Oct 272016
 

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

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

Don Martin in Mexico. Reproduced by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

Donald Theodore Martin (1931-1989) lived in Ajijic from early in 1954 until late summer, 1961. As Joan Gilbert Martin points out, on the website she established as a tribute to her late husband, his “long stay” in Ajijic proved to be “a most creative period.”

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

Martin studied at the Art Student’s League in New York City (1948), where his teachers included German-born abstract painter Carl Holty and Sidney Laufman, and at the Akron Art institute in Ohio (1949) with Leroy Flint. He also took classes in New Orleans, in 1953, with Charles Campbell.

It was during his time in New Orleans, that Martin met artist and folk singer Lori Fair, Beat poet and photographer Anne McKeever, and artist and jazz musician George Abend. McKeever left New Orleans to take up an English-teaching job in Guadalajara in 1953, and was instrumental in arranging several exhibits of Don Martin’s work shortly after he arrived the following year.

Martin moved from New Orleans early in 1954 to live with Lori Fair in Ajijic in a house she bought on Calle Nicolas Bravo/Galeana. He remained in the house even after the couple separated in about 1958, at which point Lori moved to Mexico City. Lori subsequently married and changed her name to Bhavani Escalante. Now well into her nineties, she lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Moving to Mexico brought Martin the self-confidence to experiment and explore different media. In the words of Joan Gilbert Martin, his widow,

“On arriving at the Mexican border, he told the authorities he was an artist and, to his surprise and delight, was treated with honor; in the states he would be told to get a job. He fell in love with the people, the animals (the bulls, the roosters, the stray dogs), the lake, and the mountains. And he found a home as an artist. His work was appreciated in the village, it was a productive time.”

By selling the occasional painting in the Posada Ajijic, he was able to keep afloat prior to his first major solo exhibition, held in Guadalajara, at the Casa del Arte (Av. Corona # 126) in August 1954. The show opened on 2 August and was a major success. Martin exhibited 35 works – 10 paintings and 25 engravings on paper – and sold 32 within half an hour, 31 of them to a single collector from California: Hollywood movie director Archie Mayo. (The other painting was bought by a local resident: U.S.-born interior decorator Alberto Dubin.)

Local critics applauded the originality of Martin’s work. The engravings demonstrated a “method of expression at once so modern and at the same time so primitive.” Guests at the opening included Lori Fair, Nicole Vaia Langley, Anne McKeever, Jose Maria Servin and Thomas Coffeen Suhl.

Later that year, Martin sent some of his engravings north to a restaurant-store in Sausalito. A note in the 31 December 1954 edition of the Sausalito News (California) says that “some unusual paintings by an artist named Don Martin” in Ajijic are about to go on show in the Glad Hand restaurant. They are described as “etchings on cardboard with colors ‘rubbed’ into the cardboard” that “realistically depict scenes in Mexico.”

For the first half of 1955, Martin’s friend Anne McKeever was the director of the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Nayarit, A.C. During her time there, she arranged two art shows featuring his work. The first, in April 1955, was held at the Institute (Lerdo Oriente #85) in the state capital of Tepic. Martin displayed crayon and ink rubbings over woodblock prints. The opening night included a folk singing concert by Lori Fair.

The following month, many of the same works were included in the “Third Painting Exhibition, Mexican and International Artists” at the “Traditional Spring Fair” in the Public Library of Santiago Ixcuintla, Nayarit. Works by several stellar Mexican artists were on display including lithographs by Clemente Orozco, José G. Zuno, Raul Anguiano and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and drawings by Dr. Atl and Diego Rivera. The international side of the exhibition was a painting by Anne McKeever entitled “The Women”, and about 20 works by Don Martin.

Many years later, Martin’s widow, Joan Gilbert Martin, reflected that Martin’s first show in Guadalajara turned out to have a significant negative impact on the artist’s desire to exhibit his work. Initially buoyed that his paintings and engravings had received such acclaim, Martin was devastated on hearing that an appraiser in Los Angeles had dismissed his work as derivative of Paul Klee. Martin did not know Klee’s work. Though he eventually found the comparison flattering, this critical appraisal gave the artist a decades-long aversion to exhibiting more of his work.

Joan Gilbert Martin has also drawn my attention to the photograph (above) used for the cover of the second issue of Climax, a Beat magazine published by Bob Cass in New Orleans and printed in Guadalajara. The photo, taken by Anne McKeever, shows Martin’s studio in Ajijic with one of his paintings hanging on the far wall. Lori Fair is sitting by the drums and George Abend is at the piano. This image neatly conveys the close friendship of these artistically-talented individuals before their paths, and lives, diverged.

In 1956, Don Martin spent about six months in the remote coastal village of Yelapa (near Puerto Vallarta) where he built a palapa house. The house itself no longer exists, but its foundations survived and are now used for the Yelapa Oasis resort‘s wellness center. Martin abandoned Yelapa when he realized that the climate was not conducive to works on paper.

Jeanora Bartlet, a mutual friend of Anne McKeever and Lori Fair, lived in Ajijic in 1957, as the partner of John Langley, and was photographed by Leonard McCombe for his December 1957 Life magazine article about Americans at Lake Chapala. While Bartlet was not part of the village art scene, she knew Martin and greatly admired his work. Bartlet, incidentally, later became the long-time partner of American pop artist Richard Hay Reagan (1929-2002) who disliked exhibitions just as much as Martin.

Coincidentally, this same Life magazine article was the reason why Joan Gilbert, Don Martin’s future wife, first visited Ajijic, and first met Martin. Gilbert and her first husband had been vacationing at the coast, “sweltering and miserable” in a “dank hotel”. On reading the article, they “immediately took off for the storied enticements of Ajijic.”

Don Martin. Untitled. 1960.

Don Martin with untitled painting. 1960. Reproduced by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

Martin left Ajijic in late summer, 1961, following a fall while painting a mural in a local gallery. The following year, an “International Exhibition”, a group show at the Alfredo Santos gallery in Guadalajara (Avenida Vallarta #1217) from 21 May to 20 June 1962 included some of his work. (Alfredo Santos himself lived in Ajijic for several years, but is best known for his evocative murals in the San Quentin prison in California: see Inside job: Alfredo Santos, muralist and painter.)

After leaving Ajijic, Martin moved first to New Orleans, where he was helped by gallery owner Larry Borenstein, and then to Venice, California. There, he re-met, and married, Joan Gilbert Martin and became friends with Beat artists Wallace Berman and George Herms.

He also renewed his friendship with author Steve Schneck, who had been living in Ajijic in the mid-1950s. In 1963, Schneck showed some of Martin’s artwork to artist Muldoon Elder, who had just opened the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco. Elder was sufficiently impressed to travel immediately to Venice to find out more about the artist. The reclusive artist eventually agreed to a solo exhibit at the Vorpal entitled “Magic – like art – is hoax redeemed by awe”, the title of a painting that Elder particularly admired.

Don Martin. "Magic-like art is hoax redeemed by awe". 1960.

Don Martin. “Magic – like art – is hoax redeemed by awe”. 1960. (Credit: Muldoon Elder).

“I particularly admired a strange little painting set in a wine-colored velvet mat tucked into what-should-have-been-a-garish (but wasn’t) deep orange thin frame, especially after he explained that it was the recreation of an architectural drawing he had seen in an ancient manuscript that delineated the cross section, both above and below the earth, of a sacrificial temple and the surrounding courtyard. The ancient priests that had built it had found a way to inspire awe and wonderment by having the temple doors attached to rotating poles that flung the doors open as if by magic as the result of an ingenious underground device that only functioned after a large brazier in the courtyard had been ignited. The heat of the fire was devised to enter a tube that then inflated a large animal skin into a balloon-like shape that in turn tightened the ropes attached to the rotating poles and thus, as if by some mysterious force, the temple doors opened on their own and the ceremony could then begin.”

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

Don Martin. “He.” 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

That painting has an interesting story but another painting by Martin, called “He” (torched spray paint & acrylic on board), is among the most reproduced paintings of its time. It was used on the cover of What Book!?: Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop, edited by Gary Gach (Parallax Press, 1998), which won an American Book Award in 1999.

In the 1970s, the Martin family settled in Santa Cruz, California, where Martin continued to experiment with different media and techniques. He rarely used oils, preferring acrylics and spray paint. A series of lacquer paintings in the early 1970s depicted spiritual subjects including “Buddha shapes, mandalas, guardians, heaven above and earth below, and the river as an emblem of time.” They were made by applying up to thirty layers of lacquer on a base before scraping back the layers to reveal the final image, a technique Martin had perfected during his time in Ajijic.

Don Martin. Twin works. “The Fish Putter”. Original in collection of Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in Ogden, Utah. Image used by kind permission of Joan Gilbert Martin.

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

In 1972, Don Martin’s drawing, “Magic – Like Art – is Hoax Redeemed by Awe”, was included in a group show at the College of Marin Fine Arts Gallery in Kentfield, California. Art critic Ada Garfinkel described the drawing as “irrepressible, Rube Goldberg-like”.

Don Martin also held a solo show in September 1975, “Don Martin Paintings and Drawings”, at the Cooper House Gallery in Santa Cruz, California.

Since his death in 1989, several one-person shows have highlighted this artist’s extraordinary talents. An exhibition entitled “Don Martin Memorial Exhibition” was held at the Santa Cruz Art League in November-December 1991, and also at the Canter Art Center in Healdsburg, California in March-April 1992. “Something to come home to”, a February 1995 show at the Pacific Grove Art Center, featured Martin’s paintings in lacquer and ink-wash drawings.

A major retrospective, “Don Martin: Chasing That Kite'”, was held at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, California, from May to August 1998. This show revealed the “eclectic, mystical and experimental” nature of this shy, “primarily self-taught”, artist who was reluctant to show or sell his work. “Chasing that kite” was Don Martin’s way of describing his lifelong artistic quest.

Several group shows have also included Martin’s work posthumously. These include The Pope Gallery, Santa Cruz (1994); the Pickard Smith Gallery at the University of California Santa Cruz (1994); the ReBeat Art Exhibit at the Somar Gallery, San Francisco (1996); San Francisco Center for the Book (1997); San Jose Museum of Art, California (2003-2004); the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah (2007-2011; 2015).

Martin’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the San Jose Museum of Art and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, both in California, and the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah.

For more images of Martin’s work, see Don Martin: Chasing that Kite, 1931-1989, the website that is a tribute to his life and work.

Acknowledgments:

My heartfelt thanks to Joan Gilbert Martin for so generously sharing her knowledge of her husband’s life and work. A special thanks, too, to Jeanora Bartlet, Geoffrey Dunn and Muldoon Elder for their helpful input to this profile.

Sources:

  • Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, California), 20 October 1972, p 20.
  • Don Martin: Chasing that Kite, 1931-1989 [website]
  • Julia Chiapella. 1998. “Catching ‘That Kite’ – a peek into the mind of the late Don Martin.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1 May 1998, p 53.
  • Prensa Libre, Tepic, 24 April 1855.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 3 February 1995, p 47
  • Sausalito News, Number 52, 31 December 1954, p 3

Note:

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

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Oct 202016
 

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

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

Richard Yip. San Rafael. 1944.

Richard Yip. San Rafael. 1944.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Other Sausalito artists associated with Lake Chapala:

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Oct 132016
 

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

Blanche Phillips Howard. Untitled metal sculpture.

Blanche Phillips Howard. Untitled metal sculpture.

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

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

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

Related post:

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Oct 062016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Langley Howard. Mountain and Air. Date unknown.

John Langley Howard. Mountain and Air. Date unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

Sources:

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Sep 222016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann “Bunny” Wuerslin (1930-2009)

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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Sep 082016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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Aug 012016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources / references

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

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Jun 132016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 232016
 

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

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

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

New World Writing #13

New World Writing #13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 192016
 

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

Emil Armin. Self-portrait (1928), woodcut

Emil Armin. Self-portrait (1928), woodcut

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

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

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

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

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

Emil Armin. Sunburnt Dunes (1942)

Emil Armin. Sunburnt Dunes (1942)

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

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

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

Emil Armin. Pelicans and Fisherman (1966)

Emil Armin. Pelicans and Fisherman (1966)

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

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

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

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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.

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

Feb 292016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a Chapala-related recipe from that book:

Chapala Cheer

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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.

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