Jan 122023
 

Of all the notable artists associated with Lake Chapala, the one who made the most waves in international art circles in the latter part of the twentieth century was Feliciano Béjar.

Feliciano (‘Chano’) Béjar was born on 14 July 1920 in Jiquilpan, Michoacán. Jiquilpan had been in close proximity to Lake Chapala for centuries until the eastern third of the lake was drained for agriculture a decade before Béjar was born.

A self-taught artist, who overcame polio as a child, Béjar was revered for his inspired sculptures, painting and weaving. His most famous series of works, dubbed ‘magiscopes,’ imaginatively combined glass with metals, plastics and other recycled materials; they stimulate viewers awareness of the unlimited power of the human eye to see and interpret abstract sculptures.

Feliciano Bejar. Boat seller.

Feliciano Bejar. Boat seller.

Béjar attended the Colegio Salesiano of Guadalajara (1932-1934) and his childhood interest in art was stimulated by meeting José Clemente Orozco when that great artist was painting his remarkable murals in Jiquilpan in 1940.

There is little point in me rehashing all the details of Béjar’s life, which are readily available online, including in this Wikipedia article.

If it had not been for serendipity, Béjar might never have become an acclaimed artist. He had traveled widely in Mexico before leaving for New York in 1945 to work, paint and buy himself a Chevrolet. Béjar painted during the day and worked nights in a department store.

Feliciano Bejar. Posada del niño

Feliciano Bejar. Posada del niño

In 1947 he left some paintings at a frame shop which, by chance, was patronized by gallery owner Ward Eggleston. Helped by Nathaniel Coleman and his wife, a wealthy art-loving couple who had struck up a friendship with Béjar in the department store, Eggleston made arrangements to hold a solo show of Béjar’s work at his gallery the following year.

Meanwhile, Béjar had bought a car (despite not knowing how to drive) and persuaded a friend to drive him and the car back to Jiquilpan. Shortly after their safe arrival, his friend borrowed the vehicle to visit his own family; unfortunately he then totaled the automobile in an accident.

Béjar returned to New York for his solo show, the first of several he would hold at the Ward Eggleston Galleries. Nathaniel Coleman remained his chief promoter and sponsor; he purchased some two hundred of Béjar’s works over the years; the terms of his will meant that more than half of them eventually returned to the artist.

Feliciano Bejar.Sunset at Lake Chapala

Feliciano Bejar.Sunset at Lake Chapala

According to a contemporary review of the first New York show, at the Ward Eggleston Galleries in 1948:

“It was difficult to leave the Ward Eggleston Galleries after viewing the paintings of Chano Bejar without being haunted long afterwards by the pinks and yellows and greens in his “Fiery Horse,” a dream creature out of Mexican Indian mythology who flamed and quivered with motion that threatened to shatter the very canvas which held him.”

Béjar’s art remained unrecognized in Mexico, until after he was sponsored by UNESCO to travel to Europe in 1949 for a group show of Latin-American artists which included several of his works. On his return, the Instituto Mexicano Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales took a keen interest and arranged several shows over the next few years. A retrospective exhibit of his works in Los Angeles in 1956 was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. These shows helped establish Béjar’s reputation and resulted in dozens more solo shows. UNESCO produced a film in 1964, “The world of Feliciano Béjar,” and Béjar’s work featured in the Mexican pavilion at the New York World Fair in 1965. During his long artistic career, Béjar held more than 150 solo shows in Mexico, the US and Europe.

Two early Chapala-related paintings deserve a special mention. Béjar’s solo show at the Galeria José María Velasco in Mexico City in 1962 included “Tuxcueca.” Completed in 1947, this painting of a humble village on the south shore of Lake Chapala is probably the only time the village has ever been painted by a major artist. A second 1947 oil on canvas was included in Béjar’s 1965 show at Galeria Mer-kup, also in Mexico City: it was titled ‘Chapala.’

Feliciano Bejar. Three magiscopes.

Feliciano Bejar. Three magiscopes.

Magiscopes were first shown in 1966 at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and at Mappin Art Gallery in London, UK. Inspired by childhood toys and games, Béjar’s magiscopios are somewhat reminiscent of Renaissance clocks, astrolobes and other scientific instruments, coupled with the visual allure of kaleidoscopes.

During this highly productive period of his life, Béjar also prepared designs for several European ceramics makers, including Spode, and designed stage sets. The artist held strong opinions about all manner of social and environmental concerns, and shared them via a weekly column in the 1980s in Mexico City daily El Universal.

Francisco Béjar, one of the more remarkable self-taught artists to emerge in Mexico during the second half of the twentieth century, died in Mexico City on 1 February 2007. His work continues to be highly sought after by collectors.

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

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

Sources

  • Modern Mexico: March-April 1949 (Vol 22 #2); July-August 1950 (Vol 23 #4)
  • Justino Fernández. (multiple years) Catálogos de las Exposiciones de Arte, Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.

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

Dec 292022
 

Despite several popular art sites listing Bert Pumphrey’s exhibitions as including three in Ajijic, I have yet to find any details for them. Pumphrey’s distinctive work is so highly collectible, that he would certainly deserve a place among the Lakeside greats (and in the Ajijic Museum of Art) if his association with Lake Chapala can be proven.

The three exhibitions listed for Bert Pumphrey in Ajijic are:

  • La Nueva Posada, Art Shows in the Garden, 1955
  • Casa de la Cultura, Ajijic, Plaza Principal 1978
  • Galeria AXIXICC, Ajijic, 1985

The 1955 entry clearly cannot be correct. Either this was an exhibit in the (Old) Posada Ajijic, or the year is inaccurate and it should be 1995. Either way, I have found no confirming evidence anywhere for this or the other two shows. If you can help, please get in touch!

Despite drawing a blank as regards the Ajijic exhibitions, my search for answers has enabled me to compile a more accurate account of Pumphrey’s life and work than those currently available on the web.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Un militar.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Un militar.

Bertrem (Bert) Pumphrey was born in Welby, Salt Lake City, Utah, on 30 January 1916. After graduating from Provo High School in 1936, Pumphrey took classes for a year at the Chicago Art Institute. From 1937 to 1941, he studied on a scholarship at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where he was strongly influenced by Henry Lee McFee and Tom Craig

At the second annual exhibit of Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity (organized by Los Angeles County Museum) in 1941, Pumphrey’s painting “Rainy Season” and a work by famous Japanese-American modernist Sueo Serisawa received honorable mentions for painting.

In 1940, while still a student, Pumphrey had registered for military service, and after completing his studies the following year he enlisted in the army. He served as a surgical technician in the Army Medical Corps in Asia and the Far East

His first major group show after the war was at the Los Angeles Art Association in 1946, in a collective exhibition titled “They Have Returned,” with one critic writing that “Bertram Pumphrey’s oils of India convey that land’s rich decoration and vegetation and the accompanying poverty.”

Later that year in September Pumphrey held his first solo show (of 47 oil paintings) at the prestigious Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

In 1947, Pumphrey had the first of at least two solo shows at the American Contemporary Gallery in Los Angeles. His 22 canvases were described by Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier as “rich in color and human interest.” Millier also recorded that Pumphrey had “recently worked” with Tom Craig on a large mural or murals at the San Antonio Hospital, Claremont, and had completed a large 40′ by 12′ mural commission in a private Hollywood home.

In 1947-1948 Pumphrey taught art part-time at the Art Barn School of Arts in Salt Lake City, giving himself ample time to develop his own art while still having a reliable income.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Hasidic Rabbis Dancing. (oil on board)

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Hasidic Rabbis Dancing.

Pumphrey moved to Mexico in 1948, and exhibited relatively infrequently in the US after that date, though he retained links with California, giving classes and participating in group shows in Lafayette and Oakland in 1954. By this time he had married Isabel. The couple apparently kept homes in both Tlalpan, a suburb of Mexico City and in California, dividing their time between the two places. Isabel became a naturalized US citizen in 1984 on her 54th birthday.

In 1955, Pumphrey painted murals depicting typical scenes from Bavarian villages on the walls of Sam’s Hof Brau in the historic Kost building in Sacramento. Four years later, he completed a large mural for the Seagulll Motel in Salt Lake City, assisted by his twin brother, Joe, who was also an artist.

His first major solo show in Mexico was at the Galería Pemex in Mexico City in January 1960. It included 106 works, in a variety of media, from oils on masonite and linoleum to watercolors and ink drawings, and of varied subjects, demonstrating the artist’s impressive versatility.

Pumphrey’s smaller solo show the following year at the Mexican-Northamerican Cultural Institute in Mexico City featured 19 oils and 17 watercolors; it included a self portrait alongside animal, coastal and jungle studies.

Pumphrey’s techniques and preferences changed markedly over the years. In 1971, the Oakland Museum showed a short film “Bert Pumphrey, Pleasanton Artist,” which depicted how Pumphrey liked to paint: using palette knives, including some of his own design, to cut through successive layers of paint to achieve the color, texture and form he wanted. (This technique was similar to that used for traditional lacquer work in Mexico). For these paintings, Pumphrey worked on masonite, rather than canvas, and on a table, rather than an easel.

Bert Pumphrey. 1969.

Bert Pumphrey. 1969.

Pumphrey completed murals for several public buildings, clubs, churches and private homes in Mexico (presumably mainly in 1950s), as well as murals in the Kost building, Sacramento (1955) and the Seagull Motel, Salt Lake City (1959).

Bert Pumphreys’s confirmed group shows include Los Angeles Art Association (1946, 1947); Chaffey, Ontario, California (1947); Biblioteca Cervantes, Mexico City (1952); Artists’ Market, Oakland, California (1954) and Valley Art Center, Contra Costa, California (1955).

In addition to the three possible shows in Ajijic and one (also unconfirmed) in the Virgin Islands, Pumphrey’s solo shows included Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1946); American Contemporary Gallery, Los Angeles (1947, 1948); Palette Club, Salt Lake City (1947); Galería Pemex, Mexico City (1960); lnstituto Mexicano-Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales, Mexico City (1961); Little Gallery, Philadelphia (1967); Cory Gallery, San Francisco (1969); and La Cienega Gallery, Los Angeles (1971).

The artist spent his final years in South Pasadena, where he died on 20 June 2002.

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

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

Sources

  • Bingham Bulletin 12 Sep 1941, 5; 3 Sep 1954, 3
  • Contra Costa Gazette 11 Feb 1954, 5; 22 Jul 1955, 4
  • Contra Costa Times 25 Feb 1954, 5
  • Daily Herald 08 May 1936, 3
  • Justino Fernández. (a) 1953 (b) 1961 (c) 1962. Catálogos de las Exposiciones de Arte en los años 1952, 1960 and 1961. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.
  • Los Angeles Times 16 March 1941, 21; 16 March 1941, 21; 23 Mar 1941; 24 March 1946, 26; 6 Jul 1947, 26; 21 Sep 1947, 28; 04 Jul 1948, 45; 25 Jul 1971, 425
  • Oakland Tribune 14 Feb 1954, 91; 31 Jan 1971, 125
  • Pasadena Star-News. 2002. Bertrem Pumphrey (obituary). 29 June 2002.
  • Philadelphia Inquirer 04 Jun 1967, 141
  • Sacramento Bee 22 Jan 1955, 52
  • Salt Lake Tribune 02 Nov 1947, 64; 10 Aug 1947, 48; 14 Dec 1947, 72; 12 Jul 1959, 29; 18 Oct 1964, 78
  • San Francisco Examiner 29 Sep 1946, 135; 28 Dec 1969, 142

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

 

 

Dec 152022
 

Japanese artist Masaharu Shimada, who specializes in sumi-e pen and ink drawings and has held dozens of acclaimed exhibitions in Mexico and his native Japan, lived for several months each year in San Antonio Tlayacapan from 1986 onwards. His exquisite works include numerous evocative monochrome impressionist landscapes of Ajijic and San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Sumi-e, which means black ink painting, developed over several centuries in Japan, after Zen Buddhist monks from China first introduced their deceptively simple techniques and style back in the fourteenth century. Chinese ink is applied to paper using brushes traditionally made of hair, bamboo or feathers.

Born in Nakagyo, Kyoto, in 1931, Shimada graduated from the calligraphy department of Tokyo Gakugei University in 1953 before teaching himself the techniques of sumi-e. He held his first solo show of sumi-e at the Chuokoron-sha Gallery, Tokyo, in 1961.

Masaharu Shimada. 2000. Cerro y lago de Chulavista.

Masaharu Shimada. 2000. Cerro y lago de Chulavista.

In 1967, he visited Mexico for the first time and stayed six months. Two years later, he produced his first book, México en Sumi-e, published by Mokuji-sha, Tokyo.

He returned to Mexico in 1970 and held a solo show at the University of Guanajuato. In 1972, during his third visit to Mexico, he had a one-person show in Valle de Bravo, in the State of México.

Over the next decade, he revisited Mexico almost every year, before deciding in 1986 to establish a seasonal home in San Antonio Tlayacapan on Lake Chapala.

Masaharu Shimada. 1999. Casa antigua de San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Masaharu Shimada. 1999. Casa antigua de San Antonio Tlayacapan.

During the course of his long love affair with Mexico, Shimada has produced several more books, including México Pintado en Tinta China and Colección de Pinturas en San Antonio (both published by Editorial Work House, Tokyo) and México Pintado en Tinta China, published in 2003 by Editorial Artes Gráficas Panorama S.A. de C.V. in Mexico City.

Shimada’s major solo exhibitions in Mexico include: University of Guanajuato (1970); Valle de Bravo (1972); Museo Alhondiga de Granaditas, Guanajuato (1978); Galería Arvil, Mexico City (1977, 1979); Casa de Cultura, Guadalajara (1988); Instituto Cabañas, Guadalajara (1989); Museo Pueblo de Guanajuato (1980, 1983, 1988, 1995); Colegio de Michoacán, Zamora (1996); Televisa, Guadalajara (1998); Nikkei Cultural Center, Mexico City (1999); Museo Casa de Arte Olga Costa-José Chávez Morado, Guanajuato (2001); Yakult Cultural Center, Guadalajara (1994, 2002); and Galería Ramón Alva de la Canal, Xalapa, Veracruz (2016).

The 48 sumi-e works Shimada displayed at the last named show included Lago y casa de San Antonio Tlayacapan, Chapala, Jalisco (1995); Fantasía de árbol de nopal (1996); Nopales (1997); and Panorámica de Guanajuato (2000).

The catalog of images from this exhibition can be viewed on issuu.com.

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

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

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

Dec 082022
 

By the 1970s the Ajijic retirement community was sufficiently established that it attracted academic attention. The earliest study, never formally published, was by Dr Edwin G Flittie, a professor of sociology at the University of Wyoming. Flittie visited in 1973 and subsequently presented copies of “Retirement in the Sun,” his analysis of the retirement community, to the Lake Chapala Society Library. Like several later studies of foreign migrants, Flittie considered the Chapala-Ajijic region as a single unit, and not as two communities with their distinct histories as regards tourism and retirement. Flittie interviewed more than 100 retirees and found that many had failed to appreciate the substantial cultural differences between the US and Mexico, or recognized that the emphasis for many local residents was “not on material gain but rather on the attainment of a satisfying existence traditionally based upon agrarian economic self-sufficiency.”

Flittie estimated that about 60% of retirees were aged 60 to 74, and 14% were 75 or older. Very few were fluent in Spanish and 88% reported that their social life centered on fellow expatriates and other English-speaking individuals. Flittie found that most retirees lived much as they would have lived in the US. The main problems they faced were related to excessive drinking, marital and family discord (men adapted better than women), boredom, bribery, interactions with the local community, domestic help and old age. Flittie returned briefly in December 1977 to research the impacts of the massive 1976 devaluation of the peso from 12.5 pesos to a dollar to about 22.5 pesos to a dollar.

Juan José Medeles Romero, in his 1975 thesis proposing an urban development plan for Ajijic, detailed how the village had approximately tripled in size between 1900 and 1950, and then doubled in size the following decade. And this was even before the addition of numerous subdivisions such as Rancho del Oro and La Floresta. Curiously, Medeles ignored the impacts of foreigners and only mentioned them in passing.

academic-studies-titles

A few years later, Mexican sociologist Francisco Talavera Salgado focused solely on Ajijic when, in Lago Chapala, turismo residencial y campesinado, he examined the varied impacts of foreign residents on the local community. His important findings are described in detail in several chapters of Foreign Footprints.

At the end of the 1970s anthropologist Eleanore Moran Stokes also homed in on Ajijic. She divided the evolution of the village after ‘Discovery’ into three phases: Founder (1940s to mid 1950s), Expansionary (mid 1950s to mid 1970s) and Established Colony (mid 1970s through the 1980s).

Several of her informants considered the representation of Ajijic in the Dane Chandos novels (Founder phase) to be non-fiction; to Stokes, this was “the local equivalent to a creation myth.” The nature of migrants changed in each stage. During the Founder phase, Ajijic served, in her view, largely as an artists’ colony. These “young single well-traveled” artists were resourceful and independent individuals who had little impact on the village beyond the employment of domestic help; most of them learned the language, liked the cuisine, and blended into the local community.

Later (Expansionary phase) arrivals tended to be members of the affluent and retired middle class, many of whom had traveled widely, either in the military or working for international corporations. These newer arrivals did materially change the village. By infusing cash into the local economy and starting businesses they created “a new wage labor class in the village.” By upgrading village homes they distinguished their residences from those of local families. By retaining their language, food and lifestyle preferences, these incomers established a social distance from their host community, even forming “privileged associations for recreation, friendship and religion.” In essence, many of these migrants wanted to make many aspects of life in Ajijic more like the US.

Such tendencies continued into the Established Colony phase. Vacant houses became increasingly scarce and agricultural land was parceled for vacation and retirement homes. The foreign community greatly boosted philanthropic activities, especially those helping children, though this stage also saw a marked social stratification develop within the foreign community.

Stokes estimated that foreigners occupied about 300 of the 950 houses in the village in 1979, but comprised less than 8% of the population. Like Talavera, she viewed retirees as agents of change, not merely spectators of ongoing social processes, though they felt a sense of powerlessness in regards to what they saw as deficiencies in the provision of such services as water, electricity, telephone, garbage collection and police.

Sociologist Charlotte Wolf, who moved to Ajijic with husband Rene in the early 1990s, was interested in how individual retirees adapted and constructed a new life for themselves in Ajijic.

Among the conclusions in 1997 of Lorena Melton Young Otero, who looked specifically at US retirees, was that they created new jobs, donated to charities and hastened “modernization,” but that their presence was driving up the cost of living for local people. In a later paper, she examined in detail the mourning ritual and other customs in Ajijic following the death of a child (angelito).

The evolutionary framework developed by Stokes was used by geographer David Truly to examine how the type of migrant has changed over the years and to develop a matrix of retirement migration behavior. Like Stokes, Truly concluded in 2002 that newer visitors (including retirees), and unlike earlier migrants, had less desire to adapt to the local culture and were more keen on ‘importing a lifestyle’ to the area.

Stephen Banks, author of Kokio: A Novel Based on the Life of Neill James, conducted dozens of interviews to study the identity narratives of retirees while living in Ajijic in 2002-2003. All respondents depicted Mexicans, both generally and individually, as “happy, warm and friendly, polite and courteous, helpful and resourceful.” However, at the same time, many shared instances in which they thought Mexicans had been untrustworthy, inaccessible, lazy and incompetent. Banks concluded that the responses revealed:

a struggle to conserve cultural identities in the face of a resistant host culture that has been colonized…. The Lakeside economy is dominated by expatriate consumer demand; indigenous commerce in fishing has disappeared as new employment opportunities opened up in the services sector; local prices for real estate (routinely listed in US dollars), restaurant dining, hotel lodging and most consumer goods are higher than in comparable non-retirement areas; traditional Mexican community life centered around the family has been supplemented, and in some cases supplanted, by expatriate community life centered around public assistance and volunteer programs… and the uniform use of Spanish in public life is displaced by the use of English.”

Lucía González Terreros is the lead author of two recent papers that explore the complexity of defining residential tourism and how alternative definitions relate to property rights, transaction costs and common goods. The research arose from her personal concerns about the rapid increase in the number of foreigners in Ajijic since 1990.

Equally interesting is the work of Francisco Díaz Copado, who looked at how Ajijic is being shaped by both local and foreign “rituals,” such as the annual Fiesta of San Andrés and the Chili Cookoff respectively. In his 2013 report, Díaz Copado also examined “the different ways in which people describe and name the different zones of Ajijic… [which] reflect some historical conflicts.” Two annotated maps sharply contrast traditional locations and names with those used by retirees.

Marisa Raditsch investigated the impacts of international migrants settling in the municipality of Chapala “based on the perceptions of Mexican people in the receiving context.” This 2015 study found that these perceptions tended “to be favorable in terms of generating employment and contributing to the community; and unfavorable in terms of rising costs of living and some changes in local culture.”

Social anthropologist Vaira Avota, writing in 2016, also looked at the relations between foreigners and locals in Ajijic. She drew a sharp distinction between “traditional immigrants,” who wanted to truly understand Mexico’s culture, traditions,… [learn] Spanish and willingly participate in local activities,” and “new immigrants,” who wanted to live in a version of the US transplanted to Lake Chapala.

The impacts of this shift in migrant type were further explored by Mexican researcher Mariana Ceja Bojorge, who focused squarely on the relationships and interactions between local Ajijitecos and foreigners. She concluded in 2021 that the shift “endangers the acceptance of the presence of the other” and that “Although the presence of foreigners has generated economic well-being in the area, it has also been responsible for the reconfiguration of space, where locals have been forced to leave their territory.”

This is a lightly edited excerpt from the concluding chapter of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village, which offers a comprehensive history of Ajijic including the bibliographic details of all the studies mentioned.

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

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

Oct 132022
 

Thurston Wells Munson was in his eighties when he decided to have a winter studio in Chapala in 1988. Munson had already enjoyed an extraordinarily varied artistic career since first studying art in his teens.

“Tee” Munson was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on 24 April 1906 and died there at the age of 92 on 7 October 1998.

In 1923 he used funds earned as a deckhand on a ship to Guatemala to take art courses at the Museum School of Art in Philadelphia. Then, a prize for an early work paid for a trip to Paris where he met Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. [link] Poker winnings and the sale of a portrait enabled Munson to travel to North Africa. In 1928 he traveled to Bombay (Mumbai), India, crossed through the Khyber Pass and was commissioned to paint life-sized portraits of the British commissioner in Srinagar and his three predecessors. (Munson published a booklet of some of his portraits in 1991.)

Back in Paris in 1929 he opened his first studio and held a solo show in the city before moving back to the US later that year. The following year Munson and his brother, Calude, held a joint show at the Artist’s Guild of Springfield, described by one reviewer as “a varied and pleasant show of paintings in oil and water-color.”

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian's restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian’s restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

After his plans to turn a stone mill in Greenfield into an art school failed during the Depression, Munson stayed afloat financially by boxing professionally, hustling at pool, and painting large canvass ‘murals’ for the walls of hotels and restaurants. These included an exotic painting (more of which later) for Adajian’s restaurant on Asylum Street in Hartford, Connecticut.Munson held a solo show of artworks in New York in 1934, before turning his attention to architecture and designing nightclubs from New York to Maine.

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian's restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian’s restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

In the early 1950s, Munson had two studios in Massachusetts (in Springfield and Rockport) and was a member of the Rockport Art Association. By 1952 he had become a partner in the Springfield architectural and engineering firm of Munson & Mallis. He remodeled a two-family Victorian house in Springfield in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. The “Thurston Munson home” at 60 Byers Street now features prominently on the walking tour of the Springfield Preservation Trust. Featured in architecture magazines, people either loved it or hated it.

In this productive period, Munson designed sets for Berkshire Ballet productions and completed numerous portraits of players inducted into the original Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. He also designed churches throughout New England, became president of the Society of American Registered Architects, and created a magnificent 92-foot mosaic for the Church of the Holy Cross in Portland, Maine, comprised of more than 235,000 pieces of Venetian glass.

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian's restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

Thurston Munson. ‘Mural’ (formerly in Adajian’s restaurant) Credit: Jane Dee / Hartford Magazine

He told a journalist in 1988 that he had purchased a winter home on Lake Chapala where he planned to spend five months each year “doing nothing but paint…. There will be no telephone. It is my answer to the many who have criticized me for not producing more of the sort of thing that was my early intent. But the Depression came along, together with three children and a complete collection of economic problems.”

At about this time Munson asked for help in locating the various canvass murals he had done for Greenfield Schools, pointing out that they now had a significant economic value since his wall-sized canvasses were priced at $200 a square foot. He offered to maintain them (unrolled) in his Chapala studio until Greenfield found a suitable place to display them.

The fourteen ‘murals’ in Adajian’s restaurant, an upmarket restaurant which opened in 1947, remained on show for almost forty years; they continued to interest patrons and art classes used to go there to study them. Described variously as fantasy or surrealistic, they depicted tales from the Arabian Nights. After the restaurant closed in 1986, Munson restored them for display in a gallery in Greenfield. Since 2004 they have been held in storage at National Library Relocations in Three Rivers.

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

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

If you have a painting by Thurston Munson or can offer more details about his time in Chapala, please get in touch!

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.

May 122022
 

Julián Pulido Pedrosa was one of the group of talented artists who formed the Jovenes Pintores de Ajijic (Young Painters of Ajijic) in 1977.

Tragically, a decade later, Ajijic-born Pulido died on the highway between Tuxcueca and Tizapán el Alto in mysterious circumstances, while still a young man, not yet thirty years of age. He had already proved himself to be an outstanding artist, one of the first generation of local Ajijic artists to impress art critics with their extraordinary talents and creativity. Who knows how far Pulido might have taken his art had he only lived longer. Julián Pulido left behind his wife, Delma, and their three young children. In the wake of the tragedy, local and foreign artists organized an art sale (at the home of David Finn) as a benefit for his widow and children.

Like most other members of the Young Painters of Ajijic, Pulido first developed an interest in art during classes at the Children’s Art Program, organized by Neill James.

Undated. Untitled. AMA (Ajijic Museum of Art)

Julian Pulido. Undated. Untitled. AMA (Ajijic Museum of Art)

Pulido was one of several young students chosen by Neill James to receive a scholarship to further their art education either in San Miguel de Allende or Guadalajara. After studying at the Escuela de Artesanías in Ajijic, Pulido completed his formal art studies with five years at the Escuela de Artes Plásticos of the University of Guadalajara.

Detail from Julian Pulido painting. Reproduced courtesy of Georgette Richmond.

Detail from Julian Pulido painting. Reproduced courtesy of Georgette Richmond.

Pulido, who subsequently taught at the Escuela de Artesanías, worked in a variety of media and at a variety of scales, from small drawings and watercolors to large murals, including one at the Escuela de Artesanías in Ajijic and several others in public buildings in Guadalajara. [Does anyone have details to share?]

Studying alongside Pulido at the University of Guadalajara was another young local artist, Dionicio Morales. The two students held a joint exhibition of their watercolors, paintings and drawings at the Galería del Lago in Ajijic from 29 August to 11 September 1975. (The news was relayed to the English-speaking community in Joan Frost’s very first column for the weekly Guadalajara Reporter; Frost went on to become one of the paper’s most regular and dependable contributors.)

The following year, a new gallery, the “José Clemente Orozco Gallery” opened in March 1976 in Ajijic, with Dionicio Morales as director. In addition to Morales and Pulido, the gallery’s members—all exhibiting artists—were Jonathan Aparicio, Antonio Cárdenas, Antonio López Vega, Havano Tadeo, Henry Edwards, Sid Schwartzman and Frank Barton.

In 1977 the Guadalajara Reporter informed readers that Morales and Pulido had won the top two prizes in a Latin America-wide competition held to select artwork for the 1977 calendar of The International Federation of Family Planning. [If anyone has a copy of this calendar, please share!]

An exhibit which opened at the Instituto Anglo-Mexicana de Cultura in Guadalajara in October 1980 featured the works of Pulido and Morales alongside the work of a third Ajijic artist, Jesús Real.

Pulido held solo shows at the Centro de Artesanías de Ajijic (1980-81), the Presidencia Municipal de Yahualica (March 1981), and one entitled “Mi Pueblo” at Galería Universitaria in Guadalajara (November 1981). He also held a two-person show with Ernesto Flores G. at the Presidencia Municipal of Ciudad Guzmán (March-April 1981).

Work by Julian Pulido Pedrosa (c. 1958-1987) is deservedly included in the permanent collection of the Ajijic Museum of Art.

Sources

  • Ojo del Lago, April 1985; June 1987.
  • El Informador, 21 October 1980; 8 December 1980; 2 March 1981; 6 April 1981; 5 November 1981.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 30 Aug 1975; 13 March 1976, 21; 16 Apr 1977, 19: 2 May 1987, 24.
  • Regina Potenza, personal communication.

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 052022
 

Norwegian illustrator, printmaker and painter Eva Lange (1944-2017) traveled widely, held more than 30 solo shows and exhibited works in more than 200 group shows worldwide. Lange drew and produced lithographs in Ajijic in 1979-80, and held a solo show in the village in 1980 at the gallery in Mi México.

Eva Lange. Photo: Nancty Bundt. Creative Commons 4.0

Eva Lange. Photo: Nancty Bundt. Creative Commons 4.0

Lange was born in Arendal, Norway, on 15 June 1944 and died in Hvaler on 12 May 2017.

After studying art in Oslo at the Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Art Industry (1963-1965) and at the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts (1965-1969), Lange’s exhibition debut came while she was still a student. Lange later spent two years (1977-79) working at the lithograph workshop of the Norwegian School of Crafts and Design.

In the early 1970s, Lange was a member of the artist collective Gras, and became leader of the Young Artists Society (UKS) in 1974, and the initiator of the Artists’ Action-74. She later served on the board of NBFO (Norwegian Visual Artists) and on the supervisory board of Kunstnernes Hus.

Eva Lange. Øyer. Credit: Fineart.no

Eva Lange. Øyer. Credit: Fineart.no

Lange was married to painter and sculptor Victor Lind from 1963-1974. She lived the last years of her life with partner Erik Frisch, an author, at Hvaler, where she established the Hvaler Art Association, led the international sculpture project “Stone Art Whales” in Ytre Hvaler National Park, and ran the annual visual art, poetry and music event, “Pentecostal exhibition at Knatten.”

Lange held more than thirty solo shows in addition to her show in Ajijic, including exhibitions in Norway, several other European countries, and Egypt.

Lange won numerous major awards and was the recipient of the 2001 Prince Eugen Medal for Sculpture (Norway’s highest artistic honor).

Eva Lange. Dragsug. Credit: Fineart.no

Eva Lange. Dragsug. Credit: Fineart.no

Her art is well represented in major public collections, including those of the National Gallery of Norway, Norwegian Cultural Council, Oslo Municipality, Fredrikstad Municipality, Bibliothéque Nationale des Éstampes (Paris), The National Museum of Fine Arts (Malta), Woburn Fine Arts (England), Alexandria Center of Arts (Egypt), Silpakorn University Collection (Bangkok, Thailand) and L’Universita di Pavias Art Collection (Italy).

Eva Lange. 1979. Svermere. Collection AMA.

Eva Lange. 1979. Svermere. Collection AMA.

A collection of Eva Lange lithographs from her time in Ajijic has been loaned by Katie Goodridge Ingram to the Ajijic Museum of Art (AMA), which opened 1 June 2022.

Eva Lange. 1979. Untitled. Collection AMA.

Eva Lange. 1979. Untitled. Collection AMA.

Lange is quoted on the website of the gallery that represents her work as explaining that,

“You can probably say that my pictures are a bit strange and melancholy. I have no goal of meeting everyone, but I want to reach those who recognize themselves and find closeness in the “story.” I do not speak primarily to the mind, but more to the heart. There is something beneath in my pictures, you have to open up to find this.”

Note

Another Norwegian-born artist has links to Ajijic: the portraitist Synnove Pettersen lived in the village in the mid-1970s.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for bringing this artist and her connection to Ajijic to my attention.

Main Source

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

Oct 212021
 

Jan Sullivan (1921-2016) was a regular visitor to Ajijic and the surrounding area for more than 35 years. She accompanied noted American artist Hazel Hannell, who chose to spend the winter months in Ajijic for several years in the 1980s. Other members of this small loose-knit group included the noteworthy artists Harriet Rex Smith (1921-2017) and Elizabeth Murray. Sullivan was only a child when she first met Hannell; on a trip to Europe in 1928, Hannell and her husband, Vin, visited Paris and called on Sullivan’s parents, Nels and Myrtle (Bachli) Malmquist.

Jan Sullivan. d.u. "Lakeside Life" (oil).

Jan Sullivan. date unknown. “Lakeside Life” (oil).

Fifty years later, Sullivan founded the Art Barn and school in rural Valparaiso, Indiana. Currently for sale at the Art Barn is this lovely oil painting of a scene near Ajijic by Sullivan titled “Lakeside Life.”

The accompanying text reads:

Janet spent over 35 years in and around Ajijic, Mexico, going to the villages surrounding Lake Chapala with the mountains keeping the towns small and up against the lake. Lakeside life enthralled Janet who loved the old adobe structures, the bushes and trees climbing the hills. She chose a plein air painting spot to view the houses against the azure mountains, the lake to her back, sitting on the roadside engrossed in the color and texture of buildings along the shore.”

Janet (“Jan”) Malmquist Sullivan was born in Chicago on 5 June 1921 and died at her home in Valparaiso on 19 April 2016, predeceased by her husband, Maurice “Bud” Sullivan, who had passed away in May 1979. Jan seta side time to develop her own art throughout her career as a supervisor of art education for the Chicago Schools. She later taught art at Valparaiso University.

The Sullivans established the Art Barn—a project encompassing art education, exhibitions and events—in 1977 with the help of a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. The location was a nineteenth-century farm near Valparaiso the couple had purchased in 1969.

Sullivan amassed a significant art collection, both to support local artists and to serve as an investment to provide a lasting legacy to support the Art Barn. She bequeathed her entire collection – more than 2000 items – to the Art Barn School of Art to ensure that it would have the means to continue its important mission.

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.

Sep 162021
 

Noted American artist Hazel Hannell was already in her eighties when she chose to spend the winter months in Ajijic. Hannell became a regular visitor for several years in the 1980s. This charming costumbrista woodblock from those years was sold on eBay. Hannell continued to paint and produce artworks until she was 103 years old.

Hazel Hannell. c 1985. By Lake Chapala. Woodblock.

Hazel Hannell. c 1985. “By Lake Chapala.” Woodblock.

Mary Hazel Johnson (later Hannel) was born on 31 December 1895 in LaGrange, Illinois, trained as a secretary, and studied art at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and the Emma Church School of Art in Chicago. She was an extraordinarily versatile artist. In her lengthy career she had success in a variety of media, from watercolor painting, woodblocks and red clay pottery, to tiles, murals and commercial fabric and wallpaper designs for Marshall Field.

Hazel celebrated her 28th birthday in 1923 by marrying Finnish-American artist Vinol Hannell (1896-1964). After visiting artist friends in Furnessville, Indiana, the couple built a summer home there, before moving there permanently in the 1930s.

[Coincidentally, Furnessville has a particularly strong connection to Lake Chapala. Dwight Furness, a member of the family after whom Furnessville is named, settled in Mexico in the late nineteenth century and built the famous Hotel Ribera Castellanos on a lakeside estate between Ocotlán and Jamay in the early 1900s.]

Hazel Hannell was an activist in the suffragette movement, and she and her husband were both active environmentalists and instrumental in the 1950s in helping to preserve the Indiana Dunes. The Hannells also served as leaders in the No-Jury Society and the Chicago Society of Artists, and helped found the Association of Artists and Craftsmen of Porter County.

Hannell was accompanied on her trips to Ajijic by several other noteworthy artists, including Harriet Rex Smith (1921-2017), Elizabeth Murray and Jan Sullivan (1921-2016). She moved to Oregon in 1988 to live and work with Rex Smith, and died there on 6 February 2002 at the age of 106.

Hannell often chose not to sign her work. At about the time of her final visit to Lake Chapala, she was quoted in a newspaper interview as saying: “Hamada, a Japanese master potter, says you really ought not have to sign things, your works should be recognizably yours.”

Hannell’s woodblock art was featured in the Chicago Society of Artists annual calendar, and her varied works have been shown in major exhibits at the Brauer Museum of Art (Valparaiso University), Dankook University, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Northern Indiana Art Salon, Gary Southern Shores Exhibit, Dunes Art Foundation, and South Bend Art Center. The Valparaiso University has numerous works by Hannell and her husband in its permanent collection.

Sources

  • Biography from Brauer Museum Of Art
  • Dani Dodge. 1996. “While the Light is Good, Hazel Hannell, 100, Paints.” Seattle Times, 21 January 1996.
  • Margaret L Willis. 1987 “Artist’s Story Is a Tale of the Dunes.” The Chesterton Tribune, 14 August 1987, 4.

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 252021
 

Of all the extraordinary individuals and groups visiting Ajijic during “hippie times”, one of the most curious was the group called The Illuminated Elephants (Los elefantes iluminados).

The Illuminated Elephants visited Ajijic in 1982. The group, a traveling theatre “family” that had once been known as The Hathi Babas, adopted elements of the hippie movement, and had about twenty members at the time it visited Lake Chapala. The group’s co-founders included Mexican activist Alberto Ruz Buenfil.

The group lived in “old, converted school buses and vans,” and shared group expenses and some communal spaces, such as an office and show preparation area. They had roved the world for more than thirteen years prior to visiting Ajijic, hoping to find “a place to settle.”

John Frost. c 1983? Elefantes iluminados visit Ajijic.

John Frost. 1982. Elefantes iluminados visit Ajijic.

Jocotepec photographer John Frost took this photo of the group during their relatively short stay in Ajijic, “camping” by the lake.

John Frost. c 1983? Elefantes iluminados visit Ajijic. (detail)

John Frost. 1982. Elefantes iluminados visit Ajijic. (detail)

Among those traveling with this “traveling gypsy theatre group” in 1982 was Nicolas Morris, who was making a return trip to the area. As a child, Morris had lived with his artist-potter parents David and Helen Morris in Chapala in the early 1950s before the family moved back to California. Nicolas recalls that the Elefantes iluminados camped at the “old gold mill of so much legend and fame.” That property, close to the lakeshore on Calle Flores Magón, was owned at the time by “La Rusa” (Zara Alexeyewa).

John Frost. c 1983? Elefantes iluminados visit Ajijic. (detail)

John Frost. 1982. Elefantes iluminados visit Ajijic. (detail)

Apparently, Ajijic did not offer exactly what they were looking for as a place to settle. From Lake Chapala, The Illuminated Elephants continued on to Tepotzlán in the central Mexico state of Morelos, which proved to be their chosen destination. There they began building La Ecoaldea Huehuecoyotl, or “Huehue,” a village that embraces sustainability and now has more than a dozen homes. Residents include a wide variety of artists, poets, craftsmen, actors and musicians who offer courses and bilingual performances for schools and adult audiences while actively supporting their local communities. Huehue is a member of the Global Ecovillage Network and visitors are welcomed.

There are several interesting connections between Lake Chapala and Tepotzlán. For example, German poet Gustav Regler established his home on a Tepoztlán farm in the 1950s and lived there to his death in 1963. Several other artists who had lived in Ajijic on Lake Chapala moved to Tepoztlán in the 1970s and 1980s. They included  sculptor and painter Adolfo Riestra; photographer Toni Beatty and her husband, Larry Walsh (who all moved there in 1976); and painter and guitarist Gustavo Sendis.

Acknowledgments

  • My sincere thanks to Richard Tingen for sharing John Frost’s photo with me, and to Nicolas Morris for sharing memories of his time with Los elefantes iluminados.

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

Jan 282021
 

Xavier Pérez Aguilar became well known in Ajijic in the 1980s and 1990s for his fine watercolor landscapes and portraits.

According to a “Profile of the Artist” in El Ojo del Lago, Pérez was born in Ocotlán (near the eastern end of Lake Chapala) but was raised and educated in Southern California. He worked in industrial design before entering Los Angeles City College to study a liberal arts program. He then attended the Art Center College of Design, and studied painting under Leon Franks, Sergei Bongart and Constance Marlow.

Xavier Perez Aguilar. Undated. Reproduced courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

Xavier Pérez Aguilar. Untitled, undated. Reproduced courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

With Marlow, he started the Valley Branch of the Art League of Los Angeles in 1968, under whose auspices he taught and gave painting demonstrations for 15 years. In August 1968 he exhibited ”Pico Adobe” in an invitational group show at the San Fernando Mission in Los Angeles. Both Sergei Bongart and Constance Marlow also had works in that show.

At the Art League, Pérez gave life and drawing classes. Elsewhere, he gave a demonstration of palette knife techniques at an art society meeting in Los Angeles, in September 1968, and conducted flower painting classes in Chino. In January 1975, Pérez, billed as a  “renowned artist and sculptor,” gave a demonstration in sculpturing at the San Fernando Valley Art Club. By that time, Pérez had founded the Xavier Pérez Studio.

According to the biographical profile in El Ojo, “Xavier’s works brought on a degree of notoriety and an accumulation of awards which ultimately led to personality conflicts within the League. He stopped showing his paintings in public.”

After this Pérez moved back into the design business and combined the restoration of antiques with designing and making reproduction furniture.

Xavier Perez Aguilar. 1979. Lake Chapala. Courtesy of Richard Tingen.

Xavier Pérez Aguilar. 1989. Lake Chapala. Reproduced courtesy of Richard Tingen.

Pérez visited Lake Chapala in 1979 and returned to live at Lake Chapala in 1984, establishing his home in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos. He opened the Galeria P. Bonnard, at Calle 16 de Septiembre #7 in Ajijic, the building where Enrique and Belva Velázquez have their joint studio today.

Xavier Pérez was one of the large group of “Pintores de la Ribera” who held 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, B. R. Kline, Jo Kreig, Carla W. Manger, Emily Meeker, Sydney Moehlman, Tiu Pessa, De Nyse Turner Pinkerton and Eleanor Smart.

In 1986, Pérez was elected the first president of the Ajijic Society of the Arts (ASA). He saw his mission as forging greater unity among all the local artists. In addition, he began a project to restore and maintain the collection of archaeological finds started by the late Dr. Betty Bell.

Pérez was also a co-founder (with Tod Jonson, Ektor Carranza, Florence Pritikin and Pat Tanaka) in 1986 of the Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic (CASA).

Acknowledgments

  • My sincere thanks to Ricardo Santana for first bringing this artist to my attention, and to Richard Tingen and Judy Eager for sharing their memories of the artist.

Sources

  • El Ojo del Lago, September 1986
  • Valley News (Van Nuys, California): 1 February 1968, 74; 27 Aug 1968, 14; 24 Sep 1968, 24; 14 June 1973, 77; 14 January 1975, 26.

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

Dec 102020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mexicans at their most maddening:

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

—“Where is the ticket office?”

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

—“Well, when does it open?”

—“In the morning.”

—“At what time?”

—“In the morning – about noon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

—“And when will he open Monday?”

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Oct 222020
 

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

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

Design by Josefa

Design by Josefa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition of designs by Josefa

2004 exhibition of Mexican textiles and designs by Josefa

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

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

Josefa retired from designing clothing in the late 1980s.

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

Mysterious early life

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

Label in Josefa blouse

Label in Josefa blouse

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition of designs by Josefa

Exhibition of Mexican textiles and designs by Josefa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Sources

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

Oct 152020
 

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

Upton-Ajijic article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

Source

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

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

Aug 272020
 

Margaretha (Margaret) Van Gurp, a well known artist from eastern Canada, was born in Delft, Netherlands, 6 December 1926. She moved to Canada in 1953.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

In 1983, she spent three weeks with Susan Van Gurp, one of her daughters, in Jocotepec, Mexico. Susan Van Gurp was teaching at the Lakeside School for the Deaf, now the Centro de Atención Multiple Gallaudet (“Gallaudet Special Education Center”), from 1982 to 1984.

During Margaretha Van Gurp’s visit, she completed  a series of pen and ink drawings of the students at the school, as well as of other people in the town.

Margaret Van Gurp. Viviana.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Viviana.

Margaretha Van Gurp also painted several charming watercolors of life in the town.

Margaret Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

Margaretha Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

Van Gurp’s early art education (1945-1947) was under Gillis van Oosten in Delft, Netherlands. She also took courses at the College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, studied portrait sculpture in clay under Allison McNeil, and (1980) studied portraiture under David Leffel and Robert Philipp at the Art Students League of New York in the U.S. Her art has been widely shown in Eastern Canada.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaret Van Gurp has also illustrated books, such as Acadian Awakenings, and sculpted and painted mannequin heads for Parks Canada exhibits at several locations, including Castle Hill, Newfoundland; Citadel Hill Museum, Halifax; and Fort Anne, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

After a remarkable artistic career, Margaret Van Gurp died in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 14 August 2020. We extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends.

To learn more about this artist:

Note: the earliest version of this post was published on 18 December 2014.

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

Jul 302020
 

Portrait artist Betty Warren, later known as Betty Warren Herzog, was born in New York City on 6 January 1920. Her brightly colored portraits were in such demand that she became one of the highest paid female portraitists of the 20th century. In 1940, at age 20, she became the youngest woman in US History to hold a solo exhibit at a major US Museum (Berkshire Museum).

Betty Warren. Sketch of Seth Burgess.

Betty Warren. Sketch of Seth Burgess. Reproduced by kind permission of Seth Burgess.

Betty Warren first visited Lake Chapala in February 1974, when she and her husband (Jacob Herzog) visited a friend—Everett J. Parrys of Albany—who was staying at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala. Warren arranged to take the Helen Kirtland home in Ajijic for the following month to use as a studio. Two years later, Warren returned to Chapala, where she held a solo show of oils and drawings at the Villa Montecarlo in March. That show was sponsored by the Galeria del Lago (run by Helen Kirtland’s daughter, Katie Goodridge Ingram).

The following year, her third winter at the lake, Warren held another solo show of her works at the Galeria del Lago. That show ran from 26 February to 11 March.

In 1980, Warren was one of 11 painters whose work was shown in a group show in Guadalajara at the ex-Convento del Carmen. On that occasion, the other artists, almost all of whom had close ties to Lake Chapala, were Paul Fontaine, Daphne Aluta, Georg Rauch, Eleanor Smart, Richard Lapa, Stefan Lökös, Evelyne Boren, Digur Weber, Gustel Foust and Taffy Branham.

From the early 1980s, Warren and her husband spent her winters in Ajijic, where she maintained an art studio.

Betty Warren in Ajijic

Betty Warren in Ajijic

Betty Warren was the daughter of illustrator Jack A. Warren, cartoonist of Pecos Bill. She studied at the Art Students League in New York, the National Academy of Design, the Cape School of Art (summers, 1937-42) with Henry Hensche, Farnsworth School of Art, Sarasota, Florida, and the Reineke School in New Orleans. Warren was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts in 1991 by Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York.

Betty Warren taught at the Albany Institute of History and Art for seventeen years and co- founded The Palm Tree School of Art, in Sarasota, Florida, and The Malden Bridge School of Art, in Malden Bridge, New York.

She had more than 35 solo shows during her artistic career, and exhibited at Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, Allied Artists of America, American Water-Color Society, National Arts Club, Knickerbocker Artists, New York, and the Grand Central Art Galleries. Her last formal portrait was of Governor Hugh Carey for the State of New York in 1991. She died in Albany on 8 November 1993.

She one of the six wives of actor Stuart Lancaster (1920-2000). She had two sons: potter, sculptor and author Michael Dean Lancaster and landscape artist John Warren Lancaster. Following her divorce from Stuart Lancaster, Warren later married Jacob Herzog, a prominent attorney in upstate New York.

Betty Warren was a member of Grand Central Art Galleries, National Arts Club, American Artists Professional League,National League of American Pen Women, Pen & Brush.

Warren’s portraits can be found in the collections of the The University of Wisconsin; General Electric; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Albany Institute of History and Art, New York; the Malden Bridge School of Art; Hartwick College, New York; the New York State Supreme Court in Albany; and the Grand Lodge of New York.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published Oct 30, 2014

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 23 Feb 1974; 27 Mar 1976, 12 Feb 1977, 17.
  • El Informador: 28 Mar 1976; 26 Jan 1980.

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 072020
 

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

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

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

Emilio Pujol (left) and Gustavo Sendis, 1965

Emilio Pujol (left) and Gustavo Sendis, 1965

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

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

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

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

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments

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

Sources:

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

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

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

Apr 092020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments

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

Sources

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

Mar 192020
 

Ken Smedley and his wife, Dorianne Smedley-Kohl, lived and performed at Lake Chapala from 1978 until 1989. Ken was a long-time friend of George Ryga, and the couple stayed initially at Ryga’s “cottage” in San Antonio Tlayacapan, before moving later to Ajijic, where they rented a house opposite “La Rusa” on Calle Independencia.

Image: Cover art of Smedley’s “Arrest That Naked Image”

Ken Smedley is an actor, director and dramatist who grew up in Kamloops, British Columbia. Smedley has presented one-man shows such as “Three of a Certain Kind” at Fringe festivals in Edmonton and Vancouver (both in 1986) and was a founding member of the Western Canada Theatre Company, now a professional theatre. He has directed plays at the Phoenix Theatre in the U.K. and several radio plays for CBC.

During his time in Ajijic, Smedley wrote Horn Swoggled, an over-the-top Pinteresque black comedy set in Mexico. The play was performed as a stage reading at several locations – Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and Armstrong – in the interior of British Columbia in 1994.

The setting for Horn Swoggled is a gathering of relatives mourning the family’s dead matriarch, whose body lies in a casket in the living room. As the assorted relatives – including the priceless family patriarch, “Don Porfidio”, who clutches a gallon jug of tequila throughout – interact, they recall past events, recount differing versions of past events and argue angrily and vehemently with each other.

While the Smedleys were living in Mexico, Smedley directed several productions at Lake Chapala, including plays by Joanna Glass, Jack Heifner, David Marnet and Harold Pinter. Perhaps the single most noteworthy production was Smedley’s dinner-theater offering, in 1979 at the (Old) Posada Ajijic, of Portrait of a Lady, a Tribute to Margaret Laurence. This work, based on George Ryga’s seminal adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s classic novel The Stone Angel, featured Dorian Kohl’s acclaimed portrayal of heroine Hagar Shipley, a role Kohl has reprised numerous times since, in theaters across British Columbia.

Smedley was later appointed director of the George Ryga Centre, a cultural venue occupying Ryga’s former home in Summerland, British Columbia, Canada. Due to funding problems, the center closed in 2013.

Dorianne Smedley-Kohl (also known as Dorian Kohl) is a Canadian model, actress and artist. Dorianne was a fashion model in Toronto, New York, Paris and London for more than a decade, before becoming a regular on the “Wayne & Shuster Hour” on television. She has also appeared in the CBC TV series “The Party Game”, “The Actioneer” and many other works. Her stage performances include roles at Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre, in “The King and I” and in “Pal Joey”.

In 1988, Ken and Dorianne Smedley were instrumental in mounting the first (and only) Ajijic Fringe Theatre – “El Fringe” – which included performances by Dorianne in “Circle of the Indian Year”, and by Ken in “Ringside Date with the Angel”, alongside various other events.

smedley-kohl-diego

Terence “Diego” Smedley-Kohl

The couple’s son Terence “Diego” Smedley-Kohl was born in Ajijic and spent the first ten years of his life in Mexico. Diego later became a member of “El Mariachi (Los Dorados)”, a Canadian mariachi band that had the honor of playing at the prestigious International Mariachi Festival in Guadalajara a few years ago.

Want to find the play?

  • Ken Smedley. 1983. Horn Swoggled. Canada: Rich Fog Micro Publishing (2019).

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

Feb 062020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy your copy today: According to Soledad

Acknowledgment

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

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

Sep 262019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source

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

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

Sep 192019
 

Accomplished amateur artist Sid Miller painted and sculpted in Ajijic from 1982 to shortly before his death in 1998. His work was included in numerous local exhibitions, alongside that of friends such as Georg Rauch and Peter and Carole D’Addio.

Miller was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1912 to a Lithuanian Jewish couple who had met in New York; he was the youngest of six children. To help pay his tuition while studying politics and history at Brooklyn College, he made stained glass vent covers. When revisiting Brooklyn almost thirty years later in 1961, he was delighted to see that many of his decorative vents were still in place.

He was also a fine musician who, in his youth, played the clarinet and saxophone in jazz bands. While still in his twenties, Miller had played in bands on Hudson River boats, as well as in the Catskills and the Caribbean.

Miller met his future wife on a blind date in San Francisco in 1944, while awaiting being shipped out to Japan. She was a teacher, born in Detroit to parents of Hungarian heritage. They married three weeks later, barely a week before he left San Francisco to serve in Japan for 18 months.

The departure for the Far East was somewhat unexpected given that Miller had been preparing originally for a mission in Spain by taking intensive Spanish classes. The Spanish he acquired at this time proved to be extremely useful later in his life when he created a life in Mexico.

During his time in Asia, Miller sent regular letters back home, decorated with informal drawings. (This brings to mind the charming decorated envelopes used by Tink Strother when writing to her husband, Vane, while he was serving in the U.S. military.)

It was while serving with the U.S. Air Corps in the Pacific, in New Guinea, that Miller first began to carve wooden sculptures, selecting the female form as his preferred subject matter. Some of these sculptures, especially the ones of mother and child, are beautifully observed and executed.

After is safe return from the war, Miller and his wife settled in the San Fernando Valley, where he slowly built up a career, graduating from selling vacuum cleaners to marketing furniture and interior decorative items. Miller eventually established his own independent interior design business. Among his more noteworthy clients were the singer June Wayne (very popular at the time) and O. J. Simpson when he was married to his first wife.

Miller and his wife first visited Mexico in the 1950s, sightseeing in Mexico City and Acapulco. In the early 1970s, they visited Europe. Miller lost his wife, who worked as a teacher at private schools for emotionally disturbed children, owing to an unfortunate accident. A diabetic, she stepped on a tack while barefoot, acquired a serious infection, and died less than a year later in 1978.

Sid Miller and his wife at home in Ajijic.( Courtesy Judy Miller)

Photo of Sid Miller at his home in Ajijic. (courtesy Judy Miller)

Four years losing his wife, Miller moved to Mexico. He lived first in Vista del Lago, the subdivision east of Chapala that attracted a disproportionate number of retired military, before moving to Canacinta, just west of Ajijic. In 1988 he bought a house at the entrance to Villa Nova which he remodeled almost immediately to include a second bedroom and a casita. This home provided a wonderful backdrop for his art and was the perfect place for entertaining.

Sid Miller. Home in Ajijic. (courtesy Judy Miller)

Sid Miller’s own painting of his home in Ajijic. (courtesy Judy Miller)

A short man, Miller had something of the air of a distracted Einstein about him in his later years, an impression only heightened by his disheveled white hair; family photos support this uncanny resemblance.

Miller was an incredibly talented and creative individual. He was never made any effort to commercialize his art and gave away many of his original pieces as gifts to friends and family. Because he used what materials were at hand, including cardboard and off-cuts of wood, some of his work has not aged well. Nowhere is his propensity to use surplus materials more evident than in his highly-original irregular polygonal shapes and frames. Miller never had any formal art training and it took him about six weeks on average to complete one of his sculptures.

Sid Miller. UNtitled abstract. (Courtesy Ricardo Santana)

Sid Miller. Untitled abstract. (Courtesy Ricardo Santana)

Given the choice, he preferred sculpture to painting, saying in an interview in 1986 that he couldn’t paint but had “a natural inclination for the three dimensional figure.” “Sculpting”, he said, “relaxes me, it keeps me alive and young.”

His sculpture exhibits at Lake Chapala included a solo show at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan in March 1989. The accompanying promotional blurb praised his originality: “Sidney is as colorful as his work.”

Miller’s daughter, Judy Miller, retired to Ajijic a few years ago. She is also a distinguished artist whose preferred medium in retirement is pastels. Judy is a Master Circle Pastelist with the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS). Her artistic career, however, was as a ceramicist. After studying at U.C.L.A. and U.C. Berkeley in the early 1970s, she began working as a professional ceramicist, eventually making more than 50,000 hand-colored plates – depicting emotionally-engaged scenes from life – before retiring in 2002. This career stemmed from necessity and serendipity. When she moved into her first apartment, she had no tableware and decided to make her own plates, decorated with scenes from her past.

Both her ceramics and her superb pastels have been featured in numerous exhibits in the U.S. and elsewhere.

For more about her work, please visit her website.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Judy Miller for graciously sharing family memories with me and showing me many examples of her father’s varied work. My thanks, too, to Ricardo Santana for showing me several works by Sid Miller that are in his private collection.

Sources

  • Anon. “Portrait of the Artist”, El Ojo del Lago, April 1986.
  • El Ojo del Lago, March 1989.

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 232019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: This post was first published 30 March 2015.

Related posts:

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

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.

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.

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