Sep 092021
 

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

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

John Thompson. (Coll. Gayle Thompson)

John Thompson.

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

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

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

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

Artist and Andreas Wellenhoffer with Jocotepec painting dated 1965.

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

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

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

John Thompson. Untitled. Jocotepec, 1965.

John Thompson. Untitled. Jocotepec, 1965.

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

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

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

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

John Thompson. Untitled.

John Thompson. Untitled.

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

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

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

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

References

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

Acknowledgments

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

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

 Posted by at 6:47 am  Tagged with:
Jul 222021
 

Austrian sculptor Leonie Trager lived and worked in the Lake Chapala area in the early 1970s. She held a solo exhibition in the Galería del Lago, Ajijic, in 1973, when she was living in Chula Vista (mid-way between Ajijic and Chapala).

Leonie Trager: Exhibit invitation, 1973

Leonie Trager: Exhibit invitation, 1973

The catalog for that exhibition includes a brief biography stating that she had graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria and had “worked with great sculptor Ivan Mestrovic” in Dubrovnik (Croatia, then Yugoslavia). She apparently held several solo shows in London, UK, and also exhibited in the New York area, while her works were prized by private collectors in the USA and elsewhere.

Very few of her pieces have appeared at auction.

Her solo exhibit in Ajijic opened on 22 April 1973 and was comprised of 32 works, mainly sculpted in clay, but also using willow, jacaranda, pink alabaster, yellow Carrara marble, Indian jade, mimosa and mahogany. Titles of pieces exhibited on that occasion include “Moondance”, “Snowflake”, “Sensuousness”, “Sleeping Boy”, “Flower Girl”, “Tzaddik”, “Satyr”, “Cleopatra”, “Flight” and “Despair”.

Her “Mothers and Daughters” limestone sculpture (see image below), reported to be 14″ in height, was also shown in that show.

Leonie Trager: Mothers and daughters

Leonie Trager: Mothers and daughters. Limestone. Exhibited in 1973.

Very little is currently known about Leonie Trager’s personal life. According to her gravestone in Tucson, Trager was born in 1922 (presumably in Vienna, Austria) and died in 1984.

Her husband was Hanns Trager (1900-1989). Hanns was born in Vienna on 25 April 1900 and was living in London, UK, in 1939, where he was working as a textile salesman.

In June 1940, shortly after the start of the second world war, Hanns was subject to an internment hearing . He declined the offer of repatriation and, to avoid internment, was shipped off to Australia on the SS Dunera. He appears to have remained in Australia until the end of the war in 1945, when he returned to London to be temporarily interned on arrival.

The following year he married Leopoldine (“Leonie”) Trager in Hampstead. In August 1948 the couple left the UK for New York, on board the Queen Elizabeth, with 2 trunks and 13 suitcases between them, to start a new life in the USA. By then Hanns was describing himself as a designer.

It is unclear whether or not Hanns accompanied Leonie during her time living in Mexico. The couple were certainly traveling together when they returned from Venezuela to the port of Baltimore in 1960. Hanns’ last known address was in Tucson, Arizona.

This is an updated version of a post first published on 16 July 2015.

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

Apr 222021
 

Journalist and author Louis Henry Charbonneau (1924-2017) includes numerous passages about Ajijic in his book The Lair, first published in 1980. Presumably Charbonneau visited Ajijic in the mid-1970s. (If you can supply any details about his time in Ajijic, please get in touch)

Charbonneau cover The LairLouis Henry Charbonneau, Jr. was born in Detroit, Michigan, on 20 January 1924 and died in Lomita, California, on 11 May 2017. He completed his B.A. and M.A. at the University of Detroit.

After serving in the US Army Air Force in the second world war, he taught at the University of Detroit for several years before moving to California, where he was a journalist at the Los Angeles Times from 1952 to 1971. He also wrote several radio plays and worked as an editor and copywriter.

In his prolific writing career, he published about forty novels in a variety of genres, from science fiction to thrillers and Westerns (written under the pen name Cartis Travis Young). His first novel was No Place on Earth (1958), a dystopian scifi tale which earned him a nomination for the Hugo Award for Best New Author of 1958. His scifi writing continued with Corpus Earthling (1960), The Sentinel Stars (1963), Psychedelic-40 (1965) and Antic Earth (1967). His other works include The Sensitives (1963), The Specials (1965), Down to Earth (1967), Barrier World (1970), Embryo (1976) and Intruder (1979).

Charbonneau’s The Lair, first published in 1980, was republished as an ebook in 2014. This story of a kidnapping and its ramifications begins in Los Angeles in 1972 and includes several brief period descriptions of Chapala, Ajijic and the (Old) Posada Ajijic. Here are a few sample snippets:

“They swept over a high crest and came into view of Lake Chapala, blue in the pale light of evening under an early evening quarter-moon that had just appeared over the mountains as if on cue. The small village of Chapala, now a retirement paradise for retired American admirals and colonels, with American-style golf-and-country-club developments to the east and west, grew away from the lake shore and climbed the foothills.”

+ + + + +

“There were supposed to be many Mexicos, Charmian Stewart commented, but this one didn’t seem to belong to Mexicans any more. All they had left was the Chapala pier for Sunday family promenading, and even there the music that sounded in the cafés and clubs for young people to dance to was hard rock, not soft guitar. Their chaperoning abuelas must be bewildered by it all, Charmian mused, anxiously watching their grandchildren turn into something they could not understand.”

+ + + + +

“They drove past the Chula Vista Country Club development and the huge Camino Real. The latter, a blaze of lights, was at the edge of Ajijic. The town itself was another of those picturesque Indian villages whose climate and setting on the shore of the lake, with narrow cobbled or dirt streets and tiny adobe houses behind high walls, had led to its being taken over by the horde of norteamericanos looking for a place to live on their pensions without having to scrimp-and with the luxury of a maid and gardener. Most of the houses had been or were being modernized with U.S.-style bathrooms and kitchens.”

+ + + + +

“The streets of Ajijic seemed crowded with Americans out for a stroll or Mexicans standing in open doorways. The tiny plaza at the center of the village was busy. There was a movie theater featuring Sean Connery in a James Bond rerun. On the corner opposite was a small, brightly lit and very modern supermercado, its shelves lined with American canned goods, cigarettes and magazines.

– “You’ve been here before?” Blanchard asked, as Charmian Stewart turned along a dark, one-way street leading away from the plaza.

– “I bought this skirt at one of the gift shops here. It’s a pretty little town. You should see it in daylight.”

– “Do any Mexicans still live here?”

– She laughed. “Of course, Who do you suppose the servants are?”

+ + + + +

“Charmian parked her compact car along a side street and they walked back to the Posada del Lago . . . . The crooked path brought them to the restaurant on one side and a large cocktail lounge on the right, both almost at the edge of the lake. Blanchard and Charmian Stewart paused at the entrance to the lounge, struck by the beauty of the scene outside. At the water’s edge, just a few feet away, a group of young men and women, most of them with the look and air of affluent Americans, were arranging themselves on horses for an evening ride along the beach, calling out to each other or breaking into sudden laughter.

A handsome, slender Mexican youth with the flashing smile of the Indian signaled and turned his horse along the shore of the lake, leading the riders in single file. The water lapped into their tracks in the wet sand.

The posada was the social center of the town, Charmian told Blanchard, particularly for swingers, or what passed for swingers in this part of the world. At one table a sixty-year-old red-faced American with a bull neck and a stiff back looked exactly like a retired Marine general, which he might well have been. The younger man, who acted as if he wanted to light the general’s cigar and settled for lighting their wives’ cigarettes, was his aide, Blanchard decided. And the two women, dyed blonde and dyed jet-black, respectively fifty and sixty, had the brittle, weathered smartness of career-officers’ wives.

– “Golf and bridge,” Charmian murmured. “Those are the big things around here. And good tequila or Jamaican rum at two dollars a quart. They say the party starts about ten in the morning every day. And as often as not, this is a good place to wind it up at night.”

Sources

  • Louis Henry Charbonneau. 1980. The Lair. New York : Fawcett Gold Meda; Ebook edition, 2014, Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc.
  • The Detroit News & Detroit Free Press. “Louis Henry Charbonneau, Jr. (Obituary).” 17 May 2017.

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

Dec 102020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mexicans at their most maddening:

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

—“Where is the ticket office?”

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

—“Well, when does it open?”

—“In the morning.”

—“At what time?”

—“In the morning – about noon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

—“And when will he open Monday?”

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Nov 122020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Oct 222020
 

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

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

Design by Josefa

Design by Josefa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition of designs by Josefa

2004 exhibition of Mexican textiles and designs by Josefa

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

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

Josefa retired from designing clothing in the late 1980s.

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

Mysterious early life

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

Label in Josefa blouse

Label in Josefa blouse

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition of designs by Josefa

Exhibition of Mexican textiles and designs by Josefa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

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

Oct 152020
 

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

Upton-Ajijic article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Source

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

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

Sep 092020
 

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

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

Priscilla Frazer. Marine scene (undated, untitled).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priscilla Frazer. c 1963. "Sunday Best"

Priscilla Frazer. c 1963. “Sunday Best”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

Priscilla Frazer. ca 1970. Pátzcuaro. (Duco)

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Notes:

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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Aug 132020
 

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

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

Raphael Greno. "Don Elpidio"

Raphael Greno. “Don Elpidio”

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

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

Update

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Aug 062020
 

Verna Aardema (1911-2000) was an American author of dozens of children’s books.

She has no known connection to Lake Chapala beyond the fact that one of her books—The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (New York: Four Winds, 1979)—is connected with Tizapán [el Alto] on the southern shore of the lake.

aardema-coverThe story, illustrated by Tony Chen, is a translation and retelling of “El Aro de Hinojo y el Cuero de Piojo”, from Tales from Jalisco, Mexico, by Howard True Wheeler, American Folklore Society, 35, 1943. The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico can be viewed online via the website OpenLibrary.org: The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapán, Mexico (free registration required).

The king of Tizapán has a beautiful daughter Princess Fruela. He asks a wizard to make her a special drum. The only man that will be allowed to marry his daughter must first guess what kind of black leather the drum head is made from. Prince Tuzán rises to the challenge, but knows he will forfeit his life if he fails. En route to victory, he gathers around him several unusual characters, all of whom contribute to his success.

Verna Aardema (full name Verna Norberg Aardema Vugteveen) was born in New Era, Michigan on 6 June 1911. Even as a child, she wanted to be a writer. She graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Journalism in 1934, before working as an elementary school teacher (1934-1973), later combined with being a local newspaper correspondent for the Muskegon Chronicle (1951-1972).

Aardema’s first set of children’s stories Tales from the Story Hat was published in 1960. She started writing for children mainly because her daughter wouldn’t eat until she’d heard one of her mother’s stories. In most stories, the setting was somewhere that Aardema had been recently reading about, such as Africa or Mexico.

Her children’s books, almost always based on adaptations of traditional folklore tales, won numerous awards. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (1975) received the Caldecott Medal and the Brooklyn Art Books for Children Award. Who’s in Rabbit’s House? (1977) was the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. The author herself received the Children’s Reading Round Table Award in 1981.

See also

This is an updated version of a post first published on 5 May 2014.

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.

May 282020
 

The Canadian playwright and novelist George Ryga (1932-1987) lived and wrote in the village of San Antonio Tlayacapan, mid-way between Chapala and Ajijic, from November, 1972 to March 1973.

Ryga was sufficiently immersed in local life during his few months at Lake Chapala that it inspired him to write A Portrait of Angelica, a play set in Ajijic, that rings just as true today as it did when it was first written.

This is not some lighthearted romantic comedy, though Ryga does employ humor to good effect in examining the interaction, from a Canadian perspective, between a group of tourists and the Mexican townsfolk, who have “a culture that, unlike our own, ‘has withstood a thousand hurricanes.'”

Ryga introduces the play (in the published version) with the text of a talk he gave during a series of workshops of populist theatre in Thunder Bay in 1982. In the introduction, entitled “An Artist in Resistance,” Ryga proves to be a staunch advocate for the contribution that populist theatre can play to help audiences understand a world that is globalizing so rapidly—via changes in technology and communications—that it inevitably leads to conflicts and contradictions that expose widespread racism and inequalities. The themes of A Portrait of Angelica are no less serious.

My first surprise in reading the play was to discover that Angelica was the name of the small town (Santa Angelica) where the play is set, and not a person!

The basic plot is centered around frustrated lives and loves mixed with tales of lust, violence and drunkenness. The three principal characters are Danny, Jose and Elena. Danny is a well-educated young Canadian, who wants to parlay his masters degree in history and English into a writing career. He sits at a table on the town square writing letters to his mother—letters which, for one reason or another, never get sent. Jose is a local policeman, standing nearby, outside the town’s delegación. Elena is a “town girl”, an independent thinker, high spirited, sensuous and flirtatious.

The dialogue between these three and a host of minor characters (tourists, local residents, fishermen) varies from seemingly mundane conversations about daily life to quick-witted teasing, taunting and wisecracking about past and current events, occasionally interspersed by drinking and dancing. For the most part the dialogue is unfailingly entertaining, incisive and perceptive.

Here is Danny casting lighthearted aspersions on the newcomers who arrive with no Spanish:

Danny: I came to write a book in a town the new arrivals from Texas, Alabama and New York call Se Vende for a week or so. There are no markings on the highway to announce the entrance to Angelica, only “Se Vende” signs on fields, sheds, housing, shops and even refuse heaps now overgrown with banana palms sheltering scorpions who know nothing of inter-American economics… or the meaning of “For Sale” signs. [31]

Moments later, Padre Edwardo explains to Danny and Jose his own fears about how the town is changing:

You are both young… it is easy to impress you! You know nothing of this culture! Two thousand years of heritage sells for twenty pesos a square metre this very hour on the edge of town. I have a dream the people sold my church from underneath my feet for a parking lot… and I was reduced in my old age to herding goats upon the mountain for the milk and cheese consortium! When the price of land is high, history and culture is a dying calf with three legs! [31]

At one point Jose loses his patience with Danny and tells him what he thinks of the foreigners who have settled in the town:

They’ve all come here to die, or write a book! The taverns overflow with rotting poets and biographers who waste empty paper on their empty lives! Climb a mountain, or screw up a storm, amigo!… It will be better for your system than sitting at a table all day long! [33]

In a later part of the play, Danny and Jose continue to debate the relative merits of Canada and Mexico, Canadians and Mexicans:

Danny: In my homeland, we struggle six months of the year to keep ourselves from freezing during winter. Our children are well fed… the old have a living pension. You are as wealthy in resource as we, yet to boil soup takes a woman and two men!

Jose: But the soup gets made, even though we had to lose Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California to get to this!…” [36]

As the discussion proceeds, Jose is particularly anxious to impress on Danny that foreign visitors need to treat Mexicans as their equals:

Jose: . . No one, amigo, not a fool nor enemy of our people, will be allowed to starve or die forgotten in this country!

Danny: I understand that.

Jose: But do you understand that once you’ve taken of feeling that we have… you must accept us and our country as your equals… and not curiosities in your winter travels? [38]

The opening lines of Act 2 reiterate the long and rich history of Mexico by including this keenly observed reference to las cabañuelas:

Jose: In the month of January, we predict the temperatures and rainfall of each month within the coming year… what crops to plant and when… what water we shall have… according to a Mayan calendar of observations that has never failed us… and never will. [47]

Despite the play being set in Ajijic, there is only a single direct reference to Lake Chapala in the entire script, in this evocative description of a rider galloping along the shore:

Danny: A spray of sand and flecks of foam fly as Diablo and his rider become one – teeth bared, bent into the wind like arrows flying. Galloping over pale sands of Lake Chapala. Disappearing into eucalyptus groves and then reappearing. Galloping in water now… grey water beaten to a mist… by Diablo’s iron hooves. [55]

Elsewhere, Danny notes how:

Fishermen, silhouetted in the dying light, haul nets into boats designed ten thousand years ago. The women gather laundry left drying on the stones, their dusky faces and their eyes haunted by memories of long ago… of kings who rode this valley, their glowing helmets ablaze with quetzal plumes gathered from the places of the dead. [59]

One revealing exchange between Danny and Jose focuses on some of Santa Angelica’s other characters:

Danny: . . Mercedes Perez, doctora who invites an illness with her languid eyes, delicious thighs and septic hands… legendary healer of small dark children with dysentery… and white gentlemen with clap…

Jose: Antonio, the fixer… a hot lunch and four hundred pesos buys anything from Antonio – a two-year visa… marriage license… death certificate.

Danny: Blind Santo, who plays one note on his harmonica beside your open window until he’s paid to go away. Over coffee he listens for the addresses of all newcomers to the town, so he can serenade them at a later time.

Jose: The pimp, Augustino… hustling disease and brightly coloured woven shawls of finest mountain wool.

Danny: The solider, Gus… ancient remnant of an ancient war. [55]

Some of these minor characters are so timeless they have reappeared on numerous occasions scattered through Ajijic’s history.

This interesting and thought-provoking play was first performed at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Canada in summer 1973, with a cast of students, directed by Tom Peacocke. Somewhat surprisingly, it has never been performed at Lake Chapala.

Sources

  • George Ryga. 1982. “An Artist in Resistance,” Canadian Theatre Review, No 33 (Winter 1982).
  • George Ryga. 1984. A portrait of Angelica. A Letter to My Son. (Two plays) Winnipeg: Turnstone Press.

Note

The published version of the play could use some light editing. It is quite irritating (for any Spanish-speaking reader) to encounter such monstrosities as “el gatto” for “el gato” and “Como esta, senors?” for “Comó están, señores?” While the absence of accents is excusable in an English-language play, the absence of the letter ñ from words that require it is not. And as for “Padre Edwardo” [sic], he should definitely be Padre Eduardo, given that w is used in Spanish only in words of foreign origin.

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

May 072020
 

The talented painter and musician Gustavo Sendis divided his time for much of his life between Guadalajara, where he was born in 1941, and his family’s second home in Ajijic.

Born on 8 July 1941, Sendis became interested in art at an early age and studied drawing with Juan Navarro and Ernesto Butterlin in 1958 and 1959. His father was a scientist and university lecturer who founded several important projects in the Guadalajara Hospital Civil and Sanatorio Guadalajara. Despite some parental pressure to pursue a conventional career (see comments), Gustavo chose to marry young and went to live in Europe. His father apparently supported this decision and his mother helped provide valuable contacts in regards to concerts and exhibitions.

His love of guitar music and painting took him first to the U.S., where he studied with Jack Buckingham at the University of California, Berkeley (where he lived with the family of Jim Byers), and then to Spain, where he studied with Alvaro Company (taught by Segovia) in Malaga, and with Emilio Pujol (1886-1980), the preeminent Spanish classical guitarist and composer.

Emilio Pujol (left) and Gustavo Sendis, 1965

Emilio Pujol (left) and Gustavo Sendis, 1965

On his return to Guadalajara, Sendis brought back a heartfelt open letter from Pujol, dated 1965, to “Mexican guitarists”, and began to exhibit his paintings and give public guitar recitals. In 1967 he gave a guitar recital and exhibited about 20 abstract works (painted during his time in Europe) at the Sociedad de Amigos de la Guitarra de Guadalajara on Calle Francia in Colonia Moderna. Sendis’s first formal exhibition was at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara in (1968).

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

During a second trip to Europe, he continued to exhibit his work and give guitar concerts. Practically self-taught as a painter, Sendis exhibited in several European countries, including Sociedad Cultural Ebusus in Ibiza, Spain (1970); 1970 Palacio Fox, Lisbon, Portugal (1970); University of Paris, France (1970); the Ibiza Bienal (1971); Galeria Varia, Berne, Switzerland (1974); Galeira Barsotti, Viareggion, Italy (1975); Galeria 18 de Septiembre, Prato, Italy (1976); 1977 Palacio de la Exposición, Milan, Italy (1977) and Galeria Monserrato, Monserrat Cagliari, Cerdeña, Italy (1977). He returned to Spain for a show in Málaga (1977) of paintings related to music, with titles like “Notes on the Flute”.

On his return to Mexico, Sendis lived for many years in Ajijic prior to moving first to Taxco, Guerrero (where he gave a concert in the city’s Santa Prisca church) and then to Tepoztlán, Morelos, where he suffered a fatal heart attack on 25 May 1989, while he was still in his 40s.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Throughout his life, Sendis entertained people with his sensitive guitar playing. For example in June 1972 he was performing nightly in Ajijic at the El Tejaban restaurant-gallery (then run by Jan Dunlap and Manuel Urzua). The following month, he had a month-long solo show at the gallery of paintings that had been shown previously in “Paris, Madrid, Lisbon and several other cities in Europe”.

Sendis recorded one record, Tras la huella de Sendis, and there is also a cassette tape, entitled Homenaje a Emilio Pujol, of a recital by Sendis in August 1987 in the Santa María church in Tepoztlan, Morelos, made by Victor Rapoport from an original recording belonging to Alice Mickelli. The cassette, released by the family in 1995, includes two pieces by Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), one by Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849) and two composed by the guitarist himself: “Danza Nahuatl” and “Paisajes”.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

In March 1974, he showed several paintings alongside works by his mother, Alicia Sendis, and Sheryl Stokes at  La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic. The inspiration for many of his paintings came from Jalisco scenes that he knew as a child. In fellow artist Tom Faloon’s words, Sendis “did some wonderful paintings, and pretty much lived in his own world.” In addition to conventional paintings on flat surfaces, Sendis is also known to have painted scenes on stoneware plates.

He continued to exhibit frequently into the early 1980s, showing works at the Salón de Octubre, Casa de la Cultura, Guadalajara (1978, 1979, 1980); Ex-convento del Carmen, Guadalajara (1980); Plástica Jalisco ’81, Casa de la Cultura, Guadalajara (1981); Galeria Atelier, Guadalajara (1981); Galería Uno, Puerto Vallarta (1982) and Collage, Galería de Arte, Monterrey, Nuevo León (1982).

Though the details remain a mystery, a selection of his works was exhibited at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada in July 1980, in a joint show with Zbigniew Olak and Aquatic Exotic.

In June 1984 Sendis exhibited at the Centro de Investigación y Difusión del Arte Exedra in Zapopan, Guadalajara (Paseo del Prado #387, Lomas del Valle).

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

In 2010 a major “Winter Collective” exhibition in Guadalajara at Galería Vértice included a Sendis painting, alongside originals by such renowned artists as Rufino Tamayo, Gustavo Aceves, José Clemente Orozco, Rafael Coronel, Gunther Gerzso, Leonora Carrington and Juan Soriano. Sendis’s work was also included in a similar exhibition the following year, alongside works by Georg Rauch, Jose Luis Cuevas, Juan Soriano and Francisco Toledo.

Sendis is included, deservedly, in Guillermo Ramírez Godoy’s book Cuatro Siglos de Pintura Jalisciense (“Four Centuries of Jaliscan Painting”).

When the Guadalajara newspaper El Informador reached its centenary in 2017, the paper’s director, Carlos Álvarez del Castillo, selected 100 pieces of art from the “Fundación J. Álvarez del Castillo” collection of horse-related paintings and sculptures to be displayed at the Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara. The exhibit, entitled “Equinos 100”, includes the very first painting acquired for the collection – a painting by Gustavo Sendis.

This is an updated version of a profile originally published on 26 February 2015 (and reprinted with additional material on 2 October 2017).

Acknowledgments

My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram, Jan Dunlap and the late Tom Faloon for sharing with me their memories of Gustavo Sendis, and for the valuable additions and clarifications by Gustavo’s niece Isabel Cristina de Sendis and by Adriana Rodríguez (see comments section). Special thanks are also due to Hilda Mendoza of Ajijic for her generous and treasured gift of the cassette tape, Homenaje a Emilio Pujol.

Sources:

  • Anon. 1979. “Madrona exposition centre – 1980 schedule of shows”. Staff Bulletin (Malaspina College, Nanaimo, B.C.), 21 December 1979 (Vol 1 #13).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 3 June 1972; 10 June 1972; 1 July 1972; 16 March 1974
  • Ramon Macias Mora. 2001. Las seis cuerdas de la guitarra (Editorial Conexión Gráfica).
  • Guillermo Ramírez Godoy. 2003. “La dualidad artística del pintor y guitarrista Gustavo Sendis”. El Informador (Guadalajara), 26 Oct 2003.
  • Guillermo Ramírez Godoy and Arturo Camacho Becerra. 1996. Cuatro Siglos de Pintura Jalisciense (Cámara Nacional de Comercio de Guadalajara).
  • Ramiro Torreblanco. 1981. “Pintor de Profundid”, El Informador, 14 June 1981.

Note: Galería Vértice catalogs were at http://www.verticegaleria.com/esp/antes_exp.asp?cve_exp=82

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

Apr 092020
 

Accompanied by his family, multilingual Polish-born artist and educator Harry Mintz (1907-2002) was a frequent visitor to Lake Chapala from the 1970s into the 1990s. His first recorded visit was in 1974, when the local paper reported that the family was spending the summer in Chula Vista and that it was a working vacation for Harry who “hopes to complete a series of water colors while in this lakeside community.” On that occasion, the family stayed about a month before returning to Chicago with plans to revisit Lake Chapala the following summer.

The family eventually based themselves in a house/studio on the western outskirts of Ajijic at Linda Vista #14 where Harry’s large, bright studio reverberated to the sound of classical music as he worked on his oil paintings and various series of prints. In later years, he produced a series of vivid abstracts, known by his family as Paint Pours.

While in Mexico, Harry Mintz became a good friend of talented photographer Bert Miller.
Mintz’s daughter, Sari, recalls how much her father loved Mexico:

My father found the country and culture to be alive and real and exciting and could hardly wait for my school teacher mother to finish teaching in June so they could load the car and drive to Lake Chapala. Dad loved the markets, the streets, the people, the colors, the trees, the villages. He couldn’t get enough.”

According to his U.S. naturalization papers (filed in 1941), Mintz was born in Ostrowiec, Poland, on 27 September 1904. He is thought to have studied at Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts before crossing the Atlantic to start a fellowship in Brazil. From Brazil Mintz moved to the U.S., arriving in New York aboard the SS Southern Cross on 12 May 1924. In the U.S., Mintz studied at the Chicago Art Institute and, during the 1930s, was a registered artist for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project.

Mintz was certainly living in Chicago by 1932 and was still living there when he applied for naturalization in 1941. His decision to seek naturalization appears to have been motivated by his marriage to Marjory Elizabeth Carter in Chicago the previous year, on 10 February 1940. That marriage lasted about a decade.

Mintz taught art at the Evanston Art Center (1940-1970), the North Shore Art League (1950-1959) and was on the faculty of the Art Institute of Chicago (1955-1970). He was also a visiting professor of art at Washington University, St. Louis (1954-1955). He took early retirement from his teaching positions to focus exclusively on his art, which became increasingly abstract.

Mintz was a regular visitor to Mexico from the 1940s onwards, spending time in a number of places but mostly in the city of Guanajuato and the art center of San Miguel de Allende. Mintz was teaching at the Bellas Artes school in San Miguel de Allende in 1958 when he met and fell in love with Rosabelle Vita Truglio, a visiting summer student. After the briefest of courtships, they married on 1 September 1958 and subsequently had two children. Their daughter, Sari Rachel Mintz, in an interview for a Chicago style magazine, summarized her father’s reaction on meeting his soulmate:

He looked like Picasso, spoke 12 languages, met my mother in Mexico when she was 23 and he was 57, swept her off her feet, convinced her to dump a fiancé back home and married her in a month. I have one brother, and both of our birth certificates say he was 57 when we were born, so we really never knew his age.”

The article (about Sari’s very stylish Chicago home) includes a photo of a Mintz Monotype (a single print from an original painted on glass) entitled “Tree in Ajijic, Mexico” painted in 1983.

Harry Mintz. Mexican street. 1952. (Auctioned by Hindman, Chicago, in 2007)

Harry Mintz. Mexican street. 1952. (Auctioned by Hindman, Chicago, in 2007)

Mintz held more than 40 one-man shows, mainly in the Chicago area. Venues included the Art Institute of Chicago; Evanston Arts Center and the Ruth Volid Gallery. He also had solo shows in Heller Gallery, New York City; John Heller Gallery, New York City; Feingarten Galleries, Chicago, and Beverly Hills, California (1961); the University of Judaism, Los Angeles and the Galeria Escondida in Taos, New Mexico.

Mintz’s curriculum also lists two solo shows in Mexico: at the Galería del Arte, Guadalajara (1987) and at ARTestudio in Ajijic (date unknown).

His works were also included in more than 300 group shows, including the New York World’s Fair (1940); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; Carnegie International, Pittsburgh; Venice Biennale in Italy; Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco; Corcoran Gallery of Art; Washington, D.C.; Museum of Cincinnati, Cincinnati; the Milwaukee Art Institute; and Denver Art Museum.

Mintz had a work selected for the 66th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity in 1963. By coincidence, Stanley Sourelis, another artist with close connections to Chicago and the Lake Chapala area, also had a work in that show.

Examples of Mintz’s fine paintings can be found in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Whitney Museum; Warsaw Academy Fine Arts; Museum of Art in Tel-Aviv, Israel; Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro; Evansville (Indiana) Museum; Notre Dame University; Northwestern University; Columbus University (Ohio).

A large collection of documents and photographs relating to Mintz and his art are held in the Ryerson and Burnham Archives of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Acknowledgments

My sincere thanks to Sari Mintz, for her help in compiling this profile of her father, and to Jenni Mykrantz, who manages Mintz’s art estate.

Sources

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 5:40 am  Tagged with:
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.”

Abby and Jules Rubinstein. c 1973. Credit: Beverly Johnson; reproduced by kind permission of her family

Abby and Jules Rubinstein. c 1973. Credit: Beverly Johnson; reproduced by kind permission of her family

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:
Jan 022020
 

German engineer and photographer Helmuth A. Wellenhofer lived with his wife, Antonia (“Toni”) in Jocotepec for many years in the 1970s.

Helmut (as he was known in Mexico) was born in Bavaria in 1935. After completing his studies, he worked in a fashion house, became interested in literature, modern art and music, and founded a jazz group. In 1960, he crossed the Atlantic to Canada where he worked in a sawmill, warehouses and mines.

He became a passionate and serious photographer, undertaking trips to Alaska, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Sumatra and India. He visited Mexico for the first time in 1962 and planned to return, but only after visiting Panama, Germany and several other European countries, as well as seeing more of the U.S. and Canada.

Poster for 1976 exhibition

Poster for 1976 exhibition

On 17 August 1965 he married Antonia Bruggner, then aged 23, in Santa Barbara, California. The couple settled in Santa Barbara for several years and had a son, Andreas. Helmuth managed the Coral Casino Beach Club and Antonia worked with a title insurance firm.

The Wellenhofers, with their young son, returned to live in Jocotepec on Lake Chapala in 1973. They became close friends with photographer John Frost and his novelist wife Joan Van Every Frost, whose son, John, was of similar age to Andreas. Both families spent Easter 1973 at the beach and in the surf at Tenacatita.

The Wellenhofers built a house in Nestipac and later sold the upper part of the property to another couple who eventually became long-time Jocotepec residents: Austrian artist Georg Rauch and his wife, Phyllis.

In 1975, Wellenhoffer embarked on a photographic railroad excursion to Los Mochis and the Copper Canyon and back. This was the basis for a fascinating exhibit which opened the following May at the Goethe Institute in Guadalajara.

That exhibition, entitled “Impresiones de un Viaje en México” featured photos from throughout Mexico, including Wellenhofer’s train trips along the west coast and through the Copper Canyon.

Wellenhofer summarized his railroad experiences for the local weekly newspaper, the Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter:

“Freight train 656 gets a “go” signal via shortwave radio and jerks slowly out of Guadalajara. After a few street crossings, the four-engine, 62-boxcar convoy picks up speed and we roll through the open countryside. I’m sitting in the third engine – my camera ready – and am happy to finally be on the track again.

Maybe it’s because I was born in a train station that I feel such an affinity for rail travel. I’ve ridden Japan’s “superfast”, spent three days inside a closed cattlecar in India and recall an unbelievable trip through Bolivia where male passengers were given reduced fare if they helped to chop wood for the engine.

My Mexican odyssey began when I approached the director of Ferrocarriles del Pacifico with a plan to travel the nation’s passenger and freight trains, documenting my journey with photographs. He approved and issued me a letter of introduction, instructing stationmasters and train personnel to help me along the way.

Armed with the letter I hopped aboard my first freight train in Guadalajara – bound for Tepic. En route, engineers and brakemen came by to talk, curious about my rail journey with a camera….”

At Tepic, Wellenhofer “switched to a freight train for a six-hour run to Mazatlán, riding alone in the last compartment of a 70-car convoy.” In Mazatlán he “hopped aboard a three-engine train barrelling 56 miles per hour to the railroad junction at Sufragio” where he boarded a second-class train through the Copper Canyon to Chihuahua.

From Chihuahua, he took the mid-night train to Zacatecas, in case full of “families, boxes, people sleeping on the floor, crying babies and moaning grandmothers.”

According to the poster for that show, he was then working on a collection of photos and poems about his impressions and perspectives.

The Wellenhofers were regular return visitors to Jocotepec for many years after moving from Mexico to Germany. Their son, Andreas Noar Wellenhofer is a professional saxophonist. (Enjoy his videos on Youtube)

Acknowledgments

  • My thanks to the late John Frost Sr, and to John Frost Jr., Phyllis Rauch and Peter Huf for sharing their memories of the Wellenhofers.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 14 April 1973; 6 Sep 1975; 24 April 1976, 14; CR 1 May 1976, 11, 14, 18.

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.

Oct 102019
 

Hungarian-born natural living experimenter Edmond Szekely (1905-1979), founder of the International Biogenic Society, lived and wrote at Lake Chapala during the 1970s. He was the author of more than 80 books, some in Hungarian, some in English, some translated into Spanish, and sometimes using the name Edmond S. Bordeaux.

Szekely was born in Máramarossziget in what was then Hungary (now Romania) on 5 March 1905 and died in 1979 in Costa Rica.

As a young man he was sent by his parents to study in Rome. He later claimed to have discovered a document in the Vatican Archives, while studying at the Vatican in 1923, that was purportedly an obscure Aramaic text that allegedly proved the Essenes were vegetarians, and that vegetarianism was prescribed by Jesus.

He published a translation of the first part of this as The Essene Gospel of John (1937); this work was later re-titled The Essene Gospel of Peace. No one has ever been able to locate the originals of any of the documents that Szekely claimed to have discovered and translated.

Nevertheless, Szekely made his living by promoting the values – including vegetarianism, healthy living and respect for all God’s creatures – that he claimed were contained within these ancient documents. In the late 1920s, Szekely founded several communes in France to spread his ideas and in 1928 he founded the International Biogenic Society, with Nobel Prize-winning novelist Romain Rolland.

According to the publications of the International Biogenic Society, Szekely had degrees from universities in Vienna and Leipzig and held a doctorate from the University of Paris; he had been a professor of philosophy and experimental psychology at the Bolyai University in Kolozsvár, Hungary (now Cluj-Napoca, Romania).

For Biogenic living, Szekely argued that people’s daily diet should consist of 25% biogenic foods (life renewing; eg germinated cereal seeds, nuts; sprouted baby greens); 50% bioactive foods (life sustaining; eg organic, natural vegetables, fruit) and 25% biostatic (life slowing; eg cooked and “stale” foods). They should avoid biocidic foods, such as processed and irradiated foods and drinks, since these were “life destroying.” In addition to this diet, Biogenic living also includes meditation, simple living, and respect for the earth in all its forms.

Most people can agree with the basic tenets of the International Biogenic Society which includes a belief that our most precious possession is Life, that Peace is the only way of survival for mankind, that we should preserve the vegetation of our planet, and that the improvement of life and mankind on our planet must start with individual efforts, as the whole depends on the atoms composing it.

When Hitler rose to power, Szekely left Europe for the Americas, where in 1939 he married Brooklyn-born Deborah Shainman, the 17-year-old daughter of Jewish immigrants. (The couple had first met in Tahiti six years earlier). The following year, when his U.S.-issued residence papers expired, the couple settled in the Mexican town of Tecate in Baja California, where they opened a retreat – Rancho la Puerta – where they could explore and espouse their ideas.

Early visitors paid $18.75 a week for the privilege of pitching their own tent, chopping wood and milking goats, while benefiting from Szekely wisdom and beliefs. As the spa grew, the strict vegetarian diet on offer attracted those seeking to lose weight. Today the 3,000-acre property is a holistic health spa and eco-resort with 87 rooms, 11 gyms, library and extensive art collection. It is owned and managed by Szekely’s daughter, Sara Livia Brightwood.

After he divorced Deborah in 1970 and retired from Rancho La Puerta, Szekely married 30-year-old Norma Nilsson, an actress and pianist who had been his long-time assistant at the spa, and moved to Lake Chapala to focus on his writing and teaching.

While at Lake Chapala, Szekely developed his long-time interest in the pre-Columbian ball game and “reconstructed” how the Toltec version of the ball game had been played.

Szekely described the game as “a fiendishly clever and physically demanding one, utilizing the movements of soccer, basketball and hockey” and considered it “highly symbolic and full of hidden meaning.” While Mexican archaeologists agree with that overall assessment, Szekely’s “reconstruction” of how it was played – which he claimed involved traversing 20 wooden idols placed in the form of a large X journeying from a symbol of good to a symbol of evil – does not match any of the versions postulated by academic archaeologists.

Szekely was a prolific writer, whose books include: Cosmos, Man and Society: A Paneubiotic Synthesis (1936); Cosmotherapy, the Medicine of the Future (1938); The Soul Of Ancient Mexico (1968); The Game of Gods, Archaeological Reconstruction of the Ancient Religion of the Americas (1970); Culturas Antiguas, Mexico (1971); Los Pastorcitos, la salvación del niño campesino, alimentación – higiene – cultura física (1971); The Dialectical Method of Thinking (1973); Messengers from Ancient Civilizations: The Fascinating Story of Canine Archeology (1974); Sexual Harmony (1977); The Ecological Health Garden and the Book of Survival (1978).

He and his second wife, Norma (whose photographs illustrated Culturas Antiguas), also produced a joint book of poetry: Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf (1974).

Sources

  • Iris Engstrand. 2017. “Rancho La Puerta: Where the Fitness Revolution Began” in The Journal of San Diego History. Vol 63. 2017. Pp 1-34.
  • June Nay Summers. 1972. Buenos Días, Tecate. Lakeside, California: Sunlight Press, Inc.
  • Szekely, Edmond Bordeaux. The Gospel of Peace by the Apostle John. London: C. H. Daniels, 1937. Reprinted as The Essene Gospel of Peace. San Diego: Academy of Creative Living, 1971.

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.

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.

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