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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jan 042016
 

D. H. Lawrence, together with his wife Frieda, and friends Witter Bynner and Willard (“Spud”) Johnson, visited Mexico in March 1923, initially staying in Mexico City.

By the end of April, Lawrence was becoming restless and actively looking for somewhere where he could write. The traveling party had an open invitation to visit Guadalajara, the home of Idella Purnell, a former student of Bynner’s at the Univeristy of California, Berkeley. After reading about Chapala in Terry’s Guide to Mexico, Lawrence decided to  catch the train to Guadalajara and then explore the lakeside village of Chapala for himself.

Lawrence liked what he saw and, within hours of arriving in Chapala, he sent an urgent telegram back to Mexico City pronouncing Chapala “paradise” and urging the others to join him there immediately. Lawrence and his wife Frieda soon established their home for the summer in Chapala, on Calle Zaragoza. In a letter back to two Danish friends in Taos, Lawrence described both the house and the village:

“Here we are, in our own house—a long house with no upstairs—shut in by trees on two sides.—We live on a wide verandah, flowers round—it is fairly hot—I spend the day in trousers and shirt, barefoot—have a Mexican woman, Isabel, to look after us—very nice. Just outside the gate the big Lake of Chapala—40 miles long, 20 miles wide. We can’t see the lake, because the trees shut us in. But we walk out in a wrap to bathe.—There are camions—Ford omnibuses—to Guadalajara—2 hours. Chapala village is small with a market place with trees and Indians in big hats. Also three hotels, because this is a tiny holiday place for Guadalajara. I hope you’ll get down, I’m sure you’d like painting here.—It may be that even yet I’ll have my little hacienda and grow bananas and oranges.” – (letter dated 3 May 1923, to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild, quoted in Knud Merrild’s book, A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence.)

DH Lawrence house in Chapala, ca 1950, Photo by Roy MacNicol

DH Lawrence house in Chapala, ca 1950, Photo by Roy MacNicol

Life was not without its incidents and travails. Frieda, especially, was unconvinced about the charms of Chapala:

Lawrence went to Guadalajara and found a house with a patio on the Lake of Chapala. There, Lawrence began to write his “Plumed Serpent”. He sat by the lake under a pepper tree writing it. The lake was curious with its white water. My enthusiasm for bathing in it faded considerably when one morning a huge snake rose yards high, it seemed to me, only a few feet away. At the end of the patio, we had the family that Lawrence describes in the “Plumed Serpent”, and all the life of Chapala. I tried my one attempt at civilizing those Mexican children, but when they asked me one day, “Do you have lice too, Niña,” I had enough and gave up in a rage. At night I was frightened of bandits and we had one of the sons of the cook sleeping outside our bedroom door with a loaded revolver, but he snored so fiercely that I wasn’t sure whether the fear of bandits wasn’t preferable. We quite sank into the patio life. Bynner and Spud came every afternoon, and I remember Bynner saying to me one day, while he was mixing a cocktail: “If you and Lawrence quarrel, why don’t you hit first?” I took the advice and the next time Lawrence was cross, I rose to the occasion and got out of my Mexican indifference and flew at him.  – (Frieda Lawrence: (1934), Not I, But the Wind… Viking Press, New York (1934), p 139)

The house the Lawrences rented was at Zaragoza #4 (since renumbered Zaragoza #307) and became the basis for the description of Kate’s living quarters in The Plumed Serpent. The Lawrences lived in the house from the start of May 1923 to about 9 July that year.

Interestingly, the house subsequently had several additional links to famous writers and artists.

Immediately after the Lawrences departed, the next renters were American artists Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser, who lived there for 18 months. They did not realize the identity of the previous tenant – “an English writer” –  until the following year. Their time in Chapala is described, with great wit and charm, in Jackson’s Burros and Paintbrushes (University of Texas Press, 1985).

[Jackson visited Mexico many times and made several return visits to Chapala, including one in 1968 when he, his wife and young grandson, “rented the charming old Witter Bynner house right in the center of the village of Chapala. It had become the property of Peter Hurd, the artist…” In 1923, Bynner and Johnson stayed at the Hotel Arzapalo. In 1930, Bynner bought a home in Chapala (not the one rented by Lawrence) and was a frequent winter visitor for many years.]

Lawrence house in Chapala - ca 1963

Lawrence house in Chapala – ca 1963

Over the years, the house on Zaragoza that Lawrence and Frieda had occupied was extensively remodeled and expanded. The first major renovation was undertaken in about 1940 by famed Mexican architect Luis Barragán. Another large-scale renovation took place after the house was acquired in 1954 by American artist and architect Roy MacNicol (mistakenly spelled MacNichol in Moore’s The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence).

lawrence-quinta-quetzacoatl-chapala

Quinta Quetzacoatl

In the late 1970s, Canadian poet Al Purdy, a great admirer of Lawrence (to the point of having a bust of Lawrence on the hall table of his home in Ontario), wrote a hand-signed and numbered book, The D.H. Lawrence House at Chapala, published by The Paget Press in 1980, as a limited edition of 44 copies. [If any generous benefactor is reading this, I’d love to own a copy!] The book includes a photograph, taken by Purdy’s wife Eurithe, of the plumed serpent tile work above the door of the Lawrence house.

The town of Chapala today would be totally unrecognizable to Lawrence, but the home where he spent a productive summer writing the first draft of The Plumed Serpent eventually became the Quinta Quetzalcoatl, an exclusive boutique hotel.

Sources:

  • Goldsmith, M.O. 1941. “Week-end house in Mexico: G. Cristo house, Lake Chapala.” House and Garden vol 79 (May 1941). Describes the remodeling of D.H. Lawrence’s one story adobe cottage by Luis Barragán, the “talented young Mexican architect.”
  • Harry T. Moore (ed). 1962. The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence (Two volumes), (New York: Viking 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.

Dec 282015
 

Author and poet Harold Witter Bynner (1881-1968), known as “Hal” to his friends, had a lengthy connection to Lake Chapala extending over more than forty years. He first visited the lake and the village in 1923, when he and then companion Willard Johnson were traveling with D.H. Lawrence and his wife.

Bynner returned to Chapala in 1925, and later (1940) bought a house there, which became his second home, his primary residence remaining in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bynner spent two and a half years in Chapala during the second world war, and the equivalent of ten years of his life there in total.

Poet, mimic and raconteur Witter Bynner was born into a wealthy family. Apparently, he liked to recount stories about his mother, who, he claimed, kept $500,000 in cash in one of her closets.

He graduated from Harvard in 1902, having been on the staff of the Harvard Advocate.

Bynner published his first volume of verse, Young Harvard and Other Poems, in 1907. Other early works included Tiger (1913), The New World (1915), The Beloved Stranger (1919), A Canticle of Pan and Other Poems (1920), Pins for Wings (1920) and A Book of Love (1923).

In 1916, in an extended prank aimed at deflating the self-important poetry commentators of the time, Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke collaborated to perpetrate what has often been called “the literary hoax of the twentieth century”. Bynner and Ficke had met at Harvard and were to become lifelong friends. Ficke and his wife Gladys accompanied Bynner on a trip to the Far East in 1916-17. In 1916, Bynner writing under the pen name “Emanuel Morgan” and Ficke, writing as “Anne Knish” published a joint work, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments. Intended as a satire on modern poetry, the work was enthusiastically reviewed as a serious contribution to poetry, before the deception was revealed in 1918. (Ficke, incidentally, later spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala, with Bynner, and wrote a novel set there: Mrs Morton of Mexico.)

Even though Bynner still became President of the Poetry Society of America from 1920 to 1922, the Spectra hoax was not well received by the poetry establishment, and Bynner’s later poetry received less attention than deserved.

Bynner traveled extensively in the Orient, and compiled and translated an anthology of Chinese poetry: The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology, Being Three Hundred Poems of the T’ang Dynasty 618–906 (1929) as well as The Way of Life According to Laotzu (1944). He also amassed an impressive collection of Chinese artifacts.

In 1919, he accepted a teaching post at the University of California at Berkeley. Students in his poetry class there included both Idella Purnell and Willard “Spud” Johnson. When Bynner left academia and moved to Taos, New Mexico, in 1922, to concentrate on his own writing, Johnson followed to become his secretary-companion. In Taos, they met D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, and the four traveled together to Mexico in the spring of 1923. After a short time in Mexico City, they settled in Chapala, where the Lawrences rented a house while Bynner and Johnson stayed at the Hotel Arzapalo.

bynner-coverChapala with the Lawrences

Bynner’s memoir of this trip and the group’s time in Chapala is told in his engagingly-written Journey with Genius (1951), which is full of anecdotes and analysis. Among the former, for example, is the story told them by Winfield Scott, manager of the Arzapalo, who a few years earlier had been kidnapped by bandits who attacked the Hotel Rivera in El Fuente.

Bynner, who seems to have had near-perfect recall, describes Chapala and their trips together in loving detail, as well as providing insights into Lawrence’s work habits and mood swings. For his part, Lawrence appears to have been less than impressed, since in The Plumed Serpent he used Bynner as the basis for the unflattering character of Owen, the American at the bullfight.

Bynner’s poem about Lawrence in Chapala, “The Foreigner”, is short and sweet:

Chapala still remembers the foreigner
Who came with a pale red beard and pale blue eyes
And a pale white skin that covered a dark soul;
They remember the night when he thought he saw a hand
Reach through a broken window and fumble at a lock;
They remember a tree on the beach where he used to sit
And ask the burros questions about peace;
They remember him walking, walking away from something.

The Lawrences left Chapala in early July 1923, but Bynner and Johnson stayed a few months more, so that Bynner could continue working on his book of verse, Caravan (1925).

bynner-1961Bynner returned to Chapala in 1925, and a letter from that time shows how he thinks the town has changed, in part due to tourists: “Too much elegancia now, constant shrill clatter, no calzones, not so many guaraches, no plaza-market.” Among the changes, Bynner noted several other American writers and a painter in Chapala, making up “a real little colony” (quoted in Delpar).

Elsewhere, diary entries and other letters reveal why he liked Chapala: “The Mind clears at Chapala. Questions answer themselves. Tasks become easy”, and how he felt at home there: “Me for Chapala. I doubt if I shall find another place in Mexico so simpatico.”

Poems related to these first two visits to Chapala (1923 and 1925) include “On a Mexican Lake” (New Republic, 1923); “The Foreigner” (The Nation, 1926); “Chapala Poems” (Poetry, 1927); “To my mother concerning a Mexican sunset / Mescala etc.” (Poetry, 1927); “Indian Earth” [Owls; Tule; Volcano; A Sunset on Lake Chapala; Men of Music; A Weaver from Jocotepec] (The Yale Review, 1928); and “Six Mexican Poems” [A Mexican Wind; A Beautiful Mexican; From Chapala to a San Franciscan; The Cross on Tunapec; Conflict; The Web] (Bookman, 1929).

Bynner included many of these poems in the collection Indian Earth (1929), which he dedicated to Lawrence, and which many consider some of Bynner’s finest work. A reviewer for Pacific Affairs (a journal of the University of British Columbia, Canada), wrote that “Chapala, a sequence occupying over half the seventy-seven pages of the book, is a poignant revelation to one in quest of the essence of an alien spirit, that alien spirit being in this case the simple, passionate Indian soul of old Mexico.”

Among my personal favorites (though I admit to bias) is

A Weaver From Jocotepec

Sundays he comes to me with new zarapes
Woven especial ways to please us both:
The Indian key and many-coloured flowers
And lines called rays and stars called little doves.
I order a design; he tells me yes
And, looking down across his Asian beard,
Foresees a good zarape. Other time
I order a design; he tells me no.

Since weavers of Jocotepec are the best in Jalisco,
And no weaver in Jocotepec is more expert than mine,
I watched the zarapes of strangers who came to the plaza
For the Sunday evening processions around the band,
And I showed him once, on a stranger, a tattered blanket
Patterned no better than his but better blent––
Only to find it had taken three weavers to weave it:
My weaver first and then the sun and rain.

Later Chapala-related poems by Bynner include “Chapala Moon and The Conquest of Mexico” (two poems; Forum and Century, 1936) and “Beach at Chapala” (Southwest Review, 1947).

Bynner’s third trip to Chapala, with partner Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964), came in 1931. The pair visited Taxco and Chapala, but Bynner preferred Chapala, claiming (somewhat in contradiction to his earlier letter about a “real little colony”) that, “Chapala survives without a single foreigner living there and, despite its hotels and shabby mansions, continues to be primitive and feel remote.” Of course, this was by no means true; there certainly were foreigners living in Chapala in 1931, including some who had been there since the start of the century.

When Bynner returned to Chapala for a longer stay in January 1940, he first stayed at the Hotel Nido, but not finding it much to his liking soon purchased a house almost directly across the street. The original address was Galeana #441, but the street name today is Francisco I. Madero. We will consider the history of this house in a separate post, but Bynner and Hunt regularly vacationed here thereafter.

At some point in mid-1944, Bynner had been joined at Chapala by a young American painter Charles Stigall, whose ill health at the time had caused him not to be drafted. He lived with Bynner while he recuperated. Certainly he was there in November 1944, as the Guadalajara daily El Informador (19 November 1944) records both “Mr Witter Bynner, famous American poet” and “Mr Charles Stigel” attending an exhibition of Mexican paintings by Edith Wallach, at the Villa Montecarlo. Among the other guests, at the opening were “Nigel Stansbury Millet (one half of the Dane Chandos writing duo); Miss Neill James; Mr Otto Butterlin and his “lovely daughter Rita”; Miss Ann Medalie; and Mr. Herbert Johnson and wife.” (The newspaper makes no mention of Bob Hunt, who was also in Chapala at that time).

In November 1945, Bynner lost his oldest and closest friend, Arthur Ficke. The following month, he returned to Chapala for the winter.

Bynner and Hunt continued to visit Chapala regularly for many years, into the early 1960s. He was well aware of how much the town had changed since his first visit in 1923. For example in a letter to Edward Nehls in the 1950s, Bynner wrote,

“The “beach” where Lawrence used to sit, is now a severe boulevard [Ramon Corona] which gives me a pang when I remember the simple village we lived in. The tree under which he sat and wrote is gone long since and the beach close to it where fishermen cast nets and women washed clothes has receded a quarter of a mile. But the mountains still surround what is left of the lake and, as a village somewhat inland, Chapala would still have charmed us had we come upon it in its present state.”

In February 1949, Bynner had his first slight heart attack, but still visited Chapala for part of the year. At about this time, his eyesight began to deteriorate. Bynner and Hunt, in the company of artist Clinton King and his wife Narcissa, traveled to Europe and North Africa for the first six months of 1950, visiting, among others, Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin in Paris, and George Santayana and Sybille Bedford (author of a fictionalized travelogue about Lake Chapala) in Rome.

Bynner’s final years were spent in ill-health. Bynner had almost completely lost his sight by January 1964, when he unexpectedly lost his long-time partner, Bob Hunt, who had a fatal heart attach just as he was setting out for Chapala, having made arrangements for Bynner to be cared for in his absence by John Liggett Meigs.

The following year, Bynner suffered a severe stroke. While friends looked after him for the remainder of his life (he died in 1968), Bynner’s doctors ordered that the famous poet was not well enough to receive visitors for more than one minute at a time.

Bynner left his Santa Fe home to St. John’s College, together with the funds to create a foundation that supports poetry. The house and grounds are now the Inn of the Turquoise Bear.

His passing marked the loss of one of the many literary greats who had found inspiration at Lake Chapala.

Sources:

  • Bushby, D. Maitland. 1931. “Poets of Our Southern Frontier”, Out West Magazine, Feb 1931, p 41-42.
  • Bynner, Witter. 1951. Joumey with Genius: Recollection and Reflections Concerning The D.H. Lawrences (New York: The John Day Company).
  • Bynner, Witter. 1981. Selected Letters (edited by James Kraft). The Works of Witter Bynner. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Delpar, Helen. 1992. The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican : Cultural Relations between the United States and Mexico, 1920-1935. (University of Alabama Press)
  • Kraft, James 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? (UNM Press)
  • Nehls, Edward (ed). 1958. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume Two, 1919-1925. (University of Wisconsin Press).
  • Sze, Corinne P. 1992. “The Witter Bynner House” [Santa Fe], Bulletin of the Historic Santa Fe Association, Vol 20, No 2, September 1992.

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 052015
 

We’ve received a request for help with identifying the artist who painted these interesting pictures dating from about 1950. The paintings were bought in Ajijic direct from the artist at that time by the father of Ann Hithersay who lives in the U.K.

The pictures are painted on paper. It is not clear what medium was used, but the owner reports that the colors are still bright, particularly the blues and purples. The owner’s family remembers something about the artist having exhibited at the Royal Academy in London around 1950, but the paintings have no titles, labels or additional identification.

So far, we have drawn a blank in trying to identify the artist and his/her signature, but maybe a sharp-eyed viewer will have the answer? [Click on any image to enlarge] If you can help, please e-mail us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Painting #1:

1-1imagePainting #2:

3-1imagePainting #32-1image

Signatures from paintings #1 and #2 (click to enlarge):
1-2signature2-2signature

All images reproduced by kind permission of Ann Hithersay. These images may not be reproduced elsewhere without prior written permission.

Other mysteries relating to Lake Chapala authors and artists:

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 022015
 

Week With No Friday by Willard Marsh is one of only a handful of novels to have been set entirely at Lake Chapala. Published in 1965 by Harper & Row, it tells the story of a troubled expatriate playwright who lives in Ajijic in the 1950s.

The dust jacket of the hardcover edition (274 pages) set up the novel as follows:

Ben Warner, an American writing living precariously in a beautiful Mexican lake town, talks entertainingly and drinks a great deal. His marriage has ended and the women who now pass through his life are just a means of survival. His once-promising resources have been reduced to a tankful of rejected plays and stories.

Yet his world is not without hope — especially when he is on pot. And, even though he has no scruples in using the women who live him, he is no ordinary rascal. Behind his witty, slanderous speech and the clownish guilt of his behavior, he is struggling desperately to keep going — as a man and as a writer.

When Martha McKenzie, a visiting schoolteacher from Iowa, attempts with crusading zeal to save Ben Warner, he can react in only one way: by exploiting her. But both their purposes are diverted by the arrival of Warner’s ex-wife, resulting in an intensely moving and human tragicomedy.”

The photograph of Marsh used in the author’ biography on the back dust jacket of the original hardcover was taken by John Lee, an author and photographer who lived for a year in Ajijic (with his wife Barbara Moore) in 1962-63, and then returned there for nine consecutive summers.

The paperback version of Week with No Friday was subtitled “Money, Marijuana and a girl named Martha – Low-life and high-jinks South of the Border.” The basic description was reworded to read,

After twelve years in Mexico, Ben Warner seemed shamelessly happy just sponging off his neighbors, finding consolation and occasional inspiration in alcohol, pot, and any passable woman who came along. The locals found him muy simpatico, and so did visiting schoolteacher Martha McKenzie, who speedily found him sharing her bed — and her checkbook.

But behind the amusing and eccentric exterior, Ben Warner was a man struggling desperately just to keep going, to make good the wasted years. With the unexpected reappearance of his glamorous ex-wife, the loose ends of his existence suddenly begin to unravel, with results that are as intensely moving as human experience can be.

Week with No Friday was also reprinted in a limited 208-page paperback edition in Mexico in about the year 2000.

marsh-weed-with-no-fridayReviews of Week with No Friday were generally positive. Highlights include

“Real, honest sex and a real, honest bullfight. A wonderfully gutsy book. The author lives, sees and feels deeply on every page.” – Barnaby Conrad

“A good many novels have been written about U.S. expatriates in Mexico, but Willard Marsh’s is the best that I’ve read.” – Vance Bourjaily (another of the many authors who lived for a time in Ajijic).

“Downright irresistible” – Chicago Sun-Times

“A marvelously successful novel” – Book Week

“There is much that is affecting and witty in this first novel, which examines the pangs of a creative personality in exile… Mr. Marsh can create warm, vital characters, a stunning locale and rollicking humor, but the dichotomy in Ben’s character seems not quite resolved. However, this is a writer of promise.” – Kirkus Review

After reading the Kirkus Review, Willard Marsh wrote to his brother-in-law John Williams, also a novelist, bemoaning the fact that “I’ve been a writer of promise for 43 years…”

Verdict: Definitely a keeper!

Related posts:

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.

Oct 262015
 

Willard Marsh, known to his friends as “Butch”, was one of the pivotal figures in the Ajijic literary scene in the 1950s and 1960s, and one of the first to write a novel set in the village. His novel, Week with No Friday (1965), is the story of a troubled expatriate playwright who lives in Ajijic in the 1950s. While fictional, it still affords many insights into the village’s literary and artistic scene of the time.

marsh-willard-passport-photoMarsh also wrote Beachhead in Bohemia: Stories (1969) a collection of short stories, published by Louisiana State University. Several of these stories had been published previously, and several are set in the Lake Chapala area, and feature the same characters and scenes that appear in Week with No Friday.

Marsh was born in Oakland, California and attended Oakland High School where he learned to play trumpet and trombone, initiating a lifelong devotion to jazz music. He financed his courses at the State College at Chico by forming “Will Marsh and the Four Collegians”, a jazz group that played at an Oakland roadhouse.

His education was interrupted by the second world war, where he served with the U.S. military, 1942-45, in the South Pacific, becoming a staff sergeant.

Soon after the war, on 4 September 1948, Marsh married George Rae Williams, a former Pasadena Playhouse actress. It must have been Marsh’s second marriage, since George wrote to her brother John Williams in mid-1948 that, “We can’t get married until August because his divorce isn’t final until then.”

[John Williams (1922-1994) was a novelist, editor and professor of English, author of Augustus and Stoner. Williams is the subject of The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel, a biography by Charles J. Shields due to be published in 2016. Shields kindly shared with me the information that John Williams had begun his own novel (sadly now lost) about bohemians living in Mexico, presumably based on his visits to his sister and brother-in-law.]

Willard and George Rae Marsh moved to Chapala in Mexico in the early 1950s. Marsh strove to establish a career as a free-lance writer while working on his “G.A.N.” (Great American Novel). They would continue to live in the area, with breaks to travel or teach in the U.S., until his death in 1970.

The couple lived first in Chapala, and later in Ajijic. They also spent some time in the literary and artistic circles of San Miguel de Allende. In 1952, from Chapala, Marsh reported to brother-in-law, John Williams, that they were living “quite well, in our cozily disordered way, for about seventy-five bucks a month, including everything.” The comment, “both typewriters clacking, and the jug of tequila diminishing as we go”, suggests that a liberal amount of alcohol helped fuel their creativity.

A letter from George to her brother in March 1953, says that she was excited to have just learned from their landlady that they were living in the same house in Chapala where “Red” Warren wrote All the Kings Men.

After several years living and writing in Mexico, Marsh’s Great American Novel remained unfinished. Marsh gained degrees at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop (B.A. in 1959 and M.A. in 1960), and decided to complement his less-than-stable writing income by teaching, accepting positions as an assistant professor of English, first at Winthrop College, Rock Hill, SC (1959-61), then at the University of California, Los Angeles (1961-64) and later at North Texas State University, Denton (1968-70). He continued to spend as much time as possible in Mexico.

marsh-weed-with-no-fridayWork on the novel continued. In October 1963, Marsh reported having had “a wildly relaxing, wildly productive summer in Ajijic, during which time I got so much accomplished on the novel that I can have the mother in the mails before year’s end.” He planned to resign from the University of California and live in Spain for a few years.

The following year, after more thought, they decided against Spain, opting to return to Ajijic instead, though they expressed some misgivings: “Ajijic has been overrun with slobs quite a bit, too, but if it gets too bad, one can move a few kilometers down the lake to $an Juan, Jocotepec, and on to Morelia. The lake is 25 miles wide and 50 miles long, so there’s a lot of lake-front real estate still unoccupied.”

Marsh’s magnum opus Week with No Friday was published in 1965 to generally positive reviews. The book gave Marsh the opportunity to respond to the unflattering portrait of him in Eileen Bassing’s own novel set in Ajijic, Where’s Annie? (1963). Bassing had used Willard and George Rae Marsh as the basis for her characters Willie and Sam Chester:

“[Willie Chester] was enshrined there on his patio only half hidden among the telefono vines, typing away. He wrote. Merciful God, how he wrote. A story every day he said, good, bad indifferent, sensational, like a non-discriminating machine, learning, he said, with each one he wrote, but writing them so fast, so terribly, frighteningly fast. And he sold some of them, not many. That he sold any was alarming. He had no reverence, no respect, no fear of his own possible or impossible talent. He wrote; it was the answer to everything for him…. Sam was behind Willie, circling about in a stained and tattered leotard, steadily but badly practicing her ballet. Did she woo and win him with her twittering, soiled dancing? Oh, turn my eyes from the vision of their lives.”

Marsh retaliated with brief, equally unflattering descriptions of Eileen “Blissing” and her husband, in his own novel:

“He introduced her to Beau Blissing, a fairly entertaining slob, so that she could hear the single gift that Beau had perfected in a lifetime — the ability to sing ‘Blue Skies’ backward. Afterwards he tried to give them one of his voracious French poodles he never could afford to feed. ‘Such a bewildered, wistful man’ Martha said. ‘Has he any other hobbies?’ ‘He accepts book dedications. His wife is a lady novelist with a lousy memory.'”

In his writing career, Marsh was successful in getting short stories published in more than seventy periodicals, including Antioch Review, Furioso, Prairie Schooner, Northwest Review, Yale Review, Esquire, Playboy, Transatlantic Review, and Saturday Evening Post. His short stories include, “Beachhead in Bohemia” (The Southwest Review, 1952); “Bus Fare to Tomorrow” (The Saturday Evening Post, 1954); “No More Gifts” (Playboy, 1956); “Ad Lib Exit” (Playboy 1956); “Mexican Hayride” (Esquire, 1960), described by writer Allyn Hunt as the short story that most “accurately depicts Ajijic in the 1950s” (and the the basis for the first chapter of Week with No Friday). “Beachhead in Bohemia” and “Mexican Hayride” were chosen for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of 1953 and 1961 respectively.

Marsh also wrote under several pen names, including “George Ketzel” for poetry.

In 1970, apparently as the result of a medical misdiagnosis, he died, leaving his next novel, Anchor in the Air unpublished. Marsh’s body was interred in Ajijic cemetery, but was not allowed to rest for long. In 1972, a real estate developer drove a road through Ajijic cemetery, desecrating many graves, including that of novelist Willard Marsh.

Willard Marsh’s personal papers are held at the University of Iowa. My thanks to Charles J. Shields, biographer of John Williams, for his valuable help in locating material relating to Willard and George Marsh.

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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 082015
 

American artist Alfred Rogoway (1900–1990) was born in Portland, Oregon, on 4 April 1900. His father was a playwright and mother an artist. Rogaway lived most of each year in Ajijic in the 1950s.

While still only a teenager, Rogoway served with the U.S. Navy (1916-1920). His ship was torpedoed and Rogoway was lucky to survive. He subsequently studied art at the University of California at Berkeley, at the Oakland College of Arts and Crafts (with Hamilton Wolf), with summer sessions at Mills College, Oakland, (with Lyonel Feininger and, later, Fernand Leger) and with José Clemente Orozco in Mexico.

rogoway-alfred-photoIn his late thirties, Rogoway had paintings selected by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s open competition in three consecutive years (1939-1941), which led to wider acceptance of his work in the art world.

He followed many other talented artists to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the 1940s, and it was here where he met and married archaeologist Marjorie Goldbert. The Rogoways would live in several countries, including France, Mexico and Spain. Wherever they went they entertained on a lavish scale, throwing legendary parties for fellow artists, intellectuals and state officials.

The young couple moved to France in 1947 with their infant daughter Esther. In Europe, Alfred became friends with Pablo Picasso; the two regularly exchanged ideas. Not long afterwards, they relocated to Ajijic in Mexico, so that Rogoway could devote himself full time to his art. While living in Ajijic, they made regular summer visits to New Mexico to visit friends.

Alfred Rogoway. Mother and Child. Oil and palette knife. c 1955.

Alfred Rogoway. Mother and Child. Oil and palette knife. c 1955. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Katie Goodridge Ingram, who owned an art gallery in Ajijic for many years, is a huge fan of his work, and remembers “Rog” well, as a “dramatic, expansive man… with a saint of a wife”. Ingram is particularly fond of Rogoway’s more representational, less abstract, art that characterized his time in Mexico. Ingram possesses several of his palette paintings on masonite from the 1950s, including “Mother and Child” (see image), “Lovers” and “Horses”.

She recalled that on one occasion, when the Rogoways were living in a house with a second-story viewpoint (mirador), Alfred Rogoway had imbibed one too many and suddenly announced his intention to try to fly:

“He flew off the mirador, broke perhaps an arm, a leg, ribs and who knows what else. So he made tables in bed from the small mosaic tiles from Mexico which my mother found for him in Guadalajara. My mother, Helen Kirtland, was then the happy recipient of two of his tables created during his LONG convalescence.”

In 1950, the Rogoways spent some time in Big Sur, California, and became friends with Henry Miller, who provided encouragement for decades. Rogoway’s work at this time was “somnambulist”, with ethereal elongated figures invoking a dream-like state. No-one was more aware of that than Miller, who said of Rogoway in 1955:

He paints as other men must dream, and his visions take him back thousands of years of world subconsciousness. He belongs to no one medium but to all. His is the gentleness of the large man who cannot touch something small for fear of crushing it, yet all subtleties of his nature find expression on canvas.”

Alfred Rogoway. Guitarista. Watercolor.

Alfred Rogoway. Guitarista. Watercolor.

By 1955, Rogoway had decided that his best chance of true success in the art world lay in spending more time in New York, where “modern art” was all the rage. His paintings sold well in New York galleries, such as that owned by Laura Barone, and Rogoway’s work was hung in the city’s Museum of Modern Art alongside works by Braque, Miro and Picasso. The Rogoways eventually purchased a large home in Sag Harbor, Long Island, and divided their time between Mexico and New York.

In 1958, the family chose to leave Mexico behind and make their new home on a mountain top in Mijas, Spain, high above the Mediterranean. Mijas would be their home for more than twenty years. They continued to entertain on a grand scale and while in Spain, Rogoway’s work was regularly shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in London.

After Marjorie passed away in 1983, Alfred Rogoway moved back to the U.S. to live with daughter Esther and her family in Tucson, Arizona, where he had the use of small studio behind the family home. He continued to paint there right up to the day he died, 11 August 1990.

His numerous exhibitions included Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, California (1939); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1939, 1940, 1941); Laura Barone Gallery, New York (1953–1960; and Grosvenor Gallery, London, U.K. (1972).

His works can be found in the permanent collections of numerous major museums and galleries, including the Grosvenor Gallery in London; the Copenhagen National Museum; the American Gallery in Los Angeles; and the Universities of Illinois, Arizona and New Mexico.

Alfred Rogoway’s daughter, Esther, who spent much of her childhood in Ajijic, is also an artist. She studied at the Tunbridge Wells School of Art in England and at the Art Institute of Barcelona, Spain. Esther and her husband Larry Fitzpatrick operate The Pink Door Studio and Gallery in downtown Tucson, Arizona.

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.

 Posted by at 6:24 am  Tagged with:
Aug 142015
 

Innovative Mexican artist Ernesto Butterlin, aka Linares, sometimes Ernesto Linares, or more simply “Lin,” had close ties with Ajijic and was active in the 1940s and 1950s. Ernesto’s parents and his two older brothers were all born in Germany and moved to Mexico in 1907, sailing first class aboard the “Fürst Bismarck” of the Hamburg-America line, from Hamburg to Veracruz. The family settled in Guadalajara, but also owned a huerta (orchard) near Ajijic. Ernesto was born in Guadalajara on 4 September 1917.

The 1930 Mexican census, conducted on 15 May of that year lists the members of the household as:

  • Juan Butterlin 59, engineer, born in Germany
  • Amalia de Butterlin 49, born in Germany, speaks German, English, French
  • Ernesto Butterlin 12
  • Ma de Los Angeles Delgadillo 40, maid
  • Ma Guillermina Flores 16
  • Ma del Refugio Flores 12

By the early 1940s, Ernesto, now in his twenties and using the name Linares for his art, is living and painting year-round in Ajijic. From about 1943 to 1945, he shared his village home with American artists Charmin Schlossman Lanier and Sylvia Fein, whose husbands were on active military service overseas. American writer Neill James first moved to Ajijic in September 1943 and in an early article about the village described Linares as a “young Mexican abstract painter who is currently showing his works in a traveling exhibition in the USA.” That brief description shows that Ernesto had already achieved some success as an artist, even at this early age.

Linares (Ernesto Butterlin): Untitled.

Linares (Ernesto Butterlin): Untitled; 1949. Reproduced by permission of the owner.

A more detailed description of Ernesto and his work comes from the notebooks kept by Victor Serge, a Russian living in exile in Mexico, who visited Ajijic in December 1944 and stayed over the New Year:

“Ernesto Butterlin reminds me of Pilnyak. Often with lacquer for car bodies, he earnestly makes surrealist or abstract pictures in jumbled lines and lively tones, sometimes decorative. He wants to make money in New York, be someone, and this method worries him, and he genuinely loves art, and he’s full of inhibitions and poses. Big, blond, pince-nez, the untroubled face of a good German.”

butterlin-ernesto-untitled

Ernesto Butterlin: Untitled; date unknown

In about 1945, Ernesto entertained visiting American artist George Buehr (1905-1983), a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, as his house guest.

Shortly afterwards, in about 1947, American artist, anthropologist and author Tobias Schneebaum arrived on the scene. Schneebaum lived and painted in Mexico, including several spells in Ajijic, from 1947 to 1950. In Ajijic, he quickly became friends with Ernesto. In Wild Man, Schneebaum writes, “A young blond painter, born in Guadalajara of German parents, also lived in Ajijic. He was twenty-seven, blue-eyed, four inches over six feet, and very handsome, and was subject to the attentions of both the men and the women who later passed through town…”

“His family owned property in Ajijic, fields of corn and beans through which he moved like a country squire. Ajijic was small, with a population of three thousand, barely a third of whom had homes in the village itself, the other two-thirds living on their farms. He knew everyone by name and was adored and respected by old and young alike. He’d changed his Germanic name to Linares to identify more closely with the country of his birth, and liked to be called Lynn. He painted during the day with bright reds and yellows in wide bands of color, freely brushed and ripped on, a technique he claimed preceded Jackson Pollock, who he insisted had seen his work. He’d had one-man shows in New York and Mexico City.” (Wild Man, 12).

Elsewhere, Schneebaum describes how Ernesto “had inherited a considerable amount of farmland on the outskirts of Ajijic, but he spent most of his time painting in a drip technique that might have preceded the work of Jackson Pollock.” (Secret Places, 7)

Schneebaum, Ernesto Butterlin and a third artist Nicolas Muzenic were all employed by Irma Jonas to teach students attending her summer painting schools in Ajijic (held 1947-1949 inclusive). According to Schneebaum, an ill-fated love triangle developed between the three artists at this time, complicated by the arrival of “haughty and radiantly beautiful” Zoe, the “fourth member of our group”, who had previously been living with Henry Miller in Big Sur, when she heard about Lin and decided to visit Ajijic:

“After my return to Ajijic from Mexico City, other foreigners came to stay, notably Nikolas (sic) Muzenic, with whom I fell in love. He had been a student of Josef Albers at Black Mountain College… Nikolas, alas, fell in love with Lynn, not with me. It was a disastrous affair that started out as if it would last forever. Nikolas remained in Ajijic for about two years…” (Secret Places, 7)].

In Wild Man, Schneebaum recalls that, “Lynn’s casual ways bewitched and irritated Nicolas, just as Nicolas’s arrogant, snobbish manner attracted and mortified Lynn. Nicolas moved into Lynn’s house and began a frenzied, volcanic affair that lasted two years.” (Wild Man, 13) Schneebaum adds that Nicolas eventually bought the property and forced Butterlin to move out, complete with his large collection of pre-Columbian art.

Ernesto Butterlin in his Ajijic studio, ca 1962

“Lin” (Ernesto Butterlin) in his Ajijic studio, ca 1962

In about 1952, Ernesto Butterlin, in association with one or more of his brothers, opened an art gallery in Ajijic. This is the gallery pictured in the Life Magazine article (23 December 1957) about Ajijic. The “Margo de Butterlin” or “Margaret North de Butterlin” described in that article was Otto’s lover (during his marriage to Peggy); Margo married Ernesto (who was gay) in order to acquire the Butterlin surname; she appears to have provided the financial means to help establish the gallery. In Life Magazine, she is described as “both rich and fashionable”, as well as, “US-born but Mexican by her last marriage”. The article goes on to say that “Her present husband runs the Galeria where the painters display their works and also buy drinks.”

Ernesto Butterlin: Untitled, ca 1950

Ernesto Butterlin: Untitled, ca 1950. Reproduced by kind permission of Katie Goodridge Ingram

Disappointingly little is known of what became of most of Ernesto Butterlin’s pioneering artworks, and whether any are held in public collections, though both Ernesto and his older brother Otto were among the 28 artists given a joint exhibition in June 1954, in Mexico City, at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes’ Salón de la Plástica Mexicana. Other artists whose work was featured on that occasion include Roberto F. Balbuena, Michael Baxte, Leonora Carrinqton, Enrique Climent, José Feher, Elvira Gascón, Gunther Gerzso and Carlos Mérida.

Ernesto Butterlin died in 1964. Schneebaum’s claim that Lin “…committed suicide. In order to fit his six-foot, four-inch body into the coffin, it was necessary to cut off his feet at the ankles.” (Secret Places, 7) is sensationalist and less than reliable. Ernesto Butterlin’s funeral and wake were held at the home in Ajijic of John Lee, an American writer who was a friend of the artist in the early 1960s. Lee has written that Ernesto, who “stayed single and was a friend of Eric, the Hildreths, the Hoppers, and me”, “died of cancer”, a version of events substantiated by others who were around at the time, including the art gallery owner Katie Goodridge Ingram.

Partial list of sources:

  • Colony Reporter (Guadalajara), 16 July 1964.
  • Tobias Schneebaum, Wild Man, Viking Press, 1979
  • Tobias Schneebaum, Secret Places: My life in New York and New Guinea, University of Wisconsin, 2000

This article was updated on 1 May 2016 to include mention of Ernesto Butterlin’s wife. As always, we would love to receive any comments, corrections or additional information.

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 Posted by at 6:28 am  Tagged with:
Aug 032015
 

Clement Woodward Meighan (1925-1997) was an archaeologist who undertook field research in southern California, Baja California and western Mexico. His main link to the Chapala area is that he was the lead author (with Leonard J. Foote as co-author) of the monograph, Excavations at Tizapán el Alto, Jalisco (University of California Los Angeles, 1968).

Tizapán el Alto is the largest town on the southern shore of Lake Chapala. Foote led two fieldwork seasons at the site, and among the research students and volunteers helping on the dig was painter and muralist Tom Brudenell.

Onward And Upward!: Papers in Honor of Clement W. Meighan

Photo from cover of Onward And Upward!: Papers in Honor of Clement W. Meighan

Born in San Francisco, Meighan also lived in Phoenix, Arizona, (to recover from double pneumonia contracted before he was five years old) and in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

He first visited Mexico at age 17, when he spent several months in the country, traveling by the cheapest means he could find, which included 4th class trains. The following year, at age 18, he was drafted into the U.S. military. He was severely wounded while on active service in the second world war and spent three years in and out of military hospitals, before finally being discharged, still with a permanent limp. After the war ended, he used G.I Bill funding to study at the University of California, Berkeley, gaining undergraduate and doctoral degrees in anthropology, in 1949 and 1953 respectively.

In 1952, Meighan was appointed instructor in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He remained at UCLA for close to forty years before retiring from that institution in 1991. His contributions to UCLA (and to archaeology) were considerable. He founded the university’s archaeological survey, chaired its anthropology department, and played key roles in several regional and national organizations.

In addition to his work in California and Mexico, Meighan also undertook archaeological fieldwork in Utah, Arizona, Belize, Costa Rica, Chile, Guam, Nubia and Syria.

Meighan made important contributions to the fields of faunal analysis, rock art studies, and obsidian hydration analysis. He was one of the first modern archaeologists to recognize the importance of scientifically excavating sites in western Mexico. Since Meighan’s early work, several archaeological sites in Western Mexico, including El Ixztepete and Guachimontones have been partially restored and opened to the public.

Among his more noteworthy students at UCLA was writer Carlos Castaneda (The Teachings of Don Juan; a Yaqui Way of Knowledge, 1969). Taking Meighan’s class “Methods in Field Archaeology”prompted Castaneda to undertake a deeper study of Shamanism.

Meighan accompanied the 1962 expedition funded by mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner to record painted rock shelters in central Baja California. That expedition led to Gardner writing an article for Life and the book The Hidden Heart of Mexico (1962) as well as Meighan’s later academic account of the paintings in a 1966 journal article.

Meighan’s books on archaeology include: Californian Cultures and the Concept of an Archaic Stage (1959); A New Method for Seriation of Archaeological Collections (1959); Archaeology: an Introduction (1966); Prehistoric Rock Paintings in Baja California (1966); Indian Art and History. The Testimony of Prehispanic Rock Paintings in Baja California (1969); The Archaeology of Amapa, Nayarit (1976); Messages From the Past: Studies in California Rock Art (Monograph XX) (1981); Archaeology for Money (1986). Meighan was also co-author of numerous works including Sculpture of Ancient West Mexico: A Catalogue of the Proctor Stafford Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (University of New Mexico Press, 1989) and Discovering Prehistoric Rock Art: A Recording Manual (1990).

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.

Jul 302015
 

John Macarthur (“Jack”) Bateman was a painter, author and architect who was born on 9 October 1918 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and died on 15 March 1999. Bateman moved to Ajijic with his wife Laura Woodruff Bateman and three young children in 1952; the couple quickly became pillars of the local community, making exemplary contributions to the local social, cultural and artistic scene.

The Batemans were living in New York City prior to moving to Mexico. They responded to an advert in The New York Times which offered a home in Ajijic, together with five servants and a boat, for the princely sum of 150 dollars a month.

Jack Bateman studied architecture at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), prior to be called up for military service in January 1942. He served in the U.S. Navy from 21 January 1942 to 22 September 1945 at various Naval Air Stations, including a spell in North Africa flying submarine-hunting dirigibles. After the war, he completed his studies and then set up an industrial design studio in New York to produce, among other things, molded architectural elements made of plaster.

According to a blog post by Jack’s son-in-law Tom Vanderzyl, this led to Bateman having an unexpectedly significant impact on the work of the great German-born abstract expressionist artist Hans Hofmann who was living on the floor below:

…the painter/architect John MacArthur Bateman had a studio just above Hans Hoffmann (sic). In his studio, John poured large heavy 55-gallon drums of plaster into molds for architectural elements. It seems one day a plaster mold broke and sent 55 gallons of plaster pouring across his wooden plank floor that was also the ceiling of the studio under him, and the plaster dripped through the ceiling of the studio below. At the time, Hans had all of his paintings out looking them over for his upcoming show. Hans shouted upstairs in German for it to stop and that he needed help covering his work from the dripping plaster. Bateman along with his klutz brother-in-law, who had dropped the mold in the first place, came down to help. They used blankets and canvas in an attempt to cover the paintings, but it was too late. The plaster was setting up and the damage was done. Bateman put the best spin on it by telling Hans that his paintings needed that texture made by the pressed fabric and wet plaster and that the new tactile surface was in many ways more interesting. Now, he only needed to paint over the white plaster to get a far more interesting surface. Hans Hoffmann’s show was a success, and he would pop up to borrow plaster from time to time and talk with Bateman about materials.

bateman-book-coverFor the first few years in Mexico, Jack Bateman commuted back and forth to New York, spending about one week a month in the U.S. At home in Mexico, he spent time on his art and began to write. He authored five books including Loch Ness Conspiracy (New York: R. Speller & Sons, 1987), as well as a play, Caldo Michi, first performed in Ajijic in early 1999.

When the Lakeside Little Theater needed a new home in the mid-1980s, Bateman was a strong supporter of a plan to build a purpose-built facility on land donated by Ricardo O’Rourke, and acted as architect. The theater opened in 1987 and became the permanent home of Mexico’s most active English-language theater.

At various times sailor, artist, pilot, architect, writer and marketing consultant, whatever he turned his mind to, Jack Bateman made many unique contributions to the world.

For her part, Laura Bateman was a patron of the local arts scene in Ajijic, opening the village’s first purpose-built gallery, Rincón del Arte, at Hidalgo #41, Ajijic in about 1962. (For a couple of years prior to that, she had arranged shows in her own home). Rincón del Arte, which ran for many years, had monthly shows, featuring dozens and dozens of artists.For example, Whitford Carter exhibited at Rincón del Arte in both February 1967 and August 1968, while Peter Huf and his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf held a joint exhibit there in December 1967 .

Jack and Laura Bateman’s eldest daughter, Alice M. Bateman, studied in Guadalajara, London (U.K.), New York and Italy before becoming a successful professional artist-sculptor based in Forth Worth, Texas.

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.

Jul 202015
 

María de Jesús Magallón Pérez (1924–1957) was one of the seven poets included in De Esta Tierra Nuestra; Antología Poética (Colección Sahuayo No. I, 1972). Besides being an award-winning poet, she was a social activist and the founder of a piano school, a writing school and the “Diego José Abad” Literary Circle.

Born in Jiquilpan on 24 March, 1924, Magallón Pérez studied in Jiquilpan, Jacona and Morelia. She demonstrated poetic sensitivity as a child, and had verses published in provincial newspapers from an early age.

She subsequently entered a convent, trained as a teacher, and taught in the states of Mexico and Nuevo León. Magallón Pérez married Roberto Villaseñor Espinosa (“Ticolín”), a poet-songwriter-historian who was also an ardent promoter of cultural events in the town of Jiquilpan, and returned to Jiquilpan in 1953. She established herself as a member of the “Sahuayo literary group” and dedicated herself to writing.

Her first book was Cuadernillo poético (Sahuayo, Michoacán 1953), centered on descriptions of the landscapes of her native Michoacán. In 1955, her poem “Raíz de llanto”, dedicated to the memory of Alfonso Méndez Plancarte, won a poetry competition in San Luís Potosí. The following year, “Ciclo de Navidad” was awarded top honors in a poetry festival in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco. That poem became the basis for a theatrical work which was also televised.

Magallón Pérez was preparing her third collection of poetry, Silbo y luna, when she died in Jiquilpan, on 19 December 1957, while giving birth, at the tragically young age of thirty-three.

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.

 Posted by at 6:42 am  Tagged with:
Jun 152015
 

Sam Eskin (1898-1974) was an ethnomusicologist who traveled widely in the U.S. and beyond recording folk music. He was actively recording musical and cultural events for more than thirty years, from 1938 to 1969. His extraordinary audio collection includes material from the U.S., Latin America, the British Isles, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and East Asia.

Eskin visited Ajijic during the time a friend, African American artist and photographer Ernest Alexander, was running Club Alacrán (The Scorpion Club), sometime between about 1950 and 1952. The second part of Eskin’s sound recording entitled Mexican firecrackers: a prayer and a festival (Smithsonian Folkways, 2001) was recorded from the patio of the Scorpion Club and features a religious festival in Ajijic, complete with church bells and pre-dawn firecrackers.

eskin-sam-firecrackers-ajijic-s

Eskin is quoted in the cover notes (written by Emory Cook) as saying that,

I was rudely awakened at three or four in the morning. The uproar was really deafening. I reached out from my bunk and flipped the tape machine on, set level and dozed off again. Fifteen minutes later firecrackers started going off, and sleep was no more that night…. Strangely enough, El Escorpion’s patio was infested with black widow spiders.”

Cook concludes his cover notes by writing,

In Mexico one religious festival follows closely on the heels of another. one never knows at what moment all heaven will break loose with church bells, firecrackers, singing, mariachis, brass bands. The entire populace along with roosters and dogs are swept on into the contagious festival spirit.”

(Emory Cook (1913-2002) was an audio engineer and inventor. From 1952 to 1966 Cook recorded, manufactured, and distributed some of the highest quality audio recordings in the world.)

Sam Eskin was born in Washington, D.C. on 5 July 1898. He left school after the 8th grade and worked at a wide variety of jobs, including stints as a taxi driver, clerk, magazine reporter, logger, merchant seaman, cattle hand and cannery worker, before working for 15 years for UPS (United Parcel Service). Settling in Woodstock, New York, Eskin read widely on folksongs, becoming a self-taught folklorist, primarily interested in “the collection, preservation, and evaluation of American folksongs, indigenous music, dance music, primitive drumming, oral storytelling, and oral histories.”

His interest in recording folk music coincided with a time of considerable technological advancement in recording equipment and Eskin embraced new emerging technology, regularly upgrading his disc and reel-to-reel tape recorders, amplifiers, and speakers.

Eskin made friends wherever he went and was able to make recordings in an amazing variety of settings. He gave numerous lectures to audiences at universities, workshops and folk festivals, and released two commercial albums, Sea Shanties and Loggers Songs, and the four-disc set Sam Eskin Songs and Ballads.

For more about Sam Eskin, see the Library of Congress Guide to the Sam Eskin Collection, 1939-1969.

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.

Jun 122015
 

Painter and muralist Louis Ernest Lenshaw (1892-1988) was born in Esbjerg, Denmark, on 24 September, 1892. Lenshaw visited Chapala in the late 1940s or early 1950s while spending several months living and working in Guadalajara, though no details have yet emerged of his visit to Lakeside, or whether he painted whilst there. He does, however, have a connection to another European artist who spent some considerable time in Ajijic and whose paintings of the village were exhibited in Mexico City and elsewhere.

At age 14, Lenshaw was apprenticed to a local Danish artist. He also had considerable talent as a violinist and spent several years traveling across Europe (including Denmark, Norway and Germany), working as a decorative painter, but also playing the violin in cafes and movie houses. After a visit to Brazil he emigrated to the U.S. in 1921, landing at San Francisco. His first job was helping apply gold leaf to the sumptuous interior of the Fox Theater in Oakland.

While living in San Francisco, he took art classes at the the local Arts Students League and also spent time painting landscapes of northern California. During the 1930s Lenshaw fulfilled commissions for the Works Progress Administration (in the San Francisco County Hospital Children’s Ward and the Sunnyvale Housing Project Administration Building), and was one of the many painters who worked on murals for the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939-1940. He also painted murals in several commercial buildings in California.

Lenshaw married Hilma in 1924; the couple had two children: Vilma and Normand. In the 1940s and 1950s Lenshaw began to become seriously interested in Spanish dancing and flamenco guitar playing. The Lenshaws moved to San Diego in 1968. In 1978, at age 85, Lenshaw remained an enthusiastic member of the San Diego Folkdance Club and the San Diego Flamenco Association. In the words of the association’s newsletter for January 1978:

Ernest Lenshaw, a legend in San Diego… is a tall, outstandingly-featured man who radiates self-confidence with his erect posture and beret perched jauntily on his head. He speaks with a Danish accent, paints, plays flamenco guitar, dances, is famous for the castanets he makes, and attends as many flamenco events as possible.”

At one time or another, he met many of the world’s greatest flamencos. Louis Ernest Lenshaw remained active as a painter, dancer and musician up to the time of his death in Covina, California, on 1 February 1988.

In an oral history interview in 1964, Lenshaw recalled details of his time as a muralist in San Francisco, and his trip to Mexico, which he remembered as being in 1952*:

a Russian girl named Anna Medalie whom I know from… I worked with her before in a furniture shop …she was a flower painter… And when I went to Mexico, I was just about a month behind her. I went to Mexico in 1952 and wherever I went, we were talking about painters and what not and people said, “Do you know Ann Medalie?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, she’d just been here about a month ago or two months ago.” I was in Guadalajara and Taxco, Acapulco and I don’t know, Mexico City. I mean Sargent Johnson was also talking about her. He was acquainted with her at the same time.”

* In reality, Lenshaw must have visited Mexico much earlier than the 1952 he claimed in the interview, since Ann Medalie had definitely already moved to Israel by 1951. (See our post about the life and work of Ann Medalie).

Sources:

  • Oral history interview with Ernest Lenshaw, 1964 May 19, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  • Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.
  • “La Luz”, by Rosala, Jaleo (Newsletter of the Flamenco Association of San Diego) Vol 1 #6, January 1978

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