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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 Ajijic in the 1960s and lived there for several years, before relocating to Europe with their two children 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 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 Ajijic.

Huf+Nottonson-CoverIn Ajijic, they were sufficiently successful to live off their art. While living in Mexico, 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.

Both artists are regulars at the Schwabing Christmas Market, held annually in Munich 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 can add anything to this far-too-brief biography, then please do so via the comments feature or by emailing info@sombrerobooks.com

 

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 committed suicide 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

Jul 212014
 

John Kenneth Peterson was born in San Pedro, Los Angeles, USA, on 24 September 1922 to Andrew Gustof Peterson (1886-1957) and Edith Anna Danielson (1892-1973). He passed away on 28 Aug 1984, aged 61, in Ajijic, Mexico, and is buried in San Diego. Peterson, a US Navy veteran, is remembered by fellow artist Tom Faloon as “a big Scandinavian”, “quite a character, and a great artist and mural painter.”

He was active in the Ajijic art community from at least as early as the 1960s. Peterson is mentioned  as living in Ajijic in the 1960s by H.F. Edwards in his “On Lake Chapala” (Lake Chapala Review, April 2007), illustrated by artist Simón Velázquez (son of distinguished watercolorists Enrique and Belva Velázquez who own a gallery in Ajijic). Peterson remained a feature of the Ajijic art scene for some twenty years until his passing in 1984.

peterson-john-k-lag-chapalaHis works include lithographs, such as “Lago Chapala” dated 1973 (see image above), but he is better known as an impressionist painter.

Peterson-Ajijic-Funeral-Procession-from-KempEarl Kemp’s Efanzine of July 2002 (Vol. 1 No. 3), includes the following description of Peterson’s painting of a funeral held in Ajijic:

“It was so big, in fact, it inspired local Impressionist painter John K. Peterson to immortalize the event on canvas. His picture shows a street scene looking right down the middle of the street to where, three blocks away, the Cathedral stands. From every doorway the  townspeople are pouring, as if on cue, and forming a funeral procession down the center of the street to the church where the ceremony in honor of the passing of Pepe’s father would take place.”

Jul 142014
 

Irma Julia Köhn (later Irma René Koen) was born in Rock Island, Illinois, on Oct. 8, 1884. She graduated from Rock Island High School and, after a brief spell attending Augustana College, enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) in 1903. In 1916, she exhibited scenes of the Monterey Peninsula at the AIC. She studied art with C. F. Brown, W.L. Lathrop, H. B. Snell, and in Europe.

Market scene (possibly Oaxaca) painted by Irma Koen

Market scene in Central America painted by Irma Koen

Koen, who never married, traveled very widely during her working life, studying and painting in numerous art colonies, including St. Ives, Cornwall, England (1914); Monterey/Carmel, California (1915); East Gloucester, Massachusetts (1917); New Hope, Pennsylvania (1928); Boothbay Harbor, Maine (1927, 1928); Taos, New Mexico (1929). She also visited Asia, including Nepal. Prior to 1923, she signed her paintings as “Irma Köhn.” Sometime after a trip to France and North Africa in 1923-24, she changed her professional name to “Irma René Koen”.

Photo of Irma Koen from “The News,” Mexico D.F. , 1956

Photo of Koen from “The News,” Mexico D.F. , 1956

After the second world war, she spent the remainder of her life based in Mexico. Art historian and biographer Cynthia Wiedemann Empen writes that Koen traveled to Mexico in the early 1940s for two months, moved to San Miguel de Allende circa 1944, and resided briefly in Ajijic on Lake Chapala, Pátzcuaro and Mazatlán before establishing a permanent home and studio in Cuernavaca, in the central Mexican state of Morelos, near Mexico City.

Neill James, writing about Ajijic in 1946, describes how “Irma René Koen, an impressionist painter from Chicago, found a rich source of material in the local landscape”, so presumably Koen most likely visited Ajijic in 1945 or early in 1946.

During her thirty years in Mexico, Koen traveled and painted throughout the country, with extensive trips also to Central America (Guatemala), Spain, Japan, Hong Kong, Kashmir, Nepal, and Iran.

Her vivid oil paintings, watercolors and plein-air landscape scenes were widely exhibited during her lifetime, at galleries and museums in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., as well as in Paris (1923) and Mexico.

Her first major exhibition in Mexico was in 1947 at the Circulo de Bellas Artes de México; this exhibit was later shown in Chicago. In 1956, her paintings were displayed in the Galeria de Arte Mexicano (Gallery of Mexican Art) in Mexico City. In 1968, a selection of Koen’s paintings of Mexican landscapes and markets was hung at the Galeria de Edith Quijano in Mexico City. The following year, an exhibit of her oil paintings was held in the Palacio de Cortés, the main museum in her adopted home of Cuernavaca.

Main source:

Jul 132014
 

Canadian artist Clarence Ainslie Loomis was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1917. Loomis studied at the Northern Vocational School under S. S. Finlay, and at the Ontario College of Art under J. W. Beatty. Loomis graduated with the degree of AOCA (Associate of the Ontario College of Art) and was later (1940) elected a member of the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers (CPE), becoming its secretary in 1943.

loomis-sunset-over-lake-chapala-smRelatively little is known about Loomis, whose small oil painting entitled “Sunset, Lake Chapala” (see image) dates from 1991 and depicts a horse and rider by the lake at sunset.

One of Loomis’ works is in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

In 1993, the National Art Gallery of Canada received a gift from “C. Ainslie Loomis” of Brantford, Ontario, of an album of photographs entitled The Antiquities of Cambodia, which had been published in 1867. Apparently Loomis bought this work for 75 cents in Britnell’s bookstore in Toronto when she was a university student in 1939. Today, the album is thought to be worth closer to $10,000!

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

Jul 072014
 

According to American writer Oakley Hall, the British novelist Christopher Veiel was living at Lake Chapala at the same time he was in 1952.

veiel-hearts-and-heads-coverIt is not known what Veiel was working on, if anything, during his time in Mexico, but his first (and apparently only) novel was published two years later, in 1954, in the U.K. as Intrigue (London: H. Hamilton), and in the U.S. as Hearts and Heads (Boston, U.S.: Little, Brown and Company).

Michael Hargraves says that at the time of its publication Veiel was living in Connecticut, having settled there after some extensive traveling.

Veiel was also the translator (from French) of Francois Clement’s book, The Disobedient Son (Boston: Little, Brown, 1956].

The Kirkus Review of Hearts and Heads, describes it as “A frivolous entertainment” and “saucy and skittish”. The novel “follows the emotional escapades of Edward Wallingford and Constance, his young wife, as their first months of marriage take them to Geneva where Edward does not find with Constance the sexual incentive he has had with other girls… Constance, on the other hand, while appreciative that Edward is “such a rock” finds something softer in Pierre – the brother of the housekeeper of their neighbor Carlos, and now their chauffeur. Constance decides to marry Pierre but postponing the admission to Edward, the three leave for England where Pierre, in a moment of petulant pride, bares the past and turns on Edward – with a poker. Edward almost dies, and both Constance and Pierre are tried but cleared when Edward comes to their defense…”

Jun 302014
 

Anthony Ostroff (1923-1978) was born in Gary, Indiana and educated at Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, the Sorbonne, and the University of Grenoble. Ostroff wrote a short poem entitled: “Lake Chapala” which was published in 1977 in his A Fall in Mexico (Garden City, New York: Doubleday).

Ostroff traveled widely in Mexico (the date of his visit to Chapala is unclear) but was clearly not impressed by the lake, as evidenced by the last stanza of his poem, which reads:

Farther on
the road descends
to us & ends,
a lake-edge mess
of roots, mud,
tubers. A sludge
moccasin
swims the soup,
his writhing lost
to a straight V.
His arrow head
held lip high,
his nostrils try
the line of cess.

ostroff-anthony-1977In his notes to the poem, in the back of the book, Ostroff writes, “The lake, a part of which extends into Michoacán, lies mainly in Jalisco and is, at a distance, quite beautiful. It was once a popular resort area for wealthy Mexicans. Pollution of the lake, however, proceeded at such a rate that by the time of the poem bearing its name it had become a broth of typhoid and amebic dysentery, and the town of Chapala was all but deserted. The village of Ajijic, also on the shores of the lake, had a small, expatriate American colony.”

Working mainly in the 1950s and 1960s, his poetry and short fiction was published in such magazines as Harper’s, The Paris Review, Atlantic Monthly, Kenyon Review, and Poetry. Ostroff was also the recipient of a grant from the National Association of Educational Broadcasting to produce a series of broadcasts on American Poetry.

Ostroff, whose literary and academic career included spells teaching at the University of California at Berkley (1949-1969) and at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon (1969-1978), edited The contemporary poet as artist and critic: Eight symposia (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964) and also wrote:

  • Imperatives (Harcourt Brace & World, 1962)
  • Islander, selected poems of Anthony Ostroff (Ash Creek Press, 2000)
  • To build a House; the short stories of Anthony Ostroff (Portland, Ash Creek Press, 2003)

Anthony Ostroff was a friend of various poets in the San Francisco region, including Robert Duncan, Thom Gunn, Josephine Miles and Richard Everhart.

Ostroff died in 1978 from a heart attack suffered after hang-gliding on the coast of Oregon.

The Poetry Collection of the State University of New York at Buffalo houses the Anthony Ostroff Collection, 1955-1978, which contains  all of the poet’s published and unpublished poems, plays, short stories and articles in manuscript and published form, with thousands of corrections in the poet’s hand, as well as tape recordings prepared by Ostroff, including the series he directed for the
national Association of Educational Broadcasting.

Source for biography:

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Jun 262014
 

Described as “painters” by Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet “Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey” (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves), David and Helen Morris may have started out as painters but became far better known as potters. Born in Washington D.C. (his father was a doctor at Walter Reed Army Hospital), David Morris graduated from Georgetown University and was then employed in the city as head of the arts section of the Work Projects Administration, a New Deal program, in the 1930s. He met Helen at this time and they married in 1937. The couple spent their honeymoon in Mexico.

David Morris: Railroad Station at Lake Chapala. 1950.

David Morris: Railroad Station at Lake Chapala. 1950.

During the second world war, Morris served in the U.S. armed forces in Europe and the Pacific. Following the war, they tried to settle in the Washington D.C. area where Morris studied at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Washington, D.C., but soon soon decided to return to Mexico where they lived for several years, with Morris gaining a Masters degree in Fine Arts from the University of Guadalajara.

The family (son Nicholas was born in about 1949) subsequently settled in Ajijic, where they were active in the artistic colony in the early 1950s. A framed oil on board, entitled “Railroad Station at Lake Chapala”, painted in 1950, was sold at auction in California in 2009. In 1953, the family moved back to the U.S., establishing the La Paz pottery workshop in Sausalito, in the San Francisco Bay area of California. A major fire in 1960 destroyed their first studio, in a former boatyard, and they built a new studio in Larkspur. Morris produced more than 10,000 pieces of functional stoneware and porcelain, some now in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution and other museums. He was particularly adept at utilizing “rich, lush glazes”, based on ancient Chinese techniques.