Sep 292014
 

Artist Robert Bateman Neathery and his wife Ellie moved from California to Jocotepec in February 1965, and lived there the remainder of their lives. Bob Neathery continued to paint until about 1983 when his health began to deteriorate. He painted mainly genre scenes of Mexican village life, as well as portraits, and is especially remembered for his “voluptuous golden nudes” (see image), which often rely on a palette of brown-beige colors.

Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on 8 September 1918, Bob Neathery died in Guadalajara on 15 Mar 1998. Eleanor “Ellie” Florence Schwindt, who would be his wife and best friend for almost 60 years, was born 23 Dec 1919 in Larimer County, Colorado, and died in Guadalajara on 8 Aug 2001.

Robert Neathery: Young Bather (1968)

Robert Neathery: Young Bather (1968)

Bob’s early life was spent partly in El Paso, Texas, (where the family resided when he was 12 years of age in 1930), partly in Muskogee (where they were living in 1935) and by age 19, Bob was living in Denver, Colorado, where he attended art school.

Bob supported his art by working at a series of jobs including telegraph operator for the Denver and Rio Grande Railway, a sign painter of giant ice cream cones, automobiles and ladies drinking milk, a technical illustrator for North American Aviation, a sculptor of lamps at Gumps in San Francisco, and as manager of a co-op art gallery in Redondo Beach.

Bob and Ellie married on 28 November 1939 in Denver, Colorado, but by 1946 had moved to San Diego in California.

In November of that year, an exhibit at La Jolla art center in San Diego featured two “arresting sculptures”, one the work of Bob Neathery and the other sculpted by his elder sister Paula Nethery Rohrer. The pieces are mentioned in a review of the exhibition in the San Diego Union.

Bob and Ellie Neathery continued to live in California (in Redondo Beach) until their decision to relocate to Jocotepec in 1965.

Bob Neathery’s work has been exhibited in Los Angeles County Museum, Downey Museum and Long Beach Museum.

Note: Bob Neathery’s elder sister Paula Neathery Hocks (1916-2003) visited him several times in Mexico, presumably staying in Jocotepec; she was a noted book artist, poet and photographer. As her obituary states, “Her artist books and photographs have been featured in shows internationally and are included in numerous collections such as the Tate Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, U.K.; the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York; contemporary book art collections at the Getty Museum in Santa Monica California, and the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive in Miami, Florida.; as well as special collections at the University of Iowa and the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.”

If you wish to add to or correct anything in this biography, then please use the comments feature or email us.

Sep 222014
 

The great American poet and dramatist Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) had visited Mexico several times in the five or six years preceding 1945, but had never been to Lake Chapala. He spent the summer of 1945 in Cuernavaca and Chapala, and it proved to be a productive period in his writing career.

A year earlier, in 1944, his first major success – The Glass Menagerie – had catapulted Williams from obscurity to literary stardom, giving him a steady income. However, in 1945, Williams wanted to refocus on his writing and escape the publicity accompanying his success. He had also just had a cataract operation and wanted somewhere pleasant to recuperate.

While in Chapala, Tennessee Williams stayed at the home of poet Witter Bynner. Bynner’s home, now numbered as Francisco I. Madero #441, is no longer a private residence. In Chapala, Williams wrote diligently for several hours every day, working not only on the new play provisionally called The Poker Night, but also on several poems and an essay entitled “A Playwright’s Statement“. In the words of Michael Hargraves [1], Williams spent his time, “Strolling along the borders of Mexico’s largest inland body of water (over four hundred square miles), swimming, drinking rum-cocos with native boys….”

In his essay, “On a Streetcar Named Success” (1947), Williams recalls that “I settled for a while at Chapala, Mexico, to work on a play called The Poker Night, which later became A Streetcar Named Desire. It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction, for the actual world is less intense than the world of his invention, and consequently his life, without recourse to violent disorder, does not seem very substantial. The right condition for him is that in which his work is not only convenient but unavoidable….“

How long was Tennessee Williams in Chapala?

It surprised me to discover that Williams spent less than two months in Chapala. He arrived in Chapala in July 1945 and left in mid-August of the same year. This is the only time he is known to have visited the area.

Why exactly did Williams choose Lake Chapala?

As Williams explains in his essay “The Catastrophe of Success”, “For me a convenient place to work is a remote place among strangers where there is good swimming. But life should require a certain minimal effort. You should not have too many people waiting on you, you should have to do most things for yourself. Hotel service is embarrassing. Maids, waiters, bellhops, porters and so forth are the most embarrassing…”

It appears to be largely coincidental that Tennessee Williams, who was a great admirer of British author D. H. Lawrence, happened to spend the summer of 1945 in the town where Lawrence had penned The Plumed Serpent twenty years earlier.

Tennessee Williams quote on vintage postcard of Chapala

Tennessee Williams quote on vintage postcard of Chapala

Does The Poker Night have any connection to the (Old) Posada Ajijic?

There is no evidence that The Poker Night has any connection to the (Old) Posada Ajijic. In a letter written 23 March 1945 (a week before The Glass Menagerie opened in New York, and several weeks before he left for Mexico), Williams wrote that he was “about 55 or 60 pages into the first draft of a play… At the moment, it has four different titles, “The Moth”, “The Poker Night”, “The Primary Colors” and “Blanche’s Chair in the Moon”.” [2] Clearly, therefore, he had started writing The Poker Night several weeks before traveling to Chapala.

Claims that Williams was inspired to write The Poker Night on account of regular poker sessions in the Posada Ajijic are equally spurious. In the event, according to Williams himself, the idea for the play did not come from poker playing, but from an image in his mind of a woman, sitting with folded hands near a moonlit window, who was waiting in vain for the arrival of her boyfriend.

The early history of the (Old) Posada Ajijic is murky, but it appears to have first operated as an inn sometime between 1938 and 1946. However, in those early years, it was certainly not a hive of activity, and did not become the social center of Ajijic until much later. It is possible  (though I know of no supporting evidence) that Tennessee Williams may have played poker on one or more occasions in the Posada Ajijic but, even if he did, it was clearly not a formative experience in terms of his writing.

A Streetcar Named Desire

As noted above, this play had numerous working titles including “The Moth”, “The Poker Night”, “The Primary Colors” and “Blanche’s Chair in the Moon”. The eventual title was not used by Williams until some time after he had left Chapala.

According to a webpage written by Bert Cardullo of the University of Michigan, who cites Nancy M. Tischler’s book Tennessee Williams: Rebellious Puritan (New York: Citadel Press 1961), Williams “had begun writing Streetcar in Chapala, Mexico (near Guadalajara) convinced that he was dying, that this would be his last play, and that therefore he should put his all into it. (Williams thought that the agonizing abdominal pains he had been experiencing were the result of lethal stomach cancer, but in fact they were caused by a ruptured appendix.)”

Michael Hargraves writes that Tennessee Williams’ writing, in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), “took on a fusion of sensuality and nostalgia and violence”, with the plot eventually centering on “a contest between the crude sensibilities of working-class poker players and the delicacies of two Southern women.” [1]

A Streetcar Named Desire is often considered Williams’ finest single work. It brought him renewed renown and won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The movie version, won four Oscars, including three of the four categories for acting. Oscars were won by Vivien Leigh (Best Actress), Karl Malden (Best Supporting Actor) and Kim Hunter (Best Supporting Actress). In addition, Marlon Brando was nominated (but failed to win) the award for Best Actor.

Poems written at Lake Chapala

While spending the summer of 1945 in Chapala, Tennessee Williams also wrote several poems. “Recuerdo” (Spanish for “Memory”) is a poem in memory of his recently diseased grandmother and his interned sister Rose. Williams also reworked a poem previously titled “Idillio” (1944) as “Lady, Anemome”. This was first published in New Directions 9 (1946), pages 82-83, as the last in a sequence of three poems, followed by the dateline “Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, July 1945″. [3]

Other links between Tennessee Williams and Mexico

Later in his life, Tennessee Williams turned one of his short stories into the stage play The Night of the Iguana (1948), also set in Mexico. In The Night of the Iguana, a defrocked clergyman is leading a ladies’ bus tour around Mexico. The group is forced to take temporary refuge in a hotel whose owner proves to be especially sensual. The main characters become entangled in a web of relationships. They eventually manage to move on, but not before a captured iguana has been fattened for the dinner table.

The 1964 film adaptation of The Night of the Iguana, directed by John Huston, starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. The movie set was built on Mismaloya Cove, a short distance south of Puerto Vallarta. The film won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, and was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Cinematography and for Art Direction.

Sources:

[1] Michael Hargraves 1992. Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).

[2] John Bak 2013. Tennessee Williams, a Literary Life (Palgrave Macmillan), p 114

[3] N Moschovakis, Tennessee Williams and David Roessel 2007. Collected Poems Of Tennessee Williams, p 231)

Sep 152014
 

Eileen and her second husband Robert (Bob) Bassing, both writers of some distinction, lived in Ajijic between 1950 and 1954.

bassing-eileen-photoEileen was born 6 March 1918 in Boston, Massachusetts, and educated in New York, Ohio and California. She married young, at age 16, and had two sons from her first marriage, before marrying Bob in 1948. She died aged 58 in February 1977 in Los Angeles, California.

In 1950, Eileen and Bob Bassing left their Hollywood careers and moved to Ajijic with her two sons from a previous marriage (then aged 11 and 14 respectively) to focus on their writing. The family struggled to survive financially in Mexico despite living in a $5 a month home in Ajijic, eventually resorting to selling home-made fudge and operating a small lending library, “Simple Pleasures”, of English-language books they had shipped from California.

Eileen Bassing, a brunette with green eyes, recalled in a 1957 newspaper interview that “It was an amazing success even though most of our books were texts on psychiatry and philosophy. We were only open three hours a day but out of our returns we supported our family, a maid, a cook, a laundress and a gardener. We rented everything—even the New York Times, section by section, at 15 centavos per section. And those who borrowed the crossword puzzle had to promise to erase it when the page was returned.” (The Marion Star, Ohio, 10 March 1957, p 18).

While in Ajijic. the Bassings were among the early members of the Lakeside Theater.

Home Before Dark

bassing-home-before-dark-movie

Movie poster for Home Before Dark

Eileen Bassing’s first novel, Home Before Dark (New York: Random House, 1957), was written in Ajijic and later made into a Warner Brothers movie (1958) based on a screenplay written by Eileen and her husband, and directed by Mervyn Le Roy.

Home Before Dark is the story of a young woman (Charlotte Bronn) suffering from bi-polar disorder who has been confined to a mental hospital. She leaves the Maraneck State Hospital after a year to resume her life at home with her emotionally repressed professor husband. Making her life even more difficult, they share their home with Charlotte’s attractive step-sister Joan and Joan’s mother, as well as a Jewish philosophy professor boarder and a servant.

With her marriage floundering, and suspecting her husband of being overly interested in Joan, Charlotte looks to be headed for another breakdown when she attends a faculty dinner dressed and made up to look like Joan. Her husband finally reveals his true feelings. Summarized as a study of “a mind and marriage at a crisis point”, both book and movie were generally well received and are still very readable today. The book was translated into French as Retour avant la nuit (1958) and into Italian.

Where’s Annie?

Eileen Bassing’s second novel, Where’s Annie? (Random House, New York, 1963) is set entirely in Ajijic at Lake Chapala, but was written after the couple’s return to California in 1954. It was chosen for the Book-of-the-Month Club; a French translation by France-Marie Watkins and Spanish translation appeared in 1964. This very interesting novel will be looked at in more detail in a future post. A screenplay for this novel was written by Eileen and Bob Bassing, but plans to realize the movie never worked out.

The dust jacket of Where’s Annie refers to a third novel “in progress” in Malibu at the time of publication of Where’s Annie, but this was apparently never published.

It may have met the same fate as some of her earlier unpublished works. An in-depth newspaper interview published in the 14 April 1963 edition of The Bridgeport Post in Connecticut, quotes Eileen Bassing as saying that, “My working habits are deplorable… 1 am not an organized writer. I work all the time, and I work very hard. It is impossible to measure the time I spend at the typewriter. There may be two days or so when I just stare and think. And those are the days when I really work.” The article goes on to say that “Several years ago. Mrs. Bassing did what some would consider a rash thing. She burned considerable unpublished work—short stories, three novels, including the first draft of “Home Before Dark,” and poetry written over a two-year period. “I wanted to have done with them so I wouldn’t go back and lean on them. I wanted to start anew.”

Excerpts of the first two chapters of Where’s Annie? appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1963. Bassing also had other short stories published, including “Our Strange Stay at Miss Pickering’s” in the 14 May 1955 issue of Maclean’s.

Children’s Books

Before embarking on her novels, Eileen Bassing had written four “Jamie” books for children, under the name Eileen Johnston: Jamie and The Fire Engine (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940); Jamie and The Dump Truck (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1943) with pictures by Ora Brian Edwards; Jamie and The Tired Train (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1946), illustrated by Ora Brian Edwards; and Jamie and The Little Rubber Boat (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951) with illustrations by Lys Cassal.

Sources:

  • “Eileen Bassing a “Bleeding” Type” by Jack Gaver. The Bridgeport Post, Connecticut, 14 April 1963, p44
  • “It Paid Them To Get Away From It All”, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Tuesday, March 19, 1957
  • “Couple Leaves Movie Capital and Finds Success in Mexico”, The Marion Star, Ohio, 10 March 1957, p 18
Sep 082014
 

Mrs. Clara Schafer Thorward, who was born in South Bend, Indiana, in 1887, lived and worked mainly in New York and Arizona.

Thorward was a painter, etcher and teacher who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), the Cleveland School of Art, the Art Students League in New York, the Thurn School of Modern Art, and with Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) and Henry Keller (1869-1949).

Thorward-clara-Postcard-Watercolor057

This black and white postcard (date unknown – ca 1940s?) depicts a watercolor of Lake Chapala by Clara Thorward.

Her painting style ranged from realist to abstract; her works won numerous prizes and were widely exhibited, including at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Art League of Northern Indiana; Salons of America (1934); Montclair Art Museum; Ringling Art Museum; Hoosier salon; Lock Gallery, Sarasota; Morton Gallery, New York City; Plaza Hotel, New York City; Witte Memorial Museum; Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City; Academy of Fine Arts, Guatemala; International Club, San Salvador; Oklahoma Art Club; and the National League of American Pen Women.

 

Sep 012014
 

The son of a physician, writer and poet R. Jere Black Jr. was born 27 June 1892 at McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He would also live at different times in Chautauqua, New York; Washington, D.C.; Long Beach and Santa Monica, California; and Byron Center in Michigan, as well as in Mexico.

R Jere Black's passport photo, 1922

R Jere Black’s passport photo, 1922

During World War I, Black served as a machine gunner with the American Expeditionary Force in France from May 1918 to May 1919. He was gassed by the Germans, which left him in ill health for the remainder of his life, with numerous spells in hospital. He married Josephine Elizabeth Best (1894-1976) in 1920. By 1937, the couple had divorced and his former wife had remarried.

It is unclear when he first visited Lake Chapala, but R. Jere Black died at the home of Paul “Pablo” Heuer, in the village of Ajijic, on 7 September 1953, and was buried in the Ajijic Municipal Cemetery the following day.

Black made his living from writing stories and short pieces for a number of popular magazines, both “slicks” and “pulps”, including The Smart Set, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Breezy Stories, Battle Stories, Sweetheart Stories and College Life. His brother described him as “a brilliant, fascinating person.”

His most productive period in terms of published writings was the period 1928 to 1934. This period included three poems published in Weird Tales: “Lyonesse” (December 1928), “Masquerade” (March 1930) and “The Pirate” (August 1930), a non-fiction piece, “The Pseudo-Scientific Field,” for Author and Journalist (May 1930) which took a look at “science fiction” (a term still in its infancy at the time), and a novel, The Killing of the Golden Goose: A Christopher King Mystery Story (New York: Loring & Mussey, 1934).

Black’s wife, born as Josephine Elizabeth Best but better known as E. Best Black, was also a writer of genre fiction. Born in 1894 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, she and Jere Black married there in 1920, before traveling widely. Mrs Black wrote a story with the title “Flaming Ruth” (a pun) for Young’s Realistic Stories Magazine in February 1928 and also published two hardback novels featuring detective Peter Strangley: The Ravenelle Riddle (New York: Loring & Mussey, 1933) and The Crime of the Chromium Bowl (London: George Newnes, 1937). By 1937, however, she had divorced R. Jere Black and become the wife of Theron Lowden Kelley (1899-1967). Josephine Elizabeth Best Kelley died in 1976 in Monterey, California.

Source:

Aug 252014
 

August Löhr was an Austrian landscape artist, born in 1843 (some sources say 1842) in Hallein near Salzburg. Löhr lived and worked in Europe, the U.S. and Mexico. After studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany, Löhr initially specialized in painting Alpine scenery. He and his Austrian wife Franziska Geuhs had three daughters, Rosina, Elise and Elsa, all born in Munich. From 1879 to 1881 Löhr worked with the Munich art professor Ludwig Braun to paint a panoramic view of the Battle of Sedan. The two men also worked on panoramic scenes of the battles of Weissenburg and St. Privat.

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

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

In 1898, after the end of the Spanish American War (1895-1898), Löhr joined other panorama artists in San Francisco to paint The Battle of Manila Bay. The following year, the San Francisco Sentinel reported that he was the manager of a company that was planning to exhibit panoramas in Mexico. (This was probably the short-lived Milwaukee Panorama Company, of which Löhr was Vice President in 1890).

lohr-lake-chapala-ca-1899Although his name appears in the 1890 Milwaukee city directory, he probably left Milwaukee for Mexico in 1890. Though details are sketchy, it is believed he resided in Mexico with his family until his death in 1919. Mexico paintings by Löhr are known with dates ranging from 1899 to 1915.

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

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

Sources:

  • German-American Artists in Early Milwaukee, A Biographical Dictionary, by Peter C. Merrill.
  • August Lohr (1842-1920) (Museum of Wisconsin Art)
Aug 182014
 

Writing under the pseudonym Ross MacDonald, Kenneth Millar (1915-1983) wrote The Zebra-Striped Hearse (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1962). The Zebra-Striped Hearse is a mystery novel, with several chapters set in the village of Ajijic on Lake Chapala. The easy-to-read novel, with its largely accurate depiction of the Old Posada Ajijic, followed Millar’s visit with fellow author John Mersereau in the late 1950s, or very early 1960s. The novel won the Mystery Writers of America’s  Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1963,

macdonald-ross-zebra-striped-hearseKenneth Millar was born in Los Gatos, San Francisco on 13 December 1915, but was raised in Canada, where he met and, in 1938, married Margaret Sturm, also a writer. His wife achieved her own success writing as Margaret Millar.

Kenneth Millar had begun post-graduate work at the University of Michigan (where he had completed his undergraduate degree) and published his first novel, The Dark Tunnel, before serving his country as a naval communications officer from 1944 to 1946, Following the war, he returned to Michigan to complete his doctorate.

Millar went on to write numerous novels, with Ross MacDonald being only one of several pseudonyms he used during his distinguished writing career. Later in life, he was later elected President of the Mystery Writers of America, and given their Grand Master Award. He also won the Silver Dagger Award given by Mystery Writers of Great Britain. He is best known for his popular series of novels, set in southern California, featuring private detective Lew Archer.

Miller passed away in Santa Barbara, California, on 11 July 1983.

Aug 112014
 

Eunice and Peter Huf are artists who met in Mexico in the 1960s and lived in Ajijic on Lake Chapala for several years, before relocating to Europe with their two sons in the early 1970s.

Peter Huf was born 2 May 1940 in Kaufbeuren in southern Germany. He started painting in Paris in 1960, and lived in Paris and in the United States prior to moving to Ajijic in Mexico.

Eunice (Hunt) Huf was born in 1933 in Alberta, Canada and she studied painting in Edmonton and Vancouver. She had worked as a freelance artist in Canada and Arizona before deciding to visit Mexico.

In Ajijic, they were sufficiently successful to live off their art.

Huf+Nottonson-CoverPeter and Eunice Huf lived in Ajijic from sometime in 1967 until June 1972.  Shortly after arriving in Ajijic, they were invited (by Ray Alvorado, a singer and public relations manager of the hotel) to show every Sunday afternoon at the Camino Real hotel in Guadalajara. Peter and Eunice were founder members of a small group of artists, known as Grupo 68, that exhibited regularly there. Grupo 68 initially had 5 members: Peter Huf, Eunice Huf, Jack Rutherford, John Peterson and (Don) Shaw (who was known only by his surname). Jack Rutherford dropped out of the group after a few months, but the remaining four stayed together until 1971.

Peter and Eunice Huf had exhibitions in Guadalajara (with Jose Maria de Servin) at Galería 8 de Julio, and in Tlaquepaque at Ken Edwards, and in Ajijic, in either their own studios or at Laura Bateman’s gallery. In 1969, the Hufs co-founded their own gallery “La Galería”, located on Calle Zaragoza at its intersection with Juarez.

Eunice Huf had a solo show in 1968, sponsored by the Mexican Olympic program at Galeria 8 de Julio in Guadalajara. Her show was followed by a solo show of works by Georg Rauch also under the patronage of Senora Holt and the Olympics.

Peter Huf had a one man show at the Goethe Institut in Guadalajara in 1970.

Before leaving Mexico (with every intention of returning), they illustrated a short 32-page booklet entitled Mexico My Home. Primitive Art and Modern Poetry With 50 easy to learn Spanish words and phrases. For all children from 8 to 80, published in Guadalajara by Boutique d’Artes Graficas in 1972. The poems in the booklet were written by Ira N. Nottonson, who was also living in Ajijic at the time. The illustrations in the book are Mexican naif in style, whereas their own art tended to be far more abstract or surrealist.

On moving to Europe, the couple lived in Malaga in southern Spain for a time, before settling in 1974 in the Allgäu region of southern Germany. The couple share a studio in the town of Aitrang. Their work, known for the use of bright colors, has appeared regularly in exhibitions over the years, with both artists winning many awards along the way. Despite their earlier intentions, they never did return to Mexico.

Both artists are regulars at Munich’s Schwabing Christmas Market, held annually since 1975. In 1994, Peter Huf founded The Art Tent at this market. The Art Tent, which Huf has overseen ever since, gives some twenty artists – “painters, sculptors, object artists, and conceptual artists” – “an opportunity to escape from the tightness of their booth and to display bigger works”, and has become a big attraction.

While Peter Huf’s work often incorporates geometric patterns and is usually painted with acrylics, Eunice Huf’s paintings are usually oils, described by one reviewer as shaped by the open expanses of her native Canadian prairies.

If you wish to add to or correct anything in this brief biography, then please use the comments feature or email us.

Aug 042014
 

Charles Bernard Nordhoff (1887-1947), best known as co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty, has several connections to Mexico, having spent his childhood, and learned to hunt, sail and fish, on  his family’s ranch near Todos Santos in Baja California. Having gained an undergraduate degree, he returned to Mexico, to work as a supervisor on a sugar plantation in Veracruz and fell in love with the plantation owner’s beautiful daughter. He visited the Chapala area in November 1909, writing up his bird-watching notes more than a decade later for Condor Magazine:

“The fresh water marshes of Lake Chapala, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, form another haven for waterfowl. At one end of the lake there is a great area of flooded land cut by a veritable labyrinth of sluggish channels, 400 square miles, I should say. The far interior of this swampy paradise, reached after three days’ travel in a native canoe, is a vast sanctuary for wildfowl, a region of gently rolling damp prairies, set with small ponds, and traversed by a network of navigable channels leading to the great lake. I saw as many geese, White-fronted (Anser albifrons) and Snow (Chen hyperboreus), as I have ever seen in the Sacramento Valley, and the number of ducks was past belief, with some interesting species like the Masked and Florida Black or Dusky, to lend variety.”

Nordhoff was born in London, England, to well-to-do American parents.The family moved to Berlin, where his mother wrote in the family diary that, “Charlie undoubtedly began his study of water fowl, as his daily outing in a small pram or push cart led him first to the bakeries for a supply of stale buns and back to the lake to feed the ducks.” Following several years living on the ranch near Todos Santos, the family moved to California. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a journalist and author, Nordhoff wrote his first article, for publication in an ornithological journal, at age fifteen.

MutinyOnTheBountyHe studied briefly at Stanford University, but left in the aftermath of the serious earthquake and fire of 1906. After completing a B.A. at Harvard University in 1909, he returned to Mexico, to work on a sugar plantation in Veracruz. Unable to win the heart of the plantation owner’s beautiful daughter, with whom he fell in love, and with the Mexican Revolution breaking out around him, Nordhoff left Mexico in 1911, and never returned.

In 1917, Nordhoff joined the French Foreign Legion as a pilot, eventually winning the Croix de Guerre for his efforts. After the war, he wrote a history of the Lafayette Flying Corps. with James Norman Hall (who later updated the long-established and classic traveler’s guide to Mexico  Terry’s Guide to Mexico). The two men later moved to Tahiti to write travel articles for Harper’s, where Nordhoff married a Polynesian woman, Pepe Teara; they had six children.

In the 1920s Nordhoff wrote three novels. Picarò (1924) was based on his flying experience and life in Paris; The Pearl Lagoon (1924) and The Derelict (1928) were both semi-autobiographical. However, Nordhoff is best known for his collaboration with Hall on the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy about the famous 1789 mutiny in the South Seas. The novel was the basis for three movie versions, the first of which, released in 1935, won an Oscar for Best Picture.

Nordhoff and Hall published six more co-authored novels, several of which were made into movies, but none came close to emulating the success of Mutiny on the Bounty. Tragically, following a severe depression and heavy drinking, Nordhoff took his own life on April 10, 1947.

This is a lightly edited extract from my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travelers’ Tales (Sombrero Books, 2008)

Jul 282014
 

Francisco Ochoa was born in Jamay, Jalisco, mid-way between Ocotlán and La Barca, on 4 Sep 1943 (some sources say 1946). The family moved to Mexico City when he was 5 years old. He subsequently became an accountant.

He was about 36 years old when he enrolled in the  Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado “La Esmeralda”. While studying there, he became the accountant for the Galería Estela Shapiro. Recognizing his talent, Shapiro offered him space in her gallery for a one-man show, which was well received by the art-loving public. Ochoa abandoned accountancy to focus full-time on his painting. Numerous individual exhibitions followed, in locations such as the Instituto Francés de América Latina, the Casa de la Cultura Jesús Reyes Heroles, the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana, the Museo Universitario del Chopo, the Centro Cultural Arte Contemporáneo, and in the Galería OMR. His works have also been exhibited in Guadalajara (including the Cabañas Cultural Institute), and in California and San Antonio, Texas.

After the death of his mother, Ochoa returned to Guadalajara, from where he continued to supply Galeria OMR with his work. Unfortunately, shortly after moving to Guadalajara, he was diagnosed with oral cancer, which led to his passing on 29 March 2006.

ochoa-francisco-el-canto-de-las-sirenas-1982Ochoa was primarily an oil painter, but also left many sketches and drawings. His works are included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Regional Museum of Guadalajara and the José Luis Cuevas museum in Mexico City.

His paintings shows great ingenuity, and are somewhat naif in style, using color and a sense of fun to offer a fresh view, replete with social criticism, often poking fun at the idiosyncrasies of Mexico and the absurdities of everyday life. This has led to him being described as a “satirical costumbrista“.

It is unclear whether Ochoa ever painted Lake Chapala, though his 1982 work “El Canto de las Sirenas” (“Song of the Sirens”) (see image) could easily be interpreted as having been influenced by his familiarity with the lake.

In his will, he left numerous drawing and two oil paintings to the Casa de la Cultura in Jamay, which has now been renamed after him. Since 2012, one room in the building shows works by Ochoa and a second room is used for temporary exhibitions.

For more images of Francisco Ochoa’s art, see Museoblasten.com