Mar 122020
 

American couple Jim and Gloria Marthai took early retirement and moved to Ajijic in 1969. After 5 years there, they opted out of its bright lights in favor of the small village of San Pedro Tesistán on the south side of the lake. Very very few foreign residents have chosen to live in San Pedro; the Marthais lived there 15 years, enjoying the simple life and rural surroundings. Gloria, a keen rider, made regular forays on her horse to nearby villages and to the higher elevations behind their home, including the summit of the volcanic peak Cerro García, the highest point around the lake.

The Marthais’ lifestyle and willingness to learn Spanish enabled them to take an active part in village life and they quickly gained friends and became well integrated into their adopted community.

The couple later moved to the Roca Azul subdivision on the outskirts of Jocotepec.

James Louis Marthai (born in New York City on 22 November 1918) had first met Gloria (born in Canton, Ohio, on 7 September 1928) in California, where they both worked for General Dynamics Corporation, and married in Nevada on 28 June 1958.

The Marthais spent the first six years of their early retirement cruising the Bahamas and the U.S. east coast aboard their private 43-foot classic Elko cruiser.

After returning to live on land in Mexico in 1969, Jim Marthai developed his skills in poetry, sculpture, ivory carving and jewelry design.

He read some of his original poems at a Sunday evening of music and poetry held in 1971 at the home of Aileen Melby, a poet and children’s author, and her husband, Arthur. Jules Rubinstein and Katie Ingram also read poems at that informal soirée.

James Marthai. Drawing used for charity card in aid of Amigos de Salud.

James Marthai. 1977. Drawing used for charity card in aid of Amigos de Salud.

Jim was an accomplished sculptor, carver-especially of miniatures-and jeweler, using raw materials that varied from ebony and bone to walrus tusks and precious metals. He also made one-of-a-kind hunting knives.

Gloria immersed herself in Mexico and her experiences were the basis for a series of stories written for Mexconnect, El Ojo del Lago and the Lake Chapala Review. She contributed several pieces to Aguas Marías: Border Crossers, Boundary Breakers, a compilation of writings by 10 American and Canadian women living at Lake Chapala. Her one-paragraph bio in that book summed up her motivation to write:

“When I came to Mexico in 1969, I entered a time warp. It was the United States 100 years ago, a land of the horse. I was, and still am, intrigued and inspired by this country. I studied Spanish and bought my first horse early on, which led to easy assimilation into rural village life and an endless trail of adventure. How could I not write about it? Besides, I like tequila.”

In addition, she made made artistic shirts, mosaics and unusual decorative mobiles, frequently using bone and recycled materials.

Both Jim and Gloria Marthai had artwork exhibited in a show in October 1976 entitled “Arts and Crafts of Lake Chapala”, held at the ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara and organized by the Jalisco State government. Other Lakeside artists in that show included Antonio Cardenas; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Antonio López Vega; Julia Michel [Gail Michel]; Bert Miller; Dionisio Morales; and Georg Rauch.

The following month, Gloria’s “bone mobiles” and Jim’s “crafted jewelry” were on sale at an Art and Craft Bazaar organized in Ajijic by Galería del Lago. Gallery manager Katie Goodridge Ingram, subsequently included Jim’s work in a show she organized for the Jalisco Fine Arts and Tourism departments in Puerto Vallarta. (That show also included works by Jean Caragonne; Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Richard Frush; Hubert Harmon; Rocky Karns; Gail Michel; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; Georg Rauch; and Sylvia Salmi.)

In 1977, Jim Marthai’s drawing of a village scene (image) was used for the Amigos de Salud charity cards, available in either color or black and white. That same year Marthai illustrated The Before and After Dinner Cookbook, written by two Lakeside residents, Charlotte McNamara and Lenore Howell.

Jim Marthai died in Mexico on 14 March 2005; his wife, Gloria, passed away on 11 November 2011.

In a strange twist of horsehair, Jim Marthai’s legacy still lives on in the small town of Cajititlán, mid-way between Chapala and Guadalajara, where several families make hand-woven belts, sashes and bands for charro hats from long strands of horsehair. It was Marthai who first taught the techniques to a local woman, Consuelo Cervantes, and her son Diego in the early 1980s. She has since taught others. The unusual and ingenious handicrafts are sold at rodeos and charro events.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Phyllis Rauch for sharing her fond memories of Jim and Gloria Marthai.

Sources

  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 6 Feb 1971; 20 March 1971; 30 Oct 1976, 23; 8 Oct 1977, 18; 18 November 2011.
  • El Informador: 25 Oct 1976.
  • Charlotte McNamara and Lenore Howell. 1977. The Before and After Dinner Cookbook (illustrations by James L. Marthai). Atheneum.
  • Ojo del Lago: November 1987.
  • John Pint. 2012. “Mexican artisans of Lake Cajititlan.” MexConnect.com. 18 May 2012.  [25 March 2019]

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

Aug 092018
 

Chapala-born Jorge Seimandi Ramírez was a highly-respected art educator at the University of Guadalajara for more than 40 years. He was not interested in the commercial side of art and his own work was rarely sold or exhibited.

Seimandi was born in Chapala on 2 February 1929, the son of Italian-born businessman Juan Seimandi and his wife, Refugio Ramírez, a local Chapala girl. Jorge Seimandi studied art at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Guadalajara from 1947 to 1950. His teachers included Ixca Farías, Leopoldo Bancalari and Rubén Mora Gálvez.

Recognized for his proficiency in both oils and watercolors, Seimandi painted still lifes, figurative studies, portraits and landscapes, some of which were exhibited in the 1950s.

Jorge Seimandi. Undated still life. Photo credit: A. Hinojosa/Informador.

Jorge Seimandi. Undated still life. Photo credit: A. Hinojosa/Informador.

His work was exhibited at the Exhibition of the School of Fine Arts (Exposición Anual de la Escuela de Bellas Artes) in Guadalajara in 1949 (where he won a “diploma of recognition”); in two shows at the city’s Galerías Degollado, in 1957 and 1958;and at at the Mexican-North American Cultural Institute (Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco). Seimandi  held solo shows at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas (1970; 1994) and at the Galería Jorge Martínez (1998).

Along with Alfonso de Lara Gallardo, Jorge Navarro Hernández and others, Seimandi was an active member of Grupo Integración, a loose collective of modernistic artists founded in 1966.

Seimandi was never a full-time professional painter but pursued art in his spare time while earning a qualification in law. He was appointed head of the Jalisco State Tourism Office in 1957. He taught art and art history at the University of Guadalajara’s Escuela de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts School) from 1953 to 1981, where he inspired the next generation of artists. He directed the school from 1978-1981. He was also appointed Professor of Drawing for the Jalisco State Primary Schools, a position that enabled him to research basic education in drawing.

Following his death in Guadalajara on 2 October 2013, at the age of 84, his family announced their intention to compile a complete catalog his works, many of which he gave to friends, and to arrange a retrospective exhibition at the University of Guadalajara’s Museo de las Artes. If they are successful, this will be a show worth seeing!

Sources:

  • El Informador: 25 April 1970; 26 June 1994; 25 Nov 1998; 28 Nov 1998.
  • Thamara Villaseñor. 2013. “Seimandi y su pasión por la pintura.” El Informador, 1 Dec 2013, 11-B.

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

Apr 052018
 

Frank Ward Kent (1912-1977) was a talented illustrator and painter who lived at Lake Chapala for much of the last decade of his life, from about 1968 to 1976.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 16 February 1912, Kent spent much of his youth riding and sketching in the Teton Mountains and is best known for his landscapes and scholarly portraits of Native Americans, including the Shoshone and Blackfoot Indians. He later turned some of the sketches into paintings. In the 1940s, Kent completed many social realism paintings depicting racial and social problems.

Frank Ward Kent. ca 1941. "They Shall be Free". (Decatur Daily Review)

Frank Ward Kent. ca 1941. “They Shall be Free”. (Decatur Daily Review)

Kent began his formal education at the University of Utah (1930) before studying art at the Chicago Art Institute (1931), the Art Students League in New York (1931-32), and privately in Paris, France (1934). At age 23, he married Helen Gladys Allred, 25, of American Falls, Idaho, in June 1935.

Frank Kent. ca 1973. Lake Chapala shoreline. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Frank Kent. ca 1975. Lake Chapala shoreline. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Kent completed a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts in 1937 and a Masters in Fine Arts in 1938, both from Syracuse University, New York. He worked as an illustrator for Wild West magazine in New York and also worked for many years as a specialist in identification, attribution, appraisal and cataloguing for various museums and colleges, including the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in New York. He was a Professor of Fine Arts at Bradley University in Illinois (1938-1944) and at Syracuse University in New York (1944-1958).

He was the Director of the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento, California for 11 years (1958-1968), after which he became a fine arts appraiser, researcher, and restorer for Hunter Gallery in San Francisco.

Kent had undertaken private study in Mexico in 1946 and 1952, and apparently also taught at the Mexican Art Workshop (organized by Irma Jonas) from 1949 to 1955. The 1949 workshop was based in Ajijic, with an “overflow” workshop in Taxco. In the succeeding years, the workshop was based entirely in Taxco.

Frank Kent. 1975. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Richard Tingen.

Frank Ward Kent. 1975. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Richard Tingen.

After he retired from his position at Crocker Art Gallery, Kent moved to Lake Chapala.

According to a brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1975, “The well known California painter Frank W. Kent has settled into his Villa Formosa apartment and expects to be busy portraying the Lakeside beauty on canvas.”

A few months later, Katie Goodridge Ingram, who was director of La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic, announced an exhibition of 10 of his works. The artist, who had been painting in the area for eight years, gave a talk on opening night (in February 1976) about creativity and composition. Ingram said that “his work has an original and characteristic style reflected in the colorful breakdown of shapes and planes. His paintings of Mexican children reflect joy and movement, and his depictions of street musicians are marked by a real freshness of approach.”

Kent’s award-winning art was exhibited widely during his lifetime, including at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1934); Springville, Utah (1934-40); University of Utah (1935, 1936, 1939, 1940); the All-Illinois Exhibition (1940, 1942); Peoria Art League (1940-43); Syracuse Art Association (1945, 1946); Heyburn, Idaho (1934); Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (1944-55); Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, Utica, New York; Pan-Am Union; New Georgetown Gallery, Washington, DC; and the Mexican Embassy, Washington, DC.

Examples of his work are included in the permanent collections of the Chicago Art Institute; Rochester Memorial Museum; Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts; Iowa State University; University of Utah; Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento; and in many private collections.

Kent, who died in Sacramento, California, on 14 July 1977, also wrote two art-related books: A Search into the Unknown (1968) and Icons of the Community (1970).

Sources

  • Anon. Undated. “Profile of Frank W. Kent, M.F.A., A.S.A.”. Document that accompanied a painting purchased in 1980 and submitted to askart.com by Dr. Sherburne F. Cook, Jr. of Sherburne Antiques & Fine Art, Inc. in Olympia, Washington.
  • The Decatur Daily Review (Illinois), 2 December 1941, 24.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 26 July 1975; 14 February 1976.
  • Frank W. Kent. 1964. Crocker Art Gallery – Catalogue of Collections. Sacramento: Crocker Art Gallery.
  • The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah): 26 June 1932, 25; 1 June 1935, 47; 2 Jun 1935, 92;
  • Richard Tingen. Personal communication, 27 Oct 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.

Apr 272017
 

The renowned Mexican American artist Eugenio Quesada (1927-2011) lived in Ajijic in the early 1960s. Quesada had a distinguished artistic career and is considered an important figure in the history of Mexican American art.

Eugenio Reynaldo Quesada, usually known simply as “Gene”, was born in Wickenburg, Arizona, on 24 May 1927. He was born into one of the town’s pioneer families, the grandson of Teodoro Mazon Ocampo and Mariana Rodriguez Ocampo, who settled in Wickenburg, about sixty kilometers northwest of Phoenix, in 1860.

Eugene Quesada, 2009

Eugene Quesada, 2009

Quesada graduated from Wickenburg High School in 1945 and then served in the U.S. Navy. After the war, he attended Arizona State University (ASU), from where he graduated with a B.A. degree in May 1952. He continued his art studies in California and New York. In 1951, he was one of several artists who worked with French-born Mexican muralist Jean Charlot on the fresco “Man’s Wisdom Subdues the Aggressive Forces of Nature” in the ASU Administration building.

Early in his career, Quesada found inspiration in the oversized work of other Mexican muralists, including Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. He went on to paint several murals of his own in Mexico between 1963 and 1970, but is better known today for his exquisitely executed charcoal portraits, often of children, ink sketches and small paintings.

He lived in Guadalajara and Ajijic for six years in the 1960s, a key period in his artistic development. In the words of his obituary:

“This long residence in Mexico flavored the stuttering lines, torsos and oblique forms that became the core of Quesada’s body of work. His work deals in the barest essentials in defining his subjects. Texture and color used to define form, rather than specific objects make his paintings appear larger than they are. His drawings suggest brief, but very effective visual statements.”

When he returned to Arizona, Quesada left several small paintings of Ajijic children with the Crump family in Ajijic. The family also owns Quesada’s portrait of Carlos Espiritu which dates from the 1960s. Espiritu was a well-known guitarist who resided in Ajijic and taught guitar for several years.

Eugene Quesada. ca 1964, Portrait of Carlos Espiritu. (image courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Eugene Quesada. ca 1964, Portrait of Carlos Espiritu. (image courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Quesada held his first solo show of paintings in March 1968, at the Casa de Cultura in Guadalajara. It was very well attended. His three sisters from Phoenix flew down for the opening and other guests included fellow artists Peter Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt, as well as Booth and Sue Waterbury, the then managers of Posada Ajijic.

At a group show in Guadalajara in June 1968 – First Annual Graphic Arts Show at La Galeria (878 Ocho de Julio, Guadalajara) – Quesada exhibited a portrait of a child entitled “Mire Pa’alla”. Other Lakeside artists with work in this show included Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Allyn Hunt, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson and Tully Judson Petty.

Eugene Quesada. 1964, Sonañdo. Charcoal. (from Quirarte)

Eugene Quesada. 1964, Sonañdo. Charcoal. (from Quirarte)

After his years in Mexico, Quesada taught art at Glendale Community College and was professor of fine arts at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, until his retirement in 1989. Following his retirement, he and his siblings established the Jose Franco and Francisca Ocampo Quesada Research Award Endowment at ASU which funds student research that increases the understanding of the Hispanic community.

Among the other one-person shows held by Quesada in his productive career were
shows in Tempe, Arizona (1970, 1972) and Glendale, Arizona (1980). Group shows included the Annual All-Student and Alumni Art Exhibit in Tempe (1955, 1956); San Francisco, California (1969); Phoenix, Arizona (1970); “Five Chicano Artists” in Paradise Valley, Arizona (1971); League of United Latin American Citizens, Washington, D.C. (1971); Mexican American Art Symposium, San Antonio, Texas (1973), “Chicanos and the Arts”, Phoenix ((1975); Group Exhibit, Yuma, Arizona (1975); Two-man exhibit in Tempe (1976); the Heard Museum, Phoenix (1976); the New Hispanic Exhibit, Washington, D.C. (1978); “Arte Sweat & Tears”, Museo Chicano, Phoenix, (1980); and “Primer Encuentro Cultural: Chicano”, University of Guadalajara, Jalisco (1983).

Gene Quesada. Untitled. 1968.

Gene Quesada. Undated. Untitled. (image courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Quesada’s work featured in two major traveling exhibitions of Mexican American art. The first was “Artists, Hispano / Mexican-American / Chicano Artists, Hispano / Mexican-American / Chicano Artists, Hispano / Mexican-American / Chicano” opened at The Lobby Gallery-Illinois Bell in Chicago in 1976 and then visited Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio, Texas; De Cordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts; Illinois State Museum, Springfield, Illinois; Mexican Museum, San Francisco, California and ended at the Boise Gallery of Art, Boise, Idaho, in March 1977. The second was “The Latin American Presence in The United States, 1920-1970”, organized by The Bronx Museum of the Arts. This opened in New York in September 1988 and then visited El Paso Museum of Art (1989), San Diego Museum of Art (1989), Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, San Juan, Puerto Rico (1989) and ended at The Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, Florida (1990).

Gene Quesada. Untitled. 1968.

Gene Quesada. 1968. Untitled. (image courtesy of Raymond Crump)

A major retrospective of Quesada’s work was held in 2010, entitled “Figurative Impressions by Eugene Quesada, 50 Years: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings – a tribute to the Mexican American Artist”. It opened in San Diego, California, in August of that year.

The following year, on 31 December 2011, following a long illness, Eugenio Quesada passed away in his native Wickenburg. Many of Quesada’s papers are now housed in the Arizona State University Libraries Chicano Research Collection.

These two short YouTube videos feature many examples of his art:

Sources:

  • Raymond Crump – personal communication
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 9 Mar 1968, 15 June 1968
  • Obituary: The Wickenburg Sun (Wickenburg, Arizona), 11 January 2012.
  • Jacinto Quirarte. 1973. Mexican American Artists. Univ of Texas Press.

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

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