Jul 062023

American artist Emily Meeker (1908-1983) was a long-time resident of Chula Vista who had previously led an extraordinarily exciting life in India and elsewhere.

Born Emily Preston in Abilene, Texas, on 26 June 1908, her architect father moved the family to Brazil three years later. Emily later attended the New York School of Interior Design in 1926, where she won a scholarship for a 6-week trip to England and France. With her sister and mother for company, the six weeks eventually became three years, and included art classes as they toured France in a Model T Ford. When the Depression hit, Emily’s father cabled: “Broke. Home best way you can.” They could only afford a cabin in steerage class, but talked their way into dining first class and dancing second class.

Emily married New York native Don Meeker in 1932. Don lived and worked in India, as the representative of Colgate-Palmolive-Peet in India, Burma and Sri Lanka. Five years into their marriage, Don switched jobs to join Warner-Lambert. After a year in New York, while Don familiarized himself with the company, they were returning to India in 1939, when, just as they embarked at Genoa for the ship home, Mussolini took over the railways. The ship left port for Bombay (now Mumbai) and was repainted and transformed mid-voyage into a troop ship. The Meekers traveled extensively each year to cover all the territory that Don was overseeing. Their adventures included unexpectedly having to share their reserved compartment on a long distance train with three locals and their belongings: “a canary in a cage, a pot of roses, jugs of drinking water, foul-smelling food, bed rolls, and prayer rugs.” On another occasion, trekking in Kashmir with twenty two helpers and eighteen ponies to carry their supplies, Emily lost her footing and slid to the brink of a 400-foot-deep ravine; the helpers formed a human chain and just managed to stop her slide in time.

In 1942, the couple returned to New York to see out the end of the war. Three years later, war over, they returned to Bombay; it took them  five months, and they had to travel via Lisbon and South Africa. Back in India, Emily took up golf, and became the women’s champion of “West and East India and Ceylon.” She was also elected president of the Bombay American Woman’s club. The Meekers were guests of the Aga Khan III in his palace when he celebrated his 60th year of Ismaili rule.

In 1948, Emily visited her mother in Abilene, Texas, for the first time in ten years. She held an exhibit of artworks there. Three years later, she designed costumes for a play held in the city, and in 1960 she exhibited 40 oils and pastels at the City Library, and gave a gallery talk about the status of art in India. in 1962 she exhibited a selection of her paintings in India, though the claim that this was the first art show in India by an American woman seems somewhat far-fetched.

This Bombay (Mumbai) watercolor, currently for sale at Barbara’s Bazaar in Ajijic, dates from 1954, when the Meekers were still living in India.

Emily Meeker. 1954. Woman in Bombay. Courtesy Tom Thompson.

Emily Meeker. Bombay, 1954. Courtesy Tom Thompson.

Emily began a new phase of her life after Don’s retirement in 1963. They read about Chula Vista, visited and, on their first trip, bought a view lot on the appropriately named Privada de la Vista, where they built their new home overlooking the lake. They moved in the following year, after several weeks visiting family in the US.

In May 1964, Emily, who normally golfed at either the sporty 9-hole Chula Vista course or the Chapala Country Club, had a hole-in-one at the 4th hole of the Guadalajara Country Club. This was reportedly the first ever hole-in-one by a female golfer at that course.

After her husband died in 1966, Emily continued to call Chula Vista ‘home’ for more than twenty years, until her own death on 18 November 1993 at the age of 85.

In the mid-1980s, Emily exhibited in several group shows in the Chapala area, the most noteworthy of which was “Pintores de la Ribera” in May 1985 at the Club Campestre La Hacienda (km 30 of the Guadalajara-Chapala highway). Fellow artists at that show included Daphne Aluta, Eugenia Bolduc, Jean Caragonne, Donald Demerest, Laura Goeglein, Hubert Harmon, B. R. Kline, Jo Kreig, Carla W. Manger, Sydney Moehlman, Xavier Pérez; Tiu Pessa, De Nyse Turner Pinkerton and Eleanor Smart.

In 1987, Emily’s artworks were exhibited in a group show at the Piaf Restaurant in Guadalajara.

Few artists associated with Lake Chapala led such a varied and adventurous life as Emily Preston Meeker.

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

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


  • Abilene Reporter-News: 2 June 1946, 58; 11 July 1948, 50; 13 November 1951, 8; 25 August 1960;
  • Maura Drechsler. “Travels of a Lakeside Painter,” El Ojo del Lago, April 1987, 1-3.
  • El Informador: 4 May 1985.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 19 March 1964, 5; 28 May 1964, 1.

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.

  2 Responses to “American artist Emily Meeker lived in Chula Vista from the 1960s”

  1. I’m so glad to have seen this post–beyond her art this woman was born into an Indiana Jones life– I sure hope her memories were recorded before her death–what insights into the world before us–great read–thanks

    • Thanks, Bill! Unfortunately, I don’t think her memories were ever recorded for posterity. She died many years before the Lake Chapala Society had a sadly short-lived program to video record many of the ‘old-timers’ in the Lake Chapala area about their lives and adventures. Saludos, Tony.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.