May 232019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: This post was first published 30 March 2015.

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Apr 182019
 

Novelist Joan Van Every Frost, born 28 Feb 1929 in Los Angeles, California, lived in Jocotepec from 1966 to 2012. She died at age 83 on 6 June 2012 in Santa Barbara, California. Her father, Dale Van Every, was a famous writer and screenwriter most active in the 1920s and 1930s.

Joan gained an undergraduate degree in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1951 and a librarian certificate from the University of California at Berkeley. She served as a librarian after the second world war on US military bases in France and Germany, and was later the Head Librarian of the Santa Monica Public Library for several years.

Joan Van Every (then 35) married artist and photographer John Frost (41) on 26 September 1964 in San Bernadino, California. In 1966, the couple relocated to Mexico, living for a short time in Uruapan in Michoacán, before establishing their permanent home and John’s photographic studio in Jocotepec on Lake Chapala. John maintained his commercial photography studio (specializing in aerial photography) in their home for more than 40 years.

Prior to finding their home in the village, the couple spent 6 weeks at the historic La Quinta inn in Jocotepec. Sadly, La Quinta, which had been an inn ever since 1824 and was one of a small number of truly historic buildings in the town, was wantonly destroyed in the 1990s.

frost-joan-ca-2008
Joan was an indefatigable supporter of numerous charitable organizations at Lakeside, including the pioneering Centro de Salud in Jocotepec, the Lakeside School for the Deaf. For many years, she helped coordinate medical consultations and surgeries for Chapala-area children via the Shriners organization. Joan  was also the co-founder in the 1970s of Amigos de Salud (which in 1993 became the Programa Pro Niños Incapacitados del Lago), and was a co-founder of the Lakeside region’s major annual fund-raising event: the Ajijic Chili Cook-off.

Using her married name of Joan Van Every Frost, Joan wrote six novels, several of them set in Mexico.

frost-joan-van-every-covers
Her first novel, This Fiery Promise (Leisure Books, 1978), dedicated to Tam, is a historical romance set at the start of the Mexican Revolution. It tells the fiery adventures of a horse-loving American girl who marries a rich, much older Mexican hacienda-owner. Their lives become entangled in the Revolution, and she eventually flees by joining a circus. The novel covers lots of territory from Santa Barbara (California) to Nayarit, Guadalajara, Colima and the port of Manzanillo.

Lisa (New York: Leisure Books, 1979) is dedicated “For John, with all my love”. This historical romance, set in 1880s Britain, unravels the complex relationships of a dysfunctional family, in the midst of scenes involving horses, fires, medical doctors, and class differences.

Her third novel includes scenes set in Guadalajara and at Lake Chapala. A Masque of Chameleons (Fawcett 1981) looks at the adventures and misadventures befalling a troupe of traveling actors in mid-nineteenth century Mexico. The theater troupe withstands lots of internal intrigue and external pressures as it tours Mexico, from Veracruz, Puebla, Mexico City and Cuernavaca to Morelia, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guadalajara and Lake Chapala. This novel displays a sound background knowledge of Mexican history and is engagingly written.

This is how Frost first describes the troupe’s arrival at Lake Chapala: “They finally came to a large body of water that stretched as far as they could see to the west, like an inland sea the color of a silver coin. Across the lake were green, brush-covered mountains, ancient dead volcanoes that had thrust themselves up when the world was still young to form this pocket cradling the endless lake.” ( p 228)

In Kings of the Sea (Fawcett, 1982), the publisher’s blurb claims that Gideon Hand is determined to endure all hardships as he struggles to forge a shipbuilding dynasty and to possess the woman he loves but cannot marry. Genius and passion hold sway in this sweeping saga of a shipbuilding dynasty.

Frost’s fifth novel, Portrait in Black (Fawcett 1985) has a Santa Barbara portrait painter Crystal Perry as its main protagonist. Perry not only paints portraits of Santa Barbara’s upper crust, but also paints horses, and she is quickly dragged into a web of extortion and murder.

Silvershine (Fawcett 1987) is set in Mexico, and looks at the drugs scene in the glittering Los Dorados hotel in Manzanillo, where swimwear designer Blaise Cory has opened a new boutique. A minor part of the action is set in Oaxaca (at Mitla). This is a tale of smuggling, money and corruption. The Los Dorados hotel is clearly based on Manzanillo’s famed Las Hadas hotel complex.

All of Joan Van Every Frost’s novels are well-crafted, and enjoyable light reading. While long out-of-print, copies are readily available via used books sites such as http://abebooks.com.

Joan was an active correspondent for the Guadalajara Reporter for many years. She wrote her first column for the paper in August 1975 and ended a column the following year by writing that, “There may be many irritations to living in a foreign country, but they dwindle to insignificance when we can revel in golden days, sunsets blazing red on towering thunderheads, and the comforting splash of rain as we lie warm in our beds at night.”

This profile was originally published on 22 December 2014.

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 112019
 
B. J. Kline. 1985. Sunday Night in Puerto Vallarta. (El Ojo del Lago)

Artist and art lecturer Buddy Ryan Kline (usually known as B. R. Kline) lived and painted in Ajijic in the 1980s. Kline was born on 22 August 1948 in Prince Edward, Virginia; his mother was a painter and his father a musician. Kline attended Falls Church High School and then George Mason High School (also in Falls Church) before studying art at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.

His studies were interrupted in 1967 by the Vietnam War. During the war, Kline served with the U.S. Army Band at Fort Myer, Virginia, from 1967 to 1970. This is where he first met Dr. William St. John. The two men became inseparable companions and subsequently made a “good will tour” to some 91 countries. Kline painted his way around the world and ended up with 91 paintings, each representing a country he had visited.

B. J. Kline. 1985. Sunday Night in Puerto Vallarta. (El Ojo del Lago)

B. J. Kline. 1985. Sunday Night in Puerto Vallarta. (El Ojo del Lago)

Kline first arrived at Lake Chapala in 1973 when he spent nine months in Mexico. He returned to Mexico in the winters of 1978-1980 and moved to Lake Chapala to live  in 1983. Since leaving Lake Chapala in 1992, Kline has made his home in Dallas.

Klien has held formal exhibitions in Virginia and Washington D.C. and has participated in numerous group shows in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. He lectured and held impromptu exhibitions in many different countries during his world travels.

By the mid-1980s, Kline was working from his home-studio at Aquiles Serdan #3 in Ajijic and doing much of the commercial art for El Ojo del Lago (see image above). A pen and ink line drawing by Kline was chosen by June Summers for the cover of her short, self-published book about the area.

B. J. Kline. 1988. Portrait of Neill James (courtesy Lake Chapala Society)

B. J. Kline. 1988. Portrait of Neill James (courtesy Lake Chapala Society)

Kline painted this portrait of American author-traveler-benefactor Neill James for the Lake Chapala Society (which occupies her former home and gardens) in 1988.

Kline was one of the large group of Lakeside painters whose work was included in a group exhibit in May 1985 at the Club Campestre La Hacienda (km 30, Guadalajara-Chapala highway). Other artists represented in that show included Daphne Aluta, Eugenia Bolduc, Jean Caragonne, Donald Demerest, Laura Goeglein, Hubert Harmon, Jo Kreig, Carla W. Manger, Emily Meeker, Sydney Moehlman, Tiu Pessa, De Nyse Turner Pinkerton, Eleanor Smart and Xavier Pérez.

In 1990, Kline held a solo exhibition of his “newest and most vibrant art style” at the Studio Art Gallery in San Antonio Tlayacapan. It was the last show to be held in the gallery, which had been run by Luisa Julian de Arechiga and her husband.

During his time in Ajijic, Kline taught art and had a significant impact on the career of talented local Ajijic artist Efrén González, who also benefited from the artistic wisdom of Sid Schwartzman.

Kline is a member of the McKinney Avenue Contemporary (The MAC) Art Museum & Gallery in Dallas, Texas, and work by Kline won a Critic’s Choice Award in the 2005 Dallas Center for Contemporary Art Membership Show. His work “Under a Spell”, exhibited in July 2010 in a show entitled “Fictional” at The Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas, was also a people’s favorite. As one critic wrote, “there’s not a color out of place there in that melange of shapes and tones. Not one of those hues dominates. They are, in their unique fashions, just right.”

Kline’s work varies greatly in style but is invariably both interesting and highly collectible.

Sources:

  • El Informador, 4 May 1985.
  • El Ojo del Lago, Jan 1985, May 1990.
  • J. R. Compton. 2010. “Difficult Work”, Dallas Arts Review.

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

Apr 042019
 

Canadian poet Al Purdy was at the peak of his creative powers when he followed in the footsteps of his idol D. H. Lawrence and visited Lake Chapala in the late 1970s. Since 1923, many Lawrence fans had made their own pilgrimage to Chapala to see first-hand what inspired their great hero. However, Purdy is surely the most famous of all these admirers to do so. Purdy visited Lake Chapala more than once, though the precise timing of his multiple visits has proved impossible to establish with certainty.

His visits to Chapala left their mark on Purdy. In addition to a travel piece about the area, he published a hand-signed, individually-numbered, one-poem “book” entitled The D. H. Lawrence House at Chapala. This collector’s item, a single broadside in an elegant gilt-stamped folder, was published by The Paget Press in 1980, in a limited edition of 44 copies. The book includes a photograph, taken by Purdy’s wife, Eurithe, of the plumed serpent tile work above the door of the Lawrence house at Chapala.

According to David Bidini, Purdy’s travel article about Chapala was one of only three items the great poet kept in full view on the wall of his studio in Ameliasburgh, southern Ontario. The other two items were “a 1990 flyer celebrating Al Purdy Day” and “a New Canadian Library poster featuring its Famous Canadian Writer titles, many of them Purdy’s.” However, the photos of Purdy’s studio shown in the full length documentary Al Purdy was Here paint a different picture, one of a cluttered studio with photos, posters and writings vying for space on crowded walls hemmed in by overflowing bookshelves. His filing system, such as it was, comprised folders stuffed into cardboard boxes.

Statue of Purdy in Queen's Park, Toronto. Photo: Marisa Burton.

Statue of Al Purdy in Queen’s Park, Toronto. Bronze, 2008. Photo: Marisa Burton.

Purdy was a massive fan of Lawrence, and a bust of the English author had a prominent position on his desk. The English novelist was seemingly listening to every click-clack of Purdy’s typewriter and watching his every key stroke. Like his idol, Purdy had a reputation for being somewhat cantankerous and combative, especially to outsiders. Unlike the sickly Lawrence, Purdy was taller, heavier, healthier and outwardly happier. The New York Times obituary for Purdy summed him up as “a lanky writer whose brash, freewheeling ways masked a love for language”

Alfred Wellington Purdy was born on 30 December 1918 at Wooler, Ontario, and died 21 April 2000 in Victoria, British Columbia. His pathway to poetry was unconventional. He left high school after only two years (but not before selling his first poem to the high-school magazine, Spotlight, for a dollar), rode the rails during the Great Depression, and took a variety of menial jobs in British Columbia before joining the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.) when the second world war broke out.

Purdy married Mary Jane Eurithe Parkhurst in 1941. After six years in the R.C.A.F., Purdy and his wife settled in British Columbia. In 1956, they moved back east, first to Montreal and then to Ameliasburgh in southern Ontario. This was where Purdy honed his literary skills and became acknowledged as a “poet of the people”. Growing acclaim for his work won him several Canada Council Grants, enabling travel to write in locales ranging from British Columbia and Baffin Island (1965) to Greece (1967). In later life, in addition to visiting Mexico on several occasions, the Purdys divided their time between Ameliasburgh and Sydney (on Vancouver Island).

During his long writing career, Purdy published more than 30 books of poetry, a novel (Splinter in the Heart, 1990) and an autobiography (Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, 1993) plus dozens of radio plays, dramas and book reviews. His best known poetry collections include The Cariboo Horses, which won him a Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1965, The Stone Bird (1981), Piling Blood (1984), and The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, 1956-1986, which earned him a second Governor General’s Award in 1986. Purdy was awarded the Order of Canada in 1982 and the Order of Ontario in 1987.

In her foreword to a collection of Purdy’s poems, Margaret Atwood praised how “Purdy is always questioning, always probing, and among those things that he questions and probes are himself and his own poetic methods. In a Purdy poem, high diction can meet the scrawl on the washroom wall, and as in a collision between matter and anti-matter, both explode.” According to a much earlier CBC radio program Introducing Al Purdy (1967), “what he said startled people. His unconventional works poeticized barroom brawls, hockey players and homemade beer. Al Purdy’s work forced Canadians to re-evaluate their understanding of poetry and themselves.”

Purdy made numerous trips to Mexico between the early 1970s and the late 1980s. He was quick to admit he loved the country. Unimpressed by an editorial in the Globe and Mail to the effect that Mexicans were not especially friendly, Purdy wrote to say that it was necessary to draw a distinction between the Mexican people who were “as friendly and cordial as any you could wish to meet” and the less friendly attitudes of Mexican police and officialdom.

Purdy used his trips to Lake Chapala as part of a creative process to probe the connections between Lawrence and Chapala. In 1979, he wrote to fellow Canadian poet Earle Birney (who had composed poetry at Lake Chapala in the 1950s) describing how he had taken a look at Lawrence’s house in Chapala, “a peeling yellow-stucco two-storey place, with a large section of coloured tiles depicting a plumed serpent, the only trace of Lawrence evident” and was working on “a coupla poems… one of which might turn out to be something.”

Several of Purdy’s later poems have explicit links to Mexico, D. H. Lawrence and Chapala. These include “D. H. Lawrence at Lake Chapala,” a slightly modified version of the poem used for the single-page book The D. H. Lawrence House at Chapala, published in 1980. “D. H. Lawrence at Lake Chapala” was included in The Stone Bird (1981) and in Beyond Remembering: the collected poems of Al Purdy. The poem reveals at least as much about Purdy and his time at Lake Chapala as it does about Lawrence. The poem opens,

Try to simplify your life
you cannot
try to live a new life
and the old one complicates the new . . .

Other Purdy poems about Lawrence include “Death of DHL,” “Lawrence’s Pictures,” “I Think of John Clare” and “Lawrence to Laurence.”

In 1996, Purdy published In Mexico, a hand-printed limited edition of an 80-page poem based on his travels to Mexico with Eurithe, illustrated with 10 fabulous wood engravings by Alan H. Stein.

Purdy’s life-long love of Lawrence culminated in a joint limited edition work with Doug Beardsley entitled No One Else Is Lawrence! A Dozen of D.H. Lawrence’s Best Poems (1998).

Ameliasburgh, his home for so many years, has embraced its fame as the place where Purdy produced his finest poems. In 2001, the local library was renamed the Al Purdy Library. His name has also been given to the street that leads to the town cemetery (and his tombstone). Purdy’s A-frame, with its separate writing studio, overlooking the lake, has been restored and now operates a summer residency program for aspiring writers.

Al Purdy’s papers are divided between several university archives, with the largest collection held by Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Acknowledgments

I am very grateful for the help kindly offered by Eurithe Purdy in clarifying the chronology of her visits to Mexico with her husband.

Sources

  • Doug Beardsley and Al Purdy (introduction and commentary). 1998. No One Else Is Lawrence! A Dozen of D.H. Lawrence’s Best Poems. Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, B.C.
  • David Bidini. 2009. “Visit to poet Al Purdy’s home stirs up more than a few old ghosts.” National Post, 30 October 2009.
  • Nicholas Bradley (ed). 2014. We go far back in time: the letters of Earle Birney and Al Purdy, 1947-1987. Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, B.C.
  • James Brooke. 2000. “Al Purdy, Poet, Is Dead at 81; A Renowned Voice in Canada.” New York Times, 26 April 2000.
  • Al Purdy was Here. 90-minute documentary. Available via iTunes.
  • Al Purdy. 1976. Letter to the editor, Globe and Mail, 26 April 1976, 6.
  • Al Purdy. 1980. The D. H. Lawrence house at Chapala. The Paget Press.
  • Al Purdy. 1981. The Stone Bird. McClelland and Stewart.
  • Al Purdy. 1996. In Mexico. Church Street Press, Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada.
  • Al Purdy. 2000. Beyond Remembering – The Collected Poems of Al Purdy. Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, B.C. (Forewords by Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje).
  • Jeffrey Aaron Weingarten. 2013. Lyric Historiography in Canadian Modernist Poetry, 1962-1981. PhD Thesis, McGill University, 101-2.

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

Mar 212019
 

Canadian poet Al Purdy visited Lake Chapala more than once in the late 1970s. Purdy spent more than a month in Ajijic over the winter of 1978-79 and later had a short travel piece entitled “Let There Be Light – Perhaps” accepted by Leisureways.

The quotes incorporated in the following summary of that piece come from the manuscript version of the article in the Purdy archives at Queen’s University in London, Ontario.

Statue of Purdy in Queen's Park, Toronto. Photo: Marisa Burton.

Statue of Purdy in Queen’s Park, Toronto. Photo: Marisa Burton.

Purdy thought that Chapala was “a sprawling untidy settlement,” where “a real estate boom, perhaps twenty years ago,” followed by a bust had left “half—built houses on the outskirts and red brick streets running nowhere.” Purdy summed the town up as “half ghost town and half a hive of geriatric tourists and the native Mexicans.”

As for the tourists, they were “mostly very old” and had “made their pile in New York or wherever when they were younger, and now come here to play bridge, soak up the sun and live the good life, wading thru sunshine instead of snow.”

Purdy wanted to soak his “arthritic knee in hot springs at San Juan Cosala then take off for places the tourists haven’t found yet.” They had trouble finding living quarters for a month “in an area that is completely jammed.”

Hank Edwards, a painter friend who had built a house in Ajijic, suggested they visit “La Russe” (Zara) because he had heard that her lakeside cottage was unoccupied. However, a meeting to “Save the Lake” was in progress on Zara’s patio, preparing the text of a telegram to send to the state governor protesting the dire situation of the lake. The following day, Purdy and his wife viewed the cottage only to discover that it was “a pretty crummy joint.” They were eventually able to “rent a small apartment on the mountain slope above Ajijic.”

During their time in Ajijic, Purdy viewed the D. H. Lawrence house in Chapala – “a sprawl of brick and stucco mansion, complete with falling plaster” – on the market at that time for $75,000.

Not surprisingly, given that it was more than fifty years since Lawrence had been there, Purdy was unable to find any trace of Lawrence in the building, but enjoyed letting his imagination picture the author in the building: “… there is a wrought iron spiral staircase, ending at upstairs bedrooms, that I’m sure Lawrence must have climbed; and an immense glass chandelier glittering its thousand suns in the living room, and which at one time must have reflected Lawrence’s own blue eyes.”

Actually, the house had only a single story when Lawrence rented it and the deficient electricity supply at the time would have necessitated candles in the chandelier.

Lunching at the Posada Ajijic, Purdy and his wife chatted to a pair of elderly American ladies who knew La Russe and recounted stories of her dance career (in Europe and elsewhere), her “brother”, and Zara’s attempt to star in a ballet she had written.

Purdy commented on the great Mexican muralists, Orozco and Rivera, and how the “cultured English novelists, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Aldous Huxley” who had visited Mexico, all “hated the place”, before turning his attention to how “D.H. Lawrence was alternately fascinated and repelled by Mexico with its basically Indian population, whose tradition of blood stretches back to the Aztecs and long before. Mayan and Aztec gods were deities of violence and death, the dark side of life.”

Despite the roads, roadkill, police, and the sketchy electricity supply, Purdy loved Mexico.

Prefacing a conversation he overheard while soaking in the mineral baths of San Juan Cosalá, Purdy described the scene in lively prose: “The white Aztec sun blazed down; brilliant red and purple flowers trembled on the fringes of vision; the blue lake was incandescent in its multiple reflections. Human bodies of all sizes, sexes and degrees of fatness lounged in and around the several pools, their temperatures graduated according to personal inclination.”

The hills were dormant in the winter dry season but on the “luxuriant green” lakeshore, “Mexican kids play their game in the dust, gabbing together; fat mothers feed their babies, thin mothers feed their babies; old men totter thru the cobbled streets, a flash of their eyes responding to friends’ flash of their eyes in greeting.”

Purdy was an astute, sensitive observer of Mexico and it is Lake Chapala’s gain that this great Canadian poet chose to follow in the footsteps of D. H. Lawrence and spend some time here.

Note

All quotes come from the manuscript version of “Let There Be Light – Perhaps” in the Queen’s University Purdy Archive (CA ON00239 F02017-S06-f0003 – “Article on Chapala, Mexico accepted for Leisureways Magazine”). I have so far failed to locate any published version of this article, accepted by Leisureways (according to Purdy’s notes) in about 1979-1980. The first edition of Leisureways was published by the Ontario Motor League in 1981. It is likely that Purdy’s article actually appeared in the final (1980-81) volume of Canadian Motorist, the publication’s name prior to its rebranding.

Acknowledgment

I am very grateful to Queen’s University archivist Heather Home and her administrative assistant, Lisa Gervais, for their help in supplying copies of materials from the university’s Purdy Archive.

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

Mar 072019
 

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

Ellis Credle Townsend

Ellis Credle Townsend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Feb 212019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Feb 072019
 

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

Cover of Dust on my Heart (1946)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neill James' store label

Neill James’ store label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

A much more detailed account of Neill James’ life can be found in chapters 13, 14, 21, 26, 34, and 39 of my Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022).

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Acknowledgments

I am greatly indebted to Stephen Preston Banks, author of Kokio: A Novel Based on the Life of Neill James, and to Michael Eager and Judy King for sharing with me their insights into Neill James’ life and contributions to Ajijic.

Sources

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

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

Jan 312019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jan 242019
 

While living in Ajijic in the early 1970s, Wendell Phillips Jr. and his good friend Ray Rigby co-wrote a screenplay, Ringer, that they subsequently sold to Hollywood.

Richard Wendell Phillips Jr., the son of a New York stage actor, Wendell K. Phillips (1907-1991), and his first wife, Odielein Pearce, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1929 and died on 2 October 2010. After graduating from Staunton Military Academy in Virginia in 1948, he planned to enter the U. S. Military academy at West Point. He later became an actor and played an uncredited part as a patient in Lilith (1964), written and directed by Robert Rossen.

By the early 1970s he was living in Ajijic. Announcements of his marriage to Mercedes Boon of Ajijic in 1972 described Phillips as “of Los Angeles and Ajijic.” The marriage ceremony was held in Chapala, and the newlyweds planned to divide their time between their homes in Mexico and Los Angeles.

Mercedes Boon came from a wealthy family in Cincinnati. She attended Hillsdale School in Cincinnati, graduated from Stephens College, studied photography in Los Angeles and briefly served the armed forces as an American Red Cross staff assistant in Europe before she first visited Ajijic in her early 20s, in about 1950. She subsequently became a resident of the village for almost 20 years and ran various businesses there, including a gift and handicrafts store called Decoraciones del Hogar on the main highway. Boon died on 7 February 1976, leaving her husband, mother (Mrs Dorothy Boon Early) and a cousin (Reni Rice).

Writer Jerry Murray, who was living in Ajijic in the 1970s, working for Earl Kemp and his Greenleaf Press, later recalled both Phillips and Mercedes Boon as belonging to the cast of colorful characters that helped enliven life in Ajijic. Other names appearing in Murray’s fond memoir of those lusty times, published many years later, included Pete Peterson, Trudy Campbell, Peggy Neal, Stogie, Jan [Dunlap], Margo [Thomas], Neill James, “Madame Zara”, [Don] Hogan and Susie Nissen.

Wendell Phillips Jr. was friends with British author Ray Rigby (then living in San Antonio Tlayacapan) and the two collaborated to write a TV script entitled Ringer. In 1973, the two men traveled to Universal Studios in Hollywood to complete the sale of their full length pilot TV film.

Phillips was also co-author of another work earlier that year. Working with Burton Brinckerhoff, Phillips copyrighted a screenplay entitled The red-roof odyssey in February 1973. Sadly, there is no evidence that either Ringer or The red-roof odyssey ever actually made it into production.

Sources

  • The Cincinnati Enquirer, 31 August 1943, 8; 21 Oct 1945, 18; 22 Dec 1950 13; 12 September 1972; 17; 12 February 1976.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 14 Feb 1976.
  • The Kablegram, Staunton, Virginia, 28 May 1948, 4.
  • Jerry Murray. “The Devil’s Weed, Orgasmic Days, y Laguna Lust”, published in Earl Kemp’s Efanzine, Vol. 1 No. 3 (July 2002).

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

Dec 202018
 

After 1974, when Neill James, the Grande Dame of Ajijic, closed her store and retired, the wonderful gardens of her home – Quinta Tzintzuntzan – were no longer normally open to the public.

However, in 1977, James agreed to open her grounds every Sunday afternoon as an art garden (jardín del arte) for a new artists’ group, the Young Painters of Ajijic (Jovenes Pintores de Ajijic). Most of these young artists had started out by taking the free weekly classes at the children’s libraries James had started. Those classes were the very beginning of the very successful Children’s Art Program, now run by the Lake Chapala Society.

Pintores Jovenes de Ajijic. Credit: Dionicio Morales.

Pintores Jovenes de Ajijic. Standing (l to r): Javier Garabito Tovar, ?, ?, Dionicio Morales López, José Manuel Castañeda; seated: Félix Vargas. Credit: Dionicio Morales.

The members of Young Artists of Ajijic included organizer Dionicio Morales López, Antonio López Vega, Daniel Palma Pérez, Julián Pulido Pedrosa, José Manuel Castañeda, Alejandro Martínez and Victoria Corona.

The first show by the Young Painters of Ajijic was held from 11.30am to 4.30pm on Sunday 28 August 1977. The show included oils, acrylics, watercolors, charcoal drawings and prints, and the artists had combined sales totaling over $12,000 pesos ($550). Exhibitors at the event, besides those named above, included Antonio Cárdenas Perales and Victor Romero. Entertainment was provided by the Folkloric Dance Group of Ajijic and the wind music group of Luis López.

Poster for inaugural event [Handwritten year should be 1977]

Poster for inaugural event [Handwritten year should be ’77]

The Sunday “garden of art” shows were a regular weekly event for some time. The first non-Mexicans to exhibit with the group were Diana Powell and Sid Schwartzman.

The following year, in mid-March, the artists held what was billed as Ajijic’s “first annual cultural week” in the gardens, with art exhibits, guitar concerts and ballet recitals, among other attractions. On this occasion, the entertainment included the Folkloric Dance Group of the University of Guadalajara (directed by Rafael Zamarripa), concerts performed by the U. de G.’s School of Music and a group conducted by Javier Garabito Tovar (standing on the left of the photo), as well as a stage play – “El Demonio Azul” (The Blue Devil) – directed by Félix Vargas (seated in the wheelchair in the photo).

Despite hopes for a repeat event the following year, sadly the 1978 week-long show was the only “Ajijic cultural week” ever held.

The Young Artists Group was the forerunner of the Asociación de Artistas de Ajijic (AAA).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Dionicio Morales and Antonio López Vega for generously sharing their memories of the Ajijic Young Artists Group.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter, 13 August 1977, 10 September 1977, 8 April 1978.

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 062018
 

There was a wave of positive energy for the arts in Ajijic either side of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and its related cultural activities in Mexico City and Guadalajara. Perhaps the largest single art fair held in Ajijic during these years was the Fiesta de Arte held at Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, the home and garden of art patrons Frances and Ned Windham.

Invitation card for Fiesta de Arte

Invitation card for 1971 Fiesta de Arte

The Fiesta de Arte was held on Saturday 15 May 1971. Planning for the show, originally called the “First Lakeside Artists Fair” was well underway by April. The organizers were John K. Peterson and Peter Huf, who enlisted the help of Beth Avery, Donald Hogan (who as murdered a few months later) and several other artists. They expected about 20 artists to take part.

A week before the show, the advance publicity in the Guadalajara Reporter named 29 artists whose work – paintings, photography, block prints, serigraphs and sculptures – would be on show and said that more than 500 people were expected to attend the one-day event.

Reports after the Fair show that the projected numbers were surpassed. While almost all the exhibitors were foreign artists, there was one especially interesting local artist: Fernando García, a self-taught carver.

García was an employee of Robert de Boton, husband of internationally-acclaimed painter Alice de Boton. When French-born Robert retired from biochemistry, the couple moved to Mexico where Robert began to dabble in carving and sculpture. When García expressed an interest in carving, Robert encouraged him to see what he could do. García worked by candlelight late into the night for several weeks and completed several “small primitives of extraordinary beauty and sensitivity”, all of which sold instantly.

The list of exhibitors at the Fiesta del Art included Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Fernando García; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michel; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Frances Showalter; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 3 April 1971; 24 April 1971; 8 May 1971; 22 May 1971; 5 June 1971.

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 202018
 

The artist Sid Sklar exhibited at Lake Chapala in April 1989. The images show two very different works by this artist. I have been unable to pin down any biographical details about Sid Sklar, so I’m hoping that some alert reader will supply me with more clues about his  life and work.

Sklar’s 1989 exhibit was at the Art Studio Gallery in San Antonio Tlayacapan, a gallery run by Luisa Julian de Arechiga and her husband. The brief note about the exhibit suggests that Sklar lived in Guadalajara.

Sid Sklar. Undated. Untitled.

Sid Sklar. Undated. Untitled.

I have found only tiny snippets of information related to Sid (presumably Sidney) Sklar, though am unable to say whether or not they necessarily refer to the same person. There are three or four people in the U.S. who would have been about the right age at the time, living in several different states.

The most detailed account on line is of a visually-impaired artist named Sid Sklar who was one of the first people in the world to have a successful cornea transplant (in the early 1940s). It seems, though, that he only took up art (with watercolors) in the 1990s, following a terrible accident when he was hit at a toll booth by a hit-and-run driver. The extraordinary story of this Sid Sklar has been told by journalist Beverly Antel. Given the dates, this does not appear to be the correct Sid Sklar for the Chapala exhibition. (See comments below which confirm that this Sidney Sklar was not the one who painted the paintings shown here).

Sid Sklar. 1973. Untitled.

Sid Sklar. 1973. Untitled.

The first of the two Sidney Sklar references that may refer to the right person comes from Baltimore in 1976, where a review of a show of works by members of Artists Equity at the Turner Auditorium Gallery of the Johns Hopkins Medical School included “Midsummer”, in which “Sidney Sklar exhibits masterful control over batik.”

The second reference comes from Ottawa, Canada, in 1981. A display ad for a new collection of jewelry on sale at The Bay (Hudson’s Bay Company) in Ottawa lists a Sid Sklar among the designers of the “The Signature Collection by Universe International.”

If anyone can help identify the correct Sid Sklar or tell me any more about him, please get in touch via the comments section.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Ricardo Santana for bringing Sid Sklar to my attention and for his kind permission to reproduce the images used in this post.

Sources

  • Beverly Antel. 2009. “Seeing Life With The Eyes Of A Child.” National Keratoconus Foundation, Feb 2009.
  • The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 29 Apr 1976, 27.
  • The Ottawa Citizen (Canada) 17 Nov 1981, 53.

Other Art Mysteries:

Aug 302018
 

Mexican-born Virginia Downs (1914-2005) was the third wife of William (“Bill”) Colfax Miller. After their marriage in November 1969, the Millers lived in Cuernavaca, where they co-owned an art gallery, before moving first to the U.S. for a year and then, in about 1982, to Lake Chapala, where Virginia Miller was a prolific writer of articles about Mexico for local English-language publications.

Virginia Downs was born into a wealthy American family in Guadalajara on 11 March 1914 and died in that same city on 16 November 2005. Her grandfather, Alfred Ryder Downs, had been a successful miner in Alaska before moving to Mexico, where he built up a business empire as owner of the American Bank of Guadalajara, a Ford Agency and (allegedly) the first gas station in Guadalajara. He bought land on the then northern outskirts of the city that he subsequently developed at the start of the 20th century as Colonia Seattle. Modeled on an American garden city, this area initially had 57 homes and its own electric and water plants.

Virginia was only nine days old when her family fled Guadalajara for the U.S., fearing for their lives as the Mexican Revolution engulfed the city and most Americans were forced to flee. Grandfather Downs returned a few years later and resumed his business interests. Virginia’s family also returned, and she attended school in Guadalajara before completing her high school education at Grey Castle (which later became San Diego High School) in California, after which she majored in foreign languages at the University of California Los Angeles.

After graduating, Downs worked in the U.S. Civil Service. She worked 5 years in Hawaii, two years in Japan and a year in Frankfurt before spending 15 years in Paris, where she worked as a researcher and writer for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff European Command. When NATO personnel were ordered out of France in 1967 by President Charles de Gaulle, she returned to the U.S.

Failing to find suitable work in Los Angeles, she moved back to Mexico, living first in Oaxaca, then San Miguel de Allende (where she took art classes), and then to the Cortés house in Cuernavaca. It was in Cuernavaca that she met and married Bill Miller.

During their time in Cuernavaca, Virginia was a columnist for the local daily El Diario de Morelos and the couple opened the Akari Art Gallery, the city’s first major art gallery. The couple were friends of many famous Mexican artists, including Alfaro David Siqueiros who gave them a personally-inscribed heliographic copy of a drawing entitled “La Niña Madre”. This drawing was used by Excelsior, the national daily, during its campaign to get Mother’s Day officially celebrated in Mexico.

The Atari Gallery was one of the venues for a group show by Clique Ajijic in February 1976. The Clique Ajijic was comprised of eight Ajijic artists: Tom FaloonHubert Harmon, Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, John Peterson, Synnove (Shaffer) PettersenAdolfo Riestra and Sidney Schwartzman.

Among the other “Ajijicans” attending the opening in Cuernavaca were Peggy Koll, Margo Thomas, and Bruce and Patricia Wightman.

In Ajijic, in addition to her regular contributions to El Ojo del Lago (The Eye of the Lake) and other local publications, Virginia Miller self-published South of Yesterday (2001), a family history, subsequently translated into Spanish as Al Sur del Ayer (2004). She described the book as “the story of my mother’s life as a bride coming to a strange land. The book flows through the charmed life of an American living in Guadalajara in the early nineteen hundreds into the violence of the Revolution, escape from and return to a much-beloved Mexico.”

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.

Aug 092018
 

Chapala-born Jorge Seimandi Ramírez was a highly-respected art educator at the University of Guadalajara for more than 40 years. He was not interested in the commercial side of art and his own work was rarely sold or exhibited.

Seimandi was born in Chapala on 2 February 1929, the son of Italian-born businessman Juan Seimandi and his wife, Refugio Ramírez, a local Chapala girl. Jorge Seimandi studied art at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Guadalajara from 1947 to 1950. His teachers included Ixca Farías, Leopoldo Bancalari and Rubén Mora Gálvez.

Jorge Seimandi. Lake Chapala.. Credit: Arq. Juan Jorge Seimandi.

Jorge Seimandi. Lake Chapala.. Credit: Arq. Juan Jorge Seimandi.

Recognized for his proficiency in both oils and watercolors, Seimandi painted still lifes, figurative studies, portraits and landscapes, some of which were exhibited in the 1950s.

His work was exhibited at the Exhibition of the School of Fine Arts (Exposición Anual de la Escuela de Bellas Artes) in Guadalajara in 1949 (where he won a “diploma of recognition”); in two shows at the city’s Galerías Degollado, in 1957 and 1958;and at at the Mexican-North American Cultural Institute (Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco). Seimandi  held solo shows at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas (1970; 1994) and at the Galería Jorge Martínez (1998).

Jorge Seimandi. Undated still life. Photo credit: A. Hinojosa/Informador.

Jorge Seimandi. Undated still life. Photo credit: A. Hinojosa/Informador.

Along with Alfonso de Lara Gallardo, Jorge Navarro Hernández and others, Seimandi was an active member of Grupo Integración, a loose collective of modernistic artists founded in 1966.

Seimandi was never a full-time professional painter but pursued art in his spare time while earning a qualification in law. He was appointed head of the Jalisco State Tourism Office in 1957. He taught art and art history at the University of Guadalajara’s Escuela de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts School) from 1953 to 1981, where he inspired the next generation of artists. He directed the school from 1978-1981. He was also appointed Professor of Drawing for the Jalisco State Primary Schools, a position that enabled him to research basic education in drawing.

Jorge Seimandi. Still life. Credit: Arq. Juan Jorge Seimandi.

Jorge Seimandi. Still life. Credit: Arq. Juan Jorge Seimandi.

Following his death in Guadalajara on 2 October 2013, at the age of 84, his family announced their intention to compile a complete catalog of his works, many of which he gave to friends, and to arrange a retrospective exhibition at the University of Guadalajara’s Museo de las Artes. If they are successful, this will be a show worth seeing!

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to Arq. Juan Jorge Seimandi for sharing photos of his father’s paintings, and for permission to reproduce them here. Arq. Juan Jorge Seimandi is writing a richly illustrated book about his father’s life and work.

Sources

  • El Informador: 25 April 1970; 26 June 1994; 25 Nov 1998; 28 Nov 1998.
  • Thamara Villaseñor. 2013. “Seimandi y su pasión por la pintura.” El Informador, 1 Dec 2013, 11-B.

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.

May 022018
 

Painter, jeweler, and accessory designer Hubert Pickering Harmon Jr. (1913-2004) was born into a wealthy family in Evanston, Illinois, on 23 October 1913. The family home was in the Highland Park district and the whole family spent time in Europe even during Harmon’s childhood.

After high school, Harmon chose to study design at the Parsons School of Design in Paris. He lived in Europe, with regular holiday trips back to New York, from 1934 to about 1939, when he returned to the US before the outbreak of World War II.

On 2 January 1940, Harmon married a fellow artist, Louise Katharine (De Mocher) Frazier, who was eleven years his senior, in Greenwich, Connecticut. The marriage to Louise, a divorcée, appears to have been largely one of convenience, given that, according to those who knew him, Harmon was openly gay. Louise was born in 1901 and graduated from East High School in Rochester, New York, in the class of 1919, before attending Columbia University, where, part of her yearbook entry read,

“The boys think “Weezie” is a dear;
She does, too, don’t you fear!”

The newly weds made their home at 51 East 51st Street in New York City, but planned to return to Paris after the war. They regularly traveled overseas. Within weeks of marrying, they traveled to the Caribbean, they returned to New York in May 1940 for a quick visit before heading for Hawaii, where they stayed several months.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, in a letter from Hawaii in January 1941, wrote:

“Have met a young couple at the Niumalu who drop in for Contract [Bridge] or conversation quite often – Louise and Hubert Harmon. He has spent much of his life in France and England and consorted with royalty, nobility, and aristocracy; so he is very interesting. He is so well connected that he had the entree to the palaces, castles, and chateaux of many interesting people.”

Late in 1941 or early the following year, Harmon and his wife moved to Mexico to pursue their artistic careers. Harmon and his high-society wife breezed into Taxco in 1942, with more than two dozen items of luggage and accompanied by their two brown standard poodles.

Harmon worked briefly in jewelry design in Taxco before moving to Mexico City, following an incident involving a gun in a bar. He continued to visit Taxco regularly for several years in order to oversee his designs, mostly of silver jewelry but also of copper or brass accessories. His silver designs are often described as “whimsical” and are much sought after by collectors. His silver pieces include feet, angels and dogs (especially poodles) as well as stars, mermaids and dolphins. Harmon is recognized today as one of the several outstanding designers who contributed to the popularity (and success) of Mexican silverworking.

Synnove (Shaffer) Petterson and Hubert Harmon at Galeria OM in Guadalajara in November 1975

Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen and Hubert Harmon at Galeria OM in Guadalajara in October 1975

Harmon’s designs were worn not only by his wife but also by such illustrious stars as Hollywood glamor icon Dolores del Rio (whose Great Dane sported matching Harmon-designed accessories).

In the early 1950s Harmon and his wife enjoyed a playboy lifestyle jetting between Europe and North America. Harmon established design studios in various cities as his wanderlust carried him in search of artistic inspiration. Despite leaving New York in January 1949 with the avowed intention of planning to stay abroad indefinitely, Harmon and Louise returned to the US from a spell in Cannes twenty months later in October 1950. They left again in 1953, planning to spend the next two years abroad.

Harmon was definitely painting during much of this time, as shown by plans for a December 1951 showing of his paintings of poodles in a New York City gallery, and an account of him spending six months painting every day in Rome “on his way back to America.” (Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 11 Dec 1957, 28)

In the 1950s, a Mexico City jewelry firm, Casa Maya, produced less expensive copies for the tourist market of many of Harmon’s original designs, using brass and copper in place of silver and precious stones.

After his wife died in 1970, Harmon moved to Ajijic. By the early 1970s, he was a bright light on the Ajijic social scene and active in the local art community. He was a founding member of the Clique Ajijic art group that arranged group exhibitions in several cities in Mexico for 3 or 4 years in the mid 1970s. The group also included Tom Faloon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, Sidney (“Sid”) Schwartzman, John K. Peterson and Adolfo Riestra.

A Clique Ajijic exhibition in Guadalajara at the Galería OM was reviewed by Martha Fregoso, who described Harmon as having gained international fame as a designer of fashion, jewelry, and paintings, by working with fashion designers such as Christian Dior, Shiaparelli and Tina Lessa, and designing jewelry for Paul Flato and Bronzini. The list of those who had acquired Harmon’s works included King Carol of Rumania, Dolores del Rio and Edgar Rice Burroughs. According to Fregoso, his paintings showed some influence from the classes he had taken with Diego Rivera and Rodriguez Lozana.

In December 1976, Harmon had work in a group show organized by Katie Goodridge Ingram for the Jalisco Department of Bellas Artes and Tourism, held at Plaza de la Hermandad (IMPI building) in Puerto Vallarta. The show ran from 4-21 December and also included works by Jean Caragonne; Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; John Frost; Richard Frush; Rocky Karns; Jim Marthai; Gail Michel; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; Georg Rauch; and Sylvia Salmi.

A decade later, Harmon was one of a number of Lakeside artists whose work was included in a group exhibit at Club Campestre La Hacienda (km 30, Guadalajara-Chapala highway). Other artists in the “Pintores de la Ribera” exhibition, which opened on 4 May 1985, included Laura Goeglein; Carla W. Manger; Jo Kreig; Donald Demerest; B.R. Kline; Daphne Aluta; De Nyse Turner Pinkerton; Eugenia Bolduc; Emily Meeker; Eleanor Smart; Jean Caragonne; Tiu Pessa; Sydney Moehlman; and Xavier Pérez.

Some of Harmon’s paintings in the early 1970s were overtly homoerotic; others were amusing, revealing a keen sense of humor and fun. Synnove Pettersen, a fellow member of Clique Ajijic, remembers Harmon as a “very sensitive, somewhat flamboyant” man who was an elegant dresser and loved to have parties.

Tragically, in the 1990s a fraudster tricked Harmon out of his valuable personal collection of silver and he lived the last few years of his life in extreme poverty in an old folks’ home in Chapala. Harmon died destitute on 1 February 2004 at the age of 90.

[Note: This is an updated and expanded version of an article originally published on 22 March 2012.]

Acknowledgments

  • My thanks to Tom Thomson of Ajijic for sharing some of the details of Harmon’s later life, and to Alan Bowers, the late Tom Faloon, Synnove Pettersen and Enrique Velázquez for sharing their memories of Harmon.

Sources / references

  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 11 Dec 1957, 28.
  • Chicago Tribune: 3 Aug 1936, 19; 27 Nov 1936, 19; 06 Jan 1940, 13.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs. 1941. Letter to his daughter, dated 27 January 1941, published at ERBZine (Collated by Bill Hillman)
  • Martha Fregoso. 1975. “La Galeria OM y el Buen Gusto en Exposiciones, Esta Vez Ocho Pintores de Ajijic.” El Diario de Guadalajara, 24 Oct 1975.
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 4 May 1985
  • Kingston Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica): 25 January 1940
  • Penny C. Morrill. 1997. “Hubert Harmon -Whimsy and Humor in Mexican Silver”, in Jewelry (Journal of the American Society of Jewelry Historians.) 1 (1996-97): 64-77.
  • Penny C. Morrill and Carole A. Berk. 2001. Mexican Silver, 20th Century. Handwrought Jewelry & Metalwork. Revised 3rd edition. Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
  • Maggie Savoy. “Designer Chooses Valley for Wintertime Working,” Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 11 Dec 1957, 28.

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

Apr 262018
 

The talented visual artist Sidney Schwartzman was born in New York City on 2 June 1917 and lived almost thirty years in Ajijic from about 1973 until his death there, at the age of 84, on 27 March 2002.

Schwartzman, the son of two Russian-born immigrants, grew up in New York and was a member of the honor society, Arista, at a public high school (the Thomas Jefferson High School, according to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, though he told his son he attended the Dewitt Clinton High School).

In an interview late in life, Schwartzman recounted how especially proud he was that, at age 8, one of his paintings (of a circus) had been chosen for a school art exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

He initially wanted to be a writer but thought the school’s writer’s club snobbish, so joined the art club instead. He later took drawing and paintings private lessons and decided to dedicate himself to his art. He painted his first nude while in high school and took art classes at the New York Adult Evening School of Art and the Art Students League with American illustrator and painter Churchill Ettinger (1903-1984). While living in New York, Schwartzman also taught children and the physically challenged under the auspices of the Works Progress/Projects Administration.

Schwartzman, a conscientious objector, was imprisoned for about a year during World War II for declining to serve in the military. He had married Elizabeth Mary Murphy and Schwartzman was released on parole shortly after the birth of their son, David, in June 1944.

Sidney Schwartzman. 2001. Study in Color. Reproduced by kind permission of David Schwartzman.

Sidney Schwartzman. 2001. Study in Color. Reproduced by kind permission of David Schwartzman.

In about 1946, Schwartzman moved to Washington D.C. where he worked as a night janitor (and sometimes watchman) at the Corcoran School of Art while taking classes there under the Hungarian-born artist Eugen Weisz (1890-1954). Schwartzman was encouraged to experiment with different styles and his vibrantly-colored landscapes and nudes began to sell. He also held his first solo exhibition at about this time either in Bethesda or Arlington, Virginia (the family records are unclear on this point).

From 1948 to 1959 Schwartzman lived in Woodstock, Vermont. Each time he moved he left behind most or all of his completed paintings and started a new phase in his artistic career. This has made it very difficult to document his lifetime’s work, though each phase stimulated fresh artistic exploration and discovery.

In 1957, he was lucky to survive a single vehicle accident in Woodstock, in which his brother-in-law Stanley Murphy was killed instantly. Schwartzman, who had been driving, was devastated by this loss.

Two years later, in August 1959, Schwartzman was one of a very large number of artists exhibiting at the annual Cracker Barrel Bazaar art show in the village of Newbury, Vermont, alongside such distinguished painters and illustrators as Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish.

In 1959, Schwartzman moved to Los Angeles, California, where he lived and worked for about a decade. He had a job with TV Fanfare Publications and appears to have lost interest in painting (for the only time in his life) for a few years. He then took a small studio in Hollywood where he painted ten major, large paintings many of which are still in the family, before moving to Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park where he later opened (with son David as partner) the Woodstock Gallery .

Work from this time formed the basis for the joint show he held at this gallery in 1972, with friend Tom Darro, entitled “Life Drawings”.  The exhibition was later repeated at the Livingstone Evans Gallery, on North La Cienega Boulevard in the same city. The gallery was not a financial success and Schwartzman decided to abandon Los Angeles and visit Mexico. His mother-in-law had lived for a short time in Ajijic in the 1950s, so Schwartzman headed for Lake Chapala.

Sid Schwartzman. Reproduced by kind permission of Synnove Pettersen.

Sid Schwartzman. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Synnove Pettersen.

Productive years in Ajijic

Schwartzman, whose eyesight was failing, arrived in Ajijic in about 1973, after living for a few months in Jocotepec. In Ajijic he shared the “Mill House”, at the foot of Flores Magón street near the lake, with fellow artists John K. Peterson and Ernesto Butterlin. After successful cataract surgery, the mustachioed, bushy-haired Schwartzman became artistically active again, producing numerous pencil sketches and paintings of nudes. He made fairly frequent trips back to Los Angeles, and brought some of his American work back with him to Ajijic. These trips also enabled him to renew his Mexican tourist papers every six months.

He shared a studio from about 1974 with Daniel Palma at Constitución #45A, Ajijic. He also had a studio for a time in the building that is now the office of the Lake Chapala Society. Initially, Schwartzman was not a frequent exhibitor, concerned that his prolific output of nudes might antagonize some viewers.

Schwartzman held an auction of his paintings and sketches at El Tejaban (Zaragoza #1) in Ajijic, on 17 November 1974. The pieces included “figurative sketches, mixed media and oils”, with reserve prices ranging from 250 to 9000 pesos.

The following month, he participated in another art auction, this time at the home of Frank and Rowena Kirkpatrick in San Antonio Tlayacapan, with the proceeds going to local charities. Other artists whose work was auctioned on that occasion included Rowena Kirkpatrick; Rocky Karns and Antonio Santibañez.

Portrait of Sidney Schwartzman. Reproduced by kind permission of David Schwartzman.

Portrait of Sidney Schwartzman. Reproduced by kind permission of David Schwartzman.

Schwartzman was a member of Clique Ajijic, a grouping of eight artists that held several group shows in 1975 and 1976: in Ajijic, Chapala, Guadalajara, Manzanillo and Cuernavaca. The other members of this very talented Mexican Group of Eight were  Tom Faloon, Hubert Harmon,  Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, John K. Peterson, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, and Adolfo Riestra. Pettersen, the youngest of the group, credits Schwartzman, whom she recalls as easy-going but serious about art, with being very encouraging of her own artistic efforts.

According to a review of a group show in Guadalajara in 1975, Schwartzman had also exhibited his mixed media works in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Boston. Fregoso added that his canvasses, influenced by Schwartzman’s time in Vermont, had “an incomparable beauty” that invited refection.

Schwartzman was especially encouraging to several young Ajijic-born artists, including Efrén González, Antonio López Vega, Jesús López Vega, Dionicio Morales, Daniel Palma and the late Julian Pulido, all of whom became successful artists or art teachers. Schwartzman’s legacy lives on through their efforts.

In the early 1980s he shared a studio at the intersection of Zaragoza and Colón, first with Julian Pulido and later with Dionicio Morales.

In the late 1980s, with the help of local art patron Sally Sellars, who purchased several of his works, Schwartzman opened his own gallery in Ajijic where several noteworthy shows were held. Among those whose work was exhibited at the gallery were American CIA agent Mitch Marr Jr., local Ajijic-born artist Efren González, the talented mixed media and textile artist Hey Frey, and the former Hollywood star Todd (“Rocky”) Karns. The Karns exhibit opened on 10 December 1988.

The Sellars-Schwartzman Galería, at Felipe Angeles #12 in Ajijic, held annual auctions to benefit Oak Hill School (Ajijic’s only bilingual school at the time) and the galley remained the artist’s main working space until shortly before his death.

In 1980 Schwartzman married his Ajijic girlfriend Regina Galindo, taking on the responsibility of helping raise her four daughters, one of whom later married local Ajijic artist and muralist Efrén González. Schwartzman and Regina had two children of their own, both boys. [Born ca 1981 and 1984]

After 1990, the Casa de la Cultura in Ajijic held annual exhibitions of works by “invited members”. Schwartzman’s last showing of a painting in Ajijic was in one of these shows in November 1996. On display was Trapeze, an early “visual jazz” painting that collector Patrick Dudensing had given back to Schwartzman.

Dudensing had previously submitted Trapeze to a Special Collectors’ Show in 1994 at the South Shore Art Center in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Schwartzman was justly proud of the fact that his work had hung there alongside a Fernand Léger and not far from a Miró, a Picasso and a Chagall!

Schwartzman’s eldest son, David, arranged a posthumous show of his father’s works (paintings and drawings) at the Library in Woodstock, Vermont, in September 2013. In an interview at the time, David noted that his father “painted in an impressionistic – expressionistic style from the start of his professional career”, and that “He was infatuated with color theory and was considered a painter’s painter.”

Acknowledgments

I am greatly indebted to David Schwartzman, who is working on a book about his father, for sharing his knowledge and research. My sincere thanks, also, to Alan Bowers, Dionicio Morales and Synnove Pettersen for sharing with me their personal memories of Sidney Schwartzman.

Sources

  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 9 Apr 1930, 17.
  • The Burlington Free Press (Vermont), 9 Oct 1957, 1; 6 Jul 1959, 7.
  • Martha Fregoso. 1975. “La Galeria OM y el Buen Gusto en Exposiciones, Esta Vez Ocho Pintores de Ajijic.” El Diario de Guadalajara, 24 Oct 1975.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 9 Nov 1974; 4 Jan 1975.
  • The Los Angeles Times: 24 Sep 1972, 481; 07 Jan 1973, 420.
  • El Ojo del Lago. 1986. “Portrait of the Artist.” El Ojo del Lago, January 1986.
  • Jackie Hodges. “Focus On Art: Sid Schwartzman“. El Ojo del Lago, ca 2000.

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

 Posted by at 5:12 am  Tagged with:
Apr 122018
 

Gail Michel, as she was then known, arrived in Ajijic in 1961. Her talents as a businesswoman and dress designer, enabled her to start a store, El Ángel, close to the Posada Ajijic, that became so successful it was featured in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue Paris. Alongside her boutique, Gail continued to develop her own art and was a regular exhibitor in local group shows. Seventeen years and four children later, she moved back to the U.S.

Born Julia Gail Hayes on 3 March 1935 in the small South Dakota town of Wasta, her university education at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, was interrupted by falling in love with a fellow student, Frank Clifford Michel, a psychology major. The young couple were married in Pullman on 12 December 1955 and had a son, David, but the relationship did not last. Gail, a competitive swimmer, gave swimming lessons to help finance university, completed her degree, obtained a divorce and, in 1961, after receiving a letter from a Colorado friend about the beauties of Ajijic, traveled to Mexico with David to start a new life.

Gail Hayes. 1955. (University Yearbook photo)

Gail Hayes. 1955. (University Yearbook photo)

In Ajijic, she quickly found employment at Los Telares, Helen Kirtland’s handlooms business which had begun operations in the late 1940s. She also soon made many very good friends and decided to stay in the village, starting a serious, long-term relationship with a local contractor, Marcos Guzman, with whom she had four children.

During her time in Mexico, Gail was usually known as Gail Michel or Gail Michael (sometimes Michaels) before she opted for Gail Michel de Guzmán.

Gail credits Jane and Sherm Harris, the then managers of the Posada Ajijic, with persuading her to branch out on her own in 1964 and open a store selling her embroidered, hand-loomed dresses, original jewelry, paintings, and select Mexican handicrafts. The Harrises even provided the fashion boutique’s first venue: a room in the Posada. Its name, El Ángel, was in honor of her oldest daughter, Angelina. (The title of Al Young‘s 1975 novel Who is Angelina?, set partly in Ajijic, is apparently purely coincidental.)

Periodic fashion shows ensured that the El Ángel boutique quickly outgrew its temporary residence in the Posada. In April 1966, it moved a short distance away to the building (occupied later by La Flor de la Laguna) at the south-west corner of the Morelos/Independencia intersection. The boutique’s opening was attended by more than 250 people, an impressive turn-out given the size of Ajijic at that time. The store remained in that property for more than a decade before returning to its roots in the Posada Ajijic shortly before Gail returned north.

Veteran journalist Jack McDonald opened his informative and enthusiastic profile of Gail Michel in 1968 for the Guadalajara Reporter by describing her as “One of most creative, versatile gals in all Ajijic.”

“Her enchanting place offers passing tourists and permanent residents a variety of items such as art works, jewelry, rugs, bright hand-woven mantas, colonial furniture and antiques in stone, wood and metal.

And dresses. As an outlet for her creative energies, which include her own paintings on rice paper with ink, she employs a dozen seamstresses and a staff of wood and stone carvers who cut anything from small figurines to water fountains.”

The El Ángel boutique, described later by long-time Ajijic resident Kate Karns as “the most beautiful of Ajijic’s three shops” at the time, was featured in Vogue Paris and recommended in the August 1970 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

By December 1969, Gail, now described as “a well known expert on Mexican arts and crafts” was also managing the gift shop at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

In 1974, Gail was one of only four “members of the Ajijic business community” invited to participate in a program for Guadalajara TV Channel 6 to celebrate the first anniversary of the state’s “Conozco Jalisco” (“Know Jalisco”) campaign. (The other invitees were Jan and Manuel Ursúa of the Tejabán Restaurant and Boutique, and Antonio Cardenas, the owner of La Canoa boutique.)

[Aside: Jan Ursúa, better known as Jan Dunlap, recently published her first novel, Dilemma, set in 1970s Ajijic.]

Everyone I’ve interviewed who knew Gail Michel de Guzmán in Ajijic has expressed their fond memories of her. Many have also shared favorite anecdotes. Eunice Huf, for example, recalled Gail as a young blonde girl with freckles who designed both jewelry and dresses with simple, elegant, lines. She chuckled as she told me how Gail had once dressed her up in a crocheted top that was so sexy it made even their fellow artist Abby Rubenstein jealous!

The late Tom Faloon openly expressed his admiration for Gail’s art, and then laughed as he remembered how on one occasion Gail, on learning that Marcos had a new girlfriend, had once deliberately driven her car into the girlfriend’s vehicle. The next day, a contrite Gail went to the police station to admit her wrong-doing but found, to her pleasant surprise, that the police had no interest whatsoever in this or any other “crime of passion”!

As an artist, Gail participated in numerous shows during her time in Ajijic. One of the earliest was the Posada Ajijic’s Easter exhibit in April 1966. Other artists on that occasion included Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Allyn Hunt; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge (wife of author David Dodge); Mr and Mrs Moriaty and Marigold Wandell.

In January 1968 Gail’s paintings were shown in an exhibition at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque, alongside works by Hector Navarro, Gustavo Aranguren, Coffeen Suhl, John K. Peterson, Don Shaw, Peter Huf, Rodolfo Lozano and Eunice Hunt. The following month, a group of Ajijic artists (Gail Michel and the members of “Grupo 68” – John K. Peterson, Eunice Hunt, Peter Huf, and Don Shaw) were reported to be exhibiting weekly, every Friday, at El Palomar, and also most Sunday afternoons at the Camino Real hotel in Guadalajara.

Gail Michaels. ca 1971. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado)

Gail Michaels. ca 1971. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.)

An appliqued wall-hanging by Gail was shown in a collective fine crafts show at Galeria Ajijic (Marcos Castellanos #15) in May 1968. Among the other artists at that show were Mary Rose, Hudson Rose, Peter Huf and Eunice Hunt (with their miniature toy-like landscapes complete with tiny figures and accompanying easels), Ben Crabbe, Joe Rowe, Beverly Hunt and Joe Vine.

Not surprisingly, Gail’s art was included in the large group show, Fiesta de Arte, in May 1971 at the private home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic), along with paintings and sculptures by Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass and Agustín Velarde.

In March 1975, three Ajijic painters – Gail Michel, Rocky Karns and Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen – held a group show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

These three artists joined with Tom FaloonHubert Harmon, John K. Peterson, Adolfo Riestra, Sidney Schwartzman, to form a new group known as Clique Ajijic, a group of eight artists who formed a loosely-organized collective for three or four years in the mid-1970s. The group’s exhibitions included two in Ajijic – at the Galería del Lago (Colón #6, Ajijic) in August and at the Hotel Camino Real in September – as well as shows at Galeria OM in Guadalajara (October 1975); Club Santiago in Manzanillo (October 1975), the Akari Gallery in Cuernavaca (February 1976) and at the American Society of Jalisco in Guadalajara (also February 1976).

Gail’s first solo show of artwork was at Ajijic’s Galeria del Lago in April 1975. In February of the following year, the same gallery hosted an invitational group show – the so-called “Nude Show” – with works by Gail Michel, Guillermo Guzmán, John Frost, Jonathan Aparicio, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Dionicio Morales, John K. Peterson, Georg Rauch, Robert Neathery and others.

Gail’s work also formed part of a Jalisco state-sponsored show entitled “Arte-Artesania de la Ribera del Lago de Chapala” in October 1976 at the ex-Convento del Carmen. In addition to Gail, exhibitors on that occasion were Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionicio Morales; Gustel Faust; Bert Miller; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai and Jim Marthai.

In December 1976, Gail also had work in a group show organized by Katie Goodridge Ingram for the Jalisco Department of Bellas Artes and Tourism, held at Plaza de la Hermandad (IMPI building) in Puerto Vallarta. The show ran from 4-21 December and also included works by Jean Caragonne; Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Richard Frush; Hubert Harmon; Rocky Karns; Jim Marthai; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; Georg Rauch; and Sylvia Salmi.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and copies of Gail Michel de Guzmán’s original dress designs can still be found in some Ajijic stores.

Acknowledgments

Sincere thanks to Gail Michel de Guzmán for her help compiling this profile of her time in Ajijic, and to Judy Eager, the late Tom Faloon, Katie Goodridge Ingram, Peter and Eunice Huf, and Enrique Velasquez for sharing with me their personal memories from that time.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 2 Dec 1964; 2 April 1966; 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968; 25 May 1968; 22 Jun 1968; 6 Dec 1969; 12 Sep 1970; 24 April 1971; 15 May 1971; 18 May 1974; 20 July 1974; 14 Dec 1974; 15 Mar 1975; 12 Apr 1975; 12 Apr 1975; 31 Jan 1976.
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 25 Oct 1976.
  • Kate Karns. 2010. “Old Ajijic”, Lake Chapala Review, Volume 12 #1, February 14, 2010.
  • Jack McDonald. 1968. “Ajijic Woman Carved out Business for Herself …” (a profile of Gail Michel), Guadalajara Reporter 22 June 1968, p 15.

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

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Apr 052018
 

Frank Ward Kent (1912-1977) was a talented illustrator and painter who lived at Lake Chapala for much of the last decade of his life, from about 1968 to 1976.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 16 February 1912, Kent spent much of his youth riding and sketching in the Teton Mountains and is best known for his landscapes and scholarly portraits of Native Americans, including the Shoshone and Blackfoot Indians. He later turned some of the sketches into paintings. In the 1940s, Kent completed many social realism paintings depicting racial and social problems.

Frank Ward Kent. ca 1941. "They Shall be Free". (Decatur Daily Review)

Frank Ward Kent. ca 1941. “They Shall be Free”. (Decatur Daily Review)

Kent began his formal education at the University of Utah (1930) before studying art at the Chicago Art Institute (1931), the Art Students League in New York (1931-32), and privately in Paris, France (1934). At age 23, he married Helen Gladys Allred, 25, of American Falls, Idaho, in June 1935.

Frank Kent. ca 1973. Lake Chapala shoreline. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Frank Kent. ca 1975. Lake Chapala shoreline. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Kent completed a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts in 1937 and a Masters in Fine Arts in 1938, both from Syracuse University, New York. He worked as an illustrator for Wild West magazine in New York and also worked for many years as a specialist in identification, attribution, appraisal and cataloguing for various museums and colleges, including the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in New York. He was a Professor of Fine Arts at Bradley University in Illinois (1938-1944) and at Syracuse University in New York (1944-1958).

He was the Director of the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento, California for 11 years (1958-1968), after which he became a fine arts appraiser, researcher, and restorer for Hunter Gallery in San Francisco.

Kent had undertaken private study in Mexico in 1946 and 1952, and apparently also taught at the Mexican Art Workshop (organized by Irma Jonas) from 1949 to 1955. The 1949 workshop was based in Ajijic, with an “overflow” workshop in Taxco. In the succeeding years, the workshop was based entirely in Taxco.

Frank Kent. 1975. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Richard Tingen.

Frank Ward Kent. 1975. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Richard Tingen.

After he retired from his position at Crocker Art Gallery, Kent moved to Lake Chapala.

According to a brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1975, “The well known California painter Frank W. Kent has settled into his Villa Formosa apartment and expects to be busy portraying the Lakeside beauty on canvas.”

A few months later, Katie Goodridge Ingram, who was director of La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic, announced an exhibition of 10 of his works. The artist, who had been painting in the area for eight years, gave a talk on opening night (in February 1976) about creativity and composition. Ingram said that “his work has an original and characteristic style reflected in the colorful breakdown of shapes and planes. His paintings of Mexican children reflect joy and movement, and his depictions of street musicians are marked by a real freshness of approach.”

Kent’s award-winning art was exhibited widely during his lifetime, including at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1934); Springville, Utah (1934-40); University of Utah (1935, 1936, 1939, 1940); the All-Illinois Exhibition (1940, 1942); Peoria Art League (1940-43); Syracuse Art Association (1945, 1946); Heyburn, Idaho (1934); Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (1944-55); Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, Utica, New York; Pan-Am Union; New Georgetown Gallery, Washington, DC; and the Mexican Embassy, Washington, DC.

Examples of his work are included in the permanent collections of the Chicago Art Institute; Rochester Memorial Museum; Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts; Iowa State University; University of Utah; Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento; and in many private collections.

Kent, who died in Sacramento, California, on 14 July 1977, also wrote two art-related books: A Search into the Unknown (1968) and Icons of the Community (1970).

Sources

  • Anon. Undated. “Profile of Frank W. Kent, M.F.A., A.S.A.”. Document that accompanied a painting purchased in 1980 and submitted to askart.com by Dr. Sherburne F. Cook, Jr. of Sherburne Antiques & Fine Art, Inc. in Olympia, Washington.
  • The Decatur Daily Review (Illinois), 2 December 1941, 24.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 26 July 1975; 14 February 1976.
  • Frank W. Kent. 1964. Crocker Art Gallery – Catalogue of Collections. Sacramento: Crocker Art Gallery.
  • The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah): 26 June 1932, 25; 1 June 1935, 47; 2 Jun 1935, 92;
  • Richard Tingen. Personal communication, 27 Oct 2017.

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

Mar 222018
 

Visual artist and architectural designer Tom (“Tomas”) Faloon first arrived in Ajijic in 1970 and lived and worked in the village for more than forty years.

John Thomas Faloon was born on 30 January 1943 in New York City. After graduating in 1960 from Oakwood Friends School, a Quaker college preparatory school in Poughkeepsie, New York, he enrolled in Rutgers University. He traveled to Florence, Italy, to study art the following year, returning with fluent Italian and a determination to pursue art as a career. In the summer of 1962, he took a summer course at the Douglass College campus of Rutgers with the renowned modern artist Roy Lichtenstein. Faloon transferred to the University of Mississippi, “where the faculty of the time was young and progressive”.

Tom Faloon, 1965 (Univ. of Mississippi Yearbook)

Tom Faloon, 1965 (Univ. of Mississippi Yearbook)

Faloon had only just arrived on the Mississippi campus when the Ole Miss race riot of 1962 erupted, following the enrollment of the university’s first black student, James Meredith, a military veteran with strong academic credentials. Faloon recalled becoming an active participant in the anti-racist movement, involved in preparing anti-racist posters and paintings.After he completed his degree in Fine Arts (Painting) in 1965, Faloon transferred to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

On 30 July 1966, Faloon married Shannon Elizabeth Rodes in Melbourne, Florida. The couple had two young daughters. Faloon began working for his father’s agricultural chemical firm in Clarksville, Mississippi, but soon decided that the environmental impacts of agrochemicals often outweighed their benefits. He and his wife had first visited Ajijic over the winter of 1967/68 and, in 1970, Faloon gave up his position in the family business to live at Lake Chapala full-time, focus on his art and raise his children in a welcoming, friendly, eclectic community.

Roy Lichtenstein. 1962. (The Central New Jersey Home News)

(l to r): Tom Faloon, Mrs Everett Sherrill, Roy Lichtenstein. 1962. (The Central New Jersey Home News)

The family lived for a short time at La Villa Apartments (on Javier Mina) in Ajijic before purchasing a home on Donato Guerra. Described as “a serious 28-yr-old artist who studied in New York and Italy”, Tom “comes fully equipped: talent, a stunning Cherokee Indian-Irish wife named Shannon, two girl children and two dogs.” (Guadalajara Reporter, 6 March 1971.)

Faloon quickly made friends with his Mexican neighbors and became seamlessly integrated into local life, developing a particular love of Mexican handicrafts, folk traditions and design.

In May 1971, he was one of the large number of artists exhibiting in the “Fiesta of Art” group show held at the residence of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33). Other artists at that show included Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

This example of his work was published in A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972).

Tom Faloon. ca 1972. "La Mujer"

Tom Faloon. ca 1972. “La Mujer”

Tomás, as he was known in Ajijic, remained in the village after he and Shannon separated in 1973. (They divorced in 1979.)

Faloon was an active member of the “Clique Ajijic” which existed for 3 or 4 years in the mid 1970s. This group held exhibitions in Ajijic, Chapala, Guadalajara, Manzanillo and Cuernavaca. The other members of this very talented Mexican Group of Eight were Hubert Harmon,  Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, John K. Peterson, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Adolfo Riestra, and Sidney Schwartzman.

Faloon’s paintings were mostly abstract or impressionist. He participated in several local exhibitions and one of his paintings was purchased for the permanent collection of a museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Recognizing that art sales might not earn him sufficient income, in the 1980s Faloon began working on remodeling and redesigning traditional village homes. His own artwork took a back seat (though he continued to paint occasionally and complete mixed media works) as he quickly found he was in his element working on homes, undertaking projects that combined his interests in architecture, design and craftsmanship with his love of Mexican materials and handicrafts. Most of the many homes that Faloon lovingly transformed incorporated some whimsical elements: “las locuras de Tomás” as he called them.

Faloon, fluently bilingual, was a generous, kind and sensitive individual, and always willing to help causes close to his heart, including those related to the environment and animal welfare. He was a great supporter of Mexican artisans and their colorful, creative folk art.

Faloon met his soul mate, Carlos Rodriguez Miranda, in the mid-1970s. Their partnership lasted until Faloon’s untimely passing on 5 August 2014 from complications following what should have been a routine surgery in a hospital in Guadalajara.

In her obituary for him, Dale Hoyt Palfrey was absolutely correct to call Tom Faloon an “icon of Ajijic’s expat community” and “one of the community’s most prominent and endearing long-time foreign residents.”

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to the late Tom Faloon for his encouragement with this project and for so generously sharing his knowledge and memories of the Ajijic art community with me in February 2014.

Sources

  • Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi) 16 April 1965, 44.
  • 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).
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 6 March 1971.
  • Lake Chapala Society, Oral History project: “Tom Faloon” (video).
  • Dale Hoyt Palfrey. 2014. “Remembering Tomás Faloon, icon of Ajijic’s expat community”, Guadalajara Reporter, 29 November 2014
  • Poughkeepsie Journal (Poughkeepsie, New York) 26 June 1960, 4B.

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

Mar 082018
 

Fun-loving journalist Kate Karns, who has written many entertaining columns and articles about Ajijic over the years, lived in the village from 1971 to 2013. Karns was the local correspondent for the Mexico City News for several years immediately after Katie Goodridge Ingram. She also ran an art gallery for a time on Calle Colón, the main north-south street leading to the pier.

Katherine Julia Flaten (her maiden name) was born in Hennepin, Minnesota, on 25 September 1921. Curiously, the record of her marriage in 1944 to actor Todd “Rocky” Karns, when both were serving in the U.S. military in New Mexico, spells her first name Catherine with a “C”! She was court-martialed and reassigned shortly after marriage, not because of any spelling error, but because she had had the temerity, while serving in the ranks, to marry an officer.

Heading of article by Kate Karns, El Ojo del Lago, Nov 2013

Heading of article by Kate Karns, El Ojo del Lago, Nov 2013

Prior to the war, Kate was well on her way to becoming a Hollywood actress. She performed in high school shows in Milwaukee, studied drama at the University of Minnesota and attended the Maria Ouspenskaya acting school in Hollywood. Tod Jonson, who also lived in Hollywood for years before moving to Ajijic, has said that “Katy Karns, a talent in her own right, had been under contract to Paramount Studios and was a member of the Golden Circle of Players on their studio lot.”

Unfortunately for Kate’s career, the war intervened. She returned home to Milwaukee where she later joined the Army and was trained to fix radios. After the war, Kate and Rocky started a family and lived in Hollywood where Rocky built his acting career, eventually retiring from movies and television to work for the North American Philips Corporation.

Following some prompting by Kate, a profile of her family was published in the September 1950 edition of the Ladies Home Journal in its series, “How America Lives”. Not long afterwards, the magazine published an article featuring Kate modeling some elegant clothing.

When Rocky retired in 1971, the couple moved to Ajijic. Kate had been working for a fabric weaving business in the village for some time before federal authorities realized she lacked any work permit and ordered her to leave the country. She was soon able to sort out her paperwork and return. Kate also worked for seven years in local real estate, found time to be President of Lakeside Little Theater (in 1983/4), and combined family life and all this with writing and being the local correspondent for the Mexico City News.

Kate’s writing is always well-observed and often humorous, with many references to her own experiences in adapting to life in Mexico and to the myriad of quirky characters that Ajijic seems to have attracted in the 1970s.

One of my all-time favorite lines from Kate Karns is her description of the small town of Jamay, on the north shore of the lake, mid-way between Ocotlán and La Barca, in 1988 as “like a running sore; its feet in mud and garbage, its head covered by torn corrugated tarpaper held up precariously by half-finished grey cement-block walls and disintegrating bricks.” Jamay is very different now, but in 1988, her words were only a slight exaggeration.

Kate Karns, who has, with good reason, been critical of those in-comers who fail to learn any Spanish or make any real effort to integrate into the local community, continues to hold the highest regard for the people of Mexico in general, and of Ajijic in particular.

Her husband, Rocky Karns, passed away in February 2000. The couple had enjoyed 54 years of marriage. Kate continued to live in Ajijic until 2013 when she moved to Ellensburg in Washington state to be closer to her children and grandchildren.

The incomparable Kate Karns died on 11 December 2018, at the age of 97.

Sources:

  • Lakeside Little Theater (website). Undated. “LLT’s Beginnings… to Honor a Glorious Past” (interview with Tod Jonson).
  • Anon. 1950. “How America Lives: Meet the Karns of California – Todd and Katherine Karns”, Ladies Home Journal, September 1950.
  • Jeanne Chaussee. 2011. “Laguna Chapalac”, Guadalajara Reporter, 30 September 2011.
  • Kate Karns. 1988. “Kate Karns in Lake Chapala”, Mexico City News, 3 July 1988, p16.
  • Michael Warren. 2015. “Lakeside Little Theater 50th Jubilee Season!” El Ojo del Lago, March 2015.

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

Feb 212018
 

Jean McCrum Caragonne was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania, on 21 February 1906 and studied at Allegheny College, Pennsylvania. After taking courses in fashion design at the Cleveland Museum School of Fine Art in Ohio in the mid-1920s she moved to Boston to become a fashion illustrator.

Jean Caragonne. Flower at window.

Jean Caragonne. Flower at window.

Her husband George (1891-1981), born in May 1891 was an accomplished portrait photographer. When the couple visited his family in Greece, Jean fell in love with the spectacular scenery and the colorful day-to-day life.

In 1948, the couple moved to Houston where George opened his own studio.

They made their first visit to Mexico in 1949, when they drove down to Mexico City. In between return visits to Greece, they returned for vacations in Mexico several times in the 1950s and 1960s.

Jean Caragonne. Quiet Hill.

Jean Caragonne. Quiet Hill.

At age 58, Jean started taking classes towards a Masters in English Literature, and also took painting classes under George Shackleford and Bernard Lammie.

In 1967, shortly after George retired, the Caragonnes planned another trip to Mexico, intending to visit San Miguel de Allende where Jean had enrolled in Instituto Allende, the city’s fine arts school. Their plans changed when they reached Guadalajara and found a motel near Plaza del Sol.

According to the Guadalajara Reporter, while George “fills his time touring in his Rolls Royce and giving lectures on photography… Mrs Caragonne teaches English…”

The Caragonnes rented a home on Avenida Madero in Chapala in 1968. The view from there towards Cerro San Miguel, the hill that overlooks the town center, was the subject of Jean Caragonne’s first painting in Chapala. The painting was used many years later (1986) for an Amigos de Salud fund-raising greetings card. In 1970, Jean Caragonne was working on quilts and tapestry, as well as “beautifully composed and well drawn” paintings. Caragonne also made embroidered evening skirts, jackets and bags.

Jean Caragonne. Market.

Jean Caragonne. Market.

In 1971, the Caragonnes moved to Ajijic where they rented a house for several years before purchasing a studio-home on Calle Hidalgo. Jean Caragonne held at least five one-person shows in Ajijic. (If you are reading this and can supply details of dates and venues, then please get in touch.)

Jean Caragonne. Lake Chapala. ca 1975. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Jean Caragonne. Ajijic, Lake Chapala. ca 1975. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

In February 1974, Caragonne’s latest paintings were included in a group show at La Galeria in Ajijic, alongside works by Jane Porter, Violet Wilkes and Allen Foster (the Galería’s president).

Jean Caragonne. Tulips and ebony.

Jean Caragonne. Tulips and ebony.

By August 1974, the Galería had moved to a new home at Calle Colón #6 in Ajijic where they displayed works by Caragonne and numerous other local artists including Luz Luna; the late Ernesto Butterlin; Jerry Carr; Fernando García; Jane Porter; José Olmedo; Odon Valencia; Mildred Elder; Robert Neathery; Jose Santonio Santibañez; Allen Foster; Vee Greno; Armando Galvez; Arthur Ganung; Virigina Ganung; Gloria Marthai; Dionicio Morales; Antonio López Vega; Priscilla Frazer; Eleanor Smart; Rowena Kirkpatrick and Sylvia Salmi.

In December 1976, Caragonne had work in a group show organized by Katie Goodridge Ingram for the Jalisco Department of Bellas Artes and Tourism, held at Plaza de la Hermandad (IMPI building) in Puerto Vallarta. The show ran from 4-21 December and also included works by Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; John Frost; Richard Frush; Hubert Harmon; Rocky Karns; Jim Marthai; Gail Michel; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; Georg Rauch; and Sylvia Salmi.

In May 1985, Caragonne was one of the group known as “Pintores de la Ribera” who exhibited at the Club Campestre La Hacienda (located at km 30 of the Guadalajara-Chapala highway). Other artists at this show included Laura Goeglein; Carla W. Manger; Jo Kreig; Donald Demerest; B.R. Kline; Hubert Harmon; Daphne Aluta; De Nyse Turner Pinkerton; Eugenia Bolduc; Emily Meeker; Eleanor Smart; Tiu Pessa; Sydney Moehlman; Xavier Pérez.

When interviewed in the 1980s, Caragonne claimed that there was more color in Mexico but better light in Greece. With the exception of the Lake Chapala panting, all artwork illustrating this profile were completed between 1982 and 1990.

Acknowledgment:

  • My sincere thanks to Penelope Caragonne, not only for fact-checking this profile, but also for sharing images of her mother’s artwork, and for permission to use them in this profile.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 2 May 1970; 2 Feb 1974; 31 August 1974; 31 May 1975.
  • El Ojo del Lago. Portrait of the artist: Jean Caragonne. El Ojo del Lago, December 1986.
  • El Informador: 4 May 1985.

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

Feb 152018
 

Newcomers to the village of Ajijic will not necessarily have heard of Zara Alexeyewa, (known popularly as “La Rusa” – “The Russian”), one of the village’s most distinguished long-term foreign residents, and one still remembered affectionately by the entire community, Mexican and non-Mexican. Everyone who knew her has their favorite anecdote about this iron-willed lady who would gallop her horse through the narrow streets, hooves clattering on the cobblestones, cloak billowing in the wind.

When La Nueva Posada opened in 1990, its dining room was named “La Rusa” in honor of Zara, who had passed away the previous year at the age of 92. Zara’s incomparable contribution to Ajijic life over more than sixty years was focused on the welfare of children and the conservation of Lake Chapala.

Zara Alexeyewa Khyva St. Albans (her formal name in Mexico) lived out a very full and dramatic life – from the moment she set foot on the stage on Broadway as a teenager, until her eventual death in Ajijic in 1989. Objectivity was not, however, always one of her strong points, and piecing together the truth behind the legend can be difficult. In her enthralling autobiographical book, Quilocho and the Dancing Stars, which certainly contains fiction alongside fact, Zara weaves some wonderful tales about her ballet career interspersed with an account of the life of a Mexican friend and supporter, Enrique Retolaza, who (according to the book) had been the youngest officer of Pancho Villa.

In reality, Zara was no more Russian than most native New Yorkers, having been born in that city in 1896. After making an early impression as an actress on the New York stage, twice being featured on the cover of the Dramatic Mirror, and playing lead roles in several Shakespearean productions (as Juliet, Portia, and Ophelia among others), she decided, in the wake of the Great War, to go to Europe. She had attended dancing classes from age six, and in Europe she began a new career as a ballerina. She performed her own ballet, “The Red Terror”, based on a poem by Leonid Andreyev, with a musical arrangement which had been worked on by her mother, organist Charlotte Welles.

"Khyva St. Albans". White Studios. 1915.

“Khyva St. Albans”. White Studios. 1915.

While in Europe, Zara met a young Danish dancer, Holger Mehner, and the two remained inseparable dancing partners until his untimely death in Guadalajara in 1944. Zara and Holger gave numerous performances of “The Red Terror” around the world, playing to packed houses in Europe, South America, the U.S., and in Mexico.

In 1926-27, they were engaged by the Philadelphia Opera Company as directors of ballet, and presented an unusual Egyptian ballet, called AIDA. They also choreographed and performed “The Black Swan and the White Lilly”.

While contemporary newspaper accounts speak of “the two geniuses of Dance of the ex-Court of Russia”, “dancers of the imperial court of Nicolas II and of King Constantine of Greece”, and the like, it is probable that the nearest either dancer got to those places was Budapest in Hungary, where they gave one of their many standing-room-only performances.

They first performed in the Degollado Theatre in Guadalajara in January 1925, by which time they had decided to take a prolonged vacation at Lake Chapala, living initially at the Villa Reynera in Chapala. In about 1940, they moved to Ajijic.

Degollado Theater program, 1936.

Zara and Holger. Degollado Theater program, 1936.

Zara seems always to have had the knack of leaving indelible first impressions on people she met.

The American artist Everett Gee Jackson, who resided in Chapala for several years in the 1920s, in Burros and Paintbrushes, his entertaining account of his time in Mexico wrote that, when he and his friend Lowelito first arrived in Chapala, they “did not see any other Americans. The two Russians who lived in the house with the bats were the only other non-Mexicans in the village, as far as we knew.” These two “Russians” were, of course, Zara and Holger.

Not long afterwards, Jackson had a much closer encounter with Zara:

“I set up my easel… because the place was… mysterious and magical… with the lazy hogs asleep in the shadows. I was lost in what I was doing, but, suddenly, to my surprise, all the hogs began to shuffle to their feet and move off the road… grunting ferociously. Then I heard a sound like thunder behind me. But it was not thunder. It was that Russian woman riding at full gallop on a dark horse, and she was coming right at me. She knocked my easel over but missed me… She never slowed down but kept galloping at full speed down the road.”

Another of Ajijic’s marvelous characters, Iona Kupiec, who lived for decades in the village, also remembered her first meeting with Zara. Iona was staying in the Posada Ajijic in 1962, having only just arrived in the village. The next morning, she met Zara:

“While I was standing there entranced with the loveliness of everything, what should I see suddenly appearing in front of me from around a bend in the road but a beautiful woman wearing a big red velvet, gold-embroidered charro sombrero with a red, satin, high-necked Russian blouse with a gold dragon embroidered on it from the belt up to the collar, black culottes, with red leather boots, riding a black satin horse which reared up on its hind legs when she suddenly tightened the reins. I was stunned!”

Iona agreed to rent a cottage from Zara. In order to sign the contract, she followed Zara (still on her horse) “through more than a thousand square feet of garden, with glorious eucalyptus trees standing like stately monarchs, countless other fruit and flowering trees, and vast blooms from all kinds of bushes and shrubs – so much color and beauty, and even cool perfumed air!”

Zara’s house was full of mementos from her theater and ballet days, full length oils portraying her and her “brother”, Holger, in their dancing costumes, gilded-framed portraits from her New York theater appearances, photographs, figurines, books, “a veritable art museum in one, very large, elegantly furnished, parlor”.

Zara’s energies were undiminished as she approached her eighties and she insisted on reviving her ballet career for several performances, including a memorable farewell show in the Degollado Theater in Guadalajara.

She also continued to ride daily until well into her eighties, and was a popular and much-loved figure as, astride her horse, she rode through the streets of Ajijic. This remarkable woman, perhaps the only person ever to reach stardom as an actress under one name (Khyva St. Albans) and as a dancer under another (Ayenara Zara Alexeyewa) is one of the more extraordinary characters ever to have lived in Ajijic.

Notes

A much more detailed account of Zara’s life can be found in chapters 4, 5, 22, 33 and 44 of my Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022).

This post is a lightly edited version of my article about Zara, originally published in The Chapala Riviera Guide in 1990. It is no coincidence that a photo of the Villa Reynera, where Zara first stayed in 1924, appears on the front cover of my Lake Chapala through the Ages, an anthology of travelers’ tales.

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Acknowledgment:

This article could never have been written (back in 1990) without the help of long-time Ajijic residents Laura Bateman and Iona Kupiec, both of whom have since passed on to a higher world.

Jan 292018
 

Roscoe (“Rocky”) Karns lived in Ajijic with his wife (Kate Karns) and family from 1971 until his death on 5 February 2000. Karns had retired from careers in acting and sales and devoted himself in Ajijic to his painting and working as producer and director on shows at the Lakeside Little Theater.

Roscoe (“Rocky”) Todd Karns Jr., was born in Hollywood, California, on 15 January 1921, to character actor and comedian Roscoe Karns and his wife Mary Fraso.

Rocky Karns as Harry Bailey

Todd Karns as Harry Bailey

Karns’ movie career was interrupted by four years service in the Army during World War II.

After the war, when Rocky was assigned to work in Los Angeles as a military recruiter, he and his wife, Kate, established their home in Hollywood and Rocky began to build his acting career even as they started a family.

Rocky’s most significant movie role was as “Harry Bailey” in the classic Christmas holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), starring Jimmy Stewart (playing Harry’s elder brother “George Bailey”) and Donna Reed.

The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards including best picture. Though it did not do terribly well when it was released, it has gained popularity in recent years and has now made the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best American films ever made.

Todd Karns. Moulin Rouge. (sold 2012 at Capo Auction)

Todd Karns. Moulin Rouge. (sold at Capo Auction, 2012)

Karns had minor roles on several other films, including My Foolish Heart (1949), It’s a Small World (1950, Battle Zone (1952), Invaders from Mars (1953), China Venture (1953) and The Caine Mutiny (1954).

He also worked in television, co-starring with Helen Chapman in a sitcom entitled Jackson and Jill (1949). In 1950, he also worked alongside his father, the star of a popular cop series, Rocky King, Private Detective.

Karns retired from acting in about 1954 and began a 17-year career in sales and public relations for the North American Philips Corporation, eventually becoming its West Coast manager. In 1971, Karns retired from the company and moved to Ajijic. During his “retirement”, Karns focused on his painting, and on directing local theater shows.

Todd Karns. Circus. (sold 2012 at Capo Auction)

Todd Karns. Circus. (sold at Capo Auction, 2012)

Karns directed numerous plays at the Lakeside Little Theater (LLT) , beginning in 1973 with Barefoot In The Park and The Pleasure of his Company. Other plays directed by Karns at LLT included the comedies Sauce For The Goose, Squabbles, Marriage-Go-Round, Noel Coward In Two Keys, The Gin Game and Last Of The Red Hot Lovers, as well as the fantasy A Visit To A Small Planet, the thriller Wait Until Dark, and the drama On Golden Pond.

Karns’ art career in Ajijic enjoyed similar success. Karns had begun painting shortly after the end of World War II.

Todd Karns. 1971. Street scene. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Cantu.

Todd Karns. 1971. Street scene. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Cantu.

After moving to Ajijic, Karns soon began to exhibit and sell his art at local shows. In December 1974, for example, one of his paintings was auctioned in a charity fund-raiser organized at the San Antonio Tlayacapan home of Frank and Rowena Kirkpatrick, alongside works by Rowena Kirkpatrick, Sidney Schwartzman and Antonio Santibañez.

In March the following year Karns joined Gail Michaels and Synnove Shaffer (Pettersen) for a three-person show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.

Karns was an active participant in the Clique Ajijic, a group of eight artists who formed a loosely-organized collective for three or four years in the mid-1970s. The other members of Clique Ajijic were Sidney Schwartzman, Adolfo Riestra, Gail Michaels, Hubert Harmon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Tom Faloon and John K. Peterson (the only member of Clique Ajijic who had been a member of the earlier Grupo 68).

In December 1976, Karns had work in a group show organized by Katie Goodridge Ingram for the Jalisco Department of Bellas Artes and Tourism, held at Plaza de la Hermandad (IMPI building) in Puerto Vallarta. The show ran from 4-21 December and also included works by Jean Caragonne; Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; John Frost; Richard Frush; Hubert Harmon; Jim Marthai; Gail Michel; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; Georg Rauch; and Sylvia Salmi.

In 1989, Karns was accorded the honor of a solo show by Sidney Schwartzman, owner of the Schwartzman Galería in Ajijic. Karns was quite a prolific artist and his works, with their charming naiveté, do occasionally turn up in online auctions.

This is an outline profile. Contact us if you would like to learn more about this particular artist or have information to share.

Sources:

  • El Ojo del Lago: March 1985; January 1989.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 4 January 1975; 15 March 1975; 28 February 1976.
  • anta Cruz Sentinel. “Local Theatre Attractions”, Santa Cruz Sentinel (California), 9 March 1941, p 10.
  • Vincent Terrace. 2011. Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010. McFarland & Company.

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.

Jan 222018
 

After retiring in the mid-1960s from a career in the U.S. military, Robert (“Bob”) Snodgrass and his wife Mira (sometimes Myra or Maria) lived at Lake Chapala for almost twenty years. They settled in the residential development of Chula Vista, an area that was known at that time as having more than its fair share of musicians and stage performers. Snodgrass proceeded to play an active part in the local theater, music and visual arts communities.

Robert Baird Snodgrass was born in Porterville, California, on 12 September 1912 and died, after a lengthy illness, in Guadalajara on 4 September 1983.

Snodgrass grew up in California and entered the University of California, Berkeley, in the class of ’34. He apparently studied architecture, landscape architecture, art and journalism, before finally graduating with a B.A in Art in 1936. In 1933, as a student, he worked on the Daily Californian, a UC Berkeley publication, and contributed a painting entitled Melting Snow to an exhibition of paintings by students in the classes given by Chiura Obata. In that same year, he also appeared in The Valiant, a play performed by the university’s Armstrong College Thesbians.

In 1935, while still living in Berkeley, he composed and copyrighted (as “Baird Snodgrass”) the music for several songs, including “Dream-in little dreams of you” and “Vanished melody”. The words for both songs were written by Jack Howe.

Illustration by Robert B. Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

Illustration by Robert Baird Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

He also drew several delightful illustrations for a puppet play book entitled The Broken Promise, written by “Nellie Nelson and The Puppetman”, published three years later.

Illustration by Baird Snodgrass for The broken Promise

Illustration by Robert Baird Snodgrass for The Broken Promise

From Berkeley, Snodgrass moved to Los Angeles where he studied drama and theater arts and had parts on several weekly radio shows.

It is unclear when he married Mira, but the US Census for 1940 has the couple living in Berkeley. Snodgrass’ employment is given as editor of “Rural Magazine”.

In March 1942, only months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Snodgrass enlisted in the U.S. military. After graduating with the twenty-fourth class of engineer officer candidates at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, he received a commission as second lieutenant in the corp of engineers. During his first stint of service he served four years before returning to civilian life in May 1946. He then had two years playing in New York City night clubs, including the 1-2-3 Club on East 54th Street, before re-enlisting with the Army in June 1948. By the time he retired he had risen to the rank of colonel.

Snodgrass “retired” to Lake Chapala in about 1965, two or three years prior to his final, official, release from the military. In retirement, Snodgrass put his earlier education in architecture and landscape planning to good use, designing and building several homes and gardens in the Lake Chapala area.

His earliest recorded contribution to Lakeside theater was painting a nude which hung on the set in June 1965 for The Saddle-Bag Saloon, a musical written and directed by Betty Kuzell. The official history of the Lakeside Little Theater (then known as the Lake Chapala Little Theater) claims this was the group’s first ever show. Snodgrass was also a member of the short-lived Lake Chapala Society of Natural Sciences .

Snodgrass loved to draw and paint and a short article in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1965 stated that he had become interested in archaeology and was “using his talents as an artist to do illustrations of the “finds” of this area for a book to be published and for museum use.” The writer pronounced Snodgrass’ drawings of the artifacts to be “beautifully perfect”. It is unclear which book this article refers to, or if his drawings were ever published.

Robert B. Snodgrass. 1968. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Cantu.

Robert B. Snodgrass. 1968. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Cantu.

As a painter, Snodgrass had a one-person show at La Galería in Ajijic in March 1969 and one or more of his paintings was still on view the following month when the original five members of Grupo 68 (Peter Huf, his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf, Jack RutherfordJohn Kenneth Peterson and Don Shaw) had a collective exhibit at the same gallery.

Snodgrass also exhibited in the large group show, Fiesta de Arte, at the Ajijic home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33) in May 1971. Other artists in that exhibition included Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Frances Showalter; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; and Agustín Velarde.

Ever generous, one of Robert Baird Snodgrass’ last artistic actions was to bequeath his easel and paintbrushes to his good friend and fellow artist Georg Rauch.

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Katie Goodridge Ingram and Phyllis Rauch for sharing with me their personal memories of Bob Snodgrass and to Katie Cantu for permission to reproduce the image of one of his paintings.

Sources:

  • Berkeley Daily Gazette: 19 April 1933.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 10 June 1965; 28 Oct 1965; 5 Mar 1966; 29 Mar 1969; 10 Sep 1983, p 18 (obituary).
  • Nellie Nelson and The Puppetman. 1938. The Broken Promise, illustrated by Baird Snodgrass (Los Angeles: Suttonhouse, 1938) 36 pages.
  • Reno Gazette: 10 March 1943.

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.

Jan 082018
 

Dorothy Bastien, a writer of juvenile fiction, and her husband Clarence Bastien appear to have lived in Chapala for about a decade in the 1970s. A brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1972 says that Dorothy, living in Chapala, has just received an advance for a book accepted by the Teenage Book of the Month Club. The book in question must be Lori, published in New York by Scholastic later that year. Lori, her first book to be accepted for publication, is about a 17-year-old girl who is forced to spend the summer with her estranged father in Mexico while her boyfriend is back home in Texas.

Dorothy Bastien also wrote several other books: Westward to Destiny (1973), an historical account of Missouri and Oregon in the early and middle 1800s; The Night Skiers (1974); Shy Girl (1980); Remember to Love (1980); and I Want to Be Me (1981). She had previously written several articles and stories, including “Friendly Harvest”, published by The Country Home Magazine in 1936.

Dorothy Bastien (née McNamara) was born on 14 March 1906 in Wisconsin. She married Clarence James Bastien in about 1932. The couple’s son, James William Bastien, was born on 10 April 1934 in Bellingham, Washington. By 1940, the family was living in Portland, Oregon, where Dorothy was a teacher in the Tigard-Tualatin School District. She taught English and Latin for many years at Fowler Junior High School, where she introduced telephones into the Latin class. She described the positive impact of this idea in a piece for the November 1963 issue of the National Education Association Journal:

“Students who become ill at ease if they attempt to speak one word of Latin to the class will talk with some confidence over the telephone. Two students converse while the class listens in.”

The Bastien’s family home was at 7665 SW Oleson in the Portland neighborhood of Garden Home. Don Krom, a nephew of Dorothy Bastien, contributed to the Garden Home History Project with recollections of life there in the 1950s that shed some light on the kind of literary and intellectual circle in which the Bastien family grew up. Don recalls that Dorothy Bastien was in a writing group that met in Garden Home and included some well-known personalities: L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology) who was better known at that time for writing science fiction; Peg Bracken, author of humorous books on etiquette cooking, such as The I Hate to Cook Book; and Charlotte Goldsmith who wrote stories about war and planes for the Saturday Evening Post and other publications.

Dorothy Bastien’s husband, Clarence, was musical and a violinist (and quite possibly also a high school teacher). The Bastiens’ son James (1934-2005) became a professional pianist and educator who, with his wife Jane, wrote more than 300 books related to piano playing that have been used by millions of piano students, including the series Bastien Piano Library, Bastien Piano Basics and Music Through the Piano. Their books have been translated into 15 languages.

It is unclear when the Bastiens moved to Chapala, though Dorothy Bastien is recorded as taking a flight from Guadalajara to Mexico City in July 1968. Further details related to Dorothy and Clarence’s time in Chapala have not yet surfaced but it appears that they lived there from about 1970 until Clarence’s death on 5 July 1980, of respiratory failure, at the couple’s home (5 de Mayo #224). Clarence was interred in the local cemetery.

Dorothy later moved to La Jolla, California, where she passed away on 19 May 1985, at the age of 79.

Sources

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.

Jan 042018
 

More than forty years ago, photographer Bert Miller lived in Chapala and took some fine images of the town and its surroundings. While we are unable to reproduce these images to the high standards of the original negatives and prints, here is a small selection of some of his evocative photos, starting with the lakefront in Ajijic.

Bert Miller. ca 1972. Ajijic Lakeshore.

Bert Miller. ca 1972. Ajijic Lakeshore.

Further east along the lakeshore, Miller’s next photo shows a clean and lirio-free beach as the scene for a woman washing clothes in the lake and a couple of youngsters on horseback.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Beach scene.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Beach scene.

Miller lived in Chapala and many of his photos capture a moment in time of the everyday life of the town, like this one of the intersection of Juárez and Morelos (in the center of town).

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street corner in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street corner in Chapala.

Informal street vendors have long been an integral part of the town’s commercial system.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendor in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendor in Chapala.

Even children play their part. These two youngsters appearing to be taking a break while waiting for their next customers.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendors in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street vendors in Chapala.

You can sense in this next image that the three watchful onlookers at the intersection, while holding back, are thinking of sampling the same culinary delights as the family group in the foreground.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street corner (2) in Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Street corner (2) in Chapala.

Though we don’t know precisely when this image was taken, Miller entitled this keenly observed portrait of five men, “El Cinco de Mayo”.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. . El Cinco de Mayo, Chapala.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. El Cinco de Mayo, Chapala.

From the southern shore of the lake, Miller captured this great image of the current lake (in the far distance) with the flat fields in the middle of the image revealing the extent of the area drained for agriculture in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Lago de Chapala y Campo de Michoacan.

Bert Miller. ca 1973. Lago de Chapala y Campo de Michoacan.

Bert Miller’s photographs are a valuable time capsule of life in Chapala in the 1970s.

Profile of Miller’s life and work:

Note and acknowledgments

I am very grateful to Chapala archivist Rogelio Ochoa Corona for giving me permission to reproduce these images, the original prints of which are in the Chapala Municipal Archives, and to Norma Louise Miller Watnick for her support in publishing examples of her father’s work.

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

Dec 182017
 

I have so far seen only two examples of this photographer’s work. Both examples are photographs of Lake Chapala and appear to date from about the 1970s. This one (excuse the poor quality due to reflections) shows women washing clothes on the beach.

Lake Chapala. Photographer unidentified.

Lake Chapala. Photographer unidentified.

The photographer worked in both color and in black and white, and signed each print with a very distinctive monogram.

Monogram of unidentified photographer

Monogram of unidentified photographer

Please get in touch if you recognize this signature or can suggest who this photographer might be. Then we can add them to the growing list of fine photographers who have graced the shores of Lake Chapala.

Acknowledgment

  • Sincere thanks to Linda Fine Samuels of Ajijic for drawing my attention to the work of this currently unidentified photographer.

Other photographers related to Lake Chapala:

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

Dec 112017
 

English novelist and playwright Raymond “Ray” Rigby was born in Rochford, England, in 1916 and died in Guadalajara aged 78 on 19 May 1995.

Ray Rigby, ca 1970

Ray Rigby, ca 1970

In 1972, Rigby turned his back on a successful Hollywood career to move to Mexico. He lived initially in Jocotepec and for a short time in San Antonio Tlayacapan. He married María Cristina Quintero in Guadalajara in 1975. The couple lived  in Jocotepec for several years before moving to the outskirts of Guadalajara in about 1980.

Rigby, who claimed to be a descendant of Saint John Rigby, one of 40 English martyrs canonized in 1970, had a troubled early life, doted on by his mother but abandoned by his father. It led to him finding it a challenge to form lasting partnerships, as evidenced by his five marriages, the last of which was by far the most successful. Rigby had five daughters, all born prior to his move to Mexico.

During the second world war, Rigby served as a private with the British Eighth Army in North Africa, but got into trouble due to various nefarious activities, and spent two spells in British field punishment centers. His experiences there would later form the basis for his award-winning novel The Hill, which he later turned into the famous anti-war movie of that name starring Sean Connery.

Rigby’s writing career began in 1948, when he began to write for television series, documentaries, radio and theatre. His greatest success came in the 1950s and 1960s, when he was employed as a screenwriter by MGM, 7 Arts, Warner Brothers, David Wolper Productions, Nat Cohen, 20th Century Fox, John Kohn Productions and Associated British Productions.

The screenplays and adaptations for numerous TV series and movies that Rigby worked on included: The End Begins (1956); Shut Out the Night (1958); Armchair Mystery Theatre (1960); The Avengers (1961); The Night of the Apes (1961); Operation Crossbow (1965) and his own masterpiece, The Hill (1965).

The-Hill-1965

The Hill won the 1966 BAFTA Film Award for Best British Screenplay, the 1965 Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, and the 1966 Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for the Best British Dramatic Screenplay. It was translated into 13 languages and enjoyed a resurgence of interest following the break-up of the former Soviet Union.

jacksons-peaceRigby’s novels, several of which are largely autobiographical, were The Hill (1965); Where Have All The Soldiers Gone? (1966); Jackson’s War (1967); Jackson’s Peace (1974); Jackson’s England (1979); and Hill Of Sand (1981) (written as a sequel to The Hill).

As can be seen from their publication dates, several of these novels were completed after Rigby moved to Mexico.

Rigby was always positive and cheerful and led a very disciplined life. He would “exercise” by walking round and round the small patio of his home on the outskirts of Guadalajara every morning for at least an hour, a habit possibly instilled during his spells in detention. He also had specific times set aside for writing and for socializing. He loved cooking and would watch and re-watch classic old Mexican movies. At the same time, he was one of the most gracious hosts imaginable, with a never-ending treasure chest of amazing experiences and stories. I first met him in about 1987 and we quickly became good friends. Indeed, it was Rigby who urged me to start writing and who provided moral support during my first struggling attempts, provided I visited him at a time when he wasn’t exercising or writing.

Rigby was a born raconteur, with keen street-smarts and a ready wit. Author Alex Grattan was not exaggerating when he described Ray in a memorial piece as a “world class wit and a fabulous story teller”.

While living in Jocotepec, Rigby had numerous run-ins with the local postmaster who was apparently accustomed at that time to check all incoming mail personally for any cash or valuables.

In 1973, Rigby and Wendell Phillips of Ajijic sold their joint script Ringer, written at Lakeside, to Universal Studios for a 90-minute pilot TV film. The two authors traveled to Hollywood to make the sale. This is almost certainly the last direct contact Rigby had with Hollywood.

Ray Rigby died in Guadalajara in 1995; his papers are in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

Note:

This post was first published in April 2015 and was revised in 2018. I owe a massive personal debt to Ray for having encouraged me to begin writing non-fiction articles about Mexico. Without his initial enthusiasm, none of my books (or this series of posts about artists and writers associated with Lake Chapala) would ever have seen the light of day.

Sources:

  • Alex Gratton. Remembering Ray Rigby, El Ojo del Lago, July 1995
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 16 Dec 1978, 23.
  • Informador 6 August 1982, p 20-C

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.

Dec 042017
 

Swedish-American visual artist Carlo Wahlbeck lived in Chapala for two or three years in the mid-1970s.

Wahlbeck was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1933. At the age of 14, he started classes at the Stockholm School of Fine Art. Among his influences he credits the sixteenth century Italian artist Benvenuto Cellini and Swedish sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955).

When he was 16, Wahlbeck spent a year in the United States and became acquainted with several American Indian tribes. In 1957 he left Europe to live in North America, taking classes at the Winnipeg School of Art in Canada. Three years later, he moved to southern California which has been his home ever since, with the exception of his time in Mexico.

Since moving to the U.S., Wahlbeck has lived for extended periods of time among the Navajo and Zuni Indians, using their beliefs and lifestyle as a source of inspiration for his own surrealist works.

Carlo Wahlbeck. Mother and Child.

Carlo Wahlbeck. Mother and Child.

Prior to his extended stay at Lake Chapala, Wahlbeck had been living in Los Angeles. His residence in Chapala, with his two sons, coincided with the time when the local community was getting an unwanted reputation as a center for drug use. The biography on his studio website says that Wahlbeck “spent 2 years in Mexico, living among the Huichol people in the inaccessible mountains north of Tepic, painting the Indian religion and the white man’s religion as seen through Huichol eyes.” It is unclear whether this was before or after his stay at Lake Chapala.

Carlo Wahlbeck. "He stands for America". (ca 1975)

Carlo Wahlbeck. “He stands for America”. (ca 1975). (Richard Tingen collection).

In May 1975, two of Walhbeck’s original lithographs were offered for sale in an auction in Ajijic to raise funds for the local Primary School for Boys. Wahlbeck’s lithograph entitled “He stands for America” (above) dates from about this time.

Wahlbeck, who has lived on-and-off and exhibited in Palm Springs, California, for some 50 years, is best known in the U.S. for works relating to Native Americans. In addition to his skills as an illustrator and painter, Wahlbeck is an expert in the sculptural techniques used in working with cast paper.

His solo shows in California include Newport Beach, California (July 1965), the Gane Freeman Art Gallery in Los Angeles (January 1968), the Upstairs Gallery, Long Beach (November 1971) and Catchpenny Art Gallery in Tarzana (December 1977).

Carlo Wahlbeck. 1987. "June - Second State".

Carlo Wahlbeck. 1987. “June – Second State”. (cast paper work)

Wahlbeck’s works have found their way into many prominent collections, including those of King Gustav of Sweden, former US Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Robert Guggenheim, and the actresses Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Taylor. Institutions with Wahlbeck’s work in their permanent collections include The Bob Hope Cultural Center (Palm Desert, California); the Museum of Western Art (Ardmore, Oklahoma) and the Museum of Art in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to Richard Tingen for bringing Carlo Wahlbeck’s link to Lake Chapala to my attention and for permission to use the image “He stands for America”.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter, 17 May 1975.
  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • El Informador (Guadalajara) 16 May 1975, p 5-C
  • Los Angeles Times: 18 Jul 1965, p 261; 07 Jan 1968; 14 November 1971, p 546; 11 December 1977, p 844;
  • WahlbeckStudios website

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.

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