Jun 232022
 

Is it right for someone who only ever produced a single artwork related to Lake Chapala to be included in this on-going series? My usual answer has been ‘No!’ but I make no apologies for this exception.

This superb silkscreen design of Chapala by Elma Pratt from the 1940s is so striking that it more than merits close attention.

Elma Pratt. Chapala. Silkscreen, published 1947.

Elma Pratt. Chapala. Silkscreen, published 1947. Border design by ‘Clemente’ of Tlaquepaque.

Cora Elma Pratt (she dropped the Cora in childhood) was born on 5 May 1888 in Chicago, Illinois, and died in Oxford, Ohio on 30 December 1977. Pratt grew up in an affluent family and accompanied her parents on trips to Europe. She graduated from Oberlin High School in Ohio in 1906, and then gained a bachelor’s degree in education from Oberlin College in 1912, majoring in music and social science. After a year in Europe with her mother, Pratt attended the New School of Design in Boston.

In 1918, as the first world war finally came to its end, Pratt—describing herself as an interior decorator—applied for a passport to travel to Great Britain and France to work with the American Red Cross. The diminutive Pratt (5’1″ tall with grey-green eyes) left the US shortly before Christmas and arrived in France on 6 January 1919. She worked initially with the YMCA in Paris, before applying for a new passport so that she could carry out “War relief work with the Christian Science Society of Italy.”

On her return from two years in Europe, Pratt completed a Master in Arts from Columbia University Teacher’s College (1922) and subsequently completed her formal education with a degree in art from the Vienna School of Art in Austria (1928).

In the course of her multiple trips to Europe, Pratt had encountered, and fallen in love with, Polish folk art. Determined to introduce it to other Americans, she organized the International School of Art. The first art program she ran was in Zakopane, Poland, in 1928. The International School of Art became the main focus of her working life, and she ran programs in Europe, Mexico and the US for more than thirty years.

Pratt was an avid promoter of Polish folk art in the US, working closely with the Brooklyn Museum, where she supplied artwork to their gift shop and organized folk art exhibitions, including the Polish Exhibition (1933-1934), the first ever exhibit of Polish folk art in the US.

Pratt returned to New York from a summer trip in Europe on 5 September 1939, only days before the second world war broke out. For the next few years travel to Europe was impossible, so Pratt turned her attention to folk art nearer home, including that of Mexico and Guatemala.

In the 1940s, Pratt began offering a summer school in Mexico, where her “students worked in Tlaquepaque, studying pottery designs under the shade of banana trees” and then continued on to take some classes in Taxco. The teachers hired by Pratt included Mexican printmaker Alfredo Zalce and Guatemalan-born painter Carlos Merida, and students were able to gain credit for the courses from the National University (UNAM).

While the precise dates and times of these programs in Mexico remain unclear, we can place Pratt in Guadalajara in 1944 and 1945. In February 1944, she gave a lecture to the Associación Cristiana Feminina in Guadalajara (Calle Tolsa #324) titled “Contribución de México al desorrollo artístico mundial” (Mexico’s contribution to world artistic development). By then her International School of Art was reported to have 14 locations in Europe and the Americas, including Mexico and Guatemala. The following summer, the Guadalajara daily El Informador devoted a column to Miss Mildred Pietschman, a member of the student group Pratt brought to Guadalajara. Pietschman, a music teacher, had previously taken art classes at the Universidad de Guadalajara and at the International School of Art in Rome, Italy. (Tragically, she died in an automobile accident while vacationing in Mexico in 1990.)

One significant by-product of Pratt’s numerous art school visits to Mexico (which included time in some quite remote areas) was her portfolio Mexico in Color. The portfolio, published in 1947 in an edition of 2000 copies, contained ten separate two-page folios with text and silkscreens: Lake Chapala of Jalisco, Shoppers in Ixtepec, Salt Boys of Chiapas, Traveling Salesman, Etla’s Market, Fisherfolk of Janitzio, Market in Uruapan, August 15th in Taxco, Tehuanas of Oaxaca, and From the Mountains of Oaxaca. The silkscreens, which are printed on silk and measure (including the decorative border) 44.5 x 30.5 cm (17.5″ by 12″), were designed by Pratt and printed by Adrian Duran in Mexico City.

When Pratt’s Mexican silkscreens were exhibited at the Misericordia University Pauly Friedman Art Gallery in Dallas in 2009, viewers were informed that the vibrant colors and bold designs chosen by the artist “place the viewers at the time and place of their creation… [and] allow the viewer to see what Pratt saw and experienced.”

The silkscreen of Chapala, dating from the 1940s, depicts La Capilla de Lourdes, with the steep, palm tree-lined street leading up to its entrance and a typical Chapala sail boat. Pratt explains in the accompanying text why she chose those elements for her design:

I have included in my “Mexico in Color” the picture of the little blue and white chapel just outside the town of Chapala, mainly because of my interest in the many people I see passing by. No matter how burdened with baskets, no matter how inconvenienced by the jog-jog of the donkey, off comes the sombrero as they pass the palm-bordered road running up to the chapel. Now that the little church is being enlarged, I wonder if the Indian who loves his diminutives will not share my regret at this change.”

The decorative design around the silkscreen “was painted by one of our Tlaquepaque boys, Clemente, with his dog-hair brush.”

Pratt emphasized the contrast between Chapala, “the playground of Jalisco” and Ajijic. In Chapala, many people:

make their living by merely adding to your pleasure: the mariachis whom you hire to play for you as you skim the surface of the beautiful lake in a launch or one of the more romantic rowboats, with their varied-colored awnings; the cheerful little men who rent you beach chairs, bright umbrellas or old tires; the ever-increasing group of men who make delicious home-made candies.”

On the other hand:

the tiny village of Ajijic… is no playground: days pass slowly or swiftly, as motivated by the daily routine of necessary tasks. There, as elsewhere in Mexico, the pat-pat of the tortilla symbolizes the narrow limits of the women’s lives; as does the constant net-mending symbolize the men’s devotion to the water. How they love to feel the tug of the big nets as their bronzed bodies bend with the pull of haul!”

Pratt refers to Witter Bynner “our own American poet… [who] has awakened in us still greater sensitiveness to the beauties of Lake Chapala” and to Neil JamesDust on my Heart (1946), and Dane ChandosVillage in the Sun (1945). In the context of Ajijic, Pratt explains that the village has been the scene for “not only good writing, but good painting.”

A decade later, Pratt produced a similar volume, Guatemala in Color (1958). She continued to be fascinated by folk art and, in her seventies, lived and taught in Egypt for four years.

Elma Pratt, educator, collector, artist, and philanthropist, never married and had no children. In 1970 she donated her extensive collection of international folk art, more than 2500 items in total, to the Miami University Art Museum in Oxford, Ohio. She moved to Oxford the following year and lived there the remainder of her life.

Note

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Sources

  • Cardassilaris, Nicole Ruth. 2008. “Bringing cultures together: Elma Pratt, her International School of Art, and her collection of International Folk Art at the Miami University Art Museum.” Thesis for M.A. in Art History, University of Cincinnati.
  • Taylor, Millicent. 1954. “On Tour With a Paintbrush: Elma Pratt and Her Art School,” Christian Science Monitor, 27 March 1954, 14.
  • Desert Sun (Palm Springs, California) 7 July 1950.
  • El Informador: 8 February 1944, 11; 10 February 1944, 7; 22 July 1945.

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.

Jun 162022
 

Mona Jordan (1908-1995), a multi-talented and much traveled artist, exhibited a painting titled “Tarascans, Ajijic” in Florida in 1961.

Gladys “Mona” Lynch Jordan was born on 12 November 1908 at West Point, Orange County, New York, and died at the age of 86 on 28 September 1995 in Annandale, Fairfax County, Virginia. Her remains are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Mona Jordan and 'Tarascos'. 1961.

Mona Jordan and ‘Tarascans, Ajijic’. 1961.

Jordan was a professional artist, who had taken classes at the Corcoran Museum of Art.

At age 21, on Christmas Day 1929, she married Howell Hopson Jordan (1905-1994) in Washington D.C. Her husband served all his working life in the military, gained promotion to Colonel, and retired from the Army in January 1957. The couple had three children, the eldest born in Hawaii and the middle child in Maryland.

In the early part of her adult life, Mona Jordan was an army wife, continuing to paint whenever possible. The family traveled extensively. During several years in Japan, Jordan became an accomplished portraitist, completing numerous portraits, working in pastels, of household helpers and Japanese people they knew. A pastel from her time in Japan (titled Tokyo 1947) is in the permanent collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

After her husband’s retirement in 1957, the family moved to Florida, where Mona Jordan could finally devote more time to her art. In 1961, then living in Cocoa Beach, she exhibited several paintings at the annual show of the Central Brevard Art Association. They included a painting titled “Tarascans, Ajijic.” Jordan was a teacher at the Association’s art school, and at Brevard Art Center and Museum. Her focus while living in Florida (1957-1990) was on abstract, intuitive paintings and portraits; her subjects included several Florida noteworthies.

The details of her visit to Ajijic are unknown. Please get in touch if you can supply any additional information about when and why she visited Lake Chapala.

Mona Jordan. The Digs. Sold at auction in 2015.

Mona Jordan. The Digs. Sold at auction in 2015.

Mona Jordan remained in Florida after she and husband divorced, after more than forty years of marriage, in 1971.

Jordan continued to paint and had work included in the 24th Annual Exhibition organized by the Florida Artists Group at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, in 1973.

Mona Jordan occasionally wrote about art for local publications. In one column she lamented the fact that U.S. women artists won such little recognition for their efforts and success. At that time, Jordan was living in Indian Harbour Beach, and working in oil, acrylic, pastels and charcoal.

Jordan also registered, as author, the copyright to Come to the Garden Party, a book illustrated by Bernadene L Jurgens. It is unclear if this work was ever actually published.

During her lengthy career as a professional artist and art educator, Jordan was a member of the Fifth Avenue Art Gallery, Florida Artists Group, Brevard Artists’ Forum, and The Ten: Ten Women in Art.

Jordan’s daughter Gladys Seaward and granddaughter Wendy Seaward are both well-known bead and jewelry designers. When Wendy was interviewed in 2015 for an article about her own work—after winning Best of Show in the Tennessee Craft Fair—she described how her grandmother had been “a very well known intuitive painter in Cocoa Beach, Florida.”

On her own website, Wendy remembers, as a child, watching her grandmother demonstrate intuitive painting: “She would close her eyes and scribble all over the canvas and then spend the next several hours coaxing forms and images out of the tangle.”

Sources

  • Stephanie Stewart-Howard. 2015. “Face to face with Wendy Seaward.” Nashville Arts Magazine, July 2015.
  • Gladys Seaward webpage.
  • Wendy Seaward website.
  • The Evening Tribune (Cocoa, Florida): 20 June 1961, 4.
  • Mona Jordan. 1986. “Nation’s women artists win little recognition.” Florida Today, 29 June 1986, 49.
  • Florida Today: 5 October 1995, 21.

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.

May 262022
 

Rowena Girault was a prolific painter and sculptor. Multi-faceted, multi-talented, and almost entirely self-taught, she moved to San Antonio Tlayacapan (with her husband, Frank) in the late 1960s and spent the remainder of her life there.

Rowena Katherine Girault was born to Peter Girault and Catherine Price in Chicago on 24 December 1914. The 1920 US census lists her ethnicity as Canadian. Her father died in 1929, when Rowena was barely in her teens, and she had completed only three years of high school when, aged 21, she married John Walter “Jack” Augustin (1912–1964), with whom she had a son, John. The family shared a residence with Rowena’s mother and younger sister in North Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, until at least 1940, when John Walter joined the US military.

After this first marriage broke down, Rowena married William Lee Richards (1901–1983) in Chicago in 1944. As shown by the birth of their three children in, respectively, Chicago, Glens Falls (New York) and Hato Bay (Puerto Rico) they moved several times before establishing themselves in Puerto Rico. That marriage lasted about a decade.

By 1958, Rowena had taken her third husband and become Mrs Frank Kirkpatrick. In the early 1960s the couple were living on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, California. Rowena had spent much of her time and energy over the past two decades developing her art, and was determined to make a living from it. However, the art-loving public was having to pay far too much for original art, in Rowena’s eyes, after the various commissions and sales fees charged by agents, galleries and retail stores were taken into account. Rowena, who never signed artwork with any of her married surnames, decided to try a more direct way to reach potential purchasers, so she opened her studio to the public. According to one reporter, Rowena painted because she loved to paint, but wanted homes to have real oils, not prints, on their walls.

Rowena Kirkpatrick. c 1980. Untitled. Ballpoint pen and watercolor.

Rowena Kirkpatrick. c 1974. Untitled. Ballpoint pen and watercolor. Photo courtesy Dale Palfrey.

Her work gradually gained greater recognition, and Kirkpatrick held a one person exhibit of oil paintings in May 1966 at the International Fine Arts Gallery in St. Louis. A few months later, “Rowena Girault Kirkpatrick, known for her work with murals, portraitist, heavy palette knife works, stippled impressionist works and sable paintings” donated a painting titled “Passion Week” to La Rambla Presbyterian Church in San Pedro, California.

At about this time, the Kirkpatricks moved to Scottsdale, on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona, and Rowena joined the Scottsdale Artists League. There, pursuing her ambition to make original art more affordable, Rowena teamed up with other artists (apparently including her daughter Alix) in 1967 to offer “Original Oil Paintings by American Artists, complete with beautiful hand-carved frames” at various stores in Phoenix including Woolco, where shoppers could watch the artists at work. The paintings, in a variety of styles, were priced by size: $19.95 for an 8″ x 10″, $29.95 for 16″ x 20,” and $125.00 for 24″ by 36.”

Kirkpatrick held her second solo show that same year: a theater lobby art show at Phoenix Little Theater in September 1967.

The following year, she held a month-long solo show at La Petite Gallery and Studio in Phoenix. Kirkpatrick was one of several artists represented by the gallery, and her association continued even after the gallery became “The Rosenzweig Center Galleries” in 1969. One reviewer of her solo show at La Petite Gallery (September-October 1968) explained how:

Looking at one of Rowena Girault’s acrylics is like taking a step back into childhood. Remember those pictures that had animal heads, faces or toys hidden in tree branches, under rocks or a part of the sky?

Her paintings are like that. A painting of a western sky? Yes. But suddenly the clouds become a throng of wild stampeding horses. Look at the red rocks of Sedona and you realize that the rocky columns are also people.

The artist’s vivid imagination and pixie sense of humor were a delight to all who met her at the opening of her show.”

Another reviewer, Joan Bucklew, called Rowena:

a sort of Phyllis Diller of the visual arts, being, seemingly, about equal parts housewife and artist with a streak of aesthetic madness…. Rowena Girault may whisk the old ham and turkey bones out of the soup stock to incorporate them in a sculpture as she whumps up her own peculiar recipe of modeling paste, marble dust, and a touch of broken glass.”

While I have not yet found evidence supporting Bucklew’s claim that Rowena had “taught at the Chicago Art Institute,” Bucklew offered a fulsome account of the varied styles and techniques on display, which ranged from broad palette knife to fine sable brush, from collage to ink, from abstract to representational. She was in awe of Rowena’s creativity:

The most amazing aspect of her work is a child-like abandon and enthusiasm that keeps it unaffected and loaded with surprises…. Throughout the works are spirited and uninhibited.”

After moving with her husband to San Antonio Tlayacapan in about 1968, the irrepressible Rowena (sometimes mistakenly called Rowene in local newspapers) Kirkpatrick gave art workshops and continued to paint. She also designed several stage sets for the Lakeside Little Theater and was an active supporter of local cultural events and charities, including the Ajijic Breakfast Fund.

Kirkpatrick held a solo show in August 1974 at the Galería del Lago when it moved from its original location on Ajijic plaza to Colon #6. She displayed 24 works, in a mix of styles, some in acrylics, others in oils or watercolors, and the show was an instant hit, with Allyn Hunt writing of “Buyers standing in line hoping to outbid one another for certain works.”

In December 1974, Rowena and her husband, Frank, held a very successful art auction for local charities at their home in San Antonio Tlayacapan. The four artists donating works were Kirkpatrick, Rocky Karns, Sid Schwartzman and Antonio Santibañez.

Plans were hatched to hold a similar charity art auction a few months later at the Ajijic home of Marion Carpenter. Fate intervened, however, and, at the age of 60, Rowena died on 1 April 1975 following surgery in Guadalajara.

Her remains were interred in the Chapala municipal cemetery.

Sources

  • Allyn Hunt. 1974. “Lively Art Audience at Lake.” Guadalajara Reporter: 28 Sep 1974, 3-4.
  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix): 14 April 1967, 5; 16 Sep 1967, 43; 22 Oct 1967, 106; 25 Oct 1967, 10; 1 Oct 1968, 44.
  • Joan Bucklew. 1968. “Phyllis Diller of Visual Arts. Acrylic Paintings, Sculptures and Drawings Shown by Rowena Girault.” Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 29 September 1968, 134.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 26 Jan 1974; 4 Jan 1975; 26 April 1975.
  • Palos Verdes Peninsula News (California): 23 May 1963 :
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri): 8 May 1966, 45:

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 6:33 am  Tagged with:
May 122022
 

Julián Pulido Pedrosa was one of the group of talented artists who formed the Jovenes Pintores de Ajijic (Young Painters of Ajijic) in 1977.

Tragically, a decade later, Ajijic-born Pulido died on the highway between Tuxcueca and Tizapán el Alto in mysterious circumstances, while still a young man, not yet thirty years of age. He had already proved himself to be an outstanding artist, one of the first generation of local Ajijic artists to impress art critics with their extraordinary talents and creativity. Who knows how far Pulido might have taken his art had he only lived longer. Julián Pulido left behind his wife, Delma, and their three young children. In the wake of the tragedy, local and foreign artists organized an art sale (at the home of David Finn) as a benefit for his widow and children.

Like most other members of the Young Painters of Ajijic, Pulido first developed an interest in art during classes at the Children’s Art Program, organized by Neill James.

Undated. Untitled. AMA (Ajijic Museum of Art)

Julian Pulido. Undated. Untitled. AMA (Ajijic Museum of Art)

Pulido was one of several young students chosen by Neill James to receive a scholarship to further their art education either in San Miguel de Allende or Guadalajara. After studying at the Escuela de Artesanías in Ajijic, Pulido completed his formal art studies with five years at the Escuela de Artes Plásticos of the University of Guadalajara.

Detail from Julian Pulido painting. Reproduced courtesy of Georgette Richmond.

Detail from Julian Pulido painting. Reproduced courtesy of Georgette Richmond.

Pulido, who subsequently taught at the Escuela de Artesanías, worked in a variety of media and at a variety of scales, from small drawings and watercolors to large murals, including one at the Escuela de Artesanías in Ajijic and several others in public buildings in Guadalajara. [Does anyone have details to share?]

Studying alongside Pulido at the University of Guadalajara was another young local artist, Dionicio Morales. The two students held a joint exhibition of their watercolors, paintings and drawings at the Galería del Lago in Ajijic from 29 August to 11 September 1975. (The news was relayed to the English-speaking community in Joan Frost’s very first column for the weekly Guadalajara Reporter; Frost went on to become one of the paper’s most regular and dependable contributors.)

The following year, a new gallery, the “José Clemente Orozco Gallery” opened in March 1976 in Ajijic, with Dionicio Morales as director. In addition to Morales and Pulido, the gallery’s members—all exhibiting artists—were Jonathan Aparicio, Antonio Cárdenas, Antonio López Vega, Havano Tadeo, Henry Edwards, Sid Schwartzman and Frank Barton.

In 1977 the Guadalajara Reporter informed readers that Morales and Pulido had won the top two prizes in a Latin America-wide competition held to select artwork for the 1977 calendar of The International Federation of Family Planning. [If anyone has a copy of this calendar, please share!]

An exhibit which opened at the Instituto Anglo-Mexicana de Cultura in Guadalajara in October 1980 featured the works of Pulido and Morales alongside the work of a third Ajijic artist, Jesús Real.

Pulido held solo shows at the Centro de Artesanías de Ajijic (1980-81), the Presidencia Municipal de Yahualica (March 1981), and one entitled “Mi Pueblo” at Galería Universitaria in Guadalajara (November 1981). He also held a two-person show with Ernesto Flores G. at the Presidencia Municipal of Ciudad Guzmán (March-April 1981).

Work by Julian Pulido Pedrosa (c. 1958-1987) is deservedly included in the permanent collection of the Ajijic Museum of Art.

Sources

  • Ojo del Lago, April 1985; June 1987.
  • El Informador, 21 October 1980; 8 December 1980; 2 March 1981; 6 April 1981; 5 November 1981.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 30 Aug 1975; 13 March 1976, 21; 16 Apr 1977, 19: 2 May 1987, 24.
  • Regina Potenza, personal communication.

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.

May 052022
 

Norwegian illustrator, printmaker and painter Eva Lange (1944-2017) traveled widely, held more than 30 solo shows and exhibited works in more than 200 group shows worldwide. Lange drew and produced lithographs in Ajijic in 1979-80, and held a solo show in the village in 1980 at the gallery in Mi México.

Eva Lange. Photo: Nancty Bundt. Creative Commons 4.0

Eva Lange. Photo: Nancty Bundt. Creative Commons 4.0

Lange was born in Arendal, Norway, on 15 June 1944 and died in Hvaler on 12 May 2017.

After studying art in Oslo at the Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Art Industry (1963-1965) and at the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts (1965-1969), Lange’s exhibition debut came while she was still a student. Lange later spent two years (1977-79) working at the lithograph workshop of the Norwegian School of Crafts and Design.

In the early 1970s, Lange was a member of the artist collective Gras, and became leader of the Young Artists Society (UKS) in 1974, and the initiator of the Artists’ Action-74. She later served on the board of NBFO (Norwegian Visual Artists) and on the supervisory board of Kunstnernes Hus.

Eva Lange. Øyer. Credit: Fineart.no

Eva Lange. Øyer. Credit: Fineart.no

Lange was married to painter and sculptor Victor Lind from 1963-1974. She lived the last years of her life with partner Erik Frisch, an author, at Hvaler, where she established the Hvaler Art Association, led the international sculpture project “Stone Art Whales” in Ytre Hvaler National Park, and ran the annual visual art, poetry and music event, “Pentecostal exhibition at Knatten.”

Lange held more than thirty solo shows in addition to her show in Ajijic, including exhibitions in Norway, several other European countries, and Egypt.

Lange won numerous major awards and was the recipient of the 2001 Prince Eugen Medal for Sculpture (Norway’s highest artistic honor).

Eva Lange. Dragsug. Credit: Fineart.no

Eva Lange. Dragsug. Credit: Fineart.no

Her art is well represented in major public collections, including those of the National Gallery of Norway, Norwegian Cultural Council, Oslo Municipality, Fredrikstad Municipality, Bibliothéque Nationale des Éstampes (Paris), The National Museum of Fine Arts (Malta), Woburn Fine Arts (England), Alexandria Center of Arts (Egypt), Silpakorn University Collection (Bangkok, Thailand) and L’Universita di Pavias Art Collection (Italy).

Eva Lange. 1979. Svermere. Collection AMA.

Eva Lange. 1979. Svermere. Collection AMA.

A collection of Eva Lange lithographs from her time in Ajijic has been loaned by Katie Goodridge Ingram to the Ajijic Museum of Art (AMA), which opened 1 June 2022.

Eva Lange. 1979. Untitled. Collection AMA.

Eva Lange. 1979. Untitled. Collection AMA.

Lange is quoted on the website of the gallery that represents her work as explaining that,

“You can probably say that my pictures are a bit strange and melancholy. I have no goal of meeting everyone, but I want to reach those who recognize themselves and find closeness in the “story.” I do not speak primarily to the mind, but more to the heart. There is something beneath in my pictures, you have to open up to find this.”

Note

Another Norwegian-born artist has links to Ajijic: the portraitist Synnove Pettersen lived in the village in the mid-1970s.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for bringing this artist and her connection to Ajijic to my attention.

Main Source

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 5:47 am  Tagged with:
Apr 212022
 

A brief note in the Albuquerque Journal alerted me to the fact that two US visual artists of note—Lez Haas (1911-2001) and his wife, Eleanor Haas (1919-2001)—and their two young children spent the summer of 1957 in Ajijic. The note refers to them having “devoted several weeks” of their trip to painting. The timing is significant because it came shortly after his first solo show in Santa Barbara, California.

Lez Haas. Untitled watercolor. Credit: https://haasart.webs.com

Lez Haas. Untitled watercolor. Credit: https://haasart.webs.com

Lez L Haas was born in Berkeley, California, on 10 March 1911. He studied at San Francisco State College and at the Hans Hofmann School of Art, and earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees from UC Berkeley.

He married Eleanor Pauling French on 11 June 1941; the couple’s two children were Averill (born circa 1942) and Jonathan (born 1949).

The family moved to New Mexico in 1947, where Haas was head of the art department until 1963. In 1963, the family then moved to Tucson, Arizona, when Haas became Chairman of the art department at the University of Arizona, a position which he held until retiring in 1977. In retirement, Haas and his wife moved to the small town of El Rito in northern New Mexico, where Haas died on 31 July 2001.

Haas worked in a variety of media, including oils, watercolors and photography, and had solo shows at the Santa Barbara Museum (1956) and the University of Arizona (1963). His work was also exhibited at the San Francisco Art Association (1938-40), the Museum of New Mexico (1957, when he won a prize), Stanford University (1958) and California Palace of the Legion of Honor (1959).

Haas was the co-author with Reginald Fisher of A Retrospective Exhibition of Painting by Raymond Jonson (University of New Mexico Art Gallery, Santa Fe, 1956).

Eleanor Haas. Untitled oil on masonite. Credit: https://haasart.webs.com

Eleanor Haas. Untitled oil on masonite. Credit: https://haasart.webs.com

Eleanor Haas was born on 11 September 1919 in Bay City, Michigan. After completing high school in the Midwest, she moved to California to study for her B.A. at Stanford. She gained a MFA at the Art Center in Pasadena, California. She continued to develop her art while raising the couple’s two children, and after she and her husband moved to El Rito. Her preferred media were oils, pen and ink, and charcoal.

Note

I am now in contact with the Haas family (see comments) and hope to expand this post in the near future.

Sources

  • Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, New Mexico) 25 Aug 1957, 15:
  • Edan Hughes. 1989. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • Who’s Who in American Art 1956-82.
  • Art of Lez and Eleanor Haas. Website.

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 5:30 am  Tagged with:
Mar 242022
 

Tobias (“Toby”) Schneebaum (1922-2005) was a gay artist, author, adventurer and activist, best known for living among, and documenting, the Amarakaeri people of Amazonian Peru and the Asmat people of the southwestern part of the island of New Guinea.

Before these trips into the tropical jungle, Schneebaum had lived in Ajijic for several years, and had experienced his first taste of tropical jungle by visiting the reclusive Lacandón people in Chiapas.

Schneebaum’s life and legacy to anthropology have been analyzed at length by later writers who have placed most emphasis, quite rightly, on his adventurous exploits in distant jungles, and on his humanitarian, activist work in New York City in connection with HIV/AIDS.

Tobias Schneebaum. 1970s. (New York Observer)

Tobias Schneebaum. 1970s. (New York Observer)

This post focuses on Schneebaum’s formative years in Ajijic, immediately before he began his major travels. His three years at Lake Chapala undoubtedly left their mark on the young man. Schneebaum later wrote at some length about his time in Ajijic in two of his memoirs: Wild Man (1979) and Secret places: my life in New York and New Guinea (2000). Unfortunately, these two accounts contain some factual inaccuracies and sometimes conflict with one another, making it difficult to reconstruct with certainty the details of his time in the village.

Theodore Schneebaum (his birth name) was born to Polish immigrants in New York on 25 March 1922 and raised in the Jewish faith in Brooklyn. After attending Stuyvesant High School, he studied at the City College of New York, where he gained a B.A in Mathematics and Art.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Schnnebaum joined the U.S. army and became a radar mechanic. After the war, he took evening painting classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School with Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo. Schneebaum was underwhelmed by Tamayo’s teaching but did follow his advice to pursue his artistic dreams in Mexico rather than Paris.

In either 1947 or 1948, Schneebaum headed for Mexico City. In Wild Man, Schneebaum recalls living for a time at a pension called Paris Siete, where political painters such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros (who “liked my paintings”) met every week.

Schneebaum first visited Ajijic in the company of “Madame Sonja”, an elderly “Rumanian osteopath” who he accompanied when she traveled from Mexico City to Lake Chapala to treat Zara Alexeyeva Ayenara, who had recently lost her “adopted brother, a Russian who had been a great dancer”. (New York-born Zara and her Danish dance partner, Holger Mehner, lived at Lake Chapala for years and were known locally as the “Russian dancers”.) In Wild Man, Schneebaum claims that Sonja’s patient was Zara, but in Secret Places he mistakenly says it was “Holga Menha” (which is impossible since Holger had died in 1944).

Schneebaum landed on his feet in Ajijic and it became his base for the remainder of his time in Mexico, including trips to southern Mexico and the one in 1950 to visit the Lacandón Maya in Chiapas. Like many other artists who have visited Ajijic, Schneebaum’s own artistic output during his stay in the village was greatly influenced by his discovery of pre-Columbian motifs and statues.

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

Schneebaum also taught art for several weeks each summer and encountered a variety of local and international artists in the village, who formed the nucleus of an active social circle. Moreover, as David Bergman, in his foreword to Secret Places, writes, “Schneebaum had refrained from sex after some adolescent experiences; now in the Mexican town of Ajijic, his homosexual desires were reawakened.”

In fact, these three main facets of his life in Ajijic – art, friends and sexual reawakening – were intimately intertwined shortly after being employed by Irma Jonas to teach students attending her summer painting schools in Ajijic (which were held from 1947 to 1949 inclusive). Jonas also appointed a second American artist, Nicolas Muzenic, and a Mexican artist, Ernesto Butterlin (who adopted the surname Linares), to share the classes. The three became fast friends.

In his memoirs, Schneebaum describes Ernesto (whom he refers to as “Lynn”) in glowing detail: “A young blond painter, born in Guadalajara of German parents, also lived in Ajijic. He was twenty-seven, blue-eyed, four inches over six feet, and very handsome, and was subject to the attentions of both the men and the women who later passed through town… He was engaging and irresistible; he was slender and deeply tanned and had just the right amount of softness to his body and mind so that he threatened no one.”

According to Schneebaum, an ill-fated love triangle developed between the three artists. Schneebaum fell in love with Nicolas Muzenic, who fell in love with Lynn. Matters were complicated by the arrival of “haughty and radiantly beautiful” Zoe, the “fourth member of our group”, who had been living with Henry Miller in Big Sur when she heard about Lynn and decided to visit Ajijic. Zoe “wore sheath dresses of black or white and penciled dark lines around her eyes to shape them into almonds, and enlarge the black pupils. Her skin was pale, the color of pearls.”

To further complicate their relationships, Zoe became obsessed with Nicolas who “arranged her hair in various styles and coated her face with makeup and sequins”. After dinner, “they would dance with their slender bodies tightly together, moving to slow foxtrots and tangos, dipping deeply, and turning with grace.”

Schneebaum recalls in Wild Man that, “Lynn’s casual ways bewitched and irritated Nicolas, just as Nicolas’s arrogant, snobbish manner attracted and mortified Lynn. Nicolas moved into Lynn’s house and began a frenzied, volcanic affair that lasted two years”, ending (according to Schneebaum, though it sounds somewhat fanciful) with Nicolas buying the property and forcing Lynn to move out.

Katie Goodridge Ingram was living in Ajijic at the time and knew this quartet of extraordinary individuals. She remembers Zoe as “one of the most stunningly beautiful woman you could ever see. She slathered coconut oil all over and then went down to the (then) wonderful old stone pier and tanned herself generously for hours. Toby joined her, and Lin and sometimes Nick Muzenik. All of them gorgeous. Well, Toby was quiet, shy, introverted, and stooped, so was not so dramatically attractive.”

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

Recalling one of the summer schools he taught at, Schnnebaum writes in Wild Man that, “Irma [Jonas] sat with her twenty-six students, only two of whom were male. They stayed in Ajijic six weeks, loved it all, and were very generous with everyone. I received an offer from the aged wife of a Hollywood producer to live with her and two swimming pools in Bel Air.” This number of students does not tally with that provided by Jonas in an article written much closer to the time, but Schneebaum’s description presumably applied to the 1949 workshop, the last of Jonas’ painting schools to be held in Ajijic. The following year, she moved the classes to Taxco. (Incidentally, the students at the summer 1949 workshop in Ajijic included the African American playwright, artist and author Lorraine Hansberry.)

In his two memoirs, Schneebaum mentions various other residents of Ajijic, including authoress Neill James, the Johnsons (Herbert and Georgette), “an elderly British couple” who “had a splendid garden with hundreds of blossoming hibiscus”, and “Herr Müller and Fräulein Müller”, a German brother and sister who ran the village’s only small pension, though “They were nondescript and almost never talked to each other or to any of the guests.” Despite staying at their pension for several months, Schneebaum has recalled their names inaccurately since he is clearly describing Pablo and Liesel Heuer.

While he was in Mexico, Schneebaum (in Secret Places) claims to have had “one-man shows in Mexico City and Guadalajara with the help of Carlos Mérida” but I have been unable to find any supporting evidence or details for these in the local press or elsewhere.

He did, however, participate in at least two group shows in Jalisco. The first, held at the Museo del Estado (Regional Museum) in Guadalajara in March 1949, was of abstract works by “four Ajijic artists”: Schneebaum, Louise Gauthier, Ernesto Linares (Ernesto Butterlin) and Nicolas Muzenic and Guadalajara-based Alfredo Navarro España. Later that year, in August, a group show at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala featured works by Schneebaum, Muzenic, Alfredo Navarro España, Shirley Wurtzel, Ann Woolfolk and Mel Schuler.

This abstract multi-media (pastel, watercolor, ink and pencil) drawing (below) by Schneebaum dates back to his time in Mexico and is currently listed for sale at DallasModerne.

1950. Multi-media abstract (DallasModerne)

Tobias Schneebaum. 1950. Multi-media abstract (DallasModerne)

After Ajijic and his trip to the Lacandón in 1950, Schneebaum returned to the U.S. where, in 1953, he held his first one-man art show at the Ganso Gallery in New York. After that gallery closed, Schneebaum was taken on by the Peridot Gallery which staged solo shows of his work in 1955, 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1970.

Between about 1954 and 1970, Schneebaum was alternating travel to distant places with a job as designer at Tiber Press, a silk-screen greeting-card company in New York that also occasionally published books. This was when, according to journalist Robin Cembalest, Schneebaum moved into an apartment next door to Norman Mailer. The two became good friends. Mailer and Adele (soon to become his second wife) had also spent some time in Ajijic. After they returned from Mexico and became engaged, “Schneebaum made an accordion-shaped announcement for the engagement… when unfolded, it revealed a long penis.”

In 1954, Tiber Press published a curious limited edition children’s book entitled The Girl in the Abstract Bed. This has delightfully whimsical text by Vance Bourjaily, accompanied by genuine silkscreen prints of watercolors by Schneebaum that were tipped in before the book was bound. Clearly the two men were close friends (Bourjaily himself spent most of 1951 in Ajijic) and the book’s title came from the name of an abstract painting that Schneebaum had done for Vance and his first wife, Tina, to beautify the headboard of their daughter Anna’s crib.

In 1955, Schneebaum was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to travel and paint in Peru, an epic journey recounted in his 1969 memoir Keep the River on Your Right. The book, which became a cult classic, included the sensational story of how, while in the Amazon, he had been forced to participate in cannibalism.

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

Tobias Schneebaum. Undated. Abstract (Sold by Clarke Auction Gallery, 2017)

On other extended trips, Schneebaum explored Europe, crossed the Sahara desert, and ventured into the Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia before completing an overland crossing of Asia from Istanbul to Singapore, Borneo and the Philippines. In 1973, he lived for months with the Asmat people on the southwestern coast of New Guinea. This indigenous group became the focus for the next 25 years of his life. He helped establish the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress, went back to school to complete an M.A. degree in Cultural Anthropology from Goddard College in 1977, and was a lecturer on cruise ships to the region.

In 1999, Schneebaum was persuaded by film-makers Laura and David Shapiro to revisit New Guinea and Peru for a documentary film, entitled Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale, released in 2000. He spent the final years of his life in Westbeth Artists Community in Greenwich Village, New York City, and died, after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s, in Great Neck, New York, on 20 September 2005.

Schneebaum left his collection of Asmat art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and his personal papers to the University of Minnesota, where they are part of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies. His written legacy includes Keep the River on Your Right (1969); Wild Man (1979); Asmat Images, The Asmat Museum of Culture & Progress (1985); Where the Spirits Dwell (1989); Embodied Spirits (1990) and Secret Places: My life in New York and New Guinea (2000).

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Gail Eiloart and Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing with me their personal memories of Tobias Schneebaum.

Sources

This profile was first published 5 January 2017.

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

Feb 242022
 

Peg Kittinger is one of the mystery artists associated with Lake Chapala. “Mrs L B (Peg) Kittinger” was an artist and art teacher who lived in Chapala for about nine years, from 1955 to 1964. Her address in Chapala in 1955 was Morelos #181, though she apparently later had a home in Chula Vista.

Hazel Peg (aka Peggy) Philips was born in Evansville, Indiana, on 23 September 1895. She married Louis Blacklock Kittinger (1892-1935) on 24 December 1919. The couple had two sons (George and Harold) and a daughter (Patricia Lou). On the marriage certificate her occupation is given as “decorator.”

Peg Kittinger. Still Life. Credit: K.C. Auction

Peg Kittinger. Still Life. Credit: K.C. Auction

The family lived in Kansas City, Missouri, where Kittinger was a founder member of the Kansas City Society of Artists, which began in about 1921 and lasted into the 1940s. Kittinger was especially active in the Society after it moved its headquarters to 1718 Holly Street, a formerly abandoned hotel in about 1930. Several members of the Society, including Kittinger, had studios in the building. The Society’s great claim to fame was having Thomas Hart Benson as a member; the Society held the first solo exhibition of his work in 1934, by which time the artist was teaching in New York City.

In 1932, Kittinger held a solo show at the Kansas City Athletic Club, displaying 24 paintings, including landscapes of Colorado, still lifes and portraits of her houseman, cook and children. Her studio at that time was in the “Old Westport Studios.” The following year she held an exhibit of oils, mainly landscapes, at Women’s City Club in Kansas City, and in 1934 thirty of her paintings were exhibited in the Museum of her birthplace, Evansville. Kittinger had been almost totally deaf for several years by the time of this exhibition and an Evansville newspaper printed a poignant poem she had written entitled “Compensation” about her positive experiences after losing her hearing.

Her husband died in 1935. Kittinger then lived for some years in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she taught art in Santa Fe and Alburquerque and spent summers painting in a Taos Canyon cabin. In 1952, Kittinger held a one person show of her paintings, weaving and metal work at the Botts Memorial Hall of the Albuquerque Public Library. The following year she participated in a joint show of recent work by female artists held at the Santa Fe Museum.

A year after moving to Chapala, Kittinger drove an artist friend, Mrs A Anway, back to the US when her friend decided to settle in Albuquerque.

Peg Kittinger died in Kansas City, Missouri, on 6 June 1964. Only two months previously, the Guadalajara Reporter had said that Peg Kittinger “of Chula Vista” was now “painting again” following a recent illness.

If you have any artwork by Peg Kittinger, especially any related to Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

Sources

  • Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, New Mexico) 19 Jan 1956, 6.
  • Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 1 Jul 1934.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 23 April 1964.
  • The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), 8 Jun 1964, 11.
  • Kansas City Society of Artists – website.
  • The Taos News, 19 Jun 1969, 9.

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

 Posted by at 5:00 am  Tagged with:
Jan 272022
 

This fun and vibrant painting titled “Chapala” was offered at auction in New York in August 2021. The painting, an oil on canvas measuring 30 x 24 inches, signed “Ellen” and dated 1967, was attributed in the auction listing to Ellen Black, with the additional details that “Ellen Black (20th Century) was active/lived in California. Ellen Black is known for Watercolor painting.”

Ellen Black. 1967. "Chapala." (Auction: Doyle New York)

“Ellen.” 1967. “Chapala.” (Auctioned 2021 at Doyle New York)

My curiosity aroused, I looked into the only artist named “Ellen Black” that I could locate. She turned out to  be a noted watercolorist (with earlier links to California) and art educator now living in Wyoming. When I spoke with her briefly by phone, it turned out that this particular painting was definitely not her work. She had never been to Lake Chapala and normally signs her works “E. Black,” not “Ellen.”

Given that it appears the auction house was probably mistaken in its attribution, can any alert reader suggest who this Lake Chapala-related “Ellen” might be?

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.

Dec 162021
 

Oscar Collier was born 26 February 1924 in Mumford, Texas, and died 3 July 1998. He and his second wife, Gladys, lived in Ajijic for six months sometime in the late 1950s, while he was still actively painting.

Oscar Collier. Self-portrait, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Oscar Collier. Self-portrait, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

In this oral history interview in 1994 by Stephen Polcari, Collier talks about his childhood in Texas, his education at Baylor University (where he studied English), the University of Iowa (where he took his first art classes with Philip Guston), and the Art Students League in New York, and his links to many other artists, including Will Barnet, Peter Busa, Robert Barrell, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. Collier describes how he became involved in the 1940s with the style known as Indian Space Painting (named for its links to Pre-Columbian American Indian art), before giving up painting in 1959 to concentrate on publishing as a career.

Collier met his first wife, Gertrude Barrer (1921-1997), while they were both students; they married in about 1942 and separated shortly after the second world war. Gertrude was also a well-known Indian Space Painter, and the couple’s daughter, Greer Fitting (1943-2017), also became an artist and writer.

Collier married Gladys (Whitridge), his second wife, in 1949. That marriage lasted 20 years, and the couple had two children: Lisa Collier Cool, journalist and author who has written for dozens of magazines including Cosmopolitan, Penthouse and Good Housekeeping, and Sophia Collier, entrepreneur (the originator of Soho Soda), investor and artist. Oscar subsequently married Dianna Meerwarth and had a son, Christopher Collier.

Typical Oscar Collier abstract. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Typical Oscar Collier abstract. Reproduced courtesy of Lisa Collier

Oscar Collier was active as an artist in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. He became a close friend of poet Kenneth Beaudoin (1913-1995) who then owned the Galerie Neuf on East 79th Street, in Greenwich Village, New York. Possibly the single most famous exhibit of Indian Space Painting was a show, held at Galerie Neuf in April-May 1946, called “8 and a totem pole” which featured the work of eight Indian Space Painters (Robert Barrell, Gertrude Barrer, Peter Busa, Oscar Collier, Howard Daum, Ruth Lewin, Lillian Orloff and Robert Smith) together with a Haida totem pole. This show had the alternative name of Semeiology. However, Collier’s first one man show at Galerie Neuf in 1947 was not a success.

collier-oscar-book-cover-2From 1946-1947, Collier, Gertrude Barrer and Kenneth Beaudoin collaborated to produce an art and literature quarterly, called Iconograph. Beaudoin was editor, Collier associate editor, and Barrer the art director. Sadly, financial difficulties meant that the quarterly did not last long.

In 1959, Collier abandoned painting for publishing. He became a successful literary agent, managing the publication of such best-sellers as Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment; My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House (by Lillian Rogers Parks, with Frances Spatz Leighton, later turned into a TV series); My Life with Jacqueline Kennedy, by Mary Barelli Gallagher; Barry Goldwater’s first set of memoirs; Harry Browne’s You Can Profit from a Monetary Crisis; The Scripps, the Divided Dynasty, by Jack Casserly; and Joseph P. Kennedy: Life and Times, by David Koscoff.

Collier was also the co-author, with Frances Spatz Leighton, of How to Write & Sell Your First Novel (1986) and How to Write and Sell Your First Nonfiction Book (1990).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Lisa Collier for making valuable corrections and additions to the original post, and for permission to reproduce photographs of her father’s artwork.

Note: This is an updated version of a post originally published on 13 March 2015.

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.

Dec 022021
 

Watercolorist and art educator Ben Shute enjoyed extended trips in Mexico on several occasions and visited Ajijic in 1951. Two watercolors from that visit are now in the permanent collections of art institutions in the US.

Benjamin Edgar Shute was born in Altoona, Wisconsin on 13 July 1905, and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, where his teachers included Allen Philbrick and George Oberteuffer from 1922-1928. He left Chicago in 1928 to take a six-week teaching job at the newly established High Museum School of Art (later Atlanta Art Institute) in Atlanta, Georgia. This temporary assignment was the start of an entire career teaching art in Atlanta, and he lived there for the rest of his life. Shute was dean-director of the High Museum from 1948-1950, and dean of the Atlanta Art Institute from 1950-52. The school established a scholarship in Shute’s honor in 1984.

Shute’s first trip to Mexico, partly funded by a Carnegie Travel grant, was in 1948. He and his first wife, Nell Choate (Jones) Shute (also a talented artist) held a joint exhibit afterwards at the High Museum, Atlanta. The show, featuring 45 or so watercolors,  was a great success. Doris Lockerman praised the artists for “retelling the tumultuous, violent and ancient story of Mexico through the vibrant strokes of their paintings made spontaneously and impulsively throughout a three-month vacation this Summer in Mexico.” Lockerman urged readers to visit the show and see for themselves how the two artists “have caught a headline history of current Mexico through which the thoughtful observer might begin to understand his neighbor south of the border.” The exhibit did not only show the bright side of Mexico: “The message of mismanagement and graft show in the muddy streets, cobblestone aqueducts, leaking roofs…”

The Shutes returned to Mexico for a month in 1950, driving to Guanajuato and Mexico City. The following year, Shute was on another Carnegie Travel grant when he and his wife visited Lake Chapala. Two watercolors from that visit are now in the Betty Plummer Woodruff Collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Ben Shute. 1951. Ajijic.

Ben Shute. 1951. Ajiji. (sic)

The first painting is a watercolor and ink on paper titled “Ajiji” (sic) and dated 13 August 1951. Set against the church bell tower and dark mountains, a woman and an infant stand next to a village wall, with a dog to the right of them. The museum website lists a second watercolor titled “View of Lake Chapala,” though sadly it is neither on display in the museum nor does the website have any image of it.

Shute is best known for his portraits, still lifes and evocative landscapes, often using casein and ink on paper. He delighted in painting plein air, and enjoyed having his creative and painting process watched by kids, animals and onlookers. His work was included in numerous group shows, the most noteworthy of which were the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, New York.  He was a co-founder in 1945 of the Southeastern Annual Art Exhibition (a juried competition with over 2000 entries from nine southern states) which he chaired until 1961.

Shute, who was a member of the Salmagundi Club in New York, died in Atlanta on 15 July 1986. A retrospective exhibition of his works, organized by the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, toured the state in 2002-2003.

Sources

  • The Atlanta Constitution, 1 Sep 1940, 37; 30 Jul 1948, 17; 14 Nov 1948, 52; 4 Aug 1950, 21.
  • Laufer, Marilyn. “Ben Shute.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Aug 14, 2013.
  • Doris Lockerman. 1948. “Let’s See Now: The Shutes Painted an Idea.” The Atlanta Constitution, 8 Dec 1948, 18.

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.

Nov 042021
 

A chance find in a New Mexico newspaper mentions that artist Arthur Merrill and his wife visited Phoenix, Arizona, in February 1952, with plans to continue on to Lake Chapala. Arthur (“Art”) Joseph Merrill (1885-1973) took up art later than most, but forged a successful career in commercial art and as a watercolorist.

Arthur Merrill. Painting auctioned in 2016.

Arthur Merrill. Painting. Credit: J Levine Auction, Scottsdale, 2016.

Merrill certainly completed watercolors of Guanajuato and other parts of Mexico. But, so far, no paintings have surfaced that are directly related to Lake Chapala.

Merrill was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 11 April 1885, and graduated as a registered pharmacist, before deciding to study chemistry and geology. It was during a tour of European galleries and museums that he became determined to pursue art as a career. In 1911 he completed a Bachelor of Arts and Science degree at McGill University in Montreal, and took early color photographs for the French government during a Canadian geological survey.

Arthur Merrill. Mexican Street Scene.

Arthur Merrill. Mexican Street Scene.

He took art classes with A. J. Musgrove of Winnipeg and Franz Johnston of Toronto (a member of the Group of Seven), and then headed for New York, where he studied at the Art Students League with Edmund Yaghjian. He also took private classes with Julius Delbos. Merrill established his studio in Greenwich Village and supplemented his art income by teaching at a private school.

He traveled widely over the next several years filling his notebooks with pencil sketches.

After 18 years in New York he moved to the American west, where he fell in love with the stunning rock formations that characterize the region, and with pueblo life. Merrill settled in Taos in 1946 and proceeded to open an art gallery and a studio while volunteering to give art classes in several local educational institutions. The Merrills were very active members of the Taos artist community.

Merrill, who held several solo shows of his paintings and lithographs in the US, Canada and Mexico, died in Taos on 21 April 1973.

If you have a work by Merrill that may be of Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

Merrill was not the only artist or author that connected Taos to Lake Chapala. Other members of the Taos-Lake Chapala nexus included D. H. LawrenceWitter Bynner, “Spud” Johnson, Jorge Fick, John Brandi, Irma René Koen, Jorge Fick, Richard Frush, Lee F. Hersch, Pema Chödrön, Jim Levy, Walden Swank, and Kai Gøtzsche.

Sources

  • The New Mexican Sun, 3 Feb 1952, 16
  • The Taos News. “Arthur Merrill, artist, dead at 88.” Taos News, 25 April 1973.

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

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. Painted from a very similar position to the image above, apparently from several years later, it shows the typical sail canoes (canoas de vela) used to transport passengers and cargo from one lakeside village to the next. The whereabouts of this painting is currently unknown.

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.

Acknowledgment

I am very grateful for the help offered by art researcher Juan Manuel Campo in improving this post.

Sources

  • Mexican Herald: 9 Dec 1914, 3; 31 Dec 1914, 3; 11 Mar 1915.
  • Suramexico.com Biography (Spanish) of Paul Fischer

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.

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