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.

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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 212016
 

American artists Paul Charles Hachten (born 1934) and his then wife Cynthia “Casey” Siddons Jones lived in Ajijic from 1968 to 1969, following their marriage on Valentine’s Day 1968.

Peter Huf, who was living in Ajijic at the time, recalls that the Hachtens did not exhibit very much at all, though we do know that Paul Hachten was part of the group show for the re-opening of La Galeria in Ajijic, a show entitled “Art is Life; Life is Art”, which ran from 13 December 1968 to January 1969. The other artists in that show were Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost , Jack Rutherford, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, John Kenneth Peterson, José Ma. De Servin, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons, Joe Wedgwood.

Prior to that, Hachten was one of several Lakeside artists whose work was included in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show, which opened 5 June 1968, at La Galeria (Ocho de Julio #878, Guadalajara). Allyn Hunt described his works as “subtle excellent prints, the best being “Mr. Fields.” (Guadalajara Reporter, 15 June 1968)

At the time, Huf was uncertain about the quality of Hachten’s art, but has since become convinced that it was way ahead of its time:

“I remember one time some of us went to his studio and he was putting the paint on some large canvas with a very wet sponge. We laughed about it, but when I think about it now, somehow he was far ahead of us all. I still have an etching of his which is very sensitive.”

One of Hachten’s painting from this time, Parsubin (1970) was acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art, and is now in its permanent collection. Parsubin is a color serigraph on aluminum with overall dimensions of 27 x 24 1/4 inches  (68.58 x 61.59 cm). It was included in a companion exhibition to a Jackson Pollock mural (Hornets Nest) at the Des Moines Art Center in 2012 as one representative of works influenced by the Abstract Expressionist (Ab-Ex) movement.

Paul Hachten: Parasubin (1970). Dallas Museum of Art.

Paul Hachten: Parasubin (1970). Dallas Museum of Art.

Amy N. Worthen, the Des Moines Art Center’s Curator of Prints and Drawings, explained in a presentation that the cool and more impersonal 1960s Pop Art eventually came along and quenched some of the fire and heat of the Ab-Ex movement. She thought this was perhaps best illustrated by Paul Hachten’s print, Parasubin (1970), which seems to cage up the energy of Ab-Ex art with its orderly grids. Describing Parasubin‘s colors as “opalescent and unnatural”, Worthen pointed to this piece as an example of the “last gasp” of Ab-Ex style and an example of the inevitable overlap between art movements. In her view, by 1970, “Abstract Expressionism, now subdued and tamed, has lost its sting.”

Hachten’s parents lived in Buffalo, New York, and Hachten studied art at New York University and (from 1958) at the University of California at Berkeley. At the time of his marriage to Cynthia Siddons Jones in Mendocino, California, in 1968, he had a studio in the town, and the couple apparently planned to live there, but chose to move to Mexico instead. They spent the next year living and painting in Ajijic.

We have yet to learn more about Paul Hachten, beyond a report in the New Mexican, a Santa Fe newspaper, in July 1972 that “Paul Hatchen” (sic) was holding an exhibition of “graphics at the opening of his new gallery”. Hachten has rarely exhibited and currently lives in Seal Beach, in San Francisco.

[It appears to be complete coincidence that the surname Hatchen was used by the novelist Ross Macdonald for a married couple, Dr Keith and Mrs Pauline Hatchen, in The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962), a book partially set in Ajijic.]

If you can add to this skeleton biography, do please get in touch.

Source:

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 Posted by at 6:03 am  Tagged with:
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.

Mar 242016
 

Winifred (“Winnie”) Godfrey is best known for her floral paintings, but has also produced a number of fine, figurative works, including a series based on the Maya people of Mexico and Guatemala.

She first visited Mexico, where her aunt was then living, in 1965, and spent about a year in Guadalajara. In 1966 she taught at the city’s Jesuit university, ITESO, and also attended the University of Arizona summer program in Guadalajara.

She was painting full time and participated in several group exhibits in Guadalajara with fellow artists such as Felipe Ehrenberg, José Luis Cuevas and Alfredo Sánchez Laurrauri.

Her connection to Lake Chapala is tangential since she never lived in either Ajijic or Chapala, but did visit frequently from Guadalajara. At Lake Chapala, she became friends with Allyn and Beverly Hunt, long-time residents of Jocotepec, who modeled for some of her large figurative paintings. Author and artist Allyn Hunt was the editor of the Guadalajara Reporter for many years.

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1967)

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1967)

Godfrey, born in Philadelphia in 1944, was raised on Chicago’s south side and gained a Bachelor of Science in Art (1966) and a Master of Fine Arts (1970) from the University of Wisconsin. She also studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (1962) and the University of California, Los Angeles (1964).

Winnie Godfrey: Almolonga Women (Mayan Series)

Winnie Godfrey: Almolonga Women (Mayan Series). Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

She traveled to Europe as part of her studies at the University of Wisconsin, and in 1966 attended the program offered by the University of Arizona in Guadalajara, Mexico. In 1971-2, she studied printmaking at the Chicago Printmakers Workshop.

Godfrey has been a full-time painter since 1974. She has given art classes and workshops in a number of institutions, including the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin (1968-70); Rochester Art Center, Rochester, Minnesota (1970); the University of Illinois, Chicago (1975-76); the North Shore Art League, Winnetka, IL (1977-87); and the Blackhawk Workshop, Blackhawk, Colorado (1987-91).

Her artwork is included in many private, corporate and museum collections and has been exhibited throughout North America.

She has taken part in more than a hundred major exhibits, mostly in Wisconsin and Illinois. Her solo exhibits include the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia; the Organization of American States, Washington, DC; the Rahr-West Art Museum, Manitowoc, Wisconsin; and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Godfrey’s work was presented alongside that of Georgia O’Keefe and Marc Chagall at an exhibit of 20th century flower paintings at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, her work the Flora Exhibition Award of Excellence. She also won first prize among the 4500 floral entries in the Artist’s Magazine Floral Competition.

Winnie Godfrey: Zunil Cemetery

Winnie Godfrey: Zunil Cemetery (Mayan Series). Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

To learn more about this artist, please visit her website.

Other floral painters associated with Lake Chapala

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 Posted by at 6:02 am  Tagged with:
Mar 172016
 

American sculptor and painter Mym Tuma had her studio in San Pedro Tesistan, near Jocotepec, the town at the western end of Lake Chapala, from 1968 to 1973. Tuma, formerly known as Marilynn Thuma, has become an important figure in the contemporary American art world.

Tuma was born 23 September 1940 in Berwyn, Illinois. She studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, at Stanford University in California and undertook graduate work at New York University.

After university, she moved to Mexico, setting up a second floor plein air studio in San Pedro Tesistan to experiment with three dimensional works. This was a formative period in her artistic development, fostered by the support, moral and financial, of her mentor Georgia O’Keefe (1887–1986), the “Mother of American modernism”.

Mym Tuma: La perla (1970)

Mym Tuma: La hojancha (The Original Seed) (1970)

Tuma first contacted O’Keefe, fifty years her senior, in 1964 when she was studying in Irving Sandler’s modern art seminar for postgraduates at New York University. Despite the age difference, O’Keefe and Tuma discovered they shared several common interests. O’Keefe, then living on a ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, bought one of Tuma’s early works, and the two women corresponded for a decade. (The story of this correspondence is told by Tuma at OkeeffeAndMe.com).

The studio in San Pedro Tesistan had neither electricity nor running water. In her “Feminist Artist Statement” on a Brooklyn Museum webpage, Tuma recalls her time there:

“In the high plateau of southern Mexico, overlooking Lake Chapala, I painted in remote San Pedro Tesistan. In that village were only two vehicles: a red Firebird, and a paneled truck, until I arrived in 1966 in a Volkswagen bus. I rented a studio for $8 per month and worked with an assistant, 17-yr. old Cruz Robledo who I taught to drive. She suppressed her giggles learning how to control the VW on cobblestone streets, rumbling down a string of plastered, cracked and chipped adobes. Women like Cruz worked at home, sewing and cooking, but she had a streak of independence. She did not let people, or men subordinate her. She grew more confident, while working on my sculptures, sanding fiberglass to smooth curves. She helped me prepare my paintings. Her mother still scrubbed clothes on rocks at the edge of Lake Chapala, her Aunt Deodata partnered with another woman near my studio. Cruz respected my work. I tutored her to become as independent as I myself.

In the Sixties, women lost children and we heard church bells tolling for them in my 2nd floor plein aire studio. Cruz crossed herself and whispered sad news. We’d rest to watch the peaceful blue haze over the distant mountains and breathe. We shared ideas sanding my shaped sculptured paintings, far from the conflict in Vietnam. I felt militant about my work, in that time and remote place, to quote T.S. Eliot, “to construct something upon which to rejoice.” Convinced that one day it would bolster women’s power and equality in the U.S.

Before I left, we strung a rooster pinata from the church to my studio, and invited mothers with babes, and small children. They filled the floor eating cake and cream. Women nursed babes in rebozos around us. Cruz decided to become a midwife to help reduce suffering she saw among her sisters. As difficult as living in Mexico was, its vibrant colors, forms of energy, and simple life inspired my organic principles. For centuries, rituals of planting and harvesting maize surrounded my studio. However my materials/methods were innovative and contemporary to the 20th century and beyond.

I showed an elderly American Modernist painter the forms I had so much theory about—Georgia O’Keeffe. We debated issues and theories. I created 17 sculptured paintings, traveling 3,500 miles to the U.S. and back, over five times to garner O’Keeffe’s fiscal mentorship.”

O’Keefe’s letters to Tuma include many references to financial support. Perhaps the most poignant is the one dated 3 July 1968, shortly after Tuma has visited New Mexico:

“I am glad you came and were here a few days. Do not sell your car or part with your dog. I will send you the two thousand that you need to get your next three paintings done . . . . It may take ten days or two weeks. If I send it may I consider your black creation mine?”

The “black creation” was a fiberglass sculpture called Obsidian, which Tuma duly took north on her next trip to New Mexico.

After her time at Lake Chapala, in 1974, Tuma toured New South Wales and Western Australia, painting and sketching as she went, before establishing her studio on the East End of Long Island, New York. She is widely recognized for her work in the category of organic minimalism, which is influenced by oceanic and coastal forms, such as beach pebbles, sand, sprouting seeds, and spiraling shell forms.

Her “sculptured paintings” have been exhibited at many galleries, including Guild Hall (East Hampton), the Parrish Art Museum (Southampton village), and the Clayton-Liberatore Gallery (Bridgehampton), all in New York State. Tuma is a charter member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and lectured at the Brooklyn Museum in 1992.

Examples of Tuma’s sculptured paintings are in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in Washington, D.C., the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford, Palo Alto, as well as in the private collections of Henry Geldzahler, Tipper and Al Gore, and others.

Tuma has also written several art-related books, including The Sea, the Simplicity of the Sea, and Other Poems, (Come to Life Graphics, 1984) and Radiant Energy, Light In My Pastel Paintings (2005).

Mym Tuma is yet another of the many famous artists who have found inspiration while at Lake Chapala, where the light, lake, people and scenery combine to stimulate creativity.

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

Feb 292016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

 Posted by at 6:13 am  Tagged with:
Feb 252016
 

Jack Harris Rutherford lived with his first wife, Dorothy, and their four children, in San Blas in 1963, before moving to Ajijic in about 1966. He remained a resident of Ajijic, making occasional visits to San Blas, until 1971, when the family relocated across the Atlantic to southern Spain.

Rutherford was born in Long Beach, California, on 11 May 1931. At age 11, he took art classes with eminent watercolorist Hans Axel Walleen (1902-1978), who was President of the American Watercolor Society from 1957 to 1959. In his early twenties, Rutherford, increasingly disenchanted with where U.S. society was headed and with working in his father’s oil company, opted to focus on art, taking lessons with Austrian-born Karl Seethaler, the then Director of Long Beach Academy of Art in California. Rutherford became an active participant in the “synthesis of art” cultural group in California and in 1957, was appointed Director of the School of Fine Art, Long Beach, California.

In 1963, he felt his artistic development was being seriously constrained by the position, and decided, in his words, “to dedicate all my energies to my purpose as an artist… I sold up my home and with my wife and four sons fled to Mexico to lead the life of a vocational artist.” In San Blas, Nayarit, Rutherford founded a short-lived “Academy of Art” with himself as director.

Jack Rutherford: San Blas Customs House (1963)

Jack Rutherford: San Blas Customs House (1963)

In early 1965, German artist Peter Huf and his future wife Eunice Hunt met Rutherford in San Blas. (The couple later lived in Ajijic for many years). Huf recalls that Rutherford “had just arrived with his wife and four sons. He had dug out of the sand the walls of some abandoned building and hung his paintings on the walls.” Peter Huf and Eunice Hunt had their first art show in Mexico on the walls of the beautifully-proportioned Old Customs House, then in ruins, but since restored.

Jack Rutherford. Ajijic Sketch (ca 1963)

Jack Rutherford. Ajijic Sketch (ca 1963)

Rutherford held numerous exhibitions during his time in San Blas and Ajijic. For example, in early 1964, an exhibit of his paintings opened at the Mexican-North American Cultural Institute in Guadalajara. Even then, according to a contemporary newspaper article, Rutherford planned to eventually move to Europe to paint and study. (Colony Reporter, Guadalajara, 6 February 1964). In August 1965, he had a successful one-man show at the Posada Ajijic; the following month he and his family went back to San Blas. (Colony Reporter, Guadalajara, 2 September 1965).

Jack Rutherford. Ajijic bedroom (ca 1963)

Jack Rutherford. Ajijic bedroom (ca 1963)

Rutherford was also a founding member of the Grupo 68 art collective in Ajijic. Grupo 68 was founded in 1967 and initially comprised Peter Huf, his wife Eunice Hunt, Jack Rutherford, John Kenneth Peterson and Shaw (the artist Don Shaw). (Rutherford dropped out of the group after a year or so, but the others remained as a group until 1971.)

In September 1968, Rutherford was one of 8 painters and a sculptor whose works were displayed at the “re-opening” of Laura Bateman’s Rincon del Arte gallery at Calle Hidalgo #41 in Ajijic. (The other artists were Alejandro Colunga, Coffeen Suhl, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, John K. Peterson and (Donald) Shaw; the single sculptor was Joe Wedgwood).

From December 1968 (through to January 1969), Rutherford was part of the group show for the re-opening of La Galeria in Ajijic, a show entitled “Art is Life; Life is Art”. (The other artists were Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost , Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, John Kenneth Peterson, José Ma. De Servin, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons, Joe Wedgwood.)

In April 1969, members of Grupo 68 had a collective show at La Galería, Ajijic. The announcement in Guadalajara daily Informador (20 April) lists the participating artists as John Kenneth Peterson, Charles Henry Blodgett (guest artist) and “El Grupo” (John Brandi, Tom Brudenell, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, Jack Rutherford, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons and Robert Snodgrass).

Rutherford’s website features numerous paintings and sketches from his time in Mexico.

In 1971 Rutherford returned to the USA, and then went to Spain. In Spain, he lived for almost thirty years in an historical olive mill in Andalucia, where he directed an art school “Arts and Growth Center” and ran his own art gallery.

Jack Rutherford. Ajijic influences (ca 1963)

Jack Rutherford. Ajijic influences (ca 1963)

According to his website, Mexico has always remained “a strong influence on his art” and Rutherford continues to take return trips and longer stays in “this spiritual country, scene of his artistic liberation”. In recent years, Rutherford has visited, and exhibited, in La Manzanilla on the Pacific Coast of Mexico several times.

Jack Rutherford has exhibited, lectured and taught in the U.S., Mexico and Europe. His one-man exhibitions outside Mexico include:

  • USA: Richmond Public Library, Richmond, Virginia; Studio Gallery, Norfolk, Virginia; Atelier 7, Long Beach, California; Topanga Community Center, Topanga Canyon, California; Parkview Gallery, Long Beach, California; The Waterfront Gallery, Pensacola, Florida; Phoenix Museum Docent Committee, Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Spain: Nerja Library and Cultural Centre, Nerja; Caja de Ahorras Provincial de Malaga, Velez Malaga; Sala Tres, Marbella; Galeria del Arte Melia, Granada; Galeria Pintada, Nerja; Alberdini Galeria, Competa; Parador Hotel, Nerja.
  • Germany: C.A.G. Gallery, Bremen; Galerie Krencky, Herford; Galerie im Oha, Bunde; America Haus, Munich; and Kunst zu Hause, Cologne.
  • Denmark: Midtyllanos Avis-Lordag.

For an introduction to Jack Rutherford’s approach to teaching art, see the Youtube video Art Course by Jack Rutherford.

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

 Posted by at 5:58 am  Tagged with:
Feb 182016
 

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

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

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

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

Roy MacNicol: Mood, Mexico (1936)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

Roy MacNicol: Untitled (1961)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 6:34 am  Tagged with:
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