American artist Garrett Van Vranken (1887-1961) and his wife, Tommie (Thomy) E Carruthers Van Vranken (1888-1962), lived their final years in Chapala.
George Garrett Van Vranken (sometimes Vanvranken) was born in Cadillac, Michigan, on 16 December 1887. He completed four years of high school before serving in the military during the first world war. Known for his pastels and commercial art, it is claimed by one source that Van Vranken was an alumnus of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Tommie (Thomy) E Carruthers, born in Florida 5 March 1888, died in Chapala 23 January 1962. She had completed one year of college and was living in Los Angeles when she and Garret married in about 1925. She is recorded in the 1930 US census as owning a Los Angeles advertising agency, while her husband is listed as an artist.
Garrett Van Vranken appears to have been a founder member of the local (Los Angeles) group of members of the American Artists Congress, and combined his personal fine arts career with commercial work.
His painting “Three by the Sea” (below) was shown in the first exhibition of works by local members of the American Artists Congress at the Stanley Rose Galleries in Los Angeles in September 1936: “Garrett Van Vranken shows a good figure composition, “Three by the Sea” which links the “modern” side of the show with the various still lifes and flower pieces of academic vein.”
The local group of the American Artists Congress, which later had its own gallery on Hollywood Boulevard, had been formed about eighteen months earlier.
In 1942, at least one painting by Van Vranken was included in a group show of works by “artists employed in aircraft factories,” a show held at Raymond & Raymond Galleries on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. The following year, his painting “Woman on White” was shown at the Los Angeles County Museum in the Fourth Annual Exhibition of Work of Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity.
After his retirement in the early 1950s, Van Vranken and his wife moved from Los Angeles to Mexico, apparently initially to the border town of Brownsville, Texas, and then to Lake Chapala, where they established their home at Calle Juárez #512. It remains unclear whether or not Van Vranken painted or exhibited while living in Chapala.
Garrett Van Vranken died on 13 April 1961, and his wife, Tommie, died on 23 January the following year. There was some confusion about Garrett’s date of death; his wife confirmed to US authorities when they filed the official Report of the Death of a US citizen Abroad that her husband had died on 13 April 1961, and not on 20 April, as stated in the formal registration of his death in Chapala.
To read more about the history of the Lake Chapala art community, see Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.
- Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.
- Los Angeles Times: 20 Sep 1936, 56; 10 Jul 1938, 56.
- Los Angeles Evening Citizen News: 28 Nov 1942, 2; 20 Mar 1943, 7.
Comments, corrections and additional material welcome, whether via comments feature or email.
Tony Burton’s books include “Lake Chapala: A Postcard History” (2022), “Foreign Footprints in Ajijic” (2022), “If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants” (2020), (available in translation as “Si Las Paredes Hablaran”), “Mexican Kaleidoscope” (2016), and “Lake Chapala Through the Ages” (2008).