May 182017
 

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

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

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

Thorward-clara-Postcard-Watercolor057

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivas waxed lyrically about Thorward’s work, writing:

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

Sources:

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

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

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Apr 182017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Ballou (1950 UNM Yearbook)

George Ballou (1950 UNM Yearbook)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments:

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

Sources:

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

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

Apr 112017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Apr 102017
 

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

One of these book, Stages in a Journey (1983), includes accounts of two trips from Chapala to Ajijic – the first by car, the second by boat – made on two consecutive days in March 1946. The following extracts come from chapter 3 of Stages in a Journey:

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

2. TRIP TWO (March 22, 1946)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All artwork in this post is by Ross Parmenter.

Source:

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

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

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.

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 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.

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.

Dec 082016
 

Alan Horton Crane, aka Alan Crane (a name also used by his artist son), was an American artist, illustrator and lithographer who spent most of his life in New England, but who visited Mexico several times in the 1940s and 1950s.

Crane was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1901 and died in 1969. (His son, Alan Crane, best known for his magical realism paintings, died in 2015.)

Crane senior studied at the Pratt Institute with Winold Weiss and with Richard Boleslawsky at the American Laboratory Theater. He also worked with  Boleslawsky and at various other theater venues.

Weiss later used Crane as the model for one of the heads depicted in his Union Terminal mosaic mural in Cincinnati, which commemorated the broadcasting pioneers of the city. For aesthetic reasons, Weiss felt he needed someone with wavy hair to replace the head (but not the body) of radio engineer Charlie Butler, who had straight, slicked-back hair. When the Union Terminal concourse was demolished in 1974, the mural was moved to Terminal 2 at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. When that building in turn was removed, the mural was relocated to the Duke Energy Convention Center.

Alan Horton Crane. Indian Laurels, Chapala. 1948

Alan Horton Crane. Indian Laurels, Chapala. 1948

Crane exhibited widely from about 1941 to 1956 and his art won numerous awards. He also undertook illustrations for books and magazines, and wrote and illustrated several books of his own, including Pepita Bonita (1942); Gloucester Joe (1943); and Nick and Nan in Yucatan (1945). In 1956, he illustrated Elizabeth Borton de Trevino’s book A Carpet of Flowers.

Crane was a member of numerous art groups, including the Salmagundi Club, Audubon Artists, Society of American Graphic Artists, Philadelphia Water Color Club, Guild of Boston Artists, Rockport Art Association and the North Shore Arts Association.

Crane’s work can be found in the collections of the Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library, Carnegie Institute, American Society of Arts and Letters, Brooklyn Museum, Pennsylvania State College and the Princeton Print Club.

It is unclear precisely what motivated Crane to first visit Mexico, but he visited the country several times, as witnessed by a succession of superb, finely detailed, lithographs (in editions of between 40 and 50) of Mexican scenes, including “Haunted Garden, Mexico” (1947); “Indian Laurels, Chapala” (1948); “Clouds and Spires, San Miguel Allende” (1949); “The Mirror, Camecuaro” (1952); “Shadows at Noon, Patzcuaro” (1952) and “Morning Catch, Puerto Vallarta” (1959).

Sources:

  • Various authors. 1964. Artists of the Rockport Art Association. A pictorial and descriptive record of The Oldest Art Organization on Cape Ann. (Rockport Art Association, Massachusetts, 1964).
  • cincinnati.com Undated. “Uncovering the murals” [http://local.cincinnati.com/community/pages/murals/tablet/index.html – viewed 8 Dec 2016, no longer active]
  • Jac Kern. 2016. “UC artists revisit Union Terminal worker murals with modern mission and materials”. University of Cincinnati Magazine, 11 Aug. 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.

Nov 102016
 

The famous American writer, composer and translator Paul Bowles (1910-1999) was a frequent visitor to Mexico in the late 1930s and early 1940s prior to moving to live in Morocco in 1947. Bowles spent a few relaxing weeks in Ajijic, on Lake Chapala, in the first half of 1942.

Paul Bowles was born in New York on 30 December 1910 and displayed early talent for music and writing. After attending the University of Virginia, Bowles made several trips to Paris in the 1930s, and also visited French North Africa in 1931. During the late 1930s and most of the 1940s, Bowles was based in New York where he composed music (primarily for stage productions) while making frequent trips south to explore the sights and sounds of Mexico and elsewhere, trips which had a profound influence on his musical compositions.

Bowles’ interest in visiting Lake Chapala dates back to 1934, when he was considering accompanying Bruce Morrissette in traveling around Mexico. In March 1934, Bowles wrote to Morrissette that, “A while ago I made a list of what seemed to be the best places there: Campeche, Necaxa, Toluca, the baja part of Baja California, Mazatlán, Pátzcuaro, perhaps Lago Chapala, Morelia, which looks to be lovely, Tepatzlán, Cholula, Amecameca and Xochimilco …”

In 1937, Bowles met Jane Auer at a party. When they met again, accidentally, a few days later, Jane suggested to Bowles that he “take her to Mexico with him.” Auer and Bowles married 21 February 1938, and had a successful, if unconventional, marriage that lasted until her death in 1973.

[Jane Sydney Auer (1917-1973) was an American writer and playwright. Her novel, Two Serious Ladies, first published in 1943, may have been the catalyst that resulted in Bowles’ own novel-writing career. Jane Bowles suffered a stroke in 1957, from which she never fully recovered. She died in 1973 at a clinic in Spain.]

bowles-paul-autobiographyThey took a Greyhound bus to reach Mexico on their first trip together in 1937, with Bowles hiding 15,000 anti-Trotsky stickers in his luggage. In Mexico, he met the Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas and attended a concert at which Revueltas conducted his Homage to García Lorca. Bowles took a second trip to Mexico later in 1937 in order to live for a short time in Tehuantepec (on the recommendation of Miguel Covarrubias, whom he had met in New York), where he worked on an opera about a slave rebellion.

On 23 February 1938, two days after their marriage, Bowles and his wife attended the first performance of Bowles’ Mediodia (Mexican dances for 11 players) in New York. The couple then left on a honeymoon, “with 27 suitcases, two wardrobe trunks, a typewriter and a record player”, aboard a Japanese freighter, the SS Kanu Maru, on a trip that took them to Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Barbados and Paris, France. They returned to New York in September.

They visited Mexico again in 1939 and stayed in Acapulco and Taxco (where Jane first met Helvetia Perkins, who would later became her lover). On this trip, they met a still unknown Tennessee Williams, and a young man named Ned Rorem, then only a teenager, who went on to become a composer and diarist, and win a Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

bowles-paul-on-musicSome idea of the exalted literary and musical circles in which Bowles and his wife moved can be gained from a list of their roommates in the rented house they occupied in 1941. The house, at 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn Heights, New York, was rented by the novelist and editor George Davis, who occupied the ground floor. Paul and Jane Bowles lived on the second floor, together with the theater set designer Oliver Smith. Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, and W. H. Auden shared the third floor, while Golo Mann lived in the attic. It was in this house that Bowles composed Pastorela, a Mexican Indian ballet commissioned by Lincoln Kirstein for American Ballet Caravan.

Early in 1942, when Bowles and his wife revisited Mexico, he was taken ill with jaundice and spent several weeks in a “British hospital in Mexico City” before going to Cuernavaca for convalescence. In Cuernavaca, Jane let him read and critique her manuscript of Two Serious Ladies, though it was greatly rewritten and edited prior to its publication the following year. Jane, accompanied by Helvetia Perkins, left for New York at the end of March, while Bowles remained in Mexico a few more weeks, staying at Casa Heuer, the small posada run by siblings Paul (Pablo) and Liesel Heuer in Ajijic.

In a letter to Virgil Thomson, Bowles wrote that, “As soon as she had gone I came to Chapala. Reasons for my not going with her were several.” During his stay in Ajijic, Bowles visited the house in Chapala where D.H. Lawrence had written the first draft of The Plumed Serpent in 1923; Bowles found it “depressing” and poorly ventilated, with the ambiance of a dead-end street. According to his autobiography, Bowles discovered a whole new world of “delightful” literature during his time in Ajijic. He started with García Lorca, then completed two novels by Bioy Cásares and the memoirs of Mario Alberti before turning his attention to Mexico’s early colonial times, and then to short stories by Jorge Luis Borges.

bowles-paul-and-janeBowles’ compositional creativity was in full flow during these years. In 1944, for example he composed the incidental music for the Broadway opening of Tennessee WilliamsThe Glass Menagerie. (The success of this work enabled Williams to spend the summer of 1945 at Lake Chapala).

In 1947, Bowles moved to Tangier, Morocco. His wife, Jane, followed a year later. Except for a series of winters spent in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and occasional trips elsewhere, Bowles lived the remaining 52 years of his life in Morocco. His fame was undiminished and a succession of famous writers and musicians made the pilgrimage to Morocco to visit him, including the most famous names of the Beat generation: Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg.

When Gregory Stephenson interviewed him in Morocco in 1979, he found that Bowles had mixed memories of Mexico:

“When I mention the Tarahumara, Bowles says that he once translated some Tarahumara myths for a surrealist magazine. He rummages in his bedroom and returns with a copy of View for May 1945, a special “Tropical Americana” number which he edited. There are black and white photographs, collages and translations, including sections of the Popul Vuh and the Chilam Balam, all done by Bowles. A myth titled “John Very Bad” has been rendered by him into English from the Tarahumara. There are also bizarre and gruesome news stories selected by Bowles from the Mexican press.

Bowles speaks of the extreme poverty and squalor he encountered in parts of Mexico when he visited that country in the 1930s. Mexico was a land of gloom and chaos, he says, but also poetry, mystery and great natural beauty. Places such as Acapulco and Tehuantepec were very pleasant in those days and living there was very cheap. Yet he was often very ill in Mexico, afflicted with diverse ailments.”

The astonishingly prolific writing and composing career of Paul Bowles was drawn to a close by his death in Morocco on 18 November 1999.

Bowles’ extensive musical output included Sonata for Oboe and Clarinet (1931); Horse Eats Hat, play (1936); Who Fights This Battle, play (1936); Doctor Faustus, play (1937); Yankee Clipper, ballet (1937); Music for a Farce (1938); Too Much Johnson, play (1938); Huapango – Cafe Sin Nombre – Huapango-El Sol, Latin American folk (1938); Twelfth Night, play (1940); Love Like Wildfire, play (1941); Pastorela, ballet (1941); South Pacific, play (1943); Sonata for Flute and Piano and Two Mexican Dances (1943); ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, play (1943);  The Glass Menagerie, play (1944); Jacobowsky and the Colonel, play (1944); Sentimental Colloquy, ballet (1944); Cyrano de Bergerac, play (1946); Concerto for Two Pianos (1947); Concerto for Two Pianos, Winds and Percussion (1948); Oedipus, play (1966); Black Star at the Point of Darkness (1992) and Salome, play (1993).

Novels by Bowles include The Sheltering Sky (1949); Let It Come Down (1952); The Spider’s House (1955); and Up Above the World (1966). His collections of short stories include A Little Stone (1950); The Delicate Prey and Other Stories (1950); A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard (1962); Things Gone & Things Still Here (1977); Collected Stories, 1939–1976 (1979); and A Thousand Days for Mokhtar (1989). Poetry works by Bowles include Two Poems (1933); Scenes (1968); The Thicket of Spring (1972); Next to Nothing: Collected Poems, 1926–1977 (1981); and No Eye Looked Out from Any Crevice (1997).

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.

Nov 072016
 

Betty Binkley, a painter mainly associated with Santa Fe, New Mexico, lived and painted in Chapala in the mid-1940s. In 1944, she exhibited her work at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in a group show that also included works by Jaime López Bermudez, Ernesto Butterlin (“Lin”), Otto Butterlin, Ann Medalie and Sylvia Fein.

Betty (sometimes Bettie) J. Binkley, also known as Betty Binkley Farrar, was born in Long Beach, California, on 5 September 1914 but spent most of her early years in El Paso, Texas. She died of a heart attack in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, at age 63 on 25 August 1978.

Binkley’s parents were James B. Binkley and Bee Binkley (1889-1968). Following their divorce, in the early 1930s, Bee Binkley moved to Santa Fe and built a house on land that had previously been part of the Hacienda de San Sebastian.

Betty Binkley attended Radford School for Girls in El Paso before moving with her mother to Santa Fe, where she took art classes for many years with local Santa Fe landscape painter Fremont Ellis (1897-1985).

In 1936, the El Paso Herald-Post was already referring to Betty Binkley as a “well known Santa Fe artist”. According to the newspaper, Binkley, who was in town visiting her grandmother, had “recently returned from two months’ stay in the Navajo country of Arizona, where she sketched and painted Indians and scenes of Indian life.”

Three years later, in January 1939, the same newspaper was extolling the virtues of Binkley’s art, examples of which were on display for a couple of days at Radford School for Girls, her former high school. The report explains that Binkley had recently taken up portrait painting and had chosen “childhood playmates” Teddy Bear and Raggedy Ann as her first subjects:

“Teddy is yellow and fuzzy and wears a blue bow around his neck. Annie, as the artist calls the doll, has button eyes, a smile that never leaves her face and a cutout heart that insists on slipping out of place–because of the sawdust filling. She wears a white apron. Miss Binkley has done a series of 10 portraits of the toys for children. Each picture depicts an incident of Spanish or Mexican life. There is a cockfight where the toys are spectators.”

In September 1939, Binkley’s work is included in the Twenty-sixth annual exhibition of painters & sculptors of the Southwest, a group exhibition held at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe.

The following month, Binkley, then a student at the University of New Mexico, was elected “draughtsman” of the New Mexico Anthropologist, the student publication of the university’s Anthropology Department.

Betty Binkley: Self portrait. 1950. Reproduced by kind permission of Jane Farrar.

Betty Binkley: Self portrait. 1950. Reproduced by kind permission of Jane Farrar.

Binkley had been married at least once prior to being married (briefly) in 1940 to Catalan-born sculptor, painter and art educator Urbici Soler (Urbici Soler i Manonelles, 1890–1953). The couple held a joint exhibit of terra cottas at the College of Mines Museum in El Paso in July 1940, before leaving the city for a trip to “The East” in August. In November 1940, Binkley accompanied Soler when he opened a School of Sculpture at 214-216 East 34th street in New York City. Soler planned to teach clay modelling, stone cutting, woodcarving, life drawing, terra cotta and casting, as well as run a summer school in Glacier Park in Montana.

After the couple separated, Binkley moved to Texas in 1942 to attend the University of Texas at Austin. She spent the early part of the summer of 1943 at a University of New Mexico summer school in Albuquerque, and then spent August with her mother in Santa Fe, before returning to Austin.

It is unclear precisely how long Binkley lived at Lake Chapala, but Sylvia Fein, who lived in Ajijic between 1943 and 1946, has clear memories of Binkley living in Chapala at about the same time. Certainly, Binkley spent the winter of 1944/45 in Chapala, as evidenced by her exhibition at the Villa Montecarlo in late 1944. She became friends with poet Witter Bynner who owned a home in Chapala; Bynner gave her a hand-written poem, “Breakers” in March 1945, with a note that read, “Let this be your other home, too – Chapala, where I came to know you and Laotzu”. (Bynner’s The Way of Life According to Laotzu had been published the previous year). Binkley and Bynner may well have encountered each other again later in their overlapping social circles in Santa Fe.

Binkley held a solo exhibition of paintings at the art gallery of the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City from 27 April to 11 May, 1945. Despite her participation in the earlier 1944 group show at Villa Montecarlo in Chapala, this Mexico City show was reported in the local press as Binkley’s first ever show in Mexico.

Betty Binkley. Woodlands chief wearing peace medal. Date unknown.

Betty Binkley. Woodlands chief wearing peace medal. Date unknown.

By 1946, Binkley was back in New Mexico and was exhibiting her art more frequently. Reporting on a group show, the Santa Fe New Mexican said that “… we come upon Betty Binkley’s more precise San Miguel Allende with its intersecting pattern of black-swathed women ascending the stairs to the sanctuary. Note the scavenger dogs in the foreground relieving the tension, whimsically.” Included in the same show was work by artist Peter Hurd who would later also have a close connection to Chapala.

It was at about this time that Binkley took classes with the distinguished art educator Hans Hofmann. Hofmann had at least two additional Lake Chapala connections. The first was via another of his former students, Clara Schafer Thorward (1887-1969). The second connection was via fellow artist Jack Bateman,  who had lived in New York in an apartment one floor above Hofmann and whose accidental spillage of plaster through the ceiling onto unfinished paintings below had led to a productive friendship between the two men.

Binkley’s work was included in numerous group shows over the next decade, including two in 1947: An exhibition of oils, tempera and watercolors by Ivan Bartlett, Betty Binkley and John Langley Howard (also associated with Lake Chapala),  held from 5 February to 1 March, at the Rotunda Gallery, City of Paris, California; and “6 Southwestern States: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana”, held at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 15 June to 14 September 1947. Binkley showed an oil painting entitled “Beach”. Peter Hurd was also exhibiting.In 1951, Binkley was one of the artists included in “New Mexico Artists: An Exhibition”, held at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Among the other artists exhibiting there was Alfred Rogoway, yet another artist closely associated with Lake Chapala.

The following year, she held a joint show with ceramicist Warren Gilbertson, exhibiting 12 oils, described as “a collection of fresh work, primarily non-objective” at the Plaza Art Gallery in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In 1950, she took a solo trip to Europe for several months. She left New York on 7 April, one of only four passengers aboard the SS Marengo bound for Hull, England, and flew back from Paris France to New York on a “special” flight operated by The Flying Tiger Line on 31 July.

Binkley had a solo show at the Willard Hougland Gallery in Hermosa Beach, California, in March 1951. (Houghland had strong Santa Fe connections, and had previously operated the La Quinta Gallery at Los Poblanos, near Albuquerque) .

Binkley continued to visit Mexico. She spent the winter of 1954/55 painting and sightseeing in and around the city of Guanajuato, before returning north to her studio at 552, Canyon Road in Santa Fe.

The summer 1955 group show of New Mexico artists at the Museum of New Mexico Art Gallery, Santa Fe, included her work, as did a group showing of Santa Fe artists in Albuquerque in November 1955, and a November 1956 exhibit of “nine of New Mexico’s most famous women artists” at the Sandia Base Library in Albuquerque.

In July 1973, one of Binkley’s paintings received special mention in the Santa Fe New Mexican review of  a show of “vigorous, contemporary art ” organized by The Artists Co-op:

“The most astounding painting, however, was painted by Betty Binkley. Using absolutely horrible blues and muddy earth colors which were most depressing in themselves and in combination, she “nonetheless managed to paint a portrait of a woman seated at a table which for some inexplicable reason does not produce a depressing effect on the whole. Rather, after one gets used to it, it turns out to be an interesting, mood-provoking piece.”

At some point, probably in the 1950s, Betty Binkley married Charles H. Farrar (1906-1963) of California; the couple’s daughter, Jane Farrar, was born in August 1957.

Binkley’s death certificate lists her residence as Cuna de Allende #7 in San Miguel de Allende. That building is now the Maria Xoconostle restaurant.

Acknowledgment

Sincere thanks to Jane Farrar (Betty’s daughter) for drawing my attention to the fact that there was a second, unrelated, painter named “Binkley”, who  is believed to have painted “Sunlit Daisys”, mistakenly included in a previous version of this post as being the work of Betty Binkley.

Sources:

  • Albuquerque Journal. 1956. 10 November 1956, p6
  • El Paso Herald-Post, 2 November 1936, p 6; 5 January 5, 1939, p 6; 7 June 1943, p 6.
  • Barbara Spencer Foster. 2010. Fremont Ellis (Sunstone Press)
  • Los Angeles Times, 11 March 1951, p 112:
  • New Mexico Lobo [Publication of the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico] 1939. 3 Oct 1939.
  • The Santa Fe New Mexican. 1946. 31 August 1946, p 6; 29 July 1973: p 50.

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 Posted by at 11:17 am  Tagged with:
Oct 032016
 

Film director and writer Alfredo (“Fredy”) Bolongaro-Crevenna (1914-1996) visited Ajijic in about 1944 with movie producer Francisco Cabrera. Their visit was noted by Neill James in her 1945 account of the village.

Bolongaro-Crevenna and Cabrera played very significant roles in the golden age of Mexican cinema. Bolongaro-Crevenna directed about 140 films between 1945 and 1995, in genres ranging from melodramas to comedy, horror and science fiction.

Bolongaro-Crevenna was born in Frankfurt, Germany, on 22 April 1914 and was more commonly known as Alfredo B. Crevenna. He studied chemical engineering at Oxford University in the U.K. before returning to Germany to take a position at the UFA film studios in Berlin.

Crevenna married his high school sweetheart Renate Horney (1916-2009), the youngest daughter of German-American psychoanalyst Karen Horney (who also visited Ajijic, in 1945).

In 1938, at age 24, Crevenna left the UFA film studios and moved to New York City, with the intention of finding work eventually in Hollywood. After several wasted months trying to obtain a work visa, he accepted an invitation from an old school friend to go to Mexico City.

alfredo-b-crevennaAt a welcome party, he was introduced to the film producer Francisco de P. Cabrera. Cabrera was about to start shooting La noche de los mayas (1939) and asked Crevenna to take a look at the script. Crevenna did not at that time speak Spanish, so he translated the script into English overnight and then made various suggestions to tighten up the structure. Thus began the lengthy and exceedingly fruitful working relationship between the two men. Crevenna never did return to live in  New York, and eventually became a naturalized Mexican citizen.

Crevenna and Renate Horney settled into family life in Mexico City and Cuernavaca. The couple had at least two children: Angela Karen Bolongaro-Crevenna (1936-1999) and Pedro Bolongaro-Crevenna (ca 1940-1988). In 1960, Renate Crevenna exhibited in a group show of German artists in the Galerias Chapultepec in Mexico City. The show also featured a work by Otto Butterlin.

In 1943, Cabrera suggested that Crevenna begin his career as a director in Mexico with the movie Santa in a version starring Esther Fernández and Ricardo Montalbán. Unfortunately, at that time the U.S. completely controlled the supply of film stock. When the U.S.-based Office of the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs objected to the use of a German-born director, Cabrera was forced to work with Hollywood director Norman Foster, even though Foster did not speak a word of Spanish.

bolongaro-crevennaHis films included Neither Blood Nor Sand (1941), Muchachas de uniforme (1950), Mi esposa y la otra (1951), Una mujer en la calle (1955), Orquídeas para mi esposa (1954), Talpa (1956), Where the Circle Ends (1956), Yambaó (1957), Adventure at the Center of the Earth (1965), La venus maldita (1967), La Satánica (1973). He collaborated on many projects with the legendary Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

Many of Crevenna’s movies won awards. For instance, Talpa received several ”Ariel“ awards and was nominated for Best Picture in 1957.

Alfredo Bolongaro-Crevenna, described by those who knew him as tall, polite, and with a wonderful sense of humor, died in Mexico City on 30 August 1996, leaving a legacy that included some of the finest Mexican movies of all time.

Postscript

Angela Karen Bolongaro-Crevenna, the German-born daughter of Alfred Bolongaro-Crevenna and Renate Horney, and grand-daughter of Karen Horney, had an additional close link to the Lake Chapala area.

After the family moved to Mexico, Angela become a naturalized Mexican citizen. She met German-born audiologist Dr. Carl Lohmann in 1955 and married him three years later. They spent most of their time in the U.S. but were frequent visitors to Mexico and had a winter home in Quintana Roo. From 1993, they began to spend winters at Lake Chapala. They bought a home in Chapala Haciendas and, in 1995, moved permanently to the area.

Even after Angela Lohman (née Bolongaro-Crevenna) died in 1999, her husband Carl continued to reside in Chapala until his own death in a Guadalajara hospital a decade later.

Sources:

  • Rogelio Agrasánchez, Jr. Undated. “From the UFA to the Mexican Studios: Alfredo B. Crevenna.”
  • Cinema Reporter. “Crevenna, Alfredo Bolongaro”, Cinema Reporter. No. 482, 11 October 1947, p. 16.
  • José Luis Gallegos C. “Alfredo B. Crevenna colaboró con Luis Buñuel.” Excélsior. Espectáculos. 30 November 1990, p2.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. “Longtime Lakeside resident Dr. Carl Lohmann died in a Guadalajara hospital on June 14 at the age of 84. 19 June 2009.” Guadalajara Reporter, 19 June 2009
  • Jaime Hernández.. “Alfredo B. Crevenna. Sólo en México no protegen al cine.” Novedades, 10 August 1984, p 1-2.

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Sep 262016
 

German-American psychoanalyst Karen Horney (1885-1952) worked on a book during her stay of several weeks in Ajijic in 1945. Horney lived in New York and the local Guadalajara newspaper El Informador (27 August 1945) reported that she was visiting Ajijic in order to complete the manuscript of her next book.

Surrealist painter Sylvia Fein, who was living in Ajijic at that time, recalls meeting Horney and a male colleague who was collaborating with the book. Horney was staying at the modest guesthouse of the Heuer siblings on the lakeshore. It seems likely that the male colleague is the fictional “Dr. Borman” described in Barbara Compton‘s thinly disguised autobiographical novel  To The Isthmus. The novel’s protagonist, Peg, stays several weeks at Casa Heuer, having heard about it from one of her husband’s colleagues (Dr. Borman) who “was down here not long ago, with a woman friend. She was an analyst too. They were writing a book together, and in the evenings used to try out their latest chapter on me. They seemed to think I was normal, or normal enough to try it out on.” [ To The Isthmus, p 153]

Karen Horney. Oil on canvas, c. 1940-1950, by Suzanne Carvallo Schulein. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Karen Horney. Oil on canvas, c. 1940-1950, by Suzanne Carvallo Schulein. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Horney was born in Blankenese, Germany, on 16 September 1885. Her full maiden name was Karen Clementina Theodora Danielson. She entered medical school in 1906. On 30 October 1909, in the middle of her medical studies at the universities of Freiburg, Göttingen, and Berlin, Karen Danielson married Heinrich Wilhelm Oskar Horney (1882-?), a law student, in Dahlem, Germany. The couple had three daughters: Brigitte (1911-1988), Marianne (born in 1913) and Renate (1916-2009).

[Brigitte Horney (1911-1988) became a German theater and film actress who eventually moved to the U.S. after the second world war. Her first husband (from 1940 to 1953) was movie producer Konstantin Irmen-Tschet (1902-1977); her second husband (from 1953 to 1985) was Hanns Swarzenski (1903-1985).]

[Marianne Horney (born in 1913) studied medicine and became a psychoanalyst like her mother.]

[Renate Horney (1916-2009) lived with her husband, cinematographer Alfredo Bolongaro-Crevenna, and their three children in Cuernavaca, Mexico, from 1939 onwards. Karen Horney was a regular visitor. While staying with her family in Cuernavaca, in 1944, Horney wrote Our Inner Conflicts (1945). In her later years, Karen Horney would visit Renate and family in Cuernavaca for up to several months at a time.]

In 1926, Karen Horney left her husband, Oskar, and moved to the U.S. The couple finalized their divorce in 1937.

horney-karen-coverIn the U.S., Horney practiced as a psychiatrist and developed theories of sexuality that were at odds with the then traditional Freudian views. Horney, usually classified as a Neo-Freudian, is credited with having founded the field of feminist psychology. She had also founded the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (AAP) and became Dean of the American Institute of Psychoanalysis. She later left these positions in order to teach at the New York Medical College.

Horney had published several books prior to visiting Lake Chapala, including The Neurotic Personality of our Time (Norton, 1937); New Ways in Psychoanalysis (Norton, 1939,) Self-analysis (Norton, 1942) and Our Inner Conflicts (Norton, 1945).

The book Horney was working on in Ajijic was presumably Are You Considering Psychoanalysis?, which she edited for Norton and which was published in 1946.

Several biographies of Karen Horney have been written. They include:

  • Hitchcock, S. T.  Karen Horney: Pioneer of Feminine Psychology (Chelsea House Publishers, 2004).
  • Quinn, S. A mind of her own: The life of Karen Horney, New York: Summit Books, 1987).
  • Paris, Bernard J. Karen Horney: A Psychoanalyst’s Search for Self-Understanding (Yale University Press, 1996). The cover illustration shows Karen Horney in Ajijic in 1947.
  • Rubins, J. L. Karen Horney: Gentle rebel of psychoanalysis, New York: The Dial Press, 1978).

Her life and work are also featured in American Women Scientists: 23 Inspiring Biographies, 1900-2000, by Moira Davison Reynolds (McFarland, 1999).

Dr. Karen Horney, one of the twentieth century’s more remarkable women, died in New York on 4 December 1952.

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May 262016
 

Catalan artist and writer Avel-lí Artís-Gener, who often signed his art simply “Tisner”, left Spain for exile in Mexico following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). He lived in Mexico for 25 years, and visited and painted Lake Chapala in the early 1940s.

Tisner was born in Barcelona, Spain, on 28 May 1912 and died in that city on 7 May 2000.

Tisner. 1953.

Tisner. Untitled. 1953.

Artís-Gener exhibited numerous times in Mexico City. His work was included in a group show for the 4th National Floriculture Exhibition in May 1945, and a painting entitled “Chapala” featured in his third solo exhibit in Mexico City in the first half of September 1946, in the vestibule of the Cine Mageriti.

Artís-Gener has another interesting link to Chapala. One of his students for watercolor classes was Conrado Contreras, who has since produced, among other works of art, numerous fine watercolors of the Lake Chapala area. Contreras and his wife (poet, writer and educator Zaida Cristina Reynoso) moved to Chapala with their two young children in 1975, and have lived here ever since.

As a young man in Spain, Tisner had articles and cartoons published in a variety of media, including El Be Negre, Mercantil, l’Opinió, La Rambla, Esport i ciutadania and La Publicitat.

At the start of the Spanish Civil War, Tisner received death threats and fled to Paris. Soon after, he joined the Republican Army and returned to fight. During the war, Tisner edited Meridià, Amic and Vèncer, magazines written for the combatants.

During his time in Mexico (from 1940), Tisner worked as a journalist, cartoonist and scenery designer for Mexico City’s Channel 4, as well as working in publicity and as an editor. He retained close links with other exiles from the Catalan community. His cartoons appeared in Full Català, Quaderns de l’Exili, Revista de Refugiats d’Amèrica, Lletres, Pont Blau, Tele-revista, La Nostra Revista (founded by his father), and its successor La Nova Revista, founded by the artist himself.

Tisner took particular interest in Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past, which was the motivation behind his best known book, Paraules d’Opòton el Vell (1968). Other works written by Tisner (he almost always wrote in Catalan), include 556 Brigada Mixta (1945); Prohibida l’evasió (1969); L’Enquesta del Canal 4 (1973); Les nostres coses (1978); Els gossos d’Acteó (1983); and Ciris trencats (La Campana.

tisner-portraitIn 1965, Tisner returned to Catalonia, where he worked initially as a journalist for the daily El Correo Catalán, and later became deputy director of the Catalan weekly Tele/Estel. In 1970 he translated Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad into Catalan. During his later years, he worked for a large number of different newspapers and magazines, including Avui, El Periódico, Catalunya Informació, L’Avenç, Serra d’Or, Canigó, Cultura, El Triangle, El Món, Presència, and Espais mediterranis.

Tisner was politically active in the 1980s, and in 1988 received the Creu de Sant Jordi, one of the highest civil distinctions awarded in Catalonia. He also won a City of Barcelona prize for Catalan prose. He was a founding member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers, and the group’s president from 1990 to 1994.

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Apr 072016
 

Melvin (“Mel”) Schuler (1924-2012) was a sculptor, educator and a co-founder of the Humboldt State University Arts Department. Shortly after commencing his distinguished teaching career in 1947 at Humboldt State University, he was one of six artists exhibiting at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in August 1949. The exhibit, entitled “Cuarta exposicion anual de pintura” (“4th Annual Painting Exhibition”) also featured works by Nicolas Muzenic; Tobias Schneebaum; Alfredo Navarro España; Shirley Wurtzel and Ann Woolfolk.

Sadly, so far, we have learned nothing more about his time in Chapala.

Mel Schuler: Cirice (2008); copper over redwood

Mel Schuler: Cirice (2008); copper over redwood

Schuler was born in San Francisco in 1924 and died at his long-time home in Arcata, Humboldt County, California on 20 May 2012.

After attending Yuba College (1942-1947), Schuler studied at California College of Arts and Crafts (B.A., M.F.A.), and the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen (1955-1956).

The Humboldt State University website describes how, “While working as an art professor at Humboldt State University he developed a form of sculpture characterized by tall, irregular, solemnly monumental columns in elegantly carved and finished black walnut; they were sometimes clustered and partly enclosed in “racks,” and suggested archaic runes and totems. In the 1970s he turned to carving rhythmically organic columns in redwood, which were then covered with overlapping plates of copper that formed scaly, armor-like carapaces, and given a rich green patina that suggested great antiquity.”

In the 1970s, the internationally renowned sculptor began to produce large abstract sculptures using old growth redwood carved into abstract forms clad in copper and fastened with bronze nails.

Museums that acquired his work include the Smithsonian, Hirshhorn (Washington D.C.), Palm Springs, Phoenix, Oakland, La Jolla, Portland, Crocker Art Museum (Sacramento) and Storm King Art Center (Mountainville, New York).

In 2013, a permanent gallery for his works was opened in Eureka, California. The Melvin Schuler Court Gallery, created by Dan and Jayne Ollivier, opened on the second floor in the Gross building, at corner of 5th and F streets.  Ollivier has been quoted as saying, “Mel’s sculpture has enormous presence. Mel would say to me, ‘If it sings to you, it is a great work of art.”

Schuler continued to paint, as well as sculpt, throughout his life; the walls of his Arcata home were adorned by his own paintings, displayed alongside art collected from his travels in Africa and India.

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Mar 212016
 

Author and filmmaker Richard Zdenko Moravec is known to have visited Ajijic in about 1945, where he met Barbara Keppel-Compton who later wrote To The Isthmus, a novel which includes fact-based passages about their time there. The pair, both of whom had previous marriages, became husband and wife in 1951.

Artist Sylvia Fein remembers Moravec as a friendly, interesting “darling man”, who walked up and down the beach with her when she was revisiting Ajijic with her husband Bill, who had just returned from military service. Fein recalls that Moravec was a friend of Salvador Dali, and talked a lot about Dali’s piano.

Richard Zdenko Moravec was born 24 November 1894 in Zagreb, Croatia, Yugoslavia. He appears to have lived in Paris during the first world war and shortly after the war ended, wrote a short book about Italian-Yugoslav relations. The 47-page work, published by Lang, Blanchong et Cie. in 1919, was entitled L’Italie et les Yougoslaves, avec un exposé des relations italo-yougoslaves pendant la guerre et des documents à l’appui texte imprimé (“Italy and the Yugoslavs, with a statement of the Italian-Yugoslav relations during the war and documents to support the printed text”).

Moravec left France in 1919 and emigrated to the U.S., arriving there on the SS Chicago from Bordeaux, France, on 29 July. Moravec’s first wife, Selma, was born in Dallas, Texas on 26 February 1906. They were already married by the time Selma gained her A.B. degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1929. The couple remained in the San Francisco area, and are recorded as living in Oakland, California in 1934. In 1940 the couple was still definitely together since they are listed as disembarking on U.S. soil (in New York on 18 July), having crossed the Atlantic aboard the SS Manhattan.

Moravec appears to have been a chemical engineer and is credited or co-credited for several U.S. patents, most in the 1930s on behalf of the Shell Development Company of San Francisco.

On 17 October 1951, Moravec, described as an “engineer” and “divorced”, married Barbara Joan Keppel-Compton (“writer”) in Charlottesville, Virginia. They left almost immediately for Mexico, to make a motion picture film about Paricutin Volcano. The Story of A Volcano, relating the Tarascan Indian legend of Paricutin Volcano and the volcanic activity since its birth in 1943, was copyrighted in 1952. The credits include:

  • Producer and director: Richard Z Moravec
  • Narration: Anita Brenner
  • Narrator: Homer Gayne
  • Music: Tarascan Indian band and ballad singers
  • Film Editor: Alberto E Valenzuela

In 1955, Richard Moravec and Barbara Moravec, both of Yellow Springs, Ohio, filed for joint copyright of the motion picture With Malice Toward None.

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Mar 142016
 

I was surprised when I first read Barbara Compton‘s To The Isthmus (1964). The only review I had seen made it sound like a lightweight romantic novel in which the inclusion of scenes at Lake Chapala was largely incidental to the main plot. In fact, the chapter set at the lake plays a key role in both the geography behind this novel and in the new direction the plot takes thereafter. Perhaps not a “great novel” but certainly engagingly written and an interesting, if introspective, account of one woman’s search for fulfillment.

The dust jacket describes it thus:

To The Isthmus is a serious novel about the shaping of a modern woman’s life: a brilliant delineation of the conflict between the force of circumstance-which dictates whom we shall meet and how-and the forec of our inner vision, which demands an absolute fulfillment of desires.

The protagonist is an Englishwoman, an intelligent, educated, emotionally alive young woman. She is seen in many roles and in many places-as a dutiful daughter who cares for her invalid mother in an English suburb before World War II; as an imaginative and loving mistress to her psychiatrist lover, Paul, in London; after the war as a good wife who cares enough for Paul to “love and hold, love and let go” as they live in separate apartments in Manhattan; and finally, as the companion of a new man on a trip to Mexico, to the isthmus of the title.

Life and death have pulled Peg Walter from city to city, from country to country, from person to person-through a world of complex and forceful people with whom she has tried to live in honesty and love and with some degree of happiness. This is the story of her failure and her success.”

There is absolutely no doubt that the novel is largely autobiographical, and one in which the events and characters are only thinly disguised. The main characters (with real-life names in parentheses) include:

  • The protagonist, Margaret, or Peg (Barbara Keppel-Compton)
  • Her husband, psychoanalyst Dr. Paul Walter (Barbara’s first husband, Dr Gerhard E. Witt)
  • Her friend Anne who lives in New York (Barbara’s sister Ursula Niebuhr)
  • Anne’s husband Oliver (Ursula’s husband Reinhold Niebuhr)
  • Robert Radich, guest at Casa Heuer (Barbara’s second husband, Richard Z. Moravec, to whom the book is dedicated)

compton-to-the-isthmusOther characters, too, are almost certainly based on real-life friends and acquaintances of the author.

The timing of events and many of the descriptions of character traits ring true as well. For example, we quickly learn that Dr. Paul Walter is German, and his work focuses on the relationship between medicine and psychology. During the war, Peg, on account of her language skills, works at a British intelligence agency in Cambridge. Future husband Paul writes poems and also sculpts and paints. He had wanted to become an artist but switched to medicine. This closely mirrors the lives of Barbara Keppel-Compton and her first husband Dr. Gerhard Witt.

The book is equally interesting from the perspective of reconnecting novels to their geographic settings. To The Isthmus has eight chapters. The fifth chapter, “To Mexico”, is the fulcrum around which this novel pivots. It includes lots of details and descriptions relating to Ajijic in the late 1940s.

Traveling to Ajijic in those days was an adventure in itself. Peg arrived from Mexico City by bus, via Guadalajara, after a thirty-hour trip:

“After Chapala the road lost its surface and two villages away petered out into an unpaved lane between thorn trees. The bus driver told me when to get out along this village street.” [141]

Casa Heuer, where Peg stayed, was a simple establishment on the lake shore run by a German brother and sister, Enrico Schmidt (Pablo Heuer) and Gertruda Schmidt (Leisel Heuer).

In To The Isthmus, Enrico is described as “a tall emaciated figure” who wears a dressing gown most of the day, has huaraches on his feet and smokes cigars.

“By daylight his skin is like deeply tooled leather. He has a gaunt John the Baptist look about him, as if he lived on locusts. When he smiles, one notices several teeth are missing.”

Gertruda Schmidt is portrayed as aloof and distant. She

“remains remote, and perhaps needs to, since out of that calm, wide-eyed contemplation of hers she sometimes writes articles on the country and people here which she sends to German-language newspapers in the States. She gave me some to read. The stress was on the rhythms of blood and soil, but without mentioning sex and violence, and so rendering only half the picture.” [167]

Casa Heuer is located “at the end of a rutted lane”, which “looks like the end of nowhere.” “Only a low stone fence below separates this place from the slowly shelving shore and the sheet of light that is the lake.” [146]

The main building is “like a long shack”, with a sunken kitchen. Bedrooms, with shuttered windows that lack glass, are lit by hurricane lamps and candles; the bed “is tolerable, even if the pillow seems stuffed with cement.” [142]

“By day my room is pleasant, with its writing table under the window on the yard. Through the opposite one, on the porch, the light from the lake comes in, reflected.” [149-150]

The dining room has “a refectory table running the length of it with a few hard chairs at either side.”

“And the yard behind is not just a chicken run with privy in one corner discreetly concealed by shrubs—as I thought in the dark last night. There’s some sort of one-room abode built against the wall on the lane on one side of the gate, and on the other some little whitewashed cells. There is also an arbor of bougainvillaea in front of them, where one can sit at a bench and table; also a mango tree.”

A rival hostelry, Posada Ajijic, gets a passing slight when Radich informs Peg that,

“it’s just as well you didn’t go to the Posada down the road, you wouldn’t have survived a day. All the tourists go there. But the second day they all come here, where at least the water is safe, and the food.”

The village has a small foreign colony, mainly Americans. Peg takes a walk through the village and finds the pool where women are doing their washing:

“Behind the two long streets there is a plaza, deserted and bare, with two rows of dwarf trees down the middle for a minimum of shade, and a large church behind tall palings at one end. There is no one about here or in the streets. The children must all be at school, the women all busy in their houses, the men presumably away working. There being nothing immediate to take hold of, I follow a stony path up and out toward the mountain slope which crowds the village to the flat strip along the lake. Perhaps a view of the village from above will take from it that blind impression which the empty streets and shuttered windows have given. As the path winds up, the few dry stunted thorn trees give way to a tall and slender growth clinging to the hillside. The path dips, and there is a rich shining grove of eucalyptus trees, and the sound of water and voices. It is a deep emerald pool set in a basin of rock, round which some half dozen women are doing their washing. It is my first encounter of the morning, but the women are far too immersed in their gossip to pay any attention to me as I pass, even to turn and stare at a stranger. So I climb on.” [148-149]

This is precisely the scene painted only a few years earlier by Ann Sonia Medalie.

It is the rainy season, and Peg’s Spanish teacher, Lola, tells her about,

“the fearsome storms that sometimes sweep over the village at the height of the rainy season. This story was rather beyond my Spanish, so she acted it out until I gathered that what they most dread is a waterspout that can sweep everything, houses, people, cattle into the lake. Apparently this thing forms itself out over the lake from among the clouds, and slowly winds itself into the form of a snake overhead. When this happens, all the women go out from the village in a solid phalanx to pray that the snake remain in the cloud above and not point its head down to strike.”

Violence is not confined to the skies. One morning, Peg arrives for a Spanish lesson and finds Lola distraught because “a man was killed last night” in the street outside her house. [165-166]

For his part, Radich, sharing his extensive knowledge of Ajijic, asks Peg if she has noticed one of the local celebrities (Zara Alexeyewa, the “Russian” dancer):

“Ever seen a woman riding through the village, draped in some sort of white Cossack outfit, and doing her shopping from horseback? Having been a dancer, she gave herself a Russian name. Well, when she couldn’t make the grade any longer, she came out here-—lives in that house by the shore, hidden behind the eucalyptus grove at the end of this lane…” [170]

It is also worth recalling that only a few months later, that same year (1946), it was precisely at Casa Heuer where novelist Elaine Gottlieb had her precipitous romantic fling with Elliot Chase, the basis of Gottlieb’s short story, “Passage Through Stars”. It seems like there must have been both “writing in the air” and “love in the air” on Lake Chapala at Casa Heuer in 1946!

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.

Mar 072016
 

Barbara Joan Keppel-Compton (1902-1999), also later known as Barbara Keppel-Compton Witt, and Barbara Moravec, used the name Barbara Compton for her novel To The Isthmus (1964), partially set at Lake Chapala in the 1940s. The novel is largely autobiographical, and events and characters are only thinly disguised. (We look more closely at the novel’s links to Ajijic in a separate post).

Who, exactly, was the author? Keppel-Compton was born in Southampton, U.K., the middle of five children of John Herbert Keppel-Compton (1869-1940), a medical doctor, and his wife Anne Sylvester Webb. Prior to 1940, the family had also lived in Hampshire, Surrey, London, Bexhill-on-Sea, and Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire.

The Keppel-Compton’s youngest child, Ursula Mary Keppel-Compton (1907-1997) became better known as Ursula Niebuhr. After studying at Oxford, and being awarded double firsts in history and theology, she became the first woman to win a fellowship to the Union Theological Seminary in New York. Within a year, she married Reinhold Niebuhr, one of her former teachers, in 1931 in Winchester, UK. The couple made their home in New York City where Ursula completed her studies and went on to found the Department of Religion at Barnard College in New York City. She remained head of the department until her retirement in 1965.

As we shall see, Barbara Keppel-Compton was to join her sister in New York in the middle of the second world war.

Much of what we know about Barbara Keppel-Compton comes from the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, which includes the The Barbara Compton Collection of manuscripts, correspondence, and other material. Additional details can be gleaned from a close reading of To The Isthmus.

Barbara Compton (photo from back cover of To The Isthmus)

Barbara Compton (photo from back cover of To The Isthmus)

It is apparent that Barbara spent some time, as a relatively young woman, in both Prague (1924-1927) and Africa (1928-1929). She spoke several languages, including German and Czech.

Keppel-Compton was co-translator of two works by German psychologist Fritz Kuenkel: Jugend-Charakterkunde (“What it Means to Grow Up”), with Hulda Niebuhr (older sister of Reinhold Niebuhr) in 1936, and Charakter, Wachstum und Erziehung (“Character, Growth, Education”) with Basil Druitt in 1938.

During the mid-1930s, Keppel-Compton was living with her parents in Surrey, and then London (1938-1939).

In September 1937, two years prior to the start of the second world war, Keppel Compton met German clinical psychologist Gerhard E. Witt, described in her novel as rather tall, in his late 40s with silver-grey hair. After a hesitant start, their relationship became intense, and they spent two weeks together in Paris one September. At the outbreak of war, fearful of his future in London, Witt moved to the U.S. and took a position at Union Theological Seminary, the same institution where Barbara’s sister Ursula had studied.

The following year, Barbara wanted to join him but was denied permission to leave the country. (Posters at the time announced that no one between the ages of 16 and 60 was allowed to leave the country). In December 1941, Witt asked her to marry him and she was finally able to travel to the U.S. as his fiancee.

They married and lived together for a while, but soon discovered that even if they couldn’t exactly live apart, they couldn’t live together all the time either, so they took separate apartments in Manhattan.

In 1945 (or 1946?), they made plans to visit Mexico but Witt persuaded his wife to go on ahead to Ajijic, to a small inn a German friend in New York had told him about, where he would drive down to join her and travel together back to California and then across to New York. Barbara did indeed travel to Ajijic and stayed at the Posada Heuer, a simple establishment run by a German brother and sister on the lakeshore. By the time it was obvious that Witt had no intention of joining her, she had met and was falling under the spell of Richard Moravec.

Witt died in 1946. Following his death, Barbara and Richard Moravec (whom she later married) edited Witt’s book Active Psychology and the Welfare and Progress of Man: Notes on the Establishment of a Non-medical Practical Psychology, Written 1941-1946 (published in 1947). A reviewer in the Journal of Consulting Psychology described it as “the posthumously published notes of a brilliant psychotherapist”. The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center also has manuscripts relating to Witt’s poetry, 28 sketches and a list of 324 of his paintings.

Barbara Keppel-Compton married Richard Zdenko Moravec, a chemical engineer and film-maker, in Albemarle, Virginia, in 1951. The couple worked together on at least two motion pictures: The Story of A Volcano, about Paricutin Volcano (1952) and With Malice Toward None (1955). By 1955 the Moravecs were living in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Barbara Moravec spent her final years in Surrey, England.

Sadly, and notwithstanding the claim on its inside back cover that it is “her first novel to be published in America”, To The Isthmus appears to be the first and only novel she ever published anywhere. Interestingly, though, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center includes drafts of two more novels, one untitled and one with the title Margaret Townshend. The archive also has several short stories by Keppel-Compton, as well as a play, and poems.

If any reader is close enough to Boston University to take a look at these unpublished novels, we would love to learn more about them.

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 032016
 

Leonet (“Leo”) Matiz Espinoza was a Colombian photographer and caricaturist who lived and worked in Mexico in the 1940s. In 2011, eight gelatin silver prints in a series called “Fishing on Lake Chapala” came up at auction with an estimate of 8000 Euros; one of these eight images appears below.

Matiz was born on 1 April 1917 in Aracataca, Colombia, coincidentally the birthplace of novelist Gabriel García Marquez. He left his native Colombia for Mexico City in 1939, hoping that his artistic talents would enable him to find success there. He traveled overland from Panama via Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

It was in Central America that Matiz met and immediately proposed to Celia Nichols, the daughter of a British diplomat; he was 23, she was 40. They were only able to marry after Matiz had seen off a rival in a dawn shooting duel. According to La metáfora del ojo, Matiz claims he responded to Celia’s concern about the age difference by pointing out that, “I don’t see your age. I’m as interested in you, as you are in me.”

Matiz, whose long black hair, and gangster-like mustache complemented his mischievous sense of humor and absurdly colored jackets, would eventually have seven marriages in all.

Leo and Celia arrived in Mexico in 1941 as newly-weds and Leo quickly established himself as a caricaturist and photographer, claiming to have chosen the latter more for its economic rewards than because it was his first love as an artist.

Leo Matiz: Fishing on Lake Chapala (ca 1940)

Leo Matiz: Fishing on Lake Chapala (ca 1942)

Matiz held several exhibitions of his work in Mexico City in the early 1940s. The first, entitled “Fotos y Dibujos” (“Photographs and drawings”), opened at the Museo de Bellas Artes (Opera House Museum) in Mexico City in 1941 with a speech by the Chilean poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda.

In June of the following year, “El Pueblo de México” (“The People of Mexico”) in Mexico City’s Galería de Arte y Decoración showcased 59 photographs taken in Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico. The Mexican images included portraits, scenes of everyday life and artistic shots taken in Veracruz and elsewhere. Photograph #6 in the catalog was “Cabezas, Chapala” (“Heads, Chapala”).

In 1943, Matiz arranged another exhibit, entitled ““Tipos y Costumbres de México” (“Characters and Customs of Mexico), at own photo studio on Avenida Juárez in downtown Mexico City.

Leo Matiz: Lake Chapala (ca 1942). Reproduced by courtesy of Leo Matiz Foundation.

Leo Matiz: Lake Chapala (ca 1942). Reproduced by courtesy of Leo Matiz Foundation.

While the precise dates of his visit, or visits, to Lake Chapala are unknown, Matiz sent a special photo-report on the lake to the magazine Así. The report, entitled “Chapala, mar jaliciense” (“Chapala, Jalisco’s Sea), was based on several outstanding examples of Matiz’s photos, and was published in Así on Valentine’s Day in 1942 (Así # 66, 14 February 1942: 31-35). One photo in that article shows the main church and beach in Chapala as viewed from the lake, but most depict fishermen going about their work. Several views of fishermen tending their nets are taken close to the lake shore and show masses of lirio (water hyacinth), though this is not commented on in the accompanying text which focuses, instead, on the superior eating quality of the lake’s fish, especially the highly prized whitefish.

Matiz was not only a photographer. In Mexico, he also honed his skills as a caricaturist, influenced by the work of Guadalupe Posada and others, transferring these same skills of keen observation and astute choice of angles to his photography. As a result, his work regularly featured in the pages of magazines such as Así, Life, Reader’s Digest, Harpers Magazine, Look and Norte. He was also active in the world of cinematography.

As Matiz’s fame grew, so did the invitations and commission he received. In 1944, he held a solo show of “Watercolors and Paintings” at the Advertising Club of New York in New York City, and, in 1947, his work was included in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Solo shows of his work have since been held in numerous countries, from Switzerland, France, Italy, and Austria to Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Australia.

Leo Matiz was completely enamored with the extraordinary diversity of Mexican geography:

“The magazine Así launched me as a graphic reporter in Mexico. I began to look for themes and discovered the old and deep Mexico, eternal and fleeting. There before my eyes was the baroque architecture, the paintings, the murals, the Maria islands and the poignant histories of its presidents, the starving coyotes in the desert, the day of the dead, the sacred temples and the purity of Yucatan, the red ants in the desert, the women of Pancho Villa, the dead trees, the divas in the movies, the cemeteries, the colour of the folk crafts, the peasants and the remote hope of their redemption.” [quoted in Leo Matiz: The Eyes of Time]

The indefatigable Matiz traveled widely across the country. In the mid-1940s he accompanied Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl) to watch the birth of Paricutín, the volcano that erupted in a farmer’s field in Michoacán. On another occasion, he visited the infamous Islas Maria penitentiary, off the coast of Nayarit, documenting the lives of its prisoners.

Throughout the 1940s, Matiz was in great demand in Mexico City. He  considered José Clemente Orozco to be his mentor and father figure. At one time or another, all the major celebrities of the day, from stars of stage and screen such as Mario Moreno (“Cantinflas”), Dolores del Río, Agustin Lara and María Félix (with whom he had an amorous relationship) to artists such as Orozco, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and David Alfaro Siqueiros, looked into the lens of Matiz’s Rolleiflex. Matiz also photographed Janice Logan, Luis Buñuel, Marc Chagall, Louis Armstrong, Álvaro Mutis, Pablo Neruda and Walt Disney. His portraits show sensitivity, intimacy, the product of what one admirer called a “profound psychological penetration”.

He collaborated with Siqueiros to document his murals, though the two men later had a very public disagreement. When Siqueiros mounted an exhibition of paintings derived from his photographs in 1947, Matiz claimed some of the works were plagiarized. Siqueiros retaliated by calling Matiz an enemy of muralism and a North American imperialist. Things really escalated out of control when Siqueiros arranged for Matiz’s studio to be set on fire, forcing the photographer, concerned for his safety, to flee with his family to Venezuela. It would be almost fifty years before he returned to Mexico.

Matiz lived the remainder of his life in various countries, dividing most of his time between Colombia and Venezuela. Besides his art, he also started newspapers and opened art galleries. In 1951, a gallery he owned in Bogota staged the first exhibition of the Colombian painter Fernando Botero.

Matiz regularly claimed to miss Mexico, but did not return there until 1995, and was then profoundly shocked when he learned that the building that had housed his studio had been totally destroyed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. He remained active, despite failing eyesight, traveling through Mexico in 1997 taking pictures of rural workers for “Los hijos del campo”, the last book he illustrated.

Matiz’s photographic work is considered to be some of the finest of the twentieth century, demonstrating remarkable versatility, composition and technical ability. In 1948, he was named one of the world’s 10 best photographers. Examples of his work can be found in many major museums, including the Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Tate Gallery in London, U.K.

Leo Matiz died in Bogota, Colombia, on 24 October 1998. His images and artistic legacy are conserved and promoted by the Leo Matiz Foundation.

Acknowledgment:

  • Sincere thanks to Alejandra Matiz, the photographer’s daughter, and President of the Leo Matiz Foundation, for providing details of her father’s photo-account of Lake Chapala.

Sources:

Related post:

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.

Feb 292016
 

Santa Fe poet Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964) visited Chapala regularly with poet Witter Bynner (1881-1968) for about thirty years, starting in the early 1930s. Hunt, whose full name was Robert Nichols Montague Hunt, was Bynner’s long-time partner, as well as being a poet in his own right.

Born in Pasadena, California, on 19 May 1906, Hunt’s parents were Harriette Boardman Hunt (1868-1913) and Pasadena architect Myron Hunt. Myron Hunt was a prominent architect in southern California, and designed the Hollywood Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Huntington Library in San Marino.

Bob Hunt worked briefly for his father’s firm, and is said to have had some talent as a designer, but like so many facets of his life, he never quite achieved what others thought he might, as he moved from one interest to another. Hunt’s design skills enabled him to add a wing to Bynner’s adobe home in Santa Fe, and to make significant alterations to their home in Chapala, as well as redesigning the living room of Peter Hurd‘s ranch in New Mexico.

Hunt was first introduced to Witter Bynner in 1924 by author and historian Paul Horgan.

[Horgan twice won the Pulitzer Prize for History: in 1955 for Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History and in 1976 for Lamy of Santa Fe. He was a childhood friend of artist Peter Hurd, and wrote, “Peter Hurd : A Portrait Sketch from Life”, for the catalog of the artist’s 1965 retrospective. ]

Hunt and Bynner’s paths crossed again in Santa Fe in 1926, and in Los Angeles in 1928. In November 1930 Hunt visited Bynner in Santa Fe to recuperate from a stress-related illness, following six months of long days working as Assistant Manager and Treasurer of the Paramount Public Theatres in Portland, Oregon.

James Kraft, Bynner’s biographer, describes the young Hunt:

“Bob, Bobby, sometimes called Monté, was twenty-four when he came to Bynner’s house. Tall, lean, elegantly handsome in the way of Robert Taylor or Robert Montgomery, with a brisk, debonair walk and an easy way of dressing, wearing clothes so well they seemed insignificant, he had a fine, clear voice, excellent manners, little formal education but a crackling sharp mind, and was well read and intelligent about history, art, and literature. He had tried all kinds of schools and jobs but could “do” nothing, and his patient father, the well-known California architect Myron Hunt, had attempted everything he could think of to help him.”

This 1930 visit began a partnership which lasted until Hunt’s sudden death from a heart attack in 1964. Hunt became not only Bynner’s partner, but his business manager, editor and, when the much-older poet struggled with serious health issues in his later life, his primary care-giver.

In 1931, Hunt and Bynner visited Taxco and Chapala. A few years later, they rented a house in Chapala (from late November 1934 to late April 1935) with poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke and his second wife Gladys, an artist.

l to r: Robert Hunt, Galdys Ficke, Arthur Ficke, ca 1935. [Source: Kraft: "Who is Witter Bynner"?]

Robert Hunt (left), Gladys Ficke, Arthur Ficke, ca 1935. [Source: Kraft: “Who is Witter Bynner”?]

In December 1936, Bynner and Hunt collected Bynner’s mother at Mexico City airport and toured around with her, including a stay at the Arzapalo Hotel in Chapala. Bynner’s mother, who did not get on well with Hunt, died in November 1937.

In 1940, Bynner bought a home in Chapala, close to the square at Galeana #441 (the street name was later changed to Francisco I. Madero).

Hunt’s health issues caused him to be rejected by both the army and navy when the U.S. entered the second world war, but he served on the local draft board for a year. After a short break in Chapala in early 1943, Hunt left Bynner in Chapala and returned to the U.S. to further assist the war effort by working on the docks in San Francisco. Hunt rejoined Bynner in Chapala in September 1944; they did not return to Santa Fe until August of the following year.

In February 1949, Bynner had his first slight heart attack, but still visited Chapala with Hunt for part of the year.The following year, the two men, together with artist Clinton King and his wife Narcissa, spent six months traveling in Europe and North Africa, visiting, among others, Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin in Paris, and George Santayana and Sybille Bedford (author of a travelogue-novel about Lake Chapala) in Rome.

In the 1950s, as Bynner’s health declined, he continued to visit Chapala, but Hunt took increasing refuge in the bottle, becoming angry and belligerent when drunk.

Hunt’s death in 1964 came as he was about to leave for Chapala to bring back more possessions from their winter home. Hunt had arranged for Bynner to be cared for in his absence by artist John Liggett Meigs. Meigs, in partnership with fellow artist Peter Hurd, later purchased the Bynner house in Chapala, complete with all its remaining contents.

Hunt wrote one collection of eighteen poems, The Early World and other poems, dedicated to Witter Bynner (Santa Fe: The Villagra Bookshop, 1936), and also compiled the collection of poems that became Bynner’s Selected Poems, with an introduction by Paul Horgan (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936]

Sources:

  • Lynn Cline. 2007. Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers’ Colonies, 1917-1950. (Univ. New Mexico Press)
  • Mark S. Fuller, 2015. Never a Dull Moment: The Life of John Liggett Meigs (Sunstone Press)
  • James Kraft, 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? (Univ. New Mexico 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.

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