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Jul 242017
 

Architect Jean Taylor Strange moved to Chapala with her husband William Strange in January 1965 (having bought a house in Chapala Haciendas in December 1964) and resided there for more than forty years.

Jean Taylor Strange. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Jean Taylor Strange. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Besides the fact that she worked with her husband on researching his radio documentaries about Mexico for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Jean Strange has a significant additional claim to fame since she was one of the first women in Canada to graduate with a degree in architecture.

A short profile of Jean Strange, who graduated from the School of Architecture at the University of Toronto in 1948, is included in Joan Grierson’s For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture. The profile includes some photographs of her work and quotes Jean Strange as saying that, “My architectural training has enriched my life immeasurably. I cannot claim that any of these years had been dull.”

Jean was educated in the U.K. and Switzerland and then enrolled in the architectural course at Brighton Art School and Technical College in 1937. Two years later, part way through her studies there, she visited Canada on what was meant to be a six week trip as a student member of the Overseas Education League. The second world war broke out while she was in Canada, preventing her from returning home. She enrolled at the University of Toronto and was placed in the second year of the program of the class of 1943.

In 1943, she had completed all formal studies but still lacked the one year of experience required to be awarded her degree.

Since the war was still ongoing, she joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, working in operations and base planning. This included a spell as assistant to Captain William Strange in the Directorate of Naval Information.

Discharged from the Naval Service after the war, she worked for the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in Ontario under architect Sam Gitterman, gaining the year’s experience required to complete her B. Arch degree in 1948. The following year she transferred within the CMHC to the publications section under Humphrey Carter.

Jean Taylor Strange with Ted Raines, Design Center, Ottawa, 1954. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Jean Taylor Strange with Ted Raines, Design Center, Ottawa, 1954. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Carver, in his memoir, Compassionate Landscape, writes that “I was also very lucky that through this whole period Jean Strange worked for me, with her meticulous sweet patience for the small-scale problems of housing design and the page-by-page layout of the publications that issued from our office. I had first known Jean as an English school-girl and wartime-evacuee who came to the Toronto School of Architecture in 1939. Later, she joined the Navy, married Captain William Strange, historian and broadcaster, and now they live in Mexico.”

Jean Taylor married Captain William Strange in 1950. She continued to work for the CMHC until 1959 when her husband was working in Jamaica, training staff for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. In Jamaica Jean was a volunteer researcher and her husband’s assistant.

In 1962, the Stranges took two trips to the Yucatán Peninsula collecting information about the Maya for a CBC special. Shortly afterwards they decided to relocate to Mexico and bought a home in Chapala Haciendas.

Jean Strange assisted her husband with the research and writing of further documentaries about Mexico for the CBC, including a program on Cortés and the conquest of Mexico, entitled “The Bold Ones” and one about Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota.

Jean Strange continued to live in Chapala after the death of her husband in 1983.

Sources:

  • Humphrey Carver. 1975. Compassionate Landscape. University of Toronto Press.
  • Joan Grierson. 2008. For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture. Toronto: Dundurn.
  • Guadalajara Reporter 30 April 1964, 2; 18 Nov 1965, 6.
  • Peter C. Newman. 2005. Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power. McClelland & Stewart.

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

Jul 202017
 

Novelist Oakley Hall was a professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, and directed its creative writing program.

Hall and his wife Barbara Edinger Hall, a photographer, lived at Lake Chapala for about six months in 1952, during which time, according to Michael Hargraves in A literary Survey of Lake Chapala, Hall was working on his third novel, Corpus of Joe Bailey, published by Viking in New York the following year. Hall visited Mexico several times over the years and more than one of his novels is set in Mexico.

Oakley Hall. Credit: website of Al Young.

Oakley Hall. Credit: website of Al Young.

Oakley Maxwell Hall was born on 1 July 1920 in La Jolla (near San Diego), and died in Nevada City, California, on 12 May 2008.

After his parents divorced, Hall lived with his mother in Honolulu, Hawaii, but later returned to California to complete his high school education at San Diego’s Hoover High School. Hall then attended the University of California at Berkeley. After graduating from Berkeley in 1943, he served in the Marines during the second world war.

He married Barbara Edinger in 1944. The couple moved to New York so that Hall could study writing at Columbia University but Hall left as soon as he sold his first novel, Murder City, which he claimed to have written in only two weeks. They then spent 18 months in Europe where Hall studied in England, Switzerland, and at the University of Paris, aided by the G.I. Bill. In 1950 he earned a Masters degree in Fine Arts (creative writing) from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Hargraves writes that Hall was at Lake Chapala for six months in 1952 and quotes him as saying that the British novelist Christopher Veiel was also living at Lake Chapala at that time. Little is known about Hall’s (or for that matter Veiel’s) time at Chapala beyond these scant details.

Hall’s distinguished teaching career included a spell at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop before he joined the University of California, Irvine, in 1968. In 1969 he co-founded the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, a summer program linking published and unpublished writers. Hall and his wife divided their time each year between San Francisco and Squaw Valley.

Hall retired from UC Irvine in 1990. Through his teaching, Hall had a profound influence on California literature. His students included Michael Chabon, Richard Ford and Amy Tan. Amy Tan, in particular, credits Hall with having given her the necessary support to become a well-known writer: “Oakley was the reason that I found my confidence as a writer… the Halls are a remarkable family. They are deep-hearted and stalwart, generous and kind and giving.”

Oakley Hall’s two best-known works are Warlock (1958) and The Downhill Racers (1963). Warlock, a western tale set in the fictional 19th century town of Warlock, was a finalist for the 1958 Pulitzer Prize and was adapted for a film of the same name, released in 1959. The Downhill Racers was the basis for the movie Downhill Racer (1969) starring Robert Redford.

Hall received numerous awards including lifetime achievement awards from the PEN Center USA and the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

California poet Al Young (who lived in Ajijic for several years in the 1960s and whose novel Who is Angelina? includes several scenes set at Lake Chapala) was a friend of Oakley Hall for more than thirty years. Following Hall’s death, Young was quoted as saying that, “Oakley Hall was a master storyteller who loved the West…. His novels and stories reflect the landscapes that he inhabited most of his life: the Pacific islands of his youth, the foothills and ski slopes of the Sierra and the streets and neighborhoods of San Francisco.”

Early in his career, Hall wrote several mystery novels using the pen name Jason Manor: Too Dead to Run (1953); The Red Jaguar (1954); The Pawns of Fear (1955); The Tramplers (1956).

Hall’s nonfiction books included The Art and Craft of Novel Writing (1994); Heroes Without Glory: Some Good Men of the Old West (with Jack Schaefer, 1987); and How Fiction Works (2000). He also had short stories published in numerous magazines, including Playboy, Tri-Quarterly, The Hawaii Review, and The Antioch Review.

Hall’s major works of fiction included Murder City (1949); So Many Doors (1950); Corpus of Joe Bailey (1953); Mardios Beach (1955); Warlock (1958); The Downhill Racers (1963); The Pleasure Garden (1966); A Game for Eagles (1970); Report from Beau Harbor (1971); The Adelita (1975); The Bad Lands (1978); The Children of the Sun (1983); The Coming of the Kid (1985); Apaches (1986); Separations (1997), about the discovery of the Colorado River; Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades (1998); Ambrose Bierce and the Death of Kings (2001); Ambrose Bierce and the One-Eyed Jacks (2003); Ambrose Bierce and the Trey of Pearls (2004); Ambrose Bierce and the Ace of Shoots (2005); and Love and War in California (2007).

Several of these books have links to Mexico. These include his Ambrose Bierce series of mysteries which had the legendary San Francisco newsman and satirist Ambrose Bierce as main protagonist. Bierce (author of The Devil’s Dictionary) had significant ties to Mexico. In December 1913, when he was in his seventies, Bierce disappeared in Mexico in mysterious circumstances. After allegedly joining Pancho Villa’s army as an observer, he was never seen again.

In his review of The Adelita (1975), blogger Steven Zoraster writes that:

“The narrator in this novel is Michael MacBean Palacio, son of an American father and a Mexican mother… a child of privilege, graduate of Andover, graduate of Harvard, and leader of a band of guerrilla cavalry during the war to overthrow the Mexican dictator Huerta. He is also the lover of Adelita, the woman of the title, the living symbol of the revolution, whose name is also that of the Mexican soldier’s wife in a famous and very real ballad of the Mexican Revolution.”
. . .
“Oakley Hall is unparalleled in the portrayal of the American frontier, where the law is distance and tenuous. Here it is up to the protagonists to establish their own law. To establish it with great difficulty and often with bloodshed, and always with uncertainty about the cost that must be paid. In “The Adelita” the necessity of establishing the rule of law is extended to an entire country, Mexico, a country Mr. Hall seems to have understood very well.”
. . .
“In 1968, witnessed by MacBean, the Mexican government, in which his son has an important role, orders the pre-Olympic massacre of protesting students at Tlatelolco in Mexico City. And thus MacBean is drawn back into the unfinished struggle for some sort of justice or righteousness or legality in Mexico.”

In Children of the Sun, Hall spins a story based on “The famous journey of Cabeza de Vaca through northern Mexico (1535-36), and its treasure-seeking aftermath–in an intelligently fictionalized version that turns the story into a morality play involving greed, religion, racism, and ambition.” (Kirkus Review). [That story is part of chapter 11 of my Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique]

After these two books on Mexico – The Adelita and Children of the Sun – Hall had begun a third book, provisionally entitled Independencial, an historical novel set during Mexico’s 1810-1821 War of Independence. In an interview late in life Hall recalled that his publishers had not displayed any enthusiasm for further books relating to Mexico since, “Books about Mexico don’t make enough money.”

Sadly, some things clearly haven’t changed!

Sources:

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

Jul 172017
 

Painter, sculptor and print-maker James Steg, who was Professor of Art at Newcomb College, Tulane University, in New Orleans for more than forty years, worked in Ajijic during the summer of 1958.

James Louis Steg (“Jim”) was born in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1922 and died in New Orleans in 2001. He gained his M.A. degree in Fine Arts degree from the State University of Iowa. He served in the U.S. Army during the second world war and was in a camouflage unit during the D-Day landings.

James Steg. The Picninc Scene. Etching and aquatint. Undated.

James Steg. “The Picnic Scene”. Etching and aquatint. Undated.

James Steg was art professor at Newcomb College for 43 years. Among his students in an etching class was Frances Swigart, who later became his wife.

Throughout his career, Steg was constantly exploring new printmaking techniques and he developed many innovative methods such as altering Xeerox prints with paint and chemicals. According to Doug MacCash, art critic for The Times-Picayune, age did nothing to diminish Steg’s boundless creativity or artistic output.

Steg spent the summer of 1958 in Ajijic, as evidenced by this brief entry in The Times-Picayune drawing readers’ attention to the opening of his latest art show in New Orleans:

“James Steg recently sold an etching “Bird of Prey” to the New York Public Library collection. This is the 23rd public institution to have purchased one of the artist’s works. Steg is back at the Newcomb art school after a summer stay in Ajijic.”

By lucky coincidence, one of his rare works from this time came up for auction in 2015. The etching, a studio print from the estate of artist and educator George C. Wolfe of New Orleans, is titled “The Goat Herder (Mexico)”.

James Steg. "The Goat Herder (Mexico)". Etching. 1958.

James Steg. “The Goat Herder (Mexico)”. Etching. 1958.

In addition to participating in dozens of group shows, Steg held many solo exhibitions. In New Orleans, these included shows at the IH Gallery at International House, the H. Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University, World’s Fair Expo ’84, and at Marguerite Oestreicher Fine Arts Gallery. He also had one-person shows in New York (the Weyhe Gallery; Associated American Artists), Philadelphia (Philadelphia Art Alliance), Dalls (Dallas Museum of Art; Cushing Gallery), Columbus (Ohio State University), Coral Gables (University of South Florida) and Oxford (University of Mississippi). His only recorded international solo show was at the USIA Exhibition in Ankara, Turkey.

James Steg. The work of five men. Etching. Undated.

James Steg. “The work of five men”. Etching. Undated.

A retrospective exhibition of his work, entitled “Thirty Years of J. L. Steg: 1948-78”, was held at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1978.

Among the many awards he received for his art were the Charles Lea Prize from Philadelphia Print Club, and an award from Lugano, Switzerland. Steg was named a Printmaker Emeritus by the Southern Graphic Arts Council.Steg’s works can be found in the permanent collections of numerous venerable institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the New Orleans Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum in New York, Dallas Museum of Art. Minnesota Museum of American Art and the Seattle Museum, as well as in 30 university collections and many private collections in the New Orleans area. Overseas, pieces by Steg are in the Museum of Modem Art in Sao Paulo, Brazil and in the Bezalel National Museum in Jerusalem.

Sources:

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

Jul 132017
 

Captain H. E. William (“Bill”) Strange OBE was Director of Naval Information in the Canadian Navy before “retiring” to Mexico with his wife, Jean, in January 1965 (having bought a house in Chapala Haciendas in December 1964) . He then proceeded to research, write and produce several radio documentaries about Mexico for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC).

Strange was born in Corazal, British Honduras (now Guyana) in 1902. His father was the then District Commissioner. He attended a boarding school in the U.K. from the age of seven. When the first world war broke out, Strange became a cadet in the Royal Navy, and undertook training at Osborne and Dartmouth. Following his discharge in 1918, due to a vision problem, he moved to Trinidad, where his parents were then living and worked in that country’s oil fields. After Trinidad, he took teaching positions in England and Egypt.

Strange emigrated to Toronto, Canada, in 1929. During the next decade he worked in a variety of jobs related to sales, advertising, writing and public relations but found most success in writing radio scripts and plays. Among his weekly productions were “Who’s Who in Music”; “Let’s Disagree”; and “Echoes from History”. In 1935 he published a novel, Sunset in Ebony, based on his experiences in Trinidad.

When the second world war began in 1939, Strange used his skills to focus on radio programs designed to assist the allied cause. After producing about 20 half-hour shows in a series for CBD titled “They Shall Not Pass”, he started a long-running series named “Carry on Canada”. In 1941 he visited England as a CBC war correspondent “to look at the blitz”, collecting material for another book (below) and for several radio specials, one of which became the first Canadian program to win the top award at Ohio State University’s Institute of Education by Radio. Royalties from the book all went to the Navy League of Canada.

Strange joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1942 as an information officer. He served as Director of Naval Information from late 1945 until his retirement in February 1959. Much of his time with the RCN was spent making radio broadcasts.

After the second world war ended, Strange established the RCN’s first peace-time public information organization. During his time with the RCN Strange produced dozens of radio plays, booklets and articles as well as several books, in addition to documentary series, including a tri-service show called “Comrades in Arms”. In 1948 he founded The Crowsnest, the magazine of the Directorate of Naval Information.

William Strange wrote several books related to Canada and the second world war, including Canada, the Pacific and War (Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1937); Into the blitz; a British journey (Toronto: Macmillan, 1941); The Royal Canadian Navy, 1942-1943 (Canadian Print and Lithographing Co, 1943); and Ships Mean Security (Toronto: The Navy League of Canada, 1945).

For his many and varied services, Captain Strange was awarded the OBE in January 1946.

Captain William Strange married Jean Taylor in 1950. In his memoir, Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power, Peter C. Newman pays tribute to Captain William Strange for having been an outstanding mentor to him in the early 1950s. Newman also refers to Strange’s wife, Jean, “his wonderful architect wife”.

From 1959 to 1961, the Stranges were in Jamaica where Bill was writing and training staff for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

In 1962, the couple took two trips to the Yucatán Peninsula collecting information about the Maya civilization for a CBC special. Shortly afterwards they decided to relocate to Mexico and bought a home in Chapala Haciendas, from where they began to explore the rest of Mexico, working on new projects for the CBC. A brief note in the 30 April 1964 edition of the Guadalajara Reporter informs us that “Capt. and Mrs William Strange have returned from a trip to Mexico City, Tlaxcala, Cholula and other spots. He’s doing research for a program on Cortés and the conquest of Mexico for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Toronto.”

From a lengthier piece in the same newspaper the following year (18 November 1965) we learn that the Stranges have returned to Chapala Haciendas after spending the summer settling affairs in Canada. Captain Strange’s 90-minute radio documentary about Hernan Cortés’ conquest of Mexico, “The Bold Ones”, was being broadcast by the CBC national network. Strange had already completed a new project, the story of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota, which the CBC had agreed to produce and broadcast.

In 1966, Strange entered an “experimental film” entitled “Dimensions” into a contest held as part of Guadalajara’s annual Fiestas de Octubre celebration. The film won “Capitán William Sprange” (sic) a silver sombrero.

It was in 1966 when Strange was appointed to the first board of directors of the newly-formed Anglo-Mexican Institute (IAM) in Guadalajara. Less than a year later, he became president of the IAM’s governing council and he was still actively involved in IAM affairs when it celebrated its 10th anniversary in September 1976.

Captain William Strange, OBE, CD, RCN, died in Chapala in 1983.

Sources

  • Anon. “Founder of The Crowsnest Retires.” The Crowsnest, March 1959.
  • Guadalajara Reporter 30 April 1964, 2; 18 Nov 1965, 6;
  • Informador 11 Sep 1966; 28 Oct 1966; 3 July 1967; 11 Sept 1976
  • Peter C. Newman. 2005. Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power. McClelland & Stewart.
  • William Strange. 1941. Into the blitz; a British journey. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • Captain William Strange Papers (Director of Naval Information): Speeches and Related Materials in National Defence Headquarters Directorate of History and Heritage.

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

Jul 102017
 

In Dust on my Heart (1946) Neill James relates several stories about “David Nixon, a New Orleans artist, and his wife June”, who were apparently seriously considering buying property at Lake Chapala until they were informed about various acts of violence that had been perpetrated there. The Nixons never did buy property in Ajijic and we know very little about their time at Lake Chapala, but David Nixon was a multi-talented musician and artist who deserves to be better-known.

David Sinclair Nixon was born 3 January 1904 in Bessemer, Alabama, and died in his long-time home of New Orleans in February 1973. His surname at birth was Burbage but became Nixon when his mother remarried.

Details of his early musical and artistic education remain a mystery though Nixon was apparently a former violin scholarship student of the Birmingham Music Club in Alabama.

nixon-nudes-dancing

David Sinclair Nixon: Nudes dancing

After Nixon married June Prudhomme (a wealthy Louisiana widow and 14 years his senior who had been living in New York City), the couple established their home in Paris where Nixon developed his interest in modern art and continued his concert career. Travel records show that the couple crossed the Atlantic several times in the 1930s between Europe and the U.S.

Nixon studied the violin in Europe for more than a decade, taking classes in Paris, Rome and Berlin, and gave concerts in five countries. Among his teachers was the renowned Czech violinist Otakar Ševčík (1852–1934).

A February 1933 newspaper piece records that the Nixons, “of Paris, France” had been touring America over the previous winter and were currently staying in the St. Charles hotel in New Orleans.

In Europe, the Nixons became good friends with the poet and critic Ezra Pound and his long-time companion, the concert violinist and musicologist Olga Rudge. In the late 1930s, Pound supported Olga’s efforts as she and David Nixon sought to revive interest in the music of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. Rudge had studied many of Vivaldi’s original scores in Turin in 1936 in preparation for a series of concerts featuring some of Vivaldi’s lesser-known works. Nixon was also very familiar with many of the pieces. Following Nixon’s performance at a concert in homage to Antonio Vivaldi in Venice in October 1937, Pound wrote that “Nixon [is] trying hard to play well-beautiful tone, no technique, no solfège, and no bluff-the same state she [Olga Rudge] wuz in 15 years ago, but don’t know if he has her toughness.” [quoted in Conover]

With Pound’s help, Rudge and Nixon attempted to organize a Vivaldi Society in Venice. Though that venture proved unsuccessful, Rudge subsequently co-founded the Center for Vivaldi Studies at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana and edited a catalog of more than 300 of Vivaldi’s manuscripts that was published by the Accademia just before the start of the second world war.

By that time the Nixons were already safely back in New Orleans. A 1938 newspaper piece confirms that, following “a tour of Europe” and recognizing that war was inevitable, the Nixons had left France to live full-time in New Orleans. In September 1938, they acquired two properties in the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) – 529 Madison Street and 532-534 Dumaine Street – which shared a common boundary and would serve as their home, studio space and exhibition and performance venue.

The Nixons quickly became respected members of the city’s artistic-literary circle. Among their near neighbors was Lyle Saxon, a noteworthy local writer who was also a reporter on the staff of The Times-Picayune.

Nixon’s wide-ranging artistic talents had enabled him to become an accomplished puppeteer. His comical puppet shows for children, put on in a converted warehouse next to his home, became legendary. Nixon designed and created the puppets and the sets, wrote the stories and dialogue and manipulated the puppets, but the star of the show was often his cat, Selassie, who, suitably “costumed and combed”, would make a grand appearance, perform acrobatics and steal the show.

As a painter, Nixon became known for his colorful, often abstract works, and one of his oil paintings was awarded first prize at the 1943 New Orleans Spring Fiesta. In the 1940s Nixon opened the Little Gallery on Royal Street to showcase not only his own work but also that of many other artists. He later opened the David S. Nixon Art Foundation and Gallery on the Madison Street property belonging to his wife.

nixon-david-maypole-1954

David Sinclair Nixon: Maypole. 1954.

The Nixons’ visit to Ajijic came towards the end of the second world war and is described by Neill James in both her article for Modern Mexico (October 1945) and in Dust on my Heart (1946). The article includes a photograph captioned, “Neill James gave a party to show paintings made in Ajijic by David Nixon, fellow southerner from New Orleans”. Sadly, apart from this, little is known about David Nixon’s time in Ajijic.

In 1946, Nixon was invited to give a violin concert in support of the restoration of New Harmony, the historic Indiana town where Welsh industrialist Robert Owen tried to establish a Utopian community in the 1820s. Jane Blaffer Owen, wife of Robert Owen’s great-great-grandson, was the driving force behind the revitalization of New Harmony. In New Harmony, Indiana: Like a River, Not a Lake: A Memoir, she writes that:

“I invited David Nixon, a violinist from New Orleans, to share his considerable talents with the community. I rented Murphy Auditorium for a concert on Thursday, June 20, 1946, when children would be out of school and around the time when out family would customarily transfer from Houston to New Harmony. David, a recovering alcoholic, was addicted to sweets, particularly chocolate ice cream sodas, and could be found each morning at our local Ramsey pharmacy, which, in the 1940s and ’50s, was the town’s social center, its ice cream parlor and its dispensary. In the evenings he would play his violin on the streets of New Harmony for whoever wished to listen. His audience kept increasing.”

Despite Nixon going against the wishes of his host and playing only Bach and other eighteenth century music, the concert was a huge success.

During the latter decades of his life, Nixon seems to have become more focused on his painting. In January 1947 he was in a two-person show with Ukranian immigrant artist Ben-Zion at the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans. A reviewer in the Times-Picayune wrote that Nixon’s style was the more primitive and that the artist “paints because it pleases him and his work is entertaining with gay color and instinctive spotting.”

In 1948, the Nixons returned to Paris to live. Almost immediately, David started “The Chamber Music Society in Paris”. A short interview with Nixon appeared in the 11 February 1949 issue of Le Guide du Concert which featured his portrait on its cover.

In addition, according to Irma Sompayrac Willard in her profile of Nixon for The Times Picayune in August 1949, the musician-artist had:

discovered a charming medieval village in Provence which the mayor promptly gave to him on his promise to restore the roofs. He’ll do it, too, just as he restored that Madison st. house with its lovely patio. Now he’s busy forming committees, getting estimates, and lining up first residents for his ancient French village. He talks of summer music festivals there, of puppet shows and exhibitions and maybe the possibility of getting New Orleans to adopt this unbelievably beautiful little town with its apple blossom and hilltop church.”

Just how much of this plan became reality is unknown!

nixon-david-show-flierBy the late 1950s, the Nixons were back in the U.S., where they lived for a time in Carmel, California. When asked about his one-man show of paintings at the Carmel Craft Studios in May 1957, Nixon said that the gallery was similar to the Arts and Crafts Gallery in New Orleans and added that his next major show was due to open in September at the Leveaugh Gallery in San Francisco. He and his wife planned to return to New Orleans in 1959 and would reopen their Madison Street art gallery. The Nixons did indeed return and reopened the gallery on premises that had been rented since 1951 by the Gallery Circle theater.

The building the theater moved to was destroyed by fire the following year. Theater organizers approached Nixon to see if he would allow them to rent their former home again but Nixon declined, saying that he and his wife were definitely home from Europe for good.

June Nixon passed away in about 1963. That same year David Nixon held another one-person show, at 542 Chartres in the French Quarter. A review of the show maintained that “to really appreciate it you need a certain elfish sense of humor”, and that it helped “to have ears that are tuned in to the pipes of Pan” since Nixon’s elongated nymphs “gambol, pipe and play through the paintings.”

During his lifetime Nixon exhibited his art in four countries – the U.S., Mexico, France and Italy – with noteworthy showings in Paris, Mexico City, Rome, and at the Galeria Neuf in New York. A major posthumous retrospective of Nixon’s work, “David Sinclair Nixon (1904-1973): A retrospective of one artist’s work” was held at Byrdie’s Gallery in New Orleans in October 2010.

Note:

  • The original version of this post was published on 17 September 2015.

Sources:

  • Anniston Star. 1943. “David Nixon Honored at New Orleans Fiesta.” Anniston Star (Anniston, Alabama), 30 May 1943, p 6.
  • Anne Conover. 2008. Olga Rudge & Ezra Pound. Yale University Press.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • Neill James. 1946. Dust on my Heart.
  • Jane Blaffer Owen. 2015. New Harmony, Indiana: Like a River, Not a Lake: A Memoir. Indiana University Press.
  • Olga A. Rudge. 1939. Vivaldi, note e documenti sulla vita e sulle opere. Siena: Academia Musicale Chigiana.
  • Irma Sompayrac Willard. 1949. “French Quarter to French Capital”, Times-Picayune 14 August 1949, p 154.
  • Times-Picayune – 26 Feb 1933, p 23; 9 October 1938, p 67; 6 January 1947, p 14; 19 May 1957, p 37; 22 November 1959, p 57; 4 August 1963, p 53.

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

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Jul 062017
 

Wow! Lake Chapala connected to Abraham Lincoln? Well, yes, albeit in a somewhat tenuous, roundabout way that I will now attempt to explain.

The key character in this story is Rixford Joseph Lincoln, who was born into a prominent New Orleans family on 22 August 1872. His father, Lemuel L. Lincoln, had been a Major in the confederate forces before becoming the commercial and financial editor of the city’s leading daily, the Times-Democrat. Rixford’s mother died when he was young and he was raised by an aunt, Suzette Helluin. The family was not directly related by blood to Abraham Lincoln but, as we shall see, it is possible to link Rixford Lincoln to the famous U.S. president and one part of the link also involves Lake Chapala.

Frontispiece, Rixford Lincoln's Poems and Short Stories (1900)

Frontispiece, Rixford Lincoln’s Poems and Short Stories (1900)

Rixford gained both a B.A. and M.A. from the Jesuit college in New Orleans and worked as an assistant to his father before completing his studies in law at Tulane University, from which he graduated in 1899.

He started to write poetry at an early age and his family’s newspaper connections undoubtedly helped bring his work to a significant audience. Indeed, Rixford was considered the poet laureate of the Louisiana Historical Society and wrote (and read) poems to commemorate important events, such as the opening of the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1911 (“Long will this art museum stand in pride / While throngs will daily pour into its door / The Muses to live and speak out from the paint / And spread her mystic light from dome to floor”) and at the dedication of the oak grove in the Audubon Park in New Orleans in 1919, a memorial to 62 local men who gave their lives during the first world war.

Rixford Lincoln was the author of several books including Poems and short stories (1900); Prose Poems (ca 1906); Historical New Orleans (in verse) (ca 1911); War Poems, Indian Legends, and a Wreath of Childhood Verses (1916); Verses to a Child (1922) as well as numerous newspaper articles and several other undated pamphlets of poetry.

Lincoln was obviously familiar with Lake Chapala (though how and when is unknown) since among his many poems is this one about the lake, published in 1908:

LAKE CHAPALA

O “Lagua Incognitus,” Thon gem so fair,
Encircled in the mountains’ horseshoe green,
Whose lovely waters bask ‘neath tropic sun,
Or lash the beach with breakers’ battling spleen.

Sweet Mexic lake, beloved Indian spot,
Where forests spread upon the mountain side,
Whose emerald peaks, of softest hue divine,
Reflect themselves in thee, with silent pride.

How fair thy waters roll upon the shore,
With music tender, breathing from the deep;
Where sail the vessels, tossing on thy breast,
And balmy breezes woo the spirit sleep.

Enchanted highland lake, beloved so well,
How grand when cloud and mountain flood with light,
With colors mingling tints of sky and sea,
When sol is sinking on the heart of night.

Bewildering sight, which dazzles mem’ry yet,
O’erreaching haciendas, fields and plain;
Alluring air of Mexico’s soft sea,
Let me of all they glories dream again.

– – –

In 1928, after working as an attorney and newspaper man in New Orleans for some thirty years, Rixford Lincoln accepted a position teaching English and French at the boarding school attached to Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City, Colorado.

Though the motives behind his later movements are unclear, by 1935 Rixford Lincoln was living in St Bernard, Cullman, Alabama, and, by the time of the U.S. Census in 1940, in Pasco, Florida. He died in Illinois on 22 October 1962 at the age of 90.

And the connection to Abraham Lincoln? Well, there are two distinct links. The first is that Rixford Lincoln also wrote a poem entitled “Abraham Lincoln”, published in the Cullman Democrat (Alabama) in 1936. That poem (quoted in Schwartz, 2011) ends with the plea made by so many in the run-up to the second world war:

Would that you could rule us today
When wracked the world in woe
Oh, guide us from afar, we pray
Wisdom on us bestow.

And the second connection? Rixford Lincoln, the poet and son of Major Lemuel L. Lincoln, was an usher at the colorful wedding in New Orleans of Laure Jaubert and John Virgil Dugan, who had previously worked for the son of Abraham Lincoln….

Sources:

  • Daily Picayune, 23 May 1899, 11
  • Ned Hémard. 2015. “New Orleans Nostalgia: Lincoln Law and Loving Laure”, in journal of the New Orleans Bar Association.
  • Rixford J. Lincoln. 1900. Poems and short stories. (New Orleans: Dalton Williams)
  • Rixford J. Lincoln. 1908. “Lake Chapala” (poem), The Daily Picayune (New Orleans), 15 March 1908, 36.
  • Rixford J. Lincoln. 1936. “Abraham Lincoln” (poem), Cullman Democrat, 13 February 1936, 21.
  • The Register. 1928. “Holy Cross Abbey Notes” in The Register, the Rapid Fire Catholic Newspaper (Denver, Colorado), 2 September 1928, 3.
  • Barry Schwartz. 2011. “Abraham Lincoln in the Mind of the South: Assassination to Reconciliation”, pp 169-203 of The Living Lincoln (edited by Thomas A. Horrocks, Harold Holzer, Frank J. Williams), Southern Illinois University Press.

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

Jul 032017
 

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth, also known after her second marriage as Frieda Mathilda Das, was an accomplished painter, writer, and illustrator, who is perhaps best remembered today for having painted one of the earliest portraits of Mahatma Gandhi.

Hauswirth visited Mexico from August 1944 to early in 1946. While it is unclear if this was her only visit, she definitely visited Ajijic on this trip: Neill James, in her account of Ajijic in 1945, described Hauswirth as “a naturalist from India”.

Actually, Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth was Swiss, but with very strong Indian connections. Hauswirth was born in Switzerland on 8 February 1886 and studied at the Universities of Bern and Zurich for two years before moving to California in about 1905 to attend Stanford University, from which she graduated with an A.B. in English in 1910.

Immediately after graduating she married a fellow Stanford student, Arthur Lee Munger, who later became a doctor. Their unconventional marriage ceremony on 7 August 1910 was held at the Temple Square in Palo Alto. The couple were “in street attire and unattended.” The ritual, “quite unlike that of any other church, in that it minimizes the religious and accentuates the philosophic and social side of marriage”, omitted any suggestion of “the inferiority and submission on the part of the bride”. Each “placed a ring on the fourth finger of the other in token of marriage, repeating the nuptial vows in unison”.

Hauswirth’s liberated approach to matters of the heart became apparent soon after marriage when she became infatuated with an Indian professor (and with India and its complex politics). A short-lived affair brought her marriage to an end and she and Munger divorced in 1916.

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth

Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Illustration from Meine indische Ehe (1933)

While studying at Stanford, Hauswirth had become friends with a high-caste Indian student named Sarangadhar Das. Das had studied in Japan, funded by a wealthy patron in India, but turned his back on his patron (and his family) to continue his agricultural engineering studies at the University of California in Berkeley. After he graduated, he worked for several years in a sugar mill in Hawaii. Das and Hauswirth, who had now immersed herself in Indian literature and managed to get several articles published in the Modern Review of Calcutta, had always remained close friends. Hauswirth longed to visit and teach in India but wartime travel restrictions prevented her from realizing this plan. Das had proposed to Hauswirth several times over the years before she agreed to visit him in Hawaii, where they married in 1917.

The marriage made their migration status very complicated. Hauswirth lost her previously-acquired American citizenship even as Das was petitioning the court for his own naturalization. The legal situation was complex. The United States District Attorney opposed the petition “on the ground that the petitioner, being, a Hindu, is not eligible to ‘naturalization under Revised Statutes, section 2169, which limits naturalization to “free white persons” and those of African nativity and descent”, but local Hawaii Second Circuit Judge Edings eventually ruled that Das did indeed have the right to become a U.S. citizen.

Even the couple’s honeymoon was sensationally eventful: they were called as witnesses during the famous Hindu-German Conspiracy Trial in San Francisco where two men were killed in the courtroom.

Frieda and Das then lived in California for a short time, where Frieda took classes with Gottardo Piazzoni (1872–1945) at the California School of Fine Art (now San Francisco Art Institute) in San Francisco.

Artwork by Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Credit: askart.com

Artwork by Frieda Mathilda Hauswirth. Credit: askart.com

In 1920, following the death of Das’s father, the couple sailed for Calcutta, India, where Das tried to start a sugar factory in Orissa. The prejudices that were rife in the India of that time made life extremely difficult for Frieda. For instance, she was never able to meet her mother-in-law since if she had done so, the elder Mrs. Das would have “lost caste” and would have been reviled by friends and family alike. It also quickly became obvious to Frieda that her presence prevented potential investors from lending her husband the money needed to finance his sugar project. Not surprisingly, Frieda, a staunch feminist, found this situation intolerable and the couple agreed to live apart.

Sarangadhar Das went on to become a nationalist revolutionary who served in the Constituent Assembly of India that was responsible for framing the country’s independent constitution that took effect in 1950. He remained in politics until his death seven years later. A later account of his life and contribution to the Indian independence process, by Jatin Kumar Nayak, credits Hauswirth with having been instrumental in persuading Das that he should “return to India and make use of his expertise to improve the lot of his impoverished fellow Indians.”

Frieda left India and returned to Switzerland to paint and write. She studied art in Paris and divided her time over the next decade between Europe and California, with occasional trips to India. Frieda’s book about her experiences in India, A Marriage to India, was published by Vanguard Press, New York, in 1930. It is a detailed, heartfelt account of her relationship with Das and the difficulties they encountered as an inter-racial couple in India in the 1920s. The book’s frontispiece is Hauswirth’s own 1927 sketch of Gandhi, who was a friend of her husband’s family.

In early 1938, she moved to California for six years. She sought to restore her American citizenship and announced that she was prepared to divorce Das if necessary in order to expedite the process.

In 1944, after building a cabin-studio at 11, El Portal Court in Berkeley, she decided to visit Mexico. The visit lasted from August 1944 to early 1946. As described by Hal Johnson, writing several years later about Hauswirth for the Berkeley Daily Gazette:

Then came the urge to paint in Mexico and to gather material there for a travel book. In August, 1944, she motored south of the border with “Lennie”, a cross between a German police dog and an Airedale, as her sole companion.

Mexican roads were like driving over washboard through which spikes stuck up. Tires were scarce in Mexico then as they were in the United States, but Frieda Hauswirth and her dog, “Lennie”, finally reached Ajijic Lake.

She made her headquarters in Chapala and did in oil some delightful paintings. Followed a sojourn in Mexico City and then a trip to Oaxaca, where she painted from the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, the most intelligent of Mexican Indians. She spent Christmas, 1945, in Monterrey, Mexico.”

There is an as-yet-unconfirmed report of an oil painting, labeled “Ajijic” on the back, by Hauswirth of a Mexican couple at a market which presumably dates back to this time.

Hauswirth flew back to Europe early in 1946 to live in Switzerland and study Italian. She revisited India in 1950, but eventually resettled in Berkeley, California, early in 1951. A contemporary newspaper account describes how she did not have wall space to hang “several of her earlier oil paintings which won prizes in Paris art shows. They are carefully packed away along with her more modern canvases painted in Mexico.”

Hauswirth became well known for the frescoes and portraits she painted. Her major art exhibits included shows at the Salon des Beaux Arts, Grand Salon, Paris (1926); in London; at the San Francisco Art Association (1920, 1925); in Boston; at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City (June 1931); and in Mysore, India.

Frieda Hauswirth wrote and illustrated several books including A Marriage to India (1930); Gandhi: a portrait from life (1931); Purdah, the Status of Indian Women (1932); Leap-Home and Gentlebrawn, A Tale of the Hanuman Monkeys (1932); Into the Sun (1933); Die Lotusbraut (1938); Allmutter Kaveri (1939).

This progressive woman, who had led and enjoyed an extraordinary life, died in Davis, California, in March 1974 at the age of 88.

Sources:

  • Russell Holmes Fletcher. 1943. Who’s who in California, Vol. I (1942-1943).
  • Frieda Hauswirth (Mrs Sarangadhar Das). 1930. A Marriage to India. New York: The Vanguard Press.
  • Edan Milton Hughes. 1986. Artists in California, 1786-1940. Hughes Pub. Co.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • Hal Johnson. “So We’re Told”. Berkeley Daily Gazette, 29 October 1951, p 9
  • Maui News. “Judge Edings Grants Citizenship to Das”. Maui News, 4 January 1918, p1.
  • Jatin Kumar Nayak. 2011. “Orissa Whispers – Unsung Hero: Sarangadhar Das is one of the makers of modern Orissa“. The Telegraph, India, 7 March 2011.
  • Oakland Tribune. “Berkeley Woman Balked, by Caste System of India”. Oakland Tribune (California), 30 March 30, p 13.
  • The Plattsmouth Journal. “Murray Department: Former Plattsmouth Young Man married at Palo Alto, California“. The Plattsmouth Journal (Nebraska), 25 August 1910, p 6.
  • The Stanford Daily. “Former Stanfordite To Divorce Hindu”. The Stanford Daily. Volume 93, Issue 26, 31 March 1938, p 1.

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

Jun 262017
 

In a previous post, we offered an outline biography of Canadian writer Ross Parmenter, who first visited Mexico in 1946 and subsequently wrote several books related to Mexico.

One of these book, Stages in a Journey (1983), includes accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – the first by car, the second by boat – made on two consecutive days in March 1946.

The author is traveling with Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher who owned “Aggie”, their vehicle. They meet up with Miss Nadeyne Montgomery (aka The General), who lived in Guadalajara; Mrs Kay Beyer, who lived in Chapala; and two tourists: Mrs. Lola Kirkland and her traveling companion, Mary Alice Naden.

Ross Parmenter describes Ajijic and its church in 1946 in chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey:

At Ajijic the boatman brought us alongside the pier.
– – –

After getting the hat, Mary Alice and I took the time to do what had been impossible the day before. We looked around the town. We noticed that nearly all the low houses had corrugated tile roofs. Because of the wide, overhanging eaves, the roofs seemed to slope towards each other as if they wanted to meet over the narrow, cobbled streets. Most of the houses were whitewashed, but some were cream-colored and others showed the brown adobes of which they were built. The uncoated walls harmonized with the dirt roads, for the adobes were made of the same earth.

Occasionally we saw sprays of magenta bougainvillea toppling over expanses of flat, high walls. At one corner we saw fishing nets tacked for mending to the side of a house. Looking up the steeply sloping cross street, we saw high hills flanking the upper side of the town. Looking down, we got a glimpse of the lake, a silver-gray line drawn at the end of a vista of walls and sharply projecting eaves.

At the centre of the village, as we expected, we found a plaza with a church at one corner. The plaza was like an unfinished sketch. There was no sign of a municipal palace, but otherwise it had the usual elements. But nothing was complete. The bandstand, for instance, had railing posts, but no railing; and there was no sign of a roof. There were tiled walks radiating from the stand, but the more important outer walks were still unpaved. There were cement lamp posts, but they were used only as supports for electric cord that was strung between them with a few exposed bulbs hanging at irregular intervals. And the fountain had a circular stone basin all right, but its source of water, instead of being an ornamental centrepiece, was an ordinary kitchen faucet on one side.

Most of the iron benches were broken and the flower beds were unkempt and forlorn, Indeed, the whole square would have been dusty and dreary had it not been for the trees. The jacarandas were a mass of blue blossoms. And among the pale green foliage of the flat-topped flamboyants were so many red-orange flowers that I could see why they are called “flame trees.”

The church was at the back of a walled garden. Its steeple rose in four diminishing stories and was so elegant in effect that it suggested the work of a Georgian admirer of Sir Christopher Wren.
An arched gateway led into the garden. When we passed through its wrought iron gates we found the fine tower had raised false hopes. The rest of the church did not live up to it. It was small and crude, with all of the rough facade being whitewashed except the old doorway. In the gray stones of its lintel, cut in rough letters, was the information that the church had been built in 1749. By this time I had seen so many earlier dates that I felt blasé about anything so recent. After all, it was a mere twenty-six years before the American Revolution.

The low-ceilinged interior was not impressive, but it gave evidence of care. Defining the vestibule, was a new entrance screen of highly varnished wood and the floor of blue and white checked tile was as clean as a Dutch kitchen. The wooden reredos behind the altar looked as if it had been planned for a loftier church and then been cut off at the top to fit this one. It was painted white. A big picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe hung on the side wall. Another Virgin was a large, fresh-faced doll that resembled Deanna Durbin. With her white dress, blue cape and silver crown, she was decked out as if she were a princess in a Christmas pantomime.

In striking opposition was the church’s most interesting object: a primitive Jesus realistically nailed to a fanciful cross, which had rays suggesting a sunburst. The Saviour’s brightly gilded crown of thorns and his red velvet waist wrapper contrasted grotesquely with his gray, blood-streaked body.

As we turned to leave, a bell began ringing outside. It had a regular sound pattern: one long clang and two short ones. We also heard some pleasantly tinkling bells. And rounding the vestibule screen we almost caught our breath at what we saw. Framed by the trees of the garden and the high round arch of the gateway was a beautiful view of the cobbled street, and making his way up that street was a man in the white cotton clothes of a native driving three tan oxen, who were ringing the bells at their throats with the rhythmic bobbing of their heads.

The louder bell, that was ringing dash, dot, dot, was one of those in the steeple of the church. A boy was tolling it by pulling on an outside rope that reached the ground.” (pp 96-98)

Source:

  • Ross Parmenter. 1983. Stages in a Journey. New York: Profile Press.

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

Jun 222017
 

George Abend (1922-1976), a jazz musician and prominent figure in the San Francisco Bay Area abstract expressionism movement, studied in Guadalajara in the mid-1950s, at which time he was a frequent visitor to Ajijic.

Born in New York City in 1922, Abend studied at the University of California, Berkeley (1946-47); the 1948–1950 California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco (1948-50); and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris, France (1951-52), before moving to Mexico to study at the University of Guadalajara (1953-54).

George Abend. Untitled (1950).

George Abend. Untitled (1950).

A decade later, he taught art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and the Cedar Educational Center in Pittsburgh (1962-66) before moving to California and becoming a visiting artist at California State College (Los Angeles) and a film consultant at the University of Southern California from 1966 to 1969.

Cover of Climax #2 (1956)

Cover of Climax #2 (1956)

Abend was a close friend of Don Martin, a painter who established his studio in Ajijic in 1954, and of the Beat poet and photographer Anne McKeever who also had links to Ajijic. Don’s widow Joan Martin kindly drew my attention to the photograph (above) used for the cover of the second (Summer 1956) number of Climax, a small-circulation Beat magazine from that time, published by Bob Cass in New Orleans and printed in Guadalajara. The photo, taken by Anne McKeever, shows Abend playing the piano in Don Martin‘s studio in Ajijic, with Don’s then girlfriend, Lori Fair, on drums. Abend, an accomplished musician, also played drums, percussion and the clarinet.

Abend’s striking abstract works earned him the honor of having numerous solo shows, including Howard Gallery, San Francisco (1949); Metart Galleries (1950); Lucien Labaudt Gallery (1950, 1952); Galerie de France, Paris (1951); Olivetti Art Gallery, Guadalajara (1954); Batman Gallery, San Francisco (1961); Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania (1963); Howard Wise Gallery, New York (annually from 1963 to 1966); New York Six Gallery (1964); Hewlett Gallery, Pittsburgh (1965); Coast Gallery, Big Sur (1970); Fulton Gallery, New York (1973); and the University of California (1976).

George Abend, 1948. Photo by Harry Bowden.

George Abend, 1948. Photo by Harry Bowden.

His work was also chosen for inclusion in many group shows, including the Annual Painting and Sculpture Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association (later the San Francisco Art Institute) at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1949, 1950, 1960, 1961); Third Annual Exhibition of Painting, California Palace of The Legion of Honor (1949); and the Winter Invitational, California Palace of The Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1960).

Among the institutions in California holding works by George Abend in their permanent collections are The Oakland Museum and the Monterey Museum of Art.

Abend died in Santa Cruz, California in 1976.

Sources:

  • Thomas Albright. 1985. Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945 to 1980, Univ. California Press.
  • Susan Landauer. 1996. The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionists, Univ. California Press.

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

Jun 192017
 

Poet and politician Salvador Escudero was born in the south of Jalisco, at San Gabriel, on 22 April 1883 and died in Mexico City in January 1946. Escudero was a much-published poet and prime mover in the Jalisco intellectual circles of his time.

As a young man, Escudero was the boyfriend of Jalisco-born model and novelist Lupe Marín (who later became the second wife of muralist Diego Rivera).

Escudero was considered an “exquisite romantic poet”. Despite the fact that he lived a humble and simple life and never had any grand pretensions, his supporters in Chapala ensured that he was, briefly, governor of Jalisco in 1920.

After the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, Escudero joined “the cause” and soon found himself working alongside Adolfo de la Huerta, who became his friend and protector. After witnessing first-hand some of the battlefield horrors of the Revolution near the city of León in Guanajuato, Escudero traveled with de la Huerta to Veracruz and later to Hermosillo, Sonora, as de la Huerta’s private secretary.

In Veracruz, in November 1915, Escudero was working with the Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación). In his spare time he founded and published a literary magazine Faros. He published many of his own poems (many of them classical 14-line sonnets) in Faros as well as in local Veracruz newspapers.

After de la Huerta was appointed governor of Sonora, Escudero accompanied him to the state capital of Hermosillo. Escudero was so impressed by the beauty of the local girls that he began a series of sonnets, each extolling the virtues of a single member of the fair sex. It was while living in Hermosillo that Escudero won a national poetry prize for a poem entitled “No escuche quien no sabe de estas cosas”.

Escudero never sought fame or glory but wrote purely for the sake of writing. Contemporaries considered him a civic-minded individual who always tried to help others. He was also a passionate fan and supporter of bullfights.

In August 1920, at the end of the Mexican Revolution, Escudero was a candidate for the governorship of Jalisco. When his rival Basilio Vadillo was declared the winner, Escudero’s supporters established an alternative state government, based in Chapala, which was quickly disbanded by federal authorities acting on behalf of President Álvaro Obregón.

His poems include one entitled “Al Lago de Chapala” (“To Lake Chapala”) which, according to Chapala archive chronological notes, was published in El Monitor on 30 October 1910:

Al Lago de Chapala

Dame tu lira de armonías ignotas,
Lago que finges al fulgor muriente
De esta tarde otoñal, una gran frente
De blancos pensamientos: las gaviotas.

Lago de quimerizas lejanías:
Enseñame a ser triste, con el duelo
Que en tí copia la luna y vierte el cielo
De los dorados y otoñales días…

Lago que arrancas versos al poeta
Y suspiros de amor. En la discreta
Paz de tus playas de aromosas brisas,
Quiero encontrar el bien apetecido:
Morir en el silencio del olvido
Y que barran tus olas mis cenizas.

– Salvador Escudero

Sources:

  • Gobiernos de la Revolución.
  • El Monitor, 30 October 1910 [cited in unpublished chronological notes of Chapala archives]
  • Juan de Dios Bojórquez. Hombres y Aspectos de México en la Tercera Etapa de la Revolución; Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de la Revolución Mexicana. Mexico, 1963.

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

 Posted by at 6:03 am  Tagged with:
Jun 152017
 

José Othón de Aguinaga was born in Guadalajara on 18 February 1873, and died in the city in 1969.

Othón began drawing as a child in 1882 when he was in the Colegio Mariano. From 1887 to 1891, he took classes with Felipe Castro in the Liceo de Varones in Guadalajara. Then he attended San Carlos Academy in Mexico City from 1892 until 1894, where he studied with Santiago Rebull and José Salomé Pina.

The image below (the only available illustration) is a black and white photo showing Othón’s landscape, “The old road to Chapala”. The photo comes from the Historía de Jalisco. The date of the original painting is unknown.

José Othón de Aguinaga. El camino viejo a Chapala.

José Othón de Aguinaga. El camino viejo a Chapala. Credit: Gobierno de Jalisco.

José Othón de Aguinaga spent three years in Europe at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi in Paris between 1895 and 1898, where he took classes with Henri Lucien Doucet, Bahet (?), William Bouguereau and León Bonnat. During this time, he traveled and painted, becoming a master of nudes, portraits of elderly people and still lifes.

On his return to Mexico he decided to forgo painting in favor of helping run a family sugar estate in Michoacán until 1909.

In 1909, he moved to Guadalajara and started to give art classes, especially drawing techniques, and focus on his own painting. He gave classes for more than thirty years. He was director of drawing instruction in the government schools in Guadalajara (1915-1917), and taught at the preparatory school of the University of Guadalajara (1916-1921), the preparatory school of the National University (UNAM) (1918-1936) and the Jalisco Institute of Sciences (1925-1930, 1937-1939).

A close friend of Tapatío artist and author Ixca Farias, Othón is best known for landscapes, portraits and still lifes. His portrait of José Palomera is in the collection of the Jalisco State Library in Guadalajara; another of his portraits is held by the Regional Museum in the city. Othón also completed several mural paintings on cloth which decorate Templo de Jesús, the Jesuit church in the city of Zacatecas. Othón served a term as president of the Mexican Society of Artists and Painters.

There is a government primary school named in Othón’s honor in the resort of Puerto Vallarta.

Sources:

  • Anon. José Othón de Aguinaga. (Biography)
  • Ixca Farias 1939. Biografía de pintores jaliscienses, 1882-1940. Guadalajara: Ricardo Delgado.
  • Gobierno de Jalisco (various contributers). 1981. Historia de Jalisco. Guadalajara. 1981.

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

 

 Posted by at 6:10 am  Tagged with:
Jun 122017
 

As we saw in previous posts, Rubén M. Campos, though now largely forgotten, was one of the major figures in Mexican literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Campos spent several vacations at Lake Chapala and made good use of his knowledge of the area’s history and geography in his acclaimed novel Claudio Oronoz.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

The parts of the novel that were set at Lake Chapala were, as Dulce Diana Aguirre López has shown, based on a straightforward, narrative account that Campos had originally published some years previously, as “En el Chapala”. “En el Chapala” was the second of three descriptive, factual pieces about Lake Chapala, published in La Patria in 1899, which we consider in this post. The first of his three short articles in 1899 was datelined “Chapala, 27 March”, the second “Chapala, 28 March”, and the third “Ocotlán, 28 March.”

The first piece describes the train ride from Mexico City to Tula, Irapuato (where the train remains for two hours allowing passengers to find an early breakfast) and La Barca, where  a “picturesque multitude” fills the station: two blind men playing guitars and singing, while fruit and vegetable sellers compete to sell their oranges, mameys, cucumbers and nopales, offering “the fruit at very low prices, without taking advantage of strangers of foreigners”.

The train then continued on to Ocotlán, arriving there by mid-day. There, Campos was met by his friend (and fellow poet)  Honorato Barrera and they took a streetcar across the town to the steamboat “Chapala”, which was moored in the River Santiago, awaiting the arrival of some important person from Mexico City and his family.

Within minutes, the steamboat was on Lake Chapala: “We entered the lake, amidst some of the most picturesque scenery imaginable, the largest lake in our beautiful country, and the lake whose horizons unite water and sky, surrounded by bluish-violet mountains with distant small fishing ports, barely distinguishable, even with a telescope: Jamay, Cojumatlán, Jocotepec, Tuxcueca, Tizapán – a parade of musical names that reach my ear on the fresh breeze…”

In the second article in the series – “En el Chapala” – Campos likens the movement of the steamboat to that of a serpent making its way through the water, and gives a lengthy, poetic description of the varied colors of the sky, lake and landscape, as seen from the steamboat. Campos expresses his emotions and marvels at his own feelings of enchantment as the sun goes down in the late afternoon, and the lake is bathed in moonlight as they reach the village of Chapala.

In his third article, Campos offers a much more detailed description of the village itself, starting with its position as a “small port, lost in a fold of the mountains that descends to kiss the surface of the lake”. Chapala, that has “a line of buildings that defends if from the lake breezes”, is only a small village at this time with “barely a fistful of houses on winding little streets that creep up the mountainside.”

The village does have some magnificent homes: “Suddenly, I find myself in a golden age. We wander up and down around the buildings that wealthy gentlemen have built here, starting with the English consul, Mr. Carden, who discovered this paradise.” Even though it is nighttime, Campos and his companions are invited to view several of these homes, clustered around a small bay. with their balconies, terraces and extensive gardens.

A few hours later, the party is ferried back out to the steamboat “Chapala”, lying at anchor some distance offshore, for the return journey to Ocotlán.

Notes :

  • All quotations are loose translations by the author of this post.

Sources

  • Rubén M. Campos. 1899. “Notas de viaje”, La Patria, 30 March 1899, p 1; 2 April 1899, pp 1, 2.
  • Rubén M. Campos. 1906. Claudio Oronoz. Mexico. J. Ballesca y ca.
  • Dulce Diana Aguirre López. 2015. Edición crítica de Claudio Oronoz, de Rubén M. Campos. Masters thesis, UNAM, 2015.

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Jun 082017
 

The Black American artist Arthur Monroe, born in Brooklyn in 1935, grew up in New York and traveled in Mexico, before settling in California and becoming an integral part of the abstract expressionist movement of West Coast painters and poets. He lived and painted for three years in Ajijic in the early 1960s.

Monroe studied art and first encountered abstract impressionism (and its links to jazz) in New York, where he studied at Pratt Institute, the Brooklyn Museum Art School and City College. The East Village at the time was a “caldron of creativity stirred by poets, painters, sculptors and jazz musicians.” Monroe, whose studio was close to that of Willem De Kooning, became close friends with the famous jazz musician Charlie Parker. His love for jazz has never diminished.

Arthur Monroe. Street Games - Skully. 2001.

Arthur Monroe. Street Games – Skully. 2001.

Deciding that he needed to look at less traditional forms of visual art, and determined “to escape American racism and discrimination”, Monroe traveled to Mexico (and later to South America), where he became immersed in the rich spirituality and iconography of the ancient cultures: the Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula, the Zapotec and Mixtec of Oaxaca, and the Olmec of eastern Mexico.

From Mexico, Monroe returned to live in California, first in Big Sur and then in San Francisco, where he quickly became part of the legendary Beat Era of North Beach in the late 1950s. (Other Beat Era artists and authors with links to Lake Chapala include Al Young, Ned Polsky, Alexander Trocchi, Don Martin, Clayton Eshleman, Ernest Alexander, Jack Gilbert, ruth weiss, and Stanley Twardowicz).

Arthur Monroe. Jam Session. 1991.

Arthur Monroe. Jam Session. 1991.

Monroe’s circle of Beat Era friends included painters Michael McCracken and Michael Bowen. The three painters shared a huge loft-studio relatively near Pier 23. Monroe had a Volkswagen Bug and avoided any parking issues by the simple expedient of driving into the elevator and storing his vehicle, when not in use, in the studio. Later, the trio of artists found themselves unable to meet the rent. Monroe put his works into storage and when that bill wasn’t paid, they were auctioned off: many of the paintings ended up in the hands of two Santa Cruz art collectors for a measly $400 in total.

Monroe’s interest in Mexico continued. In the early 1960s, as the Beat Era was drawing to a close, he was back in Mexico, living and painting for three years in Ajijic. It was in Ajijic that Monroe first met the poet and writer Al Young who also lived in California. In a 1969 newspaper interview, Young recalled that,

“At that time, Ajijic (near Guadalajara) was crammed with hippies … Arthur was one of the beatniks who had sort of lasted into the hippie era … The Mexicans loved him. They all called him by one name: Arturo. He was a very romantic figure, wearing the Mexican straw hat that the peasants wore. He was painting, and he was highly respected.”

In 1965, Monroe held an exhibition of his work at the Posada Ajijic, at the invitation of the inn’s manager Peter Spencer. In August 1965, Spencer announced that he would host a series of four solo shows in the hotel, each lasting two weeks, starting with Charles Littler (of the University of Arizona Art Department) and followed by Dick Poole, Arthur Monroe and John Thompson.

Back in California, Monroe continued to paint but took an establishment position as Registrar at the Oakland Museum. In addition, Monroe has taken an activist role in fighting to preserve indigenous petroglyphs scattered throughout California and has researched the history of African-American soldiers in World War II for a future book.

Arthur Monroe with a self-portrait.

Arthur Monroe with a self-portrait.

As a painter, Monroe has always remained an abstract expressionist, preferring to let his ideas emerge gradually on the canvas to having any pre-determined drawing guide what he wanted to portray. Some works have taken up to three years to complete as he continually seeks to convey new “visual truths”. His work was included in a group show at the Cabrillo College Gallery in 1969 to mark Black Culture Week. He has also exhibited at the Richmond Art Center and the Museum of the African Diaspora.

Monroe’s many one-person shows include an exhibition of large paintings at the Santa Cruz Art League’s Da Vinci Gallery in January 1991, the Don O’Melveny exhibition in December 2001, and the major show “The Inside of Now”, held at the Wiegand Gallery on the campus of Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California, in 2006. A newspaper preview of the show described Monroe’s large-scale canvasses as “vibrant with rhythm and color”, “unplanned, improvisational works, created in the moment”. Al Young, then Poet Laureate of California, said of Monroe that, “With playful clarity and depth, he paints his emotional response to the wayward world — and always with loving spontaneity.”

Sources:

  • Judith Broadhurst. 1991. “The beat goes on for artist Arthur Monroe”, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 25 January 1991, p 11.
  • Terry St. John. Arthur Monroe (website)
  • East Bay Times, 16 March 2006
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 5 August 1965
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California), 23 February 1969, p 13; 18 January 1991.

Other posts related to Beat artists, poets and writers:

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

 Posted by at 5:39 am  Tagged with:
Jun 052017
 

Gordon Gammack was an Iowa newspaper reporter and columnist. During his 40-plus years working for The Des Moines Register and Tribune he covered three major wars – World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War – as a war correspondent.

Late in life in the early 1970s, he visited Chapala and wrote a couple of newspaper pieces about the area. The first focused on the places, including Lake Chapala, where Iowan individuals and couples had chosen to retire. The second piece looked at the downside of living in “Shangri-La” as Gammack christened the northern lake shore.

Gammack, the son of an Episcopalian pastor, was born in Lenox, Massachusetts on 31 May 1909 and died on 18 November 1974 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Gordon Gammack. Credit: Des Moines Register

Gordon Gammack. Credit: Des Moines Register

After graduating from Kent School, Connecticut, where he wrote for the Kent School News, he attended Harvard University and then began work as a reporter for the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. A friend of his older brother, Tom, arranged for him to join The Register and Tribune in 1933, during the Great Depression, when jobs were hard to come by. Gammack never looked back. He began by covering crime and sports, then moved on to state politics. Fellow reporters considered Gammack a natural – someone who could walk into a strange town and “three stories would run up and jump into his pocket” as one of his colleagues put it.

During World War II he became a foreign correspondent for the newspaper and followed Iowans serving in the armed forces in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany, often sending personal notes home from front-line soldiers to their families. He was with the American forces that liberated Paris.

After the was Gammack became a columnist. His evening Tribune column usually appeared in the left-hand column of page one.

During one of several visits to Korea during the Korean War, Gammack witnessed the first exchange of sick and wounded prisoners of war. He secured an exclusive radio and TV interview with Iowan Richard Morrison, the first American soldier released.

Gammack also covered the Vietnam War and won a National Headliners Club Award for his series of articles about Michael Kjome of Decorah, Iowa, who had been held as a prisoner of war.

A collection of his war columns, edited by Andrea Clardy, was published in 1979 as Gordon Gammack: Columns from Three Wars.

In 1971, Gammack visited Chapala during his research to write and photograph Iowans for an article entitled, “Where Iowans find pleasure in retirement”. In the article, Gammack describes how, “two former Tama residents, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Morris, find retirement pleasant in Mexico. Domestic help there is so inexpensive that the Morrises have two gardeners and two cook-maids at their magnificent home near Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara.” He also photographed “Harold Stillwell, formerly of Malcom, and Mrs Stillwell” in their garden overlooking the lake.

A couple of months later, Gammack penned “The Trouble with Shangri-La” which looked at the downside of living at Lake Chapala. Noting, first, that a home that cost $50,000 to build in Des Moines would cost less than half that to build in Chapala, Gammack lists some of the many disadvantages, as he sees it, of retiring to live in Mexico, and, in particular, at Lake Chapala: the loneliness of expatriation, the “formidable separation” from children; the Napoleonic system of justice; the “high percentage of extreme right wingers and racists among the Americans in the area”; the loss of Medicare; the lack of telephones; the danger of contaminated water; the inferiority of local beef; the erratic mail service; “almost no worthwhile U.S. TV or radio programs”; problems with language.

Gordon Gammack died of lung cancer at the age of 65. One of his daughters also became a columnist for The Des Moines Register.

Sources:

  • Des Moines Register Famous Iowans: Gordon Gammack.
  • Friedricks, William. 2009. “Gammack, Gordon” in The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 22 May 2017.
  • Gordon Gammack. 1971. “Where Iowans find pleasure in retirement”, Des Moines Register, 14 November 1971, p 110
  • ——— (1972?). “The Trouble with Shangri-La”. Des Moines Register, [cited in Guadalajara Reporter 22 January 1972]

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

Jun 012017
 

François de Brouillette was an artist and poet who was born in Vermont on 22 April 1906 and died in Santa Barbara, California, on 12 February 1972.

It has so far proved impossible to reconstruct a reliable time line for various significant events in his life, but de Brouillette is known to have visited Lake Chapala numerous times over a period spanning more than forty years, and definitely painted the lake, probably on numerous occasions.

A few years ago, two of his oil paintings connected to Lake Chapala – “Lake with Boat San Juan Cosala” and “San Juan Cosala Steeple” were in an auction of paintings belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Lucien Lemieux, though it is unclear when these works were painted.

From contemporary newspaper reports, we know that he spent several weeks in Chapala over the winter of 1966-67, a few years before he died. During that visit, Anita Lomax, who wrote for the Guadalajara Reporter, met de Brouillette when she called on another artist, Jesús “Chuy” Alcalá, at his studio in Chapala.

Lomas later wrote that de Brouillette had known the Chapala area since 1926, and was “an artist of great versatility”, though “his forte is restoring fine paintings.” Lomax reported that she had first met de Brouillette in 1962 when he exhibited a selection of his paintings at the Galería del Arte (in Guadalajara) and that de Brouillette was based in Houston, Texas, but continued to travel regularly for work and pleasure. Lomax found that de Brouillette was quite the raconteur, more than willing to talk about his many adventures and misadventures while researching and restoring old paintings.

Francois de Brouillette. Untitled.

François de Brouillette. Untitled portrait. Date unknown.

Precisely where de Brouillette acquired his art knowledge remains something of a mystery, but he was living in Hollywood, California, and described himself as a “portrait painter” when, shortly before his 26th birthday, he married Joanna Catherina Tenneson in Yuma, Arizona, on 9 April 1932. Tenneson,  aged 33, was also living in Hollywood. Sadly, the marriage did not last very long.

In addition to his painting, de Brouillette was also becoming well known as a writer, with poems or articles published in the Honolulu Star-bulletin, Outlook, Town and Country, Wide World News and Harper’s Magazine. He compiled one poetry collection, Peon’s prayer, published in 1933 by the Bella Union Press in Los Angeles (at which time de Brouillette was apparently living in California). While some reports attribute a second book of poetry – Youth is a beggar – to him, its details do not appear in any of the usual bibliographic sources.

brouillette-francois-de-peon-s-prayer-title-page-1933s

de Brouillette married for the second time in 1935. His second wife, Velma Mildred Henard (1912-1968), who preferred Mildred to Velma, later remarried to become Mrs Edgar Taylor. She was an artist and professor of art education who taught at the University of Southern California for 18 years. Mildred became an authority on Mexico’s ancient sculpture and pottery. In the 1940s and 1950s, she and her second husband amassed a large collection of archaeological pieces from the area of Chupícuaro (Guanajuato), later purchased by the actress Natalie Wood for the Fowler Museum of the University of California of Los Angeles.

Mildred’s parents had a ranch near Wellington in the Texas panhandle and in May 1935, de Brouillette, a “nationally known painter-poet”, was invited to give art classes in Wellington and helped reorganize the Wellington Art Club. By this time, de Brouillette had, apparently, already acquired a serious interest in archaeology and the tropics, having spent five years in Florida, Cuba, the West Indies, Mexico and the Hawaiian islands. Advance publicity in the local newspaper said of the artist that, “As an archaeologist his journeys have taken him into Mayan country of Yucatan, Aztec lands, back mountain sections of Mexico, visiting Indian tribes never before visited by the white man. He lived and worked with the last tribe of the Aztecs and the Tonala Indians in Jalisco. His adventures and genius give promise of a great new name in western art and lore.”

Exaggeration aside, de Brouillette had clearly already traveled quite widely in Mexico and was much in demand as a speaker and lecturer. In June 1935, he was guest speaker for the Wellington Kiwanis Club and spoke about the background of the “last tribe of Tonala Indians”. In December, he lectured, exhibited and read poetry at Southwestern University.

In 1936, de Brouillette was director of the Miami Federal Art Galleries in Florida, an institution that had 780 pupils and 30 instructors. At about this time he was responsible for taking “the first exhibit of paintings ever sent abroad by the United States government”, a collection that included 36 water color paintings, for an exhibition in Havana, Cuba.

In September of 1936, de Brouillette, who had already gained a reputation as a fine portrait painter, was in Dallas working on a portrait of John Nance Garner, the U.S. Vice President, for the Washington Press Club. The following year, de Brouillette conducted a two weeks’ art class at Saint Mary’s Academy in Amarillo in March 1937, teaching figure, portraiture and still life.

He and Mildred held a joint exhibition of their recent artwork at the Country Library in Wellington in September of that year. de Brouillette showed various portraits, mainly of local people, while his wife showed mainly scenic works and still lifes. Both painters also had works accepted into the juried show that opened at the Witte Museum in San Antonio in December 1940.

Newspaper accounts list several places (Washington D.C., Miami, California, Texas) as “home” for the de Brouillettes in the 1930s, but it appears that from 1940 to at least 1947, they were living and working mainly in San Antonio, Texas. For at least part of this time, the couple operated an antique shop on Broadway.

de Brouillette had oil paintings accepted into two consecutive major Texas annual juried shows. “The Mine Fell In” was included in the “7th Texas General Exhibition”, which ran from November to December 1945 at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in Dallas, Texas, and “The Novice” was accepted into the “8th Texas General Exhibition”, which ran from October 1946 to January 1947, opening at The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, before moving to the Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio and The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.

Somehow, de Brouillette even found time to be the director of the Little House School of Art in San Antonio in 1947, an institution which trained dozens of fine young artists.

Newspapers in the 1950s include very few references to de Brouillette, apart from the occasional mention that he is undertaking a commission to paint a portrait of some then-famous personage.

By the time of his visit to Guadalajara in July 1962 and his exhibit at La Casa del Arte (Av. Corona #72), de Brouillette was billing himself in publicity adverts as “an acclaimed portraitist”, who was “considered to be one of the five finest restorers in the world.”

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter : 21 January 1967; 25 February 1967
  • Molly Heilman. 1940. “New Artists In Witte Exhibition”, San Antonio Light, 15
    December 1940, p 42.
  • Informador (Guadalajara): 9 July 1962; 14 July 1962
  • The Megaphone (Georgetown, Texas). 1935. 3 December 1935: Vol. 29, No. 11, Ed. 1.
  • San Antonio Express (Texas). 1947. “Art School Directors To Address Students”, San Antonio Express, 8 June 1947.
  • The Wellington Leader (Wellington, Texas). 30 May 1935; 6 June 1935, p 8; 1 October 1936, p 1; 1 April 1937, p 9; 23 September 1937, p 1; 6 January 1938, p 9; 23 February 1939, p 3.

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

 Posted by at 5:26 am  Tagged with:
May 292017
 

In a previous post, we offered an outline biography of Canadian writer Ross Parmenter, who first visited Mexico in 1946 and subsequently wrote several books related to Mexico.

One of these book, Stages in a Journey (1983), includes accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – the first by car, the second by boat – made on two consecutive days in March 1946. In chapter 3, Parmenter describes how local campesinos raised water from the lake to irrigate their fields on the shores of Lake Chapala in 1946:

[Later] we moved further ashore to watch the men bailing up water for the fields. At Mr. Johnson’s [in Ajijic] we had seen nothing of his irrigation system. I am sure, though, that it achieved greater results with less labor. But if more up-to-date, I doubt if it was more pictorial. The men’s system reminded me of slides I had seen as a boy at Sunday school, for these Mexicans were irrigating their fields in the same way as the Egyptians had watered theirs 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.

Ross Parmenter: Irrigation system, Lake Chapala

Ross Parmenter: Irrigation system, Lake Chapala

The system required three men. The first transported the water from a little inlet in five gallon gasoline cans which he carried, hanging like scales, from either end of a pole across his shoulders. The second man, on an improvised platform, operated the hoist. And the third one saw that the lifted water got into the sluice that drained to a field of squash.

Lacking the resources of a British engineer, the men had created their machinery from what was available. For the upright to support the hoisting lever they were using a willow, whose two main boughs forked about ten feet above the ground. The fulcrum consisted of a couple of lengths of rope braided and stretched taut across the arms of this natural Y. The lever itself was the peeled trunk of a slender tree, which was forced most of the way through the ropes. To compensate, for the excessive length of pole on one side of the fulcrum, the butt end was weighted with a big stone. This working beam set up in the treefork was controlled by a rope at its tip. From its tip, too, dangled a bucket.

When the operator hauled the beam down, the watercarrier would fill the lowered bucket from one of his cans. Then the operator would slacken his hold of the tug rope and the counterweight of the stone would lift the brimming pail. Brought level with the large funnel at the entrance of the sluice, the bucket would be tipped by the third man so the water spilled into a tin pipe. The pipe carried the water to a sloping channel, which, like almost everything else, was homemade. It consisted of boards placed together in a V and supported along their length by crotched sticks.

Like the fisherman we had seen casting his net, these men were wearing straw hats and had their pants rolled above the knees. They were unhurried and worked in easy rhythm, with the man at the hoist pulling on the rope as if he were ringing a church bell. There was little sound except the creaking of the cross-ropes as the beam was tilted back and forth, and that high-pitched creaking was not unlike the piping of the birds singing in the fields and trees. (100-102)

Source:

  • Ross Parmenter. 1983. Stages in a Journey. New York: Profile Press.

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

May 252017
 

Stories about underdogs who rise to the top of their chosen field or profession are always fascinating. So how did Adela Breton, an amateur artist, come to produce some of the finest ever copies of ancient Mexican murals and friezes? In several cases, the originals no longer exist or have become badly corroded, and her magnificent drawings and watercolors are the best record we have of these artistic and cultural treasures.

Adela Breton, Watercolor of the east façade of the ‘Nunnery’ at Chichen Itza. Photo credit: Dan Brown/Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.

Breton traveled widely throughout Mexico. While her most significant work in terms of archeology was undertaken in central and southern Mexico, she also made a major contribution to the story of western Mexico by recording the excavation of a shaft tomb near Etzatlán, investigating a nearby obsidian works, and by mapping the circular mounds that were the only surface evidence of Guachimontones, the major archaeological site close to Teuchitlán. Breton also visited Chapala, where she sketched a couple of local people and collected several small archaeological pieces.

Stone mace head, from Chapala. Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Stone mace head from Chapala. Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

We can only speculate as to precisely why she visited Chapala in 1896, but it is more than possible that it was to see if the curative waters would alleviate her rheumatism or arthritis. This is supported by the comment in The Mexican Herald in 1902 that Breton had “for many years spent her winters in Mexico for reasons of health” prior to becoming seriously interested in pre-Columbian civilizations.

It is possible that her introduction to Chapala was at the invitation of Septimus Crowe, a former British vice-consul who had made his home there. It is also very possible that her 1896 visit was a return visit to the lake. The anthropologist Elsie Crews Parsons, who visited in the early 1930s, wrote about the earthenware idolos “washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town” and then writes that “An English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago quotes Mr. Crow as saying that the ídolos sold Lumholtz were faked, information that the somewhat malicious Mr. Crow did not impart to the ethnologist.” Breton is the best candidate for this “English lady”. Assuming that Parsons has the chronology correct, then Breton must have visited Chapala and met Crowe in about 1893, well before her proven visit in May 1896. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure since the whereabouts of Breton’s original diaries are unknown.

Adela Catherine Breton was born in London, England, on 31 December 1849. Her father, William Henry Breton, served in the Royal Navy, had a keen interest in archaeology and regularly brought curios home from his travels. He also authored two travel books, both published in 1835: Excursions in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Van Diemen’s Land, during the years 1830, 1831, 1832, and 1833 and Scandinavian sketches, or, A tour in Norway.

When Adela was 18 months old, the family moved to Bath and established their home in Camden Crescent. This would remain Adela’s home for the rest of her life. Quite how Adela acquired and honed her artistic skills is unclear. Art would certainly have been an essential part of the general education of any well-to-do young English lady at the time but her proficiency, especially with watercolors, strongly suggests that she had some further art training at some point.

After her mother died in 1874, Adela kept house and cared for her aging father. He died in 1887. Adela was never married, and the death of both parents gave her a substantial inheritance (shared with a younger brother) and enabled her to be independent. Almost immediately, she started to travel, perhaps seeking to avoid British winters and find a climate beneficial for her health. She took to spending extended periods abroad, initially in Canada and the U.S., and then later in Mexico and elsewhere. One of her first trips was to Banff and across the Rockies by the newly completed Canadian Pacific Railway. She also spent time in Japan (1890) and experienced an earthquake in San Francisco (1891) before visiting Mexico for the first time in 1892, when she arrived at the port of Veracruz aboard a ship from Havana, Cuba.

From Veracruz, she then traveled inland via Tlaxcala, Puebla and Cholula to Mexico City. She was so captivated by Mexico that she submitted the first of several travel pieces to her local newspaper back in Bath as “Your Mexican Correspondent”. Her arrival in Mexico City, to stay at the Hotel Iturbide, was duly noted on 1 April 1892 in a Mexico City daily, The Two Republics.

In December 1893, Breton embarked on an extended adventure in Mexico which lasted eighteen months until mid-1895. She traveled into Michoacán, where she came into contact with a local guide, Pablo Solorio, who she employed as her traveling companion and assistant on this and several subsequent occasions. Pablo looked after the logistics (horses, camp sites, food, contacts to local communities) which allowed Breton to focus on recording the local people, architecture, geology and historical sites through her art.

Adela Breton and Pablo Solorio

Adela Breton and Pablo Solorio

After Michoacán (and possibly Jalisco), they explored central Mexico and the mountains of Puebla and Oaxaca. Breton’s time at Teotihuacan in 1895 was especially productive since it enabled her to make meticulous sketches and paintings of the pre-Columbian murals of Teopancaxco which became a reference point for many later studies. Breton was also very interested in geology and Mexico’s volcanoes, so both 1xtaccíhuatl Volcano and the Pico de Orizaba were on her itinerary.

Photos taken in Bath show that Pablo accompanied Breton back to the U.K. for a visit, though she makes no mention of this in her extensive notes.

In 1896-97, Adela returned to Mexico and Pablo guided her through Michoacán before traveling north into Zacatecas and south to Guerrero. They visited Chapala in May 1896, as shown by the annotation alongside these two small paintings in her sketchbook for that period. The figurine identified as from Chapala was included in “The Remarkable Miss Breton” exhibit at Bath in 2016.

Adela Breton. Portraits, Chapala. 1896. (From sketchbook)

Adela Breton. Portraits, Chapala. 1896. (From sketchbook)

By the time Breton left Mexico for New York in April 1897, she had apparently become quite a familiar figure in Mexico City with The Mexican Herald reporting that, “Miss Adela Breton, a young lady of this capital, leaves this morning, contrary to the habits of Mexico, quite alone, for New York on a pleasure trip.”

Over the winter of 1898-99, Breton was back in Mexico, painting in the mining town of Real del Monte, a town which probably has more British connections than anywhere in Mexico. Real del Monte attracted Cornish tin miners, and even today, more than century later, residents still peddle their own, spiced-up version of Cornish pasties. Real del Monte is also the place where soccer was first played in Mexico; the local team, formed in 1901, is the oldest in the country.

Adela Breton. 1896. Valle de Santiago. From sketchbook. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Adela Breton. Watercolor of Valle de Santiago. From sketchbook. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

The turn of the century marked a new and defining chapter in Breton’s life. She made her first visit to Chichen Itza in 1900, at the age of 50. The visit was at the request of archeologist Alfred Maudslay, who asked her to check the accuracy of drawings he had done himself. Breton was able to improve significantly on Maudslay’s efforts and over the course of the next seven years, spent extended periods of time drawing and paintings at several Maya sites. Some, such as Chichén Itzá and Usmal, were well known even at that time while others, such as Labná and Acanceh, were (and to some extent still are) largely unknown.

Among her best-known watercolors are those depicting the frescos of battle scenes in the Upper Temple of Jaguars at Chichen Itza. They were already deteriorating by the time Breton painted them, but her record, compiled over numerous visits, is the only one to show all of them as they appeared at that time and in full color. When color photography made its debut, there was very little color remaining on any of the original frescoes.

Breton was constantly worried about the inherent problems of making accurate detailed drawings of such large objects. Despite being an accomplished photographer, she decided, after some experimentation, that even the best photos lacked some of the contrast and details she could incorporate into her drawings following a prolonged study of the real objects. Over the years, Breton justifiably acquired a reputation as one of the finest copyists of Mexican murals, manuscripts, maps and codices ever known.

Adele Breton. Freize at Chichen Itza (detail)

Adele Breton. Freize at Chichen Itza (detail)

Her success was only possible because Breton had not only acquired some fluency in Spanish but was also able to communicate in several Mayan languages. This was essential, given the remote places where she often worked. As a reporter for The Mexican Herald wrote, Breton had chosen to explore ruins “reached only at the expense of tremendous hardships in the way of travel and accommodations” before adding, appreciatively, “and has done it all at her own expense.”

Her long-time guide-companion Pablo died (possibly of yellow fever) in 1904. Adela did not learn of his death for several months. Even though they had no romantic involvement, Adela was distraught when the news finally reached her, but it did nothing to deter her from continuing to document ancient sites.

By this time, Breton knew all the great names in Mexican archeology, including like-minded foreigners such as Zelia Nuttall, Alfred Tozzer, Fredric Ward Putnam, Alfred Maudslay and Eduard Seler, as well as many Mexicans working in the field.

Archaeologist Alfred Tozzer described Breton as:

“a character … an English maiden lady of much means. Her appearance is typical of an independent, unmarried spinster of fully sixty, tall, thin, and with a long face, grey hair, extremely near sighted but straight as an arrow. She wore a short skirt, a dark blue shirtwaist with straight collar attached, and a brimmed straw hat covered with flowers and planted perfectly square upon her head, but the surprise comes when she starts to talk. She is En-glish, you know, En-glish to the very bone and her speech is as exaggerated as any affected English lady ever heard upon the stage.”

Others who met her were less complimentary. For example, Edward Thompson, who was U.S. Consul to the Yucatán while Breton was working at Chichen Itza, wrote, “To tell the honest truth she’s a nuisance. She is a ladylike person but full of whims, complaints and prejudices.”

Breton certainly had several run-ins with authorities during her trips and appears to have regularly bemoaned the food, especially, once writing that, “The difficulty of going into Mexico is the impossibility of getting any food … I used to live chiefly on air and a few peanuts for the long riding journeys – 30 miles without any breakfast, and then some frijol broth”.

Despite such issues, however, Breton always maintained, like so many other foreign visitors before and after her, that Mexico held a very special place in her heart, so I prefer to assume that her occasional moans were more due to her general ill-health, compounded by repeated bouts of malaria and other diseases, than they were to any genuine dissatisfaction.

Her academic respectability grew as she became ever more involved in the biannual International Congress of Americanistas. At the 1902 Congress, held in the U.S., she exhibited her large copies of Mayan mural paintings found at Chichen Itza. In Vienna at the 1908 Congress, she gave a paper about the survival of ancient ceremonial dances (such as Las Voladores) in Mexico.

During the 1910 Congress, held in Chile and Argentina, she presented a paper (with lantern slides) entitled “Painting and sculpture in Mexico and Central America”. She opened this paper with a fervent plea for the world to recognize the quality of indigenous art and architecture in the Americas:

“Not many years ago it was the custom to depreciate the ancient peoples of America, and to represent them as savages, or as best as semi-civilized, with little knowledge of the arts … The excavations of each season now bring fresh evidence of the high rank reached by some of the ancient races in every line of art, and especially their remarkable skill in painting and sculpture. In their conception of grand and impressive buildings and the decoration of them with painted sculptures and frescoes, and still more in their skillful treatment of the difficult processes of colored relief in stuccoes, they take a foremost place among the nations of antiquity.”

The 1912 International Congress of Americanistas was held in London, England, and Breton was one of the co-organizers.

Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Figurine from Chapala, Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

What makes her trips to Mexico so remarkable is not that she was English, or a woman, or both, but that she was a woman often traveling on her own, riding more than a thousand kilometers side-saddle in the process. This is very different to an earlier Englishwomen, Rose Kingsley (daughter of Charles Kingsley), whose 1872 visit to Mexico (South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico) was as part of a large group led by the influential railroad entrepreneur General William Palmer.

Breton’s last visit to Mexico came in summer 1908 when she went to Mexico City to copy an ancient, and fragile, map for Professor Alfred Maudslay. By 1910, the Mexican Revolution was underway and for most of the following decade foreigners were well-advised to stay away from any off-the-beaten-track places of the kind that most interested Breton.

Major archaeological sites which Breton had drawn or painted include Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, Acanceh, Zempoala, Ake, El Tajin, Mitla, Uxmal, Xochicalco, Cholula, and La Quemada. Her keen eye for detail meant that Breton became critical of many of the so-called “restoration” efforts carried out during the late Porfiriato at sites like Teotihuacan, Xochicalco and Mitla.

In 1922, Breton left her home in Bath for the last time, to sail to Rio to attend the Americanists’ Congress. Ill health caused her to stay longer than she anticipated there, to recover from dysentery, before setting off for home via the West Indies and Canada. Unfortunately, she fell ill again, and died in Barbados, at the age of 73, on 13 June 1923.

She left her entire collection to the Bristol Art Gallery & Museum of Antiquities. It includes more than 300 watercolors and 80 printed photographs, as well as 13 sketch books and has not been on public display very often. The major exhibitions include Bristol (1946), Cambridge (1952), the British Museum, London (1973) and one entitled “The Art of Ruins: Adela Breton and the Temples of Mexico”, which began at Bristol Museums in 1989 and then toured the U.K. Two complementary exhibits were held in the U.K. in 2016-2017: “The Remarkable Miss Breton” (in Bath) and “Adela Breton: Ancient Mexico in Colour” (in Bristol). The most significant exhibit in Mexico of Breton’s work was held in 1993 at the National History Museum (Museo Nacional de Historia) in Chapultepec Castle.

Breton’s remarkable drawings and watercolors of landscapes, people, murals and cities remain an invaluable resource and surely more than merit a permanent display somewhere. Come on sponsors: make sure this extraordinary female artist-explorer and her work get the attention they so richly deserve!

Sources:

  • Breton, Adela C. 1892. “A Mexican Sanctuary”. Bath Chronicle, 14 July 1892.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1903. “Some Mexican portrait clay figures”, Man, vol 3, 130-133, 1903.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1908. Survival of Ceremonial Dances among Mexican Indians. Proceedings, 16th International Congress of Americanists (Vienna), 531-540.
  • Breton, Adela C. 1912. Painting and Sculpture in Mexico and Central America. Proceedings, 17th International Congress of Americanists (Buenos Aires, 1910), 1, 245-247.
  • Giles, Sue and Jennifer Stewart (eds). 1989. The Art of Ruins: Adela Breton & the Temples of Mexico. City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
  • McVicker, Mary F. 2005. Adela Breton, A Victorian Artist amid Mexico’s Ruins. UNM Press.
  • Pint, John. 2016. “Adela Breton, 19th century British artist and explorer of Mexico feted in England”, Guadalajara Reporter 11 August 2016. Republished as “British archaeological artist visited Teuchitlán in 1896“.
  • The Mexican Herald : 10 April 1897, p8; 25 October 1902.
  • The Two Republics (Mexico City) : 1 April 1892.
  • Townsend, Richard F. (ed) 1998. Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past. Art institute of Chicago.
  • Weigand, Phil C. and Eduardo Williams. 1997. “Adela Breton y los inicios de la arqueología en el occidente de México”. Relaciones (Zamora, Mich.), vol 18, #70, pp 217-255

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

May 222017
 

Rubén M. Campos‘s novel Claudio Oronoz includes dozens of pages relating to Lake Chapala. The lake is not only described (in all its glory) but also provides the setting for some memorable discussions between the main characters.

Campos utilizes Lake Chapala as a kind of antidote for, or counterbalance to, life in Mexico City. This is perfectly fitting, especially given the fact that the novel was written at the start of the twentieth century, precisely the time when many of the wealthier businessmen and residents of Mexico City established close ties to Lake Chapala, often setting up second homes there.

The protagonist of this novel is a young man, Claudio Oronoz, who considers himself an artist. (His poems appear at intervals in the novel). At the age of twenty-one, Claudio evades the obligations and responsibilities foisted on him by his family, who want him to enter business, turns his back on materialism, and heads for the capital city in search of like-minded bohemian individuals with whom he can share his thoughts, feelings and concerns. Thus begins his “odyssey of pleasure”, which subsequently involves trips to the theater, dinners, “parties and orgies”.

To quote Claudio: “I had imagined a distinct area for dreamers, for thinkers, a special neighborhood for musicians, painters, sculptors, poets …” He hoped to find “that blissful neighborhood which this Latin-American metropolis, like Paris, must have” but becomes increasingly disillusioned as he finds instead “the roar of the struggle for life in workshops, in factories, in warehouses, in the daily traffic of the streets, in the haste of passers-by.”

Eventually, Claudio does succeed in locating the “bohemian neighborhood and the fierce artists” he had dreamed of, and shares friendship and experiences with other young artists. But Claudio has a serious illness (consumption or tuberculosis) which is gradually sapping his energies. He is torn between a tendency to hedonistic debauchery and reveling in the pure love that he feels for Clara Rionda, the woman who cared for him during one of his serious relapses.

Two of Claudio’s other friends share Clara’s home with him: José Abreu, the narrator of the novel, and his lover Ana Belmar, Clara’s best friend, who was born in Jamay on the shores of Lake Chapala.

After some time enjoying themselves in Mexico City, the group decides to escape the city and go to Lake Chapala. (They return to the city for the final section of the book).

The trip to the lake via train from Mexico City to Ocotlán, and then by lake steam boat (vaporcito) from Ocotlán to Chapala is described at some length, and the text includes many details about the village of Chapala. For instance, the group stays on the second floor of a lakefront hotel: this is a clear reference to the historic Arzapalo hotel that first opened in 1898. The group arrived in early April, apparently well before Easter that particular year, since they are described as being among the first visitors that spring. Even the chalets (with verandas) that characterized the second homes of the wealthy in Chapala at that time are described.

These descriptive details owe nothing to coincidence or chance. As Dulce Diana Aguirre López has shown, the main section of the book about Chapala is based on a straightforward, narrative account that Campos had originally published many years previously, as “En el Chapala”. This was actually published twice – first in La Patria (1899) and then, with some variations, in Revista Moderna (1902) – before being suitably modified for the section in Claudio Oronoz: an interesting example of how a regular narrative or travel piece can be recycled as an integral part of a fictional work.

Claudio Oronoz is considered to be Campos’s master work in fiction. Campos’s portrayal of youthful artistic and intellectual ambitions which ultimately lead his protagonist to disillusionment helped move Mexican novels away from the realism of the end of the 19th century into new, emerging “modern” territory. Mexican literature would never be the same; later Mexican writers would never look back.

Notes :

  • All quotations are loose translations by the author of this post.
  • The text of the original novel is included in the thesis (downloadable as a pdf file) linked to below.

Sources

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

May 182017
 

Mrs. Clara Lena Thorward (née Schafer) was born in South Bend, Indiana, on 14 June 1887, and lived and worked mainly in New York and Arizona. She died on 16 March 1969 in Phoenix, Arizona. Both her parents were German immigrants and she was one of seven children. Her father died in 1900.

Clara Thorward was a painter, etcher and art teacher who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) before studying as a post-graduate at the Cleveland School of Art, the Grand Central School of Art in New York, the Art Students League in New York, and with Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) at the Thurn School of Modern Art in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and with Henry Keller (1869-1949) in Cleveland.

Her painting style ranged from realist to abstract. While she was an excellent copyist, she is best known for her landscapes and still lifes.

Thorward-clara-Postcard-Watercolor057

This black and white postcard (date unknown – early 1950s?) depicts a watercolor of Lake Chapala by Clara Thorward.

In the early part of her career, she was a member of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, the Hoosier Salon and Hoosier Gallery in Chicago, the Artist League of Northern Indiana, the New York Society of Arts and Crafts, the Arts and Crafts Guild of Philadelphia and the Society of Arts and Crafts in Detroit.

Clara married George Theodore Thorward (1883-1937) on 23 July 1919 in Syracuse, Indiana. He was a graduate of the University of Michigan in the class of 1906 and became a statistician, before serving for his country during the first world war. The couple lived initially in Michigan but by 1930 were living in the Bronx, New York, where George was working as an economist, while Clara continued to develop her art.

Clara’s husband died in 1937 and her mother passed away a few months later in March 1938. It was probably this unfortunate combination of events that led to Clara taking a trip to Europe later that year. She returned to New York on 25 October 1938, from Boulogne Sur Mer, France, aboard the “Veendam”. The following year, she and her older brother, Carle Herman Schafer, held a joint art exhibition.

Clara Thorward. Village scene, presumed to be American south-west..

Clara Thorward. Village scene, presumed to be American south-west..

In early 1940, she held a solo show of paintings at the Morton Gallery in New York. A reviewer in The New York Times praised their realism, noting that, “Watercolors by Clara Thorward at Morton Gallery, landscapes and flower pieces, display a personal approach to subject matter which makes them appear the record of visual delight in the things seen.” The Indianapolis Star noted that the artist was not only “known for her excellent work in water colors” but had also received recognition for sculptures.

Thorward took part in a group show at the Morton Gallery the following year, with a reviewer for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle calling her “East River” one of “the important works of the show”.

In March 1942, she held a benefit exhibition of her pictures at the entrance to the Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Florida, donating a percentage of all sales to the Sarasota City and County Welfare Board.

In the early 1950s, she became a regular visitor to the art community of Woodstock, as well as heading south to explore Mexico. The April 1952 issue of Mexican Life, Mexico’s Monthly Review gave over its cover to a full-color photo of Thorward’s painting “In the Plaza”. The magazine’s contents included a feature article about her art, written by Guillermo Rivas, which was illustrated by seven black and white reproductions of her paintings: Cuernavaca Landscape, Ahuehuete Tree, Washerwoman in Taxco, Cathedral at Saltillo, Ahuehuete Trees on the Paseo, Washerwomen in Cuernavaca, and Lane in Cuernavaca.

Rivas waxed lyrically about Thorward’s work, writing:

“These are luminous water colors. But their luminosity is not only that of their outer aspects. It issues from their inner substance. The jewel-like brightness of the colors is enriched by the inner luminosity of the artist’s vision, by the artist’s mood articulated in sonorous terms. So while we have here a vista of Mexico, it is, more precisely the vista of fresh individual impact, of fleeting yet keenly penetrating glimpses of a reality which form it into a realm of imagery and song.”

From 1925 on, Thorward’s work was widely exhibited. Her solo shows included the Art League of Northern Indiana (1938); the Lock Gallery, Sarasota, Florida (1939); Morton Gallery, New York (1940); Plaza Hotel, New York (1940); Witte Memorial Museum (1944); Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City (1946); the Academia de Bellas Artes, Guatemala; International Club, San Salvador; and Oklahoma Art Club. Her only major show in Europe was a solo show at Parsons Gallery in London, U.K., in 1954.

Thorward was in group shows at the Cleveland Museum of Art (1925, 1926); Boston Museum of Art; Dayton Art Institute, Ohio; the Sixth Street Gallery, New York; Art League of Northern Indiana (1932); Salons of America (1934); Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey (1939); Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida (1939); Hoosier Salon, Indianapolis (1939); Society of Independent Artists; and the National League of American Pen Women (1950).

Her many awards included a first prize at the Cleveland Museum of Art (1925), the Burke Prize in Cleveland (1926), and prizes from the Artists’ League of Northern Indiana (1932) and the National League of American Pen Women (1950).

Note:

  • This is an updated version of a post first published 8 September 2014.

Sources:

  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle: 13 April 1941.
  • Peter Falk et al. 1999. Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975.
  • The Indianapolis Star: 28 April 1940, p 74.
  • Kingston Daily Freeman: 12 August 1952, p 17: 1 November 1952.
  • The New York Times: 19 February 1940.
  • Sarasota Herald-Tribune: March 26, 1942

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

 Posted by at 6:56 am  Tagged with:
May 152017
 

Rubén Marcos Campos, though now largely forgotten, was one of the major figures in Mexican literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Campos, a poet, intellectual, novelist and folklorist, was born on 25 April 1871 in Ciudad Manuel Doblado, Guanajuato, and died in Mexico City on 7 June 1945.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

His first novel, entitled Claudio Oronoz, was published in 1906 and is considered one of the gems of the so-called modernist prose that was then in vogue. Lake Chapala plays an important part in the novel, as the destination towards which the hedonistic protagonist gravitates.

Campos was well acquainted with Lake Chapala and vacationed there several times over the years. In 1906, for example, we know from contemporary newspapers that he spent the second half of December in Chapala in the company of poet Luis G. Urbina (1864-1934) and painter Leandro Izaguirre (1867-1941).

In 1899, Campos wrote several short travel pieces about the lake for La Patria. We will take a closer look at both Claudio Oronoz and these travel articles in later posts.

Campos lost his mother at an early age, and grew up in León, Guanajuato, before moving to Mexico City in about 1890 to try and make his way as a writer. He was soon accepted into the literary circles of the city which gave him the opportunity to have poems and articles published in many of the major publications of the time, including El Mundo Ilustrado, Nosotros, México, Vida Moderna, El Universal, El Centinela and Revista Moderna. The last named, Revista Moderna, published two of his poems – “Desnudos” and “Ruth” – in its second issue, adding Campos to its distinguished list of contributors alongside Amado Nervo, José Juan Tablada, Luis Gonzaga Urbina and Jesús E. Valenzuela.

His only published collection of poetry was La flauta de Pan (1900), where many verses suggest or explore eroticism and sensuality. However, Campos’s poetry is not very well known, mainly because his essays and studies of popular music and Mexican folklore were already gaining him an enviable reputation for non-fiction writing, based on sound research and skillful use of language.

His most important articles about music and folklore appeared in such specialist publications as Revista Musical de México, Gaceta Musical, México Musical and Boletín Latinoamericano de Música. Among the many books by Campos related to the fields of history, folklore and folk music are Chapultepec, su leyenda y su historia (1922); El folklore y la música mexicana (1928); El folklore literario de México (1929); El folklore musical de las ciudades (1930); La producción literaria de los aztecas (1936); and Tradiciones y leyendas mexicanas (1938).

His keen interest in folklore and its history did not prevent him from continuing to hone his skills as a reporter. Campos produced numerous, elegantly-written pieces about different parts of Mexico, and also wrote several short fictional stories, many of them for El Nacional. A collection of  travel pieces was published in 1922 as Las alas nómadas.

The publication of his first novel Claudio Oronoz in 1906 marked the start of an astonishingly productive period that lasted to his death. The novel was welcomed by critics, despite being quite unlike most of his previous work, and established Campos as an accomplished modernist, quickly hailed as one of Mexico’s finest writers of prose of the period.

His versatility knew few bounds and Campos also completed at least three operatic librettos: Zulema (1899); Tlahuicole (1925); and Quetzalcóatl (1928).

He employed pen names at various points in his career; these pen names included Rubén Martínez, R. Martínez Campos, Oro and Rudel.

Given his interest in all aspects of culture and in interpreting the human story, it is not surprising that many of Campos’s stories and novels examine the multifarious seedy undersides of life such as sexual abuse, imprisonment, alcoholism, prostitution, murder and abandonment.

Campos managed to combine this prodigious output with a teaching career. At one time or other, he inspired students in the Escuela Normal Preparatoria, the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Conservatorio Nacional de Ciudad de México, the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Historia y Etnografía, and in the Universidad Nacional de México (UNAM)) in a variety of subjects, including art, music, history and Mexican folklore.

In addition to Claudio Oronoz, widely regarded as his master work, Campos also completed two other important novels: Aztlán, tierra de garzas (1935) and El bar: la vida literaria de México, which remained unpublished during his lifetime, but was finally put in print by the Universidad Nacional de México (UNAM) in 2013.

El bar: la vida literaria de México is especially interesting. It explores the bohemian artistic and literary scene of Mexico towards the end of the Porfiriato. It is based on the experiences of Campos and the other members of his literary circles, as well as of artists such as Julio Ruelas and Germán Gedovius, and of musicians including Manuel M. Ponce and Ernesto Elorduy. All of these literary and artistic greats are given their real names in the novel, the only exceptions being the author himself and Alberto Leduc, whose fictitious names – respectively Benamor Cumps and Raúl Clebodet – are anagrams of their real names.

Several works by Rubén M. Campos have been re-released in recent years, making them more available to modern readers.

Sources

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

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