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May 252017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adela Breton and Pablo Solorio

Adela Breton and Pablo Solorio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adele Breton. Freize at Chichen Itza (detail)

Adele Breton. Freize at Chichen Itza (detail)

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

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

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

Archaeologist Alfred Tozzer described Breton as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adela Breton collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

May 222017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes :

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

Sources

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

May 182017
 

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

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

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

Thorward-clara-Postcard-Watercolor057

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivas waxed lyrically about Thorward’s work, writing:

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

Sources:

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

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

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May 152017
 

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

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

Sketch of Ruben Campos by Julio Ruelas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

May 112017
 

Bertram (“Bert”) Miller was a supremely talented amateur photographer who retired to Chapala and spent several years documenting the town and its inhabitants in the 1970s and 1980s. After his passing, a significant number of his photographs were donated by his youngest daughter, Norma, to the Chapala archives. The archives, open to the public, are currently housed next to the town hall (presidencia municipal).

Prior to his time in Chapala, Miller had been a prominent New York pediatrician: Dr. Bertram W. Miller of 33-20, 16th Street, Flushing, New York. Most, if not all, of his photographs of Chapala have this address stamped on their reverse side.

Miller, born in New York on 27 September 1915, was a graduate of Columbia University and gained his M.D. at New York University in 1939. He visited Mexico for the first time in 1967 and loved what he saw. In 1969, he retired from his medical practice, after 22 years, and moved to Chapala with his wife, Gertrude (“Gerry”), and their then 4-year-old daughter Norma. Miller and his wife were both born into families from Europe. Two of Norma’s grandparents were from Poland, one from Ukraine and one from Austria.

Bert Miller and child

Bert Miller setting up his tripod. Photo courtesy of Norma Miller.

Miller was a passionate photographer, whose excellent eye for a striking image was complemented by exceptional technical skills in both black and white and color photography. He spent years researching and developing a unique method (the Miller Method) of making high quality color prints, which he patented in 1977. It allowed him to tweak the settings of each of the three sensitive layers in color film to achieve neutral colors, so that the grey, for example, exactly matched the grey on a standard reference card.

Writing in the Guadalajara Reporter, Joe Weston described Miller as a perfectionist, who studied things “because they are there”, whether they involved calculus, designing electronic equipment, photography or color development. At the time of Weston’s article, the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara was exhibiting 70 of Miller’s photographs. Weston quotes Miller as saying that he planned to photograph much of Mexico, its people and its way of life “before it disappears in industrialization”.

Bertram W. Miller: Barranca de Oblatos. date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Bertram W. Miller: Barranca de Oblatos (ca 1975). Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

In addition to conventional views (above) and portraits, Miller also experimented in more artistic photography (below).

Bertram W. Miller: Untitled work; date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Bertram W. Miller: Untitled work (New York, 1967). Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Miller’s photographs were exhibited on various occasions, including the large group show, “Fiesta del Arte” held at the home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33) in Ajijic in May 1971. Other artists in that exhibition included: 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) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

In October 1976, Miller’s photographs were in a group exhibition in Guadalajara at the ex-Convento del Carmen, organized by the Jalisco State government and entitled “Arte-Artesania de la Ribera del Lago de Chapala” (Art and Handicrafts of the shores of Lake Chapala”. On that occasion, other artists who participated included Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionisio; Gustel Foust; Julia Michel; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai; Jim Marthai.

Miller and his wife were close friends of photographer John Frost and his wife, novelist Joan Van Every Frost; of artist Harry Mintz and his wife Rosabelle; and of architect-designer Russell Bayly.

Bert Miller (rt) with Sloane. Photo courtesy of Norma Miller.

Bert Miller (rt) with Sloane. ca 1970. Photo courtesy of Norma Miller.

Miller’s daughter, Norma, in the short biography that accompanies her gift of his photographs to the Chapala archive, writes of her father that “With great artistic sensitivity and enormous humanity, Dr Miller captured images that he turned into prints in his darkroom that showed the profound and authentic faces and landscapes of Mexico. The photos in this exhibit portray Chapala and its people with honesty and love.” Indeed they do. Miller’s photographs are a unique record of bygone Chapala, and one which deserves to be valued and preserved for future generations.

Bert Miller passed away on 16 October 2005, three weeks after his 90th birthday.

Note and acknowledgments

I am very grateful to Ricardo Santana for introducing me to Miller’s work, and to Chapala archivist Rogelio Ochoa Corona who, by a happy coincidence, showed me more of Miller’s fine photographs the following day, and shared his personal knowledge of Miller and his family.

My sincere thanks to Norma Louise Miller Watnick for graciously providing valuable additional information about her father and the family’s time in Mexico. We hope to publish a photo essay of Miller’s photographs of Chapala in the near future.

[This is an updated version of a post first published in October 2016]

Sources:

  • Norma Louise Miller Watnick. “Biography of Dr. B.W. Miller” (unpublished document in the Chapala town archive).
  • Joe Weston. Lakeside Look. Guadalajara Reporter, 19 August 1972.

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

May 082017
 

Bob Somerlott was a well-respected writer of both fiction and non-fiction who lived in Ajijic for several years in the early 1960s before moving to San Miguel de Allende, where he resided for almost forty years.

Robert (“Bob”) Somerlott was born 17 September 1928 in Huntington, Indiana, and died, following surgery, on 22 July 2001 in León, Guanajuato. He attended Northwestern University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, and then worked for about 15 years as an actor and stage director before moving to Mexico and becoming a professional writer.

According to Michael Hargraves in Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Somerlott spent the winter of 1958 at Chapala and then lived intermittently at Ajijic from late 1962 through the spring of 1965, before moving to San Miguel de Allende. While Somerlott apparently first settled in San Miguel in 1963, we know from contemporary newspapers that he was in Ajijic over the winter of 1964-65 since in December 1964 he is mentioned as being mid-way through a 12-week competition organized by the Ajijic chess club, playing against Phillip Hildreth and his wife Gina Dessart Hildreth, John Mersereau, Dick Bishop, Larry Hartmus and Lou Wertheimer.

At some point during his several decades of residence in San Miguel, Somerlott was academic director of the Instituto Allende, a college for English-speaking students. Somerlott’s interests were far-ranging. His works draw heavily on his particular keen interest in everything historical, including archaeology. History-related themes frequently made their way into his books.

His first major success as a writer came when he had a short story accepted for the January 1964 edition of Atlantic Monthly; it went on to win that publication’s annual fiction award. The following year, Somerlott had a short story entitled “The Hair of the Widow” published in the January 1965 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. That story was “based on a tale told to him early one morning on the pier in Ajijic by an old man” and was “supposed to be true, naturally, as all ghost stories are!” In 1967, his story, “Evening at the Black House” was chosen by Alfred Hitchcock for his Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories That Scared Even Me. Somerlott also had a piece published in American Heritage in 1971.

Somerlott’s first novel, The Flamingos, written partly in Ajijic and partly in San Miguel, was published in 1967.

The Flamingos is not an especially strong first novel since both plot and dialogue are somewhat predictable but, in the words of the Kirkus Review, is “a most entertaining commercial novel”, in which “The author brings an assortment of expatriate Americans with a full range of sexual tastes to a flyblown Mexican shoreline village”, and a variety of Mexican characters who suddenly find themselves in the path of a major hurricane. “The only bull in the book is a muscular lesbian whose company built a defective dam above the town not destined to outlast such a storm.” As the anonymous reviewer concluded, this would be a better movie than a book.

Some locales and incidents in The Flamingos are clearly derived from Somerlott’s experiences in Ajijic and San Miguel, though heavily disguised. For example, there are descriptions of the “city” of Nexcotela, half-way to the coast, with its waterfall, mineral baths, American Legion and “Café International”, a bar that somewhat resembles The Beer Garden in Chapala. Much of the book is set in the fictional coastal city of San Antonio Tlaxtalapan on Mexico’s west coast. (Clearly, therefore, the title is a misnomer since flamingos are only found on Mexico’s eastern coast!). The city has a “Mexican-North American Institute” that is the educational front of the missionary arm of the church.

The novel’s minor characters include Stephen Mayers, a one-handed, ex-military American who had been a fine amateur pianist. His maid, Adela, is a petty thief whose husband, Roberto, “graduates” into a hitman, employed by two brothers from Guadalajara. The two main characters are Matthew Selkirk, a 58-year-old former professor and translator, an openly gay member of the “American colony” and 26-year-old, blond, blue-eyed Clay McPherson who has fled the U.S. because he believes he has murdered his mother. The relationship between the two men is often strained but Clay eventually risks his own life in order to try to rescue Matthew.

Hard on the heels of The Flamingos came The Inquisitor’s House (1968).

Somerlott then changed track and published a book about occultism – “Here Mr. Splitfool”: An Informal Exploration Into Modern Occultism (1971) (released in the U.K. as Modern occultism) – and another non-fiction work, The writing of modern fiction (1972).

Hargraves has pointed out that Here Mr. Splitfoot includes the following tangential reference to Lake Chapala:

“Throughout Latin America today there are divinas who gaze into a glass, a jewel, or a bowl of water in attempts to find the missing property of clients. Sometimes they have remarkable results, as in the Mexican village near Lake Chapala, where a divina announced that a lost watch would be found wrapped in a blanket—and this proved to be perfectly true. In another Mexican case a ring, supposedly stolen, was described as being lodged in a drainpipe—and so it was true. Despite numerous correct hits and the continued popularity of divinas, there has been to date no realty scientific study of this facet of crystallomancy.” (p 221)

Somerlott then wrote several mystery novels under the pen name Jessica North, including The High Valley (1973), River Rising (1975), The Legend of the Thirteenth Pilgrim (1979) and Mask of the Jaguar (1982), before returning to use his own name for Blaze (1981) and Death of the Fifth Sun (1987). A Spanish language translation, by Miquela Misiergo, of Death of the Fifth Sun, was published as La Muerte Del Quinto Sol (1991).

In later years, Somerlott focused on non-fiction. He co-edited The Penguin Guide to Mexico 1991 (1990) and wrote San Miguel de Allende (1991) before completing a series of historical works including The Lincoln Assassination in American History (1998); The Little Rock School Desegregation Crisis in American History (2001); and The Spanish-American War: “Remember the Maine” (2002).

Sources:

  • Drewey Wayne Gunn. Gay American Novels, 1870-1970: A Reader’s Guide. (McFarlane, 2016).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 10 Dec 1964; GR 14 Jan 1965
  • 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.

May 042017
 

American artists Paul Charles Hachten (born 1934) and his then wife Cynthia “Casey” Siddons Jones lived in Ajijic from 1968 to 1969, following their marriage on Valentine’s Day 1968. However, Hachten was still listed in a  local newspaper in April 1971 as having a studio in Ajijic, at Independencia #28.

Peter Huf, who was living in Ajijic at the time, recalls that the Hachtens did not exhibit very much at all, though we do know that Paul Hachten was part of the group show for the re-opening of La Galeria in Ajijic, a show entitled “Art is Life; Life is Art”, which ran from 13 December 1968 to January 1969. The other artists in that show were Cynthia Siddons (his wife),  Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost , Jack Rutherford, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, John Kenneth Peterson, José Ma. De Servin, Shaw and Joe Wedgwood.

Prior to that, Hachten was one of several Lakeside artists whose work was included in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show, which opened 5 June 1968, at La Galeria (Ocho de Julio #878, Guadalajara). Allyn Hunt described his works as “subtle excellent prints, the best being “Mr. Fields.” (Guadalajara Reporter, 15 June 1968)

Hachten also participated in the group show that marked the re-opening of La Galeria in Ajijic, a show entitled “Art is Life; Life is Art”. The show ran from 13 December 1968 into January 1969. The other artists in this show were Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost , Jack Rutherford, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, John Kenneth Peterson, José Ma. De Servin, Shaw and Joe Wedgwood.

A few months later, one of Hachten’s works, an acrylic entitled “Blue Blue”, was chosen for inclusion in the 1969 Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit – which ran at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco (Tolsa #300, Guadalajara) from 27 June 1969 to 4 July. This juried, group show included works by 42 U.S. artists (94 works in all) from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende.

At the time, Peter Huf was uncertain about the quality of Hachten’s art, but has since become convinced that it was actually way ahead of its time:

“I remember one time some of us went to his studio and he was putting the paint on some large canvas with a very wet sponge. We laughed about it, but when I think about it now, somehow he was far ahead of us all. I still have an etching of his which is very sensitive.”

One of Hachten’s painting from this time, Parsubin (1970) was acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art, and is now in its permanent collection. Parsubin is a color serigraph on aluminum with overall dimensions of 27 x 24 1/4 inches  (68.58 x 61.59 cm). It was included in a companion exhibition to a Jackson Pollock mural (Hornets Nest) at the Des Moines Art Center in 2012 as one representative of works influenced by the Abstract Expressionist (Ab-Ex) movement.

Paul Hachten: Parasubin (1970). Dallas Museum of Art.

Paul Hachten: Parasubin (1970). Dallas Museum of Art.

Amy N. Worthen, the Des Moines Art Center’s Curator of Prints and Drawings, explained in a presentation (reported afterwards by Heath Lee) that the cool and more impersonal 1960s Pop Art eventually came along and quenched some of the fire and heat of the Ab-Ex movement. She thought this was perhaps best illustrated by Paul Hachten’s print, Parasubin (1970), which seems to cage up the energy of Ab-Ex art with its orderly grids. Describing Parasubin‘s colors as “opalescent and unnatural”, Worthen pointed to this piece as an example of the “last gasp” of Ab-Ex style and an example of the inevitable overlap between art movements. In her view, by 1970, “Abstract Expressionism, now subdued and tamed, has lost its sting.”

Hachten’s parents lived in Buffalo, New York, and Hachten studied art at New York University and (from 1958) at the University of California at Berkeley. At the time of his marriage to Cynthia Siddons Jones in Mendocino, California, in 1968, he had a studio in the town, and the couple apparently planned to live there, but chose to move to Mexico instead. They spent the next year living and painting in Ajijic.

We have yet to learn more about Paul Hachten, beyond a report in the New Mexican, a Santa Fe newspaper, in July 1972 that “Paul Hatchen” (sic) was holding an exhibition of “graphics at the opening of his new gallery”. Hachten has rarely exhibited and currently lives in Seal Beach, in San Francisco.

[It appears to be complete coincidence that the surname Hatchen was used by the novelist Ross Macdonald for a married couple, Dr Keith and Mrs Pauline Hatchen, in The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962), a book partially set in Ajijic.]

This is an updated version of a post first published on 21 April 2016. If you can add to this skeleton biography, please get in touch.

Source:

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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May 012017
 

Ireneo Paz, the paternal grandfather of Nobel Prize-winning author Octavio Paz, was a respected writer, journalist and intellectual.

One of his novels, Guadalupe, first published in 1874, is an illustrated romance novel (in Spanish) with several descriptive passages relating to Lake Chapala. The story is set in an unnamed lakeshore village. The text includes several mentions of specific towns and villages around the lake, and one of the middle chapters is devoted to the events that arise from a storm on the lake.

While the style of the writing is “dated”, the story is clearly told. English speakers with an intermediate level of Spanish should find the plot and dialogue relatively easy to follow. The third edition of this book can be downloaded for free (as a pdf file or for ereaders) via Google Books:

Ireneo Paz Flores was born 3 July 1836, in Guadalajara, and died in Mexico City on 4 November 1924. A lawyer by background, he founded several literary magazines and was editor of the national magazine La Patria Ilustrada, which, in 1889, was the first major publication to regularly accept the often-startling cartoons and skeleton-like calaveras drawn by famed graphic designer and engraver José Guadalupe Posada.

In a prolific career, Ireneo Paz wrote more than 30 books, including poetry, plays comedy, memoirs and novels. His best-known works are a study of Malinche and a book about the famous Mexican (Californian) bandit Joaquin Murrieta. Among his works are: La piedra del sacrificio (1871); La manzana de la discordia (1871); Amor y suplicio (1873); Guadalupe (1874); Amor de viejo (1874); Doña Marina (1883); Leyendas históricas de la Independencia (1894); Vida y aventuras de Joaquín Murrieta, famoso bandolero mexicano (1908); Porfirio Díaz (1911); Leyendas históricas (1914).

Tragically, the political differences between La Patria (edited by Ireneo Paz) and La Libertad (edited by Santiago Sierra Méndez) led to a duel between the two men in April 1880, in which the latter was killed.

During the Mexican revolution, Mexico City was the scene of fighting between rival groups. In 1914 (the year his grandson was born), Ireneo Paz’s spacious, well-appointed house and printing shop in the heart of the old city were ransacked and Paz moved the family out of the then-city to live in Mixcoac.

Ireneo Paz’s own life and writing career are interesting, but his greatest contribution to Mexican literature is through the influence he exerted on his grandson, Octavio, who lived under the same roof throughout his childhood.

As British translator, journalist and non-fiction author Nick Caistor explains in his biography of Octavio Paz, Ireneo Paz was his grandson’s “direct link to the struggles for Mexican independence in the nineteenth century, in which he had personally played as significant role, and to Mexican history in general.”

However, despite supporting the liberal movement led by Benito Juárez in the 1850s, and fighting against the French, most notably in the city of Colima, Ireneo Paz had eventually become a staunch supporter of the modernization efforts of Mexico’s multi-term dictator President Porfirio Díaz.

Caistor justifiably argues that Ireneo Paz exerted an influence over his grandson that extended well beyond politics:

As a novelist he was one of the precursors of the ‘indigenista’ movement, which sought to make the indigenous inhabitants of Mexico protagonists of the national narrative for the first time. The awareness of the presence of the ‘other’, the silenced, marginalized voice of the country’s first inhabitants, fascinated Octavio from an early age.

At the same time, the Paz household was open to outside influences. Despite his opposition to the French invasion, by the 1880s Ireneo Paz saw France as the emblem for modernity. In 1889 he even travelled to Paris as an exhibitor at the Exposition Universelle where he displayed examples of his printing and binding.”

Illustration of a storm on Lake Chapala from Guadalupe (1882). Artist unknown.

Not surprisingly, the Paz household was full of books, including not only those written or printed by Ireneo but also a fine collection of Spanish and French literature, many of the volumes brought back from Paris. Growing up in such an atmosphere undoubtedly wove its spell over young Octavio who became one of Mexico’s most famous and revered poets.

Paz’s exploration of the Mexican identity, El laberinto de la soledad, first published in 1950, was elegantly translated by Lysander Kemp, and published in 1961 as The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico. Kemp, who later became chief editor of the University of Texas Press, had his own connections to Lake Chapala: he was a long-time resident (1953-1965) of Jocotepec, at the western end of the lake.

Sources:

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

Apr 272017
 

The renowned Mexican American artist Eugenio Quesada (1927-2011) lived in Ajijic in the early 1960s. Quesada had a distinguished artistic career and is considered an important figure in the history of Mexican American art.

Eugenio Reynaldo Quesada, usually known simply as “Gene”, was born in Wickenburg, Arizona, on 24 May 1927. He was born into one of the town’s pioneer families, the grandson of Teodoro Mazon Ocampo and Mariana Rodriguez Ocampo, who settled in Wickenburg, about sixty kilometers northwest of Phoenix, in 1860.

Eugene Quesada, 2009

Eugene Quesada, 2009

Quesada graduated from Wickenburg High School in 1945 and then served in the U.S. Navy. After the war, he attended Arizona State University (ASU), from where he graduated with a B.A. degree in May 1952. He continued his art studies in California and New York. In 1951, he was one of several artists who worked with French-born Mexican muralist Jean Charlot on the fresco “Man’s Wisdom Subdues the Aggressive Forces of Nature” in the ASU Administration building.

Early in his career, Quesada found inspiration in the oversized work of other Mexican muralists, including Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. He went on to paint several murals of his own in Mexico between 1963 and 1970, but is better known today for his exquisitely executed charcoal portraits, often of children, ink sketches and small paintings.

He lived in Guadalajara and Ajijic for six years in the 1960s, a key period in his artistic development. In the words of his obituary:

“This long residence in Mexico flavored the stuttering lines, torsos and oblique forms that became the core of Quesada’s body of work. His work deals in the barest essentials in defining his subjects. Texture and color used to define form, rather than specific objects make his paintings appear larger than they are. His drawings suggest brief, but very effective visual statements.”

When he returned to Arizona, Quesada left several small paintings of Ajijic children with the Crump family in Ajijic. The family also owns Quesada’s portrait of Carlos Espiritu which dates from the 1960s. Espiritu was a well-known guitarist who resided in Ajijic and taught guitar for several years.

Eugene Quesada. ca 1964, Portrait of Carlos Espiritu. (image courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Eugene Quesada. ca 1964, Portrait of Carlos Espiritu. (image courtesy of Raymond Crump)

Quesada held his first solo show of paintings in March 1968, at the Casa de Cultura in Guadalajara. It was very well attended. His three sisters from Phoenix flew down for the opening and other guests included fellow artists Peter Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt, as well as Booth and Sue Waterbury, the then managers of Posada Ajijic.

At a group show in Guadalajara in June 1968 – First Annual Graphic Arts Show at La Galeria (878 Ocho de Julio, Guadalajara) – Quesada exhibited a portrait of a child entitled “Mire Pa’alla”. Other Lakeside artists with work in this show included Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Allyn Hunt, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson and Tully Judson Petty.

Eugene Quesada. 1964, Sonañdo. Charcoal. (from Quirarte)

Eugene Quesada. 1964, Sonañdo. Charcoal. (from Quirarte)

After his years in Mexico, Quesada taught art at Glendale Community College and was professor of fine arts at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, until his retirement in 1989. Following his retirement, he and his siblings established the Jose Franco and Francisca Ocampo Quesada Research Award Endowment at ASU which funds student research that increases the understanding of the Hispanic community.

Among the other one-person shows held by Quesada in his productive career were
shows in Tempe, Arizona (1970, 1972) and Glendale, Arizona (1980). Group shows included the Annual All-Student and Alumni Art Exhibit in Tempe (1955, 1956); San Francisco, California (1969); Phoenix, Arizona (1970); “Five Chicano Artists” in Paradise Valley, Arizona (1971); League of United Latin American Citizens, Washington, D.C. (1971); Mexican American Art Symposium, San Antonio, Texas (1973), “Chicanos and the Arts”, Phoenix ((1975); Group Exhibit, Yuma, Arizona (1975); Two-man exhibit in Tempe (1976); the Heard Museum, Phoenix (1976); the New Hispanic Exhibit, Washington, D.C. (1978); “Arte Sweat & Tears”, Museo Chicano, Phoenix, (1980); and “Primer Encuentro Cultural: Chicano”, University of Guadalajara, Jalisco (1983).

Eugene Quesada. 1960, Toro. Ink. (from Quirarte)

Eugene Quesada. 1960, Toro. Ink. (from Quirarte)

Quesadas work featured in two major traveling exhibitions of Mexican American art. The first was “Artists, Hispano / Mexican-American / Chicano Artists, Hispano / Mexican-American / Chicano Artists, Hispano / Mexican-American / Chicano” opened at The Lobby Gallery-Illinois Bell in Chicago in 1976 and then visited Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio, Texas; De Cordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts; Illinois State Museum, Springfield, Illinois; Mexican Museum, San Francisco, California and ended at the Boise Gallery of Art, Boise, Idaho, in March 1977. The second was “The Latin American Presence in The United States, 1920-1970”, organized by The Bronx Museum of the Arts. This opened in New York in September 1988 and then visited El Paso Museum of Art (1989), San Diego Museum of Art (1989), Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, San Juan, Puerto Rico (1989) and ended at The Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, Florida (1990).

A major retrospective of Quesada’s work was held in 2010, entitled “Figurative Impressions by Eugene Quesada, 50 Years: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings – a tribute to the Mexican American Artist”. It opened in San Diego, California, in August of that year.

The following year, on 31 December 2011, following a long illness, Eugenio Quesada passed away in his native Wickenburg. Many of Quesada’s papers are now housed in the Arizona State University Libraries Chicano Research Collection.

These two short YouTube videos feature many examples of his art:

Sources:

  • Raymond Crump – personal communication
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 9 Mar 1968, 15 June 1968
  • Obituary: The Wickenburg Sun (Wickenburg, Arizona), 11 January 2012.
  • Jacinto Quirarte. 1973. Mexican American Artists. Univ of Texas 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 242017
 

Veteran sports journalist Jack McDonald was already in his late sixties when he and his wife retired to Chapala in 1967. His retirement did nothing to diminish his productivity. McDonald (born John McDonald, but always called Jack) spent the next decade traipsing across Mexico, always in search of the next story. From his home in Chapala, he supplied a continuous stream of well-researched and well-written travel articles to publications north of the border and to the Guadalajara Reporter.

He also served a term as president of the Chapala Society (now the Lake Chapala Society) in the late 1960s.

McDonald was born on 21 October 1899 in Bussey, Iowa. At age 16, seeking adventure, he enlisted in the U.S. Army under an assumed name to serve under Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing and chase after Pancho Villa on the Mexican border. He was sent home when his deception was discovered, but subsequently served his country with honor (in the Navy) during both the first and second world wars. As a chief petty officer and radioman, he was initially on a corvette accompanying convoys to Iceland and South America, but then on a destroyer, which came under fire in Okinawa, Iwo Jima and other battles in the South Pacific.

McDonald joined the sports department of the San Francisco Call-Bulletin in 1926 and was its sports editor from 1947 to 1959. He then wrote for the Call’s successor, the San Francisco News Call-Bulletin until its closure in 1965, when he joined The Examiner as a columnist and rewrite manager. During his career, he interviewed every well-known sportsman of the time, covering all sports and situations with equal dedication and expertise. He was the quintessential cigar-smoking reporter of folklore, who was known and respected by everybody he worked with.

McDonald covered 26 World Series, 28 Kentucky Derbies as well as countless heavyweight boxing championship fights and Rose Bowls. He won the San Francisco Press Club’s best sports story of the year three times. McDonald also served terms as president of the Press Club and of the San Francisco-Oakland Newspaper Guild. The “Jack McDonald scrapbooks of sports writing, 1926-1993” are among the papers and scrapbooks held in the archives of the California Historical Society in San Francisco.

McDonald’s first wife, Helen, died in 1961; the couple had been married for ten years.

After retiring in January 1967, McDonald and his second wife, Beatrice, moved to a home high above Chapala. During the following decade, McDonald was an indefatigable traveler (“never without a cigar or his pipe, ashes spilling over a rumpled shirt”) as he sought out new places in Mexico to write about. His travel articles appeared in a dozen newspapers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Toronto Star.

He also filed dozens of well-crafted pieces for the Guadalajara Reporter, which demonstrate his unrivaled interviewing skills and ability to ferret out the details that made his stories come alive.

McDonald contributed stories, both fiction and non-fiction, to Collier and Liberty magazines, and also wrote two books: Navy Retread (Vantage Press, 1969), his second world war reminiscences, and Something to Cheer about: Legends from the Golden Age of Sports (1986).

In 1978, he and his wife moved back to San Diego. Beatrice died in 1995, and Jack died two years later on 14 September 1997 at his Pacific Beach home in San Diego, at the age of 97.

Sources:

  • Eric Brazil and Zachary Coile. “S.F. editor, sportswriter Jack McDonald” (obituary), San Jose Mercury News, 18 Sept 1997; SFGate, 18 Sep 1997.
  • Robert V. Thurston. “New Book by Reporter Writer Tells World War II Experiences”. Guadalajara Reporter, 8 March 1969, p16.

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 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.

Acknowledgments

  • 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, 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?

Acknowledgments:

  • 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.

Sources:

  • 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!

Acknowledgment

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.

Source:

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

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

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.

Sources:

  • 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.

Sources:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please 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”.

Acknowledgment:

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

Sources:

  • 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.]

Acknowledgments

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

Sources:

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

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.

Sources:

  • 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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 Posted by at 5:00 am  Tagged with:
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.

Acknowledgments

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

Sources:

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

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