Dec 012022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

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

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

 Posted by at 5:58 am  Tagged with:
Nov 172022
 

Artist and international art educator Bruce Robert Sherratt and his first wife, Lesley Jervis, a British sculptor, lived in Jocotepec at the western end of Lake Chapala, from 1968 to 1970. Prior to their arrival in Mexico, they had lived and traveled for some time in the USA.

Bruce Robert Sherratt was born in Biddulph, Derbyshire on 31 May 1944. Both Sherratt and his wife studied at the Newcastle School of Art in Newcastle on Tyne, Staffordshire, before moving to London where they married in 1963, and where Sherratt gained his degree in drawing and painting from the Camberwell College of Arts. Many years later, as a mature student, he also completed a degree in Art Education from the University of Wales in Cardiff, U.K.

Sherratt has written of fulfilling a youthful ambition by traveling (with his wife) to Mexico, where he gradually established his own identity as a surrealist painter, “hypnotized by the Aztec, Mayan and Toltec mythology” and “drawn to the giants of Mexican revolutionary muralism such as Orozco, Rivera, Tamayo and Siquieros.”

After reaching Jocotepec, the young couple rented a huge house called “El Kiosko”, “with spectacular views of the entire lake”, set up their studio, and got to work. Sherratt describes them as “hermits”, obsessed by their work: “We were very serious, determined to develop our work and we were very ambitious.” They had relatively little connection to the Lakeside art scene of the time, though they did frequent Ramón’s bar on the plaza and got to know Jocotepec artists (Don) Shaw and John Frost.

During his time in Mexico, Sherratt held several exhibitions of his work , including a solo show at the Galería Municipal in Guadalajara in 1969.

Bruce Sherratt. 1970. Silent Cataclysm (oil on canvas). Credit: Bruce Sherratt Gallery.

Bruce Sherratt. 1970. Silent Cataclysm (oil on canvas). Credit: Bruce Sherratt Gallery.

Sherratt showed works at the Easter art show at Posada Ajijic in March 1970, alongside John K. Peterson, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, (Don) Shaw, John Frost and Lesley Sherratt.

In June 1970, Bruce Sherratt’s work was in a group exhibit in Guadalajara at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense. Other artists participating in this show, included Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, John Frost, Mario Aluta, Daphne Aluta, Chester Vincent, Lesley Jervis Maddock (aka Lesley Sherratt), Gustave Aranguren, Hector Navarro, and Willi Hartung. According to the Guadalajara Reporter, the three works by Sherratt, titled “Victims,” showed “imaginative fluidity,”

Bruce Sherratt - 1971 exhibit

Bruce Sherratt – 1971 exhibit

The following month (July 1970) the Anglo Mexican Institute in Mexico City held a joint show of Sherratt’s paintings and sculptures by ‘Madock’ (the art name used by Lesley, his wife). This show in Mexico City was apparently at the encouragement of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.

After his time in Jocotepec, Sherratt traveled to California, where he painted for a year in San Francisco. His work was exhibited in a group show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1970) and in an exhibit entitled “Surrealist Painters in San Francisco”, in the Vorpal Gallery, San Francisco (also 1970).

The following year, he had another exhibit of oils and drawings in Guadalajara, in the Galeria Municipal. In his review for El Informador, John Frost called it “a passionate description of a trip to another world”, writing that Sherratt, “guides us through regions that could alarm and depress us if it was not for his vision and artistic discipline”. El Informador‘s regular art columnist, J. Luis Meza Ina, however, viewed the show as the work of a painter, not an artist.

At the end of 1971, Sherratt’s work was included in the San Francisco Vorpal Gallery Christmas Show, alongside works by Robert Clutton (who had also lived for several years at Lake Chapala), John Denning, Muldoon Elder, Roy Glover, Stephen Haines Hall, and Gary Smith.

After his time in San Francisco, Sherratt decided to travel the world and spent several years meandering through Latin America. He became sufficiently interested in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, and color theory, to return to the UK to take a degree in Art Education, before becoming a respected international art educator, whose teaching career has taken him to international schools in Germany, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sherratt’s studio is currently in Ubud on the island of Bali in Indonesia, where he is the founder and CEO of the Bali Center for Artistic Creativity (BCAC). The powerful and colorful images on his website show there are few limits to his imagination and artistic abilities. In the past twenty years or so, he has exhibited in numerous countries, including several shows in Jakarta, Indonesia: a retrospective at the Duta Fine Arts Foundation (1998), a show entitled “Synthesis and Abstraction” at the British Council (2001) and an exhibition at the ExpatriArt Gallery (2005).

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

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

Acknowledgment

Sincere thanks to Bruce Sherratt for sharing, via email, some of his memories from his time in Mexico. To see more of his work, please visit his website.

This is a revised version of a profile first published 25 June 2015.

Sources

  • El Informador, 5 June 1970; 10 May 1971; 16 May 1971.
  • Evening Sentinel (Stoke on Trent), 21 Sep 1963, 8.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970.
  • The Peninsula Times Tribune, 1 Jan 1972, 42.
  • Justino Fernández. 1971. Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en el año 1970. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.

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

 Posted by at 6:06 am  Tagged with:
Nov 102022
 

Inveterate world traveler Norman D Ford (1921-2009) described Lake Chapala and Ajijic in several of his books, including in Bargain Paradises of the World (1952). By 1970, he had decided that Lake Chapala was “no longer the cheapest place in Mexico. Since 1950, about 1,500 American couples have moved into its two dreamy villages of Chapala and Ajijic. Prices have inevitably risen. But building costs still average only $4 per square foot, and you can hire a maid for $12 or a cook for $16 a month.”

“You can have a modern home built for under $5,000…. For two, you can budget about $70 for food and $30 for utilities and your maid per month. The rest is for high living–golf, riding or swimming by day, followed by some of the most fabulous parties on this continent.”

Ford was born in the UK on 8 January 1921, the only child of Frederick William John Matthew and Jessie Shortland Ford. He grew up in Wales, and became a lifelong adventurer, especially keen on cycling, hiking and kayaking. During six years service as a radio operator in the Merchant Navy during the second world war, Ford traveled as far as the U.S., Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Ford-cover

A few days after the war ended, Ford declared himself president of the Globetrotters Club, a then loose-knit organization which produced “a monthly newsletter describing how to travel the world at rock bottom cost, plus a list of other members.” This helped popularize low budget adventure travel to all manner of unlikely destinations.

In early 1947 he moved permanently to the US where he worked as an editor and began to write travel and retirement books, starting with Where to Retire on a Small Income (1950). The success of this book, and several later books, enabled Ford to quit his day job, move to Florida, and focus on freelance writing. By 1980 travel writing had become increasingly competitive, so Ford moved to Boulder, Colorado, and switched to writing popular books about health issues. He spent the last years of his life in Kerville, Texas, where he died on 19 June 2009 at the age of 88.

Ford wrote a more detailed account of Ajijic in Fabulous Mexico where everything costs less. The following excerpts are from the 10th edition (1970).

AJIJIC. Alt 5,030′, pop 3,500. An ancient Tarascan fishing village, Ajijic nestles on the lush shores of Lake Chapala beneath a steep, green and aesthetically contoured mountain range…. You notice the neat, trim plaza with its well painted bandstand, the picturesque fishing nets strung along the shore. What lies behind those bare adobe walls? Inside are white patios lush with flowers, well equipped art studios and the comfortable homes and apartments of Ajijic’s 300 permanent American residents.”

Ford summarizes how foreigners ‘discovered’ Ajijic and began to change it:

Years ago, a retired British engineer seeking a Utopia discovered this garden spot and built himself an impressive lakeshore home fronted by an acre of color-splashed blooms. After World War II, veterans studying in Guadalajara found they could live well here on their G.I. Bill payments. Artists moved in, led by several well known modern painters. Several writers and musicians followed together with a group of enterprising ladies who reorganized Ajijic’s dwindling handlooms crafts into a thriving industry. With a few exceptions, this group still forms Ajijic’s Old Guard. Getting in early, they bought up the choicest lots and homes, secured long term leases on the lowest rentals and today, most of these old timers offer outstanding examples of the way in which the good life can be enjoyed in Mexico on little.”

Ford explains that while some of these incomers were still paying “fantastically low rents” [$7.50 to $15.00 a month] “and living well on very small budgets,” some were “constructing lavish homes costing up to $14,000 and $15,000. New homes are sprouting all around the village and to the west, ultra modern homes are studding a new hillside subdivision.”

He concluded that “Ajijic today is a slightly raffish, slightly bohemian rustic village where retirees outnumber the artists five to one.” The foreign community was changing: “Ajijic is still no place for suburban conformists but neither is its nonconformity disquieting. Drinks and gossip are still favorite pastimes but criticism today centers on the unstable electricity, the water supply which sometimes runs dry in May, and the water hyacinths which clog the lake rather than on eccentric people.”

Besides writing about Mexico, Ford wrote dozens of other books, including Florida: A Complete Guide to Finding What You Seek in Florida (1953); How to travel without being rich (1955); America’s 50 best cities in which to live, work, and retire (1956); America by car : planned routings to all that’s worth seeing (1957); Where to retire on a small income (1966); Good night : the easy and natural way to sleep the whole night through (1983); Keep on pedaling : the complete guide to adult bicycling (1990); 50 Healthiest Places to Live & Retire in the United States (1991); The sleep Rx: 75 proven ways to get a good night’s sleep (1994); and Natural remedies: techniques for preventing headaches and the common cold (1994).

When Ford looked back on his varied experiences on several continents, including cycling trips in 38 countries, he concluded that:

travel half a century ago was much more rewarding and much more fun…. Overall, the world was much safer then with far less risk of being robbed or mugged. In fact, every year since 1945 I’ve witnessed a world-wide deterioration in the quality of life and the quality of the travel experience. Each year, more Coca-Cola signs appear and almost every country is rapidly losing its national character while it fuses into a faceless industrial monoculture.”

That is so true! The world has changed, and is continuing to change, though not always for the better.
Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022) explains the changes that have taken place in Ajijic since 1940 in far more detail.

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

Sources

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

Oct 062022
 

Painter, print maker and sculptor Stanley (“Stan”) Fullerton (1935-2018) lived in Chapala in the early 1960s and subsequently became a successful painter in the Santa Cruz area, California.

Born in Portland, Oregon, on 19 January 1935, Fullerton had already exhibited at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco (one of the favorite venues of Beat era poets and artists) and held a solo show at the Telegraph Hill Gallery, in that city in 1958 before he moved to New York where he studied at the Art Students League (1959-60), became friends with George Grosz, and held solo shows at the European Gallery (1959) and the Hilda Carmel Gallery (1960).

After a short period of service in Korea and Japan with the US Marines, Fullerton spent a year or two at Lake Chapala, before settling in the Santa Cruz area of California in the mid-1960s. His wife, Gail Putney, was the first female president of San Jose State University. The couple moved to Coos Bay, Oregon, in the 1990s.

Stan Fullerton. 1969. Man Playing Cello Outdoors.

Stan Fullerton. 1969. Man Playing Cello Outdoors

According to former “Merry Prankster” Lee Quarnstrom, Fullerton “inspired both the stoic American Indian character, “Chief” Bromden, and recidivist criminal, Randle McMurphy, in Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

In the words of journalist Mark Marinovich:

Fullerton’s expressionistic paintings, prints and drawings are populated by improbable characters juxtaposed in even more improbable circumstances.”
– “ “I paint human folly. I paint authority figures as fools, and fools as authority figures.” Fullerton champions self-expression, which, he asserted, is generally lacking in American art.”

Despite not liking to exhibit his art, Fullerton held several one-man shows, including exhibitions at The Cupola Gallery, Santa Cruz (1966), The Downstairs Gallery, Los Gatos (1970), Pacific Grove Art Center, Pacific Grove (1982), Bruce Velick Gallery, San Francisco (1987) and Southwestern Oregon City College, North Bend, Oregon (2016).

Exhibit of works by Stan Fullerton, 2017

Exhibit of work by Stan Fullerton, 2017.

His group shows included Nova I in Berkeley, California (1969), The Great Montgrove Craft Guild, Pacific Grove (1970), 1971- 1973 The Forge in the Forest, Carmel (1971, 1972, 1973), Corn Roast, Davenport (1972), and Bruce Velick Gallery, San Francisco (1987) and Untitled 2.0 Gallery, Grants Pass, Oregon (2017).

Fullerton’s friends during his time in Chapala included guitarist Jim Byers. Byers and Fullerton were also close buddies in Santa Cruz. Fullerton was bartender at The Catalyst, where Byers—dubbed “The First King of Lompico” by one regular—often played classical guitar for tips.

Stan Fullerton had been widowed two years when he died in Coos Bay, Oregon, in 2018.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village explore the history of the vibrant art community of Ajijic.

Sources

  • Jim Byers, personal communication, August 2015.
  • Mark Marinovich. 1984. “Improbable world of Stan Fullerton.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 30 March 1984, 68.
  • Mark Marinovich. Undated. “Online Biography of Stanley Fullerton.”
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, California, 7 July 1970, 4;
  • Anonymous comment dated 30 September 2015 at Hip Santa Cruz History Project.

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

 Posted by at 5:46 am  Tagged with:
Sep 292022
 

In the early 1960s, Grant Risdon, a student at San Francisco Art Institute, lived in Chapala for some time. Risdon, a larger than life character, became friends with guitarist Jim Byers, and the two men rented rooms in El Manglar, the extensive lakeside estate in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Scott Hampson, who visited his half-sister Beverly Johnson in Ajijic over the winter of 1963-64, shared his tales of his own adventures with Grant Risdon:

By that time I had two close friends who kept me company out at Manglar. One, the one I was closest to, was Tony Bateman…. He and I and a friend named Grant stole two very expensive early era inflatable boats from two explorer tourists who were en-route back from South America. They were staying at a lakefront hotel in town and had the boats out on their deck. We stored them at Manglar and took midnight floats out on the lake, which was the only time one could float stolen boats…. One late night in the graveyard we unbuckled the crypt of an important ancient citizen, a priest perhaps. When we got the lid off and shone our flashlight inside we saw the skeleton, screamed, and took off running like contestants in a 100 yard dash.”

A year earlier, an encounter with Risdon and Byers had left an indelible impression on Doctor Avis, as recounted by Dayton Lummis in Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. According to Lummis: “Ajijic was then, 1962, just barely beginning to be discovered, mostly by a few beatniks and adventurers” when Doctor Avis got out of the army and decided to stay there a few days:

Not long after getting off the bus in Ajijic he fell in with two American chaps, Jim Byers and Grant Risdon from Chicago, who playfully called himself “Pancho Napoleon Anaya… These two chaps directed the Doctor to some cheap lodging and then suggested they buy some of the locally available and very cheap marijuana, or mota, to assist them in getting through the afternoon…”

Risdon’s moniker reflected the fact that he had been informally adopted by the prominent Anaya family in Chapala.

Grant Risdon. Credit: Monterey County Weekly.

Grant Risdon. Credit: Monterey County Weekly.

Risdon, who was born in Monterey, California, in about 1943, started life with an abusive father and, while still a child, lost his mother to a heroin overdose. Brought up by his grandfather in Jamesburg, near Cachagua, RIsdon eventually graduated from Carmel High and served briefly in the US Marines before moving to Lake Chapala.

His art education had begun with Monterey painter Buck Warshawsky, and his early works were sufficiently original to be greatly admired by Jack Swanson, a renowned cowboy painter living in Carmel Valley. Swanson awarded him the top prize in an art contest at the Trail & Saddle Club for a painted three-panel door.

The only Risdon artworks known to have been published are the “brilliant illustrations (Aztec Design)” linoleum block prints he produced for a hand bound book of poems by Richard Denner, published in 1968.

Risdon sold pastel drawings of ships in local galleries, and often painted scenes of the Civil War, the Old West and Native Americans. Adorning the Cachagua General Store for years was one of his “Indian Surrealism” pieces: an image of a canoe under a full moon, with its Native American rower only visible as a reflection in the water.

In 1981, following a violent altercation with a naked man, Risdon fled police to hide out in a cave in Los Padres National Forest for the next three years, before returning to the scene of the crime to turn himself in. Or did he? Risdon was a brilliant raconteur but, according to many friends and journalists, was liberal with the truth and often embellished his stories for dramatic effect. Years later, Conall Jones, a New York filmmaker, produced a 20-minute documentary short, An Unwanted Man (2014), about Risdon’s years on the lam. [link is to trailer]

Friends considered Risdon “a sensitive soul who loved horses, painted Western-style art and pursued history and culture with almost as much passion as he did pretty women.” He always retained very fond memories of Lake Chapala and Mexico. In the words of one journalist:

Reliving those memories behind the General Store, Risdon clacks his castanets and sings “El Lechero,” a Mexican folk song about a handsome milkman. The nostalgia begins to flow like tequila: how he tangoed with beautiful women in the Guadalajara dance halls, received a presidential smile during Jonn F. Kennedy’s visit to Mexico, and learned spirituality from the Huichol Indians of Jalisco.
– “Honey, that place – ” he says with a dreamy smile, “that is the most beautiful time in my life.”

Risdon, who returned briefly to Chapala in about 2014, died in Cachagua, California, in 2018.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village look at Ajijic’s vibrant art community and its 1960s’ drugs scene.

Sources

  • Kera Abraham. 2010. “The improbable and irresistible saga of Cachagua’s living legend, Grant Risdon.” Monterey County Weekly, 29 April 2010.
  • Jim Byers, personal communications, August 2015.
  • Richard Denner. 1968. Poemes. D-Press (Ketchikan, Alaska).
  • Scott Hampson. 2016. Unpublished document dated December 2016 titled “BEVERLY AND MEXICO 63-64″, sent to me December 2020:
  • Dayton Lummis. 2011. Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. iUniverse, 159-160.

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

 Posted by at 5:49 am  Tagged with:
Sep 222022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

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

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

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

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

luis-sahagun-cover

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Sep 152022
 

Sometimes amateur artists paint something close to unique. Jim Byers, born in about 1940, first visited Lake Chapala in 1960 after graduating from Berkeley High School, California. He remained in Mexico for three years before returning north to study for a degree in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

For part of this first extended visit to Mexico, Byers lived at the extensive property in San Antonio Tlayacapan, known as El Manglar, where President Díaz stayed on several occasions in the 1900s, paying the princely sum of $18 a month for room and board.

Jim Byers. 1961. Photograph of El Manglar.

Jim Byers. 1961. Photograph of El Manglar.

It was at El Manglar that Byers took this photograph of where he was living and completed a painting of the same scene. While Byers had no pretensions as a visual artist, his 1961 painting of El Manglar is the only one I’m currently aware of. Byers explained to me that,

“It’s a one of a kind. I painted it when I was young and had had a couple of art classes as a teenager. I am glad you like it. It was here in Ajijic when I was maybe 19 years old.” He then went on to point out that “the guy on the bench is Montgomery Clift playing Freud in a movie, the skeleton is the Mona Lisa… the guy flying is of course the artist.”

Jim Byers. 1961. El Manglar.

Jim Byers. 1961. El Manglar, San Antonio, Ajijic.

El Manglar is also associated with American artist Everett Gee Jackson. Shortly after their marriage in 1926, Jackson and his wife, Eileen, rented it and lived their with a couple of friends for several months. Jackson described El Manglar’s extensive grounds and idiosyncratic decorations:

Eileen and I took the large music room, with its shining tile floor, for our bedroom. We thought it must have been the old dictator’s music room, since it had cupids playing musical instruments painting on the ceiling.

Staying at El Manglar for at least part of the time Byers was there, was Grant Risdon, a student at the San Francisco Art Institute who was a frequent visitor to Chapala. An encounter with Risdon and Byers in 1962 left an indelible impression on Doctor Avis, as recounted by Dayton Lummis in Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. According to Lummis: “Ajijic was then, 1962, just barely beginning to be discovered, mostly by a few beatniks and adventurers” when Doctor Avis got out of the army and decided to stay there a few days:

“Not long after getting off the bus in Ajijic he fell in with two American chaps, Jim Byers and Grant Risdon from Chicago, who playfully called himself “Pancho Napoleon Anaya… These two chaps directed the Doctor to some cheap lodging and then suggested they buy some of the locally available and very cheap marijuana, or mota, to assist them in getting through the afternoon…”

Jim’s drug of choice, however, was not mota or painting but playing classical guitar. In his own words,

“I came here in 1960 when I got out of high school. I decided to hitchhike South and kept going. I’m a classical guitarist and was very very good friends with Gustavo Sendis and Geoffrey Goodridge. Gustavo lived with my family for maybe a year in Berkeley and I knew Geoffrey because he was a student at Cal as well although I met him down here in Ajijic. So we were all very tight for some years. Beautiful beautiful men.”

Byers performed internationally as a classical guitarist, after studying with David Mozqueda in Mexico and taking master classes with Oscar Ghiglia, counter-tenor Alfred Deller, Paul O’Dette and the great American guitarist and composer Philip Rosheger (1950-2013).

During his later years living in Chapala (Jim Byers died in 2018), he continued to perform, often as an accompanist to singers, and acted as mentor to the next generation of musicians, including guitarist Ernie Lara. When Rosheger, Byer’s own mentor, visited him in Chapala in 2008, he composed a short piece titled “Clear Southern Sky,” which he dedicated to his host. Lara subsequently gave the world première performance of this piece at the Centro Cultural González Gallo in Chapala in 2021.

Note

Like Jim Byers, both Gustavo Sendis and Geoffrey Goodridge were exceptionally talented guitarists. Sendis studied in Spain and combined guitar playing with his love for visual arts, often holding joint recital-exhibitions. As an adult, Goodridge moved to Europe, adopted the name Azul and gained renown as a professional flamenco guitarist.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

The musical history of Ajijic is the subject of chapter 38 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

Sources

  • Jim Byers, personal communications, August 2015.
  • Dayton Lummis. 2011. Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. iUniverse, 159-160.
  • Ojo del Lago, December 2013.

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

 

 

Aug 252022
 

Six small (postcard size) pen and ink drawings of Lake Chapala came into my possession a year or two ago. Their quality is undeniable (see the two shown below), but I have yet to identify the artist. They are believed to date from 1968.

‘Daniel.’ ca. 1968. Line drawings.

All six line drawings are signed ‘daniel’ (all lower case):

daniel-signature

If you recognize this signature or this artist, please get in touch!

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

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

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

Aug 042022
 

Painter Herbert (Herb) Rhodes, the fourth husband of calendar artist and illustrator Zoe Mozert, lived in Ajijic in the early 1960s. Rhodes, who had been married previously, married Mozert in 1958; the couple divorced two years later, but remained good friends and art companions.

Little is known about Rhodes’ background, early life or education. Six feet tall, with black hair, he served in the US Navy, and had attained the rank of Captain by the time he was discharged.

According to his son, Rhodes held art shows in New York, Rome and several other European cities. His work rarely comes up at auction, though this pastel titled “Navajo Indian” was sold at auction in New York in 2017.

Herbert E Rhodes. 1963. Navajo Indian. Credit: Roland Auctions, New York.

Rhodes lived most of the 1960s and 1970s in Taos, where, amongst other things, he gained fame for drawing 127 life-sized caricatures of local residents on the walls of La Cocina de Taos, the town’s night life and live music center. Sadly, the mural was destroyed after the building was sold in the late 1970s and converted into a novelty shop and clothing store.

In 1963, Rhodes’ work was exhibited in Taos at a new art gallery owned by Zoe Mozert. Mozert’s “portrait and figure paintings with Indian subjects” were shown alongside Rhodes’ caricatures, and landscapes by Verne Matheny.

In the mid-1960s, he lived for a time in Ajijic. as shown by this briefest of notes in the Guadalajara Reporter in January 1965: “Artist Herb Rhodes and Margaret Wasson are on a trip to the States.”

If anyone can supply any additional information about Rhodes’ time at Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

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

Notes

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022) discuss the history of the Ajijic art community.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 28 Jan 1965.
  • The Taos News: 28 March 1963, 9.
  • “Diamond” Jim Halter. 2012. Liz, Inc. iUniverse, 79-80.

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

 Posted by at 5:10 am  Tagged with:
Jul 282022
 

Do you recognize the two children who are the subjects of this charming painting by Florentino Padilla? Padilla (who lived from about 1943 to 2010) was one of several young artists whose talent was recognized by Neill James, the American writer who resided in Ajijic from the mid-1940s. James helped Padilla obtain a scholarship to study art in San Miguel de Allende from 1960 to 1962.

Florentino Padilla. c 1975. Untitled.

Florentino Padilla. c 1975. Untitled.

The painting—believed to date from the mid-1970s, when Padilla was giving classes for the Children’s Art Program (CAP) organized by the Lake Chapala Society—was owned by acclaimed American photographer Sylvia Salmi, who resided in Ajijic at that time and was an active supporter of CAP.

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

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

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Bruce Wilcox for sharing a photograph of this painting with me and for allowing its reproduction in this post.

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

 Posted by at 5:18 am
Jul 212022
 

American pin-up girl and painter Zoë Mozert (1907-1993) lived and exhibited her artwork at Lake Chapala in the 1960s.

Mozert (birth name Alice Adelaide Moser) was born in Colorado Springs on 27 April 1907 and began painting at the age of four. After the family moved to Pennsylvania, Zoë attended Fairfax Hall, a prestigious private girl’s boarding school in Waynesboro, Virginia. After graduation, she moved back to live with her family and take art lessons at the LaFrance Art School.

From 1925 to 1928 she studied at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, where she took advanced classes with Thorton Oakley. The “petite, pert and practical” young woman (who was just under five feet tall) paid for her tuition by modeling at the school. After her studies, she established her own window display business, and in 1932 she moved to New York City to seek freelance work as an independent designer, using ‘Zoë Mozert’ as her art name. The following year she won a scholarship to study at the Art Students League.

Bernard Hoffman. 1943. Portrait of “Zoë Mozert, Artist” for Life Magazine.

Mozert sold her first cover portrait (for which her sister modeled) to True Confessions in 1933. During the next five years, she painted and sold more than 400 cover illustrations. Mozert was her own model for many of her magazine covers and movie posters, using mirrors, cameras and an assistant to help create the desired pose. Seven color photos by Mozert, titled “Glorious Beauty of America’s Women as seen through a Woman’s Eyes,” were published in American Weekly in 1936. Her sensual and glamorous work appeared on the covers of numerous pulp magazines, including Smart Love Stories, Love Revels, and Night Life Tales, and glamor magazines such as Romantic Movie Stories, Romantic Stories, and Screen Stories. Mozert also painted artwork for advertisements, some based on her pastel portraits of famous movie stars.

While working on a cruise ship to South America in 1939, Mozert used a photo of a friend to paint her first nude. When the painting was shown in Mendelssohns Gallery in New York two years later,  it was seen by the art director of Brown & Bigelow, the largest US calendar company, based in California. He immediately offered Mozert an exclusive contract to produce calendar illustrations, the start of her lucrative twenty-plus-year career with the company. Mozert’s annual pin-up calendars called Victory Girls became immensely popular during the second world war.

Zoë Mozert artwork for Brown and Bigelow

Mozert also designed movie posters and her career received another huge boost when she was commissioned by billionaire Howard Hughes to paint a publicity poster of Jane Russell for The Outlaw (1943).

Zoë Mozert “The Outlaw”

The year the film was released, the 36-year-old Mozert and her husband (the second of her four short-lived marriages) moved to Hollywood. Shortly after, Paramount Pictures produced a short about Zoë, “the pin up girl who paints ’em too” in its series “Unusual Occupations.”

In the 1950s, Mozert was at the peak of her career, reputedly the highest paid calendar artist of all time. According to one news article, between 1940 and 1960, more than 35 million reproductions of her paintings had been sold around the world.

In 1958 she married Herbert E Rhodes, “a well-known painter (of Indians, murals, and portraits) from Taos.” The marriage only lasted two years but the couple remained friends and continued to work together. When Mozert opened a gallery in Taos in 1963, the first show combined her portrait and figure paintings, with Indian subjects and caricatures by Herb Rhodes, and landscapes by Verne Matheny.

Zoe Mozert. 1970s. Reproduced by kind permission of Iván González Barón and family.

Zoë Mozert. Cat. 1970s. Reproduced by kind permission of Iván González Barón and family.

In 1965, Mozert and Rhodes visited Lake Chapala, where the “famous, vivacious artist” was reported to be getting the “feel of the village, taking a walk on our cobblestone streets.” Rhodes did not apparently stay long in Mexico, but Mozert spent four months in the country, taking in Guadalajara, San Blas, Mazatlán and Monterrey.

According to the Taos News: “At Ajijic she stayed with Mr. and Mrs. William Stallard (the former Lady Rivers), who have moved there from Canada,” and exhibited her pictures in the village. Zoë told the paper that she was impressed everywhere in Mexico with the cleanliness, since street littering wasn’t allowed. Mozert’s painting of a cat may have been a gift to the Stallards. It was later owned by photographer and linguist Friedrich Butterlin, one of the four pall-bearers at Mrs Stallard’s funeral in September 1965.

In 1978 Mozert retired to Sedona, Arizona, where she continued to produce pastel drawings and portraits, many of which were sold in fine art galleries. A shoulder injury in 1985 brought an end to her painting career. Zoë Mozert, pin-up girl, commercial calendar illustrator and artist extraordinaire, died on 1 February 1993 in Flagstaff, Arizona.

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

For more details of the history of Ajijic artists, art programs and hotels, see Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: decades of change in a Mexican village (2022).

Sources

  • Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff): 28 September 1960.
  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix). 1993. “Film, calendar artist Zoe Mozert” (obituary). Arizona Republic, 12 Feb 1993, 30.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 7 Jan 1965.
  • Marianne Ohl Phillips. 1995. “Zoë Mozert: Pin-Up’s Leading Lady. A loving profile,” Tease! Magazine, #3, p 30-38.
  • The Pittsburgh Press: 22 Jan 1964.
  • The Taos News: 28 March 1963, 9; 29 April 1965, 8.

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

Jun 162022
 

Mona Jordan (1908-1995), a multi-talented and much traveled artist, exhibited a painting titled “Tarascans, Ajijic” in Florida in 1961.

Gladys “Mona” Lynch Jordan was born on 12 November 1908 at West Point, Orange County, New York, and died at the age of 86 on 28 September 1995 in Annandale, Fairfax County, Virginia. Her remains are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Mona Jordan and 'Tarascos'. 1961.

Mona Jordan and ‘Tarascans, Ajijic’. 1961.

Jordan was a professional artist, who had taken classes at the Corcoran Museum of Art.

At age 21, on Christmas Day 1929, she married Howell Hopson Jordan (1905-1994) in Washington D.C. Her husband served all his working life in the military, gained promotion to Colonel, and retired from the Army in January 1957. The couple had three children, the eldest born in Hawaii and the middle child in Maryland.

In the early part of her adult life, Mona Jordan was an army wife, continuing to paint whenever possible. The family traveled extensively. During several years in Japan, Jordan became an accomplished portraitist, completing numerous portraits, working in pastels, of household helpers and Japanese people they knew. A pastel from her time in Japan (titled Tokyo 1947) is in the permanent collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

After her husband’s retirement in 1957, the family moved to Florida, where Mona Jordan could finally devote more time to her art. In 1961, then living in Cocoa Beach, she exhibited several paintings at the annual show of the Central Brevard Art Association. They included a painting titled “Tarascans, Ajijic.” Jordan was a teacher at the Association’s art school, and at Brevard Art Center and Museum. Her focus while living in Florida (1957-1990) was on abstract, intuitive paintings and portraits; her subjects included several Florida noteworthies.

The details of her visit to Ajijic are unknown. Please get in touch if you can supply any additional information about when and why she visited Lake Chapala.

Mona Jordan. The Digs. Sold at auction in 2015.

Mona Jordan. The Digs. Sold at auction in 2015.

Mona Jordan remained in Florida after she and husband divorced, after more than forty years of marriage, in 1971.

Jordan continued to paint and had work included in the 24th Annual Exhibition organized by the Florida Artists Group at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, in 1973.

Mona Jordan occasionally wrote about art for local publications. In one column she lamented the fact that U.S. women artists won such little recognition for their efforts and success. At that time, Jordan was living in Indian Harbour Beach, and working in oil, acrylic, pastels and charcoal.

Jordan also registered, as author, the copyright to Come to the Garden Party, a book illustrated by Bernadene L Jurgens. It is unclear if this work was ever actually published.

During her lengthy career as a professional artist and art educator, Jordan was a member of the Fifth Avenue Art Gallery, Florida Artists Group, Brevard Artists’ Forum, and The Ten: Ten Women in Art.

Jordan’s daughter Gladys Seaward and granddaughter Wendy Seaward are both well-known bead and jewelry designers. When Wendy was interviewed in 2015 for an article about her own work—after winning Best of Show in the Tennessee Craft Fair—she described how her grandmother had been “a very well known intuitive painter in Cocoa Beach, Florida.”

On her own website, Wendy remembers, as a child, watching her grandmother demonstrate intuitive painting: “She would close her eyes and scribble all over the canvas and then spend the next several hours coaxing forms and images out of the tangle.”

Sources

  • Stephanie Stewart-Howard. 2015. “Face to face with Wendy Seaward.” Nashville Arts Magazine, July 2015.
  • Gladys Seaward webpage.
  • Wendy Seaward website.
  • The Evening Tribune (Cocoa, Florida): 20 June 1961, 4.
  • Mona Jordan. 1986. “Nation’s women artists win little recognition.” Florida Today, 29 June 1986, 49.
  • Florida Today: 5 October 1995, 21.

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

Feb 242022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

 Posted by at 5:00 am  Tagged with:
Jan 272022
 

This fun and vibrant painting titled “Chapala” was offered at auction in New York in August 2021. The painting, an oil on canvas measuring 30 x 24 inches, signed “Ellen” and dated 1967, was attributed in the auction listing to Ellen Black, with the additional details that “Ellen Black (20th Century) was active/lived in California. Ellen Black is known for Watercolor painting.”

Ellen Black. 1967. "Chapala." (Auction: Doyle New York)

“Ellen.” 1967. “Chapala.” (Auctioned 2021 at Doyle New York)

My curiosity aroused, I looked into the only artist named “Ellen Black” that I could locate. She turned out to  be a noted watercolorist (with earlier links to California) and art educator now living in Wyoming. When I spoke with her briefly by phone, it turned out that this particular painting was definitely not her work. She had never been to Lake Chapala and normally signs her works “E. Black,” not “Ellen.”

Given that it appears the auction house was probably mistaken in its attribution, can any alert reader suggest who this Lake Chapala-related “Ellen” might be?

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

Nov 182021
 

Anthony Ostroff (1923-1978) was born in Gary, Indiana and educated at Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, the Sorbonne, and the University of Grenoble. Ostroff wrote a short poem entitled: “Lake Chapala” which was published in 1977 in his A Fall in Mexico (Garden City, New York: Doubleday).

ostroff-anthony-1977

Ostroff traveled widely in Mexico (the date of his visit to Chapala is unclear) but was clearly not impressed by the lake, as evidenced by the last stanza of his poem, which reads:

Farther on
the road descends
to us & ends,
a lake-edge mess
of roots, mud,
tubers. A sludge
moccasin
swims the soup,
his writhing lost
to a straight V.
His arrow head
held lip high,
his nostrils try
the line of cess.

In his notes to the poem, in the back of the book, Ostroff writes:

“The lake, a part of which extends into Michoacán, lies mainly in Jalisco and is, at a distance, quite beautiful. It was once a popular resort area for wealthy Mexicans. Pollution of the lake, however, proceeded at such a rate that by the time of the poem bearing its name it had become a broth of typhoid and amebic dysentery, and the town of Chapala was all but deserted. The village of Ajijic, also on the shores of the lake, had a small, expatriate American colony.”

The collection A Fall in Mexico also includes poems titled “In Puerta Vallarta,” “Near San Miguel,” “The Altar at Teotihuacan,” “Monte Alban” and “To Barra de Navidad.”

Working mainly in the 1950s and 1960s, his poetry and short fiction was published in such magazines as Harper’s, The Paris Review, Atlantic Monthly, Kenyon Review, and Poetry. Ostroff was also the recipient of a grant from the National Association of Educational Broadcasting to produce a series of broadcasts on American Poetry.

Ostroff, whose literary and academic career included spells teaching at the University of California at Berkley (1949-1969) and at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon (1969-1978), edited The contemporary poet as artist and critic: Eight symposia (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964) and also wrote:

  • Imperatives (Harcourt Brace & World, 1962)
  • Islander, selected poems of Anthony Ostroff (Ash Creek Press, 2000)
  • To build a House; the short stories of Anthony Ostroff (Portland, Ash Creek Press, 2003)

Anthony Ostroff was friends with various poets in the San Francisco region, including Robert Duncan, Thom Gunn, Josephine Miles and Richard Everhart.

Ostroff died in 1978 from a heart attack suffered after hang-gliding on the coast of Oregon.

The Poetry Collection of the State University of New York at Buffalo houses the Anthony Ostroff Collection, 1955-1978, which contains  all of the poet’s published and unpublished poems, plays, short stories and articles in manuscript and published form, with thousands of corrections in the poet’s hand, as well as tape recordings prepared by Ostroff, including the series of 20 broadcasts about American poetry he directed for the National Association of Educational Broadcasting.

Note: This profile was first published 30 June 2014.

Sources

  • Anthony Ostroff Collection, 1955-1978
  • Anthony Ostroff. 1977. A Fall in Mexico. New York: Doubleday.

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

 Posted by at 7:38 am  Tagged with:
Sep 092021
 

The accomplished and enigmatic artist John Thompson (1929-1988) lived in Jocotepec from about 1963 to 1968.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 20 July 1929, Thompson landed in Jocotepec by chance, having accepted a ride to Mexico with Miriam Bisbee, who was on her way to visit friends there: Peter and Nancy Spencer then managing the La Quinta hotel. (Apparently, Miriam was completely besotted with Nancy and hoped to tear her away from Peter! She was only partially successful; the Spencers later ran Posada Ajijic for a short time before returning to the US “for personal reasons” in September 1965.)

John Thompson. (Coll. Gayle Thompson)

John Thompson.

When photographer John Frost and his wife, novelist Joan Van Every Frost, first arrived in Jocotepec in 1966, they learned that John Thompson was considered the painter in the town. Thompson had left working for the defense industry in southern California, and his wife, to live in Jocotepec, where he rented a place across the street from the historic La Quinta Inn.

Thompson became a good friend of the Frosts and of several other artistic Jocotepec residents, including painter and muralist Tom Brudenell, and photographer Helmuth Wellenhoffer and his wife, Antonia. Thompson was also good friends with Peter Paul Huf and his wife, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, who lived in Ajijic from 1967 to 1972.

Thompson was able to subsist in Jocotepec only because he had two small trust funds which gave him a combined $40 a month to live on. This was supplemented by the occasional check from the US: before he left, he had sold several paintings by offering purchasers the chance to pay in installments, provided they sent the funds to Mexico.

Quoting John Frost, Thompson—and his then girlfriend, Gertha—were “pillars of the underground community.” Thompson was slight of build with a full red beard. He dressed in khaki, and his menu was structured around a typical Mexican working man’s diet. Beer in hand, he would rail at length against the evils of plastics and the modern world; he was a regular at Ramon’s bar on the north side of the plaza, the focal point of Jocotepec social life at the time.

Artist and Andreas Wellenhoffer with Jocotepec painting dated 1965.

Artist (rt) and Andreas Wellenhoffer with Jocotepec painting dated 1965.

Gayle Thompson was a 17-year-old student at the six-week University of Arizona summer school in Guadalajara when she first met Thompson through a mutual friend, Marilyn Hodges. Hodges was opening an art gallery in Guadalajara and offered Thompson free room and board if he helped paint and decorate the building (8 de Julio #878). Among the prominent Lakeside artists who held solo exhibits at the 8 de Julio gallery during its short lifespan were John Frost, Tom Brudenell, Joe Vines, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, Robert Neathery and Georg Rauch.

Gayle’s enrollment in summer school was her pretext for having a full year in Mexico. Having a Mexican boyfriend, she rebuffed Thompson’s initial advances. The charismatic, intelligent and stubborn Thompson, however, was persistent and determined. When Gayle returned to the US, preparing to enter college in New York, Thompson left his belongings in Mexico and hastened north in pursuit. He traveled north in the company of Dave Bennett, another Jocotepec resident, who, coincidentally, was from Monterey, California, and knew Gayle’s parents. Gayle again spurned his advances, so Thompson retreated to Mexico. But he reappeared again a few months later and this time, finally, Gayle conceded defeat.

John Thompson. Untitled. Jocotepec, 1965.

John Thompson. Untitled. Jocotepec, 1965.

Resistance overcome, Thompson still had the problem of getting all his paintings and possessions back from Mexico. Bennett stepped in and persuaded Thompson to buy and convert an old school bus for this mission. The school bus made two trips to Mexico before being rear-ended somewhere in the US and written off.

After John and Gayle married, they lived for five years on the coast of Croatia (then known as Yugoslavia), and another decade in Europe, before they returned to the US. During this time Thompson was able to visit his old friends, Peter Paul Huf and his wife, Eunice Hunt, at their home in Bavaria, southern Germany.

Thompson was a self-taught artist. Tom Brudenell, who met Thompson in the late 1960s, told me that Thompson’s local artistic patron at Lake Chapala had been Marian Powell, a wealthy American who owned a lakefront home in Ajijic. Gayle Thompson told me how Powell would sometimes lend John her huge Cadillac, but that she (Gayle) felt overly conspicuous and self-conscious whenever he took her for a drive.

As for Thompson’s art, Joan Frost considered that Thompson “promoted himself as a painter of the Miro school. His works were colorful with lots of mysterious figures floating about in the air above towns like Joco.” [1]

John Thompson. Untitled.

John Thompson. Untitled.

However, as Gayle explained to me, and judging by those paintings that have survived (while living in France the artist built a bonfire and destroyed most of his work), his paintings were far more akin to Chagall than Miro. The paintings are darker in tone and subject matter than those of Chagall, more brooding, with elements of the macabre and surrealism.

Thompson was never very enthusiastic about holding exhibitions, believing that artists did what they did out of a sense of purpose not financial needs, just as those who held down regular jobs did so out of necessity not enjoyment.

The only solo show he is known to have held while in Mexico was a two-week show at Posada Ajijic in the summer of 1965. He was in illustrious company. The three other artists exhibiting there that summer were Charles Littler (who exhibited widely and taught at the University of Arizona), Dick Poole (professor of art in Pasadena), and the Black American Beat artist Arthur Monroe. [2]

Thompson died in San Bernardino, California, on 3 September 1988.

References

  • [1] Joan Frost, writing in Ajijic, 500 years of adventures (Thomas Paine Chapter NSDAR, 2011).
  • [2] Guadalajara Reporter, 5 August 1965.

Acknowledgments

This is a greatly revised version of a post first published 6 August 2015. My heartfelt thanks to Gayle Thompson for sharing details of her former husband’s life and photos of his work. Images reproduced courtesy of Gayle Thompson and Andreas Wellenhoffer.

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

 Posted by at 6:47 am  Tagged with:
Apr 012021
 

Tink Strother (1919-2007) was, an acclaimed portrait painter who lived in Ajijic from 1961 to 1963. As Peggy Kelly wrote in her obituary of Strother for the Santa Paula News, Strother’s portraits reflect “not only the physical likeness of the subject but also their personality and soul.”

In Ajijic, Tink Strother met Colombian artist Carlos López Ruíz (1912-1972). They subsequently moved to California, where they opened a joint studio and gallery, first in Pico Rivera and then in Whittier.

The owner of this striking portrait contacted us in the hope that someone could identify the individual so deftly painted by Strother.

Tink Strother. c1962. Untitled portrait. Reproduced courtesy of Eliot Roberts

Tink Strother. c1962. Untitled portrait. Reproduced courtesy of Eliot Roberts

By an extraordinary coincidence, this painting is remarkably similar to the one immediately behind her in this image of the artist in her studio in 1962, previously published in our profile of her:

Tink Strother in her Ajijic studio, ca 1962

Tink Strother in her Ajijic studio, ca 1962

The two paintings appear to be portraits, from slightly different angles, of the same individual. Please get in touch if you recognize this individual who was the subject of such a superb portrait.

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

Mar 182021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jan 072021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

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

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

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

Dec 102020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mexicans at their most maddening:

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

—“Where is the ticket office?”

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

—“Well, when does it open?”

—“In the morning.”

—“At what time?”

—“In the morning – about noon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

—“And when will he open Monday?”

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Nov 122020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Oct 292020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

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

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

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

Design by Josefa

Design by Josefa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition of designs by Josefa

2004 exhibition of Mexican textiles and designs by Josefa

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

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

Josefa retired from designing clothing in the late 1980s.

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

Mysterious early life

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

Label in Josefa blouse

Label in Josefa blouse

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition of designs by Josefa

Exhibition of Mexican textiles and designs by Josefa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

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

Oct 152020
 

Educator, translator and all-round good guy John Upton had been living in Ajijic for about a year when he submitted an article about the village in 1950 to the  San Francisco Chronicle. The article focuses especially on the impact of the summer Ajijic Art Workshop, marketed in US colleges and universities.

Upton-Ajijic article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Source

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

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

Oct 082020
 

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

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

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

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy MacNicol. The Lily Vendor. c. 1946.

Roy MacNicol. The Lily Vendor. c. 1946.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacNicol died in New York in November 1970.

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

 Posted by at 6:34 am  Tagged with:
Sep 092020
 

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

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

Priscilla Frazer. Marine scene (undated, untitled).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priscilla Frazer. Date and title unknown. Courtesy of Tina Blumenfeld

Priscilla Frazer. Date and title unknown. Courtesy of Tina Blumenfeld

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

Priscilla Frazer. c 1963. "Sunday Best"

Priscilla Frazer. c 1963. “Sunday Best”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priscilla Frazer. ca. 1970 "Lake Boat." Reproduced courtesy of Tina Blumenfeld

Priscilla Frazer. ca. 1970 “Lake Boat.” Reproduced courtesy of Tina Blumenfeld

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

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

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Notes:

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

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

Sources:

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

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

 Posted by at 5:29 am  Tagged with:
Sep 032020
 

Gina Hildreth (who wrote under her maiden name Gina Dessart) and her husband, Phillip, lived in Ajijic in the mid-1960s. Gina wrote at least three suspense novels: A Man Died Here (1947), The Last House (1950) and Cry For The Lost (1959). All three works were published in New York by Harper & Brothers. The first two novels were set in New England, whereas her third novel was set in and around Tucson, Arizona. She also completed a fourth novel, Spiral, in about 1970. It is unclear if this was ever published.

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

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

Gina Hildreth also wrote a stage play – By any other name, a comedy in three acts (1948) – and had a short story, “Counterpoint”, published in the Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine issue of November 1965. She also had stories published in The Literary Review, New Mexico Quarterly, Arizona Quarterly and The Virginia Quarterly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hildreth-dessart-gina-Ajijic - Artists of 50 Years Ago-3According to a Kirkus review, A Man Died Here (1947) tells the story of the Macklin family’s “attempts to piece out the happenings in the Williams family  when as the new owners of the Williams house, their curiosity is first aroused by the house itself, later by the hints of gossip, hatred, evasion, in the town. Bob and Liz fit together each small fact, each tiny segment of character, and write finis to a story of bondage, cruelty, dishonesty, lifting the shadow from the house.”

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

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

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

Sources:

  • Arizona Daily Star (Tucson): June 8, 1958, 18.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 1 Jul 1964; 10 Dec 1964; 14 Jan 1965; 23 Sep 1965.
  • Mecheline Keating, “Cry for the Lost – review”, Tucson Daily Citizen, 3 October 1959, p 13.
  • William C. Weber, “The Last House, by Gina Dessart” in Tucson Daily Citizen, August 28, 1950, p 12.
Aug 132020
 

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

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

Raphael Greno. "Don Elpidio"

Raphael Greno. “Don Elpidio”

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

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

Update

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Jun 182020
 

Even my best efforts sometimes fail to turn up anything of note about certain artists that I know lived and worked at Lake Chapala.

Joe Vines is a case in point. Even though several artists I have interviewed in the past decade have mentioned him—and recall his work—I have managed to find out virtually nothing about this elusive artist who lived in the late 1960s in Jocotepec.

Vines-Joe-GR-1968-13-July-sJoe Vines, mistakenly spelled as either Jo Vines or Joe Vine in some contemporary news reports, was a male artist who signed his work “Jovines.” He held a solo show in March 1968 at the “Galería Ajijic Bellas Artes,” administered by Hudson and Mary Rose, that was located at Marcos Castellanos #15 (at the intersection with Constitución) in Ajijic. Reviewing the show, Allyn Hunt described his work as “sparkling, colorful silkscreen prints.”

Vines’ work was also included in a “collective fine crafts show” at the same gallery in May 1968, alongside examples of work by Mary Rose, Hudson Rose, Peter Huf and his wife, Eunice Hunt, Ben Crabbe, Gail Michel, Joe Rowe and Beverly Hunt. On that occasion, Vines, who was described as “an excellent serigrapher” contributed “several unpretentious sculptures.”

According to Peter Huf, Vines exhibited only rarely. Muralist Tom Brudenell, who lived in Jocotepec at the time, recalled that Vines was an older artist and “a long-time painter in oils”, who used his sound technique to produce commercial ‘pot boilers,’ shown by Marilyn Hodge in the Galería 8 de Julio in Guadalajara.

Reviewing another Vines exhibit in July 1968, where the artist showed “arabesque style” paintings and silkscreens, including “Wailing Wall”, “Birds in a Bush” and “Jocotepec Dancers,” Allyn Hunt wrote that Vines had studied at Pratt, in Boston, and with west coast artists Sueo Serisawa and Rico Lebrun.

If you can add to this all-too-brief account of Joe Vines, supply any biographical details, or have examples of his work, please get in touch!

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter 27 April 1968; 25 May 1968; 13 July 1968

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

May 212020
 

Eleanor Margarite Glover, who became an acclaimed portrait painter, and lived in Ajijic 1961-1963, was born on 1 October 1919 in Big Horn, Wyoming, to a Methodist minister, shortly before the family moved to Compton, Los Angeles, California. Eleanor was the second of five children in the family.

Her father nicknamed her “Tink” at an early age because she was always tinkering with things. Her son Loy recalls that his mother, “had an uncontrollable compulsion to touch things she found interesting. She and I were actually asked to leave the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena once because she couldn’t keep her hands off the Rodin.”

Tink Strother in her Ajijic studio, ca 1962

Tink Strother in her Ajijic studio, ca 1962

After graduating from Compton Junior College, Strother spent two years studying commercial art at Frank Wiggins Trade School.

She married Vane Strother in June 1942, shortly before he was posted overseas. In his absence, Strother worked as a draftsman for Douglas Aircraft. She began to add cheery, fun illustrations to the envelopes she used to mail letters to her husband. Her envelope art was first sketched in pencil, then carefully covered with ink or watercolor.

Wartime envelope decorated by Tink Strother

Wartime envelope decorated by Tink Strother

The New Yorker eventually ran a story about similar envelopes, coincidentally at the same time as a selection of Strother’s own wartime envelopes went on display in a highly successful exhibit at the Santa Paula Society of the Arts. When asked why she had started decorating envelopes, Strother replied, “Just to entertain the guys overseas fighting in the war; I put pretty girls on most of them, some movie stars. We were young and had just gotten married”

At the end of the war, Strother, a fiery, talkative red-head with a larger than life personality, started working as a commercial artist. She took the advice of a gallery owner and enrolled in portraiture classes at Orange Coast College.

Strother first visited Ajijic in 1960, by which time her marriage was in trouble. The following June she left her husband in California and settled with her two children in the lakeside village, renting what her son remembers as, “an incredible place with a guest house,  gardens and fountains, the kitchen was a separate building with a cook, a maid and a gardener for $110 a month.” The children stayed only a year, but Strother remained in Ajijic for the next two years, returning to California in 1964.

In 1962, an exhibition of Tink Strother’s paintings was held at the Alfredo Santos gallery in Guadalajara. (Other artists showing in that exhibition included Carlos López Ruíz, Ernesto Butterlin, Filipino artist Romeo Tabuena, American artist Peter Matosian,  French artist Diane Lane Root, and Mexican artists Jorge González Camarena and A. Galvez Suarez.)

In Ajijic, Tink worked as a portrait artist and taught art. Her son remembers that she,

always had a gaggle of ladies around her (and some serious art students) with their easels trudging around the fields doing landscapes in their sun hats, or in the studio learning portraiture,

While in Ajijic, she met a Colombian artist Carlos López Ruíz (1912-1972). Their relationship continued and he accompanied her to California, where they opened a joint studio and gallery, first in Pico Rivera and then in Whittier. Strother also taught adult education art courses. Her son Loy frequently watched her teach, and describes her as a “a virtuoso teacher of painting”. He recalls her particular “party piece”:

“Tink did many demonstrations of portrait painting to classes and groups”, in which “she would take the same subject she had just done a portrait of, and draw him/her as a baby, and then age the portrait in stages to the age of about 90. People would gasp and say my God that is exactly what she looked like at that age!… And Tink talking nonstop the entire time explaining every move.”

Tink Strother was also an enthusiastic fund-raiser and offered her services as a sketch artist and caricaturist to hundreds of charity events. She would draw rapid charcoal sketches at $15 a head, sign them “Tink”, and donate all the proceeds to the charity. Loy Strother watched in awe:

“She attracted a crowd very time. It was like watching a magic act as Tink produced perfect likenesses with a few masterful strokes holding nothing in her hand but a chunk of charcoal. It would appear as if she was just waving her hand at the easel and an ethereal likeness of the subject would seem to emerge from the blank white paper.”

strother-tinkWhile portrait painting was her great love, Strother also did copper enamel jewelry, sculpture, serigraphs and graphic designs.

When her relationship with Carlos broke down (in about 1968), Strother moved to Europe where she continued to enjoy moderate success, completing a prolific number of fine portraits, living mostly in Rome, Italy.

In 1976 (several years after Carlos’ death) Strother returned to California and became deeply involved in the Santa Paula Society of the Arts and an art columnist for the Santa Paula Times. Strother lived the last few years of her life with her daughter in Barcelona, Spain, and died there on 1 January 2007.

Peggy Kelly, who wrote Strother’s obituary for the Santa Paula News praised her portraits, saying that they reflected “not only the physical likeness of the subject but also their personality and soul.”

Note This post was first published 24 December 2014.

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

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