Apr 202023
 

Ajijic’s sister city connection to Studio City in California had already been going five years by the time journalist Bill Reed wrote about it in 1967. The sister city program was part of the People to People initiative begun a decade earlier by former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1964 the executive board of People to People held a lunch meeting at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala, a meeting attended by Eisenhower’s son (John D. Eisenhower), Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos, former president Miguel Alemán, the Jalisco state governor Juan Gil Preciado, and other guests who listened to a keynote address by Walt Disney (in which he claimed “Jalisco” was his favorite song).

According to the Los Angeles Evening Citizen News (in January 1963), the idea to twin Ajijic and Studio City came from Eric Lindhe, a retired US Army colonel who had lived seven years in Ajijic and suggested the idea to Jim Hawthorne, Studio City’s honorary mayor. Lindhe undertook to liaise with villagers and help organize a formal sister city relationship. The press report also mentioned that a more recent Ajijic resident, retired civil engineer Don Savage, “has been working on a project to get water into the town’s homes for the first time.”

Press Telegram, 1962

Press Telegram, 1962

The first tangible impact of the sister city connection was in September 1962 when a Studio City resident, the uncle of Ann Mosher, visited Ajijic and presented donated poster paints to the children taking art classes in Neill James’ library. That program grew into the Children’s Art Program, now held under the auspices of the Lake Chapala Society.

Mosher explained to fellow donors that the children made cards which tourists bought for a peso each, with part of the proceeds going direct to the aspiring young artists.

The Chamber of Commerce in Studio City had initially wanted to send medicines and children’s clothing to Ajijic, before learning that customs regulations might be an issue, so they sent large bottles of poster paint instead.

Despite knowing the potential problems, in October the Kiwanis Club in Studio City organized a major clothing drive for Ajijic children and collected close to a ton of clothes and shoes! Simultaneously, the Studio City Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) announced a 10-day tour to Mexico, to include Ajijic, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Taxco and Acapulco.

In November 1962 the Studio City Merchants Association joined with SSCC to host a Mexican Fiesta to raise funds, and at the end of month, thirteen Studio City residents left Los Angeles for Mexico. According to press reports, Mexicana airline assisted with the transportation of the donated clothing.

All thirteen visitors were overwhelmed  by the “extraordinary cordiality of their hosts south of the border.” The group traveled to Ajijic from the airport in a “special bar-equipped bus.” Some sixty charros in multicolored serapes met the bus on the outskirts of Ajijic to escort the Studio City group to the plaza, where an estimated 4000 villagers gathered to cheer and welcome the group with music, folkloric dancing, church bells and confetti. “Torchlights blazed on all sides (there are no street lights in Ajijic).” This was the start of a three-day whirl of receptions, visits, parties and dancing. The visitors encountered no anti-US sentiments in the village, which “may be partly because the Americans residing in Ajijic have taken a special, helpful interest in the town and its problems.”

The following March the Los Angeles Times reported that plans were underway for a return visit by a group of Ajijic villagers to Studio City in April (via bus to Tijuana), and that Studio City residents had started to fund raise for a “long-needed” school in Ajijic, which “could be built for as little as $1,500.” This visit was subsequently postponed more than once, in part because a school teacher from Ajijic was acting as the group’s interpreter, so it needed to take place during a school holiday.

In April it emerged that the six large boxes of clothing that had been held at Guadalajara airport since the previous December had finally been granted duty-free status and had been released, following the personal intervention of the President, to Col. Eric Lindhe for onward transport to Ajijic.

Los Angeles Times, 23 July 1963.

Los Angeles Times, 23 July 1963.

Fund raising continued apace in Studio City, including a Bowling Tourney for the “rehabilitation of a boys’ school” in Ajijic, and the auction of a Tink Strother oil painting of an Ajijic woman preparing tortillas. Strother had lived in Ajijic the previous year.

In July an “advance party,” comprised of Ajijic residents Don Savage and his wife, and their 22-year-old maid, Mariana Yañez (the niece of Ajijic mayor José Serna Flores), arrived in Studio City. Savage persuaded Studio City officials that any funds raised by SCCC to affray the expenses of a visit by Ajijic children could be far better utilized to help pay for the expansion of Saúl Rodilas Pina boys’ school in the village. The school, for grades 1 to 6, was attended by 400 boys at the time, and needed to expand but had run out of money. Villagers wanted to buy bricks and steel beams to add two classrooms and a kitchen. Savage pointed out to his SCCC hosts that the expense of obtaining passports and visas for Ajijic students would be considerable. The SCCC sent a check for $650.00 to Ajijic for the school and continued to fund raise. Eric Lindhe gave a talk in Studio City in December and raised a further $105.00 to outfit junior soccer teams in Ajijic.

In March 1964 the SCCC voted to provide $300.00 to bring two boys, two girls and two teachers from Ajijic to visit Studio City. At the end of the academic year, the Ajijic students finally arrived.

The four students named in newspaper reports were Rafael Chávez (13 years old), “Frederico” (Federico) López (11), María del Rosario Díaz (14) and María Guadalupe Reyes (13). They were chaperoned by teacher Martha Zuñiga (20) and school principal Velia Hugo. Born in Toledo, Ohio, Hugo had moved to Ajijic with her family as a 10-year-old and spoke perfect English. Also accompanying the group was delegado José Ramos Pérez and the village padre, Ramón Barba. Their Studio City hosts financed an itinerary that included visits to Disneyland, a beauty salon, shopping for clothes, a baseball game at Dodger’s Stadium, Revue Studio, boating and the naval air station at Long Beach. In their honor, Los Angeles mayor, Sam Yorty, officially proclaimed the week of July 9-16 “Ajijic Week in Studio City.”

Two years later a second group from Studio City, about 20-strong, stayed in Ajijic for several days at the end of November 1966. They toured the village boys’ and girls’ schools, and the new vocational school to which SCCC had contributed funds. By then, SCCC had plans to raise at least $1,000 to launch a food program of breakfasts for 200 needy Mexican youngsters in Ajijic. Blaine Hodgson, a retired US army officer living in Ajijic, had offered to oversee the program.

Velia Hugo kept in close contact with Studio City and the local newspaper reported in January 1968 that she was raising funds for a basketball court and that members of the SCCC also hoped to build a clinic in Ajijic, and start a kindergarten. A letter exchange was organized between students in Studio City and Ajijic, and in May the SCCC was planning to expand the small library in Ajijic and was considering establishing a retail outlet in Studio City to sell wares from Ajijic.

The SCCC also helped sponsor a 13-year-old Ajijic artist, Ramón Navarro, to leave Ajijic and live with an aunt in Los Angeles to take formal art classes. According to press reports, Navarro was, in August 1968, “exhibiting his oil paintings and watercolors at an art show in Guadalajara” and his talent had been discovered by Irma McCall, a former resident of Ajijic residing in Long Beach. (McCall’s article, “Ajijic–Paradise Under the Mexican Sun,” was published in the 11 March 1962 issue of the Independent Press-Telegram.) Studio City support for Navarro continued for several years. In 1973 the Women’s Division of SCCC gave him a scholarship to complete his education in the US.

The SCCC announced plans to invite Navarro and several residents of Ajijic to a block party in September. The Ajijic group was comprised of four adults—J. Trinidad Ramos Jr, president of the Ajijic Chamber of Commerce; businessman Rufino Palacios; Velia Hugo and Esperanza Briones, both teachers at the Girls’ School; and four 6th grader students: Rosemaría Jiménez (13), Antelma Plasencia (12), Rubén Romero (12) and Arnulfo Beas (13).

Velia Hugo addressed teachers at a luncheon at Riverside Drive Elementary school, telling them that, in Ajijic: “The number of children in our classes varies with about 100 children in first grade, 62 in fourth grade and 32 in sixth grade…. These children have only one teacher in each class.” She also explained that, with DIF support, hot breakfasts were being provided to about 500 village children.

J. Trinidad Ramos told the local press that after 6th grade in Ajijic, boys received “manual training” and girls studied sewing and dressmaking. He estimated that there were “more than 300 American families” living in the village, and stated that the resident Americans, spearheaded by Mr and Mrs Booth Waterbury of the Posada Ajijic, were interested in starting a medical center.

Studio City helped another young Ajijic artist in 1970 when the SCCC sponsored 24-year-old “Juan Olverez” (= Juan Olivarez) to study art for a month in Studio City. American artist Jack Rutherford, who had been living in Ajijic for several years and recognized the young man’s talent, had contacted the SCCC, which arranged for Olivarez to become the house-guest of Mr and Mrs Robert Hecker for the summer, while Mr and Mrs Rutherford and their four children enjoyed a working holiday in Laguna Beach.

  • Note: Juan Olivarez was born in 1944 and would have been 26 in July 1970. Sadly he died in 2022 before I was able to ask him about his memories of Studio City and about his later artistic career, which centered on photography, as detailed in this profile.

As Ajijic grew, so contacts with—and financial support from—Studio City became more sporadic, though they continued until at least the mid-1980s. In 1971, for example educator Margaret Hyatt spent several days in Ajijic and returned later that year to give a month-long literacy tutor-training and demonstration course to young adults in Ajijic. A group of Studio City residents visited Ajijic in November 1973, to begin arrangements for a return trip for a 30-member delegation from Ajijic, including a youth soccer team, the following year. In 1976, SCCC organized the donation of medical equipment for Ajijic’s first public health clinic, which opened in May 1977. The SCCC also raised funds in 1977 for “school and church supplies” in Ajijic, and were still supporting a Scholarship Fund for Ajijic as late as 1984.

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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 Ajijic’s art community and its health and education facilities.

Note

Other Lakeside communities with sister cities include:

  • Chapala-Lake Arrowhead, California (included on official 1972 list of all sister cities)
  • Jocotepec-Watsonville, California (begun 15 September 2018)
  • Chapala-Jin Xi, China (the highway through La Floresta was renamed Boulevard Jin Xi in 1994)
  • Chapala-Barrhead, Alberta, Canada (from about 2007).

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 16 July 1964, 8.
  • Los Angeles Evening Citizen News: 19 Jan 1963, 4; 5 Dec 1963, 7; 3 Jul 1964, 6; 3 Jul 1964, 6; 13 Jul 1964, 6.
  • Los Angeles Times: 7 Mar 1963, 138; 7 Apr 1963, 234; 15 Apr 1963, 2; 23 Jun 1963, 201; 4 Jul 1963, 107; 9 Jul 1963, 73; 27 Aug 1963, 2; 9 Jun 1964, 94; 31 Jul 1980, 209 12 Jul 1984, 211.
  • Press-Telegram, 30 Sep 1962, 109.
  • South Pasadena Journal: 03 Nov 1971, 10.
  • Valley News: 07 Feb 1967, 99; 05 Jan 1967, 49; 29 Dec 1967, 15; 04 Aug 1968, 50; 20 Sep 1968, 35; 22 Sep 1968, 12; 04 Feb 1971, 90; 16 Nov 1973, 43; 08 Oct 1974, 25; 02 Sep 1976, 42; 31 Mar 1977, 35; 01 Nov 1977, 32.
  • Valley Times, 2 Oct 1962, 15; 25 Oct 1962,17; 19 Nov 1962, 15; 27 Nov 1962, 2; 10 Jul 1964, 2; 25 Sep 1968, 8.
  • Van Nuys News: 21 Jan 1968, 6; 09 May 1968, 49; 26 Jun 1970, 17; 30 Jun 1970, 13; 17 May 1973, 105; 07 Aug 1973, 12.
  • Van Nuys News and Valley Green Sheet: 04 Jan 1966, 10; 04 Oct 1966, 47; 7 Oct 1962, 3.

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

Apr 062023
 

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

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

Tizapan el Alto

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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.
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.

Jul 072022
 

Art instructor Vera Wise brought students from the Art Class of the College of Mines in El Paso, Texas, to Mexico for five weeks in summer 1946; their trip included a few days in Ajijic. Her accompanying students included Mrs N L Casner, Mrs Sara B Foote, Mrs Florence Koebrich, Bruce Anderson, George Brown and Misses Lela Roy Williams, Alfinia Kowelevski, Toni Snyder, Robin Norton and Martha Martinez. After visiting Guadalajara, where they painted pottery craftsmen, they moved to Chapala to paint fishermen mending their nets.

From there, according to the newspaper report, “A launch trip brought them to Ajijic, where they stayed in the Virrein[a]l Hotel a 17th century building steeped in old Spanish atmosphere.” The only hotels of note operating in Ajijic in 1946 were Posada Ajijic and Quinta Mi Retiro. There was, however, a hotel named the Virreinal in Guadalajara, which probably accounts for the mix-up.

This 1946 account is the earliest record of an organized art class visit to Ajijic. There had been art students living and working independently in Ajijic previously, the earliest and best-known being Lowell Houser (1902-1971) and Everett Gee Jackson (1900-1995), who spent several months in Ajijic in 1926, between extended stays in Chapala.

After Ajijic, the El Paso group traveled to Mexico City and Taxco, where they met, by chance, fellow US students at the Hotel Victoria studying at the International School of Art with renowned Guatemalan-born artist Carlos Mérida.

The International School of Art was overseen by Elma Pratt, who had designed a stunning silkscreen of Chapala, and brought students to Guadalajara a few years earlier. Carlos Mérida later assisted Irma Jonas, when she organized a summer Mexican Art Workshop in Ajijic from 1947 to 1949 inclusive.

Vera Wise (1892-1978) was an artist, lithographer, painter and watercolorist who taught art and chaired the art department at the Texas College of Mines (subsequently Texas Western College, subsequently the University of Texas at El Paso) from 1939 to 1962.

Vera Wise. 1950. Windmill. Credit: MissouriArtists.org

Vera Wise. 1950. Windmill. Credit: MissouriArtists.org

Born in Iola, Kansas on 26 July 1892, Wise grew up in Sunnyside, Washington. After graduating from high school, Wise gained a bachelor’s degree of art in 1920 from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and then taught for a few years at high schools in Washington and Montana. Wise then moved to Chicago, where she studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and became a designer (1925-1929) in the interior decoration department of Marshall Field and Company. In 1929, Wise moved to Kansas City, Missouri to work for the Robert Keith Company (1929-1938) and Bradley Studios (1938-1939).

While living in Kansas City, she painted murals in private homes, and studied under Thomas Hart Benson in 1931 and later at the Kansas City Art Institute (1928-1939). In 1940 she also studied under Thomas Craig at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

When Wise moved to teach at the Texas College of Mines in 1939, she began by teaching design and decoration before offering painting courses alongside art history and other art classes.

Vera Wise. Undated. Garden Scene. Credit: MissouriArtists.org

Vera Wise. Undated. Garden Scene. Credit: MissouriArtists.org

Also on the faculty at the Texas School of Mines was Catalan-born sculptor, painter and art educator Urbici Soler (1890–1953), who had been married (briefly) to painter Betty Binkley (1914-1978). After the marriage ended, Binkley lived and painted at Lake Chapala.

Another close friend of Soler—artist Hari Kidd (1899-1964)—was also at Lake Chapala at that time. It was at Lake Chapala that Kidd met and fell in love with (and later married) talented painter Edythe Wallach (1909-2001), who had held a solo show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in November 1944. Together with English artist Muriel Lytton-Bernard, Kidd and Binkley were named in El Informador as founders of a “Chapala Art Center.” The center’s first exhibition, held at the Villa Montecarlo in December 1944, included works by all three artists, as well as works by the famous American surrealist Sylvia Fein, Ann Medalie, Otto Butterlin, Ernesto Linares (Lyn Butterlin), and Jaime López Bermúdez.

For her part, Wise exhibited her artwork regularly and held several solo exhibitions, most of them in Texas. Her work often portrayed the landscapes of the south-west US, with one art critic, Arthur Miller, professing that her watercolors expressed “a real love of the visible world.” She also exhibited at least once in Mexico, in a four-woman show in Mexico City in September 1950, alongside Polly Howerton, Alice Naylor and Helen Bilger. That exhibition was organized by the Departamento de Extensión Universitaria of the National University (UNAM) and was held in the Galeria Universitaria, in the vestibule of the National Library.

Wise continued to lead art groups to Mexico. In 1957, for example, she organized a 30-day summer school art program for Texas Western students in San Blas, Nayarit, which included instruction in painting, design, photography and art education. Five years later, Wise retired and moved to California.

Wise was an active member of the National Association of Women Artists, Southern States Art League, Texas Fine Arts Association, Texas Printmakers’ Guild, Texas Watercolor Society, Pomona Valley Art Association, and the California National Watercolor Society.

Works by Wise can be found in the permanent collections of Idaho State College, Texas Fine Arts Association, and Southern Methodist University.

Wise died in Stockton, California, on 6 June 1978. A Vera Wise Scholarship fund was established in her memory to be awarded annually to a promising art student.

Note

For more details of the history of Ajijic artists, art programs and hotels, see Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: decades of change in a Mexican village (2022).

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.

Sources

  • El Paso Herald-Post: 11 July 1946, 6.
  • Nova Quarterly: March 1989, 6-7.
  • Texas Trends in Art Education: March 1957, 24.

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 312019
 

From way back when, visiting artists such as surrealist painter Sylvia Fein in the 1940s offered students in Ajijic art materials and encouragement. In 1954, authoress Neill James, almost a decade after she had moved to Ajijic to recuperate from a serious climbing accident, started a tutoring program for local youngsters. Children who worked hard were given art materials to paint and draw. This was the beginning of Ajijic’s famous Children’s Art Program (CAP).

Early classes combined reading and writing with art. James became so committed to the project that the following year she opened a public library, donating the building to the village. She later opened a second library. She was sufficiently impressed by the efforts and creativity of several young artists that she arranged for them to continue their art education by attending classes in San Miguel de Allende.

To its eternal credit, the Children’s Art Program provided (and continues to provide) one of the stronger bridges between the expatriate “colony” and the local community. Almost all families in Ajijic have benefited from the program at one time or another. As the program expanded, greater organizational skills were required and the Lake Chapala Society stepped in to offer its support to help run the libraries and the art classes.

Javier Zaragoza and Jesús López Vega. 2012. Children's Art Program mural, Lake Chapala Society.

Javier Zaragoza and Jesús López Vega. 2012. Children’s Art Program mural, Lake Chapala Society.

For most of the first three decades of the Children’s Art Program, James was ably assisted by Angelita Aldana Padilla. One of Aldana’s nephews, Florentino Padilla (who lived from about 1943 to 2010) was one of the first students to be given a scholarship by James to study in San Miguel de Allende from 1960 to 1962.

On his return to Ajijic, Padilla gave back by teaching the next generation of CAP students. He helped promote the sale of the children’s “bright, charming paintings” to raise funds for materials and supplies. In 1964, for example, Padilla and Paul Carson (the then president of the Lake Chapala Society) arranged an exhibition-sale at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-NorteAmericano in Guadalajara of over 50 paintings by youngsters who had been taught at the Biblioteca. Nearly all the paintings sold. Padilla’s niece, Lucia Padilla Gutierrez, is also a gifted artist who attended CAP classes, and her own son became the third generation of this particular family to benefit from the program.

Many other later CAP alumni, including Javier Zaragoza and Jesús López Vega, have also given back to the program by teaching classes.

Every time CAP artwork was sold, a healthy percentage went to the individual student artist, as it still does today. In the 1970s, regular shows of CAP art were held in Ajijic. For example, in 1973, an exhibition of student work was held at the Tejabán Restaurant in Ajijic (then run by Jan Dunlap and Manuel Urzua). The acclaimed American photographer Sylvia Salmi (who had retired to Ajijic a decade earlier) and Peggy Duffield helped promote and organize the show.

The following year, Betty Lou and John Rip, who were frequent visitors to Lake Chapala, purchased CAP paintings to decorate all 44 rooms of their Mayan Motor Inn in Laredo, Texas.

For a variety of reasons, including Neill James’ advancing age and ill health, the CAP ran out of steam in the late 1970s and there were no regular art classes for children from 1979 to 1984. Classes were revived – initially during summer vacation and shortly thereafter year-round – thanks to the joint efforts of the Lake Chapala Society and the Ajijic Society of the Arts and the tireless endeavors of Mildred Boyd, an American writer and volunteer, who stepped forward at just the right time. Boyd, who died in 2010, dedicated thousands of hours of selfless service to the cause of CAP.

When Boyd came across a stash of long-forgotten works done by students who had been in the program decades earlier, she (with the help of one of her daughters, Judy) assembled a heritage exhibition that included early works by several children who had gone on to become successful professional artists.

The Legacy Art Collection (paintings and other works, some dating back to the 1950s, by children in the Children’s Art Program), the patrimony of all the people of Ajijic, is now in the care of the Lake Chapala Society. The collection is being catalogued and around 400 individual items can be viewed online via this online database.

Boyd’s two daughters are supporting LCS attempts to digitize, catalog and preserve hundreds of the better paintings and hope that regular exhibits in the future will showcase the extraordinary artistic talents of so many local families.

The first major retrospective, spanning more than 50 years of paintings from the program, was held at the Centro Cultural Ajijic in October 2014. The 60th Anniversary exhibit featured 130 works by CAP alumni. The “legacy artists” included José Abarca, Antonio Cárdenas, Efrén González, Ricardo González, Antonio López Vega, Jesús López Vega, Bruno Mariscal, Juan Navarro, Juan Olivarez, Lucia Padilla, Daniel Palma, Lucía Padilla, Javier Ramos, Victor Romero and Javier Zaragoza.

Frank Wise and Mildred Boyd with Children’s Art Program students. Credit: Lizz/Judy Boyd.

The Children’s Art Program is commemorated in a colorful mural at the Lake Chapala Society entitled “Six Decades of Children’s Art” (“Seis décadas de arte infantil.” The mural, financed by the Ajijic Society of the Arts (ASA) and painted by program alumni Jesús López Vega and Javier Zaragoza, was unveiled in March 2012 and pays special homage to the three remarkable women who ensured the program’s success: Neill James, Angelita Aldana Padilla and Mildred Boyd.

Today, between 50 and 70 local children participate each week in art classes given by CAP. Both CAP and the children’s library remain integral parts of the links between the Lake Chapala Society and the local community. Ironically, in spite of her contributions, and the fact that she gifted her own home to the Lake Chapala Society, Neill James was never a member of that organization, preferring to support Mexican causes rather than expatriate ones.

Artists of note who began their art careers by taking classes in the Children’s Art Program include José Abarca; Armando Aguilar; Luis Anselmo Avalos Rochín; Antonio Cardenas Perales; José Manuel Castañeda; Efren González; Ricardo Gonzalez; Antonio López Vega; Jesús López Vega; Bruno Mariscal; Luis Enrique Martínez Hernández; Dionicio Morales López; Juan Navarro; Juan Olivarez; Florentino Padilla; Lucia Padilla Gutierrez; Daniel Palma; Javier Ramos; Victor Romero; Javier Zaragoza.

The Children’s Art Program can always use additional help. To donate time, funds or resources, contact the organizers.

Sources

  • Mildred Boyd. 2001. “Children’s Art Alive and Well in Ajijic!”, El Ojo del Lago, Vol 17, #10 (June 2001).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 24 Sep 1964, 10; 1 Oct 1964; 10 Nov 1973; 16 March 1974.

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.