Oct 162017
 

Architect George Heneghan lived in Ajijic with his wife, Molly, and their two young sons – Eric and Adam – from 1971 to 1975.

George Edward Heneghan Jr. was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 30 April 1934 and died on 6 August 1999. He graduated from St. Louis University High School, studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and received his B. Arch from Washington University in St. Louis in 1962. Heneghan was an active member of several athletics and sports-related clubs.

In the 1960s he worked alongside his childhood friend (and later partner) Daniel Gale in Fritz Benedict’s practice. Benedict had been a gardener at Frank Lloyd Wright’s estates – Taliesin Easdt and Taliesen West – prior to training as an architect. The two young men were considered “Benedict’s protégés”. Heneghen was greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright (as was another long-time Lake Chapala resident, Russell Seely Bayly). As a result, Heneghan’s architectural style is best described (to borrow a phrase from his son, Eric) as Wrightian/Organic.

When George Heneghan married Molly Duane at St. Mary’s Church in Aspen, Colorado, on 12 June 1965, Dan Gale was his best man. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon in Mexico and then returned to live in Aspen.

In 1966 Heneghan and Gale joined forces in an architectural partnership, which lasted until 1969. During that time they designed many of the larger buildings in Aspen, including the Hannah Dustin commercial building (300 S. Spring), the Aspen Interfaith Chapel of the Prince of Peace on Meadowood Drive, and the Cottonwoods Condominium. They also designed homes for the Guggenheim, Horowitz and many other families. The partnership ended when Gale left Aspen for California in 1969.

George Heneghan, Ajijic, ca 1972. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz).

George Heneghan, Ajijic, ca 1972. Photo by Beverly Johnson. (Reproduced by kind permission of Tamara Janúz).

The Heneghans first visited Ajijic in 1970 to spend Christmas with Molly’s parents who usually spent the winter there. They liked what they saw and rented a house in Rancho del Oro for several months. George commuted back and forth to Aspen until mid-1971 when, with the assistance of Gerda and Jim Kelly, they bought property on Calle Zaragoza to remodel as their family home. (In May of 1971, according to the Guadalajara Reporter, George Heneghan is planning to build his retirement home in Ajijic.) According to local legend, because the architect was not a very tall man, the home, now known as Casa Flores, was designed with relatively low ceiling heights.

Danza del Sol hotel, Ajijic. Credit: TripAdvisor.

Danza del Sol hotel, Ajijic. Credit: TripAdvisor.

The architecture of the family home was admired to such an extent that the architect retained by the wealthy and influential Leaño family to build the Danza del Sol hotel in Ajijic asked George Henghan to collaborate on the design. The hotel, about ten blocks west of the village plaza, has remained a landmark ever since. The international promotion of the new hotel, shortly after it was completed, featured photographs taken by village photographer Beverly Johnson. Local sales for Danza del Sol were handled by realtor Mary Bishop, wife of Dick Bishop.

[Dick Bishop was one of Ajijic’s more colorful characters in the 1960s and 1970s, forever associated with riding his large Arabian horse through the village. Loy Strother, as a child, was the jockey on Bishop’s horse in a race along the dirt road between San Antonio Tlayacapan and Ajijic. He recalls that Bishop “bought a saddle for that horse that had a bar in it. Yep, the pommel of that saddle was raised on a square structure (covered in carved leather as part of the saddle) that opened and held glasses, small bottles of booze and even a little ice bucket… and a tiny martini shaker.” Those were the days!]

While living in Ajijic, Molly Heneghan put her graphical design talents to work. She drew and published the first edition of “Sunny Ajijic”, an informative poster-map of Ajijic, in about 1973.

The couple was active in local theater and in November 1973 acted together in a show at the Little Lakeside Theater.

The family took some exciting vacations during their time in Mexico. For example, in 1973, the local press reported that Molly Heneghan had left for Disneyland with both sons, and that George would soon join them for “a chartered sail in the Atlantic.”

The Heneghans did not occupy their “retirement” home on Calle Zaragoza in Ajijic for very long. By 1975, their former home, described for a House and Garden Tour as “an architect’s fantasy dream home” had become a  vacation home jointly owned by Dr. Bob Peyton, chief surgeon of Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu, Dr. Harry Huffaker, “the swimming dentist” who made many spectacular long distance swims, and Tom Held, founder of Aloha Hawaii Travel.

When they returned north in 1975, the Heneghans spent a few months in New Mexico before relocating to Hawaii, where Heneghan established an award-winning architectural practice. He specialized in designing private residences, but his commercial work included building his own offices, designed to obviate the need for air conditioning, relying instead purely on air movements resulting from the natural diurnal breezes.

Heneghan was not only an architect on Hawaii but “an accomplished athlete, teacher and coach” who coached cross-country and track at Parker School from 1992-1998. After he died in Hawaii in 1999, a fun run was established in his memory in Kamuela, Hawaii.

Acknowledgments

  • My sincere thanks to Molly Leland for sharing memories of her time with her family in Mexico. I am also grateful to Tamara Janúz for permission to reproduce the photograph taken by her mother, Beverly Johnson.

Sources:

  • AspenModern website. George Edward Heneghan, Jr. (1934-1999).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 8 May 1971; 22 Sep 1973; 29 Nov 1975.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri): 13 June 1965, page 113.
  • Monica Geran. 1986. “In Hawaii: the design offices for and by George Heneghan Architects in Kailu-Kona”, in Interior Design, 1 August 1986.

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

Oct 122017
 

Horace Sutton (1919-1991), one of the most prolific and well-known American travel writers of all time, and the creator of the term “jet lag”, visited and reported on Chapala in 1970.

Sutton was a lifelong travel journalist and editor. He began his career, before the second world war, in the advertising department of The New York Post. During the war he worked in Army Intelligence and then returned to The Post as a reporter and travel writer.

He joined the Saturday Review in the late 1940s, and remained there for more than 30 years, first as travel editor and then as editorial director. He also founded travel sections for Sports Illustrated and McCall’s. In the 1980s he served as the editor of Citicorp’s Signature magazine (1981-1985) and editor-in-chief of Citicorp Publishing Company (1984-1987).

As author of a syndicated column, Sutton traveled more than 100,000 miles a year, not only to popular destinations and resorts but also to some of the most remote areas of the planet. His work was published in dozens of newspapers and magazines. In 1960, at the peak of his career, Sutton was profiled for Time magazine in “The Press: The Traveling Press”, shortly after returning from Tahiti:

In the musette bag of red-haired Horace Sutton are Dramamine tablets, bug spray, a ten-bladed Swiss army knife, cable cards, swimming trunks, traveler’s checks—and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of paregoric. These are the tools of Sutton’s profession: he is a travel writer, working for newspapers and magazines in an age when more and more of the world’s citizens are excursioning to more and more foreign countries.”

But perhaps his most enduring contribution to the world of travel was his coining of the term “jet lag”, which he first used in a 1966 piece in the Los Angeles Times when jet passenger service was barely 14 years old. Sutton explained that jet lag was “a debility not unakin to a hangover” and derived “from the simple fact that jets travel so fast they leave your body rhythms behind.” The phenomenon had previously been known as time zone syndrome.

Sutton won numerous accolades for his travel writing, as well an award from the Overseas Press Club for his coverage of a military counter-coup in Indonesia in 1965.

His eleven books included a series for Rinehart that included Footloose in France (1948); Footloose in Canada (1950); Footloose in Italy (1950); and Footloose in Switzerland (1952). In addition he wrote Confessions of a Grand Hotel: The Waldorf-Astoria (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1953); Sutton’s Places (Holt, 1954); Aloha, Hawaii;: The new United Air Lines guide to the Hawaiian Islands (Doubleday, 1967); Travelers, the American Tourist from Stagecoach to Space Shuttle (William Morrow, August, 1980); The Beverly Wilshire Hotel: Its Life and Times (1989).

In his 1970 article, “Chapala is Retiree’s Dream – Cost of Living Big Attraction” (sic), Sutton described the town of Chapala – “a settlement of 7,000, Mexicans and Americans included” – as “the heart of the hammock and siesta country, a prime center for lollers, yawners and retirees”, where “more than 10 per cent of all the residents are retired citizens down from the U.S. of A.”

He claimed that “nearly 20,000 American retirees are nesting along the fringes of Lake Chapala, a balmy pool that is 70 miles long, 20 miles wide and a mile high. The weather is peachy.”

Everyday prices were very favorable compared to prices back home since “shoeshines that now cost 50 cents in midtown urban centers up north, are 8 cents.” Haircuts were 48 cents (compared to $2.50 up north), a bottle of spirits was $1.25 and a cook-maid might cost $30 a month. The average rent was, according to Sutton, under $100 a month, with the highest $240.

In nearby Ajijic, “once selected by bands of hippies”, Sutton found that most- Americans stayed at the American-operated Posada Ajijic, where they could dine for $2, and shopped at El Angel for stonework, embroidery and other “hand-turned works of the native citizenry.”

Sutton’s other pieces related to Mexico include articles about Acapulco and Guadalajara.

After a lifetime of travel and reporting, Horace Sutton died at his home in Manhattan on 26 October 1991 at the age of 72.

Sources:

  • Hofstra University (Hempstead, New York). Sutton, Horace, 1919-1991. Papers, c. 1948-1991. Special Collections Department.
  • Rebecca Maksel. 2008.”When did the term “jet lag” come into use?“, airspacemag.com (Air & Space, Smithosonian), 17 June 2008.
  • Frank J. Prial. “Horace Sutton, 72, Magazine Columnist And Travel Author” (Obituary), in New York Times, 28 October 1991.
  • Horace Sutton. 1966. “Jet Set Living has its Perils”, Los Angeles Times, 13 Feburary 1966.
  • Horace Sutton. 1968. “Acapulco: Golden Nest for Tourists”, Chicago Tribune, 7 April 1968.
  • Horace Sutton. 1970. “Murals, Mariachis. Colorful Guadalajara.” Chicago Tribune, 15 November 1970.
  • Horace Sutton. 1970. “Chapala is Retiree’s Dream – Cost of Living Big Attraction”, in Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 15 November 1970, p 30
  • Time magazine. “The Press: The Traveling Press”, in Time, Monday, 4 July 1960.
Oct 022017
 

The talented painter and musician Gustavo Sendis divided his time for much of his life between Guadalajara, where he was born in 1941, and his family’s second home in Ajijic.

Born on 8 July 1941, Sendis became interested in art at an early age and studied drawing with Juan Navarro and Ernesto Butterlin in 1958 and 1959. His father was a scientist and university lecturer who founded several important projects in the Guadalajara’s Hospital Civil and Sanatorio Guadalajara. His mother wanted Gustavo to pursue a conventional career but the young man, with the support of his father, chose otherwise, married young, and went to live in Europe.

Credit: Ramon Macias Mota, Las Seis Cuerda de la Guitarra (Google e-book)

Credit: Ramon Macias Mota, Las Seis Cuerda de la Guitarra (Google e-book)

His love of guitar music and painting took him to Spain, where he met (and studied with) Emilio Pujol (1886-1980), the preeminent Spanish classical guitarist and composer. On his return to Guadalajara, Sendis brought back a heartfelt open letter from Pujol, dated 1965, to “Mexican guitarists”, and began to exhibit his paintings and give public guitar recitals. In 1967 he gave a guitar recital and exhibited about 20 abstract works (painted during his time in Europe) at the Sociedad de Amigos de la Guitarra de Guadalajara on Calle Francia in Colonia Moderna. Sendis’s first formal exhibition was at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara in (1968).

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Untitled. Credit: Galería Vértice.

During a second trip to Europe, he continued to exhibit his work and give guitar concerts. He had exhibitions in several European countries, including Spain, where he participated in the Ibiza Bienal (1971) and held a show in Málaga (1977) of paintings related to music, with titles like “Notes on the Flute”. In this same period he had several exhibitions in Italy, France, Switzerland and Portugal. Practically self-taught, he lived for many years in Ajijic prior to moving first to Taxco, Guerrero (where he gave a concert in the city’s Santa Prisca church) and then to Tepoztlán, Morelos, where he suffered a fatal heart attack on 25 May 1989, while he was still in his 40s.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Gustavo Sendis: Volcán. Credit: Galería Vértice.

Sendis recorded one record, Tras la huella de Sendis, and throughout his life, Sendis entertained people with his sensitive guitar playing. For example in June 1972 he was performing nightly in Ajijic at the El Tejaban restaurant-gallery (then run by Jan Dunlap and Manuel Urzua). The following month, he had a month-long solo show at the gallery of paintings that had been shown previously in “Paris, Madrid, Lisbon and several other cities in Europe”.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

In March 1974, he showed several paintings alongside works by his mother, Alicia Sendis, and Sheryl Stokes at  La Galeria del Lago in Ajijic. The inspiration for many of his paintings came from Jalisco scenes that he knew as a child. In fellow artist Tom Faloon’s words, Sendis “did some wonderful paintings, and pretty much lived in his own world.” In addition to conventional paintings on flat surfaces, Sendis is also known to have painted scenes on stoneware plates.

A selection of his works was exhibited at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada in July 1980, in a joint show with Zbigniew Olak and Aquatic Exotic.

In June 1984 Sendis exhibited at the Centro de Investigación y Difusión del Arte Exedra in Zapopan, Guadalajara (Paseo del Prado #387, Lomas del Valle).

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

Gustavo Sendis. Untitled, undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Jan Dunlap.

In 2010 a major “Winter Collective” exhibition in Guadalajara at Galería Vértice included a Sendis painting, alongside originals by such renowned artists as Rufino Tamayo, Gustavo Aceves, José Clemente Orozco, Rafael Coronel, Gunther Gerzso, Leonora Carrington and Juan Soriano. Sendis’s work was also included in a similar exhibition the following year, alongside works by Georg Rauch, Jose Luis Cuevas, Juan Soriano and Francisco Toledo.

Sendis is included, deservedly, in Guillermo Ramírez Godoy’s book Cuatro Siglos de Pintura Jalisciense (“Four Centuries of Jaliscan Painting”).

When the Guadalajara newspaper El Informador reached its centenary in 2017, the paper’s director, Carlos Álvarez del Castillo, selected 100 pieces of art from the “Fundación J. Álvarez del Castillo” collection of horse-related paintings and sculptures to be displayed at the Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara. The exhibit, entitled “Equinos 100”, includes the very first painting acquired for the collection – a painting by Gustavo Sendis.

This is an updated version of a profile originally published on 26 February 2015.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram, Jan Dunlap and the late Tom Faloon for sharing with me their memories of Gustavo Sendis, and for the valuable additions and clarifications by Gustavo’s niece Isabel Cristina de Sendis (see comments section).

Sources:

  • Anon. 1979. “Madrona exposition centre – 1980 schedule of shows”. Staff Bulletin (Malaspina College, Nanaimo, B.C.), 21 December 1979 (Vol 1 #13).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 3 June 1972; 10 June 1972; 1 July 1972; 16 March 1974
  • Ramon Macias Mora. 2001. Las seis cuerdas de la guitarra (Editorial Conexión Gráfica).
  • Guillermo Ramírez Godoy. 2003. “La dualidad artística del pintor y guitarrista Gustavo Sendis”. El Informador (Guadalajara), 26 Oct 2003.
  • Guillermo Ramírez Godoy and Arturo Camacho Becerra. 1996. Cuatro Siglos de Pintura Jalisciense (Cámara Nacional de Comercio de Guadalajara).

Note: Galería Vértice catalogs were at http://www.verticegaleria.com/esp/antes_exp.asp?cve_exp=82

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.

 

Sep 252017
 

Designer, craftsman and bon viveur Russell Seeley Bayly (1919-2013) lived in Jocotepec, at the western end of Lake Chapala, for close to forty years. He became a good personal friend, though I now regret not having recorded him as he reminisced about his life, loves and adventures.

Bayly was born in Los Angeles, Calfornia on 5 May 1919. He grew up in a privileged family, wealthy enough to have its own stables and horse trainer in addition to a butler, cook, housekeeper, maids, gardeners and a seamstress. Bayly’s father, Roy D. Bayly, was a successful financier and stock broker who had commissioned noted California architect Reginald Davis Johnson to build a Virginia-style home on nine acres of property in Flintridge, near Pasadena. Bayly Sr. was a co-founder of the Flintridge Riding Club and his children, including Russell, were all accomplished riders, winning ribbons and trophies for riding and jumping.

“Russ” Bayly was in the class of ’34 at Polytechnic School before attending Midland School. He graduated from this small boarding school near Los Olivos in 1938. Among his life-long friends was the artist-photographer John Frost, who also attended Midland. Not altogether coincidentally, Frost and his wife – the author Joan Van Every Frost – moved to Jocotepec shortly before Bayly did the same.

Bayly enlisted in the U.S. military on 7 January 1942, after two years of college at the University of Virginia, and giving his previous occupation as “fisherman, oysterman.” He served in the U.S. cavalry during the second world war but his wartime experiences left him with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Russell Bayly relaxing at home with his neighbor Tad Davidson (Lady Mary Fleming), August 2008. Photo by Tony Burton.

Russell Bayly, aged 89, relaxing at home with his neighbor Tad Davidson (Lady Mary Fleming), August 2008. Photo by Tony Burton.

After the war, Bayly attended the highly regarded Chouinard Art Institute (Chouinard School of Art and Design) in Los Angeles. He married Joan Virginia Young  in 1947, and the couple had four children: Russell Warder (1948-2016), David Hostetter (1951) Brooks (1952), and daughter Neville (1954).

In the 1950s, while working as a painting contractor, Bayly found recognition as a designer, primarily of furniture. For example, his work was highlighted in a national exhibition of Californian design first held at the Pasadena Art Museum from 12 January to 23 February 1958. Over the years, Bayly filed for several patents relating to original furniture designs. These almost certainly included the “prototype chair in steel, teak and fabric”, shown in a photograph that appeared in California Design in 1965. A matching ottoman was also available.

In the mid-1960s, the well-known industrial designer Victor J. Papanek, who had been at design school with Bayly, offered him a position as associate professor of design at Purdue University. Bayly taught there for four years, ending in 1971.

Bayly and his wife, Bee, moved to Jocotepec in late 1971, and rented a house there while beginning construction of their own home. While the Guadalajara Reporter for 20 July 1974 reports that Russell and his wife Bee had just entertained friends to a farewell party, prior to Russell “returning to his college teaching position in California”, Russell was no longer teaching by that time, though he did return to Los Alamos, California, and subsequently Santa Barbara, to make a living. Bayly regularly returned to Jocotepec prior to becoming a full-time resident of the town in the 1980s.

During his years in Jocotepec, he designed and oversaw the construction of several homes in the town, including the modernist, open-plan, steel-beamed hexagonal building that was his home for the last thirty years of his life. Built on a small corner lot overlooking the town and lake, the design was based on a series of hexagons with full-height living areas, floor-to-ceiling glass windows onto an immaculate garden, and a mezzanine that afforded a panoramic view across the lake. It also had a fully-equipped workshop for working metal and wood. Bayly was a skilled craftsman and took particularly delight in crafting the most exquisite furniture and small boxes, often utilizing rare scraps of exotic woods that he had found abandoned in some lumber yard.

Bayly. Photo taken in Jocotepec, August 2007 by Tony Burton.

Chairs and table designed by Russell Bayly. Photo taken in Jocotepec, August 2007 by Tony Burton.

Bayly’s former home, at Hidalgo Nte. #150, was his crowning achievement in terms of architecture and design. He personally designed and built all the bespoke furniture and fittings throughout the home, achieving a simple elegance that would have been worthy of inclusion in Architectural Digest.

Bayly imported a vintage VW “Combi” van from California, converted it into a no-frills camper, and used it to travel all over Mexico. Every few years he would take a lengthy overseas trip: to Europe, Africa or Asia.

In later life, Bayly helped me run several lengthy ecotourist trips through western Mexico, trips that inevitably involved lots of dirt road driving (which he loved). He always kept a camping chair, bottle of white wine (suitably cooled) and a couple of glasses in his van. One of my abiding memories from the many trips we did together is of him carrying these items to the top of a little-known pyramid in Michoacán so that he could sit, relax and sip his wine while enjoying the scenery and brilliant sunset.

Bayly had worked in so many different jobs at some point in his lifetime (lumberjack, educator, tuna fisherman, steel mill) that he was able to entertain guests at dinner parties with a seamless, and seemingly endless, stream of stories, all told with good humor and great insight. Bayly was a conversationalist, raconteur and bon viveur second to none.

Even in his final years, as his daily siestas became longer, Bayly remained willing to ferry groups of paragliders into the hills near Jocotepec as they sought the best launch spots, secure in the knowledge that he would manage to find them again wherever they landed and drive them safely back to civilization.

Having done what he could to make the world a better place, Bayly died on 23 February 2013.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Brooks Bayly for kindly sharing memories and details of his father’s life.

Sources:

  • California Design 9 (1965)
  • Catalog of national exhibition first held at the Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, Calif., January 12-February 23, 1958. (Designers include: Russell S. Bayly Associates, Martin Borenstein, Robert E. Brown, Garry M. Carthew, Danny Ho Fong, William A. Kalpe, and Roger Kennedy.)
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 20 July 1974.
  • OakTree Times (magazine of the Polytechnic School Community), Spring/Summer 2014.

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.

Sep 182017
 

Roland Vargo, the only Dutch actor to play in films alongside Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn, left Hollywood behind on retirement and settled in Chapala Haciendas, overlooking Lake Chapala.

Roland Vargo was his self-chosen stage name. He was born Jacob Frederik Vuerhard in Utrecht on 15 March 1908. He grew up on Java, returned to the Netherlands as a teenager and worked, among things, as an illustrator at Het Vaderland.

He then moved to Berlin, determined to try his luck with the blossoming film industry in Germany. His first film part seems to have been in Jugendtragödie (“Tragedy of Youth”, 1929).

Roland Varno, Publicity shot for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931-2

Roland Varno, Publicity shot for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931-2

Roland Varno’s best-known film role came in the German classic Der Blaue Engel (“The Blue Angel”, 1930), which starred German sensation Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings. He also had a part in Der Mann, the seinen Mörder sucht (“The Man in Search of his Murderer”, 1931).

While in Berlin he was discovered by a talent scout of the Hollywood studio MGM and invited to travel to the U.S. to play the lead role in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Unfortunately his ship across the Atlantic was delayed and the part was given instead to Lew Ayres. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the two men became best friends.

In 1932 Varno married Elizabeth (“Betty”) Tyree. The couple had two children, a boy and a girl, but later divorced.

While Varno was never an A-list Hollywood superstar, this dependable, handsome, character actor, just under six foot tall, who spoke several languages, found work on dozens of films in the 1930s and 1940s.

He also made two movies in the Netherlands, both released in 1934: Malle Gevallen and the successful soldier comedy Het meisje met de blauwe hoed (“The girl with the blue hat”).

Greta Garbo and Roland Varno in "As You Desire Me" (1932)

Greta Garbo and Roland Varno in “As You Desire Me” (1932)

His best known scene in Hollywood was a dance with Greta Garbo in As You Desire Me (1932). He also appeared with Katherine Hepburn in Quality Street (1937), and in Gunga Din (1939), Three Faces West (1940), Women in Bondage (1943), The Return of the Vampire (1943), My Name is Julia Ross (1945), Three’s a Crowd (1945), Flight to Nowhere (1946) and Scared to Death (1947).

Roland Varno in My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

Roland Varno in My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

During World War II, Varno worked in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and had parts (ranging from a spy to a freedom fighter) in propaganda films  including one entitled Hitler’s Children. He also added Japanese to the list of languages he spoke either fluently or semi-fluently.

After the war he played in radio and television series in the U.S., including Space Patrol (1950), The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1951-1958) and 77 Sunset Strip. He also worked as a truck driver, carpenter, encyclopedia salesman and broker.

Varno made his last movie appearance in Istanbul (1957) but continued to do occasional TV work, among which was some on the set of the miniseries War and Remembrance (1988-9), based on the novel by Herman Wouk.

After his retirement in the early 1970s, Varno moved to Chapala, where he directed two plays for the English-language Lakeside Little Theater: The Bad Seed in November 1976 and Harvey in November 1979. The actors in The Bad Seed included Norma Miller, the 11-year-old daughter of photographer Bert Miller. Another photographer, Toni Beatty, a family friend of Varno from his time in California, visited him in Ajijic and stayed in the village for several months with her husband Larry Walsh in a casita owned by acclaimed American photographer Sylvia Salmi.

Roland Varno died in Lancaster, California on 24 May 1996 at the age of 88.

Family links:

  • Varno’s sister, Anneke, was the Netherlands’ “Dear Abby” for many years.
  • Varno’s son, Martin Varno, wrote the script for Night of the Blood Beast (1958).
  • Varno’s daughter, Jill Taggart, is a sound engineer with numerous credits to her name.

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.

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Sep 142017
 

Journalist-adventurer Don Hogan was one of the more extraordinary characters who lived in Ajijic in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While there is no evidence he wrote anything of significance while living in the village, several people certainly later wrote about him, not always in a very complimentary manner. Stories about Hogan’s life are commonplace but hard facts difficult to find. Inevitably, therefore, this brief profile of him begs as many questions as it answers.

Hogan arrived in Ajijic with his wife and two children in the late 1960s and lived in the village for about two years. In May 1971, he was one of the organizers, along with Beth Avary and Peter Huf, of a large group art show, Fiesta de Arte, held at the residence of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, Ajijic). None of the 30 or so artists [1] who took part in this show, or the 500 or so viewers, could have guessed that barely three months later Hogan’s life would end in tragedy.

Donald William Hogan was born in New York City to William Anthony and Marie (Joule) Hogan of Greenwich, Connecticut, on 20 September 1928.

Hogan married Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris (1932-1985) in Farmington, Connecticut on 14 November 1953. “Betsy” Hogan had graduated from Vassar College that year and was an active feminist. As a writer, producer, and broadcaster, she specialized in themes related to the status of women and women’s equity and later founded Betsy Hogan Associates which arranged equal employment opportunity seminars for public and private sector organizations.

Don and Betsy Hogan had at least one child, a daughter, born in about 1956. They later divorced and Don Hogan married Kulla Kuusk. Kuusk, born in Estonia, graduated from Vassar in 1955. Don and Kulla Hogan had two children: a daughter born in about 1960 and a son in about 1962.

Early in his career, Don Hogan worked as a journalist for The Boston Post before taking a job as assistant city editor of the New York Herald Tribune. While at The Boston Post, Hogan, ever an adventurer, had uncovered a story about an unknown soldier trapped in a hospital with amnesia, which became the basis for an NBC “Big Story” dramatization in 1956.

At the New York Herald Tribune, Hogan reported on a variety of significant events, including the arrest on a vagrancy charge in 1958 of someone “identified by the cognoscenti as a racketeer of international importance”: Meyer Lansky. [Coincidentally, Meyer Lansky’s grandson later married the granddaughter of American artist John K. Peterson, who was living in Ajijic at the same time as Hogan and undoubtedly knew him quite well.]

Not long afterwards, Hogan and fellow journalist Peter Braestrup investigated New York’s clothing industry and were shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for their series exposing racketeering in the New York garment industry.

Peter Huf recalls how Hogan told him that in pursuit of another story – one about a society murder – he had arranged for a fireman’s ladder to be positioned so he could reach the cell window of a woman being held in police custody to get an exclusive interview with her about the crime.

Hogan’s family had links to sugar estates in pre-Castro Cuba, and his brother, Tony Hogan, was a sugar broker with offices at 120 Wall Street, New York.

In the later stages of the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959), Don Hogan therefore found himself ideally placed to write about events on the island and used his press credentials to gain access to Fidel Castro and the rebels fighting Batista. In 1957, Hogan spent 12 days living with the rebels, much of the time with Castro’s troops, and wrote about his experiences for the U.S. and foreign press. New York lawyer and investment banker Richard Coulson visited Hogan in Havana and later wrote that Hogan, “had covered Fidel’s campaign from the guerrilla skirmishes in the Sierra Maestre to victory in the streets of Havana.”

Once Castro’s government was in power in January 1959, Hogan accepted a job as the public relations manager for Cuba’s Sugar Stabilization Institute, working alongside its head, Alberto Fernández. A year later, Hogan’s position was abolished and he returned to New York.

During his time in Havana, Hogan had made contacts with an FBI informant and had also developed CIA connections. Joan Mellen, the author of The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution (2016) writes that Hogan was a CIA informant from mid-1960. The CIA were especially interested in the activities of Alberto Fernández, and encouraged Hogan to make regular reports on his activities, while later recognizing, according to one source quoted by Mellen, that Hogan was “somewhat unscrupulous and hazardous from a security standpoint.”

A year later, back in New York, Hogan was regarded by the CIA’s Bernard Reichhardt as an “undesirable hanger-on”. Mellen says that Reichhardt received a full biography of Hogan in May 1961 and “knew that Hogan had been “thrice married”, had been suspended from the New York Herald Tribune at the time it faced a strike and had taken on a job to write a history of Castro’s 26th of July Movement.”

By all accounts, Hogan did complete his book which, according to Peter Huf, was anti-Castro. However, he was unable to find a willing publisher.

After his Cuban adventures, Hogan does not appear to have remained in New York for very long. According to the various versions of his life he shared with acquaintances in Ajijic, he spent several years in South America, dividing his time between the sophisticated social elite in Buenos Aires (a city he loved) and trying to make a fortune from a sawmill he owned in Peru.

Hogan was still convinced his book about Cuba would one day make him rich but in the meantime appears to have lived on a modest monthly remittance – $700 according to Jerry Murray – from his father in the U.S. and had to borrow additional funds to maintain his accustomed lifestyle, while hoping his luck would change. His wife, Kulla (usually known in Ajijic as “Kulale” and thought by locals to be Hawaiian), took a job with Helen Kirtland in her loom business to help make ends meet.

In his thinly disguised autobiographical account of life in Ajijic at this time, Henry Edwards describes “John Hamilton” (Hogan) as arriving in the village with his wife and their two youngsters after losing all his money in a logging venture in Peru expropriated by the government. Hamilton, over six feet tall with a “boxer’s frame”, had thick blonde hair and blue eyes. He “habitually wore a hunting jacket (tan with shell pockets), big leather lace-up boots, tan jungle pants and a leather belt.” He also regularly carried a gun and hunted in the mountains.

As family finances collapsed, Hogan became more desperate and decided to risk drug dealing. He borrowed money to buy a substantial stash of marijuana but had several guns pulled on him once he handed over the cash and never did get any weed. A few weeks later, after borrowing another $20,000, Hogan tried again, this time taking a weapon with him, prepared to use it to enforce the deal. This attempt went horribly wrong. No sooner did he reach for his gun than the drug dealers shot him dead. It was 21 August 1971.

This is the version of his death as recalled by several people who were in Ajijic at the time, who say he died “across the lake”, with some mentioning the states of Michoacán and Guerrero. Jerry Murray, for example, has written that Hogan died in the state of Guerrero while trying to make a deal for “a strain of mota renowned as Acapulco gold.”

The true story may be less prosaic. According to a brief note in the Guadalajara Reporter, Hogan had died “in his pick-up car near Tequila… Police said that he had apparently suffered a bullet wound in one arm but that was not the cause of death.”

Even after his death, controversy dogged Hogan. He was buried in the southern section of Ajijic cemetery in grave marked by a “five-feet-tall crucifix made of black marble” (Murray), paid for by his father. Unfortunately, the following year, a hotel developer’s bulldozer plowed through the area, desecrating many graves, including those of novelist Willard Marsh and journalist and adventurer Donald Hogan.

Note:

[1] The list of exhibitors who took part in the Fiesta de Art in 1971 reads like a Who’s Who of artists in Ajijic at the time. It includes 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; 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.

Acknowledgement

  • My sincere thanks to Peter Huf and Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing their memories of Donald Hogan with me.

Sources:

  • Richard Coulson. 2014. A Corkscrew Life. iUniverse.
  • Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), 18 October 1956, p 57.
  • Henry F. Edwards. 2008. Sweet Bird of Youth. BookSurge Publishing.
  • Heinz-D Fischer and Erika J. Fischer, 2003. Complete Historical Handbook of the Pulitzer Prize System 1917-2000. Walter de Gruyter.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 22 May 1971; 28 August 1971
  • Harvard University Library. Papers of Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris Hogan, 1971-1976: A Finding Aid.
  • Don Hogan. 1958. “Watchdogs Call Lansky for Quiz on Apalachin”, New York Herald Tribune, 13 February 1958, p 17.
  • Don Hogan. 1957. “The Rebellion in Cuba”, Kingston Gleaner (Jamaica), 16 December 1957, p 12.
  • Don Hogan and Peter Braestrup. 1959. “Dress Union Shares in Blame for Rackets.” New York Herald Tribune, 30 June 1958, p 1.
  • Joan Mellen. 2016. The Great Game in Cuba: CIA and the Cuban Revolution. Skyhorse Publishing.
  • Jerry Murray. 2002. “The Devil’s Weed, Orgasmic Days, y Laguna Lust“. -e*I*3- (Vol. 1 No. 3) July 2002.
  • Jerry Murray. 2008. “Slodge“. e*I*40 (Vol. 7 No. 5), October 2008.
  • Stephen Woodbridge. “Woodbridge Family Tree.”

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.

Sep 112017
 

Photographer Toni Beatty and her husband Larry Walsh lived in Mexico for several years, starting with a three month stay in Ajijic in 1976.

Beatty and Walsh had originally planned to spend six months traveling through Mexico before heading further south to Peru, but they ended up staying in Mexico for nine years!

Toni Beatty was born in Los Angeles, raised in Spain, France and Austria, and educated at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Toni Beatty. Paradise under the Sea, Las Cruces, NM. Print on metal.

Toni Beatty. Paradise under the Sea, Las Cruces, NM. Print on metal.

She and her husband arrived in Ajijic in early July 1976 to visit a family friend, the Hollywood actor Roland Varno, who had retired there. Varno introduced them to American photographer Sylvia Salmi (1909-1977) who had been living in the village for more than a decade and she rented them her “very charming casita. The casita had wonderful Talavera tile and the ceilings were lined with petates… the petates gave the house a wonderful grassy smell.”

By this time, Salmi was no longer processing her own photos, but she encouraged Beatty to use both her darkroom and all the chemicals and papers she needed. Salmi was the personal inspiration for Beatty to take black and white portrait photography seriously and acquire the technical skills to complement her natural eye for a good composition.

Beatty and her husband became firm friends with Katie Goodridge Ingram (whose family had first moved to Ajijic in the 1940s) and with writer and photographer Agustín Velarde and his wife, Betsy Oien. They also became close friends with Adolfo Riestra, arguably the most famous of all the Mexican painters and sculptors to have lived in Ajijic for any prolonged period of time. Riestra, born in Tepic, Nayarit, had his studio at Calle Constitución #32, formerly the home and studio of Peter Paul Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt, from about 1971 to 1976.

It was during one of their regular visits to chat and gossip with Riestra in his studio that Beatty experienced something of an artistic revelation:

“At the time, Adolfo was working on these very organic, textural abstracts and there were several large paintings leaning up against the walls of the house. I recall the moment when I suddenly understood the joys of abstract art on a very visceral level, standing in the hallway and looking at one of those paintings. It changed the way I looked at things in that what now got my attention was the sensuous delight of running my eyes over the interplay of light on the textured walls of Mexico. I still shoot architectural abstracts all these years later and love that contemplative work.”

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio in Ajijic.

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio in Ajijic.

A few weeks later, Adolfo and his partner Wendy left Ajijic to move closer to Mexico City, to Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos. Tepoztlán was already becoming known nationally as a center for artists of all kinds. When Beatty and her husband decided, in October 1976, to move on from Ajijic with the intention of driving to Oaxaca, they called in at Tepoztlán to visit their friends, fell in love with the place, and stayed.

Astonishingly, Beatty later discovered that she had been in Tepoztlán as an infant when her father was making a film about an agricultural experiment in Amecameca. Perhaps that is why the scenically-spectacular village felt like home when she returned in 1976? Beatty loved her time in Tepoztlán :

“That time was the beginning for me of a visual awakening like I’d never experienced before and also introduced me to a new pace that was living in Mexico. I had lived in Europe from 1955 to 1961, so was experienced with different cultures, but Mexico was very different and each day brought new discoveries.”

Toni Beatty. Christmas Cheer, Mesquite, NM. Print on metal.

Toni Beatty. Christmas Cheer, Mesquite, NM. Print on metal.

In 1981, Beatty and Walsh moved to Mexico City where Beatty worked on commercial illustrations for textbooks, annual reports, business brochures, theater work, and architecture.

Beatty recalls that there were some significant differences in developing your own photographs in Mexico, compared to what was then happening in the U.S.:

“Latin American photography at the time was very grainy and contrasty, which went perfectly with the often gritty subject matter. I could only buy grade 3 or 4 Agfa paper made in Brazil, very heavy duty stuff. Tri X was the film of choice and that was before I learned Ansel Adams zone system and began to appreciate and achieve good mid-tone separation. In later years, I brought in Ilford papers and films to use, and also had the great good luck to take a course with San Francisco based photographer Jack Welpott, who taught me the zone system.”

After Mexico, Beatty continued to expand her photography while working professionally as a librarian. (She was director of the Rio Rancho Public Libraries in New Mexico from 1986 to 2008).

Early in her photography career, she focused on environmental portraiture and nude studies. As she experimented with techniques, her work became less representational and far more abstract.

Toni Beatty. Doloroso, Morelia, Mexico. Print on metal.

Toni Beatty. Doloroso, Morelia, Mexico. Print on metal.

In recent years, Beatty has embraced digital photographic technology and many of her strongest images are digitally-enhanced photographs, often printed onto metal to emphasize their vivid colors and luminescence.

Her exceptional talent and skills are nowhere more clearly evident than in the series of albums related to funerary art that Beatty has produced in recent years.

  • More of Toni Beatty’s powerful images can be seen online at her personal webpage.

Beatty’s interest in funerary art was first awakened in 1977 when she and her husband were living in Tepoztlán, near Mexico City, and were invited to attend a picnic as part of the annual Day of the Dead celebrations in nearby Amecameca. In 2004, she became fascinated by depictions of angels in all their varied forms, a passion that gave her the excuse to travel to Austria, the Czech Republic, the U.K. and elsewhere.

Her work related to graveyards explores the meaning behind the different ways in which people react to and cope with death in Europe and the Americas, including the use of offerings to help in the afterlife. Her work is thought-provoking but not provocative. It bridges life and death. Interviewed for a local newspaper a few years ago, she stressed that, “The graveyard is where the two realities meet — the living and the veil of life”.

Beatty’s work has been included in numerous group exhibits, including one with four other local photographers at the Loma Colorado Main Library in Rio Rancho in March 2009. Her photographs are in two New Mexico galleries: the Gathering of Artists gallery in Bernalillo and El Arte de Placitas in Placitas.

Larry Walsh, her husband, is an author, poet and blogger, who was co-producer, while working at KNME-TV in Albuquerque, of “Surviving Columbus”, an account of the Pueblo Indians’ 450-year struggle to preserve their culture, land, and religion despite European contact.

Toni Beatty and Larry Walsh currently reside in Bernalillo, New Mexico.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Toni Beatty for sharing via email memories of her time in Mexico and for her permission to reproduce these examples of her work.

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.

 

Sep 072017
 

Adolfo Riestra, a superb sculptor and painter, lived and worked in Ajijic from about 1971 to 1976. For most of this time, he occupied the former home (Constitución #32) of German artist Peter Huf and his wife Eunice Hunt. Riestra and his partner, Wendy Jones, had 2 young children at the time.

Riestra was born in Tepic, Nayarit in 1944. He died in Mexico City on 10 October 1989, just one day after a major exhibition of his work opened at Galeria OMR.

Riestra studied painting in Guadalajara under “Dwite” (Dwight?) Albisson from 1955 to 1956, and then took a law degree at the Universidad de Guanajuato (1962-66) where he also attended the Taller de Jesús Gallardo.

Adolfo Riestra. Bañistas.

Adolfo Riestra. Bañistas.

In November 1969 he held a solo show of 26 paintings at the Teatro Experimental de Jalisco in Guadalajara. The following year (1970) he worked with John Hamilton in the Potrero Hill Graphics Workshop in San Francisco, California.

In 1972, Riestra exhibited in a show with Adolfo Luis Cuevas. Riestra’s work was strongly influenced by political events and the 1968 Mexico City student massacre. Riestra’s paintings include two entitled “Retrato de Alan Bowers.”

Adolfo Riestra. 1972. Portrait of Alan Bowers.

Adolfo Riestra. 1972. Portrait of Alan Bowers. (Bonhams and Butterflields auction, 2006).

In April 1976 he held a one-person show at the Teatro Degollado in Guadalajara.

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio. Reproduced by kind permission of the photographer.

Toni Beatty. 1976. Adolfo Riestra in his studio. Reproduced by kind permission of the photographer.

Photographer Toni Beatty and her husband Larry Walsh were good friends with Riestra in Ajijic and Beatty credits Riestra with opening her eyes to the possibilities offered by abstract art.

After about six years in Ajijic, Riestra and his family moved to the village of Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos in 1976. Riestra later lived in Mexico City and France.

After Ajijic, his work increasingly focused on modern interpretations of ancient sculptures. These works clearly show the strong influences of archaeological and folk art from several parts of Mexico including Metepec, Colima and his native Nayarit.

Adolfo Riestra. Self-portrait, 1973.

Adolfo Riestra. Self-portrait, 1973.

Riestra’s work was widely featured in group shows during his lifetime, including national exhibitions of painting and sculpture organized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (1977, 1979, 1980) and international exhibitions in Cuba, Belgium and the United States. Group shows after his death featuring his works include the Museo Regional de Nayarit in Tepic (1999); the Art Museum in Tucson, Arizona (2000); the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (2000, 2001); in Hannover, Germany (2000); Museo Universitario de Ciencia y Arte in Mexico City (2002); MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey) (2003); and in the five artist show “Mexicanidad: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo, Adolfo Riestra” held in Kunsthalle Würth, in Baden Württemberg, Germany, in 2012.

Adolfo Riestra. La cantante negra.

Adolfo Riestra. La cantante negra.

Solo shows of Riestra’s paintings, drawings and sculpture include several at Galería OMR (owned by Riestra’s brother) in Mexico City (1987, 1988, 1991, 1994, 2004, 2009); as well as at the Galería Sloan Racotta (1982) and Galería Florencia Riestra (1989), both in Mexico City; Wenger Gallery in Los Angeles, California (1991); MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey) (1998); Universidad de Guanajuato (2000); Universidad de las Américas in Puebla (2003); and the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Emilia Ortiz, in Tepic, Nayarit (2011).

Riestra died in Mexico City on 10 October 1989 at the tragically young age of 45. Writing for a retrospective exhibition of Riesta’s works many years later, Dr. Edward Sullivan described Riestra’s untimely passing as robbing Mexico and indeed the world of a complex, multifaceted artist.

Works by Adolfo Riestra can be found in the collections of several major museums, including Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City, MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The state of Nayarit’s annual prize for contemporary sculpture is named in his honor.

Family connections

Adolfo Riestra’s daughter, Melissa Riestra, is a social activist in Mexico City. Adolfo’s first cousin, Nicolás Echeverria, is an award-winning musician and documentary film maker who has specialized in documenting indigenous peoples. His works include three films about the Huichol and Cora, as well as Cabeza de Vaca (1991), Vivir mata (2001), and Eco de la montaña (2014).

This is an updated version of a post originally published on 22 March 2012.

Acknowledgment

I am grateful to Alan Bowers, Toni Beatty, Paul Huf and the late Tom Faloon for sharing their personal memories of Adolfo Riestra with me.

Sources:

  • Cien45. 2017. 100 años. 45 artistas en Nayarit. Tepic: Fundación Álica de Nayarit, A.C.
  • Germaine Gómez Haro. 2008. “Adolfo Riestra: arcaísmo y modernidad“, La Jornada semanal, 13 de abril de 2008, núm. 684.
  • El Informador. Exposición pictórica. El Informador (Guadalajara) 8 November 1969, p1.
  • Edward J. Sullivan. 1998. Adolfo Riestra, Dibujante, pintor y escultor. Catalogue of 1998 exhibition at MARCO (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey). 156 pp.
  • Tomás Pérez González. 2014. “Las Aristas del Gesto” de Adolfo Riestra [many photos of Riestra’s work]
 Posted by at 9:17 am
Aug 282017
 

Sylvia Ester Salmi (1909-1977) was a prominent and highly respected American photographer. During the 1930s and 1940s, she took portraits of numerous great artists and intellectuals of the time, including Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and, in Mexico, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco and Leon Trotsky. In 1964, following the death of her second husband, Salmi moved to Ajijic and lived there until her own death in 1977.

Iconic photo of Frida Kahlo by Sylvia Salmi.

Iconic photo of Frida Kahlo by Sylvia Salmi.

Salmi was born on 5 November 1909 in Quincy, Norfolk, Massachusetts. She graduated from Washington Irving High School in New York in 1928 and shortly afterwards (3 April 1930) married Victor M. Kroetch. The couple made their home in New York City and had a daughter, Cassandra Eloise Salmi, in 1933. The marriage broke down, and Salmi and Kroetch were divorced the following year. Salmi then threw herself into her true passion – photography – and quickly gained a reputation as a fine portraitist.

Salmi’s second husband was Herbert Solow (1903-1964), a prominent New York journalist, editor and intellectual.

After his death in 1964, Salmi decided to live full-time in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. She became known as a notoriously parsimonious woman and one of the village’s real characters. Judy Eager, who with husband Morley ran the (Old) Posada Ajijic for many years, recalls that Salmi held weekly Sunday cocktail parties at which she was rumored to serve a punch comprised of “mixed leftover drinks from a prior party” and served hors d’oeuvres made of food scraps she had taken home from the Posada’s restaurant. Salmi’s parties were, by all accounts, pretty wild affairs, with Eager quoted as saying that, “She [Salmi] was known to take her clothes off after many drinks and loved to wear a cape which allowed her to flash whoever she wishes.”

Sylvia Salmi. Beverly Johnson and friends. 1974.

Sylvia Salmi. Beverly Johnson and friends (1974).

Salmi is remembered with affection by many Ajijic old-timers. Jim Dunlap, who frequently visited his mother and stepfather – Virginia and Arthur Ganung – in the village during the 1970s, remembers Salmi as a regular at their parties who would “sometimes come in her bathrobe.”

While Salmi did not pursue photography as diligently in Ajijic as she had done earlier in her life, she did, nevertheless, take part in several local exhibitions, and also helped with the Children’s Art Program (CAP) organized by the Lake Chapala Society. For example, in 1973, she arranged for the Mexican-American hospital in Guadalajara to purchase art from the CAP to decorate a patient’s room.

Beverly Johnson. Portrait of Sylvia Salmi, ca 1974. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

Beverly Johnson. Portrait of Sylvia Salmi, ca 1974. Reproduced by kind permission of Jill Maldonado.

In November 1973 Salmi held an solo show of portrait photos at “La Galeria del Lago de Chapala” on the plaza in Ajijic. Salmi’s photos were also included in a large group show at La Galeria del Lago the following August, alongside works by many other local artists, including Luz Luna, Jerry Carr, Fernando Garcia, Robert Neathery, Jose Antonio Santibañez, Allen Foster, Vee Greno, Armando Galvez, Jean Caragonne, Arthur Ganung, Virigina Ganung, Gloria Marthai, Dionicio Morales, Antonio Lopez Vega, Priscilla Frazer, Eleanor Smart, Rowene Kirkpatrick, and the “children of Ajijic”.

Ad for Sylvia Salmi exhibit, 1976

Advert for Sylvia Salmi exhibit, 1976

The OM Gallery in Guadalajara (at the intersection of Lopez Cotilla and Chapultepec) featured some outstanding shows during its brief existence from 1975 to about 1978. Salmi was accorded the honor of a solo show there which opened on 25 October 1975 and ran for a month, and among those present at the opening was Guadalajara sculptor Alejandro Colunga.

In February 1976, Salmi’s photos were in a joint show at the newly-formed Wes Penn Gallery (16 de Septiembre #9, Ajijic) with fourteen oil paintings by Allen Wadsworth. (That gallery was owned by Jan Dunlap, and named for an ex-husband who had died. Following that joint show, the gallery’s next exhibit was a solo show of paintings by Synnove Pettersen.)

A second exhibit of Salmi’s work at the OM gallery in Guadalajara, a “review of portraits and pictures”, was mounted in June 1976.

Katie Goodridge Ingram, who ran a gallery in Ajijic for many years, remembers organizing works by Salmi for two shows, including one for Bellas Artes de Jalisco which was taken to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate the opening of a new museum. The fact that the venue had no windows, doors or security appears to have been a minor problem to the indomitable organizer: “We kept the art safe, got night guards, and somehow the show went up on the night assigned”.

Sylvia Salmi passed away in January 1977 at the age of 67.

Salmi’s home in Ajijic has many connections to other artists. In 1976, Salmi rented her small casita to photographer Toni Beatty and her husband Larry Walsh for several months. Later, the property became the home of Diane Murray (who had worked with Salmi and was also a photographer) and her daughter, Amanda, who is now pursuing her own career as an artist.

Not long before she died, Salmi had given all Herbert Solow’s personal papers to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Sources:

  • Alexandra Bateman and Nancy Bollenbach (compilers). 2011. Ajijic: 500 years of adventurers (Thomas Paine Chapter NSDAR)
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 10 November 1973; 21 February 1976
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram.”Lake Chapala Riviera”, in Mexico City News, 20 June 1976, p 13

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.

Aug 172017
 

Michael Hargraves is a writer of screenplays, literary surveys, bibliographies and literary criticism. He was a frequent visitor to Lake Chapala in the 1970s and 1980s, usually staying for two or three months at a time.

He is included in this on-going series of profiles because in 1992, he self-published a 48-page booklet entitled Lake Chapala: A literary survey; plus an historical overview with some personal observations and reflections of this lakeside area of Jalisco, Mexico. The book was dedicated to Robert and Eileen Bassing. Hargraves included brief biographies of about forty different authors and artists who lived and worked at Lake Chapala. Most of the characters mentioned were active in the 1950s or 1960s.

The book has proved to be a valuable starting point for my own attempts to document the history of the artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala. Curiously, however, I have failed to find out much about Michael Hargraves himself beyond what can be gleaned from his book about Lake Chapala.

According to the bio in the book, Michael Hargraves was born on 29 February 1952 at Jacksonville, Florida. His mother died when he was only eleven years old. He registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam conflict, attended the University of Florida, and graduated in 1974 with a B.S. in broadcast journalism/cinema.

The story behind Hargraves’ first visit to Mexico, believed to be the summer before he entered the University of Florida, involves a personal tragedy. As he tells it,

“My introduction to the South of the Border came about due to a busted, never-to-be-consummated marriage to a Japanese woman, whom I had met years earlier in San Francisco and reconnected with in Paris during a much needed sojourn. She did herself in after I caught her in the sack with her Japanese boss. I returned home to ponder my life, my future.”

On his return to the U.S., he was asked by a friend, the famed Scottish novelist and screenwriter Alan Sharp (1934-2013), if he would fly down to Mexico, go to Tlaquepaque, and collect some handicrafts Sharp had purchased while visiting Mexico in 1970 for the soccer World Cup.

The lure of a round-trip ticket and expenses was sufficient to convince Hargraves to accept the offer. He stayed a few days in Guadalajara, but took an almost instant dislike to the city. After he had made arrangement to collect the handicrafts, he still had a few days to relax and explore. While viewing the Orozco murals in the Cabañas Cultural Institute in Guadalajara, he met an American couple who extolled the virtues of Lake Chapala, so Hargraves took a bus down to Chapala and stayed there for a day or two. He enjoyed this initial visit and returned several times over the next decade, usually for two or three months at a time.

“The best thing about my times at Chapala has been the solitude. Naturally you can be with people there, with good options: all Americans, all Mexicans, or a combination of the two. However, my biggest pleasure comes from being anonymous. Over the years I have befriended all types. But not having lived there for a true extended period, say for a year or so, I can come and go as I please, do what I want, think what I will, see what I want. I don’t know if my love for Chapala would be the same if I felt like a “prisoner” there, like many of the retired Americans or the poverty-stricken Mexicans.”

Hargraves has written numerous books and screenplays and has catalogued several major collections of rare books and photographs.

His published works include: Henry Miller Bibliography with Discography (1980); Triple-Decker Kiosk (poetry) (1981); Harry Crews: A First Bibliography (1981); The Hamlet Additions: The Unpublishing of The Henry Miller-Michael Fraenkel Book of Correspondence called Hamiet (1981); Times, Things Change (poetry) (1983); Eight Obscure Literary Autographs (1983); Harry Crews: A Bibliography (revised edition) (1986); Robert Gover: A Descriptive Bibliography (1987); Henry Miller’s Hamiet Letters (1988).

Hargraves’ screenplays include Kiki of Montpamasse (with Frederick Kohner) (1977); Confusión (with Jacques Tati) (1978); The Man Who Thought He Was Groucho (based upon the novel Madder Music by Peter De Vries) (1980); Overkill [1982); Love in the Ruins (based upon the novel by Walker Percy) [1983); Murder City (based upon the novel by Oakley Hall) (1984); Coming Into Focus (1985); Restaurant: The Motion Picture (1992).

Hargraves also published some limited edition works, including Ishmaelite Scrolls by Benjamin Barry Hollander (1979); The Cagliostro Arcane by Jack Hirschman (1981); Bring Me the Head of Rona Barrett by Robert Gover (1981); A Chapter from Blind Tongues by Sterling Watson (1983); Tropico, the City Beautiful. Photographs by Edward Weston (Facsimile edition) (1986).

Source:

  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A literary survey; plus an historical overview with some personal observations and reflections of this lakeside area of Jalisco, Mexico. (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves). 48 pp.

As always, 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 142017
 

Clark Hulings, an acclaimed American realist painter, visited Mexico on numerous occasions. The precise timing of his visit or visits to Lake Chapala remains unclear, but in 1975 he completed the painting Chapala Fruit Vendor (below). He also painted several other works related to Lake Chapala and Ajijic. The dates of his visits are uncertain because, as his daughter Elizabeth explains:

“he didn’t always produce a painting of a particular place right after a visit. First of all, he concocted compositions in his studio with source material from different locations all the time. Second, he would revisit things, sometimes years later. AND, he most likely went through the Chapala area a few different times.”

Clark Hulings Chapala Fruit Vendor

Clark Hulings. Chapala Fruit Vendor. 1975. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

Hulings was born in Florida on 20 November 1922. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was still an infant and Clark and his sister, Susan, spent the next three years living with their maternal grandparents in New Jersey. In 1925, after their father moved to Valencia, Spain, and remarried, the youngsters joined him and his new wife, the daughter of the local British Consul.

The family relocated to the U.S. in 1928 and settled in Westfield, New Jersey. His father encouraged a love of paintings and Hulings took classes from the age of twelve with Sigismund Ivanowski, a Ukrainian-born portraitist and landscape painter. He also studied at the Art Students League of New York with George Grant Bridgman, the celebrated Canadian-American teacher of figure drawing.

Persuaded by his father to study for a “real” career as opposed to one in art, Hulings attended Haverford College, Pennsylvania, from where he graduated in 1944 with a degree in physics. His recurring ill health (lung issues stemming from infancy) prevented him from taking up a job offer to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Instead, he began to make his living by painting portraits (especially of children) and landscapes. He had his first major one-person show (of landscapes) in 1945 at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Pancho-Ajijic donkey.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Pancho – Ajijic donkey. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

The following year, Hulings moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he had a solo show at the Louisiana Art Commission. This show established his credentials as a portrait painter. It was at about this time that Hulings also became seriously interested in design and illustration work and so he returned to the Art Students League in New York from 1948-1951 to take classes with Frank Reilly.

During the early 1950s Hulings became immersed in designing paperback book covers (examples can be seen here, here and here) and drawing magazine illustrations but never lost his love of travel and landscape painting.He also designed album covers including that for Percy Faith’s Viva: The Music of Mexico:

Clark Hulings. Design of Album cover.

Hulings spent four months in Europe in 1954 and returned in 1958 for a trip that lasted three years and took him as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as southern Egypt. In the course of this trip, he studied figure painting in Florence and abstract design in Düsseldorf.

On his return to New York in 1961, Hulings made his living from illustrations while continuing to work on his more serious easel paintings. His career took off when his work was accepted by the Grand Central Art Galleries, which accorded him one-person shows in 1965 and 1967.

Three typical cover illustrations by Clark Hulings

Three typical cover designs by Clark Hulings

Hulings married Mary Belfi in 1966 and their daughter, Elizabeth, was born two years later. In 1972, Hulings took his doctor’s advice and moved away from the pollution of New York and back to Santa Fe.

Hulings had made his first visit to Mexico in 1964, traversing the entire length of the country, with a stop in San Miguel de Allende to visit his artist friend Mort Künstler, and ending up in Guatemala. When he was living in Santa Fe, visiting Mexico was much simpler. Accompanied by his wife and daughter, Hulings made several more visits to Mexico, lasting up to a month at a time, eagerly searching out new places to paint. His daughter, Elizabeth, believes that these visits to Mexico provided her father with the confirmation and validation he sought as a self-styled “backdoor painter”, one who loved to depict the everyday scene, the down-to-earth view of the back door, rather than the more carefully-constructed “curb appeal” view of the front door.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Hot Springs (Mexican Women Washing).

Clark Hulings. Undated. Hot Springs (Mexican Women Washing). (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

Hulings’ realist art has won numerous competitive awards, including The Council of American Artists’ award at the Hudson Valley Art Association, a gold medal from the Allied Artists of America and the first ever Prix de West award at the National Academy of Western Art (NAWA) in Oklahoma City in 1973. He subsequently won several more gold and silver medals at NAWA shows, part of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Following a solo show in 1976 at the Cowboy Hall of Fame (associated with NAWA) in Oklahoma City, Hulings was presented with the Hall’s Trustees’ Gold Medal for his “distinguished contribution to American art”.

Clark Hulings. Undated. Sunlight on Lake Chapala. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Fund)

Clark Hulings. Undated. Sunlight on Lake Chapala. (reproduced by kind permission of the Clark Hulings Foundation)

In 1978, Huling’s work was the subject of a comprehensive retrospective in Midland, Texas. His work was also shown at the C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana (1981). Hulings held several one person shows, including Nedra Matteucci Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Bartfield Galleries in New York (2007); Morris & Whiteside Galleries in Hilton Head, South Carolina (2007); and Forbes Galleries, New York (2011).

Hulings’ keen eye for details, especially of people as they engaged in their daily activities, led him to produce powerful, realistic paintings of street and market scenes. In the course of his career, Hulings traveled numerous times to Mexico. Many of his Mexican paintings include a donkey or two, even though he was once told by a New York gallery owner that there was no market for paintings of Mexico or for paintings of donkeys!

Huling’s reputation is such that his works have been acquired by dozens of major museums and collectors and now command high prices when resold.

Clark Hulings died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on 2 February 2011. The artist’s daughter, Elizabeth Hulings Diamond, maintains this highly informative website: Clark Hulings and his art. In his honor, the Clark Hulings Fund was established to help professional visual artists with business support, training, and targeted financial assistance.

Acknowledgment:

  • My sincere thanks to Elizabeth Hulings Diamond, Director of the Clark Hulings Fund, for her help in writing this profile, and for permission to reproduce several of her father’s works.

Sources:

  • Clark Hulings. 2006. A Gallery of Paintings by Clark Hulings (2nd edition).  White Burro Pub, 2006.
  • Obituary of Clark Hulings.

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.

Aug 102017
 

Artist and writer Allyn Hunt has lived in the Lake Chapala area since the mid-1960s. Hunt was the owner and editor for many years of the weekly English-language newspaper, the Guadalajara Reporter. His weekly columns for the newspaper quickly became legendary. (Hunt’s wife, Beverly, also worked at the Guadalajara Reporter and later ran a real estate office and Bed and Breakfast in Ajijic.)

Hugh Allyn Hunt was born in Nebraska in 1931. His mother, Ann, was granted a divorce from her husband J. Carroll Hunt, the following year. Allyn Hunt grew up in Nebraska before moving to Los Angeles as a teenager.

He studied advertising and journalism at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, where he took a creative writing class under novelist and short story writer Willard Marsh. Marsh had known Ajijic since the early 1950s and later wrote a novel set in the village.

At USC, Hunt was associate editor of Wampus, the USC student humor magazine, and according to later bios he also became managing editor of the university newspaper, the Daily Trojan.

After graduating, Hunt worked as public relations representative for Southern Pacific Railroad, and edited its “house organ”, before becoming publicity director and assistant to director of advertising for KFWB radio in Los Angeles. Hunt also worked, at one time or another, as a stevedore, photographer’s model, riding instructor and technical writer in the space industry.

Living in Los Angeles gave Hunt the opportunity to explore Tijuana and the Baja California Peninsula. As he later described it, he became a frequent inhabitant of Tijuana’s bars and an aficionado of Baja California’s beaches and bullfights.

Hunt and his wife, Beverly, moved to Mexico in 1963, living first in Ajijic and then later in the mountainside house they built in Jocotepec. They would remain in Mexico, apart from two and a half years in New York from 1970 to 1972.

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1970)

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1970)

This portrait of Allyn and Beverly Hunt was painted by Winnie Godfrey who subsequently became one of America’s top floral painters.

In their New York interlude, Hunt wrote for the New York Herald and the New York Village Voice, and apparently also shared the writing, production and direction of a short film, released in 1972, which won a prize at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival in Germany and was shown on European television. (If anyone knows the title of this film, or any additional details about it, please get in touch!)

When the Hunts returned from New York, they decided to build a house in Nextipac, in Jocotepec. They moved into their house, “Las Graciadas”, towards the end of 1973. The following year, they agreed to purchase the Guadalajara Reporter. They became owners and editors of the weekly newspaper in 1975 and Hunt would be editor and publisher of the Guadalajara (Colony) Reporter for more than 20 years. Hunt’s numerous erudite columns on local art exhibitions have been exceedingly useful in my research into the history of the artistic community at Lake Chapala.

As a journalist, Hunt also contributed opinion columns to the Mexico City News for 15 years, and to Cox News Service and The Los Angeles Magazine.

As an artist, Hunt exhibited numerous times in group shows in Ajijic and in Guadalajara. For example, in April 1966, he participated in a show at the Posada Ajijic that also featured works by Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Gail Michel; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge (wife of author David Dodge); Mr and Mrs Moriaty and Marigold Wandell.

The following year Hunt’s work was shown alongside works by several Guadalajara-based artists in a show that opened on 15 March 1967 at “Ruta 66”, a gallery at the traffic circle intersection of Niños Héroes and Avenida Chapultepec in Guadalajara.

In March-April 1968, Hunt’s “hard-edged paintings and two found object sculptures” were included in an exhibit at the Galería Ajijic Bellas Artes, A.C., at Marcos Castellanos #15 in Ajijic. (The gallery was administered at that time by Hudson and Mary Rose).

Later that year – in June 1968 – Hunt showed eight drawings in a collective exhibit, the First Annual Graphic Arts Show, at La Galeria (Ocho de Julio #878) in Guadalajara. That show also included works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson, Eugenio Quesada and Tully Judson Petty.

The following year, two acrylics by Hunt were chosen for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco in Guadalajara (at Tolsa #300). That show, which opened in June 1969, featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende.

The details of any one-person art shows of Hunt’s works in the U.S. or Mexico remain elusive. (Please get in touch if you can supply details of any other shows in which Allyn Hunt’s art was represented!)

In the early-1960s, Hunt was at least as keen to become an artist as a writer. Rex Oppenheimer later recalled in an article for Steel Notes Magazine that when he visited his father in Zapopan (on the outskirts of Guadalajara) in 1965,

“Among the first of my father’s friends that I met were Allen and his wife Beverly. Allen was an artist. He looked like a beatnik or incipient Hippie and had a very cool house out in Ajijic near Lake Chapala. After touring the house and taking in his artwork, we went up on the roof. I don’t remember the conversation, but there was a great view out over the lake, and I got totally smashed on Ponche made from fresh strawberries and 190 proof pure cane alcohol.”

Despite his early artistic endeavors, Hunt is much better known today as a writer of short stories. His “Acme Rooms and Sweet Marjorie Russell” was one of several stories accepted for publication in the prestigious literary journal Transatlantic Review. It appeared in the Spring 1966 issue and explores the topic of adolescent sexual awakening in small-town U.S.A. It won the Transatlantic’s Third Annual Short Story Contest and was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 1967 & the Yearbook of the American short story, edited by Martha Foley and David Burnett. Many years later, Adam Watstein wrote, directed and produced an independent movie of the same name. The movie, based closely on the story and shot in New York, was released in 1994.

One curiosity about that Spring 1966 issue of Transatlantic Review is that it also contained a second story by Hunt, entitled “The Answer Obviously is No”, written under the pen name “B. E. Evans” (close to his wife’s maiden name of Beverly Jane Evans). The author’s notes claim that “B. E. Evans was born in the Mid-West and lived in Los Angeles for many years where he studied creative writing under Willard Marsh. He has lived in Mexico for the past year and a half. This is his first published story.”

Later stories by Hunt in the Transatlantic Review include “Ciji’s Gone” (Autumn 1968); “A Mole’s Coat” (Summer 1969), which is set at Lake Chapala and is about doing acid “jaunts”; “A Kind of Recovery” (Autumn-Winter 1970-71); “Goodnight, Goodbye, Thank You” (Spring-Summer 1972); and “Accident” (Spring 1973).

Hunt was in exceptionally illustrious company in having so many stories published in the Transatlantic Review since his work appeared alongside contributions from C. Day Lewis, Robert Graves, Alan Sillitoe, Malcolm Bradbury, V. S. Pritchett, Anthony Burgess, John Updike, Ted Hughes, Joyce Carol Oates, and his former teacher Willard Marsh.

Hunt also had short stories published in The Saturday Evening Post, Perspective and Coatl, a Spanish literary review.

At different times in his writing career, Hunt has been reported to be working on “a novel set in Mexico”, “a book of poems”, and to be “currently completing two novels, one of which is set in what he calls the “youth route” of Mexico-Lake Chapala, the Mexico City area, Veracruz, Oaxaca and the area north and south of Acapulco”, but it seems that none of these works was ever formally published.

Very few of Hunt’s original short stories can be found online, but one noteworthy exception is “Suspicious stranger visits a rural tacos al vapor stand“, a story that first appeared in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1995 and was reprinted, with the author’s permission, on Mexconnect.com in 2008.

Sources:

  • Broadcasting (The Business Weekly of Radio and Television), May 1961.
  • Daily Trojan (University of Southern California), Vol. 43, No. 117, 21 April 1952.
  • Martha Foley and David Burnett (eds). The Best American Short Stories 1967 & the Yearbook of the American short story.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. 2 April 1966; 12 March 1967; 27 April 1968; 15 June 1968; 27 July 1968; 5 April 1975
  • The Lincoln Star (Nebraska). 15 August 1932.
  • Rex Maurice Oppenheimer. 2016. “Gunplay in Guadalajara“. Steel Notes 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.

Jul 242017
 

Architect Jean Taylor Strange moved to Chapala with her husband William Strange in January 1965 (having bought a house in Chapala Haciendas in December 1964) and resided there for more than forty years.

Jean Taylor Strange. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Jean Taylor Strange. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Besides the fact that she worked with her husband on researching his radio documentaries about Mexico for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Jean Strange has a significant additional claim to fame since she was one of the first women in Canada to graduate with a degree in architecture.

A short profile of Jean Strange, who graduated from the School of Architecture at the University of Toronto in 1948, is included in Joan Grierson’s For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture. The profile includes some photographs of her work and quotes Jean Strange as saying that, “My architectural training has enriched my life immeasurably. I cannot claim that any of these years had been dull.”

Jean was educated in the U.K. and Switzerland and then enrolled in the architectural course at Brighton Art School and Technical College in 1937. Two years later, part way through her studies there, she visited Canada on what was meant to be a six week trip as a student member of the Overseas Education League. The second world war broke out while she was in Canada, preventing her from returning home. She enrolled at the University of Toronto and was placed in the second year of the program of the class of 1943.

In 1943, she had completed all formal studies but still lacked the one year of experience required to be awarded her degree.

Since the war was still ongoing, she joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, working in operations and base planning. This included a spell as assistant to Captain William Strange in the Directorate of Naval Information.

Discharged from the Naval Service after the war, she worked for the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in Ontario under architect Sam Gitterman, gaining the year’s experience required to complete her B. Arch degree in 1948. The following year she transferred within the CMHC to the publications section under Humphrey Carter.

Jean Taylor Strange with Ted Raines, Design Center, Ottawa, 1954. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Jean Taylor Strange with Ted Raines, Design Center, Ottawa, 1954. Photo from Grierson (2008)

Carver, in his memoir, Compassionate Landscape, writes that “I was also very lucky that through this whole period Jean Strange worked for me, with her meticulous sweet patience for the small-scale problems of housing design and the page-by-page layout of the publications that issued from our office. I had first known Jean as an English school-girl and wartime-evacuee who came to the Toronto School of Architecture in 1939. Later, she joined the Navy, married Captain William Strange, historian and broadcaster, and now they live in Mexico.”

Jean Taylor married Captain William Strange in 1950. She continued to work for the CMHC until 1959 when her husband was working in Jamaica, training staff for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. In Jamaica Jean was a volunteer researcher and her husband’s assistant.

In 1962, the Stranges took two trips to the Yucatán Peninsula collecting information about the Maya for a CBC special. Shortly afterwards they decided to relocate to Mexico and bought a home in Chapala Haciendas.

Jean Strange assisted her husband with the research and writing of further documentaries about Mexico for the CBC, including a program on Cortés and the conquest of Mexico, entitled “The Bold Ones” and one about Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota.

Jean Strange continued to live in Chapala after the death of her husband in 1983.

Sources:

  • Humphrey Carver. 1975. Compassionate Landscape. University of Toronto Press.
  • Joan Grierson. 2008. For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture. Toronto: Dundurn.
  • Guadalajara Reporter 30 April 1964, 2; 18 Nov 1965, 6.
  • Peter C. Newman. 2005. Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power. McClelland & Stewart.

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

Jul 132017
 

Captain H. E. William (“Bill”) Strange OBE was Director of Naval Information in the Canadian Navy before “retiring” to Mexico with his wife, Jean, in January 1965 (having bought a house in Chapala Haciendas in December 1964) . He then proceeded to research, write and produce several radio documentaries about Mexico for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC).

Strange was born in Corazal, British Honduras (now Guyana) in 1902. His father was the then District Commissioner. He attended a boarding school in the U.K. from the age of seven. When the first world war broke out, Strange became a cadet in the Royal Navy, and undertook training at Osborne and Dartmouth. Following his discharge in 1918, due to a vision problem, he moved to Trinidad, where his parents were then living and worked in that country’s oil fields. After Trinidad, he took teaching positions in England and Egypt.

Strange emigrated to Toronto, Canada, in 1929. During the next decade he worked in a variety of jobs related to sales, advertising, writing and public relations but found most success in writing radio scripts and plays. Among his weekly productions were “Who’s Who in Music”; “Let’s Disagree”; and “Echoes from History”. In 1935 he published a novel, Sunset in Ebony, based on his experiences in Trinidad.

When the second world war began in 1939, Strange used his skills to focus on radio programs designed to assist the allied cause. After producing about 20 half-hour shows in a series for CBD titled “They Shall Not Pass”, he started a long-running series named “Carry on Canada”. In 1941 he visited England as a CBC war correspondent “to look at the blitz”, collecting material for another book (below) and for several radio specials, one of which became the first Canadian program to win the top award at Ohio State University’s Institute of Education by Radio. Royalties from the book all went to the Navy League of Canada.

Strange joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1942 as an information officer. He served as Director of Naval Information from late 1945 until his retirement in February 1959. Much of his time with the RCN was spent making radio broadcasts.

After the second world war ended, Strange established the RCN’s first peace-time public information organization. During his time with the RCN Strange produced dozens of radio plays, booklets and articles as well as several books, in addition to documentary series, including a tri-service show called “Comrades in Arms”. In 1948 he founded The Crowsnest, the magazine of the Directorate of Naval Information.

William Strange wrote several books related to Canada and the second world war, including Canada, the Pacific and War (Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1937); Into the blitz; a British journey (Toronto: Macmillan, 1941); The Royal Canadian Navy, 1942-1943 (Canadian Print and Lithographing Co, 1943); and Ships Mean Security (Toronto: The Navy League of Canada, 1945).

For his many and varied services, Captain Strange was awarded the OBE in January 1946.

Captain William Strange married Jean Taylor in 1950. In his memoir, Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power, Peter C. Newman pays tribute to Captain William Strange for having been an outstanding mentor to him in the early 1950s. Newman also refers to Strange’s wife, Jean, “his wonderful architect wife”.

From 1959 to 1961, the Stranges were in Jamaica where Bill was writing and training staff for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

In 1962, the couple took two trips to the Yucatán Peninsula collecting information about the Maya civilization for a CBC special. Shortly afterwards they decided to relocate to Mexico and bought a home in Chapala Haciendas, from where they began to explore the rest of Mexico, working on new projects for the CBC. A brief note in the 30 April 1964 edition of the Guadalajara Reporter informs us that “Capt. and Mrs William Strange have returned from a trip to Mexico City, Tlaxcala, Cholula and other spots. He’s doing research for a program on Cortés and the conquest of Mexico for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Toronto.”

From a lengthier piece in the same newspaper the following year (18 November 1965) we learn that the Stranges have returned to Chapala Haciendas after spending the summer settling affairs in Canada. Captain Strange’s 90-minute radio documentary about Hernan Cortés’ conquest of Mexico, “The Bold Ones”, was being broadcast by the CBC national network. Strange had already completed a new project, the story of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota, which the CBC had agreed to produce and broadcast.

In 1966, Strange entered an “experimental film” entitled “Dimensions” into a contest held as part of Guadalajara’s annual Fiestas de Octubre celebration. The film won “Capitán William Sprange” (sic) a silver sombrero.

It was in 1966 when Strange was appointed to the first board of directors of the newly-formed Anglo-Mexican Institute (IAM) in Guadalajara. Less than a year later, he became president of the IAM’s governing council and he was still actively involved in IAM affairs when it celebrated its 10th anniversary in September 1976.

Captain William Strange, OBE, CD, RCN, died in Chapala in 1983.

Sources

  • Anon. “Founder of The Crowsnest Retires.” The Crowsnest, March 1959.
  • Guadalajara Reporter 30 April 1964, 2; 18 Nov 1965, 6;
  • Informador 11 Sep 1966; 28 Oct 1966; 3 July 1967; 11 Sept 1976
  • Peter C. Newman. 2005. Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales Of People, Passion and Power. McClelland & Stewart.
  • William Strange. 1941. Into the blitz; a British journey. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • Captain William Strange Papers (Director of Naval Information): Speeches and Related Materials in National Defence Headquarters Directorate of History and Heritage.

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

Jun 052017
 

Gordon Gammack was an Iowa newspaper reporter and columnist. During his 40-plus years working for The Des Moines Register and Tribune he covered three major wars – World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War – as a war correspondent.

Late in life in the early 1970s, he visited Chapala and wrote a couple of newspaper pieces about the area. The first focused on the places, including Lake Chapala, where Iowan individuals and couples had chosen to retire. The second piece looked at the downside of living in “Shangri-La” as Gammack christened the northern lake shore.

Gammack, the son of an Episcopalian pastor, was born in Lenox, Massachusetts on 31 May 1909 and died on 18 November 1974 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Gordon Gammack. Credit: Des Moines Register

Gordon Gammack. Credit: Des Moines Register

After graduating from Kent School, Connecticut, where he wrote for the Kent School News, he attended Harvard University and then began work as a reporter for the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. A friend of his older brother, Tom, arranged for him to join The Register and Tribune in 1933, during the Great Depression, when jobs were hard to come by. Gammack never looked back. He began by covering crime and sports, then moved on to state politics. Fellow reporters considered Gammack a natural – someone who could walk into a strange town and “three stories would run up and jump into his pocket” as one of his colleagues put it.

During World War II he became a foreign correspondent for the newspaper and followed Iowans serving in the armed forces in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany, often sending personal notes home from front-line soldiers to their families. He was with the American forces that liberated Paris.

After the was Gammack became a columnist. His evening Tribune column usually appeared in the left-hand column of page one.

During one of several visits to Korea during the Korean War, Gammack witnessed the first exchange of sick and wounded prisoners of war. He secured an exclusive radio and TV interview with Iowan Richard Morrison, the first American soldier released.

Gammack also covered the Vietnam War and won a National Headliners Club Award for his series of articles about Michael Kjome of Decorah, Iowa, who had been held as a prisoner of war.

A collection of his war columns, edited by Andrea Clardy, was published in 1979 as Gordon Gammack: Columns from Three Wars.

In 1971, Gammack visited Chapala during his research to write and photograph Iowans for an article entitled, “Where Iowans find pleasure in retirement”. In the article, Gammack describes how, “two former Tama residents, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Morris, find retirement pleasant in Mexico. Domestic help there is so inexpensive that the Morrises have two gardeners and two cook-maids at their magnificent home near Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara.” He also photographed “Harold Stillwell, formerly of Malcom, and Mrs Stillwell” in their garden overlooking the lake.

A couple of months later, Gammack penned “The Trouble with Shangri-La” which looked at the downside of living at Lake Chapala. Noting, first, that a home that cost $50,000 to build in Des Moines would cost less than half that to build in Chapala, Gammack lists some of the many disadvantages, as he sees it, of retiring to live in Mexico, and, in particular, at Lake Chapala: the loneliness of expatriation, the “formidable separation” from children; the Napoleonic system of justice; the “high percentage of extreme right wingers and racists among the Americans in the area”; the loss of Medicare; the lack of telephones; the danger of contaminated water; the inferiority of local beef; the erratic mail service; “almost no worthwhile U.S. TV or radio programs”; problems with language.

Gordon Gammack died of lung cancer at the age of 65. One of his daughters also became a columnist for The Des Moines Register.

Sources:

  • Des Moines Register Famous Iowans: Gordon Gammack.
  • Friedricks, William. 2009. “Gammack, Gordon” in The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 22 May 2017.
  • Gordon Gammack. 1971. “Where Iowans find pleasure in retirement”, Des Moines Register, 14 November 1971, p 110
  • ——— (1972?). “The Trouble with Shangri-La”. Des Moines Register, [cited in Guadalajara Reporter 22 January 1972]

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.

May 112017
 

Bertram (“Bert”) Miller was a supremely talented amateur photographer who retired to Chapala and spent several years documenting the town and its inhabitants in the 1970s and 1980s. After his passing, a significant number of his photographs were donated by his youngest daughter, Norma, to the Chapala archives. The archives, open to the public, are currently housed next to the town hall (presidencia municipal).

Prior to his time in Chapala, Miller had been a prominent New York pediatrician: Dr. Bertram W. Miller of 33-20, 16th Street, Flushing, New York. Most, if not all, of his photographs of Chapala have this address stamped on their reverse side.

Miller, born in New York on 27 September 1915, was a graduate of Columbia University and gained his M.D. at New York University in 1939. He visited Mexico for the first time in 1967 and loved what he saw. In 1969, he retired from his medical practice, after 22 years, and moved to Chapala with his wife, Gertrude (“Gerry”), and their then 4-year-old daughter Norma. Miller and his wife were both born into families from Europe. Two of Norma’s grandparents were from Poland, one from Ukraine and one from Austria.

Bert Miller and child

Bert Miller setting up his tripod. Photo courtesy of Norma Miller.

Miller was a passionate photographer, whose excellent eye for a striking image was complemented by exceptional technical skills in both black and white and color photography. He spent years researching and developing a unique method (the Miller Method) of making high quality color prints, which he patented in 1977. It allowed him to tweak the settings of each of the three sensitive layers in color film to achieve neutral colors, so that the grey, for example, exactly matched the grey on a standard reference card.

Writing in the Guadalajara Reporter, Joe Weston described Miller as a perfectionist, who studied things “because they are there”, whether they involved calculus, designing electronic equipment, photography or color development. At the time of Weston’s article, the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara was exhibiting 70 of Miller’s photographs. Weston quotes Miller as saying that he planned to photograph much of Mexico, its people and its way of life “before it disappears in industrialization”.

Bertram W. Miller: Barranca de Oblatos. date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Bertram W. Miller: Barranca de Oblatos (ca 1975). Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

In addition to conventional views (above) and portraits, Miller also experimented in more artistic photography (below).

Bertram W. Miller: Untitled work; date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Bertram W. Miller: Untitled work (New York, 1967). Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Miller’s photographs were exhibited on various occasions, including the large group show, “Fiesta del Arte” held at the home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33) in Ajijic in May 1971. Other artists in that exhibition included: 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; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Showaltar (?); Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

In October 1976, Miller’s photographs were in a group exhibition in Guadalajara at the ex-Convento del Carmen, organized by the Jalisco State government and entitled “Arte-Artesania de la Ribera del Lago de Chapala” (Art and Handicrafts of the shores of Lake Chapala”. On that occasion, other artists who participated included Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionisio; Gustel Foust; Julia Michel; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai; Jim Marthai.

Miller and his wife were close friends of photographer John Frost and his wife, novelist Joan Van Every Frost; of artist Harry Mintz and his wife Rosabelle; and of architect-designer Russell Bayly.

Bert Miller (rt) with Sloane. Photo courtesy of Norma Miller.

Bert Miller (rt) with Sloane. ca 1970. Photo courtesy of Norma Miller.

Miller’s daughter, Norma, in the short biography that accompanies her gift of his photographs to the Chapala archive, writes of her father that “With great artistic sensitivity and enormous humanity, Dr Miller captured images that he turned into prints in his darkroom that showed the profound and authentic faces and landscapes of Mexico. The photos in this exhibit portray Chapala and its people with honesty and love.” Indeed they do. Miller’s photographs are a unique record of bygone Chapala, and one which deserves to be valued and preserved for future generations.

Bert Miller passed away on 16 October 2005, three weeks after his 90th birthday.

Note and acknowledgments

I am very grateful to Ricardo Santana for introducing me to Miller’s work, and to Chapala archivist Rogelio Ochoa Corona who, by a happy coincidence, showed me more of Miller’s fine photographs the following day, and shared his personal knowledge of Miller and his family.

My sincere thanks to Norma Louise Miller Watnick for graciously providing valuable additional information about her father and the family’s time in Mexico. We hope to publish a photo essay of Miller’s photographs of Chapala in the near future.

[This is an updated version of a post first published in October 2016]

Sources:

  • Norma Louise Miller Watnick. “Biography of Dr. B.W. Miller” (unpublished document in the Chapala town archive).
  • Joe Weston. Lakeside Look. Guadalajara Reporter, 19 August 1972.

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 242017
 

Veteran sports journalist Jack McDonald was already in his late sixties when he and his wife retired to Chapala in 1967. His retirement did nothing to diminish his productivity. McDonald (born John McDonald, but always called Jack) spent the next decade traipsing across Mexico, always in search of the next story. From his home in Chapala, he supplied a continuous stream of well-researched and well-written travel articles to publications north of the border and to the Guadalajara Reporter.

He also served a term as president of the Chapala Society (now the Lake Chapala Society) in the late 1960s.

McDonald was born on 21 October 1899 in Bussey, Iowa. At age 16, seeking adventure, he enlisted in the U.S. Army under an assumed name to serve under Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing and chase after Pancho Villa on the Mexican border. He was sent home when his deception was discovered, but subsequently served his country with honor (in the Navy) during both the first and second world wars. As a chief petty officer and radioman, he was initially on a corvette accompanying convoys to Iceland and South America, but then on a destroyer, which came under fire in Okinawa, Iwo Jima and other battles in the South Pacific.

McDonald joined the sports department of the San Francisco Call-Bulletin in 1926 and was its sports editor from 1947 to 1959. He then wrote for the Call’s successor, the San Francisco News Call-Bulletin until its closure in 1965, when he joined The Examiner as a columnist and rewrite manager. During his career, he interviewed every well-known sportsman of the time, covering all sports and situations with equal dedication and expertise. He was the quintessential cigar-smoking reporter of folklore, who was known and respected by everybody he worked with.

McDonald covered 26 World Series, 28 Kentucky Derbies as well as countless heavyweight boxing championship fights and Rose Bowls. He won the San Francisco Press Club’s best sports story of the year three times. McDonald also served terms as president of the Press Club and of the San Francisco-Oakland Newspaper Guild. The “Jack McDonald scrapbooks of sports writing, 1926-1993” are among the papers and scrapbooks held in the archives of the California Historical Society in San Francisco.

McDonald’s first wife, Helen, died in 1961; the couple had been married for ten years.

After retiring in January 1967, McDonald and his second wife, Beatrice, moved to a home high above Chapala. During the following decade, McDonald was an indefatigable traveler (“never without a cigar or his pipe, ashes spilling over a rumpled shirt”) as he sought out new places in Mexico to write about. His travel articles appeared in a dozen newspapers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Toronto Star.

He also filed dozens of well-crafted pieces for the Guadalajara Reporter, which demonstrate his unrivaled interviewing skills and ability to ferret out the details that made his stories come alive.

McDonald contributed stories, both fiction and non-fiction, to Collier and Liberty magazines, and also wrote two books: Navy Retread (Vantage Press, 1969), his second world war reminiscences, and Something to Cheer about: Legends from the Golden Age of Sports (1986).

In 1978, he and his wife moved back to San Diego. Beatrice died in 1995, and Jack died two years later on 14 September 1997 at his Pacific Beach home in San Diego, at the age of 97.

Sources:

  • Eric Brazil and Zachary Coile. “S.F. editor, sportswriter Jack McDonald” (obituary), San Jose Mercury News, 18 Sept 1997; SFGate, 18 Sep 1997.
  • Robert V. Thurston. “New Book by Reporter Writer Tells World War II Experiences”. Guadalajara Reporter, 8 March 1969, p16.

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.

Apr 062017
 

Painter and batik artist Auguste Killat Foust (1915-2010), better known as Gustel Foust, had lived for twenty years in Mexico before moving to Ajijic, where she lived from 1978 to 1984. Previously she had resided fifteen years in Guadalajara (1963-78) and five years in San Miguel de Allende (1958-1963).

Gustel Foust. Artist painting in her garden. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. The artist painting in her garden. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Auguste Killat Myckinn (her birthname) was born in Nemonin, East Prussia, on 15 February 1915 and died 05 October 2010. Even as a child, she was exceptionally talented at sketching and painting. At the age of 17, she entered the Königsberg Kunstakademie (Königsberg Academy of Arts), where she studied art and landscape, under Alfred Partikel (1888-1945) and Fritz Burmann (1892-1945). Foust continued her art studies at Dresden Art School and the University of Berlin Art School.

From about 1940 to 1947, she was married to the meticulous Dr. Wilhelm Graber, an economist of German heritage, who liked everything “just so”, in striking contrast to his wife’s preference to “go with the flow”.

In 1950, a few years after the end of the second world war, Gustel remarried. Viva E. Foust, her second husband, was serving in the U.S. Navy, and the couple settled initially in South Carolina, where Gustel became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Gustel had two children – Marlene and Sabina – from her first marriage and three more children – Barbara, Curtis and Karen – were born in the U.S.

From 1955 to 1958, the Fousts lived between Newport, Rhode Island and South Carolina, with Gustel exhibiting and teaching art in both places. She joined the Provincetown Art Association. In addition to group shows, several of which were in New York, she displayed her paintings in three solo shows and was represented by Sandpiper Gallery in Westport.

After her husband’s retirement from the Navy, in 1958 the couple decided to move to Mexico. While teaching art at the Art Institute in San Miguel de Allende, Gustel found renewed inspiration for her own art in the vivid colors and color contrasts found everywhere in Mexico and in Mexican popular art. Her work sold well at exhibitions in the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende and attracted the attention of several Mexico City collectors who helped arrange for her to hold solo shows in the capital. These, too, proved very successful.

Gustel Foust. 1978. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Gustel Foust. 1978. Ajijic, Jalisco.

Five years later, the family moved to Guadalajara, where she continued to teach art and became a regular exhibitor in local galleries and further afield. For example, in 1964, she held a solo show of “batiks, portraits and watercolors” at the Castle Art gallery in Santa Cruz, California. Sadly, her husband passed away (in Guadalajara) that same year.

In September 1967, her work was in a group show of paintings at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala. The following May, her “impressionist landscapes and portraits” were on show at the Tekare penthouse restaurant in Guadalajara. In October 1968 (when Mexico was hosting the Olympic Games), Foust had a show of original batiks at “Georg Originals”, a gallery in Guadalajara near the intersection of Avenida Chapultepec and Vallarta, and was simultaneously showing paintings and batiks at Villa del Lago hotel in Ajijic. Her next showing of paintings, at the Galeria Municipal de Arte y Cultura in Guadalajara was favorably reviewed in an illustrated half-page article by well-known local art critic J. Luis Meza-India.

She then had three oil paintings accepted into a major, juried group show of American Artists at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco in Guadalajara in June 1969, and won third place for figurative painting. The show featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake Chapala area and San Miguel de Allende.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Mexican women washing laundry, Lake Chapala.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Mexican women washing laundry, Lake Chapala.

In 1972, part-way through her fifteen years living in Guadalajara, she spent some time in Houston, Texas. Her Houston studio was at 713 Snover, and she held a solo exhibit at the Hotel Fiesta in Houston from 19 to 23 May. The formal invitation for the exhibit featured two paintings: “La Playa en Puerto Vallarta” (Puerto Vallarta Beach) and “Escena del lago Chapala” (Lake Chapala Scene). According to the short artist biography published at the time, Foust had already held eight solo shows in Mexico, as well as one-person exhibits in Santa Cruz, California; Forth Worth, Texas; and New Braunsfels, Texas. (If anyone has details of these exhibits, please share!)

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Batik.

Gustel Foust. Date unknown. Batik.

Foust remained extremely active for many years in the Guadalajara-Lake Chapala art scene. A quick newspaper search turned up several exhibits in 1974-1976, including a joint show with her daughter Sabina in the Hilton Hotel in Guadalajara (January 1974), paintings and batiks at El Tejabán restaurant-gallery in Ajijic (February 1975), joint show with Sabina of batiks and paintings at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala (July 1975) and a group show of Lake Chapala Artists at the ex-Convento del Carmen, Guadalajara (October 1976). Other participants in this last-named show included Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; John Frost; Dionisio; Bert Miller; Julia Michel; Antonio Cardenas; Antonio Lopez Vega; Georg Rauch; Gloria Marthai; and Jim Marthai.

It is obvious that Foust was extremely familiar with the Lake Chapala area well before moving to live in Ajijic in 1978, and no surprise that soon after moving there, one of her street scenes of Ajijic (in the collection of local realtor Richard Tingen) was chosen for the annual, charity fundraising Amigos del Lago greeting card.

Gustel Foust.2000. Camino Real, Ajijic.

Gustel Foust. 2000. Camino Real, Ajijic.

The last major show in Guadalajara that Foust is known to have participated in was a group show held at the ex-Convento del Carmen in January 1980. This also included works by Daphne Aluta, Evelyne Boren, Taffy Branham, Paul Fontaine, Richard Lapa, Stefan Lokos, Georg Rauch, Eleanor Smart, Betty Warren and Digur Weber.

In the late 1970s, early 1980s, Foust exhibited several times in Acapulco, at the city’s Biennales held in a major hotel on the main beach. These shows were fund-raisers to benefit the children of Acapulco. Among the organizers was Ann Goldfarb, a friend of Foust’s. Foust’s son, Curtis, attended one of these shows and recalls that his mother’s paintings quickly sold out, snapped up by visitors from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

In 1984, Foust returned to the U.S., living first in San Diego, California, then (from 2002) in West Virginia and finally (from June 2009) in Petaluma, California, where she passed away, at the age of 95, on 5 October 2010.

Even after her return to live in the U.S., Foust retained some close links to Lake Chapala. In 1992, for example, Judy Eager was able to persuade her to exhibit (with her daughter Barbara) a selection of batiks, oils and watercolors at La Nueva Posada hotel in Ajijic.

As these illustrations show, Gustel Foust was an extremely talented artist, whether of landscapes, portraits or batiks. She was also a prolific artist, painting almost every day of her life, in a wide variety of styles and using many different media. At different times, she signed her work Gustel K. Foust, Gustel Foust, G. Foust, and sometimes simply G.F. On some occasions, the cross stroke of the “T” in Foust would be omitted or unclear.

Foust’s art can be found in many museum and private collections around the world, including the Centro de Arte Moderno (Museo Miguel Aldana) in Guadalajara and the East Prussian State Museum in Germany.

Private collectors holding examples of Foust’s art include Luis Garcia Jasso, who owned the now-defunct Galería Vertice in Guadalajara, and many prominent families originally from East Prussia.

All four of Foust’s daughters became painters, while her only son, Curtis, maintains an informative website dedicated to his mother’s art.

Illustrations and acknowledgment

All illustrations are reproduced by kind permission of Curtis Foust; my sincere thanks to him for generously sharing details of his mother’s life and work. To see more of her paintings and batiks, please visit the Gustel Foust website.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter : 18 May 1968; 12 Oct 1968; 26 Jan 1974
  • Gustel Foust (website) – http://www.gustelfoust.com
  • Informador 29 September 1967;  17 Nov 1968; 23 July 1975; 25 October 1976; 26 January 1980
  • J. Luis Meza-India. 1968. “Exposición de pintura: Gustel Foust.” Informador, 17 Nov 1968
  • Ojo del Lago, January 1992
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) 8 March 1964,15 March 1964 (p 25)

Plea for help

If you are able to provide more specific details (dates, gallery names) of Gustel Foust’s art exhibitions, especially those in Mexico, Germany and the U.S. please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Mar 132017
 

James F. Kelly was a writer and novelist who lived in Ajijic for more than twenty years from the early 1960s. More usually referred to as Jim Kelly, James Frederick Kelly was born in 1912 (in Ohio?) and educated at Staunton Military Academy, Swarthmore College and Columbia University School of Journalism. He also studied at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, and at the US Maritime Diesel School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

During the second world war, he was a member of the Merchant Marine and remained in the US Naval Reserve after the war, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander by the time his service ended. Kelly’s naval career took him to ports-of-call ranging from New Zealand, New Guinea and the U.K. to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Ecuador; Peru and Chile.

kelly-james-insiderAfter the war, Kelly and his wife Gerda (a Danish-born model and circus performer) lived in Westport, where Kelly dedicated himself to writing while Gerda worked in the New York fashion industry. Kelly reviewed books regularly for The New York Times Book Review and The Saturday Review, wrote pieces for the New York Times Magazine and other publications and also undertook work, both creative and executive, for Compton and various other New York advertising agencies.

Kelly and Gerda, with their two children (Jill and James Jr.) moved to Ajijic at some point prior to October 1964. After moving to Mexico, he continued to write and to submit articles to U.S. publications. In October 1964, he took photographs of the piñatas at a party given for the 26th birthday of David Michael (son of Ajijic artist and boutique owner Gail Michael), “for an article he is doing for a New York publication.”

A few months later, “pretty, blond Jill Kelly”, is reported to have given a marionette show at La Quinta (Jocotepec’s best known hotel at the time), which “proved that talent runs in the family”.

In January 1966, Gerda and Jim Kelly purchased their own home in Ajijic: Casa Los Sueños (“House of Dreams”), the converted remnants of Ajijic’s former friary whose origins date back to the sixteenth century). They moved in to their new home, purchased from Ruth and Hunter Martin, the following month.

In the spring of 1966, the U.K. edition of Kelly’s novel On the Other Hand, Goodbye was published, and he was reported to be working on his next novel, which had a publisher’s deadline of August. (It is unclear which novel is being referred to here.)

In 1968 the couple founded and ran an Ajijic real estate venture, Servicios Unlimited. After eight months in temporary premises, the company moved into a building on Calle Independencia, opposite the Posada Ajijic, and next-door to Helen Kirtland’s looms (today, this is the store Mí México). In addition, Gerda Kelly worked as a columnist for the Guadalajara Reporter.

James Kelly continued to write the occasional piece for U.S. media into the 1970s, including an article about Dr Marcos Montaña Zavala and his wife Dra Soledad Ascensio de Montaña, who co-founded the Sanatorio de Santa Teresita, a health clinic in Jocotepec. This piece first appeared in Spanish in Selecciones (August 1970) and then in Reader’s Digest later that year.

James Kelly was the author of at least six novels: From A Hilltop (1941); The Insider (1958); On the Other Hand, Goodbye (1965); No Rest For The Dying (New York: Nordon Publications 1980); Music From Another Room (Dorchester Publishing, 1980) and Blind Passage (date unknown).

Music From Another Room is a murder mystery set in Michoacán, Mexico at the fictional hotel Hacienda de las Golondrinas. The characters and plot are eminently believable, testament to Kelly’s keen powers of observation and good knowledge of Mexico.

James Kelly passed away in December 1993; Gerda died five months later.

Acknowledgment:

  • My sincere thanks to Jill Kelly Velasco for her help in compiling this profile of her father.

Sources:

  • Guadalajara Reporter: 8 October 1964; 7 January 1965; 9 September 1965; 20 January 1966; 26 February 1966; 2 April 1966; 29 July 1967;  21 June 1969; 8 August 1970; 20 April 1974; 6 September 1975;
  • Michael Hargraves. 1992. Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).

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 092017
 

John Kenneth Peterson, known in his family as “Kenny”, was born in San Pedro, Los Angeles, on 24 September 1922, to Andrew Gustof Peterson (1886-1957) and Edith Anna Danielson (1892-1973). He passed away in Ajijic, Mexico, in 1984, at the age of 61, and is buried in San Diego.

Peterson was active in the Ajijic art community, for some twenty years, living from sales of his art and teaching from when he first arrived in the village in the mid-1960s.

John K. Peterson. "Lago Chapala" (1973)

John K. Peterson. “Lago Chapala” (1973)

As a child, Peterson began painting at the age of five, while recuperating from a serious illness. He graduated from Point Loma High School in San Diego in 1941. Two years later, he began a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy. On 24 June 1944, a year after entering the Navy, Peterson, 5′ 11″ tall with blond hair and blue eyes, married Josephine Ornelas. They had met in Bangor, Maine, and married in Orlando, Orange County, Florida. Ornelas was born in 1926 in El Paso, Texas, into a family originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. After an early career in modeling, she became one of the first female police officers in Richmond. The couple had three children: two girls and a boy, but separated and divorced in the mid-1960s.

After the war, Peterson, who had completed a few murals and portraits on his own time during his stint in the Navy, tried a succession of jobs, before opting to use his G.I. Bill entitlement to study at the Coronado School of Fine Arts in Coronado (near San Diego), California. He studied there four years (1948-1952), spending several summers (1949, 1950 and 1952) in Guadalajara. His tuition was covered by G.I. funds and scholarships.

John K Peterson. Self-portrait. ca 1952. Reproduced by kind permission of Monica Porter.

John K Peterson. Mirror image self-portrait. ca 1952. Reproduced by kind permission of Monica Porter.

He stayed on at the Coronado School of Fine Arts to teach watercolor techniques and engraving until 1954. During his time in the San Diego area, he completed seven murals in Coronado, and one – “Tahitian Dancers” – in 1952 at the Navy Fleet Sonar School. Peterson’s self-portrait from this time remains a prized family possession.

His art teachers included Monty Lewis, José Martinez [Guadalajara] and Dan Dickey (oils and frescoes), Donal Hord (sculpture), F. Robert White (drawing and etching), Eloise Bownan (portraiture), Frederick O’Hara (wood block cutting) and Rex Brandt, James Cooper White, Doug Kingman and Noel Quinn (watercolors). By coincidence, Kingman had also taught another long-time Lakeside artist, Eleanor Smart.

Throughout his life, Peterson was always ready to play a part and a San Diego newspaper from 1952 has a photograph of him lounging in fancy dress at the “Third Annual Costume Arts Ball”, held in Hotel del Coronado. More than twenty years later, he won first prize at the 1973 Halloween Costume Dinner Dance organized by the Tejabán restaurant in Ajijic. In the mid-1970s, Peterson was persuaded by hotelier Morley Eager, the newly-arrived proprietor of the Posada Ajijic, to dress up as Santa Claus to distribute presents bought by the Eagers for the village children. He may have been the first Santa the village kids had seen. According to Terry Vidal, who reviewed hundreds of paintings done over the years by young artists in the Lake Chapala Society’s Children’s Art Program, the earliest children’s art to feature Santa Claus dates back to about the same time.

Peterson’s two most noteworthy artistic achievements during his few years in Coronado were opening his own gallery, The Sidewalk Studio (131, Orange Ave.) in 1953, and winning the “People’s Choice” award at the 2nd annual exhibition of San Diego county artists in that same year, for a watercolor entitled “Red Can”.

John K Peterson. Laundry day, Ajijic. 1965.

John K Peterson. Laundry day, Ajijic. 1965.

In December 1954, Peterson moved to the San Francisco Bay area and entered the commercial art world, establishing the family home five years later in Point Richmond. He worked as an illustrator-engraver at Fiberboard & Co. in San Francisco, and also opened a gallery, the Triangle Art Gallery (TAG), in partnership with fellow artists Herbert Wasserman and Richard Godfrey. TAG (at (267 Columbus Ave.) opened in June 1956 with a showing of works by the three partners. Two months later, a show of drawings, lithographs and etchings by Richard Diebenkorn, James Budd Dixon, Walter Kuhlman, Edwin Durham and Frank Lobdell, together with sculpture by Sargent Johnson opened at TAG.

TAG hosted a North Beach Artists Group Show in December 1956, followed by an exhibit of paintings by Toshi Sakiyama in February 1957. A month later, a one person show of works by Peterson opened at TAG. The original TAG (another gallery of this name operated in San Francisco from 1961 to 2011) held its 1st Annual Exhibition from 16 June to 13 July 1957.

Peterson was accepted into the San Francisco Art Association (one of oldest in the U.S., and the oldest in California) in 1958, his work having been “previously exhibited in several of the SFAA annual shows”.

After about a decade in San Francisco, Peterson moved to Los Angeles in about 1962 and took a position as art director and illustrator at the Sterling Die Co. After two years in this position, Peterson, now separated from Josephine Ornelas, moved to Guadalajara. He lived and painted in the city during 1964 and 1965 before deciding to improve his prospects by moving to the village of Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Within months, he had opened a studio-gallery and was giving private art classes to help make ends meet. Apart from vacation trips and a spell in San Diego Veterans Affairs hospital, he lived in Ajijic for the remainder of his life.

Living in Ajijic proved to be a wise decision. Peterson found time to focus on his art and participated in an extraordinary number of exhibits during his time in the village.

He was a founding member of both Grupo 68, an Ajijic art co-operative that was active from 1967 to 1971, and Clique Ajijic, the loose collective that succeeded it in the mid-1970s.

Other members of Grupo 68 included Peter Huf, his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf, Jack Rutherford and Don Shaw. The members of Clique Ajijic included Sydney Schwartzman, Adolfo Riestra, Gail Michaels, Hubert Harmon, Synnove (Shaffer) Pettersen, Tom Faloon and Todd (“Rocky”) Karns.

The earliest show I’ve found recorded for Peterson in Mexico was in a group show by the four main members of Grupo 68 and friends at El Palomar in Tlaquepaque which opened on 20 January 1968. (Other artists on that occasion included Gustavo Aranguren, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, Rodolfo Lozano, Gail Michael, Hector Navarro, Don Shaw and Thomas Coffeen Suhl.) This was the start of regular Friday exhibits at the store.

From early in 1968, Peterson exhibited regularly (most Sunday afternoons) in Grupo 68 shows at the Hotel Camino Real in Guadalajara, and in many group shows in Ajijic, some at Laura Bateman’s Rincón del Arte gallery, and (later) in “La Galería”, the collective gallery the artists co-founded at Zaragoza #1, Ajijic.

Confusingly, “La Galería” was also the name of an existing gallery in Guadalajara (at Ocho de Julio #878) where the Grupo 68 artists and others (including Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Allyn Hunt, Tully Judson Petty and Gene Quesada) participated in the First Annual Graphic Arts Show of prints, drawings, wood cuts in June 1968.

The following month, Grupo 68 was exhibiting in the Tekare penthouse in Guadalajara (16 de Septiembre #157, 10th floor). That show was very favorably reviewed by Allyn Hunt in his “Art Probe” column in the Guadalajara Reporter, 27 July 1968). Concerning Peterson’s work, Hunt wrote that, “John Peterson displays several mosaic-like watercolors, the best of which are his ferris wheel pictures and “Butterfly”.”

Laura Bateman’s gallery in Ajijic, Rincón del Arte, “re-opened” in September 1968 as an artists’ co-operative, nominally headed by Grupo 68 artists, with a group show featuring works by Tom Brudenell, Thomas Coffeen Suhl, Alejandro Colunga, Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, John K Peterson, Don Shaw, Jack Rutherford and Joe Wedgwood. Grupo 68 joined with Guadalajara artist José María Servín the following month for a show at Galería del Bosque, Guadalajara, sponsored by the Organizing Committee of the Cultural Program for the XIX Olympics, being held in Mexico City.

Peterson held a solo show at Rincón del Arte, Ajijic, in November 1968, mainly comprised of pastels and watercolors, with Allyn Hunt, in his review, describing Peterson as “probably the area’s most provocative artist when dealing with conventional nudes.”

Naturally, Peterson was also involved in the month-long group show entitled “Art is Life; Life is Art” that marked the re-opening of La Galería in Ajijic (at Zaragoza #1) in December 1968. The artists on that occasion were Tom Brudenell, Alejandro Colunga, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Kenneth Peterson, Jack Rutherford, José María de Servín, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons, and Joe Wedgwood. Only a few days after that show opened, Peterson was in Guadalajara for the opening of a Collective Christmas Exhibition at Galeria 1728 (Hidalgo #1728) which also featured works by Thomas Coffeen, Gustel Foust, Peter Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf and several famous Mexican artists: David Alfaro Siqueiros; Alejandro Camarena; José María Servín and Guillermo Chávez Vega.

Peterson’s pastels and paintings in a group show at La Galería, Ajijic, in April 1969 hung alongside works by Charles Henry Blodgett, John Brandi, Tom Brudenell, Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, Jack Rutherford, Don Shaw, Cynthia Siddons and Robert Snodgrass.

All four Grupo 68 regulars – Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Kenneth Peterson and Don Shaw – held a show at the Instituto Aragón (Hidalgo #1302, Guadalajara) in June. At the end of that same month, Peterson won 3rd prize in the abstract painting category in the juried show, “Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit”, marking “American Cultural Week” in Guadalajara. The show featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende.

This was about the time when pulp fiction writer Jerry Murray first arrived in Ajijic and he later recalled how Peterson, “a jovial bearded guy” and “local resident artist” had helped him find a place to rent. Peterson’s studio, says Murray, was “cluttered with half a dozen easels with paintings on them and uncounted half-filled rum, brandy, and soft drink bottles.” Peterson and some of his exploits are also described in Henry F. Edwards’s The Sweet Bird of Youth (2008). In this thinly described, fictionalized autobiography about life in Ajijic in the 1970s, Edwards devotes an entire chapter to “George Johannsen”, a “General Custer lookalike”.

An Easter Art Show at Posada Ajijic in March 1970 saw Peterson exhibiting alongside Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John Peterson, John Frost, Don Shaw, Bruce Sherratt and Leslie Sherratt.

In the summer of the following year, Peterson was one of the many artists with works in the Fiesta de Arte held on 15 May in a private home in Ajijic. (Among the artists involved in this show were 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; 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.)

An advert for Peterson’s exhibit in June 1972 at El Tejabán restaurant-gallery says that after the show ends, Peterson is headed to New York for a one-man show. The details of this show remain unclear. It is also referred to in a Guadalajara Reporter profile of Peterson written by Joe Weston in July 1972. Weston describes Peterson as “a blonde, red-bearded Viking giant”, and quotes him as saying that, “I’m not owned by people or money or time… I dance and I drink and I like women and I talk loud and I shout with enthusiasm….” Asked why he likes Ajijic, Peterson responds that, “I like it here, the people, the colors, the general ambience, the way of life, the economics. That’s why I stay. But I’m not tied here. There are probably other places in the world as good or better. When I want to find them, adios!”

Local art critics were invariably impressed by the high quality of Peterson’s work. For example, Allyn Hunt, reviewing Peterson’s solo show at the Camino Real Hotel in Ajijic in September 1972, praised this “dexterous draftsman”, his “excellently-rendered pastels” and his “nimbly-produced sketches”. A year later, Hunt described Peterson’s exhibit at the Tejabán restaurant-gallery: water colors of Mexican street scenes created by slashing pointillist patchwork of pastel color, as well as carnival merry-go-rounds and “a deftly executed series of glowing nudes done in chalk”. Hunt found that the street-scapes were “at once delicate in their filigree form and vigorously bold in their deep overlaying hues”. Novelist and Hollywood screenplay writer Ray Rigby wrote that “John Peterson combines strength and violence with a forgiving hand. His flair for fantasy intermingles with reality… John Peterson’s work is fun.”

John K Peterson. Funeral Procession. ca 1975

John K Peterson. Funeral Procession. ca 1975

Peterson’s ability to capture a scene with rapid brush strokes was remarkable. Earl Kemp’s Efanzine of July 2002 (Vol. 1 No. 3) includes the following description of Peterson’s painting of a funeral held in Ajijic: “It [the funeral] was so big, in fact, it inspired local Impressionist painter John K. Peterson to immortalize the event on canvas. His picture shows a street scene looking right down the middle of the street to where, three blocks away, the Cathedral stands. From every doorway the townspeople are pouring, as if on cue, and forming a funeral procession down the center of the street to the church where the ceremony in honor of the passing of Pepe’s father would take place.”

John K Peterson. Chapala Pier. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of Alan Pattison.

John K Peterson. Chapala Pier. 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of Alan Pattison.

Alan Pattison, who knew the artist well, describes a Peterson painting (above) that he owns and loves: “It is the old marina and pier in Chapala. The guys on the pier are bringing in a net full of fish. … Note the circular movement around the boat – John told me that the guy (whom John knew) was so hungover he could not get the boat out of the marina and was just going in circles. Note also the black sun – John told me that he too was hungover when he was painting the scene and the morning sun was in his eyes and it “pissed him off” hence, he painted it black!”

During the lifetime of the Clique Ajijic collective, Peterson exhibited in their group shows at Villa Monte Carlo in Chapala (March 1975); Galería del Lago, Ajijic (Colón #6; August 1975); the Hotel Camino Real, Ajijic (September 1975); Galería OM, Guadalajara (October 1975); Club Santiago, Manzanillo (October 1975); Akari Gallery, Cuernavaca (February 1976) and the American Society of Jalisco, Guadalajara (February 1976).

Besides these shows, Peterson participated in the “Nude Show” that opened at at Galeria del Lago in Ajijic in February 1976. Other Lakeside artists in this show included John Frost, Synnove (Schaffer) Pettersen, Gail Michel, Dionicio, Georg Rauch and Robert Neathery.

In June 1976, Peterson’s watercolors and engravings featured in a two-person show with the drawings and graphics of Kuiz López at the Villa Monte Carlo in Chapala.

Alan Pattison recalls that the artist’s studio in the early 1970s was on the second floor of a building on the west side of Calle Colón, part-way down towards the lake from the square. Earlier in his life, Peterson had met Ella Fitzgerald and had painted her a couple of times. One of the paintings was “especially whimsical, musical and alive”. He continued to love blues music throughout his life, and usually had blues music playing in the background while he worked.

In the late 1970s, Peterson suffered a serious accident, falling from his studio onto an outdoor sink below. The resultant head trauma caused Peterson to forgo his previous palate of darker tones and his paintings became brighter. He moved away from abstract and impressionist works towards pastels whose predominant colors were bright yellow, green, orange, blue and turquoise.

During his lengthy and prolific artistic career, Peterson had painted murals in San Diego and Los Angeles, and exhibited in New York, Cleveland, Youngstown, Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego and in many other major cities.

John K. Peterson was one of a kind. His artistic versatility extended to stained glass, fresco, sculpture, water colors, oils and wood blocks. According to Weston, in the small casita near the lake which he rented for $25 a month, he worked six hours a day and completed an average of 30 paintings a month. His generosity to friends and admirers of his work was legendary. In Weston’s words, he “might – and often does – give one of his works to somebody who likes it and can’t afford to buy it.”

In 1978 and again in 1979, Peterson applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship to undertake an artistic study of indigenous Indian life “to capture the richness of vanishing Indian culture” in Latin America. He was not successful on either occasion.

Peterson’s partner in later life was sculptor Margo Thomas (ca 1917-2011), fondly recalled by his daughter, Monica Porter, as “a very kind and wonderful woman”. Porter and Peterson’s sister, Marion Lee, met Thomas on several occasions in Ajijic. The artist’s relationship with Thomas was not all smooth sailing. On one occasion, after he had completed a large mural for her, the couple had a spat and so he refused to sign it. The couple traveled in Europe together but drifted apart as Peterson began to require more medical care in his final years.

John Kenneth Peterson, one of Ajijic’s larger-than-life characters, made invaluable contributions to the village’s cultural and artistic life and continued to paint until 28 August 1984, when he died of a brain aneurysm in his sleep. [1] A retrospective exhibition of his works was held at “El Lugar”.

Notes:

[1] CR 15 Sep 1984 erroneously gives John K. Peterson’s date of death as 2 September 1984; his Jalisco death certificate states that he died on 28 August 1984.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Karen Bodding, Michael Eager, Tom Faloon, Alan Pattison for sharing with me their memories and knowledge of John K Peterson. Special thanks to Dani Porter-Lansky for providing me with copies of reviews, exhibit invitations, and other published and unpublished documents pertaining to her grandfather’s life, and Monica Porter.

This is an updated version of a post first published on 21 July 2014.

Sources:

  • Efanzine – July 2002 – –e*I*3- (Vol. 1 No. 3) July 2002, published and copyright 2002 by Earl Kemp.
  • Coronado Eagle and Journal: Number 26 (28 June 1973).
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 13 Jan 1968; 3 Feb 1968 ; 15 June 1968; 27 July 1968; 14 Sep 1968; 28 Sep 1968; 24 October 1968; 9 Nov 1968; 16 Dec 1968; 19 April 1969; 26 April 1969; 21 Mar 1970; 3 Apr 1971; 3 June 1972; 1 Jul 1972; 23 Sep 1972; 9 Jun 1973; 10 Nov 1973; 21 June 1975; 15 August 1975; 31 Jan 1976;
  • El Informador : 20 April 1969
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram. 1976. “Lake Chapala Riviera”, Mexico City News, 20 June 1976, p 13.
  • The San Diego Union : 9 March 1952

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