Mar 212024

One curiosity in the permanent collection of Guadalajara’s Instituto Cultural Cabañas is this pretty painting by Ignacio Ramírez titled “Vista de Chapala.” The painting is dated 1986, even though the view it depicts is clearly from many decades earlier, as evidenced, for example, by the absence of Casa Braniff (completed in 1905) and of several other significant early landmarks along the lake’s shoreline.

Ignacio Ramírez. 1986. Vista de Chapala. Credit: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

Ignacio Ramírez. 1986. Vista de Chapala. Credit: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

What struck me when I first came across this painting is that is almost identical to (perhaps based on?) a much earlier painting by Paul (‘Pablo’) Fischer, which dates back to about 1900. Born in Germany, Fischer (1864-1932) trained as a doctor before moving to Mexico to administer an inheritance, where he worked in Durango for a few years before marrying a Mexican girl in 1895. Spending extended vacations dedicated to his art, Fischer traveled with his family widely across Mexico, painting as he went, and is known to have completed several paintings of Chapala.

Paul Fischer. c 1900. View of Chapala.

Paul Fischer. c 1900. View of Chapala.

I don’t know where the original Paul Fischer painting now is, but it was reproduced, with the artist’s permission, as a postcard—including Fischer’s near-invisible monogram embossed into its design—at the start of the twentieth century by Juan Kaiser, a Guadalajara-based publisher.

Did Ignacio Ramírez base his 1986 painting on Fischer’s original work or a Kaiser postcard of the painting? Or did he have some other source for his inspiration? If Ramírez’s work is derivative of Fischer’s much earlier painting, how does this affect its merit for inclusion in a museum’s permanent collection?

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.

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

Feb 222024

Two young US artists—Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser—who had first met at art school in Chicago, arrived in Chapala in 1923. Apart from short trips elsewhere they spent the next three and a half years at Lake Chapala—living first in Chapala, then in Ajijic, and then returning once again to Chapala—before continuing their highly successful art careers elsewhere. They are two of the earliest US painters to spend any significant amount of time sketching and painting at Lake Chapala.

Painted about one hundred years ago, this painting by Everett Gee Jackson was one of several early paintings included in a major retrospective of his work held at the San Diego Art Museum in 2007. According to the catalog of that exhibition, the painting (in a private collection) is titled “Church in Chapala.”

Everett Gee Jackson. c 1924. Church in Chapala. Credit: "Everett Gee Jackson/San Diego Modern, 1920-1955.

Everett Gee Jackson. c 1924. Church in Chapala. Credit: “Everett Gee Jackson/San Diego Modern, 1920-1955.”

But is this title accurate? The only church in Chapala in the 1920s was the parish church of San Francisco (La Parroquía de San Francisco), which has distinctive twin towers. My first thought was that this painting does not appear to match that church. Nor does it look like the churches in neighboring San Antonio Tlayacapan or Ajijic. So, is it really one of the churches at Lake Chapala, or does it depict a church elsewhere, perhaps in Guanajuato?

Dale Palfrey. View of San Francisco Church, Chapala, April 2024.

Dale Palfrey. View of San Francisco Church, Chapala, April 2024.

Asking this question online attracted a variety of responses, some supporting Chapala and others Guanajuato. Now, my good friend Dale Palfrey has kindly sent me photos taken from the presumed vantage point of the artist in Chapala, which establish beyond doubt that the painting does indeed depict the east end of San Francisco church in Chapala.

The foreground building in the photograph is modern, and obscures the original beautiful view enjoyed by D. H. Lawrence, Witter Bynner, Everett Gee Jackson and all the other famous visitors to Chapala in the 1920s.

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. For the history of numerous buildings in Chapala, including the main church, see If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants, translated into Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes.


    • D. Scott Atkinson. 2007. Everett Gee Jackson: San Diego Modern, 1920-1955. San Diego Museum of Art.

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.


  • 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.

Jan 262023

Does anyone recognize the artist who painted this attractive gouache of a village scene? It is dated ’62. The indistinct signature appears to start with “PETER” in block capitals.

Anon.Village Scene. 1962.

Unknown signature

Detail of signature (false color)

Any and all suggestions welcomed!

Other Art Mysteries related to Lake Chapala can be found via our index page for artists.

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 describe the history of the thriving 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.

Jun 162022

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

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

Mona Jordan and 'Tarascos'. 1961.

Mona Jordan and ‘Tarascans, Ajijic’. 1961.

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

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

Mona Jordan. The Opening. Undated acrylic.

Mona Jordan. The Opening. Undated acrylic.

In the early part of her adult life, Mona Jordan was an army wife, continuing to paint whenever possible. The family traveled extensively. During several years in Japan, Jordan became an accomplished portraitist, completing numerous portraits, working in pastels, of household helpers and Japanese people they knew. A pastel from her time in Japan (titled Tokyo 1947) is in the permanent collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Examples of her work are also in the collections of the National Environmental Protection Agency (Washington DC), Boeing Company, Puget Sound College (Washington), and many private collections.

Jordan exhibited at the American International in Bordighera, Italy, and at El Paso Museum of Art, American Painters in Paris, and at the National Academy of Design in Florida (1986). She had a solo show in Melbourne, Florida, in 1984. Her work garnered many awards from galleries and institutions, prizes at Lighthouse Gallery (Tequesta, Florida, 1983 and 1985), Grumbacher Award Bacam (1985), Space Experience (Spaceport, Cape Canaveral, 1985), and Today Newspaper (1986).

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

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

Mona Jordan. The Digs. Sold at 2015 auction.

Mona Jordan. The Digs. Sold at 2015 auction.

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

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

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

Mona Jordan. The Surfers. Undated acrylic.

Mona Jordan. The Surfers. Undated acrylic.

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

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

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

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


  • Stephanie Stewart-Howard. 2015. “Face to face with Wendy Seaward.” Nashville Arts Magazine, July 2015.
  • Gladys Seaward webpage.
  • Wendy Seaward website.
  • The Evening Tribune (Cocoa, Florida): 20 June 1961, 4.
  • Mona Jordan. 1986. “Nation’s women artists win little recognition.” Florida Today, 29 June 1986, 49.
  • Florida Today: 5 October 1995, 21.
  • Artists of Florida, volume II, 131. 1990.

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 102021

This scenic view was painted in 1911 by Austrian artist August Lohr (1842-1920).

Lohr lived in Mexico City for almost thirty years. He undertook commissions, including interior decorations and murals, and is known to have traveled to many other locations to paint.

August Lohr. 1911. (Unknown location in Mexico)

August Lohr. 1911. (Unknown location in Mexico) Photo courtesy Juan Manuel Campo.

This painting (above) was sold at auction in the US, at which time it was described as a view of Lake Chapala.

Doubts have been raised about this description. Please get in touch if you recognize this view or can suggest a likely location.


  • My sincere thanks to researcher Juan Manuel Campo for bringing this painting to my attention.

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

Apr 292021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Apr 012021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tink Strother in her Ajijic studio, ca 1962

Tink Strother in her Ajijic studio, ca 1962

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

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

Aug 082019

Among the many non-professional artists who found creativity while living in Ajijic, Raphael Greno deserves a special mention. Greno completed several striking woodcuts of subjects rarely depicted by other artists. How he acquired his skill is unclear but the end results are high quality and speak for themselves.

To date, seven woodcuts by Greno have come to light; they were printed on several different colors of paper.

One on those on bluish paper is a portrait of American author Neill James who wrote Dust on My Heart and lived in Ajijic from the 1940s to her death there in 1994. Greno’s landscape-format woodcut shows James sitting in an equipal in front of her typewriter. The typewriter is on a rustic wooden table and James is cradling a pet parrot in her left hand. A second pet parrot is looking on from the tree branches that frame the central image.

Undated. Women washing clothes, Lake Chapala.

Raphael Greno. Undated. Women washing clothes, Lake Chapala.

A second woodcut, of similar format, also on bluish paper, shows two women kneeling as they wash clothes on the shore of the lake. Distant mountains help frame the scene.

Three woodcuts on yellowish paper show distinct stages in the production of silk, an industry begun by Neill James in Ajijic in the 1950s. A landscape format woodcut, entitled “Deshilando los capullos”, depicts three women unraveling the silk from the cocoons. A portrait format woodcut, “Hilando con malacate,” shows an older woman using a spindle to spin the silk thread, and a third print, also portrait, shows silk weaving on a foot-treadle loom.

Raphael Greno. Undated. Unraveling silk cocoons, Ajijic.

Raphael Greno. Undated. Unraveling silk cocoons, Ajijic.

All the woodcuts are signed “Rafael G.”, the Spanish spelling adopted by Raphael while he and his wife were living in Mexico. Although none of the woodcuts are dated, the silk-related works must predate 1960 since they are mentioned by Neill James in a letter dated 22 May 1960. Clearly, the Grenos had personal knowledge of Ajijic well before they moved there to live in the late 1960s.

Raphael Valentino Greno was born in Lisbon, Ohio, on 30 January 1909; his father was Italian, his mother American. He died in San Bernadino, California, on 31 December 1982. By 1920 his father was out of the picture and he (and possibly his mother) were living with an aunt in Arnold, Pennsylvania. The family later moved to Los Angeles where Raphael graduated from the Manual Arts High School in 1927. He then spent four years (1927-1931) at Oregon State College in Corvallis, Oregon. During his time there, he spent part of one year as one of several “cadets” on board the President Jefferson on a round-trip from San Francisco to Yokohama, Japan.

At college, Greno was as interested in writing as in art. In 1930, he had “What Price Cleanliness”, a short piece about the interior workings of a commercial laundry, published in the State College magazine. Greno was a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

After college he returned to Los Angeles where he worked as a clerk. For the 1940 census, he gave his occupation as a writer of fiction, working from his home at 1547 N Sierra Bonita. Later that year he was working in advertising.

In 1941, he married Violet E. Evans, originally from Colorado and then resident in Hollywood, California. Violet, known as Vee in Ajijic, was born on 4 August 1917 in Joycoy, Colorado, and died 16 November 1990 in San Bernardino, California.

By 1944, the Grenos were living at 1404 N Gardner St and Greno was working as an “investigator.” Greno trained as a census crew leader for the 1950 U.S. census.

Fifteen years later, the family was living in Redlands at 525 Esther Way, where Violet (Vee) taught school. In the mid-1960s Vee taught art and crafts at Cope Junior High School in Redlands, California. She occasionally exhibited her own work, examples of which were included in two group shows at the Lyon Art Gallery in Redlands – one of works by teachers of art (March 1965) and another of flower-related art the following month. Greno also had a “modern oil” painting – “Mexican Market – accepted into the All-California Art Exhibit held in San Bernardino in March 1966.

While living in Ajijic in the mid-1970s, Vee gave regular Friday morning art classes for a couple of years at the Galería del Lago. Katie Goodridge Ingram, who was director of the Galería del Lago at the time, recalls that Vee Greno also made beautiful necklaces.

The Grenos were still living in the village in the late 1970s when the informal cultural group known as TLAC (Todas las Artes Combinadas) arranged a Self Portrait Show, held at the Posada Ajijic on 1 April 1978. Both Raphael and Vee Greno participated in the show.  Other Ajijic artists taking part in that show included included Jean Caragonne, Grace Castle, Bee Dunham, Hubert Harmon, Lisa Hilton, Lona Isoard, Sheldon Lychek, Ramiro Magaña, Jim Marthai, Robert Neathery, John Kenneth Peterson, Howard Skulnick and Robert Snodgrass.

Raphael Greno also wrote several short plays for TLAC, including Cushions, presented at a Dinner Theater event at Posada Ajijic in October 1977 and Buttons, on the bill to be performed there the following August.

After living in Mexico in the 1970s, the Grenos moved back to the U.S., to Yucaipa, a short distance from San Bernardino, California.

Raphael and Vee Greno had two children: Anthony and Eugenia. Anthony Evans Greno (1943-2009) completed a degree in Latin American History at Berkeley and a Masters in Journalism at Columbia before becoming Mexico correspondent for several newspapers including the San Francisco Examiner and the Chicago Tribune. Tony Greno’s first wife, Lucretia Leduc Zenteno, was a Mexican society news reporter from the state of Tabasco working in Mexico City. Tony’s sister, Eugenia Vee Greno (1945-2008), lived the latter stages of her life in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Rafael’s lively woodcuts of Ajijic are just one of the Grenos’ many and varied contributions to the lively artistic scene in the village in the 1960s and 1970s.


My sincere thanks to author Katie Goodridge Ingram and journalist Dale Palfrey for sharing their memories and knowledge of the Grenos and to the Lake Chapala Society for allowing me access to its Neill James Archive. I am also grateful to artist Katharine Dodge for sharing photos of Greno prints in her collection.


  • Raphael Greno. 1930. “What Price Cleanliness”, The Manuscript, Vol 3, #2 (Winter Edition, 1930), Oregon State College, 6.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 19 July 1975; 7 February 1976; 1 May 1976, 22; 24 September 1977, 19; 1 October 1977, 7; 19 August 1978, 15.
  • Neill James. 1960. Letter, dated 22 May 1960, from Neill James to “El Director, Museo Nacional De Cosas Regional” (sic). Neill James Archive of the Lake Chapala Society.
  • Redlands Daily Facts, 5 March 1965, 3; 2 April 1965, 4; 31 January 1966, 6; 27 February 1966, 50.
  • Times-Advocate (Escondido, California) 09 Mar 1950, 8.

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

Jan 312019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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