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 which were 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 Yelapa 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.

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

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

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

 Posted by at 5:56 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:

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

Sep 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

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 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.

 Posted by at 5:49 am  Tagged with:
Jul 252016
 

Barbara Moore (1934-2002), the second wife of prolific author John Lee (1931-2013), worked as a reporter for most of her career and published several novels.

The couple married in 1957 and then lived for a year in Spain, before spending time in various places in the U.S. prior to visiting Mexico in 1962. They lived for a year in Ajijic in 1962-63, fell in love with Mexico, and subsequently returned for three months almost every summer for the next decade.

moore-barbara-moore-lee-novels-

Moore had a masters degree in creative writing and anthropology, and taught journalism at the American University in Washington D.C., and later at California State University in Northridge.

Barbara Moore Lee, Mexico

Barbara Moore Lee, Mexico

Barbara and John Lee co-wrote two non-fiction works: Monsters Among Us: Journey to the Unexplained (1975) and Learning to Judge the Doberman Pinscher (1982).

Moore’s novels include Hard On The Road (1974), an unconventional coming-of-age novel in which two young men and a camera meet the grand old West; The Fever Called Living (1976), a biographical novel about the last five years of the life of Edgar Allen Poe, based on research conducted by her husband towards a PhD; Something on the Wind (1978); The Doberman Wore Black (1984); and The Wolf Whispered Death (1986).

According to John Lee, The Fever Called Living won his wife a Mark Twain award, though I have been unable to find any independent verification of this.

Barbara Moore predeceased her husband in Texas in 2002.

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 182016
 

John Lee (1931-2013) and his second wife, novelist Barbara Moore, spent a freelance year in Ajijic in 1962-63 and then returned for three months almost every summer for the next decade.

Lee was a prolific writer, photographer and educator who penned thousands of newspaper articles, several non-fiction books and a dozen novels, including two NY Times best-sellers, and a Book-of-the-Month Club choice. During the 1950s, his award-winning photographs were published in most of the major newspapers and magazines of the time. The portrait of Willard Marsh on the dust jacket of his novel Week with No Friday, set at Lake Chapala, was taken by Lee.

John Lee, painting near Lake Chapala

John Lee, painting near Lake Chapala

Lee and his wife thoroughly enjoyed their visits to Lake Chapala. In retirement, using the name Bestjonbon, he compiled several YouTube videos about his trips to Mexico, the most interesting of which, for our purposes, is Ajijic Artists 50 years ago, a video which includes photographs related to the life and work of the following authors and/or artists: Gina Dessart Hildreth, Willard Marsh, James Kelly, Tink Strother, Carlos López-Ruíz, Ernesto Linares [Ernesto Butterlin], Eric ____, a former USAF pilot, John Lee, and Barbara Moore.

Other short YouTube videos compiled by Lee include Ajijic 50 years ago; Small Town Bullfight I; Small Town Bullfight II; and Fiesta Ajijic – 45 Years Ago.

Born in Oklahoma on 12 March 1931, Lee was raised and educated in Brownsville, Texas. After earning a B.A. at Texas Tech in 1952, he immediately began work as a journalist. While at Texas Tech, he married fellow student Jeane Womack; the couple had a daughter, but the marriage ended in 1956.

The following year, Lee married a fellow reporter, Barbara Moore, who later became a novelist. The couple lived in Spain for a year, and then worked in Denver and Ohio before moving to Mexico in 1962 to focus on writing fiction. Lee earned a masters in Journalism at West Virginia University with a thesis about English-language newspapers around the world.

John Lee at a book-signing

John Lee at a book-signing

Lee’s teaching career included stints at West Virginia University; the American University in Washington, D.C., where his students included Tom Shales, who later won a Pulitzer for TV criticism; the University of Arizona (1968-1972); New York University; California State University in Long Beach (where he undertook work towards a PhD); the University of Idaho; and at the University of Memphis (then known as Memphis State). He retired from teaching in 1997.

Lee wrote or co-wrote several non-fiction books including two for journalism students: Feature Writing for Newspapers and Magazines (1988) and Modern Mass Media (1990). Both books enjoyed several editions, and the latter was translated into Spanish in 1993.

Earlier works include The Diplomatic Persuaders: New Role of the Mass Media in International Relations (1968); and (with wife Barbara Moore Lee) Monsters Among Us: Journey to the Unexplained (1975) and Learning to Judge the Doberman Pinscher (1982).

John Lee’s first novel was Caught in the Act (1968) set in Spain. He followed this with Assignation in Algeria (1971); The Ninth Man (1976); The Thirteenth Hour (1979); Lago (1980); Stalag Texas (1990); Olympia ’36 (2011); and Old Spies Never Die (2011).

In The Ninth Man, his best-known book, a Nazi spy enters the White House and attempts to assassinate President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Lee also used the pen names of “James Lake” for stories in men’s magazines and “Joy Beverlin” for two romance novels: Whisper the Wind (Createspace 2011) and Bells of San Blas, which was never published. In later life, Lee also dabbled in art, and held several one-man shows in Texas.

Following the death in 2002 of Barbara Moore, Lee married Shirley Miller in 2004. The couple lived on a ranch in Texas, painting, writing and raising racehorses, until Lee’s own death in 2013.

Sources and acknowledgment:

  • John Lee’s website
  • I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to talk and correspond with John Lee several times in his final years. He was an enthusiastic supporter of this project to document the authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala.

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

Jul 112016
 

William R. (“Bill”) Evans was born on 10 April 1923 in Oak Park, Illinois and had a distinguished military career and life in public service. He and his wife Irene lived for several years in Chapala in the 1960s. According to their long-time friend Bill Atkinson, Evans had already written his first book Kora! before arriving in Chapala in 1963, and then wrote his second book Soochow and the 4th Marines during his time at Lake Chapala. Both books were memoirs and were eventually published in the 1980s.

Portrait of Bill Evans by Charlotte Hoepner (back cover of Soochow and the 4th Marines)

Portrait of Bill Evans by Charlotte Hoepner (back cover of Soochow and the 4th Marines)

Evans served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1963. During the second world war he was a survivor of the Bataan Death March (the subject of Kora!) after the Japanese took the Philippines. Evans spent 42 months in Japanese prison camps until liberated in 1945.

Atkinson recalls Evans as having a wonderful sense of humor, and accustomed to labeling his three and half years hard labor in the coal mines of Japan as his “four years as a guest in the Orient”.

Following the war, Evans remained in the army. He worked as chief warrant officer in the criminal investigation division of the office of provost marshal general, and at the time he retired from the army in 1963, he was commanding officer of the 16th CID in Paris.

Evans won many military awards including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal, Army Commendation Medal and three Presidential Unit Citations.

Evans’ second book Soochow and the 4th Marines (Atwood Publications, 1987) tells the true story of the 4th Marines in parallel with the dog Soochow, a Chinese mongrel they adopted as their mascot in Shanghai in 1937. The book describes how Soochow had become accustomed to a pampered life, riding around Shanghai wearing one of three tailor-made uniforms in rickshaws pulled by coolies, eating sirloin steaks and drinking beer with fellow Marines. Then, things changed.

Soochow was a prisoner of war from May 1942 to February 1945 but managed to survive, living off scraps since he was not entitled to his own rations. While he survived, many of his fellow marines did not. After the war, Soochow was taken back to the U.S. where he served as the mascot of the U.S. Marine Corps in San Diego until his death in 1948.

After leaving the service in 1963, Evans spent several years in Mexico, but later took a post with the American Automobile Association (AAA) in San Antonio, Texas.

Evans finally retired in November 1985, after working for the AAA for about seven years, and moved to Rogue River, Oregon. In Rogue River, he was president of the Rogue River Kiwanis Club, lieutenant governor for Division 82 of the Kiwanis, served on the Rogue River Planning Commission (and its chairman from 1995-1996), police commissioner and was a member of the Rogue River City Council.

Bill Evans died at his home in Rogue River on 2 December 2001, at the age of 78.

Acknowledgment:

My sincere thanks to Bill Atkinson for sharing some of his memories of Bill Evans with me in April 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.

Jun 302016
 

Texan artist Tully Judson Petty Jr. lived in Ajijic for almost a year from mid-1967 into 1968. While living in Ajijic, he was working feverishly on completing 50 oils, watercolors, drawings and woodcuts for a one-man show at the exclusive DuBose Gallery in Houston scheduled for April 1968.

Petty was born on 13 Aug 1928 in Wise County, Texas, lived almost all his life in Texas, and died on 24 Dec 1992. Petty was educated at Texas Christian University, attended San Miguel de Allende School of Fine Arts in 1948, and graduated from New York’s Cooper Union.

During his freshman year studying art at Texas Christian University, Petty decorated yellow shirts, shorts, ties and scarves with lively outdoor scenes such as sharpshooting cowboys and men shooting pheasants. His designs apparently enjoyed some commercial success: “A local department store has placed orders for some of his scarves, replete with top hat, lamp post and champagne glass designs. (The Lafayette, Easton, Pa, 20 Dec 1946)

In 1948, Petty studied at the School of Fine Arts in San Miguel de Allende, and in 1950 married his childhood sweetheart Matilda Nail Peeler (1928-2009). The couple lived for a short time in New York, where Petty attended the Cooper Union and his wife worked as a model.

For most of the 1950s, Petty and his wife lived in Fort Worth, Texas. Petty ran his own advertising and public relations company, while Matilda was manager of the Galleria Department of the Neiman Marcus store (and later head buyer in couture fashions at Meacham’s). The couple had three children, but later divorced.

Petty retired from advertising at about the time he married Lynne Kendall in Parker, Texas, in May 1966. Shortly afterwards, the newly-weds moved to Mexico, where they lived for two months in Puerto Vallarta and six months in Guadalajara, before settling in Ajijic in June 1967.

Petty’s artwork was included in a group show of Texas Contemporary Artists which opened 11 October 1952 at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas. His solo shows included the Latch String Gallery in Fort Worth, Texas, in September 1967, and the DuBose Gallery in Houston in April 1968.

At Lakeside, examples of Petty’s woodcuts were shown in Guadalajara in June 1968 at La Galería (Ocho de Julio #878) for their First Annual Graphic Arts Show of prints, drawings and wood cuts. Other prominent Lakeside artists whose work was included in that show were Allyn Hunt, Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter HufEunice (Hunt) Huf and John Kenneth Peterson.

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

 

Jun 272016
 

Willa Gibbs (1917-1999) was already a much published writer by the time she arrived in Chapala from Palm Springs, California in the winter of 1965/66, to spend some time at the historic Nido Hotel, the building now used as Chapala town hall. It is unclear whether or not Gibbs was working on a novel at the time, though it seems unlikely.

Relatively little is known about the early life of Willa Elizabeth Gibbs though one of her fans, Amy Murphy, has compiled an extensive website – Finding Willa Gibbs, Author 1917-1999 – describing her own quest to find out more. Kudos to Ms Murphy for her work; this mini-bio draws heavily on the material available at her site.

gibbs-willa-elizabeth-portraitGibbs was born 25 September 1917 in Hanna, a remote town in Alberta, Canada to a young Californian lawyer Guy Vernon Gibbs and his wife Estella G. Harris. Gibbs would later claim, perhaps accurately, that her mother had given birth in “a tavern because there was nowhere else for me to be born in Hanna.”

Her parents had moved to Hanna six months previously with Willa’s brother Guy Vernon Jr., who was 3 years old at the time of Willa’s birth. Tragedy struck before Willa’s second birthday. Her father was stricken with influenza and died on 6 January 1919.

The following year, the family returned to California, which became Gibbs’ home for the rest of her life.

Willa Gibbs was a precocious writer. By the age of 12, she had “found two hobbies: writing and Napoleon”. It is, therefore, no coincidence than several of her later novels are set in Napoleonic times. A newspaper piece (Chester Times, 23 November 1931) about Gibbs, when she was 14, said that she had written poetry from the age of 7 and had just completed a 70,000-word manuscript about the French Revolution.

gibbs-the-dedicatedHer Napoleonic era novels include The Twelfth Physician, published in 1954, and set in the period immediately following the French Revolution. In the novel, “Charlot Florian, alone of the handful of physicians who had survived, dared to risk disaster by taking over secretly the instruction of a handful of dedicated youths.”

After graduating from school in Woodland, California, Willa Gibbs became a newspaper reporter, but also worked as a taxi driver and as a horse breaker.

In 1957, Gibbs announced her religious conversion, and several of her books written after that date have a religious theme.

Novels by Willa Gibbs include, Tell Your Sons: A Novel Of The Napoleonic Era  (1946); Seed of Mischief (1953); The Twelfth Physician (1954); The Tender Men (1955), about San Francisco newspapermen, and later reissued as Fruit of Desire; All the Golden Doors (1957); The Dean (1957); The Dedicated (1959), a romantic novel about the 18th century battle against smallpox; Simon of Leicester (1960); According to Mary (1962); A Fig in Winter (1963); The Shadow of His Wings (1964).

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.

May 302016
 

Tom Carmichael was a U.S. Army veteran who lived and wrote in Ajijic for six years in the late 1960s. When he first arrived at Lake Chapala, Carmichael, accompanied by his wife Marcelle and their 10-year-old son, stayed in the Posada Ajijic. The family later made its home on Calle Guadalupe Victoria.

Thomas Carmichael. Credit: Life magazine, 1953

Thomas Carmichael. Credit: Life magazine, 1953

During his time in Ajijic, Carmichael wrote The Ninety Days (Bernard Geis, 1971) which detailed how five battles in a three-month period turned the tide of the second world war. The book was highly acclaimed by historians, became deservedly popular, and remains in print today.

Thomas Nicholas Carmichael was born in about 1920 and grew up in a family where military service was a given. His father had been an officer in the Canadian Grenadier Guards in the first world war and then served in the U.S. Air Corps, reaching the rank of colonel, during the second world war.

Tom Carmichael graduated from Princeton University in 1942, and immediately entered the U.S. Army. He served in North Africa and then Italy. While rescuing a colleague at Anzio, he took machine gun fire in his leg but was unable to be evacuated for another three days. He lost his leg but gained a wife – it was during his rehabilitation in an Atlanta hospital that he first met Marcelle Tessendorf, a hospital nurse.

carmichael-tom-ninety-days-book-coverIn 1946, after retiring from the Army, Carmichael started work for Life Magazine. He remained 22 years at Life, becoming its military affairs editor during the Korean War and one of the magazine’s senior administrators.

Among the pieces he wrote for Life is a feature article in its 11 June 1965 edition commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The introduction says that,  “Tom had 4,500 toy soldiers by the time he was 10, got tangled up in his father’s Napoleon books when he was 12, and that was that… His knowledge of the art and science of war is extensive. He gave us a fine report on Assyrian tactics for our special Bible issue, and he is the co-inventor of a strategic war game in our Civil War series in 1961 (if North plays it wrong, General Lee wins)…”

In Ajijic, Carmichael not only wrote but also pursued his passion for soccer. He loved to watch the local Ajijic “Union” soccer team, and even went so far as to pen a heartfelt tribute to them in the Guadalajara Reporter in October 1967 for their “Cinderella” success. After playing mostly local teams and thrashing them, Union had stepped up into a higher and much more competitive league, and were playing, and often beating, teams from much larger cities, including Zapotlanejo, Cd. Guzmán and Guadalajara.

At the time of his death, from a heart attack at his home in Ajijic on 24 October 1972, Carmichael was writing a definitive biography of Napoleon. His obituary in the Princeton Alumni Weekly described him as a “distinguished scholar, author, wit, soldier, intellect, [and] trenchant observer of the human scene.”

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

May 122016
 

Sculptor Carl Mose (1903-1973) visited Lake Chapala several times in the 1960s, though it is unlikely that he was artistically creative during his visits. Mose in described in the Guadalajara Reporter (6 March 1971) as a “many time visitor to lakeside.” Thomas Parham Jr.’s book, “An Affirmation of Faith” (Xulon Press, 2011), suggests that Mose also lived for a time in Mexico City, though the precise details and dates are unclear. Certainly he visited Mexico City on several occasions since he had many of his bronze sculptures cast there.

mose-carl-univ-of-iowa-brochure-photo-sCarl Christian Mose was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on 17 February 1903, became a naturalized U.S. citizen, served in the U.S. Army Air Force during the second world war, and died in New Windsor, Maryland on 21 March 1973.

The family emigrated to Chicago in the U.S. when Mose was seven years old. Carl Mose went on to study sculpture at the Chicago Art Institute, the Student’s Art League and Beaux Arts Academy in New York City. Interviewed in his studio in the farmland outside Westminster, Maryland, only a year before his death, Mose recalled that his teacher in fourth grade had urged the sculptor Lorado Taft to let him attend specialist classes. (Morning Herald, 18 September 1972). Mose subsequently worked with Taft for the next 15 years, but was also taught by Albin Polasek and Leo Lentelli.

In his early twenties, Mose and his wife Ruth Helming traveled to Europe on the proceeds of a Goddess of Speed radiator ornament that he had designed on short notice for the Studebaker Corporation. On their return, Mose began teaching at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. During the next few years, he undertook numerous commissions in the capital, including statues and keystone carvings in the Washington Cathedral and more than a dozen seven-foot low reliefs on the Potomac Electric Power Co. building.

Carl Mose, "Family Group" (1942). Maplewood, Missouri. Photo: Charles

Carl Mose, “Family Group” (1942). Maplewood, Missouri. Photo: Charles Swaney, Creative Commons.

In addition to three years at the Corcoran School of Art, Mose also taught at the Minneapolis Art Institute, Carleton College, and Washington University, St. Louis, where he was the head of the sculpture department for many years. Mose was an acclaimed lecturer. One University of Iowa publicity brochure (date unknown) proclaimed an “Outstanding American Sculptor in a Brilliant Demonstration Program that is Full of Wit and Humor.”

During his 25 years in St. Louis, Mose continued to undertake numerous commissions, including one of General John Pershing for the Capitol grounds at Jefferson City. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 19 August 1962 says that Mose is leaving St. Louis, after 25 years, to take up a post at the U.S. Army’s Institute of Heraldry in Washington D.C., where he will become responsible for designing military and other Government badges, decorations and medals. Prior to taking up his new appointment, Mose is spending several weeks in Mexico City “to supervise the casting of several recently completed works.”

Mose’s newest work in St. Louis is “a 12-foot bronze of St. Francis of Assisi” in Forest Park, in close proximity to another of his sculptures, “Figure of a Young Boy,” a bronze drinking fountain.

Mose’s sculptures can be seen in the Smithsonian Institute, and in federal and state buildings in Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Maryland and Washington D.C. They include that of Stan Musial outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis and a 21-foot bronze and granite piece, installed in 1958 for the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs. This particular 21-foot bronze and granite piece, “Eagle and Fledglings”, was cast in Mexico, and accidentally dropped from a crane during installation. The minor damage that resulted had to be covered up during its unveiling. Other works by Mose include the carved stone sculptures, “Land” and “Communication” (1940), either side of the entry to the (former) Salina Post Office, and “Family Group” (1942), a wood bas relief in the Post Office of Maplewood, Missouri.

Sources:

  • Ronald Irwin Bruner. 1979. “New Deal Art Workers in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska”. Thesis. University of Denver.
  • Susan V. Craig. 2009. Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) (Online resource)
  • Marlene Park and Gerald E. Markowitz. 1984. Democratic Vistas, Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal. Temple University Press.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, August 19, 1962, p 19
  • The Morning Herald, Hagerstown, Maryland, September 18, 1972, Page 18

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.

Apr 112016
 

Ralph Jocelyn McGinnis (1894-1966) was a sports writer, publicist and painter who lived in Ajijic during the early 1960s and penned an article about the area entitled “Lotus Land”.

mcginnis-lotus-land-s“Lotus Land” was written initially in 1964 as an open letter to friends in the U.S., but McGinnis subsequently sold copies in the Lake Chapala area in 1965, and it was published, much later, as a series of nine article, in El Ojo del Lago, from June 1994 to February 1995 inclusive.

The original typescript had 21 pages and was priced at 10 pesos (then about US$0.12).

“Lotus Land” was subtitled: “Being a faithful, factual and informative account of life among the American Colony on Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, with some comments on the way of life of our Mexican friends and neighbors, and a description of some of the amazing phenomena on this Costa Brava of Mexico. Designed to entertain the local residents, or to be used as an open letter to friends in the United States.”

The following brief extracts will give readers some idea of the style and range of material included in “Lotus Land”:

This is Lotus Land, the land of the colonels and the afternoon cocktail, the land of the mozo and the extra maid and rum at a dollar a bottle. This is the Costa Brava of Mexico, where Mexicano and Americano meet and mix, like oil and water. And it is the land of un momento.

This is Ajijic, Chapala, Chula Vista and their environs where some hundreds of American families have built their luxurious lairs among the adobe houses of the Mexicans. The three pueblos nestle between the shore of lake Chapala and the mountains. Chapala is built on a spit of land projecting from the north shore of the lake, and was a famous watering place for the rich and poor of Guadalajara long before the gringos came….

Chula Vista sprawls on the slopes of a crescent of mountain about two miles west of Chapala on the lake shore. Chula Vista, with one or two exceptions, is exclusively Americano. Its luxury homes make a slight and condescending bow to the Mexican way of life by adding patios and walls, but it is essentially transplanted California. It is said that its inhabitants look down their noses at their unfortunate compatriots living in Chapala and Ajijic, albeit it is all in fun. Chula Vista sports a nifty golf club and most of the homes have pools, electric kitchens, and poodles.

Ajijic, a mile and a half west of Chula Vista along the lake, is the den mother of the three communities. Discovered by a group of impecunious artists soon after World War II, It was then a sleepy Indian village given over to the pursuit of Lake Chapala sardines and the bucolic crafts of animal husbandry, maize cultivation, and wood cutting. The artists fell among the natives like a drop of water in a mill pond – there was a slight ripple and the two became one – frijoles, no bathrooms, tacos, no sewers and no barbers.

Then the States-side newspapers and magazines, on a wave of nostalgia, began to thump the tub for the Shangri-la aspect of this Mexican paradise. Soldiers retiring after the war got wind of it, and the invasion was on. The adobe houses were bought and leased, white washed, a shower and bath added. The newcomers clamored for light and water, and the Mexican government, awakening after four hundred years of somnolence, tapped a mountain spring and brought the water into the pueblo….

The more affluent of the invaders built new homes or made elaborate changes in the old houses. They hired the women and girls as cooks and maids, the men as gardeners and handy men. Wages, from thirty pesos a week at the beginning, climbed to fifty, sixty, and on up to ninety and a hundred….

The typical Lakeside male awakens just before nine o’clock, yawns, stretches, sneezes and goes to the bathroom, where he finds that the toilet doesn’t work. He cusses the Mexican plumbing and his arthritis and has his breakfast served in the patio by the maid. He them bedecks himself for the golf course, and joins a trio of his friends for nine holes, winning a peso by a stroke of good luck. He will then repair to the game room at the club, and may win another peso at gin. It is now one o’clock, he has had three rums and feels prepared for the steak (at 60 cents per T-bone) which will be served at home. He has his comida, yawns, stretches, and seeks a quiet, dark corner for a siesta.

At five or thereabouts comes the cocktail hour….

The housewife is the chief exponent of the vocal arts in Mexico. Whereas the men rarely sing except when stimulated by tequila, in love or for a living, the housewives sing all day long. The chorus is well under way by five o’clock in the morning, and continues far into the night. One gets accustomed to these symphonic decibels and after a while they go in one ear and out again.

Under fine arts must come acting and entertaining. Frustrated actors and entertainers, as well as retired professionals, could not be held in check forever. Under the able direction of Mrs. Betty Kuzell, a theatre group suddenly blossomed into a lively and amazing organization. Musicals, burlesque, light drama, and variations of old-time vaudeville draw crowds to the redecorated waiting room of the old railroad station. Latent talent has been developed and the old pros leaven the amateur efforts. While there has been the customary pulling-and-hauling and displays of artistic temperament and professional jealousy, everybody is having a good time. Many people are keeping out of mischief as their energies are dissipated on the Thespian boards….

The Lakeside has had bad press in the States, bad because it has exaggerated conditions, especially the cost of living. While it is true that one can get a haircut for twenty-five cents and a good bottle of rum, gin or brandy for a dollar, a can of corned beef costs $1.25 US. Cranberry sauce and canned asparagus are equally high, and Campbell’s soup, made in Mexico, is 32 to 45 cents a can. Tailoring is cheap but the cloth is expensive. The fruits of the country, citrus, melons, mangos, avocados, bananas, pineapples are cheap and good. There are no frozen foods, no TV dinners for the quick snack, and only a limited and inferior variety of canned fruits and vegetables. Residents who go to the border load up with US goodies to tide them through.

The family budget is stretched by the absence of the monthly telephone bill. There is one telephone in Ajijic, two available in Chapala and one in Chula Vista. This is both a blessing and a curse. You save money, but should an important guest be lost at the airport, there is no way to catch up with him until he arrives by taxi some hours later….

One saves on gas and wear-and-tear by shunning night driving. Unless its an emergency, only the daring drive at night. The highways are open range, and cattle, horses, burros and other livestock wander at will, blend into the pavement, and won’t budge. Many of the trucks, of ancient US vintage, have no tail lights, and when there is a breakdown it remains where it stops, with a fine disregard for life and limb. It is a serious offense to kill an animal and if caught you may expect a turn in jail. This encourages a hit-and-run policy on the part of both the foreigners and the Mexicans….

Many of the Mexican elite of Guadalajara maintain elaborate summer or weekend homes in Lakeside. These people are seldom seen in public, do not cotton to the foreigners and could teach anybody in the world how to live in the grand manner. A poor Mexican is generous, a rich Mexican is unbelievable. He knows how to spend money and keeps in practice both in his home, at his club and where ever his well shod, perfectly tailored persona happens to be. Should you be invited to his home you will be entertained within an inch of your life and if he calls you “friend” a host of his connections are at your service.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Mr. Bill Atkinson of Chapala for graciously giving me a copy of “Lotus Land” as originally published in 1964.

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.

Apr 042016
 

Ralph Jocelyn McGinnis (1894-1966) was a sports writer, publicist and painter who lived in Ajijic during the early 1960s and penned an article about the area entitled “Lotus Land”. “Lotus Land” was written initially in 1964 as an open letter to friends in the U.S., but McGinnis subsequently sold copies in the Lake Chapala area in 1965, and it was published, much later, as a series of nine article, in El Ojo del Lago, from June 1994 to February 1995 inclusive.

We will take a closer look at “Lotus Land”, a tongue in cheek account of the area, in a separate post.

Ralph Jocelyn McGinnis was born in Kingston, Ohio, on 13 November 1894 and died in Ajijic on 4 June 1966. He grew up in an artistic family; his brother was the famous artist and illustrator Robert E. McGinnis.

mcginnis-gold-old-daysRalph McGinnis was the author of many articles and at least two books. His articles included “The Wimodausians”, in Farm Quarterly 6 (1951), while his books included The History of Oxford, Ohio, from the earliest days to the present, 1930 (Stewart Press, 1930) and The good old days: An invitation to memory (F. & W. Publishing Company, 1960). The latter book is about farming life and includes photos and some “primitive-style watercolors” by the author.

McGinnis is also credited with having come up with the nickname “Redskins” for the Miami University (Ohio) sports teams previously known as the Big Reds. McGinnis had been a star halfback and track athlete in the class of 1921 at Miami University in Ohio. At university, he was associate editor of the student magazine Recensio, and athletic editor and eventually editor of The Miami Student. In articles dating from 1919 and 1920, McGinnis used phrases such as, “sturdy warriors,” “pow wow on the commons,” and “Big Red Warriors Go on Warpath.”

In 1928, McGinnis joined the staff of Miami University as a publicity advisor, and later as a teacher of English and journalism. By 1930 the tagline Redskins was being regularly used for university teams. According to McGinnis, he first came up with the attention-grabbing name in 1928.

Ralph McGinnis married twice. His first wife was a fellow student Erma Kőenig, born in Kentucky; they had two children, Albert and Marsue. After a divorce, McGinnis married Edith R. Matthew.

McGinnis and his second wife were living in Ajijic in the summer of 1965, as evidenced by a mention in the Guadalajara Colony Reporter for 19 Aug 1965. Edith McGinnis was an author, whose pen name was Edith Shepherd, and apparently the author of several crime stories and articles, though I have no further details of these. In August 1965, she was working on a commissioned travel article. (There is an Edith Shepherd who wrote Geography for Beginners (Rand McNally, 1924) but it is unclear whether or not this is McGinnis’s wife).

McGinnis’s daughter Marsue has her own claim to fame, dating back to when she was teaching as a 21-year-old on the island of Hawaii in 1946. On 1 April 1946, she was swept out to sea by a massive tidal wave, along with several fellow teachers and many of their students. She clung on to a piece of driftwood for an amazing nine hours prior to being plucked to safety by her fiancé who had borrowed a motorboat to help find survivors. Her first-person account of that harrowing day won a major Reader’s Digest prize in 1959. Her astonishing story is one of those retold by Rita Beamish in Perils of Paradise (Bess Press, Inc., 2004). Marsue also retold the story in this oral history interview.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Mr. Bill Atkinson of Chapala for graciously giving me a copy of “Lotus Land” as originally published in 1964.

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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