Mar 122020
 

American couple Jim and Gloria Marthai took early retirement and moved to Ajijic in 1969. After 5 years there, they opted out of its bright lights in favor of the small village of San Pedro Tesistán on the south side of the lake. Very very few foreign residents have chosen to live in San Pedro; the Marthais lived there 15 years, enjoying the simple life and rural surroundings. Gloria, a keen rider, made regular forays on her horse to nearby villages and to the higher elevations behind their home, including the summit of the volcanic peak Cerro García, the highest point around the lake.

The Marthais’ lifestyle and willingness to learn Spanish enabled them to take an active part in village life and they quickly gained friends and became well integrated into their adopted community.

The couple later moved to the Roca Azul subdivision on the outskirts of Jocotepec.

James Louis Marthai (born in New York City on 22 November 1918) had first met Gloria (born in Canton, Ohio, on 7 September 1928) in California, where they both worked for General Dynamics Corporation, and married in Nevada on 28 June 1958.

The Marthais spent the first six years of their early retirement cruising the Bahamas and the U.S. east coast aboard their private 43-foot classic Elko cruiser.

After returning to live on land in Mexico in 1969, Jim Marthai developed his skills in poetry, sculpture, ivory carving and jewelry design.

He read some of his original poems at a Sunday evening of music and poetry held in 1971 at the home of Aileen Melby, a poet and children’s author, and her husband, Arthur. Jules Rubinstein and Katie Ingram also read poems at that informal soirée.

James Marthai. Drawing used for charity card in aid of Amigos de Salud.

James Marthai. 1977. Drawing used for charity card in aid of Amigos de Salud.

Jim was an accomplished sculptor, carver-especially of miniatures-and jeweler, using raw materials that varied from ebony and bone to walrus tusks and precious metals. He also made one-of-a-kind hunting knives.

Gloria immersed herself in Mexico and her experiences were the basis for a series of stories written for Mexconnect, El Ojo del Lago and the Lake Chapala Review. She contributed several pieces to Aguas Marías: Border Crossers, Boundary Breakers, a compilation of writings by 10 American and Canadian women living at Lake Chapala. Her one-paragraph bio in that book summed up her motivation to write:

“When I came to Mexico in 1969, I entered a time warp. It was the United States 100 years ago, a land of the horse. I was, and still am, intrigued and inspired by this country. I studied Spanish and bought my first horse early on, which led to easy assimilation into rural village life and an endless trail of adventure. How could I not write about it? Besides, I like tequila.”

In addition, she made made artistic shirts, mosaics and unusual decorative mobiles, frequently using bone and recycled materials.

Both Jim and Gloria Marthai had artwork exhibited in a show in October 1976 entitled “Arts and Crafts of Lake Chapala”, held at the ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara and organized by the Jalisco State government. Other Lakeside artists in that show included Antonio Cardenas; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Antonio López Vega; Julia Michel [Gail Michel]; Bert Miller; Dionisio Morales; and Georg Rauch.

The following month, Gloria’s “bone mobiles” and Jim’s “crafted jewelry” were on sale at an Art and Craft Bazaar organized in Ajijic by Galería del Lago. Gallery manager Katie Goodridge Ingram, subsequently included Jim’s work in a show she organized for the Jalisco Fine Arts and Tourism departments in Puerto Vallarta. (That show also included works by Jean Caragonne; Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Richard Frush; Hubert Harmon; Rocky Karns; Gail Michel; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; Georg Rauch; and Sylvia Salmi.)

In 1977, Jim Marthai’s drawing of a village scene (image) was used for the Amigos de Salud charity cards, available in either color or black and white. That same year Marthai illustrated The Before and After Dinner Cookbook, written by two Lakeside residents, Charlotte McNamara and Lenore Howell.

Jim Marthai died in Mexico on 14 March 2005; his wife, Gloria, passed away on 11 November 2011.

In a strange twist of horsehair, Jim Marthai’s legacy still lives on in the small town of Cajititlán, mid-way between Chapala and Guadalajara, where several families make hand-woven belts, sashes and bands for charro hats from long strands of horsehair. It was Marthai who first taught the techniques to a local woman, Consuelo Cervantes, and her son Diego in the early 1980s. She has since taught others. The unusual and ingenious handicrafts are sold at rodeos and charro events.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Phyllis Rauch for sharing her fond memories of Jim and Gloria Marthai.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 6 Feb 1971; 20 March 1971; 30 Oct 1976, 23; 8 Oct 1977, 18; 18 November 2011.
  • El Informador: 25 Oct 1976.
  • Charlotte McNamara and Lenore Howell. 1977. The Before and After Dinner Cookbook (illustrations by James L. Marthai). Atheneum.
  • Ojo del Lago: November 1987.
  • John Pint. 2012. “Mexican artisans of Lake Cajititlan.” MexConnect.com. 18 May 2012.  [25 March 2019]

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

Feb 062020
 

Language educator and writer Katharine (“Katie”) Goodridge Ingram was born in Mexico City on 23 June 1938 to American parents. Her father, Ezra Read Goodridge, was a rare book dealer and her mother, Helen Kirtland, a fashion designer.

Katie spent her early childhood in Mexico City. In the mid-1940s, when her parents’ marriage came to an end, her mother took Katie (then eight) and her two brothers (two- and ten-years-old, respectively) to live in Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala. Her very determined mother began this new phase of her life by becoming an entrepreneur, starting a weaving business and using her design skills to create fashionable clothes and accessories.

Katie’s creative non-fiction memoir of her childhood in Mexico City and Ajijic – According to Soledad: memories of a Mexican childhood – has just been published. It is a compelling read. Advance readers have described According to Soledad as a literary equivalent of the award-winning movie Roma (2018), written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. However, whereas Roma was set in 1970-71, According to Soledad is set earlier, in 1947-52.

Katie was born to write. At the urging of German poet Gustav Regler, a friend of the family, she began to write her autobiography at the age of 9! She still treasures the wonderful response she received after writing about this at the time to another family friend at the University of Michigan. In part, the reply reads: “I am delighted that you haven’t yet finished either your book or your life… the latter at any rate really ought to be a fascinating subject. You go ahead and finish the book, anyhow, and I’ll bet you can get it published. Certainly you can if your letter is any indication of your auctorial prowess!”

In Ajijic, Katie was educated by a series of private tutors. At the age of 14, after her mother remarried and her father died in a Mexico City nightclub fire, Katie was sent north to The Putney School, an independent high school in Vermont, to complete high school. A bright and precocious student, Katie subsequently graduated from Pomona College, a liberal arts college in Claremont, California, in 1959.

After Pomona, Katie taught at Hamlin School in San Francisco (1959–1961) and Wesley School, Cape Coast, Ghana (1963–1965).

While living in the US, Katie returned to Ajijic every summer. In 1973 she settled in the village full-time with her two children and managed the Galería del Lago art gallery from 1973 to 1978. She then opened her own Mi México gallery in Ajijic which she continued to own until 1992. During her time in Mexico, Katie co-founded the bilingual Oak Hill School at Lake Chapala in 1974. She was also the area’s regional correspondent for the Mexico City News, writing a regular weekly column covering local art, culture and current events.

In 1981, Katie moved back to California, where she ran Gallery Bazar El Paseo in Santa Barbara for the next eight years. Katie co-founded the Santa Barbara Poetry Festival in 1990 and was a scholar at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 2002 and 2003.

She returned to teaching in the 1990s. While working at Ojai Valley School (1992–1994), she gained a certificate in teaching English as a Second Language from the University California, Santa Barbara. Katie then moved to the Crane School in Santa Barbara, where she chaired the Spanish department from 1997 to 2002.

Katie has regularly contributed poems and stories to collections and anthologies, such as A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens, edited by Enid Osborn and Cynthia Anderson in 2011, and Solo Novo: Psalms of Cinder and Silt (2019).

Her short story “Swimming Under Salvador”, the basis for chapter 14 of According to Soledad, won the nonfiction prize in the New Millennium Awards 26 in 2008. It was summarized on that occasion as “the account of a torrid love affair in Central America from the perspective of a small child whose loyalties are torn when she is rescued from drowning by her mother’s lover, a famous sculptor.”

Katie lives with her husband, Jim, an artist and retired architect, in Ojai, California.

According to Soledad, Katie’s first full length published work, is available in both print and Kindle editions via Amazon. Print copies will also be available at select locations (Diane Pearl, La Nueva Posada, Mi México) in Ajijic by the end of February.

Buy your copy today: According to Soledad

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Katie for sharing her memories with me and for entrusting me with helping her publish According to Soledad.

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

Jan 302020
 

Acclaimed expressionist artist Abby Rubinstein (née Addis) and her second husband, Jules, also an accomplished artist, lived in Ajijic from 1966 to 1976.

Abby S Addis was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 6 August 1928.

In 1945, at age 15, Abby was accepted on a scholarship into the Brooklyn Museum Art School, where famous Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo was one of her tutors, alongside Joseph Presser, George Pippin, Frances Chris and John Bindrum.

Abby taught nursery school and married young. She had two children with her first husband, Arthur G. Kunkin, a colorful character who later (in Los Angeles) became the publisher of the hippie-oriented underground newspaper The Free Press. The couple had left New York in 1950 for Los Angeles, where Abby studied briefly with muralist Leonard Herbert at the Otis Art Institute and became director of Westwood Temple’s daily nursery.

Abby Rubinstein. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Abby Rubinstein. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

More than a decade later, and after the end of her first marriage, Abby married Jules Rubinstein in Los Angeles. Shortly after marrying, the newly-wed couple moved to Ajijic.

During their years in Ajijic, both Abby and Jules developed reputations as fine artists, attracting a steady stream of international visitors and art collectors to their home and studios.

Abby Rubinstein. ca 1970. The Just Man. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Abby Rubinstein. ca 1970. The Just Man. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

In 1967, not long after moving to Ajijic, some of Abby’s oil paintings were on show at an Open Studio of the “Harrington Collection” in Guadalajara.

During the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 the Rubinsteins served on the city of Guadalajara cultural team and held an inaugural joint exhibition of paintings at the Galeria Municipal (Chapultepec and España). The exhibit opened on 3 June 1968 and was sponsored by the Olympic Cultural Committee as part of their International Festival of the Arts. In nine days over 3000 people came to view this exhibition.

Abby Rubinstein. ca 1970. The Torah. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Abby Rubinstein. ca 1970. The Torah. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

The following year, two of Abby’s oils were chosen for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit, which opened at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco, A.C. (Tolsa #300) in late June. The juried group show featured 94 pieces by 42 US artists from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende. The four-man jury was comprised of Francisco Rodriguez Caracalla, Director of Escuela de Artes Plásticas, and three art critics; José Luis Meza Inda, Fernando Larroca, and Victor Hugo Lomeli.

In 1972, the Rubinsteins held another joint exhibition, of about 15 paintings each, at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco (Mexican-North American Cultural Institute). A reviewer (probably Allyn Hunt) asserted in the Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter that, “Abby has made a quietly profound and eloquent statement about the world we live in and those that people it,” while Jules’ works are “expressionism… with a feeling of allegorical mysticism.”

According to her resume, Abby showed several oil paintings and drawings in an exhibit at the Escuela de Artesanias (Handicrafts School) in Ajijic in 1975. If anyone can supply more information about this show, and the names of other artists involved, please get in touch.

Abby Rubinstein. 2016. Chef's School. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Abby Rubinstein. 2016. Chef’s School. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

After they left Ajijic in 1976, the couple lived for a year in Israel, where Abby lectured on Expressionist art and its philosophy, before re-crossing the Atlantic to settle in Visalia, California.

Abby and her husband held a special exhibition at Riverside Municipal Museum in 1981. Entitled “Rubinstein and Rubinstein: Myth and Religion in American Expressionism,” the show featured 31 paintings from their personal collection.

Abby studied at the University of San Francisco and gained her bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and Art in 1983 and her Masters degree in Fine Arts two years later.

Her solo exhibitions, of oil paintings unless otherwise indicated, include: Brooklyn Museum, New York (drawings and watercolors, 1948); Mariana Von Allesh Gallery, Manhattan (1949); University of Guadalajara Gallery (1967); Misrachi Gallery, Mexico City (1969); Beth Giora, Jerusalem, Israel (1976); Visalia Convention Center, California (oils, watercolors and pastels, 1993); Lawrence Collins Fine Art Gallery, Visalia (2000); Adamo Gallery, Las Vegas (2002); Addi Gallery, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii (2004); EaselHeads Gallery, Visalia (2004–2009).

Abby Rubinstein. 2019. The Street Singer. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Abby Rubinstein. 2019. The Street Singer. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

In addition to the various group shows in Mexico, Abby’s paintings and drawings have been chosen for shows in Santa Monica Library, California (1966); Swanson Food Co., Minneapolis (1974); Korenbrut Studio, Mexico City (1975); Temple Beth Israel, Fresno, California (1978) and Bowman Gallery, Visalia (1980).

A 2017 newspaper article labeled her work ‘humanist expressionism,’ explaining that when she started a painting, the artist began by looking for “movement, color or atmosphere that corresponds with my innermost emotions,” before “bending it and developing it until it speaks for me and meets others with whom it can have a conversation.”

The article quoted Abby’s belief that

a true work of art transcends time barriers and finds an indefinable element that touches a main spring of intuitive response within a viewer and affects a very intimate meeting. It’s that intimate meeting that I seek when I paint.”

Abby still lives in Visalia and continues to paint and exhibit. As she explained by email:

“I believe that a search for intimacy in my paintings is what distinguishes them as mine. Frequently, people refer to the color in my work, but I think that the colors that I use are only components in the construction of the idea. To begin with I seek the soul of the subject. Then without ever losing sight of this, I bring together my emotion and consciousness in the development of the painting until it satisfies me.”

As the great sculptor Saul Bazerman answered, when asked how he knew when he was finished with a piece, “When it is full and I am empty.”

Abby Rubinsteins’s paintings are in numerous private collections in several countries. Please visit her website for more details and many more images of her superb work.

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to Abby Rubinstein for her help via email in compiling this profile and to Katie Goodridge Ingram and Peter Huf for sharing with me their memories of Abby Rubinstein. Sincere thanks, too, to Ricardo Santana for showing me the untitled work by Abby Rubinstein in his private collection.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 15 June 1968; 6 Feb 1971; 3 Apr 1971; 18 March 1972; CR 21 Feb 1976;
  • Los Angeles Times: 26 Aug 1962, 282; 5 April 1967, 2; LAT 6 Dec 1968, 2; 29 Aug 1970, 6.
  • San Bernardino County Sun, 19 June 1981, 48.
  • The Sun-Gazette. March 22, 2017. “Renowned artist shows ‘humanist expressionism’ at Exeter gallery.”
  • Edward J Sylvester. 1975. “So you’d like to retire in Mexico?” Tucson Daily Citizen, 13 Sep 1975, 9-11.
  • Visalia Times-Delta: “Painter Abby Rubinstein reflects on her long career, art.”

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 5:32 am  Tagged with:
Jan 162020
 

Noted expressionist artist Jules Rubinstein and his wife Abby, also an accomplished artist, lived in Ajijic from 1966 to 1976.

Born in New York on 9 June 1908, Jules was the son of a Talmudic scholar who, according to a 1975 article in the Tucson Daily Citizen, gave him an empty suitcase on his 14th birthday, and told him, “You are a man now…. I give you the world. Do with it whatever you will.”

“Jules went to sea and spent the next 14 years as a sailor, seven in the South China Sea merchant lanes. He came back a carpenter, worked in construction on New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and the Empire State Building. Came back a painter. New York, L.A., Ajijic.”

Shortly before moving to Ajijic, Jules had married Abby Addis (37) on 9 April 1966 in Los Angeles. The couple first met in an art supply store; two weeks later, Jules presented Abby with “Meeting” (below), his depiction of their encounter.

Jules Rubinstein. 1965. Meeting. Reproduced by kind permission of Abby Rubinstein

Jules Rubinstein. 1965. Meeting. Reproduced by kind permission of Abby Rubinstein

During the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 the Rubinsteins served on the city of Guadalajara cultural team and held an inaugural joint exhibition of paintings at the Galeria Municipal (Chapultepec and España). The exhibit opened on 3 June 1968 and was sponsored by the Olympic Cultural Committee as part of their International Festival of the Arts. In nine days over 3000 people viewed this exhibition.

Jules Rubinstein. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Jules Rubinstein. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram

The following year, three of Jules’ oils were chosen for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit, which opened at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco, A.C. (Tolsa #300) in late June. The juried group show featured 94 pieces by 42 US artists from Guadalajara, the Lake Chapala area and San Miguel de Allende. The four-man jury was comprised of Francisco Rodriguez Caracalla, Director of Escuela de Artes Plásticas, and three art critics; José Luis Meza Inda, Fernando Larroca, and Victor Hugo Lomeli.

Jules Rubinstein is mentioned in the Colony Reporter in February 1971 as presenting a poem at a Sunday evening of music and poetry held at the home of Aileen Melby, a poet and children’s author, and her husband, Arthur. Jim Marthai and Katie Ingram also read poems at that informal soirée.

Jules Rubinstein. ca 1960 Fifteen Heads. Reproduced by kind permission of Abby Rubinstein

Jules Rubinstein. ca 1960 Fifteen Heads. Reproduced by kind permission of Abby Rubinstein

In 1972, the Rubinsteins held another joint exhibition, of about 15 paintings each, at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco (Mexican-North American Cultural Institute). A reviewer (probably Allyn Hunt) asserted in the Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter that, “Abby has made a quietly profound and eloquent statement about the world we live in and those that people it,” while Jules’ works are “expressionism… with a feeling of allegorical mysticism.”

Interviewed by a journalist in 1975 for a lengthy piece about American retirees in Mexico, Jules, then 68 years of age, was described as having “iron gray hair, iron gray mustache curled at the corners; a deep booming voice” and an intense dislike of bureaucrats.

Peter Huf, who lived with his wife, Eunice Hunt, in Ajijic at that time and knew the Rubinsteins well, reflected that “Jules was a very mystical and vital painter, many of his works I think were at home in the Jewish tradition mixed with this magic influence of Mexico around us.” Huf also recalled that Jules often talked about “his old friend Bill back in New York”, a reference to the great Willem de Kooning, with whom Jules “had shared some great times and many discussions about art.” (Kooning also had links to two other artists inspired by Lake Chapala: Stanley Sourelis and Black American artist Arthur Monroe.) In the 1930s, Jules had also been great friends with Yasuo Kuniyoshi , Max Weber and Saul Baizerman.

After they left Ajijic in 1976, the Rubinsteins lived for a year in Israel before settling in Visalia, California.

Jules and his wife held a special exhibition at Riverside Municipal Museum in 1981. Entitled “Rubinstein and Rubinstein: Myth and Religion in American Expressionism,” the show featured 31 paintings from their personal collection.

Jules Rubinstein died, at the age of 81, on 18 January 1990 in Visalia, California.

An expressionist triptych on board work entitled “Sabath Candles” by Jules Rubinstein exceeded its estimate at auction at Freeman’s in 2002.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Abby Rubinstein, Katie Goodridge Ingram and Peter Huf for sharing their memories of Jules Rubinstein with me.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 15 June 1968; 6 Feb 1971; 3 Apr 1971;
  • San Bernardino County Sun, 19 June 1981, 48.
  • Edward J Sylvester. 1975. “So you’d like to retire in Mexico?” Tucson Daily Citizen, 13 Sep 1975, 9-11.
  • Visalia Times-Delta: “Painter Abby Rubinstein reflects on her long career, art”

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 5:32 am  Tagged with:
Dec 262019
 

Volkmar Wentzel photographed Lake Chapala for a 1967 National Geographic article by Bart McDowell entitled “The Most Mexican City, Guadalajara.” Wentzel, a German-American photographer, took some striking photos.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Flying Dutchman race on Lake Chapala.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Flying Dutchman race on Lake Chapala. (National Geographic, March 1967)

Volkmar Kurt Wentzel was born on 8 February 1915 and died on 10 May 2006. After studying photography at the Corcoran School of Art he became a darkroom technician and photographer with National Geographic for almost 50 years. He was responsible for the photos in more than 30 articles and also wrote and illustrated several more.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Fishermen with net, Lake Chapala.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966. Fishermen with net, Lake Chapala. (National Geographic, March 1967)

Wentzel traveled widely on assignment and is remembered for having been one of the earliest people to photograph Tibet and Nepal, and for documenting the final years of several traditional tribal kingdoms of Africa.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966.Girl with catfish.

Volkmar Wentzel. ca 1966.Girl with catfish. (National Geographic, March 1967)

Perhaps the most charming of Wentzel’s photos of Lake Chapala is this portrait of a young girl holding catfish.

Wentzell’s photographs were displayed in exhibitions at such illustrious institutions as the Royal Photographic Society, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Washington Center for Photography and the Smithsonian.

Wentzel is only one of several photographers whose images of Lake Chapala have graced the pages of National Geographic.

The earliest known images of Lake Chapala in the magazine were published in 1904. They were taken by E. W. Nelson and Winfield Scott. A 1916 issue of the magazine included a photo of Lake Chapala by Janet M Cummings, one of the first female photographers ever to have work published by National Geographic.

In addition, Dorothy Hosmer, a pioneering female photographer for the magazine most active in the late 1930s,  California photographer Horace Bristol, and Mexican photographer Luis Márquez all had work published in National Geographic—and all had close associations with Lake Chapala.

Note

Despite the claims made on many webpages, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that National Geographic ever ranked the Lake Chapala area as having the “second best climate in the world.” The climate of the area is certainly good, but it’s time to put that particular myth to bed once and for all.

Sources

  • Bart McDowell. 1967. “The Most Mexican City, Guadalajara.” National Geographic, March 1967, 412-441.
  • Volkmar Wentzel website.

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

 

Nov 282019
 

William Bentz Plagemann was a prolific American author, who was born in Springield, Ohio, in 1913 and died in New York in 1991. He wrote both fiction and non-fiction and his career as an author spanned half a century from 1941 to 1990.

Plagemann spent a year in Mexico in the mid-1960s, shortly before writing a young adult novel The heart of silence, published by William Morrow & Company in 1967. Ajijic and Chapala are mentioned in the novel which also refers to the Hotel Nido (a popular hotel in Chapala from 1930 to 1994). Plagemann takes some poetic license in the book by giving the Hotel Nido some “cottages.”

Cover of a Plagemann book

Cover of a Plagemann book

Plagemann was educated in Cleveland and worked as a bookseller prior to the outbreak of the second world war. He graduated from the U.S. Navy Hospital School in 1942 and served as a pharmacist’s mate. In 1944 he contracted polio while serving in the Mediterranean, an experience that was the basis for My Place to Stand, an account of his recovery. He was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1945. Much of his early writing was based on his experiences in the U.S. Navy during the second world war.

Plagemann’s published works include: William Walter (1941); All for the best (1946); Into the labyrinth (1948); Each night a black desire (1949); My Place to Stand (1949); This Is Goggle: Or The Education of a Father (1955); The steel cocoon (1958); Half the Fun (1961); Father to the man (1964); The Best is Yet to Be (1966); A World of Difference (1969); How to write a story (1971); The boxwood maze (1972); Wolfe’s cloister (1974); An American Past (1990).

Plagemann also published a story entitled “The Child’s Garden of Mexico”

An extensive collection of papers and documents relating to Plagemann is held at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

Sources

  • New York Times. 1991. “William Bentz Plagemann, Writer, 77” (obituary). New York Times, 13 Feb 1991.
  • Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. “Plagemann, Bentz (1913-1991)”.

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 262019
 

Prior to 1908, when the south-eastern part of Lake Chapala was drained for agriculture, the town of Sahuayo was very close to the shore of the lake. Sahuayo is where Mexican poet Luis Arceo Preciado was born on 24 January 1926. Arceo, one of eight siblings, died there in 2018.

According to his biography in Enciclopedia de la literatura en México, Arceo studied at Montezuma College in New Mexico (then a Jesuit seminary) before completing postgraduate degrees in Hispanic literature from La Universidad del Altiplano and the Centro de Estudios Superiores Dante Alighieri.

Arceo combined poetry writing with a teaching career, which included working at the Escuela Normal Superior Juana de Asbaje (in Zamora, Michoacán) and supervising teachers in the telesecundaria system for the Ciénaga region at the eastern end of Lake Chapala.

Arceo won more than thirty poetry awards in Mexico. He wrote more than a dozen books of poems, including Huellas en el Tiempo (1964); El Llamado Inútil; Poemas de Alguna Vez; La Tierra de los Paisajes Doloridos; El Cid y el Juglar; Poemas Mayores; ¿Qué hacen mis raíces en la Tierra?; De Paso por la Mancha; Décimas Sacramentales; Cantos Testimoniales para una Amiga (2004); Itinerario del Amor y de la Ausencia.

He is one of the seven poets whose work featured in De Esta Tierra Nuestra; Antología Poética (Colección Sahuayo No. I, 1972) and his poems were also included in Antología del Primer Festival Internacional de Poesía Morelia 1981 (1982, selected and edited by Homero Aridjis), Juegos Florales (V) (1991) and El viaje y sus rituales (2016).

Arceo, who was the first Cronista of the City of Sahuayo, from 1984-1986, was the founding director of the literary group “Cero Al Poniente” and an organizer of the national “Sahuayo Prize for Literature”, held in Sahuayo the first Friday in December each year. He also founded three literary magazines: Pórtico, Caracol and Aristas.

Examples of his work have been translated into English, Catalan and P’urépecha, the language of the indigenous inhabitants of Michoacán.

Source

  • Anon. “Luis Arceo Preciado“. Enciclopedia de la literatura en México ELEM (Fundación para las Letras Mexicanas).

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 5:08 am  Tagged with:
Aug 082019
 

Among the many non-professional artists who found creativity while living in Ajijic, Raphael Greno deserves a special mention. Greno completed several striking woodcuts of subjects rarely depicted by other artists. How he acquired his skill is unclear but the end results are high quality and speak for themselves.

To date, four woodcuts by Greno have come to light, two on bluish paper and two on yellowish paper.

One on those on bluish paper is a portrait of American author Neill James who wrote Dust on My Heart and lived in Ajijic from the 1940s to her death there in 1994. Greno’s landscape-format woodcut shows James sitting in an equipal in front of her typewriter. The typewriter is on a rustic wooden table and James is cradling a pet parrot in her left hand. A second pet parrot is looking on from the tree branches that frame the central image.

Undated. Women washing clothes, Lake Chapala.

Raphael Greno. Undated. Women washing clothes, Lake Chapala.

This second woodcut, of similar format, shows two women kneeling as they wash clothes on the shore of the lake. Distant mountains help frame the scene.

The two woodcuts on a yellowish paper show two distinct stages in the production of silk, an industry begun by Neill James in Ajijic in the 1950s. A landscape format woodcut, entitled “Deshilando los capullos”, depicts three women unraveling the silk from the cocoons. A portrait format woodcut, “Hilando con malacate,” shows an older woman using a spindle to spin the silk thread.

Raphael Greno. Undated. Unraveling silk cocoons, Ajijic.

Raphael Greno. Undated. Unraveling silk cocoons, Ajijic.

All the woodcuts are signed “Rafael G.”, the Spanish spelling adopted by Raphael while he and his wife were living in Mexico. Although none of the woodcuts are dated, the two silk-related works must predate 1960 since they are mentioned by Neill James in a letter dated 22 May 1960. Clearly, the Grenos had personal knowledge of Ajijic well before they moved there to live in the late 1960s.

Raphael Valentino Greno was born in Lisbon, Ohio, on 30 January 1909; his father was Italian, his mother American. He died in San Bernadino, California, on 31 December 1982. By 1920 his father was out of the picture and he (and possibly his mother) were living with an aunt in Arnold, Pennsylvania. The family later moved to Los Angeles where Raphael graduated from the Manual Arts High School in 1927. He then spent four years (1927-1931) at Oregon State College in Corvallis, Oregon. During his time there, he spent part of one year as one of several “cadets” on board the President Jefferson on a round-trip from San Francisco to Yokohama, Japan.

At college, Greno was as interested in writing as in art. In 1930, he had “What Price Cleanliness”, a short piece about the interior workings of a commercial laundry, published in the State College magazine. Greno was a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

After college he returned to Los Angeles where he worked as a clerk. For the 1940 census, he gave his occupation as a writer of fiction, working from his home at 1547 N Sierra Bonita. Later that year he was working in advertising.

In 1941, he married Violet E. Evans, originally from Colorado and then resident in Hollywood, California. Violet, known as Vee in Ajijic, was born on 4 August 1917 in Joycoy, Colorado, and died 16 November 1990 in San Bernardino, California.

By 1944, the Grenos were living at 1404 N Gardner St and Greno was working as an “investigator.” Greno trained as a census crew leader for the 1950 U.S. census.

Fifteen years later, the family was living in Redlands at 525 Esther Way, where Violet (Vee) taught school. In the mid-1960s Vee taught art and crafts at Cope Junior High School in Redlands, California. She occasionally exhibited her own work, examples of which were included in two group shows at the Lyon Art Gallery in Redlands – one of works by teachers of art (March 1965) and another of flower-related art the following month. Greno also had a “modern oil” painting – “Mexican Market – accepted into the All-California Art Exhibit held in San Bernardino in March 1966.

While living in Ajijic in the mid-1970s, Vee gave regular Friday morning art classes for a couple of years at the Galería del Lago. Katie Goodridge Ingram, who was director of the Galería del Lago at the time, recalls that Vee Greno also made beautiful necklaces.

The Grenos were still living in the village in the late 1970s when the informal cultural group known as TLAC (Todas las Artes Combinadas) arranged a Self Portrait Show, held at the Posada Ajijic on 1 April 1978. Both Raphael and Vee Greno participated in the show.  Other Ajijic artists taking part in that show included included Jean Caragonne, Grace Castle, Bee Dunham, Hubert Harmon, Lisa Hilton, Lona Isoard, Sheldon Lychek, Ramiro Magaña, Jim Marthai, Robert Neathery, John Kenneth Peterson, Howard Skulnick and Robert Snodgrass.

Raphael Greno also wrote several short plays for TLAC, including Cushions, presented at a Dinner Theater event at Posada Ajijic in October 1977 and Buttons, on the bill to be performed there the following August.

After living in Mexico in the 1970s, the Grenos moved back to the U.S., to Yucaipa, a short distance from San Bernardino, California.

Raphael and Vee Greno had two children: Anthony and Eugenia. Anthony Evans Greno (1943-2009) completed a degree in Latin American History at Berkeley and a Masters in Journalism at Columbia before becoming Mexico correspondent for several newspapers including the San Francisco Examiner and the Chicago Tribune. Tony Greno’s first wife, Lucretia Leduc Zenteno, was a Mexican society news reporter from the state of Tabasco working in Mexico City. Tony’s sister, Eugenia Vee Greno (1945-2008), lived the latter stages of her life in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Rafael’s lively woodcuts of Ajijic are just one of the Grenos’ many and varied contributions to the lively artistic scene in the village in the 1960s and 1970s.

Acknowledgments

My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram and Dale Palfrey for sharing their memories and knowledge of the Grenos and to the Lake Chapala Society for allowing me access to its Neill James Archive.

Sources

  • Raphael Greno. 1930. “What Price Cleanliness”, The Manuscript, Vol 3, #2 (Winter Edition, 1930), Oregon State College, 6.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 19 July 1975; 7 February 1976; 1 May 1976, 22; 24 September 1977, 19; 1 October 1977, 7; 19 August 1978, 15.
  • Neill James. 1960. Letter, dated 22 May 1960, from Neill James to “El Director, Museo Nacional De Cosas Regional” (sic). Neill James Archive of the Lake Chapala Society.
  • Redlands Daily Facts, 5 March 1965, 3; 2 April 1965, 4; 31 January 1966, 6; 27 February 1966, 50.
  • Times-Advocate (Escondido, California) 09 Mar 1950, 8.

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.

Jul 252019
 

Lucius Seymour Bigelow Jr. (1900-1978), an artist known for his fine watercolors, spent part of his three years roaming Mexico in the 1960s at Lake Chapala. While in Mexico, he held solo exhibitions at the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City and at the Casa de Cultura in Guadalajara, which included paintings of Lake Chapala.

Remarkably, about the only visual evidence related to Bigelow, aside from the press photo reproduced in this post, is a postcard of Chapala sent by his wife in 1967 to a close friend, Mrs Louise Hallowell, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Hallowell was the daughter of pioneer photographer Joseph E. Stimson, and helped a few years later to ensure that Cheyenne’s Atlas Theatre was included on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The postcard is a typical view of the beach just west of the pier, looking toward Ajijic. The photograph was taken by Manuel Garay and the card was published in Mexico City by Ediciones FEMA.

Postcard of Lake Chapala sent by Bigelow's wife (front)

Postcard of Lake Chapala sent by Bigelow’s wife in 1967

Bigelow’s wife, Hermine, wrote on the card that, “This has been such a busy winter in Mexico. Two big one man shows for Seymour, Mexico City and Guadalajara and another in May (22-29) perhaps at the Univ. of Conn[ecticut].” She apologized that they would be unable to visit Cheyenne in the near future and hoped that Hallowell could meet them in Europe the following winter.

Bigelow was born on 11 October 1900 in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania into a well-to-do New England family. His father, Seymour Bigelow, had close links to Mexico that dated back to well before the Revolution (1910-1920). He had toured Mexico in 1901 following a mining conference. When giving a lecture in the Mansfield Men’s Club in Connecticut in 1921, he was described as having had “unusual opportunities of acquaintance with the president of the republic and other high officials.”

Lucius Seymour Bigelow Jr. studied art on a scholarship at Albright Art Gallery School in Buffalo, New York, and then began classes at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts in 1919 where he studied under Fred Wagner (an early impressionist) and Henry McCarter. He continued to study there there at least until July 1920. hat year Bigelow showed “half a dozen pictures of the modern type” at the annual thumb-box exhibition of the Buffalo Society of Artists at Albright Art Gallery.

Bigelow also studied at the Art Students League in New York (1921-22) under the direction of John French Sloan, American painter Robert Henri and Canadian-American artist Boardman Robinson and at the Yale School of Fine Arts.

On 19 December 1925, Bigelow married Hermine von Rarrell (1900-2000). Their only son, Lucius Storrs Bigelow, was born 26 Sept 1926 in Buffalo, New York.

The family traveled in Europe in the early 1930s. According to press interviews Bigelow gave later, this was when he decided to focus exclusively on watercolor painting. The Bigelows returned from Europe in August 1934, returning to New York on 9 August from Trieste, Italy.

When Bigelow lectured about modern art to the Pencraft literary society of the University of Connecticut in March 1935, he illustrated the lecture with examples of his own watercolors, arguing that “the best art must necessarily be impressionistic.” The lecture was accompanied by an exhibition of his watercolors. This exhibition was one of several solo exhibitions he held in the years following his trip to Europe and this particular collection had previously been shown in Baltimore, where a reviewer praised his work: “Mr Bigelow is a master of color, his work possesses a quality rarely encountered in watercolors.”

In July 1937, he took part in a group show at the Central Connecticut Art Gallery. By this time the Bigelows were dividing their time between their main home in Mansfield Center, Connecticut, and a summer residence in Sebasco Estates, Maine. (I am still hoping to find more details of his show at the Maine Art Gallery.)

Unfortunately, art alone could not support his family, so Bigelow earned his living working as a draftsman, doing technical plans and drawings, and later in engineering.

In 1942, when he was drafted into the U.S. armed forces, Bigelow – 5′ 11″ tall with blue eyes and brown hair – gave his last residence as Conneaut Lake in Pennsylvania, and said he worked for Frazier Bruce Co.

Seymour Bigelow continued to paint and hold solo shows during the 1950s. It is unclear when he first traveled to Mexico to paint. However, his one-person show of watercolors at Community House, Storrs, Connecticut, in 1952 included “scenes from Mexico, New Mexico, Maine and a few from Europe.” The following year he held a solo show of watercolors at the Present Day Club, Princeton, New Jersey, and he had another show at the University of Connecticut in 1958.

Bigelow wrote to the New York Times on 30 August 1959 to say he was in full agreement with the paper’s art editor’s suggestion that galleries and museums be encouraged to sell off old paintings that had been donated to them year before in order to make space for newer works.

Jay Stokes (left) and Seymour Bigelow. Credit: The Palm Beach Post, 2 April 1968.

Jay Stokes (left) and Seymour Bigelow. Credit: The Palm Beach Post, 2 April 1968.

Shortly after Bigelow retired to dedicate himself full-time to his painting, he and his wife spent most of three years (1964-67) roaming around Mexico. At the end of 1966 or early 1967, Bigelow held a solo show of his watercolor paintings at the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City. Shortly afterwards, he and his wife stayed for several weeks at the Hotel Chapala Haciendas. While more details of his time in Mexico have proved elusive, it was in March 1967 that his one person show opened at the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara, an exhibition that featured more than 30 watercolors of Mexican scenes, including paintings of Chapala, Ajijic, Guadalajara, Manzanillo, Cuautla, Cuyutlan and Oaxtepec.

In 1968, Bigelow was back in the U.S. and held a showing of some of his work in Baltimore, followed by a joint show with Jay Stokes at the home of Mr and Mrs Robert Plimpton in Palau Beach Ile, Singer Island, Florida.

Examples of Bigelow’s work can be seen in the collections of the Patten Free Library, Bath, Maine; the Instituto Cultural Hispano-Mexicano in Mexico City; and La Casa de la Cultura Jaliciense in Guadalajara.

Bigelow died in Windham, Connecticut, on 21 March 1978.

Sources

  • Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, New York), 21 Dec 1919, 7.
  • Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express (Buffalo, New York), 4 Jun 1919, 9.
  • The Buffalo Times, 17 Jan 1920, 5; 16 Dec 1925, 24.
  • The Daily Campus (University of Connecticut), Volume XXI, No 22 (26 March 1935), 2; Volume CXII, No 45 (20 November 1958), 3.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 11 Mar 1967.
  • Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 27 Jul 1937, 9; 2 May 1952, 33; 31 Oct 1953, 4.
  • New York Times, Letter to the editor. 30 August 1959, X-10.
  • Norwich Bulletin, 12 Jul 1920, 2; 27 Aug 1921, 7.
  • The Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach, Florida, 2 April 1968, 9.

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.

Jul 112019
 

Lake Chapala – the lake itself – played an important bit part in the filming of the 1965 movie In Harm’s Way. The movie, an epic Panavision war film, was John Wayne’s last black-and-white film. The movie’s cast, besides John Wayne, included Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Henry Fonda, Stanley Holloway and Larry Hagman, among many others.

The screenplay by Wendell Mayes and based on the 1962 novel Harm’s Way, by James Bassett, looks at the lives of several US Navy officers in Hawaii, and their wives and lovers, during the first year of U.S. involvement in the second world war.

In October 1964, the movie’s producer-director, Otto Preminger, and several members of the film crew visited Lake Chapala to film some special effects. They stayed at what was then the Holiday Inn in Chula Vista. A brief note about their stay, in the Guadalajara Reporter, claimed that the crew was “filming explosions in the lake for the movie” and that the explosions were of compressed air only and would reportedly would not harm local wildlife.

Among the youthful audience watching the crew filming of In Harm’s Way were the children of Marcella Crump, a keen amateur photographer. Dennis recently wrote about his memories of watching the filming in a catchily-titled piece, “The Time the U.S. Navy Came to Lake Chapala” published in El Ojo del Lago. He recalled “when a US Navy battleship, destroyer, and submarine appeared on Lake Chapala to engage in battles against the Japanese.” The vessels were “perfect scaled down Navy vessels… complete with their big guns firing heavy projectiles, destroyer firing its guns… and the submarine cruising in stealth mode.”

As Dennis explains, Lake Chapala was the perfect setting for small models to be filmed in a variety of wave heights. They could appear to be on the calmest of waters or fighting against the fierce waves of Pacific storms.

His brother, Raymond, remembers how about six replicas of PT (patrol torpedo) boats, each about 8 feet long and remote controlled, were “hand crafted right there on the beach under the umbrellas.” He vividly recalls the small explosions generated during the filming to simulate bombs hitting the water.

Sources:

  • Dennis Crump. 2019. “The Time the U.S. Navy Came to Lake Chapala.”. El Ojo del Lago, May 2019, 30.
  • Raymond Crump, personal communication.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 22 October 1964

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 5:22 am  Tagged with:
May 302019
 

La invasión de los vampiros (1963) is a Mexican film in which a doctor and his assistant hunt down a vampire named Count Frankenhausen, who is terrorizing the local populace. Written and directed by Miguel Morayta, it starred Erna Martha Bauman, Rafael del Río and Tito Junco. The film was released two years later in an English version as The Invasion of the Vampires.

Kudos to historian and author Richard Grabman for suggesting to me that, “A good part of La invasión de los vampiros (1963) was filmed in Ajijic.” He added that the movie is “something of a classic in its genre, especially for its creepy atmosphere.” Unfortunately, he’s unsure where he picked up these interesting snippets of movie trivia.

The movie is, indeed, regarded as one of the finest horror films to emerge from Mexico and, after watching it, I have to agree that it’s entirely possible that parts of the movie were shot at Lake Chapala, though I have yet to find any supporting documentary evidence for this.

So, dear reader, if you can tell me any more about the connection between La invasión de los vampiros and Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

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 5:30 am  Tagged with:
May 232019
 

John Elbert Upton was born on 10 September 1917 and died aged 88, in Monterey, California, on 9 October 2005. He was a multi-talented individual who earned his living as a translator and teacher. Upton lived in Ajijic for over a decade, from 1949 to 1959, and then returned to live in the village several times (for varying lengths of time) from the 1960s through to the early 1990s.

Upton’s circle of friends in the Lake Chapala area included fellow translator Lysander Kemp, who lived in Jocotepec, and poet and literary figure Witter Bynner, who had a home in Chapala.

Upton majored in music and Spanish at college, becoming an extremely proficient classical guitarist. In 1966, he gained a Masters in Spanish Language and Literature from the University of Madrid in Spain.

John Upton, 1957. Photo credit: Leonard McCombe, Life Magazine

John Upton, 1957. Photo credit: Leonard McCombe, Life Magazine

During his early days living in Ajijic, in the 1950s, Upton wrote several colorful pieces about the area for the San Francisco Chronicle, but made his living not by writing but as a teacher to the children of expatriate families. These students included a young Katharine Goodridge Ingram, who went on to run a very successful art gallery in the village. She has particularly fond memories of Upton: “He was my tutor when I was a young girl. Truly a Renaissance man: played guitar, bass fiddle, brought solar-heated water to his Ajijic house, accompanied his wife as she sang hot old cabaret oldies, built a telescope, etc.”

This photo by Leonard McCombe shows a youthful and sartorially-elegant John Upton setting up a telescope he had built in his garden in Ajijic. It appeared in the 23 December 1957 Life Magazine article, “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.”

Upton wrote a short piece, “Maya Today” (a linguistic study of the Mayan language Yucateco in Yucatán), published in the December 1962 issue of The Modern Language Journal, but was far better known as a Spanish-English translator. Upton’s fine translations introduced generations of English-speaking readers to the extraordinary diversity and creativity of Spanish-language literature.

Besides translations of poems by the likes of Pablo Neruda and Miguel de Unamuno, his published translations include:

  • Cumboto, by Ramón Díaz Sánchez (University of Texas Press, 1969);
  • Pueblo en vilo: Microhistoria de San José de Gracia (“San José de Gracía, Mexican Village in Transition”), by Luis González (University of Texas, Austin, 1974).
  • Jarano, by Ramón Beteta (University of Texas, Austin:, 1975);
  • In the Magic Land of Peyote, (Texas Pan American Series) by Fernando Benitez (University of Texas, Austin, 1975);
  • Polifemo, a narrative poem by Luis De Góngora (The Fireweed Press, 1977)
  • La feria (“The Fair”), by Juan José Arreola (University of Texas, Austin, 1977). This work is chock-full of local idioms, curses, etc., and, as Upton says in his translator’s note, “There are passages in “The Fair” that can confound even a well-informed Mexican”.

In the early 1990s, he worked as staff translator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and for Latin American Art magazine. Selections of Upton’s translations were included in the book Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries, with an Introduction by Octavio Paz (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990), and he translated some essays and catalog entries for The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain (1992). In 2004 he was a finalist in the Barnstone Translators’ Competition.

John Upton was one of the many extraordinarily gifted individuals who have shaped the long artistic and literary history of Lake Chapala. He will long be remembered for the supreme quality of his translations, whether of poems, literature or non-fiction.

Note: This post was first published 30 March 2015.

Related posts:

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

Mar 282019
 

Ven a cantar conmigo was filmed in Jalisco two years after the making of Verano en Guadalajara (1965). Both movies are musical romances that incorporate lots of tourist-alluring footage of markets, ancient buildings and cultural events in Guadalajara and at Lake Chapala. The two movies also share the same lead actor – Robert Conrad – but this is where the similarities end.

The storyline of Ven a cantar conmigo is much stronger than the uni-dimensional plot of its predecessor. The central romantic plot line in Ven a cantar conmigo is more nuanced and complex, giving viewers a much more satisfying experience. A splash of adventure in the middle of this film serves as a counterpoint to too much romantic gushiness. The central romance does not unfold without some melodrama towards the end.

Ven a cantar conmigo was produced by Miguel Zacarías and written and directed by Alfredo Zacarías. The company behind the movie was Producciones Zacarías S.A. The cinematography was by Raúl Martínez Solares. The film was first released in Mexico on 19 October 1967.

The three major stars in this movie are Robert Conrad, playing an American artist named Bob Seaman, Alicia Bonet playing Aurora, the nurse he falls in love with, and the talented young singer “Evita” (Eva Luisa Aguirre Muñíz), who was eleven years old at the time and plays the role of a precocious orphan, living at the Hospicio Cabañas, who is a show-stopping, not-to-be-ignored matchmaker. This was the Guadalajara-born youngster’s first movie. She subsequently enjoyed a stellar, though short-lived, career as a singer, actress and T.V. presenter before retiring from show business in her early twenties.

Given that the opening credits thank the Jalisco state governor, Francisco Medina Ascencio, for his support, it is not surprising that many of Guadalajara’s most important tourist attractions form the backdrop to scenes in the story. The photographs of the Hospicio Cabañas (now Instituto Cultural Cabañas) and its murals (explained by Evita to a visiting group of tourists) are among the highlights.

As a young, charismatic minx, Evita steals the early scenes of the movie. She is quite determined to find a suitable beau for her friend Aurora, a young nurse who grew up in the orphanage and works in a local hospital.

Evita and Aurora are shopping in the San Juan market for fruit and vegetables when they bump into a handsome American artist. A misunderstanding leads Aurora to believe that Bob is poor and hungry. In reality he drives a sports car, is staying at a top hotel and is clearly wealthy. He visited the market to purchase single vegetables to compose a still life. When he returns to his hotel to paint, he can’t help drawing a portrait of Aurora instead.

Minor misunderstandings continue as he seeks to get to know more about Aurora and to ask her on a date. The process includes, in true Tapatío fashion, Bob hiring mariachis to serenade her at dawn.

Before long, accompanied by Evita and one of Bob’s friends, they are all on their way to Lake Chapala for the afternoon. The short section of the movie shot at Chapala shows the beach, the Beer Garden restaurant, the main church and nearby Braniff mansion. The proceedings are enlivened by buying balloons and a game of hopscotch.

There are many worse ways to spend your time than watching Ven a cantar conmigo!

The entire 87-minute movie is available via Youtube, as is a clip of the short section showing Lake Chapala. Enjoy!

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:
Mar 142019
 

Wes Penn, a highly creative visual artist, lived in Ajijic from 1967 to his death in a vehicle accident three years later. Penn was the fourth husband of Jan Dunlap (“Big Mama”).

William Wesley Penn Jr. was born 11 February 1935 in Big Spring, Howard, Texas. He was the son of the Reverend and Mrs. William W. Penn. Reverend Penn (1913-1988) was a Methodist minister who served in the Navy and was the pastor for a time in Renner, Texas, where, coincidentally, Jan Dunlap spent most of her childhood.

Wes Penn. Mixed media abstract. Untitled. Undated. Collection: Rico Semple.

Wes Penn. Mixed media abstract. Untitled. Undated. (image courtesy of Rico Semple)

Penn attended high school in Commerce, Texas, and gained his first degree from East Texas State College (now known as Texas A&M University–Commerce) in 1959, and had married while living in El Paso, where he was studying for a Masters in Education at the University of El Paso. His younger brother, Paul, an engineer also studied at the University of El Paso. Paul later fell foul of the law in Mexico and was sentenced to a multi-year term in Puente Grande, the penitentiary just outside Guadalajara.

Dunlap met Wes Penn when they were both studying at the University of Texas. They lived in El Paso and New Mexico before deciding to try their luck in Mexico where Penn had friends who lived at Lake Chapala. In the run-up to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, language teachers were in demand and Dunlap, who had four young children in tow, and Penn hoped to support themselves by teaching English.

The family lived for a time in the Mill House at the western extremity of the village. It was difficult to make ends meet and, like many others living in Ajijic at the time, Penn and Dunlap decided to risk driving a stash of weed across the border in order to raise some much-needed funds. They made it back to Ajijic without incident but when Penn went to collect their dog from a friend’s house in Chapala, the timing turned out to be disastrous.

No sooner had he arrived than the police raided the house looking for drugs; everyone present, including Penn, was arrested and locked up overnight in the local jail. Dunlap, meanwhile, had sent son Ricardo to look for her husband. Ricardo returned saying he’s found Penn’s car and that it was still parked in Chapala.

When Dunlap went to collect her husband the following day, she was told that the federales had taken over the case and had moved Penn and the others to Guadalajara. It turned out that they were being held in the same jail as Penn’s brother. Dunlap called in a favor from a friend who had the ear of the state governor and was able to get Penn and the others released in exchange for a substantial contribution of pesos.

Wes Penn. 1966. Collection: Rico Semple.

Wes Penn. 1966. (image courtesy of Rico Semple)

Tragically, Penn was killed on 25 March 1970 when the car he was driving was hit by a bus on the Chapala-Guadalajara highway. Jan and her children remained in Ajijic where she ran a succession of restaurant-bars, boutiques and galleries during the 1970s and 1980s, one of which was named the Wes Penn Gallery in his honor.

Wes Penn worked in a variety of media. As a painter, he specialized in abstracts, many of which leaned towards surrealism.

Penn’s parents were not very appreciative or supportive of their son’s art. Dunlap told me how her father-in-law had once offered her husband $100 for a painting on the grounds that it represented the cost of the materials!

Fortunately, Penn’s fellow artists held him in much higher esteem. For example, his works were exhibited at least once in the renowned Udinotti Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, run by Greek-born poet and painter Agnese Udinotti.

Sources

I am deeply indebted to the late Jan Dunlap for sharing her knowledge and memories of Wes Penn, and to Rico Semple for sharing photos of examples of his work.

  • Big Spring Daily Herald, Big Spring, Texas, 13 February 1935, p8
  • Henrietta Clay County Leader, Henrietta, Texas – 11 June 1970

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

Mar 072019
 

Writer and illustrator Ellis Credle Townsend moved from Guadalajara to Ajijic in about 1974 and lived and worked at Lake Chapala for more than a decade. She was the author and illustrator of more than twenty children’s books over a long career.

Ellis Credle Townsend

Ellis Credle Townsend

Ellis Credle (she used her maiden name on all her books) was born and raised in North Carolina. Born in 1902, she studied at Louisberg College and taught high school in the Blue Ridge Mountains before moving in 1926 to New York City, where she studied interior design and took painting classes at the Art Students League. She worked as a governess for two children before landing a commission to draw reptiles for the American Museum of Natural History. While continuing to write in her spare time, she was also asked to paint a series of murals for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

She had several rejections from publishers before one finally accepted Down Down the Mountain (1934), the first ever illustrated children’s book set in the Blue Ridge country. Helped by her deep familiarity with the area’s folk tales and life styles, it was an immediate success and quickly became a classic; it sold more than 4 million copies.

Credle visited Mexico in the early 1930s and another of her early books, Pepe and the Parrot (1937), a story about a dog and a parrot, was set in a traditional Mexican village. Other books Credle published before moving to Mexico include Across the Cotton Patch (1935), based on her childhood days on a grandfather’s farm; Little Jeems Henry (1936); That Goat That Went to School (1940) and Janey’s Shoes (1944).

Credle married Charles de Kay Townsend; the couple had one son. Born in Rhode Island, her husband was a Harvard graduate and served in the Navy during the second world war. He was a photographic technologist with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. for many years, and it was after he retired that the couple left for Mexico with their young son, Richard, in 1947. Her husband’s photographs were used in some of Credle’s later books.

Richard grew to love Mexico and became an eminent authority on pre-Columbian cultures. He gained a masters degree in anthropology form the University of the Americas and a doctorate from Harvard for work on the art of Tenochtitlán. He was curator of the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at The Art Institute of Chicago, and edited numerous exhibition catalogs including The Ancient Americas: Art from Sacred Landscapes and Ancient West Mexico (which has many close links to the Lake Chapala area).

The family arrived in Mexico planning to stay only six months so that Credle could write without distraction, perhaps to put the finishing touches to My Pet Peepelo (1948), a story set in Mexico. Here Comes the Showboat was published the following year. By then, the Townsends had settled in Zapopan, Guadalajara, where their stay kept being extended by other book commissions; Credle ended up living in Mexico for more than 40 years.

Even in so-called retirement, Credle continued to write and based several more stories in Mexico, though none ever received the same high praise as her tales of the Blue Ridge country. In 1964, she and her husband were commissioned by Nelson to write a school book about Mexico, aimed at young teenagers. This was published in 1968 as Mexico, land of hidden treasure in Nelson’s World neighbors series.

Following the death of her husband in 1974, she moved to La Floresta in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Late in life she also wrote “Dog Ignacio Lives On“, a short piece published in El Ojo del Lago, November 1994.

Ellis Credle Townsend was often asked to lecture in the U.S. on account of her knowledge of authentic folklore and was a regular at the Ajijic Writers’ Group.

Interviewed for El Ojo del Lago late in her life, Credle said, “I have never regretted coming to Mexico. I have always felt happy, at home, and strangely safe here.” She did not travel very far apart from occasional trips to Chicago to visit her son. She was in Chicago at the time of her death on 21 February 1998.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 2 April 1964: 1 Oct 1964.
  • Shep Lenchek. “Ellis Townsend —A Lakeside Literary Treasure.” El Ojo del Lago,
    1996; reproduced March 2015 issue.
  • Richard Walser. 1960. Entry for Ellis Credle in Picturebook of Tar Heel Authors. Raleigh, N.C.: State Department of Archives and History.

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 282019
 

For a sense of what Guadalajara and Lake Chapala were like in the early 1960s, the movie Guadalajara en verano is a great starting point. To watch the 95-minute film, released in 1965, via Youtube, click the link.

Guadalajara en verano is an enjoyable mix of a simple, cross-cultural romantic storyline in the city of roses and a documentary highlighting some of Jalisco’s tourist sights and infrastructure.

Written by Adolfo Torres Portillo, and co-produced by José Luis Bueno and Xavier Torres Ladrón de Guevara, the movie was filmed in the summer of 1964 in Guadalajara, at Lake Chapala and at the Pacific coast beach town of Melaque.

The plot revolves around a group of students who arrive in Guadalajara to attend summer school classes. This allowed the producer to open the movie with shots illustrating Guadalajara’s excellent links to the outside world via buses, trains and its international airport, and its varied accommodation offerings, from a casa de huespedes to the Hotel Fenix and Camino Real. In those days, the city streets were not clogged with traffic, the roses bloomed in profusion and the parks were well-maintained gardens..

Having foreign students visit Guadalajara also provides the excuse, if one were needed, to film the city’s newly-opened Hilton hotel and follow the students around as they explore the city’s markets, parks and buildings, with time spent admiring some of the many murals that grace its public buildings, including the Hospicio Cabañas (then an orphanage, now the Cabañas Cultural Institute) and the Government Palace. The movie’s director, Julio Bracho, later made a film about the New York experiences of Jalisco muralist José Clemente Orozco: En busca de un muro (1974).

The part of Guadalajara en verano made at Lake Chapala includes footage of the highway, the Beer Garden in Chapala and a luxurious private residence.

Needless to say, the movie does not miss the opportunity to showcase a girls’ choir, mariachi singers and musicians, and the Ballet Folklórico de Jalisco (performing the Jarabe Tapatío) along the way.

The short Melaque section, near the end of the movie, served to underscore the tourist potential of the Jalisco coast and promote the then relatively unknown attractions of the Pacific coast of Jalisco, coincidentally at about the same time as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor helped put Puerto Vallarta on the map.

Actors in Guadalajara en verano include Elizabeth Campbell, Xavier Loyá, Alicia Bonet, Claudio Brook, Emma Roldán and Andrea Palma. The movie’s main male protagonist, Robert Douglas, was played by U.S. singer and actor Dean Reed who went on to enjoy a stellar career in Latin America and Eastern Europe, regions where the audiences appreciated his lyrics, which protested U.S. foreign policy, war and nuclear tests.

It is a sobering thought that the movie was made at a time when the population of Guadalajara had barely reached one million (compared to around 5 million for the metropolitan area today). On the other hand, 1964 was the year when Walt Disney visited the city for the “De Pueblo a Pueblo” meeting, Bing Crosby promoted golf at Guadalajara Country Club, Tequila Sauza started sponsoring “Noches Tapatías” on national TV, and when the  Chapala Society officially  changed its name to become  The Lake Chapala Society.

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

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Feb 212019
 

Alice Janice (“Jan”) Dunlap, who lived in Ajijic from 1967-1998, was born on 15 June 1927 in Addison, Texas, and died in Los Angeles, California, on 19 October 2018. Jan was one of eleven children born to Clinton Adolphus Dunlap and his wife Janice Blackburn and was suitably thrilled later in life when she discovered that she was a descendant of an aide to U.S. President George Washington.

Jan studied to be sociologist and was a member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She had a son, Michael, from her first marriage (when only a teenager), and four children with Ramón Rivas Jr. from her third marriage. She met Rivas, from Puerto Rico, when both were studying at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas in the early 1950s. The couple lived for a decade in Puerto Rico, where on one occasion Jan met Fidel Castro.

Later, when Jan was studying at the University of Texas at El Paso, she met and married artist Wesley Penn. Penn had friends who lived at Lake Chapala and suggested that they live in Mexico. Jan quickly agreed when she learned that Mexico wanted more English teachers ahead of hosting the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

The couple decamped to Ajijic, with Jan’s four children. Tragically, Penn was killed in 1970 when the car he was driving was hit by a bus on the Chapala-Guadalajara highway. Jan and her children remained in Ajijic where she became one of the village’s more colorful and warm-hearted characters of the 1970s and 1980s. Jan felt as though nobody was a stranger and believed that anyone in need was worthy of help and assistance.

Known to everyone in Ajijic as “Big Mama”, Jan ran a succession of restaurant-bars, boutiques and galleries, including El Tejabán, the Blackfoot Contessa Boutique, the Wes Penn Gallery, Big Mama’s (on 16 de Septiembre) and El Tapanco. Jan was especially proud of having arranged an exhibit of Ruth Anaya paintings in El Tejabán that got the gallery (and Ajijic) listed in Who’s Who in American Art. Jan was the “Grand Dame” of the “Rowdy Bunch” which contributed its positive energy to many Ajijic events.

Declining health forced Jan and her husband, Michael Shapiro, to move back to the States in 1998. Shortly afterwards, Jan founded Grandmothers Against Smoking, a campaign to help persuade young people not to smoke.

Jan finally realized one of her long-term dreams in 2017 when she published, shortly after her 90th birthday (and with a little help from me) her debut novel, Dilemma, an exciting tale about a drug-dealing cartel capo and a beautiful, youthful female DEA agent. The novel is loosely based on Ajijic gossip and her personal experiences in Mexico.

The novel, set mainly at Lake Chapala in Mexico, takes us back to the 1970s. Natalie, a beautiful young DEA agent, is sent to investigate an alleged king-pin in the drugs world who lives in Ajijic. Her life soon becomes far more complicated than she bargained for. The positive reviews on Amazon for this tale of international romance, drugs and intrigue speak for themselves.

The striking artwork used for the cover is by B.C.-based artist Oliver Rivas, one of Jan’s grandsons.

Jan also completed several other works including a novel entitled With Money Dances the Dog, and associated screenplay, based on an infamous series of murders in Ajijic in the mid-1970s.

Jan was predeceased by two of her five children: Janina Rivas died in Mexico following a dog bite in 1973; Ricardo Rivas died in 2015. She leaves behind her husband, Michael, and three sons – Michael, Ramón and Roberto – as well as many grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

Sources

  • Big Spring Daily Herald, Big Spring, Texas: 13 February 1935, 8.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 13 Dec 1975; 17 Jan 1976; 31 Jan 1976; 28 Feb 1976; 10 Sep 1977, 19; 15 Oct 1983.
  • Henrietta Clay County Leader, Henrietta, Texas: 11 June 1970.

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

Feb 072019
 

Neill James’ book Dust on my Heart is many visitors’ first introduction to the extensive English-language literature related to Lake Chapala. In the book, the self-styled “Petticoat Vagabond” tells of her adventures in Mexico and of two terrible accidents she suffered, the first on Popocatepetl Volcano and the second at Paricutín Volcano.

Cover of Dust on my Heart (1946)

Cover of Dust on my Heart (1946) (Painting by Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo)

After two lengthy stays in hospital, James’ recuperation eventually brought her, in 1943, to the small village of Ajijic, which would be her home for the remainder of her long life. The final two chapters of Dust on my Heart describe her first impressions of Ajijic and of how she learned to appreciate the idiosyncrasies of pueblo life.

As with several other noteworthy Lake Chapala residents, separating fact from fiction in trying to sort out James’ story is tricky, and made more complex by hagiographic portrayals that simply repeat identical misinformation with no attempt to check sources or provide independent corroboration for claims made.

For example, we are led to believe that James was born on a cotton plantation in Grenada, Mississippi, a woman of means who graduated from the University of Chicago, met Amelia Earhart, was visited in Ajijic by D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway and George Bernard Shaw, and pioneered the looms industry in Ajijic, before founding the Lake Chapala Society.

Unfortunately, not a single one of these claims is true. James was born in Gore Springs, Mississippi. While Gore Springs is near Grenada, James was not born on any plantation and her family was far from wealthy. She never attended the University of Chicago and almost certainly never met Amelia Earhart. The claims about Lawrence, Hemingway and Shaw are especially ludicrous. D. H. Lawrence was long dead by the time James first visited Mexico. Neither Hemingway (whom James may conceivably have met in 1941 in Hong Kong) nor Shaw ever visited Ajijic. James did not pioneer the looms industry in Ajijic and was never a member of the Lake Chapala Society prior to being accorded Honorary Membership a few years before she died!

After studying stenography at the Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls (later Mississippi State College for Women) in 1918 James became a secretary at the War Department in Washington, D.C. Over the next decade, she traveled widely: from Hawaii to Japan, China, Korea, India, Germany, France, Costa Rica and New Zealand. In 1931, she settled on Hawaii to work at the Institute of Pacific Relations. Three years later, she left to travel again in Asia, returning to the U.S. via the Trans-Siberian railroad and Europe.

She then began travel writing and joined the stable of writers managed by Maxwell Perkins (who edited Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Erskine Caldwell, among others) at leading New York publishers Charles Scribner’s Sons. Prior to visiting Mexico, James had published three travel books: Petticoat Vagabond: Up and Down the World, (1937); Petticoat Vagabond: Among the Nomads (1939) and Petticoat Vagabond in Ainu Land: Up and Down Eastern Asia (1942).

Her early travels in Mexico in 1942, including a few weeks spent with the indigenous Otomi people, are entertainingly told, in rich, keenly-observed detail, in Dust on my Heart. During her first few months, James traveled to many very different parts of the country, from the capital city to impoverished rural mountain villages, from Acapulco to Chiapas.

It was only after two serious accidents, the first on Popocatepetl Volcano, the 17,899-foot peak near Mexico City, and the second on the slopes of the brand-new Paricutin Volcano in Michoacán, both recounted in gory detail in her book, and both requiring months in a Mexico City hospital, that James decided to recuperate at Lake Chapala.

It was August 1943 when James first arrived at Ajijic. She eventually built her own house there. In order to complete the manuscript of her next Petticoat Vagabond book, James penned a couple of chapters about the village. This was the last book she ever wrote. As suddenly as she had started writing travel books, she stopped.

James had no independent wealth and needed to generate some income for herself. She began to buy plain white cotton blouses and pay local women piecemeal rates to embroider them. Many of the designs were created by American artist Sylvia Fein who was living in Ajijic at the time.

From the late 1940s on, James started three new tourist-related ventures – renting and flipping village homes; clothing (including weaving and silk production); and running her own tourist store – all of which remained active until well into the 1970s. Over the years, she also tried all manner of other potentially lucrative but ultimately short-lived ventures, ranging from keeping bees and selling honey to looking for buried treasure.

The short-term promise of her “revival” of embroidered blouses had fizzled out when marketing problems reduced its appeal. Meantime, Helen Goodridge, with her husband, Mort Carl, had started a commercial looms business in 1950 which was attracting attention. While James could not compete directly with their venture, she could, and did, begin to teach local women how to use smaller hand looms to weave small cotton and wool items such as women’s blouses and scarves. Whereas Goodridge employed only men as weavers (very much the tradition in this part of Mexico), James’s workforce was entirely female, in line with indigenous practice in southern Mexico.

Neill James' store label

Neill James’ store label

James also started a silk industry in Ajijic. She brought in hundreds of white mulberry trees, from Uruapan in Michoacán, and planted as many as she could in her own garden, offering others to families around the village. James also bought silkworm eggs and before long, Ajijic had a thriving silk production industry. James employed local women to weave the delicate silk thread into fine silk cloth. Precisely when James introduced the silk industry into Ajijic is unclear, though it was certainly in full flow by 1962.

The third strand of her business activity was to open a small store out of her own home, selling items made in Ajijic as well as handicrafts from elsewhere. The store closed in 1974, when James announced her retirement.

James is best remembered today for her many positive contributions to the health and education of her adopted community.

Having helped educate the children of her domestic helpers from the very beginning, James broadened her scope in about 1954 to open the area’s first public library (biblioteca pública), principally aimed at serving the needs of the local children.

The first library in Ajijic was a room, donated for the purpose, on Ocampo near Serna’s grocery store. James persuaded the municipio to part with funds for books and arranged for Angelita Aldana Padilla to oversee its activities. As their reward for reading and studying, students were offered the incentive of free art supplies and classes. This humble beginning led, after many twists and turns, to the justly-praised Children’s Art Program, now run by the Lake Chapala Society, that has helped nurture the talents of so many fine local artists.

At some point, a second library was opened, with its own supervisor, in a building James owned near Seis Esquinas, to help children living in the west end of the village. After the supervisor left, the running of La Colmena (The Beehive), as it was known, was turned over to some well-meaning teenagers. When the library was badly vandalized, the remaining books and supplies were moved to the original library, which James later moved to a building on her own property at Quinta Tzintzuntzan.

In 1977, James donated a property at Seis Esquinas (Ocampo #90) to be used as the village’s first Health Center (Centro de Salud).

Leonard McCombe. 1957. Neill James (hammock) and Zara in the gardens of Quinta Tzintzuntzan. (Life)

Neill James (hammock) and Zara (on horseback) in the gardens of Quinta Tzintzuntzan. Photo by Leonard McCombe for Life, 1957.

After her retirement in 1974, the wonderful gardens of Quinta Tzintzuntzan were no longer normally open to the public. However, in 1977, James agreed that the grounds could be open every Sunday afternoon as an art garden (jardín del arte) for a new artists’ group, the Young Painters of Ajijic (Jovenes Pintores de Ajijic).

In 1983, James offered to let the Lake Chapala Society use part of her Quinta Tzintzuntzan property rent-free for five years, provided it took over running the Ajijic children’s library located there. The Lake Chapala Society subsequently (1990) acquired legal title to the property in exchange for looking after Neill James in her final years. James died on Saturday 8 October 1994, only three months shy of her 100th birthday. Her ashes were interred at the base of a favorite tree in her beloved garden.

Given her early career as a travel writer, it is only fitting that the Mississippi University for Women now awards at least five Neill James Memorial Scholarships each year (worth up to $4000 each) to Creative Writing students. First offered in 2007, these scholarships are funded with the proceeds from a charitable trust established by her sister Jane.

It was James’ generosity that enabled the Lake Chapala Society to move from Chapala to Ajijic at a time when it was struggling and desperately needed new premises. Given her amazing accomplishments and legacy she left Lake Chapala, there is no possible need to embellish the story of Neill James, one of Lakeside’s most truly colorful, memorable and enterprising characters of all time.

Note

James was not the creator of the saying, “When once the dust of Mexico has settled upon your heart, you cannot then find peace in any other land.” What she actually wrote (on the first page of Dust on My Heart) was “There is a saying, “When once the dust of Mexico has settled upon your heart, you cannot then find peace in any other land.”” James was merely quoting an old saying; it was not her creation. An earlier version of the saying appears on the first page of Your Mexican Holiday: A Modern Guide, Anita Brenner’s book published in 1932.

Acknowledgments

I am greatly indebted to Stephen Preston Banks, author of Kokio (a fictional biography of James), and to Michael Eager and Judy King for sharing with me their insights into Neill James’ life and contributions to Ajijic.

Sources

  • Anon. 1945. “Neill James in Mexico.” Modern Mexico (New York: Mexican Chamber of Commerce of the United States), Vol. 18 #5 (October 1945), 23, 28.
  • Stephen Preston Banks. 2016. Kokio: A novel based on the life of Neill James. Valley, Washington: Tellectual Press.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 17 September 1983, 18.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I Live in Ajijic.” Modern Mexico (New York: Mexican Chamber of Commerce of the United States), Vol. 18 #5 (October 1945), 23-28. [Reprinted in El Ojo de Lago. Vol 17, #7 (March 1999].
  • Neill James. 1946. Dust on My Heart. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  • Leonard McCombe (photos). “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.” Life Magazine, 23 December 1957, 159-164.

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

Jan 312019
 

From way back when, visiting artists such as surrealist painter Sylvia Fein in the 1940s offered students in Ajijic art materials and encouragement. In 1954, authoress Neill James, almost a decade after she had moved to Ajijic to recuperate from a serious climbing accident, started a tutoring program for local youngsters. Children who worked hard were given art materials to paint and draw. This was the beginning of Ajijic’s famous Children’s Art Program (CAP).

Early classes combined reading and writing with art. James became so committed to the project that the following year she opened a public library, donating the building to the village. She later opened a second library. She was sufficiently impressed by the efforts and creativity of several young artists that she arranged for them to continue their art education by attending classes in San Miguel de Allende.

To its eternal credit, the Children’s Art Program provided (and continues to provide) one of the stronger bridges between the expatriate “colony” and the local community. Almost all families in Ajijic have benefited from the program at one time or another. As the program expanded, greater organizational skills were required and the Lake Chapala Society stepped in to offer its support to help run the libraries and the art classes.

Javier Zaragoza and Jesús López Vega. 2012. Children's Art Program mural, Lake Chapala Society.

Javier Zaragoza and Jesús López Vega. 2012. Children’s Art Program mural, Lake Chapala Society.

For most of the first three decades of the Children’s Art Program, James was ably assisted by Angelita Aldana Padilla. One of Aldana’s nephews, Florentino Padilla (who lived from about 1943 to 2010) was one of the first students to be given a scholarship by James to study in San Miguel de Allende from 1960 to 1962.

On his return to Ajijic, Padilla gave back by teaching the next generation of CAP students. He helped promote the sale of the children’s “bright, charming paintings” to raise funds for materials and supplies. In 1964, for example, Padilla and Paul Carson (the then president of the Lake Chapala Society) arranged an exhibition-sale at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-NorteAmericano in Guadalajara of over 50 paintings by youngsters who had been taught at the Biblioteca. Nearly all the paintings sold. Padilla’s niece, Lucia Padilla Gutierrez, is also a gifted artist who attended CAP classes, and her own son became the third generation of this particular family to benefit from the program.

Many other later CAP alumni, including Javier Zaragoza and Jesús López Vega, have also given back to the program by teaching classes.

Every time CAP artwork was sold, a healthy percentage went to the individual student artist, as it still does today. In the 1970s, regular shows of CAP art were held in Ajijic. For example, in 1973, an exhibition of student work was held at the Tejabán Restaurant in Ajijic (then run by Jan Dunlap and Manuel Urzua). The acclaimed American photographer Sylvia Salmi (who had retired to Ajijic a decade earlier) and Peggy Duffield helped promote and organize the show.

The following year, Betty Lou and John Rip, who were frequent visitors to Lake Chapala, purchased CAP paintings to decorate all 44 rooms of their Mayan Motor Inn in Laredo, Texas.

For a variety of reasons, including Neill James’ advancing age and ill health, the CAP ran out of steam in the late 1970s and there were no regular art classes for children from 1979 to 1984. Classes were revived – initially during summer vacation and shortly thereafter year-round – thanks to the joint efforts of the Lake Chapala Society and the Ajijic Society of the Arts and the tireless endeavors of Mildred Boyd, an American writer and volunteer, who stepped forward at just the right time. Boyd, who died in 2010, dedicated thousands of hours of selfless service to the cause of CAP.

When Boyd came across a stash of long-forgotten works done by students who had been in the program decades earlier, she (with the help of one of her daughters, Judy) assembled a heritage exhibition that included early works by several children who had gone on to become successful professional artists.

The Legacy Art Collection (paintings and other works, some dating back to the 1950s, by children in the Children’s Art Program), the patrimony of all the people of Ajijic, is now in the care of the Lake Chapala Society. The collection is being catalogued and around 400 individual items can be viewed online via this online database.

Boyd’s two daughters are supporting LCS attempts to digitize, catalog and preserve hundreds of the better paintings and hope that regular exhibits in the future will showcase the extraordinary artistic talents of so many local families.

The first major retrospective, spanning more than 50 years of paintings from the program, was held at the Centro Cultural Ajijic in October 2014. The 60th Anniversary exhibit featured 130 works by CAP alumni. The “legacy artists” included José Abarca, Antonio Cardenas, Efren Gonzalez, Ricardo Gonzalez, Antonio Lopéz Vega, Jesús Lopéz Vega, Bruno Mariscal, Juan Navarro, Juan Olivarez, Lucia Padilla, Daniel Palma, Lucia Padilla, Javier Ramos, Victor Romero and Javier Zaragoza.

Frank Wise and Mildred Boyd with Children’s Art Program students. Credit: Lizz/Judy Boyd.

The Children’s Art Program is commemorated in a colorful mural at the Lake Chapala Society entitled “Six Decades of Children’s Art” (“Seis décadas de arte infantil.” The mural, financed by the Ajijic Society of the Arts (ASA) and painted by program alumni Jesús López Vega and Javier Zaragoza, was unveiled in March 2012 and pays special homage to the three remarkable women who ensured the program’s success: Neill James, Angelita Aldana Padilla and Mildred Boyd.

Today, between 50 and 70 local children participate each week in art classes given by CAP. Both CAP and the children’s library remain integral parts of the links between the Lake Chapala Society and the local community. Ironically, in spite of her contributions, and the fact that she gifted her own home to the Lake Chapala Society, Neill James was never a member of that organization, preferring to support Mexican causes rather than expatriate ones.

Artists of note who began their art careers by taking classes in the Children’s Art Program include José Abarca; Armando Aguilar; Luis Anselmo Avalos Rochín; Antonio Cardenas Perales; José Manuel Castañeda; Efren González; Ricardo Gonzalez; Antonio López Vega; Jesús López Vega; Bruno Mariscal; Luis Enrique Martínez Hernández; Dionicio Morales López; Juan Navarro; Juan Olivarez; Florentino Padilla; Lucia Padilla Gutierrez; Daniel Palma; Javier Ramos; Victor Romero; Javier Zaragoza.

The Children’s Art Program can always use additional help. To donate time, funds or resources, contact the organizers.

Sources

  • Mildred Boyd. 2001. “Children’s Art Alive and Well in Ajijic!”, El Ojo del Lago, Vol 17, #10 (June 2001).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 24 Sep 1964, 10; 1 Oct 1964; 10 Nov 1973; 16 March 1974.

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 082018
 

Garland Franklin Clifton was an American author who lived in the Chapala area in the 1960s. He wrote Wooden Leg John. Satire on Americans living in Mexico (apparently privately printed in Washington D.C., 1971). While the book is not set at Lake Chapala, it is highly probable that parts, or all of it, were written or conceived while Clifton was living there.

Wooden Leg John is written as a series of 20 letters dated from Christmas Day 1967 to Christmas Day 1968 from Bullard A. Loney (Bull A. Loney) to his “Uncle Sam”. “The “Bull” has deserted his wife and is living it up in Mexico and on the U.S.-Mexico border. The book includes many verses and lyrics.

Back cover art of Garland Clifton's Wooden Leg John, a satire on Americans living in Mexico.

Back cover art of Garland Clifton’s “Wooden Leg John, a satire on Americans living in Mexico”.

Clifton also wrote American meccas in Mexico: Guadalajara, Chapala-Ajijic, Manzanillo: a detailed discussion of these three vacation and retirement areas of Mexico, a 27-page booklet published in Laredo, Texas, in 1966.

Clifton was born 6 December 1922 in Yardelle, Arkansas, USA, and died 29 December 2013 in Gulfport, Mississippi. In the preface to Wooden Leg John, Clifton describes himself as a “Scotch-Irish native-born Arkansas Mountaineer and the tenth of 14 children.”

He joined the U.S. military in September 1940 and retired from military service in November 1960, having served overseas in New Guinea, the Philippines, Germany, Japan and Korea, by which time he had been awarded numerous decorations and ribbons and risen to be a U.S. Air Force master sergeant.

Not long afterwards, he married a Mexican girl, María. The couple had four children, and lived for some time in Chapala, before moving, in 1967, to Douglas, Arizona. By 1971, he was living in Washington D.C. with wife Maria (then aged 26), Manuel (8), Laura (7), Carmen (5) and Armando (1).

Clifton’s quirky, sometimes piquant, sense of humor enlivens Wooden Leg John. Satire on Americans living in Mexico. Judging by his writing, Clifton would have been a highly entertaining, if somewhat provocative, dinner party guest.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published on 30 May 2014.

Sources:

  • Garland Franklin Clifton. 1971. Wooden Leg John. Satire on Americans living in Mexico. Privately printed in Washington D.C.
  • Ruby Woods-Robinson, M.S.L.S. “Garland Franklin Clifton” [accessed 4 May 2014]
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