly magazine of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, including “The Westerns of Glendon Swarthout” for  the special summer issue of 1996.

Miles also edited a collection of his late father’s short stories,including Ixion, as Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001).

The screenplay, Convictions of the Heart, “tells the emotional tale of a romance gone bad in Mexico, between Johnson, a thirty-year-old advertising copywriter from Cleveland attempting to write his first novel, and Irene Temple, a middle-aged socialite fleeing a boring marriage in NYC. Mrs. Temple has two daughters in tow, Sheila, 8, and Sara, 6, who have led an untamed life for over a year on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake, an hour from their second largest city, Guadalajara.”

In the short story, Irene Temple is aged 35, Johnson 29 and the two girls  7 and 6, respectively. There are, inevitably, some more significant, differences between the original short story and the screenplay. For example, in the screenplay, the character of Irene’s former lover Paco Marquez is fleshed out, and he plays a much larger role than in the original story. The screenplay includes a new scene in which Johnson comes to “fisticuffs one drunken night with her former local lover, Paco Marquez” and subsequently “spends the night in Ajijic’s jail”.

“Johnson slowly realizes that his writing career is drying up faster than Lake Chapala, and this tale’s poignant climax is a warning to impressionable young artists about getting sexually involved with their neighbors, to the detriment of their art and their life. Johnson learns a hard, tragic lesson to the final tune of Kenny Loggins’ hit song, “Convictions of the Heart.” And the viewer is reminded of French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s famous maxim, that “the heart has its reasons, that reason knows nothing of….” (Screenplay description)

To the best of my knowledge, this screenplay has never been produced, though such a movie would surely strike a chord among the many Americans who have experienced romantic challenges as they tried to re-invent their lives in Mexico. It could be time for a kickstarter campaign…

Note: Screenplay was at http://www.glendonswarthout.com/screenplays/convictionsheart.htm

Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:

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.

Jun 092016
 

Photographer and illustrator Haig Witwer Shekerjian was born 3 November 1922 in Chicago, Illinois, and finally laid his camera to rest at the age of 79 on 21 August 2002 in Schenectady, New York. He and his wife, Regina, first visited Ajijic in 1950s and became regular visitors to Ajijic thereafter.

Haig’s parents were Haig Rupen Shekerjian, a rug salesman originally from Constantinople, Turkey, who became an art lecturer at the Art Institute in Chicago, and Frances Louise Witwer, a concert pianist from Chicago. His cousins included Brigadier General Haig W. Shekerjian.

Haig Shekerjian. ca 1970. By kind permission of Michael Eager.

Haig Shekerjian. Old Posada. 1950. By kind permission of Michael Eager.

Haig attended Oak Park and River Forest Township High School in Oak Park, Illinois. His interest in photography started at an early age and, as a teenager, he was an avid member of the school’s Camera Club. After high school, he studied at the Eastman School of Photography in Rochester, New York, and at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. A 1943 yearbook entry shows that he was not only handsome, but also an accomplished actor, and member of the University Dramatic Club.

On leaving university, Haig joined the U.S. Navy in November 1943. In early 1944, before leaving to serve for the remainder of the second world war in the Pacific, Haig married Regina deCormier, his lifelong love.

Working as a Navy photographer, Haig Shekerjian was in the first landing party at the Battle of Iwo Jima (1945), saw action elsewhere, and photographed the Japanese surrender. He was the recipient of several military decorations. Haig’s return to the U.S. was noted in a poignant local newspaper entry in December 1945 which stated that Haig, “was one of 11,382 High Point Navy veterans returning from Guam on the U.S.S. Cowpens.”

Regina DeCormier Shekerjian (1923-2000) was a well-known author, translator and illustrator of children’s books. The couple, and their two sons (Tor and Jean-René), lived for many years in New Paltz, New York, where Haig was Art Director of the Media Services Center at the State University College for over 30 years, until the age of 75.

Taking a sabbatical break over the winter of 1950-51, Haig and Regina spent several months living in Ajijic. (Regina later published an article about why Ajijic was an excellent choice for anyone seeking an inexpensive art-related summer). They returned many times in the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, often staying a few months.

shekerjian-haig-photo-ca-1970-2

Haig Shekerjian. Untitled. 1950. By kind permission of Michael Eager.

Haig was apparently never very interested in the commercial aspects of photography, though his work appeared in many books, publications and literacy works, and his work was rarely exhibited or sold, though he gave away a few photographs as treasured gifts. His peers recognized the quality of his photographs and in 1977, one of his photos was included in the inaugural exhibition of the Catskill Center for Photography in Woodstock, New York.

Together with Regina, Haig Shekerjian illustrated several books, most of them written by Nancy Willard and aimed at young readers. They included The Adventures of Tom Thumb (1950); Life in the Middle Ages (1966); The boy, the rat, and the butterfly (1971); King Midas and the Golden Touch (1973); Play it in Spanish : Spanish games and folk songs for children (1973); The merry history of a Christmas pie : with a delicious description of a Christmas soup (1974); All on a May morning (1975); How Many Donkeys? A Turkish Folk Tale (1971); and The well-mannered balloon (1976).

Haig was an accomplished violinist and the Shekerjians also co-wrote, with Regina’s brother Robert deCormier, A Book of Christmas Carols (1963); and A Book of Ballads, Songs and Snatches (1965).

Michael Eager, owner of La Nueva Posada hotel in Ajijic, remembers the couple well: “Haig had short gray hair with a goatee and was rarely without his Greek sailor’s cap. Both he and Regina dressed casually, Haig with jeans, checkered shirt, and somewhat “beatnik” looking. He was never without his camera.” Both Haig and Regina loved the local people, music and traditions.

Haig Shekerjian. 1950. Ajijic Plaza.

Haig Shekerjian. 1950. Ajijic Plaza.

Artist Pat Apt remembers Haig photographing Mexican families in the early 1990s, and how: “He made appointments for just after church when they would be dressed in their finest.” When Apt ran the Rabbit in the Moon Gallery in Ajijic (Ramón Corona #11, opposite the Lake Chapala Society), Haig’s work was included in a collective show, which opened 1 February 1997, alongside works by herself, Georg Rauch and Juan Navarro.

The dining room of La Nueva Posada in Ajijic has a permanent exhibition of Haig’s evocative photographs of what the Lake Chapala area was like years ago—clear evidence, if any were needed, of the couple’s immense enthusiasm for the area and its people.

Note: This post was last updated 13 August 2023.

Sources:

  • Poughkeepsie Journal, Poughkeepsie, New York: 19 February 1944, p5;  23 August 2002, p 4B.

Other photographers associated with Lake Chapala:

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.

May 232016
 

In between writing hugely successful novels, Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) wrote a short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala. This story was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart.

Swarthout spent six months in Ajijic in 1951, with his wife Kathryn and their young son, Miles, aged five. According to Miles, the draft of the novel his father was working on at that time, Doyle Dorado, “ended up in the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.”

Glendon Swarthout used the setting of Lake Chapala for a later short story, first published in 1958. “Ixion” is the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.”

New World Writing #13

New World Writing #13

It is a tale of the challenging romance between Johnson, a twenty-nine-year-old advertising copywriter from Cleveland attempting to write his first novel, and Irene Temple, aged 35, who left her husband in New York City almost two years ago and absconded to Mexico with their two young daughters, now aged 7 and 6 respectively.

Paraphrasing Miles, “the story’s naive hero” tries to rescue these “two wise-beyond-their-years little girls” from “the neglect of their alcoholic mother”. “The tragic irony in this tale builds to a heartbreaking conclusion as the young writer becomes trapped between his good intentions and his own ineptitude.”

The story is solidly constructed and totally believable, though I find myself agreeing with Miles that it would have been nice if his father had worked “some explanation of the title into the text for those of us who are mythologically uninformed.” In his afterword to Easterns and Westerns, his collection of his father’s stories, Miles succinctly summarized the myth:

Ixion was the mythical Greek king who sought , and imagined he had obtained, the love of Hera, queen of the Olympic deities and wife of Zeus, the father and king of gods and men. When he boasted of his romantic exploit, Ixion was hurled down into Tartarus, a dark abyss beneath the earth where the rebellious titans were punished, and bound to an eternally revolving wheel.”

The setting, Ajijic, is described in the short story as follows:

The name of the town was Ajijic, pronouncing the j’s like h’s. It was on the shore of the biggest lake in Mexico. There were mountains all around the lake, and the bell of the church rang purely during the day and through the night. He came to Ajijic because, being an artist’s colony according to the travel folders, it would have atmosphere.

The main characters in “Ixion” are staying in cottages at the village’s only hotel, the Casa Paraíso:

In the small lobby, a blossoming tree twisted up through a square in the roof into the air, and outside, spaced around a big patio, hidden from each other by banana palms and thickets of bamboo, were eight cottages girt with vines in which nested birds, red and blue, he had never before seen, while from the porch he could watch, through an eye in the vines, the heat of the sun and the high altitude evaporating the surface of the lake constantly into mist. It was easy to imagine monsters lifting hooded heads out of the mist, or the gods of the lake ancient Indians prayed to for fish.”

Among the other characters mentioned in the short story are two artists, Mr. Kahn and Mr. Radimersky, and a poetess named Dorothy Camilla Sugret.

“Ixion” was first published in New World Writing #13 in The New American Library (Mentor, 1958). A contemporary reviewer praised the story as being a “much worthier” work than Swarthout’s second novel, They Came to Cordura, which had been published only a few weeks before. “Ixion” was reprinted in Miles’ collection of his father’s stories, Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001).

Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:

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.

May 192016
 

Emil Armin (1883-1971) was born in Rădăuţi (Radautz), Romania, in 1883 and died in Chicago in 1971. He is assumed to have visited Lake Chapala at some point in the mid-1950s since one of his paintings, entitled “Morning Lake Chapala”, was hung in a no-jury exhibition of Chicago Artists in Chicago in February 1957. That exhibition was sponsored by The Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago Art Organizations in cooperation with the Honorable Richard J. Daley, Mayor of the City of Chicago.

Emil Armin. Self-portrait (1928), woodcut

Emil Armin. Self-portrait (1928), woodcut

Armin was raised in a Jewish family but lost both his parents at the age of 10 and was brought up by older siblings. As a teenager, he worked in restaurants to support himself, and took evening art classes, as well as learning English and French.

In 1905, when Armin was 21, he emigrated to the U.S. to join his brother in Chicago. Two years later he enrolled in night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, but his precarious financial situation led to him having to take a break from classes in 1911.

In 1913 Armin made several visits to the famed Armory Show which brought avant-garde artists such as Matisse and Cezanne to the attention of the American public. Both Armin and Emil Holzhauer (another painter of European origin who would later paint Lake Chapala) were inspired by the sharp contrast between these works and their own prior art training. In Armin’s case, an exhibition of works by Russian artist Boris Anisfeld at the Art Institute suggested an artistic avenue worth exploring.

Armin started taking formal classes at the Chicago Art Institute again in 1918, and after studying with Randall Davey and American realist painter George Bellows, finally graduated from the Institute in 1920.

He quickly became an active member of Chicago’s modernist art community, part of the 57th Street Art Colony in Hyde Park, and began to exhibit with the Chicago Society of Artists.

Emil Armin. Sunburnt Dunes (1942)

Emil Armin. Sunburnt Dunes (1942)

From 1922 to 1949, Armin was a regular exhibitor at the Annual Shows of the Chicago Art Institute, but also joined the No-Jury Society of Artists, established in 1922. The Society had been formed, according to the catalog of its first show, because “standards of the past… are chains by which the free development of art is hampered.” The Society considered that technique was less important than “honest, spiritual content”.

Armin, who exhibited in all of their shows, served for a time as the Society’s president. Armin also taught for a time (1925-26) at Chicago’s Hull House, a settlement house set up to receive recently-arrived European immigrants.

In 1926, Armin was a founder member of Around the Palette (renamed, in 1940, the American Jewish Art Club, and later the American Jewish Artists Club), and exhibited with them regularly throughout his life. His work was also part of the group exhibitions of the Renaissance Society in Chicago in 1931, 1941, 1946 and 1962.

Emil Armin. Pelicans and Fisherman (1966)

Emil Armin. Pelicans and Fisherman (1966)

In the 1930s, Armin was an active participant in both the Public Works of Art Project and in its successor the Works Progress Administration.

Armin’s artwork included cartoons, woodblocks, paintings and sculptures. Though Armin also spent some time in New Mexico (1928), Maine, Mexico and elsewhere, Chicago was his home throughout his adult life. Armin’s subject matter varied, but he is particularly well-known for depictions of urban life in Chicago, as well as biblical themes and Jewish rituals.

Armin married Hilda Rose Diamond in 1945. Following his death in 1971, she worked with the Illinois State Museum to chronicle Armin’s career as an artist, resulting in a retrospective exhibition featuring more than seventy of his works.

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.

May 162016
 

Award-winning novelist Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) wrote 16 novels, many turned into films, and numerous short stories. His short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala, was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart.

Glendon Fred Swarthout was born 8 April 1918 in Pinckney, Michigan, and died on 23 September 1992 in Scottsdale, Arizona. He attended the University of Michigan, where he majored in English and played the accordion for a four-piece band he formed. He married his childhood sweetheart Kathryn Vaughn on 28 December 1940, shortly after they both graduated.

After a year writing ad copy for Cadillac and Dow Chemical at the MacManus, John & Adams advertising agency in Detroit, Swarthout traveled with his wife to South America aboard a small freighter, sending a weekly column back home to various newspapers. After Pearl Harbor, they returned to the U.S. When Swarthout was denied entry to officer’s training for being underweight, the young couple both took jobs at Willow Run bomber plant near Ann Arbor. Within six months, and despite working long hours as a riveter on B-24s, Swarthout had written his his first novel Willow Run, a story about people working in a bomber factory.

In the latter stages of the war, Swarthout served briefly in the U.S. infantry in Europe, but ruptured a disc in his spine and was shipped home. He would be plagued by back problems for the rest of his life.

Glendon Swarthout. Credit: http://www.glendonswarthout.com

Glendon Swarthout. Credit: http://www.glendonswarthout.com

After the war, Swarthout earned a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan and began teaching college. His teaching career included spells at the University of Maryland, at Michigan State University, and at the University of Arizona.

In 1951, Swarthout spent six months in Ajijic with his wife and their young son, Miles, born in 1946. During this time, he worked on another novel, Doyle Dorado, which, in Miles’ words, later “ended up in the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.” Swarthout also wrote a short story set at Lake Chapala. Though not published until several years later, “Ixion” was the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.”

New World Writing #13

New World Writing #13

“Ixion” was first published in New World Writing #13 in The New American Library (Mentor, 1958). A contemporary reviewer praised “Ixion” as being a “much worthier” work than Swarthout’s second novel, They Came to Cordura, which had been published a few weeks previously. “Ixion” was later reprinted in Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001), a collection of short stories, edited by son Miles, who later turned it into a screenplay, Convictions of the Heart.

According to Miles, the family might have remained much longer in Mexico in 1951 (despite his father’s failed attempt at writing Doyle Dorado) if the lake had been clean. “The real reason my parents left Mexico in a hurry was to seek emergency medical treatment in Brownsville, Texas, for five-year-old me, after I’d contracted para-typhoid fever from swallowing sewage water in Lake Chapala.”

Back in the U.S., in 1955 Glendon Swarthout gained his doctorate in English Literature (based on a study of Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Cary and Charles Portis) and began to sell short stories to magazines such as Cosmopolitan and The Saturday Evening Post. One of the first stories he sold (for $2500), “A Horse for Mrs. Custer”, became the Columbia Pictures low-budget western 7th Cavalry, released in 1956.

Swarthout’s next novel established him as a professional writer. They Came To Cordura was published by Random House in 1958 and became a New York Times bestseller. The film rights were sold to Columbia Pictures, whose major movie, starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth, entertained cinema audiences the following year. The book is set in 1916 Mexico during the Pershing Expedition to capture Pancho Villa.

Swarthout’s career took off. His next novel, Where The Boys Are (1960), the first lighthearted novel about the annual “spring break” invasion of southern Florida beaches by college students, was transformed by MGM into a low budget, high grossing movie.

In the early 1960s, Swarthout retired from teaching to become a full-time writer. His other novels, many of them optioned for movies, include: Welcome to Thebes (1962); The Cadillac Cowboys (1964); The Eagle and the Iron Cross (1966); Loveland (1968); Bless the Beasts and Children (1970); The Tin Lizzie Troop (1972); Luck and Pluck (1973); The Shootist (1975); A Christmas Gift (also known as The Melodeon) (1977); Skeletons (1979); The Old Colts (1985); The Homesman (1988); And Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming (published posthumously in 1994).

Swarthout was twice nominated by his publishers for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (for They Came To Cordura by Random House and Bless The Beasts & Children by Doubleday) and received numerous awards for his work.

He and his wife Kathryn Vaughn Swarthout (1919-2015) co-wrote six young adult novels, several of which were also published overseas. In 1962, the couple established the Swarthout Writing Prizes at Arizona State University, for poetry and fiction, which are among the highest annual financial awards given for undergraduate and graduate writing programs.

Glendon Swarthout died at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, on 23 September 1992.

Acknowledgement

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Miles Swarthout (1946-2016) who graciously corresponded with me about his father, via e-mail at an early stage of this project.

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May 092016
 

Dr. Arvid Shulenberger (1918-1964), who taught English at The University of Kansas for many years, wrote academic works, poetry and at least one novel. Shulenberger lived in Ajijic for part of 1955. In his 1992 booklet, Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Michael Hargraves, who inadvertently curtails the author’s surname to Schulenberg, wrote that the professor “lived at Ajijic in the late 1940’s—early 1950’s but apparently was never published.”

Arvid Leroy Shulenberger was born on 9 September 1918 in Wessington Springs, South Dakota. He married Margaret Louise Anderson on 24 November 24, 1942; the couple had four children.

During the second world war, Shulenberger served in the U.S. Air Force in the 548th Night Fighter Squadron. A 1947 book, “American Jews in World War II”, by I. Kaufman, describes “the rare combat exploit of Lt. Arvid Shulenberger”, who piloted the U.S. Black Widow night fighter plane which brought down a pilot-less B-29 headed for the American base on Iwo Jima. Arvid’s son Eric Shulenberger, an oceanographer, is the author of Deny Them the Night Sky: A History of the 548th Night Fighter Squadron, which details the story of his father’s squadron.

After the war, Arvid Shulenberger studied at Yankton College in South Dakota, and then at the University of Chicago which awarded him a PhD in English Literature in 1951. He taught as a professor of English at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, from 1952 to 1964.

Shulenberger-Arvid-Cover-of-Roads-from-the-Fort-1957In 1954, he published his first novel, Roads From The Fort. Described as a serious novel of the Old West, Kirkus Review called it, “A first novel of contagious sincerity.” The novel was a Book-of-the-Month recommendation.

Following publication of his novel, and of a serious academic work, Cooper’s Theory of Fiction: His prefaces and their relation to his novels. (University of Kansas press, 1955), Shulenberger took a year off from teaching and spent the latter half of 1955 in Ajijic on Lake Chapala.

A profile of Shulenberger in the 11 December 1955 issue of the Salina Journal in Kansas, says that he “has just returned with his family after spending five months in Mexico – writing another novel…. Before attempting his first novel Shulenberger, broad-shouldered and soft-spoken, had not written a single short story, but had limited himself to criticism and poetry.” I have been unable to find any evidence that this second novel was ever published.

A collection of poems by Shulenberger, entitled Ancient Music and Other Poems, was published by Allen Press in 1960. Shulenberger had several poetry credits in The New Yorker and in the magazine Poetry. He also wrote “The Orthodox Poetic,” (1963), an article in which he compared four important worldviews: the classical Greek, the Old Testament (“Hebraic”), the Christian, and the “modern”.

Shulenberger died in an auto accident on 23 June 1964, in Leavenworth, Kansas, on his way home from teaching night classes in English literature to inmates of Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

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Mar 282016
 

Stephen Schneck was born 2 January 1933 in New York and died on 26 November 1996 in Palm Springs, California. He led a varied life, including stints as a novelist, author, actor and screenwriter, among other pursuits.

schneck-nightclerkSchneck studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and then spent several years traveling around Mexico, where he lived in the Lake Chapala area from about 1954 to 1957) and Central America. According to Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet, Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Schneck claimed “to have written some of his best short stories and spent the better days of his youth while there”.

In 1960, Schneck apparently founded the American Beauty Studios, on 42nd Street, New York. It was during the 1960s that Schneck worked as a reporter for such “underground” periodicals as Ramparts and Mother Jones.

He subsequently moved to San Francisco, where he wrote his first, and best known, novel, “The Nightclerk” (Grove Press, 1965). The novel’s hero is an overweight hotel clerk (weighing 600 lbs), described by one reviewer as “the fattest man in American literature”. The hotel is a seedy San Francisco establishment. The clerk whiles away the long night hours reading erotic paperbacks, cutting up old magazines, and reminiscing about his beautiful and corrupt wife, Katy. The clerk’s real life lies in his “erotic, pornographic, sado-masochistic, orgiastic, unnameable” fantasies. This somewhat surrealistic novel became an international counterculture favorite, and won the $10,000 Formentor Novel Prize.

schneck-nocturnal-vaudevilleSchneck followed this with a second novel, Nocturnal Vaudeville (E. P. Dutton, 1971), but then turned to non-fiction works and screenplays.

In the second half of the 1970s, he wrote several non-fiction books for pet lovers, including The complete home medical guide for cats (Stein and Day, 1976) and, with Nigel Norris, The complete home medical guide for dogs (Stein and Day, 1976). The two authors co-wrote A. to Z. of Cat Care (Fontana Press, 1979) and A-Z of Dog Care (Fontana, 1979).

By that time, Schneck was gaining success as a screenwriter. He wrote or co-wrote Inside Out (1975); Welcome to Blood City (1977), which won first prize at the 1976 Paris Science Fiction Film Festival; High-Ballin’ (1978), which starred Peter Fonda; and Across the Moon (1995), in which he also played the part of a prison chaplain.

TV credits included two episodes of The Paper Chase (1985-1986), an episode of In the Heat of the Night (1992), as well as episodes of All in the Family, Archie Bunker’s Place, and Cheers.

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.

Feb 292016
 

Santa Fe poet Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964) visited Chapala regularly with poet Witter Bynner (1881-1968) for about thirty years, starting in the early 1930s. Hunt, whose full name was Robert Nichols Montague Hunt, was Bynner’s long-time partner, as well as being a poet in his own right.

Born in Pasadena, California, on 19 May 1906, Hunt’s parents were Harriette Boardman Hunt (1868-1913) and Pasadena architect Myron Hunt. Myron Hunt was a prominent architect in southern California, and designed the Hollywood Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Huntington Library in San Marino.

Bob Hunt worked briefly for his father’s firm, and is said to have had some talent as a designer, but like so many facets of his life, he never quite achieved what others thought he might, as he moved from one interest to another. Hunt’s design skills enabled him to add a wing to Bynner’s adobe home in Santa Fe, and to make significant alterations to their home in Chapala, as well as redesigning the living room of Peter Hurd‘s ranch in New Mexico.

Hunt was first introduced to Witter Bynner in 1924 by author and historian Paul Horgan.

[Horgan twice won the Pulitzer Prize for History: in 1955 for Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History and in 1976 for Lamy of Santa Fe. He was a childhood friend of artist Peter Hurd, and wrote, “Peter Hurd : A Portrait Sketch from Life”, for the catalog of the artist’s 1965 retrospective. ]

Hunt and Bynner’s paths crossed again in Santa Fe in 1926, and in Los Angeles in 1928. In November 1930 Hunt visited Bynner in Santa Fe to recuperate from a stress-related illness, following six months of long days working as Assistant Manager and Treasurer of the Paramount Public Theatres in Portland, Oregon.

James Kraft, Bynner’s biographer, describes the young Hunt:

“Bob, Bobby, sometimes called Monté, was twenty-four when he came to Bynner’s house. Tall, lean, elegantly handsome in the way of Robert Taylor or Robert Montgomery, with a brisk, debonair walk and an easy way of dressing, wearing clothes so well they seemed insignificant, he had a fine, clear voice, excellent manners, little formal education but a crackling sharp mind, and was well read and intelligent about history, art, and literature. He had tried all kinds of schools and jobs but could “do” nothing, and his patient father, the well-known California architect Myron Hunt, had attempted everything he could think of to help him.”

This 1930 visit began a partnership which lasted until Hunt’s sudden death from a heart attack in 1964. Hunt became not only Bynner’s partner, but his business manager, editor and, when the much-older poet struggled with serious health issues in his later life, his primary care-giver.

In 1931, Hunt and Bynner visited Taxco and Chapala. A few years later, they rented a house in Chapala (from late November 1934 to late April 1935) with poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke and his second wife Gladys, an artist.

l to r: Robert Hunt, Galdys Ficke, Arthur Ficke, ca 1935. [Source: Kraft: "Who is Witter Bynner"?]

Robert Hunt (left), Gladys Ficke, Arthur Ficke, ca 1935. [Source: Kraft: “Who is Witter Bynner”?]

In December 1936, Bynner and Hunt collected Bynner’s mother at Mexico City airport and toured around with her, including a stay at the Arzapalo Hotel in Chapala. Bynner’s mother, who did not get on well with Hunt, died in November 1937.

In 1940, Bynner bought a home in Chapala, close to the square at Galeana #411 (the street name was later changed to Francisco I. Madero).

Hunt’s health issues caused him to be rejected by both the army and navy when the U.S. entered the second world war, but he served on the local draft board for a year. After a short break in Chapala in early 1943, Hunt left Bynner in Chapala and returned to the U.S. to further assist the war effort by working on the docks in San Francisco. Hunt rejoined Bynner in Chapala in September 1944; they did not return to Santa Fe until August of the following year.

In February 1949, Bynner had his first slight heart attack, but still visited Chapala with Hunt for part of the year.The following year, the two men, together with artist Clinton King and his wife Narcissa, spent six months traveling in Europe and North Africa, visiting, among others, Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin in Paris, and George Santayana and Sybille Bedford (author of a travelogue-novel about Lake Chapala) in Rome.

In the 1950s, as Bynner’s health declined, he continued to visit Chapala, but Hunt took increasing refuge in the bottle, becoming angry and belligerent when drunk.

Hunt’s death in 1964 came as he was about to leave for Chapala to bring back more possessions from their winter home. Hunt had arranged for Bynner to be cared for in his absence by artist John Liggett Meigs. Meigs, in partnership with fellow artist Peter Hurd, later purchased the Bynner house in Chapala, complete with all its remaining contents.

Hunt wrote one collection of eighteen poems, The Early World and other poems, dedicated to Witter Bynner (Santa Fe: The Villagra Bookshop, 1936), and also compiled the collection of poems that became Bynner’s Selected Poems, with an introduction by Paul Horgan (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936]

Sources:

  • Lynn Cline. 2007. Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers’ Colonies, 1917-1950. (Univ. New Mexico Press)
  • Mark S. Fuller, 2015. Never a Dull Moment: The Life of John Liggett Meigs (Sunstone Press)
  • James Kraft, 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? (Univ. New Mexico Press)

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.

Feb 152016
 

Mary Blanche Starr MacNicol was the fourth wife of Roy MacNicol, an American artist who in 1954 bought and remodeled the D. H. Lawrence house in Chapala. From spending time in Mexico, she became interested in local Mexican cuisine, especially that involving flowers, and later wrote Flower Cookery: The Art of Cooking with Flowers (New York, 1967).

macnicol-mary-flower-cookeryMary Starr was born in Georgia in about 1896. According to a post on a genealogy site, she graduated from the University of Georgia and then taught for some years in Hartwell, Georgia, where she became close friends with Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell, before moving to Florida.

Her first marriage, in 1935, to Bassett Washington Mitchell, a real estate investor of Palm Beach, Florida, ended on his death in September 1946. The following year, on 27 March, she married artist-writer Roy MacNicol, who had been married three times previously, in Palm Beach. MacNicol had been a Palm Beach regular in the 1920s.

In 1949, Mary Starr MacNicol requested Federal Court help with paying her debts, presumably in order to wind up her husband’s estate. She told the Court that she had assets of $371,580 but was unable to pay her debts as they matured. She listed debts of $224,346 and asked the Court to make arrangements for her creditors to be paid.

In 1954, Roy MacNicol bought, and began to remodel, the historic house in Chapala which D. H. Lawrence had rented in 1923. After this point, Mary and Roy MacNicol seem to have divided their time between Chapala and New York, with occasional trips elsewhere, including to Europe. (In November 1956, for example, the couple arrived back in Palm Beach, from Europe, aboard the Queen Mary.) Their New York home, from 1956 (possibly earlier) until Mary MacNicol’s death in about 1970, was at 100 Sullivan Street.

A short piece about Mary MacNicol’s book Flower Cookery: The Art of Cooking with Flowers (New York, 1967) in the San Antonio Express and News in 1973 mentions that,

“Mrs. MacNicol began exploring the possibilities of cooking with flowers when she was the lessee of D. H. Lawrence’s house at Lake Chapala.”, adding that “Mrs. MacNicol researched Aztec methods of flower cookery and once attended a six-course flower supper in Morelia. Lilies, yucca, roses and jasmine are ingredients in Mrs. MacNicol’s recipes. So are clove-carnations or gilly flowers and marigolds the flavor provider for Dutch soups.

Mrs. MacNicol tells of Dwight Eisenhower’s custom of adding nasturtium blossoms during the last minutes of vegetable soup cookery, She also gives Queen Victoria’s mother’s formula for violet tea: 1 cup of boiling water 1 tsp. of fresh violets Steep ten minutes, then sweeten with honey.”

Here is a Chapala-related recipe from that book:

Chapala Cheer

  • 10-12 squash blossoms
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2-3 tbsp. water
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup oil

Wash blossoms and remove stems. Drain dry on paper towels. Mix other ingredients to make a smooth batter. Dip blossoms in batter and fry in oil until brown. Serve hot.

Enjoy!

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Jan 042016
 

D. H. Lawrence, together with his wife Frieda, and friends Witter Bynner and Willard (“Spud”) Johnson, visited Mexico in March 1923, initially staying in Mexico City.

By the end of April, Lawrence was becoming restless and actively looking for somewhere where he could write. The traveling party had an open invitation to visit Guadalajara, the home of Idella Purnell, a former student of Bynner’s at the Univeristy of California, Berkeley. After reading about Chapala in Terry’s Guide to Mexico, Lawrence decided to  catch the train to Guadalajara and then explore the lakeside village of Chapala for himself.

Lawrence liked what he saw and, within hours of arriving in Chapala, he sent an urgent telegram back to Mexico City pronouncing Chapala “paradise” and urging the others to join him there immediately. Lawrence and his wife Frieda soon established their home for the summer in Chapala, on Calle Zaragoza. In a letter back to two Danish friends in Taos, Lawrence described both the house and the village:

“Here we are, in our own house—a long house with no upstairs—shut in by trees on two sides.—We live on a wide verandah, flowers round—it is fairly hot—I spend the day in trousers and shirt, barefoot—have a Mexican woman, Isabel, to look after us—very nice. Just outside the gate the big Lake of Chapala—40 miles long, 20 miles wide. We can’t see the lake, because the trees shut us in. But we walk out in a wrap to bathe.—There are camions—Ford omnibuses—to Guadalajara—2 hours. Chapala village is small with a market place with trees and Indians in big hats. Also three hotels, because this is a tiny holiday place for Guadalajara. I hope you’ll get down, I’m sure you’d like painting here.—It may be that even yet I’ll have my little hacienda and grow bananas and oranges.” – (letter dated 3 May 1923, to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild, quoted in Knud Merrild’s book, A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence.)

DH Lawrence house in Chapala, ca 1950, Photo by Roy MacNicol

DH Lawrence house in Chapala, ca 1954, Photo by Roy MacNicol

Life was not without its incidents and travails. Frieda, especially, was unconvinced about the charms of Chapala:

Lawrence went to Guadalajara and found a house with a patio on the Lake of Chapala. There, Lawrence began to write his “Plumed Serpent”. He sat by the lake under a pepper tree writing it. The lake was curious with its white water. My enthusiasm for bathing in it faded considerably when one morning a huge snake rose yards high, it seemed to me, only a few feet away. At the end of the patio, we had the family that Lawrence describes in the “Plumed Serpent”, and all the life of Chapala. I tried my one attempt at civilizing those Mexican children, but when they asked me one day, “Do you have lice too, Niña,” I had enough and gave up in a rage. At night I was frightened of bandits and we had one of the sons of the cook sleeping outside our bedroom door with a loaded revolver, but he snored so fiercely that I wasn’t sure whether the fear of bandits wasn’t preferable. We quite sank into the patio life. Bynner and Spud came every afternoon, and I remember Bynner saying to me one day, while he was mixing a cocktail: “If you and Lawrence quarrel, why don’t you hit first?” I took the advice and the next time Lawrence was cross, I rose to the occasion and got out of my Mexican indifference and flew at him.  – (Frieda Lawrence: (1934), Not I, But the Wind… Viking Press, New York (1934), p 139)

The house the Lawrences rented was at Zaragoza #4 (since renumbered Zaragoza #307) and became the basis for the description of Kate’s living quarters in The Plumed Serpent. The Lawrences lived in the house from the start of May 1923 to about 9 July that year.

Interestingly, the house subsequently had several additional links to famous writers and artists.

Immediately after the Lawrences departed, the next renters were American artists Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser, who lived there for 18 months. They did not realize the identity of the previous tenant – “an English writer” –  until the following year. Their time in Chapala is described, with great wit and charm, in Jackson’s Burros and Paintbrushes (University of Texas Press, 1985).

[Jackson visited Mexico many times and made several return visits to Chapala, including one in 1968 when he, his wife and young grandson, “rented the charming old Witter Bynner house right in the center of the village of Chapala. It had become the property of Peter Hurd, the artist…” In 1923, Bynner and Johnson stayed at the Hotel Arzapalo. In 1930, Bynner bought a home in Chapala (not the one rented by Lawrence) and was a frequent winter visitor for many years.]

Lawrence house in Chapala - ca 1963

Lawrence house in Chapala – ca 1963

Over the years, the house on Zaragoza that Lawrence and Frieda had occupied was extensively remodeled and expanded. The first major renovation was undertaken in about 1940 by famed Mexican architect Luis Barragán. Another large-scale renovation took place after the house was acquired in 1954 by American artist and architect Roy MacNicol (mistakenly spelled MacNichol in Moore’s The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence).

lawrence-quinta-quetzacoatl-chapala

Quinta Quetzacoatl

In 1978, Quinta Quetzalcoatl was acquired by a Californian couple, Dick and Barbi Henderson. Dick, a contractor, and Babri, an interior designer, set about restoring the building to accommodate friends visiting from the U.S. In 1982, the Hendersons purchased the adjoining lot to build two additional units and extend the gardens. When they ran Quinta Quetzalcoatl as a boutique bed and breakfast, it had eight luxury suites.

In the late 1970s, Canadian poet Al Purdy, a great admirer of Lawrence (to the point of having a bust of Lawrence on the hall table of his home in Ontario), wrote a hand-signed and numbered book, The D.H. Lawrence House at Chapala, published by The Paget Press in 1980, as a limited edition of 44 copies. The book includes a photograph, taken by Purdy’s wife Eurithe, of the plumed serpent tile work above the door of the Lawrence house.

The town of Chapala today would be totally unrecognizable to Lawrence, but the home where he spent a productive summer writing the first draft of The Plumed Serpent eventually became the Quinta Quetzalcoatl, an exclusive boutique hotel.

Sources:

  • John Busam. 1994. “Inn of the Plumed Serpent.” Travelmex (Guadalajara), No 114, 1-3.
  • Goldsmith, M.O. 1941. “Week-end house in Mexico: G. Cristo house, Lake Chapala.” House and Garden vol 79 (May 1941). Describes the remodeling of D.H. Lawrence’s one story adobe cottage by Luis Barragán, the “talented young Mexican architect.”
  • Harry T. Moore (ed). 1962. The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence (Two volumes), (New York: Viking Press).
  • Harry T. Moore and Warren Roberts. 1966. D. H. Lawrence and His World. Thames and Hudson, p 82 (image).

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.

Dec 282015
 

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

Bynner returned to Chapala in 1925, and later (1940) bought a house there, which became his second home, his primary residence remaining in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bynner spent two and a half years in Chapala during the second world war, and the equivalent of ten years of his life there in total.

Poet, mimic and raconteur Witter Bynner was born into a wealthy family. Apparently, he liked to recount stories about his mother, who, he claimed, kept $500,000 in cash in one of her closets.

He graduated from Harvard in 1902, having been on the staff of the Harvard Advocate.

Bynner published his first volume of verse, Young Harvard and Other Poems, in 1907. Other early works included Tiger (1913), The New World (1915), The Beloved Stranger (1919), A Canticle of Pan and Other Poems (1920), Pins for Wings (1920) and A Book of Love (1923).

In 1916, in an extended prank aimed at deflating the self-important poetry commentators of the time, Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke collaborated to perpetrate what has often been called “the literary hoax of the twentieth century”. Bynner and Ficke had met at Harvard and were to become lifelong friends. Ficke and his wife Gladys accompanied Bynner on a trip to the Far East in 1916-17. In 1916, Bynner writing under the pen name “Emanuel Morgan” and Ficke, writing as “Anne Knish” published a joint work, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments. Intended as a satire on modern poetry, the work was enthusiastically reviewed as a serious contribution to poetry, before the deception was revealed in 1918. (Ficke, incidentally, later spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala, with Bynner, and wrote a novel set there: Mrs Morton of Mexico.)

Even though Bynner still became President of the Poetry Society of America from 1920 to 1922, the Spectra hoax was not well received by the poetry establishment, and Bynner’s later poetry received less attention than deserved.

Bynner traveled extensively in the Orient, and compiled and translated an anthology of Chinese poetry: The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology, Being Three Hundred Poems of the T’ang Dynasty 618–906 (1929) as well as The Way of Life According to Laotzu (1944). He also amassed an impressive collection of Chinese artifacts.

In 1919, he accepted a teaching post at the University of California at Berkeley. Students in his poetry class there included both Idella Purnell and Willard “Spud” Johnson. When Bynner left academia and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1922, to concentrate on his own writing, Johnson followed to become his secretary-companion. D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda stayed overnight with them on their way to Taos. Bynner, Johnson and the Lawrences traveled together to Mexico in the spring of 1923. After a short time in Mexico City, they settled in Chapala, where the Lawrences rented a house while Bynner and Johnson stayed at the Hotel Arzapalo.

bynner-coverChapala with the Lawrences

Bynner’s memoir of this trip and the group’s time in Chapala is told in his engagingly-written Journey with Genius (1951), which is full of anecdotes and analysis. Among the former, for example, is the story told them by Winfield Scott, manager of the Arzapalo, who a few years earlier had been kidnapped by bandits who attacked the Hotel Rivera in El Fuente.

Bynner, who seems to have had near-perfect recall, describes Chapala and their trips together in loving detail, as well as providing insights into Lawrence’s work habits and mood swings. For his part, Lawrence appears to have been less than impressed, since in The Plumed Serpent he used Bynner as the basis for the unflattering character of Owen, the American at the bullfight.

Bynner’s poem about Lawrence in Chapala, “The Foreigner”, is short and sweet:

Chapala still remembers the foreigner
Who came with a pale red beard and pale blue eyes
And a pale white skin that covered a dark soul;
They remember the night when he thought he saw a hand
Reach through a broken window and fumble at a lock;
They remember a tree on the beach where he used to sit
And ask the burros questions about peace;
They remember him walking, walking away from something.

The Lawrences left Chapala in early July 1923, but Bynner and Johnson stayed a few months more, so that Bynner could continue working on his book of verse, Caravan (1925).

bynner-1961Bynner returned to Chapala in 1925, and a letter from that time shows how he thinks the town has changed, in part due to tourists: “Too much elegancia now, constant shrill clatter, no calzones, not so many guaraches, no plaza-market.” Among the changes, Bynner noted several other American writers and a painter in Chapala, making up “a real little colony” (quoted in Delpar).

Elsewhere, diary entries and other letters reveal why he liked Chapala: “The Mind clears at Chapala. Questions answer themselves. Tasks become easy”, and how he felt at home there: “Me for Chapala. I doubt if I shall find another place in Mexico so simpatico.”

Poems related to these first two visits to Chapala (1923 and 1925) include “On a Mexican Lake” (New Republic, 1923); “The Foreigner” (The Nation, 1926); “Chapala Poems” (Poetry, 1927); “To my mother concerning a Mexican sunset / Mescala etc.” (Poetry, 1927); “Indian Earth” [Owls; Tule; Volcano; A Sunset on Lake Chapala; Men of Music; A Weaver from Jocotepec] (The Yale Review, 1928); and “Six Mexican Poems” [A Mexican Wind; A Beautiful Mexican; From Chapala to a San Franciscan; The Cross on Tunapec; Conflict; The Web] (Bookman, 1929).

Bynner included many of these poems in the collection Indian Earth (1929), which he dedicated to Lawrence, and which many consider some of Bynner’s finest work. A reviewer for Pacific Affairs (a journal of the University of British Columbia, Canada), wrote that “Chapala, a sequence occupying over half the seventy-seven pages of the book, is a poignant revelation to one in quest of the essence of an alien spirit, that alien spirit being in this case the simple, passionate Indian soul of old Mexico.”

Among my personal favorites (though I admit to bias) is

A Weaver From Jocotepec

Sundays he comes to me with new zarapes
Woven especial ways to please us both:
The Indian key and many-coloured flowers
And lines called rays and stars called little doves.
I order a design; he tells me yes
And, looking down across his Asian beard,
Foresees a good zarape. Other time
I order a design; he tells me no.

Since weavers of Jocotepec are the best in Jalisco,
And no weaver in Jocotepec is more expert than mine,
I watched the zarapes of strangers who came to the plaza
For the Sunday evening processions around the band,
And I showed him once, on a stranger, a tattered blanket
Patterned no better than his but better blent––
Only to find it had taken three weavers to weave it:
My weaver first and then the sun and rain.

Later Chapala-related poems by Bynner include “Chapala Moon and The Conquest of Mexico” (two poems; Forum and Century, 1936) and “Beach at Chapala” (Southwest Review, 1947).

Bynner’s third trip to Chapala, with partner Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964), came in 1931. The pair visited Taxco and Chapala, but Bynner preferred Chapala, claiming (somewhat in contradiction to his earlier letter about a “real little colony”) that, “Chapala survives without a single foreigner living there and, despite its hotels and shabby mansions, continues to be primitive and feel remote.” Of course, this was by no means true; there certainly were foreigners living in Chapala in 1931, including some who had been there since the start of the century.

When Bynner returned to Chapala for a longer stay in January 1940, he first stayed at the Hotel Nido, but not finding it much to his liking soon purchased a house almost directly across the street. The original address was Galeana #411, but the street name today is Francisco I. Madero. We will consider the history of this house in a separate post, but Bynner and Hunt regularly vacationed here thereafter.

At some point in mid-1944, Bynner had been joined at Chapala by a young American painter Charles Stigall, whose ill health at the time had caused him not to be drafted. He lived with Bynner while he recuperated. Certainly he was there in November 1944, as the Guadalajara daily El Informador (19 November 1944) records both “Mr Witter Bynner, famous American poet” and “Mr Charles Stigel” attending an exhibition of Mexican paintings by Edith Wallach, at the Villa Montecarlo. Among the other guests, at the opening were Nigel Stansbury Millett (one half of the Dane Chandos writing duo); Miss Neill James; Mr Otto Butterlin and his daughter Rita; Miss Ann Medalie; and Mr. Herbert Johnson and wife. (The newspaper makes no mention of Bob Hunt, who was also in Chapala at that time).

In November 1945, Bynner lost his oldest and closest friend, Arthur Ficke. The following month, he returned to Chapala for the winter.

Bynner and Hunt continued to visit Chapala regularly for many years, into the early 1960s. He was well aware of how much the town had changed since his first visit in 1923. For example in a letter to Edward Nehls in the 1950s, Bynner wrote,

“The “beach” where Lawrence used to sit, is now a severe boulevard [Ramon Corona] which gives me a pang when I remember the simple village we lived in. The tree under which he sat and wrote is gone long since and the beach close to it where fishermen cast nets and women washed clothes has receded a quarter of a mile. But the mountains still surround what is left of the lake and, as a village somewhat inland, Chapala would still have charmed us had we come upon it in its present state.”

In February 1949, Bynner had his first slight heart attack, but still visited Chapala for part of the year. At about this time, his eyesight began to deteriorate. Bynner and Hunt, in the company of artist Clinton King and his wife Narcissa, traveled to Europe and North Africa for the first six months of 1950, visiting, among others, Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin in Paris, and George Santayana and Sybille Bedford (author of a fictionalized travelogue about Lake Chapala) in Rome.

Bynner’s final years were spent in ill-health. Bynner had almost completely lost his sight by January 1964, when he unexpectedly lost his long-time partner, Bob Hunt, who had a fatal heart attach just as he was setting out for Chapala, having made arrangements for Bynner to be cared for in his absence by John Liggett Meigs.

The following year, Bynner suffered a severe stroke. While friends looked after him for the remainder of his life (he died in 1968), Bynner’s doctors ordered that the famous poet was not well enough to receive visitors for more than one minute at a time.

Bynner left his Santa Fe home to St. John’s College, together with the funds to create a foundation that supports poetry. The house and grounds are now the Inn of the Turquoise Bear.

His passing marked the loss of one of the many literary greats who had found inspiration at Lake Chapala.

Sources:

  • Bushby, D. Maitland. 1931. “Poets of Our Southern Frontier”, Out West Magazine, Feb 1931, p 41-42.
  • Bynner, Witter. 1951. Joumey with Genius: Recollection and Reflections Concerning The D.H. Lawrences (New York: The John Day Company).
  • Bynner, Witter. 1981. Selected Letters (edited by James Kraft). The Works of Witter Bynner. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Delpar, Helen. 1992. The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican : Cultural Relations between the United States and Mexico, 1920-1935. (University of Alabama Press)
  • Kraft, James 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? (UNM Press)
  • Nehls, Edward (ed). 1958. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume Two, 1919-1925. (University of Wisconsin Press).
  • Sze, Corinne P. 1992. “The Witter Bynner House” [Santa Fe], Bulletin of the Historic Santa Fe Association, Vol 20, No 2, September 1992.

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.

Nov 052015
 

We’ve received a request for help with identifying the artist who painted these interesting pictures dating from about 1950. The paintings were bought in Ajijic direct from the artist at that time by the father of Ann Hithersay who lives in the U.K.

UPDATE: We thank distinguished artist Fernando Palomar (see comment) for identifying these paintings as the work of Jesús Reyes Ferreira (1880-1977), commonly known as “Chucho Reyes.”

The pictures are painted on paper. It is not clear what medium was used, but the owner reports that the colors are still bright, particularly the blues and purples. The owner’s family remembers something about the artist having exhibited at the Royal Academy in London around 1950, but the paintings have no titles, labels or additional identification.

So far, we have drawn a blank in trying to identify the artist and his/her signature, but maybe a sharp-eyed viewer will have the answer? [Click on any image to enlarge] If you can help, please e-mail us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Painting #1:

1-1imagePainting #2:

3-1imagePainting #32-1image

Signatures from paintings #1 and #2 (click to enlarge):
1-2signature2-2signature

All images reproduced by kind permission of Ann Hithersay. These images may not be reproduced elsewhere without prior written permission.

Other mysteries relating to Lake Chapala authors and artists:

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.

Nov 022015
 

Week With No Friday by Willard Marsh is one of only a handful of novels to have been set entirely at Lake Chapala. Published in 1965 by Harper & Row, it tells the story of a troubled expatriate playwright who lives in Ajijic in the 1950s.

The dust jacket of the hardcover edition (274 pages) set up the novel as follows:

Ben Warner, an American writing living precariously in a beautiful Mexican lake town, talks entertainingly and drinks a great deal. His marriage has ended and the women who now pass through his life are just a means of survival. His once-promising resources have been reduced to a tankful of rejected plays and stories.

Yet his world is not without hope — especially when he is on pot. And, even though he has no scruples in using the women who live him, he is no ordinary rascal. Behind his witty, slanderous speech and the clownish guilt of his behavior, he is struggling desperately to keep going — as a man and as a writer.

When Martha McKenzie, a visiting schoolteacher from Iowa, attempts with crusading zeal to save Ben Warner, he can react in only one way: by exploiting her. But both their purposes are diverted by the arrival of Warner’s ex-wife, resulting in an intensely moving and human tragicomedy.”

The photograph of Marsh used in the author’ biography on the back dust jacket of the original hardcover was taken by John Lee, an author and photographer who lived for a year in Ajijic (with his wife Barbara Moore) in 1962-63, and then returned there for nine consecutive summers.

The paperback version of Week with No Friday was subtitled “Money, Marijuana and a girl named Martha – Low-life and high-jinks South of the Border.” The basic description was reworded to read,

After twelve years in Mexico, Ben Warner seemed shamelessly happy just sponging off his neighbors, finding consolation and occasional inspiration in alcohol, pot, and any passable woman who came along. The locals found him muy simpatico, and so did visiting schoolteacher Martha McKenzie, who speedily found him sharing her bed — and her checkbook.

But behind the amusing and eccentric exterior, Ben Warner was a man struggling desperately just to keep going, to make good the wasted years. With the unexpected reappearance of his glamorous ex-wife, the loose ends of his existence suddenly begin to unravel, with results that are as intensely moving as human experience can be.

Week with No Friday was also reprinted in a limited 208-page paperback edition in Mexico in about the year 2000.

marsh-weed-with-no-fridayReviews of Week with No Friday were generally positive. Highlights include

“Real, honest sex and a real, honest bullfight. A wonderfully gutsy book. The author lives, sees and feels deeply on every page.” – Barnaby Conrad

“A good many novels have been written about U.S. expatriates in Mexico, but Willard Marsh’s is the best that I’ve read.” – Vance Bourjaily (another of the many authors who lived for a time in Ajijic).

“Downright irresistible” – Chicago Sun-Times

“A marvelously successful novel” – Book Week

“There is much that is affecting and witty in this first novel, which examines the pangs of a creative personality in exile… Mr. Marsh can create warm, vital characters, a stunning locale and rollicking humor, but the dichotomy in Ben’s character seems not quite resolved. However, this is a writer of promise.” – Kirkus Review

After reading the Kirkus Review, Willard Marsh wrote to his brother-in-law John Williams, also a novelist, bemoaning the fact that “I’ve been a writer of promise for 43 years…”

Verdict: Definitely a keeper!

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

Related posts:

Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:

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

Oct 262015
 

Willard Marsh, known to his friends as “Butch”, was one of the pivotal figures in the Ajijic literary scene in the 1950s and 1960s, and one of the first to write a novel set in the village. His novel, Week with No Friday (1965), is the story of a troubled expatriate playwright who lives in Ajijic in the 1950s. While fictional, it still affords many insights into the village’s literary and artistic scene of the time.

marsh-willard-passport-photoMarsh also wrote Beachhead in Bohemia: Stories (1969) a collection of short stories, published by Louisiana State University. Several of these stories had been published previously, and several are set in the Lake Chapala area, and feature the same characters and scenes that appear in Week with No Friday.

Marsh was born in Oakland, California and attended Oakland High School where he learned to play trumpet and trombone, initiating a lifelong devotion to jazz music. He financed his courses at the State College at Chico by forming “Will Marsh and the Four Collegians”, a jazz group that played at an Oakland roadhouse.

His education was interrupted by the second world war, where he served with the U.S. military, 1942-45, in the South Pacific, becoming a staff sergeant.

Soon after the war, on 4 September 1948, Marsh married George Rae Williams, a former Pasadena Playhouse actress. It must have been Marsh’s second marriage, since George wrote to her brother John Williams in mid-1948 that, “We can’t get married until August because his divorce isn’t final until then.”

[John Williams (1922-1994) was a novelist, editor and professor of English, author of Augustus and Stoner. Williams is the subject of The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel, a biography by Charles J. Shields published in 2018. Shields kindly shared with me the information that John Williams had begun his own novel (sadly now lost) about bohemians living in Mexico, presumably based on his visits to his sister and brother-in-law.]

Willard and George Rae Marsh moved to Chapala in Mexico in the early 1950s. Marsh strove to establish a career as a free-lance writer while working on his “G.A.N.” (Great American Novel). They would continue to live in the area, with breaks to travel or teach in the U.S., until his death in 1970.

The couple lived first in Chapala, and later in Ajijic. They also spent some time in the literary and artistic circles of San Miguel de Allende. In 1952, from Chapala, Marsh reported to brother-in-law, John Williams, that they were living “quite well, in our cozily disordered way, for about seventy-five bucks a month, including everything.” The comment, “both typewriters clacking, and the jug of tequila diminishing as we go,” suggests that a liberal amount of alcohol helped fuel their creativity.

A letter from George to her brother in March 1953, says that she was excited to have just learned from their landlady that they were living in the same house in Chapala where “Red” Warren wrote All the Kings Men.

After several years living and writing in Mexico, Marsh’s Great American Novel remained unfinished. Marsh gained degrees at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop (B.A. in 1959 and M.A. in 1960), and decided to complement his less-than-stable writing income by teaching, accepting positions as an assistant professor of English, first at Winthrop College, Rock Hill, SC (1959-61), then at the University of California, Los Angeles (1961-64) and later at North Texas State University, Denton (1968-70). He continued to spend as much time as possible in Mexico.

marsh-weed-with-no-fridayWork on the novel continued. In October 1963, Marsh reported having had “a wildly relaxing, wildly productive summer in Ajijic, during which time I got so much accomplished on the novel that I can have the mother in the mails before year’s end.” He planned to resign from the University of California and live in Spain for a few years.

The following year, after more thought, they decided against Spain, opting to return to Ajijic instead, though they expressed some misgivings: “Ajijic has been overrun with slobs quite a bit, too, but if it gets too bad, one can move a few kilometers down the lake to San Juan, Jocotepec, and on to Morelia. The lake is 25 miles wide and 50 miles long, so there’s a lot of lake-front real estate still unoccupied.”

Marsh’s magnum opus Week with No Friday was published in 1965 to generally positive reviews. The book gave Marsh the opportunity to respond to the unflattering portrait of him in Eileen Bassing’s own novel set in Ajijic, Where’s Annie? (1963). Bassing had used Willard and George Rae Marsh as the basis for her characters Willie and Sam Chester:

“[Willie Chester] was enshrined there on his patio only half hidden among the telefono vines, typing away. He wrote. Merciful God, how he wrote. A story every day he said, good, bad indifferent, sensational, like a non-discriminating machine, learning, he said, with each one he wrote, but writing them so fast, so terribly, frighteningly fast. And he sold some of them, not many. That he sold any was alarming. He had no reverence, no respect, no fear of his own possible or impossible talent. He wrote; it was the answer to everything for him…. Sam was behind Willie, circling about in a stained and tattered leotard, steadily but badly practicing her ballet. Did she woo and win him with her twittering, soiled dancing? Oh, turn my eyes from the vision of their lives.”

Marsh retaliated with brief, equally unflattering descriptions of Eileen “Blissing” and her husband, in his own novel:

<He introduced her to Beau Blissing, a fairly entertaining slob, so that she could hear the single gift that Beau had perfected in a lifetime — the ability to sing ‘Blue Skies’ backward. Afterwards he tried to give them one of his voracious French poodles he never could afford to feed.

“Such a bewildered, wistful man” Martha said. “Has he any other hobbies?”

“He accepts book dedications. His wife is a lady novelist with a lousy memory.” (82-83)>

In his writing career, Marsh had short stories published in more than seventy periodicals, including Antioch Review, Furioso, Prairie Schooner, Northwest Review, Yale Review, Esquire, Playboy, Transatlantic Review, and Saturday Evening Post. His short stories include, “Beachhead in Bohemia” (The Southwest Review, 1952); “Bus Fare to Tomorrow” (The Saturday Evening Post, 1954); “No More Gifts” (Playboy, 1956); “Ad Lib Exit” (Playboy 1956); “Mexican Hayride” (Esquire, 1960), described by writer Allyn Hunt as the short story that most “accurately depicts Ajijic in the 1950s” (and the basis for the first chapter of Week with No Friday). “Beachhead in Bohemia” and “Mexican Hayride” were chosen for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of 1953 and 1961 respectively.

Marsh also wrote under several pen names, including “George Ketzel” for poetry.

In 1970, apparently as the result of a medical misdiagnosis, he died, leaving his next novel, Anchor in the Air unpublished. Marsh’s body was interred in Ajijic cemetery, but was not allowed to rest for long. In 1972, a real estate developer drove a road through Ajijic cemetery, desecrating many graves, including that of novelist Willard Marsh.

Willard Marsh’s personal papers are held at the University of Iowa. My thanks to Charles J. Shields, biographer of John Williams, for his valuable help in locating material relating to Willard and George Marsh.

Related posts:

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

Oct 082015
 

American artist Alfred Rogoway (1900–1990) was born in Portland, Oregon, on 4 April 1900. His father was a playwright and mother an artist. Rogaway lived much of each year in Ajijic in the 1940s and 1950s.

While still only a teenager, Rogoway served with the U.S. Navy (1916-1920). His ship was torpedoed and Rogoway was lucky to survive. He subsequently studied art at the University of California at Berkeley, at the Oakland College of Arts and Crafts (with Hamilton Wolf), with summer sessions at Mills College, Oakland, (with Lyonel Feininger and, later, Fernand Leger) and with José Clemente Orozco in Mexico.

rogoway-alfred-photoIn his late thirties, Rogoway had paintings selected by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s open competition in three consecutive years (1939-1941), which led to wider acceptance of his work in the art world.

He followed many other talented artists to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the 1940s, and it was here where he met and married archaeologist Marjorie Goldbert. The Rogoways would live in several countries, including France, Mexico and Spain. Wherever they went they entertained on a lavish scale, throwing legendary parties for fellow artists, intellectuals and state officials.

The young couple moved to France in 1947 with their infant daughter Esther. In Europe, Alfred became friends with Pablo Picasso; the two regularly exchanged ideas. Not long afterwards, they relocated to Ajijic in Mexico, so that Rogoway could devote himself full time to his art. While living in Ajijic, they made regular summer visits to New Mexico to visit friends.

Alfred Rogoway. Mother and Child. Oil and palette knife. c 1955.

Alfred Rogoway. Mother and Child. Oil and palette knife. c 1955. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Katie Goodridge Ingram, who owned an art gallery in Ajijic for many years, is a huge fan of his work, and remembers “Rog” well, as a “dramatic, expansive man… with a saint of a wife”. Ingram is particularly fond of Rogoway’s more representational, less abstract, art that characterized his time in Mexico. Ingram possesses several of his palette paintings on masonite from the 1950s, including “Mother and Child” (see image), “Lovers” and “Horses”.

She recalled that on one occasion, when the Rogoways were living in a house with a second-story viewpoint (mirador), Alfred Rogoway had imbibed one too many and suddenly announced his intention to try to fly:

“He flew off the mirador, broke perhaps an arm, a leg, ribs and who knows what else. So he made tables in bed from the small mosaic tiles from Mexico which my mother found for him in Guadalajara. My mother, Helen Kirtland, was then the happy recipient of two of his tables created during his LONG convalescence.”

In 1950, the Rogoways spent some time in Big Sur, California, and became friends with Henry Miller, who provided encouragement for decades. Rogoway’s work at this time was “somnambulist”, with ethereal elongated figures invoking a dream-like state. No-one was more aware of that than Miller, who said of Rogoway in 1955:

He paints as other men must dream, and his visions take him back thousands of years of world subconsciousness. He belongs to no one medium but to all. His is the gentleness of the large man who cannot touch something small for fear of crushing it, yet all subtleties of his nature find expression on canvas.”

Alfred Rogoway. Guitarista. Watercolor.

Alfred Rogoway. Guitarista. Watercolor.

By 1955, Rogoway had decided that his best chance of true success in the art world lay in spending more time in New York, where “modern art” was all the rage. His paintings sold well in New York galleries, such as that owned by Laura Barone, and Rogoway’s work was hung in the city’s Museum of Modern Art alongside works by Braque, Miro and Picasso. The Rogoways eventually purchased a large home in Sag Harbor, Long Island, and divided their time between Mexico and New York.

In 1958, the family chose to leave Mexico behind and make their new home on a mountain top in Mijas, Spain, high above the Mediterranean. Mijas would be their home for more than twenty years. They continued to entertain on a grand scale and while in Spain, Rogoway’s work was regularly shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in London.

After Marjorie passed away in 1983, Alfred Rogoway moved back to the U.S. to live with daughter Esther and her family in Tucson, Arizona, where he had the use of small studio behind the family home. He continued to paint there right up to the day he died, 11 August 1990.

His numerous exhibitions included Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, California (1939); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1939, 1940, 1941); Laura Barone Gallery, New York (1953–1960; and Grosvenor Gallery, London, U.K. (1972).

His works can be found in the permanent collections of numerous major museums and galleries, including the Grosvenor Gallery in London; the Copenhagen National Museum; the American Gallery in Los Angeles; and the Universities of Illinois, Arizona and New Mexico.

Alfred Rogoway’s daughter, Esther, who spent much of her childhood in Ajijic, is also an artist. She studied at the Tunbridge Wells School of Art in England and at the Art Institute of Barcelona, Spain. Esther and her husband Larry Fitzpatrick operate The Pink Door Studio and Gallery in downtown Tucson, Arizona.

  • More images of Rogoway paintings [viewed at https://www.lanningallery.com/alfred-rogoway/?rq=rogoway in October 2015]

Sources:

  • Kaya Morgan. Alfred Rogoway (1900-1990): A Somnambulist Who Dreams in Paint. [http://www.islandconnections.com/edit/rogoway.htm, 8 Oct 2015]
  • Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram: personal correspondence via email.

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.

Aug 142015
 

Innovative Mexican artist Ernesto Butterlin, aka Linares, sometimes Ernesto Linares, or more simply “Lin,” had close ties with Ajijic and was active in the 1940s and 1950s. Ernesto’s parents and his two older brothers were all born in Germany and moved to Mexico in 1907, sailing first class aboard the “Fürst Bismarck” of the Hamburg-America line, from Hamburg to Veracruz. The family settled in Guadalajara, but also owned a huerta (orchard) near Ajijic. Ernesto was born in Guadalajara on 4 September 1917.

The 1930 Mexican census, conducted on 15 May of that year lists the members of the household as:

  • Juan Butterlin 59, engineer, born in Germany
  • Amalia de Butterlin 49, born in Germany, speaks German, English, French
  • Ernesto Butterlin 12
  • Ma de Los Angeles Delgadillo 40, maid
  • Ma Guillermina Flores 16
  • Ma del Refugio Flores 12

By the early 1940s, Ernesto, then in his twenties and using the name Linares for his art, was living and painting year-round in Ajijic. From about 1943 to 1945, he shared his village home with American artists Charmin Schlossman Lanier and Sylvia Fein, whose husbands were on active military service overseas. American writer Neill James first moved to Ajijic in September 1943 and in an early article about the village described Linares as a “young Mexican abstract painter who is currently showing his works in a traveling exhibition in the USA.” That brief description shows that Ernesto had already achieved some success as an artist, even at this early age.

Linares (Ernesto Butterlin): Untitled.

Linares (Ernesto Butterlin): Untitled; 1949. Reproduced by permission of the owner.

A more detailed description of Ernesto and his work comes from the notebooks kept by Victor Serge, a Russian living in exile in Mexico, who visited Ajijic in December 1944 and stayed over the New Year:

“Ernesto Butterlin reminds me of Pilnyak. Often with lacquer for car bodies, he earnestly makes surrealist or abstract pictures in jumbled lines and lively tones, sometimes decorative. He wants to make money in New York, be someone, and this method worries him, and he genuinely loves art, and he’s full of inhibitions and poses. Big, blond, pince-nez, the untroubled face of a good German.”

butterlin-ernesto-untitled

Ernesto Butterlin: Untitled; date unknown

In about 1945, Ernesto entertained visiting American artist George Buehr (1905-1983), a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, as his house guest.

In January 1947, Ernesto exhibited in a group show at Villa Montecarlo in Chapala, alongside fellow artists Charmin Schlossman, Muriel Lytton-Bernard, Dick Kitchin. Charlotte Wax also appears to have had paintings in that show.

Shortly afterwards, in about 1947, American artist, anthropologist and author Tobias Schneebaum arrived on the scene. Schneebaum lived and painted in Mexico, including several spells in Ajijic, from 1947 to 1950. In Ajijic, he quickly became friends with Ernesto. In Wild Man, Schneebaum writes, “A young blond painter, born in Guadalajara of German parents, also lived in Ajijic. He was twenty-seven, blue-eyed, four inches over six feet, and very handsome, and was subject to the attentions of both the men and the women who later passed through town…”

“His family owned property in Ajijic, fields of corn and beans through which he moved like a country squire. Ajijic was small, with a population of three thousand, barely a third of whom had homes in the village itself, the other two-thirds living on their farms. He knew everyone by name and was adored and respected by old and young alike. He’d changed his Germanic name to Linares to identify more closely with the country of his birth, and liked to be called Lynn. He painted during the day with bright reds and yellows in wide bands of color, freely brushed and ripped on, a technique he claimed preceded Jackson Pollock, who he insisted had seen his work. He’d had one-man shows in New York and Mexico City.” (Wild Man, 12).

Elsewhere, Schneebaum describes how Ernesto “had inherited a considerable amount of farmland on the outskirts of Ajijic, but he spent most of his time painting in a drip technique that might have preceded the work of Jackson Pollock.” (Secret Places, 7)

Schneebaum, Ernesto Butterlin and a third artist Nicolas Muzenic were all employed by Irma Jonas to teach students attending her summer painting schools in Ajijic (held 1947-1949 inclusive). According to Schneebaum, an ill-fated love triangle developed between the three artists at this time, complicated by the arrival of “haughty and radiantly beautiful” Zoe, the “fourth member of our group”, who had previously been living with Henry Miller in Big Sur, when she heard about Lin and decided to visit Ajijic:

“After my return to Ajijic from Mexico City, other foreigners came to stay, notably Nikolas (sic) Muzenic, with whom I fell in love. He had been a student of Josef Albers at Black Mountain College… Nikolas, alas, fell in love with Lynn, not with me. It was a disastrous affair that started out as if it would last forever. Nikolas remained in Ajijic for about two years…” (Secret Places, 7)].

In Wild Man, Schneebaum recalls that, “Lynn’s casual ways bewitched and irritated Nicolas, just as Nicolas’s arrogant, snobbish manner attracted and mortified Lynn. Nicolas moved into Lynn’s house and began a frenzied, volcanic affair that lasted two years.” (Wild Man, 13) Schneebaum adds that Nicolas eventually bought the property and forced Butterlin to move out, complete with his large collection of pre-Columbian art.

Ernesto Butterlin in his Ajijic studio, ca 1962

“Lin” (Ernesto Butterlin) in his Ajijic studio, ca 1962

In about 1948, Ernesto Butterlin, in association with one or more of his brothers, opened an art gallery in Ajijic. This is the gallery pictured in the Life Magazine article (23 December 1957) about Ajijic. The “Margo de Butterlin” or “Margaret North de Butterlin” described in that article was Otto’s lover (during his marriage to Peggy); Margo married Ernesto (who was gay) in order to acquire the Butterlin surname; she appears to have provided the financial means to help establish the gallery. In Life Magazine, she is described as “both rich and fashionable”, as well as, “US-born but Mexican by her last marriage”. The article goes on to say that “Her present husband runs the Galeria where the painters display their works and also buy drinks.”

Ernesto Butterlin: Untitled, ca 1950

Ernesto Butterlin: Untitled, ca 1950. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram

Disappointingly little is known of what became of most of Ernesto Butterlin’s pioneering artworks, and whether any are held in public collections, though both Ernesto and his older brother Otto were among the 28 artists given a joint exhibition in June 1954, in Mexico City, at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes’ Salón de la Plástica Mexicana. Other artists whose work was featured on that occasion include Roberto F. Balbuena, Michael Baxte, Leonora Carrinqton, Enrique Climent, José Feher, Elvira Gascón, Gunther Gerzso and Carlos Mérida.

Ernesto Butterlin died in 1964. Schneebaum’s claim that Lin “…committed suicide. In order to fit his six-foot, four-inch body into the coffin, it was necessary to cut off his feet at the ankles.” (Secret Places, 7) is sensationalist and less than reliable. Ernesto Butterlin’s funeral and wake were held at the home in Ajijic of John Lee, an American writer who was a friend of the artist in the early 1960s. Lee has written that Ernesto, who “stayed single and was a friend of Eric, the Hildreths, the Hoppers, and me”, “died of cancer”, a version of events substantiated by others who were around at the time, including the art gallery owner Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Partial list of sources:

  • Colony Reporter (Guadalajara), 16 July 1964.
  • El Informador, 24 Jan 1947, 6.
  • Tobias Schneebaum, Wild Man, Viking Press, 1979
  • Tobias Schneebaum, Secret Places: My life in New York and New Guinea, University of Wisconsin, 2000

This article was updated on 1 May 2016 to include mention of Ernesto Butterlin’s wife. As always, we would love to receive any comments, corrections or additional information.

Related posts:

Aug 032015
 

Clement Woodward Meighan (1925-1997) was an archaeologist who undertook field research in southern California, Baja California and western Mexico. His main link to the Chapala area is that he was the lead author (with Leonard J. Foote as co-author) of the monograph, Excavations at Tizapán el Alto, Jalisco (University of California Los Angeles, 1968).

Tizapán el Alto is the largest town on the southern shore of Lake Chapala. Foote led two fieldwork seasons at the site, and among the research students and volunteers helping on the dig was painter and muralist Tom Brudenell.

Onward And Upward!: Papers in Honor of Clement W. Meighan

Photo from cover of Onward And Upward!: Papers in Honor of Clement W. Meighan

Born in San Francisco, Meighan also lived in Phoenix, Arizona, (to recover from double pneumonia contracted before he was five years old) and in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

He first visited Mexico at age 17, when he spent several months in the country, traveling by the cheapest means he could find, which included 4th class trains. The following year, at age 18, he was drafted into the U.S. military. He was severely wounded while on active service in the second world war and spent three years in and out of military hospitals, before finally being discharged, still with a permanent limp. After the war ended, he used G.I Bill funding to study at the University of California, Berkeley, gaining undergraduate and doctoral degrees in anthropology, in 1949 and 1953 respectively.

In 1952, Meighan was appointed instructor in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He remained at UCLA for close to forty years before retiring from that institution in 1991. His contributions to UCLA (and to archaeology) were considerable. He founded the university’s archaeological survey, chaired its anthropology department, and played key roles in several regional and national organizations.

In addition to his work in California and Mexico, Meighan also undertook archaeological fieldwork in Utah, Arizona, Belize, Costa Rica, Chile, Guam, Nubia and Syria.

Meighan made important contributions to the fields of faunal analysis, rock art studies, and obsidian hydration analysis. He was one of the first modern archaeologists to recognize the importance of scientifically excavating sites in western Mexico. Since Meighan’s early work, several archaeological sites in Western Mexico, including El Ixztepete and Guachimontones have been partially restored and opened to the public.

Among his more noteworthy students at UCLA was writer Carlos Castaneda (The Teachings of Don Juan; a Yaqui Way of Knowledge, 1969). Taking Meighan’s class “Methods in Field Archaeology”prompted Castaneda to undertake a deeper study of Shamanism.

Meighan accompanied the 1962 expedition funded by mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner to record painted rock shelters in central Baja California. That expedition led to Gardner writing an article for Life and the book The Hidden Heart of Mexico (1962) as well as Meighan’s later academic account of the paintings in a 1966 journal article.

Meighan’s books on archaeology include: Californian Cultures and the Concept of an Archaic Stage (1959); A New Method for Seriation of Archaeological Collections (1959); Archaeology: an Introduction (1966); Prehistoric Rock Paintings in Baja California (1966); Indian Art and History. The Testimony of Prehispanic Rock Paintings in Baja California (1969); The Archaeology of Amapa, Nayarit (1976); Messages From the Past: Studies in California Rock Art (Monograph XX) (1981); Archaeology for Money (1986). Meighan was also co-author of numerous works including Sculpture of Ancient West Mexico: A Catalogue of the Proctor Stafford Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (University of New Mexico Press, 1989) and Discovering Prehistoric Rock Art: A Recording Manual (1990).

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.

Jul 302015
 

John Macarthur (“Jack”) Bateman was a painter, author and architect who was born on 9 October 1918 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and died on 15 March 1999. Bateman moved to Ajijic with his wife Laura Woodruff Bateman and three young children in 1952; the couple quickly became pillars of the local community, making exemplary contributions to the local social, cultural and artistic scene.

The Batemans were living in New York City prior to moving to Mexico. They responded to an advert in The New York Times which offered a home in Ajijic, together with five servants and a boat, for the princely sum of 150 dollars a month.

Jack Bateman studied architecture at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), prior to be called up for military service in January 1942. He served in the U.S. Navy from 21 January 1942 to 22 September 1945 at various Naval Air Stations, including a spell in North Africa flying submarine-hunting dirigibles. After the war, he completed his studies and then set up an industrial design studio in New York to produce, among other things, molded architectural elements made of plaster.

According to a blog post by Jack’s son-in-law Tom Vanderzyl, this led to Bateman having an unexpectedly significant impact on the work of the great German-born abstract expressionist artist Hans Hofmann who was living on the floor below:

…the painter/architect John MacArthur Bateman had a studio just above Hans Hoffmann (sic). In his studio, John poured large heavy 55-gallon drums of plaster into molds for architectural elements. It seems one day a plaster mold broke and sent 55 gallons of plaster pouring across his wooden plank floor that was also the ceiling of the studio under him, and the plaster dripped through the ceiling of the studio below. At the time, Hans had all of his paintings out looking them over for his upcoming show. Hans shouted upstairs in German for it to stop and that he needed help covering his work from the dripping plaster. Bateman along with his klutz brother-in-law, who had dropped the mold in the first place, came down to help. They used blankets and canvas in an attempt to cover the paintings, but it was too late. The plaster was setting up and the damage was done. Bateman put the best spin on it by telling Hans that his paintings needed that texture made by the pressed fabric and wet plaster and that the new tactile surface was in many ways more interesting. Now, he only needed to paint over the white plaster to get a far more interesting surface. Hans Hoffmann’s show was a success, and he would pop up to borrow plaster from time to time and talk with Bateman about materials.

bateman-book-coverFor the first few years in Mexico, Jack Bateman commuted back and forth to New York, spending about one week a month in the U.S. At home in Mexico, he spent time on his art and began to write. He authored five books including Loch Ness Conspiracy (New York: R. Speller & Sons, 1987), as well as a play, Caldo Michi, first performed in Ajijic in November 1998.

When the Lakeside Little Theater needed a new home in the mid-1980s, Bateman was a strong supporter of a plan to build a purpose-built facility on land donated by Ricardo O’Rourke, and acted as architect. The theater opened in 1987 and became the permanent home of Mexico’s most active English-language theater.

At various times sailor, artist, pilot, architect, writer and marketing consultant, whatever he turned his mind to, Jack Bateman made many unique contributions to the world.

For her part, Laura Bateman was a patron of the local arts scene in Ajijic, opening the village’s first purpose-built gallery, Rincón del Arte, at Hidalgo #41, Ajijic in about 1962. (For a couple of years prior to that, she had arranged shows in her own home). Rincón del Arte, which ran for many years, had monthly shows, featuring dozens and dozens of artists.For example, Whitford Carter exhibited at Rincón del Arte in both February 1967 and August 1968, while Peter Huf and his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf held a joint exhibit there in December 1967 .

Jack and Laura Bateman’s eldest daughter, Alice M. Bateman, studied in Guadalajara, London (U.K.), New York and Italy before becoming a successful professional artist-sculptor based in Forth Worth, Texas.

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.

Jul 202015
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 152015
 

Sam Eskin (1898-1974) was an ethnomusicologist who traveled widely in the U.S. and beyond recording folk music. He was actively recording musical and cultural events for more than thirty years, from 1938 to 1969. His extraordinary audio collection includes material from the U.S., Latin America, the British Isles, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and East Asia.

Eskin visited Ajijic during the time a friend, African American artist and photographer Ernest Alexander, was running Club Alacrán (The Scorpion Club), sometime between about 1950 and 1952. The second part of Eskin’s sound recording entitled Mexican firecrackers: a prayer and a festival (Smithsonian Folkways, 2001) was recorded from the patio of the Scorpion Club and features a religious festival in Ajijic, complete with church bells and pre-dawn firecrackers.

eskin-sam-firecrackers-ajijic-s

Eskin is quoted in the cover notes (written by Emory Cook) as saying that,

I was rudely awakened at three or four in the morning. The uproar was really deafening. I reached out from my bunk and flipped the tape machine on, set level and dozed off again. Fifteen minutes later firecrackers started going off, and sleep was no more that night…. Strangely enough, El Escorpion’s patio was infested with black widow spiders.”

Cook concludes his cover notes by writing,

In Mexico one religious festival follows closely on the heels of another. one never knows at what moment all heaven will break loose with church bells, firecrackers, singing, mariachis, brass bands. The entire populace along with roosters and dogs are swept on into the contagious festival spirit.”

(Emory Cook (1913-2002) was an audio engineer and inventor. From 1952 to 1966 Cook recorded, manufactured, and distributed some of the highest quality audio recordings in the world.)

Sam Eskin was born in Washington, D.C. on 5 July 1898. He left school after the 8th grade and worked at a wide variety of jobs, including stints as a taxi driver, clerk, magazine reporter, logger, merchant seaman, cattle hand and cannery worker, before working for 15 years for UPS (United Parcel Service). Settling in Woodstock, New York, Eskin read widely on folksongs, becoming a self-taught folklorist, primarily interested in “the collection, preservation, and evaluation of American folksongs, indigenous music, dance music, primitive drumming, oral storytelling, and oral histories.”

His interest in recording folk music coincided with a time of considerable technological advancement in recording equipment and Eskin embraced new emerging technology, regularly upgrading his disc and reel-to-reel tape recorders, amplifiers, and speakers.

Eskin made friends wherever he went and was able to make recordings in an amazing variety of settings. He gave numerous lectures to audiences at universities, workshops and folk festivals, and released two commercial albums, Sea Shanties and Loggers Songs, and the four-disc set Sam Eskin Songs and Ballads.

For more about Sam Eskin, see the Library of Congress Guide to the Sam Eskin Collection, 1939-1969.

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

Jun 122015
 

Painter and muralist Louis Ernest Lenshaw (1892-1988) was born in Esbjerg, Denmark, on 24 September, 1892. Lenshaw visited Chapala in the late 1940s or early 1950s while spending several months living and working in Guadalajara, though no details have yet emerged of his visit to Lakeside, or whether he painted whilst there. He does, however, have a connection to another European artist who spent some considerable time in Ajijic and whose paintings of the village were exhibited in Mexico City and elsewhere.

At age 14, Lenshaw was apprenticed to a local Danish artist. He also had considerable talent as a violinist and spent several years traveling across Europe (including Denmark, Norway and Germany), working as a decorative painter, but also playing the violin in cafes and movie houses. After a visit to Brazil he emigrated to the U.S. in 1921, landing at San Francisco. His first job was helping apply gold leaf to the sumptuous interior of the Fox Theater in Oakland.

While living in San Francisco, he took art classes at the the local Arts Students League and also spent time painting landscapes of northern California. During the 1930s Lenshaw fulfilled commissions for the Works Progress Administration (in the San Francisco County Hospital Children’s Ward and the Sunnyvale Housing Project Administration Building), and was one of the many painters who worked on murals for the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939-1940. He also painted murals in several commercial buildings in California.

Lenshaw married Hilma in 1924; the couple had two children: Vilma and Normand. In the 1940s and 1950s Lenshaw began to become seriously interested in Spanish dancing and flamenco guitar playing. The Lenshaws moved to San Diego in 1968. In 1978, at age 85, Lenshaw remained an enthusiastic member of the San Diego Folkdance Club and the San Diego Flamenco Association. In the words of the association’s newsletter for January 1978:

Ernest Lenshaw, a legend in San Diego… is a tall, outstandingly-featured man who radiates self-confidence with his erect posture and beret perched jauntily on his head. He speaks with a Danish accent, paints, plays flamenco guitar, dances, is famous for the castanets he makes, and attends as many flamenco events as possible.”

At one time or another, he met many of the world’s greatest flamencos. Louis Ernest Lenshaw remained active as a painter, dancer and musician up to the time of his death in Covina, California, on 1 February 1988.

In an oral history interview in 1964, Lenshaw recalled details of his time as a muralist in San Francisco, and his trip to Mexico, which he remembered as being in 1952*:

a Russian girl named Anna Medalie whom I know from… I worked with her before in a furniture shop …she was a flower painter… And when I went to Mexico, I was just about a month behind her. I went to Mexico in 1952 and wherever I went, we were talking about painters and what not and people said, “Do you know Ann Medalie?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, she’d just been here about a month ago or two months ago.” I was in Guadalajara and Taxco, Acapulco and I don’t know, Mexico City. I mean Sargent Johnson was also talking about her. He was acquainted with her at the same time.”

* In reality, Lenshaw must have visited Mexico much earlier than the 1952 he claimed in the interview, since Ann Medalie had definitely already moved to Israel by 1951. (See our post about the life and work of Ann Medalie).

Sources:

  • Oral history interview with Ernest Lenshaw, 1964 May 19, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  • Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.
  • “La Luz”, by Rosala, Jaleo (Newsletter of the Flamenco Association of San Diego) Vol 1 #6, January 1978

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

Jun 042015
 

One of the more interesting characters that made Ajijic a lively place to be in the early 1950s was the black American artist Ernest Alexander, known to most people simply as “Alex”. Alex was a painter and photographer who, from about 1950 to 1952, ran the Club Alacrán (Scorpion Club), a restaurant-bar in Ajijic, the hang-out of choice for the resident artists and writers of the time.

Ernest Alexander: Untitled (Shop front and doors). Image credit: Richard Norton Gallery

Ernest Alexander: Untitled (Shop front and doors). Image credit: Richard Norton Gallery

Relatively little is known for certain about Alex, though he is the subject of a fascinating memoir written by Sean Wilder. Wilder first met Alex in 1958, when the latter was living on handouts in the North Beach area of San Francisco. Wilder, later a practicing psychoanalyst, was only a teenager at the time but spent much of the following two years trying to comprehend Alex, while simultaneously questioning his own motives and desires. Wilder’s book, Alex, provides some telling insights into Alex’s charismatic, almost guru-like personality. In an epilogue to the book, Wilder sketches out what little biographical information he has gleaned about Alex, either from Alex himself, or from a select handful of people who knew Alex both in Ajijic and in San Francisco.

Wilder recalls the first time he met Alex in the Co-existence Bagel Shop (noted for its fine breakfasts, the Co-Existence Bagel Shop was a social center for the North Beach Beats until it closed in 1960):

Alex was the man sitting in the corner seat, a long, lean, handsome, “black”… with alert, mischievous, seductively heavy-lidded eyes, probably wearing a khaki army surplus shirt and blue jeans with frayed cuffs, and badly scuffed brown leather shoes, but no socks. No rings, either, no watch, no jewelry of any kind decorated him.”

Alex intimated to Wilder that he had spent his childhood in Long Branch, New Jersey, and that there was, or had been, money in the family. Wilder describes how Alex spoke “educated Eastern Seaboard English”, with an impressive vocabulary, and used language colorfully, as a form of “oral poetry”. Alex was a verbal gymnast, giving quick retorts and enigmatic responses.

Following a period of military service in a communications unit in the Pacific, Alex returned to civilian life after the second world war, with a metal plate in his head, and used his G.I. Bill funding to take art classes at the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago. Alex’s magnetic appeal helped foment the nascent jazz and poetry scene of the Art Circle (a housing community for artists) on the near north side of Chicago. Among the poets that Alex became close to were Bob Kaufman, ruth weiss—who would herself visit Ajijic in the late 1950s—Gwendolyn Brooks, and Lorraine Hansberry (inspired by Brooks), who attended a summer art school in Ajijic in 1949.

Alex’s influence on ruth weiss was profound. He is credited with persuading her to read her poetry to live jazz for the very first time:

In 1948 weiss took a room at the Art Circle on the near north side of Chicago. She began listening to Bop and reading her poetry to audiences there. In 1949 an African American painter named Ernest Alexander asked her to read with the Art Circle jazz ensemble. She accepted the invitation and has been reading to jazz ever since.” (Blows Like a Horn: Beat Writing, Jazz, Style, and Markets in the Transformation of U.S. Culture, by Preston Whaley, Harvard University Press, 2009)

Ernest Alexander: Sketch of Gwendolyn Brooks (frontispiece of Annie Allen)

Ernest Alexander: Sketch of Gwendolyn Brooks (frontispiece of Annie Allen)

Gwendolyn Brooks, a close friend of Alex, became the first black writer to win a Pulitzer when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950 for her second collection, Annie Allen, published the year before. The frontispiece of Annie Allen is Alex’s simple, yet powerful, portrait of Brook’s head, an illustration also used on the book’s dust jacket.

According to George E. Kent, the author of A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, Brooks’s poem “A Lonely Love”, published in 1960, is entirely about her intense personal relationship with Ernest Alexander.

In 1949, the same year that his illustration was used for Annie Allen, Alex had a painting chosen for inclusion in the “53rd annual showing by artists of Chicago and vicinity”, a major exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. This was a significant achievement for a painter who was apparently largely self-taught. The painting in question, entitled “Shop Front and Doors”, was priced at $350.

Among the other artists included in the exhibition were George Buehr (a professor of art for many years at the Art Institute of Chicago) and his wife Margo Hoff. Buehr, and possibly Margo, had spent some time in Ajijic a few years previously, and may well have provided the inspiration for Alex’s decision to transfer his G.I. Bill funding to the Fine Arts school of the University of Guadalajara later that year.

In Mexico, Alex studied painting, sculpture and photography, and also met Dorothy Whelan, a Canadian whose husband was serving seven years in a Mexican jail for passing bad checks. Alex and “Dolly”, as she was known, set up house in Ajijic, where Dolly, at least for a time, was a cook at the Posada Ajijic. Among their close friends were painter-potter David Morris and his wife Helen, a former dancer. San Francisco Bay area sculptors Robert McChesney and his wife Mary Fuller were also both in Ajijic at this time.

Dorothy Whelan in Bar Alacrán, Ajijic, ca 1952. Photo in collection of Katie Goodridge Ingram; reproduced with kind permission.

Dorothy Whelan in Alex’s studio in Club Alacrán, Ajijic, ca 1952. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

In Ajijic, Alex opened a restaurant-bar named Club Alacrán (Scorpion Club), which was in operation from about 1950 to 1952. The club attracted locals and expatriates alike. Alex instituted a two-tier pricing system, charging Mexicans less than Americans for their drinks.

Katie Goodridge Ingram remembers the building well, because it had previously been the studio of her step-father, the artist and sculptor Mort Carl. The Club Alacrán, on Calle Constitución at its intersection with Ramón Corona, “was set up in a small two-room house with a patio and kitchen area. Alex was a very jolly, welcoming and bright host. It briefly became “the” place.” Ingram also recalls that Alex was a fine cook with a penchant for hosting massive barbecues on the beach.

While he was running Club Alacrán, Alex was visited by the ethnomusicologist Sam Eskin. The second part of Eskin’s sound recording entitled Mexican firecrackers: a prayer and a festival (Smithsonian Folkways, 2001) was recorded from the patio of the Scorpion Club and features a religious festival in Ajijic, complete with church bells and pre-dawn firecrackers.

Eskin is quoted in the cover notes as recalling that,

I was rudely awakened at three or four in the morning. The uproar was really deafening. I reached out from my bunk and flipped the tape machine on, set level and dozed off again. Fifteen minutes later firecrackers started going off, and sleep was no more that night…. Strangely enough, El Escorpion’s patio was infested with black widow spiders.”

Ernest Alexander: Photo of typical lane in Ajijic, ca 1949. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Ernest Alexander: Photo of typical lane in Ajijic, ca 1949. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Ernest ALexander: Photo of Lake Chapala fishermen and nets, ca 1950. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Ernest Alexander: Photo of Lake Chapala fishermen and nets, ca 1950. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Little is known about the whereabouts of Alex’s artwork from this time, though in the late 1950s he showed Sean Wilder some small masks that he had sculpted and some photos of paintings. Wilder describes one of Alex’s paintings, almost certainly of Lake Chapala:

His paintings were as calm and meditative as his sculpture was full of violent vitality. One of them made a particularly strong impression on me: what appeared to be a fisherman’s shack (I recall a net and floaters hung out on a wall to dry) in the full golden blast of a sun-drenched late afternoon, while above and behind it the sky was blue-gray with ominous storm clouds.” (Alex, p 173)

Unfortunately, the good times for Alex did not last long. In December 1951 or early in 1952, a serious altercation broke out in the bar during which he almost strangled one of his patrons. Even the birth of Alex and Dolly’s son Mark a few months later was only a temporary respite for the couple. Soon afterwards, Dolly’s husband (John Thomas Babin), having escaped or completed his sentence, returned to Ajijic demanding his wife back. Another huge scene ensued. Alex was forced to give up the Club Alacrán. By April of the following year (1953), he had been expelled from Mexico under the infamous Artículo 33, that section of the constitution which allows Mexican authorities to expel “undesirable” foreigners without due process. Dolly and Mark accompanied him to San Francisco. (Coincidentally, their friends David and Helen Morris returned to the San Francisco Bay area at about the same time.)

In 1953, Ernest Alexander was one of 14 artists (with Robert McChesney, Lenore Cetone and others) exhibiting in Sausalito, California, at the annual Spring Art Show at the Sausalito Art Center from 29 March to 12 April 1953. A Sausalito News piece in June 1953 refers to Alex and his wife as “the Ernie Alexanders of Marin City”, when listing the artists who attended an art show at the Tin Angel on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. In August 1953, the same newspaper lists Ernest Alexander, of “208 Second Street”, as the chairman of the exhibition committee for the second annual Sausalito Arts Center Fair to be held at Shell Beach in mid-September, alongside the annual Regatta.

By 1955, Alex’s world began to unravel. In February 1955, police were called to a “fracas” at the annual Sausalito Artists Ball. According to a press report:

“Charles Carmona, an employee of St. Vincent’s School for Boys north of San Rafael, was given first aid by the Sausalito fire department to check the bleeding from severe facial cuts. He told police that Ernest Alexander, former Sausalitan now living in San Francisco, hit him in the face with a beer bottle after he had danced with Alexander’s wife. Carmona claimed the blow splintered the bottle and police said the injured man had deep cuts on his forehead, nose, chin and both cheeks. Alexander denied he hit Carmona with the bottle and witnesses to the fracas said they did not see Alexander wield the weapon.” No charges were laid because “Carmona refused to sign a complaint against Alexander”.

At some point in 1955, Dolly died in hospital while undergoing a second mastectomy. Alex, distraught, began to fall apart. As Alex slid towards insanity (perhaps due to general paresis caused by late-stage syphilis), Mark was taken into the local foster care system.

For the remaining 15 years or so of his life, Alex was never the same. He stopped painting, spent time in state mental institutions, developed paranoia, and lived for extended periods on hand-outs. It is at this stage of his life that Sean Wilder first met him. Wilder recalls that while Alex no longer painted, he enjoyed listening to the music of Billie Holiday and loved cookbooks, reading and valuing them like other people read poetry or novels.

The final chapter in the tragic story of Alex’s final years ended in February 1974. The precise date is unknown because he died alone in his apartment at 138-6th St, San Francisco, and his body was not found until four months later. He was buried in Willamette National Cemetery, Portland, Oregon, on 25 July 1974.

While Alex’s contributions to the Ajijic art scene have been largely forgotten or ignored, his place in the Chicago art scene has been recognized by the inclusion of his paintings in two major group exhibitions:  “Black on Black: The Works of Black artists from Chicago Black Collectors” (University of Illinois at Chicago, 1983) and “The Flowering: African-American Artists and Friends in 1940s Chicago: A Look at the South Side Community Art Center”, (Illinois State Museum, 1993).

Note and acknowledgments:

  • An earlier version of this post incorrectly named Ernest Alexander’s son as “Luke”. This has now been corrected to “Mark”.
  • My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing her memories of Alex (and photo of his studio) and for permission to reproduce examples of his fine photographs.

Reference:

  • Sausalito News. 19 March 1953, p 7; 2 April 1953, p 7; 25 June 1953, p3; 27 August 1953, p 5; 25 February 1955, p 1.
  • Wilder, Sean. 2011. Alex (self-published via Lulu.com).

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

Jun 012015
 

Born in 1928, ruth weiss is a renowned American poet, playwright and artist, best known for reciting her poetry to the accompaniment of live jazz. She visited Ajijic and Chapala briefly during an extended road trip to Mexico in 1958-1959, with her husband and her dog.

weiss was born in 1928 into a Jewish family in Berlin. Her family left Berlin for Vienna in 1933 and then relocated to New York in 1938. weiss lived for a time in Chicago, but eventually settled in San Francisco in 1952.

Alex’s magnetic appeal helped foment the nascent jazz and poetry scene of the Art Circle (a housing community for artists) on the near north side of Chicago. Among the poets that Alex became close to were Bob Kaufman, ruth weiss—who would herself visit Ajijic in the late 1950s—Gwendolyn Brooks, and Lorraine Hansberry (inspired by Brooks), who attended a summer art school in Ajijic in 1949.

In Chicago, in 1949, weiss was a resident of the Art Circle (a housing community for artists) on the near north side of Chicago. This is where she first met Ernest Alexander (“Alex”), who played a decisive role in persuading her to start reading her poetry to jazz. In I Always Thought You Black (a tribute to her African American artist friends), weiss wrote that,

ERNEST ALEXANDER long & brown listens to my poem. in my black blue-bulb room.
pulls me upstairs. sez now read to these folks. they gotta hear this.
my first own home. my first turntable. my first modeling nude. my first poetry aloud.
someone blows a horn. someone brushes a drum. i’m reading to jazz man.”

This quickly became a trademark of readings by ruth weiss.

weiss-cant-stop-the-beatA year or so after they first met, Alex left Chicago for Mexico where he lived and worked for a few years in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. weiss moved to San Francisco, where she became a prominent member of the counter-culture movement of San Francisco, and good friends with the likes of Jack Kerouac, Bob Kaufman and surrealist poet Philip Lamantia. In the 1960s, she started to use only lower case for her name in a symbolic protest against “law and order” since in her birthplace of Germany all nouns are capitalized.

weiss mentions Alex several more times in I Always Thought You Black.

For example, weiss writes about how she and Alex used to work together:

Oh ALEX lover of my first woman-lover JERI WANTAJA. your
paintings of birds. your studio bright & wild with their
flight. your studio a three-cornered touchstone where i
write in a corner. look out at warehouses trucks dawn.
come rain come shine.

weiss also describes how she met Alex again several years later, in San Francisco, after Alex’s return from Mexico in 1953:

oh ALEX. is it 1955 or 6 or 7. THE CELLAR. san francisco
north beach. where i had started poetry & jazz. you walk
in. i carry glasses & bottles. almost drop them. we hug.
your wife with you. your first-born soon after. it’s all a
blur. your wife and boy dead. mexico.

you become a legend. it’s the beat-time. day after day
in & out of the CO-EXISTENCE BAGEL SHOP. you stand outside.
you sit inside. you walk up & down. you talk at. you
talk at.  you talk at. you hold my eye in your hand.
it slips from your hand. it is wet with tears.”

weiss’s links to the Lake Chapala area would be tenuous at best (and only by proxy via Alex) were it not for her extended road trip to Mexico in 1958-1959, with her husband, Mel Weitsman, and dog, zimzum. They left San Francisco on Tuesday 14 October 1958 and returned in early February 1959.

In Can’t stop the beat, the life and words of a Beat poet, published in 2011, weiss includes her narrative poem COMPASS, her diary of the trip to Mexico. Her entry for Ajijic reads,

oct. 31 … ajijic aside-town where many i have known have been … divided
… there the square and park … we leave the car … to wander slowly
pebbled street … sleepy hot … a place … a face familiar … we must have
known each other’s presence … then … the house to look for … he was in
it … bill filling the window now … the girl in jeans and black is smile
and small … ny to sf … mexico city … she is here now … art later …
bill and he split one scene for this one … we fill the house … it’s lori’s
… a legend … romana is the maid or more than … two nights around …
past halloween … the ghosts have dog-voices against the moon … another
stranger met again … she is blonde in the dark house … all in the hosue
… the glass room catches us … each one … the orange cat the guardian …
we leave the halloween by day … the lake around … the road is village …
the space between … the lake is low … or have the lake-plants grown this
noon … each cow a slow a sudden focus … the earth people move slow …
each step an earth-beat … the burro the boy the woman the urn … the man
the wood … eyes in the stone … blue mountains from the far red plain …
the sky the whirr the clouds … rain a shaft between two black mountains …
red road to a red town in a red plain … the corn is dry …

As Matt Gonzalez has written, “Part travel journal and part surreal dreamscape, no text of the beat era captures Mexico with more authenticity and immediacy than weiss’s 80-page COMPASS.”

Books by ruth weiss include: Steps (1958), Gallery of Women (1959), South Pacific (1959), Blue in Green (1960), Light and other poems (1976), Desert Journal (1977), Single Out (1978) 13 Haiku (1986), For these women of the beat (1997), A new view of matter (1999), Full circle (2002), Africa (2003), White is all colors (2004), No dancing aloud (2006), Can’t stop the beat (2011), Fool’s journey (2012). ruth weiss has appeared in several short films by Stephen Arnold, including Liberation of Mannique Mechanique (1967), The Various Incarnations of a Tibetan Seamstress (1967), Messages, Messages (1968), Luminous Procuress (1971); Pyramid (1972).

Weiss died on 31 July 2020.

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