Feb 232017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments:

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

Sources:

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

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

Feb 162017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eunice Huf. Excerpt from "Taking time out".

Eunice Huf. Excerpt from “Taking time out”.

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

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

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

Acknowledgment:

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

Sources:

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

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

Feb 092017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Huf. Totem. 1969.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Huf: Birds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment:

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

Sources:

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

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

 Posted by at 6:03 am  Tagged with:
Feb 022017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painting by Casey Luria. Credit: Casey Luria.

Example of iPad art by Cynthia Luria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynthia Luria. Two Can. Gourd assemblage. 2005.

Cynthia Luria. Two Can. Gourd assemblage. 2005.

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

 Posted by at 6:18 am  Tagged with:
Jan 262017
 

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

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

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

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

Eugen Nowlen. Festival. ca 1972.

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

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

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

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

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

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown

Eugene Nowlen. Untitled watercolor. Date unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marjorie Nowlen. Happy Moments. ca 1972.

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

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

Sources:

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

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

Jan 052017
 

The renowned western artist John A. Bruce, best known for his portraiture, visited Ajijic on Lake Chapala, probably in the 1960s. His name was recalled by long-time Ajijic visitor Dr. Jim Vaughan when I interviewed him in 1990. Vaughan said that Bruce had drawn a sketch of him, but that it had required several sittings, because Bruce “liked his tequila”. It is unclear how long Bruce stayed in Ajijic or whether he visited more than once.

John Bruce. Self-portrait. Credit: John Bruce / website

John Bruce. Self-portrait. Credit: John Bruce / website

John A Bruce was born in Los Angeles, California, on 8 April 1931. He served in the U.S. Army from 1949 to 1952, including 18 months as an infantryman in Korea. Following military service, Bruce began a long career as a commercial artist in California. He worked as Art Director at the Field Service Department, North American Aviation in Downey from 1952 to 1957. He then worked as an illustrator at Aerojet General Corp., in Sacramento, for three years, before starting his own company, Cal Graphic Advertising in 1960. Cal Graphic lasted three years until 1963 when he became Art Director at Barnes/Chase Advertising, in Santa Ana, a position he held until 1967. Following Barnes/Chase, he became Vice President of Gil Franzen Art Studio, in Los Angeles (1967-1969) and then Art Director at the Independent Press Telegram, in Long Beach (1969-1973) before once again seeking his independence by becoming a free-lance artist working on Disney’s EPCOT project in Burbank.

John Bruce. A Mountain Man.

John Bruce. A Mountain Man.

Bruce studied art at the Art Center School in Los Angeles and the Chouinard Art Institute, and gained a B.A. in Psychology (with a Minor in Art) from California State university in Los Angeles in 1965.

After the 1970s, Bruce focused more on his own art, as a partial list of his solo and group exhibitions confirms. His solo shows include Ghormley Gallery Los Angeles (1964); Les Li Art Gallery Los Angeles (1969); Upstairs Gallery in Long Beach (1971); and Christine’s of Santa Fe Gallery in Laguna Beach (1993). Invitational. Bruce’s group shows include: Laguna Beach Art Festival Laguna Beach, (1962-1965); Butler Institute of American Art Youngstown, Ohio (1970); Newport Invitational Art Show, Newport Beach (1975); Death Valley Art Show in Death Valley, California (1979-1982); American Indian & Cowboy Artist’s Show in San Dimas, California (1987-1995); El Prado Gallery Sedona, Arizona (1989); Prairie Fire Show Wichita, Kansas (1990-1992); Pepper Tree Art Show, Santa Inez, California (1991 to 1996);  San Bernardino Museum, California (1992); AICA (American Indian & Cowboy Artists) at the Autry Museum, Los Angeles (1996-1998); and Wind River Gallery in Aspen, Colorado (1997).

John Bruce. ca 1980. Native American Boy.

John Bruce. ca 1980. Native American Boy.

Bruce has won numerous awards for his art, including “Best of Show” at Vision 99 – Chicago Windy City Artists (1999), at American Indian & Cowboy Artists (1992; Autry Museum Masters of the American West (1996) and Festival of Western Arts, San Dimas (1996). Artworks by Bruce were adjudged “People’s Choice” at American Indian & Cowboy Artists (1988) and Art of the West Magazine (1992). At American Indian & Cowboy Artists, Bruce won Eagle Feather Awards in 1988 and 1989, and a Gold Medal for Oil Painting in 1992. At the Prairie Fire Art Show in Wichita, Kansas, he won Gold Medals for Drawing in 1990 and 1991 and for Oil Painting 1991. He also won a California International Artist of the Year award in 1975 and the John Grayback Award for Oil Painting at the American Artists Professional League (New York) in 1988. A number of lithographs by Bruce are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Bruce has resided in Mariposa, California for many years and continues to find reward in his art.

In a 2010 blog post, David Lemon, a fellow member of the American Indian & Cowboy Artists, and friend of Bruce, explains that Bruce suffered serious health set-backs following a fight against cancer and an incident in the V.A. hospital which damaged Bruce’s back and right shoulder. Bruce responded to Lemon’s comments saying that he was not yet able to paint “due to the limited range of motion of my arm” but that he had begun working in charcoal and that it “feels great! I can’t imagine what my life would be like without some art in it.”

Sources:

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

Dec 192016
 

Poet and writer Jim Levy lived for about a year in Ajijic from mid-1968 until May 1969. Many years later, he has started publishing some of his poems,  essays and stories.

Levy, whose father was a Freudian psychoanalyst, was born in Chicago in 1940 and raised in Los Angeles. As a child, he spent several summers in Taos, New Mexico, a town he would return to later in life.

Levy attended the Thacher School in Ojai, California, and studied two years at Pomona College before traveling through the Southwest and Mexico by (like the Beats) hitchhiking and riding freight trains. After a year in Europe, he started classes at the University of California at Berkeley. Levy graduated with a B.A. in English and History and a teaching certificate.

At Berkeley he met Deirdre Blomfield-Brown, a married woman with two children. The couple married in 1966. In 1968-69 they spent a year in Ajijic.

From Ajijic, Jim and Deirdre returned to the U.S. to live in Taos. In a memoir entitled “¿Paradise Lost?” published in Hakod in 2009, Levy recalls their arrival in Taos:

We — my wife Deirdre, her two children, and I — came to Taos in a VW van in May 1969 with a white rat named Fortunata smuggled in from Mexico rolled in a sleeping bag. We had been living for a year in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. The scene in Ajijic was crazy, but in a Mexican village there was only so much trouble you could get into. In Taos, we found more ways.”

They tried to live as close to the land as possible:

– Although Deirdre and I had BAs and teaching credentials from Berkeley, we didn’t mind living without indoor plumbing or a phone — in fact we thought it was glamorous. We used a two-seat outhouse and carried water in buckets from the Rio Hondo. Like our counterculture neighbors, we “returned” to the land — a purely hypothetical return because my family was Jewish from Los Angeles via Newark and Germany, and Deirdre’s was Catholic from New Jersey via Ireland. My father was a Freudian psychoanalyst and her father was middle management for Bendix Corporation.”

In Taos, Jim edited a local “hippie newspaper called The Fountain of Light” for a time, on which Phaedra Greenwood (who would later become his second wife) was the staff reporter.

Levy’s marriage with Deirdre Blomfield-Brown ended in 1971. Deirdre subsequently changed her name to Pema Chödrön and became a Tibetan Buddhist nun, whose teachings, such as When Things Fall Apart and The Wisdom of No Escape, have reached a very wide audience. She is the director of the Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Also in 1971, Levy destroyed much of his previous writing, including several completed novels, because he did not deem them to good enough for publication. (He destroyed other works, on the same grounds, in 1985).

In 1972, Levy began living with Phaedra Greenwood and her son. Levy and Greenwood had a daughter two years later and married in 1977. In 1978 Levy embarked on a 35-year career directing non-profits, starting with the Harwood Foundation of the University of New Mexico.

Between his divorce from Phaedra Greenwood in 1994 and their eventual reconciliation in 2003, Levy lived and wrote in a variety of places, including Pátzcuaro and Oaxaca in Mexico, Montreal in Canada, Spain and California. Levy and Greenwood continue to make their home in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico.

Levy began publishing his writing and poetry at the age of 74. His published works include Corazón (and Merkle): A man, a dog, and another dog (2014), Cooler Than October Sunlight, selected poems 1959-2004 (2015); The Poems of Caius Herennius Felix (2015), an extraordinary work about the discovery and translation of an imaginary first century Roman Spanish poet; Joy To Come, Literary and Cultural Essays (2016); and The Fifth Season: A Journey Into Old Age (2016).

Acknowledgment:

  • My thanks to Jill Maldonado (daughter of Beverly Johnson, unofficial town photographer of Ajijic in the 1960s) for bringing Jim Levy and Deirdre Blomfield-Brown to my attention. Johnson herself will be profiled in a future post.

Source:

  • Jim Levy. 2009. ¿ PARADISE LOST ? in Hakod – “The Voice of the Taos Jewish Center”, Vol 8 #2, Winter 2009/5770.

Other Lake Chapala artists and authors associated with Berkeley

Several other Lake Chapala artists and authors have close associations with either U.C. Berkeley or the California College of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley. They include the writers Ralph Leon Beals, Earle Birney, Witter Bynner, Willard “Spud” Johnson, Clement Woodward Meighan, Idella Purnell, and Al Young and the artists Tom Brudenell, Ray Cooper, Sylvia Fein, Gerald Collins Gleeson, Dorothy Goldner, Paul Hachten, John Langley Howard (1902-1999), Alfred Rogoway, Alice Jean Small, and Richard Yip.

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 052016
 

The distinguished Black American poet, novelist and educator Al Young visited Lake Chapala sometime in the mid- to late-1960s. It was in Ajijic that he first met Black American artist Arthur Monroe, the beginning of a long artistic friendship.

Al Young subsequently published two works with a direct connection to the lake. “Moon Watching by Lake Chapala” is a prose poem first published in the Berkeley literary journal Aldebaran in 1968, and reprinted in The Song Turning Back Into Itself (1971). The poem was also chosen for the collection We speak as liberators: young Black poets; an anthology, compiled by Orde Coombs (1970).

In 1975, Young’s novel Who is Angelina? was published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. It includes several scenes set at Lake Chapala, with passages relating to Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec. (We will consider this novel more closely in a separate post).

Chapala is also mentioned in a 2011 poem, “Elegy for a Live-Loving Friend” written in memory of Edith Eddy (1919-2011), which opens with the lines:

Light-years ago: Chapala afternoons,
a lake-like feel and smell, the way we met,
three children California-born, full moons,
the world not yet as gone as it would get.”

Albert James Young was born 31 May 1939 in Ocean Springs on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. His father, Albert James, was a professional musician and, after the family moved to Detroit, an autoworker. Young’s childhood in the rural south gave way to adolescence in urban, industrial Detroit.

young-al-poet-laureate-california-emeritusYoung attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor from 1957-1960 and was co-editor of Generation, the campus literary magazine. In 1961 he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, and proceeded to have a variety of jobs (folksinger, laboratory aide, disk jockey, medical photographer, clerk typist, employment counselor) before eventually completing an honors degree in Spanish at University of California, Berkeley, in 1969. In 1963, Young married Arline Belck, a freelance artist; the couple’s son, Michael James, was born in 1971.

Young’s academic life has been grounded in California. In addition to holding a a variety of editorial positions, he taught creative writing classes at Stanford University, 1969-1976, and was a visiting writer-in-residence at the University of Washington, Seattle, 1981-1982. He has also taught at the University of California (at Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Davis branches), at Bowling Green State University, Foothill College, the Colorado College, Rice University, the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, the University of Arkansas, and San José State University.

In the 1970s, Young worked as a screeenwriter, for Laser Films (New York) in 1972, Stigwood Corporation (London and New York) 1972, Verdon Productions (Hollywood) 1976, First Artists Ltd. (Burbank, California) 1976-77, and for Universal (Hollywood) 1979. His screenplays include Nigger (1972) and Sparkle (1972.)

Young has received numerous awards including National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1968, 1969, and 1974; a Guggenheim fellowship in 1974; two Pushcart prizes, two American Book Awards, a PEN-Library of Congress Award for Short Fiction and a Before Columbus Foundation award in 1982.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Young served as a cultural ambassador for the United States Information Agency, making trips on its behalf to South Asia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.

Al Young’s novels include Snakes (1970); Who Is Angelina? (1975); Sitting Pretty (1976); Ask Me Now (1980); Seduction by Light (1988); and Straight No Chaser (1994). Among his short Stories are, “My Old Buddy Shakes, Alas, and Grandmama Claude,” published in Nexus (San Francisco), May-June 1965; and “The Question Man and Why I Dropped Out,” in Nexus, November-December 1965; “Chicken Hawk’s Dream,” in Stanford Short Stories 1968 (1968)

Poetry collections by Young, who was Poet Laureate of California 2005-2008, include Dancing (1969); The Song Turning Back into Itself (1971); Some Recent Fiction (1974); Geography of the Near Past (1976); The Blues Don’t Change: New and Selected Poems (1982); Heaven: Collected Poems 1958-1988 (1989); and Heaven: Collected Poems 1956-1990 (1992). His works have been translated into many languages, ranging from Spanish and Serbo-Croat to Urdu and Korean.

The distinguished poet and novelist has also published several “Musical Memoirs”, including Bodies and Soul (1981), Kinds of Blue (1984), Things Ain’t What They Used to Be (1987) and Drowning in the Sea of Love (1995).

In the words of William J. Harris in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Al Young’s art destroys “glib stereotypes of black Americans.” Harris adds that “His work illustrates the complexity and richness of contemporary Afro-American life through a cast of highly individualized black characters. Since he is a gifted stylist and a keen observer of the human comedy, he manages to be both a serious and an entertaining author.”

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

Dec 012016
 

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Clutton. 1959. Bullfight, Ajijic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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Nov 242016
 

Dutch-born photographer Jacques Van Belle, who died in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2012 at the age of 88, took several black and white photographs of Ajijic used for postcards.

The postcard views, presumed to date from the mid-1960s, included at least two of the “Hotel Laguna” (Posada Ajijic) as well as one of the bee hives in Neill James’s residence, Quinta Tzintzuntzan (now part of the Lake Chapala Society complex), and one of Ajijic taken from the north side of the plaza.

van-belle-ajijic-pc

In addition to his photography, Van Belle was a real estate broker in Hawaii. Van Belle and his wife Helen Aro Van-Belle had a son, Jacques, Jr. and were definitely living there by July 1972.

Copyright registrations for 1973 show that Van Belle produced, and copyrighted, a pen and ink drawing entitled “With aloha from Jacque Van Belle’s Little Eurasia” (Little Eurasia was the name of his company in Hawaii], together with a matching envelope, and the “Royal Hawaiian Birthday Calendar”. The calendar had color photos by Van Belle on its six pages (two months to a page), with each page dedicated to a different member of Hawaiian royalty. The calendar also signposted famous births, deaths, and other significant events for Hawaii. Copies of this calendar still occasionally appear for sale online as collectibles.

Source:

  • Honolulu Star-Advertiser Obituaries: 30 March 2012.

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 132016
 

A significant section of Al Young’s novel Who is Angelina?, first published in 1975, is set at Lake Chapala, where Young had spent some time in the mid- to late-1960s.

young-al-where-is-angelina-3The plot of Who is Angelina? is relatively simple. Angelina Green, an intelligent, 26-year-old, life-loving woman living in Berkeley, after the hippie phase, goes to Mexico to find herself. In Mexico City, she meets, and has an affair with, a tall, charismatic, enigmatic character named Watusi.

They then house-sit in Ajijic for a while (for friends of Watusi) before Angelina receives news that her father has been attacked in his home, in Detroit, and is hospitalized.

Angelina races north and is forced to reexamine old family ties and friendships. After her father recovers, Angelina returns to California, takes up transcendental meditation and finds a job at an “alternate” school. Unexpectedly, Watusi shows up, but their connection has inevitably and irrevocably changed.

The novel was generally well-received, though Roberta Palm, in a review for Black World (September 1975), writes that “Young is as alienated from his character [Angelina] as she is described to be from herself and her peers.” She thought that Angelina remained “an ambiguous shadow in the novel”, despite Young’s “perfect ear for dialogue” and the fact that his characters spoke “with realistic tone and in genuine cadence.”

Young’s writing shows that he is a keen observer of life in Mexico, with a good ear for Mexican Spanish. Leaving Mexico City, the couple travel to Guadalajara by overnight train and stay in the Hotel Francés for a day or two before taking a bus to Chapala, and then a taxi to Ajijic. As Watusi observes, this is a time when, “Bebop done played out. Beatniks done played out … Bomb shit done played out. Psychedelic shit done played out. Bullshit revolution done played out. Hippies done played out and, look here, I’ll tell you somethin–nigger shit done just about played out too!”

In passing, the novel offers some insights into what Ajijic and Chapala were like in the 1960s. As Watusi and Angelina arrive in town, “All the Mexican passengers who’d ooo’ed an ahhh’d at the sight of water as the bus wound around Lake Chapala a little ways back were now scrambling to line up for the grand central get-off. One Indian woman was carrying a live chicken under one arm.” (81)

Once in Ajijic, Angelina asks Watusi if there are many hippies in the village. “Use to”, comes the reply, “but the Mexican government done just about shut the door for good on that jive. They tolerate the native hippies cause all of em come from upper-class families that’s got a lotta power and pull, but long-haired freaks from Gringoland got to straighten up when they step cross that border cause these crazy people down here don’t be playin! It used to be a gang of em layin out round here in Chapala and Ajijic but… the local people got to where they couldnt put up with they shit no longer and teamed up with the law and run they doped-up boodies clean out the state.” (86-87)

The room in which the couple share a joint and make love has a “quaint hip poster left over from the Mexico City Olympics” which “rounded out the homey effect”. (91) This is a reference to one of the series of posters designed for the Olympics Committee by Austrian artist Georg Rauch, whose studio was in Jocotepec.

Among the many footloose characters that Angelina and Watusi encounter at Lake Chapala are two stereotypical foreigners: an elderly English couple writing travel articles for British and American magazines, and an American girl in her late 20s, a former New York junkie who married a Mexican traveling salesman and is writing her memoirs. Another character they meet is a middle-aged freelance photographer who works in Guadalajara but lives in Chapala. (97)

While Who is Angelina? may not be Al Young’s greatest ever novel, it is still an interesting, enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

Book details: Who is Angelina? First edition: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975. First paperback edition: University of California Press, 1996.

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

  • Charles Embree: A Dream of a Throne, the Story of a Mexican Revolt (1900)
  • D. H. Lawrence: The Plumed Serpent (1926)
  • Arthur Davison Ficke: “Mrs. Morton of Mexico” (1939)
  • Ramón Rubín: La canoa perdida: Novela mestiza (1951)
  • Ross MacDonald: The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
  • Eileen Bassing: Where’s Annie? (1963)
  • Barbara Compton: “To The Isthmus” (1964)
  • Willard Marsh: Week with No Friday (1965)

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.

Nov 032016
 

David Dodge was already a successful author of plays, novels and travel books when he and his wife Elva settled in Ajijic in 1966.

David Francis Dodge was born in Berkeley, California, on 18 August 1910. When his father, an architect, was killed in an auto accident, the family moved to Southern California. After attending Lincoln High School (and leaving before he graduated), Dodge had a succession of jobs, as a bank messenger, marine fireman, stevedore, night watchman and in an accounting firm. He became a C.P.A. in 1937, a year after marrying Elva Keith who had worked as a publishing company representative. Their daughter, Kendal, was born in 1940.

dodge-david-coverDodge’s career as a writer dates back to 1936 when his play A Certain Man Had Two Sons, won the Northern California Drama Association’s Third Annual One Act Play Tournament. The play was later published by the Banner Play Bureau in San Francisco. Dodge co-wrote (with Loyall McLaren) a second play, Christmas Eve at the Mermaid, which was first performed as the Bohemian Club’s Christmas play of 1940.

Drawing on his experiences as a CPA, he then wrote Death and Taxes (1941), the happy result of a $5 bet with his wife that he could write a better detective story than the one she was reading. Death and Taxes introduced readers to James “Whit” Whitney, a San Francisco tax expert turned amateur detective. Whitney continued his investigations in Shear the Black Sheep (1942), Bullets for the Bridegroom (1944) and It Ain’t Hay (1946). These books were completed despite Dodge joining the U.S. Naval Reserve during the second world war, and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander by the end of his active service three years later.

Following his navy service, Dodge and Elva decided to drive to Guatemala. The family’s adventures in Mexico, Guatemala, and then in South America, became the subject matter for several travel books. They also provided Dodge with the raw material for another fictional tough-guy private investigator, Al Colby, who first appeared in The Long Escape (1948).

The novel Dodge completed the following year, Plunder of the Sun (1949), was turned by Warner Bros. in 1953 into the movie of the same name.

However, Dodge’s greatest success, beyond any doubt, was the novel To Catch a Thief (1952). In the Guadalajara Reporter in 1966, Anita Lomax explained that,

The way David came to write “To Catch a Thief” is a thriller in itself… the Dodges were living on the Riviera when the house next door was robbed of a fortune in jewels – they left early the next morning, before the robbery was discovered for a trip to the Far East and they were in Cambodia when they learned that they were the chief suspects and were being “hunted” by the French police! Fortunately, the real thief was caught by the time they returned to France to clear themselves.”

To Catch a Thief was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1955 Paramount film starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.

His career established, Dodge spent the next decade alternating between novels and lighthearted travel books. His Poor Man’s Guide to Europe (1953) was revised annually and became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. He also wrote travel articles for several magazines, and was a regular contributor to Holiday Magazine from 1948 to 1968.

dodge-hooliganIn 1966, David Dodge and his wife settled in Ajijic for a few months, while David worked on a travel article for Holiday and on his next novel. The novel is presumed to be Hooligan (1969), which features a Treasury Department agent named John Abraham Lincoln who “is sent to Hong Kong to investigate a series of insurance claims for U.S. dollars following a devastating typhoon.”

A reference in 1966 to the couple taking “their former home in the Neill James’ compound” suggests that they were already very familiar with Ajijic prior to this, though the precise timing and length of any previous visits is unclear.

During their stay in Ajijic, Elva (“Elvita”) Dodge took part in at least one group art show, held in the Posada Ajijic for Easter. The exhibition was held in the first half of April, and included works by Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Gail Michel; Allyn Hunt; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge; Mr and Mrs Moriaty; and Marigold Wandell.

While David and Elva Dodge were in Ajijic in 1966, their daughter, Kendal, flew down from her job in New York with CBS to visit them. Within a few weeks, she had met and married a Guadalajara portrait photographer named Joaquin Reynoso Escatell. They lived in Guadalajara, where Kendal worked in Joaquin’s studio and taught languages and American History part-time at The Butler Institute. Their daughter, “Kendalita”, was born in 1967. In order to be closer to their daughter and granddaughter, David and Elva “retired” to San Miguel de Allende in 1968, the last major move in their global wanderings. When Kendal and Joaquin separated a few years later, Kendal and her daughter returned to the U.S. More than a decade later, in December 1983, Kendal married Frank Butler, the founder of The Butler Institute and her former boss; the couple settled in California. The early years of the life of Kendal Dodge Butler (1940-2007) were portrayed by her father with great  charm, humor and sensitivity in How Green Was My Father (1947) and the subsequent travel accounts of the family’s adventures through Central and South America.

Dodge’s travel writing is exemplified by his Fly Down, Drive Mexico: A Practical Motorist’s Handbook For Travel South of the Border, published by Macmillan in 1968 with a Special Guide to the XIX Olympic Games in Mexico City (held 12-27 October 1968), which was reissued the following year as The Best of Mexico by Car. Dodge’s passion was travel and he viewed writing as a means to an end: he did not travel in order to write but wrote in order to travel.

Elva Dodge died on 17 October 1973; David’s own travels came to an end less than a year later on 8 August 1974. Both Elva and David Dodge are buried in San Miguel de Allende.

Dodge’s extensive bibliography includes fourteen novels published in his life time, with another novel published after his death, as well as several plays and nine travel books.

His novels are Death and Taxes (1941); Shear the Black Sheep (1943); Bullets for the Bridegroom (1944); It Ain’t Hay (1946); The Long Escape (1948); Plunder of the Sun (1949); The Red Tassel (1950); To Catch a Thief (1952); The Lights of Skaro (1954); Angel’s Ransom (1956); Loo Loo’s Legacy (1960); Carambola (1961); Hooligan (1969;) Troubleshooter (1971).

Dodge’s travel books are How Green Was My Father (1947); How Lost Was My Weekend (1948); The Crazy Glasspecker (1949); 20,000 Leagues Behind the 8-Ball (1951); The Poor Man’s Guide to Europe (1953); Time Out for Turkey (1955); The Rich Man’s Guide to the Riviera (1962); The Poor Man’s Guide to the Orient (1965); Fly Down, Drive Mexico (1968), revised as The Best of Mexico by Car (1969).

Several of Dodge’s books have been reissued in recent years, including Plunder of the Sun (2005), Death and Taxes (2010),  To Catch a Thief (2010) and The Long Escape (2011). In addition, a previously unpublished novel, The Last Match, was published posthumously in 2006.

Sources:

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

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 Yelaps when he realized that the climate was not conducive to works on paper.

Jeonora 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 Jeonora 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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 Posted by at 6:23 am  Tagged with:
Oct 102016
 

Three brief references in the archive of the Guadalajara Reporter to Max Pointz, a “well-known writer”, caught my eye earlier this year. While I have so far failed to unearth any evidence that he ever had any books or magazine articles published, my research has shown that Max Pointz had close connections to Vancouver Island where I now live, and was married in a school chapel that is only twenty minutes drive away from my home.

Maxwell Desmond Poyntz, the youngest son of an Irish-born doctor, Louis Pointz and his wife, Mary, was born in British Columbia (presumably in Victoria) on 4 January 1918 and died in Canada, at the age of 81, on 29 November 1999.

Poyntz and his family spent some months at the La Quinta hotel in Jocotepec in 1964. During that time, he held a party for his son (Guadalajara Reporter, 16 July 1964) and appears to have been putting the final touches to a book. The 10 December issue of the Guadalajara Reporter says that Poyntz’s El Caramba, or What the Hell’s a Taco?, the first of a trilogy, is to be published by Random House the following Spring. The book “follows a family named Wanderbugs who start out from the Canadian Northwest for Mexico”, telling the “hilarious adventures that befall this family” as they “find their place on the map of life”. Despite these details, I have been unable to find any evidence that the book was ever actually published.

In his youth, Poyntz attended Victoria High School, B.C., where he was a member of the rugby team. The school magazine for 1935-36 described him as follows: “This young fellow is quite a charmer. But Max will never solve the mystery of X by spending his time at parties. Or will he?”

barris-korea-bookWith the second world war looming, Poyntz joined the Canadian Army. Before leaving for overseas duties, he became engaged to Miss Pamela Shirley Fox, of Vancouver, in November 1939, with the couple’s marriage taking place the following month in the chapel of the Queen Margaret’s School in Duncan, B.C. At the time of his marriage, Poyntz was a sergeant in the First Battalion of the Canadian Scottish. By the time his military career ended, he had risen to the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Pamela, born in 1922, died on 11 March 1968 and was buried in Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery, Kelowna, BC, with Poyntz buried alongside her thirty years later.

In November 1942, Poyntz, an alumnus of the University School in Victoria, played for the Canadian Scottish in a rugby match held in England against the Canadian Seaforths. The Seaforths won 13-3.

Poyntz also served in the Canadian forces during the Korean War, as described in this extract from Deadlock in Korea: Canadians at War, 1950-1953, by Ted Barris (Macmillan, Toronto, 1999):

Maxwell “Duke” Poyntz came to Korea with the RCR [Royal Canadian Regiment] in 1951. A long-time quartermaster, Poyntz had served in the Canadian army occupation force in Germany, where he ran the recreational services of the McNaughton Club. He’d earned the nickname “Duke” because he was often seen in Oldenburg driving a glistening Mercedes-Benz car. Behind the lines with “B” Company of the 2nd Battalion RCR in Korea, Duke drove a jeep and became the regiment’s unofficial social director. In his first days behind the lines, Poyntz organized a nine-man section with the sole job of manufacturing recreational venues. The group managed to obtain the first motion pictures since the men had left Pusan. They brought a US Army show through. They build volleyball courts, baseball diamonds and a horseshoe pitch in every company area. They dammed a stream into a sizeable swimming and bathing hole. Pooling their financial resources, Duke’s section of do-gooders bought $500 worth of Korean silks, kimonos and other souvenirs for resale at cost to the unit.

Still, Max Poyntz’s crew is best remembered in Korea for its culinary initiative. Armed with well-scrubbed packing cases as pastry boards, empty beer bottles as rolling pins and empty ration tins as dough cutters, the privates and corporals in Poyntz’s unit began manufacturing doughnuts for the troops. With no bookkeeping and no access to unit rations, the group managed to procure 200 pounds of flour, 150 of lard and 60 of sugar, two cases of powdered milk and two of powdered eggs for the daily production line. Each day, the tent known as Duke’s Donut Dive served up as many as 6,000 doughnuts—including jelly, iced, cake and slab—along with fresh coffee, cold chocolate, lemonade or eggnog. What’s more, it was all for free.”

Sounds like a likeable guy! Did he ever actually write a book? The evidence suggests that he didn’t, but the chase to find out proved, once again, to be a fun ride!

Sources:

  • Ted Barris. 1999. Deadlock in Korea: Canadians at War, 1950-1953. (Macmillan, Toronto, 1999). Chapter 10.
  • The Black and Red, July. 1943 No. 73,
  • Camosun, Volume 28, No. 1 Victoria High School 1935-36.
  • The Daily Colonist, Victoria. B.C. 24 November 1939; 15 December 1939.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 16 July 1964; 1 Oct 1964; 10 Dec 1964.

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 Posted by at 5:56 am  Tagged with:
Sep 292016
 

Poet and translator Clayton Eshleman has repeatedly stressed in interviews the significance of a summer stay in Chapala in 1960 in determining his future direction and success. In addition to his own original works, Eshleman is especially well known for his translations of Peruvian poet César Vallejo and for his studies of Paleolithic cave paintings.

Ira Clayton Eshleman Jr. was born on 1 June 1935 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He discovered jazz in his teens and became a proficient jazz pianist and studied music for a short time in university, playing piano in bars to help finance his education. He graduated from the University of Indiana in 1958 with a degree in philosophy. Having by then discovered poetry, including the Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg, he immediately re-enrolled as a graduate student in English Literature.

In 1959, he was introduced by an artist friend Bill Paden to Latin American poetry and was immediately drawn to the works of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) and Peruvian poet César Vallejo (1892-1938). Quickly realizing,  aided by a bilingual dictionary, that existing translations of their poems had obvious flaws, Eshleman decided to do something about it, but knew that he first needed to improve his Spanish.

This was the impetus for him to hitchhike to Mexico City in the summer of 1959, “with a pocket Spanish-English dictionary and two hundred dollars”, and work on his Spanish, while meeting other poets along the way. The following summer, 1960, he spent several weeks in Chapala. In an interview many years later, Eshleman recalls that:

“The next summer I got a ride in the back of a flat-bed truck to Etzatlan, Mexico, ending up in Chapala for a couple of months. I rented a room in the home of an ex-American retired butcher named Jimmy George, who had a sixteen year-old Indian wife and lots of pigs and turkeys. I showed some Neruda poems to her one day and with her very modest English and my baby Spanish (and the faithful bilingual dictionary), we made some crude versions together, which were the real start of my Residence on Earth collection, published in Kyoto, Japan in 1962.”

eshleman-mexico-and-northDuring his months in Chapala (and despite a bout of hepatitis), Eshleman also worked on many of the poems published in Mexico & North (privately published in Japan in 1961), the first collection of his own poetry.

In the summer of 1961, Eshleman married Barbara Novak. The couple then lived in Japan for three years, where Eshleman taught English and studied Eastern religions. Eshleman considered this period, when he was translating César Vallejo’s Poemas humanos, the beginning of his “apprenticeship to poetry”.

The Eshlemans then spent a year (1964-65) in Peru. Eshleman had gone there in the hope of persuading César Vallejo’s widow, Georgette, to allow him access to the poet’s original manuscripts, but she never did give her permission. While living in Lima, Eshleman worked on Quena, a bilingual literary magazine funded by the North American Peruvian Institute, but this magazine was suppressed for political reasons prior to publication. Though the young couple returned together to New York in 1966, they separated shortly afterwards.

Back in New York, Eshleman taught at the American Language Institute at New York University and began to publish a series of books under the Caterpillar Books imprint. He was an active participant in the anti-war movement and was jailed briefly as an organizer of the “Angry Arts” protest group.

On New Year’s Eve 1968 Eshleman met Caryl Reiter, who was to become his second wife. When he was appointed to the faculty of the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, the couple left New York for California. During a year in France (1973-1974), Eshleman taught courses in American poetry at the American College in Paris and the couple first visited the Paleolithic painted caves of the Dordogne region. This was the start of a prolonged interest in investigating the imagination and imagery of the Paleolithic painters. Eshleman’s major work on this topic was published in 2003 as Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld.

For the latter part of the 1970s and early 1980s, the Eshlemans lived in Los Angeles, with the poet working for the Extension Program of the University of California at Los Angeles, the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and a visiting lecturer at campuses in San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara. From 1986 to his retirement from academic life in 2003, Eshleman was Professor of English at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

During his prolific career, Eshleman had work published in more than 500 magazines and newspapers, and also founded and edited two important literary magazines: Caterpillar (1967-1973) and Sulfur (1981-2000).

Eshleman’s books of poetry and prose include Mexico and North (Tokyo, Japan, 1961); Walks (New York: Caterpillar, 1967); The House of Okumura (Toronto: Weed/Flower, 1969); Indiana (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1969); The House of Ibuki (Freemont, MI: Sumac Press, 1969); Altars (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1971); Coils (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1973); Realignment (Kingston, NY: Treacle Press, 1974); The Gull Wall (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1975); On Mules Sent from Chavin: A Journal and Poems (Swanea, UK: Galloping Dog Press, 1977); What She Means (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1978); Fracture (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1983); The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960-1985 (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1986); Under World Arrest (Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1994); Erratics (Rosendale, NY: Hunger Press, 2000); Everwhat (Canary Islands: Zasterle Press, 2003); An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire (Boston: Black Widow Press, 2006); The Grindstone of Rapport: A Clayton Eshleman Reader (Boston: Black Widow Press, 2008); and Anticline (Boston: Black Widow Press, 2010).

Eshleman has won numerous literary awards, including a National Book Award for Translation, the Landon Translation prize from the Academy of American Poets (twice), a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Rockefeller Study Center residency in Bellagio, Italy.

And to think that it all began at a butcher’s home in Chapala…

Source of quotes:

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Sep 122016
 

In an earlier post, we looked at the somewhat adventurous life of actress, playwright and novelist George Rae Marsh (Williams), aka Georgia Cogswell (1925-1997), who lived for many years in Ajijic in the 1950s and 1960s with her first husband, the accomplished novelist Willard Marsh. Two years after her husband’s death in 1970, George Rae married the science fiction writer Theodore R. Cogswell.

marsh-george-as-georgia-cogswell-obsessionAs Georgia Cogswell, she published the mass market paperback novel Golden Obsession. (Zebra Books, 1979). While the book is not set at Lake Chapala, it is a mystery story completely set in Mexico and involving a wide cast of characters, some more disreputable than others. The author makes good use of her inside knowledge and experience of the country, its people, customs and beliefs.

The back cover blurb sets the scene:

It’s strictly illegal to take ancient artifacts out of a country, especially in Mexico. Archaeologist Brad Bradley knew and respected that law – only he got killed. It happened right after he notified the museum of the priceless pre-Columbian gold mask he uncovered at the Witches’ Mountain dig – but the mask was never found.

The authorities told his beautiful young wife Hally that it was an accident; that he was brutally attacked by a jaguar. She saw his mangled body and the jagged ripped flesh, yet somehow, she was not convinced. So she decided to stay in Mexico and decode Brad’s maps and notes to find out the truth about his death and discoveries.

Unfortunately, a lot of other people had the same idea. Was it a coincidence that she met a charming, attractive man who knew woo much about her late husband’s work? Was it unusual that her house was ransacked and Brad’s files completely searched? Hally knew only one thing: Brad had dug up more than a buried treasure – he had unleashed a corrupt and greedy murderer who was consumed by a raging GOLDEN OBSESSION.

This is not a prize-winning book, but is still a good read to while away a rainy day. It is not very easy to find, but used copies occasionally appear on sites such as abebooks.com.

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

Aug 292016
 

The multi-talented African American poet, novelist and artist Clarence Major spent some time at Lake Chapala in 1968.

Major was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1936 and grew up in Chicago. In the early 1950s, Major studied drawing and painting under painter Gus Nall (1919–1995) and attended the Art Institute of Chicago, where his teachers included Addis Osborne (1914–2011). Coincidentally, the enigmatic African American artist Ernest Alexander, who lived for several years in Ajijic in the early 1950s, had also studied in Chicago and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago shortly before Major took classes there.

In 1966, after two marriages which both ended in divorce, Major moved to New York to begin a distinguished teaching career. Over the next 30 years, he taught creative writing and/or literature classes at Brooklyn College, Queens College, Sarah Lawrence College, University of Washington, Howard University, University of Maryland, University of Colorado, Temple University, and the State University of New York (Binghamton). In 1989, Major moved to California, where he taught until his retirement in 2007 at the University of California at Davis.

In 1968, Major left New York and visited Mexico for several months in the company of his then girlfriend Sheila Silverstone. During the trip, Major was revising his first novel, All Night Visitors, published in 1969. Major’s first collection of poems, Swallow the Lake, was published the following year and won a National Council on the Arts Award.

Clarence Major. Self-portrait. Image reproduced from wikimedia (Creative Commons license)

Clarence Major. Self-portrait. Image reproduced from wikimedia (Creative Commons license)

In Mexico, the couple spent some time in Puerto Vallarta but also visited Lake Chapala, which became the basis for at least two poems published in Symptoms & madness: poems (1971).

The first poem is entitled “IN CHAPALA, JAL” and describes them sitting, reading, in “a red mud / colored 30 pesos per day hotel room”.

The second poem, entitled “EIGHTEEN-DOLLAR TAXI TRIP TO TIZAPAN AND BACK TO CHAPALA” was later included in the collection Configurations: New & Selected Poems, 1958-1998, published in 1999 and a finalist for a 1999 National Book Award. This poem tells how their taxi driver (“with a good life / who has four children, / a pregnant wife, / and who lives in Guadalajara”) drives them, “radio going / cha-cha-cha” through a storm around the south side of the lake.

Major’s poetry and short stories have been published in dozens of literary magazines and anthologies. Major has won dozens of major awards and served as a judge for many important literary contests including the the PEN/Faulkner Award (1997-1998), the National Endowment for the Arts Awards (1987) and the National Book Awards (1991). Major helped edit several literary periodicals, including Caw! and The Journal of Black Poetry. He was a regular columnist for American Poetry Review and the first editor of American Book Review.

In 2015, Major was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award in the Fine Arts,” by The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Major’s novels include All-Night Visitors (1969); No (1973); Reflex and Bone Structure (1975; Emergency Exit (1979); My Amputations (1986); Such Was The Season (1987); Painted Turtle: Woman With Guitar (1988); Dirty Bird Blues (1996); and One Flesh (2003).

His poetry works include Swallow The Lake (1970); Symptoms & Madness (1971); Private Line (1971); The Cotton Club (1972); The Syncopated Cakewalk (1974); Inside Diameter: The France Poems (1985); Surfaces and Masks (1988); Some Observations of a Stranger at Zuni in The Latter Part of The Century (1989); Parking Lots (1992); Configurations: New and Selected Poems 1958–1998 (1999); Waiting for Sweet Betty (2002); Myself Painting (2008); Down and Up (2013); and From Now On: New and Selected Poems 1970–2015 (2015).

His nonfiction books include Dictionary of Afro-American Slang (1970); The Dark and Feeling: Black American Writers and Their Work (1974); Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang (1994); Necessary Distance: Essays and Criticism (2000); Come by Here: My Mother’s Life (2002); Configurations (2010) and Myself Painting (2011).

In his parallel career as a visual artist, Major’s first solo exhibition of paintings was at Sarah Lawrence College in 1974. Other galleries that have hosted one-person shows of Major’s art include First National Bank Gallery, Boulder, Colorad (1986); Kresge Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan (2001); Schacknow Museum of Fine Art, Plantation, Florida (2003); Exploding Head Gallery, Sacramento CA (2003, 2004, 2006); Blue Hills Gallery, Winters, CA (2005); Phoenix Gallery, Sacramento CA (2006); Hamilton Club Gallery, Paterson, New Jersey (2007); Pierre Menard Gallery, Harvard Square, Cambridge (2010); and University Art Gallery, Indiana State University, Terre Haute (2011). His work has also featured in numerous group shows in New York, Los Angeles, and Davis, California.

His paintings now hang in many private and public collections, including those at Indiana State University, Terre Haute; Passaic County Community College Permanent Collection of Contemporary Art; the Schacknow Museum of Fine Art, Plantation, Florida; and The Linda Matthews MARBL Collection at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

The covers of several of Major’s books, including Myself Painting, Waiting for Sweet Betty, and Down and Up feature his own paintings.

Works about Clarence Major

His life, art and literature are described by Bernard Bell in Clarence Major and His Art: Portraits of an African-American Postmodernist (1998), by Nancy Bunge in Conversations with Clarence Major (2002) and by Keith Eldon Byerman in The Art and Life of Clarence Major (2016).

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

Aug 112016
 

Florentino Padilla, who lived from about 1943 to 2010, regularly featured in the pages of the Guadalajara Reporter in the mid-1960s because he was “largely responsible for the bright, charming paintings” that were being produced by youngsters in weekly art classes at the Lake Chapala Society’s “Biblioteca”.

Florentino Padilla. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Hector Hinojosa

Florentino Padilla. Untitled. Reproduced by kind permission of Hector Hinojosa

Padilla, described as a personable young man, was then in his early 20s and an accomplished painter in his own right. He had begun painting at the age of 15 and his talent had been recognized by Neill James, the American writer who had resided in Ajijic from the mid-1940s. With her help, Padilla received a scholarship to San Miguel Allende where he studied art from 1960 to 1962.

Ajijic resident Hector Hinojosa recalls that Padilla lived in Ajijic until the late 1970s, but then lived in California, where he painted a mural in San Francisco.

According to an account of an exhibition of his paintings (Guadalajara Reporter, 19 August 1965) one particularly keen art lover bought three of his works within minutes.

Padilla’s niece, Lucia Padilla Gutierrez, is also a gifted artist who benefited from art classes given at the Lake Chapala Society; her son is now following in her footsteps.

We would love to learn more about this artist’s life and work. If you can add to this all-too-brief biography, then please get in touch!

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter, 1 October 1964
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 19 August 1965

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Aug 042016
 

Artist John Maybra Kilpatrick, who painted a WPA mural in Chicago in 1947, retired to Ajijic with his wife Lucy in 1964 and resided there until his death on 27 August 1972.

While living in Ajijic, Kilpatrick exhibited in the “Fiesta de Arte” group show held in May 1971 at the home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33). More than 20 artists took part in that event, including Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

John Maybra Kilpatrick was born in Illinois (in either Vandalia Fayette County or Centralia Marione County) on 2 October 1902. He apparently studied at the School of the Chicago Art Institute under portraitist Hubert Ropp, the school’s then dean. Ropp is recorded as visiting friends and former students, the Kilpatricks and Al and Janet Zimmerman in Ajijic in 1971.

In 1947, Kilpatrick took part in the WPA murals project. Together with Hungarian artist Miklos Gaspar, Kilpatrick painted a mural entitled “The Children’s Hour” in Oak Terrace School, 240 Prairie Avenue, Highwood, Chicago. The mural is listed as still extant in 2001 when Mary Lackritz Gray’s book A Guide to Chicago’s Murals was published.

Kilpatrick worked as a commercial artist for the H. D. Catty Corporation of Huntly, Illinois. In 1952, the corporation applied for copyright for colored Christmas wrapping paper designed by Kilpatrick, entitled “Merry Christmas (Snow scene with 3 figures in front of houses)”.

John Maybra Kilpatrick became engaged to be married with Lucy Margaret Legge in December 1926. The couple had two children, a daughter born in 1931 and a son born two years later. After Kilpatrick’s passing in Ajijic in 1972, Lucy Kilpatrick is regularly mentioned in local newspapers as helping with ceramics classes in the village.

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.

Jul 282016
 

We know disappointingly little about the life and work of artist Emanuel(e) Mario Aluta. Aluta moved to Ajijic with his second wife Daphne Greer Aluta (born 1919) in the late 1960s. It is unclear whether or not Mario remained in Ajijic after 1974 when Daphne married Colin MacDougall in a small ceremony at the home of Sherm and Adele Harris, the then managers of the Posada Ajijic.

Mario Aluta. Untitled. Date Unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Mario Aluta. Untitled. ca 1970. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Mario Aluta’s artwork, described in a review by Hannah Tompkins as a “series of male figures … vigorously painted with strong emphasis on planal design”, was included in a 1970 exhibition at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. The show opened on 6 June 1970 and featured a long list of Lakeside and Guadalajara artists. Among the other Lakeside artists in the show were Daphne Aluta, Peter Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt, John Frost, Bruce Sherratt and Lesley Maddox.

Both Mario and Daphne Aluta also showed work in the “Fiesta de Arte” in May 1971 at the home of Frances and Ned Windham at Calle 16 de Septiembre #33 in Ajijic. More than 20 artists took part in that event, including Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Emanuel(e) Mario Aluta was born in Constantinople, Turkey, on 3 January 1904, but (also?) had Italian citizenship. He died in California on 22 September 1985.

I know nothing about Aluta’s early life, education or art training, but believe his first wife was Charlotte Maria Richter, who was born in Vienna, Austria, in about 1911. The couple seem to have first entered the U.S. in about 1936. In November 1937, they are recorded as crossing the border from Mexico back into the U.S.. The following year (1938) they applied to become naturalized U.S. citizens. Their application was finally approved in August 1943.

At the time of the 1940 U.S. Census, the couple was living in Los Angeles. According to the census entry, they had been living in Nice, France, five years earlier in 1935.

Mario Aluta was 56 years of age when he married 41-year-old Daphne Greer in Clark County, Nevada on 25 May 1960.

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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