Oct 212021
 

Jan Sullivan (1921-2016) was a regular visitor to Ajijic and the surrounding area for more than 35 years. She accompanied noted American artist Hazel Hannell, who chose to spend the winter months in Ajijic for several years in the 1980s. Other members of this small loose-knit group included the noteworthy artists Harriet Rex Smith (1921-2017) and Elizabeth Murray. Sullivan was only a child when she first met Hannell; on a trip to Europe in 1928, Hannell and her husband, Vin, visited Paris and called on Sullivan’s parents, Nels and Myrtle (Bachli) Malmquist.

Jan Sullivan. d.u. "Lakeside Life" (oil).

Jan Sullivan. date unknown. “Lakeside Life” (oil).

Fifty years later, Sullivan founded the Art Barn and school in rural Valparaiso, Indiana. Currently for sale at the Art Barn is this lovely oil painting of a scene near Ajijic by Sullivan titled “Lakeside Life.”

The accompanying text reads:

Janet spent over 35 years in and around Ajijic, Mexico, going to the villages surrounding Lake Chapala with the mountains keeping the towns small and up against the lake. Lakeside life enthralled Janet who loved the old adobe structures, the bushes and trees climbing the hills. She chose a plein air painting spot to view the houses against the azure mountains, the lake to her back, sitting on the roadside engrossed in the color and texture of buildings along the shore.”

Janet (“Jan”) Malmquist Sullivan was born in Chicago on 5 June 1921 and died at her home in Valparaiso on 19 April 2016, predeceased by her husband, Maurice “Bud” Sullivan, who had passed away in May 1979. Jan seta side time to develop her own art throughout her career as a supervisor of art education for the Chicago Schools. She later taught art at Valparaiso University.

The Sullivans established the Art Barn—a project encompassing art education, exhibitions and events—in 1977 with the help of a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. The location was a nineteenth-century farm near Valparaiso the couple had purchased in 1969.

Sullivan amassed a significant art collection, both to support local artists and to serve as an investment to provide a lasting legacy to support the Art Barn. She bequeathed her entire collection – more than 2000 items – to the Art Barn School of Art to ensure that it would have the means to continue its important mission.

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.

 Posted by at 5:30 am  Tagged with:
Sep 302021
 

Hungarian-Canadian artist Michael Fischer visited Lake Chapala several times in the early 1990s, including a lengthy stay one winter at San Juan Cosalá. He was in the final stages of planning to bring a group of artists and art students from Canada for a three-week stay at Lake Chapala when his wife was taken seriously ill. Her subsequent passing derailed all Fischer’s plans for the three-week workshop, which had the endorsement of the Northumberland Art Gallery in Cobourg, Toronto. The workshop was to have included classes taught by Fischer and by Jocotepec-based Austrian artist Georg Rauch.

Michael Fischer was born in Budapest, Hungary, and educated in that city at the City College, Academy of Art and the Orkenyi Strasser School of Art. His most influential teacher was Ödön Márffy, one of Hungary’s leading expressionist painters, a founder member of the group of Eight, and credited with introducing cubism, Fauvism and expressionism to the country.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Ajijic. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Ajijic. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Alongside his own painting, and regular exhibits at art shows in Hungary, Fischer was the art director for the Budapest City Theatre, where he specialized in set design. Fischer was multi-talented and also produced graphic panels and advertising art for trade shows and the movie industry.

A year after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, Fischer moved to Toronto, Canada. He quickly found his feet, becoming involved in creating advertising, editorial and book illustrations, as well as undertaking commissions, both for private individuals and for institutions such as the Canadian Red Cross, Toronto Dominion Bank, and major insurance firms. He also painted numerous murals for restaurants and private homes. He was represented by Studio 737 Art Gallery (now closed) which was located a short distance north of Tweed, Ontario.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Laundry in Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

Michael Fischer. c 1993. Laundry in Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton, all rights reserved.

From 1975 to 1987, Fischer taught illustration and composition at George Brown College.

His works are represented in many private and public collections in Canada, the USA and several European countries. “Proficient in all media… his landscapes, still life, figurative compositions and portraits are unique in their execution and excellence.”

Fischer undertook extensive research trips to Latin America and he painted many portraits of native people in Canada and Mexico. He particularly liked Mexico, and the Lake Chapala region, saying that “In Mexico it’s inspiring, the way people live so simply in religious and national customs.”

Fischer died in Toronto in about 2007.

If anyone can supply more details about Michael Fischer’s life and work, please get in touch.

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.

 Posted by at 5:26 am  Tagged with:
Sep 162021
 

Noted American artist Hazel Hannell was already in her eighties when she chose to spend the winter months in Ajijic. Hannell became a regular visitor for several years in the 1980s. This charming costumbrista woodblock from those years was sold on eBay. Hannell continued to paint and produce artworks until she was 103 years old.

Hazel Hannell. c 1985. By Lake Chapala. Woodblock.

Hazel Hannell. c 1985. “By Lake Chapala.” Woodblock.

Mary Hazel Johnson (later Hannel) was born on 31 December 1895 in LaGrange, Illinois, trained as a secretary, and studied art at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and the Emma Church School of Art in Chicago. She was an extraordinarily versatile artist. In her lengthy career she had success in a variety of media, from watercolor painting, woodblocks and red clay pottery, to tiles, murals and commercial fabric and wallpaper designs for Marshall Field.

Hazel celebrated her 28th birthday in 1923 by marrying Finnish-American artist Vinol Hannell (1896-1964). After visiting artist friends in Furnessville, Indiana, the couple built a summer home there, before moving there permanently in the 1930s.

[Coincidentally, Furnessville has a particularly strong connection to Lake Chapala. Dwight Furness, a member of the family after whom Furnessville is named, settled in Mexico in the late nineteenth century and built the famous Hotel Ribera Castellanos on a lakeside estate between Ocotlán and Jamay in the early 1900s.]

Hazel Hannell was an activist in the suffragette movement, and she and her husband were both active environmentalists and instrumental in the 1950s in helping to preserve the Indiana Dunes. The Hannells also served as leaders in the No-Jury Society and the Chicago Society of Artists, and helped found the Association of Artists and Craftsmen of Porter County.

Hannell was accompanied on her trips to Ajijic by several other noteworthy artists, including Harriet Rex Smith (1921-2017), Elizabeth Murray and Jan Sullivan (1921-2016). She moved to Oregon in 1988 to live and work with Rex Smith, and died there on 6 February 2002 at the age of 106.

Hannell often chose not to sign her work. At about the time of her final visit to Lake Chapala, she was quoted in a newspaper interview as saying: “Hamada, a Japanese master potter, says you really ought not have to sign things, your works should be recognizably yours.”

Hannell’s woodblock art was featured in the Chicago Society of Artists annual calendar, and her varied works have been shown in major exhibits at the Brauer Museum of Art (Valparaiso University), Dankook University, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Northern Indiana Art Salon, Gary Southern Shores Exhibit, Dunes Art Foundation, and South Bend Art Center. The Valparaiso University has numerous works by Hannell and her husband in its permanent collection.

Sources

  • Biography from Brauer Museum Of Art
  • Dani Dodge. 1996. “While the Light is Good, Hazel Hannell, 100, Paints.” Seattle Times, 21 January 1996.
  • Margaret L Willis. 1987 “Artist’s Story Is a Tale of the Dunes.” The Chesterton Tribune, 14 August 1987, 4.

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 092021
 

The accomplished and enigmatic artist John Thompson (1929-1988) lived in Jocotepec from about 1963 to 1968.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 20 July 1929, Thompson landed in Jocotepec by chance, having accepted a ride to Mexico with Miriam Bisbee, who was on her way to visit friends there: Peter and Nancy Spencer then managing the La Quinta hotel. (Apparently, Miriam was completely besotted with Nancy and hoped to tear her away from Peter! She was only partially successful; the Spencers later ran Posada Ajijic for a short time before returning to the US “for personal reasons” in September 1965.)

John Thompson. (Coll. Gayle Thompson)

John Thompson.

When photographer John Frost and his wife, novelist Joan Van Every Frost, first arrived in Jocotepec in 1966, they learned that John Thompson was considered the painter in the town. Thompson had left working for the defense industry in southern California, and his wife, to live in Jocotepec, where he rented a place across the street from the historic La Quinta Inn.

Thompson became a good friend of the Frosts and of several other artistic Jocotepec residents, including painter and muralist Tom Brudenell, and photographer Helmuth Wellenhoffer and his wife, Antonia. Thompson was also good friends with Peter Paul Huf and his wife, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, who lived in Ajijic from 1967 to 1972.

Thompson was able to subsist in Jocotepec only because he had two small trust funds which gave him a combined $40 a month to live on. This was supplemented by the occasional check from the US: before he left, he had sold several paintings by offering purchasers the chance to pay in installments, provided they sent the funds to Mexico.

Quoting John Frost, Thompson—and his then girlfriend, Gertha—were “pillars of the underground community.” Thompson was slight of build with a full red beard. He dressed in khaki, and his menu was structured around a typical Mexican working man’s diet. Beer in hand, he would rail at length against the evils of plastics and the modern world; he was a regular at Ramon’s bar on the north side of the plaza, the focal point of Jocotepec social life at the time.

Artist and Andreas Wellenhoffer with Jocotepec painting dated 1965.

Artist (rt) and Andreas Wellenhoffer with Jocotepec painting dated 1965.

Gayle Thompson was a 17-year-old student at the six-week University of Arizona summer school in Guadalajara when she first met Thompson through a mutual friend, Marilyn Hodges. Hodges was opening an art gallery in Guadalajara and offered Thompson free room and board if he helped paint and decorate the building (8 de Julio #878). Among the prominent Lakeside artists who held solo exhibits at the 8 de Julio gallery during its short lifespan were John Frost, Tom Brudenell, Joe Vines, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, Robert Neathery and Georg Rauch.

Gayle’s enrollment in summer school was her pretext for having a full year in Mexico. Having a Mexican boyfriend, she rebuffed Thompson’s initial advances. The charismatic, intelligent and stubborn Thompson, however, was persistent and determined. When Gayle returned to the US, preparing to enter college in New York, Thompson left his belongings in Mexico and hastened north in pursuit. He traveled north in the company of Dave Bennett, another Jocotepec resident, who, coincidentally, was from Monterey, California, and knew Gayle’s parents. Gayle again spurned his advances, so Thompson retreated to Mexico. But he reappeared again a few months later and this time, finally, Gayle conceded defeat.

John Thompson. Untitled. Jocotepec, 1965.

John Thompson. Untitled. Jocotepec, 1965.

Resistance overcome, Thompson still had the problem of getting all his paintings and possessions back from Mexico. Bennett stepped in and persuaded Thompson to buy and convert an old school bus for this mission. The school bus made two trips to Mexico before being rear-ended somewhere in the US and written off.

After John and Gayle married, they lived for five years on the coast of Croatia (then known as Yugoslavia), and another decade in Europe, before they returned to the US. During this time Thompson was able to visit his old friends, Peter Paul Huf and his wife, Eunice Hunt, at their home in Bavaria, southern Germany.

Thompson was a self-taught artist. Tom Brudenell, who met Thompson in the late 1960s, told me that Thompson’s local artistic patron at Lake Chapala had been Marian Powell, a wealthy American who owned a lakefront home in Ajijic. Gayle Thompson told me how Powell would sometimes lend John her huge Cadillac, but that she (Gayle) felt overly conspicuous and self-conscious whenever he took her for a drive.

As for Thompson’s art, Joan Frost considered that Thompson “promoted himself as a painter of the Miro school. His works were colorful with lots of mysterious figures floating about in the air above towns like Joco.” [1]

John Thompson. Untitled.

John Thompson. Untitled.

However, as Gayle explained to me, and judging by those paintings that have survived (while living in France the artist built a bonfire and destroyed most of his work), his paintings were far more akin to Chagall than Miro. The paintings are darker in tone and subject matter than those of Chagall, more brooding, with elements of the macabre and surrealism.

Thompson was never very enthusiastic about holding exhibitions, believing that artists did what they did out of a sense of purpose not financial needs, just as those who held down regular jobs did so out of necessity not enjoyment.

The only solo show he is known to have held while in Mexico was a two-week show at Posada Ajijic in the summer of 1965. He was in illustrious company. The three other artists exhibiting there that summer were Charles Littler (who exhibited widely and taught at the University of Arizona), Dick Poole (professor of art in Pasadena), and the Black American Beat artist Arthur Monroe. [2]

Thompson died in San Bernardino, California, on 3 September 1988.

References

  • [1] Joan Frost, writing in Ajijic, 500 years of adventures (Thomas Paine Chapter NSDAR, 2011).
  • [2] Guadalajara Reporter, 5 August 1965.

Acknowledgments

This is a greatly revised version of a post first published 6 August 2015. My heartfelt thanks to Gayle Thompson for sharing details of her former husband’s life and photos of his work. Images reproduced courtesy of Gayle Thompson and Andreas Wellenhoffer.

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.

 Posted by at 6:47 am  Tagged with:
Aug 262021
 

Edgar Mitchell Ellinger junior was in his mid-forties in 1953 when he wrote about “the small, captivating town of Ajijic” for the Arizona Republic under the title, “Mexican Town Offers Peaceful Way of Life.”

Edgar Ellinger. 1953. Ajijic church. Credit: Arizona Republic.

Edgar Ellinger. 1953. Ajijic church. Credit: Arizona Republic.

Ellinger was born in New York on Christmas Day 1906. After attending Horace Mann School for Boys, he became a Wall Street securities analyst and financial executive. His (first) wife was the NBC vocal star Sarah Schermerhorn, better known by her performing name of Sally Singer. The couple married at Ellinger’s home in New York City on 27 March 1936.

In 1945, Ellinger was the executive vice-president of the Jefferson-Travis Corporation, which specialized in radio equipment and the continuous sound recording field.

To quote The New York Times, Ellinger “left Wall Street in 1947 to live in Sedona, Arizona, where he raised quarter-horses and became a writer and photographer.” Ellinger published articles in several publications, including Desert Magazine in Palm Desert, California.

Here are two excerpts from his piece about Ajijic for the Arizona Republic:

Today, this small fishing village throbs with the interesting and varied activities of a growing international population—attracted by a satisfying climate, inexpensive living, and an atmosphere of “mañana.” The “urgency of life,” so well known to Americans, is strangely lacking.
Artists, writers, musicians, and just “plain folks” have settled in this picturesque haven. Accommodations are available in the two hotels in addition to about 40 renovated old houses owned or rented by non-Mexican.

After commenting on the diverse foreign population, which included “an attractive red-haired ex-violinist and his beautiful wife” and “a world-traveled and world-weary Englishman named H. B. Thompson,” Ellinger explained that:

Ajijic has achieved its popularity in part through the efforts of two Englishmen who… wrote a widely-read book called “Village in the Sun,” which extols the naive simplicity of this harmonious settlement. Neill James has also written extensively on the same subject and occupies a delightful home which encloses wide patios outlined by myriads of brilliant flowers. She grows Japanese silkworms and weaves the silk into blouses beautifully hand-embroidered by a handful of native women who work on the premises.”

Ellinger died at his home in Mountain View, California, on 10 June 1974.

Sources

  • Daily News (New York City), 28 March 1936, 174.
  • Edgar Ellinger, Jr. 1953. “Mexican Town Offers Peaceful Way of Life.” Arizona Republic, 2 August 1953, Section 2, 8.
  • New York Times. “Edgar Ellinger Jr.” (obituary). New York Times, 12 June 1974, 48.

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 192021
 

I would love to learn more about Charlotte Speight, aka “Mrs Melvin S. Wax,” who held an exhibit of paintings and drawings of Ajijic at the Carpenter Art galleries at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in July 1947.

The exhibition included “six oils, several pen and ink sketches and a gouache, depicting scenes in Ajijic, a primitive Tarascan Indian village bordering Lake Chapala, where Mr and Mrs Wax lived last winter.”

Charlotte Frances Speight (of British heritage) had married Melvin Sumner Wax the previous year and the couple had spent several months in Mexico as a wedding trip.

Charlotte Wax and her painting "Desolation". Chicago Tribune

Charlotte Wax and her painting “Desolation”. Chicago Tribune, 9 September 1956

Born in Berkeley, California, on 15 April 1919, Charlotte graduated from George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and then attended Swarthmore for a couple of years, before studying art in Paris, France. She also studied art at the Yale School of Fine Arts and the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills.

She married Melvin Wax, a journalist, on on 29 September 1946, and their daughter Martha Anne was born on 25 July the following year.

By the 1960s the family was living in Sausalito, California, where Charlotte taught art at Dominican Upper School for about four years and did set design and costumes for Sausalito Little Theater and the Marin Shakespeare Festival. At about the time her husband was elected mayor of Sausalito, Charlotte began studying sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute, from where she graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpture in 1967.

Please get in touch if you have any more information about this artist or examples of her work.

Sources

  • Daily Independent Journal, San Rafael, California, 5 June 1967, 13.
  • Rutland Daily Herald (Rutland, Vermont), 26 July 1947, 7.

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.

 Posted by at 5:16 am  Tagged with:
Aug 052021
 

Little is known about Albert Alfredson’s visit to Lake Chapala, though a realist oil and crayon painting by him entitled “Humble Homes” with the notation “At Lake Chapala Mex,” and believed to date from about 1950, was offered for sale on eBay in July 2021.

Albert Alfredson. c 1950. "Humble Homes." Image from EBay.

Albert Alfredson. c 1950. “Humble Homes.” Image from eBay.

Alfredson was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1907 and died in 1977.

He studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts, and studied portraiture with Wellington J. Reynolds.

Alfredson was a member of numerous art groups, including the Brown County Art Guild Gallery of Nashville, Indiana; the Brownsville Art League in Texas; the American Artists Professional League; and the Oak Park Art League.

He was President of the Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Arts from 1962-64, and was the Artist Director of the Municipal Art League of Chicago.

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.

 Posted by at 6:55 am  Tagged with:
Jul 082021
 

German painter Paul “Pablo” Fischer lived in Mexico for many years and painted at least two watercolors of Lake Chapala. Fischer (1864-1932) was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and earned a medical degree at the University of Munich in 1884.

He traveled to Mexico in about 1890 to administer an inheritance in the northern Mexico state of Durango. From 1890 to 1895, Fischer worked was the resident doctor in the Mina del Promontorio mine in that state.

During those years he became known as Pablo Fischer. He went into private practice in the City of Durango in 1895, the same year he married a local Mexican girl, Gertrudis; they had a son and two daughters.

The family later moved to Lerdo and still later to Torreón (Coahuila) where Paul Fischer died in 1932.

Fischer painted watercolors for pleasure and was completely self-taught. Painting was clearly his passion, He made preliminary sketches for his paintings during the family’s vacation trips to various parts of Mexico. Fischer rarely dated his paintings, but is known to have painted scenes in numerous states, including Durango, Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Cuautla (dated 1897), Puebla, Oaxaca, and Chapala.

Pablo Fischer: Chapala (date unknown)

Pablo Fischer: Chapala (date unknown)

It is not known for sure when Fischer painted his small watercolors of Chapala, though they were probably all painted at roughly the same time. The first is a view of the lakeshore and fishing boats, as seen from west of Chapala, looking back towards the main church.  [Note: This painting is incorrectly attributed on several art websites–presumably because of the coincidence of name–to Danish painter Paul Gustave Fischer (1860-1934), though there is zero evidence that the Danish Paul Fischer ever visited Mexico.]

Pablo Fischer’s second view is from a boat on the lake, looking back towards the town of Chapala, the church, and the Hotel Arzapalo. Since the Hotel Arzapalo is shown as complete (with its second story), we know that this painting was completed after 1898, the year when the hotel opened.

Pablo Fischer: Chapala (date unknown)

Pablo Fischer: Chapala (date unknown)

Art researcher Juan Manuel Campo has informed me that a third painting of Chapala by Fischer is also known.

Fischer’s landscapes are keenly observed and painstakingly executed, with exquisite details and a wonderful grasp of color. Fischer signed most of his paintings simply “PF” though on occasion he used “P. Fischer”. He often gave his paintings as gifts, and there appears to be little evidence that he sold any of his works, but his outstanding watercolors became quite well known.

I was mistaken to claim (in an earlier version of this post) that Fischer never held an exhibition of his works in Mexico. It is now known that he definitely held an exhibit of watercolor paintings at the retail store of the Sonora News Company (Gante #4, Mexico City) in December 1914. (Mexican Herald) The fact that the store received “a new collection of Paul Fischer water colors of Mexican scenes” in March 1915 suggests that Fischer maintained an ever-changing selection of his paintings for sale at the store, one of the main locations where tourists could purchase artwork and souvenirs while visiting Mexico.

It is quite likely that Fischer would have known fellow artist August Lohr (1842-1920), who was also living in Mexico City at that time.

Fischer had close links to El Paso, Texas. In June 1906 he declared he was carrying $1000 with him—a considerable sum of money for the time—when he entered the US via El Paso. Fischer held more than one showing of his works in El Paso.

A Fischer painting in the SURA (formerly ING) collection in Mexico was included in a touring exhibition entitled “Horizontes. Pasión por el paisaje,” which showed in Guadalajara and several other cities, from 2005 to 2010. The biography of Fischer attached to the SURA collection in Mexico says that he held his first exhibition in El Paso in 1910. The precise location is unclear. In April 1926 an exhibition of his work was held in the Woman’s Club of El Paso.

The El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, has amassed a significant collection of his works, and hosted a showing, with catalog, in September-October 1963, entitled: An Exhibition of Watercolors by Pablo Fischer, 1864-1932. Several members of the artist’s family attended the opening reception. Prior to the exhibition, the museum asked local residents for the loan of any Pablo Fischer paintings in their possession, since “The painter was very popular in this area about 50 years ago.” It is believed that some of his paintings were brought to the El Paso area by his son.

Painting must run in the family since two direct descendants – Lilia Fischer-Ruiz, who paints under the pseudonym Rhiux A. and her daughter Liliana – have also both become successful professional artists.

Note – This is an updated version of a post first published 15 January 2015.

Sources

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

 Posted by at 6:27 am  Tagged with:
Jun 242021
 

Prior to becoming a noted abstract expressionist painter, Stanley Twardowicz (1917-2008) lived in Ajijic in about 1948. Three years later, he exhibited about twenty photographs from that visit in New York, and won instant acclaim as a talented fine arts photographer.

Remarkably, Twardowicz had only taken up photography a short time before arriving in Ajijic, and he only took a camera with him to help supplement the preliminary sketches he needed to compose paintings on canvas. When the photos were developed, Twardowicz realized that the images he had captured were artistically satisfying in, and of, themselves. This began a lifelong love of photography, alongside his passion for painting.

Stanley Twardowicz. c.1948. Fishing nets, Ajijic. (Credit unknown)

Stanley Twardowicz. c.1948. Fishing nets, Ajijic. (Credit unknown)

Stanley Jon Leginsky was born to Polish parents in Detroit on 8 July 1917 and grew up with his godfather; he formally adopted his godfather’s surname in his early twenties, shortly before marrying Pauline (aka Apolonia) Jaszek (1921-2012) in October 1940. The marriage did not last and the couple divorced after six years.

Twardowicz attended summer school programs at the Chicago Art Institute and studied photo-retouching at the Meinzinger Art School.

He held his first exhibition of paintings in Detroit in 1944. Two years later he won a scholarship to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

Despite having no formal qualifications, Twardowicz was then offered a teaching position at Ohio State University. He taught there for about five years and became close friends with another instructor, Roy Lichtenstein—they were later best man for each other on their respective wedding days.

Twardowicz won a $1500 fellowship in 1948 in Pepsi-Cola’s Fifth Annual Paintings of the Year Competition; his work was included in a show at the National Academy of Design in New York City.

Stanley Twardowicz. c.1948. Fishing nets, Ajijic. (Credit unknown)

Stanley Twardowicz. c.1948. Fishing nets, Ajijic. (Credit unknown)

It is unclear how he came to learn about Ajijic but he traveled there in 1948-49, seeking inspiration for more paintings; while there he took a series of eye-catching photographs of fishermen and their nets. His “stunning photographic journal of the Mexican people” (New York Times) was the basis for his Mexican series of paintings, completed between 1948 and 1951.

Safely back in the US in 1949, Twardowicz held the first of several annual solo shows at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in New York, and married an Ohio State student, Ruth Ann Mendel (1929–1973). Mendel (the spelling used on the marriage certificate is given as “Mandel” in Twardowicz’s obituary and elsewhere online) later became known for her wood-cut prints. According to one source, the couple lived for a time “near Guadalajara” (presumably in Ajijic), though I have yet to find any hard evidence for this assertion.

Twardowicz’s photographs of Ajijic went on show at Wittenborn & Co., 38 East Fifty-seventh Street, New York, in October 1951, shortly after Ann graduated from Ohio State and he resigned his teaching position there. The New York Times included one of the photos—of fishing nets in Ajijic—alongside its very positive review:
“The show… consists mainly of poetic impressions of fishing nets billowed by the wind and photographed about two years ago, a year after Mr. Twartowicz began to use a camera…. The pictures convey an artist’s emotional response to the mood of a situation rather than a literal rendering of material.”

Stanley Twardowicz. 1951. (Oil on canvas) Fish Nets (Ajijic). Credit: Berner's Auction Gallery, Ohio

Stanley Twardowicz. 1951. (Oil on canvas) Fish Nets (Ajijic). Credit: Berner’s Auction Gallery, Ohio

Twardowicz’s paintings based on these photographs include an oil on canvas entitled “Fish-Nets”, completed in 1951, which was auctioned in 2015 at Berner’s Auction Gallery in Donnelsville, Ohio.

Twardowicz and Ann left for Europe on 23 November, bound for Le Havre.  When they returned to the US six months later, in June 1952, they lived in Plainfield, New Jersey, near enough to New York to enjoy its vibrant arts scene. From late-1952, the couple were Saturday evening regulars at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village, where they became friends with Jack Kerouac and a group of artists (later recognized as Abstract Expressionists) including Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and others.

By 1953, Twardowicz’s own painting had shifted away from semi-abstraction to full abstraction. The following year he was introduced to Zen philosophy and began a series of bio-morphic paintings, developing a technique to pour household paint onto canvasses stretched flat on the ground.

Twardowicz’s innovative artworks brought him major success with numerous solo shows, including annual one-person shows in the Peridot Gallery for twelve consecutive years.

In the 1960s, Twardowicz moved to Northport on Long Island. While visiting Twardowicz there, Kerouac wrote “The Northport Haiku” (1964), which first appeared in print in Street in Spring 1975. By this time, Twardowicz had been married to artist Lillian Dodson for four years.

Twardowicz continued to work also in photography. His best known later photographs are the portraits of Jack Kerouac he took in June 1967, a few months before his good friend died. The friendship was mutual: Kerouac considered Twardowicz “the most compassionate man I’ve ever met.” Despite their long friendship, the portraits were the first photographs of Kerouac that Twardowicz had ever taken.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Twardowicz became fascinated by color field theory and its relationship to visual perception; this led to him painting a series called “Disappearing Ovals.” He kept developing and experimenting as an artist. His style during the 1990s was aptly dubbed “Moving Color” by the Phoenix Museum when it held the a retrospective of Twardowicz’s work in 2001. The artist had three other retrospectives during his lifetime, all in New York: Heckscher Museum (1974), Nassau Community College (1987) and Hofstra University Museum (2007)

After a prolific career spanning 65 years, Twardowicz retired from painting in 2005 and died in Huntington, New York, on 12 June 2008.

Main sources

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.

Jun 172021
 

Born on 18 January 1924 in Berlin, Germany, artist Renée George (birth name Renate Judith Georg) emigrated to the US as a stateless fifteen-year-old in August 1939, just as the second world war broke out in Europe.

George visited Ajijic during her three month trip to Mexico in the summer of 1947. When she returned to New York she was employed by the public relations magazine Modern Mexico, which published a short article she wrote and illustrated about her experiences in Mexico. The title illustration for her article is a street scene in Ajijic.

Renée George. 1947. Street scene in Ajijic. (Modern Mexico)

Renée George. 1947. Street scene in Ajijic. (Modern Mexico)

George had studied at Hunter College and taken courses in watercolor painting with William Starkweather, as well as attended night classes at the Art Students League with William McNulty, John Groth, and Howard Trafton. At the Art Students League she met her future husband Thomas O’Sullivan; they married in 1952. From 1959 onward the couple had a summer home in Martha’s Vineyard, where George was a founder member of the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association.

George later undertook illustration assignments for several books, including The River Horse by Nina Ames Frey (1953); Here come the trucks by Henry B Lent (1954); Inside the Ark and other stories by Caryll Houselander (1956); and Sixty Saints for Girls by Joan Windham (1979). She also contributed humorous drawings to the New York Times Book Review and several other publications.

Her article in Modern Mexico was written as a series of letters home to her parents.

George explains that the title of her article, “Ay Naranjas!” is the same title she would use if she ever wrote a book about all her adventures in Mexico:

– “Ay Naranjas! as I was told by a helpful Mexican has a spicy double meaning. When someone calls out Ay Naranjas! at you, and he is not selling oranges at the time, you better beware, for it is the call of the Mexican wolf.”

While in Mexico City she had the good fortune to see Diego Rivera and Siqueiros at work, and also saw paintings by Tamayo, which subsequently inspired her in the use of color.

Adjusting to Mexico brought some challenges:

“I am just beginning to understand the meanings on signs and boxes. Mexico City is particularly devoid of mail boxes, and I, being used to one at every corner, have probably mailed many a letter hopefully in a garbage can.”

Two later letters in the article are written from Ajijic, where she is staying with a friend named Hanna.

In the first, she sums up her thoughts about Ajijic:

“Am writing you this from my cot by the light of a flickering candle… Ajijic seems to the hideout for authors who have written books on Mexico (“Little Villages in the Sun,” etc) and those who are in the act of doing so. Without electric light and plumbing they get the feel of the primitive, and when they get tired of that they can always slosh through the mud to somebody’s cocktail party.

Don’t ever tell anybody you are going to Ajijic, unless of course you are talking to an artist, because you will be classed as demented. Have found no cause here for such prejudiced classification. This is one of the most charming, uninhibited places, where man and beast run around loose, enjoying their life on the shores of the lake.”

In her second letter from Ajijic, George describes the rainy season and a frustrated burglary attempt:

“It has been raining quite steadily lately, and a knee-deep river is flowing in front of our door step. Am unhappy because… all the mangos around here are spoiled because of some fly that must have sneaked through.

A few robberies have been committed lately, and our neighbor was practically paralyzed when she saw a man in a black sarape jump over her wall. When he saw here he got so scared that he climbed right back over again without touching anything. No one is wearing black sarapes around town today.

The grapevine is whispering that the charming young man who escorted Hanna and me home from the costume party last night is one of the ring leaders. I guess time will tell if no one else will.”

From Ajijic, George carried on to Cordoba and then Veracruz on the Gulf Coast, where, as she was about to return home, she was serenaded at dawn by mariachis hired by two traveling Campbell’s Soup salesmen!

George died in New York on 10 October 2010. A posthumous retrospective exhibit of her art was held at the Old Sculpin Gallery in Martha’s Vineyard in 2011.

Sources

  • Renée George. 1949. “Ay Naranjos.” Modern Mexico, Vol 22, #2, Mar-Apr 1949, 16-17, 28-29.
  • Ask art. Entry for Renee George O’Sullivan.

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.

May 272021
 

August Lohr was an Austrian landscape artist, born in 1842 in Hallein, near Salzburg. Lohr lived and worked in Europe, the U.S. and Mexico. After studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany, Lohr initially specialized in painting Alpine scenery. He and his Austrian wife, Franziska Geuhs, had three daughters, Rosina, Elise and Elsa, all born in Munich. From 1879 to 1881 Lohr worked with the Munich art professor Ludwig Braun to paint a panoramic view of the Battle of Sedan. The two men also worked on panoramic scenes of the battles of Weissenburg and St. Privat.

By 1884, Lohr had traveled to New Orleans to supervise the installation of the panoramic painting The Battle of Sedan, displayed for the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans (1884-1885). Later in 1884, Lohr joined William Wehner in establishing the American Panorama Company in Milwaukee, where they commissioned approximately twenty German artists to paint monumental “cycloramas” depicting the Storming of Missionary Ridge, the Battle of Chattanooga and the Battle of Atlanta.

In 1887, Lohr, in association with Frederick Heine, purchased the Wells Street studio from the American Panorama Company and created the panorama Jerusalem on the Day of the Crucifixion. Several other panoramas were also produced at the Wells Street studio.

Although his name was still listed in the 1890 Milwaukee city directory, he left Milwaukee for Mexico in December 1890.

lohr-lake-chapala-ca-1899

August Lohr : Lake Chapala, Mexico. ca 1905

Lohr established himself in Mexico City and began to take on commissions including interior decorations and murals.

In September 1898, when it was reported that “Mr August Lohr, the well known landscape painter,” had just left the city for California to paint “a grand panorama representing the battle of Manila for an American syndicate,” Lohr had only just “completed painting the interior decorations of a restaurant” with his daughter, Elsa. While Lohr was in California, Elsa was busy painting decorations for the Requiem mass about to be held “in the Profesa church in memory of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria.” That church is in downtown Mexico City. (Mexican Herald)

“The Battle of Manila Bay” was painted in 1898, after the end of the Spanish American War (1895-1898), by Lohr and several other panorama artists in San Francisco. The following year, the San Francisco Sentinel reported that he was the manager of a company that was planning to exhibit panoramas in Mexico.

The Lohr home in Mexico City was in the Santa María suburb.

Only a few months before Lohr embarked on a trip to Europe in 1909, he had designed the decorations for the Aztec parlor at the then recently opened Hotel Geneve on Calle Londres. According to a contemporary news report, the Hotel had “four public parlors, each with different decorations.” The Aztec parlor was intended to showcase “an invaluable collection of genuine Aztec relics” which “should prove of immense interest to the tourists…”

Lohr continued to reside in Mexico with his family until his death in 1920. Mexico paintings by Lohr are known with dates ranging from 1899 to 1915.

In 1891, Lohr’s painting of Chapultepec Castle was exhibited at the San Carlos Academy in Mexico City. In 1899, Lohr exhibited two landscape paintings (of Mt. Tamaulipas and the Santa Cruz Mountains in California) in San Francisco at the Mechanics Institute Fair.

Lohr’s oil painting “Lake Chapala, Mexico” (image) was probably painted circa 1905.

Acknowledgment

  • This is an updated version of a post first published in 2014. My sincere thanks to researcher Juan Manuel Campo for correcting various details in the original version, thereby greatly improving the content of this post.

Sources

  • German-American Artists in Early Milwaukee, A Biographical Dictionary, by Peter C. Merrill.
  • August Lohr (1842-1920) (Museum of Wisconsin Art)
  • The Mexican Herald: 23 Sep 1898, 8; 15 Oct 1899, 2; 14 February 1909.

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.

 Posted by at 5:39 am  Tagged with:
May 132021
 

Hari (Harry) Matthew Kidd (1899-1964) was a painter, printmaker and writer associated with Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), El Paso (Texas) and Key West (Florida). Kidd was living in Chapala in the mid-1940s when he first met his future wife Edythe Wallach, then living in Ajijic. Kidd had his paintings in a group show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in December 1944, a month after Wallach had held her own one-person show there.

Born in Detroit to an Englishman and his Canadian wife, Hari Kidd attended high school in El Paso before enlisting as a teenager in the Royal Canadian Air Force which later sent him to England to paint a portrait of General Hugh Montague Trenchard (later 1st Viscount Trenchard). Kidd returned from Europe in 1923 and studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. His first wife, Elizabeth, also an artist, was possibly a fellow student. The young couple left from Boston in May 1927 on an extended trip to Europe, returning to Philadelphia in early April of the following year.

In 1933, apparently on health grounds (Kidd had lifetime mobility issues), and seemingly without Elizabeth, he moved to El Paso. He soon acquired a reputation as a fine artist and mixed in an illustrious social circle that included sculptor Urbici Soler. He was also a good friend of the British conductor Leopold Stokowski, director of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.

Hari Kidd. Men riding freight cars. undated.

Hari Kidd. Men riding freight cars. undated. Sold by Heritage Auctions, 2015.

Kidd’s work was in numerous local exhibits including a one-person show at the Crouse Galleries in El Paso in 1937. During his years in El Paso, Kidd gave art classes from his studio. Among his students was the El Paso artist Jake Erlich who stood 2.59 meters (8 feet 6 inches) tall and was widely believed at the time (even if inaccurately) to be the tallest man in the world.

Hari Kidd also turned his hand to writing, sending letters, columns and articles (often illustrated with charming drawings) to the El Paso Herald-Post. From El Paso, he made several trips into Mexico, including one to San José Purua in 1939 and another, in about 1942, further south into Oaxaca, spending close to a year in Tehuantepec and Ixtepec. These trips provided material for several illustrated articles for Mexico Magazine whose editor, Lloyd Buckingham, lived in El Paso.

The 1940 US Census lists Kidd as “divorced”, living on his own in El Paso. He had already had a painting included in the All Texas General Exhibit which opened in January 1940 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. A year later, his first major solo show, of oil paintings at the Palace of Legion of Honor in San Francisco was warmly received by knowledgeable critics. Simultaneously he had a solo show of watercolors at Gump’s store in the same city.

That same year, further east, his work was chosen for the Texas-Oklahoma General Exhibition and he had a solo show (in October 1941) at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, where a reviewer commented (favorably) that Kidd was a “colossal egotist, sure of himself as a creative artist.”

Kidd’s social realism pictures frequently depicted Mexican people and topics, based on explorations along the Río Grande. According to several accounts, Kidd was sufficiently famous to have been visited in El Paso by Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo.

Harry Kidd. Date unknown. Untitled. Coll: University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee

Harry Kidd. Date unknown. Untitled. Coll: University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee

Back in El Paso in 1944, Kidd persuaded a local hospital for wounded Army soldiers to hang his paintings in their rooms as inspiration to speed their recuperation. He also held a show of painting at the Mexico Magazine Galleries in El Paso, which was operated by fellow artist (and Lloyd’s wife) Hilda Burlingham. That exhibition was then sent to the American Airlines office in New York City.

In late 1944, Kidd was back in Mexico and living at Lake Chapala. He is one of just three artists named in a short piece in the Guadalajara daily El Informador about the founding of a “Chapala Art Center” and its first exhibition, held at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala from 10-17 December. (Edythe Wallach, his future wife, had held a solo exhibition at the same venue a month earlier). Betty Binkley of Santa Fe and English artist Muriel Lytton-Bernard are also named in the newspaper. The show also included works by the famous American surrealist Sylvia Fein, Ann Medalie, Otto Butterlin, Ernesto Linares (Lyn Butterlin), and Jaime López Bermúdez.

Hari Kidd was friends with Tennessee Williams and it may even have been Hari Kidd who first suggested that the great writer spend the summer of 1945 in Chapala.

Hari Kidd married Edythe Wallach in Key West, Florida, in March 1946. Later that year, the Miami News reported that Mr Kidd was preparing for a solo show at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in December. That show was followed by a second solo show, at the same venue, of Kidd’s “new and sensational” War Series of watercolors, which firmly established his reputation as an artist of note.

In September 1947, Kidd held another solo show of watercolors, at the Pittsburgh Water Color Society.

Hari Kidd. "Spring" (mother and child). Painted at Key-West; undated.

Hari Kidd. “Spring” (mother and child). Painted at Key West; undated. Sold by Butterscotch Auction Gallery, 2017.

Both Edythe and Hari Kidd were in a three-person show at the Miami Beach Art Center which opened in January 1948. The third artist was Eugenie Schein of New York. Edythe exhibited oil paintings “favoring Mexican themes” while Hari showed both oils and watercolors. According to the press notice, “Both artists have spent a number of years in Mexico and Spain and their work reflects this influence.” They also participated, with Elvira Reilly, in another three-person show at the Martello Towers Gallery in Key West in January 1954.

In 1964, due to her husband’s declining health, Edythe and Hari moved to Tucson, Arizona, where Hari Kidd-artist extraordinaire-died in hospital four months later.

A retrospective of Kidd’s art opened at the El Paso Museum in October 1967; his widow attended the opening. Individual works by Kidd have also appeared periodically in group shows, including two at the Harmon Gallery in Naples, Florida in 1975.

In 1990, Edythe Kidd donated 135 of her husband’s works (the largest known collection of his work, comprising oils, lithographs, water-colors, gauches and cancels) to  the University of the South, a private, coeducational liberal arts college in Sewanee, Tennessee. According to the university journal, “It is not known why the collection was donated to Sewanee, however it may have been on account of his friendship with Tennessee Williams, donor of ten million dollars to the University following his own death in 1985.”

A posthumous retrospective of his work was held in 2010 at the El Paso Museum of Art (EPMA). Examples of his work are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Atlanta Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Mary O’Neill, Visual Resources Librarian at The University of the South, for graciously providing me with copies of documents and images in the library archives.

Sources

  • Andrew Erlich and Cara Van Miriah. 2012. The Long Shadows (a fictional work about Jake Erlich; chapter 25 is entitled “Harry Kidd”). eBookIt.com.
  • El Paso Herald Post: 18 March 1946, p 6; 21 January 1937, p 8; 20 Jan 1944, p6; 4 Oct 1967, Showtime, p 14.
  • The Miami News: 8 Sep 1946, p 23: 25 Jan 1948, p 59.
  • Oakland Tribune: 19 Jan 1941, p B-7.
  • John and Deborah Powers. 1946. Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists.
  • San Antonio Express: 5 Oct 1941.
  • San Antonio Light, 5 Oct 1941, Part Three, p 8,
  • The Sewanee Purple, 25 February 1991, p 2.

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.

 Posted by at 5:02 am  Tagged with:
Apr 292021
 

Gerald van de Wiele was 19 years old when he visited Ajijic briefly with his good friend and fellow artist George “Jorge” Fick in 1951. Sixty-six years later, and despite never having returned to the area, van de Wiele completed an abstract painting entitled “Chapala.”

What were the circumstances of van de Wiele’s original visit, and why was it so long before he painted “Chapala”?

Born in Detroit in 1932, van de Wiele and Fick (1932-2004) visited Mexico more or less on a whim. After studying for a few months at the Art institute of Chicago on a national scholarship, van de Wiele had applied to Black Mountain College. The same day he received his acceptance letter, he also received his draft notice.

Gerald van de Wiele. 2017. Chapala (artist-made-frame). Credit: Artist Estate Studio.

Gerald van de Wiele. 2016-17. Chapala. (Acrylic on panel with artist’s handmade frame.) Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Before turning up for training, van de Wiele and his good friend Fick took a road trip out to California, where they spotted Lake Chapala while looking at a map of Mexico, and decided to catch the train to Guadalajara to see the lake for themselves.

It was November 1951. During the day or two they spent in Guadalajara, before catching the bus to Chapala, the two young men explored the city on foot. Beautiful classical piano music coming from a house they passed led them to knock on the door to thank the occupant. They were invited inside and introduced to a female pianist who was—said their host—“one of Mexico’s most famous pianists.” To this day, van de Wiele has no idea who the pianist was, but the young men were amazed by the hospitality and enthralled by the music. The magic of Mexico had struck again.

When Fick and van de Wiele got off the bus in Chapala they entered a hotel (possibly the Hotel Nido) where they met an American journalist who invited them to stay at his chalet overlooking the lake.

Even though van de Wiele stayed only two weeks at Lake Chapala, the visit was memorable and remained “every vivid” in his mind. (Fick stayed on in Chapala for a few months.)

On van de Wiele’s return to the US, he did his basic military training in San Diego. By lucky coincidence, he was then posted to join the 2nd Marine Division in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from where he was able to use a couple of weekend passes for quick visits to Fick who was now studying at Black Mountain College. Having been forced to postpone his own studies, Van de Wiele, with funding from the G.I. Bill, attended the college from 1954 to 1956.

In addition to van de Wiele and Fick, other artists and writers linking Black Mountain College to Lake Chapala include painter Nicolas Muzenic (1919-1976) and writer Elaine Gottlieb (1916-2004).

The year after leaving Black Mountain College, van de Wiele, now married, joined with several friends to open Wells Street Gallery in Chicago. This gallery was partly financed by Stanley Sourelis (1925-2006), who later lived and painted in Ajijic for many years.

Van de Wiele held his first solo show at the Wells Street Gallery in October 1957. Two years later, van de Wiele moved to the much larger and more competitive art scene in New York City, which has been his home ever since.

Van de Wiele has exhibited regularly in New York, and his works can be found in numerous major private and institutional collections.

And van de Wiele’s painting, “Chapala”? Well, it turns out—the artist told me— that it has absolutely nothing to do with Chapala apart from the title! After completing the painting in 2017, van de Wiele was pondering the best title and “Chapala” popped into his head at just the right moment. “Chapala” was first exhibited in 2018 at a major retrospective of van de Wiele’s work, covering seven decades of painting and sculpture, at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

For more about Gerald van de Wiele and his amazing art, please visit his website.

[Note: Fick’s biography, as submitted to art websites by his widow, Judy Perlman, shows Fick as attending a “Mexican Art school Ajijic, Guadalajara” in 1951. However, van de Wiele has confirmed to me that Fick had not been in Ajijic previously, that they arrived in late November or early December 1951, and that their trip did not involve any formal art classes. There are no records of any winter art classes in Ajijic at that time.]

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to the artist for sharing his memories of his trip to Mexico with me, and for allowing me to reproduce “Chapala.”

Sources

  • Jason Andrew. 2018. “Gerald van de Wiele: Ever the Dreamer.” Introduction in the catalog of “Gerald van de Wiele: Variations Seven Decades of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture”, exhibition curated by Jason Andrew at Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center, 19 January to 19 May 2018.

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.

Apr 152021
 

Edythe Wallach (1909-2001) lived and painted for most of 1944 in Chapala and Ajijic. Her Lake Chapala paintings were exhibited in both Chapala and in New York.

Edythe (“Edie”) Gertrude Wallach (later Wallach Kidd) was born in New Rochelle, New York, on 10 August 1909 to Dr. William Wallach and his wife Anne Rosenthal. Edythe grew up in New Rochelle which appears to have remained her home at least until the death of her father in 1937. The family, which was Jewish, was clearly well-to-do since the parents were able to spend summer in Europe (with one or both children) every few years, notably in 1926, 1929 and 1933.

It is unclear where Edythe acquired her education or art training.

Edythe Wallach’s mother died in January 1944. Shortly after that, Edythe left for Lake Chapala, where she lived first in Ajijic for several months and then in Chapala. Wallach was one of several artists mentioned by Neill James in her article “I live in Ajijic”, first published in 1945.

Edythe Wallach. 1944. Plaza at Chapala. Coll: University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.

Edythe Wallach. 1944. Plaza at Chapala. Coll: University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.

Wallach moved from Ajijic to Chapala at the insistence of fellow artist Hari Kidd. After meeting at a lunch for area expatriates at a hotel in Chapala, they strolled to the plaza:

“While seated in the postage stamp plaza, Hari suggested that I move to Chapala from Ajijic where I was preparing a New York exhibition. I said no – but within two weeks I was seated beside the lake, looking through borrowed binoculars for the boatman who was to fetch me. In two days he appeared and I reached Chapala. The following morning Hari stood at my door, rigid as a Rousseau painting, a bouquet in his hand.” (document written by Edythe Wallach Kidd dated 10 June 1966)

Their romance blossomed in Chapala under the soft moonlight reflecting off the serenely beautiful lake…

Even with romantic distractions, by November 1944 Wallach had completed enough paintings to hold a solo exhibition at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala. The local El Informador newspaper in Guadalajara described this as “one of the most brilliant artistic and social events of the Fall”, saying that guests from Ajijic, Guadalajara and Chapala responded warmly to the bright color and lively designs of the paintings which were being transferred later for exhibition in New York.

Postcard of The Villa Montecarlo, Chapala, ca 1940

Postcard of The Villa Montecarlo, Chapala, ca 1940

The opening on 12 November 1944 attracted many noteworthy guests, including Mr and Mrs Jack Bennett; Nigel Stansbury Millett and his father; Neill James; Pablo García Hernández (representative of Teatro Mexicano del Arte); Otto Butterlin and his daughter Rita; Witter Bynner, the famous American poet; Charles Stigel; Dr and Mrs Charles Halmos; Ann Medalie; and Herbert and Georgette Johnson.

Shortly after this exhibition closed, Wallach took her paintings back to New York. Her New York art show opened at the Bonestell Galleries at 18 East 37th Street in November 1945. It was favorably reviewed as “Mexican in theme but not in manner” with one anonymous reviewer writing that

Miss Edythe Wallach… has just returned from a year’s travel in Mexico where she has been painting….

Walter Pach, eminent art critic, in speaking of Miss Wallach’s work, says, “Your report on Mexico is far beyond what I had hoped for when you went to that country. You have seen its light, you have seen its beauty, and your painting speaks of all these things. What impresses me in your work is that you have retained your central idiom, your own vision and, even when looking at a place so impressive (and so Mexican) as Chapala, you have not even been tempted to imitate, but have told of your impressions with complete freedom to work in a way that is personal with you.”

Edythe Wallach and Hari Kidd married in Key West, Florida in March 1946. Kidd was already a well-known artist and one account of the wedding says that, “The bride, herself an artist of note, recently held her first exhibition of Mexican oils in New York, and is planning a new group of paintings for a forthcoming show.” A similar comment about a forthcoming show appears in The Miami News in September 1946 which says that Edith Wallach, wife of Hari Kidd, “fresh from a painting sojourn in Mexico” is “preparing for a second show in New York of her Mexican interpretations in oils.” I have been unable to confirm whether or not Wallach (presumably with Hari) returned to Mexico in the summer of 1946 (as this piece suggests) or, indeed, to find any further reference to this second U.S. show.

Untitled. Date unknown. Credit: Stephanie Wallach.

Edythe Wallach Kidd. Untitled. Date unknown. Credit: Stephanie Wallach.

Both Edythe and Hari Kidd were in a three-person show at the Miami Beach Art Center which opened in January 1948. The third artist was Eugenie Schein of New York. Edythe exhibited oil paintings “favoring Mexican themes” while Hari showed both oils and watercolors. According to the press notice, “Both artists have spent a number of years in Mexico and Spain and their work reflects this influence.” They also participated, with Elvira Reilly, in another three-person show at the Martello Towers Gallery in Key West in January 1954.

The couple lived in Key West from about the time they married in 1946 to 1964. Due to Hari’s declining health, they then moved to Tucson in summer 1964, where he died in hospital barely four months later.

Edythe remained in Arizona for several years and attended the inauguration of a retrospective of her husband’s art at the El Paso Museum in October 1967.

In late 1968 or early 1969, she returned to live once again in Key West, Florida, where she held a show of her work at DePoo’s Island Gallery in 1969. Several years later, one of her paintings was chosen for the juried 13th Annual Major Florida Artists Show which opened in January 1976 at the Harmon Gallery in Naples, Florida. At that time, the artist was listed as “Edythe Wallach (Key West)” but Edythe later moved to Lake Worth, where she passed away on 17 December 2001.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Edythe Wallach Kidd’s niece, Stephanie Wallach, for helping clarify details of the artist’s life and for kindly supplying the photograph of one of her paintings, and to Mary O’Neill, Visual Resources Librarian at The University of the South, for graciously providing me with copies of documents and images in the library archives.

Note: This post, originally published in January 2018, was significantly updated in October 2018 and March 2021.

Sources:

  • The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont), 19 October 1945, pp 16, 20.
  • El Paso Herald Post, Monday, 18 March 1946, p 6; 14 Oct 1967, Showtime, p14; 12 April 1969.
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 18 November 1944; 3 December 1944, p 11.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • The Miami News : 7 September 1946; 25 January 1948, p 59; 31 January 1954, p 24.
  • The Naples Daily News (Naples, Florida), 11 January 1976, p 58.
  • The New Yorker : 10 November 1945.
  • Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 19 November 1964, p 7.

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

 Posted by at 5:51 am  Tagged with:
Apr 012021
 

Tink Strother (1919-2007) was, an acclaimed portrait painter who lived in Ajijic from 1961 to 1963. As Peggy Kelly wrote in her obituary of Strother for the Santa Paula News, Strother’s portraits reflect “not only the physical likeness of the subject but also their personality and soul.”

In Ajijic, Tink Strother met Colombian artist Carlos López Ruíz (1912-1972). They subsequently moved to California, where they opened a joint studio and gallery, first in Pico Rivera and then in Whittier.

The owner of this striking portrait contacted us in the hope that someone could identify the individual so deftly painted by Strother.

Tink Strother. c1962. Untitled portrait. Reproduced courtesy of Eliot Roberts

Tink Strother. c1962. Untitled portrait. Reproduced courtesy of Eliot Roberts

By an extraordinary coincidence, this painting is remarkably similar to the one immediately behind her in this image of the artist in her studio in 1962, previously published in our profile of her:

Tink Strother in her Ajijic studio, ca 1962

Tink Strother in her Ajijic studio, ca 1962

The two paintings appear to be portraits, from slightly different angles, of the same individual. Please get in touch if you recognize this individual who was the subject of such a superb portrait.

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.

Jan 282021
 

Xavier Pérez Aguilar became well known in Ajijic in the 1980s and 1990s for his fine watercolor landscapes and portraits.

According to a “Profile of the Artist” in El Ojo del Lago, Pérez was born in Ocotlán (near the eastern end of Lake Chapala) but was raised and educated in Southern California. He worked in industrial design before entering Los Angeles City College to study a liberal arts program. He then attended the Art Center College of Design, and studied painting under Leon Franks, Sergei Bongart and Constance Marlow.

Xavier Perez Aguilar. Undated. Reproduced courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

Xavier Pérez Aguilar. Untitled, undated. Reproduced courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

With Marlow, he started the Valley Branch of the Art League of Los Angeles in 1968, under whose auspices he taught and gave painting demonstrations for 15 years. In August 1968 he exhibited ”Pico Adobe” in an invitational group show at the San Fernando Mission in Los Angeles. Both Sergei Bongart and Constance Marlow also had works in that show.

At the Art League, Pérez gave life and drawing classes. Elsewhere, he gave a demonstration of palette knife techniques at an art society meeting in Los Angeles, in September 1968, and conducted flower painting classes in Chino. In January 1975, Pérez, billed as a  “renowned artist and sculptor,” gave a demonstration in sculpturing at the San Fernando Valley Art Club. By that time, Pérez had founded the Xavier Pérez Studio.

According to the biographical profile in El Ojo, “Xavier’s works brought on a degree of notoriety and an accumulation of awards which ultimately led to personality conflicts within the League. He stopped showing his paintings in public.”

After this Pérez moved back into the design business and combined the restoration of antiques with designing and making reproduction furniture.

Xavier Perez Aguilar. 1979. Lake Chapala. Courtesy of Richard Tingen.

Xavier Pérez Aguilar. 1989. Lake Chapala. Reproduced courtesy of Richard Tingen.

Pérez visited Lake Chapala in 1979 and returned to live at Lake Chapala in 1984, establishing his home in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos. He opened the Galeria P. Bonnard, at Calle 16 de Septiembre #7 in Ajijic, the building where Enrique and Belva Velázquez have their joint studio today.

Xavier Pérez was one of the large group of “Pintores de la Ribera” who held a group exhibit in May 1985 at the Club Campestre La Hacienda (km 30, Guadalajara-Chapala highway). Other artists represented in that show included Daphne Aluta, Eugenia Bolduc, Jean Caragonne, Donald Demerest, Laura Goeglein, Hubert Harmon, B. R. Kline, Jo Kreig, Carla W. Manger, Emily Meeker, Sydney Moehlman, Tiu Pessa, De Nyse Turner Pinkerton and Eleanor Smart.

In 1986, Pérez was elected the first president of the Ajijic Society of the Arts (ASA). He saw his mission as forging greater unity among all the local artists. In addition, he began a project to restore and maintain the collection of archaeological finds started by the late Dr. Betty Bell.

Pérez was also a co-founder (with Tod Jonson, Ektor Carranza, Florence Pritikin and Pat Tanaka) in 1986 of the Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic (CASA).

Acknowledgments

  • My sincere thanks to Ricardo Santana for first bringing this artist to my attention, and to Richard Tingen and Judy Eager for sharing their memories of the artist.

Sources

  • El Ojo del Lago, September 1986
  • Valley News (Van Nuys, California): 1 February 1968, 74; 27 Aug 1968, 14; 24 Sep 1968, 24; 14 June 1973, 77; 14 January 1975, 26.

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 Posted by at 5:37 am  Tagged with:
Dec 172020
 

The talented and versatile artist Alfredo Navarro España was a photographer and painter who first exhibited in Chapala in 1948 and was most active during the 1950s. One of his photographs of fishing nets at Lake Chapala was published by Arizona Highways in 1950, along with several of his drawings and paintings related to Mexican places and themes.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Photograph of fishing nets at Lake Chapala.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Photograph of fishing nets at Lake Chapala.

Guillermo Alfredo Navarro España was born on 27 June 1921 into a socially-prominent family in Guadalajara. His mother was Sara España Araujo. His father, Alfredo Navarro Branca, was a well-known architect who, among other things, designed and built the family home at Vallarta 1581, as well as the El Banco Industrial building, La Casa del Estudiante, and several schools in Guadalajara.

It is unclear how Alfredo acquired his artistic education but he became proficient in several media. Relatively little is known about his life beyond the details of some of the group exhibitions that featured his work.

The earliest of these is the “Third Annual Painting Exhibition” held at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala from 21 August to 1 September 1948. Others exhibiting on that occasion included Rubén Mora Gálvez, Tom[ás] Coffeen, José [María de] Servín, F. Martínez Lois [? Lols?], Dolores de la Mora, Sterling Poindexter, E. Linares [Ernesto Butterlin] and Ruth Dunn.]

In March the following year, five artists held a joint exhibition at the Museo del Estado in Guadalajara. Alfredo showed his “abstract-surrealist” works alongside four artists of “the Ajijic group”: Louise Gauthiers, Ernesto Linares [Butterlin], Nicolás Muzenic and Tobias [Toby] Schneebaum.

Alfredo was also part of the “Fourth Annual Painting Exhibition” at the Villa Montecarlo in August 1949. Other exhibitors on that occasion included Nicolás Muzenic, Tobias Schneebaum, Shirley Wurtzel, Ann Woolfolk and Mel Schuler.

The November 1950 issue of Arizona Highways included various of his photos and paintings of Mexico. Perhaps in celebration, Alfredo took a flight from Guadalajara to Manzanillo that month in the company of Dorothea Wharton, Ernesto Butterlin, Nicolás Muzenic and John Garrell. The following images are a sample of those published by Arizona Highways.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled. (Fishing nets at beach)

Also included in the Arizona Highways magazine are several much simpler, but equally striking, paintings showing typical Mexican scenes (which may or may not be directly related to Jalisco or Lake Chapala).

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled. (Street decorations)

The strong, geometric, composition of these works is very effective in conveying the essence of these festive occasions.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled.

Alfredo Navarro España. c 1950. Untitled. (Fería mexicana)

In December 1950, Alfredo was accorded the honor of a solo show at the Galeria de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. On display were 23 paintings, several of them on loan from the private collections of Sigi Weissenberg (a famous Bulgarian pianist), Daniel K. Davis and Ernesto Javelly. The paintings included one entitled “Chapala,” as well as others that may be related to the lake, such as “La pesca.”

Alfredo was sufficiently close to the painters teaching at the Ajijic Art Workshop that he is mentioned in Zoe Kernick‘s 1951 article about Ajijic, as one of the options for those looking for a lively social scene: – “Or one goes into Guadalajara for a party at the gay penthouse studio of surrealist painter, Alfredo Navarro.”

A critique of his work by Alfredo Leal appeared that year in Ariel, a literary broadsheet published in Guadalajara by Emmanuel Carballo, alongside monochrome reproductions of two of his paintings: “La Pesca” and “La Catedral Sumergida.”

Alfredo Navarro held a second one-man show in Mexico City in July 1957, at the Galeria Proteo in the Zona Rosa.

Almost exactly a decade later, at least two of his abstract works were included in a group show of contemporary Jaliscan artists at the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, alongside paintings by Xavier Guerrero, J. Jesus Serna, Gabriel Flores and Guillermo Chavez Vega.

Alfredo Navarro España died in Guadalajara on 18 November 2003.

Sources

  • Arizona Highways, Nov 1950.
  • Arizona Republic, 14 May 1967, 154.
  • Boletín de música y artes visuales, Issues 11-12; Issues 14-22, Departamento de Asuntos Culturales, Unión Panamericana, 1951.
  • El Informador: 27 Nov 1926, 22 Aug 1948, 13 Aug 1949, 24 Oct 1950, 3 Nov 1950, 19 Nov 2003.
  • Zoe Kernick. 1951. Ajijic. Mexican Life, April 1951, 13-14, 58, 60, 62-63.

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.

 Posted by at 5:03 am  Tagged with:
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 for several months in Ajijic with her second husband, the German cellist Alex von Mauch.

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.

After marrying Alex von Mauch in 1935, the couple settled in Ajijic. Unfortunately, Alex died later that year. Eleanor then seems 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.

Romance must certainly have been in the air that year (1937) since a few months later Eleanor was in Guadalajara to marry Leif Clausen, a Danish-born and educated artist and writer based in New York. After this marriage to Clausen, Eleanor’s trail goes cold and nothing further has yet 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.
  • 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.

Oct 292020
 

François de Brouillette was an accomplished artist, art restorer and poet. Born in Vermont on 22 April 1906, de Brouillette died in Santa Barbara, California, on 12 February 1972.

De Brouillette was especially well known during his lifetime for his sensitive and striking portraits.

This painting was shared with us by a reader who found it among the effects of her grandfather, Arthur D. Dahl, after he died earlier this year at the age of 102. It is a classic de Brouilette portrait (16″ x  20″ on canvas). The date is indistinct but could perhaps be either 1935 or 1955?

Dahl, who took an art class at Pacific Union College, was born in Alberta, Canada, but lived much of his life in California, residing in Lodi, Stockton and Delano from the early 1940s through the early 1960s.

The portrait is unlikely to have any direct connection to Lake Chapala but if any reader recognizes the young man in the painting, please get in touch!

De Brouillete is known to have visited Lake Chapala numerous times over a period spanning more than forty years, and definitely painted the lake, probably on numerous occasions:

Acknowledgment

  • My thanks to Dana Jordan for sharing images of this painting, found in the collection of her grandfather.

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

 Posted by at 6:03 am  Tagged with:
Oct 082020
 

Roy Vincent MacNicol (1889-1970), “Paintbrush Ambassador of Goodwill”, had an extraordinary artistic career, even if his personal life was sometimes confrontational.

The American painter, designer, writer and lecturer had close ties to Chapala for many years: in 1954, he bought and remodeled the house in Chapala that had been rented in 1923 by English author D. H. Lawrence, and then, according to artist Everett Gee Jackson, by himself and Lowell Houser.

After MacNicol and his fourth wife Mary Blanche Starr bought the house, they divided their time between Chapala and New York, with occasional trips elsewhere, including Europe. Their New York home, from 1956 (possibly earlier) was at 100 Sullivan Street.

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

Roy MacNicol was a prolific painter and numerous MacNicol paintings of Lake Chapala are known. Romantically and artistically, he lived an especially colorful life and was involved in several high profile scandals and lawsuits.

Born in New York City on 27 November 1889, MacNicol left home as a teenager to take acting classes and work on the stage, appearing in the farces Twin Beds and Where’s Your Wife? on Broadway in 1919.

MacNicol’s first marriage lasted less than four years. In 1920, MacNicol took vaudeville singer and performer Fay Courtney as his second wife. With the backing of his new wife, MacNicol left the stage to concentrate on his painting career.

Best known for his watercolors and elaborate decorative screens, MacNicol’s work embraced a number of different styles over the years before he developed (in the 1940s) a unique style he termed “geo-segmatic.”

MacNicol’s first solo exhibit was in November 1921 at the Anderson Galleries, New York. His bird and animal motifs on large screens were admired on opening night by more than 800 guests. However, this led to a serious professional clash with a fellow artist, Robert W. Chanler, who called him a “copyist” who had stolen his designs. MacNicol was outraged and took Chanler to court, seeking $50,000 for the alleged libel.

His second solo show was in Palm Beach, Florida, the start of the artist’s long connection with the Palm Beach area.

After visiting France and Spain, MacNicol held a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in April 1926, which included many abstract paintings of fauna such as cranes, herons, Australian squirrels and penguins. In the program notes, A. G. Warshawsky praised the abstract compositions that “still hold a human and essentially humorous effect, which adds both to the charm and naiveté of the subject”.

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

In the 1930s, his wife’s singing career took the couple to Europe, Asia and South America. Between these trips MacNicol held many more solo shows, including one at the Everglades Club in Palm Beach (1931) and at the A Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago (1933–34).

In about 1937, the MacNicols, on an impulse, decided to drive down to Mexico to seek more of the “Spanish flavor” that had inspired some of MacNicol’s best work to date. In Mexico City, Thomas Gore, the owner-manager of the Hotel Geneve in the Zona Rosa, commissioned MacNicol to paint two Xochimilco-related murals for the dining room.

Tragically, Fay became ill on their tour of South America and died, at home in New York, in February 1941.

MacNicol’s frequent travels had inspired him to compile a “good-neighbor” show of Mexican-inspired works as a means of improving the ties between Mexico and the U.S. He returned to Mexico City and devoted nine months to painting a series of large (22 x 30″) watercolors, which were the basis of numerous “Good Neighbor Exhibits” shown in galleries across Mexico and the U.S. and in coast-to-coast television coverage.

MacNicol was dismissive of critics who argues his work was influenced by Diego Rivera, though he admitted that perhaps he had been influenced by the “entire Mexican school of art.” In particular, he admired the work of Siqueiros and of Rufino Tamayo, “the most charming, imaginative, and amusing painter in Mexico.”

Eleanor Roosevelt visited the artist’s 33rd solo show in March 1943 at the Pan American Union in Washington, D.C. and eagerly recommended it to others:

“On leaving the club, I went to the Pan American Building to see an exhibition of paintings done in Mexico by Mr. Roy MacNicol. They were perfectly charming, and I was particularly interested in the Indian types. Some showed the hardships of the life they and their forefathers had lived. Others had a gentleness and sweetness which seemed to draw you to them through the canvas. The color in every picture was fascinating and I feel sure that this is the predominant note in Mexico which attracts everyone in this country who goes there.”

Mrs. Roosevelt sponsored subsequent “Good Neighbor” exhibits, as did several prominent Mexican officials, including Mexican president Miguel Alemán.

MacNicol divided his time over the next few years between Mexico and the U.S. with solo shows in Los Angeles and at the Galería de Arte Decoración (1943) and the Palacio de Bellas Artes (1945), both in Mexico City.

In what MacNicol terms “My great folly” in his autobiography, he married Mrs. Helen Stevick, “wealthy publisher of the Champaign, Illinois, News Gazette,” in Chicago in September 1945. Newly-married, the couple went to Mexico City for their honeymoon, where Stevick’s daughter joined them. This marriage quickly became a complete disaster, leading to ample fodder for the newspapers of the time, who had a field day describing the plight (and possible motives) of the prominent painter. The Steviks accused MacNicol of fraud and had him (briefly) imprisoned in a Mexican jail. In retaliation, MacNicol sued the daughter for $500,000 for her part in wrecking his marriage.

MacNicol may have wanted $500,000, but he certainly did not get it; the case was dismissed on technical grounds. The divorce was finalized in July 1946.

Roy MacNicol. The Lily Vendor. c. 1946.

Roy MacNicol. The Lily Vendor. c. 1946.

That winter, MacNicol returned to Palm Beach for the first time in 15 years, and made arrangements to hold his 50th solo show there in the State Suite of the Biltmore Hotel. When Mrs Bassett Mitchell (the former Mary Blanche Starr) walked in the room he was instantly smitten. It turned out that Mary was the widow of a Florida financier and was equally enthralled. She bought “The Lily Vendor,” and then they had dinner together. They married in Palm Beach on 27 March 1947, and honeymooned in Nassau. Their love for each other never diminished.

In 1948, MacNiol held the first major exhibition of his “geo-segmatic” paintings in Paris, France. The following year, after a successful show at Penthouse Galleries in New York City, the MacNicols decided to move from Palm Beach to Mexico City. They drove down in their Lincoln convertible (with four truck loads of furniture following behind) and bought a 3,000-square-meter property in Coyoacan. It took them two years to convert it into a house, studio and gallery.

Health issues forced them to sell their Mexico City home and seek a home at a lower elevation.

“We took three months motoring around before we discovered the enchanting little fishing village of Chapala, tucked on the banks of a sparkling lake, set among emerald mountains and violet haze. There was a blessed tranquillity in the low rooftops and the plaza overshadowed by giant laurel trees. But it also had the advantage of a modem four-lane highway leading through rolling green hills from Guadalajara, the second largest, and the cleanest, city in Mexico, a drive of only thirty-five minutes. (Paintbrush Ambassador, 226-7)

They drove into Chapala in January 1954 and, within days, bought the house, at Zaragoza #307, which British novelist D. H. Lawrence had rented in 1923.

The MacNicols restored the house and added a swimming pool. They also added a memorial plaque on the street wall to Lawrence: “In this house D. H. Lawrence lived and wrote ‘The Plumed Serpent’ in the year 1923.” A second wall plaque had a quote from another of MacNicol’s boyhood heroes, Robert Louis Stevenson.

A “list of foreign residents in Chapala” from June 1955, and now in the archive of the Lake Chapala Society (LCS), includes Roy and Mary MacNicol among the 55 total foreign residents in the town at that time, though they were not LCS members. According to MacNicol, “Chapala has its retired American naval and military brass, business men, delightful English, some good writers and myself as the only painter.”

Roy MacNicol. 1956. Poolroom, Chapala, Mexico. B/W photo of oil in tones of red and green. (Plate 11 of Paintbrush Ambassador)

Roy MacNicol. 1956. Poolroom, Chapala, Mexico. B/W photo of oil in tones of red and green. (Plate 11 of Paintbrush Ambassador)

In 1956, MacNicol was persuaded to hold an exhibit in Copenhagen, Denmark. He and Mary flew from Mexico City to New York, carrying 52 paintings and then sailed on the MS Kungsholm across the Atlantic. The show was an unmitigated disaster, largely owing (according to MacNicol) to the complete absence of any help or support from the local U.S. Embassy. The MacNicols returned home to Chapala in November.

It is unclear precisely when the MacNicols sold their house in Chapala, but according to columnist Kenneth McCaleb, MacNicol was disposing of the contents of his Chapala home in the early 1960s, prior to selling it and moving to New York.

The exhibition catalog dating from late 1968 or early 1969 for MacNicol’s “Faces and Places of Nations” exhibit says it was the artist’s 59th (and last) solo exhibit. The catalog describes the “Paintbrush Ambassador of Goodwill”:

“He believes in the universal diplomacy of art as a means to world understanding. His “Faces and Places of Nations” series was begun in 1943. The exhibit has been shown in Mexico City, Spain, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, British West Indies, Cuba, South America, as well as in key cities in U.S.A. The 1949 exhibition was televised coast-to-coast by NBC.”

Of the sixteen works listed in the catalog, six are from Mexico, including two directly linked to Lake Chapala: “Old Fisherman & Boy (Lake Chapala)” and “Mary & Duke, Casa MacNicol (Lake Chapala).” Duke was MacNicol’s Dalmation.

In addition to painting, MacNicol frequently lectured on art and his formal jobs as a young man included a spell as associate editor at the American Historical Company in New York City. He was a contributor to several newspapers including the Christian Science Monitor, Atlanta Journal, The Times Herald, Mexico City News and The Havana Post.

His autobiography – Paintbrush Ambassador – mentions dozens of notable personalities including the likes of Ernest Hemingway, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jack Warner, Danny Kaye, Gloria Swanson and Mr. and Mrs. Nelson D. Rockefeller.

MacNicol died in New York in November 1970.

Examples of his artwork are in the permanent collections of the University of Illinois; Randolph-Macon Woman’s College; University of Havana, Cuba, and the Reporter’s Club, Havana.

Despite enjoying considerable success (and some notoriety) during his lifetime, Roy MacNicol is among the many larger-than-life artists to have lived and worked at Lake Chapala whose artistic contributions to the area’s cultural heritage have, sadly, been largely forgotten.

Sources

  • Irving Johnson. 1946. “Honeymoon for Three.” San Antonio Light, 24 November 1946, 59.
  • Roy MacNicol. 1957. Paintbrush Ambassador. New York: Vantage Press.
  • Kenneth McCaleb. 1968. “Conversation Piece: How To Be an Art Collector,” The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 15 February 1968, 17.
  • New York Times, 26 May 1925.
  • The Palm Beach Post, 20 March 1947.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt. “My Day,” Kansas City Star, 5 March 1943, 23.

Note: This is an expanded version of a post first published on 18 February 2016.

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.

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