Jun 202024
 

At the start of the twentieth century, Jacob Kalb, a Jewish immigrant of Austrian ancestry, owned and operated the Iturbide Curio Store in downtown Mexico City. The store, selling all manner of Mexican tourist souvenirs and mementoes, opened in 1903 on the ground floor of the Hotel Iturbide. The hotel occupied the historic Palacio de Iturbide (Iturbide Palace), a superb 18th century Mexican baroque building that survives to this day. It was bought and beautifully restored in 1965 by the Banco Nacional de México (Banamex) and is now the Banamex Cultural Foundation (Fomento Cultural Banamex).

The Iturbide Curio Store was one of several competing curio stores in that area at that time, including one run by Jakob Granat, one of Kalb’s nephews, across the street. (Granat also published at least one postcard of Chapala.)

No expense was spared when Kalb opened his store in 1903. Carefully selected wares were displayed in elegant showcases, all beautifully illuminated by electric lighting, a relatively recent innovation.

Iturbide Curio Store (publicity postcard image)

Iturbide Curio Store (publicity postcard image)

Soon afterwards, Kalb started to publish postcards (both monochrome and color), using various different imprints, ranging from ““Iturbide Curio Store” and “J.C.S” (typesetters of the time often used the letter J in place of the letter I) to “J.K.”

Kalb did not credit the photographer on his cards but at least one card utilizes a photograph taken by Charles Betts Waite, a noteworthy American photographer based in Mexico City at that time.

Kalb published dozens of cards of Guadalajara, some with undivided backs (and therefore pre-1906 in date). These early cards include the only known image of Lake Chapala published by Kalb. This attractive view of Casa Schnaider (Villa Josefina) with the Hotel Arzapalo in the background, was published in about 1904; a postally-used example was mailed the following year. The pretty, European-style ‘cottage’ was originally named Villa Albion, and had been built by the eccentric Norwegian-born Englishman Septimus Crowe in 1896, after he sold the Villa Montecarlo. In 1901, Crowe sold Villa Albion to the US-born Guadalajara beer magnate Joseph Maximilian Schnaider, who promptly renamed it Villa Josefina, in honor of his wife. More than a century later, the property continues to bear this name.

Lake Chapala. Postcard published by Iturbide Curio Store c. 1906

Photographer unknown. Lake Chapala. Iturbide Curio Store postcard #507. c. 1904.

Kalb published this image at least twice, with minor modifications. The “Iturbide Curio Store” version, numbered 228, had a wider white band along the bottom and a flag fluttering from the Villa Josefina flagpole. When Kalb reissued the photo as a “J.C.S.” edition, the image was slightly cropped and the flag removed.

Kalb produced several hundred postcards in total, covering the entire country and designed to appeal to the widest possible cross section of the rapidly increasing flow of tourists exploring Mexico.

In 1906, Kalb advertised in a Mexico City paper that he had the largest stock of picture postcards of Mexico. A collection of 100 views cost $2.00; the wholesale price was $16.00 for 1000.

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Valentina Serrano & Ricardo Pelz. “Serie azul y roja de Jacobo Granat.” Presentation at 8th Mexican Congress on Postcards, Palacio Postal, Mexico City. 16-18 July 2015.
  • Arturo Guevara Escobar, 2012. “Jacobo Kalb, una lectura diferente. Parte I“, blog post dated 1 March 2012

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

May 162024
 

Many artists and authors have visited Lake Chapala in search of, or in homage to, their literary or artistic idols. But what about those who have also spent time collecting ancient stone and pottery idols and artifacts? There are far more members of this latter group than I first thought.

The first academic report of such artifacts in the international press was anthropologist Frederick Starr‘s short, illustrated booklet titled The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico, published in 1897. Starr, who visited Chapala over the winter of 1895-96, credited Francisco Fredenhagen with having introduced him to archaeological pieces from the western end of the lake, and suggested a simple typology for the different kinds of objects he had examined. Starr’s collection of ‘miniature pottery’ now resides in Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. Professor Starr’s handwriting may explain why several items are recorded as having been collected in “San Juan Coyala,” instead of San Juan Cosalá!

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

(Note that, while collecting ancient artifacts as souvenirs and removing them from Mexico was a common practice at the time, it can now result in severe legal consequences.)

Coincidentally, Starr’s visit to Chapala came only a few weeks after a major international conference of ‘Americanistas’ in Mexico City. Several of the attendees had close links to Lake Chapala, including:

  • Lionel Carden, the British consul to Mexico Lionel Carden, who was building a house (Villa Tlalocan) in Chapala.
  • New Orleans poet Mary Ashley Townsend and her daughter, Mrs Cora Townsend de Rascón: Cora bought Villa Montecarlo in Chapala for her mother that year (1895) as a Christmas gift.
  • Ethnographer Jeremiah Curtin, who left us an unforgettable description of meeting Septimus Crowe, the eccentric Englishman and pioneer foreign settler in Chapala, on the train home from the conference.
  • San Diego language teacher Eduardo H Coffey, who broke the first news in English of a giant whirlpool that struck the western end of Lake Chapala in January 1896.
  • Historian Luis Pérez Verdía, who (in 1904) began building the iconic Victorian-style house close to the church now commonly known as Casa Braniff.

The female English artist and amateur archaeologist Adela Breton, an intrepid traveler who presented papers at later Americanistas’ conferences, also visited Chapala in 1896 and collected a few pottery items. She is best remembered today for having recorded ancient Mayan murals and friezes; in some cases the originals no longer exist, and her magnificent drawings and watercolors are the best record we have of these artistic and cultural treasures.

Also visiting Lake Chapala in the 1890s was Norwegian anthropologist Carl Lumholtz, though his findings were not published until 1902. He recorded excavations near Chapala, and the finding of two ‘ceremonial hatchets.’ As we shall see shortly, Lumholtz also apparently bought several ancient artifacts, some or all of which may have been fake.

American journalist George W Baylor described in a 1902 article about Chapala how tourists staying at the Hotel Arzapalo would walk along the beach each morning,

examining the water’s edge closely for ollitas and various kinds of toys which are washed up every night from the lake. Some represent bake ovens, chairs, ducks or geese, volcanoes, and after a storm they are quite plentiful, and an early rise and race is made to get them. They can be bought quite cheap but most every visitor wants to say, ‘I found this on the beach at Lake Chapala.’ One [explanation] is that there was at one time an island in front of Chapala on which there was quite a populous city, and say that this is more than likely, as innumerable pieces of porous burnt rock keep washing ashore.

Another probable explanation is that those three million people that have lived on the borders of the lake since the year 1, threw those toys into the water to propitiate their god of water and rain, Tlaloc, and from the quantities that are carried off by tourists and others annually, each of the three millions of ancients must have put in a bushel apiece. They are made of yellow and blue clay, and burned, and occasionally of stone.

Horrible figures of idols come from the foothills, where in ages past were probably pueblos swarming with Indians. Others are dug from the banks of arroyos in a white cement. Others well, they are manufactured up to date and are sold to innocent parties as contemporaneous with Adam and Eve – nothing later than Montezuma.”

American artists Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser lived for several years in Chapala in the mid-1920s. Jackson amassed his own collection of figurines from Chapala, and published an analysis of them in 1941. In his 1987 memoir It’s a Long Road to Comondú, Jackson also explains how he taught a local boy, Isidoro Pulido (about whom more later), how to make reproductions of figurines! On a return visit to Chapala in 1950, Jackson was delighted to find that,

Isidoro had become a maker of candy and a dealer in pre-Columbian art in the patio of his house on Los Niños Héroes Street. I did not teach him to make candy, but when he was just a boy I had shown him how he could reproduce those figurines he and Eileen [Jackson’s wife] used to dig up back of Chapala. Now he not only made them well, but he would also take them out into the fields and gullies, bury them, and then dig them up in the company of American tourists, who were beginning to come to Chapala in increasing numbers. Isidoro did not feel guilty when the tourists bought his works; he believed his creations were just as good as the pre-Columbian ones.”

Whether or not the locals really needed Jackson’s help to produce ‘fake’ antiquities is debatable, given Baylor’s testimony that even at the very start of the twentieth century some people were already  making—and selling—genuine-looking artifacts to unsuspecting foreign visitors.

German-born artist Trude Neuhaus also first visited Chapala in the mid-1920s, as part of her preparations for a show in New York in 1925. The New York Times reported that the exhibition, previously shown at the National Art Gallery in Mexico City, included “paintings, water colors and drawings of Mexican types and scenery,” as well as “Aztec figurines and pottery recently excavated by the artist in Chapala, Mexico.”

Poet and novelist Idella Purnell, born in Guadalajara, had studied under American poet Witter Bynner at the University of California, and played a key role in the decision of English novelist D. H. Lawrence to visit Chapala in 1923. Purnell later penned a delightful, and moving, story, “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala,” for the American Junior Red Cross News.

Five years after American anthropologist Elsie Crews Parsons visited Chapala in 1932, she wrote a short paper entitled “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore.” She cast doubt on the authenticity of the stone ídolos (idols) collected by some previous anthropologists and ethnographers, writing that, ever since the 1890s there has been,

at this little Lakeside resort a traffic in the ídolos which have been washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town, in ancient Indian cemeteries, or faked by the townspeople. An English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago quotes Mr. Crow[e] as saying that the ídolos sold Lumholtz were faked, information that the somewhat malicious Mr. Crow[e] did not impart to the ethnologist.”

The identity of the ‘English lady’ referred to by Parsons is unclear. The most likely candidates are either the Honorable Selina Maud Pauncefote, daughter of the British Ambassador in Washington, or Adela Breton, both of whom visited in 1896.

While Parsons doubted the authenticity of Lumholtz’s collection, she was convinced that the items collected at about the same time by Frederick Starr were definitely genuine.

Californian prison doctor Leo Stanley visited Lake Chapala in 1937. He was sufficiently intrigued by the ancient artifacts he saw to seek out a local to help him find and excavate likely locations. In one of those coincidences that are seemingly inevitable in real life, the local was ‘Ysidoro’, the young man befriended years earlier by Everett Gee Jackson! Stanley’s account of the effort involved in hunting for idols with Isidoro Pulido—and of their eventual ‘success’—is well worth the read.

Leo Stanley. 1937. "Digging for Treasure." By kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. “Digging for Treasure.” By kind permission of California Historical Society.

English author Barbara Compton visited Lake Chapala in 1946. One of the main characters in her semi-autobiographical novel To The Isthmus is an idol hunter and fellow guest at Casa Heuer who regularly left Ajijic for a few days at a time to explore new sites. In real life, she later married the man who had given her the inspiration for this character.

In 1948, author Neill James, an avid treasure hunter, explained to a visiting reporter how:

When the water in Lake Chapala is low, you can sit in it waist deep, dig in the sand and bring up miniature idols, medallions, vases, kitchen utensils and other things that the Indians threw into the lake in their worship of the rain god hundreds of years ago.”

Journalist Kenneth McCaleb recalled in a Texas newspaper in 1965 how he had known a very good faker of antiquities in Chapala, who “specialized in the familiar pre-Columbian ‘primitive’ ceramic figurines of ancient Mexico.” McCaleb reported that the aging process was a secret, but that the maker would guide customers to “places where, after some healthful exercise, he dug up his own archaeological objects.” And the name of this faker? None other than our old friend Isidoro!

Unlike the collecting of ancient idols, with their often dubious provenance, there is—I am glad to report—no obvious drawback to my fixation on collecting and profiling the famous authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala!

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • George Wythe Baylor. 1902. “Lovely Lake Chapala.” El Paso Herald, 1 November 1902, 10.
  • Adele C. Breton. 1903. “Some Mexican portrait clay figures,” Man, vol 3, 130-133.
  • Barbara Compton. 1964. To The Isthmus. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Mary Hirscheld. 1948. “Author in Mexico.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10 April 1948, 8.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1941. “The Pre-Columbian Ceramic Figurines from Western Mexico.” Parnassus, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jan., 1941), 17-20.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1987. It’s a Long Road to Comondú. Texas A&M University Press.
  • Carl Lumholtz. 1902. Unknown Mexico (2 vols). 1973 reprint: Rio Grande Press.
  • Kenneth McCaleb. 1968. “Conversation Piece.” Corpus Christi Times, 27 January 1965, 14.
  • Elsie Clews Parsons. 1937. “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore”, The Scientific Monthly, May 1937.
  • Idella Purnell. 1936. “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala.” American Junior Red Cross News, December 1936.
  • Leo L. Stanley. 1937. “Mixing in Mexico.”(2 vols). Leo L. Stanley Papers, MS 2061, California Historical Society. Volume 2.
  • Frederick Starr. 1897. The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico, Bulletin II, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago.

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

May 022024
 

The text of “A Brief History of Ajijic,” by June Nay Summers (1916-2001), comes directly from her own 1993 booklet Lake Chapala Villages in the Sun. The full text of the article is on the web, and parts of it were paraphrased during a recent Open Circle presentation in Ajijic. But how accurate is her account of Ajijic’s history?

A Brief History of Ajijic (Ojo del Lago, December 2012)

A Brief History of Ajijic (Ojo del Lago, December 2012)

My critique of the article follows, with quotes from the original in red:

“Ajijic was settled by people who came from the north, and their origin is explained by a legend. There was a place far to the north called ‘Whiteness’, and, from its seven caves, seven tribes set out towards the south.”

Ajijic did not exist until 1531, when it was founded by Franciscan friar Martín de Jesús (or de la Coruña), who suggested to an indigenous group led by Xitomatl (later baptized Andrés Carlos) that they move their existing community to begin a new settlement, where water was more readily available, named Axixic [Ajijic].

Summers’ account echoes a local legend that these groups were descendants or offshoots of the Mexica people (forerunners of the Aztecs) who may have settled temporarily on the shores of Lake Chapala while en route from their ancestral homeland (Aztlan in the north) to found a new city, Tenochtitlan (where Mexico City stands today). The meaning of Aztlan is unknown, with ‘place of whiteness’ being only one of several possible alternative derivations. According to the legend, before living in Atzlan, the Mexica were one of the seven tribes occupying seven caves in a mythical place named Chicomoztoc.

Ethnoarchaeologist Dr Carolyn Baus Czitrom found that all the indigenous people living on the northern shore of Lake Chapala at the time of the conquest belonged to the Coca indigenous group, except for those living in San Juan Cosalá, Ajijic, San Antonio Tlayacapan and Chapala, who were Caxcan. The origin of both groups, and their kinship (if any) with the Mexica, is unknown.

“These primitives lived on Chapala’s vast shores with no thought of founding permanent pueblos. Nor were they curious about their own origins, their forefathers or their names. Their vision of the world was simple. They were completely absorbed with the rendering of tribute to their gods. It was through, they thought, the pleasing of these deities that the sun shone and the rains fell on their land. Obtaining their daily sustenance was their primary reason for being.”

This culturally insensitive claim is conjectural and overly simplistic. There is no evidence, to the best of my knowledge, that these early settlers (whether Coca or Caxcan) “established complex barricades on the shores of this immense lake.” According to Czitrom’s research, the Coca did have multiple deities, but they also had a social structure and settlements, comprised of homes built using adobe, stones and wood. The Coca also crafted several kinds of rafts and boats.

“In 1522, the Olid Expedition reached the eastern shores of Lake Chapala. When they arrived, Captain Avalos met with little resistance. A royal grant gave joint ownership of the area to Avalos and the Spanish Crown.”

This is another immense simplification. The Olid Expedition, which reached the southern shores of Lake Chapala in about 1522, involved Fernando (sometimes Hernando) de Saavedra, the older brother of Alonso de Ávalos. Alonso de Ávalos did not arrive in New Spain until 1523. The two brothers were cousins of Hernán Cortés, who granted them (and a third relative who died shortly afterwards) the encomienda (the right to collect tributes and labor from indigenous inhabitants) for a large area, which included the southern shore of Lake Chapala, and later also the northern shore. After their partner’s death, the two brothers shared tribute payments from the encomienda. After Fernando died in 1535, his half-share reverted to the Spanish Crown. The encomienda system did not, strictly speaking, constitute either solo or joint ownership. The tributes supplied by Ajijic every 80 days consisted of blankets and items of clothing, cotton, fish and provisions.

“Close in Avalos’ (a cousin of Cortez) wake came other relatives of Cortez. One, by the name of Saenz, acquired almost all of the property that is now Ajijic…. By 1530, the Saenz property was one big hacienda. The principal crop was mezcal for making tequila. The hillsides were covered with mezcal plants and their soft blue-green blanketed hill and dale.”

Summers’ timeline is wildly inaccurate. No haciendas had been established in this area by 1530; Spanish settlement had barely got underway. Construction of the first Franciscan friary in Ajijic began in 1531, and the earliest haciendas in the surrounding region date from about a century later. There is no record of anyone named ‘Saenz’ ever owning any hacienda near Ajijic, though a Sebastian Sainz (note spelling) acquired the Hacienda El Cuije (which included land in and around Ajijic) in about 1900, following the murder of its former owner, Hans (‘Juan’) Jaacks. Sainz had no known familial connection to Hernán Cortés. Both Sebastian Sainz Peña (ca 1851-1927) and his wife, María Dolores Stephenson Zambrano (1869-1958) were born in Spain. They arrived in Mexico in the 1890s and quickly amassed an extensive property portfolio in Ajijic and Chapala.

According to most historians, tequila was not produced commercially until the 1700s, and the first exports of tequila (from anywhere in Mexico) were not until the 1870s. Agaves (mezcal plants) are not mentioned in distinguished naturalist Henri Galeotti’s comprehensive description of Lake Chapala’s geology, flora and fauna after his visit in 1837, or in Mariano Bárcena’s meticulous statistical account of Ajijic in 1888. [English translations of excerpts from Galeotti and Bárcena can be found in Lake Chapala Through The Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.]

If either Jaacks and/or Sainz pioneered the commercial cultivation of agaves in the Ajijic area, it was probably in the 1890s, though contemporaneous descriptions of Jaack’s production at the time of his death in 1896 mention cattle, oranges, bananas and coffee, but not agaves. There is no evidence that agave was ever their principal crop, or that “the hillsides were covered with mezcal plants.”

“Later, Franciscan missionaries visited the village and gave it a patron saint, San Andres (Saint Andrew). Royal land grants included the Indians who lived there. Franciscan Fray Sebastian de Parrago introduced the first oranges to Ajijic in 1562. Henceforth, the village was called ‘San Andres de Axixic.’ Its cobblestone streets-laid down during the days of Spanish rule-are still used today.”

Chronologically, this paragraph belongs centuries before any talk of haciendas or tequila. It also contains two significant inaccuracies. First, Franciscan accounts show that friar Sebastian de Parrago introduced the first oranges to the area in 1562, but to Chapala, not Ajijic. Secondly, there is zero evidence that Ajijic had any cobblestone streets prior to the very end of the nineteenth century or early years of the twentieth century.

“After the border wars (1910-29), the Saenz hacienda was split into many small holdings and all Mezcal cultivation ceased, as each Mezcal plant needs seven years to mature and only large estates can devote such acreage solely to growing plants.”

Hacienda El Cuije was owned by Sebastian Sainz for only a relatively short time, and there was never any large-scale tequila production in the Ajijic area, even when Sainz was the hacendado. Summers contradicts her own account in a later paragraph when she claims that “In the early 1920s, Mr. Ramirez, Mayor of Chapala, purchased the Saenz Hacienda.”

“During the Porfirian Era (1875-1910), Ajijic was isolated from Chapala by land. Their commerce with the resort town of Chapala, which was five miles away, was confined to an occasional cargo canoe touching down at the Saenz Hacienda for a load of tequila or coffee beans.”

This emphasis on tequila and coffee completely ignores the important mining activity that was already occurring in Ajijic by the end of the nineteenth century. Overland transport prior to 1910 was poor, and principally by horseback, but Ajijic was not “isolated from Chapala by land.”

“In the early 1920s, Mr. Ramirez, Mayor of Chapala, purchased the Saenz Hacienda. He re-named it Hacienda Tlacuache (The Opossum). The property is still owned by the Ramirez family and has, over the years, been sublet to various people.”

The building referred to by Summers was never an hacienda. It was a taberna—a small, subsidiary building which was part of Hacienda El Cuije. El Cuije’s main residence and buildings (of which nothing now remains) were situated a short distance northwest of Chapala (between a building currently numbered as Prolongación Lázaro Cárdenas #145 and the Chapala libramiento). The taberna was bought by Casimiro Ramirez (who was never Mayor of Chapala) and renamed ‘Hacienda El Tlacuache,’ but this was an honorific title, which did not imply any functional or economic status. In the 1930s it became an inn named Posada Ajijic; the building still belongs to members of the Ramirez Family.

Postcard (published by E Esteban) of Posada Ajijic, mailed in 1974.

Postcard (published by E Esteban) of Posada Ajijic, mailed in 1974.

“In 1925, Ajijic was discovered by European intellectuals and became a refuge for those fleeing political persecution after World War I. Louisa Heuer, a writer, and her brother Paul, were German refugees. They owned Casa Particular—a small inn overlooking the lake. Zara Alexeyewa, the great-granddaughter of Gideon Wells, Secretary of the Navy under President Abraham Lincoln—first came to Guadalajara in 1925 to dance at the Teatro Degollado. She was accompanied by her mother and adopted brother, Holger Mehner.”

This is a mix of fact and fantasy. The Heuers’ arrival had nothing to do with World War I, and there is no evidence that they were refugees or in Ajijic prior to 1933. On the other hand, Austrian count Alex von Mauch did purchase a lakefront property in Ajijic in 1928 (and other non-Mexicans are known to have purchased property in the village even earlier). Zara Alexeyewa (aka ‘La Rusa’) had no familial connection of any kind to Gideon Wells. Her dance partner’s surname was Mehnen, not Mehner. Zara and Holger first arrived in Guadalajara in 1924, and first performed in the city in 1925. They did not live in Ajijic until 1940.

“The trio had just finished a tour of Europe and South America where Zara and Holger had introduced ballet to that continent.”

Zara’s mother did not accompany the dance duo on their impromptu tour of South America. And there had been many many ballet performances of note in South America long before Zara and Holger ever set foot on the continent. For example, European ballets had first performed in Buenos Aires in the 1860s.

Summers later turns her attention to what she terms the Ajijic gold rush, paraphrasing a passage in the penultimate chapter of Neill James’ Dust on my Heart, where James reports (without stating any clear time frame) what she had been told by Paul (‘Pablo’) Heuer:

“In the mid-30s, three engineers, their curiosity aroused as to why a certain red hill (variously called Bald Mountain, Gold Mountain, or simply Quarry) was without growth when all others in the area were wooded, discovered gold in the hill.
Almost overnight the gold rush was on. Corn mills were transformed into gold mines. The women of the village reverted to hand-operated metates to pulverize corn for family tortillas. Farmers left their fields, fishermen dropped their nets, and trouble beset Ajijic as food became scarce. Neighbors quarreled. Murders and mayhem were rife.
Leaders in the gold rush were the ballet dancers, Zara and Holger, for they owned the best mine. Zara found life as a dancer tame, compared with gold mining. Armed with her “treasure finder,” Zara looked for gold, but found only trouble. One associate after another cheated her. The dream of gold began to fade.
There was gold in the hills, but not in sufficient quantity. The gold fever cooled. Men returned to their tiendas. Gold mills went back to grinding corn. Fishermen spread their nets again, and farmers re-plowed their land. The Ajijic gold rush had ended.”

As I explain in Foreign Footprints in Ajijic, gold mining in the hills behind Ajijic began much earlier than the “mid-30s,” and by 1885 there were already thirty silver and gold mines in Ajijic. Production peaked in the first decade of the twentieth century, with occasional short-lived revivals thereafter. Zara’s first investment in a mine in Ajijic was in 1925. The story about the three engineers may well be true, but with the very significant caveat that the reason why “a certain red hill (variously called Bald Mountain, Gold Mountain, or simply Quarry) was without growth when all others in the area were wooded,” was probably because it was the precise site, many years earlier, of a cyanide processing plant, installed by the largest mining company, which had poisoned the soil.

The remainder of Summers’ account is far less contentious, though I’ve never found evidence that the “Dane Chandos” book Village in the Sun ever won an award, and the lengthy excerpt from Sybille Bedford’s book The Sudden View (which Bedford openly admitted was fictional, not factual) has minimal relevance to the history of Ajijic.

Conclusion? “A Brief History of Ajijic” may be short and easy to read, but—in terms of history—it is hopelessly inaccurate.

The time has come for someone to write a more realistic short history of Ajijic.

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.

Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offers more details about the twentieth-century history of Ajijic.

References

  • Carolyn Baus de Czitrom. 1982. Tecuexes y Cocas. Dos grupos de la región de Jalisco en el siglo XVI. Mexico City: INAH.
  • Henri G Galeotti. 1839. “Coup d’oeil sur la Laguna de Chapala au Mexique, avec notes géognostiques.” Acad. Roy. Soc. Bruxelles, Bull., 6, pt 1: 14-19.
  • Mariano Bárcena. 1888. Ensayo estadístico del Estado de Jalisco. Gobierno de Jalisco.
  • June Nay Summers. “A Brief History of Ajijic.” El Ojo del Lago, December 2012.

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

Apr 112024
 

Juan Aráuz Lomeli (ca 1887-1970) is known to have taken photos of Chapala from the 1920s onward. The somewhat unusual surname Aráuz or Arauz—the accent is optional—is of Basque origin. Though not a full-time professional photographer, Juan Aráuz Lomeli stamped “ARAUZ – FOT.” and an address in Guadalajara on the reverse of the photos he published as postcards, and sometimes added a small white circle containing a stylized JA (or JAL) alongside the caption.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli’s son, Juan Victor Aráuz Gutiérrez (1914-2000), was also a photographer who lived and worked in Guadalajara. Because they sometimes photographed the same subject at the same time, this has led to some uncertainty in the case of some images as to the true identity of the photographer. In addition, more than one edition of some images is known, distinguished by distinct styles of lettering for the captions.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli is known to have photographed and published more than a dozen different postcard views of Chapala.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. Chapala. ca 1926.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. “Chapala.” ca 1926.

This particular card (above), number 156, is entitled “Chapala – Jal” and has a handwritten notation dating it to 4 October 1926, leaving no doubt that it is the work of Juan Aráuz Lomeli rather than his son. The reverse of the card has a rectangular hand-stamped box reading (on three lines) “ARAUZ- FOT. / HGO 19, NUM 881, / GUADALAJARA, MEX.”

It shows (left to right), the Villas Elena, Niza and Josefina. (See If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants for the history of these interesting buildings.)

Some captions were probably added in haste, and occasionally are inaccurate. For example, this second card (below), which has an identical hand-written date, is mistakenly captioned “Villa Josefina;” the building in this photo is not Villa Josefina but the larger historic estate known as Villa Montecarlo.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. Villa Josefina, Chapala. ca 1926.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. Villa Montecarlo (despite the caption), Chapala. ca 1926.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli was born to Juan Aráuz and his wife, Austreberta Lomeli, in Guanajuato in about 1887 or 1888. He died in Guadalajara on 30 November 1970. Curiously, his death certificate mistakenly names his wife (who had died many years earlier) as Victoria Rodriguez in place of Victoria Gutiérrez. According to a contemporary newspaper, Victoria Gutiérrez de Arauz Lomeli had died on 15 July 1942, at the age of 52, though this age does not match the census data from 1930!

The household listed in 1930 comprised Juan Arauz Lomeli (aged 42), who gave his profession as photographer, his wife Victoria J de Arauz (36) and their four sons: Jorge (17), Juan Victor (15), Fernando (12) and Alfonzo (10). The name Fernando appears to have been an enumerator’s error for Francisco, since records show that Francisco Aráuz Gutiérrez (born ca 1918, and definitely the son of Juan Aráuz Lomeli and Victoria Gutiérrez) married twice in relatively quick succession in the 1940s, first in 1942, at the age of 25, and then in 1947.

Alberto Gómez Barbosa, in his multi-part series on photography in Jalisco for El Informador in 2004, recalled that Juan Aráuz Lomeli’s interest in photography began when he worked for the Compañia Eléctrica de Chapala, where one of the managers was Luis Gonzaga Castañeda. Gonzaga was a particularly keen photographer and inspired several colleagues, including Aráuz, to take up the hobby. Aráuz and Gonzaga both contributed photographs to illustrate Guadalajara Colonial, a book by José Cornejo Franco, as did a third photographer, Ignacio Gómez Gallardo.

Aráuz knew and was an admirer of José María Lupercio, another of the famous photographers of Guadalajara, whose timeless images of the city and of Lake Chapala have in many ways never been surpassed. Aráuz particularly admired the fact that Lupercio was a true artist, who eschewed timers and measuring scales in favor of mixing all his solutions for developing photographs by eye.

According to Gómez Barbosa, Aráuz became a good friend of José Clemente Orozco and took several singularly-striking portraits of the artist, including some reproduced in later biographies of the world-renowned muralist. As we saw in a previous post, Arauz’s son, Juan Victor Aráuz, also knew Orozco and later documented the progress of Orozco’s work on several murals in Guadalajara, including preliminary sketches that were later altered or never executed.

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 9 August 2019.

Sources

  • Alberto Gómez Barbosa. 2004. “La fotografía en Jalisco.” El Informador, 1 August 2004, 14.
  • El Informador: 16 July 1942, 11.

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

Apr 042024
 

In the late 1930s the government of President Lázaro Cardenas financed the completion of a paved highway from Mexico City to Guadalajara via Toluca, Morelia and Jiquilpan (Cardenas’s birthplace). To commemorate the first part, Mexico City to Morelia, author and art historian Pedro Ceuleneer de Gante was commissioned to write a short guidebook illustrated by maps and photographs for motorists using the improved route. Written in Spanish, this was published in 1939 as La Ruta de Occidente.

Mexico's Western Highways. c 1940.

By 1940, the road (now federal Highway 15) had been completed all the way to Guadalajara, finally linking Mexico’s two largest cities by a ‘modern’ highway. The tourist potential of this route had long been recognized, since it included the southern shore of Lake Chapala. To celebrate the achievement, Mexico’s Western Highways, an English-language version of the book was released. Academic Kent Dickson’s assertion that this is a translation of La Ruta de Occidente is mistaken: Mexico’s Western Highways, “Presented by Pemex Travel Club” was an entirely rewritten guide, expanded to extend the route all the way to Guadalajara.

The simple, but effective road maps in both Spanish and English versions were drawn by Pablo C de Gante, who also supplied some of the photos. Other photos are credited to POSTAMEX, Mauricio Yáñez, Ruperto Martínez, and ‘Chávez.’

At least two editions of Mexico’s Western Highways are known. They have identical interiors, but different covers and are printed on different grades of paper. The cover of the edition with thicker paper shows a man looking towards an earthenware bowl, with a traditional butterfly fishing net typical of Lake Pátzcuaro in the background. The front cover of the edition on thinner (cheaper) paper—a tourist edition with the logo and imprint of the Asociación Mexicana de Turismo (founded in 1939) on the back cover—shows Janitzio, the Lake Pátzcuaro island associated with Noche de Muertos (Night of the Dead).

Some idea of how difficult transport had been in this region prior to this highway’s completion can be gleaned from Leo Stanley’s account of riding horseback around the western end of the lake in 1937.

Equally, it is no coincidence that among the first high quality photographs of the south side of the lake are those taken by an American couple, Esther Henderson and Chuck Abbott, in about 1942 for the the Arizona Highways magazine.

Illustrations in the book relating to Lake Chapala include a view of the south shore; a photograph of a sail canoe, described as a “curious type of sailboat… popular among the native fishermen of Lake Chapala;” and a general shot of the resort town itself.

Chapala was where “the people from the city flock to enjoy the excellent swimming, to rest and recuperate. Many people of Guadalajara have built summer homes at Chapala; others go there for week-ends or simply to spend the day.”

The book paints an exaggeratedly idyllic picture of Chapala at the time:

The atmosphere of Chapala is essentially festive and gay. The town is very attractive with its white-walled houses, its beautiful gardens and promenades, the chalets which dot the water’s edge and the many palm trees which suggest the tropics. The air is always full of the music played and sung by strolling groups of mariachis. Good hotels and restaurants answer the practical needs of enjoying a stay in this delightful vacation place.

Swimming at Chapala is grand sport. The beaches are of fine clean sand, and the balmy climate induces one to spend hour upon hour alternately sunbathing and dipping into the water of this lovely mountain lake. Launches are available for making trips on the lake, including excursions to the islands known as Presidio and Alacranes.”

One interesting side note. The final map in the book (shown above) has a “Brick Works” midway between the side road to the Juanacatlán Falls (“The Niagara of Mexico”) and Guadalajara. Historically, there have been several brick works in that general area, including the one owned by English architect George Edward King at the start of the twentieth century. Among other buildings, King designed and built—using bricks from his own yard—Chapala’s iconic “Casa Braniff,” completed in 1905.

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 Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury describe the fascinating villages and towns along Highway 15, which links Mexico City to Guadalajara and beyond.

Sources

  • Kent L Dickson. 2013. “Una excursión por México en auto. Guías turísticas, 1925-1940.” 2013, Annual Juan Bruce-Novoa Mexican Studies Conference, UC Irvine.
  • Pablo C. de Gante. 1939. La Ruta de Occidente. Mexico: D.A.P.P. (Departamento Autónomo de Prensa y Publicidad).
  • Pablo C. de Gante. 1940. Mexico’s Western Highways. Mexico: Pemex Travel Club.

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

Mar 072024
 

A striking series of color-tinted postcards was published by S. Altamirano in the mid-1920s. The application of color on these cards was far more sophisticated than that used earlier by (among others) Alba y Fernández.

The reverse side of these cards carries the imprint, “Editor S. Altamirano, Av. Colon 165, Guadalajara.” The front of the cards includes a series number and caption, in black lettering as a single line, using both upper and lower case. The font used for the number is smaller than the font used for the caption.

Most Altamirano cards depict buildings in Guadalajara. But at least five cards in the series are related to Lake Chapala. They include (below) this carefully-composed view, from the lake, of Chapala’s majestic railroad station (now the Centro Cultural González Gallo). Carriages are visible behind a throng of excited passengers. Given that the railroad station was only in service from 1920 to 1926, this photograph must date from that period.

Romero / S. Altamirano. c 1925. Chapala Railroad Station.

Romero / S. Altamirano. c 1925. Chapala Railroad Station.

Another Altamirano card shows the Hotel Arzapalo, as viewed from the main pier. A third, taken from almost the same vantage point, focuses on the San Francisco church and Casa Braniff; it has a line of cargo boats in the foreground.

Romero ? / S. Altamirano. c 1925. San Francisco Church and Casa Braniff.

Romero ? / S. Altamirano. c 1925. San Francisco Church and Casa Braniff.

The fourth card in the series is an unusual view from the beach looking up to the castle-like Villa Montecarlo. The only other Altamirano card I have seen that relates to Chapala is a view of the famous trio of villas—Niza, Elena and Josefina—that caught the eye of so many different photographers over the years.

At least two of the photographs—the railroad station and the trio of villas— are definitely the work of a Guadalajara-based photographer named Romero. Romero took black and white photos and usually added “Romero Fot” and “Es propiedad” on them as a means of protecting his authorship. Presumably Altamirano and Romero had a commercial relationship, and it is more than possible that the other images published by Altamirano as color-tinted postcards were also originally by Romero.

One possible candidate for “S. Altamirano” is Guadalajara-born Salvador Altamirano Jiménez (1883-1939). He was a civil and electrical engineer, married first (in 1909) to Cecilia Martínez Cairo and then (1926) to Dolores Elizondo. Prior to the Mexican Revolution, he was an engineer in the Mexican armed forces. He also liked fast cars and was a member of the the Mexican Section of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Each image on Altamirano postcards has a unique 5-digit number in tiny print at the bottom, sometimes in white, sometimes in black, depending on the tones in the photograph. These numbers are identical in style to the 5-digit numbers used by publisher Felix Martín of Mexico City. Martín’s postcards include one of the historic Villa Virginia in Chapala, and it seems likely that the two publishers had some kind of commercial connection.

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 7 August 2023.

Sources

  • La Iberia: diario de la mañana, 23 Jan 1910, 2.
  • The Mexican Herald: 8 Nov 1912, 8; 6 December 1912.
  • El Diario: 13 April 1914, 1.

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

Jan 262024
 

Every now and again my research into the photographers who captured images of Lake Chapala used on vintage postcards draws a near-complete blank. This post considers two striking images taken by “Andrade.”

The only reference I have so far found to Andrade comes in the unpublished journal (now in the archives of the California Historical Society) kept by Dr Leo Stanley, a prison doctor from California, when he visited Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in 1937. Near the end of his trip, Stanley decided to take a boat from Chapala to Mezcala Island to see for himself the ruins of the nineteenth century jail that had given rise to the island’s nickname, Prison Island. Just as Stanley is setting sail, Andrade asks if he can join him:

15 October 1937: I engaged the launch “Corona” to take us to the island, and invited Ysidoro [Ysidoro Pulido] and the two little Mexican boys of the day before to go with us. As we were about ready to shove off, a Mexican came to me and asked how much I would charge to let him go along with us to the island. He said he was a photographer and wanted to take some pictures there. I told him there would be no charge, and asked him to come along. He said his name was Andrade, and that he had taken a number of pictures about the lake, some of which he showed to me. With him was another boy of about fourteen years of age. This lad carried on his back a large gourd with a hinged door. In this gourd, he carried some of his photographic supplies.”

Unfortunately, no additional biographical information about Andrade is currently known. His two known postcards of Lake Chapala, presumed to date from the 1930s, are both views from the pier in Chapala looking towards the Widow’s Bar, Parroquía de San Francisco (the main church in Chapala) and the Casa Braniff. (For details about these buildings, see If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants, also available in Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes.)

Andrade. c 1935. En la playa del lago de Chapala.

Andrade. c 1935. En la playa del lago de Chapala.

The first image (above) reminds us that during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the lake was a vital link in the regional transportation network connecting central Mexico to Guadalajara. Local craft crisscrossed the lake every day ferrying all manner of goods and provisions, as well as people, from one small port to the next.

The vessels in use included paddle steamers, fishing skiffs, flat-bottomed launches (canoas) and large sail canoes (canoas de vela), like the one shown in the photograph. Paddle steamers (vapores) were faster, and could carry more cargo, but required more investment and were more expensive to operate than sail canoes.

Almost every village, however small, had its own pier or jetty. Larger towns, like Chapala, had several small piers, some for public use, others built privately by local property owners. The largest piers, like the one in the photograph offered sufficient depth of water that even large cargo-carrying vessels could safely tie up to load and unload.

Andrade. c 1935. En el muro, embarcadero. lago de Chapala.

Andrade. c 1935. En el muro, embarcadero. Lago de Chapala.

The second postcard photograph is more unusual. The large throng of people occupying the pier and lakeshore wall must presumably have been for some very special occasion or event. But what is the occasion? There are no obvious clues on the image. If you can suggest a reason or occasion for this large crowd to gather by the pier, please get in touch!

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Acknowledgments

My heartfelt thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, for supplying photos of Stanley’s account of his time at Lake Chapala. I am very grateful to Ms Kaplan and the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the excerpt used in this post.

Source

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

Dec 072023
 

We have looked previously at several excerpts from the journal written by Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) about his multi-day visit to Lake Chapala in October 1937.

On the morning of 15 October 1937—his final day before returning to Guadalajara—Stanley decided to take a two-hour launch trip with Alonzo, his traveling companion, to Mezcala Island, “six leagues from Chapala Village, and one of the points usually visited by tourists.”

Prior to being transformed into a penal settlement “for the captured criminals of Michoacán and Jalisco,” the island had witnessed the “first faint cry for Independence… [when] it was the theatre of many deadly conflicts between the harassed patriots and the royalists.”

Mezcala Island is the larger and more photographed of the two historically important islands in Lake Chapala. American photographer Winfield Scott took the first photos of the island that we know of, and was also responsible for the first organized tourist trips to Mezcala, advertised at the end of the nineteenth century.

Winfield Scott. c 1905. Prison Island (Mezcala Island). Credit: Fototeca Nacional INAH.

Winfield Scott. c 1900. Prison Island (Mezcala Island). Credit: Fototeca Nacional INAH.

When he visited the island in 1937, Stanley found that:

The immense prison (presidio, a name often applied to the island), which dominates the lake for miles around, is falling into decay. An old care-taker and his decrepit wife are the sole occupants of the castle-like pile – which is perched on the crest of a commanding hill. The visitor may like to bear in mind that Mezcala has an unsavory reputation for alacranes [scorpions], the bite of which is often fatal. The fishermen say there is an alacran for every stone on the rocky island, and they usually warn visitors against these venomous pests.”

Stanley hired the boat “Corona” to take them to the island, and invited three newly found friends—Ysidoro Pulido and a couple of young boys—to accompany them. At the last minute, they were joined by a photographer, Andrade, and a “another boy of about fourteen years of age. This lad carried on his back a large gourd with a hinged door. In this gourd, he carried some of his photographic supplies.”

A strong wind was blowing from the east, and waves were dashing over our boat. The captain was a fat Mexican, about forty years of age, who wore a felt hat, but his two sailors looked like brigands, and wore their sombreros. The boat was about thirty feet long, and built of metal. The seats were some which had been removed at some previous time from an abandoned street car. They were covered with plush which had been badly torn.”

Leo Stanley. Excerpt, page 75 of 1937 journal. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. Excerpt from journal, page 75. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

We arrived at the island about noon. It was a steep ascent through underbrush to the old presidio. The walls were intact but the roof had entirely disappeared, On one corner of the old jail was a modern faro, or lighthouse, which served as a beacon for the sailors on the lake. Inside the courtyard was a heavy growth of tropical vegetation, and it was difficult to work our way through…. There was much volcanic rock on the island, and in places there grew a very tough grass which was even too hard for animals to eat. It served for thatch on the building of the only inhabitants of the place, a Mexican and his wife with two young children. Inside the presidio was a small burro, the only animal, with the exception of a pig, which we saw. The old church near the northern end of the island was without a roof, and was so overgrown with vegetation that we were entirely unable to enter it.”

After returning to Chapala and partaking of an excellent lunch, Stanley caught the 4.00 pm bus to Guadalajara and reached his hotel, the Imperial, about two hours later.

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center. For a selection of earlier accounts of Mezcala Island and its history, see Lake Chapala Through the Ages.

Acknowledgments

My heartfelt thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, for supplying photos of Stanley’s account of his time at Lake Chapala. I am very grateful to Ms Kaplan and the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the extracts and photos used in this post.

Source

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

Nov 162023
 

Mauricio Yáñez was a Mexican photographer and one of the more prolific producers of postcards in Mexico during the 1930s. He took thousands of tourist photos of Mexico, showing towns, cities and people, including at least 20 related to Lake Chapala.

This view of Chapala and its lakeshore (below)  includes a lakefront cantina mid-way between the Arzapalo hotel building (on the left) and the twin towers of San Francisco church. The cantina was demolished during the construction of the main avenue to Chapala pier (Avenida Francisco I Madero) at the very start of the 1950s.

Mauricio Yáñez. Date unknown. Chapala waterfront.

Mauricio Yáñez. c 1935? Chapala waterfront.

Yáñez’s photographs of Lake Chapala include several beautifully-composed images of fishermen and their fishing techniques. Fishing at Lake Chapala was described by travel writer Edna Mae Stark at about the same time as Yáñez took these photos.

Mauricio Yáñez. c 1935?. Lake Chapala fishermen.

    Mauricio Yáñez. c 1935? Lake Chapala fishermen.

The photo above shows a timeless scene of local fishermen, including young men, deftly working a net to catch fish right next to the shore; the waterfront is covered by water hyacinth (lirio), first introduced to Lake Chapala at the end of the nineteenth century.

Fishermen constantly needed to repair their nets, a task depicted on the following postcard. “Drying large nets required the use of an extensive area of beach. Among the many significant adverse impacts of the rash of shoreline invasions that have occurred in the past century is the great reduction in the area available to fishermen for drying and mending their nets. Missing floats or weights and tears in the mesh, however small, require rapid replacement or repair. However long the nets, their drying, checking and repairing is an essential daily task.” (Lake Chapala: A Postcard History).

Maurico Yáñez. c 1935. Fishermen mending nets, Chapala. (Fig 8.7 of Lake Chapala: A Postcard History)

Maurico Yáñez. c 1935? Fishermen mending nets, Chapala. (Fig 8.7 of Lake Chapala: A Postcard History)

According to photography researcher Miguel Ángel Morales, Mauricio Yáñez was born in Jalisco in 1882 and died in an aviation accident in Tamazunchale, San Luis Potosí, on 1 April 1939. As a youth, Yáñez apparently used a do-it-yourself manual to build his own camera and began to take portraits. He moved to Guadalajara where he continued his career under the well-established and locally-renowned photographer Ignacio Gómez Gallardo.

During the Mexican Revolution, Yáñez became a correspondent for La Ilustración Semanal and also had numerous photos published in La Semana Ilustrada. He had a studio for a time in Culiacán, Sinaloa, where he took portraits of several leading Maderistas, and then opened a studio in Mazatlán in partnership with J. M. Guillen, before finally branching out on his own.

Yáñez moved to Monterrey, Nuevo León, in 1917 where, in partnership with Jesús R. Sandoval, he ran the “El Bello Arte” studio which specialized in marriage photography and portraits. While living in Monterrey, Yáñez and local author and politician David Alberto Cossio co-founded a literary magazine, Azteca.

From Monterrey, Yáñez is known to have visited the U.S. on at least two occasions, in 1918 and again in 1924-25. The latter visit may have been to meet Kodak executives. In 1925 he was named as the “representative of Kodak Mexicana” in Monterrey, where he hosted a dinner party to which numerous local photographers were invited. According to one source, Yanez had been asked by Kodak to re-organize the “Sociedad Fotográfica de Monterrey.”

Based afterwards in Mexico City, Yáñez amassed an impressive collection of photos, and in December 1928 began selling many of them as postcards. They depicted cities and sites of tourist interest across the entire country. According to one estimate, more than 5 million photographic postcards with Yáñez’s name were printed during his lifetime!

In 1935, with Hugo Brehme, Yáñez illustrated a bilingual guide to the Teotihuacán Archaeological Zone, and in 1937 the D.A.P.P. (Departamento Autónomo de Prensa y Propaganda) published his photographs in El Valle de México.

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 1 August 2019.

Sources

  • Arturo Guevara Escobar. 2012. “Mauricio Yáñez“. Blog entry, dated 14 July 2011.
  • Lynda Klich. 2018. “Circulating lo mexicano in Mauricio Yañez’s Postcards,” chapter 10 of Tara Zanardi and Lynda Klich. 2018. Visual Typologies from the Early Modern to the Contemporary: Local Contexts and Global Practices (Routledge).
  • Miguel Ángel Morales. 2017. “Mauricio Yáñez (1882-1939)“. Blog post dated 22 February 2017.

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

Nov 092023
 

We have looked previously at several excerpts from the journal written by Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) about his multi-day visit to Lake Chapala in October 1937.

Stanley and Alonzo (his traveling companion) had ridden on horseback around the western end of the lake to Tuxcueca; they crossed the lake back to Chapala on Wednesday 13 October 1937 aboard a gasoline-powered boat—“about forty feet long, fairly narrow, and made of metal.” During the trip, “One Mexican woman… busied herself with searching for little animals, or piojos, in the hair of her small infant. These, she would crack between her thumb nails.”

Leo Stanley. 1937 Hotel Arzapalo, Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937 Hotel Arzapalo, Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

They checked into the Hotel Nido at about 2.30pm. “It was just around the corner from the Hotel Nido to the hot mineral baths. Here, we cleaned ourselves of the dusts of travel, and went back to the hotel, where comida, or lunch, was being served.”

After a siesta, they decided to walk to the top of Cerro San Miguel before their evening meal:

One narrow street led up a very steep incline to a table-land, and ascending this street was a small burro loaded with heavy adobe bricks. The animal was urged along by a dirty little Mexican boy, who appeared to be not more than eleven years of age, but who, in reality, was sixteen. His father was building a house on the mesa, and this lad was, with his burro, bringing up the material. On top of the level table-land, we searched the ground, and found many pieces of obsidian, or volcanic glass. It was from this material that the Ancients made their arrowheads and spears.”
. . .
We asked him about finding any idols, spearheads, or monos, as the Mexicans call the relics of the ancient Aztecs and Toltecs… We told the lad that if he could find some monos for us, we would give him money for them. Another Mexican, who came along while we were there, told us that down a little canyon at the base of the cerro, was a Mexican, named Ysidoro [Ed: correct spelling is Isidoro], who had found many of these idols.”
This night we did not go on top of the extinct volcano, which some of the natives said was haunted, or enchanted, but went clear around its base, and finally came to the hut of Ysidiro. This lad, perhaps twenty-five years of age, was a bright and intelligent Mexican, who was extremely cordial and friendly. He brought out to us a big box of heavy, stone idols, which he displayed with great joy. These idols were for the most part, figures of squatting deities, rather ugly and grotesque. Some were in the shape of turtles, horned toads, bears, and cattle.
Ysidoro was quite proud of the fact that numerous tourists had visited him and had written him letters which he displayed to me. One was from a poet, named Brynner [Bynner] Witter, a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. [Ed: Some years later, after Witter Bynner bought a house in Chapala, he employed Isidoro as his housekeeper”] He also had a letter from Mrs W. F. Anderson, who lived in the Carmel Valley in Monterey, California. These people had all spent happy days in Chapala, and had been entertained by Ysidoro.
Mrs. Pulida [Pulido], Ysidoro’s wife, had, several weeks previously, given birth to a new baby, the fourth in the family, but she had developed a very severe inflammation of the bladder, and was lying quite ill in the hut. I promised Ysidoro that I would examine her the following day.”

After dinner, Stanley and Alonzo walked to the plaza:

This was well filled with people, who enjoyed spending the evening in the cool air. About the plaza were several cantinas and billiard halls. We visited some of these, and found that many of the Mexicans were playing and enjoying the evening…. Upon our return, we found that Maria, the chambermaid, had turned down our beds, and that the electric lights, which were supplied to the hotel by a gasoline dynamo, had been shut off and the motor quieted. We had to go to bed by candle light.”

The following morning, Thursday 14 October 1937, Stanley and Alonzo attended Mass before breakfast:

We heard the church bell ringing for Mass, and, looking into the tower, saw a youth ringing the heavy bell. We went into the church and stayed for Mass. Numerous women were walking on their knees from the entrance up to the altar, and every woman had on her mantilla, or head-covering. The church was highly decorated, and was well lighted with candles. The music and chanting was really very impressive.”

After breakfast they walked round to Ysidoro’s to ask him to help them search for idols. When they reached his home, they found that his wife was being cared for by a nurse, and that one of his friends was busy, “boiling, in a copper kettle over the wood fire, a mixture of cane sugar and milk. He was the candy-maker, and each night vended his wares in the plaza. He gave us some of his candy, which was really quite good.”

Ysidoro led them off, out of town, to hunt for idols:

With a crow-bar, pick and shovel, we started up around the base of the cerro…. Not far from the enchanted hill is a large mound which might prove to be an Aztec pyramid. There were numerous stones which had been brought in by the Ancients. These were probably foundations for some of their Temples.”
. . .
The plain up to the foot of the mountains was furrowed by small gullies and streams, some of which had flowing water. Almost all of this plain was under cultivation, growing crops of tomatoes, onions, chili, or corn. A few of the fields were ready for planting again. We encountered quite a number of Mexicans farming in the fields. To our inquiry regarding the human bones and idols, they usua1ly replied that they were “mas alla,” which means farther on. There were quite a number of out-croppings of limestone and shale. In some of these we found petrified wood, and in others perfectly preserved fossils of small ferns.

By noontime we had walked about three miles, and decided that we would rest under a mesquite bush. Here, we made a noonday meal of green onions and raw tomatoes. Ysidoro had brought along a few tortillas in his bolsa, or knapsack. … In another field… we found a number of scattered boulders, which evidently had been the markings of a grave. Ysidoro thought this was a likely place to dig. He and Alonzo worked like Trojans, and dug a hole in which one could have buried an ox, but the search was unproductive.”

On their walk back to Chapala they took a different route, looking for more likely digging places and found a number of human bones, two dozen beads and numerous pieces of ancient pottery, concluding that, “All through the hills were places where human beings had been buried, some of them perhaps hundreds of years ago, and others more recently.”

Stanley and Alonzo got back to town at about six o’clock and enjoyed a refreshing thermal bath before dinner. Among the other guests at the Hotel Nido were a couple with their two nieces: “young ladies of about twenty years of age.”

Stanley suggested that the nieces walk with them to the band concert in the plaza:

Of course, I asked the aunt and uncle first. They approved. One of the girls had come from Mexico City and there had studied English in a private school. As we walked about the plaza, she and I agreed that she should speak with me in English, and I would talk to her in Spanish, and in that way we would both get practica, or practice, in the language we desired. This was very excellent training for both of us, and we discussed many subjects. She spoke English slowly but correctly. There were many people in the plaza on this night. There was no light in the bandstand but the musicians played their instruments in the dark and really rendered very good music. Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening. There were a few girls on the loose. The Mexican boys, with their sombreros and serapes over their shoulders, would ogle them at times, and occasionally in passing would drop a few pinches of confetti on the girls’ heads. This, they all seemed to enjoy. Promptly at ten o’clock, tío and tía, or uncle and auntie, appeared on the plaza and told us that it was time for the girls to come in. This was, of course, entirely agreeable.”

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Acknowledgments

My heartfelt thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, for supplying photos of Stanley’s account of his time at Lake Chapala. I am very grateful to Ms Kaplan and the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the excerpts and photo used in this post.

Source

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 192023
 

At least two postcards of Lake Chapala from the late 1920s bear the imprint on their reverse side of “F. Martín. Mexico, D.F.” and a stylized “FM” circular logo. According to researcher Arturo Guevara Escobar, the “F. Martín” name was registered as a trade name and used for about 50 years for several distinct series of postcards, which makes it likely that the estimated 1000+ postcards produced by the firm represented the work of more than one individual.

The main “F. Martín” series has bilingual captions in red numbered from 1 to at least 628. This series includes the two cards illustrated here. It is unknown whether these photographs, which date from the 1920s, were taken by Martín himself or were the bought-in work of other photographers.

Felix Martin. Date unknown. Lago de Chapala.

F. Martin. c 1928 (?). “Lago de Chapala.”

The card above (#158) shows a view of Chapala from the west towards the town and jetty of Chapala. The twin towers of the Church of San Francisco are especially prominent.

The card below (#154) is one the very few postcards showing Villa Virginia, one of the numerous elegant villas built along the lakeshore in the period 1890-1930. This particular villa, west of the jetty, and still standing, was built after 1905 by the Hunton family. The matriarch of the family was the basis for the title character of Arthur Davison Ficke’s 1939 novel “Mrs Morton of Mexico.” (See chapter 31 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.)

Felix Martin. Date unknown. "Un challet a orillas del Lago de Chapala"

F. Martin. c 1928 (?). “Un challet a orillas del Lago de Chapala”

The images on both postcards have five-digit numbers—97899 and 97900 respectively—in tiny white font in the lower left corner. These numbers appear to be identical in style to the five-digit numbers found on cards published (at approximately the same time) by “S. Altamirano” of Guadalajara, so it is likely that the two publishers had a commercial relationship.

The mystery of F. Martín

Arturo Guevara Escobar decided that postcards marked “F. M.” or “F. Martín” were almost certainly the work of Félix Martín Espinoza, who lived in Mexico City, and was a member of the committee responsible for overseeing Mexican participation in the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893. The address of this individual in the first decade of the 20th century was 1er Callejón de López #416.

Display adverts in the Mexico City press from 1901 to 1913 tie that address (and a series of others) to the “Yucatán Medicine Co.” a company selling patent medicines, including a vegetable oil for hair color restoration made by the doctor. At least one of the hair restorer ads gives the doctor’s full name as “Félix Martín Espinoza L.” This would mean that “Martín” was not the doctor’s paternal surname (as the name “F. Martín” would suggest) but was actually his second name, and that his paternal surname was Espinoza. It would have been very unusual at the start of the twentieth century to use two forenames as an advertising/company name, so I believe we need to find a stronger candidate for the “F. Martín” who published postcards.

A much more likely candidate, in my opinion, though no further biographical details are known, is the “Felix Martín” who lived at “5a Capuchinas 89, Mexico City,” and placed regular advertisements in The Mexican Herald from October 1913 to April 1914 claiming to be “The best place in the city to buy postal cards at wholesale prices.” A subsequent F. Martín campaign, in El Pueblo from 1915 to 1919, offered “postcards of every type and style.” The Capuchinas address was a commercial premises which had previously belonged to Bordenave & Coryn, “General Agents for Scotch Whisky Perfection, American Whiskey, Ceylon Tea, etc.”

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 30 July 2019.

Source

  • El Imparcial: diario ilustrado de la mañana,12 April 1913, 6.
  • El Pueblo: 12 Nov 1915, 5; 19 Jan 1919, 6.
  • El Siglo Diez y Nueve, 30 April 1884, 4.
  • Arturo Guevara Escobar. 2011. Letra: M. “Fotógrafos y prodcutores de postales.” Originally published 19 November 2011.
  • The Mexican Herald: 14 October 1913, 6; 7 April 1914, 6.
  • Semanario Literario Ilustrado, 1 July 1901.

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

Sep 282023
 

Serenata de Chapala was first performed at the Padua Hills Theatre, California, on 2 August 1939 and had a highly successful one-month run. This makes it the earliest Chapala-linked play I have so far come across! Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that a script still exists, since its author and director, Charles Alvah Dickinson, was a strong proponent of improvisation.

Dickinson was born in Corona, California, on 26 December 1910 and died from a heart attack in Claremont, California, on 3 December 1950. He graduated from Pomona College in 1932 and gained a master’s degree from Caremont Graduate School in 1934, by which time he was already working with the Padua Hills Theatre, located three miles north of Claremont, a city on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County. In 1940, Dickinson married Kathryn Estelle Welch (1909-1984).

Dickinson’s 18 years with the Padua Hills Theatre was interrupted only by his service in the US Army from 1943 to 1945. At the theatre, he was the art and dance director of the Mexican Players, an acting group that was the mainstay of the Padua Hills Theatre, which began in the early 1930s and lasted until 1974.

Dickinson wrote more than 100 plays produced at Padua Hills, and acted in or directed many others. All the plays had close ties either to Mexico or to Mexico-California connections, and Dickinson’s in-depth knowledge of Mexico was ever-apparent. In 1936, for example, he took the part of an American entomologist in It rained in Ixtlán del Río, “a riotous comedy” about a bandit who tried to take advantage of a group of train passengers stranded in a crowded inn after their journey north was interrupted owing to a blockage on the railroad line.

The theatre, built in 1930, had struggled through the Great Depression. But Mr and Mrs Herman H Garner recognized the potential of the many young Mexican boys and girls who worked there and founded, in 1935, the Padua Institute. The institute arranged classes, some with guest teachers from Mexico, in music, dance, dramatics, languages and arts and crafts, all with the aim of promoting friendly relations between the US and Mexico.

Ad for "Serenata de Chapala (Redlands Daily Facts, 2 Aug 1939)

Ad for “Serenata de Chapala (Redlands Daily Facts, 2 Aug 1939)

At the time Serenata de Chapala was running, the Mexican Players consisted of a group of about 30 young people of Mexican or Spanish Californian descent, some of whom were born in Mexico, and most of whom had lived in California for some time.

Serenata de Chapala was a rollicking romantic comedy in two acts. Performances were followed by a “Jamaica” or outdoor carnival of songs, dances and festive Mexican games. Presented in Spanish, Serenata de Chapala was about the serio-comic tribulations of a sextet of ardent young lovers. The “conversation of the play frequently introduces English, and the action is so arranged that it is easily followed by those who do not understand Spanish.” Chapala, the setting for the play, was described in publicity materials as “Mexico’s famed vacation resort.”

According to one review, “Serenata de Chapala told a merry and exciting story of how an Americanized Mexican lad unwittingly solved a romantic quadrangle through defying time-honored customs to give the señoritas a thrill.” Another reviewer wrote how “Serenading a señorita in Mexico at 4 o’clock in the morning is a hazardous pastime that may provoke a pistol barrage from an irate papa, to judge by the startling and hilarious climax of Serenata de Chapala.’”

"Serenata de Chapala" (Redlands Daily Facts, 14 Aug 1939)

“Serenata de Chapala” (Redlands Daily Facts, 14 Aug 1939)

The Padua Hills Theatre won national and international recognition as a unique cultural project, with the Stage magazine including them on their list of the ten best little theatre groups in the US. According to Wikipeda, Padua Hills Theatre was the longest running theater featuring Mexican-theme musicals in the US. The dinner theatre group called the “Mexican Players” lasted until 1974. Several former players continued their careers on stage; others, such as Natividad Vacío, made their name in movies.

The Padua Hills property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, and is used today primarily for weddings and special events.

This website has many evocative images of the Padua Hills Theatre in its heyday.

Papers, flyers, photos and other material associated with Padua Hills Theatre are housed in a special collection at the Claremont Colleges Library.

Sources

  • Anon. “‘Padua Hills’ – Unusual Institution.” Pacific Electric Magazine, August 1939, 3-4.
  • Redlands Daily Facts: 25 Jul 1939; 2 Aug 1939; 14 Aug 1939; 23 Aug 1939.
  • South Pasadena Review: 1 Sep 1939, 2.
  • The Pomona Progress Bulletin: 12 Feb 1936, 5; 4 Dec 1950, 13.
  • Santa Barbara News-Press: 4 Dec 1950, 3.
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.

Sep 222023
 

Among the many early postcards of Lake Chapala that were published in Mexico City are several labeled with a caption and stylized “MF” logo. These cards were produced and distributed by México Fotográfico, a Mexico City firm founded by Demetrio Sánchez Ortega. Sánchez Ortega himself took many of the photographs used for the company’s early cards and may have taken this view of the shoreline in Chapala with its distinctive “chalets”. The three most prominent buildings nestled beneath Cerro San Miguel in this image are (from left to right) Villa Elena, Villa Niza and Villa Josefina.

México Fotográfico. Date unknown. Chapala chalets.

México Fotográfico. c 1930. (l to r) Villa Elena, Villa Niza and Villa Josefina.

Demetrio Sánchez Ortega was born in Huatusco, Veracruz, on 22 December 1898. He moved to Mexico City in search of work as a young man and took a job selling paper before finding work as a traveling agent for the Cervecería Moctezuma brewery. This position involved traveling to bars (cantinas) all over the country, where he would perform simple sleight-of-hand and magic tricks, using cards, bottles and simple props, all designed to boost the sales of the brewery’s XX beer brand.

During these trips he must have come across (and maybe relied on) existing illustrated tourist guides, just as he surely encountered postcards published earlier by the likes of Hugo Brehme, Alfred Briquet, William Henry Jackson and Charles B. Waite.

The knowledge, experience and connections that he built up during his travels served him well when he decided to become a photographer. Introduced to photography by a friend, and almost entirely self-taught, Sánchez Ortega founded México Fotográfico, located on Calzada de Guadalupe in Villa de Guadalupe in Mexico City, in 1925, a year after Plutarco Elías Calles became president. Some sources suggest he had government support. México Fotográfico, like several other postcard publishers, became an important pillar of Mexico’s promotion of tourism.

México Fotográfico. ca 1940s. Chapala plaza and ex-presidencia.

México Fotográfico. c 1945 (?). Former Chapala plaza and Presidencia Municipal.

The view of downtown Chapala (above) shows the plaza in its pre-1950s location and the former Presidencia Municipal.

México Fotográfico was very much a family business. Sánchez Ortega and his wife, Tomasita Pedrero, had five children—Alfredo, Eustolia, Teresa, Demetrio and Alfonso—all of whom worked at one time or another in the laboratory and printing side of the business.

Later, the sons became traveling photographers. The company employed a number of “traveling agents”, responsible for photographing the places they visited while promoting the company, taking orders and arranging the distribution of postcards.

México Fotográfico. Date unknown. Chapala lakeshore.

México Fotográfico. c 1950. Chapala lakeshore.

This card (above), showing the lakeshore, trees and fishing nets, and believed to date from the 1950s, was a popular choice as a memento of a trip to Lake Chapala.

Over the years, México Fotográfico amassed an extensive and culturally-rich collection of landscapes and towns large and small all over the country. The collection includes more than 25 cards related to Chapala, and an additional 10 cards of Ocotlán. Several of the cards were reissued in a colorized edition with crenulated edges, and the firm published at least one multi-view card of Chapala, with small reproductions of six photographs in the series.

México Fotográfico. c. 1935? Main beach, Chapala.

México Fotográfico. c. 1935? Main beach, Chapala.

The company’s longevity (it was still producing cards into the 1970s) meant that its corpus of work provides a valuable visual record of the changes in towns, people and customs across post-revolutionary Mexico.

The Mexico City daily, Excelsior, had introduced a weekly supplement—Jueves en Excelsior—in 1923. Photographs published by México Fotográfico were used occasionally as illustrations in 1926. In 1927, the two companies began a much closer relationship, with México Fotográfico supplying many of the photos used in the supplement, perhaps in exchange for small display ads. The earliest such ad, in May 1927, had a portrait of Sánchez Ortega and the text “Fundador gerente de la negociación México Fotográfico, establecida en Guadalupe Hidalgo, México, DF”.

México Fotográfico was active from the 1920s into the 1970s. Its founder, the beer-parlor magician Demetrio Sánchez Ortega, master of postcard illustration, gradually lost his sight and had become completely blind by the time of his death on 27 January 1979.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Manuel Ramirez for responding to a query posted on Facebook asking which postcard publisher utilized the MF logo.

This profile is based almost entirely on the extensive research by Mayra N. Uribe Eguiluz for her 2011 thesis on the company for a Masters degree in Art History at the National University (UNAM) and her related article in Alquimia, referenced below.

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 29 July 2019.

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 302023
 

This year (2023) marks the centenary of D H Lawrence’s visit to Chapala, where he wrote Quetzalcoatl, the first draft of The Plumed Serpent. At some point in the trip, almost certainly en route to Chapala, Lawrence stayed at the Hotel Ribera Castellanos (located on the lakeshore between Ocotlán and Jamay). This hotel, often called simply Hotel Ribera, no longer exists, but has numerous literary claims to fame dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, when the property was owned by Ignacio Castellanos and his wife, poet Esther Tapia de Castellanos.

In The Plumed Serpent, Ocotlán became Ixtlahuacan (chapter V) and the Hotel Ribera Castellanos the Orilla Hotel (chapters V, VI).

“The hotel consisted of an old low ranch-house with a veranda — and this was the dining-room, lounge, kitchen, and office. Then there was a two-storey new wing, with a smart bathroom between each two bedrooms, and almost up-to-date fittings: very incongruous.

But the new wing was unfinished — had been unfinished for a dozen years and more, the work abandoned when Porfirio Diaz fled. Now it would probably never be finished.” (chapter V)

In the following chapter, Lawrence explained how the “Orilla, which had begun to be a winter paradise for the Americans” had suffered badly during the Revolution but that “In 1921 a feeble new start had been made” and “the hotel was very modestly opened again, with an American manager.” (chapter VI)

That American hotel manager (named Bell in chapter VI) was hotelier-photographer Winfield Scott, who had actually become manager of the Hotel Ribera in 1919. By the time of Lawrence’s visit, Scott had moved on to manage the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala. When Lawrence and his wife rented a house in Chapala, their traveling companions—Witter Bynner and ‘Spud’ Johnson—took rooms at the Arzapalo. Scott needed little prompting to regale Lawrence and his friends with all kinds of stories of the old days.

Dwight Furness. c 1907. Hotel Ribera Castellanos. (Fig 6-6 of Lake Chapala: A Postcard History.)

Dwight Furness. c 1907. Hotel Ribera. (Fig 6-6 of Lake Chapala: A Postcard History)

But when and why was the Hotel Ribera first built? In 1902, American entrepreneur Dwight Furness, who had numerous business interests in Guanajuato, bought the estate from the Castellanos family. Having seen the obvious success of the purpose-built Hotel Arzapalo which opened its doors in Chapala in 1898, Furness envisioned an even grander resort hotel on this lakeside property near the main Mexico City-Guadalajara railroad line, alongside a modern “summer colony” of vacation homes for the wealthy. Plans were announced to add a health spa, golf links and bowling alley. Construction of the first homes and the Hotel Ribera began in 1904. One of the first to build a cottage close to the hotel was Arturo Braniff, from Mexico City, who also bought a much grander house, the Casa Pérez Verdía, in Chapala for his widowed mother.

The Hotel Ribera advertised with the the tagline, “The Riviera of Mexico” and claimed to be a “Sportsman’s Paradise.” It quickly became a highly desirable and popular destination, where all manner of politicians and celebrities would hob-nob over the next decade. Shortly after Furness added 60 more rooms in 1909, journalist Winifred Martin vacationed there; she remarked on the colorful flora and fauna and described the hotel as “picturesque and charming with lawns sloping steeply to the water’s edge… the long rambling building with its tiled roof fits well into the setting.”

When pioneering female travel writer Marie Wright, author of two non-fiction books about Mexico, visited in 1910, she lauded the Ribera as “a fine new hotel of modern equipment.” The following year, Juan Kaiser, the Swiss-born store owner and publisher (responsible for some of the finest early postcards of Chapala and Guadalajara) stayed at the hotel to recover from a relapse of malaria. Not long afterwards, veteran traveler writer Harry Franck arrived by boat from Chapala and stayed a couple of nights, before taking the hotel launch across the lake to La Palma to continue his herculean hike through Mexico.

In February 1911, prolific American children’s writer Emily Huntington Miller (1833-1913), who founded “The Little Corporal”—the first serial magazine for children published in the US—stayed at the Hotel Ribera.

In 1916, Janet M Cummings photographed Lake Chapala for National Geographic. Cummings was one of the first female photographers ever to have work published by that august magazine. She took the image titled “Water carriers at Lake Chapala” in Ocotlán, presumably during a short stay at the Hotel Ribera.

When the Mexican Revolution prompted Dwight Furness and his family to leave Mexico, the Hotel Ribera was sold to Enrique Langenscheidt Schwartz, a prominent German businessman living in Guanajuato. Tragically, his son, Enrique Langenscheidt Jr., was murdered there by bandits in 1919. Despite Scott’s best efforts to revive business, the hotel gradually lost popularity and clientele.

By the time travel writer Edna Mae Stark argued in 1930 that “The most modern town on the shores of Lake Chapala is Ribera Castellanos, which is destined for popularity as a vacation resort. With a good hotel as headquarters, guests may fish, or hunt, swim or ride horseback, go motoring or sailing,” the hotel was in terminal decline. All that remains today of this once-grand lakeside resort are  a few ruined walls.

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.

See chapter 6 of Lake Chapala: a postcard history for an extended history of the Hotel Ribera Castellanos.

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.

Sep 222022
 

According to his birth certificate, painter and art educator Luis Sahagún Cortés was born in the town of Sahuayo, Michoacán, on 20 November 1900 (and not on 20 May as stated in some online biographies). His parents were well educated: his mother (Petra Cortés, or Cortéz as on his birth certificate) was a teacher and his father (Pascual Sahagún) a doctor. In 1900, Sahuayo was situated on the southern shore of Lake Chapala; during the artist’s childhood, the eastern third of the lake was drained and ‘reclaimed’ for agriculture, causing Sahuayo to lose its proximity to the lake.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Autoretrato. Credit: Morton Casa de Subastas, 2017.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Autoretrato. Credit: Morton Casa de Subastas, 2017.

Luis Sahagún studied art in Guadalajara from the age of 18 with José Vizcarra (1868-1956) and then at the Escuela Libre de Bellas Artes in Mexico City before moving to Rome, Italy, in 1925 to study at the Academy Libre de Desnudo, where his teachers included Rómulo Bernardini. Sahagún also attended art classes and workshops in Turkey, Palestine, Egypt and Morocco.

Sahagún returned from Europe in 1932 and married Italian-born Adela Appiani Panozzi (c.1907-1964) in Mexico City on 5 November 1936; the couple never had children.

Sahagún dedicated his life to his art and art education. As an educator, he was Professor of Art at the National Fine Arts School (Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas) in Mexico City, where he had a studio in the colonia Postal, from 1932 to 1976. He also led the Departamento de Restauración Artística del Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) for more than 20 years.

Among the many students of his who went on to enjoy distinguished careers as professional artists were Raul Anguiano, José Luis Cuevas, Humberto Peraza, Luis Nichizawa and Martha Chapa.

Sahagún held more than 40 one-person exhibitions, in locations from France, Spain and Cuba to New York and Philadelphia, and was commissioned to complete official portraits of numerous ex-Presidents. During the presidency (1934-1940) of Lázaro Cárdenas, Sahagún was appointed official painter to the president, commissioned to complete official portraits of numerous former presidents and asked to paint several murals, including some in Los Pinos (formerly the official residence of the president), and the Palacio Nacional (National Palace).

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

In addition to his oil paintings, his charming well-executed drawings are much sought after by collectors. Drawings and paintings by Sahagún are on permanent display in the Gallery of the Società Dante Alighieri in Rome, Italy, and can be found in collections in New York, London, the Dutch Royal Academy, Denmark, Monaco, the Oval Office of the U.S., Cuba, and many other places, including, now, the Ajijic Museum of Art.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Personajes en el autobus. Credoit: Morton casa de subastas.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Personajes en el autobus. Credit: Morton Casa de subastas.

Sahagún never relinquished his attachment to Sahauyo and moved back there in 1975 to live out his final years. His paintings can be admired in the city’s Santuario de Guadalupe, and in the Museo Luis Sahagún museum (part of the Casa de la Cultura Petrita Cortés de Sahagún).

luis-sahagun-cover

His most well known works in Sahuayo are the fourteen unique stations of the cross, using Venetial mosaics and commemorating the Cristero martyrs, embedded in niches beside the stairway leading up to the Cristo Rey monument. Sahagún’s depictions feature Purepecha Indians; this is perhaps the only Way of the Cross in the world to have truly indigenous motifs.

Sahagún died in Sahuayo on 24 February 1978. In his memory, Mexico’s Lotería Nacional issued tickets bearing his portrait, and (in 1999) a series of Ladatel phone cards with illustrations of his paintings was issued.

A short book about his life and work was published in 2006 by the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA).

Several fine examples of drawings by Luis Sahagún Cortés are in the permanent collection of the Ajijic Museum of Art (AMA).

Sources

  • Ma. del Carmen Alberú Gómez. 2006. Luis Sahagún Cortés : pincel del equilibrio. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA).
  • 2-minute Facebook video: Via Crucis de Cristo Rey en Sahuayo, Michoacán.
  • El Informador: 12 November 1998, 53.
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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 102022
 

The distinguished American screenplay writer Charles Kaufman (1904-1991) was in his mid-twenties when he lived for several months in Ajijic in 1929, with his girlfriend, Edith Huntsman. A decade later, he dedicated his first and only novel – Fiesta in Manhattan – “To the good people of Ajijíc.” (Note that Ajijic is normally written without any accent.)

The novel is about Juan Perez and his wife who live on the shores of Lake Chapala. This extract from the dust jacket blurb sets the scene: “They were young and their color was the color of warm brown earth – black-haired Indian Juan Perez and his wife Elena, from the village of San Andrés, with the sunlit plaza and the sleepy burros and the mango and papaya trees. And now there, who had never before been more than a few miles from home, were in a huge, plunging boat bound for the United States.”

The couple live on the lakeshore: “From their doorway, through the mango and papaya trees they could see the lake sparkling in the morning sun or darkening to indigo under angry skies when the rains came, or lavender and win-colored and hushed when the wind died at sunset.” (14-15)

Juan is a musician. While playing his guitar to accompany a group portraying the Conquest of Mexico at the Three Kings’ festival at Cajititlan, he is spotted by a wealthy American author, Miss Carolyn Crane, who lures him to the U.S., telling him, “You must come to the United States and play your guitar.” Miss Crane, the author, “collects” artists and musicians to help amuse guests at her book-publicizing soirées and pays their passage to New York.

Kaufman includes interesting details of the Cajititlán event (still one of the largest annual fiestas in western Mexico), saying that it celebrated the recovery of statuettes of the Three Kings that had been buried for five years. This presumably refers to them having been hidden from view during the Cristeros years (1926-1929), just prior to his visit to Ajijic. In similar religious vein, Kaufman mentions that Juan once undertook a 7-day pilgrimage to Talpa, and knew the “El Señor del Guaje” church (in Jocotepec). (Details of these important religious events and their significance can be found in chapters 4, 8 and 11 of my Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury.)

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The fictional village of San Andrés is described as six hours by canoa from Chapala. When Juan and Elena leave their village for the U.S., they take this boat ride to Chapala, then a bus to Guadalajara, followed by the overnight train to Mexico City. They have a day to get their bearing before catching the overnight train to Vera Cruz (sic) for the ocean-going steamer to Progreso (Yucatán) and onward to New York.

Once in New York, Juan and Elena end up living in a teeming, Spanish-speaking section of Manhattan, alongside Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Spaniards and Filipinos. They become acutely aware of what they have left behind.

When Crane’s patronage eventually runs out, Juan and Elena struggle to survive. They miss Lake Chapala but can’t save enough to return. Given their limited options and worsening financial situation, Juan resorts to working for a drugs dealer.

There are many memorable and well-drawn characters in this entertaining and thought-provoking novel. Kaufman’s intimate knowledge of Lake Chapala and local folklore shine through, making his examination of Juan and Elena’s motives and thoughts a far more searching and accurate portrayal than the vast majority of English-language novels about Mexico.

All in all, I find myself completely agreeing with the last paragraph on the dust jacket that Kaufman was “a new talent, with a fresh point of view, working in an untouched scene, and producing a book of light and shadow, comedy and pathos, that will leave the reader a little breathless of the beauty and terror of life.”

Sadly, plans for a big-screen adaptation of the book, starring John Garfield and directed by Vincent Sherman, never came to fruition. Shooting was supposed to start in the summer of 1940. There is no question that this book would still make a great movie. (If you sell this idea to Netflix, please remember my finder’s fee!)

Sources

  • Charles Kaufman. 1939. Fiesta in Manhattan. New York: William Morrow & Company. 311 pp.
  • Patrick J. McGrath. 1993. John Garfield: The Illustrated Career in Films and on Stage. McFarland, 1993.
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10 June 1940, 7; 14 Jun 1940, 11.
  • The Pittsburgh Press, 14 Sep 1940, 10.

For more about early foreigners in Ajijic, see Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: decades of change in a Mexican village (2022).

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 092021
 

The following excerpts come from the detailed account written by Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) after visiting Lake Chapala in October 1937. (For ease of reading, accents and italics have been added and spelling standardized.)

Note that early descriptions (in English or Spanish) of the villages on the south shore of the lake are exceedingly rare, making Stanley’s account especially valuable.

San Luis Soyatlán

Our next objective was San Luis Soyatlán, the Cathedral spires of which town we could see at a long distance. In the flat Mexican villages, the church always stands out prominently. There were a number of smaller vi11ages, at which we stopped for a few moments, and at one place we were able to get some beer. The Mexican girl who served us was a rather pretty señorita, and evidently a friend of Ramón’s. She had not seen him for several weeks, and greeted him in a very friendly manner. As Ramón was not married, Alonzo and I began to josh him a little and accused him of liking the girls. This seemed to please him very much.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Post Office on south shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Post Office on south shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

In going through one village, we saw the post office. On a blackboard in front of it were the names of those for whom a letter was waiting. This did not seem to be a very bad idea.

Far out in the country we came across a young Mexican who was hunting. He was looking for doves, or pa1omas. He had a muzzle-loading shotgun, and carried his powder and caps in a container made of a cow’s horn. It was an interesting old weapon, and was made in 1850. The date was on the barrel. He offered to sell it to me for ten pesos, which is about three dollars, but it would have been difficult to transport, and I had to refuse this old relic. [56-57]

At this point, Stanley realized that his original plan to ride all the way around Lake Chapala was impossible in the time he had available. He decided to stay overnight in San Luis Soyatlán and then ride on the next morning to Tuxcueca in time to catch the daily boat to Chapala, leaving Ramón to “retrace our steps with the animals.”

They reached San Luis by mid-afternoon and found somewhere to stay. While the others finished their meal in a fonda which had “large quantities of flies,” Stanley strolled down to the lake shore:

It was a very pretty afternoon, and off in the distance across the lake toward San Juan could be seen a peculiar phenomenon. By landslides and erosions in the mountains, the natural form of a spread eagle was displayed in brown against the green verdure. This marking could be seen very distinctly from the southern shore of the lake.

Because of road building activities around San Luis there are a number of new trucks being used. One of the drivers had directed his new Chevrolet truck into the water along the shallow margins of the lake, and was giving it a very thorough cleaning. He took as much care of his truck as the ordinary private chauffeur of his owner’s limousine. As he polished, he sang, and seemed to enjoy the occupation very much. [58-59]

Upon returning, I stopped at a number of the Spanish houses along the street, and there saw the women and some of the children weaving material for hats, or sombreros. A very tough reed is used. It is woven into strips about half and inch wide, the women work very deftly with their fingers, and area able to braid the reeds without even looking at them. These strips are then rolled up as much as one would roll a tape, and are then sent to a central shop where the hat maker forms them into the sombreros. This headgear is very durable, and serves the purpose of keeping off the rain as well as the tropical sun.

The following morning (13 October 1937) they rode on towards Tuxcueca:

We rode on out through the town, and toward the east… During the middle of the forenoon, we arrived at an adobe school house which overlooked the lake. We went in and found the maestra, or teacher, quite friendly and highly pleased that anyone should care to visit her school. She apologized for the appearance of the place, but it really was quite tidy and comfortable. The children were delighted to line up for their pictures. One child had absolutely no clothing on at all, but the others had enough to cover their nakedness. [63]

Leo Stanley. 1937. Shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Shore of Lake Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

When they reached Tuxcueca, Stanley was asked if he would see two girls who were quite ill:

It was about two cuadras, or blocks, away. The captain of the boat said that he would hold the launch for me. This house was a make-shift hospital, and run by a practical nurse.

There were two girls in a very dark room, one aged seventeen, and the other about eleven. Both were ill with pneumonia, and the small one’s lungs were almost entirely congested. She was comatose, and I felt that the end was not far away. There was very little that I could do under the circumstances, but I gave them some instructions, which they seemed to appreciate. They asked for a bill for my services, but of course I told them that there was no charge.

While we were waiting on the stone pier for the departure of the boar, four or five burros were driven to the eater’s edge to unload their burdens. These little animals each had four or five immense planks which they had carried from forests across the mountains. Each load must have weighed between three and four hundred pounds.

A few minutes later, Stanley and Alonzo took the gasoline boat—described as “about forty feet long, fairly narrow, and made of metal”— back to Chapala, arriving just in time to enjoy a late lunch.

Source

Acknowledgments

My heartfelt thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, for supplying photos of Stanley’s account of his time at Lake Chapala. I am very grateful to Ms Kaplan and the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the extracts and photos used in this post.

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.

Aug 122021
 

The following excerpts come from the detailed account written by Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) after visiting Lake Chapala in October 1937. (For ease of reading, accents and italics have been added and spelling standardized.)

On 11 October, Stanley and his two Mexican companions, José Alonzo and Ramón, rode from Chapala to Jocotepec, where they found somewhere to stay overnight and then went out for a walk:

It was only a block to the plaza, with its bandstand and garden. There was quite a crowd of people walking about, and in front of a building, evidently a show piece, the nondescript band was playing. Around the edges of the plaza were numerous small stands where oranges, bananas, and various fruit, together with soft drinks, were being vended. We went to a corner restaurant, or fonda. It was far from clean, but was the best that the town furnished, flies were in preponderance, but after our long ride of about twenty miles the first day, we were fairly hungry. Alonzo and Ramón ate the full bill of fare, but I was satisfied with some tortillas, hot beans, a little stewed meat, and plenty of water which I ordered to be boiled. The boys evidently were satisfied with their repasts.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Presidencia, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Presidencia, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

On this night there was a show in town, and on the street corner was a little Mexican who, through a megaphone, announced to the assembled groups in the plaza that this great spectacle was to take place, that in the show was a renowned professor who could read the past, present and future, that this show was one which no one could afford to miss. Its spieler advised that, instead of spending their money for fruit and sweets in the plaza, they should spend it going to this world renowned show. The little fellow really put in a great deal of effort persuading the townspeople to come. In the meantime, the band gave forth its music. [49-50]

The following morning (12 October 1937) the three men were up and about even before it got light:

We went out into the starlight toward the plaza, in order to buy some feed for the horses. A few people were already on the streets, but the feed store did not open until six—thirty. We spent the next half an hour in our room by candlelight, adjusting the stirrups and making the saddles more comfortable. Upon going to the plaza again just before daylight we met some Mexicans who told us that a man had been killed the night before, and that his body was lying in the patio of the jail.

We went over to the Presidencia, and there we met the Comandante. Alonzo told him who we were, and that we would like to see the defunto or dead man. There was a squad of about ten Mexicans in the patio, dressed in their broad sombreros, and covered by serapes. They each had a rifle and really looked quite dangerous, and none too careful with their firearms….

Leo Stanley. 1937. Jail, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Jail, Jocotepec. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

… we went into the patio of the jail, and there found sprawled out on his back, the blood—covered body of a short, middle-aged Mexican. His large sombrero, covered with blood, lay on the flagstones near him. He wore white soiled pantaloons rolled to his knees, and a soiled shirt open at the front. He had a large cut over his left wrist which had almost disarticulated the joint. Over his breastbone and through it was a deep stab wound which had gone entirely through the breastplate and entered the heart. In addition to this, he had been shot through the head. His assailant wanted to be sure that he was dead…..

With this rather auspicious, and perhaps awe-inspiring beginning of our second day in the country, we felt it would be well to go over to the fonda and have a bite of breakfast. [51-52]

Stanley also describes the family who had been their overnight hosts:

All of the family at the home of Señora Theresa Medina at Calle Matamoros No. 6, were awake and interested in talking to us. There were three very bright and alert girls, and four or five boys of school age. I took a number of pictures of them, and talked with them for some time. Having been told that I was a doctor, almost all of them wished to have me prescribe or examine…. The three pretty girls had finished all the schooling which they could acquire, and were waiting until some village youth might claim them in marriage. One of them, a rather tall and intelligent señorita, said, however, that she was not at all interested in marriage, that she did not like children, and that she hoped to get away from Jocotepec at her first opportunity. They were all quite happy, and were greatly entertained by talking with the gringo from Los Estados Unidos. [53-54]

Source

Acknowledgments

  • My heartfelt thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, for supplying photos of Stanley’s account of his time at Lake Chapala. I am very grateful to Ms Kaplan and the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the extracts and photos used in this post.

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

Jul 152021
 

Dr. Leo Leonidas Stanley (1886-1976) visited Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in October 1937 and kept a detailed diary of his trip. Stanley was the physician for the California State Prison at San Quentin from 1913 to 1951, and was a meticulous observer. Fortunately for us, his detailed typewritten account of his trip, illustrated by dozens of superb photographs, survives to this day in the archives of the California Historical Society.

Stanley was attending the annual conference of the Pacific Association of Railway Surgeons, held that year in Guadalajara. While in the city he met up with José Alonzo, a former San Quentin inmate who had worked as his medical assistant during his incarceration. The two men had exchanged letters after Alonzo’s parole in 1932. Alonzo had returned to Mexico and settled with his wife in San Juan de los Lagos. Also in 1932, Stanley had visited the newly-opened Penal de Oblatos in Guadalajara. After the 1937 conference, Alonzo accompanied Stanley on his trip to Lake Chapala.

Just getting to the lake posed its own challenges in 1937. One photograph shows part of a timetable for buses from Guadalajara to Chapala. The first truly regular bus service to Chapala had only just been established by the Cooperativa Autotransportes Guadalajara Chapala y Anexas, S.C.L. (now Autotransportes Guadalajara Chapala, S.A. de C.V.). The company ran hourly buses each way from 7.00am to 8.00pm. Passengers paid $1.50 (pesos) one-way, $2.50 return. [1]

Leo Stanley. 1937. Guadalajara-Chapala bus timetable. Photo reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. Guadalajara-Chapala bus timetable. Reproduced by kind permission of California Historical Society.

On 11 October 1937, Alonzo and Stanley caught the 9.00am bus for Chapala. The crowded, ramshackle, bus broke down part-way there and the passengers were asked to get out and push. Eventually the next bus arrived and everyone was able to get to Chapala in time for lunch.

Alonzo and Stanley hired a guide (Ramón), a horse and two mules so that they could ride west to Jocotepec and then explore part of the lake’s southern shore. Stanley quickly realized that,

“The road, or trail, around the lake was very rough and narrow, and evidently was used only for burros and oxen. It certainly could not have been used for any vehicle.” Stanley did not have time to stop in Ajijic as he rode along the track that skirted the lake, from village to village, to stay overnight in Jocotepec. He did remark, however, on the many groves of papaya, and mangoes, fields of corn, and small plots of beans and garbanzas (chickpeas) that he saw near Ajijic, and the number of campesinos who were cultivating their plots with animal-drawn wooden ploughs.” [2]

We look more closely at selected portions of Stanley’s trip in two further posts:

But just who was Leo Stanley? Born in Oregon, Stanley was raised in San Luis Obispo County, California. He was awarded his bachelor’s degree at Stanford University in 1903, and during later studies at Cooper Medical College, he served his residency at San Quentin State Prison. In 1913, he was appointed the prison’s Chief Physician and Surgeon, a position he held —with the exception of the war years— until 1951. Stanley’s experiments on prisoners at San Quentin, especially those involving testicular transplants, were highly controversial and attracted national media attention. [3]

Stanley was an inveterate traveler and saw, and wrote about, many parts of the world. In the mid-1950s he was the ship’s doctor for various luxury cruises. Wherever he went, Stanley took a keen interest in the local prisons and work camps.

Stanley wrote several books, including Men at Their Worst (1940), My Most Unforgettable Convicts (1967), and San Miguel at the Turn of the Century (1976).

He spent the final years of his life writing and working on his farm in Marin County, California.

References

  • [1] Javier Medina Loera. 1991. “Camino a Chapala: del trazo de carretas a la autopista.” El Informador, 17 March 1991, 37.
  • [2] Leo L. Stanley. “Mixing in Mexico”, 1937, two volumes. Leo L. Stanley Papers, MS 2061, California Historical Society. Vol 1, 46.
  • [3] Google “The Buck Kelly case” and see Ethan Blue, “The Strange Career of Leo Stanley: Remaking Manhood and Medicine at San Quentin State Penitentiary, 1913–1951″ in Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 78, No. 2 (May 2009), 210-241.

Acknowledgments

My heartfelt thanks to Frances Kaplan, Reference & Outreach Librarian of the California Historical Society, for supplying photos of Stanley’s account of his time at Lake Chapala. I am very grateful to Ms Kaplan and the California Historical Society for permission to reproduce the excerpts and photos used in this post.

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 182021
 

Was George Seaton the first author to include mention of Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos in an English-language guidebook to Mexico?

When I was recently re-reading George Seaton’s What to See and Do in Mexico, first published in 1939, a one-line mention of Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos jumped off the page. I can’t recall any earlier mention of Ixtlahuacán in any regular travel guide to Mexico.

George W Seaton- coverSeaton wrote that, “In the little Indian town of Ixtlahuacan [de los Membrillos], they make a famous quince wine. It is good, if you like it, but rather sweet, and more like a cordial.”

Just who was Seaton and how did he come to write about Mexico in general and the Lake Chapala area in particular? George Whiting Seaton was a New York-based author who was born in New York City on 13 January 1888 and died in his native city in August 1944. Seaton was educated in Europe, spending time in Paris, France, (1906-1907) and in Heidelberg, Germany (1909-1910) as well as some time in the UK (1911).

When the US entered the first world war, Seaton enlisted as a private in the US Army. He received rapid promotion and, after being sent back to France in 1918 with the American Expeditionary Forces, was appointed aide to Brigadier-General F LeJ. Parker, Chief of G-2-E of the General Staff. Seaton was made responsible for arranging “tours of the battlefields for correspondents, distinguished visitors, and officials of the American and Allied governments.” After his discharge from military service in 1919, Seaton returned once more to Paris, working on behalf of the American Express Travel Department. Seaton is credited as having led the first party of American tourists to Europe after the war ended.

He remained in Paris for several years, and spent several months traveling all over Russia in the summer of 1922 as a guest of that country’s Tourist Trust to offer them some suggestions about how to establish future tourist traffic.

When Seaton returned to live in the US, he became a tour manager with Raymond and Whitcomb Co., the prestigious travel company based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Seaton occasionally lectured on his experiences in Europe. In 1935, for example, he gave an illustrated lecture on his time in Russia to an audience at the International Relations Club of Colby College in Maine. The newspaper announcement of his lecture said that he would “report only what he saw” and was not a propagandist, and stressed that, in Russia, “He disliked some things he expected to admire and admired others he expected to dislike.” He would, however, try to convince attendees that, “whether one likes it or dislikes it, Russia is the most interesting country in the world today.”

By that time, Seaton was living in an apartment on Grove Street in Greenwich Village, New York, and starting to focus on his writing career.

Seaton traveled widely and authored a series of travel books, including Let’s Go to the West Indies (1938); What to see and do in Mexico: How to Get the Most Out of Your Trip (1939); What to see and do in Scandinavia (1939); Cue’s Guide to what to See and Do in Florida (1940); What to see and do in the South (1941); and What to See and Do in Washington (1941). He also wrote Letters to a Soldier (1942), in which he offered his encouragement as a veteran of the first world war to his adopted son, newly inducted into the army.

When the second world war broke out in Europe, Seaton was hired to work at the US Office of War Information.

J. G. Hatton. c 1905, Juanacatlán Falls.

J. G. Hatton. c 1905, Juanacatlán Falls.

Seaton’s one-liner about Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos in What to See and Do in Mexico is preceded by a detailed description of the Juanacatlán Falls, which “are about 70 feet high and measure 524 feet from end to end.”

From Ixtlahuacán, Seaton continued on to Chapala:

“Chapala is a charming town, the sort of place where you want to linger indefinitely, doing nothing…. The lake shores for miles in either direction at Chapala are lined with villas, parks, and, in the fashionable season, bathers. The best time for bathing is in the wintertime…. Since there are no outstanding churches to see in Chapala and nothing in particular of local interest to buy there, you can devote all your energies to having a good time. Begin by tasting some of the delicious foods they prepare in Chapala. I think the best hotel in town is the Nido….”

Sources

  • The Coast Artillery Journal, vol 85 (July-August 1942).
  • Colby Echo (Waterville, Maine), 16 Jan 1935, 1.
  • George W. Seaton. 1939. What to see and do in Mexico: How to Get the Most Out of Your Trip. Prentice-Hall.

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

Nov 192020
 

English visual artist Eleanor Mason, a cousin of the British writer E. A. W. Mason, was born in the U.K. in about 1895 and studied art in France, Germany and Italy. Eleanor, variously known as Eleanore, Leonore, Evylin or Evelyn, lived in Ajijic after she became the wife of German cellist Alex von Mauch, one of the earliest long-term foreign residents of Ajijic.

Eleanor Armstrong-Mauch, 1935

Eleanor von Mauch, 1935

Prior to this marriage, Mason had lived in Pasadena, California, from 1917 to 1931, where she ran an art school for a time. She was a co-founder of the Laguna Beach Art Association in 1918 and belonged to the Pasadena Society of Women Painters & Sculptors, serving as its president in 1928. Her work was exhibited at the Laguna Beach Art Association (1921, 1924), West Coast Arts, Incorporated (1923), the Pasadena Women Painters & Sculptors (1928) and the Santa Cruz Art League (1929). She was also a member of the British Water Color Society.

The precise circumstances surrounding her decision to move to Mexico and marry Alex von Mauch are murky. American authoress Neill James, who moved to Ajijic in the mid-1940s, never met von Mauch or his bride but later wrote that the gossip in the village was that Alex’s marriage had been arranged by correspondence. According to James, von Mauch was:

“poor and very peculiar, always consulting the stars. He badly needed a rich wife, to share his proud old family crest and supply a background of house furnishings in keeping with his beautiful silver service. Naturally he consulted the stars and ordered one from the States, according to astral specifications. She came. After a trial marriage, they conformed with a legal ceremony. Each hoped the other possessed wealth, so the marriage ended in failure.”

The couple settled in Ajijic but the marriage was short-lived. Only a few months into the marriage, Alex took his own life. After her husband’s death, Eleanor appears to have divided her time between Pasadena and Mexico. In January 1937, for example, her participation in the Pasadena New Year’s Day parade was noted in the Los Angeles Times because she was dressed as a giant butterfly, alongside a giant 20-foot rose, on the “Roses of Romance” float. The “body of the butterfly was Eleanor Mason of Pasadena, dressed in green and gold brocade, gold coronet on her head and a floral train.”

Romance must certainly have been in the air since later that year, in Guadalajara, Eleanor married Leif Clausen, a Danish-born and educated artist and writer based in New York. The notice of her marriage in the Los Angeles Times described her as “Mme Eleanor Mason von Mauch” of Laguna [Beach], and said that the widow of Baron Alexander von Mauch was a member of both the Laguna Beach Art Association and the British Water Color Society.

After her marriage to Clausen, Eleanor’s trail goes cold and nothing further has come to light about her life and legacy.

  • If you have any works, or photos of works, by this artist, please share!

Sources:

  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • El Informador, 3 May 1936, 4; 8 May 1936, 4.
  • Neill James. 1946. Dust on my Heart: Petticoat Vagabond in Mexico. New York: Charles Scribner’s.
  • Los Angeles Times, 25 Dec 1921, 36; 31 July 1935, 30; 26 Sep 1937, 66.
  • Santa Ana Register, 10 Mar 1923, 14; 12 January 1924, 5.

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

Aug 202020
 

Author, poet and diplomat José Rubén Romero (1890-1952) was born in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán. Cotija de la Paz is about thirty kilometers from the village of La Palma on Lake Chapala’s south-eastern corner.

Romero’s father, an outspoken liberal, had been forced to leave the very conservative village of Cotija de la Paz, and the family home, and travel to Mexico City. Six months later, he sent for his wife and two children, Rubén (then aged seven) and his younger sister. Their journey, by horseback, steamer and train, is described in Romero’s Apuntes de un lugareño (trans: Notes of a Villager), published in 1932, by which time Romero was the Mexican Consul in Barcelona, Spain. He was later served as Mexican ambassador to Brazil (1937-1939) and Cuba (1939-1944).

romero-ruben-coverBesides his diplomatic career, Romero worked in a variety of fields, including journalism and as a university dean. He is best remembered, though, as a writer whose vivid depictions of the people and customs of his native state make him an outstanding exponent of the modern costumbrista novel. The costumbrista genre focuses on regional life, customs and manners.

Romero’s lasting legacy of fine works includes Desbandada (1936), El pueblo inocente (1934), Mi caballo, mi perro y mi rifle (1936), Viaje a Mazatlán (1946) and Rosenda (1946). But by far his best known book is the picaresque tale of a lovable rascal: La vida inútil de Pito Pérez (The Futile Life of Pito Pérez), first published in 1938. A best-seller in innumerable editions, this book was turned into a movie starring Ignacio López Tarso in the early 1970s. One of Mexico’s best-loved writers ever, Romero died on July 4, 1952, in Mexico City.

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In his autobiographical novel Apuntes de un lugareño Romero describes Lake Chapala on two occasions. The first time he encounters the lake is in about 1897, on his way to Mexico City with his mother and sister at the age of seven. It includes Romero’s impressions of the steamer trip from La Palma to Ocotlán, a regular route at the time. Romero’s second encounter with Lake Chapala comes later, when he was living in Sahuayo between about 1907 and 1910.

The following extract from Apuntes de un lugareño, describing Romero’s impressions in 1897, is an excerpt of the much longer extract given, with commentary, in chapter 41 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travelers’ Tales:

At eight in the morning we got on the steamboat that would take us to Ocotlán.

I began to run around the boat without paying attention to the excessive cautions of my mother, who cried out for fear I would fall in the water.

The steamboat was large, with two decks and some cabins that on our voyage were occupied by the relatives of the owner, Don Diego Moreno, and some three or four nuns in black habits with white hoods.

During the crossing, the nuns never stopped praying and I twisted myself into every position to see if I could see their legs because I doubted that they had them like ordinary people.

Just past the halfway point in the lake a ruined tower appeared that was said to have been a prison in the old days. I straightened myself to see and began to pester all those within my reach with questions which when all was said and done, no one could answer.”

Translations of Romero’s works in English include:

  • Notes of a Villager: A Mexican Poet’s Youth and Revolution (Kaneohe, Hawaii: Plover Press, 1988) is a fine translation by John Mitchell and Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar of Apuntes de un lugareño.
  • The Futile Life of Pito Perez (Prentice-Hall, 1966), translation by William O. Cord.
  • A Translation of Jose Ruben Romero’s Mi Caballo, Mi Perro, Y Mi Rifle with a Study of His Life, Style and Works, by Carl Edgar Niles (University of Tennessee, 1947)

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published 21 May 2014.

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

Aug 152019
 

Edna Mae Stark, who was a travel author and publicity agent in Mexico and elsewhere for Grace Line, described Lake Chapala in the 1930s.

Little is known about Edna Mae Stark beyond the fact that she was born in Chicago. Her date of birth is given as 10 May 1905 on some ship manifests and as the same day in 1908 on others. She worked for Grace Line from the 1930s to the late 1950s, including stints on the Santa Lucia, Santa Paula and Santa Elena, three of the four passenger and cargo ocean liners ordered by Grace Line in 1930 from the U.S. Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Kearny, N.J. In 1957 Stark was listed as “Grace Line Cruise Director”.

Stark wrote dozens of articles for popular magazines about Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America and about the joys of cruise ship travel. In her article “Discovering Mexico”, published in Modern Mexico in July 1937, she lauded Lake Chapala eighty years ago as:

the largest lake in Mexico – 70 miles long and 20 miles wide – a gem of sapphire blue, set in a crescent of emerald green formed by surrounding hills. The climate here all year round is that of Indian summer – the surrounding fields are continuously carpeted with flowers which drench the air with perfume, and woodlands are crowded with sweetly singing birds of every hue attracted to the lake in countless thousands by the warm temperature.”

The article included an image of a “Water Boy” credited to “Grace Line Photo.” The photographer responsible for this image, a colorized postcard version of which was later published by Publicaciones Fischgrund of Mexico City, was Luis Márquez.

Water Boy, Lake Chapala. (Grace Line Photo)

Water Boy, Lake Chapala. (Grace Line Photo) The original photo is by Luis Márquez.

Stark was particularly captivated by the daily rhythm of fishing:

The lake is teeming with fish which provide the natives with food for their tables and visiting sportsmen with ample material for tall tales to recount to friends back home. The natives catch the fish in nets which they weave themselves – many of them more than three hundred feet long. These native fishermen, as they follow the day’s routine, present a series of novel sights to the visitor.

Early morning unfolds a shadow picture of men hastening to the waterfront, scrambling into their battered boats and setting out for the catch. Mid-day lights up a scene in which mounds of fish appear along the shore glinting in the sun like piles of gleaming armour, and village streets are walled with nets stretched on poles like giant cobwebs hung with dew drops. And day fades out on interesting close-ups of the villagers repairing old nets, or making new, their hands flying like shuttles over the shapeless mass of cords.”

It is unclear if Stark ever visited the town of Chapala. She considered that:

The most modern town on the shores of Lake Chapala is Ribera Castellanos, which is destined for popularity as a vacation resort. With a good hotel as headquarters, guests may fish, or hunt, swim or ride horseback, go motoring or sailing.”

Among the aspects of everyday life that she described for would-be visitors was the fact that:

Women still weave and dye the fabrics from which they make the family wardrobe – using designs and color combinations handed down from mother to daughter for countless generations. In open air kitchens the housewife rolls out cornmeal tortillas on the same type of stone metate which the Aztec women used. And corn still is as popular an item of diet as it was back in prehistoric days when the planting and harvesting were attended by elaborate and very weird celebrations through which the Indians hoped to win the goodwill of the maize goddess.”

Oh… the good old days!

Sources

  • Edna Mae Stark. “Discovering Mexico”, Modern Mexico Vol 9 #2, July 1937, 19-23.

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 032019
 

This post features one of the more evocative photographic images of Lake Chapala taken in the 1930s. Depicting a “dug-out canoe” and fisherman against an evening sky, this carefully staged photo was used to illustrate an article about central Mexico that reached a worldwide audience because it appeared in the The American Foreign Service Journal.

Anon. October 1935. "Native Fisherman on Lake Chapala"

Anon. October 1935. Original caption: “Native Fisherman in his dug-out canoe on Lake Chapala”

The article, by Josephus Daniels – then American Ambassador to Mexico – describes a get-to-know-Mexico junket offered in 1935 to the diplomatic corps by President Lázaro Cárdenas the year after he took office. The President offered the use of his private train for the ten-day trip that, in mid-October, took Mexico City-based diplomats and their partners to various locations in Michoacán (the President’s home state) and Jalisco.

After a brief stay in Guadalajara, where the diplomats “watched from the Governor’s Palace a review of some fifteen thousand school children, lasting one hour or more,” they were driven to Lake Chapala for a splendid lunch at the “Quinta Monte Carlo” (Villa Montecarlo), where they enjoyed caldo michi while listening to music played by a local band.

The photo of the fisherman and his boat is uncredited. Does anyone know who the photographer was?

Source

  • Josephus Daniels. (American Ambassador to Mexico). 1936. “The Diplomatic Corps Tours Central Mexico in the Presidential Train.” The American Foreign Service Journal. Vol XIII, #2 (February 1936), 70-73, 110, 112, 114.

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 042018
 

Clinton Blair King (1901-1979) and his wife – Lady Duff Twysden (1892-1938) – lived in Chapala for about three years in the early 1930s. (Twysden was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway as the character Lady Brett Ashley in his first major novel, The Sun Also Rises.)

King first met Twysden in Paris in 1927. Born in Texas, he was nine years her junior and heir to his family’s candy company fortune. Shortly after they met, Twysden moved in to live with King at his studio. They married secretly in London, England, in August 1928. King’s family disapproved and King lost both his allowance and his inheritance.

Clinton King. 1930s. Still life. (Sold at Heritage Auctions, 2006)

Clinton King. 1930s. Still life. (Sold at Heritage Auctions, 2006)

After Paris, the couple lived briefly in New Mexico before opting to move to Mexico in about 1930. They lived in Mexico for the next three years, mainly at Lake Chapala but also for a short time in Pátzcuaro.

King was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1901 and studied at the Virginia Military Institute, the University of Texas and Princeton University. He also attended the Grand Central School of Art, the National Academy of Design in New York and Broadmoor Art Academy. His art teachers included Sallie Blythe Mummert, Charles Webster Hawthorne, Robert Reid and Randall Davey. Over his 40-year artistic career, King mastered several distinct styles including Realism, Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism at different times. He was also a talented pianist.

King first gained recognition in the art work when his oil portrait of “Spud” Johnson (who had just returned from visiting Chapala with D. H. Lawrence and Witter Bynner) was exhibited at the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York (1926-27); the portrait was praised by critics.

After moving to Mexico, King developed his talent for portraiture and his early modernist portraits have been favorably compared by critics to those by Diego Rivera.

Clinton King. 1933. The Jarabe. (Credit: The Owings Gallery)

Clinton King. 1933. The Jarabe. (Credit: The Owings Gallery)

Author Bernice Kert quotes King as describing his time in Chapala as more purposeful than his life in Paris: “We lived a different life from the rather senseless Montparnasse days. I worked all day at painting while Duff drew her amusing sketches in watercolor, or posed for me, or read a great deal.” The Kings became good friends with economist-author Stuart Chase and his wife who visited Lake Chapala for a vacation.

The great American poet Witter Bynner, a long time resident of Chapala, knew the Kings well and his double sonnet about them, entitled “Expatriates”, was published in Guest Book (1935), his collection of masterful sonnets about his friends and acquaintances.

King held his first solo show at the State Museum in Guadalajara in 1933. Reviewing that exhibition, Oto Lear, a Guadalajara art critic, said that all the paintings were completed during King’s time in Chapala where he had been living for the past three years. Lear summed up King as a “practical dreamer who had adapted to modern times without abandoning the idealism of great works.”

Lear was especially impressed by King’s portraits which included a “psychological study” of Carol Navarro, a classical portrait of Maria Pacheco (widow of hotelier Ignacio Arzapalo) and a study of “his wife, Duff King” who so inspires her husband. There were several portraits of the “native inhabitants of Chapala” as well. More abstract works included some colorful “regional cubists” of Chapala. King also exhibited several “vernacular, colorful watercolors.” His oil paintings almost certainly included one entitled “Roofs of Chapala,” a photograph of which was later chosen for inclusion in a 1939 issue of Mexican Life, Mexico’s Monthly Review.

In summer 1933, the Kings left Mexico for New York, before settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Twysden died of tuberculosis on 27 June 1938.

King remained in New Mexico and was later introduced to Narcissa Swift (1911-1998), heiress to the eponymous meat-packing company, by mutual friends, Georgia O’Keeffe and Mabel Dodge Luhan. In 1941, Swift became King’s second wife. They divided their time between Chicago, Paris and Mexico (where they owned a home in Taxco, Guerrero). O’Keeffe’s painting “Narcissa’s Last Orchid” (1941) was a tribute to Swift. (O’Keeffe has her own vicarious connection to Lake Chapala via sculptor Mym Tuma, who had a studio in San Pedro Tesistan, near Jocotepec, from 1968 to 1973)).

Clinton King and Narcissa Swift King - self portrait.

Clinton King and Narcissa Swift King – self portrait.

In 1950, King and his wife joined Witter Bynner and his partner Bob Hunt on a six month trip to Europe and North Africa, visiting (among others) Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin in Paris, and George Santayana and Sybille Bedford (author of a travelogue-novel about Lake Chapala) in Rome.

King was one of the most prominent of all early Texas artists. His work was widely exhibited in Europe and North America. According to one biography, his solo shows included Guadalajara Regional Museum (1933); Galeria Excelsior in Mexico City (1933); Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio (1934 and 1955); Passadoit Gallery, New York (1935); Fort Worth Artists Guild (1937); North Texas State Teachers College in Denton (1937); Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin (1938); Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (1939); Alice Roullier Art Galleries, Chicago (1941); Corpus Christi Memorial Museum (1947); Feragil Art Galleries, New York (1949, 1950); Elizabeth Nelson Galleries, Chicago (1951, 1953); Fairweather-Hardin Gallery, Chicago (1958); William Findlay Gallery, Chicago (1964, 1965); and Chicago Public Library (1966) as well as seven one-person shows elsewhere (London, Paris, Stockholm, Lisbon and Casablanca).

The 1937 exhibition at the North Texas Teachers College was a selection of watercolors and drawings, mostly produced in Mexico. It included several portrait studies, for which King was particularly well known, and a number of landscapes painted in Taxco and Cuernavaca.

Among the many public collections that hold paintings by King are those of the the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Library of Congress; the National Collection of Fine Art, Washington D.C.; the New York Public Library; the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe; the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art; the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth; California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco; the Indianapolis Museum of Art; and Baltimore Museum of Art.

King died while on vacation in Cuernavaca in 1979. In the mid-1980s, two retrospective exhibitions were held in Santa Fe: at the Armory for the Arts (1985) and Fogelson Library Center, College of Santa Fe (1986).

Sources

  • Witter Bynner. 1935. Guest Book. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Peter Falk, editor. Who Was Who in American Art. Sound View Press, 1985.
  • El Informador, 11 May 1930, 8; 18 March 1933, 5; 19 March 1933, 4.
  • Bernice Kert, 1983. Hemingway’s women. W.W. Norton & Co.
  • John and Deborah Powers, Editors. Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists: A Biographical Dictionary of Artists in Texas before 1942. Woodmont Books, 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.

Sep 272018
 

Despite claims to the contrary, Ernest Hemingway never visited or wrote at Lake Chapala. (see Did Ernest Hemingway ever visit Lake Chapala?)

However, there is at least one vicarious Ernest Hemingway connection to Lake Chapala via Mary Duff Stirling (Lady Twysden) who lived in Chapala with her husband, the American artist Clinton King (1901-1979), for about three years in the early 1930s.

The British-born Twysden had first met King, her third (and final) husband, in Paris in 1927, where their mutual friends included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso. King was nine years her junior. Born in Texas, he was heir to his family’s candy company fortune. Shortly after they first met, Twysden moved in to live with King at his studio.

Before meeting King, Twysden had had a troubled time as regards relationships. Born Dorothy Smurthwaite in Yorkshire on 22 May 1892, she had changed her name to Mary Duff after her parents divorced, using her mother’s maiden name (Stirling) as her surname. Her first, brief, marriage, to Edward Luttrell Grimston Byrom, ended acrimoniously when she was unfaithful. A couple of years later she became Lady Twysden when she married Sir Roger Thomas Twysden, a naval officer and Baronet. When this marriage also ran into trouble, she moved to Paris with a cousin to live the high life, surrounded by the literary and artistic creme de la creme.

Twysden “embraced the new liberated woman role of the 1920s and pictures show a tall, thin boyish woman with hair cropped close to her skull, wearing rakishly tilted hats.” (Parker) She was the archetypal Paris flapper according to contemporary press reports and Hemingway was very much part of her social circle. It was a circle that drank hard and partied hard. Twysden liked men, especially if they paid her bar tab.

Hemingway lusted after Twysden but, since she was friends with his wife (Hadley), she refused to reciprocate his feelings. She did have a fling with writer Harold Loeb and they accompanied Hemingway, his wife and a group of friends to Pamplona in 1925 to see the Running of the Bulls. The characters and experiences on this trip became the subject matter of Hemingway’s first major novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), in which Twysden was immortalized as the character Lady Brett Ashley.

Twysden divorced Sir Roger in 1926 and married King, in secret, in London in August 1928. King’s family disapproved and King lost both his allowance and his inheritance.

The couple lived briefly in New Mexico before opting to move to Mexico in about 1930. They lived in Mexico for the next three years, mainly at Lake Chapala but also, briefly, in Pátzcuaro.

Bernice Kert quotes King as describing their time in Chapala as more purposeful than their life in Paris: “We lived a different life from the rather senseless Montparnasse days. I worked all day at painting while Duff drew her amusing sketches in watercolor, or posed for me, or read a great deal.” They became good friends with economist-author Stuart Chase and his wife who visited Lake Chapala for a vacation.

The great American poet Witter Bynner, a long time resident of Chapala, knew the Kings well and his double sonnet about them, entitled “Expatriates”, was published in Guest Book (1935), his collection of masterful sonnets about his friends and acquaintances.

In summer 1933, the Kings left Mexico for New York, and then settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Twysden died of tuberculosis on 27 June 1938, barely 46 years of age. Despite Hemingway’s claims that her casket had been carried by all her former lovers, there was no funeral; Twysden’s body was cremated and the ashes given to her loyal and devoted husband, Clinton King.

Twysden was portrayed by Ava Gardner in the 1956 film version of The Sun Also Rises and by Fiona Fullerton in the 1988 miniseries, Hemingway.

Sources

  • Lesley M.M. Blume. 2016. Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises. Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Witter Bynner. 1935. Guest Book. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Bernice Kert, 1983. Hemingway’s women. W.W. Norton & Co.
  • James Kraft. 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? University of New Mexico Press.
  • Mrs. Parker. 2004. “Great Novels of the 1920s: The Sun Also Rises,” by Mrs. Parker (copyright Michele Gouveia).

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 122018
 

Mexican actor and photographer Luis Márquez Romay (1899-1978) was born in Mexico City on 25 September 1899. The family fled to the father’s homeland of Cuba in the midst of the Mexican Revolution and Luis began his art studies there at the Feliú studio in Havana. Alongside his studying, he worked as an actor, with starring roles in Dios existe (1920), Mamá Zenobia (1921) and Aves de paso (1921).

He returned to Mexico City in 1921 to study photography at the Public Education Secretariat’s Photography and Cinematography Workshop. He also continued his acting career, with major roles in Bolchevikismo (1923), El Cristo de oro (1926) and Conspiración (1927).

His photographic assignments at the workshop included documenting traditional religious celebrations in Chalma (State of México) and in Janitzio, the island-village in Lake Pátzcuaro renowned for its Day of the Dead festivities. This began a life-long interest in indigenous Mexico. Márquez later wrote the screenplay for the romantic drama movie Janitzio (1935) – the earliest all-Mexican sound film – which starred Emilio Fernández and María Teresa Orozco.

Poster for Janitzio (1935)

Poster for Janitzio (1935).

As Márquez pursued his photographic career during the 1920s and early 1930s he was working during one of the most creative periods in Mexican photography. The photographic opportunities offered by Mexico were being used to good effect by several talented foreign-born photographers including Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand and Josef Albers among others.

Márquez was a key member of what he later called Modern Mexican Photography as it gradually emerged, evident in the body of work of photographers such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Agustín Jiménez, Emilio Amero, Lola Álvarez Bravo and Aurora Eugenia Latapí. This group eschewed conventional pictorialism in favor of subjects that allowed them to edge towards surrealism and abstractionism. The light, patterns and shadows of urban and industrial landscapes gained favor, as did artistic images of the human form.

This postcard view of Lake Chapala was taken on a trip to the lake sponsored by the Carta Blanca beer company in November 1930.

Luis Márquez. Chapala (November 1930).

Luis Márquez. Chapala (November 1930).

This colorized postcard of a Lake Chapala aguador (water carrier) was published by Publicaciones Fischgrund in Mexico City in about 1939. A black and white version of this photograph, credited to “Grace Line Photo” had been used in 1937 to illustrate “Discovering Mexico”, an article by Edna Mae Stark in Modern Mexico.

Luis Márquez. Aguador en el Lago de Chapala. (1939)

Luis Márquez. Aguador en el Lago de Chapala. (1939)

Márquez traveled widely across Mexico for decades and combined his ever-evolving photography with collecting and exhibiting ethnic Mexican clothing. His photographic work was popular as illustrations in newspapers and magazines, as well as for postcards, calendars and books. His work won numerous awards, including a coveted first prize at the Exposición Iberoamericana (1930) in Seville, Spain, and a first prize at the International Photography Exhibition at the New York World’s Fair (1939-40).

Four of his photographs were published in the May 1937 issue of National Geographic which brought his work to an international audience.

Mexican Folklore: 100 Photographs by Luis Marquez, a book that showcased a selection of 100 of his magnificent black and white photos, accompanied by text by Justino Fernandez, was published by Eugenio Fischgrund in Mexico City in about 1954. In the 1970s, Mobil Oil sponsored the publication of El México de Luis Márquez and its English version, Luis Marquez’ Timeless Mexico.

In 1997, a previously unknown side of Márquez’s portfolio as a photographer emerged when 53 artistic photos of nudes (40 male and 13 female) were discovered. The photographs date from the mid-1930s and are some of the earliest photographs of the male form ever taken in Mexico.

The extraordinarily gifted photographer Luis Márquez Romay died in Mexico City on 11 December 1978.

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.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources:

  • Alquimia. 2000. El imaginario de Luis Marquez” – The major source for this post is this special issue of Alquimia, año 4, núm. 10, Sep-Dec 2000, which has numerous essays about Márquez and his work.
  • Susan Toomey Frost. Undated. “Postcards of Luis Marquez“. Blog post.
  • Arturo Guevara Escobar. 2011. “Letra M. Fotógrafos y productores de postales.” Blog post.
  • Ernesto Peñaloza Méndez. 2006. “Luis Márquez Romay.” Kean University. [30 Sep 2019]]
  • Edna Mae Stark. “Discovering Mexico”, Modern Mexico, Vol 9 #2, July 1937, 19-23.

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 132018
 

Lee Freeman Hersch (1896-1953) was born 5 September 1896 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was a painter in realist and abstract styles. He died in Madrid, Spain, in 1953.

Hersch attended the University of Cincinnati and spent the winter of 1917-1918 in Taos, New Mexico, where he painted scenes with Indians of the Taos Pueblo. His Taos paintings established his reputation as an outstanding artist. His formal artistic training included classes with Henry Keller, Kenyon Cox and Douglas Volk at the Cleveland School of Art and the National Academy of Design.

Hersch enlisted in August 1918 and served with the American Expeditionary Forces in France from 28 October 1918 to 11 July 1919. He was honorably discharged a week later. This was his first time overseas and was the start of extensive travels.

In 1920, at age 24, he left the U.S. to return to Europe. On his passport application, he said he planned to visit and paint France, Italy, Spain, England, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Morocco and Algeria. Hersch had not been long in Paris when he met American novelist Helen Virginia Davis (1896-1978). They married on 21 April 1921.

For some years thereafter their joint studio on the Left Bank was a popular gathering-place for painters, writers, and other intellectuals. They became close friends of Mexican artist Ángel Zárraga (1886-1946) who had moved to Paris in 1911 to live there permanently. As a gift, Zárraga painted a portrait of “Miss Davis” shortly before she married.

In 1925, Lee Hersch held a solo exhibit at the Montross Gallery in New York. In the 1930s, he was painting mainly landscapes, dividing his time between California and New York. His painting of Lake Chapala is believed to date from about 1930.

Lee Hersch: Lake Chapala (ca 1930)

Lee Hersch: Lake Chapala (ca 1930)

Relatively little is known about some parts of his life, but his works include a “super modernist impressionist painting” of Mexico’s Lake Chapala, described by the Bruce Palmer Galleries as having “great color and energy, and in fine condition”. It is thought to have been painted relatively early in his career (circa 1930) and was sold at William Doyle auction house in New York in 2005.

Hersch catalog

After the second world war, his work became more abstract, and he joined the ranks of New York’s influential abstract expressionists, an art movement that rivaled or echoed what was happening in the Parisian art world. Hersch was given a one-man show by Peggy Guggenheim in her gallery in New York, which became well-known for shows of abstract expressionism, by artists such as Jackson Pollock, William Baziotes and Hans Hofmann.

Hersch was a member of the Painters and Sculptors of Los Angeles and the Woodstock Art Association. He exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Salons of America. A retrospective of his work, with accompanying catalog, was held in Paris in 1954.

Examples of his work hang in many major museum collections, including that of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published on 22 March 2012.

Credits / references

  • Albuquerque Journal, 3 February 1918, 10.
  • Edan Hughes. Artists in California, 1786-1940.
  • Peter Falk. Who Was Who in American Art.
  • Bruce Palmer Galleries. “Lee Hersch”.
  • Lee Hersch and Michel Seuphor. 1954. Lee Hersch. Paris: Librairie-Galerie Arnaud, 42 pp.

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 072018
 

In the 1940s, two superbly written books introduced readers in the U.S. and U.K. to life in the village of Ajijic. Both have remained perennial favorites on the must-read lists of anyone interested in Lake Chapala. Village in the Sun and House in the Sun were both written by Dane Chandos, who later wrote several travel books.

Readers of Village in the Sun and House in the Sun are usually surprised to discover that Dane Chandos was not a real person but a pen name, and not a pen name of a single writer but of two distinct writing duos. Peter Lilley and Stansbury (later Nigel) Millett wrote the early Dane Chandos books. After Millett’s death, Lilley’s partner for later Dane Chandos works was Anthony Stansfeld. All three men were well-educated Englishmen with an excellent ear for languages.

This post looks at the life of the first of these three men; we will consider the other two in future posts.

Stansbury Girtin Millett was born in London, England, on 23 October 1904 and died (of tuberculosis) in Guadalajara in the early hours of 25 March 1946.

Millett’s parents were Mary Frances Barnard (1867-1935) and Henry Stansbury Millett (1867-1947). When Stansbury was in his teens, his father was appointed district auditor for the Ministry of Health in Oxfordshire and the family moved from London to Oxford.

Millett attended Oxford University in the mid-1920s, traveled widely in Europe and spoke several languages fluently. His first novel, written with the pseudonym of Richard Oke, was Frolic Wind, published in London in 1929. The setting was an English house party at the stately pile of Pagnell Bois. Young lovers were cavorting naked in the pond when a flash of lightning killed the mysterious Lady Athaliah in her tower. The resulting revelations entangled young and old alike. A Canadian reviewer gushed that “There have been novels written in the past that are just as brilliant as this, but not many. Between the covers amazing genius has been compressed.”

Millett’s follow-up books established his reputation as a brilliant young novelist known for his biting, edgy satire. However, he also wrote The Boy From Apulia, a biography of Frederick II, Emperor of Germany.

Like many young men of his time, Millett was also very interested in the stage. He designed the sets and costumes for Hassan, a play performed by the Oxford University Dramatic Society in 1931 and also illustrated the accompanying program.

In 1935, Millett’s first novel was adapted by novelist and dramatist Richard Pryce (1864-1942) for the London stage. A made-for-TV version aired in 1955.

In 1937, for reasons unknown, Millett and his father left the U.K. for Mexico. They arrived in Los Angeles on 29 March 1937 and traveled to Ajijic. When they first arrived in the village, they lodged at the small inn run by the Heuer siblings but later stayed at what eventually became known as the Posada Ajijic.

Nigel Millett died in Guadalajara in 1946 and, a year later, on 6 June 1947 his father died in Ajijic. The Milletts have adjoining gravestones in Ajijic cemetery.

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

Cover artist

The cover art has a tiny signature (below). If anyone knows who this cover artist is, or anything more about them, please get in touch!

Signature of cover artist, Village in the Sun.

Signature of cover artist, Village in the Sun.

References

  • Dane Chandos. 1945. Village in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Published in London, U.K., with same title by Michael Joseph in 1948. Reissued in London by Country Book Club in 1953. Reissued in Mexico (Tlayacapan Press) in 1998.
  • Dane Chandos. 1949. House in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. U.K. edition in 1950 by Michael Joseph. Reissued in Mexico (Tlayacapan Press) in 1999.
  • The Gazette (Montreal, Canada), 25 Jan 1930, 13.
  • Richard Pryce. 1935. Frolic Wind. A play in three acts. (Adapted by Richard Pryce from the novel by Richard Oke.) London: Victor Gollancz.

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.