Jul 272023
 

In a rare departure from my ongoing efforts to document the history of the authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala, this is a review of the Spanish language book Chapala: Ciudad Señorial e Insigne. Chapala cuenta su historia. (Chapala: Stately and Distinguished City. Chapala tells its history). This book, coordinated by Moisés Alejandro Anaya Aguilar, was published in 2022 by the Jalisco State Government.

book coverIts publication was timed to coincide with the designation of the City of Chapala as a “Ciudad Señorial e Insigne” (Stately and Distinguished City). The book has contributions by various writers and historians on a wide range of topics, from the early (precolonial) history and evangelization, to the events on Mezcala Island during the fight for independence, as well as details of the lives and contributions of certain key individuals to projects that established Chapala’s enduring appeal.

Interesting as many parts of the book are, perhaps—if a second edition is ever produced—the coordinator could see fit to consider some of the following suggestions?

The one line reference to “Henry Guillaume Galeotti” (page 68) offers no context or explanation for his inclusion. Henri (the correct spelling) Galeotti, was born in Paris, lived most of his life in Belgium, and deserves far more credit: he wrote the earliest truly scientific account of the lake, and his detailed report, based on a visit in February-March 1837, was an extraordinary achievement for the time.

The chapter “Nombre y origen,” first published many years ago, is closely based on Antonio de Alba’s 1954 book, Chapala. As valuable as de Alba’s book is, it offers only a partial list of the city’s many old villas and mansions, and it is also worth noting that the Hotel Nido and the Hotel Niza were both originally part of the famous Hotel Palmera, designed by Guillermo de Alba.

Devoting a short chapter to Alberto Braniff is a surprising choice. Braniff lived in Mexico City and spent only limited time in Chapala, where he had bought Casa Pérez Verdía (later known as Casa Braniff) for his mother. It is interesting to learn that Braniff, after agreeing to be a godparent for a local child, marked the occasion by throwing silver coins into the air, but surely Braniff was a peripheral figure among the many individuals who contributed more directly to the betterment of Chapala. The book rightly features the roles of Ignacio Arzapalo, Christian Schjetnan and Guillermo de Alba, but surely Septimus Crowe, Joseph Schnaider, Victor Huber (and several others) are at least as deserving of inclusion as Braniff?

A number of significant details in the section titled “Personajes y datos curiosos” are inexact. For instance, the “Naufragio del Vapor ‘Luisito’” occurred not in 1926 but in 1928 (as reported in El Informador and the New York Times), and the boat was not a steamboat (vapor) but a gasoline-powered motor launch. This section of the book is a miscellany and lacks any common thread.

The section of the book of most personal interest to me is “Chapala en sus inicios.” This is a period of Chapala’s history that holds a particular fascination for me as a geographer-historian. It is disappointing and annoying to read “Crow” for “Crowe” and “Garden” for “Carden” (143-144), and equally infuriating to read that Crowe first arrived in 1895, suffered from arthritis, and that he was somehow helped by Angelo Corsi. I have been debunking these and similar claims for years. The dates and chronology given for Crowe’s several houses in Chapala are inaccurate. And, though I agree with the author that the new 1960s’ version of the Montecarlo has no architectural merit, Sr. Crowe certainly did NOT sell the Villa Monte Carlo to Aurelio González Hermosillo, as claimed in this book (145-146).

The parts about Ignacio Arzapalo (and Guillermo de Alba) are similarly error-strewn. For example, evidence is totally lacking that de Alba designed the Hotel Arzapalo (146-7) or ever worked with Septimus Crowe (151). This section, a strange mix of fact and fiction, relies far too heavily on Antonio de Alba’s 1954 book.

Elsewhere, there was no such person as “Sra. Aurora Vidrio viuda de Arzapalo” (page 149) . The ONLY “viuda de Arzapalo” was María Pacheco, the second wife of Ignacio Arzapalo (senior) who built and owned the hotels. Their son, Ignacio Arzapalo Pacheco, had died a widower in 1904 and had never owned the hotels. It was his daughter, María Aurora—grandchild of Ignacio Arzapalo senior and María Pacheco—who inherited the hotels as a child.

Similarly, the account of Schjetnan’s early years in Mexico (page 153 on) contains grains of truth but the suggested chronology is unsupported by contemporary written sources. The capital for Schjetnan’s 1917 company (which successfully built the railroad) came largely from Norwegian investors, and most definitely not from state or federal funds. As a point of detail, the heavy rains and flooding which led to the closure of the Chapala railroad (page 180) occurred in 1926, not 1925.

The chapters about legends and local cuisine are a valuable part of this book, and an enjoyable read.

The chapter about photographer Jesús González Miranda (“El Chorchas”) is attributed in this book to Marco Antonio Castrañon Castro. Curiously, the text is identical to an article bylined by Javier Raygoza Munguía, published in the 18 December 1995 issue of PÁGINA Que sí se lee! Regardless of original author, this chapter repeats an unfortunate error in its penultimate sentence when it claims that Foto Esmeralda was the name of González’s photo studio. That studio had no connection to González and was (always) owned by a different photographer, José Cruz Padilla Sánchez.

Hopefully, some or all of these comments might be taken into account if or when a second edition is prepared for publication.

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.

Note: My own books about Chapala history include Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales which looks at the period from 1530 to 1910, and If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants, which considers Chapala in the twentieth century. The latter book is also available in Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes.

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

Jun 222023
 

Helen Marie Krustev, born in the USA on 16 September 1933, and wife of Bulgarian-born artist Dimitar Krustev, is an accomplished portraitist in her own right. Helen Marie had private art training in the Middle East before studying in Des Moines, Iowa, where Dimitar was one of her teachers. She continued to develop her own art while working with Dimitar on numerous cultural tours in Europe, Mexico and elsewhere.

Helen Marie Krustev. Untitled.

Helen Marie Krustev. Untitled.

Helen and her husband moved permanently to Ajijic in the year 2000. Her love of Mexico, and enthusiasm for portraying the country’s dozens of indigenous groups, shines through in her work. In recent years she has specialized in painting portraits, usually in acrylics, of people such as the Tarahumar, Huichol, Cora and Maya, depicted in their colorful traditional clothing, and often facing away from the artist.

Helen Marie Krustev. Canoa y chinchorro.

Helen Marie Krustev. Canoa y chinchorro.

Helen’s work has been exhibited, often alongside that of her husband, in several galleries in Mexico. In 1989 the couple held a joint showing of their work at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan. In February 2000, they held another noteworthy joint exhibit, titled Caras de México, in the lobby of the Las Hadas hotel in Manzanillo.

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.

Source

  • Diario de Colima, 25 Feb 2000.

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

Jun 082023
 

Juan (‘Juanito’) Olivarez Sánchez was born in Ajijic on 12 July 1944 and died there at the age of 77 on 28 May 2022.

Like numerous other local artists in Ajijic, Olivarez’ interest in art began as a student of the Children’s Art Program (CAP) started by Neill James. Olivarez was among the first generation of students to benefit from CAP which began in the mid-1950s.In the 1960s, Olivarez helped teach the next generation of youngsters. Later students of Juan Olivarez included, in the early 1990s, Bruno Mariscal, described by Lyn Adams as: “Truly a jack-of-all-trades, this talented man is also a well-known rotulista or sign painter. His padrino, Juan Olivarez, started training him in this craft when he was around 18 years old.”

Olivarez’ considerable artistic talent was recognized by the highly experienced art educator Jack Rutherford, a professional Californian artist then living in Ajijic with his wife and their four children. Rutherford was instrumental in arranging for Olivarez to spend several weeks in Studio City (then Ajijic’s sister city) in 1970. Rutherford persuaded Studio City Chamber of Commerce to sponsor Olivarez and to find him a family to board with while he took art classes. Rutherford and his family drove Olivarez up to Studio City, where he was a house guest of the Heckers; Mrs Robert Hecker was a fellow art student. A lively welcome reception in Studio City was held in honor of Olivarez’ arrival before the Rutherford family carried on to spend the summer in Laguna Beach.

Juan Olivarez. Untitled landscape. Coll-JLV

Juan Olivarez. c 1960. Untitled landscape in the Neill James Collection. Reproduced by kind permission of his family.

Jesús López Vega informed me that Olivarez was a member of the “Jardín del Arte,” a group of young local artists at the start of the 1970s, which later became known as “Asociación de Artistas de Ajijic.” This group was a forerunner of the “Ajijic Society of the Arts” (which continues to this day), the largest organization of its kind for artists (Mexican and foreign) in the area.

By 1975, Olivarez was directing a gallery in Ajijic, the Galería de los Artistas Cooperativos, a sign of the bustling art scene in the village at the time. Competing with the long-running Galería del Lago, the Galería de los Artistas Cooperativos was located at 16 de Septiembre #9. It opened on 14 December 1975 with a solo show of 25 works by Frank Barton, an American artist then living in Ajijic, fresh off a successful show in Mexico City.

Olivarez had become interested in photography from a relatively early age, initially acquiring a simple Kodak camera to help him develop his drawing technique, and then discovering the lure of photography as a hobby. He was probably the first native-born photographer to become Ajijic’s unofficial village photographer, taking over this role from, among others, Beverly Johnson.

Juan Olivarez. El Charracate. Reproduced by kind permission of Tom Thompson.

Juan Olivarez. El Charracate. Reproduced by kind permission of Tom Thompson.

Olivarez photographed hundreds of family gatherings, parties and special occasions, and amassed an extensive collection of photographs of Ajijic, covering a very wide range of subjects and events, many of them no longer celebrated in quite the way they once were. Late in life, recounting his experiences to journalist Sofía Medeles, he explained how his photos had originally cost only 50 centavos each. His photographic business was unable to survive the advent of the smartphone, which replaced conventional cameras.

Alongside his photography, Olivarez continued to paint small pictures and do some commercial sign painting. Many of his paintings remain in possession of his family and I hope to add additional images of his work to this profile shortly.

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

  • Lyn Adams. 2007. “The gallery and art of Bruno Mariscal.” MexConnect.com
  • Sofía Medeles. 2022. “Remembering Juan “Juanito” Olivares, prolific photographer of Ajijic.” Semanario Laguna, 15 de junio de 2022.
  • The Van Nuys News: 26 Jun 1970, 17.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 13 Dec 1975.

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 252023
 

Dimitar Iliev Krustev (1920-2013) was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, on 12 January 1920 and died in Ajijic on 11 February 2013. After studying at The Natioual Academy of Art for Portrait Painting in Sofia, Krustev served in the army under German rule for three years during the second world war. He moved to the US in 1947 to take a bachelor’s degree in commercial art at Kent State University, and then completed a masters degree in art history at the University of Iowa.

Dimitar Krustev. Portrait of a young man. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Dimitar Krustev. 1969. Portrait of a young man. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Krustev took US citizenship and he and his wife, Helen Marie, a former student, lived most of their married life in Des Moines, Iowa. Krustev worked as a commercial artist for the Des Moines-based magazine Better Homes and Gardens for nine years before opening the Des Moines Krustev Studio of Art. Krustev, who specialized in portraiture, loved teaching art, and many of his hundreds of students went on to enjoy considerable commercial and personal success. Krustev also enjoyed leading art study groups to Europe, Ajijic and elsewhere.

In the 1960s, as a member of The Explorer’s Club, Krustev began to travel to distant locations to document, photograph and paint the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In 1968 he became the first person known to have successfully navigated the Usumacinta River from its headwaters in Guatemala to the Gulf of México. Krustev’s fascination with people living in near isolation in what are commonly perceived as extreme environments led to his particular interest in the plight of the Lacandon Maya who live in the rain forest of Chiapas in southern Mexico.

Krustev’s experiences resulted in several books, including River of the Sacred Monkey (1970), Voices in the Night (1992), The Journals of Dimitar Krustev, an Artist–Explorer (Volume One) (1996), Black Hand Over the Jungle (1997), and Lacondón Journal 1969: From the Journals of Dimitar Krustev Artist-Explorer, published by Editorial Mazatlán in December 2012, only months before the artist’s death. His books and journals, supported by exquisite portraits, provide extraordinary insights into the changing daily lifes of the people who befriended him at a time when their traditional way of life was under siege from modernizing influences. Krustev is also the subject of a film titled The Bulgarian Gaugin.

After traveling back and forth between Des Moines and Ajijic for almost thirty years, Krustev and his wife established their home and studios in Ajijic in the year 2000. Ajijic became their base for more traveling, painting, teaching, and many joint shows. Among the artists inspired by Krustev are Pauli Zmolek (who painted her own scenes of the Chapala area) and Lois Black.

Dimitar Krustev. Boats of Ajijic. (Greetings card)

Dimitar Krustev. Boats of Ajijic. (Greetings card)

This conté drawing titled Boats of Ajijic shows typical fishing boats and fishing nets on the shore of lake, with Cerro Garcia in the background.

Krustev’s first major show in Mexico was in 1972 when he presented portraits and landscapes at the Mexican-North American Cultural Institute in the Zona Rosa, Mexico City. He also exhibited in Guadalajara and throughout Europe and the USA.

His earliest recorded exhibit in Ajijic (which accompanied a showing of his film of the Lacandon Maya) was at the Posada Ajijic in August 1977. He first ran workshops in Ajijic at about this time. Four years later, in 1981, he advertised an 11-day workshop in Ajijic for $552.60 a person; the fee included air fare from Omaha, room and art instruction.

In 1989, Krustev and his wife, Helen Marie Krustev, held a joint showing of their work at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan. They held another noteworthy joint exhibit, titled Caras de México, in the lobby of the Las Hadas hotel in Manzanillo in February 2000.

Several of their shows in Mexico were organized by Katie Goodridge Ingram, who ran two successful art galleries in Ajijic—Galería del Lago and Mi México—for many years. Ingram explained to me that “Many of his works were a combination of conté and charcoal and pastels, though he also painted in oils” and that she was enthralled by his work among the Lacandon:

partly because of their inherent beauty and their attempts to preserve their old ways and partly because of the tragedy involved in the confluence of two cultures. I admired the adventurer who went into the jungle and, fearing the imminent extinction of these people, drew the wonderful faces, garb and lifestyle of the Lacandon Indians.”

[Katie Goodridge Ingram is the author of According to Soledad: memories of a Mexican childhood, a fascinating fictionalized memoir of growing up in Ajijic in the 1940s and 1950s.]

Krustev’s work has been exhibited all over the world, and his paintings are in many prominent, private collections in Africa, USA, Europe and Mexico, where several fine examples are in the permanent collection of Ajijic Museo de Arte.

Papers and archives

The Human Studies Film Archives of the Smithsonian include two color silent film reels from Krustev’s trips (in the 1970s and 1996), as well as 180 35mm transparencies and two sound cassettes. His manuscripts and journals are archived at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.

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

  • Diario de Colima: 25 Feb 2000.
  • Ojo del Lago, March 1989.
  • Des Moines Register: (obituary) 3 Mar 2013.
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram, personal communication.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 20 Aug 1977, 17; 11 April 1998, 13; 5 Nov 2011; 3 Jan 2014;
  • Kent Stater: 28 Oct 1947.
  • Omaha World Herald: 7 June 1981.
  • David Bodwell and Richard Grabman (editors). 2013. Lancandon Journal—1969: From the Journals of Dimitar Krustev: Artist-Explorer. Editorial Mazatlán.

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 062023
 

The sculptor (María) Leticia Moreno Buenrostro (1930-2016) began her artistic career as a child. Moreno was born in Tizapán el Alto on the southern shore of Lake Chapala on 30 November 1930. Her grandfather and one of her uncles had apiaries, and Moreno used to take some of the wax to model small figurines of animals: horses, dogs and cats. She later began to make human forms by carving sticks she found in her own garden.

Moreno entered the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas (San Carlos) in Mexico City in 1953, and graduated from that institution in 1957. She was awarded a Masters in Fine Arts in 1960 and taught wood sculpting at the Escuela Nacional for fifty years before retiring in 2009. Several of her students have gone on to become professional sculptors.

Tizapan el Alto

Moreno produced 61 major wood sculptures during her career. Because she chose to live for her art, not from her art, she exhibited only infrequently. Her major shows, all in Mexico City, were at the Bienal de Escultura del Museo de Arte Moderno (1979), the Museo Universitario del Chopo and the Academia de San Carlos. Moreno was awarded a second place medal in a competition among the teachers in the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas.

In 1990, Moreno was commissioned to design a coat-of-arms for her native town, Tizapán del Alto. Below the name (derived from “place of Tizatl, where the river passes”) is a circle adorned with blue green feathers, from which protrude six obsidian-tipped arrows. The central area of the shield includes a representation of the Río de la Pasión entering Lake Chapala, along with two stylized buildings made of reeds and thatch, with a line of footsteps indicating the long journey made by the town’s ancestors to reach this idyllic location.

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.

Chapter 4 of Lake Chapala: A Postcard History is devoted to the early history and importance of Tizapán el Alto and the southern shore of Lake Chapala.

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.

Mar 162023
 

This post considers the extraordinarily productive career of historian Álvaro Ochoa Serrano, who has dedicated much of his life to writing about his two main loves: Lake Chapala and mariachi (in its broad historical sense of music, folkloric dancing and partying).

These two interests are not necessarily as unrelated as you might think since some linguists believe that the word mariachi derives from the indigenous Coca language, spoken at the lake centuries ago.

From birth, Ochoa was destined to become a historian of Lake Chapala. Having been born in 1948 in La Barca, Jalisco, his birth was registered in Jiquilpan, Michoacán, so he started life with one foot in each of the two states that border the lake.

Alvaro-Ochoa-portada-1

Ochoa gained his bachelor’s degree at the Escuela Normal Superior De Mexico (1978), and then completed his masters in history at the Iberoamerican University (1988) and a PhD in history (1998) at the Universidad of California, Los Ángeles. He is a member of Mexico’s National Researchers’ System, and of the National Commission for the Preservation of Mariachi.

For many than 35 years, Ochoa has been a professor and researcher in the Zamora-based Colegio de Michoacán, where his major projects included one titled “Personajes y tradiciones populares del Occidente de México”. (Characters and Popular Traditions of Western Mexico). The Colegio de Michoacán, which was directed for many years by distinguished environmental anthropologist Brigitte Boehm Schondübe (1938-2005), has a long tradition of outstanding academic research related to Lake Chapala.

Alvaro-Ochoa-portada-2

During his distinguished academic career, Ochoa has contributed articles to dozens of journals and has co-authored Breve Historia de Michoacán (2011) and Cancionero Michoacano 1830-1940, Canciones, Cantos, Pirekuas, Coplas y Corridos (second edition in press).

Alvaro-Ochoa-portada-3

Books of his sole authorship include Los Insurgentes de Mezcala (1985); Viajes de michoacanos al norte (1998); Los agraristas de Atacheo (1989); … Y nos volvemos a encontrar: migración, identidad y tradición cultural (2001); Resplandor de la Tierra Caliente michoacana: paisaje y sociedad en la era colonial (2004); Los Insurrectos de Mezcala y Marcos. Relación crónica de una resistencia en Chapala (2007); La música va a otra parte. Mariache México-USA (2015); Mitote, Fandango y Mariacheros (2018); Afrodescendientes, Sobre Piel Canela (2020); La Ciénega de Chapala. Cuatro textos a flote (2023).

Ochoa’s work related to mariachi gained him a prestigious Vicente Mendoza Award. His beautifully written paper directly connecting Lake Chapala and mariachi, titled “Chapala, otra cuna del mariachi” (Chapala, another cradle of mariachi), will be published by El Colegio de Jalisco later this year.

Ochoa’s books are available via Spanish-language bookstores and online via http://www.libreriacolmich.com/ amazon.com.mx and bookstore sites such as https://www.gandhi.com.mx (tip: search using “Alvaro Ochoa Serrano”)

Note

Though we never met in person, I am greatly indebted to Brigitte Boehm Schondübe, whose very kind words in print helped inspire my own efforts to disseminate a greater understanding of the ecology and history of the Lake Chapala area.

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.

Chapter 6 of Lake Chapala: A Postcard History is an English-language account of some of the changes that occurred in the area near Ocotlán during the twentieth century.

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

Mar 092023
 

More than sixty years after his first solo exhibit in 1951, Canadian artist Duncan de Kergommeaux displayed a series of charcoal and graphite on mylar drawings called “Winter Days,” completed following a visit to Lake Chapala in 2006.

Duncan de Kergommeaux was born in Premier, in northern British Columbia, on 15 July 1927. His career as an artist began in 1951 at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta, and in Victoria, British Columbia, under the Czech artist Jan Zach. In 1953 de Kergommeaux completed a mural for the Victoria Times in Victoria, B.C.

He then moved to Ottawa, Ontario. During his seventeen years there, he taught art, painted, and founded the Blue Barn Gallery. He also continued to study art. From 1955-57 de Kergommeaux took summer classes at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Then, in 1958 he used a Canada Council Grant to to travel in Mexico and study at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende. Among the paintings from that trip auctioned in recent years are several seascapes and the gouache abstract titled “Cathedral interior, Mexico.”

Duncan de Kergommeaux. 1958. Cathedral interior Mexico.

Duncan de Kergommeaux. 1958. Cathedral interior, Mexico. Gouache. Credit: Walker’s Auction House, Ottawa.

From 1970 to 1993, de Kergommeaux was professor of Visual Arts at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario. While on the faculty there de Kergommeaux took three full-year study leaves in New York City (1980-81), Paris and New York City (1984-85) and Paris (1989-90).

In his long artistic career, which has spanned more than five decades, de Kergommeaux has held more than 50 solo exhibitions across Canada, and his work has been included in dozens of group shows, including the Third and Sixth Biennials of Canadian art at the National Gallery of Canada. During 1967-68 the National Gallery circulated his work and that of George de Niverville in a two-person exhibit that traveled across Canada. One of his paintings hangs in the dining room of the Prime Minister’s Residence at 24 Sussex Drive, and several others hang in Rideau Hall (the official residence of the Governor General of Canada). Three years after his retirement from academia in 1993, a permanent study collection of his works was established at Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa.

Duncan de Kergommeaux. 2006. Winter days Lake Chapala #4. Credit: Ottawa Art Gallery.

Duncan de Kergommeaux. 2006. Winter days Lake Chapala #4. Credit: Ottawa Art Gallery.

In 2006, de Kergommereaux spent some weeks in San Juan Cosalá on Lake Chapala, where he completed a body of work depicting the lake. These works were included in a solo show titled “New Horizons” at the Wallack Galleries in Ottawa, Ontario, the following year. A reviewer for the Ottawa Citizen wrote that his [Lake Chapala] work:

shares the artist’s fascination with capturing the same view at different times. This series of Lake Chapala and the village of San Juan Cosala that hugs its shoreline is dark and brooding, with grays and black predominating, although in some, the darkness is slightly relieved by hints of violet, blue, green, pink and red.”

In a refreshingly forthright statement to the reviewer, the 80-year-old de Kergommereaux stated that “”I think that many artists spend far too much time talking about their paintings. I honestly do. They explain them to death.”

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 focus on the history of the art community at Lake Chapala.

Sources

  • Connie Higginson-Murray. 2007. “New vistas at gallery. Artist’s first solo exhibit in Ottawa in 20 years.” The Ottawa Citizen, 28 November 2007.
  • Wallach Galleries. 2007. “Duncan de Kergommeaux: New Horizons.”

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

Jan 052023
 

One of the modern myths of Lakeside is that long term American resident and benefactor Neill James, author of Dust on my Heart, was the originator of the phrase “When once the dust of Mexico has settled upon your heart, you cannot then find peace in any other land.”

Dust on my Heart, published in 1946, was James’ final book, the only published work she wrote in Ajijic, and the only one of her books to include descriptions of life in the village. However, you only have to read the first page of the book to realize that James never claimed any credit for the “dust of Mexico” quote; she fully acknowledged that it was an existing saying and not an original line. What James 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.’”

In several modern accounts, this has been modified to:

Neill James wrote, “Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart, you can never go home again.””

In the years since James, several other authors utilized versions of the same saying. The most famous of these authors is Malcolm Lowry, who writes in Under the Volcano, that “He upon whose heart the dust of Mexico has lain, will find no peace in any other land.”

In recent years, Carolena Torres chose Dust on Their Hearts as the title of her debut novel, which is partially set at Lake Chapala. She paraphrases the original proverb as, “When the dust of Mexico falls upon your heart, you will never be the same.”

How or where did Neill James first encounter the proverb? Immediately prior to her arrival in Ajijic in 1943, James had spent several months in and out of a Mexico City hospital following a climbing accident and a volcanic eruption. It is entirely possible that it was in the hospital or shortly afterwards, during her convalescence  in the spa town of Ixtapan de la Sal, that she read Dust of Mexico , a romance novel by Ruth Comfort Mitchell. Embedded in the story line of this novel, first published in 1941, is this version of the saying: “Once the dust of Mexico has settled on your heart, never can you rest in any other land.”

On first hearing it, the central character in Dust of Mexico—Priscilla Carpenter, a staid, single New York librarian—laughs at the idea. However, she changes her opinion after being taken on a trip to Mexico by a married, frivolous aunt, who promises Priscilla’s mother that there will be no men on the study tour of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women. But there are men, including a famous radio comedian and an ambitious American doctor, and in the process of choosing between several men, Priscilla “gains a knowledge of the romance and lure of Mexico.” Prior to publication as a novel, Dust of Mexico had been serialized in Women’s Home Companion.

Or perhaps James had read Anita Brenner? A decade earlier, renowned Mexican author and art critic Anita Brenner (1905-1974) quoted an almost identical version of the same proverb on the very first page of her Your Mexican Holiday: A Modern Guide, published in 1932: “Because there is a proverbial obsession expressed in a line which goes: ‘Once the dust of Mexico has settled on your heart, you have no rest in any other land.’ Mexico means something to you…” Three years earlier, Brenner had included this line on page 15 of Idols Behind Altars (1929): “But with the dust of Mexico upon it, that heart can find no rest in any other land.”

Within Mexico, it is common to see a translation of the “dust of Mexico” saying attributed directly to Brenner, failing to recognize that, like Neill James, she was not claiming any credit for the saying, merely quoting it. Several institutions and newspapers that should know better have done this, including Mexico’s National Museum of Art and Mexico City’s El Universal, and Nexus.

And there are earlier users in print of the saying than Brenner. For instance, in 1923, reporter, artist and screenwriter Wallace Smith used an extremely similar version in The little tigress; tales out of the dust of Mexico, a collection of stories set during the Revolution. He opened the chapter titled “Dust of Mexico” as follows:

“Once the dust of Mexico has settled on your heart there can be no rest for you in any other land. That is a saying in Mexico. It is spoken proudly and sometimes hopelessly. The truth of it is in the empty, seeking eyes of exiles in other countries- in places far away from the land of golden lights and purple shadows.” Smith was a talented cartoonist and “these tales of love, treachery, courage, and adventure are illustrated by the author’s atmospheric drawings from his field sketchbook.”

He, too, makes it clear that it is an old saying, not his original creation.

If you can add other early instances of the use of versions of the “Dust on my Heart” saying in mainstream works, please get in touch!

– See comments for details of a 1935 version of the saying in Vultures in the Sky by Todd Downing.

References in reverse chronological order

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.

To read more about Neill James and her life in Ajijic, see chapters 13, 14, 21, 26, 34 and 39 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

Sources

  • Roberta C Gilman. 1941. “Lure of Mexico Gets in Blood.” Detroit Free Press, 14 September 1941.
  • New York Times. “Dust of Mexico. By Ruth Comfort Mitchell.” New York Times, 16 Feb 1941.
  • Mexican Life, June 1941, p 39.

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

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 full 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 202022
 

Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Philip Rosheger (1950-2013) began his musical career with childhood piano lessons before taking up the guitar in 1962. His progression as a guitarist was exceptionally rapid. By his mid-teens, he was taking master classes in Spain with José Tomás and the legendary Andrés Segovia, and his protégés, José Tomás and José Luis Rodrigo. He subsequently performed in the master classes given by Venezuelan virtuoso Alirio Diaz in Alessandria, Italy.

His guitar playing earned him many awards during his stay in Europe from 1966 to 1974, and he became the first American ever to win First Prize at the International Guitar Competition in Santiago de Compostela.

Philip Rosheger

Philip Rosheger. Credit: unknown

At a lifetime of concerts and recitals in Spain, Canada and throughout the US, Rosheger displayed “his flawless technique, his tone of very best quality, his responsive personality and his exquisite sensitivity,” at venues such as Carnegie Recital Hall, Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and Bovard Auditorium at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Rosheger was on the faculty of San Francisco Conservatory of Music from 1975 to 1978 and Sonoma State University in Northern California from 1979 to 1989. In addition to playing, he became an acclaimed composer who performed many of his original compositions in public.

Rosheger was visiting a former student, Jim Byers, in Chapala in 2008 when he composed “Clear Southern Sky,” which he dedicated to his host. “Clear Southern Sky” was first recorded by Eddie Lara on his disc titled “840″ and first performed in public in 2021 at the Centro Cultural González Gallo en Chapala.

Sources

  • Julio Garcia Casas, El Correo de Andalucia, Seville, Spain.
  • Program notes for a South Bay Guitar Society 1994 concert
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

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. 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.

Apr 072022
 

Howard Fryer’s memoir, El Nitty Gritty, published in 2010, is perhaps the most deliberately provocative account of life at Lake Chapala ever written. Who was Howard Fryer, and what did he write?

Who was Howard Fryer?

Born in Reading, UK, on 11 March 1941, Fryer was only a young child when he moved with his mother to Toronto in 1947. His mother and stepfather subsequently renovated the historic Aberfoyle Mill into a fine restaurant. Howard’s half brother, Peter Owens, was a hot air balloon pilot who held several ballooning world records.

Fryer trained as an industrial engineer, and worked for Continental Can Company, before starting his own company, Howard Fry and Associates, to invent and market products. The numerous patents registered to Fryer and his company include one for lightweight, washable, “inflatable, double-walled resilient sleeves for use in forming surgical casts,” and for a wearable “game playing apparatus.”

Fryer-El-Nitty-Gritty

According to an article in El Ojo del Lago, Fryer was an amateur sculptor and held three solo exhibits of works in stone and steel in Toronto. (If anyone can supply further details of any of these exhibitions, please get in touch!)

Fryer first arrived in Mexico, driving a new Honda, in early 1977, and headed straight for Roca Azul, near Jocotepec, where his mother had retired and built a house a few years earlier.

Fryer fell in love with Mexico, and with a beautiful mexicana: Thelma Yolanda (Yoly) Esqueda Aguilar (1945-2007). When the couple married in Texas in September 1981, their witnesses were Jocotepec-based artists Georg and Phyllis Rauch.

Fryer and his wife joined with Morley Eager (of Posada Ajijic fame) to help run the La Quinta hotel in Jocotepec. When Eager decided to focus exclusively on Posada Ajijic, the Fryers took over managing La Quinta. Fryer then had a specialist pizza oven made in Guadalajara so that he could introduce pizzas to Jocotepec.

After five years, La Quinta closed its doors in December 1984, when the building’s owners were only prepared to renew the rental contract at a significantly higher rent. A few years later, the same owners first destroyed the architectural integrity of the historic building, and then demolished it.

La Quinta, Jocotepec, January 1983. Credit: Susan Van Gurp; all rights reserved.

La Quinta, Jocotepec, January 1983. Credit: Susan Van Gurp; all rights reserved.

Shortly after leaving La Quinta, the Fryers opened “Los Naranjitos” restaurant at Calle Hidalgo #10 in Ajijic, where the main entrance door had previously served as a jail door in Jocotepec. The restaurant became deservedly popular, famed for the best pizzas in the region. Fryer’s third foray into restaurants was to run (briefly) the El Faro restaurant at the sports club subdivision in Roca Azul.

After leaving the restaurant business, Fryer was prompted by the then nascent raspberry-growing craze in Jocotepec to start a jam-making business using the fruit that was rejected for export. Fryer and his associates, with their four full-time staff, developed a range of gourmet products under the Jacaranda brand. Fryer became one of the first local businesses to be awarded a contract to supply a major international retailer that had just entered the Guadalajara market: Wal-Mart.

Howard and Yoly were generous givers to the local community in Jocotepec. Their most lasting contribution was to hold a Christmas lunch for the town’s old folks, a tradition which continues to this day. They prepared and served a full festive meal to 20 Jocotepec seniors the first year, 100 the following year, and 350 in year three.

What did Howard Fryer write?

El Nitty Gritty is a colorful collection of 66 short pieces—most of them anecdotal, some verging on the bizarre—written with affection and good humor.

Among Fryer’s many business cards was one for the (fictitious) “International Society of Freelance Journalists” which named him as a writer for National Geographic! This helped him gain access to some unlikely people and places.

Several characters who would otherwise be forgotten grace the pages of this book. They include Carla Manger, described by Fryer as a former ballet dancer, who had been “one of Hitler’s favorites and danced for him on numerous occasions,” and “Pipeline” Jimmy, an American who installed the water system in Yelapa and died of a heart attack while driving his Cadillac convertible past Piedra Barrenada. And then there is the tale of an honorary Canadian consul, who, when his wife was out of town, accompanied Fryer for a raucous evening with several young ladies at the infamous Kiko’s bar in San Juan Cosalá.

One particularly interesting story explains how the Reina Guadalupe, a faux-paddlesteamer large enough to ferry 350 people and 6 cars across the lake, ended up abandoned on Jocotepec beach. It was still there, rusting away, when I first visited in 1980.

In addition to several stories relating to La Quinta, Fryer includes some self-effacing stories about his numerous business ventures in Mexico, such as making jewelry, preserving insects in gold and silver, hoarding peso coins post-devaluation (hoping to make a fortune out of their metal value), and trading anything from which he thought he might turn a profit—from Mexican orchids, handicrafts and antiquities to Nayarit opals and Chiapas amber.

Howard Fryer, one of Lakeside’s more enterprising, talented and extraordinary characters, died in Penticton, BC, on 14 November 2013.

Sources:

  • El Ojo del Lago, October 1985.
  • Howard Fryer. 2010. El Nitty Gritty. Thirty years in Mexico. Self published.

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

Oct 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 302021
 

Hungarian-Canadian artist Michael Fischer visited Lake Chapala several times in the early 1990s, including a lengthy stay one winter at San Juan Cosalá. He was in the final stages of planning to bring a group of artists and art students from Canada for a three-week stay at Lake Chapala when his wife was taken seriously ill. Her subsequent passing derailed all Fischer’s plans for the three-week workshop, which had the endorsement of the Northumberland Art Gallery in Cobourg, Toronto. The workshop was to have included classes taught by Fischer and by Jocotepec-based Austrian artist Georg Rauch.

Michael Fischer was born in Budapest, Hungary, and educated in that city at the City College, Academy of Art and the Orkenyi Strasser School of Art. His most influential teacher was Ödön Márffy, one of Hungary’s leading expressionist painters, a founder member of the group of Eight, and credited with introducing cubism, Fauvism and expressionism to the country.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Ajijic. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Ajijic. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Alongside his own painting, and regular exhibits at art shows in Hungary, Fischer was the art director for the Budapest City Theatre, where he specialized in set design. Fischer was multi-talented and also produced graphic panels and advertising art for trade shows and the movie industry.

A year after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, Fischer moved to Toronto, Canada. He quickly found his feet, becoming involved in creating advertising, editorial and book illustrations, as well as undertaking commissions, both for private individuals and for institutions such as the Canadian Red Cross, Toronto Dominion Bank, and major insurance firms. He also painted numerous murals for restaurants and private homes. He was represented by Studio 737 Art Gallery (now closed) which was located a short distance north of Tweed, Ontario.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Laundry in Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Laundry in Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

From 1975 to 1987, Fischer taught illustration and composition at George Brown College.

His works are represented in many private and public collections in Canada, the USA and several European countries. “Proficient in all media… his landscapes, still life, figurative compositions and portraits are unique in their execution and excellence.”

Fischer undertook extensive research trips to Latin America and he painted many portraits of native people in Canada and Mexico. He particularly liked Mexico, and the Lake Chapala region, saying that “In Mexico it’s inspiring, the way people live so simply in religious and national customs.”

Fischer died in Toronto on 20 April 2018.

If anyone can supply more details about Michael Fischer’s life and work, please get in touch.

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

May 062021
 

Californian poet and novelist Jan Richman’s poem “Ajijic” was first published in 1994, and included in her first poetry collection, Because the Brain Can Be Talked Into Anything, which won the 1994 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets.

Jan Richman- book cover

Born in La Jolla, Richman graduated from Torrey Pines High School before studying English and Theatre at University of California, Irvine. She then completed a BA degree in Creative Writing and English at San Francisco State University and a Masters in Creative Writing at New York University.

Richman taught at the City College of San Francisco, and lost a job at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco (following a controversy over a gratuitously violent story written by a student), before working as a freelance proof reader and copy editor. She has also been an associate editor and columnist for SFGate.com (San Francisco Chronicle).

Poems by the multi-award winning Richman have appeared in numerous magazines including The Nation, Ploughshares, Comet, Kenyon Review, The Bloomsbury Review and Luna.

Richman is also the author of the novel Thrill-Bent (2012) in which she gives her own name to the narrator, a writer for BadMouth Magazine, “NYC’s Premier Cultural Crap Detector,” who is given an assignment to report on roller coasters around the country set for demolition. Her final stop is in California.

Precisely when or why Jan Richman visited Ajijic is currently unknown. Her poem “Ajijic” first appeared in the Winter 1993-94 issue of the literary journal Ploughshares. (The journal is archived online and the poem can be read in its entirety via the link in “Sources”)

Here are a few sample lines from “Ajijic” –

I came down to the water
to escape the feuding, infallible generations.
In my grandfather’s eye is my father’s eye, and so on.

* * *

These clean girls will circle the plaza clockwise,
entwined in pairs, throbbing to be plucked from the wheel.
I’ll dance in the bar with Mexican boys
who’ll squeeze my ass and tell my white throat, You,
alone, are beautiful.

Sources

  • Jan Richman. 1994. “Ajijic.” Ploughshares, Vol. 19, No. 4, Borderlands (Winter, 1993/1994), 16.
  • Jan Richman. 1995. Because the Brain Can Be Talked into Anything: poems. Louisiana State University Press.
  • Jan Richman. 2012. Thrill-Bent. Tupelo Press.

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 252021
 

Sandra Scofield’s first novel, Gringa, was based on the author’s extensive travels in Mexico in the 1960s. The novel is set in the violent turbulence of 1968 when, a few weeks before the opening of the Olympic Games in Mexico City, hundreds of students protesting in Tlatelolco Plaza were massacred by soldiers.

Scofield-cover-GringaThe “gringa” of the book’s title is Abilene “Abby” Painter, a 25-year-old Texan who is trapped in “an abusive, torrid relationship” with Antonio Velez, a famous Mexican bullfighter. In the words of Publishers Weekly, “her self-esteem is so paltry that she serves as a sexual doormat for her swaggering lover” whose “pride in his animal trophies points up the obvious analogy between his mistresses and these slain creatures.” The student protests and their aftermath finally open Abby’s eyes to what she really wants, but can she escape without losing her life? In addition to sex, violence and death, the book explores the full range of animal instincts and the dichotomy between chance and choice in individuals’ lives.

Several acclaimed novels later, Scofield’s A Chance to See Egypt is (despite its title) also set in Mexico, and was written following a trip to Lake Chapala in the early 1990s. Events in A Chance to See Egypt take place against a backdrop of two villages (Lago de Luz and Tecatitlán) on a fictionalized Lake Chapala. The novel, which won the Best Fiction award from the Texas Institute of Letters in 1996, will be considered in more detail in a separate post.

Though she spent most of her adult life in Oregon and Montana, Sandra Scofield was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1943. She attended Our Lady of Victory Academy in Fort Worth before graduating from Odessa High School in 1960. She then studied at Odessa Junior College and the University of Texas, where she completed a B.A. in Speech in 1964. She first visited Mexico shortly before graduation.

After studying theatre at Northern Illinois University (1967-68), Scofield had a one-year acting fellowship at Cornell University the following year. After divorcing her first husband in 1974, Scofield remarried and moved to Oregon, where she returned to academic life to gain a masters degree related to language education (1977)  and a doctorate (1979) from the University of Oregon.

Scofield taught in high schools and colleges before deciding to write full time in 1983. After establishing her writing career, she occasionally gave classes at writers festivals (such as the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in 1993) and as a visiting lecturer in MFA programs. Scofield later joined the faculty of the Solstice MFA low residency program at Pine Manor College in Maryland.

Her literary awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1991); the Texas Institute of Letters Fiction Award; the American Book Award; and nominations for a National Book Award (1991); the Oregon Book Award and the First Fiction Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters.

Scofield’s novels are Gringa (1989), Beyond Deserving (1991), Walking Dunes (1992), More Than Allies (1993), Opal on Dry Ground (1994), A Chance to See Egypt (1996) and Plain Seeing (1997).

More recently, Scofield published three long stories as Swim: Stories of the Sixties (2017). One of these stories, “An Easy Pass,” is set in Mexico and relates (in the author’s own words) to “an almost hysterical fascination with bullfighters (especially the young beginning ones).”

Scofield’s non-fiction works include Occasions of Sin: a Memoir (2004); The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer (2007); and The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision (2017). She has also written numerous book reviews for major regional publications such as the Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and The Boston Globe.

An archive of papers related to Sandra Scofield and her work are held in the Special Collections Library of Texas Tech University.

Acknowledgment

I am grateful to J. Weston Marshall, Archival Associate of the Special Collections Library of Texas Tech University, for kindly supplying me with a copy of Sandra Scofield’s notes describing the genesis of A Chance to See Egypt.

Sources

  • Alan Cogan. 2001. “A Chance to See Egypt by Sandra Scofield” (review). MexConnect.
  • Sandra Scofield. 1996. A Chance to See Egypt. Cliff Street Books (Harper Collins).
  • Sandra Scofield. 2005. “A Chance to See Egypt; writing history explained by Scofield,” typescript, 2005, Item 53 in Sandra Scofield Papers, 1958-2005 and undated, Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas.

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 092021
 

Despite its title, Sandra Scofield’s novel A Chance to See Egypt is set at Lake Chapala in Mexico. Scofield wrote the novel—awarded the Best Fiction award from the Texas Institute of Letters in 1996—following a trip to the lake area a few years earlier.

Scofield-cover-A-Chance-to-see-Egypt

That the setting for A Chance to See Egypt is a fictionalized Lake Chapala is evident within the first few pages of the novel:

“Lago de Luz, on the altiplano far from the sea, where it is neither hot nor cold, boasts no buildings higher than two stories, and no slick discos. It is rather a sleepy place, swollen on weekends when musicians and vendors make the plaza festive for the tourists in from the nearby city. Resident Americans and Canadians make their own social life in their suburban enclaves and trailer parks, their apartments and houses, halls and meeting rooms. The Lakeside Society is the hub of activity, the place where everyone crosses, but there are many diversions: Elk Clubs, Rotarians, Veterans Clubs, Red Cross and all the interest groups, for cards and dominoes and self-improvement.” [5-6]

Two paragraphs later:

“They went on to tell tales that went with the town and the hotel, in the manner of village pundits. As if there was wisdom in remembering the bandits of another era, the old sailing boats and canoes, the movie stars, the whitefish, splendid when the lake was clean.” [6]

There are also several references in the book to a “residential school for deaf children.” The only school in Mexico with a boarding program for deaf children was the Lakeside School for the Deaf in Jocotepec (which later joined the State Education system as the Centro de Atención Multiple Gallaudet).

The New York Times called A Chance to See Egypt “A stirring and evocative new novel in which a middle-aged man discovers a world of possibilities” and “an absorbing story that allows us to delight in Tom Riley’s elation.”

The novel is centered on events in the town of Lago de Luz and the smaller nearby lakeshore village of Tecatitlán. The central character is recently widowed Thomas Riley, a pet store owner from Chicago in his mid-forties. Riley and his late wife, Eva, a tour guide, had honeymooned in Lago de Luz about eight years earlier. Eva loved traveling and the couple had planned to visit Egypt for their tenth anniversary, but never did. After losing Eva, Riley decides to revisit the lake where they had been so happy and work out what he should do next.

Riley’s return visit brings back lots of memories as he reflects on the past while pondering his future. Seeking to assuage his loss, he immerses himself in local life, quickly coming to realize that, even though Eva is no longer with him, he still loves the lake area.

Seeking activities to keep himself occupied, Riley joins a writing class at the Lakeside Society Library being given by Charlotte Amory (the narrator in A Chance to See Egypt). After publishing a novel, Amory, originally from Texas, left her husband and child three years ago to live in Mexico and write travel articles about places off the beaten track. Having previously studied art in Philadelphia, Amory has also started to paint again and has persuaded the memorably named Divina Arispe, a beautiful young girl who works at the Posada Celestial, the town’s main hotel, to sit as her model. Divina’s mother, Consolata, who also has a central role in the novel, is the owner of a small restaurant.

Amory and Riley soon strike up a friendship and Amory helps Riley wind his way through his doubts and uncertainties towards a new and different life. She tells him that if he wants to start over he must ‘change the plot’ of his life and ‘introduce new characters’.

Seemingly inevitably, Riley becomes a regular at Consolata’s restaurant and falls in love with Divina. But he needs ample time, and the help of others, to come to terms with his loss of Eva while navigating the uncharted waters of a cross-cultural relationship.

Shortly after arriving in Lago de Luz, Riley purchased a guidebook to the region in the Posada Celestial:

“In the lobby, a long table has been set up in preparation for the tour buses. At one end, a woman tidies a pile of flyers: SHOULD YOU LIVE IN LAGO? FACTS ABOUT REAL ESTATE. At the other end, a man Riley recognizes from the Lakeside Society Library is selling a guidebook to the region. A Traveler’s Treasury, it is called. Riley looks one over, then buys it.”
“Canadian fellow wrote it,” the man tells him. “He knows his stuff. He’s lived here nearly twenty years.”
“Great,” Riley says. Just flipping the pages, he can tell the book is full of information about places he’d never have heard about. “I’d like to see some villages.” He thinks of them as mysterious places, with secrets he will never know.” [52]

Not long afterwards when Riley is relaxing by a thermal pool, he thumbs through the book and reads how, in one village, “The arches support an ancient aqueduct. A few steps away is the hacienda chapel, in good condition… Near here, the scenery changes, giving way to fertile fields…”

Lake Chapala map; all rights reserved

Lake Chapala map; all rights reserved

To familiarize himself with the area, Riley “traces the highways with his finger“ on a “foldout map of the lake region.” [55] This close study of the map allows him to comment a few days later—when Divina’s mother, Consolata, tells him that she hails from a village called Saint Mary of Tears near the town of Tapalpa— that:

“I did see that on the map.” He taps the place. “Here is the village. Here is the town. The book says there is a small museum there, with rock carvings, and an old sail-canoe. Do you know the town?”
“I was in the church a few times as a girl. I saw the earthquake paintings. Sometimes we went in for market. I was born in the village, I grew up there. I have been here a long time now.” [57]

(Note that the real Tapalpa is a mountain settlement many kilometers west of Lake Chapala; the descriptions of this fictional Tapalpa match the town of Ocotlán, near the eastern end of Lake Chapala.)

Having learned about Consolata’s home village, Riley decides to see it for himself. After taking a bus to Tapalpa, he reads up about the town while waiting for a local bus to nearby Saint Mary of Tears:

“There had been an earthquake 150 years earlier. The chapel was spared damage, and the next day, as the townspeople celebrated in the plaza, a cloud appeared in the sky a vision of Christ on the cross. All of this was captured in paintings on the walls of the newer church next door.”

Riley’s trip to Tapalpa and Saint Mary of Tears is a pivotal part of the novel, causing Riley to think back to his life with Eva and ponder what she would have thought about the local miracle.

“He found a shaded bench in the square and sat down to rest.
He could not help addressing Eva; it was a habit he had never really abandoned. He leaned back against the bench and closed his eyes. “I liked the paintings. They are very fine. Do you believe there was a real vision in the sky? Or was it all an accident of condensation? You would know such a thing where you are. So tell me, Eva, do you believe in miracles now?” [65]

The miracle in this story is the miracle of love.

The basic plot of A Chance to See Egypt is quite straightforward, to some extent even predictable, but Scofield tells the story well, with keenly-observed descriptions of village life and with dialogue that flows naturally.

According to the author, “I wrote this fanciful tale of love at a time when I needed to believe that there was light at the end of the dark night. So I used that very metaphor to construct a story of a good man who thinks he is too timid to make a new life after his wife’s death. I wove spirituality, passion, affection for village life into a story in which, like a folk tale, everyone plays out fate and finds happiness.” [Quote from Amazon]

I concur with the review in Publisher’s Weekly that “Scofield draws her romantic principals together with a graceful, wry sense of humor, converting Riley’s indecision into a warm, wise exploration of the mysteries of love, and she turns an ending that could have been cliched into a genuinely profound revelation,” which only makes it all the more surprising that A Chance to See Egypt has never been optioned for an upbeat Hallmark movie.

One of the interesting aspects of A Chance to See Egypt is that it delves deeper into the cultural differences and resulting tensions between the local Mexican townsfolk and their American visitors than almost any other twentieth century novel set at Lake Chapala. The depictions of the lives and characters of local villagers and foreigners in A Chance to See Egypt are far more balanced than those in Eileen Bassing’s Where’s Annie? or Willard Marsh’s Week with No Friday, both published in the mid-1960s, which focus far more on the expat community to the near-exclusion of their Mexican hosts.

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Note

Scofield acknowledges that her writing was helped by two “wonderful books,” both published in 1945: Mexican Village, by Josephina Niggli, and Village in the Sun, by Dane Chandos. She was clearly also influenced by my Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury. In A Chance to See Egypt, there are several thinly veiled but complimentary references to me and my guidebook to the region, first published in 1993 and now in its 4th edition. In the novel, the book inspired Riley to explore the local villages and the descriptions of Tapalpa in the novel lean heavily on my chapter about Ocotlán. Naturally I am sincerely flattered that Scofield sees my book in such a favorable light!

Acknowledgment

I am grateful to J. Weston Marshall, Archival Associate of the Special Collections Library of Texas Tech University, for kindly supplying me with a copy of Sandra Scofield’s notes describing the genesis of A Chance to See Egypt.

Sources

  • Publisher’s Weekly. 1996. “A Chance to See Egypt” (review).
  • Alan Cogan. 2001. “A Chance to See Egypt by Sandra Scofield” (review). MexConnect
  • Laurel Graeber. 1997. “New & Noteworthy Paperbacks.” New York Times, 21 September 1997. Section 7, p 40.
  • Sandra Scofield. 1996. A Chance to See Egypt. Cliff Street Books (Harper Collins).
  • Sandra Scofield. 2005. “A Chance to See Egypt; writing history explained by Scofield,” typescript, 2005, Item 53 in Sandra Scofield Papers, 1958-2005 and undated, Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas.

Other English-language novels set at Lake Chapala

English-language novels set largely or entirely at Lake Chapala include:

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 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 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

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.

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.

Jul 152020
 

Canadian artist Clarence Ainslie Loomis was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1917. Loomis studied at the Northern Vocational School under S. S. Finlay, and at the Ontario College of Art under J. W. Beatty. After graduating with the degree of AOCA (Associate of the Ontario College of Art), Loomis was later (1940) elected a member of the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers (CPE), becoming its secretary in 1943.

Clarence Ainslie Loomis: Sunset at Lake Chapala (1991)

Clarence Ainslie Loomis: Sunset at Lake Chapala (1991)

Relatively little is known about Loomis, whose small oil painting entitled “Sunset, Lake Chapala” (see image) dates from 1991 and depicts a horse and rider by the lake at sunset.

Clarence Ainslie Loomis: Ajijic Mountains (1990)

Clarence Ainslie Loomis: The Mountains, Ajijic (1990)

In 1947, a colored print entitled “End of Run” by Loomis was included in the Annual exhibition of the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers at the Art Gallery of Winnipeg.

At least one of Loomis’ works is in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

In 1993, the National Art Gallery of Canada received a gift from “C. Ainslie Loomis” of Brantford, Ontario, of an album of photographs entitled The Antiquities of Cambodia, which had been published in 1867. Apparently Loomis bought this work for 75 cents in Britnell’s bookstore in Toronto when he was a university student in 1939. Today, the album is thought to be worth close to $10,000! (The Ottawa Citizen, 10 July 1994).

Loomis died in Brantford, Ontario on 24 June 1994.

Acknowledgment

  • Thanks to Thomas Ryerson for supplying the date and place of Loomis’ death (see comments below).

Sources

  • The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) 11 Dec 1948, 6.
  • The Ottawa Citizen, 10 July 1994.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published on 13 July 2014.

Sombrero Books always welcomes corrections, or any 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.

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.

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.

According to Soledad, Katie’s first full length published work, is available in both print and Kindle editions via Amazon. Print copies are also available at select locations (La Nueva Posada, Mi México) in Ajijic, and at Galería Diane Pearl in Riberas.

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.

Oct 312019
 

Stanley George Sourelis, who was born in Chicago on 26 June 1925 and died in Dallas on 27 December 2006, was a chemical engineer and versatile artist who lived his final years in Ajijic. He was constantly experimenting. In his early artistic career he painted portraits, abstract oils and produced hundreds of charcoal drawings. During his time at Lake Chapala he used his scientific skills to become an expert practitioner of encaustic art.

Curiously, Sourelis’s artistic claim-to-fame as a co-founder of the landmark Wells Street Gallery in Chicago in the late 1950s has been almost forgotten. The Wells Street Gallery was THE avant-garde gallery in Chicago during its short spell in that city (from 1957 to 1959) before it relocated to New York, the then-hub of the U.S. modern art movement. Sourelis was far more than simply a financial backer of the gallery, as rather disparagingly described in most accounts; he also had a major artistic contribution to the gallery’s success.

Sourelis, the son of Greek immigrants, grew up in Chicago; he learned English only after starting kindergarten. His first name, originally Stelios, was changed to Stanley purely for convenience, as was quite common at the time.

A portrait by Stanley Sourelis.

A portrait by Stanley Sourelis. Credit: Dian Sourelis.

Sourelis was unemployed prior to serving in the U.S. military from 17 April 1944 to 7 May 1946. After the war, he studied chemical engineering in his native city at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was awarded his bachelor’s degree by that institution in June 1948.

As a chemical engineer, he helped install factories producing chemicals and foodstuffs for a variety of corporations, including Unilever, Cargill and Aarhus, a career that took him to several U.S. cities, Toronto in Canada, and to Guatemala and Mexico.

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Credit: Toomey & Co.

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Reproduced by kind permission of Dian Sourelis.

According to an article published when the vanguard Wells Street Gallery opened in 1957, Sourelis’ interest in painting began in the 1950s and what had “begun as a diversion” had become “a burning enthusiasm”. Several of his abstract paintings were in the group show that marked the gallery’s opening, along with works by 15 other painters. Examples of Sourelis’ paintings were also included in a group show at the gallery the following year, shortly before it celebrated its first anniversary with an exhibition of works, loaned from private collections in Chicago, of abstract expressionist art by such greats as Franz Kline, David Smith, Jackson Pollock, Ashile Gorky, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. In November 1958, the two co-founders of the gallery – Sourelis and Robert Natkin – held a joint show at the gallery.

In its short time in Chicago, the Wells Street Gallery boosted the careers of several other promising artists including Richard Bogart, Ernest Dieringer, Judith Dolnick, Ronald Slowinski, Naomi Tatum, Gerald van de Wiele, Donald Vlack, sculptor John Chamberlain and photographer Aaron Siskind.

The story of the Wells Street Gallery, and its humble beginnings, was the subject of an exhibition in New York in 2010, entitled “The Wells Street Gallery Revisited: Then and Now.”

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Credit: Toomey & Co.

Stanley Sourelis. 1958. Untitled abstract. Reproduced by kind permission of Dian Sourelis.

In 1963, Sourelis had the distinction of having one of his works selected for inclusion in the 66th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity. It is unclear if his oil painting – “Changing Joy Nab”, priced in the catalog at $900 – actually sold or not. By coincidence, Harry Mintz, another artist with close connections to the Lake Chapala area, also had a work in that show.

During his time in Ajijic, Sourelis used his advanced knowledge of chemical processes to explore the possibilities offered by encaustic art. Sourelis himself explained in a short article how:

“Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which resins and colored pigments are added. This results in a paste-like medium which is applied to a surface such as prepared wood or canvas….

Electric hot plates, irons, heat lamps and even flame torches are used to fuse the encaustic mixture to the canvas and to allow the surface to be manipulated….

Encaustic is a demanding organic medium which engages the artist in a process of controlled accidents with unpredictable results that can be selectively enhanced. It is a medium that provides a seductive skin that is unusually malleable and changeable.
It can evoke sensations and emotions of transformation, religious ritual, history and the passage of time in the hands of an accomplished artist.”

An example of Stanley Sourelis' encaustic art.

An example of Stanley Sourelis’ encaustic art. Credit: Dian Sourelis.

While the precise years he spent in Ajijic are unclear, Stanley Sourelis was still exhibiting there the year he died. His work was included in a group show in Ajijic in 2006, held in the offices of Actinver (then A. W. Lloyd). The artists in this show also included Antonio Cárdenas, Efrén González, Gerry Krause, Julie Mignard, Daniel Noll, Diane Pearl, Cynthia Roberts and Ana Tolere.

Sourelis married five times. His third wife was noted painter and sculptor Barbara Chavous (1936-2008). The couple met in New York and married in the 1960s. Prior to the marriage (her second), Barbara had been teaching in the New York City Public School System. The newly-weds left the Big Apple to establish their home in her native city – Columbus, Ohio – where Barbara mentored artists, served as artist-in-residence at several colleges and universities and became recognized as “Columbus’ artistic mother.”

Best known for her Jazz Totems (tall layered-wood pieces often using found objects), her work has won numerous awards and can be seen at several locations in Columbus including Bicentennial Park, Kwanzaa Playground and Main Library. She attributed the sense of color that characterizes her work to the influence of Stanley Sourelis. The artistic couple were mentors to numerous Columbus artists – Queen Brooks, Terry Logan, Pheoris West, Candy Watkins, Stephen Canneto, Walt Neal and Sandy Aska, among others.

Stanley Sourelis’s fifth wife was Sheryl Ann Stokes Sourelis (1944-2001). Born in Carlsbad, New Mexico and raised in southern California, Sheryl had moved to Guadalajara in her teens to live with her father and stepmother. After finishing her education in Guadalajara she studied art in Europe, including classes at the Sorbonne. Examples of her paintings were included in a 1974 group show in La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic, alongside works by the multi-talented artist and guitarist Gustavo Sendis and his mother, Alicia Sendis. That show opened in March 1974.

Sheryl Sourelis was a talented impressionist artist; cards featuring her lively Mexican village scenes and landscapes, marketed in Ajijic and Puerto Vallarta, sold well. Sheryl also worked in real estate and at one time had a bakery in Puerto Vallarta. She lived year-round in Ajijic from about 1996 until her death in 2001. She was a great supporter of local charities and had major parts in two Lakeside Little Theatre productions: “The Little Foxes” (October 1999) and “Shadowbox” (October 2001).

Stanley Sourelis’ daughter, Dian Sourelis, based in Chicago, has also become an exceptionally accomplished artist and has inherited her father’s passion for encaustic art.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Lorraine Farrow, owner of the delightful Galeria Sol Mexicano in Ajijic, for first bringing to my attention Stanley Sourelis’ long-time connection with Ajijic, and to Dian Sourelis for kindly sharing memories of her father’s life and photos of his work with me.

Sources

  • Arnett Howard. 2012. “Barbara Chavous: Arts Mother.” Columbus Bicentennial, 1 March 2012.
  • Chicago Tribune, 19 September 1958, 27; 28 Nov 1958, 38.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 16 March 1974.
  • Mexconnect.com Forum post, 2006, by David McLaughlin.
  • Stanley Sourelis. “An Almost Lost Art Form Makes a Return. Waxing Poetic.”
    Reprinted by Eileen Bergen, 2014, in “Encaustic Art”,
  • Edith Weigle. 1957. “Here’s hope for the unknown of the avante garde”. Chicago Tribune, 29 September 1957, 168.

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.

Jul 182019
 

Martín Casillas de Alba‘s second novel, Las batallas del general, was published in 2002 as the second in a proposed trilogy about Lake Chapala. The first novel in the series was Confesiones de Maclovia (1995), the third novel remains unpublished.

Inspired by the life of General Ramón Corona, born near Tuxcueca on the southern shore of the lake, Casillas examines Corona’s actions, motives and achievements as he moved from the humble family into which he was born into the military and political elite.

Ramón Corona Madrigal (1837-1889) was born on 18 October 1837 in Puruagua, a small settlement east of Tuxcueca, Jalisco. Corona, a liberal, joined the army and fought on the winning side against the conservatives during the War of Reform (1857-1861). During the Second French intervention (1861-1867), Corona commanded the 8000-strong, pro-Republic, Army of the west, which played an important part in finally defeating the French. When Maximilian finally surrendered in May 1867, he did so to Corona, formally handing over his sword.

At about this time, Corona met and married Mary Anne McEntee. McEntee, born in New York in 1844 to Irish immigrants, had been previously married to a much older wealthy Californian and was a woman of independent means. Corona and his wife had seven children.

Even after Maximilian’s execution in 1867 and the expulsion of French troops, guerilla warfare continued in the west with opportunist Manuel Lozada, the “Tiger of Álica,” fighting to gain territorial control over the region west of Guadalajara. Corona and Lozada battled each other for months before Corona finally defeated Lozada at the bloody Battle of La Mojonera (near Guadalajara) on 28 January 1873. More than 3000 of Lozada’s men died on the battlefield that day; the rest fled for the hills. Lozada was eventually captured and executed a few months later.

The following year, President Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada appointed Corona as the head of Mexico’s diplomatic mission to Spain. Corona and his wife remained in Madrid for a decade before returning to Guadalajara.

In 1887, Corona was elected governor of the state of Jalisco, on a progressive, modernist agenda. During his time in office, prominent local businessmen funded the opening of a state pawn shop (Monte de Piedad), a Chamber of Commerce was established and a system of state (as opposed to municipal) primary schools put in place. Corona presided over the celebrations when the railroad finally reached Guadalajara for the first time in 1888. Corona’s governorship came to an abrupt end when he was attacked in the street on 10 November 1889 by mentally-unstable Primitivo Ron. Corona died the following day.

In Casillas’ novel, José María Reyes, a modern-day writer, has decided to make General Ramón Corona the subject of his next historical novel. Reyes sets out from Mexico City to spend some time in Guadalajara, Lake Chapala and surrounding places to follow in Corona’s footsteps and try to get himself inside the general’s head.

By chance, while admiring the Orozco frescoes in the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, Reyes bumps into Alma Mahler. He is enchanted, immediately gives her a French nickname, Peau Douce (“soft skin”), and they quickly become friends and, not long afterwards – at La Nueva Posada in Ajijic – lovers.

[Reyes] knew that Chapala inevitably produces the desired effect: on the shore, on the edge of the lake, nobody knows why, but women – and men as well – let themselves be more easily seduced. No one knows why, but that is what happens.”

The novel interweaves the love story of Reyes and Mahler with the lives of Ramón Corona and his American wife with great skill and dexterity, as the pairs of protagonists fight their (very varied) battles. Certain parallels can be drawn between the two couples, including their move from Mexico to Spain and back.

There are some excellent descriptive passages about Lake Chapala and Ramón Corona’s life story is told with impressive historical accuracy. Readers who lack any background in Mexican history need not worry. The motives, actions and events described in this book stay close to the established historical versions of what transpired.

The links between this novel and Confesiones de Maclovia (the first volume in the intended trilogy) are readily apparent. Both novels have many connections to Lake Chapala. In addition, in both books it becomes evident that Maclovia was something of a clairvoyant. She reads tarot cards for Ramón Corona in Guadalajara at a fair to benefit the orphans of the Hospicio Cabañas (now the Instituto Cultural Cabañas) and foretells that he will be the subject of treachery. Not long afterwards, Primitivo Ron attacks and fatally wounds the general as he is on his way to the theater.

One trivial anomaly between the books is that the date of the tarot card reading is given as August 1889 in Confesiones de Maclovia and as one month later in Las batallas del general.

This well-produced book is an educational, entertaining and thought-provoking read.

Sources

  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 1995. Confesiones de Maclovia. Mexico City: Ediciones del Equilibrista.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 2002. Las batallas del general. Mexico City: Editorial Planeta.

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

Jul 042019
 

Confesiones de Maclovia, Martín Casillas de Alba‘s first novel, was inspired by the life of his grandmother who lived much of her adult life in Chapala, including several years in the Hotel Nido, prior to her death in October 1933.

Some seventy years later, the novel’s author-narrator travels to Chapala in the hopes of unraveling more about the life of his long-departed grandmother. In the process he uncovers a cache of documents in a storage room at the Hotel Nido. It includes three notebooks recording the details of an extended series of interviews Maclovia (“Cova”) had given to Juan Bautista (who was planning to write a book about her) in the period February-September 1933, her last months before he accompanied her to Mexico City where she died. The majority of the novel is based on these fictional notebooks.

There are many poignant descriptions of Chapala as it used to be, and of significant events in Cova’s life. Cova, born in Tapalpa in 1859, grew up in a distinguished Guadalajara family, the Cañedos, and flitted between the family’s town house in the center of Guadalajara and their hacienda, the Hacienda El Cabezón, near Ameca.

At the time Cova was growing up in Guadalajara the city was developing a vibrant cultural scene. Among the leaders of the artistic and literary circles in which Cova moved was Brazilian violinist and painter Felix Bernadelli (1862-1908). Prior to the Mexican Revolution, with Bernardelli leading the way, Guadalajara was Mexico’s artistic frontier, significantly ahead of Mexico City in terms of experimentation and creativity, leading contemporary Mexican writer and diplomat Eduardo Gibbon to christen the city the “Florence of Mexico”.

Other members of the intellectual and artist elite in Guadalajara at the time included Gerardo Murillo (better known as Dr. Atl), Roberto Montenegro, Luis de la Torre, Jorge Enciso, Rafael Ponce de León and José María Lupercio, who became one of Mexico’s best-known photographers.

Poet José Juan Tablada visited Guadalajara in 1894. He stayed initially at the Hotel Francés before being invited to stay at the home of Rafael de Alba, a brother of Guillermo de Alba (who later married Cova). When Cova first met Tablada, she was struck by his eccentricity. Tablada, for his part, was awe struck by her beauty. (Tablada, incidentally, returned many times to Jalisco and some years later, in 1914, lamented the ruination of Chapala in an opinion piece in El Mundo Ilustrado.)

Guillermo de Alba, short, slim and mustachioed, had also been captivated by Cova’s beauty. When he moved to Chicago to advance his knowledge of architecture, he began a lengthy correspondence with Cova. By the time he returned to Mexico in about 1897, he had already proposed marriage to her, and she had accepted. If this timeline is correct, then de Alba did not design the Hotel Arzapalo (built 1896-1898), as often claimed. Casillas’ fictional version has de Alba still living in Chicago in 1897 and, in the novel, Cova recalls how she had finally said “yes” in 1899, at a time when Guillermo “still had to return to Chicago to complete his career.”

Guillermo and Cova married in Chapala on 27 January 1900; she was 40 years old at the time, he was 25. The couple’s only daughter, Guillermina {“Mina”} de Alba y Cañedo (Martín Casillas’ mother), was born in Guadalajara on 9 January 1902.

Guillermo and Cova were married for more than thirty years. Guillermo built a modest but architecturally stunning family home, Mi Pullman, in the heart of Chapala. The housewarming was held in 1906. The building, lovingly and faithfully restored a century later by an English owner, remains an important part of the town’s cultural heritage. (The story of the restoration is told in detail on MexConnect.com).

Guillermo’s final building project was his crowning achievement as an architect. The imposing, impressive Chapala Railroad Station (now the Centro Cultural González Gallo) opened in 1920 but proved to be Guillermo’s downfall. His debts were mounting and his sources of income were drying up.

Guillermo and Cova lived their final decade far apart: Guillermo sold the family home in Chapala in 1924 and moved to Mexico City in 1926 leaving Cova and their daughter in Chapala. Cova tried to make ends meet by turning Villa Guillermina, the family’s Guadalajara residence, into a boarding house but ended up living the final years of her life in the Hotel Nido. She died in Mexico City (where she had gone to seek medical treatment) in 1933, only a few months after her daughter, Mina, had married José Luis Casillas y Cruz in Chapala.

Confesiones de Maclovia is a fascinating read on several levels. It includes some noteworthy descriptive passages relating to life in Chapala at the start of the 20th century. The novel’s exploration of the possible motives behind the slow breakdown of their relationship, Cova’s withdrawal from her previously active social life towards an almost reclusive existence in the Hotel Nido, and of the reasons why Guillermo de Alba fled for Mexico City, are all especially interesting and thought-provoking. They hold messages that are timeless and all too often ignored.

Sources

  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 1994. La Villa de Chapala (1895-1933). Mexico City: Banca Promex; Martín Casillas de Alba, 2004. ¡Salvemos a Chapala! Mexico City: Editorial Diana.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 1995. Confesiones de Maclovia. Mexico City: Ediciones del Equilibrista.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 2002. Las batallas del general. Mexico City: Editorial Planeta.
  • José Juan Tablada. 1914. “La ruina de Chapala”. El Mundo Ilustrado, 8 March 1914, 6.

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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