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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 and Steve Elstob, 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.

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

 Posted by at 5:00 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.

Mar 162017
 

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

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

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

1. San Blas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Desertion

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

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

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

3. Dogs and first class

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

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

4. Do You Know Arthur Rimbaud?

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

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

5. Dance

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

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

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

6. In Paradise

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

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

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

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

7. MS Orinoco

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

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

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

8. Toothache

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

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

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

9. American Express

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

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

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

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

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

10. Return

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

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

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

Mar 132017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment:

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

Sources:

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

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

Mar 092017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John K Peterson. Laundry day, Ajijic. 1965.

John K Peterson. Laundry day, Ajijic. 1965.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John K Peterson. Funeral Procession. ca 1975

John K Peterson. Funeral Procession. ca 1975

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

Acknowledgments

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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Mar 062017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source:

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

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

Mar 022017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Feb 272017
 

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

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

Credit: The Aspen Times

Credit: The Aspen Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Feb 232017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments:

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

Sources:

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

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

Feb 202017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

Feb 162017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eunice Huf. Excerpt from "Taking time out".

Eunice Huf. Excerpt from “Taking time out”.

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

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

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

Acknowledgment:

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

Sources:

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

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

Feb 132017
 

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

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

Rubin Ramon. Credit: Archivo-CNL-INBA

Rubin Ramon. Credit: Archivo-CNL-INBA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Feb 092017
 

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

Peter Huf was born 2 May 1940 in Kaufbeuren in southern Germany. A self-taught artist, he began to paint in 1960, while living in Paris. He lived in Paris from 1958 to 1963, and also spent time in Malaga (Spain), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Stockholm (Sweden) before crossing the Atlantic in 1964 to live in New York.

Huf then traveled to San Blas on Mexico’s west coast, where he first met his future wife, the Canadian artist Eunice Hunt. The couple met at a Lions Club dance on a Sunday evening in January 1965, and spent the next six months together in San Blas, Oaxaca and Zihuatanejo (Guerrero).

Peter Paul Huf. Ajijic, ca 1970. Photo by Eunice Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

Peter Paul Huf. Ajijic, ca 1970. Photo by Eunice Huf. Reproduced by kind permission.

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

After Zihuatanejo, the couple separated for several months but eventually reunited in Amsterdam later that year and visited Spain and Morocco. By January 1967 they were aboard a ship bound for Mexico. After landing in Veracruz, they returned first to San Blas (where they displayed paintings in an Easter exhibition in the former customs house) and then to Ajijic, which the Rutherfords had suggested was a good place to live, paint and sell year-round.

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

Peter Huf. Untitled. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Peter Huf. From the “Mundo mono” series. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

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

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

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

Peter Huf. Totem. 1969.

Peter Huf: Totem. 1969. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

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

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

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

Untitled. ca 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Peter Paul Huf. “Dejeuner sur l’herbe”. ca 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

The next month (June 1968), the Hufs were back in Guadalajara, exhibiting in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show (prints, drawings, wood cuts) at Galeria 8 de Julio in Guadalajara. This show also featured works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten , Allyn Hunt, John K. Peterson, Tully Petty, Gene Quesada and Don Shaw.

A few months before his passing last year, sculptor Don Shaw, who lived in Jocotepec for many years and was a close friend of the Hufs, shared with me the story of how he had helped ensure that Peter Huf would never try to return to Ajijic in the dark after a night’s drinking or partying in Jocotepec. Shaw had made an arrangement with the local police that if they ever found Peter Huf drunk on the street, they would lock him up, no questions asked, overnight and contact Shaw the following morning to bail him out. At US$20 a time, this might not have been the cheapest hotel in town but at least it put a safe roof over his friend’s head. Shaw’s story reminded me that Huf himself had told me about how he had once been a film extra in the making of The Great Escape, filmed near Munich, playing one of a group of prison guards who were becoming drunk. The director agreed that some genuine drinks would make their behavior more lifelike but hadn’t counted on the number of re-takes then required to get his footage. After all their hard work, the extras were disappointed to discover that this scene never survived the final cut.

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

In October 1968, Grupo 68 (listed as Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson and Shaw) shared the Galería del Bosque (Calle de la Noche #2677) in Guadalajara with José María de Servín. This event was one of the numerous art exhibitions in the city comprising the Cultural Program of the International Arts Festival for the XIX Mexico City Olympics.

Peter Huf. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

Peter Huf. “Ferne Welten”. 1975. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

The following month, Peter Huf was helping plan a prospective show at Rincón del Arte intended to showcase work “purchased from Ajijic artists over the past 20 years”. It is unclear whether or not this show ever actually took place.

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

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

In February 1969, Eunice and Peter Huf joined with (Don) Shaw to exhibit at the 10th floor penthouse Tekare Restaurant at Calle 16 de Sept. #157, in Guadalajara. This location has fame as the first place where jazz was played in Guadalajara.

At the end of the month, Peter Huf had a solo show entitled “El Mundo Mono” (Monkey World) at La Galeria in Ajijic.

“Grupo 68” (Eunice and Peter Huf, Don Shaw and John K Peterson) held a showing of works at The Instituto Aragon (Hidalgo #1302) in Guadalajara in June 1969. Three of these artists (the Hufs and Shaw) held another show shortly afterwards in Guadalajara at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728). That gallery was owned by Jose Maria de Servin and the show was entitled 7-7-7. It featured seven works by each artist with the promotional material featuring a pose by the three artists emulating the Olympic scoring system.

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

In May 1970, Peter Huf was afforded the honor of a one-person show, Pinturas de la Mente, at the Instituto Aleman (Goethe Institut) in Guadalajara.

The following month, both Peter and Eunice Huf were included in a group showing at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. Other Lakeside artists with works in this show included Daphne Aluta, Mario Aluta, John Frost, Lesley Maddox and Bruce Sherratt.

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

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

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

Peter Huf: Birds.

Peter Huf: Birds. 1967. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist

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

On moving to Europe, the Hufs lived near Nerja, in Andalucia, southern Spain, from 1972 to 1974, where they renewed their friendship with Jack Rutherford. While in Spain, Peter contracted typhoid (from a visit to Morocco) and was rushed from their isolated residence in the hills to the hospital in Torremolinos by former Ajijic resident Geoffrey Goodridge (the flamenco guitarist “Azul”) and his Dutch wife in their VW minivan.

In 1974, they returned to Peter’s hometown of Kaufbeuren in the Allgäu region of southern Germany and now have joint studios in the house where he was born. Their work, known for the use of bright colors, has appeared regularly in exhibitions over the years. Peter Huf’s art has won many awards along the way, including the colleagues’ prize of the Professional Association of Visual Artists (Berufsverband Bildender Kunstler).

Peter Paul Huf’s major solo shows include Augsburg, Germany (1966); La Galeria, Ajijic (1969); Instituto Aleman (Goethe Institut), Guadalajara (1970); Kunstwerkstatt und Galerie Pich, Munich (1980); and Haus de Kunst, Kunstsalon, Munich (1981).

Both Peter and Eunice Huf were regulars at Munich’s Schwabing Christmas Market, held annually since 1975. In 1994, Peter Huf founded The Art Tent at this market. The Art Tent, which Huf oversaw until 2014, gives some twenty artists – “painters, sculptors, object artists, and conceptual artists” an “opportunity to escape from the tightness of their booth and to display bigger works”, and has become a big attraction.

Mexican influences are still very apparent in Peter Huf’s work, even today. His paintings often incorporate geometric patterns and are mainly done using acrylics. To quote the artist, “My concept is my life and surrealism is part of it.”

Acknowledgment:

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

Sources:

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

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

 Posted by at 6:03 am  Tagged with:
Feb 062017
 

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

The author is traveling with Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher who owned “Aggie”, their vehicle.

They meet up with Miss Nadeyne Montgomery (aka The General), who lived in Guadalajara; Mrs Kay Beyer, who lived in Chapala; and two tourists: Mrs. Lola Kirkland and her traveling companion, Mary Alice Naden.

The following extracts come from chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey.

1. TRIP ONE  (March 21, 1946)

“We had arrived in Guadalajara ready to spend a week with Nadeyne. We had never heard of Chapala, but we were willing to take her word that it was worth visiting, especially when we learned it was on a lake.” (82)

– – –

[After a day in Chapala] We drove out past the villas of the wealthier residents and found the smooth gravel ended at the outskirts of the town. The road proved even worse than I anticipated. It was dirt all the way and in very poor repair. To minimize the jolts it was necessary to go so slowly that most of the time I had to drive in second gear.

The road paralleled the shore of the lake. There were fields on either side and the mountains rose on our right. Actually, it was very pretty, with the picturesqueness being heightened by the cattle grazing in the fields and by the peasant people we passed, some riding donkeys, some herding goats, others carrying baskets. But, Lord, the going was bumpy! Trying to find the least broken surfaces occupied most of my attention.

As we rounded the first mountain headland, where the hills came close, I saw that a flood-stream, in racing down the slopes to reach the lake, had cut a ravine across the dirt tracks that comprised the road. The gully was narrow, but it was a good four feet deep and it was bridged only by two thick planks which were set a car’s width apart. As we crept over the planks, I thought, with a shudder, of the danger if one had to come back over them at night when it was hard to see.

After jolting along for about four miles we came to a pretty village called San Antonio. The road took several jogs to get through it and at the far end the General asked us to stop. She had some business to transact at a friend’s house. We offered to wait, but she announced she would walk the rest of the way. She needed the exercise. Mrs. Beyer would show us where to go, so we would not get lost. Once in Ajijic we were to visit the authoress, Neill James. We were to wait there and she would join us later.

As we resumed our way over the rutted washboard, I could see why the General preferred to walk. From here on the road had the appearance of a country lane, for it was shaded by gnarled trees that resembled mimosas. And besides being cooler and lovelier for walking, it was, if possible, even rougher for riding. Once in Ajijic the bumps came like bullets from a machine gun. The streets were cobbled. (85)

– – –

There was a resplendent purple and gold sunset. Sometimes unusual lighting effects can illumine a scene in an odd way, opening its whole significance, as it were. But this sunset did not have this effect on me. Principally, I saw it as a reminder of how late it was. I even resented the vividness. It seemed too flagrantly showy to be beautiful, and it heightened my sense of not belonging to Mexico. (90)

How could anyone ever feel at home in a land of such overpowering and excessive color? I asked myself. And as the question presented itself I felt as if all the alien features of the country—the heat, the tropical vegetation, the primitiveness, the throbbing colors— had gathered themselves together to oppress my northern spirit. (90)

Ross Parmenter: Aggie the Car[They had trouble starting the car and only left Ajijic as the sun was going down]

We were only a little way beyond Ajijic when I had to turn on the lights to see the ruts of the awful road. At first I doubted if the bulbs were burning, but as the dusk deepened I could see they were making a faint orange impression on the air in front of them. The glow dimmed and brightened according to our speed. I saw the generator was operating a bit, for when the motor turned faster the lights shone brighter. The trouble was that the road was so bad I had to go very slowly. It meant we had very little light. (91)
– – –
The intervening town of San Antonio, where the General had stopped on business on the way out, proved the greatest hazard. Not being electrified, there were no street lights and one turn looked very much like another. But we got safely through the dark village. [and eventually safely back to Chapala]. (91)

The illustration 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.

Feb 022017
 

Artist Cynthia Jones Luria, “Casey” to her friends, has several connections to Ajijic and Lake Chapala. She lived in the village from 1968 to 1969, and from about 2000 to 2003.

Born in 1943, her birth name is Cynthia Siddons Jones (“Siddons” is in memory of her maternal grandfather, artist Harry Siddons Mowbray). Her family gave her the nickname “Casey” when she was two.

Casey Luria attended Colorado Women’s College in Denver, and graduated in the class of 1963.

Casey Luria. Low Tide. 2010 Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Cynthia Luria. Low Tide. 2010 Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Over the years, on account of three marriages, Luria has used various different names for her art, including Cynthia Siddons, Cynthia Jones Hachten, Cynthia Jones Benjamin and, since 2001, Cynthia Jones Luria and Casey Luria.

On Valentine’s Day 1968, she married fellow artist Paul Charles Hachten in Mendocino, California. Immediately after their marriage, the young couple moved to Mexico, where they lived in Ajijic from 1968 to 1969. Peter Huf, who with his wife, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, was active in the Ajijic art community at that time, remembers Casey as “a very fine artist with a great sense for irony”. Casey became good friends with another artist who had links to Ajijic for more than forty years: Henry Edwards and his wife, Corinne.

Painting by Casey Luria. Credit: Casey Luria.

Example of iPad art by Cynthia Luria.

Cynthia Siddons (as she then signed her artwork) is listed among the artists exhibiting in the December 1968 to January 1969 show for the “re-opening” of La Galeria in Ajijic. The show, which opened on Friday 13 December 1968 was entitled “Art is Life; Life is Art” and also included works by Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Kenneth PetersonJack Rutherford, José Ma. de Servin, Shaw, and Joe Wedgwood.

In April 1969, Cynthia Siddons’ work was included in another show at La Galería in Ajijic, of “El Grupo”, together with works by John Kenneth Peterson and “guest artist” Charles Henry Blodgett. The members of El Grupo at the time, according to the Guadalajara daily Informador (20 April) were John Brandi, Tom Brudenell, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, Jack Rutherford, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons and Robert Snodgrass.

Casey Luria. Sundown. 2015 Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Cynthia Luria. Sundown. 2015 Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Cynthia Siddons held a solo showing of her paintings at La Galeria (Zaragoza 1, Ajijic) which opened on Friday 4 July 1969. (She has also held one other gallery showing in Mexico since that time, under the name Casey Luria.)

Cynthia Benjamin (Cynthia Siddons). Tractores. Image: CABA, 2000.

Cynthia Luria (Cynthia Benjamin). Tractores. Image: CABA, 2000.

In April 1975, after divorcing Paul Hachten, Cynthia Siddons Jones married Jerome Benjamin.

Following the end of that relationship, in 2001 she married Robert (“Bob”) Alan Luria, also an artist, in Tucson, Arizona, a marriage that lasted until 2011. The couple were living in Ajijic at the time of their marriage and remained there for about three years in total. While living in Ajijic, and in association with Mexican folk art expert Marianne Carlson, they opened an art gallery on 16 de Septiembre, across the street from the Lake Chapala Society.

Luria says that, “It was our trips together around the country [to purchase artwork] that convinced Marianne that she had to do something to help save the crafts Mexico, knowing that it would cease to exist if the artists never made any money from their craft. She doesn’t do anything small, we discovered. Maestros del Arte is amazing. I hope it continues on for a very long time.” Luria is describing the origins and success of the annual Maestros del Arte art and handicrafts fair held at the lake. Luria is pictured, along with Carlson and Teresa Kendrick in a photo to commemorate the first Maestros del Arte show (in 2005 at the Hotel Italo in Ajijic) in the December 2005 issue of El Ojo del Lago. The event has become one of Mexico’s most important exhibitions of folk art, bringing in artisans and their work from all over the country to showcase and sell their creative output. Luria attended the show regularly until recently.

Cynthia Luria. Two Can. Gourd assemblage. 2005.

Cynthia Luria. Two Can. Gourd assemblage. 2005.

Casey and Bob Luria left Ajijic after Bob had two serious health scares. They settled in Silver City, New Mexico, where Casey ran a gallery called Bloomin Gourdworks, making whimsical gourd sculptures and totems to complement her jewelry designs. Her jewelry was shown at the Yellow Gallery in Silver City, and the gourd sculptures were displayed at Details, Art and Design in Tucson, Arizona. She also donated pieces for benefit auctions for the cancer society, the Tucson museum of art, and the city’s Symphony Orchestra.

In 2008, Cynthia (Casey) Luria joined with two fellow artists -Randi Olson and Connie Powers – to open a store called the “Silver City Bag Ladies” in Silver City, where they sold unique handcrafted bags. (Desert Exposure, October 2008). Luria is quoted as saying at the time that “We are experimenting with all sorts of materials, in all sorts of sizes and shapes. I guess you’d say, ‘Whatever’s your bag!'”

Luria currently resides in the Tucson area of Arizona where she is turning her attention to mastering papier-mâché sculpting. Though Luria’s first love was painting, and she continues to draw and paint, she has increasingly become devoted to sculpture. Her creations are often quirky, designed to amuse.

As an artist, Luria says that she paints primarily for fun and draws inspiration from Dr Seuss, as well as from Mexican and Aboriginal art. This link has some interesting and colorful examples of her iPad artwork, which she describes as “zen tangles and doodles” and “stream of consciousness painting”.

Sources:

  • El Informador (Guadalajara). 1969. 20 April 1969; 4 July 1969.
  • El Ojo del Lago. 2005. December 2005 issue.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri). 1967. 19 February 1967.

Acknowledgment

Sincere thanks to Casey Luria for graciously sharing memories and information related to her career and time in Mexico. (This is an updated version of a post first published 16 June 2016.)

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

 Posted by at 6:18 am  Tagged with:
Jan 302017
 

Given that Canadian Ross Parmenter (1912-1999) only ever spent a few days at Lake Chapala, his inclusion in this series of profiles of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala may seem surprising. However, his detailed accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – first by car and then by boat – on two consecutive days in March 1946, are compelling reading, affording us a glimpse into several aspects of lakeside life at the time. [We look at these accounts in future posts]

And the 1940s was certainly an important time in the literary history of Ajijic. The author duo writing as Dane Chandos had just published Village in the Sun, while Neill James’s book Dust on my Heart, which also includes an interesting account of life in the village, was just about to be published in New York.

Parmenter’s travel account, published in Stages in a Journey, coincided with a time when more and more Americans (and to a lesser extent other foreigners) were traveling south to explore Mexico. Parmenter, though, was not your average tourist. He had a an artist’s eye but remained anxious about the difficulties and rewards of observing things in great detail. He was also an experienced writer. This somewhat unlikely combination gave Parmenter not only keen powers of observation but also an almost-obsessive attention to recording as many pertinent details as possible.

Even if the detailed accounts of his trip were not enough, Parmenter is one of the relatively small number of Canadians who have ever written about the area, quite possibly the first of any note.

Charles Ross Parmenter was born on 30 May 1912 in Toronto, Canada. At the University of Toronto he majored in modern history and reviewed art for the undergraduate newspaper. After gaining his BA degree in 1933 he worked briefly for the Toronto Evening Telegram before moving to New York in 1934 to work as a general reporter on the New York Times. In 1940 he joined the New York Times‘ music department as a reviewer, and was appointed the paper’s music news editor in 1955, a position he held until his retirement in 1964.

This lengthy career at the New York Times was punctuated by the second world war, during which Parmenter served for three years as a medical technician. Discharge from the armed services did not immediately alleviate his troubled soul and he set off to Mexico, hoping to find his bearings.

His traveling companion on this first trip – Miss Thyrza Cohen (“T”), a spirited, retired school teacher – was more than twice his age. The two friends drove down from California in “Aggie”, her 1932 Plymouth four-door sedan. Parmenter later wrote that whereas he had gone to learn about Mexico, he had actually learned from Mexico, a sentiment subsequently echoed by many other authors and artists.

Parmenter’s Chapala-Ajijic trips comprise chapter 3 of his Stages in a Journey, which was not published until 1983. Stages in a Journey is an unusual book, part travel writing, part travelogue and part “an account of personal growth”, but still well worth reading.

The same volume has descriptions of several major 16th century monasteries in Mexico, including the Church of San Miguel Arcangel in Ixmiquilpan (Hidalgo); the Monastery of San Miguel Arcángel in Huejotzingo (Puebla); and the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol in Cuilapan (Oaxaca). Parmenter’s long-time friend Dick Perry, who has himself written several seminal works about Mexico’s colonial religious architecture, has stressed the importance of these accounts from the 1940s:

“His descriptions of these early colonial monuments, then virtually unknown to American art historians or travelers, remain among the earliest accounts in English and can claim considerable historic interest.”

Parmenter loved Mexico. After he retired in 1964, he divided his time between New York and Oaxaca. Over the years, he published several books related to Mexico and to his specialist interests in archaeology, Mixtec documents and colonial architecture.

For Lake Chapalaphiles, the most interesting of other Parmenter books about Mexico is Lawrence in Oaxaca: A Quest for the Novelist in Mexico (1984), in which he looks in minute detail at D. H. Lawrence’s stay in Oaxaca over the winter of 1924-25. It was a productive stay, during which Lawrence wrote four of the pieces in Mornings in Mexico and rewrote The Plumed Serpent which he had drafted in Chapala the year before.

Other books written by Parmenter include The Plant in my window (1949); Week in Yanhuitlan (1964); Explorer, Linguist and Ethnologist (1966) [Alphonse Louis Pinart]; The Awakened Eye (1968); School of the Soldier (1980); Lienzo of Tulancingo, Oaxaca (1993); and A House for Buddha: A Memoir with Drawings (1994). Parmenter fans will be disappointed to learn that another work – Zelia Nuttall and the recovery of Mexico’s past – remained unpublished at the time of his death, though copies of the manuscript are held by Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Ross Parmenter died at his Manhattan home on 18 October 1999 at the age of 87.

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.

Jan 262017
 

Eugene and Marjorie Nowlen were an artistic couple who had a long connection to Mexico. The certainly visited Mexico prior to 1938, and first visited Ajijic on Lake Chapala in 1950. They became regular visitors to Lake Chapala from then until the 1970s. The work of both artists was included in A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972).

The couple grew up in the small city of Benton Harbor in Michigan, which has a street named after Eugene Nowlen’s paternal grandfather, A. R. Nowlen.

Eugene Pratt Nowlen (aka Gene Nowlen) was born on 4 November 1899 and became an architect, completing his education at the school of architecture of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lillian Marjorie Poundstone, who usually went by her middle name, was born on 31 March 1901. An accomplished pianist, she studied at the University of Michigan (class of 1924) and became a music and dance teacher. While still in high school she won second place in a state local history competition. Her essay, along with other winning essays, was published in 1917 in “Prize essays written by pupils of Michigan schools in the local history contest for 1916-17”.

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972.

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972. (A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería)

Marjorie’s musical accomplishments also started at an early age. She receives Regular mentions in the local press as a pianist. In November 1925, for instance, a short piece in Central Normal Life said that she played the “Blue Danube” waltz by Strauss and “To a Toy Soldier” by Clarence Warner with “great technical skill and fine interpretative ability.” It is clear from these and other references that both Marjorie and Eugene were in the social elite of Benton Harbor.

On 11 February 1928 they were united in marriage, a marriage that was to last until Gene’s death in 1977.

In their first years of marriage, Eugene Nolen practiced as an architect in his native city (remodeling the building occupied by the Peoples Savings Association and designing new homes), while Marjorie gave piano and dance lessons at their home at #758, Pearl Street.

The couple had two children: Barbara Jean (possibly Barbara Gene) and Richard, usually referred to in press reports as “Dick”. The children performed Mexican dances at local shows, and in more than one report, it was stated that “their parents have visited [Mexico] and bought authentic costumes”. At age 7, another report describes “Barbara Gene Nowlen taking several bows after her dance in a gorgeous costume brought back from Mexico by her parents”. The family’s love for Mexico was evident. For instance, following another concert, Marjorie Nowlen was going to show “Mexican motion pictures”.

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown.

A lengthy newspaper piece in 1942 reports that “Mrs Marjorie Nowlen” was working as a Red Cross nurse in Berrien County and had organized dozens of home nursing classes.

In 1943 the family left Benton Harbor and relocated to California, to Pasadena and Laguna Beach, where Eugene worked in real estate. The circumstances that led them to visit Ajijic in 1950 are unclear but, by the early 1950s, Eugene had retired in order to paint full-time. The couple promptly set off on an 18-month-long trip around the world, allowing plenty of painting time along the way.

On their return, Eugene Nowlen’s watercolors were shown at the Laguna Beach Art Gallery, in an exhibit, held in 1955, which also featured oils by Carl Schmidt of San Bernardino. The press report for this event says that Nowlen had won an award at the annual Madonna festival in Los Angeles for a watercolor entitled “Mexican Mother.” According to the Laguna Beach Art Association, Nowlen had several solo exhibits during his artistic career.

As an artist, Gene Nowlen developed his techniques by studying with several well-known artists, including Sueo Serisawa, Paul Darrow, Hans Burkhardt, and Leonard Edmondson.

In 1960, Nowlen’s “Market Day” was exhibited at a showing at a private home in Los Angeles, alongside works by many other artists, including one who also had close ties to Lake Chapala. One of the other paintings in the show as Priscilla Frazer’s “Mosaic Gate”. Frazer had a home in Chapala Haciendas for many years and her work will be subject of a future post.

The Nowlens were active in the Laguna Beach Art Association through the 1960s. For instance, in 1968, they co-organized a December art bazaar. According to a Los Angeles Times article in 1970, during Marjorie Nowlen’s chairmanship of the Exhibitions Committee at the Laguna Art Museum, she brought in experienced judges and the membership more than doubled from 300 to 640. The article describes her as “a soft spoken leader” and says that this “gracious, girlish grandmother with a gentle sense of humor” is “a doer.”

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972.

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972. (A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería)

Marjorie Nowlen exhibited at the Many Media Mini Show, Redlands Art Association, in 1970.

A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería (1972) included works by both Eugene and Marjorie Nowlen. (Other artists represented in this small volume include Luis Avalos, Antonio Cárdenas, Marian Carpenter, Jerry K. Carr, Tom Faloon, Priscilla Frazer, John Frost, Arthur L. Ganung, Virginia Ganung, Lona Isoard, Antonio López Vega, Luz Luna, Robert Neathery, José Olmedo, Hudson M. Rose, Mary Rose, Eleanor Smart and Jack Williams.)

Marjorie Nowlen also showed a work which received an honorable mention, in La Mirada’s Fiesta de Artes in Long Beach, California, in May 1974.

Gene Nowlen died on 27 September 1977 at the age of 77; Marjorie Nowlen passed away on 1 April 1998, at the age of 97.

Note:

While the 1940 US Census suggests that the Nowlens’ son, Richard, was born in about 1932, elsewhere it seems that he was actually born in 1929 and is the same Richard Nowlen who was murdered along with a female friend in the Mojave Desert, California in 1959, while on the run from Chino men’s prison.

Sources:

  • Central Normal Life, 25 November 1925, p1.
  • A Cookbook with Color Reproductions by Artists from the Galería. 1972. (Ajijic, Mexico: La Galería del Lago de Chapala).
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 30 Jan 1964, 7.
  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California: 29 May 1955, p 51; 10 April 1960, p 57; 1 December 1968, p 149; 12 May 1974, p60.
  • Independent, Long Beach, California, 11 September 1959, p5.
  • Lael Morgan. 1970. “Art Exhibition Chairman Brings Changes to Laguna”, in Los Angeles Times (16 October 1970), E2.
  • Mirror News, Los Angeles, Monday, September 14, 1959 page 12.
  • The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan: 2 August 1917 p 2; 21 December 1923, p17; 28 July 1925, p4; 1 January 1938, p41; 22 June 1938, p 3; 11 May 1939, p3; 13 May 1939, p3; 23 June 1939, p 4; 16 March 1940, p4; 30 April 1940, p4; 31 December 1941, p120; 3 December 1952, Page 4; 23 May 1953, p 4.
  • The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, 22 September 1959, p2.
  • Michigan Ensign, Volume 25, UM Libraries, 1921.
  • Nancy Dustin Moure. 2015. Index to California Art Exhibited at the Laguna Beach Art Association, 1918-1972. (Dustin Publications: Publications in California Art No. 11).
  • Cornelia M Richardson; Marjorie Poundstone; Edward Morris Brigham, jr.; Russell Holmes; Michigan Historical Commission.. 2017. Prize essays written by pupils of Michigan schools in the local history contest for 1916-17. (Lansing, Mich.: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co.).
  • San Bernardino County Sun, October 4, 1970, page 36.
  • The Tustin News, Tustin, California, 14 November 1963, p14.

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.

Jan 232017
 

Poet and children’s novelist Aileen Olsen and her second husband Arthur Melby first lived at Lake Chapala from 1970 to 1973 and then retired there in 1986, remaining there for the rest of their lives.

Aileen Bertha Olsen, also known as Aileen Olsen Molarsky and Aileen Olsen Melby, was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants to the U.S.. Born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on 24 October 1921, she attended Escanaba High School and won a full scholarship to the School of Arts and Architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

After graduating from university, Olsen moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, to work as a commercial artist. Her first job was with Women’s Wear Daily, after which she became art director for the book department of The Reader’s Digest.

She was still working for The Reader’s Digest at the time of her first marriage, to Osmond Molarsky in New York City, on 22 December 1951. The couple initially lived in New York City, at 5 West 65th St., before moving to Westport, Connecticut. They were avid sailors and enjoyed exploring the U.S. East Coast and the Caribbean. The couple, who divorced in 1965, had no children.

[Osmond Molarsky (1909-2009) was the author of Navy film scripts, 16 children’s books and a former radio host at KNEW in San Francisco. When studying at Swarthmore College, his roommate was a young James Michener, the famous novelist. Indeed, Molarsky claimed to have given Michener his first paid writing job, rewriting scenes from The Merchant of Venice for Molarsky’s puppet shows.]

At some point following her divorce, Aileen Olsen Molarsky moved to San Francisco where she worked for the architectural division of the Pebble Beach Company, and met and married Arthur Melby. Arthur Melby (1917-2010) had been a forester in Montana who had worked in the FBI during the second world war, as an undercover intelligence officer, before establishing box factories in Guatemala and El Salvador. Prior to retiring to Ajijic in 1986, the Melbys lived in the Carmel Valley of California for about twenty years.

Using her maiden name, Aileen Olsen wrote several children’s books. They include:

  1. Bernadine and the Water Bucket (1966, illustrated by Nola Langner), the “delightful story of a girl living on a small, sunny island who sets out to fetch water alone for the first time”,
  2. Big Fish (1970, illustrated by Imero Gobbato), the tale of “a young Caribbean boy who is out fishing with his father when a storm hits. The boy is separated from his father, but with the help of a friendly dolphin, he makes it safely back to shore and earns the nickname “Big Fish”” and
  3. Mafie and the Persian Pink Petunias (1970, illustrated by Lilian Obligado), in which “a young Caribbean boy named Benjamin wins a hen, Mafie, but Mafie has a Hunger for Mrs Gallup’s prized Persian Pink Petunias which she is growing for the flower show.” The last-named book was heavily criticized in a Kirkus review as being “ineptly structured” and with a Caribbean setting that was “unattractively stereotyped.”

An example of Aileen Olsen’s work was also included in the anthology Golden Treasure: Catch A Spoonful, published by Scott, Foresman and Company in 1976.

[Note that while her obituary in the Guadalajara Reporter states that she also “collaborated with Harold Gilliam” on his book, The Natural World of San Francisco (1967), I have not yet found any confirmation elsewhere of this. Gilliam’s book does, however, have an important connection to Lake Chapala since the book’s photographer, Michael Ernest Bry (born in 1924), later lived and taught photography for several years in Jocotepec at the western end of the lake.]

Aileen and Arthur Melby first visited Ajijic in 1970 when they stayed in the village for three years. After retirement, they moved there in 1986 and remained there the rest of their lives. They were active in the local community and staunch supporters of the Lake Chapala Society: Arthur was its President from 1989 to 1992, and Aileen later donated her entire library to the Society.

In 1991, Aileen Olsen Melby, who was also an accomplished watercolor painter, wrote and published Song for Mexico, a 60-page book of poems with decorative illustrations by Jorge Encisco. Aileen Olsen Melby suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in later life and died on 12 August 2003, predeceasing her husband by seven years.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter, 22 Aug 2003: obituary for Aileen Olsen Melby
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 22 Jan 2010: obituary for Arthur Melby
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 15 November 2009
  • The Bridgeport Post, Bridgeport, Connecticut, 14 October 1965, p 59
  • The Escanaba Daily Press, Escanaba, Michigan, 29 March 1952, p2

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.

Jan 192017
 

Allen Wadsworth, born in about 1939, had at least two exhibitions in Ajijic in the 1970s and honed his carpentry and painting skills in the village prior to embarking on a long and distinguished career in Hollywood as a set painter and scenic artist for major movies and TV shows.

Wadsworth and his wife Diane are natives of Minnesota and grew up in the Montevideo area of that state. He was always good at art but only decided to pursue his talents in that field after a stint in the U.S. Navy. He spent time in the 1960s and early 1970s studying and painting, including spells in both England and Mexico. A 2014 newspaper piece says that Wadsworth also “enjoyed a stint as the general manager of an art gallery in the smokestack on the Queen Mary.”

Allen Wadsworth. The Chess Players (ca 1950)

Allen Wadsworth. The Chess Players (ca 1950)

While his precise dates in Ajijic remain unclear, Wadsworth held two exhibitions in the village. The earlier show was held at the gallery-restaurant known as El Tejabán (at Zaragoza #1), then run by Jan Dunlop. That show opened on 20 May 1973 and featured acrylics and oils. The newspaper account described Wadsworth as a watercolorist who had studied at several art schools in the U.S. and exhibited in many galleries.

Three years later, Jan Dunlop had a new gallery in Ajijic, at 16 de Septiembre #9, the Wes Penn Gallery, named for her former artist husband. The exhibit that opened on 21 February 1976 was a two-person show, combining photos by Sylvia Salmi with 14 of Wadsworth’s oil paintings. (It was followed by a solo show of works by Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen.)

A newspaper interview in 2014 quotes Wadsworth as saying, in relation to Mexico, that “I taught in an art gallery and made frames and after I got back from Mexico a friend hooked me up with the studios as a scenic artist.”

From Ajijic, Wadsworth was apparently thrown into the deep end as a set painter with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. His first project was the 1976 film, A Star is Born, which won Barbra Streisand an Academy Award for Best Original Song. After that, Wadsworth worked on The Outlaw Josey Wales, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, and released later that year. Working in the era before CGI (computer-generated imagery), all special effects had to be achieved through craftsmanship and skilled painting.

Wadsworth worked on numerous other major movies including Arthur (1981), Protocol (1984), The Goonies (1985), Dick Tracy (1990), Hook (1991), Casper (1995), Eraser (1996), Men in Black (1997), Viva Rock Vegas (2000), Scary Movie (2000), Dragonfly (2002), Hidalgo (2004). He also worked on several well-known TV shows including Roots mini-series (1977), The Love Boat (1977-1987), The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985), Hotel (1983-1988), Falcon Crest (1981-1990).

Of all these projects, Wadsworth’s favorite Hook (1991), the cast of which featured such stars as Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Julia Roberts. In addition to painting the Lost Boys’ treehouse in Neverland, Wadsworth painted the sky and clouds on the nursery walls and the huge, menacing crocodile that falls on Captain Hook in the movie’s final scene.

Allen Wadsworth in his studio, 2014. Credit: Okoboki magazine.

Allen Wadsworth in his studio, 2014. Credit: Okoboji magazine.

Away from his work on movies (for which he rented accommodation, as and when needed, in Los Angeles) Wadsworth and his wife, Diane, lived with their children in the northern California town of Alturas. Between movies, Wadsworth continued to paint, with occasional gallery shows to sell paintings in northern California, Idaho, Nevada and Washington.

After painting sets and scenery for 25 years, Wadsworth retired with his wife Diane to Iowa where he has a studio at Spirit Lake. Paintings spanning 45 years of work were exhibited in his solo show of 21 watercolors and 51 oils, “Paintings by Allen Wadsworth,” at The Pearson Lakes Art Center in Iowa which ran for two months from 17 July 2014.

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.

Jan 162017
 

Gabino Ortiz Villaseñor (1819-1885) was a 19th century poet, journalist, lawyer, politician and playwright born in the town of Jiquilpan, Michoacán, on the eastern shore of Lake Chapala prior to that area’s draining for farmland in 1906. Despite the fact that the commemorative plaque on his birthplace (image) gives his date of birth as 18 February 1819, biographers appear to agree that his actual birth date was one day later, on 19 February 1819. Note, too, that his first name is often spelled as Gavino, the letters v and b sharing an almost identical sound in Spanish.

Memorial plaque on birthplace of Gabino Ortiz

Memorial plaque on birthplace of Gabino Ortiz

Ortiz studied in Morelia where he became a lawyer in 1845. He then worked in that city as a lawyer until 1847, when he was elected to the Congress. He occupied various public positions over the years. In 1850 he became a Deputy in the State Congress. Affiliated to the Liberal party, he wrote the political paper El Espectro, which came out against the dictatorship of Antonio López de Santa Anna (who served a total of eleven non-consecutive terms as President of Mexico) and later another liberal newspaper, El Sanscalote.

After the 1857 Reform Law was passed, Ortiz became the first head judge of the Civil Registry in Morelia. The following year, he wrote the official newspaper Bandera Roja; he was also a regular writer for the La Bandera de Ocampo newspaper.

Ortiz translated two ecclesiastical leaflets by Lefevre from French to Spanish, which were published in Morelia in 1859 and 1870 respectively. He also translated work by the Latin poet Horace.

Ortiz’s own poetic works (some of them satirical pieces or fables) were published in various newspapers, especially El Colibrí. A collection of his poems appeared in Morelia, with the simple title Versos, in 1873.

In addition, Ortiz wrote four dramatic works for the stage: La Redención del hombre (a biblical melodrama); Elvira ó la virtud y la pasión (a drama, set partly in Spain and partly in Mexico in the 17th century); and two comedies: Por dinero baila el perro (set in Morelia) and Mañana será otro día (set partly in Morelia and partly in Mexico City).

Despite his moderate success as a writer, Gabino Ortiz died in poverty in Morelia on 22 May 1885. His memory lives on in Jiquilpan because a local street and the town’s library are named in his honor.

The Biblioteca Pública Gabino Ortiz (Gabino Ortiz Public Library) occupies a former nineteenth century church on the town’s main street (Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas). The building is embellished with two impressive works of art. The beautiful main door, which has bronze sculptures of the heads of 22 of the most outstanding scientists and thinkers of the early twentieth century, was designed by Guillermo Ruiz.

Orozco mural;s inside Jiqulipan library

Orozco murals inside Gabino Ortiz Public Library, Jiqulipan

The murals inside the library are the work of famous Jalisco muralist José Clemente Orozco, considered one of the famous “Big Three” of Mexican Muralism, alongside Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Orozco painted, literally single-handedly (having lost his left hand in a childhood accident) a series of sketchy black-and-white murals depicting political parties and revolutionary Mexico on either side of the former nave and an unusual and striking full-color mural known as “A Mexican Allegory” on the end wall. Painted in 1940, it is one of his last completed works. For more about this mural and the town of Jiquilpan, see chapter 6 of my Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury.

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.

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