Dec 122016
 

In my on-going quest to document the authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala, I occasionally come across individuals about whom very little is known. In most cases, diligent research eventually unearths a few savory tidbits, even if I sometimes still lack sufficient material to compile a formal biography.

zepeda-la-ondina-de-chapala

Salomón Zepeda is an exception. I have found absolutely nothing about this writer, beyond the fact that he is the author of La Ondina de Chapala (“The Water Nymph of Chapala”), a 149-page Spanish-language novel published in 1951 by Imprenta Ruíz in Mexico City. The cover art appears to be by “Magallón”.

I know there are a small number of copies in libraries in the U.S., including one in the “Southern Regional Library Facility” of the University of California Los Angeles. If you have a copy, or access to a copy, or know anything about this author, please get in touch!

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.

Dec 012016
 

Robert Clutton (1932-2016) lived in Ajijic from about 1959 to 1961. His time in Mexico introduced him to the pantheon of ancient Aztec and Maya gods which so strongly influenced much of his later art. He revisited Ajijic several times after this initial extended stay in the village.

“Bob” Clutton, “Roberto” to his Mexican friends, was born in Wales on 5 June 1932 and passed away in San Francisco earlier this year, on 15 August 2016 at the age of 84.

He left Wales in 1949. Six years later, in October 1955, he was one of numerous artists exhibiting in the The Artists’ Union of Baltimore annual show. By 1959 he was living and working in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Several of his paintings from this time can be seen on this Facebook page of the San Francisco Senior Center:

Former Ajijic gallery owner Katherine Goodridge Ingram remembers Bob Clutton as a lovely man, who was well-liked by everyone in the community. Clutton became increasingly fascinated by the “gods of ancient Mexico” and images of these gods became a frequent theme in his later paintings.

When he decided to leave Ajijic in 1961, he chose to move to San Francisco because that was where “all the interesting people he met in Mexico” were from. He continued to make his living as a professional artist in that city for more than fifty years.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic.

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic. (Image from San Francisco Senior Center page)

A newspaper feature in 1968, entitled “Art by the Foot” described how Clutton, “a bronzed, bearded, no-nonsense British artist” was making “made-to-measure bas-reliefs” in his Divisdaero Street studio. The bas-reliefs, “designed to be decorative indoors and architectural assets outdoors”, used Aztec symbols and colors, and relied on the interplay of sun and shade to emphasize the materials, relief and texture.

Clutton was still producing “formal paintings” which also showed the influence of Mexico, and was represented by the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco. A solo show of his oils and acrylics at that gallery in 1969 brought a wider audience for his work. Clutton also exhibited in Los Angeles and in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where a show of his oil paintings opened at Galeria Uno (Morelos 561) in Puerto Vallarta on 23 March 1993.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli.

Robert Clutton. ca 1969. Tezcatlipoca in front of his smoking mirror seeing himself as Huitzilapochtli. (Vorpal Gallery)

In 1988, Clutton designed the poster for the 1988 Haight Ashbury Street Fair. He enjoyed social events, garden parties and dinners and surrounded himself with creative people, making for lively and entertaining discussions. In his final years, Clutton was active as an artist at the San Francisco Senior Center.

Sources:

  • Jane Clutton; personal communication, October 2016
  • San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, California Living, Week of March 31, 1968: “Art by the Foot” [copy supplied by Jane Clutton]
  • San Francisco Chronicle. 2016. Robert Clutton – obituary, San Francisco Chronicle from Oct. 2 to Oct. 7, 2016
  • Vorpal Galleries. Robert Clutton. 1969. San Francisco: Vorpal Galleries

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

 Posted by at 5:58 am  Tagged with:
Nov 282016
 

Travel writer and novelist David Dodge lived in Ajijic for several  months in 1966. He had traveled throughout the country and subsequently published a popular motoring guide covering all of Mexico. The book, Fly Down, Drive Mexico: A Practical Motorist’s Handbook For Travel South of the Border, was published by Macmillan in 1968, together with a Special Guide to the XIX Olympic Games that were held in October of that year in Mexico City.

dodge-david-cover

The book was revised and reissued the following year (1969) as The Best of Mexico by Car: a Selective Guide to Motor Travel South of the Border, from which these extracts are taken:

Except for the pescado blanco and pleasant scenery, there is no real reason to make the drive [from Guadalajara to Chapala] unless you have leisure for it and want to see how the other half lives. No tourist “musts” lie along the road to Chapala, and not much in the way of maybes. The lake’s north shore, like Cuernavaca, is simply an American retirement colony; sprawled out more, less expensive to live in and with fewer swimming pools, otherwise much the same.” . . .

“If you do make Lake Chapala an overnight side trip, taking the time to loiter along the way, a good place to spend a night is Chapala town. It’s the first community you come to on the lake shore, a pretty place remindful of Riva on Lake Garda, relatively un-Pepsi-Coked except for two enormous eye-popping billboards that challenge each other for maximum offensiveness to the eye as you come back to dock from what would otherwise be a very pleasant boat ride on the water. Chapala town is as popular with tapatíos, Guadalajarans, on weekend family outings as it is with semipermanent gringo residents enjoying a year-round climate even better than Guadalajara’s own, so best call ahead to make a reservation on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

The first motel you come to conspicuously by the side of the road where the road begins to wind down out of the hills toward the lake shore is both phoneless and unrecommendable. No problem here. Best place, a good one, to spend the night in Chapala town is the Hotel Nido, tel. 38, $7. It’s right on the (quiet) main stem a few steps from the lake. The Nido, essentially an American-plan hotel but not one liable to insist of American plan except possibly on weekends, serves one of the best inexpensive cubiertos in the whole countryside, with pescado blanco a specialty, and even better pescado blanco a la carta. Its chief rival in this specialized field is the Restaurant El Mirador, with a pleasant view overlooking the water. Incidentally, you may hear much of Chapala as a fishing resort. It isn’t one, for you. The lake does contain catfish, and a species of sunfish that can be taken by hook and line, with patience. The pez blanco, which becomes pescado blanco after it has been caught, is taken in nets, by professionals.

At Chapala town, Highway 35 becomes 94 and bears westward, right, along the lake shore, ann attractive drive. Two or three miles on, an almost exclusively gringo-built and gringo-occupied, brand-new retirement center, Chula Vista, offers the Motel Chula Vista, tel. 69 (Chapala), $12. This, cocktail bar and all, is as familiarly American as the rest of its community. It offers, besides the usual pool, a tennis court, golf privileges at a course next door and a coffeeshop serving hamburgers, pies, ice cream, sandwiches, all the familiar short orders. Many Americans would prefer Chula Vista to the Hotel Nido for these reasons.

Two or three miles beyond Chula Vista, 94 touches the fringes of Ajijic, a four-century old stone-and-adobe fishing village that is just beginning to suffer the onslaughts of Pepsi-Coke. Luck, relative isolation by bad roads until a few years ago and the determination of a fair-sized American colony to preserve its native Mexican ambiente have permitted the village to survive so far, much as San Miguel de Allende and Taxco have survived under the protection of Federal law and Guanajuato because of one man’s dictatorial determination. Ajijic has no motels, but a very attractive hotel on the lake shore, Posada Ajijic, tel. 25, $12. (The Monte Carlo, another good lakeshore stop-off on the road out of Chapala town, has still to open for business at this writing.) The Posada welcomes a drop-in trade for lunch or dinner at the family board, which serves a regular house cubierto. The only place in town serving a la carta meals (good) that are consistently acceptable by gringo standards is the Villa del Lago, no phone yet, write A.P. 81, Ajijic, Jal., $7, a nice small hotel in the middle of town one street west of the little central plaza. Other places on the lake or in the village offer mainly housekeeping accommodations.

Ten or eleven miles beyond Ajijic, 94 runs through Jocotepec, another fishing-village-turned-retirement-colony….

Source: Pages 137-138 of The Best of Mexico by Car: A Selective Guide to Motor Travel South of the Border. (1969)

Related posts:

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.

Oct 272016
 

Among the more innovative artists experimenting in Ajijic during the 1950s is one almost-forgotten American painter: Don Martin.

Don Martin in Mexico. (Credit: http://www.donmartinartist.com/)

Don Martin in Mexico. (Credit: http://www.donmartinartist.com/)

Though I have so far been unable to determine exactly when he arrived in Ajijic, Donald Theodore Martin (1931-1989) was certainly there before 1954 and was probably still there in 1962.

A note in December 1954 in the Sausalito News (California) says that “some unusual paintings by an artist named Don Martin” in Ajijic are about to go on show in the Glad Hand restaurant. They are described as “etchings on cardboard with colors ‘rubbed’ into the cardboard” that “realistically depict scenes in Mexico.”

Jeonora Bartlet lived in Ajijic in 1957 and was photographed by Leonard McCombe for his December 1957 Life Magazine article about Americans at Lake Chapala. Bartlet was not part of the village art scene but recalls Martin and admires his work. Bartlet, incidentally, later became the long-time partner of American pop artist Richard Hay Reagan (1929-2002); the couple lived and worked for many years in Tapachula, Chiapas, before relocating to the U.K. in the mid-1980s.

We also know that Martin exhibited in a group show, “International Exhibition”, held at the Alfredo Santos gallery in Guadalajara (at Avenida Vallarta #1217) from 21 May to 20 June 1962. (Alfredo Santos lived in Ajijic for several years and is best known for his evocative murals in the San Quentin prison in California: see Inside job: Alfredo Santos, muralist and painter.)

Donald Theodore Martin was born in Akron, Ohio, on 17 June 1931 and died on 6 November 1989.

For more images of Martin’s work, see Don Martin: Chasing that Kite, 1931-1989, a website that is a tribute to his life and work. “Chasing that Kite” was apparently Martin’s way of describing his artistic quest. From this fascinating website, we gather that Martin studied at the Art Student’s League in New York City, and then spent some time in New Orleans before “a long stay” in Ajijic, which proved to be “a most creative period.”

Don Martin. "He." 1970. (Credit: http://www.donmartinartist.com/)

Don Martin. “He.” 1970. (Credit: http://www.donmartinartist.com/)

After Ajijic, in the early 1960s, Martin moved to Venice, California, where he lived with his wife Joan Gilbert Martin and her two daughters, while becoming part of the Beat movement with Beat artists Wallace Berman and George Herms. The painting by Martin called “He” (torched spray paint & acrylic on board) was used for the cover of What Book!?: Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop, edited by Gary Gach (Parallax Press, 1998), which won an American Book Award in 1999.

In the 1970s Martin settled in Santa Cruz, California, where his work again ventured “into productive new artistic territories”.

Martin was constantly experimenting with different media and techniques. He rarely used oils, preferring acrylics and spray paint. A series of lacquer paintings in the early 1970s depicted spiritual subjects including “Buddha shapes, mandalas, guardians, heaven above and earth below, and the river as an emblem of time.” They were made by applying up to thirty layers of lacquer on a base before scraping back the layers to reveal the final image.

At the same time Martin studied “the Codex Borbonicus, a pre-Columbian pictorial manuscript, and was inspired to produce one of his own”, in which he expressed his “personal cosmology” through a series of more than one hundred ink and wash drawings. At one time or another, Martin also explored collage, assemblage, found object art, wax rubbings, and producing “twin” pictures by blotting a painted image on another sheet before the colored ink dried.

Martin exhibited at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, California, and examples of his work can be found in the permanent collections of the San Jose Museum of Art in California and the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah.

Note:

This Don Martin is not the same person as the cartoonist, also named Don Martin and also born in 1931, who was closely associated with MAD magazine.

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

 Posted by at 6:23 am  Tagged with:
Oct 202016
 

Richard D. Yip is included in the large group of artists associated with Lake Chapala on the strength of a painting entitled “Facade, Chapala, Mexico” which he exhibited in the All Southern California Art Exhibit in Long Beach, California in 1952. Sadly, beyond that, I have managed to find nothing more relating to his visit or visits to Lake Chapala.

Yip was born in Canton, China, in 1919. He emigrated from China to the U.S. in 1931. After completing high school, he studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. After serving as a gunner and radioman on a B-24 in the U.S. Air Force during the second world war, he returned to California and settled in Stockton, where he studied at the College (later University) of the Pacific in Stockton for his B.A. and at the University of California at Berkeley for his Masters degree. Yip was the first Chinese person to receive American citizenship because of military service.

Richard Yip. San Rafael. 1944.

Richard Yip. San Rafael. 1944.

By early 1947, Yip was living and working with fellow artist Craig Sharp on a yacht, the Lassen, in Sausalito harbor. Yip was already working in watercolors and held solo shows which attracted positive reviews. Later that year he left California to return to China to see his family and study art there. He visited various cities and amassed a body of work that he brought back to California with him in 1948.

While in China, Yip married a girl named Lae. The couple’s first child, daughter Pak Mui (“White Blossom”), named after a boat Yip had admired in Sausalito harbor, was born aboard ship en route back to San Francisco. Perhaps not surprisingly, U.S. immigration officials initially denied entry to the mother, who spoke no English, and daughter, but they were eventually allowed to remain and were able to join Yip and other members of his family in Stockton.

Yip hoped to show some of his work at the state fair in Sacramento in September 1948.

Presumably, it is at this stage of his career that Yip spent some time in Mexico, including a visit to Chapala where he painted “Facade, Chapala, Mexico”.

Yip taught art at the University of the Pacific in Stockton for many years and led many plein air painting workshops. By 1955, the promotional material for one of these workshops describes Yip, the instructor, as a “California watercolorist who has studied, painted and exhibited throughout the United States, Mexico, Europe and China.”

Yip maintained links to Sausalito and spent many summers painting in Marin, where he was a member of, and gave talks to, the Marin Society of Artists. He was also a long-time member of the California Water Color Society.

By 1961, the build-up to a talk by Yip on “some of the trends in contemporary art” says that Yip “has conducted painting classes at the College of the Pacific, Stockton College, the annual Monterery Peninsula Painting Tours, Death Valley Tours, Marin County, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, the East Bay, Phoenix, Arizona, Sacramento, San Jose and other places for the past 12 years.” By that time, his work had appeared in several national publications, and his watercolors had won various national and international awards. Yip was also elected a Life Member of the International Institute of Arts and Letters of Switzerland.

It appears that Yip retired from college teaching at about this time, though he continued to lead painting tours, including at least one to Mexico in 1963. (In January 1964, another Stockton artist, Marjorie Tanner, gave a talk to Lodi Art Club about the tour, led by Richard Yip, she had undertaken in Mexico.

Richard Yip died in 1981. Several works by Yip have been sold at auction in recent years, including ‘The Red Church’ sold at Bonhams, Los Angeles, in 2011.

Sources:

  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California, 9 March 1952, Page 8.
  • Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last. “California Watercolors 1850-1970”.
  • CalART.com. Richard D. Yip (Biography from CalART.com), based on interview with Roy Yip, 1985.
  • Daily Independent Journal, San Rafael, California, 21 February 1955, Page 8
  • Sausalito News, 3 June 1948; 11 May 1957
  • Lodi News-Sentinel, 11 Feb 1961; 13 Jan 1964

Other Sausalito artists associated with Lake Chapala:

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.

Oct 132016
 

Blanche Phillips Howard (1908-1976), the second wife of John Langley Howard (1902-1999) is presumed to have accompanied her husband in 1951 (the year they married) when he lived most of the year in Mexico, including a spell in Ajijic.

Blanche Phillips Howard. Untitled metal sculpture.

Blanche Phillips Howard. Untitled metal sculpture.

Blanche Phillips was born in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania and attended Cooper Union, the Art Students League and the Steinhof Institute of Design in New York. She also studied at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), now called the San Francisco Art Institute. Blanche also studied with Ossip Zadkine.

She lived in the Bay Area 1942-1950, and again in the 1970s. She was best known for her sculptures, especially expressionist abstractions, made primarily in brass. Early in her career, she worked for a time with another, younger Bay area sculptor, Mary Fuller McChesney, who also has links to Ajijic. In an interview years afterwards, McChesney recounted how Blanche had later told her that “she just couldn’t stand my arrogance as an young artist because I said I could never work in stone… because I couldn’t have that much patience to work that long. So I worked in clay because it was a faster material.”

Blanche Phillips Howard exhibited regularly at Stable Gallery and a major retrospective of her work was held at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, University of California, Berkeley in 1981. She was also the author of Dance of the Self: Movements for Body, Mind, and Spirit (Simon & Schuster, 1975), a book about “a dance philosophy that was practiced back in the Thirties in a small, obscure Greenwich Village studio.”

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 email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Oct 062016
 

The artist John Langley Howard (1902-1999), known to friends as “Lang”, is considered one of the finest painters of his time in the San Francisco Bay are.

In 1934, he was one of the group of artists commissioned as part of the New Deal Public Works Art Project to paint murals in the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill overlooking the city. Howard chose to depict his Marxist-inspired view of industrial society. While this was the only mural he ever painted, it became not only his most viewed work, but is also considered to be “one of the finest examples of social idealism in San Francisco art”.

John Langley Howard. Detail of mural in Coit Tower, San Francisco.

John Langley Howard. Detail of mural in Coit Tower, San Francisco.

Howard is one of several San Francisco artists with links to Ajijic. Allan Temko, author of an obituary of Howard on the SFGate website, writes that,

“Mr. Howard was a wanderer. He lived in more than 20 different places in the course of his long career, ranging from several periods in San Francisco, north and south of the Bay Area from Calistoga to Monterey, from Santa Fe, N.M., to Brownsville, Texas, from Ajijic in Mexico to Greece, as well as New York and London.”

While the duration and circumstances of his visit to Ajijic in 1951 are unclear, it was presumably in the company of his second wife, the sculptor Blanche Phillips Howard (1908-1979), and marked a turning point in his career.

John Langley Howard. Mountain and Air. Date unknown.

John Langley Howard. Mountain and Air. Date unknown.

“Lang” was born into a family of architects and artists in Montclair, New Jersey, on 5 Feburary 1902. His father was the architect of the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, and many other major buildings in the state. John Langley Howard studied engineering at Berkeley (1920-23) before taking art classes at the Art Students’ League in New York (1923-24) and in Paris, France. In 1924, he left art school and married Adeline Day. He held his first solo exhibition, at The Modern Gallery, San Francisco, in 1927.

During the second world war, Howard worked as a ship drafter and air raid warden. He divorced Adeline in 1949 and the following year was teaching at the California School of Fine Arts. He married Blanche Phillips, a sculptor, in 1951 and moved to Mexico that same year.

Prior to Mexico, Howard had experimented with Abstract Expressionism. Back in San Francisco by late 1951, Howard’s art took on a much more eco-activist stance with a painting called The Rape of the Earth. The three panels of The Rape of the Earth “successively portray the stormy formation of the planet amid lightning flashes, its spoliation by machines in a tremendous scene of technocratic destruction, and, finally, the ravaged land returning to a natural state, still befouled by mechanical wreckage, but eventually to be healed and cleansed.” [Temko, 1999]

From 1953 to 1965, Howard illustrated numerous covers for Scientific American magazine, and also taught for a year at the Pratt Institute Art School in Brooklyn, New York. Howard lived in Europe during the late 1960s, returning to California in 1970. John Langley Howard passed away in 1999 at his home in San Francisco at the age of 97.

“I think of painting as poetry and I think of myself as a representational poet. I want to describe my subject minutely, but I also way to describe my emotional response to it… what I’m doing is making a self-portrait in a peculiar kind of way.” – John Langley Howard

Examples of Howard’s art, which won numerous awards, are in the collections of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor; the City of San Francisco; the IBM Building, New York; The Oakland Museum; The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Security Pacific National Bank Headquarters, Los Angeles; the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts; and the University of Utah.

His major exhibitions included Modern Gallery, San Francisco (1927); Beaux Arts Gallery and East-West Gallery, both in San Francisco (1928); the San Francisco Art Association (1928-1951); Paul Elder Gallery, San Francisco (1935); Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio (1936); Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (1936, 1939); 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Treasure Island (1939); Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (1941, 1952); Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C. (1943); M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA (1943); 1946-47 Whitney Museum, New York (1946-1947); Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1956); Capricorn Asunder Gallery, San Francisco (1973); Lawson Galleries, San Francisco (1974); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Rental Gallery (1982); California Academy of Sciences (1983); Monterey Museum of Art, California (1983); Martina Hamilton Gallery, New York (1987); Tobey C. Moss Gallery, California (1989, 1992, 1993); M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco (1991).

Note:

The U.S.-born John Langley Howard described in this post should not be confused with the U.K.-born violinist, John Langley. The latter was a long-time resident of Ajijic and was photographed for Leonard McCombe’s 1957 Life magazine article about the village.

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.

Sep 222016
 

Lothar Wuerslin and his wife, Ann, lived in Ajijic in the late 1950s, from 1956 to about 1959. They stayed until their savings ran out and then returned to New York.

Their time at Lake Chapala changed their lives in more ways than one. First, their eldest son, Christopher (who late in his life became a chef, writer and photographer) was born in Mexico on 21 March 1956. Then, Lothar, who had been busy preparing enough paintings for a solo show on his return to New York, discovered sculpting. Thus began an entirely new chapter in his artistic career. Ann was also an artist, as well as a poet.

Lothar Hellmut Wuerslin was born in Auggen, Germany, on 3 March 1927 to a French father and his German wife. Before Lothar’s third birthday, the family emigrated to the U.S. (1929). He served in the U.S. Army from July 1945 to November 1946. In 1951 he entered the University of New Hampshire to study art, and met Ann. Lothar also studied at the Boston Museum school of art. The young couple moved to New York where a succession of part-time jobs (including painting fire escapes) enabled them to save a few dollars and try their luck in Mexico.

Lothar Wuerslin. Frescoes on wall of Ajijic home, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Lothar Wuerslin. Frescoes on wall of Ajijic home, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

In 1956, they took up residence in Ajijic, paying the princely sum of $5 (dollars) a month for a 4-room adobe house that lacked a tub. Within months, Lothar had executed an interesting series of frescoes on the foyer walls (above) as well as begun to paint in earnest.

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin playing chess, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin playing chess, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

The Wuerslins were photographed by Leonart McCombe for his 1957 Life article about Americans at Lake Chapala. McCombe not only photographed their home (and murals), but also took pictures of the young couple playing chess and (their home lacking a tub) taking a bath, surrounded by flowering water hyacinths, in Lake Chapala.

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin taking a bath in Lake Chapala wster hyacinths, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Lothar and Ann Wuerslin taking a bath in Lake Chapala water hyacinths, 1957. Photo by Leonard McCombe, Life

Years later, this is how a local Vermont newspaper described how Mexico and Ajijic had changed the direction of Lothar’s art for ever:

“A chilly night in Ajijic, Mexico, changed artist-painter Lothar Wuerslin’s life. … Once a painter, Wuerslin switched arts when he was given some firewood on a chilly evening in Mexico where he and his wife had gone in 1956. He had by this time painted murals on most of the adobe walls of their small rented house. He picked up a piece of the redwood and began carving it.” – (Bennington Banner, 24 July 1965)

In about 1959, the Wuerslins moved back to New York. By April 1960, they were sufficiently well established there for Lothar to have already held an exhibition of his paintings on Madison Avenue and to be renting a loft studio on the Lower East Side to continue his new-found love: sculpting. About a year later, their second son, Hasso, was born. In 1963, the Wuerslins moved to a farmhouse in Sandgate, Vermont, where Lothar could have a larger studio and more room to develop his sculptures. Their third son, Tristan, was born in Vermont in May 1965. The Wuerslins also had a daughter, Joan, the eldest of their four children, who had been given up for adoption.

Lothar Wuerslin. 1957. Painting of wife and child. Digitally derived from photo by Leonard McCombe, Life.

Lothar Wuerslin. 1957. Painting of wife and child. Digitally derived from photo by Leonard McCombe, Life.

Lothar exhibited in local shows in Manchester and Bennington and examples of his work (in wood and cast cement) were included in a 1967 collective exhibition of Vermont Artists. In February 2005, both Lothar (by then deceased) and Ann were represented in an exhibition of Sandgate artists at The Canfield Gallery.

Several younger Vermont artists, including Anna Dribble and Chris Miller, took community college classes with Lothar and have paid public tribute to his influence on their art.

Lothar Wuerslin died at Sandgate, Vermont, at the age of 55, on 25 November 1982.

Ann “Bunny” Wuerslin (1930-2009)

Lothar’s wife, Ann “Bunny” Wuerslin was born in New Hampshire on 14 October 1930 and died in Sandgate in 2009. She had been the town clerk of Sandgate for 13 years prior to her retirement in 2008.

In addition to her art, Ann Wuerslin wrote poetry and was, after 1967, designed and made jewelry, sold not only locally, but also in “Primitive Artisans” on 5th Avenue in New York City.

Late in life, Ann became a published author with a book called In the Child’s Voice (Shire Press, 2008). The book is a poignant and expressive memoir, comprised of vignettes about living in a succession of foster homes in New Hampshire during her childhood.

To listen to Ann Wuerslin reciting one of her own poems (later used in her obituary notice), see this YouTube video clip. The poem starts at minute 2:00 of the video.

Sources:

  • Bennington Banner, Bennington, Vermont, 24 July 1965, p 5
  • Madeleine B. Karter. 1960. Undaunted and Un-beat (with photographs by Ted Russell). Pageant, April 1960, p 148 on.
  • Leonard McCombe (photographer). 1957. “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.” Life, 23 December 1957

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.

Sep 082016
 

The Lake Chapala Auditorium (Auditorio de la Ribera), now celebrating its 40th anniversary, was originally scheduled to be formally opened on 25 September 1976 with a piano concert by Manuel Delaflor from Mexico City, who had just played at New York’s Carnegie Hall. In Ajijic, Delaflor was to play a Baldwin grand piano that had been donated to the auditorium the year before by Hilary Campbell, in memory of her sister Elsa. (However, the concert was cancelled at the last minute due to concerns about acoustics).

Hilary Campbell, together with her two sisters, Elsa and Amy, and brother Alan, settled in Chapala in the early 1950s. They first visited Chapala in 1945 but did not retire to the town until 1951. They initially lived in the “Salazar house”, across the street from the plaza. This building, close to Banamex, later became the Allen W. Lloyd offices.

In 1956, the family moved into their own home in Chapala, designed and built by Amy and Alan, at Calle Niza #10, on the hill near the chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes. The family landscaped the grounds and within a few years, the gardens were considered “a showpiece of the area”.

The Campbells were at home on Calle Niza when Life magazine photographer Leonard McCombe arrived in 1957 to document the American community at Lake Chapala. A photo of the eldest sibling, Elsa Cambell, arranging zinnias in the patio, has a caption explaining that the “ex-piano teacher … helps her brother, two sisters and three servants run an elegant household in a home they designed and built for themselves.”

The Campbells were the children of a mining engineer and his wife, Anne, an excellent pianist. Newly-wed, and about to move to Colorado, Anne ordered a Steinway grand piano to be shipped from Germany to the U.S., and then carried up winding Rocky Mountain roads to Gilpin, where the couple planned to set up home. However, the only home they could afford turned out to be quite small. Daughter Hilary later recalled that her mother had chosen to keep the piano rather than have a dining room table. The piano was subsequently inherited by Elsa, who took the piano, her “shining jewelry and faithful ally” from Colorado to New York, Carmel (California) and finally Chapala.

Elsa Campbell, 1957, photographed by Leonard McCombe for Life.

Elsa Campbell, 1957, in patio of the family home in Calle Niza, Chapala. Credit: Leonard McCombe, Life.

Elsa, who had been born in Ontario, Canada, in 1887 died in a hospital in Guadalajara on 24 May 1971. Her remains were sent to Mexico City for cremation. The only snippet I have managed to locate about Elsa’s early piano playing was from the Boston Evening Transcript for 23 February 1907, when she was about 20 years of age. The newspapers reports that she played a Grieg minuet and Lavalée’s “Butterfly” at the Dorchester Social Club of Women, “pleasing the audience with the delicacy of her nuances and the perfection of her technique.”

Amy Campbell (ca 1889-1966) was born in Denver, Colorado and died in Chapala on 20 February 1966. She lived for several years in Kingston, Ontario, as a child before becoming a faculty member at Simmons College in Boston. When the family was living in New York, Amy became a well-known dress designer. Amy was also a musician and played the violin in several amateur orchestras. Before “retiring” to Chapala, she had lived several years in San Francisco (she is recorded in the 1940 U.S. Census as living in that city with her mother, Anne, then aged 87) and Carmel, California, where she had designed and built houses.

Not content to be retired, Amy went to Taxco and learned silversmithing. She then designed and made silver and gold jewelry, some set with ancient jade found in tombs. Her beautiful jewelry was displayed in galleries in New York and San Francisco. Amy was very active in Chapala social and civic affairs,  including the local Bridge Club and the Lakeside Little Theater.

Hilary Campbell was born in Colorado in about 1891 and lived at least into her mid-80s. At the time of the 1940 U.S. Census, she was living in Manhattan, New York City, where she was an editor in the social work sector. The census record suggests that the four siblings may have had an elder brother or half-brother named James Perkin, born in about 1882.

There is evidence that Hilary was also a poet. In 1956 Witter Bynner, the famous American poet who was a long-time Chapala resident from well before the arrival of the Campbell siblings, gifted Hilary one of his volumes of verse, published the year before, with the inscription “to poet Hilary Campbell”.

It was Hilary (who outlived her siblings) who decided that there was “no better way to honor the memory of her sisters and their part in the early cultural efforts around Lake Chapala than by donating a $10,000 dollars [Baldwin] grand piano to the new auditorium.” The first concert on the Baldwin grand was performed by Mexican pianist Manuel Delaflor on 25 September 1976.

Alan Campbell, 1957, photographed by Leonard McCombe for Life.

Alan Campbell, 1957, photographed by Leonard McCombe for Life.

The youngest of the four siblings was Alan Randolph Campbell (ca 1893-1967). Born in Colorado, Alan spent part of his youth in eastern Canada and California, where he was in the class of 1915 at Stanford University. He then worked in Boston and New York, but by 1940 had returned to live in Carmel, California, where he is listed in the U.S. Census as a “salesman in the travel industry”. From Carmel, he moved to Chapala. He traveled widely in Mexico and in Guatemala. He apparently made a documentary film for the Guatemalan government tourism department, though I have yet to find any details. Alan died in Chapala on 8 October 1967; his remains are interred in the municipal cemetery.

Like so many other foreign visitors, this multi-talented family clearly found a new lease of life after “retiring” to Chapala!

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 26 Feb 1966; 28 Oct 1967; 3 May 1975.
  • U.S. Census, 1940
  • Leonard McCombe (photographer). 1957. “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home. Expatriates Settle Down to Live and Loaf in Mexico.” Life, 23 December 1957

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.

Aug 012016
 

The distinguished Canadian poet Earle Alfred Birney (1904–1995) traveled in Mexico in the 1950s and wrote several poems based on his experiences, including one entitled “Ajijíċ”.

birney-ice-cod-bell-stoneBirney was born in Calgary, Alberta, on Friday 13 May 1904 and raised on a farm near Creston in British Columbia. After short stints working on a farm, in a bank and as a park ranger, he attended university to study chemical engineering.

By the time he graduated, his academic interests had changed. Birney graduated with a degree in English from the University of British Columbia (1926). He also later studied at the University of Toronto (1926-27); University of California, Berkeley (1927); and at the University of London in the U.K. (1934).

During the second world war, he was a personnel officer in the Canadian Army, the basis for his 1949 novel Turvey, which won the Leacock medal for humor in 1950. Immediately after the war, Birney took a post at the University of British Columbia, where he was instrumental in founding and directing Canada’s first creative writing program. He retired from that university in 1965 to become the first Writer in Residence at the University of Toronto.

His poetry was widely acclaimed, published in more than hundred journals and regularly featured in anthologies. It also resulted in him becoming a two-time recipient of the Governor General’s Award, Canada’s top literary honor. Birney also wrote plays, novels and non-fiction, as well as working at different times as literary editor of Canadian Forum, editor of Canadian Poetry Magazine and supervisor of European foreign-language broadcasts for CBC.

Birney died of a heart attack on 3 September 1995 at the age of 91.

Birney’s poem “Ajijíċ” [sic] is one of a series of 12 Mexican poems that forms the second section of his Ice Cod Bell or Stone: A Collection of New Poems (1962). The other poems are entitled: “State of Sonora”, “Sinaloa”, “Njarit”, “Late Afternoon in Manzanillo”, “Irapuato”, “Pachucan Miners”, “Six-Sided Square: Actopan”, “Francisco Tresguerras”, “Beldams of Tepoztlán”, “Conducted Ritual: San Juan de Ulúa”, and “Sestina for Tehauntepec”. The place names in the titles clearly shows that Birney traveled quite widely during his time in Mexico, from Sonora and Sinaloa in the north to San Juan de Ulúa in Veracruz and Tehuantepec in the southern state of Oaxaca.

In Ajijíċ, Birney describes a “hip gringo” who, while enjoying a morning tequila, brings out “from under the bar”, “his six feet of representational nonart.”

The poem’s final section includes a description of sundown when,

“Outside the fishermen will pass /
and the blobs of pescada blanca in the nets /
swaying over their shoulders will flake /
their bare shanks with mica as they trudge” …

[Note that the correct Spanish spelling for Lake Chapala’s whitefish is pescado blanco.]

Birney’s Mexican poems were very favorably reviewed by other noted Canadian poets and literary figures. A.J.M. Smith, in his “A Unified Personality – Birney’s Poems”, praised this “brilliant series of Mexican poems. I don’t know where you’ll find anything better in modern North American poetry than the combination of wit and sentiment, pertinent observation and auricular, almost ventriloquistic precision than “Sinaloa”, “Ajijic”, or “Six-Sided Square: Actopan”.”

Mexican literary analysis of Birney’s poetry has been more critical. For instance, Claudia Lucotti, an academic at UNAM (Mexico’s National University),  argues that Earle Birney describes a Mexico of cliches, a simplistic country, one seen only through tourist eyes. She regards Birney’s attempt to record the typical speech patterns of a Mexican speaking English as patronizing and stereotypical. Incidentally, in the same chapter, which examines how various Canadian poets have looked at Mexico, Lucotti considers the same to be true for Al Purdy, another Canadian poet associated with Lake Chapala.

Birney’s poetry collections include David and Other Poems (1942), Now Is Time (1945), The Strait of Anian (1948), Trial of a City and Other Verse (1952), Ice Cod Bell or Stone (1962), Near False Creek Mouth (1964), Memory No Servant (1968), pnomes jukollages & other stunzas (1969), Rag & Bone Shop (1970), what’s so big about GREEN? (1973), Alphabeings and Other Seasyours (1976), The Rugging and the Moving Times (1976), Copernican Fix (1985) and Last Makings: Poems (1991).

Birney’s fiction works include Turvey: a military picaresque (1949), Down the Long Table (1955) and Big Bird in the Bush: Selected stories and sketches (1978), while his non-fiction writing includes The Creative Writer (1966), The Cow Jumped Over the Moon: The writing and reading of poetry (1972), and Essays on Chaucerian Irony (1985).

Sources / references

  • Wailan Low. Undated. Earle Birney : Biography.
  • Claudia Lucotti. 2000. “Nosotros en los otros: visiones de México en la literatura canadiense contemporánea de lengua inflesa”, in Canadá un estado posmoderno, coordinated by Teresa Gutiérrez-Haces (Plaza y Valdes, 2000).
  • A.J. M. Smith. 1966. “A Unified Personality: Birney’s Poems,” in Canadian Literature. (Vancouver, British Columbia, 1966), 30, 4-13

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

Jun 132016
 

Miles Swarthout was the son of award-winning novelist Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) and his wife Kathryn Vaughn (1919-2015). Miles was born on 1 May 1946 and died on 2 March 2016.

As a five-year-old child, Miles spent six months in Ajijic in 1951 with his parents, while his father worked on a novel, Doyle Dorado, later consigned, in Miles’ words, to “the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.” His father’s short story “Ixion” was the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.” It was first published in New World Writing #13 (Mentor, 1958).

swarthout-milesMany years later, after Miles became a successful screenwriter, he turned his father’s short story into a screenplay called Convictions of the Heart. Miles Swarthout adapted a number of his father’s novels into films, among them A Christmas to Remember for CBS in 1978. Miles wrote a regular Hollywood Western film column for the Western Writers of America’s bi-monthly magazine, The Roundup, and contributed several articles to Persimmon Hill, the quarterly magazine of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, including “The Westerns of Glendon Swarthout” for  the special summer issue of 1996.

Miles also edited a collection of his late father’s short stories,including Ixion, as Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001).

The screenplay, Convictions of the Heart, “tells the emotional tale of a romance gone bad in Mexico, between Johnson, a thirty-year-old advertising copywriter from Cleveland attempting to write his first novel, and Irene Temple, a middle-aged socialite fleeing a boring marriage in NYC. Mrs. Temple has two daughters in tow, Sheila, 8, and Sara, 6, who have led an untamed life for over a year on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake, an hour from their second largest city, Guadalajara.”

In the short story, Irene Temple is aged 35, Johnson 29 and the two girls  7 and 6, respectively. There are, inevitably, some more significant, differences between the original short story and the screenplay. For example, in the screenplay, the character of Irene’s former lover Paco Marquez is fleshed out, and he plays a much larger role than in the original story. The screenplay includes a new scene in which Johnson comes to “fisticuffs one drunken night with her former local lover, Paco Marquez” and subsequently “spends the night in Ajijic’s jail”.

“Johnson slowly realizes that his writing career is drying up faster than Lake Chapala, and this tale’s poignant climax is a warning to impressionable young artists about getting sexually involved with their neighbors, to the detriment of their art and their life. Johnson learns a hard, tragic lesson to the final tune of Kenny Loggins’ hit song, “Convictions of the Heart.” And the viewer is reminded of French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s famous maxim, that “the heart has its reasons, that reason knows nothing of….” (Screenplay description)

To the best of my knowledge, this screenplay has never been produced, though such a movie would surely strike a chord among the many Americans who have experienced romantic challenges as they tried to re-invent their lives in Mexico. It could be time for a kickstarter campaign…

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.

May 232016
 

In between writing hugely successful novels, Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) wrote a short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala. This story was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart.

Swarthout spent six months in Ajijic in 1951, with his wife Kathryn and their young son, Miles, aged five. According to Miles, the draft of the novel his father was working on at that time, Doyle Dorado, “ended up in the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.”

Glendon Swarthout used the setting of Lake Chapala for a later short story, first published in 1958. “Ixion” is the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.”

New World Writing #13

New World Writing #13

It is a tale of the challenging romance between Johnson, a twenty-nine-year-old advertising copywriter from Cleveland attempting to write his first novel, and Irene Temple, aged 35, who left her husband in New York City almost two years ago and absconded to Mexico with their two young daughters, now aged 7 and 6 respectively.

Paraphrasing Miles, “the story’s naive hero” tries to rescue these “two wise-beyond-their-years little girls” from “the neglect of their alcoholic mother”. “The tragic irony in this tale builds to a heartbreaking conclusion as the young writer becomes trapped between his good intentions and his own ineptitude.”

The story is solidly constructed and totally believable, though I find myself agreeing with Miles that it would have been nice if his father had worked “some explanation of the title into the text for those of us who are mythologically uninformed.” In his afterword to Easterns and Westerns, his collection of his father’s stories, Miles succinctly summarized the myth:

Ixion was the mythical Greek king who sought , and imagined he had obtained, the love of Hera, queen of the Olympic deities and wife of Zeus, the father and king of gods and men. When he boasted of his romantic exploit, Ixion was hurled down into Tartarus, a dark abyss beneath the earth where the rebellious titans were punished, and bound to an eternally revolving wheel.”

The setting, Ajijic, is described in the short story as follows:

The name of the town was Ajijic, pronouncing the j’s like h’s. It was on the shore of the biggest lake in Mexico. There were mountains all around the lake, and the bell of the church rang purely during the day and through the night. He came to Ajijic because, being an artist’s colony according to the travel folders, it would have atmosphere.

The main characters in “Ixion” are staying in cottages at the village’s only hotel, the Casa Paraíso:

In the small lobby, a blossoming tree twisted up through a square in the roof into the air, and outside, spaced around a big patio, hidden from each other by banana palms and thickets of bamboo, were eight cottages girt with vines in which nested birds, red and blue, he had never before seen, while from the porch he could watch, through an eye in the vines, the heat of the sun and the high altitude evaporating the surface of the lake constantly into mist. It was easy to imagine monsters lifting hooded heads out of the mist, or the gods of the lake ancient Indians prayed to for fish.”

Among the other characters mentioned in the short story are two artists, Mr. Kahn and Mr. Radimersky, and a poetess named Dorothy Camilla Sugret.

“Ixion” was first published in New World Writing #13 in The New American Library (Mentor, 1958). A contemporary reviewer praised the story as being a “much worthier” work than Swarthout’s second novel, They Came to Cordura, which had been published only a few weeks before. “Ixion” was reprinted in Miles’ collection of his father’s stories, Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001).

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.

May 192016
 

Emil Armin (1883-1971) was born in Rădăuţi (Radautz), Romania, in 1883 and died in Chicago in 1971. He is assumed to have visited Lake Chapala at some point in the mid-1950s since one of his paintings, entitled “Morning Lake Chapala”, was hung in a no-jury exhibition of Chicago Artists in Chicago in February 1957. That exhibition was sponsored by The Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago Art Organizations in cooperation with the Honorable Richard J. Daley, Mayor of the City of Chicago.

Emil Armin. Self-portrait (1928), woodcut

Emil Armin. Self-portrait (1928), woodcut

Armin was raised in a Jewish family but lost both his parents at the age of 10 and was brought up by older siblings. As a teenager, he worked in restaurants to support himself, and took evening art classes, as well as learning English and French.

In 1905, when Armin was 21, he emigrated to the U.S. to join his brother in Chicago. Two years later he enrolled in night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, but his precarious financial situation led to him having to take a break from classes in 1911.

In 1913 Armin made several visits to the famed Armory Show which brought avant-garde artists such as Matisse and Cezanne to the attention of the American public. Both Armin and Emil Holzhauer (another painter of European origin who would later paint Lake Chapala) were inspired by the sharp contrast between these works and their own prior art training. In Armin’s case, an exhibition of works by Russian artist Boris Anisfeld at the Art Institute suggested an artistic avenue worth exploring.

Armin started taking formal classes at the Chicago Art Institute again in 1918, and after studying with Randall Davey and American realist painter George Bellows, finally graduated from the Institute in 1920.

He quickly became an active member of Chicago’s modernist art community, part of the 57th Street Art Colony in Hyde Park, and began to exhibit with the Chicago Society of Artists.

Emil Armin. Sunburnt Dunes (1942)

Emil Armin. Sunburnt Dunes (1942)

From 1922 to 1949, Armin was a regular exhibitor at the Annual Shows of the Chicago Art Institute, but also joined the No-Jury Society of Artists, established in 1922. The Society had been formed, according to the catalog of its first show, because “standards of the past… are chains by which the free development of art is hampered.” The Society considered that technique was less important than “honest, spiritual content”.

Armin, who exhibited in all of their shows, served for a time as the Society’s president. Armin also taught for a time (1925-26) at Chicago’s Hull House, a settlement house set up to receive recently-arrived European immigrants.

In 1926, Armin was a founder member of Around the Palette (renamed, in 1940, the American Jewish Art Club, and later the American Jewish Artists Club), and exhibited with them regularly throughout his life. His work was also part of the group exhibitions of the Renaissance Society in Chicago in 1931, 1941, 1946 and 1962.

Emil Armin. Pelicans and Fisherman (1966)

Emil Armin. Pelicans and Fisherman (1966)

In the 1930s, Armin was an active participant in both the Public Works of Art Project and in its successor the Works Progress Administration.

Armin’s artwork included cartoons, woodblocks, paintings and sculptures. Though Armin also spent some time in New Mexico (1928), Maine, Mexico and elsewhere, Chicago was his home throughout his adult life. Armin’s subject matter varied, but he is particularly well-known for depictions of urban life in Chicago, as well as biblical themes and Jewish rituals.

Armin married Hilda Rose Diamond in 1945. Following his death in 1971, she worked with the Illinois State Museum to chronicle Armin’s career as an artist, resulting in a retrospective exhibition featuring more than seventy of his works.

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

May 162016
 

Award-winning novelist Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) wrote 16 novels, many turned into films, and numerous short stories. His short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala, was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart.

Glendon Fred Swarthout was born 8 April 1918 in Pinckney, Michigan, and died on 23 September 1992 in Scottsdale, Arizona. He attended the University of Michigan, where he majored in English and played the accordion for a four-piece band he formed. He married his childhood sweetheart Kathryn Vaughn on 28 December 1940, shortly after they both graduated.

After a year writing ad copy for Cadillac and Dow Chemical at the MacManus, John & Adams advertising agency in Detroit, Swarthout traveled with his wife to South America aboard a small freighter, sending a weekly column back home to various newspapers. After Pearl Harbor, they returned to the U.S. When Swarthout was denied entry to officer’s training for being underweight, the young couple both took jobs at Willow Run bomber plant near Ann Arbor. Within six months, and despite working long hours as a riveter on B-24s, Swarthout had written his his first novel Willow Run, a story about people working in a bomber factory.

In the latter stages of the war, Swarthout served briefly in the U.S. infantry in Europe, but ruptured a disc in his spine and was shipped home. He would be plagued by back problems for the rest of his life.

Glendon Swarthout. Credit: http://www.glendonswarthout.com

Glendon Swarthout. Credit: http://www.glendonswarthout.com

After the war, Swarthout earned a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan and began teaching college. His teaching career included spells at the University of Maryland, at Michigan State University, and at the University of Arizona.

In 1951, Swarthout spent six months in Ajijic with his wife and their young son, Miles, born in 1946. During this time, he worked on another novel, Doyle Dorado, which, in Miles’ words, later “ended up in the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.” Swarthout also wrote a short story set at Lake Chapala. Though not published until several years later, “Ixion” was the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.”

New World Writing #13

New World Writing #13

“Ixion” was first published in New World Writing #13 in The New American Library (Mentor, 1958). A contemporary reviewer praised “Ixion” as being a “much worthier” work than Swarthout’s second novel, They Came to Cordura, which had been published a few weeks previously. “Ixion” was later reprinted in Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001), a collection of short stories, edited by son Miles, who later turned it into a screenplay, Convictions of the Heart.

According to Miles, the family might have remained much longer in Mexico in 1951 (despite his father’s failed attempt at writing Doyle Dorado) if the lake had been clean. “The real reason my parents left Mexico in a hurry was to seek emergency medical treatment in Brownsville, Texas, for five-year-old me, after I’d contracted para-typhoid fever from swallowing sewage water in Lake Chapala.”

Back in the U.S., in 1955 Glendon Swarthout gained his doctorate in English Literature (based on a study of Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Cary and Charles Portis) and began to sell short stories to magazines such as Cosmopolitan and The Saturday Evening Post. One of the first stories he sold (for $2500), “A Horse for Mrs. Custer”, became the Columbia Pictures low-budget western 7th Cavalry, released in 1956.

Swarthout’s next novel established him as a professional writer. They Came To Cordura was published by Random House in 1958 and became a New York Times bestseller. The film rights were sold to Columbia Pictures, whose major movie, starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth, entertained cinema audiences the following year. The book is set in 1916 Mexico during the Pershing Expedition to capture Pancho Villa.

Swarthout’s career took off. His next novel, Where The Boys Are (1960), the first lighthearted novel about the annual “spring break” invasion of southern Florida beaches by college students, was transformed by MGM into a low budget, high grossing movie.

In the early 1960s, Swarthout retired from teaching to become a full-time writer. His other novels, many of them optioned for movies, include: Welcome to Thebes (1962); The Cadillac Cowboys (1964); The Eagle and the Iron Cross (1966); Loveland (1968); Bless the Beasts and Children (1970); The Tin Lizzie Troop (1972); Luck and Pluck (1973); The Shootist (1975); A Christmas Gift (also known as The Melodeon) (1977); Skeletons (1979); The Old Colts (1985); The Homesman (1988); And Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming (published posthumously in 1994).

Swarthout was twice nominated by his publishers for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (for They Came To Cordura by Random House and Bless The Beasts & Children by Doubleday) and received numerous awards for his work.

He and his wife Kathryn Vaughn Swarthout (1919-2015) co-wrote six young adult novels, several of which were also published overseas. In 1962, the couple established the Swarthout Writing Prizes at Arizona State University, for poetry and fiction, which are among the highest annual financial awards given for undergraduate and graduate writing programs.

Glendon Swarthout died at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, on 23 September 1992.

Acknowledgement

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Miles Swarthout (1946-2016) who graciously corresponded with me about his father, via e-mail at an early stage of this project.

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

May 092016
 

Dr. Arvid Shulenberger (1918-1964), who taught English at The University of Kansas for many years, wrote academic works, poetry and at least one novel. Shulenberger lived in Ajijic for part of 1955. In his 1992 booklet, Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Michael Hargraves, who inadvertently curtails the author’s surname to Schulenberg, wrote that the professor “lived at Ajijic in the late 1940’s—early 1950’s but apparently was never published.”

Arvid Leroy Shulenberger was born on 9 September 1918 in Wessington Springs, South Dakota. He married Margaret Louise Anderson on 24 November 24, 1942; the couple had four children.

During the second world war, Shulenberger served in the U.S. Air Force in the 548th Night Fighter Squadron. A 1947 book, “American Jews in World War II”, by I. Kaufman, describes “the rare combat exploit of Lt. Arvid Shulenberger”, who piloted the U.S. Black Widow night fighter plane which brought down a pilot-less B-29 headed for the American base on Iwo Jima. Arvid’s son Eric Shulenberger, an oceanographer, is the author of Deny Them the Night Sky: A History of the 548th Night Fighter Squadron, which details the story of his father’s squadron.

After the war, Arvid Shulenberger studied at Yankton College in South Dakota, and then at the University of Chicago which awarded him a PhD in English Literature in 1951. He taught as a professor of English at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, from 1952 to 1964.

Shulenberger-Arvid-Cover-of-Roads-from-the-Fort-1957In 1954, he published his first novel, Roads From The Fort. Described as a serious novel of the Old West, Kirkus Review called it, “A first novel of contagious sincerity.” The novel was a Book-of-the-Month recommendation.

Following publication of his novel, and of a serious academic work, Cooper’s Theory of Fiction: His prefaces and their relation to his novels. (University of Kansas press, 1955), Shulenberger took a year off from teaching and spent the latter half of 1955 in Ajijic on Lake Chapala.

A profile of Shulenberger in the 11 December 1955 issue of the Salina Journal in Kansas, says that he “has just returned with his family after spending five months in Mexico – writing another novel…. Before attempting his first novel Shulenberger, broad-shouldered and soft-spoken, had not written a single short story, but had limited himself to criticism and poetry.” I have been unable to find any evidence that this second novel was ever published.

A collection of poems by Shulenberger, entitled Ancient Music and Other Poems, was published by Allen Press in 1960. Shulenberger had several poetry credits in The New Yorker and in the magazine Poetry. He also wrote “The Orthodox Poetic,” (1963), an article in which he compared four important worldviews: the classical Greek, the Old Testament (“Hebraic”), the Christian, and the “modern”.

Shulenberger died in an auto accident on 23 June 1964, in Leavenworth, Kansas, on his way home from teaching night classes in English literature to inmates of Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

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

May 022016
 

Chester (“Chet”) P. Hewitt lived in Ajijic for a time in the early to middle 1950s, according to Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet, Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey. Hewitt wrote The Gilded Hideaway. a novel set in Mexico (though not at Lakeside), which was published in New York by Ace Books in 1955, under the pseudonym of Peter Twist. The novel appears to be Hewitt’s only published work.

Hewitt was born in New York City on 7 November 1922 and, after a single year of college and as yet unmarried, enlisted in the U.S. Air Corps on 18 March 1943.

hewitt-chester-p-as-peter-tiwst-coverIt seems likely that Hewitt was only in Ajijic for a relatively short time, since, if an article in the Waco-Times for 20 July 1967 is to be believed, Hewitt left the U.S. for St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) in about 1952. The article describes Hewitt as a “slender, mustachioed”, 43-year-old “retired civil engineer”, who worked in construction in St. Thomas and saved enough money to move to Mexico City, and then, nine months later, to Acapulco, where he and his wife Lucy “took over a four bedroom house overlooking the ocean, with a swimming pool in the front yard”.

The scant evidence from immigration records shows that he entered St. Thomas on 5 December 1957, presumably from Mexico, on a return trip to the island.

The focus of the Waco-Times article is Hewitt’s humanitarian role in assisting American and Canadian prisoners locked up in the Acapulco jail. Apparently, Hewitt was detained overnight following a vehicle accident outside a prominent hotel, and, while there, compiled a list of foreign prisoners, the charges they faced, and contact details for their families.

On his release, he set about contacting families and trying to arrange for some of the prisoners to have fines or other debts paid and thereby gain their release. In many cases, his efforts proved successful. Hewitt visited the prisoners regularly, twice a week, with “books, food and hope”.

Please contact us if you are able to add more details about the life and work of this noble novelist.

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 282016
 

Stephen Schneck was born 2 January 1933 in New York and died on 26 November 1996 in Palm Springs, California. He led a varied life, including stints as a novelist, author, actor and screenwriter, among other pursuits.

schneck-nightclerkSchneck studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and then spent several years traveling around Mexico, where he lived in the Lake Chapala area from about 1954 to 1957) and Central America. According to Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet, Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Schneck claimed “to have written some of his best short stories and spent the better days of his youth while there”.

In 1960, Schneck apparently founded the American Beauty Studios, on 42nd Street, New York. It was during the 1960s that Schneck worked as a reporter for such “underground” periodicals as Ramparts and Mother Jones.

He subsequently moved to San Francisco, where he wrote his first, and best known, novel, “The Nightclerk” (Grove Press, 1965). The novel’s hero is an overweight hotel clerk (weighing 600 lbs), described by one reviewer as “the fattest man in American literature”. The hotel is a seedy San Francisco establishment. The clerk whiles away the long night hours reading erotic paperbacks, cutting up old magazines, and reminiscing about his beautiful and corrupt wife, Katy. The clerk’s real life lies in his “erotic, pornographic, sado-masochistic, orgiastic, unnameable” fantasies. This somewhat surrealistic novel became an international counterculture favorite, and won the $10,000 Formentor Novel Prize.

schneck-nocturnal-vaudevilleSchneck followed this with a second novel, Nocturnal Vaudeville (E. P. Dutton, 1971), but then turned to non-fiction works and screenplays.

In the second half of the 1970s, he wrote several non-fiction books for pet lovers, including The complete home medical guide for cats (Stein and Day, 1976) and, with Nigel Norris, The complete home medical guide for dogs (Stein and Day, 1976). The two authors co-wrote A. to Z. of Cat Care (Fontana Press, 1979) and A-Z of Dog Care (Fontana, 1979).

By that time, Schneck was gaining success as a screenwriter. He wrote or co-wrote Inside Out (1975); Welcome to Blood City (1977), which won first prize at the 1976 Paris Science Fiction Film Festival; High-Ballin’ (1978), which starred Peter Fonda; and Across the Moon (1995), in which he also played the part of a prison chaplain.

TV credits included two episodes of The Paper Chase (1985-1986), an episode of In the Heat of the Night (1992), as well as episodes of All in the Family, Archie Bunker’s Place, and Cheers.

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.

 Posted by at 6:13 am  Tagged with:
Feb 182016
 

Roy Vincent MacNicol (1889-1970), “Paintbrush Ambassador of Goodwill”, had an extraordinary artistic career, even if his personal life was sometimes confrontational.

The American painter, designer, writer and lecturer had close ties to Chapala for many years: in 1954, he bought and remodeled the house in Chapala that had been rented in 1923 by English author D. H. Lawrence, and then by artists Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser.

After MacNicol and his fourth wife Mary Blanche Starr bought the house, they divided their time between Chapala and New York, with occasional trips elsewhere, including Europe. Their New York home, from 1956 (possibly earlier) was at 100 Sullivan Street.

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

Roy MacNicol was a prolific painter and several MacNicol paintings of Lake Chapala are known. He lived an especially colorful life, married at least four times, and was the focus of various scandals and lawsuits.

Born in New York City on 27 November 1889, “the son of a British major and a Spanish lady who had been born in Sweden”, MacNicol died in that city in November 1970. He studied at the University of Illinois and was a member of the Baltimore Watercolor Society, the Lotus Club and the Pan-Am Union.

In about 1915 he married Mildred ____, five years younger than himself. They named their son, born in about 1916, Roy. At the time of the 1920 U.S. Census, Roy Sr., Mildred and Roy Jr. (then aged 4 years, 6 months) were all living in New York.

In 1919, he appeared at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., in the farce Twin Beds, and in the farce Where’s Your Wife? on Broadway at the Punch and Judy Theatre.

MacNicol is best known for his watercolors and elaborate decorative screens, but also painted murals, including some for the Moore-McCormack Steamship Line.

In his early 30s, MacNicol was outraged when a fellow artist, Robert W. Chanler, called him a “copyist” and claimed that MacNicol had stolen his designs. MacNicol took Chanler to court, asking $50,000 for the alleged libel. (New York Times, 26 May 1925)

MacNicol’s solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in April 1926, entitled “Recent Works of Roy MacNicol” based on a “recent trip to France and Spain”, included many abstract paintings of fauna such as cranes, herons, Australian squirrels and penguins. In the program notes A. G. Warshawsky praised the abstract compositions that “still hold a human and essentially humorous effect, which adds both to the charm and naiveté of the subject”.

At some point prior to this, Roy MacNicol married vaudeville performer Fay Courtney (born in Texas on 10 May 1890); the couple returned from Europe together in 1926 and were certainly still together in 1934 when they traveled back to their home in Palm Beach Florida from Kobe, Japan, via Vancouver and Seattle.

MacNicol’s links to Mexico date to around the time Fay Courtney MacNicol passed away in February 1941. In 1943, MacNicol held a solo exhibition at the Pan American Union in Washington, D.C. that was visited, and much enjoyed, by Eleanor Roosevelt:

“On leaving the club, I went to the Pan American Building to see an exhibition of paintings done in Mexico by Mr. Roy MacNicol. They were perfectly charming, and I was particularly interested in the Indian types. Some showed the hardships of the life they and their forefathers had lived. Others had a gentleness and sweetness which seemed to draw you to them through the canvas. The color in every picture was fascinating and I feel sure that this is the predominant note in Mexico which attracts everyone in this country who goes there.” (Eleanor Roosevelt, 5 March 1943)

MacNicol is credited with creating the first “Good Neighbor” Exhibition, which had a Mexican theme, in the interest of international good will. Mrs. Roosevelt sponsored later “Good Neighbor” exhibits, as did several prominent Mexican officials including Mexican president Miguel Alemán.

MacNicol traveled frequently to Mexico and Cuba throughout the 1940s and 1950s and his work was widely exhibited, both across the U.S., and internationally in Cuba, China and Europe. His solo shows were held at such widely respected institutions as the National Academy of Design; the Art Institute of Chicago (1926); Lyceum, Havana, Cuba; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. Examples of his artwork are in the permanent collections of the University of Illinois; Randolph-Macon Woman’s College; University of Havana, Cuba and the Reporter’s Club, Havana.

MacNicol lectured on art and Spain and his formal jobs included a spell as associate editor at the American Historical Company in New York City. He was a regular contributor to several newspapers including the Christian Science Monitor; Atlanta Journal Times Herald; Mexico City News and The Havana Post, and also authored two books: Paintbrush Ambassador (1957) and, according to most sources, a book about El Greco, The Flame of Genius (date and publisher unknown).

The autobiographical Paintbrush Ambassador makes repeated reference to notable personalities including the likes of Ernest Hemingway, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jack Warner, Danny Kaye, Gloria Swanson and Mr. and Mrs. Nelson D. Rockefeller.

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

On 9 September 1945, MacNicol married Mrs. Helen Stevick, “wealthy publisher of the Champaign, Illinois, News Gazette” in Chicago. The newly-married couple went to Mexico City for their honeymoon, where Stevick’s daughter joined them. The marriage quickly became a complete disaster, though it provided ample fodder for the newspapers of the time who had a field day describing the plight (and possible motives) of the prominent painter. The Steviks accused MacNicol of fraud and had him (briefly) imprisoned in a Mexican jail. MacNicol sought revenge on the daughter, seeking $500,000 for her part in wrecking his marriage.

Irving Johnson, for the San Antonio Light, wrote that:

“Roy V. MacNicol is a painter of Mexican scenes. The critics praise his work. Prominent Americans and the Mexican cabinet have sponsored his exhibitions. He has been called America’s paintbrush ambassador.

Now he’s laid down his brush temporarily to picture another kind of Mexican scene – his own unhappy honeymoon south of the border. His price is a half million – the amount of his recent alienation of affections suit against his own stepdaughter…”

MacNicol may have wanted $500,000, but he certainly did not get it; the case was dismissed on technical grounds. According to the divorce case the following May (1946), Mrs. MacNicol agreed with her daughter that he had married her only to get “large sums of money for his personal aggrandizement and the satisfaction of his idea of grandeur.” Ironically, that very month, Roy MacNicol held a successful show of Mexican watercolors in Chicago.

MacNicol did not take long to recover from his amorous setback. He spent the winter of 1946-47 enjoying “the season” in Palm Beach for the first time in several years, and in March 1947, married Mrs Bassett W. Mitchell (the former Mary Blanche Starr), widow of a real estate investor, and a long-time member of the Palm Beach colony. This marriage would prove more successful and lasted the remainder of his life.

In 1949, presumably in an effort to clear up her former husband’s estate, Mary Starr MacNicol requested Federal Court help with making the arrangements to pay outstanding debts.

In the early 1950s, the MacNicols lived for some time in Mexico City, prior to moving to Chapala in 1954 and buying the home formerly rented by D. H. Lawrence at Zaragoza #307. MacNicol restored the house and added a swimming pool. He also added a memorial plaque on the street wall to Lawrence: “In this house D. H. Lawrence lived and wrote ‘The Plumed Serpent’ in the year 1923.” According to a later exhibition catalog, the wall plaque also referred to another of MacNicol’s boyhood heroes, Robert Louis Stevenson. [?]

A “list of foreign residents in Chapala” from June 1955, and now in the archive of the Lake Chapala Society (LCS), includes Roy and Mary MacNicol among the 55 total foreign residents in the town at that time, though they were not LCS members.

The MacNicols spent part of 1956 in Europe, and are shown as leaving Mexico by air for New York in late September prior to returning to Palm Beach from Southampton, U.K., aboard the Queen Mary in November.

It is unclear precisely when the MacNicols sold their house in Chapala, but according to columnist Kenneth McCaleb, MacNicol was disposing of the contents of his Chapala home in the early 1960s, prior to selling it and going to New York. (The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Texas, 15 February 1968)

The exhibition catalog dating from late 1968 or early 1969 for MacNicol’s last one-man show “Faces and Places of Nations” was the artist’s 59th solo exhibit. The catalog describes the artist, the “Paintbrush Ambassador of Goodwill”:

“He believes in the universal diplomacy of art as a means to world understanding. His “Faces and Places of Nations” series was begun in 1943. The exhibit has been shown in Mexico City, Spain, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, British West Indies, Cuba, South America, as well as in key cities in U.S.A. The 1949 exhibition was televised coast-to-coast by NBC.”

Of the sixteen works listed in the catalog, six are from Mexico, including two directly linked to Lake Chapala:

  • Old Fisherman & Boy (Lake Chapala);
  • Mary & Duke Casa MacNicol (Lake Chapala)

Despite enjoying considerable success (and some notoriety) during his lifetime, Roy MacNicol is one of the many larger-than-life artists to have lived and worked at Lake Chapala whose contributions to the local art community have, sadly, been largely forgotten.

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

 Posted by at 6:34 am  Tagged with:
Feb 152016
 

Mary Blanche Starr MacNicol was the fourth wife of Roy MacNicol, an American artist who in 1954 bought and remodeled the D. H. Lawrence house in Chapala. From spending time in Mexico, she became interested in local Mexican cuisine, especially that involving flowers, and later wrote Flower Cookery: The Art of Cooking with Flowers (New York, 1967).

macnicol-mary-flower-cookeryMary Starr was born in Georgia in about 1896. According to a post on a genealogy site, she graduated from the University of Georgia and then taught for some years in Hartwell, Georgia, where she became close friends with Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell, before moving to Florida.

Her first marriage, in 1935, to Bassett Washington Mitchell, a real estate investor of Palm Beach, Florida, ended on his death in September 1946. The following year, on 27 March, she married artist-writer Roy MacNicol, who had been married twice previously, in Palm Beach. MacNicol had been a Palm Beach regular since at least the mid-1920s.

In 1949 Mary Starr MacNicol requested Federal Court help with paying her debts, presumably in order to wind up her husband’s estate. She told the Court that she had assets of $371,580 but was unable to pay her debts as they matured. She listed debts of $224,346 and asked the Court to make arrangements for her creditors to be paid.

In 1954, Roy MacNicol bought, and began to remodel, the historic house in Chapala which D. H. Lawrence had rented in 1923. After this point, Mary and Roy MacNicol seem to have divided their time between Chapala and New York, with occasional trips elsewhere, including to Europe. (In November 1956, for example, the couple arrived back in Palm Beach, from Europe, aboard the Queen Mary.) Their New York home, from 1956 (possibly earlier) until Mary MacNicol’s death in about 1970, was at 100 Sullivan Street.

A short piece about Mary MacNicol’s book Flower Cookery: The Art of Cooking with Flowers (New York, 1967) in the San Antonio Express and News in 1973 mentions that,

“Mrs. MacNicol began exploring the possibilities of cooking with flowers when she was the lessee of D. H. Lawrence’s house at Lake Chapala.”, adding that “Mrs. MacNicol researched Aztec methods of flower cookery and once attended a six-course flower supper in Morelia. Lilies, yucca, roses and jasmine are ingredients in Mrs. MacNicol’s recipes. So are clove-carnations or gilly flowers and marigolds the flavor provider for Dutch soups.

Mrs. MacNicol tells of Dwight Eisenhower’s custom of adding nasturtium blossoms during Ihe last minutes of vegetable soup cookery, She also gives Queen Victoria’s mother’s formula for violet tea: 1 cup of boiling water 1 tsp. of fresh violets Steep ten minutes, then sweeten with honey.”

Here is a Chapala-related recipe from that book:

Chapala Cheer

  • 10-12 squash blossoms
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2-3 tbsp. water
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup oil

Wash blossoms and remove stems. Drain dry on paper towels. Mix other ingredients to make a smooth batter. Dip blossoms in batter and fry in oil until brown. Serve hot.

Enjoy!

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.

error: Content is protected !!