May 232024
 

Canadian artist Frank Leonard Brooks (1911-2011), usually known simply as Leonard Brooks, was a painter and textile artist who made his home in San Miguel de Allende for more than fifty years.

He and his wife, Reva, a photographer, occasionally visited Chapala, but never for any extended period of time. It was something of a surprise to me, therefore, when this interesting collage acrylic on canvas painting titled “Chapala,” painted by Leonard in 1978, came up at auction in Los Angeles in 2020.

1978. Chapala. Credit: Abeil Auction.

Leonard Brooks. 1978. Chapala. Credit: Abeil Auction.

How did the Brookses come to live in San Miguel de Allende? They arrived in 1947 to teach at the city’s first school of Fine Arts, then being run by American artist Stirling Dickinson, who had established himself in the city a decade earlier. Leonard Brooks, born in England, had finished a stint as a war artist, and he and Riva only intended to stay for a year, while they worked out what to do next, but fell in love with Mexico and with San Miguel de Allende. For half a century, they helped San Miguel de Allende develop its vibrant art and music scene, now deservedly famous nationwide.

A series of exhibitions of Leonard’s paintings in the 1950s received favorable reviews. Paintings by Leonard and prints of Reva’s photos were bought by many famous visitors to San Miguel, including film director John Huston. While Leonard’s early paintings were usually representational, many of his later paintings were impressionist or abstract. They included collage acrylics, many inspired by his San Miguel studio and garden.

Reva was chosen by The San Francisco Museum of Art in 1975 as one of the top fifty female photographers of all time. Her work was recognized and admired by such famous exponents of her art as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

Leonard made periodic visits to Canada to exhibit and sell his paintings at galleries in Vancouver and Toronto. From the late 1960s onward, his paintings, tapestries and collages were featured in several hugely successful exhibitions. In 1998, both Leonard and Reva had hugely successful solo shows in Canada, in Toronto and Kingston, respectively.

Leonard also wrote several best-selling books on painting techniques, and found time to illustrate two articles in the popular monthly Ford Times, including an article about Mexico in December 1953.

Back in San Miguel, Leonard was not only an artist and one of the founding partners of the city’s first specialist art gallery, he was also a highly accomplished musician who played first violin with the Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra. In the 1960s, Leonard started offering free music lessons to local children, and subsequently headed the music program at the San Miguel Cultural Center for 25 years. Among the many local youngsters encouraged by Leonard to play the violin were Daniel Aguascalientes and his five brothers, who later formed Hermanos Aguascalientes y sus violines internacionales.

Leonard and Reva Brooks made a truly extraordinary contribution to San Miguel de Allende. Their joint art and photography collection is now managed by Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Other artists with strong ties to both Chapala and San Miguel de Allende

Californian Priscilla (“Pris”) Frazer (1907-1973) first traveled to Mexico in 1955 to study with James Pinto at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende.

William (“Bill”) Gentes (1917-2000) studied at the Instituto in 1968, before living for many years in Chapala.

Canadian artist Duncan de Kergommeaux (born 1927) won a Canada Council Grant in 1958 to travel in Mexico and study at the Instituto Allende.

Tully Judson Petty Jr. (1928-1992) attended San Miguel de Allende School of Fine Arts in 1948 and lived in Ajijic in the mid-1960s.

Chicago painter Harry Mintz (1907-2002) taught at the Bellas Artes school in San Miguel in 1958, where he met and fell in love with Rosabelle Vita Truglio, a visiting summer student; they later lived and painted in Chapala.

Betty Binkley (1914-1978) lived in Chapala in the 1940s and lived her later years in San Miguel.

George Rae Marsh (Williams), aka Georgia Cogswell (1925-1997), and her first husband, the novelist Willard Marsh, spent time in both Ajijic and San Miguel. After Willard’s death, George Rae married sci-fi writer Theodore Rose Cogswell (1918-1987) in San Miguel; they then divided their time between Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende and the U.S.

Bob Somerlott, a well-respected writer of both fiction and non-fiction, lived intermittently at Ajijic in the 1960s before moving to San Miguel de Allende, where he resided for almost forty years.

Auguste Killat Foust (1915-2010), better known as Gustel Foust, lived five years in San Miguel before moving to Guadalajara and then Ajijic, where she lived from 1978 to 1984.

At least four artists born in Ajijic—Florentino Padilla (c 1943-2010), Javier Zaragoza (born 1944), Antonio Cárdenas Perales (born 1945), and Antonio López Vega (born 1953)—studied in San Miguel de Allende. All four had started painting in the free art classes (now known as the Children’s Art Program) begun in Ajijic by Neill James in the 1950s; James recognized their talents, lobbied on their behalf, and—along with other sponsors—helped fund their studies.

Sources

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

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

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via comments or email.

May 162024
 

Many artists and authors have visited Lake Chapala in search of, or in homage to, their literary or artistic idols. But what about those who have also spent time collecting ancient stone and pottery idols and artifacts? There are far more members of this latter group than I first thought.

The first academic report of such artifacts in the international press was anthropologist Frederick Starr‘s short, illustrated booklet titled The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico, published in 1897. Starr, who visited Chapala over the winter of 1895-96, credited Francisco Fredenhagen with having introduced him to archaeological pieces from the western end of the lake, and suggested a simple typology for the different kinds of objects he had examined. Starr’s collection of ‘miniature pottery’ now resides in Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. Professor Starr’s handwriting may explain why several items are recorded as having been collected in “San Juan Coyala,” instead of San Juan Cosalá!

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

(Note that, while collecting ancient artifacts as souvenirs and removing them from Mexico was a common practice at the time, it can now result in severe legal consequences.)

Coincidentally, Starr’s visit to Chapala came only a few weeks after a major international conference of ‘Americanistas’ in Mexico City. Several of the attendees had close links to Lake Chapala, including:

  • Lionel Carden, the British consul to Mexico Lionel Carden, who was building a house (Villa Tlalocan) in Chapala.
  • New Orleans poet Mary Ashley Townsend and her daughter, Mrs Cora Townsend de Rascón: Cora bought Villa Montecarlo in Chapala for her mother that year (1895) as a Christmas gift.
  • Ethnographer Jeremiah Curtin, who left us an unforgettable description of meeting Septimus Crowe, the eccentric Englishman and pioneer foreign settler in Chapala, on the train home from the conference.
  • San Diego language teacher Eduardo H Coffey, who broke the first news in English of a giant whirlpool that struck the western end of Lake Chapala in January 1896.
  • Historian Luis Pérez Verdía, who (in 1904) began building the iconic Victorian-style house close to the church now commonly known as Casa Braniff.

The female English artist and amateur archaeologist Adela Breton, an intrepid traveler who presented papers at later Americanistas’ conferences, also visited Chapala in 1896 and collected a few pottery items. She is best remembered today for having recorded ancient Mayan murals and friezes; in some cases the originals no longer exist, and her magnificent drawings and watercolors are the best record we have of these artistic and cultural treasures.

Also visiting Lake Chapala in the 1890s was Norwegian anthropologist Carl Lumholtz, though his findings were not published until 1902. He recorded excavations near Chapala, and the finding of two ‘ceremonial hatchets.’ As we shall see shortly, Lumholtz also apparently bought several ancient artifacts, some or all of which may have been fake.

American journalist George W Baylor described in a 1902 article about Chapala how tourists staying at the Hotel Arzapalo would walk along the beach each morning,

examining the water’s edge closely for ollitas and various kinds of toys which are washed up every night from the lake. Some represent bake ovens, chairs, ducks or geese, volcanoes, and after a storm they are quite plentiful, and an early rise and race is made to get them. They can be bought quite cheap but most every visitor wants to say, ‘I found this on the beach at Lake Chapala.’ One [explanation] is that there was at one time an island in front of Chapala on which there was quite a populous city, and say that this is more than likely, as innumerable pieces of porous burnt rock keep washing ashore.

Another probable explanation is that those three million people that have lived on the borders of the lake since the year 1, threw those toys into the water to propitiate their god of water and rain, Tlaloc, and from the quantities that are carried off by tourists and others annually, each of the three millions of ancients must have put in a bushel apiece. They are made of yellow and blue clay, and burned, and occasionally of stone.

Horrible figures of idols come from the foothills, where in ages past were probably pueblos swarming with Indians. Others are dug from the banks of arroyos in a white cement. Others well, they are manufactured up to date and are sold to innocent parties as contemporaneous with Adam and Eve – nothing later than Montezuma.”

American artists Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser lived for several years in Chapala in the mid-1920s. Jackson amassed his own collection of figurines from Chapala, and published an analysis of them in 1941. In his 1987 memoir It’s a Long Road to Comondú, Jackson also explains how he taught a local boy, Isidoro Pulido (about whom more later), how to make reproductions of figurines! On a return visit to Chapala in 1950, Jackson was delighted to find that,

Isidoro had become a maker of candy and a dealer in pre-Columbian art in the patio of his house on Los Niños Héroes Street. I did not teach him to make candy, but when he was just a boy I had shown him how he could reproduce those figurines he and Eileen [Jackson’s wife] used to dig up back of Chapala. Now he not only made them well, but he would also take them out into the fields and gullies, bury them, and then dig them up in the company of American tourists, who were beginning to come to Chapala in increasing numbers. Isidoro did not feel guilty when the tourists bought his works; he believed his creations were just as good as the pre-Columbian ones.”

Whether or not the locals really needed Jackson’s help to produce ‘fake’ antiquities is debatable, given Baylor’s testimony that even at the very start of the twentieth century some people were already  making—and selling—genuine-looking artifacts to unsuspecting foreign visitors.

German-born artist Trude Neuhaus also first visited Chapala in the mid-1920s, as part of her preparations for a show in New York in 1925. The New York Times reported that the exhibition, previously shown at the National Art Gallery in Mexico City, included “paintings, water colors and drawings of Mexican types and scenery,” as well as “Aztec figurines and pottery recently excavated by the artist in Chapala, Mexico.”

Poet and novelist Idella Purnell, born in Guadalajara, had studied under American poet Witter Bynner at the University of California, and played a key role in the decision of English novelist D. H. Lawrence to visit Chapala in 1923. Purnell later penned a delightful, and moving, story, “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala,” for the American Junior Red Cross News.

Five years after American anthropologist Elsie Crews Parsons visited Chapala in 1932, she wrote a short paper entitled “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore.” She cast doubt on the authenticity of the stone ídolos (idols) collected by some previous anthropologists and ethnographers, writing that, ever since the 1890s there has been,

at this little Lakeside resort a traffic in the ídolos which have been washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town, in ancient Indian cemeteries, or faked by the townspeople. An English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago quotes Mr. Crow[e] as saying that the ídolos sold Lumholtz were faked, information that the somewhat malicious Mr. Crow[e] did not impart to the ethnologist.”

The identity of the ‘English lady’ referred to by Parsons is unclear. The most likely candidates are either the Honorable Selina Maud Pauncefote, daughter of the British Ambassador in Washington, or Adela Breton, both of whom visited in 1896.

While Parsons doubted the authenticity of Lumholtz’s collection, she was convinced that the items collected at about the same time by Frederick Starr were definitely genuine.

Californian prison doctor Leo Stanley visited Lake Chapala in 1937. He was sufficiently intrigued by the ancient artifacts he saw to seek out a local to help him find and excavate likely locations. In one of those coincidences that are seemingly inevitable in real life, the local was ‘Ysidoro’, the young man befriended years earlier by Everett Gee Jackson! Stanley’s account of the effort involved in hunting for idols with Isidoro Pulido—and of their eventual ‘success’—is well worth the read.

Leo Stanley. 1937. "Digging for Treasure." By kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. “Digging for Treasure.” By kind permission of California Historical Society.

English author Barbara Compton visited Lake Chapala in 1946. One of the main characters in her semi-autobiographical novel To The Isthmus is an idol hunter and fellow guest at Casa Heuer who regularly left Ajijic for a few days at a time to explore new sites. In real life, she later married the man who had given her the inspiration for this character.

In 1948, author Neill James, an avid treasure hunter, explained to a visiting reporter how:

When the water in Lake Chapala is low, you can sit in it waist deep, dig in the sand and bring up miniature idols, medallions, vases, kitchen utensils and other things that the Indians threw into the lake in their worship of the rain god hundreds of years ago.”

Journalist Kenneth McCaleb recalled in a Texas newspaper in 1965 how he had known a very good faker of antiquities in Chapala, who “specialized in the familiar pre-Columbian ‘primitive’ ceramic figurines of ancient Mexico.” McCaleb reported that the aging process was a secret, but that the maker would guide customers to “places where, after some healthful exercise, he dug up his own archaeological objects.” And the name of this faker? None other than our old friend Isidoro!

Unlike the collecting of ancient idols, with their often dubious provenance, there is—I am glad to report—no obvious drawback to my fixation on collecting and profiling the famous authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala!

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

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • George Wythe Baylor. 1902. “Lovely Lake Chapala.” El Paso Herald, 1 November 1902, 10.
  • Adele C. Breton. 1903. “Some Mexican portrait clay figures,” Man, vol 3, 130-133.
  • Barbara Compton. 1964. To The Isthmus. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Mary Hirscheld. 1948. “Author in Mexico.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10 April 1948, 8.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1941. “The Pre-Columbian Ceramic Figurines from Western Mexico.” Parnassus, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jan., 1941), 17-20.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1987. It’s a Long Road to Comondú. Texas A&M University Press.
  • Carl Lumholtz. 1902. Unknown Mexico (2 vols). 1973 reprint: Rio Grande Press.
  • Kenneth McCaleb. 1968. “Conversation Piece.” Corpus Christi Times, 27 January 1965, 14.
  • Elsie Clews Parsons. 1937. “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore”, The Scientific Monthly, May 1937.
  • Idella Purnell. 1936. “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala.” American Junior Red Cross News, December 1936.
  • Leo L. Stanley. 1937. “Mixing in Mexico.”(2 vols). Leo L. Stanley Papers, MS 2061, California Historical Society. Volume 2.
  • Frederick Starr. 1897. The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico, Bulletin II, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Jan 112024
 

The first two art exhibitions of note in the Lake Chapala area were held at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in 1944.

The first was a solo show of works by Edythe Wallach in November 1944; a year later, she was exhibiting many of the same paintings in a New York gallery.

The second, a month later, was the area’s earliest documented group art show. And—at least in my view—no subsequent show in the region has ever matched the extraordinary range of artistic talent that was on display in that particular group exhibit.

Group of artists at 1944 artshow at Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein. (reproduced with permission)

Artists at the December 1944 art show at Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. From left to right: Sylvia Fein, Otto Butterlin, Betty Binkley, Muriel Lytton-Bernard, Ernesto Butterlin, Ann Medalie, Neill James, Jaime López Bermúdez, Frieda Hauswirth Das (?), Hari Kidd (?). Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission).

The show, announced in the Guadalajara daily El Informador as the founding of the Chapala Art Center, opened on 10 December 1944. The ribbon cutting was preceded by a short introductory speech by American poet Witter Bynner, who first visited Chapala in the company of English novelist D H Lawrence in 1923 and later bought a home in the town.

Confusingly, contemporaneous reports name only ten of the eleven artists reportedly displaying their work there. The artists named are Betty Binkley, Ernesto Butterlin, Otto Butterlin, Sylvia Fein, Frieda Hauswirth Das, Hari Kidd, Irma René Koen, Jaime López BermúdezMuriel Lytton-Bernard and Ann Medalie. The elusive eleventh artist may have been Edythe Wallach, whose own solo show was a month earlier and who eighteen months later married Hari Kidd.

With the benefit of hindsight it is now apparent that this was a star-studded group of artists. Collectively, they represented a wide variety of countries and varying levels of art education, ranging from the purely self taught to formal instruction in some world-class institutions by world-class artists. Many of the group were young, with few if any prior exhibitions of significance; others had already established their artistic reputation by exhibiting internationally, in major institutions and art galleries.

Their art careers after this Villa Montecarlo show would prove to be equally varied, with some gaining far more success than others. But, taken as whole, this was surely one of the most supremely talented groups ever to hold a joint exhibition at Lake Chapala (or in Guadalajara for that matter).

Artwork at 1944 group show, Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission)

Artwork at the December 1944 group show, Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission).

Betty Binkley (1914-1978) was a precociously talented young artist, born in California, but primarily associated with Santa Fe, New Mexico. Betty was married (briefly) to the very famous Catalan-born sculptor, painter and art educator  Urbici Soler i Manonelles. She exhibited widely in the US, as well as in Mexico. In Chapala, she “presented several notable canvases in something of a sub-realistic American style but characteristically her own. Her painting of “Three Children” is particularly delightful and “Her Dogs” (no. 23) has real charm.” She lived the latter part of her life in San Miguel de Allende.

Ernesto Butterlin (1917-1964) was born in Guadalajara to German parents who had relocated to Mexico. Still in his twenties at the time of the Chapala exhibition, his abstract works had already achieved “great success both in Mexico and the United States.” Ernesto lived, painted and taught art in Ajijic for his entire adult life.

Otto Butterlin (1900-1956), born in Germany, and one of Ernesto’s two older brothers, studied art formally in Germany. By 1944 he “was already a well-respected expressionist painter” in Mexico. After living in Mexico City, next door to the studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Otto lived the last twenty years of his life in Ajijic, during which time he held several solo shows at the Galería de Arte Mexicano in Mexico City, taught at the National Academy of Fine Arts, was commissioned to paint in the US and in Haiti, and had a strong positive influence on the next generation of Mexican artists. Otto and Ernesto joined forces to open Ajijic’s first formal art gallery in about 1948.

Sylvia Fein (born 1919), now widely regarded as one of America’s foremost surrealist painters of all time, was preparing for her first solo show. Her paintings in the Chapala show demonstrated “her remarkable drawing skill, execution and expression,” and she has openly loved Mexico ever since. Her works, painted in egg tempera, have been shown in numerous major exhibitions, and are in a class of their own.

Frieda Hauswirth Das (1886-1974), born in Switzerland and best known for an early portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, studied art in Switzerland, the US and France. Her frescoes, portraits and other works won prizes in Paris art shows, and were exhibited in France, the UK, the US, and India. In the Chapala show, her “Cosecha Lagunera” was praised as a “an outstanding work of splendid technique and beauty.”

Hari Kidd (1899-1964) of El Paso, was already well-known for his illustrations of Mexican architecture, folk life and social realism, many of them reproduced in Mexico Magazine. His work can be found 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. In the Chapala exhibit, Kidd showed “some very interesting floral scenes, a beautiful nude, and a very expressive canvas of two swimmers, all very good examples of his painting skills, and some lovely scenes from Ajijic.”

Irma René Koen (1893-1975) trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, and studied and painted in various art centers in Europe and elsewhere. She traveled the world, from Nepal to North Africa, and exhibited widely. Even as early as the 1920s, she was considered one of America’s leading female artists. After living in Ajijic and exhibiting in Chapala, Koen decided to make Mexico her permanent home. Among the paintings displayed at Villa Montecarlo was her “very impressive rendering of the Paricutín Volcano, apparently taken in the early morning.”

Jaime López Bermúdez (1916-?) trained as an architect but hoped to pursue a career in art. He is best known today for designing and building one of Mexico’s first ‘tiny homes,’ a one bedroom modernist home which could be built for under 1500 dollars. He later owned and ran an art gallery in upscale Coyoacán. A reviewer of the Chapala show wrote that the artist “distinguished himself with several expressive sub-realisms.”

Muriel Lytton-Bernard (1896-1974) was the ‘dark horse’ of the group. Though a reviewer praised her “pleasant and realistic portraits” and “beautifully painted Chapala watercolors,” I have so far learned nothing of significance about her earlier or subsequent art career.

Ann Medalie (1896-1991), born in Latvia, studied briefly in Chicago before working in interior design in California, and then as an assistant on murals in the Maritime Museum in San Francisco, and at the Golden Gate Exposition, where she worked alongside—and became good friends with—Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The paintings she exhibited in Chapala were “immaculate decorative oil flowers.” Several of her paintings of Ajijic, including depictions of the Johnsons’ home (see below) were accepted for national exhibitions in Mexico City. In the 1950s, Medalie moved to Israel, where she was a co-founder of the artist community in Safed.

Edythe Wallach, who may be the eleventh artist in the Chapala show, had held a solo show at the Montecarlo a month earlier. Her work is beautifully executed and very distinctive but she exhibited only rarely. She married Hari Kidd in March 1946.

Otto Butterlin. 1943. Portrait of Herbert Johnson. Image courtesy of Milagros Sendis.

Otto Butterlin. 1943. Portrait of Herbert Johnson. Image courtesy of Milagros Sendis.

After the closing of the Villa Montecarlo show in Chapala, many of the artists showed their works a few days later at an afternoon exhibition and sale in Ajijic on Wednesday 20 December at the home of Herbert and Georgette Johnson. The sale included embroidery done by village women in a ‘revival’ of a village craft spearheaded by author and village philanthropist Neill James.

The Guadalajara daily El Informador published an invitation (written by Neill James) which listed some of the artistic and literary people then residing in Ajijic, including Zara ‘La Rusa,’ and her mother; Paul ‘Pablo’ Heuer and his sister, Luisa, an author, who jointly ran a rustic lakefront hostelry known as Casa Heuer; visual artists Jaime López Bermúdez, Ernesto Butterlin, Otto Butterlin, Sylvia Fein, Frieda Hauswirth Das, and Irene René Koen; and authors Nigel Millett and Peter Lilley who adopted the joint pen name Dane Chandos to write Village in the Sun, published a few months later.

By 1944 the artistic and literary community in Ajijic and Chapala was clearly thriving!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.
My history of Ajijic – Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village – has several chapters about the individuals, artists and patrons who helped cement Ajijic’s reputation as a center for artistic creativity and excellence.

Sources

  • El Informador: 3 Dec 1944, 11; 16 Dec 1944, 16; 19 Dec 1944; 24 Jan 1947, 6.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Dec 142023
 

Among the many mystery artists related to Lake Chapala is Muriel Lytton-Bernard, née Robinson (1890-1974). She was the second wife of Dr Bernard Lytton Bernard (1890-1975), who ran a health spa in Ajijic for many years, and later founded the Rio Caliente spa in the Primavera Forest near Guadalajara.

Muriel Robinson was born in the UK on 10 August 1890. Still single, she accompanied Dr Lytton Bernard when he left the UK in 1935 with his young son, Peter, for Australia, after his attempt to gain a seat in the British parliament failed. When she married Dr Bernard Lytton Bernard in Guadalajara in 1940, both bride and groom stated they were living in Ajijic.

Though no details have yet come to light concerning Muriel’s early life or art training, and no examples of her work have yet surfaced, she exhibited paintings in two group shows at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in the 1940s, and apparently had considerable artistic skill.

Group of artists at 1944 artshow at Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein. (reproduced with permission)

Artists at the December 1944 art show at Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. From left to right: Sylvia Fein, Otto Butterlin, Betty Binkley, Muriel Lytton-Bernard, Ernesto Butterlin, Ann Medalie, Neill James, Jaime López Bermúdez, Frieda Hauswirth Das (?), Hari Kidd (?). Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission).

The first, in December 1944, was billed as celebrating the founding of the Chapala Art Center. A short piece in the Guadalajara daily El Informador about its founding and first exhibition, held at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala from 10-17 December, names only three artists—Hari Kidd, Betty Binkley of Santa Fe, and English artist Muriel Lytton-Bernard—but also comments that the other artists included two Mexicans, a Russian, an American and a Swiss, all of high quality. According to a follow-up piece, the show was the work of eleven artists, though it names only ten. The other artists named are the famous American surrealist Sylvia Fein, Ann Medalie, Otto Butterlin, Ernesto Linares (Ernesto Butterlin), and Jaime López Bermúdez, Frieda Hauswirth Das, and Irma René Koen. The elusive eleventh artist may have been Edythe Wallach, who had a solo show at the Villa Montecarlo a month earlier and who later married Hari Kidd.

Artwork at 1944 group show, Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission)

Artwork at the December 1944 group show, Villa Montecarlo, Chapala. Credit: Sylvia Fein (reproduced with permission).

The exhibition opened with a short speech by American poet Witter Bynner, who first visited Chapala in the company of English novelist D H Lawrence in 1923 and later bought a home in the town. Muriel’s work in this exhibition was comprised of “pleasant and realistic portraits.” A reviewer wrote that her “realistic fantasies, along with her beautifully painted Chapala watercolors, formed a very beautiful centerpiece in the great hall. Her painting of the garden of Dr. Salazar’s house in Chapala is particularly attractive.”

The second show where Muriel exhibited, also at the Villa Montecarlo, was in January 1947. This group show of “work by visitors to this region” also featured works by Richard Kitchin, Linares (Ernesto Butterlin), Charmin Schlossman, Charlotte Wax and several unnamed Spanish artists, as well as a selection of earthenware sculptures by Robert Houdek.

Muriel Lytton-Bernard died in Sussex, UK, on 24 May 1974.

If you know anything more about Muriel Lytton-Bernard, please get in touch!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.
My history of Ajijic – Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village – has several chapters about the individuals, artists and patrons who helped cement Ajijic’s reputation as a center for artistic creativity and excellence.

Sources

  • El Informador: 3 Dec 1944, 11; 16 Dec 1944, 16; 24 Jan 1947, 6.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Nov 022023
 

Alexander Nicolas (“Nick”) Muzenic was born 25 September 1919 in Kansas, and died in Los Angeles 12 March 1976. His first names are variously listed as Nicolas, Nicholas, Nikolas, A. Nicolas or simply Nick. His family, of Austro-Croatian heritage, also used the anglicized surname Muzenich.

He lived and worked in Ajijic from about 1948 to 1953.

Muzenic graduated from the University of Kansas at the age of 19 before studying on a scholarship at the Art Center School of Los Angeles. After serving in the US Naval Intelligence Service for a year, from 22 June 1944 to 23 May 1945, he continued his art education at Black Mountain College.

Black Mountain College was a liberal arts college in North Carolina; its faculty members at one time or another included such luminaries as Josef Albers and Anni Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller and Aaron Siskind.

Portrait of Nick Muzenik by Hazel Larsen Archer, fellow student at Black Mountain College

Portrait of Nick Muzenik by Hazel Larsen Archer, fellow student at Black Mountain College

This portrait of him, in his time at Black Mountain College, was taken by Hazel Larsen Archer, a fellow student. American sculptor Ruth Asawa, famous for her intricate and mesmerizing wire baskets and wire bushes, was also one of Muzenic’s fellow students. Asawa studied Spanish and art in Mexico City in 1945 and first encountered the technique of crocheting wire in Toluca in 1947. She may have influenced Muzenic in his decision to move to Mexico. Muzenic and Asawa both gifted books on Mexican art to the Black Mountain College library.

In November 1946, one of Muzenic’s paintings, “Introspection”, was included in an exhibit for a Children’s Fair at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

After college, Muzenic’s first solo exhibition was at the American British Art Center in New York. This show, which opened on 6 January 1948, featured at least 24 works; the introduction to the catalog was written by Anni Albers. Later that year, the same collection was hung in Chicago. According to The New Yorker, this was “A first one-man show of abstractions that indicate a perceptive sense of color and pattern.”

We know more about Muzenic’s next few years, when he moved to Mexico and lived in Ajijic for at several years from about 1948 to 1953. During that time, he was employed—along with Tobias Schneebaum and Ernesto Butterlin—by Irma Jonas to teach students attending her summer painting schools in Ajijic.

According to Schneebaum, an ill-fated love triangle developed between the three artists at this time, complicated by the arrival of “haughty and radiantly beautiful” Zoe Kernick, the “fourth member of our group”, who had previously been living with Henry Miller in Big Sur.

Nicolas Muzenic. ca 1953. Escalera.

Nicolas Muzenic. ca 1953. Escalera.

Schneebaum, who shared a house with Muzenic for part of his time in Ajijic, described Muzenic as tall, “cold, haughty and grand.” As for his paintings, “Nicolas’s paintings were as tight, involuted and hard-edged as his body, and were somber with browns and dirtied yellows, unlike the clarity, brilliance and simplicity of his teacher.” (Schneebaum, Wild Man 13).

The teacher Schneebaum is referring to is Josef Albers. In his Secret Places, Schneebaum recalls that Muzenic “had been a student of Josef Albers at Black Mountain College. Albers himself arrived one afternoon, accompanied by his wife, Anni. They spent a couple of nights in Ajijic.” (Secret Places, 7)

According to Schneebaum, Ernesto Butterlin (aka Lin) and Muzenic had “a frenzied, volcanic affair that lasted two years.” “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.” Muzenic eventually bought the property and forced Lynn to move out. (Wild Man 13)

Nicolas Muzenic. Red Forms. Date unknown. Photo courtesy of Bill Sinyard.

Nicolas Muzenic. Red Forms. Date unknown. Photo courtesy of Bill Sinyard.

Muzenic’s work was included in two group shows in 1949. The first, in March at the State Museum in Guadalajara featured works by the four artists of the “Ajijic group” (Muzenic, Louise Gauthiers, Ernesto Linares and Tobias Schneebaum), along with works by Guadalajara-based abstract-surrealist artist, Alfredo Navarro España. The second exhibit—at the Villa Montecarlo in August 1949, and billed as the 4th Annual Painting Exhibition—showcased works by Muzenic, Tobias Schneebaum, Alfredo Navarro España, Shirley Wurtzel, Ann Woolfolk and Mel Schuler.

Muzenic’s work found its way into some very significant private collections. For instance, when a small selection of the Fred Olson Collection was shown at the Artists Guild in St. Louis, Missouri, in March 1952, Muzenic’s work was hung alongside works by Picasso, Klee, Albers and other internationally renowned artists.

In 1953, Muzenic held a solo exhibition which opened on 23 September and closed on 16 October at the Galería San Ángel (Dr. Gálvez 25), in the southern part of Mexico City. The small printed program of that exhibit included an introduction by Anni Albers praising the artist’s use of form, color and composition. Among the 18 paintings and 6 constructions in the show was “Valentine para Zoe,” lent by Zoe Kernick. Other works had been lent by Margaret Mason, Rémy Bastien and Berenice Cortelle. Mason, Muzenic’s sister, and her husband, Kenneth Mason (the basis for the character Lawrence Creighton in Eileen Bassing’s novel Where’s Annie?), were both living in Ajijic at the time.

The constructions, “created with simple materials such as string, colored lacquer and nails on small black panels” were especially admired by Carlos Merida, who remarked “it is astonishing to consider the limited elements which have sufficed the artist to instill life into these beautiful architectural structures, windows into cosmic worlds.”

Muzenic had his fourth solo show at the Santa Barbara Museum in November 1953. By this time examples of his paintings were already in various prestigious private collections, including those of Fred Olsen, Henry P. McIlhenny, Joseph Pulitzer Jr., and Mrs Huttleston Rogers. A review of this show was illustrated by “Posada” which had previously been displayed in Mexico City.

While living in Ajijic, Muzenic became a close friend of Eileen and Bob Bassing. After the Bassings returned to California and one of Eileen’s novels was turned into a screenplay, they used the resulting windfall to commission Muzenic to design them a home on  Carbon Beach, Malibu, a home later featured on the cover of Time magazine.

Muzenic was also living in California by that time, and working mainly as an interior designer. His employer for many years was the Welton-Beckett architectural firm in Los Angeles. Schneebaum says that Muzenic “lived alone in Los Angeles, rich, isolated, and introspective.” (Wild Man, 18). In 1976, only a few days after losing his job, he died in his own home.

Note: this is an updated version (November 2023) of a post first published 8 January 2015.

Sources:

  • Bob Bassing, personal communication, January 2023.
  • Galería San Ángel. 1953 Catalog for Muzenic exhibit, 1953.
  • Tobias Schneebaum. 1979. Wild Man.
  • Tobias Schneebaum. 2000. Secret places: my life in New York and New Guinea.
  • Henry J Seldis. 1953. “Muzenic Show Reveals Skill in Decorative Art Field.” Santa Barbara News Press, 22 November 1953.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

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 122023
 

With the exception of Bernardo de Balbuena’s mention of Chapala in his epic poem “El Bernardo,” (written between 1592 and 1602 and published in Madrid in 1624), one of the earliest literary mentions of Lake Chapala is in a story by Andrew Grayson published in 1870. Grayson, an ornithologist, rarely wrote fictional pieces and is far better known for his non-fiction natural history articles, published in numerous US magazines and newspapers in the first half of the nineteenth century.

William Jewett. 1850. Portrait of Andrew and Frances Grayson, and their son, in California. (Terra Foundation for American Art).

In “Ixotle,” posthumously published, the author made good use of his knowledge of Western Mexico, and describes how he is making “collections of Ornithology” when he encounters an elderly local priest who turns out to have an extensive knowledge of the birds of Western Mexico. The priest recounts a local legend explaining why the Tres Marias islands, a birding hotspot, were never settled. The legend revolves around the God of the Storms of the Sea, Tlaxicoltetl, and a beautiful, intelligent 16-year-old girl, Ixotle (“blooming flower”), who has been chosen by her people to be sacrificed to their ancient gods. The girl refuses and prophesies that:

a people with white faces and long, red beards are coming — they are already on the march. They carry in their hands the lightning and the thunder, with which they will demolish your great temples. They are sent by the true God. Not a stone will be left; and on their sites will be erected white temples—the pure temples of the true and only God. Beware, then, and let this be the last of human sacrifice!”

One short section of the story relates directly to Lake Chapala:

From this locality [San Blas] a large, well-beaten trail extended through Tepic on to where Guadalajara now stands, and where then stood a large city, which was called Chapala.

The lake near Guadalajara is still known by that name; and the Indians found near its borders, who yet live in a semi-barbarous state, are called to this day Chapalo Indians, and are a very degraded, thieving race. But previous to the conquest, they were a numerous and industrious people—well skilled in the manufacture of articles of utility. Cotton cloths, both coarse and fine, were largely manufactured by them, as also various kinds of pottery; and their dressed deer-skins were of a superior quality. These kinds of goods were bartered with the Tepic Indians for fish, pearls, etc.

Their principal town was where the beautiful city of Guadalajara now lifts its numerous church-spires proudly over the once heathen temples of human sacrifice. It was then a large city, and continues to be second only to the Capital.”

Click here for the full text of “Ixotle.”

Andrew Grayson. Green Parakeet. (Image believed to be in public domain)

Andrew Grayson. Green Parakeet (a Mexican endemic). Image believed to be in public domain.

Andrew Jackson Grayson was born in Louisiana in 1819 and died in Mazatlan in 1869. A sickly child, he spent most of his childhood roaming the countryside, watching and drawing local birds and other wildlife. As an adult, after failing to run a store profitably in Louisiana, he married Frances Jane Timmons in 1842 and two years later the couple moved to St. Louis, in preparation for the overland trek west to California. They arrived in California in October 1846, where Grayson bought several lots in San Francisco and the surrounding area.

Seeing an exhibition of bird paintings by James John Audubon in San Francisco in 1853 reignited Grayson’s childhood passion for drawing birds. Grayson became a self-taught painter and taxidermist, working first in San Jose, then Tehuantepec, Mexico (1857), and the Napa Valley (1859) before moving to Mazatlán where he owned a general store and began working towards a book he envisaged titled “Birds of the Pacific Slope.”

Grayson spent the next decade submitting articles, mostly about natural history, to a number of newspapers and magazines in California and Mexico. He also supplied the Smithsonian Institution with birds and bird biographies. Despite making exhaustive efforts to find a sponsor for his book on Pacific Slope birds, the work remained unfinished when Grayson died of “coast fever” in Mazatlán in 1869. Shortly after, his wife returned to California, where she later remarried.

156 of Grayson’s stunning bird paintings were eventually published in a collectors’ edition by Arion Press in 1986, accompanied by a detailed biography of the ornithologist-artist.

An archive of Andrew Jackson Grayson papers and paintings is held by The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Sources

  • Andrew J. Grayson. 1870. “Ixotle.” Overland Monthly, vol. V, #3, (Sept 1870), 258-261.
  • Anon. Guide to the Andrew Jackson Grayson Papers, 1844-1901. The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Robert J. Chandler. 2011.”Andrew Jackson Grayson: The Birdman was a traitor.” The California Territorial Quarterly. #88 (Winter 2011), 46-51.
  • Lois Chambers Stone. 1986. Andrew Jackson Grayson: Birds of the Pacific Slope: A Biography of the Artist and Naturalist, 1818-1869. Arion Press.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

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.

Aug 312023
 

Renowned American painter, educator, designer and architect Millard Owen Sheets was born in Pomona, California, on 24 June 1907, and died in Anchor Bay, California, on 31 March 1989.

Details of his biography are readily available online, at Wikipedia and at the website of the California Watercolor gallery.

But, in summary, Sheets studied at the Chouinard Art Institute, where, even before graduating, he was exhibiting watercolors in the annual shows of the California Water Color Society and teaching watercolor techniques at Chouinard.

Millard Sheets. 1983. Lake Chapala, Mexico. Reproduced by kind permission of California Watercolor gallery.

Note: Giclées of this painting are available via the website of the California Watercolor Gallery

He exhibited widely across the U.S. and Europe, and gained national recognition as a fine watercolorist. His life, work and painting style made the pages of Art Digest, Eyes on America and a book published by Dalzell Hatfield in Los Angeles in 1935.

During the second world war, Sheets was an artist-correspondent for Life magazine and served with the United States Army Air Forces in India and Burma.

As an art educator, Sheets worked at Chouinard Art Institute, Scripps College, and was Director of Otis Art Institute (1953-1960), fomenting the development of hundreds of young artists.

Millard Sheets. Chapala Church. (EBay photo)

Millard Sheets. Chapala Church. (EBay photo)

Later in life he designed and executed dozens of major mosaic and mural projects. His commissions ranged from Los Angeles City Hall to Detroit Public Library, the Mayo Clinic, the mosaic dome and chapel at the National Shrine in Washington DC, and the Hilton Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Works by Sheets are in the permanent collections of many major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum (both in New York; the Chicago Art Institute; the National Gallery (Washington D.C.); the DeYoung Museum (San Francisco); and the Los Angeles County Museum.

Sheets made multiple visits to Chapala between 1947 (believed to be the first time he visited the lake) and the early 1980s.

Millard Sheets.1979. Noon, Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of California Watercolor gallery.

Note: Giclées of this painting can be purchased on the website of the California Watercolor Gallery

Sheets’ 1947 trip to Chapala was in the company of long-time friend Merritt (‘Muggs’) Van Sant (1898-1964) and fellow artist, master woodworker and designer Sam Maloof (1916-2009), who was working for Sheets at the time and had learnt Spanish as a child from a Mexican-born housekeeper. Interviewed in 2002 by Mary MacNaughton for the Archives of American Art, Maloof recalled, albeit all too briefly, their trip to Chapala:

“… we flew to Guadalajara and I could have stayed for three years for what it cost us for three weeks. Of course it had to be the best hotel rooms and I had a room by myself. Millard and Muggs Van Zandt [Sant] had a room together and we had to rent a car. They had a brand new Buick with a driver that drove us all over and we’d all put money in the kitty every morning and Muggs would be the banker and we traveled from Lake Chapala to Morelia.”

Katie Goodridge Ingram (who first brought Millard Sheets’ link to Lake Chapala to my attention) remembered Sheets bringing an artist group to paint in Ajijic on at least one occasion.

Note: This is a work in progress. If you can offer any additional information about Millard Sheets’ visits to Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

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

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

Source

  • Mary MacNaughton. 2002. Interview of Sam Maloof conducted January 2002 by Mary MacNaughton, for the Archives of American Art, in Maloof’s home/studio in Alta Loma, California.

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

Jul 062023
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily Meeker. Bombay, 1954. Courtesy Tom Thompson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Jun 222023
 

Helen Marie Krustev, born in the USA on 16 September 1933, and wife of Bulgarian-born artist Dimitar Krustev, is an accomplished portraitist in her own right. Helen Marie had private art training in the Middle East before studying in Des Moines, Iowa, where Dimitar was one of her teachers. She continued to develop her own art while working with Dimitar on numerous cultural tours in Europe, Mexico and elsewhere.

Helen Marie Krustev. Untitled.

Helen Marie Krustev. Untitled.

Helen and her husband moved permanently to Ajijic in the year 2000. Her love of Mexico, and enthusiasm for portraying the country’s dozens of indigenous groups, shines through in her work. In recent years she has specialized in painting portraits, usually in acrylics, of people such as the Tarahumar, Huichol, Cora and Maya, depicted in their colorful traditional clothing, and often facing away from the artist.

Helen Marie Krustev. Canoa y chinchorro.

Helen Marie Krustev. Canoa y chinchorro.

Helen’s work has been exhibited, often alongside that of her husband, in several galleries in Mexico. In 1989 the couple held a joint showing of their work at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan. In February 2000, they held another noteworthy joint exhibit, titled Caras de México, in the lobby of the Las Hadas hotel in Manzanillo.

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

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

Source

  • Diario de Colima, 25 Feb 2000.

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 082023
 

Juan (‘Juanito’) Olivarez Sánchez was born in Ajijic on 12 July 1944 and died there at the age of 77 on 28 May 2022.

Like numerous other local artists in Ajijic, Olivarez’ interest in art began as a student of the Children’s Art Program (CAP) started by Neill James. Olivarez was among the first generation of students to benefit from CAP which began in the mid-1950s.In the 1960s, Olivarez helped teach the next generation of youngsters. Later students of Juan Olivarez included, in the early 1990s, Bruno Mariscal, described by Lyn Adams as: “Truly a jack-of-all-trades, this talented man is also a well-known rotulista or sign painter. His padrino, Juan Olivarez, started training him in this craft when he was around 18 years old.”

Olivarez’ considerable artistic talent was recognized by the highly experienced art educator Jack Rutherford, a professional Californian artist then living in Ajijic with his wife and their four children. Rutherford was instrumental in arranging for Olivarez to spend several weeks in Studio City (then Ajijic’s sister city) in 1970. Rutherford persuaded Studio City Chamber of Commerce to sponsor Olivarez and to find him a family to board with while he took art classes. Rutherford and his family drove Olivarez up to Studio City, where he was a house guest of the Heckers; Mrs Robert Hecker was a fellow art student. A lively welcome reception in Studio City was held in honor of Olivarez’ arrival before the Rutherford family carried on to spend the summer in Laguna Beach.

Juan Olivarez. Untitled landscape. Coll-JLV

Juan Olivarez. c 1960. Untitled landscape in the Neill James Collection. Reproduced by kind permission of his family.

Jesús López Vega informed me that Olivarez was a member of the “Jardín del Arte,” a group of young local artists at the start of the 1970s, which later became known as “Asociación de Artistas de Ajijic.” This group was a forerunner of the “Ajijic Society of the Arts” (which continues to this day), the largest organization of its kind for artists (Mexican and foreign) in the area.

By 1975, Olivarez was directing a gallery in Ajijic, the Galería de los Artistas Cooperativos, a sign of the bustling art scene in the village at the time. Competing with the long-running Galería del Lago, the Galería de los Artistas Cooperativos was located at 16 de Septiembre #9. It opened on 14 December 1975 with a solo show of 25 works by Frank Barton, an American artist then living in Ajijic, fresh off a successful show in Mexico City.

Olivarez had become interested in photography from a relatively early age, initially acquiring a simple Kodak camera to help him develop his drawing technique, and then discovering the lure of photography as a hobby. He was probably the first native-born photographer to become Ajijic’s unofficial village photographer, taking over this role from, among others, Beverly Johnson.

Juan Olivarez. El Charracate. Reproduced by kind permission of Tom Thompson.

Juan Olivarez. El Charracate. Reproduced by kind permission of Tom Thompson.

Olivarez photographed hundreds of family gatherings, parties and special occasions, and amassed an extensive collection of photographs of Ajijic, covering a very wide range of subjects and events, many of them no longer celebrated in quite the way they once were. Late in life, recounting his experiences to journalist Sofía Medeles, he explained how his photos had originally cost only 50 centavos each. His photographic business was unable to survive the advent of the smartphone, which replaced conventional cameras.

Alongside his photography, Olivarez continued to paint small pictures and do some commercial sign painting. Many of his paintings remain in possession of his family and I hope to add additional images of his work to this profile shortly.

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

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

Sources

  • Lyn Adams. 2007. “The gallery and art of Bruno Mariscal.” MexConnect.com
  • Sofía Medeles. 2022. “Remembering Juan “Juanito” Olivares, prolific photographer of Ajijic.” Semanario Laguna, 15 de junio de 2022.
  • The Van Nuys News: 26 Jun 1970, 17.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 13 Dec 1975.

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 252023
 

Dimitar Iliev Krustev (1920-2013) was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, on 12 January 1920 and died in Ajijic on 11 February 2013. After studying at The Natioual Academy of Art for Portrait Painting in Sofia, Krustev served in the army under German rule for three years during the second world war. He moved to the US in 1947 to take a bachelor’s degree in commercial art at Kent State University, and then completed a masters degree in art history at the University of Iowa.

Dimitar Krustev. Portrait of a young man. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Dimitar Krustev. 1969. Portrait of a young man. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Krustev took US citizenship and he and his wife, Helen Marie, a former student, lived most of their married life in Des Moines, Iowa. Krustev worked as a commercial artist for the Des Moines-based magazine Better Homes and Gardens for nine years before opening the Des Moines Krustev Studio of Art. Krustev, who specialized in portraiture, loved teaching art, and many of his hundreds of students went on to enjoy considerable commercial and personal success. Krustev also enjoyed leading art study groups to Europe, Ajijic and elsewhere.

In the 1960s, as a member of The Explorer’s Club, Krustev began to travel to distant locations to document, photograph and paint the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In 1968 he became the first person known to have successfully navigated the Usumacinta River from its headwaters in Guatemala to the Gulf of México. Krustev’s fascination with people living in near isolation in what are commonly perceived as extreme environments led to his particular interest in the plight of the Lacandon Maya who live in the rain forest of Chiapas in southern Mexico.

Krustev’s experiences resulted in several books, including River of the Sacred Monkey (1970), Voices in the Night (1992), The Journals of Dimitar Krustev, an Artist–Explorer (Volume One) (1996), Black Hand Over the Jungle (1997), and Lacondón Journal 1969: From the Journals of Dimitar Krustev Artist-Explorer, published by Editorial Mazatlán in December 2012, only months before the artist’s death. His books and journals, supported by exquisite portraits, provide extraordinary insights into the changing daily lifes of the people who befriended him at a time when their traditional way of life was under siege from modernizing influences. Krustev is also the subject of a film titled The Bulgarian Gaugin.

After traveling back and forth between Des Moines and Ajijic for almost thirty years, Krustev and his wife established their home and studios in Ajijic in the year 2000. Ajijic became their base for more traveling, painting, teaching, and many joint shows. Among the artists inspired by Krustev are Pauli Zmolek (who painted her own scenes of the Chapala area) and Lois Black.

Dimitar Krustev. Boats of Ajijic. (Greetings card)

Dimitar Krustev. Boats of Ajijic. (Greetings card)

This conté drawing titled Boats of Ajijic shows typical fishing boats and fishing nets on the shore of lake, with Cerro Garcia in the background.

Krustev’s first major show in Mexico was in 1972 when he presented portraits and landscapes at the Mexican-North American Cultural Institute in the Zona Rosa, Mexico City. He also exhibited in Guadalajara and throughout Europe and the USA.

His earliest recorded exhibit in Ajijic (which accompanied a showing of his film of the Lacandon Maya) was at the Posada Ajijic in August 1977. He first ran workshops in Ajijic at about this time. Four years later, in 1981, he advertised an 11-day workshop in Ajijic for $552.60 a person; the fee included air fare from Omaha, room and art instruction.

In 1989, Krustev and his wife, Helen Marie Krustev, held a joint showing of their work at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan. They held another noteworthy joint exhibit, titled Caras de México, in the lobby of the Las Hadas hotel in Manzanillo in February 2000.

Several of their shows in Mexico were organized by Katie Goodridge Ingram, who ran two successful art galleries in Ajijic—Galería del Lago and Mi México—for many years. Ingram explained to me that “Many of his works were a combination of conté and charcoal and pastels, though he also painted in oils” and that she was enthralled by his work among the Lacandon:

partly because of their inherent beauty and their attempts to preserve their old ways and partly because of the tragedy involved in the confluence of two cultures. I admired the adventurer who went into the jungle and, fearing the imminent extinction of these people, drew the wonderful faces, garb and lifestyle of the Lacandon Indians.”

[Katie Goodridge Ingram is the author of According to Soledad: memories of a Mexican childhood, a fascinating fictionalized memoir of growing up in Ajijic in the 1940s and 1950s.]

Krustev’s work has been exhibited all over the world, and his paintings are in many prominent, private collections in Africa, USA, Europe and Mexico, where several fine examples are in the permanent collection of Ajijic Museo de Arte.

Papers and archives

The Human Studies Film Archives of the Smithsonian include two color silent film reels from Krustev’s trips (in the 1970s and 1996), as well as 180 35mm transparencies and two sound cassettes. His manuscripts and journals are archived at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.

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

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

Sources

  • Diario de Colima: 25 Feb 2000.
  • Ojo del Lago, March 1989.
  • Des Moines Register: (obituary) 3 Mar 2013.
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram, personal communication.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 20 Aug 1977, 17; 11 April 1998, 13; 5 Nov 2011; 3 Jan 2014;
  • Kent Stater: 28 Oct 1947.
  • Omaha World Herald: 7 June 1981.
  • David Bodwell and Richard Grabman (editors). 2013. Lancandon Journal—1969: From the Journals of Dimitar Krustev: Artist-Explorer. Editorial Mazatlán.

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 182023
 

Marion Delamater Freeman (later Marion D Freeman Wakeman) was born in Montclair, New Jersey, on 5 December 1891 and died in Northampton, Massachusetts, on 22 September 1954 (not 1953 as stated in most online sources).

Freeman graduated from Smith College, Northampton, in 1914 and then joined the Art Students League, where she studied with George Luks and Frank Vincent DuMond. She was also taught by Charles Webster Hawthorne and Dwight William Tryon. Though she did produce a limited number of etchings and sculptures, she is primarily known for her finely executed watercolors.

She married Dr. Seth Wakeman, professor of education and child safety at Smith College, in 1926. The couple had one son, Seth Freeman Wakeman.

Marion Freeman Wakeman. 1948. Church at Chapala.

Marion Freeman Wakeman. 1948. Church at Chapala.

This painting Church at Chapala, dated 1948, was presented to the Smith College Art Museum in her memory. When it came up for auction in 2022, the artist’s surname was mistakenly given as “Wakefield.” No further details are known of her time in Mexico, though she may have been a participant in a summer art school arranged by Irma Jonas, held in Ajijic.

Marion Wakeman exhibited regularly at the National Academy of Design, the Architectural League, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the National Association of Women Artists. Her water colors were shown at the Montclair Art Museum and at the Smith College Art Museum.

In 1936, Wakeman was one of only 12 artists who had works purchased at the 45th Annual Exhibition of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors in New York City.

The following year, her painting titled Spring Plowing; Mexico, was bought by Seward Prosser of New York and given to Mrs. Dwight W. Morrow when she attended a meeting of the trustees of Smith College. (Dwight W Morrow was a businessman, diplomat and politician, who was US Ambassador to Mexico, 1927-29 during the Cristeros period; among other achievements, he bankrolled the Diego Rivera murals in the Palace of Cortés, Cuernavaca.)

Wakeman’s watercolors exhibited at the Smith College Art Museum in July 1938 included “a number of interesting plant studies and designs.” At the time, the museum was also exhibiting a Picasso.

In 1942, Wakeman won the Edith Penman Memorial Prize at the 50th Annual Exhibition of the National Association of Women Artists for a painting titled The Vain Old Cat.

Marion Freeman Wakeman. Illustration, The Curious Lobster.

Marion Freeman Wakeman. Illustration, The Curious Lobster.

She also illustrated the charming and fun children’s book The Curious Lobster, written by Richard W. Hatch, first published in 1944. Described quite aptly as “An American Wind in the Willows,” it tells the stories and escapades of Mr Lobster and his diverse group of friends.

Wakeman’s work is represented in the permanent collection of the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association’s Old Sculpin Gallery, alongside works by Hans Hoffman, Vaclav Vytlacil, Ruth Appledorn Mead, Julius Delbos, Frank C. Wright, Renée George O’Sullivan (who lived in Ajijic in the 1940s) and Louisa Gould.

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

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

Sources

  • Daily Hampshire Gazette: 3 Mar 1986, 6.
  • Obituaries: Democrat and Chronicle, 28 Sep 1954, 20; The Montclair Times 30 Sep 1954, 6.
  • New York Times: 16 October 1937, 21.
  • The News (Paterson, New Jersey): 7 Jan 1942, 2.
  • Transcript-Telegram (Holyoke, Massachusetts): 9 Jul 1938, 7.
  • Tremont Auctions. 2022 Auction Catalog, Tremont Auctions, Sudbury, Massachusetts.

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.

Mar 092023
 

More than sixty years after his first solo exhibit in 1951, Canadian artist Duncan de Kergommeaux displayed a series of charcoal and graphite on mylar drawings called “Winter Days,” completed following a visit to Lake Chapala in 2006.

Duncan de Kergommeaux was born in Premier, in northern British Columbia, on 15 July 1927. His career as an artist began in 1951 at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta, and in Victoria, British Columbia, under the Czech artist Jan Zach. In 1953 de Kergommeaux completed a mural for the Victoria Times in Victoria, B.C.

He then moved to Ottawa, Ontario. During his seventeen years there, he taught art, painted, and founded the Blue Barn Gallery. He also continued to study art. From 1955-57 de Kergommeaux took summer classes at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Then, in 1958 he used a Canada Council Grant to to travel in Mexico and study at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende. Among the paintings from that trip auctioned in recent years are several seascapes and the gouache abstract titled “Cathedral interior, Mexico.”

Duncan de Kergommeaux. 1958. Cathedral interior Mexico.

Duncan de Kergommeaux. 1958. Cathedral interior, Mexico. Gouache. Credit: Walker’s Auction House, Ottawa.

From 1970 to 1993, de Kergommeaux was professor of Visual Arts at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario. While on the faculty there de Kergommeaux took three full-year study leaves in New York City (1980-81), Paris and New York City (1984-85) and Paris (1989-90).

In his long artistic career, which has spanned more than five decades, de Kergommeaux has held more than 50 solo exhibitions across Canada, and his work has been included in dozens of group shows, including the Third and Sixth Biennials of Canadian art at the National Gallery of Canada. During 1967-68 the National Gallery circulated his work and that of George de Niverville in a two-person exhibit that traveled across Canada. One of his paintings hangs in the dining room of the Prime Minister’s Residence at 24 Sussex Drive, and several others hang in Rideau Hall (the official residence of the Governor General of Canada). Three years after his retirement from academia in 1993, a permanent study collection of his works was established at Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa.

Duncan de Kergommeaux. 2006. Winter days Lake Chapala #4. Credit: Ottawa Art Gallery.

Duncan de Kergommeaux. 2006. Winter days Lake Chapala #4. Credit: Ottawa Art Gallery.

In 2006, de Kergommereaux spent some weeks in San Juan Cosalá on Lake Chapala, where he completed a body of work depicting the lake. These works were included in a solo show titled “New Horizons” at the Wallack Galleries in Ottawa, Ontario, the following year. A reviewer for the Ottawa Citizen wrote that his [Lake Chapala] work:

shares the artist’s fascination with capturing the same view at different times. This series of Lake Chapala and the village of San Juan Cosala that hugs its shoreline is dark and brooding, with grays and black predominating, although in some, the darkness is slightly relieved by hints of violet, blue, green, pink and red.”

In a refreshingly forthright statement to the reviewer, the 80-year-old de Kergommereaux stated that “”I think that many artists spend far too much time talking about their paintings. I honestly do. They explain them to death.”

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

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village focus on the history of the art community at Lake Chapala.

Sources

  • Connie Higginson-Murray. 2007. “New vistas at gallery. Artist’s first solo exhibit in Ottawa in 20 years.” The Ottawa Citizen, 28 November 2007.
  • Wallach Galleries. 2007. “Duncan de Kergommeaux: New Horizons.”

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.

Mar 022023
 

Lona Mae Christians, later Isoard, (1903-1992) was a long-time resident of Ajijic in the 1960s and 1970s. She was born 8 November 1903 in Williamsburg, Colorado, and died 22 Sep 1992 in Walnut Creek, California, aged 88. Lona married her husband, Max Conlin Isoard (1900-1974), then a medical student, in June 1926. The couple had a daughter, Antoinette Ruth (Toni) Isoard, born in about 1940.

The family lived mostly in California, first in San Francisco (1928), then Sacramento (from 1930-at least 1955). In September 1951, Lona and Max Isoard arrived back in New York from Le Havre, France, on board the SS Liberté.

A 1938 newspaper article reveals that Isoard was a well-known polo player: “Among the players in the first game, will be Mrs. Lona Isoard, prominent in state polo circles.”

Lona Isoard: Still Life with Fruit. (ca 1972)

Lona Isoard: Fruit Still Life (ca 1972)

By all accounts, Lona Mae Isoard was quite an eccentric character. The late Tom Faloon commented to me that she was a “nutty lady”, adding that her sister and brother-in-law also lived in Ajijic. Katie Goodridge Ingram, former gallery owner, remembers that Lona lived at one time in the small, lakeside cottage belonging to “Russian” dancer Zara. (This cottage later became known as “Iona’s cottage”, taking its name from another eccentric American, a former teacher and world traveler, Iona Kupiec, who lived there from 1962).

In 1966, Lona Isoard remodeled a home in Ajijic at Calle Independencia #39 for herself, and an adjoining home, sharing the same street address, was occupied by her younger sister, Henrietta (and her husband, Herbert B. Phillips).

The following year, Lona spent three months visiting her daughter in California, where the two women acted together on stage in Oakland, California, in April 1967 in a production of the farce Botheration.

Isoard was active in the local Ajijic art scene and occasionally exhibited. For example, her work was included in the May 1971 group show, “Fiesta of Art”, held at the private home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham, Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic. (The other artists involved were Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Frances Showalter; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.)

Lona showed a self portrait in the TLAC (Todos las artes combinados) show at Posada Ajijic in April 1978.

An example of Isoard’s work, a still life of fruit, was included (along with works by many of the other artists in the 1971 group show) in A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (Guadalajara, Mexico: Boutique d’Artes Gráficas, 1972).

  • Note: This is a revised version of a post first published 28 January 2016.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

For more about the extraordinary history of the art community in Ajijic, please see the relevant chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022).

Sources

  • Daily News (California), 2 Jun 1926, 15.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 25 June 1966; 2 July 1966; 4 Feb 1967; 8 April 1978, 19.
  • Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California), 8 April 1967.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, 14 May 1938, 2.
  • The Sacramento Bee, 31 Oct 1957, 18.

Comments, corrections and additional material welcome, whether via comments feature or email.

Feb 232023
 

American artist Garrett Van Vranken (1887-1961) and his wife, Tommie (Thomy) E Carruthers Van Vranken (1888-1962), lived their final years in Chapala.

George Garrett Van Vranken (sometimes Vanvranken) was born in Cadillac, Michigan, on 16 December 1887. He completed four years of high school before serving in the military during the first world war. Known for his pastels and commercial art, it is claimed by one source that Van Vranken was an alumnus of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Tommie (Thomy) E Carruthers, born in Florida 5 March 1888, died in Chapala 23 January 1962. She had completed one year of college and was living in Los Angeles when she and Garret married in about 1925. She is recorded in the 1930 US census as owning a Los Angeles advertising agency, while her husband is listed as an artist.

Garrett Van Vranken. Commercial artwork, c 1936.

Garrett Van Vranken. Commercial artwork, c 1936.

Garrett Van Vranken appears to have been a founder member of the local (Los Angeles) group of members of the American Artists Congress, and combined his personal fine arts career with commercial work.

His painting “Three by the Sea” (below) was shown in the first exhibition of works by local members of the American Artists Congress at the Stanley Rose Galleries in Los Angeles in September 1936: “Garrett Van Vranken shows a good figure composition, “Three by the Sea” which links the “modern” side of the show with the various still lifes and flower pieces of academic vein.”

Garrett Van Vranken. "Three by the Sea," c 1936.

Garrett Van Vranken. “Three by the Sea,” c 1936.

The local group of the American Artists Congress, which later had its own gallery on Hollywood Boulevard, had been formed about eighteen months earlier.

In 1942, at least one painting by Van Vranken was included in a group show of works by “artists employed in aircraft factories,” a show held at Raymond & Raymond Galleries on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. The following year, his painting “Woman on White” was shown at the Los Angeles County Museum in the Fourth Annual Exhibition of Work of Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity.

After his retirement in the early 1950s, Van Vranken and his wife moved from Los Angeles to Mexico, apparently initially to the border town of Brownsville, Texas, and then to Lake Chapala, where they established their home at Calle Juárez #512. It remains unclear whether or not Van Vranken painted or exhibited while living in Chapala.

Garrett Van Vranken died on 13 April 1961, and his wife, Tommie, died on 23 January the following year. There was some confusion about Garrett’s date of death; his wife confirmed to US authorities when they filed the official Report of the Death of a US citizen Abroad that her husband had died on 13 April 1961, and not on 20 April, as stated in the formal registration of his death in Chapala.

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

To read more about the history of the Lake Chapala art community, see Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

Sources

  • Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.
  • Los Angeles Times: 20 Sep 1936, 56; 10 Jul 1938, 56.
  • Los Angeles Evening Citizen News: 28 Nov 1942, 2; 20 Mar 1943, 7.

Comments, corrections and additional material welcome, whether via comments feature or email.

Feb 092023
 

Talented British artists Richard and Nancy Carline never lived in Ajijic, but did visit friends in the village more than once and completed several paintings of the area.

Richard Cotton Carline (1896-1980) was born in Oxford to a family of painters. After studying in Paris, and doing some teaching, he working on developing camouflage designs for the military before serving on the Western Front and in the Middle East as an Official War Artist during the first world war. During the second world war, Carline wrote the Ministry of Aircraft Production’s official report on industrial and aircraft camouflage; his work on camouflage projects was highlighted in a 2016 exhibition at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum. The quality of his work as war artist and camouflage expert is almost unparalleled.

Richard Carline. Carrying burdens in Mexico.

Richard Carline. Carrying burdens in Mexico. Credit: Christie’s.

In the interwar period, Carline taught at the Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford and held his first solo show at the Goupil Gallery in 1931. He was an active member of the AIA (Artists’ International Association) and, according to Mexican art critic Justino Fernández [1], spent eight months in Mexico in 1936. The more commonly repeated version is that Carline visited the USA and Mexico in 1937-1938, where he was impressed by both the value of public murals and the value of encouraging them via such programs as the Federal Art Project.

In the early 1940s, on behalf of the AIA (Artists’ International Association), Carline lobbied for the UK to have a public mural program, based on those in Mexico and the US, as a way of enabling artists to contribute to the war effort. Sadly, the AIA’s efforts met with only limited success, but did not deter Carline from establishing a National Mural Council in 1943 to promote the commissioning of murals by industry. Three years later, Carline was chosen as the first Art Counsellor of UNESCO.

Richard Carline. Ajijic after rain. Credit: Canterbury Actions

Richard Carline. 1975. Ajijic after rain. Credit: Canterbury Auctions

Carline was an aficionado of picture postcards and wrote Pictures in the Post: Story of the Picture Postcard and Its Place in the History of Popular Art, first published in 1959. He also wrote The Arts of West Africa (1935), Draw they Must (1968) and Stanley Spencer at War (1978).

Richard and Nancy Carline married in 1950 and had two children, one of whom (Herminone) is also a professional artist.

Nancy Mona Carline (née Higgins) (1909-2004) trained at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and then worked at the Sadlers Wells Ballet, where she met Vladimir Polunin, who encouraged her to return to the Slade and take the course he was teaching in stage design.

Nancy Carline was an ardent advocate of art education and exhibited regularly, including in shows arranged by the Royal Academy, the London Group, the New English Art Club, the Artists’ International Association, and the Wildenstein Gallery. A retrospective of her life’s work was held at the Camden Arts Centre in 1980.

Nancy Carline. Ajijic. Credit: Canterbury Actions

Nancy Carline. Ajijic. Credit: Canterbury Auctions

Though the details of Richard Carline’s first trips to Mexico remain unclear, his later visits, accompanied by wife Nancy, were to visit Laura and Jack Bateman and their children in Ajijic. Laura Bateman ran an art gallery in Ajijic for many years. How the two couples first met each other is unclear, but they became firm friends. Based on the dates of paintings of Lake Chapala completed by the Carlines, they visited Mexico in 1967 and 1975, and perhaps on other occasions as well. Shortly after their 1975 trip, Richard Carline wrote to German artist Dr. Frederick Solomon (1899-1980) in New Hampshire explaining that he had returned to Lake Chapala because he “found it so fruitful for painting.” But, because they had bought a reduced fare ticket, “we did not have very long in Mexico – but by going to paint we can deduct this as an expense of artists from income tax.”

Nancy Carline. Ajijic. Credit: Canterbury Actions

Nancy Carline. 1975. Mexico (Ajijic). Credit: Canterbury Auctions

Paintings by both artists were sold by the Canterbury Auction Galleries in the UK in 2020. Richard’s “After Rain Ajijic Mexico 1967” had a pencil inscription stating it had been exhibited at the London Group in 1968/9. Two Lake Chapala-related paintings by Nancy were in the same auction: “Ajijic Mexico Lake Chapala”, and “Mexico” (which had “Ajijic” and “1975″ written on the back).

The Carlines’ close friendship with the Bateman family had another very significant link to the Lake Chapala art world. The Bateman’s eldest daughter, Alice, after attending a village school in Ajijic, studied art for a year at the University of Guadalajara in 1963. The following year Alice lived with the Carlines in London, when she moved to the UK to study at the Byam Shaw School of Art (now Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design). Alice Bateman, who later also studied sculpting in Italy, lives in Texas and has enjoyed a stellar career as a sculptor.

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

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

Reference

  • [1] Justino Fernández. 1969. Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en el año 1968. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.

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 292022
 

Despite several popular art sites listing Bert Pumphrey’s exhibitions as including three in Ajijic, I have yet to find any details for them. Pumphrey’s distinctive work is so highly collectible, that he would certainly deserve a place among the Lakeside greats (and in the Ajijic Museum of Art) if his association with Lake Chapala can be proven.

The three exhibitions listed for Bert Pumphrey in Ajijic are:

  • La Nueva Posada, Art Shows in the Garden, 1955
  • Casa de la Cultura, Ajijic, Plaza Principal 1978
  • Galeria AXIXICC, Ajijic, 1985

The 1955 entry clearly cannot be correct. Either this was an exhibit in the (Old) Posada Ajijic, or the year is inaccurate and it should be 1995. Either way, I have found no confirming evidence anywhere for this or the other two shows. If you can help, please get in touch!

Despite drawing a blank as regards the Ajijic exhibitions, my search for answers has enabled me to compile a more accurate account of Pumphrey’s life and work than those currently available on the web.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Un militar.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Un militar.

Bertrem (Bert) Pumphrey was born in Welby, Salt Lake City, Utah, on 30 January 1916. After graduating from Provo High School in 1936, Pumphrey took classes for a year at the Chicago Art Institute. From 1937 to 1941, he studied on a scholarship at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where he was strongly influenced by Henry Lee McFee and Tom Craig

At the second annual exhibit of Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity (organized by Los Angeles County Museum) in 1941, Pumphrey’s painting “Rainy Season” and a work by famous Japanese-American modernist Sueo Serisawa received honorable mentions for painting.

In 1940, while still a student, Pumphrey had registered for military service, and after completing his studies the following year he enlisted in the army. He served as a surgical technician in the Army Medical Corps in Asia and the Far East

His first major group show after the war was at the Los Angeles Art Association in 1946, in a collective exhibition titled “They Have Returned,” with one critic writing that “Bertram Pumphrey’s oils of India convey that land’s rich decoration and vegetation and the accompanying poverty.”

Later that year in September Pumphrey held his first solo show (of 47 oil paintings) at the prestigious Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

In 1947, Pumphrey had the first of at least two solo shows at the American Contemporary Gallery in Los Angeles. His 22 canvases were described by Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier as “rich in color and human interest.” Millier also recorded that Pumphrey had “recently worked” with Tom Craig on a large mural or murals at the San Antonio Hospital, Claremont, and had completed a large 40′ by 12′ mural commission in a private Hollywood home.

In 1947-1948 Pumphrey taught art part-time at the Art Barn School of Arts in Salt Lake City, giving himself ample time to develop his own art while still having a reliable income.

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Hasidic Rabbis Dancing. (oil on board)

Bert Pumphrey. Undated. Hasidic Rabbis Dancing.

Pumphrey moved to Mexico in 1948, and exhibited relatively infrequently in the US after that date, though he retained links with California, giving classes and participating in group shows in Lafayette and Oakland in 1954. By this time he had married Isabel. The couple apparently kept homes in both Tlalpan, a suburb of Mexico City and in California, dividing their time between the two places. Isabel became a naturalized US citizen in 1984 on her 54th birthday.

In 1955, Pumphrey painted murals depicting typical scenes from Bavarian villages on the walls of Sam’s Hof Brau in the historic Kost building in Sacramento. Four years later, he completed a large mural for the Seagulll Motel in Salt Lake City, assisted by his twin brother, Joe, who was also an artist.

His first major solo show in Mexico was at the Galería Pemex in Mexico City in January 1960. It included 106 works, in a variety of media, from oils on masonite and linoleum to watercolors and ink drawings, and of varied subjects, demonstrating the artist’s impressive versatility.

Pumphrey’s smaller solo show the following year at the Mexican-Northamerican Cultural Institute in Mexico City featured 19 oils and 17 watercolors; it included a self portrait alongside animal, coastal and jungle studies.

Pumphrey’s techniques and preferences changed markedly over the years. In 1971, the Oakland Museum showed a short film “Bert Pumphrey, Pleasanton Artist,” which depicted how Pumphrey liked to paint: using palette knives, including some of his own design, to cut through successive layers of paint to achieve the color, texture and form he wanted. (This technique was similar to that used for traditional lacquer work in Mexico). For these paintings, Pumphrey worked on masonite, rather than canvas, and on a table, rather than an easel.

Bert Pumphrey. 1969.

Bert Pumphrey. 1969.

Pumphrey completed murals for several public buildings, clubs, churches and private homes in Mexico (presumably mainly in 1950s), as well as murals in the Kost building, Sacramento (1955) and the Seagull Motel, Salt Lake City (1959).

Bert Pumphreys’s confirmed group shows include Los Angeles Art Association (1946, 1947); Chaffey, Ontario, California (1947); Biblioteca Cervantes, Mexico City (1952); Artists’ Market, Oakland, California (1954) and Valley Art Center, Contra Costa, California (1955).

In addition to the three possible shows in Ajijic and one (also unconfirmed) in the Virgin Islands, Pumphrey’s solo shows included Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1946); American Contemporary Gallery, Los Angeles (1947, 1948); Palette Club, Salt Lake City (1947); Galería Pemex, Mexico City (1960); lnstituto Mexicano-Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales, Mexico City (1961); Little Gallery, Philadelphia (1967); Cory Gallery, San Francisco (1969); and La Cienega Gallery, Los Angeles (1971).

The artist spent his final years in South Pasadena, where he died on 20 June 2002.

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

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

Sources

  • Bingham Bulletin 12 Sep 1941, 5; 3 Sep 1954, 3
  • Contra Costa Gazette 11 Feb 1954, 5; 22 Jul 1955, 4
  • Contra Costa Times 25 Feb 1954, 5
  • Daily Herald 08 May 1936, 3
  • Justino Fernández. (a) 1953 (b) 1961 (c) 1962. Catálogos de las Exposiciones de Arte en los años 1952, 1960 and 1961. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.
  • Los Angeles Times 16 March 1941, 21; 16 March 1941, 21; 23 Mar 1941; 24 March 1946, 26; 6 Jul 1947, 26; 21 Sep 1947, 28; 04 Jul 1948, 45; 25 Jul 1971, 425
  • Oakland Tribune 14 Feb 1954, 91; 31 Jan 1971, 125
  • Pasadena Star-News. 2002. Bertrem Pumphrey (obituary). 29 June 2002.
  • Philadelphia Inquirer 04 Jun 1967, 141
  • Sacramento Bee 22 Jan 1955, 52
  • Salt Lake Tribune 02 Nov 1947, 64; 10 Aug 1947, 48; 14 Dec 1947, 72; 12 Jul 1959, 29; 18 Oct 1964, 78
  • San Francisco Examiner 29 Sep 1946, 135; 28 Dec 1969, 142

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 152022
 

Japanese artist Masaharu Shimada, who specializes in sumi-e pen and ink drawings and has held dozens of acclaimed exhibitions in Mexico and his native Japan, lived for several months each year in San Antonio Tlayacapan from 1986 onwards. His exquisite works include numerous evocative monochrome impressionist landscapes of Ajijic and San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Sumi-e, which means black ink painting, developed over several centuries in Japan, after Zen Buddhist monks from China first introduced their deceptively simple techniques and style back in the fourteenth century. Chinese ink is applied to paper using brushes traditionally made of hair, bamboo or feathers.

Born in Nakagyo, Kyoto, in 1931, Shimada graduated from the calligraphy department of Tokyo Gakugei University in 1953 before teaching himself the techniques of sumi-e. He held his first solo show of sumi-e at the Chuokoron-sha Gallery, Tokyo, in 1961.

Masaharu Shimada. 2000. Cerro y lago de Chulavista.

Masaharu Shimada. 2000. Cerro y lago de Chulavista.

In 1967, he visited Mexico for the first time and stayed six months. Two years later, he produced his first book, México en Sumi-e, published by Mokuji-sha, Tokyo.

He returned to Mexico in 1970 and held a solo show at the University of Guanajuato. In 1972, during his third visit to Mexico, he had a one-person show in Valle de Bravo, in the State of México.

Over the next decade, he revisited Mexico almost every year, before deciding in 1986 to establish a seasonal home in San Antonio Tlayacapan on Lake Chapala.

Masaharu Shimada. 1999. Casa antigua de San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Masaharu Shimada. 1999. Casa antigua de San Antonio Tlayacapan.

During the course of his long love affair with Mexico, Shimada has produced several more books, including México Pintado en Tinta China and Colección de Pinturas en San Antonio (both published by Editorial Work House, Tokyo) and México Pintado en Tinta China, published in 2003 by Editorial Artes Gráficas Panorama S.A. de C.V. in Mexico City.

Shimada’s major solo exhibitions in Mexico include: University of Guanajuato (1970); Valle de Bravo (1972); Museo Alhondiga de Granaditas, Guanajuato (1978); Galería Arvil, Mexico City (1977, 1979); Casa de Cultura, Guadalajara (1988); Instituto Cabañas, Guadalajara (1989); Museo Pueblo de Guanajuato (1980, 1983, 1988, 1995); Colegio de Michoacán, Zamora (1996); Televisa, Guadalajara (1998); Nikkei Cultural Center, Mexico City (1999); Museo Casa de Arte Olga Costa-José Chávez Morado, Guanajuato (2001); Yakult Cultural Center, Guadalajara (1994, 2002); and Galería Ramón Alva de la Canal, Xalapa, Veracruz (2016).

The 48 sumi-e works Shimada displayed at the last named show included Lago y casa de San Antonio Tlayacapan, Chapala, Jalisco (1995); Fantasía de árbol de nopal (1996); Nopales (1997); and Panorámica de Guanajuato (2000).

The catalog of images from this exhibition can be viewed on issuu.com.

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

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

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 012022
 

Robert Clutton (1932-2016) lived in Ajijic from about 1959 to 1961. His time in Mexico introduced him to the pantheon of ancient Aztec and Maya gods which so strongly influenced much of his later art. He revisited Ajijic several times after this initial extended stay in the village.

“Bob” Clutton, “Roberto” to his Mexican friends, was born in England on 5 June 1932, brought up in Wales, and passed away in San Francisco on 15 August 2016 at the age of 84.

He left Wales in 1949 to cross the Atlantic on the Mauretania. (Until late in life he much preferred ocean liners to aircraft.) He settled in Baltimore where he became the Art Director for Black & Decker. In October 1955, he was one of numerous artists exhibiting in the The Artists’ Union of Baltimore annual show.

By 1959 Clutton was living and working in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Several of his paintings from this time can be seen on this Facebook page of the San Francisco Senior Center. This painting of the Posada Ajijic in 1959 (below) is a fine example of Clutton’s style during his first months at Lake Chapala.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Untitled painting of Posada Ajijic. Reproduced by kind permissoin of the artist's family

Robert Clutton. 1959. Untitled painting of Posada Ajijic. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist’s family

Former Ajijic gallery owner Katie Goodridge Ingram remembers Bob Clutton as a lovely man, who was well-liked by everyone in the community. During his time in Mexico, Clutton became increasingly fascinated by the “gods of ancient Mexico” and images of these gods became a frequent theme in his later paintings.

When he decided to leave Ajijic in 1961, he chose to move to San Francisco because that was where “all the interesting people he met in Mexico” were from. He continued to make his living as a professional artist in that city for more than fifty years. He retained some close ties to Mexican friends in Ajijic, and revisited the village several times.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic. (Image from San Francisco Senior Center page)

A newspaper feature in 1968, entitled “Art by the Foot” described how Clutton, “a bronzed, bearded, no-nonsense British artist” was making “made-to-measure bas-reliefs” in his Divisadero Street studio. The bas-reliefs, “designed to be decorative indoors and architectural assets outdoors”, used Aztec symbols and colors, and relied on the interplay of sun and shade to emphasize the materials, relief and texture.

Clutton was still producing “formal paintings” which also showed the influence of Mexico, and was represented by the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco. A solo show of his oils and acrylics at that gallery in 1969 brought a wider audience for his work. Shortly after Clutton petitioned for US citizenship in 1971, the Vorpal Gallery also included examples of his work in its 1971 Christmas Show, which also featured paintings by John Denning, Muldoon Elder, Roy Glover, Stephen Haines Hall, Bruce Sherratt (who had previously lived for several years at Lake Chapala) and Gary Smith.

Clutton also exhibited in Los Angeles and in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where a show of his oil paintings opened at Galeria Uno (Morelos 561) in Puerto Vallarta on 23 March 1993.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli. (Vorpal Gallery)

In 1988, Clutton designed the poster for the 1988 Haight Ashbury Street Fair. He enjoyed social events, garden parties and dinners and surrounded himself with creative people, making for lively and entertaining discussions. In his final years, Clutton was active as an artist at the San Francisco Senior Center.

This is an updated version of a profile first published 1 December 2016.

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

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

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Jane Clutton for sharing memories of her husband, and for graciously permitting me to share images of paintings belonging to his family.

Sources

  • Jane Clutton; personal communication, October 2016.
  • Peninsula Times Tribune, 1 Jan 1972, 42.
  • San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, California Living, Week of March 31, 1968: “Art by the Foot” [copy supplied by Jane Clutton]
  • San Francisco Chronicle. 2016. Robert Clutton – obituary, San Francisco Chronicle from Oct. 2 to Oct. 7, 2016.
  • Vorpal Galleries. Robert Clutton. 1969. San Francisco: Vorpal Galleries.

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 172022
 

Artist and international art educator Bruce Robert Sherratt and his first wife, Lesley Jervis, a British sculptor, lived in Jocotepec at the western end of Lake Chapala from 1968 to 1970. Prior to their arrival in Mexico, they had lived and traveled for some time in the USA.

Bruce Robert Sherratt was born in Biddulph, Derbyshire on 31 May 1944. Both Sherratt and his wife studied at the Newcastle School of Art in Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, before moving to London where they married in 1963, and where Sherratt gained his degree in drawing and painting from the Camberwell College of Arts. Many years later, as a mature student, he also completed a degree in Art Education from the University of Wales in Cardiff, U.K.

Sherratt has written of fulfilling a youthful ambition by traveling (with his wife) to Mexico, where he gradually established his own identity as a surrealist painter, “hypnotized by the Aztec, Mayan and Toltec mythology” and “drawn to the giants of Mexican revolutionary muralism such as Orozco, Rivera, Tamayo and Siquieros.”

After reaching Jocotepec, the young couple rented a huge house called “El Kiosko”, “with spectacular views of the entire lake”, set up their studio, and got to work. Sherratt describes them as “hermits”, obsessed by their work: “We were very serious, determined to develop our work and we were very ambitious.” They had relatively little connection to the Lakeside art scene of the time, though they did frequent Ramón’s bar on the plaza and got to know Jocotepec artists (Don) Shaw and John Frost.

During his time in Mexico, Sherratt held several exhibitions of his work , including a solo show at the Galería Municipal in Guadalajara in 1969.

Bruce Sherratt. 1970. Silent Cataclysm (oil on canvas). Credit: Bruce Sherratt Gallery.

Bruce Sherratt. 1970. Silent Cataclysm (oil on canvas). Credit: Bruce Sherratt Gallery.

Sherratt showed works at the Easter art show at Posada Ajijic in March 1970, alongside John K. Peterson, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, (Don) Shaw, John Frost and Lesley Sherratt.

In June 1970, Bruce Sherratt’s work was in a group exhibit in Guadalajara at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense. Other artists participating in this show, included Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, John Frost, Mario Aluta, Daphne Aluta, Chester Vincent, Lesley Jervis Maddock (aka Lesley Sherratt), Gustave Aranguren, Hector Navarro, and Willi Hartung. According to the Guadalajara Reporter, the three works by Sherratt, titled “Victims,” showed “imaginative fluidity,”

Bruce Sherratt - 1971 exhibit

Bruce Sherratt – 1971 exhibit

The following month (July 1970) the Anglo Mexican Institute in Mexico City held a joint show of Sherratt’s paintings and sculptures by ‘Madock’ (the art name used by Lesley, his wife). This show in Mexico City was apparently at the encouragement of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.

After his time in Jocotepec, Sherratt traveled to California, where he painted for a year in San Francisco. His work was exhibited in a group show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1970) and in an exhibit entitled “Surrealist Painters in San Francisco”, in the Vorpal Gallery, San Francisco (also 1970).

The following year, he had another exhibit of oils and drawings in Guadalajara, in the Galeria Municipal. In his review for El Informador, John Frost called it “a passionate description of a trip to another world”, writing that Sherratt, “guides us through regions that could alarm and depress us if it was not for his vision and artistic discipline”. El Informador‘s regular art columnist, J. Luis Meza Ina, however, viewed the show as the work of a painter, not an artist.

At the end of 1971, Sherratt’s work was included in the San Francisco Vorpal Gallery Christmas Show, alongside works by Robert Clutton (who had also lived for several years at Lake Chapala), John Denning, Muldoon Elder, Roy Glover, Stephen Haines Hall, and Gary Smith.

After his time in San Francisco, Sherratt decided to travel the world and spent several years meandering through Latin America. He became sufficiently interested in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, and color theory, to return to the UK to take a degree in Art Education, before becoming a respected international art educator, whose teaching career has taken him to international schools in Germany, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sherratt’s studio is currently in Ubud on the island of Bali in Indonesia, where he is the founder and CEO of the Bali Center for Artistic Creativity (BCAC). The powerful and colorful images on his website show there are few limits to his imagination and artistic abilities. In the past twenty years or so, he has exhibited in numerous countries, including several shows in Jakarta, Indonesia: a retrospective at the Duta Fine Arts Foundation (1998), a show entitled “Synthesis and Abstraction” at the British Council (2001) and an exhibition at the ExpatriArt Gallery (2005).

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

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

Acknowledgment

Sincere thanks to Bruce Sherratt for sharing, via email, some of his memories from his time in Mexico. To see more of his work, please visit his website.

This is a revised version of a profile first published 25 June 2015.

Sources

  • El Informador, 5 June 1970; 10 May 1971; 16 May 1971.
  • Evening Sentinel (Stoke on Trent), 21 Sep 1963, 8.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970.
  • The Peninsula Times Tribune, 1 Jan 1972, 42.
  • Justino Fernández. 1971. Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en el año 1970. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.

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 032022
 

Alice de Boton (1906-2010) started an art school in California, painted in Ajijic in the early 1970s, and continued to paint regularly until well after celebrating her 100th birthday.

Born in Jaffa, Palestine, on 25 December 1906, de Boton painted from childhood. After her family moved to France, she took painting classes in Paris and gained a law degree, as well as a certificate in chemistry.

In 1939 she married Jean Robert Bernard, a French biochemist. When the second world began, the couple fled Paris for the relative safety of southern France.

Alice de Boton. River Course (EBay).

Alice de Boton. River Course (EBay).

The disruptions of the second world war ended the family’s ambitions for a secure life in France. In the turmoil of the war, Alice, who spoke five languages-English, Spanish, French, Italian and Hebrew—also picked up a smattering of German. Very near the end of the war, she and her husband found themselves having to care for her young niece, Aline, whose father (Alice’s brother, Yves) had been captured and killed while participating in the French resistance. Alice and Robert later formally adopted Aline, and the blended family left Europe in 1947 for a new beginning in the U.S.

Alice de Boton. Guitar Player. (EBay).

Alice de Boton. Guitar Player. (EBay).

They boarded a liberty boat in Antwerp, Belgium, on 29 May 1947 and landed in Houston on 14 June. Mistakenly, the ship’s passenger manifest listed Aline, then 9 years old, as the “granddaughter” of Alice Bernard (chemist, aged 40) and Jean Robert Bernard (44-year-old biologist). They settled in San Francisco, where they had friends. Robert found employment as a biochemist and Alice pursued her interest in art, teaching and painting. In 1953, Alice began the Peninsula Arts and Crafts school in San Mateo, California, staffed by a number of noteworthy Bay Area artists. She sold the school four years later in order to move to Berkeley and open her own gallery.

After Robert retired in 1969, he and Alice lived for several years in Ajijic. Robert (1903-1993) took up carving and sculpture, a decision which had unusual consequences for Ajijic native Fernando García, who worked for him. After watching his employer at work, García expressed an interest in learning how to carve. He then worked by candlelight late into the night for several weeks to complete several “small primitives of extraordinary beauty and sensitivity.” When shown at the grand 1971 Fiesta de Arte, held at the home of art patrons Frances and Ned Windham, all of García’s sculptures sold within minutes.

Alice de Boton. Portrait of Mrs Russell.

Alice de Boton. Portrait of Gloria Marthai, a longtime resident at Lake Chapala. Coll: Sunny Russell.

Within months of moving to Ajijic, Alice had three of her works—two oils and an acrylic—selected by a four-person jury for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana (American Artists’ Exhibit) at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco, A.C. in Guadalajara. The exhibit was comprised of more than 70 works in total by 42 US artists (working in Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende and at Lake Chapala) and opened on 27 June 1969.

A list of Lake Chapala artists in 1971 gave Alice de Boton’s address as Aquiles Serdán #1, Ajijic. The following year, she held a solo show at the Museo de Historia (now the Centro Cultural Patio de Los Ángeles) at Cuitlauhuac 305 in Guadalajara. Her “social commentaries” and abstracts in oils, acrylics, collages and assemblages, were praised for their “imagination, originality and artistic skill.”

In February 1973, Alice held an exhibit of “recent paintings” and tapestries at the Hotel Camino Real (now Hotel Real de Chapala) in Ajijic. Allyn Hunt considered that the artists was “at her very best in this show when executing scenes with a pallet knife, casting a deep mosaic of blade strokes to form a face of a figure.”

Robert and Alice de Boton sold their Ajijic home in 1974, and were about to move to the state of Guanajuato, when they changed their minds and opted to rent a residence-with-studio in Ajijic. The de Botons did leave Ajijic permanently not long after that, to live first in the Yucca Valley in Southern California, and then in Israel. They returned to the US in 1989 to live in Columbia, Missouri, close to their adopted daughter, Aline.

De Boton continued to paint and exhibit, and held several solo shows in Columbia. Even moving to a retirement home did little to reduce her artistic creativity or productivity, and the home devoted one entire third-floor wall to her paintings.

During her long and prolific career, Alice solo shows in several countries. Working in a variety of media, she utilized her specialist knowledge of chemistry to develop innovative techniques in encaustics, where a heated mixture of pigment and molten beeswax is applied to a suitable surface, such as prepared wood.

Alice de Boton’s works have found their way into many private collections in Mexico, the U.S. and Israel. Among her many awards was a Degree of Honor awarded by the Society of Western Artists.

Alice de Boton died in Columbia on 10 April 2010 at the age of 103.

Acknowledgment

My thanks to Sunny Russell for permission to use the photograph of Alice de Boton’s portrait of Gloria Marthai.

Sources

  • Columbia Tribune. 2010. “Alice de Boton, 1906-2010” (obituary), Columbia Tribune, 15 April 2010.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 3 Apr 1971; 4 March 1972; 18 Mar 1972; 17 Feb 1973; 22 June 1974.
  • Mark Humpal. 2017. Ray Stanford Strong, West Coast Landscape Artist. University of Oklahoma Press. Note 25, p 190.
  • Pamela A. Mulumby. 2006. “Centenarian’s art doubles as visual diary.” Columbia Missourian, 24 December 2006.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

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 062022
 

Painter, print maker and sculptor Stanley (“Stan”) Fullerton (1935-2018) lived in Chapala in the early 1960s and subsequently became a successful painter in the Santa Cruz area, California.

Born in Portland, Oregon, on 19 January 1935, Fullerton had already exhibited at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco (one of the favorite venues of Beat era poets and artists) and held a solo show at the Telegraph Hill Gallery, in that city in 1958 before he moved to New York where he studied at the Art Students League (1959-60), became friends with George Grosz, and held solo shows at the European Gallery (1959) and the Hilda Carmel Gallery (1960).

After a short period of service in Korea and Japan with the US Marines, Fullerton spent a year or two at Lake Chapala, before settling in the Santa Cruz area of California in the mid-1960s. His wife, Gail Putney, was the first female president of San Jose State University. The couple moved to Coos Bay, Oregon, in the 1990s.

Stan Fullerton. 1969. Man Playing Cello Outdoors.

Stan Fullerton. 1969. Man Playing Cello Outdoors

According to former “Merry Prankster” Lee Quarnstrom, Fullerton “inspired both the stoic American Indian character, “Chief” Bromden, and recidivist criminal, Randle McMurphy, in Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

In the words of journalist Mark Marinovich:

Fullerton’s expressionistic paintings, prints and drawings are populated by improbable characters juxtaposed in even more improbable circumstances.”
– “ “I paint human folly. I paint authority figures as fools, and fools as authority figures.” Fullerton champions self-expression, which, he asserted, is generally lacking in American art.”

Despite not liking to exhibit his art, Fullerton held several one-man shows, including exhibitions at The Cupola Gallery, Santa Cruz (1966), The Downstairs Gallery, Los Gatos (1970), Pacific Grove Art Center, Pacific Grove (1982), Bruce Velick Gallery, San Francisco (1987) and Southwestern Oregon City College, North Bend, Oregon (2016).

Exhibit of works by Stan Fullerton, 2017

Exhibit of work by Stan Fullerton, 2017.

His group shows included Nova I in Berkeley, California (1969), The Great Montgrove Craft Guild, Pacific Grove (1970), 1971- 1973 The Forge in the Forest, Carmel (1971, 1972, 1973), Corn Roast, Davenport (1972), and Bruce Velick Gallery, San Francisco (1987) and Untitled 2.0 Gallery, Grants Pass, Oregon (2017).

Fullerton’s friends during his time in Chapala included guitarist Jim Byers. Byers and Fullerton were also close buddies in Santa Cruz. Fullerton was bartender at The Catalyst, where Byers—dubbed “The First King of Lompico” by one regular—often played classical guitar for tips.

Stan Fullerton had been widowed two years when he died in Coos Bay, Oregon, in 2018.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village explore the history of the vibrant art community of Ajijic.

Sources

  • Jim Byers, personal communication, August 2015.
  • Mark Marinovich. 1984. “Improbable world of Stan Fullerton.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 30 March 1984, 68.
  • Mark Marinovich. Undated. “Online Biography of Stanley Fullerton.”
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, California, 7 July 1970, 4;
  • Anonymous comment dated 30 September 2015 at Hip Santa Cruz History Project.

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 292022
 

In the early 1960s, Grant Risdon, a student at San Francisco Art Institute, lived in Chapala for some time. Risdon, a larger than life character, became friends with guitarist Jim Byers, and the two men rented rooms in El Manglar, the extensive lakeside estate in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Scott Hampson, who visited his half-sister Beverly Johnson in Ajijic over the winter of 1963-64, shared his tales of his own adventures with Grant Risdon:

By that time I had two close friends who kept me company out at Manglar. One, the one I was closest to, was Tony Bateman…. He and I and a friend named Grant stole two very expensive early era inflatable boats from two explorer tourists who were en-route back from South America. They were staying at a lakefront hotel in town and had the boats out on their deck. We stored them at Manglar and took midnight floats out on the lake, which was the only time one could float stolen boats…. One late night in the graveyard we unbuckled the crypt of an important ancient citizen, a priest perhaps. When we got the lid off and shone our flashlight inside we saw the skeleton, screamed, and took off running like contestants in a 100 yard dash.”

A year earlier, an encounter with Risdon and Byers had left an indelible impression on Doctor Avis, as recounted by Dayton Lummis in Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. According to Lummis: “Ajijic was then, 1962, just barely beginning to be discovered, mostly by a few beatniks and adventurers” when Doctor Avis got out of the army and decided to stay there a few days:

Not long after getting off the bus in Ajijic he fell in with two American chaps, Jim Byers and Grant Risdon from Chicago, who playfully called himself “Pancho Napoleon Anaya… These two chaps directed the Doctor to some cheap lodging and then suggested they buy some of the locally available and very cheap marijuana, or mota, to assist them in getting through the afternoon…”

Risdon’s moniker reflected the fact that he had been informally adopted by the prominent Anaya family in Chapala.

Grant Risdon. Credit: Monterey County Weekly.

Grant Risdon. Credit: Monterey County Weekly.

Risdon, who was born in Monterey, California, in about 1943, started life with an abusive father and, while still a child, lost his mother to a heroin overdose. Brought up by his grandfather in Jamesburg, near Cachagua, RIsdon eventually graduated from Carmel High and served briefly in the US Marines before moving to Lake Chapala.

His art education had begun with Monterey painter Buck Warshawsky, and his early works were sufficiently original to be greatly admired by Jack Swanson, a renowned cowboy painter living in Carmel Valley. Swanson awarded him the top prize in an art contest at the Trail & Saddle Club for a painted three-panel door.

The only Risdon artworks known to have been published are the “brilliant illustrations (Aztec Design)” linoleum block prints he produced for a hand bound book of poems by Richard Denner, published in 1968.

Risdon sold pastel drawings of ships in local galleries, and often painted scenes of the Civil War, the Old West and Native Americans. Adorning the Cachagua General Store for years was one of his “Indian Surrealism” pieces: an image of a canoe under a full moon, with its Native American rower only visible as a reflection in the water.

In 1981, following a violent altercation with a naked man, Risdon fled police to hide out in a cave in Los Padres National Forest for the next three years, before returning to the scene of the crime to turn himself in. Or did he? Risdon was a brilliant raconteur but, according to many friends and journalists, was liberal with the truth and often embellished his stories for dramatic effect. Years later, Conall Jones, a New York filmmaker, produced a 20-minute documentary short, An Unwanted Man (2014), about Risdon’s years on the lam. [link is to trailer]

Friends considered Risdon “a sensitive soul who loved horses, painted Western-style art and pursued history and culture with almost as much passion as he did pretty women.” He always retained very fond memories of Lake Chapala and Mexico. In the words of one journalist:

Reliving those memories behind the General Store, Risdon clacks his castanets and sings “El Lechero,” a Mexican folk song about a handsome milkman. The nostalgia begins to flow like tequila: how he tangoed with beautiful women in the Guadalajara dance halls, received a presidential smile during Jonn F. Kennedy’s visit to Mexico, and learned spirituality from the Huichol Indians of Jalisco.
– “Honey, that place – ” he says with a dreamy smile, “that is the most beautiful time in my life.”

Risdon, who returned briefly to Chapala in about 2014, died in Cachagua, California, in 2018.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village look at Ajijic’s vibrant art community and its 1960s’ drugs scene.

Sources

  • Kera Abraham. 2010. “The improbable and irresistible saga of Cachagua’s living legend, Grant Risdon.” Monterey County Weekly, 29 April 2010.
  • Jim Byers, personal communications, August 2015.
  • Richard Denner. 1968. Poemes. D-Press (Ketchikan, Alaska).
  • Scott Hampson. 2016. Unpublished document dated December 2016 titled “BEVERLY AND MEXICO 63-64″, sent to me December 2020:
  • Dayton Lummis. 2011. Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. iUniverse, 159-160.

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

Sep 222022
 

According to his birth certificate, painter and art educator Luis Sahagún Cortés was born in the town of Sahuayo, Michoacán, on 20 November 1900 (and not on 20 May as stated in some online biographies). His parents were well educated: his mother (Petra Cortés, or Cortéz as on his birth certificate) was a teacher and his father (Pascual Sahagún) a doctor. In 1900, Sahuayo was situated on the southern shore of Lake Chapala; during the artist’s childhood, the eastern third of the lake was drained and ‘reclaimed’ for agriculture, causing Sahuayo to lose its proximity to the lake.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Autoretrato. Credit: Morton Casa de Subastas, 2017.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Autoretrato. Credit: Morton Casa de Subastas, 2017.

Luis Sahagún studied art in Guadalajara from the age of 18 with José Vizcarra (1868-1956) and then at the Escuela Libre de Bellas Artes in Mexico City before moving to Rome, Italy, in 1925 to study at the Academy Libre de Desnudo, where his teachers included Rómulo Bernardini. Sahagún also attended art classes and workshops in Turkey, Palestine, Egypt and Morocco.

Sahagún returned from Europe in 1932 and married Italian-born Adela Appiani Panozzi (c.1907-1964) in Mexico City on 5 November 1936; the couple never had children.

Sahagún dedicated his life to his art and art education. As an educator, he was Professor of Art at the National Fine Arts School (Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas) in Mexico City, where he had a studio in the colonia Postal, from 1932 to 1976. He also led the Departamento de Restauración Artística del Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) for more than 20 years.

Among the many students of his who went on to enjoy distinguished careers as professional artists were Raul Anguiano, José Luis Cuevas, Humberto Peraza, Luis Nichizawa and Martha Chapa.

Sahagún held more than 40 one-person exhibitions, in locations from France, Spain and Cuba to New York and Philadelphia, and was commissioned to complete official portraits of numerous ex-Presidents. During the presidency (1934-1940) of Lázaro Cárdenas, Sahagún was appointed official painter to the president, commissioned to complete official portraits of numerous former presidents and asked to paint several murals, including some in Los Pinos (formerly the official residence of the president), and the Palacio Nacional (National Palace).

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Peces de colores.

In addition to his oil paintings, his charming well-executed drawings are much sought after by collectors. Drawings and paintings by Sahagún are on permanent display in the Gallery of the Società Dante Alighieri in Rome, Italy, and can be found in collections in New York, London, the Dutch Royal Academy, Denmark, Monaco, the Oval Office of the U.S., Cuba, and many other places, including, now, the Ajijic Museum of Art.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Personajes en el autobus. Credoit: Morton casa de subastas.

Luis Sahagún Cortés. Personajes en el autobus. Credit: Morton Casa de subastas.

Sahagún never relinquished his attachment to Sahauyo and moved back there in 1975 to live out his final years. His paintings can be admired in the city’s Santuario de Guadalupe, and in the Museo Luis Sahagún museum (part of the Casa de la Cultura Petrita Cortés de Sahagún).

luis-sahagun-cover

His most well known works in Sahuayo are the fourteen unique stations of the cross, using Venetial mosaics and commemorating the Cristero martyrs, embedded in niches beside the stairway leading up to the Cristo Rey monument. Sahagún’s depictions feature Purepecha Indians; this is perhaps the only Way of the Cross in the world to have truly indigenous motifs.

Sahagún died in Sahuayo on 24 February 1978. In his memory, Mexico’s Lotería Nacional issued tickets bearing his portrait, and (in 1999) a series of Ladatel phone cards with illustrations of his paintings was issued.

A short book about his life and work was published in 2006 by the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA).

Several fine examples of drawings by Luis Sahagún Cortés are in the permanent collection of the Ajijic Museum of Art (AMA).

Sources

  • Ma. del Carmen Alberú Gómez. 2006. Luis Sahagún Cortés : pincel del equilibrio. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA).
  • 2-minute Facebook video: Via Crucis de Cristo Rey en Sahuayo, Michoacán.
  • El Informador: 12 November 1998, 53.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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

Sep 152022
 

Sometimes amateur artists paint something close to unique. Jim Byers, born in about 1940, first visited Lake Chapala in 1960 after graduating from Berkeley High School, California. He remained in Mexico for three years before returning north to study for a degree in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

For part of this first extended visit to Mexico, Byers lived at the extensive property in San Antonio Tlayacapan, known as El Manglar, where President Díaz stayed on several occasions in the 1900s, paying the princely sum of $18 a month for room and board.

Jim Byers. 1961. Photograph of El Manglar.

Jim Byers. 1961. Photograph of El Manglar.

It was at El Manglar that Byers took this photograph of where he was living and completed a painting of the same scene. While Byers had no pretensions as a visual artist, his 1961 painting of El Manglar is the only one I’m currently aware of. Byers explained to me that,

“It’s a one of a kind. I painted it when I was young and had had a couple of art classes as a teenager. I am glad you like it. It was here in Ajijic when I was maybe 19 years old.” He then went on to point out that “the guy on the bench is Montgomery Clift playing Freud in a movie, the skeleton is the Mona Lisa… the guy flying is of course the artist.”

Jim Byers. 1961. El Manglar.

Jim Byers. 1961. El Manglar, San Antonio, Ajijic.

El Manglar is also associated with American artist Everett Gee Jackson. Shortly after their marriage in 1926, Jackson and his wife, Eileen, rented it and lived their with a couple of friends for several months. Jackson described El Manglar’s extensive grounds and idiosyncratic decorations:

Eileen and I took the large music room, with its shining tile floor, for our bedroom. We thought it must have been the old dictator’s music room, since it had cupids playing musical instruments painting on the ceiling.

Staying at El Manglar for at least part of the time Byers was there, was Grant Risdon, a student at the San Francisco Art Institute who was a frequent visitor to Chapala. An encounter with Risdon and Byers in 1962 left an indelible impression on Doctor Avis, as recounted by Dayton Lummis in Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. According to Lummis: “Ajijic was then, 1962, just barely beginning to be discovered, mostly by a few beatniks and adventurers” when Doctor Avis got out of the army and decided to stay there a few days:

“Not long after getting off the bus in Ajijic he fell in with two American chaps, Jim Byers and Grant Risdon from Chicago, who playfully called himself “Pancho Napoleon Anaya… These two chaps directed the Doctor to some cheap lodging and then suggested they buy some of the locally available and very cheap marijuana, or mota, to assist them in getting through the afternoon…”

Jim’s drug of choice, however, was not mota or painting but playing classical guitar. In his own words,

“I came here in 1960 when I got out of high school. I decided to hitchhike South and kept going. I’m a classical guitarist and was very very good friends with Gustavo Sendis and Geoffrey Goodridge. Gustavo lived with my family for maybe a year in Berkeley and I knew Geoffrey because he was a student at Cal as well although I met him down here in Ajijic. So we were all very tight for some years. Beautiful beautiful men.”

Byers performed internationally as a classical guitarist, after studying with David Mozqueda in Mexico and taking master classes with Oscar Ghiglia, counter-tenor Alfred Deller, Paul O’Dette and the great American guitarist and composer Philip Rosheger (1950-2013).

During his later years living in Chapala (Jim Byers died in 2018), he continued to perform, often as an accompanist to singers, and acted as mentor to the next generation of musicians, including guitarist Ernie Lara. When Rosheger, Byer’s own mentor, visited him in Chapala in 2008, he composed a short piece titled “Clear Southern Sky,” which he dedicated to his host. Lara subsequently gave the world première performance of this piece at the Centro Cultural González Gallo in Chapala in 2021.

Note

Like Jim Byers, both Gustavo Sendis and Geoffrey Goodridge were exceptionally talented guitarists. Sendis studied in Spain and combined guitar playing with his love for visual arts, often holding joint recital-exhibitions. As an adult, Goodridge moved to Europe, adopted the name Azul and gained renown as a professional flamenco guitarist.

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

The story of El Manglar is told in chapter 34 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.

The musical history of Ajijic is the subject of chapter 38 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village.

Sources

  • Jim Byers, personal communications, August 2015.
  • Dayton Lummis. 2011. Spaceships and Liquor: Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight. iUniverse, 159-160.
  • Ojo del Lago, December 2013.

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 082022
 

Sarah Hunt Shearer was born on 30 November 1919 and raised in Buffalo, New York. Her parents—Dr. Augustus Shearer, the director of the Grosvenor Library in Buffalo, and Inez Shearer, an artist—lived in Buffalo but also had a summer home in the village of South Wales, New York.

Sarah graduated from The Park School in Buffalo and also studied at Bradford Junior College in Massachusetts. In the summer of 1939, she was in Europe with her sister Mary Ardelle (1917-2013). Mary, who had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, was about to start teaching there, and Sarah planned to study art at the University of Grenoble. Their plans were thwarted by the start of the second world war. Fortunately, they were able to secure passage in November 1939 on one of the last passenger ships leaving Europe for the US.

Sarah continued her art education with two years at the Colorado College of Fine Arts in Colorado Springs. Her fellow students included David Holbrook Kennedy, who, in 1941, received a commission paint a mural in Chapala. David’s sister Norah, a writer, accompanied him to Chapala, where they rented a house. What David’s parents did not realize at the time was that David “intended to invite his girlfriend, Sarah Shearer, to join him in Mexico, and that they planned to marry there in late September.” (Reardon, 134)

David and Sarah, “a petite, blond, affable girl,” married on 11 October 1941 in Casa Casimiro Ramirez in Ajijic, described in one newspaper as the residence of author Nigel Stansbury-Millett and his father, Harry Millett. This must be one of the earliest all-American marriages in the area.

“The bride, who was given away by her mother, wore an afternoon dress of navy blue crepe, with a collar and peplum of white lace in an orange-blossom pattern. Her hat was of white feathers, and she carried a small bouquet of orange blossoms.” (The Whittier News)

Guests at the wedding, and reception which followed, included Sarah’s mother—artist Inez Rogers Shearer; David’s two sisters—Norah and Mary Frances; Nigel Stansbury-Millett and his father; Swedish artist Nils Dardel and his partner Edita Morris; Mr and Mrs Francisco Nicolau of Guadalajara and their son Sergio; Mr and Mrs Casimiro Ramírez and two children; and the Honorable Mr Maurice Stafford (US Consul). Following the civil wedding in Ajijic, an Episcopal ceremony was performed by the Rev. José Robredo in St Marks Chapel in Guadalajara.

The young couple lived in Chapala in a “small house, where the whitewashed walls, tile floors, serapes, and minimal furnishings were enhanced by David’s pictures on the walls”. (Reardon, 140)

“The little house in the fishing village was fairly new, built to rent to summer-people who came for the lake and the quiet. It has a bathroom upstairs, fed from a tank on the roof which a man came every night to fill by the hand-pump in the tiny patio.” (Fisher, 545)

David’s murals in the municipal baths in Chapala must have been among the earliest, if not the earliest, murals in the Lake Chapala region. Sadly, neither the murals nor the building that housed them still exist.

The murals were painted by the entire group (David, Sarah, Norah and Mary Frances) under David’s direction. The group worked on them every day for several weeks: “Norah and Sarah and I were helping David paint murals in the municipal baths, and spent several hours every day neck-deep in the clear running water of the pools, walking cautiously on the sandy bottoms with pie-plates full of tempera held up, and paint-brushes stuck in our hair.” (Fisher, 545)

After the murals were finished in November 1941, David and Sarah returned to California by car. Tragically, David took his own life the following year, leaving Sarah a widow while pregnant with their first child; their daughter, Sarah Holbrook Kennedy, was born in August 1942.

Animal pots. (Chicago Tribune)

Five years later, in 1947, Sarah Shearer Kennedy remarried. She and her new husband, Charles Livermore, added two more children, Rebecca and Jonathan, to the family, and lived in various cities over the next few decades, including Washington, D.C. (1953), Westchester (1956-59) and Chicago, Illinois. Following their retirement in 1979, Sarah and her husband moved permanently to their summer home in he village of South Wales, New York.

In her obituary Sarah was described as “a talented artist whose work was once exhibited at the East Aurora Library” and who “was particularly known for her clay animal sculptures and her inventive woodcuts.”

The author of a short piece in the Chicago Tribune in 1974 about an artsy gift store named “Mercury and the Moon,” owned by Terry Morse-Red and her husband, Ross, loved Sarah’s work: “My favorite was the animal potter, shown here by Sarah Livermore. There was a lovable gorilla holding a low pot ($50), two nuzzling giraffes ($40 including the plant), three cavorting lions on the rim of a shallow bowl ($40).”

Charles Livermore died in 1999 and Sarah died at home on 25 April 2005, at the age of 85.

Please get in touch if you own any artwork by Sarah Hunt Shearer (Kennedy) Livermore!

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Notes

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022) discuss the history of the Ajijic art community.

Sources

  • East Aurora Advertiser, 27 April 2005. “Sarah “Sally” Shearer” (obituary).
  • Chicago Tribune, 19 April 1974, 38.
  • M. F. K. Fisher, 1943. The Gastronomical Me (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York), reprinted in The Art of Eating (Macmillan 1979).
  • Joan Reardon, 2005. Poet of the Appetites: The Lives And Loves of M.F.K. Fisher (North Point Press)
  • Buffalo Evening News (New York): 15 Oct 1941, 38; 24 Dec 1941, 3.
  • The Whittier News: 21 Oct 1941, 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.

Aug 182022
 

US artist Inez Rogers Shearer (1889-1981) painted at Lake Chapala in 1941, only a few months after the death of her husband. Shearer was in Ajijic to attend the marriage of her daughter, Sarah Hunt Shearer, to David Holbrook Kennedy, who painted the earliest known mural at Lake Chapala. Sarah was also an artist and the young couple had met while studying art at the Colorado Springs Art Center.

Also at the wedding were David’s two sisters: the food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, and author Norah Oliver Kennedy, who wrote several stories while in Mexico for submission to The New Yorker, as well as Swedish artist Nils Dardel, his partner Edita Morris, Nigel Stansbury-Millett and his father, Harry Millett; Mr and Mrs Francisco Nicolau of Guadalajara and their son Sergio; Mr and Mrs Casimiro Ramírez and two children; and the Honorable Mr Maurice Stafford (US Consul).

Shearer is noteworthy in the context of Lake Chapala for having donated a painting titled “Lake Chapala, Mexico” in 1942 to help promote the sale of War Savings Bonds and Stamps in her home city of Buffalo, New York. The city’s competition to publicize and sell these bonds, was won by a young unnamed student who, despite being too young to enroll in the US Navy, was determined to make a contribution to the war effort. His prize was the painting, which had been on show in the lobby of the Amherst Theater. (If you know the current whereabouts of Shearer’s painting of Lake Chapala, please get in touch!)

Inez Ardelle Rogers was born on 30 July 1889 in Chaumont, Jefferson, New York. After graduating from Wheaton Academy in West Chicago and Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, she married Dr Augustus Hunt Shearer on 4 December 1915. Her husband was Librarian of the Grosvenor Library in Buffalo, New York from 1917 to the time of his death; the couple had four children.

Inez Shearer. 1945. Yucatan transport.

Inez Shearer. 1944. “Pulpit Carriages of Yucatan.”

After she was widowed, Inez devoted more time to her art, and her work was included in numerous group exhibitions in the Buffalo area in the mid-1940s. A painting titled “Hollow Men”, shown at the Albright Art Gallery in December 1943, was described as “something forebodingly prophetic.” In March 1944 her painting “Convent at Morelia” was included in a group show organized by the Buffalo Junior League. The following month, “Mountain Road,” hung in the Patteran Society show at the Albright Art Gallery, was praised for its “feeling of vernal exuberance: a peasant drives a cart up a narrow path under a lush umbrella of jungle trees.”

She also had works in shows at the Garrett Club in Buffalo, and in an exhibition of works by the faculty and advanced students of the Art Institute of Buffalo. In January 1945, Shearer held a solo show of oils and watercolors at the Art Institute of paintings done “in Mexico and Yucatan.” These paintings included “Pulpit Carriages of Yucatan,” a study in lemon yellows and subtle pale greens.

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Notes

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022) discuss the history of the Ajijic art community.

Sources

  • Buffalo Evening News (New York). “Student Winner of Lake Canvas.” 3 December 1942, 18.
  • Buffalo Evening News: 15 October 1941, 38; 24 December 1941, 3; 20 January 1945, 18.
  • The Whittier News: 21 Oct 1941, 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.

Aug 042022
 

Painter Herbert (Herb) Rhodes, the fourth husband of calendar artist and illustrator Zoe Mozert, lived in Ajijic in the early 1960s. Rhodes, who had been married previously, married Mozert in 1958; the couple divorced two years later, but remained good friends and art companions.

Little is known about Rhodes’ background, early life or education. Six feet tall, with black hair, he served in the US Navy, and had attained the rank of Captain by the time he was discharged.

According to his son, Rhodes held art shows in New York, Rome and several other European cities. His work rarely comes up at auction, though this pastel titled “Navajo Indian” was sold at auction in New York in 2017.

Herbert E Rhodes. 1963. Navajo Indian. Credit: Roland Auctions, New York.

Rhodes lived most of the 1960s and 1970s in Taos, where, amongst other things, he gained fame for drawing 127 life-sized caricatures of local residents on the walls of La Cocina de Taos, the town’s night life and live music center. Sadly, the mural was destroyed after the building was sold in the late 1970s and converted into a novelty shop and clothing store.

In 1963, Rhodes’ work was exhibited in Taos at a new art gallery owned by Zoe Mozert. Mozert’s “portrait and figure paintings with Indian subjects” were shown alongside Rhodes’ caricatures, and landscapes by Verne Matheny.

In the mid-1960s, he lived for a time in Ajijic. as shown by this briefest of notes in the Guadalajara Reporter in January 1965: “Artist Herb Rhodes and Margaret Wasson are on a trip to the States.”

If anyone can supply any additional information about Rhodes’ time at Lake Chapala, please get in touch!

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

Notes

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village (2022) discuss the history of the Ajijic art community.

Sources

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 28 Jan 1965.
  • The Taos News: 28 March 1963, 9.
  • “Diamond” Jim Halter. 2012. Liz, Inc. iUniverse, 79-80.

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

Jul 212022
 

American pin-up girl and painter Zoë Mozert (1907-1993) lived and exhibited her artwork at Lake Chapala in the 1960s.

Mozert (birth name Alice Adelaide Moser) was born in Colorado Springs on 27 April 1907 and began painting at the age of four. After the family moved to Pennsylvania, Zoë attended Fairfax Hall, a prestigious private girl’s boarding school in Waynesboro, Virginia. After graduation, she moved back to live with her family and take art lessons at the LaFrance Art School.

From 1925 to 1928 she studied at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, where she took advanced classes with Thorton Oakley. The “petite, pert and practical” young woman (who was just under five feet tall) paid for her tuition by modeling at the school. After her studies, she established her own window display business, and in 1932 she moved to New York City to seek freelance work as an independent designer, using ‘Zoë Mozert’ as her art name. The following year she won a scholarship to study at the Art Students League.

Bernard Hoffman. 1943. Portrait of “Zoë Mozert, Artist” for Life Magazine.

Mozert sold her first cover portrait (for which her sister modeled) to True Confessions in 1933. During the next five years, she painted and sold more than 400 cover illustrations. Mozert was her own model for many of her magazine covers and movie posters, using mirrors, cameras and an assistant to help create the desired pose. Seven color photos by Mozert, titled “Glorious Beauty of America’s Women as seen through a Woman’s Eyes,” were published in American Weekly in 1936. Her sensual and glamorous work appeared on the covers of numerous pulp magazines, including Smart Love Stories, Love Revels, and Night Life Tales, and glamor magazines such as Romantic Movie Stories, Romantic Stories, and Screen Stories. Mozert also painted artwork for advertisements, some based on her pastel portraits of famous movie stars.

While working on a cruise ship to South America in 1939, Mozert used a photo of a friend to paint her first nude. When the painting was shown in Mendelssohns Gallery in New York two years later,  it was seen by the art director of Brown & Bigelow, the largest US calendar company, based in California. He immediately offered Mozert an exclusive contract to produce calendar illustrations, the start of her lucrative twenty-plus-year career with the company. Mozert’s annual pin-up calendars called Victory Girls became immensely popular during the second world war.

Zoë Mozert artwork for Brown and Bigelow

Mozert also designed movie posters and her career received another huge boost when she was commissioned by billionaire Howard Hughes to paint a publicity poster of Jane Russell for The Outlaw (1943).

Zoë Mozert “The Outlaw”

The year the film was released, the 36-year-old Mozert and her husband (the second of her four short-lived marriages) moved to Hollywood. Shortly after, Paramount Pictures produced a short about Zoë, “the pin up girl who paints ’em too” in its series “Unusual Occupations.”

In the 1950s, Mozert was at the peak of her career, reputedly the highest paid calendar artist of all time. According to one news article, between 1940 and 1960, more than 35 million reproductions of her paintings had been sold around the world.

In 1958 she married Herbert E Rhodes, “a well-known painter (of Indians, murals, and portraits) from Taos.” The marriage only lasted two years but the couple remained friends and continued to work together. When Mozert opened a gallery in Taos in 1963, the first show combined her portrait and figure paintings, with Indian subjects and caricatures by Herb Rhodes, and landscapes by Verne Matheny.

Zoe Mozert. 1970s. Reproduced by kind permission of Iván González Barón and family.

Zoë Mozert. Cat. 1970s. Reproduced by kind permission of Iván González Barón and family.

In 1965, Mozert and Rhodes visited Lake Chapala, where the “famous, vivacious artist” was reported to be getting the “feel of the village, taking a walk on our cobblestone streets.” Rhodes did not apparently stay long in Mexico, but Mozert spent four months in the country, taking in Guadalajara, San Blas, Mazatlán and Monterrey.

According to the Taos News: “At Ajijic she stayed with Mr. and Mrs. William Stallard (the former Lady Rivers), who have moved there from Canada,” and exhibited her pictures in the village. Zoë told the paper that she was impressed everywhere in Mexico with the cleanliness, since street littering wasn’t allowed.

The Mozert painting of a cat (above) may have been a gift to the Stallards. It was later owned by photographer and linguist Friedrich Butterlin, one of the four pall-bearers at Mrs Stallard’s funeral in September 1965.

In 1978 Mozert retired to Sedona, Arizona, where she continued to produce pastel drawings and portraits, many of which were sold in fine art galleries. A shoulder injury in 1985 brought an end to her painting career. Zoë Mozert, pin-up girl, commercial calendar illustrator and artist extraordinaire, died on 1 February 1993 in Flagstaff, Arizona.

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

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

Sources

  • Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff): 28 September 1960.
  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix). 1993. “Film, calendar artist Zoe Mozert” (obituary). Arizona Republic, 12 Feb 1993, 30.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 7 Jan 1965.
  • Marianne Ohl Phillips. 1995. “Zoë Mozert: Pin-Up’s Leading Lady. A loving profile,” Tease! Magazine, #3, p 30-38.
  • The Pittsburgh Press: 22 Jan 1964.
  • The Taos News: 28 March 1963, 9; 29 April 1965, 8.

Comments, corrections and additional material welcome, whether via comments feature or email.

Jul 142022
 

The renowned Hollywood portraitist Richard Kitchin lived in San Antonio Tlayacapan in the 1970s.

Richard (‘Dick’) Harwood Dodwell Kitchin was born on 15 Jan 1913 in Oxted, Surrey, England, to Vernon Parry Kitchin, a teacher and amateur archaeologist, and his wife, Phyllis Annie Dodwell Kitchin. Richard’s inspiration to become an artist undoubtedly originated from watching his parents enjoy their shared hobby for painting.

When Richard was 6 years of age, the family moved to Château-d’Oex, Vaud, Switzerland. At age 13, Richard was sent back to the UK to join his older brother, Michael, at Stowe School in Buckingham. Michael had started at Stowe shortly after it opened in 1923.

At Stowe, Richard’s classmates included James ‘Peter’ Lilley (1913-1980) and Anthony Stansfeld (1913-1998). Lilley and Stasfeld later collaborated to write several books, including two detective novels (using the pen name of ‘Bruce Buckingham’) and several travel books (taking on the nom de plume of ‘Dane Chandos’ after the death of Lilley’s first writing partner, Nigel Stansbury Millett). The Lilley-Millett duo had penned Village in the Sun and House in the Sun, and Lilley shared his beautiful real-life home in San Antonio Tlayacapan, the basis for those early Dane Chandos works, with Kitchin in the 1970s.

The earliest significant mention of Kitchin in The Stoic (the Stowe School magazine) comes from 1929, in the notes of The Arts Club: “R H D Kitchin’s water-colour sketches are full of promise.” Kitchin was awarded his School Certificate that year, and (along with Stansfeld) was also a member of the school’s Modern Language Society. The following year, Kitchin was awarded the Headmaster’s Art Prize in a show judged by then up-and-coming (later famous) British artist Rex Whistler.

Richard Kitchin. 1937 Self portrait. Credit: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

Richard Kitchin. 1937 Self portrait. Credit: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

Kitchin left Stowe in summer 1930 to enter the Slade School of Art in London, and immediately won second prize in the Slade’s Summer Sketching Competition. After completing his studies at the Slade School in 1932, Kitchin continued his art education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence (1932-1934), the Ecole d’Art in Paris (1934-1938), and via private classes with ‘Prof. Pashaud’ in Switzerland (1936-1938).

This self portrait dated 1937 is in the permanent collection of the Instituto Cultural Cabañas in Guadalajara.

By 1939 and the start of the second world war, Richard was based in London, sharing a house with playwright Martyn Coleman Whiteman. In 1940 they left the UK and traveled to Batavia (now Jakarta) in the Far East, from where they crossed the Pacific aboard the SS Poelau Bras, arriving in California on Christmas Eve.

Kitchin and Whiteman both registered for the US military in July 1941. A few months afterwards, they are recorded as entering the US from Tijuana, Mexico, and declaring their intention to reside permanently in the US. Two years later, both men signed and submitted paperwork for permanent residency, stating that their last permanent address outside the US had been in Yugoslavia.

In the 1940s, Kitchin quickly established himself as a portrait painter in California. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported in December 1943 that Mrs J Howard Hales had held a cocktail party for friends in her Beverly Hills apartment to show off Kitchin’s portrait of her.

Movie makers in the 1940s also sought Kitchin’s expertise. For example, the makers of The Uninvited, released in 1944, commissioned Kitchin to paint “two huge paintings of Mary Meredith.” According to a blog post by film buff Remy Dean:

… the two huge paintings of Mary Meredith deserve a mention. One takes up a wall of Stella’s bedroom at her grandfather’s house. The other is equally huge and dominates Miss Holloway’s office at The Mary Meredith Retreat—a kind of polite asylum for overwrought women. It’s all we see of this supposedly perfect woman, painted in the style of Thomas Gainsborough by the hugely talented Richard Kitchin.”

Although uncredited, the sitter for the portraits was Elizabeth Russell who subsequently played bit parts in several horror films. Interviewed for the Detroit Evening Times, Russell explained that her “chief joy” of sitting for the portraits “was that it called for her to spend seven weeks in the studio of Richard Kitchin…. She’s thrilled that one of the paintings recently took first place at a Denver art show.” (The details of that show, believed to have been held in the “State Museum,” remain elusive.)

Richard Kitchen at work. Photograph in possession of Moreen Chater.

Richard Kitchin at work. Photograph in possession of Moreen Chater; reproduced with permission.

A portrait by Kitchin also featured prominently in another film, the 20th Century Fox crime drama The Dark Corner (1946), starring Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix and Mark Stevens. Clifton Webb played a suave art connoisseur named Hardy Cathcart, and Kitchin was commissioned to paint “an ‘old master’ type oil portrait” of Hardy’s wife, Mari, played by Cathy Downs.

A contemporary account explained why this was one of the most challenging assignments the artist had ever had:

The 17th century-type portrait had to be true to the period, yet be a perfect likeness of dimpled brunette Cathy. The picture explains the possessive love of art connoisseur Webb who falls in love with his young bride because she is the living reincarnation of the portrait.”

In October 1945, the Los Angeles Times remarked that Kitchin’s portrait of Peggy Wood “was admired by Ronald Colman and wife, Admiral Ike Johnson and wife, Charley Brackett and Lester Donahue, among others.” That portrait is now in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

Richard Kitchen. Portrait of a lady. Date unknown.

Richard Kitchin. Portrait of a lady. 1940s. Credit: Fine Estate, San Rafael, California.

Later that same month, the paper’s society columnist described how another Kitchin portrait had been less favorably received:

Mrs Smart was showing everyone her son Gillie’s new portrait, just completed by artist Richard Kitchin. After a number of “ohs” and “ahs” Nelson Eddy discovered that young Gillie was clutching an American Flag with only 11 stripes in it! Mr. Kitchin is being paged to DO something about this!”

Kitchin painted portraits of dozens of well-known theater personages, such as Ronald Colman (to whom he gave landscape painting classes), Ilka Chase, Ann Todd and Richard Barthelmess.

Richard Kitchin. 1942. "Dwight Ripley." Courtesy of Douglas Crase.

Richard Kitchin. 1942. “Dwight Ripley.” Courtesy of Douglas Crase.

Kitchin’s circle of friends in Hollywood included botanist-artists Dwight Ripley and Rupert Barneby. In his closely observed biography of the couple, Douglas Crase described Kitchin (whom he also knew) as “a set artist who painted the Surrealist portrait of Dwight that hung in Rupert’s bedroom.” That portrait was included in the show at Denver Art Museum mentioned previously. Crase shared with me that Kitchin’s portrait of Barneby met with less success—the subject didn’t like it and (sadly) destroyed it.

During his career as a thriving commercial portrait artist, Kitchin rarely exhibited his work. However, in addition to the Denver show, he did show a painting in 1945 in the Second National Competitive Exhibition of Glendale Art Association in California. A reviewer of the “excellent show of 79 paintings” chose Kitchin’s “Circus No. 6″ as their second favorite; the show’s jury awarded it third place.

Kitchin’s circle of friends in California also included the very talented British-American author Christopher Isherwood, who later based one of the characters in his novel Down There on a Visit (1962) on the portraitist.

At the end of the following year (1946) Kitchin made his first visit to Guadalajara, apparently at the request of US consul James E Henderson who commissioned a portrait of his wife, Elizabeth Mendell de Henderson. Kitchin was guest of honor at the unveiling cocktail party at the Hendersons’ home in Tlaquepaque, where the other guests included Jorge Álvarez del Castillo; Jack Bennet[t] and his wife, Sra Elitka de Bennet[t]; Ing Ricardo Lancaster Jones and wife, Luz Padilla de Lancaster Jones; Sr Peter Lilley; Ing Jorge Matute y esposa Esmeralda; Dr. Casimiro Ramirez Jaime; and Anthony T Williams, the UK vice consul in Guadalajara.

Kitchin’s Henderson portrait was displayed at a group show of “work by visitors to this region” at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in January 1947. Other noteworthy artists displaying work in this show included Linares (Ernesto Butterlin), ‘Charmin’ (Charmin Schlossman), [Muriel] Lytton Bernard, Charlotte Wax [?] and several unnamed Spanish artists. A selection of earthenware sculptures by Robert Houdek was also on show.

Kitchin revisited Guadalajara in October 1947, when he attended another social reception at the Hendersons’ home. On that occasion, the other guests included Jack Bennett and his wife, and UK vice consul Anthony T Williams and his wife, María Cameron de Williams.

Movie companies in Hollywood continued to offer work to Kitchin. In 1947, for instance, the artist was commissioned by Paramount to paint a life-size oil painting of Ann Todd for its Hal Wallis production of So Evil, My Love.

Interviewed at about that time for The Honolulu Advertiser, Kitchin explained that he thought that the second world war had changed “the American face.” Whereas the old face, “like the British face… was showing the droopy-mustached, mild-eyed tremble-chinned symptoms of weakness”, the post-war face had “deeper-set eyes, stronger constructions of the jaw, larger noses and heavier muscles.” Kitchin backed up his assertion that “One war can change the faces of people more than 100 years of evolution,” by referring to movie star Tyrone Power: “Even though he was 32 when he put on a marine uniform, the war molded his face into a stronger cast, even to the bone structure. And as a result he is handsomer than ever.”

Richard Kitchin. Date unknown. Retrato de muchacha. Credit: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

Richard Kitchin. Date unknown. Retrato de muchacha. Credit: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

In about 1950, Kitchin returned to the UK to help his mother, who lived in Painswick, Gloucestershire, move home. During his time there, Kitchin did some restoring of old oil paintings, and taught an informal class of keen amateur painters some of the techniques involved (in exchange for the occasional bottle of gin).

By the late 1950s, Kitchin was firmly back in Mexico, though frequently traveling overseas. During the next decade Kitchin completed dozens of portraits of high society figures in Mexico, up to and including Eva Sámano Bishop de López Mateos (the first wife of President Adolfo López Mateos), and Jalisco Governor Francisco Medina Ascencio and his wife, María de la Concepción Jiménez. In Guadalajara he had a close connection to the Country Club and painted many of its members and their families.

Precisely when Kitchin came to live with Peter Lilley in San Antonio Tlayacapan remains unclear (and it appears he continued to keep a home in Guadalajara) but he was certainly resident in the village by 1971. In October 1971 he held a “magnificent exhibition of paintings,” in two rooms of the Palacio Federal in Guadalajara. On display at the one-person show, which attracted a great number of visitors, were about 100 oil paintings, mainly portraits of persons well-known in Guadalajara society. In honor of the show, his long-time friend James E Henderson threw a huge party.

According to Manuel Morones, writing in El Informador at that time, Kitchin had previously painted at least six murals in Mexico City: five at the Club de Banqueros de Mexico and one at the University Club. If you can offer any more details about these murals, especially whether or not they still exist, please get in touch.

Kitchin’s mother, now well into her eighties, visited Mexico in late 1971 for several months to spend time with her son. Kitchin accompanied his mother back to the UK in April 1972, and spent several weeks in Europe later that year.

In May 1976, Kitchin held a solo show in Guadalajara’s Centro de Arte Moderno (Av. Mariano Otero 375) of works described as “magic realism,” though, according to a local critic, that eye-catching description was totally inaccurate! Again, if you have knowledge of (or a catalog from) this exhibit, please get in touch.

In July, Kitchin was one of five artists who arranged an exhibit and talk at Molduras Guadalajara del Sol in Plaza del Sol, Guadalajara.

Two months later, a selection of Kitchin’s portraits, in oil, pastel and charcoal, was included in a group show titled “Panorama del Arte en Jalisco”, held in three rooms of the DIF building in the small village of Teuchitlán, the closest village to the Guachimontones archaeological site. Other artists also exhibiting on that occasion, and with close links to Lake Chapala, included Sabina Foust, Gustel Foust and Ellis Credle Townsend.

From 1979 to 1983 inclusive, Kitchin exhibited annually in “El Salón de Retrato,” a collective exhibit of portraits at the Galería Municipal in Guadalajara. The image accompanying the announcement of the 1980 show was a portrait by Kitchin of a child. Muralist Guillermo Chavez Vega was also exhibiting in that show.

Looking for an early Christmas gift, a bunch of hoodlums kidnapped Kitchin’s chauffeur (chofer) in December 1986 and demanded US$50,000 ransom. Three men were quickly arrested after the chofer managed to escape and seek help.

Portraits by Kitchin rarely come up at auction, presumably because they are still treasured by their subjects or heirs, though one exception, a portrait of a lady dating from the 1940s, was auctioned by Fine Estate in San Rafael, California, in 2018.

While living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Kitchin completed portraits of many local residents, and local artist and cultural promoter María Victoria Corona Vega kindly asked local villagers, on my behalf, what they could recall about Richard Kitchin. Their most dramatic collective memory concerned how the strong feelings between two of Peter Lilley’s employees (Juan Espinoza from San Antonio, and Jorge from Ajijic) had led to a terrible tragedy, in which the two workers, who “could no longer bear working together for Don Pedro” killed each other in a personal confrontation. At Lilley’s request, Richard Kitchin subsequently painted a mural of the two men (together) on the living room wall.

Kitchin died in Guadalajara on 15 May 1991 at the age of 78, bequeathing much of his personal art collection to the Instituto Cultural Cabañas. The artworks include more than a dozen portraits—several related to Guadalajara and Lake Chapala—in addition to works by his parents, including some lovely realist watercolor landscapes by his father, Vernon Parry Kitchin, and a few more impressionist paintings by his mother, Phyllis Annie Kitchin (née Dodwell). Note that Phyllis’ paintings are mistakenly attributed in the Cabañas online catalog to “Philips A. Kitchin.”

[Aside: I was astounded to discover, very recently, that Vernon Parry Kitchin’s 1920 watercolor titled “Criccieth” was in the Cabañas’ permanent collection. By happenstance, Criccieth is the small seaside town in North Wales where I spent many a childhood vacation!]

When the cultural center Casa Uribe Valencia opened in Guadalajara in 1997, the opening exhibit featured numerous portraits by Kitchin, who had “lived in this city from 1957 to his death.” According to Alberto Uribe Valencia, Kitchin had painted portraits of the British Royal Family, Margaret Thatcher, and dozens of prominent residents of Guadalajara including Tomás Agnesi, Elena Martínez de Aldana Mijares, Taty Aldrete Cuesta, Ileana de Santiago de Barbosa, Margot Javelly de Brun, Susana Corcuera Verea, Carmen G de Corvera, Carmiña Rivero Schnaider de De la Peña, Gabriela de García Aceves, Ibela García Cuzin, Melin Fajardo de Godínez, Lucero Arroniz de Jarero, Betina Jarero Arroniz, Odette Berlie de Leal and Bertha Rabinovitz. He also painted many members of the Peralta family.

The influence of Kitchin lives on in Mexico through the work of artists such as Ricardo León, inspired and taught by Kitchin for a decade.

Acknowledgments

  • My gratitude to Binky Chater for sharing with me her memories and the photograph of Richard Kitchin; to María Victoria Corona Vega for her research assistance; to author John Garner for alerting me to the Detroit Evening Times piece which mentions Richard Kitchin taking first prize in a Denver art show; to historian-genealogist Rodrigo Alonso López Portillo y Lancaster Jones for sharing with me his own extensive research relating to Kitchin, and to author Doug Crase for sharing his knowledge of the artist.

Note and mea culpa

  • This is an updated, corrected and expanded version of a post first published in July 2022. In the previous version I mistakenly spelled his surname “Kitchen” (as used in several newspaper sources).
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.
My history of Ajijic – Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village – has several chapters about the individuals, artists and patrons who helped cement Ajijic’s reputation as a center for artistic creativity and excellence.

Sources

  • Val ffrench Blake. 2011. Mainstay: A Twentieth Century Life. Bene Factum Publishing.
  • Remy Dean. 2018. “Film Review THE UNINVITED (1944).” Blog post dated 15th October 2018.
  • Douglas Crase. 2001. Both: a portrait in two parts. Pantheon Books.
  • Gill Hedley. 2020. Arthur Jeffress: A Life in Art. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • El Informador: 27 Dec 1946, 7; 29 Dec 1946; 24 Jan 1947, 6; 26 Oct 1947, 11; 7 June 1960; 24 Oct 1971, 4-A; 25 Oct 1971, 11; 1 June 1977; 21 Jan 1979; 25 Feb 1980; 6 March 1980; 24 Jan 1981; 21 Jan 1982; 16 Feb 1983; 16 Dec 1986; 19 May 1991, 18-A; 15 Oct 1997, 51.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 15 May 1976, 11; 23 Sep 1978, 6.
  • Los Angeles Times: 1 Dec 1943, 23; 13 May 1945, 26; 2 Oct 1945, 11; 23 Oct 1945, 17; 30 Jun 1946, 21, 22.
  • Manuel Morones. 1971. “Galerías: Jalisco en la Cultura, A.C.”, El Informador, 19 Oct 1971.
  • Harriett Parsons. 1944. “Keyhole Portraits,” Detroit Evening Times, 21 May 1944, 89.
  • Shamokin News-Dispatch (Shamokin, Pennsylvania): 26 Jun 1946, 9.
  • The Glamorgan Advertiser and Weekly News: 16 May 1947, 6.
  • The Honolulu Advertiser: 2 Feb 1947, 44.
  • The Stoic (Stowe School magazine): #16 (July 1928); #19 (July 1929), 247; #20 (December 1929), 4, 36; #21 (April 1930), 77; #22 (July 1930), 90; #23 (December 1930), 150.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.