Apr 202017

Anne McKeever (1928-2002) was an artist, model, photographer and Beat poet who spent some time in Ajijic during the 1950s and was a close friend of the painter Don Martin and folksinger Lori Fair. Another of McKeever’s closest friends was Jeonora Bartlet, who lived in Ajijic in 1956-7 and later became the partner of American pop artist Rick Reagan. Many years later, McKeever and her husband, a former bullfighter, started an English-language school in Tapachula, Chiapas, and invited Bartlet to teach there.

Anne McKeever modeling Embassy Shoes. ca 1949. Credit: Auckland Archive.

Anne McKeever modeling Embassy Shoes. ca 1949. Credit: Auckland Archive.

McKeever was born in Middletown, Ohio, on 4 September 1928 and was interested in all manner of artistic activities from an early age. She was a bright student and took extracurricular classes in classical ballet, acting, painting and photography, before attending Teacher’s College in Greeley, Colorado.

In her youth she had been a member of a Chicago dance troupe, “The June Taylor Dancers”, and had done some modeling for advertisements. From Colorado, she went to New Zealand, where she studied in Auckland College and modeled for Christian Dior, Embassy Shoes and other firms. The photographer Clifton Firth (1904-1980) shot many of these campaigns. Sixty years later, ten images of McKeever, all taken by Firth in the 1940s, were included in a major 2003-2004 exhibit in Auckland, entitled “A Certain Style: Glimpses of Fashion in New Zealand”.

Anne McKeever modeling pyjamas. ca 1949. Credit: Auckland Archive.

Anne McKeever modeling pyjamas. ca 1949. Credit: Auckland Archive.

McKeever returned to the U.S. in 1950 to complete her university studies. She became associate professor in the history department at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, and also taught at Newberg High School. After she graduated from Linfield College in 1951, she moved to New Orleans, where she worked as a teacher and in the photographic labs of Greer Studios.

It was in New Orleans that McKeever first met artist Don Martin, artist and folk singer Lori Fair, and artist and jazz musician George Abend. They would meet up again a few years later in Ajijic. Joan Gilbert Martin alerted me to the photograph (below) used for the cover of the second (Summer 1956) issue of Climax, a Beat magazine published by Bob Cass in New Orleans and printed in Guadalajara. The photo, taken by Anne McKeever, shows Don Martin’s studio in Ajijic in 1955/56 with one of his paintings hanging on the far wall. Lori Fair is sitting by the drums and George Abend is at the piano. This image neatly conveys the close friendship of these artistically-talented individuals before their paths, and lives, diverged.

Cover of Climax #2 (1956)

Cover of Climax #2 (1956)

McKeever had left New Orleans for Mexico in 1953 at the invitation of the Instituto Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales to give English classes in Guadalajara, where she taught at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Jalisco until January 1955. Newspaper articles describe her jovial personality and list her hobbies at this time as painting (watercolors and pastels) and photography.

Early in 1954, Don Martin and Lori Fair also left New Orleans, to live together in Ajijic. Martin had several very productive months and his first solo show in Mexico opened at the Casa del Art in Guadalajara on 2 August 1954. Both McKeever and Lori Fair attended the gala opening, as did Archie Mayo, the Hollywood movie director; Nicole Vaia Langley, daughter of violinist John Langley; Peter and Elaine Huntington of Ajijic; artists Jose Maria Servin, César Zazueta and Thomas Coffeen Suhl; and Nayarit-born painter Melquiades Sanchez Orozco, who later became a legendary scocer commentator.

In January 1955, Anne McKeever left Guadalajara to oversee English teaching in the smaller neighboring state of Nayarit, as Director of the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Nayarit. She spent six months there, during which time she arranged two art shows featuring the works of Don Martin. The opening night for the first show, at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano in Tepic, in April, included a concert of folksongs sung by Lori Fair. The second show, in May in Santiago Ixcuintla and billed as the “Third Painting Exhibition, Mexican and International Artists”, included a painting by Anne McKeever entitled “The Women”.

Ad for New Orleans show, 1956

Ad for New Orleans show, 1956

McKeever returned to Guadalajara in the summer of 1955. In September, the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Jalisco presented an exhibition of her photographs, described in the local newspaper, El Informador, as a “magnificent collection”. The reviewer praised McKeever an an “American who loves Mexico and its customs” and a “very original photographer”. The photos, taken in Guadalajara and Tepic with a simple camera in natural light, included portraits of people engaged in everyday activities: rotalistas (sign painters), street sellers, children and bricklayers.

A similar exhibition, entitled “Ojos sobre Mexico” (“Eyes on Mexico”) was held in New Orleans the following year at the Climax Jazz, Art and Pleasure Society. A portrait of McKeever on the flyer for her “Eyes on Mexico” series shows her wearing bullfighters’ watches while cradling her camera.

This chronology of McKeever’s life throws some doubt on the very precise time frame claimed by Penelope Rosemont in Surrealist Women: an international anthology that, “A fascinating surrealist-orientated group – including Carol St. Julian (aka Beavy LeNora, the Nevermore Girl) and photographer Anne McKeever – burst onto the scene in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1955.” Though McKeever retained links to the city, and had poems and photographs published there until 1960, she had left the New Orleans scene two years prior to 1955. Perhaps Rosemont is equating McKeever’s presence in New Orleans with the start of the journal Semina, which ran from 1955 to 1964?

Anne McKeever. 1955. "Terminal de Autobusses" - Guadalajara.

Anne McKeever. 1955. “Terminal de Autobusses” – Guadalajara.

After Guadalajara, McKeever moved to Mexico City where she taught English and renewed her friendships with Lori Fair (now married and calling herself Bhavani Escalante), Jeonora Bartlet and Rick Reagan. McKeever was an integral part of the then-vibrant Beat scene in Mexico City which included surrealist poet Philip Lamantia. McKeever and Lamantia were visited in Mexico City in 1959 by jazz poet ruth weiss, near the end of her lengthy trip through Mexico:

“In 1959, ruth returned from traveling the length of Mexico with her first husband, having completed her journal COMPASS, which includes an excerpt of her memorable meeting with two close San Francisco friends in Mexico City -poet and photographer Anne McKeever and poet Philip Lamantia. After talking all night in a café, they decided to climb the Pyramid of the Sun in the Mayan ruins outside Mexico City and catch the sunrise. Neither guides nor other tourists were there in the predawn chill. The climb to the top of the pyramid was easy, but ruth, paralyzed by fear of heights, had to be carried all the way down.” (Brenda Knight, 2009).

In that same year, 1959, weiss included several short poems about “Ana” (McKeever) in her Gallery of Women, a book comprised of poem-portraits of more than a dozen women poets whom she most admired and respected. Other poets whose portraits were painted in verse by ruth weiss included Aya Tarlow and Laura Ulewicz, the partner of Jack Gilbert.

Weiss also refers briefly to McKeever in her poem “Post-Card 1995”, writing “ANNE McKEEVER vanished in Mexico” and later, “ANNE McKEEVER your poems, your voice, your toreador’s baby where are they”. (This poem also describes Ernest Alexander, another artist closely associated with Ajijic.)

McKeever’s own work featured in the 5th issue of the Beat magazine Semina, published in 1959. Her photographic collage, “Musicians”, appeared in the same issue as an extract from “Compass” by ruth weiss, and a poem and translation by Philip Lamantia.

Anne McKeever. 1955. "Parting the Plaza". Eyes on Mexico series.

Anne McKeever. 1955. “Parting the Plaza”. Eyes on Mexico series. Guadalajara.

McKeever’s interest in photography continued unabated in Mexico City and led her to document bullfighters and the many activities occurring near the bull ring. She lived with bullfighters, took their photos, and even fought a young bull herself. This is how she first met matador Humberto Javier, the love of her life, the start of an entirely new chapter. Anne had an infant son (Felipe) and, after the couple married, they left Mexico City by train in 1960 to start a new life as a family in Tapachula, Chiapas. Their daughter Ana Andrea was born a couple of years later.

The newly married couple started an English-language school in Tapachula which is still in operation today. The Instituto Cultural de Inglés Javier McKeever was the first English language school in Chiapas and is now run by McKeever’s grandsons: Oliver and Lester Trujillo Javier, who have English teaching degrees. McKeever taught English there for more than forty years, becoming known locally as “Teacher McKeever”.

In about 1970, McKeever invited Jeonora Bartlet, then living in California, to teach at the school. Bartlet moved to Chiapas and lived there with her partner Rick Reagan for more than a decade, teaching English part-time. Reagan’s artwork was regularly displayed in the school.

McKeever’s daughter, Ana Andrea Javier McKeever, trained as a teacher of classical ballet before starting a school in 1979 for classical ballet, jazz and tap. It is now called the Royal Ballet Center, and is run by Ana Andrea’s own daughter, Andrea Trujillo Javier. The family has also opened a language center for Spanish courses: The Anne McKeever Language Center.

Anne McKeever, “Teacher McKeever”, died in Tapachula, Chiapas, on 14 July 2002, but the family’s numerous contributions to enriching the cultural life of Tapachula will live on for many years to come.


  • My sincere thanks to Jeonora Bartlet, Joan Gilbert Martin and Ana Andrea Javier McKeever for their help in piecing together this profile of a truly remarkable and inspirational woman.

Sources and references:

  • Climax magazine, #2, Summer 1956
  • Miguel Angel González. 2017. “En Memoria: Anne McKeever de Javier (1928-2002)” in Revista Morada Chiapas, March 2017.
  • Informador (Guadalajara) 5 Feb 1955; 15 Sep 1955; 12 Dec 1955; 5 Jan 1956.
  • Brenda Knight. 2009. “Return of the prodigal poet – ruth weiss in San Francisco Poetry Festival July 24“.
  • Anne McKeever. 1959. Photographic Collage (musicians) – in Issue 5 of Semina (1959)
  • Prensa Libre (Tepic), 24 April 1855:
  • Penelope Rosemont, 2000. Surrealist Women: an international anthology.
  • ruth weiss. 1959. Gallery of Women.
  • ruth weiss. 2011. can’t stop the beat: the life and words of a Beat poet. This includes “Compass” and “Post-Card 1995”.

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.

Apr 182017

George Adin Ballou was born in Madrid, Spain, probably on 21 November 1927, and died in May 1986. By the age of 21, according to an article in the Amarillo Daily News, Ballou had already completed several books, including, “a 500-page work on the artist-tourist colony at Lake Chapala”, with the working title of Ajijic. Sadly, there is no record of him ever publishing this or any other book and the manuscript appears to be lost for ever.

Who was George Ballou and how did he come to write a book about Ajijic?

George was the son of Harold Ballou (1898-1981), a journalist then working for the American News Service, and author Jenny Dubin Ballou (ca 1903-ca 1948), known in the family as Genia. They met as undergraduates at Cornell University. (She is also sometimes called Eugenia Ballou or Jenny Iphigenia Ballou, the latter variant appearing in a Time magazine review of one of her books.) Jenny was born in Russia in about 1903, and moved to the U.S. at the age of three. She wrote two well-received works, both published in New York: Spanish Prelude (1937) and Period Piece: The Life and Times of Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1940),

“Café Revolutionaries”, a chapter from Spanish Prelude, was chosen in 2007 for inclusion in Barbara Probst Solomon’s literary collection, The Reading Room/7. In her introduction, Solomon writes that,

“When Federico García Lorca returned from Puerto Rico to New York en route to Spain in 1930 and wasn’t able to leave the ship due to a lapsed visa, [Genia] Ballou was among the small group of intellectuals invited to a small party given in his honor aboard the ship.” She also points out that “In the 1930s she [Ballou] wrote for The Florin Magazine, whose contributors included Aldous Huxley, Herbert Read and Stephen Spender.”

George’s middle name, “Adin”, was in honor of his illustrious ancestor, Adin Ballou, who was a passionate anti-slavery advocate in the 1840s and the founder of a utopian community in Massachusetts.

George spent his early childhood in Spain, where his parents were working at the time. He was barely 6 months old when they first returned to the U.S. for a visit, arriving in New York on 5 June 1928 from Barcelona on board the “Manuel Arnus”. The family returned to New York again on 24 December of the following year, aboard the “Leviathan” which had sailed from the port of Cherbourg, France. The passenger manifest lists their New York address as 221 Dekals Ave, Brooklyn, and they were still living in Brooklyn at the time of the 1930 U.S. Census.

As is evident from Jenny Ballou’s Spanish Prelude, the family spent about four more years in Spain in the early 1930s before relocating back to North America. By the time of the 1940 U.S. Census, they were living in in Montgomery, Maryland.

George Ballou completed his high school education at The Putney School, a progressive independent high school in Vermont. He never shied away from physical work and was strongly built despite being not very tall, about 5′ 6″. By coincidence, two long-time Ajijic residents – John Kirtland Goodridge and his brother Geoffrey Goodridge (better known as the flamenco guitarist “Azul”) – also attended The Putney School, albeit about a decade later.

George and his parents were all fluent in Spanish and visited Mexico (including Lake Chapala) for an extended stay, presumably in the early 1940s, though the exact timing is unclear.

George developed a deep, lifelong interest in zoology. He was both passionate and knowledgeable about all manner of animals. At various times, Ballou supplied specimens of mammals, birds and reptiles to zoos in Philadelphia, Washington, and New York, including specimens collected in the jungles of southern Mexico, specifically in the state of Campeche. He is thanked in the Smithsonian annual report for the year ended June 1945 for having donated “a short-tailed shrew, two diamond-back rattlesnakes, two cottonmouth moccasins, six black snakes, cotton rat, mud snake, six garter snakes, two indigo snakes, two blue racer snakes, chicken snake, turkey vulture, five deer mice [and a], meadow mouse.” Ten years later, in the 61st Annual Report of the New York Zoological Society, in 1956, Ballou is listed as the donor of “spiny mice… together with a Palestine Long-eared Hedgehog”.

Immediately after the end of the second world war, Harold Ballou was appointed chief of the European Press section of the United Nations, based in Geneva, Switzerland. At his father’s insistence, George postponed his entry to the University of New Mexico, and accompanied the family to Switzerland, where he took some classes in anthropology at the University of Geneva. Serendipity intervened. Genia, his mother, needed someone to type her latest manuscript (a memoir or autobiography) and gave the job to Anna Barbara Morgenthaler, one of George’s fellow students. Barbara, as she is known in the family, was multilingual, multi-talented and exceptionally well-educated. A few years older than George (she was born in 1924), she also liked animals and zoology, so it was little surprise that they quickly became close friends.

Sadly, Genia, barely in her forties, died from cancer before the manuscript could be published. This was a devastating blow to George. An only child, he had been very close to her all his life. (Harold, who went on to work for the Pan American Health Organization, remarried in 1950; his second wife was Esther Williamson Ballou, a musician and composer).

George Ballou (1950 UNM Yearbook)

George Ballou (1950 UNM Yearbook)

George and Barbara continued their studies at the University of Geneva until 1948, when his father moved to Egypt as head of the Arab Refugee Commission. (Five years later, Harold Ballou was in Washington D.C. as the Public Information Officer of the Western Hemisphere Regional Office of the World Health Organization.)

By February 1949, George was in the U.S. and about to return to classes at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. (This move, too, was apparently at his father’s insistence!) Clearly, prior to this, George must have spent sufficient time in Ajijic to research and write his now-lost manuscript, though the details of his trip or trips remain elusive.

The Amarillo Daily News article mentions “a copious diary kept of his travels”, and other completed manuscripts, including Too Much Zoo for Mama (a 300-page volume about animals he has collected), Themanop or the Man from Another Planet and The Whole Was His Classroom, as well as several short stories. None of these works was ever published, though Ballou does appear to have published at least two short stories a decade later in Dude magazine: “Slavery Can Be Beautiful” (1957) and “The World’s Best Skier” (1958).

Barbara had accompanied George to New Mexico in 1949 and taken a job as secretary for the New Mexico Society for Crippled Children. According to their son, David Cameron, the social mores of the period meant it was not acceptable for the couple to live under the same roof while unmarried. As a result, his parents decided to marry (in Bernalillo, New Mexico, registry office in 1949) but only on condition that neither would oppose a divorce if their partner later wanted to marry someone else.

Later that same year (1949) the young couple traveled to the newly established state of Israel and spent a month in two kibbutzim.

By the summer of 1950, Barbara was pregnant and the couple had moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, where Barbara worked as secretary for the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. The New Mexico Lobo, published by the University of New Mexico, included the following paragraph: “Last year’s wayfaring stranger at UNM, Mr. George Ballou, has settled down in Greensboro, N.C. with his wife, a possum, a skunk, and two goldfish. The Ballous made the furniture in their little love nest.”

Six months later, George and Barbara returned to Zürich and their son, David, arrived on Easter Sunday: 25 March 1951. During their time in Switzerland, George’s mental health was fragile. When Barbara and George went to Casablanca, Morocco, in 1953, they left their infant son with his maternal grandparents in Höngg for a year. Barbara worked as a translator at the American airbase in Casablanca while George focused on his writing. They spent weekends and holidays exploring (on a Vespa scooter), collecting numerous animals along the way.

Back in Switzerland, and reunited with David, they lived briefly in Oberengstringen to the west of Höngg. George divided his time between typing up natural history accounts and caring for a kitchen full of exotic animals – snakes, lizards, mice and geckos – he had brought back from Morocco.

Barbara and George separated in 1956. Barbara took full custody of David and emigrated to Australia to join a friend, Don Cameron, whom she and George had first met in Tangier. Barbara and Don married the day after their arrival in Australia and David was soon to have four younger half-sisters.

Meanwhile, George moved back to New York, where he found work as a longshoreman in Manhattan, while also doing some freelance writing. In his thirties, he married again and had a son, Jeremy. Soon afterwards, George survived bone cancer, despite having to have a leg amputated, but the marriage fell apart. George was forced to take early retirement, the only silver lining being that he received a lifelong union pension and had more time to write.

In about 1969, Ballou fell in love with Pamela Joyce, a telephone receptionist. Their daughter, Daniella, born in 1974, studied at Cornell University (as her paternal grandparents had done) and has subsequently held several senior positions related to global development, especially in regard to health initiatives and policy, an echo of her grandfather’s work with the W.H.O. and the Pan American Health Organization. The family lived for several years in the socially-diverse Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, close to Greenwich Village, and Daniella recalls that her father also earned some income from door-to-door Encyclopedia Britannica sales. During a family trip to Mexico, in about 1982, they traveled to Mexico City by bus and explored the area for a month staying in inexpensive hotels and hostels or with friends.

George Ballou, author of a 500-page work on Ajijic, died in May 1986. Is his book lost for ever, or will some intrepid researcher or garage-sale bargain hunter eventually unearth the long-lost manuscript?


  • Sincere thanks to George Ballou’s elder son, David Cameron, and daughter, Daniella Ballou-Aares, for their help in compiling this profile, which is an updated version of a post first published 8 June 2015.


  • Amarillo Daily News, Amarillo, Texas, 25 Feb 1949
  • David Cameron. 2015. “Anna Barbara Morgenthaler – Barbara Cameron – a biographical sketch.” (Unpublished)
  • Time magazine, 5 Feb 1940
  • University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. 1950. Yearbook of University of New Mexico at Albuquerque.
  • New Mexico Lobo (published by the University of New Mexico), 28 July 1950.

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.

Apr 112017

Dorothy Hosmer, born in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, in 1910, spent much of her life combining adventure and photography. She visited Ajijic with her mother for a short time in 1945, where she met, among others, artists Otto Butterlin and Sylvia Fein. Fein recalls that Hosmer was planning to write an article about the area, with the intention of submitting it to National Geographic.

Hosmer completed primary school in Wilmette, Illinois, and high school in Sarasota, Florida, before taking a year of college at Rice Institute in Houston, Texas, followed by a one year secretarial course at Scudder School, New York. She then started to work for National City Bank of New York.

Otto Butterlin and Dorothy Hosmer, ca 1945. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Fein.

Otto Butterlin and Dorothy Hosmer, ca 1945. Photo courtesy of Sylvia Fein.

Hosmer first received public attention in November 1938, when the National Geographic published her article, “An American Girl Cycles Across Romania: Two-wheel Pilgrim Pedals the Land of Castles and Gypsies, Where Roman Empire Traces Mingle With Remnants of Oriental Migration” (National Geographic, November 1938, 557-588).  The article was illustrated by photographs Hosmer had taken during a solo bicycling ride in Europe.

Her initial break-through came about only because Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the National Geographic editor at the time, overruled an associate editor who claimed that respectable “girls” didn’t take foreign trips alone! Hosmer had written to the magazine from Florence in 1937 asking them if they would care to publish an “account of her trip with illustrative photographs.” She was paid a miserly $300 for each article, well below the rates normally offered to male contributors. (Hosmer had given up her secretarial job at National City Bank and splashed out $89 for a third-class steamer ticket in order to reach Europe.)

Hosmer was one of the first female photographers to have her work published in the National Geographic, and wrote three more articles for the magazine, also illustrated with her own photos, over the next few years.

  • “Pedaling Through Poland: An American Girl Free-wheels Alone from Kraków, and Its Medieval Byways, Toward Ukraine’s Restive Borderland” (National Geographic, June 1939, 739-775)
  • “Caviar Fishermen of Romania: From Vâlcov, “Little Venice” of the Danube Delta, Bearded Russian Exiles Go Down to the Sea”, (National Geographic, March 1940, 407-434)
  • “Rhodes & Italy’s Aegean Islands” (National Geographic, April 1941)

Having traveled for more than four years, she returned to the U.S. in July 1940, on the death of her father. In June 1943, she moved to Mexico, where she lived until December 1945. She worked for a time in Mexico City as the motion picture traveling supervisor for the office of Inter-American Affairs. She traveled widely, and collected textiles as she went, a collection that is now at the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, California.

Hosmer spent the summer of 1945 in Guatemala, before briefly returning to Mexico (and Ajijic) en route back to the U.S., where she arrived in December 1945. The following year she studied children’s book writing at Columbia University while marketing her travel photos. In the summer of 1946, she organized a 60-day tour of Central America for Pan Pacific Good Neighbor Tours Inc.

In addition to National Geographic, Hosmer’s photos were published in numerous major newspapers and journals, ranging from the New York Times, Asia Travel, Business Week, and the United Nations World to the Geographical Magazine (UK), Pictorial Review, Seattle Times and the Toronto Star Weekly.

Hosmer married Frederick Lee in Puerto Rico in 1949. Lee was either a Wall Street banker (the National Geographic version) or a New York pulp fiction writer. The couple had a son, Kerry (1950-1982). After her husband’s death from cancer, Dorothy Hosmer-Lee moved back to Redlands, California, where she served as an Educational Advisor for the U.S. Civil Service Commission at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino until 1971, after which she started traveling again.

Her love of travel and the outdoors was recognized in 1992 by the Los Angeles Council of American Youth Hostels who awarded her their “Spirit of Adventure Award”.

In 2000, Hosmer was featured in the National Geographic book Women Photographers at National Geographic. The National Geographic magazine issue of November 2000 includes two pictures of Hosmer. The first (from the March 1940 issue) shows her lunching with Romanian caviar fishermen, the second shows Hosmer in later life, aged 89.

Hosmer spoke several European languages fluently, as well as the international language, Esperanto.

Following Hosmer’s death in 2008, friends and executors of her estate donated a substantial collection of her photographs and negatives to the Sweeney Art Gallery. The collection includes more than 40 publications and 6000 photos and negatives. It is unclear whether or not any these items relate directly to Hosmer’s visit to Lake Chapala.

One additional curiosity about Hosmer is that in 1960 she copyrighted words and music for an English-Spanish piece entitled “Tampoco”. If anyone knows this work, please let us know the details!


This post, which remains a work in progress, was originally published 14 April 2016 and has been significantly updated. I am very grateful to Emily Papavero, Associate Director, ARTSblock, at the University of California, Riverside, for so generously sharing her wealth of knowledge about Dorothy Hosmer’s life and work. 

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.

Apr 102017

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 following extracts come from chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey:

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.

2. TRIP TWO (March 22, 1946)

[The party returns to Ajijic, this time by boat, to collect a hat left the day before at Neill James’ home]

At the beach we found several little launches drawn up ¡n the customary fashion, ranged side by side, each with its bow part way up the sand.

The glint of excursion must have been in our eyes, for a boatman near the pier spotted us and came racing to solicit our use of his boat. It was the Colombina, as we saw by the red letters printed neatly on its white prow. It was hardly more than a large row boat with an outboard motor, but we were taken by its clean appearance. The hull was trimmed with a broad red line under the gunwales, the interior was bright green, and it was shaded by a flat canvas awning, which was held taut on a frame supported by props in the bow and stern.

Ross Parmenter: ColombinaThe owner was a small man whose thin, brown legs were revealed because his overalls were rolled above his knees. His price was agreeable to Mrs. K., so the deal was closed.

But how were the ladies to get into the boat? The motor at the back meant the launch could not be drawn up much further on the beach. I had an awful vision of the tiny man staggering under the burden of Mrs. K. as he carried her to the side of the boat where she could board. But fortunately that was not necessary.

The boatman was wearing huaraches, shoes made of thongs of leather interwoven diagonally. He stepped out of them and waded into the water to pull the nose of the boat a little further up the strand. Then, from a space in the bow, he produced some wooden steps similar to those housewives use to reach dishes on upper shelves. He placed the kitchen steps against the side of the boat. The rear brace was in the water, but the front was on dry sand. He beckoned Thyrza to mount the steps, demonstrating how steady they were by showing he could not wobble them with his hand. T was timid of the water, but with his help she got in and sat on a cross bench near the stern. Mrs. Kirkland followed. When Mary Alice and I were in too, the impassive-faced boatman put the steps back into the bow, picked up his shoes, tossed them into the boat and then waded out to the stern.

Because of the substantial weight there, he was able to draw the bow easily from the sand. He swung the craft around, headed it outwards and climbed in at the back, giving us a shove as he did so. Then, using a bit of cord as a crank, he got the outboard motor started and we began chugging peacefully out into the lake.

The water was very calm. The sky was serene too, with only a few cirro-stratus clouds streaking its pure blue heights. The long folds of the bare mountains across the lake hung like drapery, and I thought again of their resemblance to desert mountains, but being beside a lake they were veiled with blue haze.

Once more the water mirrored the colors of the sky with remarkable fidelity. And as we got further from the shore I saw there was scarcely an island in all the lake’s fifty mile length. This discovery enabled me to put several facts together. Because of the absence of islands the lake provides the sky with a great reflecting area which is virtually unbroken. This unflawed surface, which, instead of being crystalline, is silvered, as it were, by the silty opacity, explains why the lake has the strange effect of seeming to give off its own light.

Because of this looking-glass quality, as Colombina made her way over the calm gray-blue of the water, we seemed to be mysteriously hung between heaven and earth. Looking towards the horizon, the sky was the same gray-blue as the lake, and the water, in turn, seemed as light-filled as the sky. (94-95)

Once in Ajijic, they collected the hat, walked around the village, and then returned to the pier to set off back to Chapala.

All artwork in this post is by Ross Parmenter.


  • 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.

Apr 062017

Painter and batik artist Auguste Killat Foust (1915-2010), better known as Gustel Foust, had lived for twenty years in Mexico before moving to Ajijic, where she lived from 1978 to 1984. Previously she had resided fifteen years in Guadalajara (1963-78) and five years in San Miguel de Allende (1958-1963).

Gustel Foust. Artist painting in her garden. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. The artist painting in her garden. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Auguste Killat Myckinn (her birthname) was born in Nemonin, East Prussia, on 15 February 1915 and died 05 October 2010. Even as a child, she was exceptionally talented at sketching and painting. At the age of 17, she entered the Königsberg Kunstakademie (Königsberg Academy of Arts), where she studied art and landscape, under Alfred Partikel (1888-1945) and Fritz Burmann (1892-1945). Foust continued her art studies at Dresden Art School and the University of Berlin Art School.

From about 1940 to 1947, she was married to the meticulous Dr. Wilhelm Graber, an economist of German heritage, who liked everything “just so”, in striking contrast to his wife’s preference to “go with the flow”.

In 1950, a few years after the end of the second world war, Gustel remarried. Viva E. Foust, her second husband, was serving in the U.S. Navy, and the couple settled initially in South Carolina, where Gustel became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Gustel had two children – Marlene and Sabina – from her first marriage and three more children – Barbara, Curtis and Karen – were born in the U.S.

From 1955 to 1958, the Fousts lived between Newport, Rhode Island and South Carolina, with Gustel exhibiting and teaching art in both places. She joined the Provincetown Art Association. In addition to group shows, several of which were in New York, she displayed her paintings in three solo shows and was represented by Sandpiper Gallery in Westport.

After her husband’s retirement from the Navy, in 1958 the couple decided to move to Mexico. While teaching art at the Art Institute in San Miguel de Allende, Gustel found renewed inspiration for her own art in the vivid colors and color contrasts found everywhere in Mexico and in Mexican popular art. Her work sold well at exhibitions in the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende and attracted the attention of several Mexico City collectors who helped arrange for her to hold solo shows in the capital. These, too, proved very successful.

Gustel Foust. 1978. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Gustel Foust. 1978. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Five years later, the family moved to Guadalajara, where she continued to teach art and became a regular exhibitor in local galleries and further afield. For example, in 1964, she held a solo show of “batiks, portraits and watercolors” at the Castle Art gallery in Santa Cruz, California. Sadly, her husband passed away (in Guadalajara) that same year.

In September 1967, her work was in a group show of paintings at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala. The following May, her “impressionist landscapes and portraits” were on show at the Tekare penthouse restaurant in Guadalajara. In October 1968 (when Mexico was hosting the Olympic Games), Foust had a show of original batiks at “Georg Originals”, a gallery in Guadalajara near the intersection of Avenida Chapultepec and Vallarta, and was simultaneously showing paintings and batiks at Villa del Lago hotel in Ajijic. Her next showing of paintings, at the Galeria Municipal de Arte y Cultura in Guadalajara was favorably reviewed in an illustrated half-page article by well-known local art critic J. Luis Meza-India.

She then had three oil paintings accepted into a major, juried group show of American Artists at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco in Guadalajara in June 1969, and won third place for figurative painting. The show featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake Chapala area and San Miguel de Allende.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Mexican women washing laundry, Lake Chapala.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Mexican women washing laundry, Lake Chapala.

In 1972, part-way through her fifteen years living in Guadalajara, she spent some time in Houston, Texas. Her Houston studio was at 713 Snover, and she held a solo exhibit at the Hotel Fiesta in Houston from 19 to 23 May. The formal invitation for the exhibit featured two paintings: “La Playa en Puerto Vallarta” (Puerto Vallarta Beach) and “Escena del lago Chapala” (Lake Chapala Scene). According to the short artist biography published at the time, Foust had already held eight solo shows in Mexico, as well as one-person exhibits in Santa Cruz, California; Forth Worth, Texas; and New Braunsfels, Texas. (If anyone has details of these exhibits, please share!)

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Batik.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Batik.

Foust remained extremely active for many years in the Guadalajara-Lake Chapala art scene. A quick newspaper search turned up several exhibits in 1974-1976, including a joint show with her daughter Sabina in the Hilton Hotel in Guadalajara (January 1974), paintings and batiks at El Tejabán restaurant-gallery in Ajijic (February 1975), joint show with Sabina of batiks and paintings at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala (July 1975) and a group show of Lake Chapala Artists at the ex-Convento del Carmen, Guadalajara (October 1976). Other participants in this last-named show included Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionisio; Bert Miller; Julia Michel; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai; and Jim Marthai.

It is obvious that Foust was extremely familiar with the Lake Chapala area well before moving to live in Ajijic in 1978, and no surprise that soon after moving there, one of her street scenes of Ajijic (in the collection of local realtor Richard Tingen) was chosen for the annual, charity fundraising Amigos del Lago greeting card.

Gustel Foust.2000. Camino Real, Ajijic.

Gustel Foust. 2000. Camino Real, Ajijic.

The last major show in Guadalajara that Foust is known to have participated in was a group show held at the ex-Convento del Carmen in January 1980. This also included works by Daphne Aluta, Evelyne Boren, Taffy Branham, Paul Fontaine, Richard Lapa, Stefan Lokos, Georg Rauch, Eleanor Smart, Betty Warren and Digur Weber.

In the late 1970s, early 1980s, Foust exhibited several times in Acapulco, at the city’s Biennales held in a major hotel on the main beach. These shows were fund-raisers to benefit the children of Acapulco. Among the organizers was Ann Goldfarb, a friend of Foust’s. Foust’s son, Curtis, attended one of these shows and recalls that his mother’s paintings quickly sold out, snapped up by visitors from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

In 1984, Foust returned to the U.S., living first in San Diego, California, then (from 2002) in West Virginia and finally (from June 2009) in Petaluma, California, where she passed away, at the age of 95, on 5 October 2010.

Even after her return to live in the U.S., Foust retained some close links to Lake Chapala. In 1992, for example, Judy Eager was able to persuade her to exhibit (with her daughter Barbara) a selection of batiks, oils and watercolors at La Nueva Posada hotel in Ajijic.

As these illustrations show, Gustel Foust was an extremely talented artist, whether of landscapes, portraits or batiks. She was also a prolific artist, painting almost every day of her life, in a wide variety of styles and using many different media. At different times, she signed her work Gustel K. Foust, Gustel Foust, G. Foust, and sometimes simply G.F. On some occasions, the cross stroke of the “T” in Foust would be omitted or unclear.

Foust’s art can be found in many museum and private collections around the world, including the Centro de Arte Moderno (Museo Miguel Aldana) in Guadalajara and the East Prussian State Museum in Germany.

Private collectors holding examples of Foust’s art include Luis Garcia Jasso, who owned the now-defunct Galería Vertice in Guadalajara, and many prominent families originally from East Prussia.

All four of Foust’s daughters became painters, while her only son, Curtis, maintains an informative website dedicated to his mother’s art.

Illustrations and acknowledgment

All illustrations are reproduced by kind permission of Curtis Foust; my sincere thanks to him for generously sharing details of his mother’s life and work. To see more of her paintings and batiks, please visit the Gustel Foust website.


  • Guadalajara Reporter : 18 May 1968; 12 Oct 1968; 26 Jan 1974
  • Gustel Foust (website) – http://www.gustelfoust.com
  • Informador 29 September 1967;  17 Nov 1968; 23 July 1975; 25 October 1976; 26 January 1980
  • J. Luis Meza-India. 1968. “Exposición de pintura: Gustel Foust.” Informador, 17 Nov 1968
  • Ojo del Lago, January 1992
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) 8 March 1964,15 March 1964 (p 25)

Plea for help

If you are able to provide more specific details (dates, gallery names) of Gustel Foust’s art exhibitions, especially those in Mexico, Germany and the U.S. please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Apr 032017

Author Martin M. Goldsmith was born 6 November 1913 in New York City and died in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, at the age of 80, on 24 May 1994. He wrote several acclaimed screenplays, including Detour (1945), adapted from his 1939 novel of the same name; Blind Spot (1947); and The Narrow Margin (1952) which earned him an Academy Award nomination.

He and his wife – Estela Quinn-Oaxaca (sometimes known as Stella), the younger sister of movie star Anthony Quinn – lived in Ajijic for a short time in the mid-1960s, while he was working on scripts for the TV series The Twilight Zone (1964).

Goldsmith, born and raised in New York City, left school at the age of 15 and spent several months hitchhiking and hopping freight trains across the U.S. By his early twenties, Goldsmith was selling the occasional story to magazines, and had moved to Mexico, where he wrote his first book, a crime novel entitled Double Jeopardy, published in 1938. By this time he was back in New York and about to move to Hollywood.

Once in the film mecca, Goldsmith took a job as a stage hand to get a close-up look at how movies were made. He completed his second novel, Detour, which was published in 1939. In 1944 Goldsmith sold the film rights to the Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), with the proviso that he write the screenplay. Using Goldsmith’s meticulously detailed screenplay which included lighting and camera angles, director Edgar G. Ulmer was able to shoot the entire movie in less than a week. The 1945 movie is now recognized as a film noir classic and was added to the National Film Registry in 1992.

Thereafter, Goldsmith and his wife seldom lived in any one place for very long, preferring an itinerant life to staying in the Hollywood limelight.

For a time, the couple returned to Mexico. His screenplay The Lone Wolf in Mexico (1947) is about a good-natured jewel thief, while a coastal fishing village became the setting for his well-received comic novel The Miraculous Fish of Domingo Gonzales (1950). The Kirkus Review compared “this light, satiric, fanciful fable of the coming of civilization (from America) to Puerto Miguel (Mexico)” favorably to Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, concluding that it was “a pleasantly entertaining chronicle of the doubtful benefits of today’s advancements”, with “a bubbling sense of local character and event”. The novel is set in a small, sleepy fishing village which is “developed” (and in danger of being corrupted) when an American buyer of shark livers comes to town to do business with laid-back, deadbeat shark fisherman Domingo Gonzales.

Both Martin and Estela had pilots’ licenses, and whenever they had the funds and the opportunity, they would travel. They lived in numerous different countries, leading to significant gaps between Goldsmith’s credits. From the mid-1960s on, Goldsmith and his wife spent more time traveling than writing.

In 1964, we learn from Anita Lomax, writing in the Guadalajara Reporter, that “noted Hollywood writer Martin Goldsmith and his wife Estelita (a sister of Anthony Quinn) who flew here in their Piper Comache … are staying a while with us in Ajijic at Casita Mas o Menos”. Three years later, Lomax reported that another Hollywood couple, Abner and Sybille Bidderman, who had first heard about Ajijic from the Goldsmiths, were visiting Ajijic.

Martin Goldsmith wrote more than a dozen screenplays, including Dangerous Intruder (1945); Detour (1945); The Lone Wolf in Mexico (1947); Blind Spot (1947); Shakedown (1950); The Narrow Margin (1952); Mission Over Korea (1953); Overland Pacific (1954); Hell’s Island (1955); Fort Massacre (1958); The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959); Cast a Long Shadow (1959); Point of Impact (1959); What’s in the Box (1964); The Encounter (1964); Narrow Margin (1990).

His TV scripts included episodes of Playhouse 90 (1958); Natchez (1958); Goodyear Theatre (1959) and The Twilight Zone (1964).

Goldsmith’s books included Double Jeopardy (1938); Detour: an extraordinary tale (first published in 1939); Shadows at Noon (1943), a fictional account of an enemy attack on Manhattan; and the comic novel The Miraculous Fish of Domingo Gonzales (1950). He also wrote Night Shift, a stage play which ran for 24 performances at the Labor Theater in New York in the fall of 1977, and an autobiography which was never published.

According to Richard Doody, when Goldsmith’s publisher asked him what to tell his readers about his life, “the author replied that it was enough to say that he was there yesterday, here today and “… God knows where I’ll be tomorrow.””

After a prolonged period of declining health, Martin M. Goldsmith died on May 24, 1994.


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.

Mar 302017

One of my more maddening failures in trying to piece together the history of the artistic and literary community at Lake Chapala has been my inability to corroborate the existence of the “Peter Arnold Art Studios” in Ajijic in the early 1950s.

The term appears in the obituary of author and serial adventurer Peter Elstob in The Independent (a now-defunct UK newspaper), written by his grandson, Ben West, but I have so far failed to find the exact same phrase used anywhere else. The Guardian obituary for Elstob refers to “Peter Arnold Studios”, omitting any mention of art. As we will see later, this may make more sense, though that writer’s claim that Peter Arnold began in 1951 is definitely false. Alex Bateman, in her valuable contribution to Ajijic: 500 years of adventurers (2011), also refers to “Peter Arnold Studios”.

“Peter Arnold” was not a real person, but a business name used in Ajijic by Peter Elstob and his associate, Arnold “Bushy” Eiloart. In their various joint ventures, which lasted well into the 1970s, these two long-time friends got up to all manner of creative enterprises. This particular joint venture promoted Ajijic as an artistic vacation and retirement destination. Participants were housed in the Posada Ajijic and other rental properties as needed.

Elstob lived in Ajijic from late 1949 to April 1952. Eiloart lived there from either late 1948, or early 1949 until April 1952. Both men (with Elstob accompanied by his future wife – artist Barbara Zacheisz – and their infant son) returned together to the U.K. from New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth, suggesting that this marked the end of their involvement in the “Peter Arnold” enterprise in Ajijic.

Peter Elstob did not return to Ajijic for more than a decade. Eiloart may also have returned; he is recorded as traveling from New York to the U.K. in March 1955, though it is unclear whether or not he had revisited Mexico.

Even after their departure from Mexico in 1952, the business name “Peter Arnold” continued to appear in adverts promoting Ajijic. Either Elstob and/or Eiloart continued to be partners in the enterprise, without taking any active role, or they passed the business on. The most likely recipient would be Bob Thayer, who took over as manager of Posada Ajijic, the small hotel where “Peter Arnold” had been based, at about the time they left.

The earliest “Peter Arnold” ads appeared in 1949; I have also seen ads from publications in 1950, 1954 and 1956. I have yet to find any ads for “Peter Arnold” in non-U.S. publications.

The earliest ads (1949-1950), claim it is more than possible to live in Ajijic on $80 a month. For example, the Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona (16 August 1950) reprints an ad from the New Yorker magazine:

“Mexico $80 a month per person includes food, liquor, cigarets, your own three bedroom furnished house and patio, maid, and 17 foot sloop on magnificent Lake Chapala. English American artist colony in fishing village. Winter temp. 75, summer 85. Write Peter Arnold, Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico.”

These adverts certainly attracted attention. Among those who saw this ad and decided to try his luck in Mexico was Jack Bateman who moved from New York to Ajijic with his wife Laura Woodruff Bateman and their three young children in 1952. The couple quickly became pillars of the local community, making exemplary contributions to the local social, cultural and artistic scene. Laura Bateman ran one of the village’s premier art galleries for many years in the late 1960s.

"Hacienda Garden". This real photo postcard, with logo "Peter Arnold", shows the gardens of Posada Ajijic and was mailed in 1951.

“Hacienda Garden”. This real photo postcard, with “Peter Arnold” logo, shows the Posada Ajijic gardens and was mailed in 1951.

No similar adverts by “Peter Arnold” appear in 1952 or 1953. When they reappear in 1954, the costs of retiring to Mexico have been revised upwards: the quoted monthly figure has risen to $90 a month. Very similar ads, also quoting $90 a month, appear in 1956. For example, the one placed in Elk Magazine (July 1956) reads as follows:

RETIRE ON $90 A MONTH or less in a resort area, 365 days of sun a year, dry temp. 65-85°. Or maintain lux. villa, servants, ALL expenses $l50-250 a mo. Am.-Eng. colony on lake 60 mi. long. 50 min. to city of 1/2 million, medical center. Schools, arts, sports. Few hours by air. Train, bus, PAVED roads all the way. Full-time servants, maids, cooks, $6 to $l5 a mo., filet mignon 35¢ lb., coffee 40¢, gas 15¢ gal. Gin, rum, brandy 65¢-85¢ fifth, whiskey $1.50 qt. Houses $lO mo. up. No fog, smog, confusion, jitters. Serene living among world’s most considerate people. For EXACTLY how Americans are living on $50—$90—$150—$250 a mo., Airmail $2.00 for 110 Pages current info., prices, roads, hotels, hunting, fishing and living conditions from Am. viewpoint (Personal check OK) to Peter Arnold, Box 12, Ajijic, Lake Chapala, Jal., Mexico.

The ads appeared in a wide range of national and local newspapers. Several distinct P.O. Box numbers appear in these adverts. By using different boxes for responses from different newspapers or groups of papers, the advertiser could gauge the success of different media.

An almost-identical version of this ad appeared in the Wall Street Journal, and was used as an example of good copywriting in John Caples’ Making Ads Pay: Timeless Tips for Successful Copywriting, first published in 1957. Caples wrote, “I read the copy and found that it packed more sales punch into a small space than any ad I had read in a very long time.”

Anyone responding to these adverts was sent an information booklet giving more details about Ajijic and the costs of living there.

Interestingly, none of the adverts mentioning “Peter Arnold” (even in its earliest iteration in 1949) mention art workshops. The ads claim only that it is possible to live or vacation inexpensively in this Mexican village which has an art colony. The lack of any specific reference to art workshops suggests that this enterprise was a purely hotel management or real estate venture. The term “Peter Arnold Art Studios” used in Peter Elstob’s obituary in his native U.K. was perhaps a vanity expression, putting a bohemian spin on what seems to have been a straightforward capitalist enterprise embedded in tourism, not art.

Despite its lack of any clear link to art workshops, this advertising campaign is worthy of further study. It is the earliest prolonged campaign I have found so far that aimed to persuade readers in the U.S. (and indeed elsewhere) that Ajijic was an attractive and inexpensive place to live.

In succeeding years, many similar claims have been made. It was not to be many more years before the publication of the first book actively promoting Ajijic as the ideal place in which to live cheaply “in paradise”.

How did Arnold Eiloart and Peter Elstob first hear about Ajijic?

This is the big, as-yet-unanswered question. Perhaps Eiloart and Elstob first heard about Ajijic, and the attractions of living there, from the London theater circles in which they moved? In 1946, the two men teamed up with actor Alec Clunes to raise £20,000 for the lease on the Arts Theatre in London. After buying the lease there was only enough money for one production: Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets. Fortunately, this was a financial success, and enabled them to finance several other plays, including the first production of The Lady’s Not For Burning by Christopher Fry.

The London theater and writing set at this time would have included friends of Nigel Millet and  Peter Lilley who had teamed up as “Dane Chandos” to write Village in the Sun (first published in the U.K. in 1945), their month-by-month account of building a home in San Antonio Tlayacapan, just to the east of Ajijic. It seems perfectly possible that Eiloart and Elstob would have known this book.

Millet lived in Ajijic from 1937 to his death in 1946. Prior to moving to Mexico, he had written (as “Richard Oke”) a biography, and several plays and novels, including Frolic wind (1929), a satirical gay comedy novel that was turned into a West End stage production in 1935. A revived run began on 10 November 1948 at Boltons Theatre, Kensington.

Almost certainly, Eiloart and Elstob would have met Peter Lilley in Ajijic at some time, but it remains unclear whether or not they knew one another prior to the creation of “Peter Arnold”.


  • Sincere thanks to Gail Eiloart for help in working out the timeline of her father’s visits to Ajijic.


  • The American Legion Magazine, October, November and December 1954  [eg Volume 57, No. 6 (December 1954)
  • Anon. 2002. Peter Elstob. Obituary in The Telegraph, 31 July 2002.
  • Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) August 16, 1950, page 16
  • The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) October 10, 1954, p 130
  • Elk Magazine, July 1956
  • Long Beach Independent (Long Beach, California), 5 Oct 1953, p 12
  • Los Angeles Times, 31 October 1954; 14 November 1954
  • New Yorker : 6 May, 13 May, 20 May, 22 Apr – all in 1950
  • Josephine Pullein-Thompson, 2002. “Peter Elstob. Writer with a passion for adventure and a flair for entrepreneurship“, The Guardian, 25 July 2002.
  • The Rotarian, October 1954, p62:
  • The Sandusky Register (Sandusky, Ohio) Tuesday, December 14, 1954
  • Ben West. “Obituary: Peter Elstob; Writer and Activist for International Pen”, The Independent (London, England), 9 August 2002.

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.

Mar 272017

English etrepreneur, balloon pilot and writer Arnold Eiloart (1907-1981) lived in Ajijic from either late 1948 or early 1949 until 1950, and again from 1951 to April 1952.

Arnold Beaupré Eiloart, usually known as “Bushy”, was born on 23 August 1907, at Whiteway Colony, Gloucestershire, in a tent in the middle of a field. His middle name (French for beautiful meadow) honors his place of birth. Whiteway is a Socialist (Tolstoyan) experiment, started by a group of intellectuals in 1898 near Stroud in Gloucestershire, which survives to the present day. Arnold’s parents were among the six men and two women who founded the colony, which advocated barter and espoused money and property rights. Arnold’s parents left the group shortly after Arnold was born and returned to a more conventional life in Kingston, Surrey, where his father resumed his career as a university chemistry lecturer.

In 1934, Eiloart married Mary Elizabeth Stokes (born 1912, then aged 22) in Chelsea, London. She later became a doctor and dermatologist. Mary gave birth to twins – one named March and one named April: Timothy March Beaupre Eiloart and April Gail Aideen Eiloart – who had been expected to arrive in February, but came prematurely on 29 December 1936.

Eiloart gained his flying certificate on a Tiger Moth, Gypsy 130 at Brooklands Flying Club on 29 September 1939.

After the couple separated in about 1940, the children were sent out of London to live with their grandmother. When the war ended in 1945, they returned to live with their mother in London, where she was then working as a doctor.

Eiloart and his first wife divorced in about 1946. He was later briefly married to artist Juliet Boggis-Rolfe (1917-1982), better known by her maiden name of Juliet McLeod.

It is unclear how Eiloart first heard about Ajijic, and the attractions of living there, but it is possible that this was from the London literary and theater circles in which he and business partner, author Peter Elstob, moved. In his daughter’s words, “Bushy dreamed of being a writer but did not have Peter’s flare.”

In 1946, Eiloart and Elstob teamed up with actor Alec Clunes to raise £20,000 for the lease on the Arts Theatre in London. After buying the lease there was only enough money for one production: Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets. Fortunately, this was a financial success, and enabled them to finance several other plays, including the first production of The Lady’s Not For Burning by Christopher Fry.

The London theater and writing set at this time would have included friends of Nigel Millet and  Peter Lilley who had teamed up as “Dane Chandos” to write Village in the Sun (first published in the U.K. in 1945), their month-by-month account of building a home in San Antonio Tlayacapan, just to the east of Ajijic.

Millet lived in Ajijic from 1937 to his death in 1946. Prior to moving to Mexico, he had written (as “Richard Oke”) a biography, and several plays and novels, including Frolic wind (1929), a satirical gay comedy novel that was turned into a West End stage production in 1935. A revived run of Frolic wind began on 10 November 1948 at Boltons Theatre, Kensington.

Eiloart flew from London to New York in November 1948 and reached Ajijic in late 1948 or early 1949. He lived there for at least eighteen months until September 1950, and returned to Ajijic to live there again from 1951 to April 1952.

In Ajijic, Eiloart partnered Elstob to form “Peter Arnold”, a joint venture that promoted Ajijic as a vacation and retirement destination. Participants were housed in the Posada Ajijic and other rental properties as needed. (Their joint real estate company in the U.K., “Peter Arnold Properties”, was active into the 1970s.)

The available evidence suggests that Eiloart arrived first in Ajijic, in either late 1948 or early 1949, with Elstob joining him there late in 1949. Eiloart’s daughter, Gail Eiloart, remembers visiting her father in Ajijic from August 1949 to September 1950. She sailed from Southampton as an unaccompanied 12-year-old on board the “Nieuw Amsterdam” to New York, where she was met by a family friend and put on a train south to be met by her father in Mexico City. She and her father left Mexico to return home the following year, taking a flight on 12 September 1950 from Monterrey to Brownsville, Texas.

Even though she was barely as teenager at the time, Gail Eiloart can still recall many of the characters she met during her twelve months in Ajijic, including violinist John Langley, artist Nick Muzenic, artist and explorer Toby Schneebaum, Herbert and Georgette Johnson and author Neill James. Helping her father at the Posada Ajijic was Dorothy (“Dolly”) Whelan, the partner of the artist Ernest Alexander.

Eiloart left Ajijic for the U.K. in April 1952, traveling with Peter Elstob, Barbara Zacheisz and their infant son, on board the Queen Elizabeth.

Eiloart with Colin and Rosemary Mudie, ca 1959. Credit: Getty Images.

Eiloart with Colin and Rosemary Mudie, ca 1959. Credit: Getty Images.

The two men’s next joint venture came in 1958, when Eiloart attempted a trans-Atlantic balloon flight from Tenerife to the West Indies.

The balloon had a four person crew – Eiloart, his son Tim, artist and sailor Colin Mudie and his wife Rosemary – with Peter Elstob keeping his feet on the ground and managing publicity. Eiloart had taken balloon training in the Netherlands, and may well have been the only British person holding a balloonist’s license at that time. The attempt ultimately failed, but set a record for a gas-powered balloon flight that stood for decades. The story of this extraordinary adventure is told in their joint book, The Flight of the Small World (1959).

Arnold Eiloart died 6 Feb 1981, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

[After his part in the balloon adventure, Eiloart’s son Timothy Eiloart (1936-2009), a chemical engineer, founded a series of companies, including Cambridge Consultants Ltd., the U.K.’s first independent contract research and development company. He later became actively involved in Green politics.]


  • Sincere thanks to Gail Eiloart for her assistance in sorting out the chronology of her father’s life.


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.

Mar 232017

American-born artist Barbara Jean Zacheisz Elstob painted in Ajijic in the early 1950s. She lived in Ajijic (where she met her future husband, the writer Peter Elstob) for more than two years, from late 1949 or early 1950 to April 1952.

Barbara Jean Zacheisz was born on 22 October 1924 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father, Chester E. Zacheisz was advertising manager of St. Louis University and only 37 years old when he died in March 1935. His widow, Claudette V. (McGowan) Zacheisz (known in the family as Claudia), was left with two young daughters: Virginia Lee (“Pat”) and Barbara Jean, the latter only ten years of age. Following her mother’s remarriage (to John “Jacky-Boy” K. Morton), Barbara Jean sometimes adopted his surname, calling herself Barbara Jean Morton.

Little is known about her early education but, in about 1947, having worked as a volunteer nurse (in her home town) during the war, Barbara, then 23 years of age, began to study art with Max Beckmann at the Art School of Washington University in St. Louis. Exiled from Germany, Beckmann, one of the most important painters of the first half of the 20th century, worked as an assistant professor in St. Louis for two years (1947-1949), before moving to New York City where he died in December 1950.

In 1949, Barbara, exhibiting as “Barbara Zacheisz”, was one of the talented young artists, all under the age of 26, whose work was shown at the St. Louis Artist Guild. The show opened on 28 February and ran to 7 March.

After St. Louis, she lived for a few months in New Mexico. It is unclear precisely when Barbara first arrived in Ajijic, but it appears to have been in late 1949 or early 1950. It may have been at the suggestion of Perry Rathbone, Director of the St. Louis City Art Museum, who had not only assisted Max Beckmann’s move to St. Louis, but was also a sponsor of the Ajijic summer art program. (The timing of Rathbone’s sponsorship of the Ajijic program is unclear, so it is equally possible that it was Barbara who first told Rathbone about art in Ajijic).

Barbara Jean Elstob: Chamula Indian. Date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Jean Elstob: Chamula Indian, Mexico. ca 1954.

Certainly, by the summer of 1950, Barbara was living in Ajijic, and had begun an affair with writer, entrepreneur and serial adventurer Peter Elstob. It was not, apparently, love at first sight. Elstob was co-organizing the “Peter Arnold Studios” in the village with his long-time friend Arnold “Bushy” Eiloart. It was Eiloart who, having talked Peter up to Barbara, first introduced them, only to be taken aback when told afterwards by Barbara that “he’s not so hot!”

The participants in Peter Arnold Studios were housed in the Posada Ajijic and other rental properties as needed. For most of Elstob’s time in Ajijic, his wife, Medora, remained in the U.K., looking after the couple’s first four children and preparing for the arrival of their fifth.

It is hard to imagine how Barbara’s emotions swung back and forth in 1950. By summer, she was in love with Peter Elstob, and was pregnant. Then, on 27 August, her mother died following a year-long illness. The obituary notice for her mother lists Barbara as living “at home” (i.e. in Missouri), suggesting that Barbara’s visit to Mexico was still being viewed, locally at least, as only a temporary one.

At about this time, Peter Elstob returned to the U.K. for a quick visit to his wife and children. When he returned to Ajijic at the end of September (1950) he was accompanied by his wife, Medora Leigh-Smith (clearly still determined to try to save their marriage) and two of their children: 11-year-old Penelope and 3-month-old Harry. The family lived together in Ajijic until May 1951 when Medora, recognizing that the marriage was over, returned to the U.K.

A few months earlier, in February 1951, Barbara had given birth to Elstob’s son, Peter Mayo Elstob, in Mexico City. Peter Mayo’s younger sister, Sukey, born a few years later in the U.K., recalls that her mother “often behaved as if her ‘real life’ began when she met our father. They were very much in love, right up to her death. He had enormous respect for her art and always supported her fully.”

Barbara Elstob. UNtitled. Date Unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Elstob. Untitled. Date Unknown.

During her time in Ajijic, in addition to painting, Barbara also became a part-time tutor to Katie Goodridge Ingram, who would, much later, open an art gallery in the village, and her brother. The teenage Ingram, whose other tutors included John Upton and John Carson, used to exercise Peter Elstob’s two horses and gave riding lessons to his art studio “guests”. She remembers Barbara living at the “Johnson” house, named for its long-time occupants: Herbert and Georgette Johnson, an English couple who moved to Ajijic just before the second world war broke out. Ingram, who regrets that Barbara never taught her art, adds that Barbara was a heavy sleeper and needed to be woken up every morning. Peter Elstob (and Medora when she visited) lived a few blocks away.

Among Barbara’s artist friends in Ajijic were Ernest Alexander and his partner Dolly, who ran the Club Alacrán restaurant-bar. Through all their subsequent moves, Barbara and Peter Elstob kept several of Alex’s fine photographs of Ajijic and Lake Chapala, which the family still treasure today. Barbara had strong opinions as well as a good sense of humor. One of her Ajijic anecdotes was about when she went to a party and saw a tall, strikingly good-looking Mexican artist across the room. She marched straight over to him, exclaiming “Why, you’re beautiful”, only to be met with the encouraging rebuttal that “No, YOU’RE beautiful… I’m handsome!”

Barbara Elstob. UNtitled. Date Unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Elstob. Untitled. Date Unknown.

In 1952, in order to remain close to his children, and with Peter’s marriage to Medora irretrievably broken, Peter and Barbara moved to the U.K. They arrived at Southampton (from New York) on 14 April 1952. The ship’s passenger manifest lists Peter Elstob as an author. The separate list of “aliens” (non-UK citizens) has Barbara Zacheisz, a 27-year-old artist, and her infant son, Peter. They settled briefly in St. Ives, Cornwall (1952), and married in Fulham, London, in September 1953, before living most of the following year in Tangier, Morocco.

Barbara Elstob. Preliminary sketch for painting. Date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Elstob. Preliminary sketch for painting. Date unknown.

Barbara Jean Elstob, as she was now known, continued to draw and paint, taking her sketchpads and painting gear with her wherever the family traveled. One of several unusual techniques she employed was to sketch out preliminary drawings for her paintings using newspaper text and columns to provide a ready-made grid within which to work out the best composition.

Barbara found inspiration for her art in the works of Joan Miró and she also admired the work of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. She rarely painted landscapes, preferring to paint portraits and groups of people. Her faces are distinctive and she painted several strikingly-powerful portraits of family members. The backgrounds in her work often feature repeating patterns, an effect achieved in some instances by applying spray paint using paper doilies as a mask. Like many other artists who found inspiration at Lake Chapala, many of her paintings use strongly contrasting colors and large, bold shapes.

Catalog, Arthur Jeffress (Pictures), 1955

Catalog, Arthur Jeffress (Pictures), 1955

In 1955, twelve of Barbara’s works were shown at Arthur Jeffress (Pictures), a gallery that had opened the previous year at 28 Davies Street, London. They included paintings from Mexico, St. Ives (1952) and Morocco (1954). Barbara also took part in a group show at the American Embassy in London.

In 1956, at the British Industries Fair at Earl’s Court in February, one manufacturer (possibly Lady Clare) was displaying a “range of glass dishes, tablemats and trays” featuring color “bull-fighting lithographs from Mexico drawn by Mrs. Barbara Elstob, who for some years ran a hotel in that country”. (Scenes of London painted by one of Barbara’s friends, American artist Judith Bledsoe, were used by the same manufacturer for a similar range of products.)

Barbara Jean Elstob: The Old Woman of St. Ives. ca 1973. Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Jean Elstob: The Old Woman of St. Ives. ca 1973.

Prior to the birth (in 1957) of their daughter, Sukey, Peter and Barbara lived for a short time in St. Ives, Cornwall (1952) and about a year in Tangier, Morocco (1954). They spent part of 1957 in Venice and returned to Tangier in 1958 when Sukey was a baby.

In the mid-1950s, Barbara Elstob renounced her U.S. citizenship in protest at McCarthyism and became a British citizen.

The family eventually settled in a large maisonette (multi-level apartment) on Belsize Park Gardens in London. Barbara’s studio was at the top of the building and she completed a steady stream of paintings, more than sufficient to hold an exhibit at The Basement, a small gallery near Regent’s Park in September 1973.

Barbara Jean Elstob: Tuscan Mountain Village. (Painted left-handed ca 1985). Reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob.

Barbara Jean Elstob: Tuscan Mountain Village. (Painted left-handed ca 1985).

Sadly, shortly afterwards, and at the very young age of 48, she suffered a massive stroke from which she never fully recovered. She completely lost the use of her right arm, her painting arm, but refused to stop painting. “Amazingly,” explains daughter Sukey, “she taught herself to draw and paint again with her left hand and although it was not quite the same, her wonderful style was completely recognisable.”

Peter Elstob remained devoted to his wife throughout the remaining twenty years of her life. The couple was able to enjoy traveling together and, among other trips, revisited Ajijic to see how it had changed. In 1980, a trip to Kenya turned into a real-life drama when they were stripped and robbed while strolling on a secluded beach. Only days later, they were dining in the restaurant of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi when a bomb exploded, killing 20 people and injuring 80 others.

Barbara Zacheisz Elstob died in Hampshire, U.K., at the age of 67, on 17 September 1992.

Illustrations / Credits / Acknowledgments :

  • The Old Woman of St. Ives is reproduced by kind permission of Ellie Elstob-Wardle (Barbara’s granddaughter). All other illustrations are reproduced by kind permission of Sukey Elstob (Barbara’s daughter).
  • Sincere thanks to Sukey Elstob and Steve Wardle, Katherine Goodridge Ingram, and Adele Heagney, Reference Librarian at the St. Louis Public Library.


  • Howard Derrickson. 1949. “Art and Artists: Young Painters in Guild Show”. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, 28 February 1949.
  • The Panama American. “New British Pottery has American Look”. The Panama American, 12 Feburary 1956, p 6.
  • Sedalia Weekly Democrat from Sedalia, Missouri, 1 September 1950, Page 2 : “OBITUARIES Mrs. Claudette V. Morton”
  • Regina Shekerjian. 1952. “You can Afford a Mexican Summer: Complete Details on how to Stretch your Dollars During an Art Trek South of the Border” in Design, Volume 53, 1952, Issue 8, pp 182-197.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri, 30 March 1950, p 12; 31 March 1935, p 51.

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Mar 202017

Peter Frederick Egerton Elstob (1915-2002) was a British author, adventurer and entrepreneur who lived in Ajijic from late 1949 until 1952.

Peter Elstob was born in London on 22 December 1915. The family lived in various places during Peter’s childhood, and his early education was in the U.S. where he graduated from Summit High School in New Jersey in 1934. He retained a mid-Atlantic accent throughout his life.

He ran away to sea and had reached Rio de Janeiro (and become engaged) before his father found him and persuaded him to attend the University of Michigan. When that failed to work out (Elstob failed the first year), his father then sent him to England to join the Royal Air Force. Some unauthorized stunt flying over the Queen Mary on its maiden voyage (to impress a girlfriend) soon put paid to that plan and Elstob was dismissed from the RAF.

Peter Elstob, ca 1968

Peter Elstob, ca 1968

Soon afterwards, he volunteered to fly with the Republican forces in Spain, but his intentions were thwarted when he was arrested on suspicion of being a spy and imprisoned for several months. His release from the Castle of Montjuïc prison in Barcelona, and expulsion to France, were due to the intervention of Medora Leigh-Smith, who subsequently became his first wife in Nice in 1937. Elstob’s experiences were the subject matter for his first novel, Spanish Prisoner (1939).

Soon after his marriage, Elstob became partners with Arnold “Bushy” Eiloart and his wife, Mary, in marketing Yeast Pac, a beauty mask product they had devised. The product was a success and gave both families financial security.

When the second world war broke out, Elstob’s application to rejoin the RAF was turned down, so he volunteered with the Royal Tank Regiment. He served in India, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Normandy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. This gave him material for several later books, including the novel Warriors for the Working Day (1960) which was widely translated and used in military classes to illustrate war-time life in a tank.

Following Elstob’s death, his former tank gunnery instructor, Chapman Pincher (long-time journalist and novelist) recalled one particularly memorable incident in Elstob’s “colorful career”:

“When I was his tank gunnery instructor at Catterick, Trooper Elstob always had money, a car and the necessary petrol. It transpired that all this derived from a chicken food that he was marketing. The packet admitted that the main ingredient was sawdust, but explained that this was to serve as a “filler” to offset the remainder, which, allegedly, consisted of high protein. Whether by accident or design, some of the packets eventually contained sawdust and little else and a court case ensued.
As the newspapers joyfully reported, the judge remarked that, perhaps, the real purpose of the product was to induce the chickens to lay eggs already packed in wooden boxes. Because Trooper Elstob was doing his military duty and looked like being a brave soldier, which he certainly became, he escaped with a fine.”

It is unclear how Elstob, back in civvy street after the war, first heard about Ajijic, and the attractions of living there, but it is possible that this was from the London literary and theater circles in which he moved.

In 1946, Elstob and his business partner Arnold Eiloart teamed up with actor Alec Clunes to raise £20,000 for the lease on the Arts Theatre in London. After buying the lease there was only enough money for one production: Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets. Fortunately, this was a financial success, and enabled them to finance several other plays, including the first production of The Lady’s Not For Burning by Christopher Fry. Elstob managed the theater single-handedly for three years.

The London theater and writing set at this time would have included friends of Nigel Millet and  Peter Lilley who had teamed up as “Dane Chandos” to write Village in the Sun (first published in the U.K. in 1945), their month-by-month account of building a home in San Antonio Tlayacapan, just to the east of Ajijic.

Millet lived in Ajijic from 1937 to his death in 1946. Prior to moving to Mexico, he had written (as “Richard Oke”) a biography, and several plays and novels, including Frolic wind (1929), a satirical gay comedy novel that was turned into a West End stage production in 1935. A revived run of Frolic wind began on 10 November 1948 at Boltons Theatre, Kensington.

In Ajijic, Elstob partnered Eiloart to form “Peter Arnold”, a joint venture that promoted Ajijic as a vacation and retirement destination. Participants were housed in the Posada Ajijic and other rental properties as needed. For much of Peter’s time in Ajijic, his first wife, Medora Leigh-Smith, remained in the U.K., looking after the couple’s first four children and preparing for the arrival of their fifth.

It was in Ajijic that Elstob met a young artist, Barbara Jean Zacheisz. Following his divorce from Medora, Elstob married Barbara in 1953. The couple had two children: Peter Mayo Elstob, born in Mexico City in 1951, and Sukey, born in the U.K. in 1957.

Elstob and Zacheisz left Ajijic for the U.K. in April 1952, traveling with their infant son and Estob’s business partner Arnold Eiloart on board the Queen Elizabeth.

The two men’s next joint venture came in 1958, when Eiloart attempted a trans-Atlantic balloon flight, with Elstob managing publicity. The attempt ultimately failed, but set a record for a gas-powered balloon flight that stood for decades. The story of this adventure is told in their joint book, The Flight of the Small World (1959).

Elstob’s other books included The Armed Rehearsal (1960); Warriors For the Working Day (1960); Bastogne: the road block (1968); Battle of the Reichswald (1970); Hitler’s Last Offensive (1971); The Condor Legion (1973); and Scoundrel (1986). The last-named is at least partly autobiographical according to Elstob’s family and friends.

In 1962, Elstob joined the writers’ organization PEN International, and later served (unpaid) as its general secretary and vice-president, during which time he was able to put the organization on a sound financial footing. He retired from this position in 1981.

Barbara suffered a severe stroke in 1973, from which she never fully recovered. Elstob remained devoted to his wife throughout the remaining twenty years of her life. The couple were able to enjoy trips together and revisited Ajijic on at least one occasion.

Elstob seems to have attracted adventures, danger and drama wherever he went. On a trip to Kenya in 1980, he and his wife were stripped and robbed while strolling on a secluded beach. Only days later, they were dining in the restaurant of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi when a bomb exploded, killing 20 people and injuring 80 others.

Barbara died in 1992. Elstob’s own life – adventurous, unconventional and incredible – ended in Burley, Hampshire, at the age of 86, on 21 July 2002.


  • Sincere thanks to Sukey Elstob for her help with compiling this profile of her father.


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Mar 162017

We looked in a previous post at the life and work of multi-talented German artist Paul “Pablo” Huf who spent his early childhood in Ajijic. Huf, born in Guadalajara in October 1967, is the elder son of two professional artists closely associated with Ajijic – Peter Paul Huf and Eunice Hunt. The family lived in Ajijic until Paul was six years old, at which point they moved to Europe, where they lived for a couple of years in southern Spain before eventually settling in Kaufbeuren in Bavaria, Germany.

After working as a car mechanic, social worker and educator, Paul Huf switched to art in his thirties and studied in Munich and Spain. After finding a box of his parents’ photos and mementos of Mexico while visiting them in Kaufbeuren, Paul Huf decided to research their courtship and revisit their old haunts. He returned to Mexico at age 40, for the first time since he had left as a child, and spent three months traveling to places where his parents had been more than forty years earlier, including San Blas, Ajijic, Zihuatanejo, Oaxaca and Veracruz.

The story of his parent’s romance is the basis for Huf’s fascinating contribution (“40 Años”/”40 Years”) to a group exhibition of work by German artists entitled Vistazo, La transformación de lo cotidiano, (“Glance, The transformation of everyday life“) held at the Museo Carrillo Gil in Mexico City from 15 March to 10 July 2007. During his travels, Huf wrote ten short texts that became the thread linking photographs and drawings recounting his parents’ love story. Here, for the very first time in English, are the ten short texts that Huf wrote for the exhibition.

1. San Blas

In January 1965 the Lions Club of San Blas organized a dance. Everyone attended. It had been a wonderful warm day, it grew dark early. The entrance was decorated with colored lanterns. Among the many guests who made their way to the party was a 25-year-old German.

Peter, who left Germany as a young man, had arrived a few weeks before from Texas and rented an apartment in the small fishing village to work on his art.

Eunice was 32, recently divorced after ten years of marriage. She had traveled to Mexico to rethink her life. She came from Canada, where she had studied art. Since she was the daughter of migrants from Banat, in Romania, she understood German.

Peter saw Eunice, and immediately liked her, but it was difficult to reach her because all the other men had also noticed this young woman. Peter pretended to know only German, so he managed to get some special attention. After the dance, they met every day in the square and took long walks with Eunice’s dog, Klara.

Eunice was impressed by an installation Peter had set up in his apartment. He darkened a room and hung a cord with an empty coconut from the ceiling. Inside the coconut was a candle. When the candle was lit, the cord swayed. Only with this flickering and unstable light could the black shapes be seen on the walls.

It was the beginning of a great love. In March, the couple moved to a large house on the square, where all rooms, except one, were uninhabitable due to spiders, dust accumulated over many years and piles of antique furniture.

Part of Paul Huf's 2007 exhibit in Mexico City. Credit: Paul Huf.

Part of Paul Huf’s 2007 exhibit in Mexico City. Credit: Paul Huf.

2. Desertion

In May of 1965 they were on a bus on their way to Mexico City; Peter had to go to the German consulate because his passport had expired. On arrival, they told him that his name was on a list of deserters, because he had ignored his call to military service. By the time more call-up letters arrived, he was already abroad. Nothing had kept him in his hometown.

Peter’s father had written a letter to the recruiting office, informing the relevant people that he was unable to communicate with his son. He himself had participated from the first day of World War II and had been a prisoner of war in France. He could not understand then, wrote his father, the behavior of his son.

Peter told the consul that he would stay in Mexico if they did not renew his passport. They renewed it.

3. Dogs and first class

A dog is an animal and animals travel with peasants and Indians in third class, thought the inspector. I am the inspector of the first class and these strange gringos have a dog with them. Animals should travel in the luggage compartment, but by no means in first class! You have to get him out, he has no right to be here, but the stupid gringo, overbearing, shows me a ticket, telling me that they have bought one for the dog! Who, what asshole, at the station, sold them a ticket for the dog?! A train ticket for dogs in first class! The dog even has a name, who has seen something like that?! A dog with a female name! The woman repeatedly caresses the black dog and calls him Klara. What nonsense! But I am the inspector of the first class and with me animals do not travel, even if they have a ticket, let alone when they have a name! Now, the guy tells me, to make matters worse, that Mexico is a democracy! Democracy, who cares? Mexico may be a democracy, but there is no democracy on this train; here I am in charge!

Halfway there, the train gradually slowed, until finally it stopped. The compartment door opened, the inspector stood in front of the couple, accompanied by two soldiers armed with machine guns readied for use. Accompanied by the soldiers, the inspector, and the machine guns, the pair got off the train. Klara was on a leash, as it should be. The other travelers watched the small group with curiosity. They walked on granite ballast under the hot sun until they reached the end of the train. They reached the luggage compartment, where they had to tie up the dog. They did not untie it until they reached Oaxaca.

4. Do You Know Arthur Rimbaud?

“I know him,” thought Peter, “that narrow guy, with his long hair hanging in his face, his tight, striped suit!” Then it occurred to him that they had often seen each other in Paris in the discos where they sat, listened to the latest discs of John Coltrane, and smoked cigarettes. Over the music the Frenchman had asked him: “Do you know Arthur Rimbaud?”. But when he wanted to answer, a woman had come up to them and interrupted the conversation. That had been a few years ago.

Now here was the guy standing in a bar in Oaxaca. Peter went up to him and said, “Of course I know Arthur Rimbaud!”

5. Dance

Jean was with a group of friends, mostly American women. Eunice and Peter joined them for cocktails, the atmosphere was good-humored. It was a pleasant night in Oaxaca, the flowers had a sweet smell. Afterwards they wanted to go dancing and the bartender directed them to a small street around the corner. They searched for a while until they found a house with a neon sign that said Love. The men there had opted to sit idly in a ragged room. When the volume of music rose, the Americans began to dance freely. At first, the regulars were surprised, but the atmosphere became hot as everyone wanted to dance with a gringa! The men were then offended when any of the women refused an invitation to dance, while the others continued dancing. More and more men rushed to join the dance, for the news quickly spread that there was a lively party in the former brothel.

Peter was the first to catch on, bringing chairs from all sides so that the women could sit, but as soon as a chair was vacated, the regular customers took it immediately.

It became late. By dawn, the women were completely exhausted and Peter accompanied them to the hotel. One by one they said goodbye. When only four of them remained, they clapped hands and promised to return the following night.

6. In Paradise

Mr. Campos was very happy to have rented the small house behind his barn. In Zihuatanejo, before the rainy season, it was always very hot, so very few tourists came.

Eunice woke up the first night because of a noise: she could hear hundreds of little feet walking nearby. When she got rid of the big mosquito net hanging over her bed, she turned on the light and found nothing unusual. However, she had the impression that lots of small pairs of eyes were watching her curiously from all sides.

They got up at five and went to the beach for a swim. On the way back they went shopping in the market. Afterwards, it was too hot to be outside. Eunice grabbed a tame iguana, which belonged to a fisherman’s child. The boy had taken the animal home and put it on the table. There it stood, paralyzed, for hours, while Eunice drew him.

They became friends of the inhabitants of the town and, as their house was the only one with a stone floor, they all liked to visit them to dance. Paradise is a beautiful place. One night they awoke because of a loud noise. A fat rat had fallen into the stone tank they used as a sink. The rat was swimming continuously in circles so as not to drown. Peter grabbed a towel and put it in the sink. The rat grabbed it, climbed up, quickly reached the edge, shook himself like a dog, and disappeared.

7. MS Orinoco

Every day Peter would go down to the port and ask if there was work. The wonderful days in paradise soon ended, and after three months he had returned to San Blas. Apparently, all the insects there who knew how to sting had come out at the same time. And then to complicate matters further, a guy arrived who went to Vancouver by car, taking Eunice with him. He was alone again, and without money.

He traveled to Veracruz in third class. He had once worked on a ship and knew that it was a large port. In a bar he met Harald, a German who, like him, had no documents but wanted to work on a ship. They got together and asked every day from boat to boat. They were told that, perhaps, once they could have worked on a ship without papers, but not now. Their money was running out. They moved from a decadent hotel to a worse one. Peter wrote letters to Vancouver, but received no reply.

One morning the rusty Norwegian cargo ship MS Orinoco received a large load of watermelons, which had to be taken to Portland and the crew needed immediate reinforcement. This was the chance the two Germans had been waiting for. The MS Orinoco was a ship that did not follow a fixed route but traveled to whichever ports had goods to be loaded. So they reached Portland, then Jamaica, then sailed for a long time in the Caribbean. The sea in the Caribbean is so lovely, says Peter, that one feels it is calling you. One of the sailors, Peter says, threw himself into the water and never came back up.

8. Toothache

The MS Orinoco had left the Caribbean and gone to Newfoundland; From there it carried dry fish to Jacksonville, Florida. Peter wrote letters to Vancouver. At every port the packager brought mail for the crew, but there was never anything for Peter. In Jacksonville, he began to have toothache: one of his fillings had fallen out and he had pus. It felt like the foreman of the ship was pounding his nerve with a giant hammer. On the way to Pensacola, Florida, the pain grew worse.

Before reaching New Orleans, in the Gulf of Mexico, the captain realized that they were facing a hurricane. The ship could not dodge it because it was too old and slow, so the MS Orinoco continued on its way into the storm. Hurricane Betsy broke on the rusty boat, struck it hard, shook it, destroyed the antennas and radar, and flooded the bridge. The ship and its crew fought for ten hours; miraculously they did not sink.

When they entered the port of Pensacola, Florida, Peter remembered he had toothache. The dentist in the harbor said to him: This molar looks horrible, the pain must have been awful. Peter replied: Yes, it was excruciating!

9. American Express

The rusty MS Orinoco had defied the hurricane but was heavily damaged. Another cargo was delivered in the Caribbean, then the ship crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Rotterdam. Here the crew was laid off and the Orinoco sent to the dry dock for a general overhaul.

Harald and Peter took their wages and went up to Amsterdam. They settled in a cheap hotel on the Damrak, shaved and showered, and went to the city to get their bearings.

When they crossed the Rembrandsplein, they passed an American Express office. Peter paused and said, “Wait a moment, Harald, I’ll just take one last look to see if any letter has arrived.”

Harald replied, “There’s nothing for you, you can forget that.”

But there was a letter: Eunice had written to him saying she had booked a flight to Amsterdam.

10. Return

In January 1967 Eunice and Peter boarded a cargo ship in Rotterdam bound for Veracruz. The cargo ship had five cabins for the numerous passengers, but they were the only guests on board.

Eunice had received all his letters and loved them. She had answered them but, because she always enclosed a few dollars in the envelopes, her replies had been lost along the way.

The ship left the great port. The couple looked back, toward Europe, which seemed smaller and smaller, as they hugged each other. After fifteen days of travel on the high seas, calm as a mirror, they were back in Mexico.

Eunice and Peter Huf, ca 1967. Photo courtesy of Eunice and Peter Huf.

Eunice and Peter Huf, ca 1967. Photo courtesy of Eunice and Peter Huf.


  • Sincere thanks to Paul Huf for granting his permission to reproduce the photo and texts of his exhibition in this post, and to Eunice and Peter Huf for permission to reproduce their photograph. All translations by Tony Burton.

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.

Mar 132017

James F. Kelly was a writer and novelist who lived in Ajijic for more than twenty years from the early 1960s. More usually referred to as Jim Kelly, James Frederick Kelly was born in 1912 (in Ohio?) and educated at Staunton Military Academy, Swarthmore College and Columbia University School of Journalism. He also studied at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, and at the US Maritime Diesel School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

During the second world war, he was a member of the Merchant Marine and remained in the US Naval Reserve after the war, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander by the time his service ended. Kelly’s naval career took him to ports-of-call ranging from New Zealand, New Guinea and the U.K. to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Ecuador; Peru and Chile.

kelly-james-insiderAfter the war, Kelly and his wife Gerda (a Danish-born model and circus performer) lived in Westport, where Kelly dedicated himself to writing while Gerda worked in the New York fashion industry. Kelly reviewed books regularly for The New York Times Book Review and The Saturday Review, wrote pieces for the New York Times Magazine and other publications and also undertook work, both creative and executive, for Compton and various other New York advertising agencies.

Kelly and Gerda, with their two children (Jill and James Jr.) moved to Ajijic at some point prior to October 1964. After moving to Mexico, he continued to write and to submit articles to U.S. publications. In October 1964, he took photographs of the piñatas at a party given for the 26th birthday of David Michael (son of Ajijic artist and boutique owner Gail Michael), “for an article he is doing for a New York publication.”

A few months later, “pretty, blond Jill Kelly”, is reported to have given a marionette show at La Quinta (Jocotepec’s best known hotel at the time), which “proved that talent runs in the family”.

In January 1966, Gerda and Jim Kelly purchased their own home in Ajijic: Casa Los Sueños (“House of Dreams”), the converted remnants of Ajijic’s former friary whose origins date back to the sixteenth century). They moved in to their new home, purchased from Ruth and Hunter Martin, the following month.

In the spring of 1966, the U.K. edition of Kelly’s novel On the Other Hand, Goodbye was published, and he was reported to be working on his next novel, which had a publisher’s deadline of August. (It is unclear which novel is being referred to here.)

In 1968 the couple founded and ran an Ajijic real estate venture, Servicios Unlimited. After eight months in temporary premises, the company moved into a building on Calle Independencia, opposite the Posada Ajijic, and next-door to Helen Kirtland’s looms (today, this is the store Mí México). In addition, Gerda Kelly worked as a columnist for the Guadalajara Reporter.

James Kelly continued to write the occasional piece for U.S. media into the 1970s, including an article about Dr Marcos Montaña Zavala and his wife Dra Soledad Ascensio de Montaña, who co-founded the Sanatorio de Santa Teresita, a health clinic in Jocotepec. This piece first appeared in Spanish in Selecciones (August 1970) and then in Reader’s Digest later that year.

James Kelly was the author of at least six novels: From A Hilltop (1941); The Insider (1958); On the Other Hand, Goodbye (1965); No Rest For The Dying (New York: Nordon Publications 1980); Music From Another Room (Dorchester Publishing, 1980) and Blind Passage (date unknown).

Music From Another Room is a murder mystery set in Michoacán, Mexico at the fictional hotel Hacienda de las Golondrinas. The characters and plot are eminently believable, testament to Kelly’s keen powers of observation and good knowledge of Mexico.

James Kelly passed away in December 1993; Gerda died five months later.


  • My sincere thanks to Jill Kelly Velasco for her help in compiling this profile of her father.


  • Guadalajara Reporter: 8 October 1964; 7 January 1965; 9 September 1965; 20 January 1966; 26 February 1966; 2 April 1966; 29 July 1967;  21 June 1969; 8 August 1970; 20 April 1974; 6 September 1975;
  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).

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.

Mar 092017

John Kenneth Peterson, known in his family as “Kenny”, was born in San Pedro, Los Angeles, on 24 September 1922, to Andrew Gustof Peterson (1886-1957) and Edith Anna Danielson (1892-1973). He passed away in Ajijic, Mexico, in 1984, at the age of 61, and is buried in San Diego.

Peterson was active in the Ajijic art community, for some twenty years, living from sales of his art and teaching from when he first arrived in the village in the mid-1960s.

John K. Peterson. "Lago Chapala" (1973)

John K. Peterson. “Lago Chapala” (1973)

As a child, Peterson began painting at the age of five, while recuperating from a serious illness. He graduated from Point Loma High School in San Diego in 1941. Two years later, he began a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy. On 24 June 1944, a year after entering the Navy, Peterson, 5′ 11″ tall with blond hair and blue eyes, married Josephine Ornelas. They had met in Bangor, Maine, and married in Orlando, Orange County, Florida. Ornelas was born in 1926 in El Paso, Texas, into a family originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. After an early career in modeling, she became one of the first female police officers in Richmond. The couple had three children: two girls and a boy, but separated and divorced in the mid-1960s.

After the war, Peterson, who had completed a few murals and portraits on his own time during his stint in the Navy, tried a succession of jobs, before opting to use his G.I. Bill entitlement to study at the Coronado School of Fine Arts in Coronado (near San Diego), California. He studied there four years (1948-1952), spending several summers (1949, 1950 and 1952) in Guadalajara. His tuition was covered by G.I. funds and scholarships.

John K Peterson. Self-portrait. ca 1952. Reproduced by kind permission of Monica Porter.

John K Peterson. Mirror image self-portrait. ca 1952. Reproduced by kind permission of Monica Porter.

He stayed on at the Coronado School of Fine Arts to teach watercolor techniques and engraving until 1954. During his time in the San Diego area, he completed seven murals in Coronado, and one – “Tahitian Dancers” – in 1952 at the Navy Fleet Sonar School. Peterson’s self-portrait from this time remains a prized family possession.

His art teachers included Monty Lewis, José Martinez [Guadalajara] and Dan Dickey (oils and frescoes), Donal Hord (sculpture), F. Robert White (drawing and etching), Eloise Bownan (portraiture), Frederick O’Hara (wood block cutting) and Rex Brandt, James Cooper White, Doug Kingman and Noel Quinn (watercolors). By coincidence, Kingman had also taught another long-time Lakeside artist, Eleanor Smart.

Throughout his life, Peterson was always ready to play a part and a San Diego newspaper from 1952 has a photograph of him lounging in fancy dress at the “Third Annual Costume Arts Ball”, held in Hotel del Coronado. More than twenty years later, he won first prize at the 1973 Halloween Costume Dinner Dance organized by the Tejabán restaurant in Ajijic. In the mid-1970s, Peterson was persuaded by hotelier Morley Eager, the newly-arrived proprietor of the Posada Ajijic, to dress up as Santa Claus to distribute presents bought by the Eagers for the village children. He may have been the first Santa the village kids had seen. According to Terry Vidal, who reviewed hundreds of paintings done over the years by young artists in the Lake Chapala Society’s Children’s Art Program, the earliest children’s art to feature Santa Claus dates back to about the same time.

Peterson’s two most noteworthy artistic achievements during his few years in Coronado were opening his own gallery, The Sidewalk Studio (131, Orange Ave.) in 1953, and winning the “People’s Choice” award at the 2nd annual exhibition of San Diego county artists in that same year, for a watercolor entitled “Red Can”.

John K Peterson. Laundry day, Ajijic. 1965.

John K Peterson. Laundry day, Ajijic. 1965.

In December 1954, Peterson moved to the San Francisco Bay area and entered the commercial art world, establishing the family home five years later in Point Richmond. He worked as an illustrator-engraver at Fiberboard & Co. in San Francisco, and also opened a gallery, the Triangle Art Gallery (TAG), in partnership with fellow artists Herbert Wasserman and Richard Godfrey. TAG (at (267 Columbus Ave.) opened in June 1956 with a showing of works by the three partners. Two months later, a show of drawings, lithographs and etchings by Richard Diebenkorn, James Budd Dixon, Walter Kuhlman, Edwin Durham and Frank Lobdell, together with sculpture by Sargent Johnson opened at TAG.

TAG hosted a North Beach Artists Group Show in December 1956, followed by an exhibit of paintings by Toshi Sakiyama in February 1957. A month later, a one person show of works by Peterson opened at TAG. The original TAG (another gallery of this name operated in San Francisco from 1961 to 2011) held its 1st Annual Exhibition from 16 June to 13 July 1957.

Peterson was accepted into the San Francisco Art Association (one of oldest in the U.S., and the oldest in California) in 1958, his work having been “previously exhibited in several of the SFAA annual shows”.

After about a decade in San Francisco, Peterson moved to Los Angeles in about 1962 and took a position as art director and illustrator at the Sterling Die Co. After two years in this position, Peterson, now separated from Josephine Ornelas, moved to Guadalajara. He lived and painted in the city during 1964 and 1965 before deciding to improve his prospects by moving to the village of Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Within months, he had opened a studio-gallery and was giving private art classes to help make ends meet. Apart from vacation trips and a spell in San Diego Veterans Affairs hospital, he lived in Ajijic for the remainder of his life.

Living in Ajijic proved to be a wise decision. Peterson found time to focus on his art and participated in an extraordinary number of exhibits during his time in the village.

He was a founding member of both Grupo 68, an Ajijic art co-operative that was active from 1967 to 1971, and Clique Ajijic, the loose collective that succeeded it in the mid-1970s.

Other members of Grupo 68 included Peter Huf, his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf, Jack Rutherford and Don Shaw. The members of Clique Ajijic included Sydney Schwartzman, Adolfo Riestra, Gail Michaels, Hubert Harmon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Tom Faloon and Todd (“Rocky”) Karns.

The earliest show I’ve found recorded for Peterson in Mexico was in a group show by the four main members of Grupo 68 and friends at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque which opened on 20 January 1968. (Other artists on that occasion included Gustavo Aranguren, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, Rodolfo Lozano, Gail Michael, Hector Navarro, Don Shaw and Thomas Coffeen Suhl.) This was the start of regular Friday exhibits at the store.

From early in 1968, Peterson exhibited regularly (most Sunday afternoons) in Grupo 68 shows at the Hotel Camino Real in Guadalajara, and in many group shows in Ajijic, some at Laura Bateman’s Rincón del Arte gallery, and (later) in “La Galería”, the collective gallery the artists co-founded at Zaragoza #1, Ajijic.

Confusingly, “La Galería” was also the name of an existing gallery in Guadalajara (at Ocho de Julio #878) where the Grupo 68 artists and others (including Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Allyn Hunt, Tully Judson Petty and Gene Quesada) participated in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show of prints, drawings, wood cuts in June 1968.

The following month, Grupo 68 was exhibiting in the Tekare penthouse in Guadalajara (16 de Septiembre #157, 10th floor). That show was very favorably reviewed by Allyn Hunt in his “Art Probe” column in the Guadalajara Reporter, 27 July 1968). Concerning Peterson’s work, Hunt wrote that, “John Peterson displays several mosaic-like watercolors, the best of which are his ferris wheel pictures and “Butterfly”.”

Laura Bateman’s gallery in Ajijic, Rincón del Arte, “re-opened” in September 1968 as an artists’ co-operative, nominally headed by Grupo 68 artists, with a group show featuring works by Tom Brudenell, Thomas Coffeen Suhl, Alejandro Colunga, Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, John K Peterson, Don Shaw, Jack Rutherford and Joe Wedgwood. Grupo 68 joined with Guadalajara artist José María Servín the following month for a show at Galería del Bosque, Guadalajara, sponsored by the Organizing Committee of the Cultural Program for the XIX Olympics, being held in Mexico City.

Peterson held a solo show at Rincón del Arte, Ajijic, in November 1968, mainly comprised of pastels and watercolors, with Allyn Hunt, in his review, describing Peterson as “probably the area’s most provocative artist when dealing with conventional nudes.”

Naturally, Peterson was also involved in the month-long group show entitled “Art is Life; Life is Art” that marked the re-opening of La Galería in Ajijic (at Zaragoza #1) in December 1968. The artists on that occasion were Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Kenneth Peterson, Jack Rutherford, José María de Servín, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons, and Joe Wedgwood. Only a few days after that show opened, Peterson was in Guadalajara for the opening of a Collective Christmas Exhibition at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728) which also featured works by Thomas Coffeen, Gustel Foust, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf and several famous Mexican artists: David Alfaro Siqueiros; Alejandro Camarena; José María Servín and Guillermo Chávez Vega.

Peterson’s pastels and paintings in a group show at La Galería, Ajijic, in April 1969 hung alongside works by Charles Henry Blodgett, John Brandi, Tom Brudenell, Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, Jack Rutherford, Don Shaw, Cynthia Siddons and Robert Snodgrass.

All four Grupo 68 regulars – Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Kenneth Peterson and Don Shaw – held a show at the Instituto Aragón (Hidalgo #1302, Guadalajara) in June. At the end of that same month, Peterson won 3rd prize in the abstract painting category in the juried show, “Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit”, marking “American Cultural Week” in Guadalajara. The show featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende.

This was about the time when pulp fiction writer Jerry Murray first arrived in Ajijic and he later recalled how Peterson, “a jovial bearded guy” and “local resident artist” had helped him find a place to rent. Peterson’s studio, says Murray, was “cluttered with half a dozen easels with paintings on them and uncounted half-filled rum, brandy, and soft drink bottles.” Peterson and some of his exploits are also described in Henry F. Edwards’s The Sweet Bird of Youth (2008). In this thinly described, fictionalized autobiography about life in Ajijic in the 1970s, Edwards devotes an entire chapter to “George Johannsen”, a “General Custer lookalike”.

An Easter Art Show at Posada Ajijic in March 1970 saw Peterson exhibiting alongside Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Peterson, John Frost, Don Shaw, Bruce Sherratt and Leslie Sherratt.

In the summer of the following year, Peterson was one of the many artists with works in the Fiesta de Arte held on 15 May in a private home in Ajijic. (Among the artists involved in this show were Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.)

An advert for Peterson’s exhibit in June 1972 at El Tejabán restaurant-gallery says that after the show ends, Peterson is headed to New York for a one-man show. The details of this show remain unclear. It is also referred to in a Guadalajara Reporter profile of Peterson written by Joe Weston in July 1972. Weston describes Peterson as “a blonde, red-bearded Viking giant”, and quotes him as saying that, “I’m not owned by people or money or time… I dance and I drink and I like women and I talk loud and I shout with enthusiasm….” Asked why he likes Ajijic, Peterson responds that, “I like it here, the people, the colors, the general ambience, the way of life, the economics. That’s why I stay. But I’m not tied here. There are probably other places in the world as good or better. When I want to find them, adios!”

Local art critics were invariably impressed by the high quality of Peterson’s work. For example, Allyn Hunt, reviewing Peterson’s solo show at the Camino Real Hotel in Ajijic in September 1972, praised this “dexterous draftsman”, his “excellently-rendered pastels” and his “nimbly-produced sketches”. A year later, Hunt described Peterson’s exhibit at the Tejabán restaurant-gallery: water colors of Mexican street scenes created by slashing pointillist patchwork of pastel color, as well as carnival merry-go-rounds and “a deftly executed series of glowing nudes done in chalk”. Hunt found that the street-scapes were “at once delicate in their filigree form and vigorously bold in their deep overlaying hues”. Novelist and Hollywood screenplay writer Ray Rigby wrote that “John Peterson combines strength and violence with a forgiving hand. His flair for fantasy intermingles with reality… John Peterson’s work is fun.”

John K Peterson. Funeral Procession. ca 1975

John K Peterson. Funeral Procession. ca 1975

Peterson’s ability to capture a scene with rapid brush strokes was remarkable. Earl Kemp’s Efanzine of July 2002 (Vol. 1 No. 3) includes the following description of Peterson’s painting of a funeral held in Ajijic: “It [the funeral] was so big, in fact, it inspired local Impressionist painter John K. Peterson to immortalize the event on canvas. His picture shows a street scene looking right down the middle of the street to where, three blocks away, the Cathedral stands. From every doorway the townspeople are pouring, as if on cue, and forming a funeral procession down the center of the street to the church where the ceremony in honor of the passing of Pepe’s father would take place.”

John K Peterson. Chapala Pier. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of Alan Pattison.

John K Peterson. Chapala Pier. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of Alan Pattison.

Alan Pattison, who knew the artist well, describes a Peterson painting (above) that he owns and loves: “It is the old marina and pier in Chapala. The guys on the pier are bringing in a net full of fish. … Note the circular movement around the boat – John told me that the guy (whom John knew) was so hungover he could not get the boat out of the marina and was just going in circles. Note also the black sun – John told me that he too was hungover when he was painting the scene and the morning sun was in his eyes and it “pissed him off” hence, he painted it black!”

During the lifetime of the Clique Ajijic collective, Peterson exhibited in their group shows at Villa Monte Carlo in Chapala (March 1975); Galería del Lago, Ajijic (Colón #6; August 1975); the Hotel Camino Real, Ajijic (September 1975); Galería OM, Guadalajara (October 1975); Club Santiago, Manzanillo (October 1975); Akari Gallery, Cuernavaca (February 1976) and the American Society of Jalisco, Guadalajara (February 1976).

Besides these shows, Peterson participated in the “Nude Show” that opened at at Galeria del Lago in Ajijic in February 1976. Other Lakeside artists in this show included John Frost, Synnove (Schaffer) Pettersen, Gail Michel, Dionicio, Georg Rauch and Robert Neathery.

In June 1976, Peterson’s watercolors and engravings featured in a two-person show with the drawings and graphics of Kuiz López at the Villa Monte Carlo in Chapala.

Alan Pattison recalls that the artist’s studio in the early 1970s was on the second floor of a building on the west side of Calle Colón, part-way down towards the lake from the square. Earlier in his life, Peterson had met Ella Fitzgerald and had painted her a couple of times. One of the paintings was “especially whimsical, musical and alive”. He continued to love blues music throughout his life, and usually had blues music playing in the background while he worked.

In the late 1970s, Peterson suffered a serious accident, falling from his studio onto an outdoor sink below. The resultant head trauma caused Peterson to forgo his previous palate of darker tones and his paintings became brighter. He moved away from abstract and impressionist works towards pastels whose predominant colors were bright yellow, green, orange, blue and turquoise.

During his lengthy and prolific artistic career, Peterson had painted murals in San Diego and Los Angeles, and exhibited in New York, Cleveland, Youngstown, Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego and in many other major cities.

John K. Peterson was one of a kind. His artistic versatility extended to stained glass, fresco, sculpture, water colors, oils and wood blocks. According to Weston, in the small casita near the lake which he rented for $25 a month, he worked six hours a day and completed an average of 30 paintings a month. His generosity to friends and admirers of his work was legendary. In Weston’s words, he “might – and often does – give one of his works to somebody who likes it and can’t afford to buy it.”

In 1978 and again in 1979, Peterson applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship to undertake an artistic study of indigenous Indian life “to capture the richness of vanishing Indian culture” in Latin America. He was not successful on either occasion.

Peterson’s partner in later life was sculptor Margo Thomas (ca 1917-2011), fondly recalled by his daughter, Monica Porter, as “a very kind and wonderful woman”. Porter and Peterson’s sister, Marion Lee, met Thomas on several occasions in Ajijic. The artist’s relationship with Thomas was not all smooth sailing. On one occasion, after he had completed a large mural for her, the couple had a spat and so he refused to sign it. The couple traveled in Europe together but drifted apart as Peterson began to require more medical care in his final years.

John Kenneth Peterson, one of Ajijic’s larger-than-life characters, made invaluable contributions to the village’s cultural and artistic life and continued to paint until 28 August 1984, when he died of a brain aneurysm in his sleep. [1] A retrospective exhibition of his works was held at “El Lugar”.


[1] CR 15 Sep 1984 erroneously gives John K. Peterson’s date of death as 2 September 1984; his Jalisco death certificate states that he died on 28 August 1984.


Thanks to Karen Bodding, Michael Eager, Tom Faloon, Alan Pattison for sharing with me their memories and knowledge of John K Peterson. Special thanks to Dani Porter-Lansky for providing me with copies of reviews, exhibit invitations, and other published and unpublished documents pertaining to her grandfather’s life, and Monica Porter.

This is an updated version of a post first published on 21 July 2014.


  • Efanzine – July 2002 – –e*I*3- (Vol. 1 No. 3) July 2002, published and copyright 2002 by Earl Kemp.
  • Coronado Eagle and Journal: Number 26 (28 June 1973).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968 ; 15 June 1968; 27 July 1968; 14 Sep 1968; 28 Sep 1968; 24 October 1968; 9 Nov 1968; 16 Dec 1968; 19 April 1969; 26 April 1969; 21 Mar 1970; 3 Apr 1971; 3 June 1972; 1 Jul 1972; 23 Sep 1972; 9 Jun 1973; 10 Nov 1973; 21 June 1975; 15 August 1975; 31 Jan 1976;
  • El Informador : 20 April 1969
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram. 1976. “Lake Chapala Riviera”, Mexico City News, 20 June 1976, p 13.
  • The San Diego Union : 9 March 1952

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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Mar 062017

The Jesuit philosopher and author José Sánchez Villaseñor was born in Sahuayo, Michoacán, on 6 September 1911 and died on 18 June 1961, shortly before what would have been his fiftieth birthday.

José was the fifth child in a large and very religious family, whose home in Sahuayo was at Madero #60, one block north of the town’s plaza. The family moved away before José’s third birthday when revolutionaries took Sahuayo and caused massive disruption, closing schools and businesses.

The family moved to Guadalajara. In 1914, this involved a long, arduous, full day of travel. First, they rode on horseback for four hours from Sahuayo across the marshes bordering the lake to reach the small fishing village of La Palma. At 1 pm, the steamboat, “The Maid of Honor”, left La Palma on its regular one-hour crossing of the lake to Ocotlán. From Ocotlán it was a four-hour train ride to Guadalajara.

[This family relocation via La Palma is very similar to that undertaken in about 1897 by the family of José Rubén Romero (1890-1952) and described in detail in Romero’s Apuntes de un lugareño (1932). The relevant extract, with commentary, is included in my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travelers’ Tales.]

José Sánchez Villaseñor completed his primary school education in 1925. There was no secondary school at that time, so he immediately started classes at the Instituto de Ciencias, a Jesuit-run preparatoria.

Family summer holidays (July and August) in José’s childhood years were spent at the Las Gallinas ranch in Michoacán, south of Cojumatlán. Situated some 600 m above Lake Chapala, it afforded commanding views over the new recently-reclaimed farmland  and across the lake to the northern shore, from San Juan Cosalá in the west to La Barca in the east.

Sánchez Villaseñor left Guadalajara in 1927, a year before his mother’s death, and, at the age of sixteen, joined the Jesuits. He spent most of the next nine years studying at Ysleta College in El Paso, Texas, where the classes ranged from theology and ancient languages to science and philosophy.

He then returned to the Instituto de Ciencias in Guadalajara, where he taught for a few years, before being sent to Italy in 1939 to continue his education at the Universidad Gregoriana in Rome. Two months after he arrived, the second world war began. In 1941, Sánchez Villaseñor was hospitalized with pneumonia. He returned to Mexico, still very ill, on a Venezuelan ship and received treatment in the Sanatorio Español in Mexico City.

Once recovered, he studied for a doctorate in philosophy at the National University (UNAM) in Mexico City, completing a thesis on the work of José Gaos. According to his contemporaries, he saw philosophy as an experimental activity, one that was based on non-transferable experiences and was both subjective and dependent on the historical moment when they occurred.

After Mexico City, he was then sent to West Baden College, Indiana, to complete his theological studies. He was ordained on 13 June 1946, and gave his first mass in Mexico the following year when he returned to teach briefly in Mexico City before being sent to Montevideo, Uruguay, for a year (1948-1949).

In the 1950s, and despite suffering from ill health, Sánchez Villaseñor was active in the foundation of Mexico City’s Ibero-American University (Universidad Iberoamericana de la ciudad de México). At that institution, he established the career paths of Industrial Relations (1953), Business Administration (1957) and a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences (1960), the earliest such program in Mexico.

As a multilingual Jesuit philosopher, he published several books, including El sistema filosófico de Vasconcelos: ensayo de crítica filosófica (1939); Pensamiento y trayectoria de José Ortega y Gasset (1943); Gaos en Mascarones: La crisis del historicismo y otras ensayos (1945); and Introducción al pensamiento de Jean-Paul Sartre (1950). An English edition of his work on José Ortega y Gasset, translated by Joseph Small, was published in 1949 by the Henry Regnery Company, New York, as Ortega y Gasset Existentialist – A Critical Study of His Thought and Its Sources.

In addition to his academic works, he also wrote poetry, including one entitled “Tristezas y recuerdos” which recalls his youthful summer vacations overlooking Lake Chapala. The poem, roughly translated, opens as follows:

I would like the beauty of the Michoacán woods,
And the perfume of her lilies, which in my childhood hours
I gathered in her fields when the sun was already declining,
And its dying rays reflecting in the waters
Of the great Lake Chapala with gold and purple iridescence.
I would like that sky to show signs of scarlet,
The silence of its valleys, and the blue of its mountains.
I would like from her woods, the weeping of the waterfall,
The bleating of sheep, and the lowing of the cattle.
In short, I would like to see the summits of oaks crowned,
The daring silhouettes that rise into the sky
And weave with her fond memories a garland . . .

This profile relies heavily on the extended biography of José Sánchez Villaseñor written by his brother Luis, a fellow Jesuit priest.


  • Luis Sánchez-Villaseñor. 1997. José Sánchez Villaseñor, S.J: 1911-1961. Notas biográficas. (Tlaquepaque, Jalisco: ITESO.) (Editorial Conexión Gráfica, June 1997,)

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.

Mar 022017

Multi-talented German artist Paul “Pablo” Huf, the elder son of two professional artists closely associated with Ajijic – Peter Paul Huf and Eunice (Hunt) Huf – was born in Guadalajara in October 1967. According to his parents, his first word was alacrán (scorpion) because of the large number of those arachnids that shared their humble adobe-walled village home.

When Paul was six years old, the family moved to Europe, where they lived for a couple of years in southern Spain before eventually settling in Peter Huf’s home town of Kaufbeuren in Bavaria, Germany.

Paul Huf became an artist late in life and eventually returned to Mexico, at age 40, after finding a box of his parents’ photos and mementos of Mexico. He carried scans of them with him as he researched the story of how his parents first met and fell in love. This story formed the basis for Pablo Huf’s fascinating contribution to a group exhibition by German artists in Mexico City in 2007.

Huf does not consider that having being born in Mexico has had any particular influence on his art. His inclusion in this series of profiles of artists associated with Lake Chapala is justified on two counts: first, the fact that he spent his early childhood in Ajijic and, second, that he subsequently researched the history of his parents’ links to Ajijic and other parts of Mexico.

In his twenties, Paul Huf worked for several years as a car mechanic, studied social work and became a parole officer in Munich, but at the age of 30, he suddenly switched tracks and began seven years of formal art studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and at the Fine Arts Academy in Valencia, Spain. Since completing his studies in 2004, he has steadily built a career as a professional artist, with extended working periods in Sibiu (Romania), Amsterdam and in Pas du Calais (France).

Paul Huf’s artistic works combine photography, drawing and concept arts with writing.

Prior to his Mexico City exhibit, Huf spent time researching other artists who had been close friends of his parents in Mexico (such as Jack Rutherford, John K. Peterson and the other members of Grupo 68) and then spent three months in Mexico visiting places where his parents had been more than forty years earlier, including San Blas, Ajijic, Zihuatanejo, Oaxaca and Veracruz. One of his most surprising encounters was with someone who remembered partying with his parents in Zihuatanejo back in the mid-1960s!

Part of Paul Huf's 2007 exhibit in Mexico City. Credit: Paul Huf.

Part of Paul Huf’s exhibit in Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, 2007. Credit: Paul Huf.

Based on his travels, Huf wrote ten short texts that became the thread linking the photographs and drawings in his contribution (“40 Años”/”Forty Years”), which was 3 meters in height and occupied 24 meters of wall space in the group exhibition entitled Vistazo, La transformación de lo cotidiano, (“Glance, The transformation of everyday life”). (The other artists in this show, held at the Museo Carrillo Gil in Mexico City from 15 March to 10 July 2007, were Uli Aigner, Benjamín Bergmann, Heike Dossier, Martin Fengel, Tom Früchtl, Haubitz+Zoche, Heribert Heindl, Endy Hupperich and Martin Wöhrl). Huf’s short stories were painted “Mexican style” on the walls of the museum by two rotalistas (Mexican advert painters/calligraphers). In conjunction with the display, slides of old family photos, newspaper clippings and examples of the invitation cards used for 1960s art exhibitions were projected onto the wall.

As Paul Huf rightly concluded, and his exhibit demonstrated, his parents’ Mexican love story is both special and glamorous. In 2014, when my wife and I had the opportunity to visit his parents, it was evident that both Eunice and Peter Huf had particularly fond memories of Ajijic in the 1960s and felt honored to have had their story publicly retold by their son. It was equally clear that their time in Mexico had continued to exert a very strong influence, especially on Peter’s own artwork.

Paul Huf currently lives in Munich, Germany, with his wife and two young children. He returned again to Mexico in 2008 and showed work in an exhibition entitled Hermandades Escultoricas (“Sculptural Brotherhoods”) at the Museo Fernando García Ponce-Macay in Mérida, Yucatán.

Huf has regularly exhibited works in Munich galleries since 2000. In addition, he has participated in shows in Rimini, Italy (2002); Amsterdam (2006); Belgium (2008); Sibiu, Romania (2008); Dunkirk, France (2008); Pecs, Hungary (2010) and Berlin, Germany (2011).

His work, ranging from a radio play to a “soccer-literature contest”, has won several awards, and one of his diptychs (two hinged plates), a work entitled “USA, 2005” was acquired for the Bavarian State Painting Collection. As a writer, he has published several collections of short stories, including You have to be as cool as Alain Delon, sagte Zelko (2006) and Vom Tod und vom Alkohol (“Of death and alcohol”) (2006).

Paul “Pablo” Huf may have tried in his twenties to escape the artistic magnetism of a childhood at Lake Chapala, but his inner creative drive eventually emerged and won out. The journey he then undertook to retrace his parents’ love story and compile an exhibit to celebrate his family’s time in Mexico, makes his contribution to the art world, and to the story of the artists associated with Lake Chapala, a very special one.


I am very grateful to Paul Huf for generously sharing memories and information about his life and career via emails and Skype (September 2016; February 2017).

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.

Feb 272017

Famed Hollywood writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. lived at Lake Chapala in the 1950s and returned several times thereafter. While living in Ajijic, Semple wrote The Golden Fleecing, a play that was produced on Broadway and subsequently turned into a movie. Semple is best-known for creating the big-screen and TV character Batman.

Lorenzo Elliott Semple Jr., whose uncle Philip Barry wrote Holiday and The Philadelphia Story, was born in New Rochelle, New York, on 27 March 1923 and attended Yale University for two years. He dropped out of Yale in 1941 to join the Free French forces led by General de Gaulle. He won the Croix de Guerre for ambulance-driving in the Libyan desert. Semple later served in the U.S. Army and won a Bronze Star.

Credit: The Aspen Times

Credit: The Aspen Times

After the second world war, Semple finished his degree at Columbia University before starting his writing career in the early 1950s as a critic for Theater Arts magazine and contributor of short stories to The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Women’s Home Companion and Ladies’ Home Journal.

Even though the precise dates when Semple lived in Ajijic remain unclear, before the 1950s had ended, he had written two Broadway plays – Tonight in Samarkand (1955) and The Golden Fleecing (1959), which was later adapted for the screen as The Honeymoon Machine, starring Steve McQueen – as well as several scripts for the small screen, including The Alcoa Hour (1955); Target (1958); and Pursuit (1958).

The strongest evidence that he wrote The Golden Fleecing in Ajijic comes from a short piece by Anita Lomax in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1967 in which she laments that Ajijic is losing its reputation as “sin city” and is becoming too respectable. She cites the case of a “Young playwright whose play, written here, was produced on Broadway and subsequently made a small fortune from the movie rights which he promptly spent. But he now lives in a Beverly Hills mansion with his beautiful wife and children since creating T.V.’s sensational Batman series.” The same newspaper reported in 1971 that Semple had returned to Lake Chapala for the first time in eight years, vacationing with his wife Joyce and their three children in Chula Vista, at the home of Dick Reiner. Semple told the Reporter correspondent that he thought people were getting tired of having to pay $3 to see a movie!

Semple married Joyce Miller in 1963. Their eldest daughter, Johanna, was born in Guadalajara in April 1963. A year later, they had their second daughter, Maria. The family moved to Spain in 1965. Following their return to Hollywood, they had a third child, Lorenzo (“Lo”), born in about 1967. Later, the family lived for more than two decades in Aspen, Colorado, before eventually moving back to Los Angeles.

It was while the family was living in Spain (1965-66) that Semple was asked by producer William Dozier to develop a television series based on the Batman comic books. The series was an immediate hit. Semple wrote the first four episodes, consulted on all the first season’s scripts and also wrote the screenplay for the feature film version, released in 1966.

After Batman, Semple completed numerous movie screenplays, often in association with other writers, including Pretty Poison (1968), which won best screenplay at the New York Film Critics Awards; Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969); The Sporting Club (1971); The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971); Papillon (1973); The Super Cops (1974); The Parallax View (1974); The Drowning Pool (1975); Three Days of the Condor (1975); King Kong (1976); Hurricane (1977); Flash Gordon (1980); Never Say Never Again (1983), in which Sean Connery reprised his former role as James Bond; Sheena (1984); and Never Too Young to Die (1986).

From 1984 to 1990, Semple taught graduate screenwriting at New York University. His students included John Fusco (Young Guns and Hidalgo), Susan Cartsonis (What Women Want) and Stan Seidel (One Night at McCool’s).

Lorenzo Semple Jr. died of natural causes at his Los Angeles home on 28 March 2014, one day after his 91st birthday.

Maria Semple (Semple’s middle child) is also a novelist and screenwriter. She has written several novels – including This One Is Mine (2008), the best-selling comedy novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012), and Today Will Be Different (2016) – as well as TV scripts for Beverly Hills, 90210, Mad About You, Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, Suddenly Susan and Ellen.


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.

Feb 232017

Free-spirited Beverly Johnson (1933-1976), who was Ajijic’s unofficial photographer in the early 1970s, first moved to the village in 1961. She is one of the many people who helped make Ajijic tick in the old days who are really difficult to categorize.

In 1961, she extricated herself from a disastrous relationship in the U.S., shortly after the birth of her fifth child, and fled south, aiming to get her family as far away as possible from her former partner. Headed for South America, her car broke down in Guadalajara. Unable to afford the repairs, Beverly, an up-and-coming singer, asked the mechanic where she could find temporary work and was directed towards Ajijic where, the mechanic said, there was a sufficient concentration of Americans and Canadians who might appreciate her music and pay to hear her sing.

Photo of Beverly Johnson by Helen Goodridge. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Photo of Beverly Johnson in Ajijic by Helen Goodridge. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Once they had settled in Ajijic, plans to venture any further south were soon forgotten. Apart from occasional visits to the coast and periodic short trips to the border to renew her tourist papers, Beverly spent the remainder of her life in Ajijic. The tenuous roots that she initially put down in Ajijic grew steadily over the years and her children have maintained ties to the village that endure to this day.

It was while living in Ajijic that Beverly became a passionate photographer and a key figure in the artistic community despite never exhibiting and rarely commercializing her work.

This means that she does not meet my rule-of-thumb criterion that profiled individuals must have gained some recognition for their art beyond the immediate environs of the lake. But rules are made to be broken (a sentiment that epitomized Beverly’s entire life) and Beverly certainly brings something different and quite special to our story of how the artistic and literary community at Lake Chapala developed.

Beverly Johnson. The Bread Girl. ca 1972. Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz.

Beverly Johnson. The Bread Girl. ca 1972. Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz.

Beverly’s corpus of photographic work is now divided between her children and friends. Despite the fact that her photos were never exhibited, she became the unofficial “photographer of record” for people and events in Ajijic during the latter part of her time in the village.

Some of her photos did make it overseas. Most of her own photos were taken in black and white and developed in her own darkroom, but she also took the color photos used for international promotion by the owners of the Danza del Sol Hotel shortly after it was built. (The hotel’s architect, George Heneghan, and his wife, Molly, lived in Ajijic in the early 1970s.)

Beverly Estelle Johnson (née Hampson) was born in Grants Pass Oregon on 15 September 1933. She was living in Medford, Oregon, in 1961, when, lacking support from her family, she fled her husband (who was preparing to have her committed to an asylum) and drove south with her five young children (Tamara, Jill, Eric, Chris and Rachel), all under nine years of age.

They stayed a short time in Los Angeles, where Beverly hoped to make a living from her singing and guitar-playing. She recorded a promotional 45 there, but this was not an era when a single mother with five young children could find a music promoter prepared to back them. Among the other singers seeking stardom at the time was a young Joan Baez. Some years later, Beverly made a point of introducing herself to Joan Baez when she recognized her at the Beer Garden bar in Chapala.

From Los Angeles, Beverly decided to head for South America, but her car problems led her to Ajijic. Beverly soon became a fixture in the village – one of the completely unconventional characters that added spice and excitement to everyday life. As her daughter Jill recalls, “She was amazing and crazy and life with her was a roller coaster ride.” Beverly used her many creative talents – as “singer, poet, writer, chef, painter, photographer and mixed media like papier maché and rice paper balsa wood mobiles” to eke out a living for herself and her children.

Beverly Johnson and family. Reproduced by kind permission of Rachel Lyn Johnson.

Beverly Johnson and family, Ajijic beach. 1962. Photo by Saturnino ____. Reproduced by kind permission of Rachel Lyn Johnson.

When an offshoot of Timothy Leary’s group, led by Thad Ashby, arrived in Ajijic (from Zihuatanejo) in 1963-64, Beverly signed up to be a test subject (and later a monitor for tests) in the LSD “studies” conducted by Ashby’s group with the help of the University of Guadalajara Medical School. (Leary himself is said to have visited Ajijic, probably in the summer of 1964 or 1965).

At about this time, Beverly began a lengthy relationship with a local contractor, Antonio (“Tony”) Pérez, which resulted in two more daughters (Sara and Miriam) to feed.

Beverly’s oldest daughter, Tamara, later wrote an extraordinarily revealing autobiographical short story entitled, “The Beach: My Self in the Mirror” based on a family trip to Barra de Navidad in 1964, a month after Sara’s birth. Tamara writes that the visit lasted several months and describes how the family was so poor and had so little food to eat that their mother eased their hunger pains with tiny amounts of LSD. In Tamara’s words, “‘Turning on’ has been a monthly event in my life for a couple of years”. (The younger children recall only the “occasional” use). The story has a happy ending: fortune intervenes when a fisherman lands a large fish which they cook and share.

The family visited Barra de Navidad several times, often at a moment’s notice when immigration officials arrived in Ajijic to carry out a sweep of the village for undocumented foreigners.

At one point while living in Ajijic, Beverly got into trouble with the local authorities over the upkeep of her house. Ever-resourceful, she quickly found a solution that satisfied her need for individuality. In fact, her second-eldest daughter, Jill, thinks that her mother’s response helped create the colorful village we see today:

“Miss Beverly [as she was known around town] was the first person in Ajijic to paint her house in more than two different colors. The bullies at El Municipio told her she had to paint her house or they would fine her $200.00 pesos. That being a week of groceries back then, she decided to enlist her artist friends and went around collecting any extra paint they had. Then she put us to work on that front wall: at least twenty different colors, simple long colorful stripes all the way down the wall. Those bullies were so mad at her and she simply claimed that they did not specify how to paint but just to paint. We had the very first colorful house in Ajijic and, as you can see, now that it started a trend, the whole town is painted in colors.”

In the latter part of 1969, Beverly made a trip to California to renew her tourist papers. She returned with two new loves – photography and Michael Heinichen – and promptly set up a darkroom in Ajijic where Heinichen could teach her all about photography. Her love for Heinichen did not last long (he fell in love with Laura Katzman and moved to Jocotepec) but her love for photography lasted for the rest of her life.

Beverly Johnson. The Old Lady. Ajijic, ca 1972. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Beverly Johnson. The Old Lady. Ajijic, ca 1972. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Beverly soon became Ajijic’s unofficial village photographer, called upon for personal portraits, wedding photos, landscape shots, first communions, baptisms and even for portraits of the recently deceased for their families to remember them by.

Some of Beverly’s photographs have been published previously. Beverly’s children kindly provided the photos for my article featuring Beverly’s photos on Mexconnect – A Tour of Ajijic, Chapala, Mexico, in about 1970. The photos (together with one taken by Janis Carter) were chosen and captioned by Tamara. As second daughter, Jill, rightly says, Beverly’s black and white portraits of Ajijic families are “timeless and most precious”.

Beverly was not only  photographer but also engaged in several other forms of art. For example, in the 1970s she designed the posters for the weekly menu at the El Tejaban restaurant, in exchange for a free meal each week for her family. Beverly’s hand-painted, creative and colorful posters with expert calligraphy would be veritable collector’s items if they still existed.

Beverly was one determined lady, in line with her personal motto of “Bring it on baby”. Peter Huf who lived for many years in Ajijic with his wife and their two young sons has fond memories of Beverly as being a generous, intellectual, egotistical, hippie: “one of the real characters”.

Artist and author Henry F Edwards agrees. In The Sweet Bird of Youth (2008), his thinly disguised autobiographical account of life in Ajijic in the 1970s, he describes his first impressions on meeting “Sue Scobie” (Beverly Johnson):

“She was a young woman in her late twenties or early thirties with blonde hair and blue eyes. Her hair, cut short, was very curly; she was quite fair but with a minor blemish or two on her face. I immediately noticed that her teeth were slightly tobacco stained and immediately judged the cause from the cigarette in her hand at the moment. She had on some very ordinary house dress and a pair of Mexican sandals. She was very friendly and invited us in in a rather offhand, distracted way.”

Several former Ajijic residents I have interviewed have expressed their gratitude to Beverly for providing nursing care. Perhaps the most heart-warming story is that told by painter and muralist Tom Brudenell who contracted hepatitis while living in Jocotepec in the late 1960s. When Beverly learned that he was sick, she made it her mission to drive from Ajijic to Jocotepec daily for several weeks until he recovered.

Sadly, Beverly was unable to overcome her own extended illness, which necessitated liberal doses of tequila to dull the pain, and which culminated in a fatal heart attack on 27 December 1976. She was just 43 years of age, a tragically short life for such a caring, compassionate and creative individual.

To compound the family tragedy, Tony Pérez, father of the two youngest girls, died exactly one month later on 27 January 1977. Jill, the de facto head of the family given that her older sister Tamara was living in the U.S., made the difficult decision to leave Mexico and take her three younger sisters to stay with friends in California. They left on 1 March, only able to take with them whatever they could carry. After a bus to Guadalajara, train to Tijuana, taxi across the border and a Greyhound bus to Santa Barbara, they were able to start their lives anew in the U.S.

The family has never forgotten Ajijic. Rebeca Prieto, one of Beverly’s grandchildren, interviewed several members of the family in 2016 to compile a very interesting 28-minute Youtube video, Mi Familia, in which they reminisced about life in Ajijic and their journey north.

Is it too much to hope that one day an exhibition of Beverly Johnson’s photographs can be arranged in Ajijic to celebrate her important contributions to village life in the 1970s?


My thanks to Tamara Janúz, Jill Maldonado and Rachel Lyn Johnson, as well as to Marsha Sorensen, Tom Brudenell, Don Shaw and Peter Huf, for sharing their memories of Beverly’s time in Mexico, and to Zasharah Araujo for drawing my attention to Rebeca Prieto’s video.


  • Henry F Edwards. 2008. The Sweet Bird of Youth. BookSurge Publishing.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. 1977. “Beverly Johnson, 43, Dies in Ajijic.” Obituary in Guadalajara Reporter, 15 January 1977.
  • Tamara Johnson. 1997. “The Beach: My Self in the Mirror”, in Writing from Within: A Guide to Creativity and Life Story Writing, by Bernard Selling (Hunter House, 1997)
  • Jerry Kamstra. 1974. Weed: Adventures of a Dope Smuggler. Harper & Row, New York.

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.

Feb 202017

Novelist Ramón Rubín (1912-2000) lived much of his life in Jalisco and was a staunch defender of Lake Chapala. Rubín never actually lived on the shores of the lake but his novel, La Canoa Perdida: novela mestiza (“The Lost Canoe: a mestizo novel”), reveals an excellent understanding of the people and places that make the lake such a special place. Sadly, the novel has never been translated into English.

In the early 1950s, Lake Chapala was in serious trouble. The lake level was going down rapidly, year on year, mainly due to a prolonged period of lower-than-average rainfall throughout the basin of the River Lerma, the main river feeding the lake. At the same time, the Jalisco state government was seeking to channel more water from the lake to satisfy the thirst of the ever-growing city of Guadalajara and federal authorities were prepared to give permission for wealthy landowners to reclaim farmland by draining sections of the lake. (This scheme would have echoed that in the early part of the twentieth century when a massive area of the lake was reclaimed for agriculture).

The hydrology of Lake Chapala is discussed in more detail in chapters 6 and 7 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

Rubín had grown up by the sea and loved the lake. He had traveled widely throughout Mexico and seen some of the adverse impacts of so-called “development” schemes. In about 1948 he had seen dredgers working near Ocotlán on the north-east shore of Lake Chapala. Local people had no idea what was going on, which caused Rubín to investigate further. That research became the basis for the excellent geographical understanding demonstrated in the early chapters of La Canoa Perdida, first published in 1951.

As the lake’s problems intensified, Rubín became more politically active and in 1952 presided over Comité Provisional para la Conservación del Lago de Chapala, a committee formed to defend the lake. This organization morphed into the Comité pro Defensa del Lago Chapala and played a decisive role in preventing the implementation of any further reclamation schemes and opposing greater use of the lake for the inhabitants of Guadalajara. Heavy rainfalls in the second half of the 1950s eventually restored the lake to its rightful level.

In addition to his novel, Rubín published several later articles designed to draw attention to the lake’s problems. The most interesting of these, from our perspective, is his 1959 story, “La Draga, cuento casi real en tres actos y tres tiempos” {“The Dredger, an almost-real story in three acts and three times”).

The lake’s outflow powered hydro-power generators immediately below the Juanacatlán Falls that supplied electricity to Guadalajara. In “La Draga”, an “ecological” story, a worker at the Hydro Company tries to convince people of the benefits of draining the lake further, claiming it would help avoid depriving central Mexico of power [a smaller lake meant less evaporation, an increased average depth and a greater head of water] while simultaneously giving farmers a bonanza when the former lake bed was transformed into productive farmland. In the story, this creates three new millionaires in a single season at Jamay [a town on the northern shore, mid-way between Ocotlán and La Barca]. The story ends with an apocalyptic vision of the future in which the Lerma River is dry, only little meandering rivulets of water still flow, and most of the region now looks like the arid Chihuahua desert far to the north. The fact is, “we killed the lake, and now we’re paying for our crime.”

In La Canoa Perdida, as historian Wolfgang Vogt rightly points out, the extended descriptions of the lake in its early chapters are among “the best ever written about the lake”. But what about the book’s plot? The protagonist, Ramón Fortuna, comes from a ranch between Chapala and Ocotlán. Fortuna is an impoverished fisherman who supplements a meager income by hunting birds. He dreams of buying his own canoe.

One day he stumbles across two ringed birds (with tags from Winnipeg, Canada) and learns that each tag is worth the princely sum of 5 dollars. This unexpected good fortune gives him the chance to win the heart of “La Guera Hermelinda, the ambitious daughter of a neighbor and woman of his desires. Fortuna writes to claim his reward, but fails to include any return address, and therefore waits in vain for any money to arrive.

Incidentally, Rubín includes a wonderful line in his narrative comparing “gringos” to Mexicans, saying that the former write short letters but wage long wars, unlike the latter who do the opposite.

Fortuna decides to change career and goes to work at the hydro company at El Salto (giving Rubín the opportunity to explain the changes of rural life engendered by industrialization). Fortuna also turns his hand to clearing lirio (water hyacinth) and is part of a plan using dynamite to blow up the thick, clogged masses of aquatic weed.

At one point or another, Rubín introduces many of the famous Chapala legends and tales into his novel, including the story of El Señor del Guaje in Jocotepec, the history of Mezcala island, the sinking of the lake steamer at Ocotlán in the late nineteenth century and the presence of oil deposits in the lake.

Fortuna eventually saves enough money to buy a canoe named Amanda, but then discovers that it has gone missing from the shore where he left it. Did the waves come up the beach and float it away? Has it been stolen? Has it been taken by his rival in love? Fortuna searches desperately all over the lake for his canoe, allowing Rubín the chance to include detailed descriptions of many north shore settlements from Jocotepec to San Pedro Itzican, and all along the south shore, complete with their varied degrees of environmental damage. At one point, convinced he’s found it, he starts to row it away from a village, only to discover as the rightful owners pursue him, that it’s not really the right boat!

Eventually Fortuna finds his canoe on Mezcala Island (Isla del Presidio) where it has been hidden by a local. He steals his canoe back, almost sinks on his return trip to the shore, but finally gets home, only to find that his girlfriend has married his rival.

Like millions of Mexicans, Fortuna has had a constant struggle to make a living and to “be someone”, in a social and cultural environment that is hostile. This is a novel that can be read on so many different levels that it is worth reading and re-reading. It is one of the earliest novels in Mexico with an overtly ecological theme. At the same time, it is a sociological study of fishing communities that no longer exist. Rubín’s insightful narrative digs deep into the psyche of the many individuals – campesinos, engineers, technicians, hunters, mariachi musicians, traders, etc – that constitute the cast of characters in La Canoa Perdida.

This is a novel whose message resonates far beyond the immediate confines of Lake Chapala.


  • Ramón Bustos, Luis. 2001. “Donde la sombra de Ramón Rubín“. Jornada Semanal, 16 de septiembre del 2001.
  • Rubín, Ramón. 1951. La canoa perdida: novela mestiza (Guadalajara: Ediciones Altiplano); illustrations by Víctor J. Reynoso. 483 pages. Reissued in 1993 by Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico, D.F.
  •  Rubín, Ramón. 1959. “La Draga, cuento casi real en tres actos y tres tiempos”, in Xallixtlico, 1, 1 November 1959, pp 28-36.
  • Vogt, Wolfgang. 1989. “El Lago de Chapala en la literatura”. Estudios Sociales. (Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara), Año II, #5, 37-47.

Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:

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.

Feb 162017

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

Eunice Eileen (Hunt) Huf, born 27 February 1933 in Alberta, Canada, can trace her family’s roots back to Switzerland and Germany. Her mother migrated to Canada from Bessarabia in Eastern Europe. Her father was born in Alberta.

Eunice studied painting for two years in Edmonton, specializing in portraiture. She married young and worked for a couple of years before continuing her art studies at the Vancouver Art School (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design) where she also honed her skills in photography. She then worked as a freelance artist in Canada and Arizona before deciding to visit Mexico to regroup following the break-down of her first marriage which ended in divorce.

Eunice Huf at Lake Chapala, ca 1968. Photo by Peter Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

Eunice Huf at Lake Chapala, ca 1968. Photo by Peter Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

Her visit to Mexico was life-changing. After relaxing and painting for a few weeks in the small tropical town of San Blas on the Pacific Coast, Eunice went to a Sunday night Lion’s Club dance where she met a tall, handsome, German artist, Peter Paul Huf. It was January 1965 and the start of a life-long romance. Forty years later, the Huf’s elder son, Paul “Pablo” Huf, retold the story of this romance in an enthralling art display in Mexico City.

After meeting at the dance, Eunice and Peter spent the next six months together, first in San Blas and then in Oaxaca and Zihuatanejo (Guerrero). It was in San Blas where they first met Jack Rutherford and his family with their vintage school bus, the start of a long friendship. Rutherford had dug the sand away from the walls of an abandoned building in order to display and sell his paintings. In February 1965, Eunice and Peter Huf exhibited together in a group art show on the walls of the then-ruined, roofless, customs house (partially restored since as a cultural center).

After visiting Zihuatanejo, Eunice returned to Vancouver in June 1965, while Peter returned to Europe. They eventually reunited in Amsterdam later that year and traveled to Spain and Morocco from where Eunice continued on to South Africa for a short visit.

By January 1967 they were back together (this time for good!) and aboard a ship bound for Mexico. After landing in Veracruz, they returned first to San Blas (where they displayed paintings in an Easter exhibition in the former customs house) and then to Ajijic, which the Rutherfords had suggested was a good place to live, paint and sell year-round.

Peter and Eunice Huf married soon after arriving in Ajijic and lived in the village from May 1967 until June 1972. They have two sons: Paul “Pablo” Huf, born in 1967, and Kristof Huf, born in 1971.

Eunice Hunt: Scarecrow Bride. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Eunice Hunt: Scarecrow Bride. 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

For almost all her time in Mexico (even after her marriage to Paul Huf), Eunice exhibited as Eunice Hunt, only changing her artistic name to Eunice Huf at about the time the couple left Mexico in 1972 to move first to Andalucia, Spain (1972-1974) and then to Bavaria, Germany.

Both Peter and Eunice Huf regularly exhibited their work in Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque and Ajijic. They also sold artworks from their own studios in Ajijic, located first in a building on Calle Galeana and then at their home on Calle Constitución #30 near the Posada Ajijic hotel. (This building, incidentally, was later occupied by artists Adolfo Riestra and Alan Bowers).

Eunice Huf supplemented the family income by giving private art classes to many people, including former Hollywood producer Sherman Harris, the then manager of the Posada Ajijic. Eunice kept an iguana, that she had borrowed to paint, under her bed, and had a little iguana, too.

Peter and Eunice were founder members of a small collective of artists, known as Grupo 68, that exhibited regularly at the Camino Real hotel in Guadalajara and elsewhere from 1967 to 1971. Grupo 68 initially had 5 members: Peter Huf, Eunice Huf, Jack Rutherford, John K. Peterson and (Don) Shaw (who was known only by his surname). Tom Brudenell was also listed as part of the group for some shows. Jack Rutherford dropped out of the group after a few months, but the remaining four stayed together until 1971.

The exhibitions at the Camino Real hotel began at the invitation of Ray Alvorado, a singer who was the public relations manager of the hotel. Members of Grupo 68 began to exhibit regularly, every Sunday afternoon, in the hotel grounds. Later, they also exhibited inside the hotel at its Thursday evening fiesta.

The Hufs’ first joint show in Ajijic was at Laura Bateman’s gallery, Rincón del Arte, which opened on 15 December 1967, when their firstborn son was barely two months old.

1968 was an especially busy year for the Hufs. They were involved in numerous exhibitions, beginning with one at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque which opened on 20 January. Other artists at this show included Hector Navarro, Gustavo Aranguren, Coffeen Suhl, John Peterson, Shaw, Rodolfo Lozano, and Gail Michael. The Ajijic artists in this group, together with Gail Michael, Jules and Abby Rubenstein, and Jack and Doris Rutherford, began to exhibit at El Palomar every Friday.

In May 1968 the Galeria Ajijic (Marcos Castellanos #15) opened a collective fine crafts show. Eunice and Peter Huf presented “miniature toy-like landscapes complete with tiny figures and accompanying easels” which were popular with tourists, alongside wall-hangings, jewelry and sculptures by Ben Crabbe, Beverly Hunt, Gail Michael, Mary and Hudson Rose, Joe Rowe and Joe Vines.

The next month (June 1968), the Hufs were back in Guadalajara, exhibiting in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show (prints, drawings, wood cuts) at Galeria 8 de Julio in Guadalajara. This show also featured works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten , Allyn Hunt, John K. Peterson, Tully Petty, Gene Quesada and Don Shaw. Reviewing the show, Allyn Hunt admired Eunice Hunt’s “Moon Trap”, saying it “has a lyrical, fantasy-like quality”.

Eunice Hunt: Still llife. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Eunice Hunt: Still llife. 1969. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

The “re-opening” of Laura Bateman’s Rincón del Arte gallery in Ajijic (at Calle Hidalgo #41) in September was accompanied by a group show of 8 painters-Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson, Jack Rutherford, Donald Shaw and Coffeen Suhl – and a sculptor: Joe Wedgwood.

At the end of October Eunice Huf held her first solo show in Mexico, showing 40 paintings at the Galeria 8 de Julio in Guadalajara (located at * de Julio #878). The show was one of the numerous art exhibitions in the city comprising the Cultural Program of the International Arts Festival for the XIX Mexico City Olympics. (Her show preceded a solo show of works by Georg Rauch also under the patronage of Señora Holt and the Olympics.)

At the same time as Huf’s solo show, Grupo 68 (listed as Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson and Shaw) shared the Galería del Bosque (Calle de la Noche #2677) in Guadalajara with José María de Servín. This event was also part of the Olympics Cultural Program.

Towards the end of 1968, the Hufs co-founded a co-operative gallery “La Galería” in Ajijic, located on Calle Zaragoza at its intersection with Juarez, one block west of El Tejaban. On Friday 13 December 1968, the month-long group show for the “re-opening” of La Galería in Ajijic was entitled “Life is Art”. It consisted of works by Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K Peterson, Jack Rutherford, José Ma. De Servin, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons (now Cynthia Luria), and Joe Wedgwood. Art lovers attending gallery openings at this time were often served a tequila-enriched pomegranate ponche alongside snacks such as peanuts.

Somehow, in this crowded year, the Hufs also managed to fit in an exhibition at Redwood City Gallery in California.

In February 1969, Eunice and Peter Huf joined with (Don) Shaw to exhibit at the 10th floor penthouse Tekare Restaurant at Calle 16 de Sept. #157, in Guadalajara. This location has fame as the first place where jazz was played in Guadalajara. Later that year, Eunice Huf had a showing at the co-operative La Galería in Ajijic.

“Grupo 68” (Eunice and Peter Huf, Don Shaw and John K Peterson) held a showing of works at The Instituto Aragon (Hidalgo #1302) in Guadalajara in June 1969.

7-7-7 show (Hunt, Huf, Shaw), 1969

Three of these artists (the Hufs and Shaw) held another show shortly afterwards in Guadalajara at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728). That gallery was owned by Jose Maria de Servin and the show was entitled 7-7-7. It featured seven works by each artist with the promotional material featuring a pose by the three artists emulating the Olympic scoring system.

The following year (1970), an Easter Art Show which opened at the restaurant-hotel Posada Ajijic on 28 March featured works by Eunice and Peter Huf, John Frost, John K. Peterson, Bruce Sherratt and Leslie (Maddox) Sherratt.

In June 1970, Eunice Huf’s work was included in a group showing at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. Other Lakeside artists with works in this show included Peter Huf, Daphne Aluta, Mario Aluta, John Frost, Lesley Maddox and Bruce Sherratt .

In May 1971, both Peter Huf and Eunice Hunt were among those exhibiting at a Fiesta de Arte in Ajijic, held at a private home. More than 20 artists took part in that event, including Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

A review of the Hufs’ “Farewell Show” at El Tejaban restaurant in Ajijic in May 1972 congratulated them on their contribution to the local art scene, saying that their “steady flow of exceptional paintings has been a bright force in the art community of Jalisco for the past six years.”

Eunice Huf. Red with clouds. Date?. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Eunice Huf. Red with clouds. 1994. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

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

Eunice and Peter Huf left Mexico in the summer of 1972 with every intention of returning, but never did, despite making plans in early 1976 for shipping their recent works from Germany to Ajijic for a show at Jan Dunlap’s Wes Penn Gallery. According to organizers, the artists wanted to return to Ajijic permanently. It appears that this show never actually took place, owing to complications of logistics and customs regulations.

On moving to Europe, the Hufs lived near Nerja, in Andalucia, southern Spain, for a time, before settling in 1974 near Peter’s hometown of Kaufbeuren in the Allgäu region of southern Germany. The couple now have studios in the house where he was born in Kaufbeuren. Their work, known for the use of bright colors, has appeared regularly in exhibitions over the years, with both artists winning many awards along the way.

Eunice Huf. Excerpt from "Taking time out".

Eunice Huf. Excerpt from “Taking time out”.

Eunice Huf’s lengthy artistic career has continued unabated. The long list of exhibitions in which her work has featured includes: University Exhibit, Edmonton (1962); City Gallery Vancouver (1963); Downtown Gallery, Tucson, Arizona (1964); Stellenbush, South Africa (1966); Galeria Aduana, San Blas, Mexico (1966); Rincon del Arte, Ajijic (1967); Galeria 8 de Julio, Guadalajara (1968); Redwood City Gallery, California (1968); La Galeria, Ajijic (1969); Tekare, Guadalajara (1969); El Instituto Aragon, Guadalajara (1970); El Tejon [? Tejabán ?], Ajijic (1971); El Rastro, Marbella, Spain (1972); followed by many other exhibitions in Spain and across Germany. Huf was represented by Munich-based Galeria Hartmann in International Art Fairs in Cologne and Basle.

Both Eunice and Peter Huf were regulars until 2013 at Munich’s Schwabing Christmas Market, held annually since 1975.

Unlike her husband’s works which are usually painted in acrylics, Eunice Huf prefers oils and line drawings. She has produced several somewhat whimsical, exquisite, little books featuring her deceptively simple line drawings, but also does larger works, including paintings described by one reviewer as shaped by the open expanses of her native Canadian prairies.


I am very grateful to Eunice and Peter Huf for their warm hospitality during a visit to their home and studio in October 2014 which has led to a lasting friendship. Their archive of photos and press clippings from their time in Mexico proved invaluable, as did their encouragement and their memories of people and events of the time.


  • Ira N. Nottonson. 1972. Mexico My Home. Primitive Art and Modern Poetry With 50 easy to learn Spanish words and phrases. For all children from 8 to 80. (Guadalajara, Mexico: Boutique d’Artes Graficas. 1972. 32pp, short poems illustrated with 16 paintings by Eunice and Peter Huf.
  • Guadalajara Reporter : 9 Dec 1967; 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968; 25 May 1968; 15 June 1968; 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970; 3 Apr 1971; 20 Nov 1971; 20 May 1972; 28 Feb 1976
  • El Informador (Guadalajara): 5 Jun 1970

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.

Feb 132017

Mexican author Ramón Rubín Rivas (1912-2000) wrote a novel set at Lake Chapala: La canoa perdida: Novela mestiza. He wrote more than a dozen novels and some 500 short stories over a lengthy career and this work, first published in 1951, is considered one of his finest, though it has never been translated into English.

Rubín was a particularly keen observer of the way of life, customs and beliefs of Mexico’s many indigenous groups. His writing is based on extensive travels throughout the country and prolonged periods of residence with several distinct indigenous groups including the Cora/Huichol in Nayarit and Jalisco, the Tarahumara (raramuri) in the Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua, and the Tzotzil in Chiapas. His novel about Lake Chapala, which we will look at in more detail in a future post, is the story of an indigenous fisherman who wants to acquire a canoe, set against the background of a lake facing serious problems. During the 1950s, Rubín was an ardent campaigner for the protection of the lake when drought and overuse threatened its very existence.

Rubin Ramon. Credit: Archivo-CNL-INBA

Rubin Ramon. Credit: Archivo-CNL-INBA

The early history of Rubín’s life is hazy. His “official” biography states that he was born to Spanish immigrant parents in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, on 11 June 1912, and that the family moved to Spain when Rubín was two years old. However, some researchers have found evidence suggesting that he was actually born on that date in San Vicente de la Barquera in northern Spain, and subsequently “adopted” Mazatlán as his birthplace as he became known as a Mexican writer. Rubín would apparently respond to questions about his birthplace by saying that his only source of information had been his parents, and they had said he was born in Mazatlán. The lack of a Mexican birth certificate is not surprising given that the public records in many parts of Mexico were destroyed during the early years of the Mexican Revolution, which erupted in 1910.

Wherever he was born, Rubín attended school in Spain until 1929 when, at the age of sixteen, he relocated to Mazatlán in Mexico. It was while taking typing classes in Mazatlán (as a means of earning a living) that he wrote his first stories, allegedly because he was sitting too far from the blackboard to copy what the teacher wrote as practice exercises. The teacher agreed that he could write whatever he wanted, provided there were no typing errors, and Rubín’s literary career was under way.

Working as a salesperson, Rubín traveled widely in Mexico. When he settled for a time in Mexico City, he had several short stories, based on his travels and experiences, published in Revista de Revistas. He later became a regular contributor to newspapers, especially to El Informador and El Occidental. Rubín’s direct approach to narrating stories owes much to his childhood, when he was entranced by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and by the adventure novels of Emilio Salgari.

In the Spanish Civil War (1938), Rubín enlisted as a merchant seaman on the side of the Republicans. While not formally a member of the International Brigades, he took a cargo of arms and ammunition to Spain and was lucky to escape alive. Franco’s forces dropped 72 bombs on his ship, none of which hit their intended target.

Rubín enjoyed a measure of literary success in 1942 with the publication of the first of an eventual five volumes of short stories, all entitled Cuentos mestizos (“Mestizo tales”). Later short story collections include Diez burbujas en el mar, sarta de cuentos salobres (1949), two volumes of Cuentos de indios (1954 y 1958), Los rezagados (1983), Navegantes sin ruta: relatos de mar y puerto (1983) and Cuentos de la ciudad (1991).

Rubín had traveled to Chiapas for the first time and lived among the Tzotzil in 1938. He put this knowledge to good use in his first novel, El callado dolor de los tzotziles {“The silent pain of the Tzotzil”) (1949). Literary critics consider this to be a seminal portrayal of Mexico’s indigenous peoples. The novel goes far beyond mere description or adulation of indigenous lifestyles and is a genuine drama about the intolerance of an indigenous community towards a couple who are unable to have children. In line with tribal tradition, the woman is banished to the mountains, the man leaves the community to live for a time among the mestizos. When he returns, his mental state altered by his experiences, he spirals downwards and seeks refuge in alcohol.

In a later indigenous novel, entitled La bruma lo vuelve azul (“The smoke turns blue”) (1954), the main character is a Huichol Indian named Kanayame who is rejected by his father, stripped of his indigenous roots in a government school, and turns to banditry. Rubín’s other indigenous novels include El canto de la grilla (1952), La sombra del techincuagüe (1955) and Cuando el táguaro agoniza (1960).

In addition, Rubín wrote the novels La loca (1949), La canoa perdida (1951), El seno de la esperanza (1960) and Donde mi sombra se espanta (1964). Some of his work has been translated (into English, German French, Russian and Italian) and several stories have been adapted for the stage. Rubín also wrote a short autobiography – Rubinescas – and several screenplays, none of which was ever made into a film, though Hugo Argüelles’s 1965 film Los cuervos están de luto is a plagarized version of Rubín’s original story “El duelo”.

Given that Rubín’s books have a wide appeal – cited as valuable sources of information about people and landscapes by anthropologists, biologists, sociologists and geographers – and were acclaimed by famous contemporaries, including his good friend Juan Rulfo, and literary historians, including Emmanuel Carballo who saw fit to include him in his Protagonistas de la literatura mexicana – why is it that Rubín is not much better known?

First, many of his books had small print runs, and were often self-financed, not the work of major publishers. Many of his books are, therefore, very difficult to find.

Second, Rubín was very much an individualist and neither living in Mexico City nor a member of any mainstream literary group.

Third, according to the author himself, his public disagreements with another famous Jalisco novelist, Agustín Yáñez, who served as Governor of Jalisco during the crisis affecting Lake Chapala in the 1950s, led to him being denied support by any of Yáñez’s numerous friends. Rubín was a vigorous opponent, on ecological grounds, of many of the “development” (drainage) schemes proposed during Yáñez’s administration.

Indeed, when he was chosen as the recipient of the Jalisco Prize in 1954, he declined to accept it on both intellectual and moral grounds, not wanting anything to do with the Yáñez administration which he believed had failed to do enough to protect Lake Chapala. (He was eventually awarded the Prize in 1997).

Rubín was proud of the fact that his work was based on travel and first-hand research, and did not derive from library sources or from his imagination while sitting at his desk. His writing shows that action and plot are more important to him than relaying introspective thoughts or feelings. However, he disliked the suggestion, sometimes made by literary critics, that he was Mexico’s Hemingway.

Rubín lived the bulk of his creative years (1940-1970) in Guadalajara. He taught at the University of Guadalajara and owned two small shoe manufacturing companies in Jalisco, both of which he eventually gave to his employees. In the early 1970s, he spent three years in Autlán, in the southern part of the state, before moving to San Miguel Cuyutlán, near Tlajomulco, for a decade. He then lived in a seniors’ home in Guadalajara for two years. Notwithstanding the many websites that claim he died the year before, Ramón Rubín Rivas died in Guadalajara on 25 May 2000.

Rubín did not win as many awards as might be expected from the quality and originality of his work, but he was awarded the Sinaloa Prize for Arts and Sciences in 1996 and the Jalisco Literary Prize in 1997. Prior to either of those awards, he had been recognized in the U.S. by the award from the New Mexico Book Association in 1994 of their “Premio de las Americas”, as the writer “whose work best exemplifies the common humanity of the peoples of the Western Hemisphere” – a truly fitting tribute to this man of the people.


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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